Friday, March 31, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? HANG ON TO YOUR LOVE—by Sade
I’m actually really excited about our Chick Lit workshop now. Last night, Shanna and I worked on tweaking the PowerPoint presentation. We really added some cool things so as to talk about the current market.
Chick Lit may not be the “hot” market at the moment but it’s not going anywhere either. It’s still worth talking about.
Looking forward to hanging out with Lucienne Diver from Spectrum and Nephele Tempest from the Knight Agency. We have a little mini-happy hour planned this afternoon.
My authors Shanna Swendson and Jana DeLeon will be at the conference. We’ve got dinner plans on Saturday night.
I was trying to open some partials today to put them in the queue and I just wanted to say here, you really don’t have to tape the heck out of the envelope.
I’m talking about tape across the seal and then tape up the sides as well—so much in fact I can’t even slide a letter opener in there. I end up opening the bottom instead of the top except that sometimes that’s taped too!
People who do this are the same ones who tape down every edge and corner when wrapping birthday gifts, aren’t they?
Stop. Please. I don’t want to take 2 minutes to open your envelope. A little tape is fine. One piece just to secure.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? TOWN CALLED MALICE—The Jam
Well this song takes me back to High School. I think that dates me. I always have great intentions of writing my blog first thing in the morning. Yep. Doesn’t happen.
It will tomorrow because I have to catch a plane so I’ll need to blog in a hurry.
Since I’m off to the Dreamin’ in Dallas conference, I thought I’d let you guys in on a little secret of how to win friends and influence agents while at a conference.
Seriously, if you plan to attend a conference and you want to make a good impression, especially on me, here’s how to do it.
First off, don’t be shy and do come up and say hello. Introduce yourself. Tell me you read my blog and deliver lots of compliments (joking on that later part). How will you meet me if you don’t come up and say hello? Tell me which one of my authors' books you've read and why you loved it (and I'm serious about this one because that will impress me).
Remember that I’m a human being. Best place to say hello? In the hotel lounge or conference social cocktail parties where I’m feeling relaxed and probably have a glass of wine in hand. This means I’m in social mode.
Worst place to say hello? In the bathroom. Folks, I’m taking care of business. I don’t want to do anything else in that particular place.
Another good place to say hello? Right after I give my workshop. There I am. At your disposal to answer questions. That’s the trick. Ask a good question. Don’t pitch your novel.
Another bad place to say hello? Outside my hotel room. As I’m walking out the hotel front door to catch my plane.
Elevators are sometimes iffy. Depends on how you carry it off.
Here’s the secret. No agent wants to attend a conference and be pitched to---unless we are taking our pitch appointments and then it’s perfectly fine. Instead, what you need to be is your charming self. Be normal. Be interesting. Make conversation. Ask some good questions.
I promise you that if you are all these things, I will eventually ask you about your novel and whether it would be a good fit for me because you have impressed me as a person; therefore your writing might impress me as well. Or, what will happen is that in the normal unfolding of conversation, there will be an appropriate opportunity to mention your novel. It always happens if you are treating me like a human being that you want to meet and not an agent you want to pitch to.
I once was at an opening cocktail party of a conference. It had been a tough flight and I was a little frazzled. I was looking forward to a nice, relaxed opening session. Well, this one attendee basically stalked me through the cocktail party. When she saw I had a free moment, she pounced and immediately started pitching me—without even introducing herself first.
You know me. I’m unfailingly polite but I could feel my eyes glaze in about 30 seconds. I felt ambushed.
In desperation, I told her to send the first 30 pages by snail mail—just so I could end the conversation (even though I could tell the work wasn’t for me).
She said (and I kid you not), “but I must tell you about this part.”
And I have to say that I did channel Miss Snark for a moment and I said, “No, you really don’t. It sounds fine. Why don’t you just send me the first 30 pages.”
She replies, “No, I must.”
And then proceeded to talk at me for the next 10 minutes, explaining her novel in excruciating detail.
I was saved by an attentive attendee who gracefully interrupted her and whisked me away. We had a charming conversation and at the end, I said, “I don’t care what you write, please just send it to me.”
The power of charm and being yourself. That’s how you schmooze me.
Wednesday, March 29, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? TWO STEP—Dave Matthews Band
I am in a ranting state of mind this morning. Invigorating.
Folks, agents blog anonymously for a reason. It’s so they can be blunt and honest. Completely so.
I don’t blog anonymously for a couple of reasons: 1) It’s fun to be recognized if folks like my blog, 2) I like to educate writers and if I’m in teaching mode, then it’s good that writers know who I am, and 3) The marketing aspect, duh. I’m sure most of you have already caught on to this racket of mine. My blog is a great marketing tool—for me, for my agency, for my authors.
Some altruism sure because I like helping writers but if I sell just one of my author’s books because of my blog… great.
Hope that wasn’t a surprise to any of you this morning.
But because I’m not anonymous, I do have to censor myself. I’m forthright but I can’t always be as forthcoming as Agent 007 or Miss Snark (and let me tell you, I read their blogs; they are indeed forthright and deliciously so).
So lately I’ve been receiving emails from various friends in the industry giving me the latest theory of who is Miss Snark. Here we go again. It’s human nature to want to reveal what is secret I guess. Think Deep Throat and Watergate.
I, myself, have actually been accused of being her. (Kristin laughs delightedly.)
Let me put that rumor to rest. Folks, I’m from Missouri. I’m too nice too to have that razor-sharp sardonic wit—although I often envy it and wish to channel her.
Besides, I don’t care to know who she is. I know she’s an agent. She’s too spot-on with her answers not to be.
Now I can tell you this is true. Her blog often states bluntly what many agents, including me, often think but keep to ourselves.
And for that, we are grateful to her and I for one would like her to continue.
Tuesday, March 28, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? YOU BELONG TO ME by Dean Martin
Every year I try and attend at least 2 or 3 writers conferences. Well, this year I had some huge brain fart and I agreed to three and then realized that I also needed to go to the RT Convention and then I got invited to another conference that was local and then…
In the end, I scheduled something like 6 conferences in four months. Not to mention my trips to New York—the first being in April. Not smart I’m telling you.
So even though I way over-committed myself and can already feel pangs of regret, I didn’t cancel any because I like attending conferences.
Why? For several reasons really.
I really enjoy educating writers. I wouldn’t blog if I didn’t feel that. When I attend conferences, I always request to give one of several workshops I’ve developed that I think attendees would find of value. It’s the teacher in me. Back in the early nineties, I taught college—English 101, 102, and literature. I sometimes miss the classroom and here’s an opportunity to exercise those rusty muscles.
Although I have to crack up about the workshop I’m giving with my author Shanna in Dallas this weekend. It’s the Hot Genre of Chick Lit. Well, a year ago when they were planning this conference and confirming workshops, you could still call it the hot genre because you could actually sell a chick lit novel. Not so much the case these days.
Harrumph. Here we are a year later and the title really should be the Hot Genre of Chick Lit that’s Now in the Toilet but I’ve already blogged about that.
Too late to change the workshop.
At the very least, I guess Shanna and I get to talk about why the market has shifted and what that means for established writers and those new authors trying to break in. Still, it makes me wonder if I should fiddle significantly with my power point presentation. I can tell that this workshop won’t be offered much in the near future—or until the market turns around anyway.
I also like attending conferences because I like to stay in touch with the people behind the writing. It’s so easy to sit in my office and say NO, NO, NO to query after query or 50 partials in a row and forget that this is a person’s dream. It’s my job, yes, and publishing is first and foremost a business, yes, but being an agent is often more than just a job. I mean, come on, how many jobs have dream fulfillment as part of the description.
Conferences are the human face to what can be a dehumanizing experience of trying to get published.
It’s a good reason for why writers should go as well.
Monday, March 27, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? NIGHTINGALE by Norah Jones
It’s Monday and you know what happens on Mondays. Angie, reader extraordinaire, visits the office and reads the partial inbox all day. Usually I read with her but didn’t have any time today. I did get to spend about an hour in the afternoon looking at some partials that she had passed on to me.
We always try to have some words of wisdom for writers after a day of reading the old inbox. Actually, I should say that Angie has some words of wisdom to share. She basically took me by the arm and said, “here’s your blog topic for today” and since she had that look in her eye, I must comply.
Today’s topic: avoid incorporating your back story via your character’s dialogue.
After reading several examples aloud to me, I have say I’m in agreement. It makes for uninspiring and tepid dialogue exchanges—and the kiss of death to the partial. Basically, when writers fall into this trap, they end up stating in the dialogue something the receiving character would already know. It ends up making no sense as to why the other character would say it in the first place. The only reason would be to create the back story for the reader.
Clumsy at best.
Made up example:
Character 1: I must find the elusive stone of magic (of death, of life, insert appropriate fantasy element here).
Character 2: Yes, my Queen, it is imperative we find it but you also need to remember to collect the six other crystals/stones/talismans for without it, you will not have the power of the XYZ and will be unable to rule your domain.
Hum… If character 1 is the Queen, wouldn’t she already know that she needs the other elements in order to have complete control and world domination? Why in the world would she need her attendant to tell her so? It’s obvious that this dialogue is for the reader’s sake (to incorporate the back story) and is in no way exploring the character, plot etc.
Aren’t you glad I don’t write dialogue for a living? I’m of course attempting (successfully or not—you tell me) to exaggerate the example so the point is clear.
Back story. Dialogue. Not a match made in heaven.
Friday, March 24, 2006
STATUS: Bursting with excitement! See blog entry below for details.
What song is playing on the ipod right now? FAST CAR by Tracy Chapman
Huge news going on at the Nelson Agency this morning. When I got back from the gym, my author Linnea Sinclair had called to tell me that her novel FINDERS KEEPERS was nominated for a RITA for Best First Book.
WOO HOO Linnea!
I can barely contain myself. As y’all know, my agency is young—only been around since 2002. To have an author nominated for a RITA, the top award in the realm of romance is a big, big deal.
And then the news gets even better if that’s possible.
Linnea calls me back an hour later to tell me that GABRIEL’S GHOST was also nominated for a RITA for Best Paranormal/Futuristic. (In case you’re missing it, Linnea writes kick-ass Science Fiction with romance).
WOO HOO again.
I feel like running out right now to buy a new dress for the RITA award ceremony at RWA in Atlanta.
Not only that, but both these titles were also nominated for a RIO award just this week (Reviewers International Organization).
And, just so we don’t scare any of the boys away, Linnea gets just as many emails from her science fiction male fans as from the female SF and romance-reading fans.
Time to celebrate!
Thursday, March 23, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? WICHITA LINEMAN by Glen Campbell
As you can tell, my little ipod is eclectic. I just put it on random scramble and whatever song happens to be playing as I start this blog is what gets posted. It just went from Glen Campbell to Gloria Gaynor. Even I think that’s a little strange. Yesterday, I swear it was stuck on the Pietasters—my husband’s favorite band, after CAKE that is. Now Matchbox Twenty just popped on because I keep getting interrupted while writing this blog.
I may be laboring under a misconception so you guys will have to set me straight.
I always think of aspiring writers as in need of funds. Even though I know many writers with great, well-paid jobs (and potentially make more money than I do in a year), I just think of them in terms of being “writing poor”—as in they don’t have a lot of extra money in the budget to spend on postage, paper, ink cartridges etc. and the costs of doing writing as a business.
It’s expensive to mail off a full—which is why I always ask for those electronically.
So I can’t understand the number of FedEx overnight partials I receive. Truly, the number is staggering.
Folks, I don’t even send contracts and money to my clients FedEx overnight—the most expensive option they have. Why in the world would a writer expend that type of money to mail in a partial request?
Do you think I’m going to read it the next day? Unlikely. It’s going into the partial inbox pile and as y’all know, Angie is more than likely going to give it first look and she only comes in on Mondays.
What I’m saying is that there is no need to rush me these pages. Now, there is a big need for me to get through them a little faster, no doubt, but there is no need for speed in terms of it reaching me in the first place.
The United States Post Office does just fine. It will only take 3-4 days—regardless of where you live in this country if you send it regular mail. And if you are worried about status, you can ask and pay for delivery notification. Or, you could include a postcard that says “received on” and we’ll mail it. Of course I might be optimistic on that point. We do try and mail them promptly.
FedEx isn’t going away any time soon. There’s no need to keep them in shorts.
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? FAMILY AFFAIR by Mary J. Blige
I’ve spent the last two days talking about the huge hug fest I’ve got going on with all my agent pals. You have to know there is a flipside—the nasty agents who don’t operate with impeccable integrity or a strong ethical code.
Agents are still a microcosm of the society at large, which means there are always a couple of bad apples in the bunch (and I’m not talking about scammers or faux agents. I’m talking about real agents who walk some very fine lines in their relationships with other agents).
It’s called agent poaching or in other words, agents who deliberately steal clients from other agents.
We agents all know who they are but I wonder if the general writing world at large has any idea.
Just to be clear, I’m not talking about authors who have become unhappy with their current representation and decide to make a change. That certainly happens often enough. The author independently has made the decision for the change.
No, I’m talking about the agents (and they all have solid reputations and good sales records) who deliberately target the clients that other agents have built to a high enough level to be poached. Then this poacher sidles up and promises the world. Promises such as “I can get you significantly more money than so-so has done for you” and “I can build you to the next level and so-so can’t” and “I can get you on the NYT list or USA Today.”
Sounds awfully good to the author. So what’s the problem?
Poachers can’t always deliver. Then they do one of two things: 1) drop the client faster than a bad hot potato when reality doesn’t match expectation (because the author’s career hadn’t built to that needed level yet and now they’ve just shot themselves in the foot) or worse yet, 2) start ignoring the client and the author ends up low on the totem pole with the new poacher agent whereas two months ago they were getting tons of attention and now, when expectations haven’t been met, are suddenly getting none.
If the Poacher does manage to fulfill the promises, then good. I guess both parties got what they needed. The stories you don’t hear are all the authors who left the poacher agent after getting burned.
I’m a big believer in world karma and what goes around comes around.
Publishing is a small world. If you’re an author listening to a poacher siren song, make sure you’re really not getting what you need from your current agent. Talk to him or her before making the leap.
Be sure to talk to the current clients at the poacher agency but also be willing to dig a little and talk to the former clients. You might be surprised at how revealing that can be.
But most of all, you need to be willing to pay the price if you are lured to another agency and it goes sour. There’s no going back to your former agent (who’s now looking like the world’s greatest agent)—although many have tried.
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
STATUS: Stir-crazy. It’s really cold here in Denver. Too cold to take Chutney out—even with her little fleece on. She just shivers non-stop. She’s dying to sit on my lap but the rule is, no lap sitting while I’m at my computer. She’s sending kind invitations for me to sit on the couch.
What song is playing on the ipod right now? GRAPEFRUIT—JUICY FRUIT by Jimmy Buffet
Isn’t the subject line for this rant a fun visual? Picture all the agents you know in a giant group hug. Okay, maybe not.
So, how do agents actually help each other? Let me count the ways.
1. Happy Hours. Whenever I’m at RWA or in New York, I tend to get together with a group of agents. We talk shop. No one in the world understands our job better than a fellow agent. Keeps us sane.
2. Blurb time. Many of us have well-known clients on our rosters. Nothing better than a little agent networking to get some good blurbs for a new writer.
3. Referrals. One of my agent friends sent me Linnea Sinclair. She loved her work but didn’t really have room on her list. She sent her to me and she’s one of my stars. How’s that for non-competitive?
4. Workshop and conference fun. Because I’ve got great agent friends in New York and California and Georgia and Washington, D.C. (you get the picture), we love to hang out. One way to do that is by attending conferences together and then having a great time doing a workshop. The attendees benefit from the collaboration as well. Agent Jeff Kleinman has a great workshop called BUY THIS BOOK and I’ve done that class with him twice. The participants love the synergy. I did a great workshop with Randi Murray and Cathy Fowler at the Surrey International conference last year. Randi and I handled the fiction aspects and Cathy tackled nonfiction. Talk about benefiting from the wisdom of three agents. Besides, they made me look good…
5. Query forwards. It doesn’t happen often but every once in a while I’ll get a query that I really like—usually for a nonfiction project. It’s not for me but I’ll forward the query on to my fellow agents. If it sounds right for them and they give me a positive heads up, I’ll respond to the original writer tell them to contact this agent and that I’ve already forwarded the email. Vice-versa. Some good hook-ups have happened this way.
6. Grapevine. Boy, we keep each other in the loop. I know the minute an editor is leaving a house or is looking to buy XYZ. It goes out on the wire lickety-split. Even the editors are sometimes amazed (how did you know I wanted a fun historical—or whatever it is they are looking for). I just say in a mysterious voice, “we agents have ways.”
7. Brainstorming. Sometimes a project just doesn’t sell and you’re at the bottom of the editor contact list barrel. My agent friends give me another barrel to try—maybe off-the-wall suggestions or an editor I don’t know personally. Suddenly, I’ve got a whole new avenue to explore. Occasionally, one of my clients will do something outside their normal realm and I still rep the project. My agent friends allow me to use their expertise by picking their brains.
8. Introductions. Agent friends have literally introduced me to their favorite editors—editors that I’ve never met before but they adore them and convince me to as well.
And the list goes on.
Monday, March 20, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? I FEEL POSSESSED by Crowded House
I had a lot of fun giving a talk at CU-Boulder on Saturday. I had a tough act to follow in Lynda Sandoval, another Denver native and terrific writer if you haven’t checked out her stuff. (And see, I don’t just talk about my own clients. Lynda is actually with Jenny Bent!)
And a perfect transition for today’s rant. One of the attendees at my talk asked a really interesting question, one I’ve never really been asked before. A gentleman asked me to discuss the competition between agents and how we handle it.
I think I babbled my answer because it really was an unexpected question and one that’s hard for me to answer because I don’t really see myself or my job as “in competition” against other agents. As y’all know, I have a lot of agent friends. In fact, I belong to two Yahoo chat loops where agents talk, share and support each other. One of which we humorously dubbed the Agent Cartel and we plan to give a workshop together (at least 10 of the agents in the group) at RWA in Atlanta.
Do we all rep the same stuff? For one loop, not really (but we’ll often forward projects on to the loop that sound interesting but don’t fit our lists). For the other, we do but I don’t think any of us feel like we are in competition with each other—although technically we might be vying for the same projects.
For the most part, I believe (and so do my agent friends) that there are a ton of good projects out there and it’s our job to go after and find them. You might even go so far to say that certain clients and projects are meant to be with certain agents (isn’t that a lovely thought?).
If there is a hot project and another agent gets to it first, well, I need to move faster next time.
When I’m vying for a client who has a couple of agent offers of representation on the table and I fear one of those other offers might be from an agent friend, I don’t ask who else is interested. I don’t want to know if I’m up against a friend. That way the best woman for that project will just win.
I will ask about the other agents involved after the fact and if it’s a girlfriend who has landed the desirable client, she has to buy me dinner the next time we are together!
Now, I’m sure y’all realize that not all agents think like this. Agents can be any and all different types of personalities. I’ve certainly met other agents who were outwardly nice but I did sense a paranoid edge–that they were sizing up the competition in order to best see how they could get a leg up. Needless to say, none of those agents are part of my circle of biz friends.
Friday, March 17, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? I WANT YOU by Marvin Gaye
One of the things that has been driving me crazy lately is the slow-down from publishers in getting new contracts out.
If I were into conspiracy theories, I might think there’s a new contract policy going on to thwart pesky agents and delay upon signing payments. But I’m not. And the reality is that the contracts are probably backlogged. It can still drive me nuts though. I did a deal near the end of November 2005 and the final signed contracts, I kid you not, just hit the buying editor’s desk this week.
Now, I made allowances for December. It’s the holidays after all. Everyone is off drinking eggnog—including the contracts people; I’m all for eggnog drinking and holiday cheer (as I did quite a bit of it myself).
So, I expect the contract in January. Mid-January comes. I start calling and emailing the editor every Monday like clockwork. Where’s the contract? Will I see it soon? I have not seen the contract. I really want to stop calling you every Monday but I can’t until I see the contract. Underlying message, yes, I will be politely annoying until, you got it, I see the contract.
I really felt for the editor though. She loves me but she really doesn’t want to talk to me every Monday. After all, her hands are tied. My contract is sitting on someone’s desk and it’s not like she can just pop down to his office, stick it in an envelope, and mail to me.
First round contracts come later in February. But the negotiation isn’t over. Now my contracts manager and I have to nitpick over the details. That will take a week or so. All is agreed on and final contracts will now be mailed out.
When did I receive final contracts to sign? First week in March. From start to finish? Little over three months.
I groan. I’ve just negotiated three other deals. I’m ready to brush off my delay conspiracy theory and get ready for a long, drawn out contracts process. Hideous nightmares of all contracts taking three months to complete fill my nights.
Nope. Two of those contracts came within three weeks of deal negotiation. The other will probably come next week (which is a reasonable amount of time).
Finally, all the eggnog must be gone. So technically, I guess I really don’t have a rant until it happens again…
Thursday, March 16, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? WONDER by Natalie Merchant
As y’all know, I receive a lot of queries in a single day. I have to read fast to get through them all in a reasonable fashion.
So, if a query doesn’t grab me in the first 10 lines or so (I didn’t want to say paragraph because often writers start with an introduction and the real meat is in the second paragraph—but you guys get the picture), I hit reply and send the standard rejection letter.
However, here are the top 10 things that will guarantee that I won’t even read past your first line of your query if you open with:
10. I’m delighted to introduce you to my psychological thriller novel.
Well, I don’t rep thrillers and the only ones I will entertain need the word “romantic” in front of it.
9. My novel is a gripping murder mystery.
8. My screenplay is…
See my previous rant that explains book-to-film and the fact that I wouldn’t know a good screenplay if it hit me in the head so you definitely don’t want me looking at yours. Besides, I don’t rep them.
7. I really don’t know how to go about writing a query and since this is my first try… and then the writer rambles on in this vein.
This might be a ploy for sympathy but honestly, it won’t work. There is SO much information available on a myriad of great websites; there is no reason for an aspiring author to not learn how to write a good query letter. I personally don’t want to take on any writer who isn’t savvy. Now, they can still have a lot of questions about publishing but they need to be professionally savvy. Research and writing of a great query is just the first step in being so.
6. My novel (insert title here) would make an excellent Hollywood film.
See my previous rant on Hollywood. Every writer thinks his/her novel would make a great film. Hollywood rarely agrees.
5. I have written this query a zillion times. There is no way I can describe my novel because it defies description.
Hum… if you can’t describe it, I’m pretty darn sure I can’t sell it. As a writer, you need to know your novel’s place in the market.
4. I would like to submit my manuscript to you. It fits many categories that you represent: literary fiction, women’s fiction, chick lit, fantasy, romantic suspense, and young adult.
Melting pot is not a term to describe your novel. Your work can only be one genre. Now it can have elements of others. There is certainly literary fiction with a complex romance, Fantasy for young adult, chick lit with a mystery but it’s not ALL things. Pick the dominant genre—where it would be shelved in a bookstore and leave it at that!
3. Thank you for reviewing the attached query.
And the odds are that I will open said attachment? Folks, I have two spam blockers and one mean virus protection program. Still, I’m not going to open attachments. If I did, I’d be asking for trouble and would deserve whatever came my way.
2. I recently realized that I was scammed by my previous agent/agency …
I definitely feel for writers who have been hoodwinked. I’ve got links on my website to Writer Beware and Preditors & Editors. I’m invested in educating authors. So, don’t beat yourself up. Move on and for goodness sake, don’t start you query with how you had a moment of idiocy (which can happen to anyone). Would you begin a job interview with how much you screwed up the last one? No. Use some common sense.
And the number one starter that will get an instant NO reply:
1. My novel will be the next DA VINCI CODE, HARRY POTTER, or WAITING TO EXHALE (or insert other title that fits your genre).
Right. Like any of these weren’t a product of all the stars aligning, Besides, why would I want what has already been done?
I want something terrific and original.
Wednesday, March 15, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? NEXT TO YOU by The Police
Since I’m so gung-ho about YA at the moment, I thought I would talk about an interesting trend I’ve been noticing lately—especially for fantasy young adult.
Angie and I are pretty convinced that writers are killing off parents left and right in their novels as a revenge for a bad childhood.
Lots of death and dismemberment for those poor parental characters who brought your main hero or heroine into the world.
We are rather relieved when we read a partial where both parents are still in existence. It’s a breath of fresh air in comparison.
I realize that the popularity of Harry Potter has opened up a lot of fun avenues regarding main characters as orphans or otherwise alone in the world. There is actually nothing inherently wrong with it (or even all that annoying—unlike portal suction into other worlds). It can be a powerful plot device after all. I won't stop asking for partials that have killed off the folks or anything like that.
I just want to gently remind writers that’s it’s not necessary. Your characters can have two perfectly nice, well adjusted, and living parents and still have interesting adventures or stories to tell.
We just had to put in a good word for the 'rents.
Tuesday, March 14, 2006
He said, “Kristin, just email me that pesky Blogger template and CSS code. I can do that while eating lunch and leaping tall buildings.”
Actually, he didn’t say that but he should have. He took care of it in something like 30 minutes. What a guy.
Just goes to show you that literary agents really shouldn’t be messing around with CSS code. I’m the one who screwed it up. However, I do have to be a little miffed with Blogger help. I did read all their instructions and FAQs. They left out some key details on how to change the color template for the Rounders3 version. We still have a few tweaks to work out—as in the corners aren’t rounded—but in time, in time.
What song is playing on the ipod right now? SAILING by Christopher Cross (trust me, I needed something mellow today.)
So, I had a great rant planned today but I’ve already spent too much time trying to fix my blog template so alas, it must wait until tomorrow. But then I’ll be back on track. Promise.
In the meantime, Angie and I read partials yesterday.
Our Katie, Kate, Kat, Cat, or any derivative name for the heroine is up to an 11 count.
Yesterday, we read 6 partials that featured this name. The week before that, we counted 5.
And, I finally remembered another overused character name (because two partials yesterday had this name): Raven.
Lots of heroines with flowing dark hair floating around.
And the kicker? One of the partials featured a male character named Raven. Whoa. Sorry. That so didn’t work for me because of how many sample pages I have read where this name was used for women.
Monday, March 13, 2006
HTML master I am not. It's still not right and even though I can get it to look right in the preview window when I make the template changes, I can't seem to republish my blog and have the template look like it did in the preview.
So, if any of you are experts in this Blogspot Rounders template html, can you tell me how to switch the post block color to white (which is now green) and the actual website background that is white to the green of the post block.
Thanks in advance!
What song is playing on the ipod right now? I’LL BE AROUND by The Spinners (and yippee, the Joan Osborne version is popping on right behind it.)
One of the restrictions I put on my blog is that I will only spend 15-30 minutes doing it. Any more time than that would cut into my productivity. Can’t have that. I’m already too far behind on some stuff so I have to adhere to that time limit. That's why I don't always proofread as I should either.
Given that, I don’t always include everything I want to rant about. Thank goodness I can just continue on the next day.
So, back to contests and magaritas.
Even though I take a contest win with a grain of salt, I don’t want to imply that contests (and contest placements) have no value. Writers just also need to be aware of the limitations is all.
What is valuable about contests?
1. I didn’t mention this on Friday but obviously the more respected the contest, the more weight it will carry. For example, in the romance field, winning or placing in the Golden Heart is a big deal. It’s THE top contest for the unpublished writer in this genre. It’s going to carry more weight than the smaller contests—but still, good stuff can be anywhere so I’m going to keep an open mind regardless.
By the way, when I said that a lot of contest entries weren’t in publishable shape doesn’t necessarily translate into the judgment that the entry is so horrible, there’s no hope for the writer. It just means the work isn’t ready to be shopped. Now some entries do have writing issues. Statistically, that makes sense that some entries won’t have the same quality as others.
And what’s problematic is that a writer might have false expectations by winning or placing in a contest. With gung-ho, the writer might submit the manuscript and then suffer bewilderment when rejected. It won such-n-such contest, why aren’t agents and editors responding well to the material? The answer is simple. The work isn’t publishing-ready yet.
Which brings me to the second point about why entering a contest could be a good thing.
2. A lot of contests offer feedback from reviewers, already published writers, and even from an agent or editor. I’ve judged some contests that simply had me rank the top choices. It’s great time-wise for me but I wonder if that short-changes the writers. I much prefer the contests where I can fill out the sheet or provide some feedback. I have received many a lovely thank you note from contest winners who really appreciated the supportive honesty of the critique I returned with the contest entry. At least, then I can say what might have stopped me from asking for a full or point out a plot device that might be a little over-used at present. I can also highlight all the things I liked.
Now, I think honest critique groups are a much better place to get feedback than contests but…
3. Contests, if you final, places your work in front of agents and editors. We are the final judges after all. If I like what I see, I’ll certainly ask for the full.
You don’t have to go the contest route to get this though. A great query letter followed up by some strong sample pages will get you a full manuscript request as well.
4. Contests create tangible deadlines that can highly motivate a writer. If you have to have the first three chapters and a synopsis in by such-n-such a date, it’s a great way to accomplish it.
Just keep that motivation going and finish and polish the rest of the novel.
And the best reason to enter a contest?
5. It might give you something to say in the bio section of your query letter.
Big smile here! That paragraph can be a little sparse for some writers.
Friday, March 10, 2006
What song is playing on the ipod right now? HANG ON TO YOUR LOVE by Sade
Last night I gave a talk at the Denver Press Club for the Mystery Writers Western Chapter.
This always makes me laugh because I don’t rep mysteries, but they like to invite me anyway. And it’s too bad. Great bunch of folks. It does make me wish I did but to be honest, if a thriller or mystery is done well, I can’t sleep for days after reading it. I’ve got enough stuff on my plate that keeps me awake at night.
They asked some great questions but one stuck out in my mind. One person asked me about entering and winning contests and how important a factor does that play in my being interested in a manuscript.
I think I can sum it up with one simple sentence: I take contest winnings with a large grain of salt.
They’re fine but in the words of Shania Twain, “that don’t impress me much.”
Because I judge contests. I enjoy it, and you just never know when you might be getting a first shot at something good.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen as often as I would like.
So far, I’ve only judged one contest where I have asked for the full manuscript for the entry that won first place. This contest was an extra anomaly because I almost asked for fulls for second and third place as well. They were all so good. It was tough to choose the winner.
And then I’ve judged contests where the final entries were not in publishable shape—at least in my humble opinion. It made me wonder what all the other entries looked like if these were the top three picks! Then I have to pick a “winner” and I end up picking the best of the worst—so to speak.
Thank goodness this doesn’t happen too often. Besides, as you guys know, I’m ever the optimist. Good treasure can be anywhere.
So a contest win may not necessarily mean that the manuscript is ready for publication. That’s why I take contest-win mentions with a grain of salt (and preferably a margarita if one is available).
Then there is the whole other trap writers can fall into. Some writers do what we call “the contest circuit.” They’ve done an amazing job polishing the synopsis and the first three chapters, which is what most contests require. They place in contests, but what they’ve neglected to do is finish the novel to that same level of polish etc.
I’ve requested fulls from writers that had terrific opening chapters. I’m humming along, really enjoying it, and then suddenly the novel goes south in a hurry. It’s like the writer was kidnapped by aliens, and I’m left sitting there going “what the hey! What just happened?”
Contests aren’t a bad way to get noticed but don’t be seduced by their lure either. Finish that novel. Make it polished, and don’t be afraid to go after the bigger prize—seeing that novel in print.
Thursday, March 09, 2006
What am I listening to right now? IF YOU COULD ONLY SEE by Tonic
Two days ago, Jenny Bent got tagged and she decided to come out and play. She doesn’t have a blog of her own but I was happy for her to guest on mine.
Here are the MEME answers from Jenny Bent of the Trident Media Group. Enjoy.
1. First thing you did when you woke up today?
Turned my alarm clock toward the wall, really loudly, to hopefully annoy my obnoxious neighbor who wakes me up EVERY NIGHT from the hours of one to four AM banging and crashing around with his idiot friends. Then I made coffee.
3. Something you're excited about in your job today?
Hopefully I’ll get an offer for a book I have out that’s getting a lot of buzz. Also, if all goes well, we will FINALLY be hiring a new assistant, and I’m incredibly excited about that, because having no assistant has frankly kicked my ass for the last couple of weeks. I was an assistant for about four years, and I’ve been an agent for eleven, and I think that you become progressively stupider about basic office skills the longer you’re away from it. I can barely use the copier!
4. Something you're dreading?
A conference call with a publisher that is NOT treating my client well.
5. The worst conversation you ever had with an editor?
It was actually an e-mail. When I moved an author from one house to another. I have to say, I was shocked. I haven’t submitted to that particular imprint since. I mean, this is a business, folks, and publishers drop authors all the time. But when I DARE to move an author because she wants to move and I agree it’s better for her career, I get completely slammed in the most personal of ways? I don’t think so, my friends!
6. The happiest conversation you ever had with an editor?
Every time I do a first sale for an author whose been struggling for years to get published. That is my ABSOLUTE favorite part of the job.
7. A habit you'd like to quit?
SMOKING. Does that count?
8. A habit you'd like to acquire?
exercising. God, I lead a sad life….
9. Greatest strength as an agent?
Tenacity. Definitely tenacity.
10. Greatest weakness?
Hmmmm…um, I think my boss would say that I call in sick too much. Hey, what can I say? I smoke and I don’t exercise. What does he expect? Of course I get sick!
11. Favorite book of the past year?
Well, I don’t know if it came out this year or last, but Larry McMurty’s Berrybender series, I LOVED.
12. If you weren't agenting you might be...
No clue. I can’t think of a better job. It wouldn’t be editing, that’s for sure.
13. You tag??
KIM WHALEN, Trident Media Group. She’s in London at the book fair, but I think she’s back next week. Is it okay to tag someone from my agency?
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
Agent Janet Reid got her tag and has come out to play. Be sure to check out her answers on her blog, which she does have (news to me but very fun nonetheless).
Lately, I’ve had to send a lot of query reply emails that say, “Thank you very much for your query, but the Nelson Agency does not represent screenplays.”
That’s clearly listed on my website so I’m not certain why all the screenplay queries. Then it occurred to me that writers just don’t get that whole book-to-film thing.
To be clear, I don’t represent screenplays, screenwriters, or anything to do with Hollywood. I’m a literary agent. I represent authors, and I sell the print rights to their books—mainly to the big New York Publishers.
However, after I sell a book, then I pursue subsidiary rights for the print property. That means selling translation rights (if the publisher doesn’t have World rights), audio (if that wasn’t part of the deal), etc., and I always keep dramatic or tv/film rights because I have strong partnerships with Hollywood co-agents to place those rights.
There is no screenplay or screenwriter involved. All that is being done is selling the dramatic subsidiary rights to the already sold print project. Book to Film.
It’s up to the studio (or the producer) to “package” the project by hiring the director, the screenwriter (unless the author has a history of screenwriting, most studios prefer to hire their own talent here), the producer and all other components to make it possible for the project to move beyond the option, be purchased, and made into a film.
Now often times the studios will call or email me directly about a BOOK I just recently sold, but I don’t really “know” them. I wouldn’t have the faintest idea of where or to whom to send a screenplay.
And, please don’t query me about a book you’ve sold yourself and now want someone to handle just the dramatic rights. I only handle the subsidiary rights for my clients’ projects-- projects for which I have sold the primary print rights to a US publisher.
You know I’ve ranted about Hollywood before. It’s such a long shot period that I don’t have time to take on projects just to sell the dramatic rights since any sale to Hollywood, even for my own clients, is unlikely. There wouldn’t be much return on my time investment to take on non-clients for this. Nor would I want to. I’m a literary agent—not a film agent.
Rant done. Maybe that’ll help reduce the number of those queries. Do you think? Nah, I don’t believe it either. Worth a shot though.
Tuesday, March 07, 2006
Today is a positive rant.
I want everyone in the blogosphere to know that Deidre Knight is my hero.
She just rocks as a person, as an agent (her dedication to educating writers puts even me to shame), and now as a new author (if you love paranormal romance, check out PARALLEL ATTRACTION). She was one of the first agents I “met” (in quotes because originally we had only ever talked on the phone) and when I started at my own agency in 2002, she was a great cheerleader and mentor. Still is. I stay sane on the tough days because of Deidre, my gal pal.
So she tagged me this morning and it’s a call I can’t ignore.
1. First thing you did when you woke up today?
I snuggled up next to my husband, basically mashing Chutney in the process, because I had set the alarm for 5:58 a.m. to get up and work out. Brian pushed me out of bed at 6:15 and yes, I did the elliptical trainer in my building’s gym.
Upon my return, even before I showered (because New York is two hours ahead of Denver), I emailed an editor who I’m in the middle of negotiating a deal with. We are almost there. One more outstanding issue and we can close this deal.
2. Last book you read for pleasure or are currently reading for pleasure?
DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson. It was my book club book. I was reading MARLY & ME by John Grogan before that (I’m a sucker for dog stuff). I just read and loved TRANSFORMATION by Carol Berg (run, don’t walk to your nearest bookstore or computer to buy that great book!) I just finished book 2 of George RR Martin’s SONG OF ICE AND FIRE. Loving that series. I need to get book 3.
On my nightstand is Susan Carroll’s THE DARK QUEEN. I only just started it so not far enough along to make judgment.
Truly, can anyone who loves books just cite one title?
3. Something you're excited about in your job today?
Finally closing this deal. Finishing my client’s manuscript so I can ditch my guilt.
4. Something you're dreading?
Reviewing just-received royalty statements for accuracy. Not my favorite thing but has to be done.
5. The worst conversation you ever had with an editor?
In 2003, I did a negotiation with an editor who I had heard could be a little unpredictable. I was still taken aback when she started yelling at me during the negotiation. I literally had to hold the phone away from my ear. Eventually I said that we couldn’t discuss this now; I would call her back later and hung up.
The deal happened, and it was fine. I have not sent anything else to that editor.
6. The happiest conversation you ever had with an editor?
There are so many. How to pick just one? Okay, here’s a story. There is an editor who just recently bought one of my authors so finally we have a book together but for four years, she promptly read every submission I sent her, gave excellent and detailed feedback on why she was passing, was always open to seeing future stuff from that author or from me, and was generally just a joy as a human being—in person and during every phone conversation.
In the early days of my agenting genre fiction (especially since we didn’t handle that at my old agency and I had to create all these new contacts), it was such a pleasure to be respected and taken seriously.
7. A habit you'd like to quit?
Ignoring my query email inbox until the number waiting for a response is astronomically high.
8. A habit you'd like to acquire?
Reading faster, faster, faster. Also learning how to delegate more.
9. Greatest strength as an agent?
10. Greatest weakness?
Over-analyzing. Manuscripts, recent deals, you name it. I tend to analyze things to death when just regular analysis will do.
11. Favorite book of the past year?
GILEAD by Marilynne Robinson
12. If you weren't agenting you might be...
retired and eating bon-bons.
13. You tag??
Nadia Cornier (because I know she blogs), Jenny Bent, Jeff Kleinman, Janet Reid, Roberta Brown (none of which have blogs (that I know of) but can guest on mine if they get the tag)
Monday, March 06, 2006
On my lunch break, I often surf the various blogs I enjoy and a variety of writers discussion forums. I like to see what’s going on, what’s bothering folks. There seems to be a lot of angst swirling around agents who are also authors.
Seemed like a good rant topic to me.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m an agent but not an author, and to really get the ball rolling, it doesn’t bother me one iota if an agent is also an author.
Why? Because it really doesn’t impact a good agent’s ability to do her job (emphasis on the word “good”). It also doesn’t impact an agent’s ability to sell her clients.
I think there is a misperception that an agent/author is in direct competition with her clients of the same genre—but that’s not how publishing works. If it were, it would also be true that if I have one contemporary romance client, she would be in competition for the empty “slots” with all my other contemporary romance clients-- that I have already or will sign in the future.
That’s not how it works—the idea that there are only a finite number of slots and once filled, game over. It’s too simplistic.
I could rant on but I think Deidre Knight (an agent/author) has some very valid points to make on the subject and there’s no need for me to repeat them here. To be fair, Miss Snark has also expressed an opposite opinion regarding this topic, on which I don’t happen to agree.
What impresses me most is when the agent/authors are completely upfront and frank about their dual role. It would be so easy to do the “pseudonym out” without anyone being the wiser. There is a level of integrity exhibited with full disclosure and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a characteristic of a good agent worth having.
(This is not to suggest that any agent/authors using pseudonyms are lacking in integrity because I can see not wanting to deal with all the hassle and the misperceptions that swirl around this topic. One could pose the argument that it’s nobody’s business but her own as long as she continues to do her agent job and do it well).
Besides, just because your agent isn’t writing now doesn’t mean she never will. And maybe your editor is already writing and publishing in your genre with another house because lots of working editors are also authors.
After all, agents and editors got into the biz because they love books. It’s not that far a leap from love of, to editing, to writing one and it seems silly to deny them that dream because of their day job.
Friday, March 03, 2006
Status: One hour and half before the official start of the weekend. How could I not be happy?
I’m not sure why I’m getting excited about this. I always end up working on weekends. I honestly believe that my clients conspire about when they plan to deliver their next manuscripts.
In the last two weeks, I’ve received 6 manuscripts from my clients. Now I’m frantically reading during the evening because I don’t want anybody to have to wait too long for my comments or a response.
So this is a typical Kristin position on weekends--ensconced on the living room couch with my tablet PC and the wonder dog Chutney—who always helps to read the manuscripts.
Have a great weekend!
Thursday, March 02, 2006
But the flip side to sales is, of course, rejection.
I hate publishing house rejections. Probably I don’t feel it as keenly as my authors do (because it’s really their blood, sweat, and tears) but I feel it.
Today I felt like banging my head on my desk several times.
I have an up-market commercial women’s fiction currently out on submission. The editor letter I received today raved about the work. She loved it. It was beautifully written. She recited her favorite scenes from the work.
She passed with enormous regret (her words—not mine).
Do you know how difficult it sometimes is to find the exact right editor who gets it? It feels like a million to one shot on some days. Here’s an editor who got it. Totally loved what I loved about the novel.
So why the pass? The work wasn’t commercial enough for her house.
Kristin bangs head on desk.
But that wasn’t the only rejection letter today. My other also raved about another work I have out on submission. Both reading editors loved it. However, their line recently had a shift in focus and is now only concentrating on works written by celebrities.
Kristin bangs head on desk.
The author wrote me after I forwarded her the note. She said it would be a hell of a lot easier if they just told her she sucked as a writer. All this love, and no offer, was terrible.
I don’t agree with her there. They are at least recognizing her talent but I certainly understand the frustration.
I take it personally. I want to sell everything I take on (because to be honest, I don’t really take on that much in a year—3 or 4 new clients on average—so it needs to sell and for good money).
100% sell-through is not humanely possible but darn if I don’t try and get close; each rejection feels like a little poke at my goal—not to mention my reputation. That’s how I feel it.
Wednesday, March 01, 2006
It has consumed my days as of late.
I still wanted to donate a few minutes to dedicate this blog to our young writers out there. When I use the term “young” here, I mean those writers under the age of 20. This is not to imply that if you are under the age of 50, I don’t consider you young. Trust me, I do.
As a side note (completely off-topic), I’d also like to suggest that in queries, you shouldn’t make assumptions regarding an agent’s age. It probably won’t reflect well on either of us. I got a good chuckle from a recent query where the writer had declared that she could still relate to my blog despite probably being twice my age.
I raised an eyebrow at that. Of course I have no idea the writer’s age as she didn’t state it, but it didn’t read like a lady just about to have her 80th birthday. There is just a difference in writing style from folks who received their education in the 1930s and 40s. There is an element of elegant formality that was missing in this query.
I could be completely wrong (certainly wouldn’t be the first time!). I am, however, quite flattered that she might assume I’m still in my twenties—and therefore making the author of that query more likely to be a baby boomer in her 50s or 60s.
But an agent’s age doesn’t really matter. Reputation and track record does.
But back to young writers.
Some advice I’d like to give.
Your age doesn’t really matter to me. Just your writing ability. If you’re under 18, no need to declare so in your query letter. It’s unprofessional for one. Two, it’s irrelevant. I won’t think you a prodigy or lend you an extra dose of sympathy or be more lenient and request a partial. It won’t do any of those things. I still want a well-written, professional query that shows me you’ve done your research about this business and you’re ready to be serious and be taken seriously.
That will impress me. And if later I discover you are 15, my jaw will hit the floor at how mature you are. That I didn’t guess that you were so young. I’ll be very impressed then.
Now, if I call to offer representation, then you need to tell me you are under the age of 18 because your parent or guardian will now have to be involved in any discussions since you are a minor.
Trust me, age does not come up in any other queries. Occasionally I will receive one where the author will highlight the other end of the age spectrum but my answer remains the same. I don’t need or care to know. It won’t make me any more or less interested in your query. A well-written query with an original story idea. That’s what excites me—and the author can be of any age.
I’ve never asked any of my clients their age before signing them. Not once.