Monday, November 28, 2011

It's Not the End of the World.

Q: HELP. I am scared my agent is about to drop me. WHAT DO I DO?

I gave basically this answer to somebody on a message board recently but realized that I get a variation on this question all the time. So let's tackle it here.

The fact that you are asking a stranger about this is a bad sign, to be honest. To me, it means you don't have a good enough relationship with your agent to have a frank conversation with her.

Either:

A) You are right, she is not jazzed about your book anymore (or your next book, or whatever it is) -- in which case you need to TALK TO HER and find out what the problem is, and if she has lost faith in your book you need to find out why and discuss the possibility of revisions, or tell her the other awesome idea you have up your sleeve, or part ways with her, or SOMETHING. But nothing will get accomplished if you don't talk to her. You sound like you are stuck in a rut right now, and something needs to change for you to move forward. Or...

B) You are being a neurotic stressball (common in the writer community) and you need to TALK TO HER and realize that she still adores your work and is waiting until after the holidays, or is swamped and not being the communicator she should be, or SOMETHING, but again, you can't find that out unless you talk to her. She is probably not psychic and will not know you are upset unless you tell her.

If you haven't had a conversation about your fears with her, ask yourself why. Is it because she is hiding from you? Or because you are avoiding saying what is on your mind? In my opinion, not communicating what you need and expecting somebody else to just magically know it it is not just passive, it's passive aggressive, and it is a sure way to sabotage yourself.

If you have the conversation you might both end up pumped, re-energized and ready to do another round, or see what happens next.

But if by chance she does end up dropping you (OR vice versa)... it won't be the end of the world. In fact, you might find it a blessing in disguise. Even if you really like somebody as a person, you don't want them as an agent if they aren't excited about your work. And you certainly don't want to work with somebody you don't trust enough to talk to.

For a bit of inspiration -- and this is for ALL writers -- I link you to this post I liked by THE INTERN on Nova Ren Suma's blog. (Actually all the inspiration posts on that blog are great). I urge you to remember that seriously, in the grand scheme of things, all this neurotic crazymaking stuff that is so easy to tear your hair out over? Really... just... doesn't... matter. Stop obsessing and freaking out, take a big deep breath of fresh air, and be brave. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Exclusives on Slush? Oh Hell No.

Paraphrased from a ton of queries:

"I'm sending this to you exclusively. You're the only agent to see this because I know we're such a great fit!"

My (short) response: 

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!

My (long) response:

What are you, NUTS?  

Even if you read my twitter, follow my blog, have met me in real life - you don't know me. You don't know how much time I have, or what other people already on my list are currently in the midst of writing. I reject 99% of what I get. Even if you ARE the 1%... I'll be the judge of that, thanks. Don't presume we are "such a great fit" that you are willing to sabotage your own career on that basis. 

Yes, giving exclusives when they aren't requested IS sabotaging your own career. 

An agent or editor may take weeks, or months, to get back to you. Frankly, they may never get back  to you. They quite rightly prioritize authors that they are actually working with, and some have policies of "no response means no." 

You might think that an "exclusive" will make me speed up. Nope. I read queries in the order I get them. When I get to your slush query a month after you've sent it, that is the first time I have ever seen your name, and you say something like "this is an exclusive submission" -- but why? I had no idea! I didn't ask for that! You were seriously going to wait a month, two months, or FOREVER?? And then send it to one more person? And wait a month or two months or FOREVER??? Noooo!  You will be like Rip Van Winkle at the end of it all. 

And let's say you DO get a favorable response? Let's say I read it and love it and offer. Well great. But you have no idea if I am actually the agent who will love it best. Or let's say that editor says "OK! I'll buy it." But... you have no idea if other offers would be better, and no leverage to improve the offer. Argh. 

I'm sorry to be so keyed up, I am obviously emotionally invested in this. But... I really really REALLY want authors to give themselves a fair shake. I think exclusives are a poor idea and BAD FOR YOU. 

These are the times to give exclusives: 
* When you already work with an editor, and enjoy them, it is totally appropriate to give them the "first crack" at your new work.  
* When you already work with an editor, and this is a project that they have asked for specifically - a sequel, or another work set in the same world as your first, or they've asked you for a book on a specific topic, for example.
* When the agent or editor has worked with you extensively, and given you tons of specific editorial feedback, and has asked you to revise and indicated that they WANT to read it again, and you have revised the book specifically FOR THEM. Then it is totally appropriate to give an exclusive on that version of the manuscript, for a window of time. But all of those factors have to be in play. And you have to TELL the editor or agent that they have x-number of weeks to look. After that point, you are quite free to send the material to other people. 
You notice how NONE of those times are "when you are a slush puppy and nobody knows who you are yet"?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Holiday Gift Giving - Agent Edition

Q: I have an agent I love, although she's not had success (yet?!) selling my book. The ever important question: what is appropriate for an author to do for her agent at the holidays? Just a card? A gift? What kind of gift? These are the things that keep me up at night! Thanks.

May seem silly to some, but I get this question with surprising frequency, so I am going to pull on my white gloves for an etiquette lesson.

Your agent needs and expects nothing for the holidays. You are under NO obligation to spend money or time on gifts your agent for holidays, or at any time of year. Even if you and your agent are friendly... even, in fact, if you and your agent are friends.

If you are the card-sending "type" and sending cards is already on your agenda -- go ahead and send a card. That's nice. But don't go out of your way to do it if you are not "cardish" by nature. Otherwise, an e-card, or just simple greetings in regular correspondence, such as you might give to anyone you do business with, are of course polite. You may not know what, if any, holidays your agent celebrates... so I'd suggest keeping it to a neutral "happy holidays", "happy new year" etc, unless you know for a FACT that your agent is a practicing member of a specific religion. (I usually say "stay warm!")

If you have a book deal to celebrate, or if you just love to give gifts and you REALLY WANT to give your agent a present, I'd suggest keeping it small - no need to go overboard. Perhaps something bookish, or some cool token related to your book. If you are an illustrator, a small piece of art would be beyond lovely. If she works in an office with other people, some nice chocolates or cookies to share, or a special snack from your region. If you know she likes a certain kind of coffee or booze, some of that would be appreciated (provided it is not too pricey). Your agent will be delighted to receive a gift... but again, she is NOT going to be expecting one, nor will she be disappointed if one does not come.

DON'T buy something lavish, particularly if your book has not yet sold. (If your book sold for a million bucks, by all means splurge on the luxe cashmere scarf or golden phone case... but if your book hasn't sold yet and you are barely holding down a job at Dairy Queen, it will make your agent worry. You want your gift to inspire delight, not concern.)

DON'T send perishable items to the office over the holiday break - nothing quite so gross as a box of decomposing pears leaking onto your desk when you come back from vacation. So make sure you find out when the office will be closed, or if there is a better address. I'd also steer away from things that have a scent (perfumes and soaps), and items of clothing that have a size.

DO remember that people go out of town and offices are closed over the holidays. Check for the best address before sending.

DO Let common sense be your guide. And DON'T worry!

Monday, October 17, 2011

No from one, No from all... REALLY?

 Q: I know that some agencies are a "no from one is a no from all", but... what if I want to query more than one of the agents anyway? I mean, different people like different things, you're always saying this business is subjective, why not? And who ever got successful without bending a few rules, anyway, particularly dumb and arbitrary ones?
I feel like I have probably answered this before, but what the heck. Forgive me, loyal readers, if you've read this info before.

My agency is a "no from one means no from all" agency. We provide lots of info about each agent on our website so that hopefully you can target your submissions. We really do share material.

One of the biggest agency-wide peeves is when people query multiple of us at the same time, or "shotgun query" us one after the other. We really do share work with each other - both the good and the bad - and while simply sending to one of us is not a guarantee that your work will get passed around... if it is memorable, it will. And then, yanno... WE'LL REMEMBER IT. Because it is MEMORABLE.

If you query an agent and she is into your work, and she brings it into a meeting to share, then she realizes that one or more of her colleagues is also looking, she'll likely be irritated. I know I would be. We all have pretty full client rosters as it is, and if we love something, we want to be able to offer on it unimpeded. You are making the relationship fraught and weird from the outset, and you've proved from the outset that you don't follow the simplest of directions. Not a good start. We aren't going to fight with each other over you, so we'll probably all end up rejecting you. You've wasted all of our time, and your opportunity with the agency.

If you got a full request and you got notes and the agent really put time into it, she will likely be irritated if you then turn around and approach another agent at the agency. Anyway, I know I would be. She is already invested in you to an extent. At the very least, give her the opportunity to look at your next ms, or a revised version of this one if you used her notes to revise. She doesn't have to say yes -- but it is courteous to ask. Something like "I edited this extensively using your insightful feedback as a springboard for the revision. I truly feel this is a better, stronger manuscript for the work. Would you be open to taking another look, and if not, may I query one of your colleagues perhaps?"  She'll probably say yes, or give you leave to query somebody else at the agency. She might even pass the ms to that person herself.

If, however, you got rejected (and especially if it was a "no response") at the query stage, and you think your query might not have even gotten a second glance, and you want to query another agent at the agency too, there is a way:

* WAIT several months after the rejection, or after the "no response" time-frame is up (3-6 months would be appropriate)

* REVISE both your query and your work during that time

* BE HONEST in your next query. "I queried Jenn Laughran with an earlier version of this manuscript back in the spring and got no response. Since then I have revised significantly and I feel it is a much stronger work..."

It's like Stop, Drop and Roll... but hopefully less flammable. Remember it.

Good luck!

Friday, September 30, 2011

ROCKTOBER Open Thread

Hey kids,

I realize that I never did one of these bad boys for September... whoopsie! I guess we all need a break from the usual routine now and again.

I'm spending the next few days getting ready for a big conference in Texas next weekend (yeehaw!) and generally reading and puttering and such - but in the meantime, I figure, why not answer some questions? WHY NOT INDEED.

So if you have agentish - publishingish - bookish - booksellerish - doggish - or whatever other questions, feel free to posit them to me here. Short answers I will deal with in comments, some long ones might be selected for their very own blog post.

Yay!

Monday, September 26, 2011

More about Contests

First of all, don't forget that the contest to win a full set of BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z is open until 8pm tonight. Get on it, kids!

Also, a pal pointed out this fun-looking contest from MeeGenius:

MeeGenius* is a picture book app for the iPhone, iPad, iTouch, Google TV, and the web. They're a fast-growing company, and in addition to publishing original digital picture books, one of their goals is to become a community for children's book writers and illustrators; a place for them to get to know each other, learn more about publishing, exchange ideas, and get published online! To that end, they're launching a "Book Challenge," and are inviting writers to submit manuscripts. Here's a link to their announcement page.

My POV on contests is pretty much, don't think of it like "this is my chance to get published!" or in any way taking the place of the work you are doing toward being published in a traditional way. That would be like just playing the lotto instead of getting a job. Fun, perhaps, but not a great way to get the rent paid on time.

Personally, I think of contests like this as just pure fun. At worst, it's a bit of a timewaster - at best, it could be a neat opportunity for people looking to get into the children's book world to become involved, learn from their peers, and get exposure. Plus, looks like the prizes are pretty sweet. Good luck!


*(Although every time I see the word "MeeGenius" I have to say it in this voice...)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tumblog About Books

So I've resisted the siren call of Tumblr for a while, but... I realized that I want a place to specifically talk about books that are NOT "my books." To just plain recommend stuff that I love, but that are off-topic for this blog.

And you might get a sense of my taste if you take a look at the types of books I read and enjoy when I am NOT working. I try to read pretty widely, but there are definitely some trends that I find cropping up as I make lists of what to review. (Do keep in mind, though I review grownup books on the tumblr, I still only rep kids & YA books.)

Anyway, enjoy, comment, feel free to recommend titles to me (though my reading time is pretty limited) - I am always curious to hear what people are loving! :D


http://literaticat.tumblr.com/

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Not ALL about the Benjamins...

From Twitter: "[I] stopped reading a blog after the 2nd sentence, "being an agent is less about art and more about money." tell me it's not true"
Actually I think that is accurate.

The statement isn't "being an agent is NOT about art and ONLY about money." That would not be true. After all, most agents probably become agents at least in part because they love books and reading and thinking about books and talking about books. So art comes into it.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I take on projects that I love...but I have to also that I think that I can sell them, otherwise it isn't worth my time. Seriously. Taking on a new project is a major commitment of time, energy and mental bandwidth, and I don't get paid unless I sell the thing. So from a purely self-interested standpoint, certainly, money matters.

And it SHOULD.

You aren't getting an agent to be a critique partner (though some give great critiques). You aren't getting an agent to be your editor (though some are great at editing.) You aren't getting an agent because they are a great writer (though many are.) You aren't getting an agent just so they'll hang around praising you all day and telling you how rad you are (though my clients ARE rad, for the record!)

You are getting an agent to handle business for you. To sell your projects well and make sure you get paid. To negotiate for you. To be a bully on your behalf. To support you and your career in many ways, but particularly in all matters business related.

So, less about art, more about money? 

Unashamedly so.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

So, What If Your Book Doesn't Sell?

There's a piece in The Millions today that got under my skin a bit: "Shutting the Drawer: What Happens When a Book Doesn't Sell?"

First of all, I don't think the author of this essay needs to have to have the funeral service for her book quite yet. Nine months is a long-ish time, but it isn't actually a LONG time. Particularly if there are warm responses from editors - why not tweak the book and try another round, for crying out loud? Sheesh. But whatever, that is between her and her agent.

This goes out to the rest of you.

Thing is... and I am not sure there is a gentle way to say this, but... just because you want to be published, doesn't mean you automatically get to be. Not even if you are super smart. Not even if you are super smart and SPECIAL. Not even if you have lots of published friends or an MFA or a great agent or whatever.

Maybe your book hasn't sold because you just haven't found the right editor yet. Or MAYBE your book hasn't sold because it just isn't good enough. So REVISE, or write another, better, book.

Sometimes books don't sell. Sometimes they take a long time to sell. I've sold books after YEARS of trying. A recent agency book was sold after 4 years of submission and 45+ editor rejections, and now has starred reviews and is going places. It happens, it really does.

Sometimes you have to revise them before they sell... or revise them again. Sometimes you have to take a break and come back later with fresh eyes. Sometimes you have to shelve it and then cannibalize that book for parts. Sometimes you have to shelve it and move on. Sometimes you have to shelve it and move on... more than once.

I've said it before: first books are very often like first pancakes. Sort of a mess. A shame to waste food, but if they are not in servable condition, you have to throw them away. Or better yet, eat them yourself while you cook better ones.

The good news is, those ugly books aren't a waste. You'll be a better writer because you wrote them. The only way to learn to be a writer is to WRITE. The only way to learn to write novels is to write some novels. That doesn't mean they should all be published - but it also doesn't mean that they weren't worth writing. I have never heard of somebody becoming a WORSE writer with practice.

If the book that doesn't sell is the book that taught you how to be a better writer, it was worth spending time, blood, sweat & tears on.

Now keep going!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Scamsters Want YOU

While going through some of my childhood stuff on a recent house-move, I found a photo album full of pictures I'd cut out of trashy teen star magazines when I was in elementary school. I remember poring over these rags with my friends, reading them from cover to cover, even the ads in the back.

Draw Tippy the Turtle and you could go to Art School! Find true love by calling this number! Have your fortune told over the phone!


Of course we never FELL for any of them... until... Amazing weight loss tricks & glamour model lessons, and if you order now, FREE French Sunglasses!

Well obviously we wanted this. I mean, hello. We were 10 year old girls, the promise of glamour was catnip to us. But $15.99 or whatever it was was way out of reach. Unless we all put our money together... so we did. And I sent off the form, and the money. And we waited. And waited. And waited. Nothing. NOTHING.

Now, I wasn't a stupid kid. I knew that the "secret" to losing weight was to eat healthy food and do more exercise. I knew that models worked hard, were genetically blessed, and generally older than fifth grade. But... I REALLY REALLY WANTED THOSE GLAMOUR LESSONS. Weeks passed. Nothing. Seeds of doubt were planted in my heart. Months passed. I wrote them a letter. Nothing. I wrote them a FANCY letter on my mom's lawyer stationery.

Finally, one day! Six months later! An envelope! A dirty, thin envelope. With... a crummy, illegible quarter-page flyer in it with some smeary fake "model tips." I was crushed. And bitter. And mostly, just so, so embarrassed. HOW could I have been so dumb? And I'd not only spent my own money, but also had to explain to my friends that I'd lost their money as well. AND DID NOT EVEN HAVE FRENCH SUNGLASSES TO SHOW FOR IT. *woe*

So what does that have to do with you, my doves?

Well, gmail and similar companies have ads which target you based on what your emails are about. Every time I check my gmail, the ads on the sides and top of my email are all about writing and publishing. The thing is... they are all scams. ALL. SCAMS.

I barely notice them. It doesn't register with me, because I am not their target audience. But you... you, my pretty and innocent little writer friends... you who are unpublished but want to be, who can't seem to get the attention of agents and editors, who are maybe even to scared or confused to know how to TRY to get that attention... YOU ARE THEIR TARGET.

And as much as I would like to give each and every one of you some French Sunglasses, I can't.

So here instead are some words of wisdom.

IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE
, it's a scam.

WRITING WELL IS HARD. PUBLISHING IS HARD. THERE IS NO SHORTCUT.
Writing takes practice. Lots of practice. Traditional publishing is very competitive, and generally quite time consuming. If somebody is offering you a shortcut, it's a scam.

MONEY FLOWS TO THE WRITER. Agents do NOT get paid until you do. Traditional publishers pay YOU, not vice-versa. While there are totally legit services you can hire to help you edit your book and the like, if somebody is offering to be your "agent" or "publisher" and they say you will be traditionally published, but they want you to write them a check, it's a scam.

"PUBLISH AMERICA" ARE SCAMSTERS.

WHEN IN DOUBT, LOOK IT UP ON PREDITORS & EDITORS. While the website is not infallible and there have been mistakes or instances of miscommunication on there, if an agency or publisher is marked "caution"... do yourself a favor and pay attention. And take a look at their warnings page, more ways to spot a scamster.

These scamsters are CRIMINALS, and they are able to operate because they are practiced and smooth, and because so many writers are so full of hopes, dreams and wishful thinking that they don't use their noodles. And then are often so humiliated at having been scammed, or so confused, that they don't or can't warn others.

If you get taken by one of these schmucks, you stand to lose much more than $15.99. A scam publisher can potentially take you for hundreds or thousands of dollars, can take the rights to your work, can take your words and your dreams and your dignity, and yes, even years of your life, because that's what you'll spend in trying to get your money back or living in regret.

I CAN'T FLY EVERYWHERE IN MY MAGIC PLANE AND FIX IT. PLEASE PROTECT YOURSELF.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

The Great Big TOUR POST

There are certain things that happen to some writers that other writers may look upon with envy. Being "sent on tour" for example, is not something that happens to every writer, and if you've never been sent on tour, you might be tempted to believe that it is all Ritz Suites and Stretch Limosines. (Hint: Ritz Crackers and Some Stranger's Buick le Sabre are a bit closer to the mark.)

While it is awesome to get to (hopefully) connect with readers and booksellers in far-flung towns, tours can also be really physically and mentally grueling. They can mean weeks of disrupted routine, rarely if ever seeing spouse or kids or pets, sleeping in a weirdly different bed every night, abrupt time-zone changes, strange itineraries that involve going through Chicago to get from Portland to Seattle, daily plane trips (with all the attendant drama there, we all know how efficient and fun plane travel has gotten!)... add to that the pressure of being, you know, put together, not a wreck, friendly and "ON" when you get wherever you are going (because nobody likes the complainy grump with bags under her eyes snapping at Iowa schoolchildren...) Yeah. I don't know. I personally wouldn't sign up for it, I value my sleep time and cozy bed too much.

ALL THAT SAID - sometimes genius writers have to crawl out from their genius-writer-holes, strap on their outgoing smile, and go where their publisher tells them.  One of my authors is headed out next month for almost two straight months of travel and appearances, and she had a slew of questions for me -- and I was hoping maybe some of my author-friends who have been in her shoes can advise?

This post can then serve as the go-to whenever one of my authors asks such questions in the future.

* I told her she should get bookmarks or buttons or similar to bring with and give to fans when they get their books signed.

* And a little book with which to put down the names of all the stores she visits and who the events coordinator was so that she can send thank you notes, and she can have an area in there where people can sign up for her mailing list if they want to, or give her their twitter-handle, so she can tweet them, etc etc.

* And her laptop of course, plus any special cords she might need if she will be doing powerpoint presentations at schools or anything.

Any other must-brings?  What about clothes?  Do you check baggage, or no?  How do you pack for two weeks solid with no home-time? Tips/Tricks?  (This is Sept/Oct, US/UK, school visits + book fairs + bookstores + possibly a couple of posh dinner type things.)

GIVE ME YOUR WISDOM!

thankyou.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Editorial Agent, or what?

I read this blog post from Authoress Anon with interest yesterday... particularly the comments section. It seems that everyone wants an "editorial agent" who is really hands-on. And most agents I know describe themselves as "editorial agents."

It made me think about myself -  am I an "editorial agent"?  I don't think I am. I am not an editor, I am a SELLER. I want editors to edit. But I do give advice, when needed. I certainly comment on most everything my clients give me, and suggest tweaks, etc. That is editorial...

Hm.  SO WHAT AM I?

The only analogy I can come up with is a real estate analogy.

If your manuscript is a house you are trying to sell, I am the agent, and editors are prospective buyers.

I will certainly give you advice on things to clean up to help me show it to its best advantage (repaint that garage door! bake some cookies!) I will "stage" the house. I will create an awesome listing that helps turn potential negatives into positives.

Cramped? No, "Cozy."

Sinkhole? Try "Seasonal pond."

No closets?  "Classic style."

Needs work?  "Great potential."

Falling apart? "Handyman's dream!"

I will take potential buyers on a tour and make them see what their lives could be like here. Sure it'll take a bit of elbow grease, but the attention they pay and the touches they give it are what will make a house a home. Won't they be the envy of the neighborhood when they show off this beauty?  Don't they love it? Now let's negotiate.

Yay!

However... I am not an architect. I am not a general contractor. I am not even a handyman. I didn't build the house, and I can't just go in and fix the house myself.

I can point out the problems that might keep you from selling it, but the house has to have good bones to begin with, and you have to do the hard work. It is YOUR house.

This analogy falls apart once the book is sold, because of course, it is STILL your book and you have to do the hard work. But at this point, you'll have not just one, but a group of experts to help you get it to that next level. Which, in this now completely broken analogy, would presumably be a spread in Better Homes and Gardens.

OK, OK, I'll shut up now. Anyway... I'll pose the same question to readers of this blog. What do you think? What kind of agent are YOU looking for? (Or if you are agented, what kind of agent do you have?)

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Notes from the Career Development Desk

Q: From what I've read, the best way for someone without professional editing/publishing experience to elbow their way into the publishing industry is an internships. All but a few internships are unpaid. Nearly all publishing internships are based in the northern/northeastern states. Of those, most are in New York. Assuming those very general assumptions are correct, here's my question...

What's a broke Southerner to do? Unpaid internships work for those with a nest egg, I suppose, but New York is an expensive place that's even pricier when one factors in relocation.
I know this can't be right, but by all appearances, the deck seems to be rigged in favor of New York natives or people wealthy enough to move and live on the pay of a part-time job (assuming they can find one) while interning. Is there something I'm missing? Something that exists that hasn't been said that changes the above set of assumptions?
It is very generous of you to imagine that "this can't be right."  In fact, you are right. I'd say the deck is rigged toward a) the wealthy, b) NY natives, or c) the very ambitious, who are willing and able to happily live on a tight budget.

Publishing jobs are very often in NYC or other major cities, and even once you have a real job as an editor, you will in general be paid VERY POORLY. I cannot stress enough that these are not jobs you take because you are money-hungry. Prestige? Sure. Snob appeal? Totally. But 'easy way to pay rent'... not-so-much. I am not saying you have to be a trust-fund baby - I'm saying, you have to prepare to be stone broke for a while.

Agents, as it happens, almost universally make zero (0) dollars when they start, and sometimes for a really long time. When I started at my agency, my boss told me in no uncertain terms that I was unlikely to see money before a year, and unlikely to be able to live off my earnings for five years. I was very lucky and started selling right away... but she still wasn't TOO far off.  This is why many agents are: a) independently wealthy/from wealthy families, b) married, (and/or) c) have a second job/work as an assistant when they are new.

Editorial is slightly different as you'll at least get some sort of paycheck, but, assuming you are coming in with no experience, you'll still have to slog for a long while as an intern or lowly assistant, then slightly less lowly assistant, before you actually become an editor. And even when you are an editor, you aren't going to be pulling in huge dollars. Again, this is a job you take for the love, not for the money.

And it's a part of the reason publishing has a long history of being called things like a "gentleman's business," and why you do find a relatively high percentage of over-educated, privileged white folk in the halls of publishing. (I am not excluding myself from this description.)

Of course this means that, gatekeeper-wise, there can sometimes seem to be a dearth of unique perspectives and world-views. It would be really great if there were more opportunities for people of color, people from different places and socioeconomic backgrounds, etc. All I can say is -- it's a known problem.  Many companies [claim to] strive to be pro-active about reaching out to different kinds of people. Most major publishers DO offer paid internship programs.  (Click here to find a listing of many internships - you'll see some paid, including Random House, Scholastic, Macmillan...) But of course, those internships are also likely to be very much sought after. And they mostly all in NYC, which, as you mention, is a bear of a place to live in while broke.

Here's what I would do, if I were a Southern college student who wanted to be an editor: I'd try to find an internship at a local small publishing house or literary agency. Yes, these places do exist, even in the south, depending on where you are.  I'd try to get a paying job at a bookstore (hopefully you have one near you!)  I'd work my butt off in school, and save as much money as possible until graduation. I'd make friends in NYC, or local friends who also have NY ambitions.

Then I'd probably do what generations of broke kids have done in NY, and that is couch-surf or live with a ton of roommates, hustle to apply to as many (paid) internships in NY and entry-level jobs as possible, and/or see if there are ways to get scholarships or financial aid for the Columbia Publishing Course or NYU Publishing Course. (I personally have no idea if these options are offered - but hey, you can ask!). Also, learn to budget if you don't know how already, and get to like the taste of rice and beans.

But maybe I myself am missing something. I know lots of editors and editorial assistants... maybe some of you can chime in with some advice for our new Southern friend?

**

ETA: So what, we can get one Southerner an internship or a job, possibly, maybe... How does any of this fix the BASELINE PROBLEM - lack of diversity in NYC publishing? Well, it doesn't. But if you would like to comment on that, I would love to hear it.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Awesome August Open Thread

I have three big posts going. One of them is an FAQ with a billion links, and it is taking forever. Two of them started as useful and ended up turning on me and becoming ranty -- need a bit of space before I go back and edit them for public consumption.

Soooo... I am starting the August open thread early. I will be away from my computer a lot the next couple of days, but I will hop on and answer periodically whenever I have the chance. So hit me with your publishing/agentish/booksellerish/etc questions. Or post pictures of cute animals, jokes, or whatever, that's fine too! ;-)

* Things I've answered a thousand times will go in the FAQ post.

* Things that require huge answers may get their own post.

* Everything else will be answered in the comments.

OK... GO!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Heatwave Linkfest

It is still a brazillion degrees here with thick air. Hope you are all staying cool. Drink plenty of water! This is good advice even if you aren't somewhere hot. (Also, if you aren't somewhere hot, please invite me over.) In honor of laziness, I'm just going to throw some awesome links at you:

I really admire this classic post by Neil Gaiman. I'm going to quote liberally because I like it so much. This is in response to a fan who is pissed that George R.R. Martin is blogging about things rather than being hard at work on the next book in his series, and WHY should GRRM be doing anything other than creating the thing that this reader wants? Neil says, in part:
"You don't choose what will work. You simply do the best you can each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.

And sometimes, and it's as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply don't feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the backup drive as well...

And life is a good thing for a writer. It's where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to stop and watch it."
And the most important takeaway? "George R.R. Martin is Not Your Bitch." 

************
A wonderful review of Kate Messner & Brian Floca's MARTY McGUIRE is up on Fuse #8:
"When it comes down to it, this isn’t your typical early chapter book. Messner likes to upset expectations once in a while... It’s a smart little novel that uses just as many words as it needs to. No more. No less. For those seeking relief from the onslaught of ubiquitous royalty, here is the answer to your prayers."
***********
Author Extraordinaire Saundra Mitchell had great points to make about aggressive book-blogger schwag-tactics in her recent post, "The Shake-Down." Remember:
"Most authors, even big name authors, have to pay for their own schwag. We pay for it to be designed and to be printed. We pay for the books that we send out on request. When we give away other authors’ books, we pay for those, too. And of course, we pay the postage. So when I’m figuring my budget, I have to decide when and where to spend that money very carefully...  It’s a tricky, symbiotic relationship we have going on online right now. And I know we’re all still trying to figure out how it all fits, and works together...
************
Finally, at 7-Imps, Jules has posted a terrific profile of two of my favorite (nonclient) illustrators, Sophie Blackall and Lauren Castillo. Ohhhh man their stuff is adorable. Please take a look.
ARE YOU AWAKE in particular makes me crack up:



Mom? MMM? Is Daddy awake? I HOPE SO. Why do you hope so?
BECAUSE HE’S FLYING A PLANE.”

                               

Why is he flying a plane? TO TAKE THE PEOPLE WHERE THEY WANT TO GO. But why do they want to go at night? SO THEY CAN BE THERE IN THE MORNING.
Is it morning yet? NO. Why isn’t it? BECAUSE IT’S STILL NIGHTTIME.”
 
:-)

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A whole lot of info about Picture Books

Q: My question is about children's picture books. Some say you need an agent for them and others say that you don't. I would like to find an agent but understand the market is quite competitive now. What can a children's picture book writer do to help their submission stand out from the rest?
 This seems like a few different questions to me, so I am going to separate them out if you don't mind.

1) Is the market for picture books quite competitive?  YES, it absolutely is. That is not to say that publishers are "not buying" picture books - they are! But the picture books they are buying look different from what was popular 5, 10, 20 years ago. And of course, in a bad economy, $17.00 for a 32 page book can seem a bit steep for many parents, and we all know that library budgets are being slashed - so publishers are being rightly conservative about what they choose to acquire.

2) Do I need an agent for picture books?  Yes! Or No! Yes, an agent will absolutely help you get in front of the eyes of the larger publishers. But many agents do not represent picture book authors, and picture books are one of the few categories in which some publishers, particularly smaller publishers, still accept unsolicited material "over the transom." So get yourself a book like the Children's Writers & Illustrators Market, or prepare to roll up your sleeves and do some online research, to figure out which route is right for you.  And note the following:


* Author-Illustrators:  This is not a must, of course... but if you are a superb illustrator, brush up on your storytelling skills. You'll just open yourself up to more opportunities if you are able to do both with ease. Most people cannot. Maybe you can. Great author-illustrators can be more appealing to agents than straight pb authors, because (to be frank) they tend to make more money.

* PB + Novels = Yay!: If you are not an illustrator - don't freak out! But you might consider trying your hand at chapter books or middle grade writing, too. Nothing wrong with being well-rounded. I myself only rep author-illustrators, and picture book text authors who also write novels - I have no authors who are text-only pb-only.

* Multiple texts: If you ARE text-only, pb-only - I would suggest querying when you have three polished texts. It will just give an interested agent a much better idea of your style and capabilities, since pbs are so very short. 

3) So what IS sparking editor and agent interest in terms of picture books nowadays?

This list is by no means exhaustive, but I have certainly noticed that books that have the following attributes tend to have a better shot at publication:

* Short. - NOTHING over 1,000 words. Under 650 is better. Under 450, better still. Some of the most popular current picture books are also among the shortest and most spare. (Think QUIET BOOK, etc.) Remember - a picture book is a very small, very well-lit stage. Absolutely every word must count. This is pretty much required.

* Reread power!  As I mentioned - $17 is pretty steep. So nobody wants a one-shot deal. This should be a book that adults won't mind reading over and over, and kids won't mind hearing over and over. It is terrific if the book works on different levels for different age kids, so that it is something whole families can read together. This is pretty much required.

* Character driven - a funny, cute, winsome character like Fancy Nancy, Pigeon, Ladybug Girl, Buglette, etc - either a child, or a proxy for a child, that the child reader will relate to - who can have many adventures in the future (not to mention lunchboxes, costumes, plush...) - this is appealing to publishers and agents, no doubt.  Not required, but appealing.


* Interactive - PRESS HERE is a perfect example of what I mean by an interactive picture book. If you haven't seen it, get thee to a bookstore!  SHARK vs TRAIN and CAT SECRETS, and yes, our friend Pigeon, are other great examples of picture books that invite the child listener to participate in the reading. Not required, it's just something that is popping up a lot, that I think is cool.

4) And what is sort of a turn-off, picture book wise:  Again, anything too long is a no-go. Also traditional folk tales are faring badly nowadays - not to say that they won't ever be bought, but... unless you are an established folklorist, I probably wouldn't go there if I were you. And there is quite a glut of books on topics like "Bedtime," so if that is where you are going with your book, you had better either be an illustrator with the CUTEST illustrations ever - or else be bringing something fresh to the topic (which at this point is pretty difficult, but can be done.)

TIP: I'd suggest that all folks who are really interested in writing picture books go spend a few hours every week at the library or bookstore. Look at a hundred or so picture books published in the past three years. Make a note of your favorites. Do they fit into any of the categories above? Ask the librarian or bookseller which ones are most popular and what their favorites are. Can you see similarities? Who published your favorites? Are those publishers open to unagented submissions?

ETA: To be perfectly clear - I am not suggesting you COPY anyone or "write to a trend" - you just need to know the basic parameters, what works and what doesn't and how picture books are put together, before you can create your own piece of amazing. At the end of the day, commenter DP below is quite correct: 

"Ignore what's been selling, make what appeals to you--and make it so good it can't be ignored." 

Any other PB tips I am missing or questions I didn't address?  Feel free to add in comments.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Fireworks Open Thread

FunCheapSF's city fireworks guide

Happy 4th of July, Americans!

This week I am in San Francisco helping my sister move house and attending agency meetings, among other things, and access to the interwebs is spotty at best. However! I will still happily do an open thread this month, as it is tradition - and because then I can pop by and answer questions whenever I have time during the week.

So if you have a burning question about agentish stuff, publishing, books, or whatever, feel free to ask. If your question does not appear for a while, it is in the moderation queue, don't worry.  Annnnnnd.... GO!

Monday, June 20, 2011

Selling Yourself, and Selling Yourself Short

"I'm the first to admit that I'm not much of a writer, but I have stories burning inside me, and I want a professional book editor/agent such as yourself to help shape my work..."
This is not an actual quote, but it might as well be.  I get similar in the inbox several times a week.

Problems with this thinking:

First, I am not an editor, and though I might wear a fancy cape on occasion, I am also not a magician.

Oh, I can certainly help my authors put the polish on their already-terrific manuscripts, but turning your uncooked lump of Idea Dough into a delicious Book Pie is not my job. That you've presented your query in such a way shows a real lack of understanding about what agents are for, and is a sure sign that you are not ready yet.

But more importantly, the line "I'm not much of a writer" is a real turnoff. The query is the only thing I have on you at this point. Self-deprecation is unattractive. If you are saying it because you are being coy, or because you don't want to come off as braggy, or because you really think that you aren't a writer unless you are published, I have news for you: Writers write. If you write, you are a writer. It isn't a title that has to be bestowed on you by the Queen of Booklandia. I read a tweet yesterday that I liked and retweeted:
"You're not a writer till a writer says you're a writer." -Harlan Ellison // Okay then.  "All you people who write? You're writers." -Me
 I work for writers. Real, professional-level writers.  If you "aren't much of a writer," I will never, ever sign you as a client. Call me crazy, but I really do want writers who are GREAT AT WRITING. It is a prerequisite, in fact. I have a ton of faith in the writers I represent, and even when they are feeling low about it, I know that they can do amazing things with words. They've proved it to me.

But as a person querying, I don't know you yet. I can't possibly have more confidence in your work than you do.

I'm not suggesting you puff yourself up or brag. Just be straightforward. If you're applying for a job as Town Blacksmith, you say that you're a Blacksmith, not a Baker. Or better yet, you say nothing about it, and let the 'smithing tell the story for you.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Linkety-link!

A wee link roundup for you, so I can close some tabs:

The Big Black Cat did a fun interview with me, including NO questions about queries, and a little contest!

Two great links about the Pinkwater/Brown collaboration, Edward Lear for the 21st century, HIS SHOES WERE FAR TOO TIGHT! First up, a shout out from Jules, writing for Kirkus.  Also, a swell mention on Anita Silvey's Children's Book-A-Day Almanac. *swoon*

If you are a teacher, librarian or book club leader who would like a free, groovy Marty McGuire discussion guide, Scholastic would love to send it to you.

Talented client Gwenda Bond edited the all-YA edition of Subterranean Online.... and it features a story from other talented client Tiffany Trent (among others!) - Check it out.

Oh did I mention that THE REVENANT by Sonia Gensler is now officially out in the world? Yes. Yes it  is. Buy two! (Especially if you were a fan of A NORTHERN LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly, or if you like ghost stories and romance!)

Have a great week, all - not sure if I will have time to post for a bit, but I am thinking of you.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

On Boredom

A lot of YA and MG slush pile offerings open with something like this - a totally made up example:
"There was nothing to do in this dumb subdivision. Every house looked the same. Cookie cutter. The heat was oppressive. I idly tossed a crumpled up piece of paper at the trash can and missed. Sweat made my t-shirt stick to my skin. I fell back onto  my pillow and stared at the popcorn ceiling. Nothing to do today. Nothing to do all summer long. This was the most boring place in the world."
This is a personal pet peeve of mine. When I was a kid I did a lot of whining about how I was bored, and my wise grandmother would say, “bored people are boring.” And I'd get insulted, because I certainly did not think of myself as boring. But guess what? It also made me pipe down and find something to amuse myself with. (Particularly when she combined that with the follow-up, "If you're so bored, I'll give you something to do." And a meaningful look at dustrags.)

The point is, your main character has to be DOING something. They have to be an active, non-boring person. There has to be a reason you are telling their story, for pity's sake. Don't make hanging around with them a drag. Because truly, pages of characters hanging around complaining about how there is nothing to do is just not compelling. Your readers - kids - already KNOW there is nothing to do in the suburbs half the time – that is why they spent $16 bucks on a book.

Don’t make them turn to drugs instead.

Slush Pile Triage

I am going to start off by saying, I have never worked in a hospital or on a battlefield or at a vet's office or even played Operation (well, I had a set when I was little but it only worked half the time and it was always missing Tennis Elbow).

But I wanted to talk about how I deal with the constant influx of queries, and the metaphor that comes to mind is "triage."

Once I was in an emergency room, and I saw a triage chart. I remember asking what it was all about, and the nurse explained that it the system that dictates how they decide who to treat first in a hospital. Let's say there is a disaster and dozens of people are brought in at once. The victims have to be prioritized and sorted into groups to allow the doctors to do their jobs most efficiently and allocate resources appropriately.

If a person is dead, he does not need help. MORGUE

If a person has something very tiny wrong with them, they can wait - but in a crisis it'd be advantageous to just patch them up and get them the hell out of the emergency room quickly so that more people can be admitted, or so they themselves could help. MINOR

If a person is in severe pain with a complicated problem, or is definitely terminal, but the pain can be managed by use of a painkiller, then it behooves the hospital to give them the painkiller, make them comfortable and move on, and come back to that person later when they have the time and manpower to solve the issue.  DELAYED

If a person is dying, and they must be treated RIGHT NOW to live, then it can't wait. IMMEDIATE

"So what the heck does this have to do with MY QUERY, Jennifer? ARE YOU SUGGESTING THAT I SEND IT TO THE MORGUE!?"

Shhhh, honey. It's OK. It's only a metaphor. You know how I always say that I look at submissions "In the order received"?  That is true.  HOWEVER...

Think of me as that nurse, sorting through slush pile. Managing the query inbox is essentially like figuring out how to tag items.

MORGUE: First I look at the pile (inbox) as a whole and quickly assess what I can delete immediately. These are queries that do not follow guidelines, and/or are for types of books I simply do not rep. I can sort them at a glance.

MINOR: These are quick passes. With a quick read of the query and pages, I can tell that this is not resonating with me. I need to get it out of the inbox as fast as possible. (How fast this is entirely depends on how much I have stacked up, but response time goes from about one day to about 4 weeks.)

DELAYED: These are queries that seem really cool, or the author comes recommended, but I have to give them more thought. I will generally star and hold onto the queries a bit and re-read after a bit of time has passed. If I am still unsure, I'll request fulls for these queries, both so I can read more and because that buys me time. (Response times vary but at the moment are anywhere from 3-6 months - though I actually hope to remedy this soon and make it faster, as I think am catching up.)

IMMEDIATE: These are queries from VERY well published authors, or there is some sort of a deadline that makes it hot, such as somebody who has a publishing contract in hand. Also, if I have a full that receives an offer of rep from another party, they will get bumped to this category. ("Immediate" is relative, but, it typically means about a week.)

ETA: TO CLARIFY:  Just because something is "immediate" does NOT mean that it is a Yes. In fact, much like how the red-zone people in our hospital scenario often don't make it, if I have to make a quick decision on a manuscript, the decision will often be No. It will ONLY be a Yes if I love it enough to go down fighting for it, because I probably won't get the opportunity to ask for revisions or anything else before signing the person. "Delayed" manuscripts are a bit more likely to make it out of the hospital alive, because if I like it but it needs some work, I'll have the time to think about it, write a revision letter, chat with the author, etc.

Naturally, there is another triage situation that goes on with client manuscripts (books that need a major edit might take longer than books that have already been revised, etc.) AND with daily regular emails (ads get sent to the morgue immediately - yes or no answers pretty much get dealt with immediately - answers that require more thought get starred and dealt with later). And I am sure that anyone who gets 100+ emails a day for their job can probably relate to that.

So does that make things simpler, or more confusing?

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Who to Query First

Q: Do I query my favourite agents first or second? Please help.
This has come up a lot lately and I don't get it.

I am told that authors don't want to "burn bridges" by sending out substandard queries to their A-List of agents - so they send them to the B-list of agents instead, figuring that that way, they'll have time to hone the query if it isn't working, and then send the stronger material to the A-listers.

Huh?

First of all, it's extremely rude to ask someone who you don't really want as an agent, to read your work just because you want feedback. What if they love the book and say YES? Are you going to tell them, oh yeah, no, you aren't actually my first choice, I was just testing the waters? Are you going to let them sit there and twiddle their thumbs while you send out MORE queries?  What a waste of their time.

Then, are you going to query your "dream agent" but say, "Oh sorry, you have to rush, I know you're extremely busy but I already have another agent on the hook, so can you read this by the end of the week"? If they are really your "dream agent", why are you treating them with so little regard?

Your query is not an EXPERIMENT. It should be great. Send it when it is great. Here's how I would do it:

1) If you don't know how to write a great query, learn. Consider joining a message board like the VerlaKay Blue Board (for kids & YA) or AbsoluteWrite (for YA and adult), and soak up some wisdom there, or have your query critiqued in their forums. Visit the Query Shark for wise words and examples of what NOT to do.

2) Once your query is all polished and shiny and beautiful, make a list of agents. On the list: Agents that you have heard of - agents that rep books that you love - agents who rep your type of book, that you find via a service like AgentQuery or QueryTracker. This will probably be a long list.


3) Look up every single agent in at least three places: A) Look them up on Preditors and Editors. Cross their names OFF THE LIST if they are noted as a scam or bad agency.   B) Google them and look up their website. Most agencies do have some sort of web presence at this point. C) If you can afford a $20 month-long subscription to Publishers Marketplace, you can look them up and find out their sales. Note that not all agents list their sales - but lots do, and this should give you a good sense of what kind of books they do. C2.) If you CAN'T afford that subscription, try googling something like "Agent Name" Interview and see if you can't find more info about them that way. 

4) Weed the list: Now at this point your "LongList" should be free of all the awful scam artists, people who don't really rep what you write, people with no sales from shady agencies, etc. (NOTE: Newer agents, who might not have many sales, but are with great agencies, can be a good opportunity because they are often actively building their lists.) So everyone on the longlist is at this point reputable. And you know a bit more about all of them. Now think about this list. Really think about it. Divide it into "who I would swoon for" "who I would probably like a lot" and "who I actually wouldn't like, now that you mention it."

5) GET RID OF GROUP THREE.  If it isn't an agent you'd want to do business with, don't query them. Getting rid of any ones you feel negatively about means that now you ONLY have good agents that you'd like to work with on your list. Do NOT get hung up on the concept of a "dream agent" - you want a good, reputable, communicative agent who clicks with your work and will be a great rep for it, but you won't know who that is until they have actually read your work.

6) Create a batch: You can choose your own way of doing this. But if I were doing it, I would choose about 10 agents - a healthy mix of 'rock stars' and fairly new up-and-comer agents at established agencies. Make sure you know their submission guidelines, and follow them.  

7) Hit them with your awesome, supersonic query... and see what happens. You are prepared - you've done your research - you have the awesome. So if you get nothing but form rejects, there is something wrong with your query or sample pages and it isn't actually supersonic.  Then you recalibrate - check again for supersonicness - and make another batch, this time another healthy mix of agent types. Nobody on the list you've is bad, everyone is vetted for scamlessness and has the taste to rep the books you write, so it is just a matter of finding the one that clicks with your work. Yay!

Make sense? Or did I totally miss the point of the original question?

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Go Team Writemoreplease!

Yesterday, twitter-peep @BriaQuinlan asked the following questions of her followers:
QUESTION: What does it say to you when you see that an agent's clients are tight on twitter (or blogs, etc)??? Anything? ...[if] there's an obvious bond of some sort inside an agency - do you think that means anything about the agent herself? ... Would you feel like you were missing out if you joined an agency where the clients didn't have this "team" feeling?
So you might wonder, hey there Jenn, why should this provoke a response from you? After all, um... she's kinda sorta talking about agents like YOU.

And it is true. I have a group of clients who are very active on Twitter (as, of course, I am myself) - and they have been known to refer to themselves jokingly as the "Literaticult" (ha ha). Lots of my clients share manuscripts with one another, are critique partners, or are just pals, online or off. I try to offer galleys of my clients work to any other client who wants to read and asks me (subject to availability, of course.)

Also, I know some agents who host client retreats and say it is an amazing experience. I can't speak to that, I've never been to one, but I know people love them. The agency DOES host the Big Sur Writer's Conference, which many clients do attend (though it is open to the public, is mostly NON-clients who attend, and client attendance is by no means required or expected.) It is always great fun to be able to hang out with authors and talk books, and writing, in such a beautiful setting.

Anyway. Back on topic. I'm going to tell you a little story.

A certain client (who I LOVE btw, and who is a princess of social media, and I am in no way disparaging her glee or good intentions), when I signed her up, was swept away with enthusiasm."Jennifer!" she exclaimed. "I am going to start a LIST-SERV for your clients! And we'll have a GROUP BLOG! and you can do RETREATS! And we will be RAD and BRAG ABOUT EACH OTHER ON TWITTER and and and it will be soooo awesooome! Woooo!!!!"

Pretty sure that is a direct quote. ;-)

I told her to slow her roll. I think she might have been surprised that I wasn't into this idea.

But the fact is, though all my clients do have websites of some sort, only maybe half of them are active on Twitter or Facebook or have active blogs. Yes. The All-Powerful "Literaticult"... isn't. It only consists of half the people I rep. Less, even, when you consider that many folks have an account that they rarely use.

I don't want my authors who are not all over Twitter to ever feel like they are not one of the "cool kids." I don't want people who can't afford to fly to some far-off location for a retreat to feel like they are missing out on something important. I don't want people who just aren't interested in blogging or socializing with virtual friends or getting tons of newsy list-serv emails from strangers to feel like they are somehow being punished for having different priorities. Or for 'outsiders' to feel jealous, or like I am promoting cliquishness, because I am really really not.

Of course, I think that all my clients are adorable geniuses. I love all their books and think we all have similarly good taste, and so chances are good that they will like one another's books too. And I am glad that so many of them do seem to get along and have organically become friends, because I think they are all genuinely really great and talented people. So of course, I am totally fine with it if my clients meet up and have fun together. If they want to start their OWN retreats amongst themselves. If they want to be cheer one another on, be Twitter Pals or Blog Buddies or Crit Partners or whatever.  I just don't want it to feel like any of this is something that you must do to be "IN."

Fact: If you know who an agent's clients are because of social media, and read their books, it might give you insight into their taste, which might help you target your submission with accuracy. Fact: The "team" feeling definitely makes some authors, particularly newbie authors, feel a part of something, and gives them an automatic group of people who know what they are going through, which is all very nice for somebody starting out in this often-confusing business. Fact: When you are a full-time writer, it can be isolating - social media friends can help enormously, especially if they "get" where you are coming from. Fact: It is good PR for the agent to have high-profile clients talking to one another about their books, and today's newbies coming up together are tomorrow's stars.

But...

It is really easy for people in the blogosphere, or the twitterverse, to assume that everyone important is in the blogosphere or the twitterverse. But they really aren't. Not even close. Most people aren't big on Twitter. That's fine. If this is not your "thing", never fear.

If I had to choose one, I would 100% rather my clients be writing their next book than being goofballs with each other on the internet. The writing always has to come first.


SO... what do YOU think? Does it matter to you if you see these seeming agency "teams" on Twitter and the like? Do you feel that it tells you something about the agent? And if so, what?

Monday, May 30, 2011

June-Bugs Open Thread

BEA madness is officially over for another year, and I managed to get out of it with only a scratchy throat rather than the full-fledged flu that usually occurs. Then the long Memorial Day weekend has been full of blissful reading (client manuscripts and - gasp! - an actual book, too!)  Miss Moxie has been napping through most of these recent hot, muggy days, but we did do a quick stroll through the Vanderbilt estate yesterday. (She likes to pretend she is owned by fancy people.)


I know that I will have time tonight and tomorrow to answer questions... and I know I will NOT have time later in the week. SO, I have decided to open the open-thread a bit early this time around. You know the drill:

Regale me with your agentish (or booksellerish) questions. Short answers will go in the comments, long answers may merit a post of their own. 

Annnnd.... ACTION!



Sunday, May 29, 2011

Response, No Response, Autoresponse

A peek behind the curtain at the Agency:

Some weeks ago (a month or more, actually) ABLit underwent a server change. Now, that may not mean much to you (it didn't to me, until it happened) - but the repercussions were, well, irritating for us, and for many of you as well. To wit: I didn't get email at all for a couple of days, at least. And once that was fixed, there was still the little matter of Querys.

The Great Autoresponder Crisis of '11.
Autorespondergate.
Gotterdamurautoresponder.

We realized we had a problem when writers started panicking. They'd write, or just resend queries over and over, or call the agency up, or post mean things about us on message boards, because DID THEIR QUERIES GO THROUGH????  Then came email... after email... after email... to our valiant webmistress and various People Who Know Things About Things. Then more a month or more of MORE emails, where everyone at the agency processed the fact that, apparently, for whatever reason, our new server made our Query Autoresponder null, and impossible to restore.  Sigh. We all went around in circles about WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE AUTORESPONDER.

At a certain point I just wanted the whole thing to go to the devil and start taking paper queries again. Who even needs a computer? But now, thank goodness, sanity has been restored.

When you query me, if you follow submission guidelines and put "query" in the subject line of the email, you should get an email that looks something like this:
This is a confirmation that your email was received.

Because of the high volume of submissions we receive, we are not always able to respond personally to every query. If we are interested in your work, we will follow up with you by email or phone. However, If you haven't heard from us within 6-8 weeks, please assume your work is not a fit for our agency. 


We do understand and appreciate the effort that goes into getting your work out, and we wish we had time to respond personally to all submissions. Unfortunately, this is no longer a business reality.
Thank you for thinking of Andrea Brown Literary Agency in regard to your work. 
I am sharing the contents of this automatic message with you here on the blog so I can make a few points about it. And, because I get questions about it all the time, and I like to be transparent, I'll share with you my method of query-reading, and a bit more on our response policy.

1) This is merely an automatic message. It is in no way a judgment about the quality of the work you have presented. It is not a rejection. It is not anything. There is no need for a response to this.

1b) In fact, if you respond to this, because I have threaded email, your query will move farther away from the front of the line, because I read queries in the order received. (It doesn't matter too much, but just a point of fact.)

2) Because we are, theoretically, a "No Response Means No" agency, a lot of writers get quite distressed, thinking we might not even GET their query, and how would they know? This automatic message seeks to remedy this problem. At least you know that the query got to us.

3) The reality is, we get a crushing amount of email every week. Most of my colleagues adhere strictly to "No Response Means No." And they will probably want to strangle me for saying this (sorry guys). But... I really do try to respond to things, at least with a one-line form rejection, despite the fact that our official policy is "No Response Means No." It is just a personal quirk of mine, I truly hate leaving loose ends.

I read everything myself. EVERYTHING. I do not have a reader for slush. I tend to read things a few days a week, sort them into folders, and then respond all on one day a month. My response time is generally 4-6 weeks or less. However, there have been times where that is just impossible despite my best intentions, and I don't want you to be endlessly on the string... so, yeah. If you haven't heard in 8 weeks, consider it a no. And I do not respond to material that falls outside the scope of what I represent, nor to authors who have failed to follow our (very simple) query guidelines.

Remember: Client reading MUST come first, Slush reading MUST come last. I like you, but you are not a priority... which is, of course, something that my clients appreciate. And you will too, if you become a client.

4) You really don't have to respond to form rejections, either. In fact, it is just more stuff in the query box to wade through, and I'd rather you didn't. I don't need thanks, and I just don't have time for follow-up questions of the "who WOULD like this, then" variety - that is research you should be doing yourself. Though a "thanks" for extensive notes on a full is appreciated, if only so that I know that you got them.

5) If something is good, but not right for the agent you have selected, we will share it with our colleagues. For this reason, a "No" from one of us is a "No" from all of us - even if it is of the "no response" variety. The only exception to this is if you have made a connection to one of us at a conference or similar and we have requested your work -- but if so, please be up-front about your query history at the agency.

I apologize personally for any confusion that this dark period in our email lives has caused. If you have questions, or anything about this is unclear, feel free to ask in comments.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

(Book) Siblings are Good. Twins can be Trouble.

Q: People say when you're researching agents, you should look at the acknowledgements of  books like yours to find out who reps them. But yesterday I saw you tweet that sometimes books are "too similar" and you reject them for that reason. What gives?
Yes. You should find an agent who reps the type of books you write, has similar taste to yours, and seems to "get it." This probably means doing research about some of your favorite writers and finding out who reps them.

But also yes, when you get right down to it, an agents list can really only have so many of one type of book before it starts getting boring and repetitive. And as far as specific plots and such, one will do.  As @earthwards on twitter said, "Think complementary, not competing!" Some for examples:

1) If you look on my sidebar you will see that I have two mermaid books. They are very different. One is contemporary and has to do with the world of Northern California surfing. One is romantic and historical and very much a fantasy-land story. They are not competing with one another. But I also don't need any MORE mermaid stories.

2) Or, to use a made-up example, maybe I have a funny and heartfelt contemporary YA about an Arab-American girl struggling to fit in and get out from under her controlling family. I have tried but so far haven't been able to sell it. I don't need another story about an Arab-American girl struggling to fit in, no matter how good it is, because I haven't been able to sell the one I've already got.

3) Or, let's say I do take on two similar folks.  Illustrator A draws super-cute retro characters with a high-action, cartoony feel. I love his work. I've repped him for two years. He's busy, but always looking for more illustration work.

Illustrator B draws super-cute retro characters with a high-action, cartoony feel. I love her work. I say, what the hell, it is like A's work... but I like it! I'll rep it. She's new, and building her resume.

Editor calls. "I need a cool illustrator who does super-cute retro illustrations with a high-action, cartoony feel. Can you send me samples from your best illustrator who fits the bill?"  But I have two people like that. Who do I send? What if I pick one and the other one finds out they didn't even get considered because I didn't show their work? What if I send both but one of them finds out that they didn't get the job because my other illustrator did? Ew. Not good.

4) OR, Author A writes a comedic paranormal about zombie tapdancers. I love it! So I take it on. I shop it a bunch of places, it gets a whole lot of rejections, and finally I sell it.
Author B writes a comedic paranormal, about zombie ballerinas. I love it! So what the hey, I take it on. Oh but... where do I shop it? I can't sell it to the same publisher that just bought A's book. Nor can I send it to any of the editors who passed on A. I am sure I could find more folks with some footwork, but then what if I sell the book, and the two are published at the same time, by different publishers?

Now Book A and Book B are directly competing with one another. Of course ALL books are competing with one another... but there is no way that these two authors in this scenario will not feel like they are each other's biggest competition.  Every book review will mention the fact that there is another Zombie Dancing book, every publisher will look at the numbers next to each other, and one of them will probably do better than the other. Recriminations fly. Zombie Tapdancer feels like his publisher didn't do enough to sell the book. Zombie Ballerina is angry about all the goodreads reviews that call her a copycat.

I'm the agent, who is meant to take the author's side... but... they are BOTH my author. Awkward. There is really only room for one comedic paranormal Zombie Dancer on the list.

Get it?

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wordcount Dracula

Q: My middle grade novel is complete at 250,000 words, and have five sequels planned which will each be approximately the same length. I know that this is considered "long" but I really can't cut anything, it is all integral to the story. What do you think?
Hold that thought, I am tying a noose.

In all seriousness... while this actually happens to be a fake question, I get queries for books this long all the time. And really? The idea of reading 1.5 million words, or even 250k words, makes me feel dead inside. Your story does not need to be this long, I promise you. (If it DOES need to be this long, it is not a middle grade, or it should be divided into 20 books, not 6.)

YES, if you are hugely successful with your first book, your publisher will want lots more books from you. YES, the more successful your books, the longer they will get to be without anyone batting an eyelash (see: Harry Potter series). But no publisher will let you publish a debut novel that needs to be a lengthy series in order to make sense, or a debut children's novel of 200,000+ words. This is the reality.

I am on the record as saying I don't really care about word counts unless they are so off-the wall out of bounds that it is absurd. And it is true. But there are generally accepted norms for this sort of thing that you should be aware of. I've pulled some new and classic examples in each fiction category so you can see how they vary.

PICTURE BOOK:  0-1,300 words. Sweet spot: 300-550*
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak: 336
Mostly Monsterly by Tammi Sauer: 348
Fancy Nancy by Jane O'Connor: 418
Ladybug Girl by David Soman: 721
* Note: I really advise clients to keep their picture books under 600 words - 800 at the very top. Picture books in the 1,000+ word range are generally folktales and fairy tales... and are not exactly in fashion. Unless you are a really gifted folklorist, I would not go down this road. There are very few such authors in the country. They know who they are.

EARLY READER: 100-2,500 words. Sweet spot: (depends on level)*
Elephant and Piggie: Can I Play Too? by Mo Willems: 199
On the Go with Pirate Pete and Pirate Joe by AE Cannon: 1,180
Dodsworth in London by Tim Egan: 1,293
Little Bear by Else Minarik: 1,630
Frog and Toad All Year by Arnold Lobel: 1,727
*Note: Because these books are meant for brand-new readers, these books are often marked according to level - the higher the level, the more sophisticated/longer the text can be. Publishers may have their own specific guidelines about these leveled readers, even requiring a certain number of syllables per page for readability. 

CHAPTER BOOK: 4,000-13,000 words. Sweet spot: 6,000-10,000
Magic Tree House Lions at Lunchtime by Mary Pope Osborne: 5,313
Junie B. Jones and the Stupid Smelly Bus by Barbara Park: 6,570
My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett: 7,682
Judy Moody was in a Mood by Megan McDonald: 11,049 

REALISTIC MIDDLE GRADE: 25,000-60,000 words. Sweet spot: 30,000-45,000
Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban: 29,052
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson: 32,888
Ruby Holler by Sharon Creech: 44,907
Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner: 48,454 

FANTASY MIDDLE GRADE: 35,000-75,000 words. Sweet spot: 45,000-65,000
Juliet Dove, Queen of Love by Bruce Coville: 43,912
White Mountains by John Christopher: 44,763
Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander: 46,926
Midnight for Charlie Bone by Jenny Nimmo: 65,006
Harry Potter & the Sorceror's Stone by JK Rowling: 77,508 

REALISTIC YA: 40,000-90,000 words*. Sweet spot: 45,000-75,000
Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles: 40,480
Great Call of China by Cynthea Liu: 52,532
Flash Burnout by LK Madigan: 67,186 
Looking for Alaska by John Green: 69,023
Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly: 71,935 

FANTASY YA: 50,000 words to 150,000 words**. Sweet Spot: 65,000-85,000 words.
Magic Under Glass by Jackie Dolamore: 55,787
Tithe by Holly Black: 66,069 
Wicked Lovely by Melissa Marr: 73,426
Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray: 95,605
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare: 130,949  
Eragon by Christopher Paolini: 157,000

* This is especially true for debuts. Once you are famous, all bets are off.

* * It is really not advisable to go over 100,000 words as a debut author, unless you already have a following. Consider yourself warned - 100k is often the magic number that makes editors and agents curse, cry, and possibly delete. Not that you CAN'T be published over 100k, it definitely happens for select super-awesome YA fantasy in particular... just that it really will be yet another hurdle for you.

In every category, there are also a few random outliers, like Sarah, Plain and Tall (a middle grade at 9,000 words) or This Is All: The Pillow Book of Cordelia Kenn (a YA at 250,000) ... but for the purposes of this exercise, let's assume that you aren't Patricia MacLachlan or Aidan Chambers.  

ETA: Remember, this list is by no means exhaustive and should not be considered law. Don't get too freaked out about it... just find the average word count for books similar to your own, and try to be somewhere vaguely in the ballpark.

So how can you find these numbers yourself? Well, while the Accelerated Reader program is lame in a lot of ways, this is a very handy tool: To find pretty much any kids / YA word count, you can use the AR BookFinder. (Click 'librarian' or 'teacher' and then search for books like yours - click on the titles to get all kinds of info about them, including wordcount!)

Sunday, May 01, 2011

May Day Open Thread

Happy flowers! Sunshine! Trees! IT'S SPRING!  (actually this pic was taken during a spot of rain - but I like the flowers.)

ANYwhoo, I'm romping outside today, but when I come back I will answer questions on the open thread. If you have inquiries about agentish stuff, publishing, books in general, dogs, or whatever, throw them at me. As always, short answers will be in comments, long answers may warrant their own blog post.

Annnnnd.... GO!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

WTF is up with cursing in YA?

I answered this one in the April open thread, but it was buried and since I know a lot of people are curious about this stuff...
Q: I've come to disagreement w/ a friend over acceptable word choices for YA. The main cause of argument is the word "boner." The MCs are a 14 y/o girl and a 15 y/o boy. I can't see the word being acceptable, yet, she disagrees 100% with me. I realize boys, in fact, use the word but do I want my 13 or 14 y/o daughter reading it? No.
BONER is about the least offensive word to do with erect penises that I can think of, and if you are writing a YA set in high school that includes those body parts, it is ok to use. I wouldn't even call this a curse, really --  in some circles, it still means "to mess up" (like "pull a boner" is the same as "boneheaded maneuver") -- and not "erect penis."

Does that mean YOU have to use it? No. Does it mean YOU have to allow your daughter to read books that contain it? No. But will it be fine to publish for high school students? For sure. Provided of course that it is right for the character, that it makes sense in context and you aren't just randomly throwing words around.

Now, of course, there is such a thing as clean YA, in which you pretty much want to avoid any blush-inducing "downstairs" business.  But if you are writing scenes in which boners come into play, I am assuming that you are not writing strictly clean. (Still, you might look at a book like E. Lockhart's FLY ON THE WALL, which if I recall correctly was pretty clean, considering the fact that it takes place almost entirely in a boy's locker room... maybe there are other words you can use.)
Q: The first line of my manuscript uses the f-word twice. Line: "I can sum up my entire life in either of two words: f**k this or I quit. Maybe a grand total of four: f**k this, I quit." Would things like this turn agents away?
F**K no. ;-)

I am kidding, of course. MOST agents and editors who rep a lot of 14+ YA will think a few well-chosen curse words are no problem. And yes, that includes the asterisk-free "F-bomb."  You want to use it fairly sparingly, I think, but sometimes, for some characters, in some situations, there just might not be a better word. Again, you aren't going to sell these books to inspirational publishers, or to editors who focus on Clean Tween / "younger YA" fic, or who rely mostly on school/library sales - but those wouldn't have been appropriate publishers anyway, from the sounds of it.

Myself, it wouldn't stop me from reading more. But I might question whether that has to be the first line of the first page. First, because I wouldn't want somebody just glancing at the book to get the wrong idea of it.  And, I sorta feel like I want to get to know a character and be rooting for them in a way before I start seeing all the unsavory parts of their personality. A couple pages in, after (presumably) we understand WHY he might have an "eff this" attitude, it will come off differently than if that is the first thing we ever learn about him. Your first page sets the tone for the whole thing, and if the whole thing is going to be like this, it might be sort of tiresome 200+ pages in. (Again - I haven't read your book - maybe it works perfectly as-is. But without context, this is what crosses my mind.)

You might also consider seeing what other YA authors have done. Lots (like the previously mentioned E. Lockhart, as well as John Green and many others) use made up slang to express the feeling without relying on the actual curse. Sometimes unique word usage actually helps create a well-rounded character, because cursing CAN be a lazy writer's way of making a character seem "edgy."

Friday, April 29, 2011

Link Roundup!

Let's close some tabs, shall we?

Here's a thoughtful post from Janni Lee Simner about the not-death of traditional publishing. Yes! Publishers are still good for some stuff after all, it seems. Surprise!

RomCom author Tawna Fenske pulls together some eye-opening posts about authors & money.

A great post from Jennifer Crusie about the basics of fiction writing.

Nathan Bransford warns against the "Spaghetti Agent."

And this just in from Client Pimpage Central:

Love funny stories? Love Dogs? Love Jews? Love funny stories about Dogs and Jews? UNCLE BORIS IN THE YUKON by Daniel Pinkwater is available again at last from Simon & Schuster.

The CORSETS & CLOCKWORK anthology is out from Running Press and includes stories from my own authors Tiffany Trent and Jackie Dolamore. Book Pixie has a contest to win a copy - ends 5/3.




Monday, April 25, 2011

On Agency Agreements

Twitter-Q: What sorts of clauses should we watch for in the agent contract? Do authors ever have an attorney review before they sign?
I've been asked a variation of this question several times in recent days. I can trace the current anxiety surrounding this issue to a specific blog post from last week, this one from agent Kristen Nelson. I could have sworn that I'd written about this topic before, but I couldn't find in the blarchives, so here's my take:

I prefer to call the document in question an "Agency Agreement" rather than "contract" -- it is a contract, of course, but in my experience it is a much gentler, more genial, and much less confusing document than a publisher contract, and "agreement" more accurately fits the tone of the thing. Plus then it doesn't get confused with all the actual publishing contracts we will be negotiating on your behalf down the line. :-)

The agency agreements I've seen have been quite short and easy to understand. There should be nothing "gotcha" or secret about the terms set forth in the agreement. You should not need a team of lawyers or experts to parse the language, in fact, since the terms of the agreement are often so simple ("this is our commission" for example), they are often non-negotiable, so a lawyer would be a waste of your money. (That said, of course you may spend your money however you like... I'd just look at it before you start getting lawyered up.)

The agent you are signing with should make time to walk you through the agreement. If you feel totally freaked out by the complexity of the agreement, and are too scared to ask questions, or don't understand the answers... you might be signing with the wrong agent.

Here's are the big points an agency agreement should contain, and things to watch out for. NOTE: Some agencies have no agreements at all, it is all verbal/handshake. Some agencies will have more or less items, or have these worded in different ways, or in a different order, but these are in general items that should be covered either in your written agreement or in your conversation pre-"handshake" deal:

1. Scope of Representation: What is the agent repping? (books? short stories? magazine work? subrights? everything?) Is this a one year contract, or open-ended? I know that some agencies do a year at a time, and the contract renews (or doesn't) each year. Some do a book at a time, and the contract renews (or doesn't) when there is a new book. It is my experience, however, that many or most agents are "at-will" - in other words, we are your agent until such time as either party decides to part ways. Make sure you know what the agent is going to rep for you, and if this is a contract that has a specific term, or if it is open-ended.

2. Commission: How much the agent gets paid, and for what, and how the money will be distributed. Notes:

* Agents typically get 15% on regular book sales, and 20 or 25% on subrights that involve one or more co-agents (ie, Hollywood or foreign). I've heard of slight variations on this, but wildly different commission rates would set off major alarm bells for me.

* Money typically goes from the publisher to the agency, they take their commission out and forward your part to you. It is my understanding that legally, this has to happen within 2 weeks of the agency receiving the check. There may be exceptions to this arrangement, in which the publisher sends your portion of the monies directly -- for example, if you live in a foreign country, this might alleviate some of the bank fees. Doesn't really matter either way, but you need to know how you're going to get paid, and I would want this in the agreement.

* Expenses: If you request unusual services such as courier, overnight delivery, etc, you may have to pay for such expenses (I have never once had to charge expenses in this fashion, because my clients don't request unusual services. Regular postage, office supplies, etc, I pay for). In addition, you may have to pay for shipping of your own book overseas for foreign sales. This is normal. Any such charges should be well-explained to you, and documented/invoiced. NOT NORMAL: Requiring you to go out of pocket for special 3rd party editors or "consulting services" or similar. Major. Red. Flag.


* Agents typically get their commission for any book that they sell, for the lifetime of that publishing contract. When the book goes out of print and rights revert to you, 20 years from now or whatever, you've gotten a new agent and she sells the book to a publisher who re-prints it, the first agent should not get any % from that sale. Likewise, the new agent will not get any % from the first agent's sale. I have clients who sold their first book with another agent, or by themselves - I get no % from that. But if I sell that book to France, that is a new contract, and I get the %. Make sense?  However THIS is where the "in perpetuity" problem that K.N. talked about in her blog post comes in. Do make sure that the agency is only receiving commission for what they actually sell, not on the book in any permutation in perpetuity. UNLIKE K.N., I have never actually seen this wording in an agency agreement, but I have no doubt that it sometimes exists.


3. Termination:  This will set forth how either party can "break up". It will probably say something like, you must notify the other party in writing (or possibly by registered mail). Some agencies, you are able to move on effective immediately,  BUT any and all work subbed by the first agent will continue to be repped by that agent. So, you can get a new agent tomorrow - but if we get an offer because of work that I did and a submission that I made, I will negotiate that contract and your new agent will have nothing to do with it.

At other agencies, there may be 30, 60 or even 90 days built in here where the agent can tie up loose ends, withdraw books that are on submission, and during which you would be obliged not to get new representation. This is just an additional guarantee that the agent will be protected should you decide to go rogue after they've made a sale for you. Make sure you understand what is involved if you decide you need to part ways with your agent. You don't want to cause bad blood, or worse, get in a situation where two agents feel they have claim over your work. If the agent is asking for longer than 30 days "leeway", I'd ask to shorten it.

Annnnnd... that's pretty much it. Pretty straightforward stuff. Again, some agencies might have NO formal agreement, or more clauses in their formal agreements, but none of it should baffle you, and if it does, that is what asking questions is for. There are a lot bigger and scarier contracts in your publishing future, so you need to know that your agent will be able to translate for you if necessary. Sometimes an agent might use shorthand or throw around jargon that you don't know. And yeah, Google will help, but when it comes to something as important as your career, as my lawyer parents taught me:

NEVER, EVER, SIGN SOMETHING WITHOUT READING AND UNDERSTANDING IT.

AND NEVER, EVER, BE AFRAID TO ASK QUESTIONS!