Friday, December 19, 2014

Agent vs. Schmagent

When I wrote my post on breaking up with agents, I was sort of assuming that the agent you have is competent. But the reality is that there are plenty of non-competent "agents" out there. While this may seem like a dreary post to end the year with, January tends to be a busy busy month as agents hit the ground running - and offer rep!

So, as you begin the New Year and search for that dream agent, here are some common types you should avoid:


The Spaghetti Agent 

Coined by the infamous Nathan Bransford, this is an agent who basically takes on everything and anything and just throws it out there, hoping something will stick.

How do you recognize a Spaghetti Agent?
Track record, for one. How many clients does this agent have vs. how many they've sold? Editorial vision, for another. Do they think this is ready to GO, maybe only minor edits, when a few other established agents feel it needs some work? Last, stamina; how many editors do they submit to, and when do they throw in the towel? It's usually best to ask current clients this question!

The Dinosaur Agent

I don't mean agents who have been in the business for forever; I'm speaking here to agents who WERE in the business forever AGO and haven't really been active since, or who are nearly extinct.

When signing with an agent, experience isn't all you should weigh; if this person isn't focusing on agenting, it's unlikely she's interacting daily with the editors to whom she's submitting. This interaction is key - not only is turnover rampant, so too does the market and tastes change, and editors prioritize submissions based on agents they know and trust - part of why having an ineffective agent can be more detrimental than no agent at all.

This industry is also evolving at a breakneck rate, and an agent who hasn't been in the loop for years just won't be able to offer the same long-term and potentially hybrid guidance as one who is. A Dinosaur Agent might even be completely ineffective at the submission process because of this! For example, it USED to be a practice, so close as ten years ago, for agents to be reimbursed for the costs of submitting manuscripts, because they submitted paper copies by regular snail mail. However, this is an old practice, and should really not take place anymore (yes, there ARE still some holdouts, but they're the exception). Hardly anyone accepts, let alone expects, paper submissions; so an agent sending this way is likely to end up either ignored, or in the trash!

The Opportunist

This is an agent who signs a client JUST because:

  1. there's an offer already on the table (the author approaches the agent with an offer from a publisher in hand) 
  2. there's an offer of rep, and thus, they want to jump on that bandwagon because of COURSE it'll be good  if someone else wants it or 
  3. the author is already published and under option and looking for a new agent, and it's just an easy sale to continue where another agent left off.

Now, not each of these situations are bad if done for the right reasons; it's when they are done JUST because of the situation that you're looking at a red flag.

How do you know if the agent is offering rep for the right reasons? I had a post on that too! But in sum:


  1. Track record. What has this agent already sold in the genre you're approaching them with? What is their editorial experience working with others in this genre, and what contacts do they have within this genre, to help you PAST this initial deal long-term? (The latter may be more important if looking at a newer agent). 
  2. Has the agent read your other work? Or at least a partial and/or discussed what else you're working on and your career vision? THEY SHOULD. 
  3. What are YOU looking for long-term, and what will this agent be able to do to help you achieve that? Are you looking to sign just because you're desperate for contract help, or because you think this agent is a perfect fit for your career?


The Lawyer

I had a love/hate on this previously, but in sum: having a law degree and/or law experience does NOT equal knowledge in ALL areas of law. Publishing law, intellectual property law, copyright and patent law - there are LOTS of different specializations even within the creative world! An entertainment lawyer handles vastly different things than a publishing contracts lawyer.

You are seriously going to look like a difficult person to bring in someone who doesn't know what they're talking about to negotiate or handle your contracts - and quite likely, paying money for non-advice. Even if it's free, you will just frustrate all parties by bringing in someone who has not negotiated a publishing contract before (and even more specifically, a publishing contract in your genre).

Your Neighbor

Who may be a lawyer. Great. See above.

The point of this one is, everyone will have their two cents on your career, your books, etc etc - rely only on the advice of those in the industry and/or have experience to know what they're talking about.

The Scam Agent

Money should always flow to the author, not from - an agent is paid on commission. Period. Definitely check out Preditors and Editors and any warnings on Absolute Write before signing with an agent. Warning signs include: fees charged, flaky and unreliable communication, zero to very little sales/track record (especially with reputable publishers). Word of caution: be wary of rants vs. facts.


I also want to throw a word of caution out about a few more types that aren't quite so lethal, but that you should be aware of and think through pros and cons before signing with:

The Hobbyist

There are agents who don't go in to make a career out of being an agent; they might focus in ONE really niche area, or perhaps juggle just a few clients - and they might be really fabulous at it. But this isn't necessarily going to be the agent with the entrepreneurial or long-term mindset you may be looking for. Again, just weigh what you are looking for longer-term vs. what this agent can offer in the short, and what fits best with YOUR career.


The Newb

I was a Newb. Every agent starts out as a Newb. That isn't a BAD thing - UNLESS the Newb has NO support, NO contacts, and NO idea what they're doing.

New agents are bound to make mistakes (though heck, so are established agents); it can also take longer for new agents to get responses (editors prioritize reads based on agents they know vs. don't). A new agent is much more likely to either switch agencies or leave the business, and a newer agent might still be figuring out their place in the game (what to represent, what they like/love, etc). This can lead to some rogue signings - suddenly signing a picture book and then realizing...wait...no...this is totally NOT the direction I want to go in as an agent...though also comes hand-in-hand (usually hopefully) with faster turnarounds on reads and edits (from agent) and a HUNGRY mentality to really bust butt and get out there. The point is, there are pros and cons, and you should think about them.

I think the most important thing to consider is the new agent's support system: who do they have (in YOUR genre and in reputation) to rely on for mentor-ship? What experience did the new agent start with?


Along with the resources mentioned above, RESEARCH!! I like this post about agents, and really: use your judgement. Take a moment to pause and really weigh through what you're looking for and what you're getting into.

If you get an offer from any of the above, politely decline their representation (hey, there's never a reason to burn bridges). If you think you may currently be represented by one of the above, your first step will be reviewing your agency agreement, to see if it outlines how you can terminate (in writing, email/snail mail etc), when (if there's a set term, etc) and what ramifications (i.e., does she remain agent of record?) there are.

Once you have your ducks in a row, either give the agent a call and let her know you're parting ways, or send a termination letter. It doesn't have to be fancy - it can be as simple as:

Dear Agent, 

Please accept this letter as termination of our agency agreement, dated XXX. 

Thank you, 
Movingonta Bettathings


You will want to outline the terms of the termination, if there are any; for example, if you have books with the agent, what he/she continues to represent or commission, what rights, or if there are no books, that you are free and clear.

If you find yourself in an unfortunate squabble over rights and commissions after your termination (scam agents in particular will try and squeeze every last bit out of you) the Author's Guild is a great resource to help you.

Finally, a word of warning/advice: no matter how frustrating it gets, stay professional.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Picture books, especially when they just CLICK.

It's always so hard to explain this; but when I see a picture book I love, I know it almost instantly (though, that doesn't mean I offer rep instantly; I still take my time to review an author's other work, check my gut, etc). Take a look at this one that just sold at auction.

Are you not salivating to get your hands on this book?!?

Admittedly, I'm drawn to simplicity in text with surprising and unique artwork; it doesn't have to be crazy and complex to work! Take a look at my picture book tips, too.


HATE

Pregnancy brain.

IT'S A REAL THING.

Oh, I need to remember to do a love/hate this coming...NOPE.
That editor, you know, the one with the...NOPE.
I need to do X. I need to do X. I need to do...uh....NOPE.

Sigh. Having to get used to to-do lists for my to-do lists and writing things down IMMEDIATELY or it is so very, very lost. >:(


Have a Happy Thanksgiving everyone!!!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Training Yourself to Critique Like a Pro

I touched previously on the usefulness of critique groups, and how to determine if yours is working for you.

But what about how YOU do as a critiquer - are YOU being helpful to others?

I learned to critique through trial and error; through feedback gained as an intern and reader for other agents before taking on my own clients.

But if you don't have access to the feedback gained through an internship...how do you learn to critique like an industry professional?

Here are my tips:

Participate (Silently) in Online Pitch Events
Use online blog contests (where authors post queries and/or first pages) not just to catch an agent's attention - but to train your critiquing eye! Read through the submissions and compose your thoughts before reading anything else; then see what agents/editors have to say when they comment! How are you comparing?


Write Your Own Book Reviews
You don't need to share them; this is for your own trial and error. Read books in your genre, write a review, and then read other reviews (take a look at both big sources like PW or Booklist AND blogs for a mix) to see what you missed and how your thoughts compare. Is there something you're consistently missing (like theme, writing style, etc) from your thoughts? If yes, read up on how to improve that area with writing books!

Study the Sales
A big part of agent critique is in regards to marketability; do NOT rely on what is on shelves to speak to that - instead, read announced sales on Publishers Weekly, and pay attention to trends in #mswl; what genres are agents and editors hungrily looking for? What genres AREN'T they advertising they're looking for? Agent and editor tastes will change with market trends.

Think of Comp Titles
Not just for your books - think of what titles your critique partner's books are like. Shy away from comparing them to blockbusters; think a little deeper to true comps - can be a mix of "characters from X meets the atmospheric presence of Y." In fact, this mix is ideal; if your comp title is basically the same book but with slightly different setting and characters, no dice. It needs to be unique. Once you have the comps, take a look at the number of reviews on Amazon and sales rankings (did it hit any lists? What # is it on Amazon?); did that book do well? A comp title is useless if it was a total flop.

Ask to See Notes
If you have friends with agents, ask if they wouldn't mind sharing the notes and revisions they went through with their agent before submission. Ideally, you read the book before it changed, or can have a copy of the original to read first, and had your own thoughts; how was it further strengthened? How do your thoughts compare? Why does what was done work? (Keep these confidential, of course!!)

Read Through Slush
Take a look at queries being posted in Absolute Write, Critique Circle, #pitmad and Querytracker; read through 50 at a time. That's what an agent does. Feeling your eyes glaze over? Why? What stands out to you? What makes something feel fresh and unique? If you happen to think that a query letter is fabulous, you can consider asking the author for request rate, or secretly cyber-stalk them a little to see if that's posted anywhere. Is what you're picking out as great something agents also think is great (by request rate success)? If no, go back to looking at market trends and comps; do those titles fit what agents are looking for? Too similar to other books?

Hone Your Craft
Practice the following revision techniques on several novels, not just yours, so you can think critically from a more objective standpoint:



When writing notes, be as harsh and realistic as you want; you don't have to share raw thoughts with the author! Do not think about hurting feelings when you're learning; again, it's for your OWN trial and error. However, it's very important that for each negative critique, you list out one or two ways the author could improve; this gets you thinking more critically - if it isn't fixable, why? And how do YOUR fixes compare with what was done? (When looking at agent notes)

It's good practice to pick out what you enjoy and think is done well, too - it's just as important to know what works as knowing what doesn't.

The biggest challenge to tackle when learning to critique like an industry professional is wrapping your head around your end market; it ISN'T the public reader. It's an agent. Or editor. Or publisher. Marketability is huge, and it can't just be "enjoyable" or well written. It has to be fabulous; it's being read by someone who reads HUNDREDS of things a year. Enjoyable and well written need to be paired with hook-y and marketable.

If you have your own tips and suggestions to add to mine, please do so in the comments below!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Plotting Your Hero's Emotional Journey: Plot-to-Page method

You may already be familiar with the Hero's Inner Journey:



What you may not realize is how this ties into EVERY type of novel - not just epic fantasy.

I found an absolutely fabulous post by Allen Palmer that brakes these steps down into 12 easily digestible ones, which I highly recommend reading. To sum it up (no really - read the post; my summary doesn't do it justice):

The hero is:

  • Incomplete (Ordinary World)
  • Two dimensions to the hero's incomplete world: something they’re aware of (a want), and something not aware (their flaw).
  • Unsettled (Call to Adventure)
  • A problem or an opportunity. Suddenly their world just isn’t the same any longer.





  • Resistant (Refusal of the Call)
  • Hero is resistant to the problem or opportunity. If the hero does want the call, others will express the fear for them.




  • Encouraged (Meeting with the Mentor)
  • Hero is “Encouraged” into reconsidering the challenge thrown down. Note: the “Mentor” doesn’t have to be old or wise, just someone to push hero into next step.




  • Committed (Crossing the first threshold)
  • Hero is “committed” to tackling the goal, problem or opportunity with which they’ve been presented.



  • Disoriented (Tests, Allies & Enemies)
  • Hero begins to pursue goal or fix problem & world is upside down. Hero challenged (don't make these too big of challenges - leave room to escalate at Ordeal and Resurrection). Could work out who they can trust and who they should be wary of in new world




  • Inauthentic (The Approach)
  • As hero begins tackling the problem or opportunity, it is done so with the hero's main flaw still in action - tackling this inauthentically. Often where friendships are forged and love interests introduced, BUT Hero is “inauthentic” – reader is reminded of exactly what the hero’s flaw is.




  • Confronted (The Ordeal)
  • The hero is “confronted” with their flaw - a mirror is held up to them and flaw pointed out.




  • Reborn (The Reward)
  • Old, flawed Hero dies, and “reborn” Hero emerges. Transformation revealed through perceptions of others (this may be a moment, as there's still the next step of...)




  • Desperate (Road Back)
  • Hero must choose between what they want and what they need (to act on Reborn or not) - stuck between a rock and a hard place. To change and confront flaw, but perhaps that is at the risk of losing something else.




  • Decisive (Resurrection – the Climax)
  • Hero proves that they have been transformed…or not (either decided to change or remain the same - a tragedy, hero remains the same and there are consequences). Hero MUST be the active agent here; can’t be rescued by external forces because that would deny ultimate character test to draw on new strength or fall back into weaknesses
     


  • Complete (Return with the Elixir)
  • The HEA scene


The first thing, of course, is making sure your hero/heroine progresses through each step.

But WHEN should these steps occur? In other words -  where in your plot arc should these development points fall?

Building off of my previous post with the Plot Dot Test, this is how your hero/heroine's emotional journey should progress:



I used a 125 page novel in the above; yours is likely different. So to set this proportionally to your novel, use the following rough* percentage guidelines:


Incomplete (~1%)
Unsettled (~4%)
Resistant (~8%)
Encouraged (~12%)
Committed (~16%)
Disoriented (~20%)
Inauthentic (~28%)
Confronted (~50%) - midpoint!
Reborn (~62%)
Desperate (~72%)
Decisive (~88%) - climax!
Complete (~98%)

*i.e., don't freak out if you're 5% off - the important parts are hitting these moments, and the decisive moment being in the climax.


How to figure this out using your manuscript:

  1. Locate the page number each journey step starts
  2. Divide page # by total pages to get step %
  3. Place dots on lined paper
  4. X: page (can be by 5’s or 10’s), Y: %
  5. Graph


Does it look like a character arc? Go back and revise as needed!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

The writing advice in this post, particularly #1 & #5!!


HATE

Floating voices.

When a manuscript opens with dialogue, I have no idea how to frame it. I know absolutely nothing about the characters, the plot, the backstory; it's just a floating voice.

Don't think that opening with a really catchy dialogue line is a great way to snag in the reader - it's more disorienting than catchy!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Meeting authors who are nice at an event.

This might seem pretty obvious; but it isn't! I've met plenty of authors who are pretty clearly tired and grumpy and/or a little too full of themselves to really give me the time of day.

I realize events are draining; trust me - I do them too!! But it REALLY makes a difference if you turn off a reader. I have stopped buying books from authors who were less than savory to meet in person; I don't support diva behavior.

Recently, I had a chance to meet Lisa Kleypas at RT - and HOLY COW TOLEDO was she lovely. Stood up, shook the hand of everyone she met, big, big smile, so very grateful to see you - made me SO much more excited for any of her next books, and excited about her as an author!

DO THIS. Yes, it may take a while if you do give attention to each person in line, but if they're waiting they really want to see you!

I don't care who you are as an author; your readers are important.


HATE

Non-publishing lawyers.

I cannot tell you how frustrating it is when I have a potential client have a non-industry lawyer look over our agency agreement. Primarily, this is because a lawyer not familiar with the industry is likely to suggest changes to industry standards (like commission rate).

I absolutely have no issue with a third party looking over any agreement - you just better make sure they know what they're talking about!!

Be sure to check out the AAR Canon of Ethics if that agency is a member; if they are, there are standards they will adhere to. (Though don't be put off if they aren't a member, either; here's a great post on that). If you have someone looking over the contract, and the agent responds with: sorry, this is standard, don't automatically feel like you're getting a bad deal - talk to others in the industry if you want to check if it's standard!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

An Announcement!

I have quite a few reasons for writing this post.

A. To announce that:



B. Which means, in case that isn't clear: I'm pregnant!

C. Which leads me to: you never know what's going on in an agent or editor's life. While I have always supported nudges after my reading period has passed, please don't go in all guns blazin' and accusatory. I nudge editors too, and it's always friendly; never want to burn bridges! Especially because, given this news:

D. My reading period has been and may continue to be slower (blog posts, particularly love/hate Wednesday, definitely became and will continue to be sporadic, too). My submission reading is all done on nights and weekends; recently, that time was taken up by fatigue (I think three naps a day and bed at 8 was my top glory moment) and routine prayer sessions to the porcelain goddess. In the future, it will be taken up by BABY.

This doesn't mean I don't care about submissions, or finding new clients; it just means I have to be realistic. I need to dedicate what time I have to my clients first.

E. In consideration of that, I will be closing to submissions starting October 1, 2014, through May 1, 2015, in order to fully focus on my clients before and after the leave.

F. I will respond to and consider all submissions sent before then (including any requests made before October). I will also still accept submissions sent from the two remaining conferences that I am attending this year - I made those commitments prior to baby and I will honor them. Otherwise, if I am your dream agent (der) just polish polish polish and submit in May!!


Let the latest adventure begin!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

On Agency Clauses

I recently read an article in the latest SCBWI Bulletin (you must be a member to view/read) about agency clauses in contracts.

A typical agency clause will read something like:

Author authorizes Agent, located at (ADDRESS), to collect all gross sums of money due under this Agreement. Any receipt of such sums shall be a good and valid discharge of Publisher's obligations to make payments to Author. Agent is empowered to act on behalf of Author in any and all matters arising out of this Agreement.

In the article, the author addresses why this is problematic, and recommends either not having this clause, and having all money go directly to you, or modifying it to be revocable at any time, so that if you part ways with your agent, you can have funds go all to you or your new agent.

For the record, I HIGHLY respect SCBWI, and I HIGHLY respect the author of the article. The intention behind it is very good, and authors SHOULD think about what they're agreeing to; it IS problematic if you've signed with a "schmagent" - someone who disappears, along with your statements and royalty checks, leaving you high and dry.

I shared my post with Sara Rutenberg, the author of the SCBWI article, who pointed out: “Unfortunately, there are so many agents out there who are unscrupulous. The column was written in response to a number of people who found themselves in [the position of being with an agent who is not remitting timely or disappears]. It is critical to [discuss the agency clause] up front, or people will not feel comfortable taking actions needed to protect themselves.”

I wholeheartedly agree with that sentiment. And, her article was really intended to address these schmagent situations. However, most agency agreements, including those from big, big agencies, do include language on agency clauses which can't be modified, and I think it would be a mistake to feel that you are getting a bad deal from, or not sign with, an agent or agency that insists on this language.

Why?

There are several issues with direct payments. If you have your royalty statements and payments coming to you, instead of your agency, you would be responsible for remitting your agency's commission and, at the end of the year, also remitting a 1099 to that agency for what you paid them. I actually can’t imagine that any foreign publisher would be ok sending payment to the author, instead of the foreign co-agent who brokered the deal – but, in that case, you'd be responsible for remitting payment to your agent, your co-agent, and dealing with any tax withholdings applicable to the specific country's laws when you pay your co-agent (and then have to remit a tax form to them, too, at the end of the year).

You would also be responsible for sharing statements with your agent(s). Why? We need to check them! Think mistakes never happen? Think again!! It is part of my job to monitor any statements that come in, to be sure everything is calculated and reported correctly.

Second, there’s a saying in publishing: money should flow TO the author, not FROM. This saying arose out of troubling scams, and still holds true today.

Third, while it would be LOVELY if I could woo and entice J.K. Rowling away from her agent and suddenly be able to collect a commission on her previous contracts...that's just not the way it works when you split with an agent. Ethically, and typically, contractually, the agent who sold the book is due the commission. Not the new agent you sign with. Why? Because it’s that old agent who did all the work to get that contract. Me taking a cut of J.K. Rowling’s previous contracts, when I’ve done nothing to earn it, just doesn’t add up to me. Even in the situation above, where an agent leaves an author high and dry and disappears, I wouldn’t feel right taking a commission, because I didn’t sell the work.

Now, the new agent may be able to handle unsold rights - like translation, audio, etc, for the book the previous agent sold. And your new agent, with your permission (you must inform your previous publisher you have a new agent) can of course still help to protect your rights and look into issues with that previous contract (though, if this ever happens, I ALWAYS start with the agent who sold the book, assuming they weren't a schmagent, before reaching out myself).

If you do try and amend your contract with a publisher to have your new agent collect funds instead of your old, or have all payments go to you, they will likely require you to provide proof (or contact the previous agent to verify) that you can do so. This is because most agency agreements do, in fact, specifically clarify that any works sold under that agreement remain commissionable by the agency, whether you leave or not.

That's not to screw you over. Again, it’s to protect the agent from doing the work of editing, selling, negotiating the book, and troubleshooting...and then suddenly be SOL if you decide to leave. That work isn't negated because you left. Any future work is - and the agent shouldn't ask for commission on work they don't represent.

However, as Sara told me, “what we are all after is protecting the author- and if an agent is not remitting timely or disappears, there has to be a way to address this.”

I agree. And there are ways to still protect yourself.

First, and most common, is with split payments. I certainly work with publishers when I can, at an author's request, to have our commission sent directly to us, and then the rest to the author (15% to agency, 85% to author, in other words). And you can ask your publisher, even if you already have an agency clause, to amend to split payments later. But again, if you do, they’ll ask for that proof your former agent gave the ok, or proof the former agent can’t be found. It is a PAIN to get this done. Think hoop after hoop after legal hoop. Don't go in thinking it'll be a walk in the park.

You can absolutely discuss the split payment option with your agent upfront. However, keep in mind that not all publishers will agree to this (particularly in the case of subsidiary rights), which is why an agent may not agree to contractually be obligated to secure split payments for you.

The second option, post-contract, is to obtain legal representation and fight. Which is a pretty sucky thing to have to do. The Author’s Guild can help with this; but in sum, you’ll have to either settle with your former agent or in court, if you had an agency agreement between the two of you, about that former agent no longer receiving commission. I don’t honestly know of any cases where this has occurred; usually, when legal battles like this pop up, the author and former agent settle on the split payment option, and the publisher amends the contract accordingly. It’s a mess. Which is why I can understand Sara’s article about addressing this upfront.

But, as I said, this isn’t something every agent will agree to, even if discussed upfront. And that doesn’t have to mean the agent is a schmagent, or that you’re getting screwed. The agency clause is VERY common. At the end of the day, if you have doubts about whether or not you can trust your agent to handle funds or statements - why are you signing with this person?! I think the true warning, and really, what Sara was after too, should go against schmagents, rather than the agency clause. You sure as heck should have done your research to make sure the agent offering rep is legit.

The agent-author relationship should be one of trust. If you're worried your agent is going to, or currently is, screwing you over...you've got issues that need to be addressed immediately, either in conversation with your agent, or by parting ways/not signing with that agent.


ETA: SCBWI did post a correction on the Bulletin.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

This bookseller's perspective on author interaction etiquette. Good points here. I am TOTALLY guilty of facing out client books. Now I feel shamed; and you know what, for a good reason - it IS much better to make friends with your local booksellers and garner support with honey rather than treachery!


NEUTRALLY SPECULATIVE AND LEANING MORE TO HATE

I needed a new section this week, because I wanted to finally touch on a subject that's been cropping up: books as general product.

The biggest battle right now on this is between Amazon and Hachette; if you need a refresher/sum up on that battle, read this. Today, I read a post in PW about removing the suggested pricing from book covers (in order for retailers to have more flexibility to determine pricing and margins).

Part of the argument for both of these situations boils down to treating books like toilet paper. Ok, maybe toothpaste. Or socks. (You get it; just a manufactured product).

But. The thing is. There's so much more behind books than the paper and ink (or screen). It's really broaching into the question of creativity: what's it worth? Does the medium it's expressed in really make a difference? Can you really force it into the same box as a pair of shoes? (And even then, a designer has the right to charge whatever they want for the shoes - whether you buy it or not should be up to you *coughneutralityslippingcough*).

What do you think?


ETA: I don't mean to simplify or lump together either of these situations, by the way, just point out a thread of similarity behind both, and how I'm feeling about that thread. :)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On Sharing: the Magic of Books

When I was in fifth grade, my English teacher decided to dedicate an hour a few Friday afternoons to reading aloud to the class. She purposefully chose books that she enjoyed, that didn't necessarily serve any educational purpose. Just entertainment.

One of the books she read aloud haunted me for the rest of my life. It was HILARIOUS and CLEVER and FRESH and BRILLIANT. Up to fifteen years later, I could recite the synopsis to you and simply GUSH about this book.

Which I totally had forgotten the name of.

Still, like I said, I was haunted. I NEEDED to figure out what this book was. Every time I thought I might remember a new clue on the title (since googling what the book was about didn't get me anything) I would write it down. And search.

Yesterday, I was randomly looking something up in an educational textbook with a very familiar image. IT WAS FROM THE BOOK!!

And like a good textbook, it cited its reference and source for that image.

I HAD FOUND MY BOOK!!!!

You can't imagine how excited I was TO FIND THIS BOOK!!!! And it was STILL IN PRINT. AND I COULD BUY IT. OMG. *dies*

What's the moral here?

Nothing grand; at least, at a surface level.

But my English teacher shared something precious with me; she introduced me to an author who haunted me for the rest of my life. To a work that I simply HAD to track down and find.

She created a fan. A reader. A BUYER. YEARS later.

Authors: share your books. Read aloud to children. Whether in a classroom, your local library, or to your grandchildren - read to them. Inspire them to be haunted by words for the rest of their lives.



THE BOOK, in case you're wondering:

Motel of the Mysteries
By David Macaulay

Friday, August 1, 2014

Common Picture Book Mistakes

I've talked plenty about novels; I want to focus on picture books today!

It may be hard to imagine revisions on a 500 word (or less) manuscript, but by golly...picture books go through more revisions, sometimes, than novels! Every word counts, when you have space for only a few.

It's difficult to say what exactly gives a picture book that SPARK; that something special that resonates with readers young and old. But I can offer up some of the most common mistakes that I see in picture book submissions, to help you find that spark!


1. Too didactic

I.e., too educational and message-driven. While yes, most picture books boil down to basic themes, and many have overarching morals, they aren't the focus or purpose of the book. A child isn't going to want to read WHY STEALING IS BAD! But they sure as heck enjoy I WANT MY HAT BACK.

There are, of course, educational picture books; these tie into specific school curriculum (Common Core) for the intended age group - and aren't any of the below!

2. Too long

Picture book texts are getting shorter and shorter; you should aim for no more than 500 words, unless you're writing a picture book biography, in which case, I'd aim for no more than 1200 words, including the Author's Note/End Matter.

3. Non-professional illustrations

Can't draw? Don't even try! It's not necessary to have illustrations prepared in order to sell a picture book. If you aren't an illustrator and are debut, the publisher will want to pair your text with an illustrator with a track record, perhaps some awards, to help promote the book.

4. My daughter/grandson/local library kids love it!

I don't care. No really; I know that's harsh, but I'm not selling it to them. There are lots of stories that kids love that aren't translatable to a wider market. And guess what - kids aren't actually the end buyer. Parents are! Librarians are! Your child or local children may LOVE the story about your dog finding a kitten - but is that just because they've met your dog? Like the way you tell the story? Will ALL children love this story, especially when you aren't telling it? Perhaps; but it's also possible it will be...

5. Too familiar

Before you press send - make sure you've done your research. Are there already ten billion stories about tangled, messy hair? Yep. Are there already a zillion ABC and counting books? Yep. How about books about bunnies? And pigs? Yep. Yep. Or on the opposite end - are there NO picture books like yours - and why not? (i.e., if you're writing an erotic picture book, uh...wrong market, buddy). The picture books that stand out are FRESH; even if they boil down to the same basic themes that all the rest do, it's the fresh, unique spin on it that makes it stand out.

6. Forced rhyme

For some reason, a lot of authors seem to think that picture book text has to be rhyming. This couldn't be farther from the truth. Rhyme is actually one of the toughest types of picture books to sell - and that's because it's very difficult to do RIGHT. It's never, ever a good thing when I'm cringing as I read because I can totally tell that next line was forced into the narrative just so the author could have something that rhymes with the word above. And you have to pay attention to rhythm with rhyme, too - syllables, how it sounds when read aloud. If you're writing, and struggling to find words or phrases that go in the direction you want - stop. Try writing it without rhyme!!

7. Too slight

"Cute" isn't good enough. "Sweet" isn't going to cut it. It has to be AMAZING. It has to leave an impression; you can't just smile when you finish reading and forget about it a week later. It has to resonate around in your brain and get you excited. You will remember it and be able to recount the narrative even if you've read it only once, over a year ago.

8. No over-and-over-again readability

This ties into the above; is your story timeless? A story that can be read over and over again and be just as fun and surprising the fourth, fifth, eighteenth time around? I would liken this to movies; some you go to, you enjoy. Will you buy the DVD? Is it a movie that you'll want to watch over again, invest hours in, even though you know what happens?

9. No take-away

As above, the book should leave an impression. Something that you take away long after the pages are closed; does it leave your child feeling safe? Does it leave a lingering moral reminder or a new idea or inspiration, tucked discreetly behind the lasting joy of the story?

10. Too complicated

Don't try and throw everything and the kitchen sink into your story; simple is better. Find a focus and build from that; too many themes, too many characters, too much noise just leads to confusion. Keep your age range in mind - a two year old isn't the intended market for WHERE'S WALDO!

11. No narrative arc

Finally, your story should still have a beginning, middle and end. Even a concept book introduces and concludes. Is your story just a series of vignettes? Or several shorts in one? There should be an over-arching theme and narrative.


I realize that there are classics that break these mistakes. THAT DOESN'T GIVE YOU FREE LICENSE TO MAKE THEM. The bottom line is that yes, there will always be exceptions, but a) when were those exceptions published? In THIS market? and b) why make your journey harder than it has to be by trying to be an exception?

The next time you meet with your critique group, don't just ask them for impressions or critique; ask them to specifically tell you if they think your story falls into one of these categories - and why? Use that feedback to strengthen the text - or to find the strength to shelve it, and write something amazing.

Not every story will leave the same impression; picture books are just as subjective as novels. But, more people than not will love it. And that's what makes it work.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Voice.

I'd say one of the first things (if not the first) I look for in a submission; I'll read the first paragraph and see if it's engaging me voice-wise, and know I want to read more. Here's a throwback, and another, to a few posts I wrote all about it!

Tip: you can use the "search" feature of this blog to view more, if you're ever looking for something specific!


HATE

Unsolicited Twitter pitches.

Certainly, if I'm participating in a Twitter pitch event, it's a-ok to pitch there. Outside of that special event space, however, no way. It's pushy and smells of spam (yes, I mean junk mail, but you should also picture a stanky wave of SPAM wafting up to me from Twitter from each unsolicited Twitter pitch, because that is exactly the face I make when I see one).

Twitter is a powerful networking tool, and should absolutely be used to your marketing advantage - but in the right way. Don't ever be a spam-bot. I have submission guidelines for a reason.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

My clients. I know it was just #agentsday, but truly, I wouldn't be who or where I am without all of my fabulous clients!


HATE

When writers pretend to have an offer of representation so that I'll read faster.

Oh yes, this happens. And guess what? I also have lots of agent friends and...we ALL know when this happens, because we totally talk to one another. Trust me: you do this, and you set yourself up for failure. You'll get a faster response, sure...but just a faster "no."

Agent Jennifer Laughran wrote a great post all about this, and offer of representation etiquette you should check out!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

SMART Goals

It is important when setting goals for both your writing and career that they be SMART goals. Specifically, I'm talking about:


  • Specific – target a specific area for improvement. What do you want to do? Why?
  • Measurable – quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress. When do you know it's complete?
  • Assignable – specify who will do it. Can also be Achievable: how can it be accomplished?
  • Realistic – state what results can realistically be achieved, given available resources. Is it relevant to what you want to achieve overall? Worthwhile?
  • Time-related – specify when you will complete the goal (a hard deadline, not just "in the future" or "someday")


How does this translate to your writing? Well:


  • Specific: revise the first chapter in order to engage reader immediately with voice
  • Measurable: a review of first 30 pages from at least three betas hitting target response
  • Assignable: YOU will do this, by reading this fabulous post from AIA and reading at least four first chapters of comparable titles
  • Realistic: engaging the reader immediately will result in overall request rate improvement, along with direction to further improve the voice in the rest of the novel, and voice improvement on future first pages of novels that I write
  • Time-related: by June 28th


It gives you the how, the what, and the whens to success.

Try mapping out all of your goals this way (if you have to think harder to do it, GOOD; you're thinking about how YOU can REALLY make it happen), and check them off as you achieve them to see just how SMART you are!!


HATE

EXCUSES.

Too hard? Tough buttons. Cry me a river. SUCK IT UP!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Adventures at the Library: Special Collections!

This is a post all about my adventures in the San Diego State Special Collections Archive...looking at picture books from the 19th century.

Yep.

Did you know that you can TOTALLY go do that?! It's open to the public and wow, what a cool treat.

What was interesting about these picture books is that very few of them had author names.


“Freaks and frolics of little girls” (1887)


Most were fairy tales or other morality tales, solely for the purpose of instructing children on how to behave.

Think your hair picture book is unique? THINK AGAIN. This trope has been around for a very. Long. Time.

“R. Caldecott's first collection of pictures and songs”

Originally, the artwork was hand-painted.

“The history of Richard Whittington and his cat” (c. 1800)

And these stories were universal - there were many different languages of antique picture books!

“Die Nibelungen dem Deutschen Volke” (1920) by Franz Keim

And for antiques, they were still pretty darned awesome.

“Little Red Riding Hood: A ‘Pop-up!’ book” (1934)


“Revolving pictures: a novel picture book of dioramic scenes” by Ernest Nister (1892)

And at the end of my visit...I got to see something PRICELESS (well ok, it's actually worth like 2.2 million dollars but...)




Oh that there? That's just copy-edits by the Church on Copernicus's De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres).

BAM.

So yeah. Libraries are cool.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Cats.



You know, just in case it like, wasn't obvious. I also decided that there is an alarming lack of lolcats on my blog which needed to be remedied immediately.

And by the way, stripey cats are my favorite.

my stripey cat


HATE

Having to reject awesome premises that don't hold up in execution.

My intern asked me the other day how often I read something that sounds really great, but just isn't quite there in the writing. The answer is: A LOT.

So don't f up. Don't rush a fabulous premise - but also don't be afraid to take the bits that people love...and write a new story!! Starting over can also be the best thing for your book.

I know I just had my post on revisionitis, so I'm not trying to make your head spin now by saying "Get it out there! But don't rush! Go! Stop!" I gave my ideas on problematic revising behavior below, but you should definitely still always go over it several times and get feedback before sending it out there!

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

A Bad Case of Revisionitis

I'm all for polishing the heck out of your manuscript. The perfect-first-draft-writing author is as rare as a non-cute sloth (no? Have you SEEN this book??).

But when is enough enough?

I hear this question a lot: how do I know when my manuscript is ready for submission? Or, I sit across from a writer at a conference who tells me he/she has been working on his/her novel...for three years.

It's hard to put a definitive time frame on revisions; some masterpieces DO take years to write! But, at some point...you do have to start getting it out there into the world, because you won't learn half as much from a revision as you will from writing a new book.

Starting something new isn't giving up. It's unlikely you're going to forget about that old manuscript - you can always go back later and give it a face-lift! But why spend time going over and over one when you could be out the door faster with another?

Which brings us back to the question: when IS enough enough?

While I can't tell you for sure, here are a few guidelines:

1. You've been revising the manuscript for over two years, sending it back and forth to the same people over and over again who keep suggesting things to tweak

  • Red flag! You may be too close to the manuscript. Sure, you could send it to some fresh eyes, but the best thing to do is likely going to be starting a new book and coming back to this one later.


2. You've been out on submission/shopping the same manuscript for several years in a row with no takers. Maybe some great critiques and R&Rs, but no bites.

  • Red flag! It could really just not be working. Maybe the hook isn't good enough, or the timing is all wrong for the genre. Whatever the reason...don't just keep on tweaking the SAME manuscript to send back out there. Start something new and come back to that one later if you love it!


3. You've been alternating pulling out several old manuscripts which you run through again and re-submit

  • Red flag!  You have to be career-smart; even if you get a contract for a book...you have to keep writing to make a career out of it! So regardless of whether or not you love a book...you're going to HAVE to keep writing and love another! You can't fall back on the same book or books for an entire career.


4. You've been sending the manuscript around to critique partners and friends for fresh reads for months now, and each time, they have something new and different to fix

  • Red flag! Writing is subjective. There's always going to be ONE THING you would or could have done differently in a manuscript. But part of your craft as a writer is figuring out what the BEST vision is for the manuscript. You don't have to please or listen to everyone.


You may have noticed that I made a point here not to say "give up on the manuscript." That's because it is still possible for an older manuscript to sell. But you're doing your career a disservice to only focus on one work over and over again; even if you do come back to a manuscript, keep writing and growing.

Of course, when you do start something new, do pay attention to the edits you received from your last book.

I can tell you, as an editorial agent, if I take on a client with potential who needs some work, I'm willing to put in the effort to revise the heck out of your manuscript...but after three books in, if that client is still at the same level, I'm going to get tired. I want to see you learning from edits and growing as a writer.

I'm not saying one more book in you'll be Pulitzer-Prize-winning level. But the more you write, the more you learn...so cure your revisionitis and get to brainstorming!

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Pay-it-forward marketing

Check out this awesome series by author Jonathan Auxier for an example of this (especially this one on surviving no-shows at a book event). It doesn't have to be this in-depth or focused at writers, either; think of ways you can help your readers, too (what would be interesting to THEM?) or help a fellow author with promotion!

Pay-it-forward marketing drives a heck of a lot more traffic and interest than constant selfie marketing.


HATE

When my clients sign up for editor critiques or pitches at conferences

This really could vary by agent, but personally, I advise my clients not to sign up for these (read: CLIENTS. Not speaking here to unagented authors). I can submit to editors any time - and honestly, it's tough to beat a first impression. Yes, sometimes an editor will be intrigued by opening pages of a manuscript, but that's my job when I pitch - to get an editor salivating to read! Particularly with a critique, an editor is going in with the express intention of finding something to critique. Why add that negative impression as the first?

I would SO much rather send a polished version for consideration, not just because of first impressions, but also because it's also possible that something an editor has already seen, even if they're interested, will sit longer on the desk for consideration. They know what to expect; the element of mystery and surprise is gone.

It also puts me in an awkward situation of having to send to that editor to consider if he/she said "sure, send it to me!", even if I think a different editor at that house would be a better fit.

There's plenty an agented or published author can do at a conference besides pitch - learn, network, teach - far more valuable and relevant to that stage of his/her career!

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Researching new editors and putting together submission lists!

It's kind of like acceptable stalking. Although of course I already have quite a few connections, I always like to reach out to new editors and double check recent sales, current bios and even twitter feeds while finalizing a submission list.

I'm sure writers do it to me - and they should! Tastes do shift over time, particularly with the market winds, and even if you have a list of agents together already that you may have cobbled together from a writing website like www.querytracker.net, check out their bios (recent conferences attended will likely list a recent bio), their sales, their blogs, twitters, pinterest accounts, etc etc to get a feel for what types of things they usually say "yes" to. Targeting specific interests vs. vague descriptions (such as, an agent who likes "historical" may really only like "post-1800 historical") will always serve you better.


HATE

Legalese.

I hate shifty little clauses in contracts that are purposefully so clouded in legalese you need a magical translation unicorn to decipher them. A contract doesn't have to be indecipherable to be legal, though sometimes, language is very carefully chosen to be vague, to leave room for interpretation.

My advice for anyone out there sifting through a contract on your own (this could be a publishing contract, an agency agreement, etc): if there's something you don't understand, absolutely have it clarified or ask, "can you give me an example of this?" The very last thing you want is to be locked into something you don't know you're locked into!!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Peer Pressure...and Writers

Just like hypothetical jumping-off-bridge-parties and giving in to the (horrible) skinny jeans trend, the modern writer faces peer pressure daily. With social media and electronic interaction, writers are more connected than ever - and more likely than ever to derail their own success by giving in.

Here are a few common scenarios to consider:

Are you hanging with the wrong crowd?

Has your critique group become more of a social circle? Are the members getting published, or only offering positive "I love it!" feedback instead of constructive advice? What about your social networking friends - are they starting to rant and rave and be negative and bash all the things you THOUGHT you wanted in your career? These people will drag you down. I realize it's not easy to break up with a critique partner or group or stop speaking to a fellow writer, but if you are in any of these situations, you sure as heck better do something to counter-balance it. Join a new group that can offer what your other can't; balance negativity with inspiring posts and optimistic writer pals. Wallowing in the negative isn't going to help you get ahead, so make sure your peers aren't holding back your path to success.

Are you wanting what you don't have just because "everyone else" has it?

Never measure your success based on another author's resume. No two writing paths are the same - and that doesn't make the end destination any different. Looking to the success of others to dictate what you should and should not have is just going to hurt. Set goals for yourself, and don't change those goals or celebrate meeting them any less just because it's not as good as someone else's - i.e., if you want to be published, don't beat yourself with a stick because you were published...but not with your FIRST BOOK AND A SIX FIGURE DEAL like so-and-so did. Enjoy and work with YOUR publishing path; don't wish it was someone else's.

Are you listening to "know-it-alls"?

Everyone has an opinion on publishing. Chances are you've had at least one person tell you to just self publish, or most definitely be on a zillion social sites, or submit to twenty different contests, or turn your book into an erotic giant fairy story because THAT'S what's hot or - or -  It's easy for others to tell you what to do. But you have to do what's best for YOU and your career, YOU and YOUR book. If you only have time for one social media site, don't worry about spreading yourself thin - focus on what works for you. If you want traditional, then go for it. If you're writing historical but that's not what's hot, don't force yourself to write contemporary. Just like getting medical advice from your cousin, who TOTALLY thinks that mole you have is cancerous because Aunt Bertie TOTALLY had the same mole and had cancer vs. your doctor, who says it's fine - any advice given should be weighted with the experience behind the words, with only your career interests in mind.

Do you hesitate before saying "I'm a writer" because you don't think others would call you that?

I've heard of writers who won't consider themselves a writer if they're aren't actually published, or who won't celebrate a good review as a win or even a contest win as the most fabulous news ever because it's not quite what you SHOULD celebrate (which is a book deal or a six figure deal or hitting a list), or who won't say they're published because self-publishing isn't REAL publishing. Bull. You celebrate your wins, no matter how small, and you live up to what you ARE, not what you think others think you are.


I know it's hard to stand firm in your own writing path, especially when that path is long and tedious. And I don't mean to imply that adjusting to a changing atmosphere (such as deciding to self publish vs. traditional) is giving in, if YOU made that decision based on what YOU want and is right for YOUR goals and YOUR path.

But making a decision based on fear or giving in to pressure or changing your views on your journey or your writing based on negative influences is only going to interfere with your success. Be proud if you have the courage to do what's right for your writing and your career, even if that means being different from "everyone else."


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

When authors follow instructions.

Most notably, submission instructions. I get plenty of submissions directly in my personal email, and guess what - just I like I state in the right sidebar on my blog, I delete them (after making sure they don't say "requested" or "conference" or "referral" anywhere of course). I am always shocked, too, how many people submit to my query box after a conference...when I give them my card and say to send directly to me!

I get it. There's lots of rules. Lots of things can go wrong. I don't hold it against anyone when they don't do things exactly right; but most absolutely do you stand out when you do. Or at least not inspire a frowny face. You don't want your submission to inspire a frowny face, even if that isn't held against you, right?


HATE

Competing with critique groups.

I think critique groups are incredibly important for polishing up your manuscript before you send to your agent or on submission. But I'll be blunt: I don't give a fig what your critique group tells you about your manuscript. If I'm telling you "this has got to go, I can't sell it like this" I absolutely hate hearing back "well my critique group says they think it's fine."

I'm not saying by any means that my word is final; I'm always open to collaboration on edits. There've been plenty of times an author has come back to me and said "well, I'd like to keep this for xyz reason." Because of course, if there IS a reason, it may be that other parts of the manuscript need to be tweaked in order to understand it. But that is a conversation I want to have with you, as the writer - not with your critique group!

In other words: don't use your critique group's "voice" as an excuse not to make an edit. If you don't like a suggestion, explain it in your own words. And if you trust your critique group's judgement on the marketability and edits needed for your manuscript above your agent's...well, there's a bigger problem to address: why?

But that's a can of worms for another post. ;)

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Thinking about new options.

Read an interesting post on hybrid publishing models (between self-publishing and traditional - read the comments on this one, btw...that's important), which isn't new, but part of the ever-changing face of publishing. I love opportunity and out-of-the-box thinking, so change excites me. That said...


HATE

The uncertainty of the unknown.

There's risk involved with change and out-of-the-box thinking. Not that that will stop me. Heck, I wouldn't be an agent if it did! But I absolutely have to weigh career benefits and big-picture for my authors, too; they aren't Guinea pigs. No author should be.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Some Formatting Basics

I cobbled together a basic grammar cheat-sheet a while back, and while grammar is most definitely the more important thing to watch out for in a manuscript, there are still a few formatting and editing things I'm often surprised when reading submissions (or even from clients!) that writers aren't using.

In lieu of a Love/Hate post, as this is somewhat related to things I love and hate to see, here are a few common things you should know about editing and formatting as a writer:

Indent with tab - not spaces!

  • And once you indent with tab, hitting "Enter" after the end of a sentence will automatically start your new paragraph indented correctly.


Use Track Changes

This is an essential editing tool for all writers to be comfortable with. Editors, agents and copy editors all use it to quickly and efficiently track what is changing, and by whom. If you haven't used this feature, give it a try; locate Track Changes in your version of Word, turn it on and make some changes.

  • You must either accept or deny all changes (you can do a sweep and "accept all" if you like, or go one-by-one) in order for the comment bubbles and colored words/lines not to pop up when you send the document to someone else. Comments must be deleted as well, or those will also pop up when you send the document to someone else. Just changing the view to show "final without mark-up" will not hide your tracked changes from others.
  • Also, please be kind and let your agent or editor know if you ARE sending a document with track changes...I have totally just forwarded a manuscript to my e-reader not knowing, and thought, wait, nothing changed! (It either meshes all the tracked changes in with the old manuscript, or just shows the old manuscript, on the e-reader - at least on my Kindle).


Insert: Page Break

USE THIS between chapters (unless stylistically you're not for some reason). It will prevent your chapters from running together in e-readers. It will also prevent your chapters from suddenly appearing in the middle of a page or at the end of a page if you make edits to the chapter before it.

Name your document professionally - and have a title page

I can't tell you how many "first 30 pages" or "synopsis"s I've uploaded to my e-reader. I won't remember what is what by the time I get to reading it, which is bad for you if I'm disoriented going into the read.


  • So, please save your documents as a recognizable something ( such as "last name - title" or "last name - title synopsis") and pop in a title page with your full name and title. 
  • Bonus points if you include your query or hook in the title page, too, to get me excited all over again before I dive in
Standard font size is 12, Times New Roman preferred
  • Courier is ok, and italicizing vs. underlining for emphasis can be up to you, though italicizing is preferred

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

New deals!!















HATE

Crickets on submission. Can't announce sale. Waiting for contract.



Thursday, February 20, 2014

Love/Hate...Thursday

Psht, who forgot to schedule a post; Thursday is SO the next Wednesday. Wednesday was SO last week. ;)

LOVE

Original questions on The Call

For the first time ever someone asked me on The Call to offer representation: so, what do you do when you're not an agent? I want to know more about you!

Which led to a fabulous conversation bonding over Catan and cutthroat board games.

I know it's a business relationship - but so many of what agents do is standard, you really do want to find the perfect working relationship for YOU! I might also suggest asking: what do you like about being an agent? Do you also write? Do you watch Doctor Who? What's your favorite non-client (or childhood) book?

Think about what kind of relationship you'd want with an agent, and be sure to ask questions to feel out if that's how it would be!


HATE

The same boring questions on The Call.

I get it, I get it; they're necessary. If an agent DOES deviate from the standard answers on a call, definitely could be a red flag. I don't mind answering at all - heck, just having the darn questions to ask can ease nerves and kindle a conversation. On both sides, I should add - I have been totally fan-girl ramble-y on representation calls.

But for the record...

Yes, we have an agency agreement with the standard 15% and not book-by-book, I'm career-minded for clients, I submit in rounds, I am a more hands-on editorial agent, I prefer email as I'm an emailaholic but of course I'm always free for phone, I do share submission lists and news as it comes in, and am always available for questions and check-ins, I check in on submissions monthly, yes, I'm open to authors branching off into different genres, though it's a career discussion, yes, feel free to reach out to my current clients, I save specific editorial notes and submission plans for my clients, though I can tell you generally XYZ, yes, we have a fabulously amazing foreign rights agents, and I handle audio and film and other sub rights and I don't have an assistant.

(For more info, this post is a pretty comprehensive guide to The Call and agent etiquette)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

Yes, I totally missed the last love/hate Wednesday. I meant to schedule one in advance, I swear, but...I didn't, and did this instead:






LOVE

Leaving books in tiny hotel libraries on vacation! (Because every library should have a heaving bosoms novel.)

Author tip: going on vacation? Bring your book with you and leave one for foreign travelers to enjoy! You might just gain a reader.


HATE

Feeling behind on reading and responses. AGAIN. (Does that EVER go away?)

Friday, January 31, 2014

On Entering Contests and Submitting to Websites/Magazines: Too Good to be True?

I know it's very tempting to enter your manuscript into as many contests as possible and/or just GET IT OUT THERE AND UP THERE, but some contests and websites have considerably troubling fine print attached. The last thing you want to do is tie up your rights!

This is an interesting article about the motives behind and reputability of contests generally, but in terms of fine print for contests and websites, here are a few things to look out for:

  • What are they allowed to do with your content? Edit and annotate and print without approval?
  • Do you keep copyright to your content, or is it turned over to them when you enter? (Do they own all intellectual property submitted?)
  • Do they have world distribution rights? Forever?
  • Will you ever be allowed to publish the work elsewhere? Without needing permission from them?
  • Do you have to pay to enter?


The terms offered are often non-negotiable; take it or leave it. With magazines and websites, if there's anything troubling, it's worth asking and trying to get better terms.

Most likely, you'll end up having to weigh the benefits of continuing as-is vs. dropping it, which is ok - it's not a bad thing to turn over rights in a work to be published (that's what a publishing contract is, after all!), as long as you know what you're getting into and why!

But you should NEVER just blindly submit.

Here are a few contests and websites I picked out as examples of fine print you'd want to have read before entering (not to warn against or signal anyone out, just because they popped up while Googling and had fine print I could use as example):

Arizona Writers Mystery Contest
Requirements contain the line "If you have not heard from us by then, you are free to send your story elsewhere." Does this mean while they're considering you can't submit the story to other contests, or contests and publishers, or agents, or...? This is a situation I'd ask.

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award
Paragraph 5: Grant of Rights: Regardless of if you win or not, you agree to negotiate publishing rights with them exclusively for 30 days if they want to publish, and they have matching terms (meaning, even if they offer, and you get another offer, they have the right to top that offer and you can't accept another lesser offer - which isn't good, because it's just weighing money vs. house and marketing etc). They can also edit the formatting of your entry without approval. Your agent also can't send it out anywhere (for consideration for publication) while it is being considered for the contest.

Figment
You retain ownership, however: "You do, however, hereby grant us a worldwide, non-exclusive, royalty-free, sublicenseable and transferable license to use, reproduce, distribute, prepare derivative works of, display, and perform the Content, your name, and your screen name on the Website and elsewhere in any media now known or hereafter devised, along with the right to excerpt, analyze, and index your Content." These terms do expire upon deletion/removal, though.


My best advice: if you're agented, talk with your agent before entering any contest or posting online, and be sure to get the green light. If you aren't (and even if you are), carefully read the fine print, and make sure you are ok with it all. I can't say enough: the very last thing you want to do is tragically tie your publishing hands up and close the door to opportunities unknowingly!

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Love/Hate Wednesday

LOVE

Diving back into action!

Publishing is waaaaking back up again, and I love rush rush rushing and pitch pitch pitching! This is a busy month, but here's a secret: I feel most motivated in busy months! So don't be afraid to query or check in if you have the perfect project for me! I'm waking back up too.

HATE

Not being able to share awesome covers right when I get them!

A lot of the time, publishers and editors will send over the cover for the book, but not want to release it wide to wait for a cover reveal, blurbs, finalization, or until it's up on Amazon and the website. This can mean months of sitting on a lovely cover I want to share with the world...and can't! *cries*

But, as I heard yesterday and loved: champagne problems. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Breaking Down 2013

Happy New Year!!

Here's how my agent life stacked up in numbers for 2013:

Queries (unsolicited) rec’d: 2,244

Request rates (based on above):

Partial: 2.9%
Full: 1.6%
Offers: .4%

This means, roughly, that I request a partial three times out of every 100, a full twice out of every 100, and offer on less than 1 out of every 100 queries I receive.

In case the above is too depressing, once I do make a request:

  • I am 12% likely to end up offering when I request a partial
  • I am 56% likely to request the full from a partial
  • I am 21.6% likely to make an offer on a full request

So wow me with your query and get into my read pile!!

Avg. response time:
Partial: 7 weeks
Full: 8 weeks

I was surprised to see this, until I realized how I'm reading: I read in order (unless there's a deadline or I'm super excited...), regardless of whether it's a partial or a full (I do prioritize client work). Methinks I need to adjust the read times posted on my blog!

R&R’s requested: 9
Offers from R&Rs: 1

Four of these R&R's have yet to come back my way, however, and one is in that I haven't read yet. So, it's really more of a 1:4 ratio for offers from R&R.


Months with most requests: January, February, September

Months with most queries: January, February, July, September and November

Most active period of offering and signing: May-June

Offers: 8
Signed: 5
Sales: 11 (for 14 properties)

My agent resolution: increase turnaround time (to respond) on requests and edits

For more insight into Bradford Lit and agent stats, check out my agent-sister Sarah LaPolla's post here on her 2013 in Queries - it's a pretty kick a** post!

Cheers to an AMAZING 2014!