Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Fan Fic: Food For Thought

Fan fic, or writing fiction based on existing worlds and characters, isn't new - what is new is that it can turn into opportunity.

The Wall Street Journal covered this over a year ago (hey, I had a baby, I can be late to the discussion), focusing on Kindle Worlds and the opportunity it created for fans to legally publish fan fic (because, you know, otherwise it is ILLEGAL - do not publish/post without understanding this!).  The more traditional non-profit approach to fan fic survived low on the radar of copyright infringement primarily because it didn't threaten sales of the real books. KW is done through license deals with publishers; authors can make money, but so do the publishers.

Pretty cool. I guess. As an agent whose client was approached by KW to write for one of their worlds....eh.

So here's the thing. Fan fic can be great. But not if it's going to take away from your own career.

What worries me about this new form of fan fic is that it could lead an author too far down the path of writing for someone else. This wasn't something to really worry about before; after all, fan fic could also lead to bigger and greater things like Fifty Shades of Grey, wherein the end new book is original enough it doesn't appear to be a derivative, and bing bang boom a new bestseller can be born.

But because authors are now free to publish without having to worry about masking the elements that were created by someone else, will those same authors, who might have created the next Fifty Shades of Grey, simply...not?

Or will an author so excited to be approached by or interested in KW take up the challenge...and spend time that otherwise might have gone to their own work doing it?

It's been around long enough that I can't really say it's much of a threat. But...something, I think, to keep in mind, the advice of the day on career planning, if you will - for any time spent on fan fic.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

On Platform

Let's just get this out of the way: no, you don't need a platform to write fiction.

Ahem. Now onto the post.

While I don't do much adult nonfiction, I do get asked quite a bit from clients what I think of a nonfiction proposal they'd like to draw up and shop around.

It's not an issue at all to write fiction and nonfiction; however, there are a few key things to know if you're looking to break into this area:

PLATFORM

Before you even start drafting up your idea into proposal form, stop and consider your platform. It's very common to confuse this term with experience; platform is not experience. It answers the following question in a way that leaves absolutely no room for follow up: Why are YOU the person to write THIS book?

For example: say you want to put together a writing handbook for other authors, with tips and tricks of the trade.

Ok. So why are YOU the person to write THIS book?

Because you've been writing for over ten years, and have published three novels.

And?

So have others; why YOU?

A good answer, incorporating platform, would be: I've been writing for over ten years. All of my novels have appeared on numerous bestseller lists, including USA Today and The New York Times. My blog, XXX, receives over 100,000 hits a day, and I've been teaching workshops and online seminars for the past five years, brining in approximately 1,000 attendees per year. My programs are growing, and I anticipate having over 2,000 attendees in the next year. Success stories from my workshops include bestsellers X, X and X. In addition, I have completed a Master's in Writing and Literacy, and guest post at HowToWrite.com, which has over 500,000 hits a year. My posts regularly see 10,000 hits within the first few days. I regularly speak at conferences as well, including X, X, X. Endorsements from my program include: "OH MY GAWD SHE IS SO AWESOME!!"

In other words, as Jane Friedman says so very well: "It is not about your qualifications, authority, or experience, although these are tools for growing or nurturing a platform....[platform] gives you power to market effectively....it’s about making waves that attract other people to you." (Seriously, read her full post, it's incredible.)

Needless to say, platform isn't something you can build quickly. But it's also not unattainable. If you were this writer interested in writing a how-to for other writers whose answer was the first above, you can still do it; step one is simply going to be building your platform.


Step two, of course, is your PROPOSAL. This piece convincingly answers the following question: Why THIS book NOW?

I understand why it is that YOU should write this book; but why should anyone PUBLISH this book?

The tools you'll prepare to answer that question:

  • Project Synopsis/Summary: an overview of what exactly it is you're writing, and why (what is the audience, what is missing in the current field that your book brings, why will people care).

  • Market/Competition: What else is out there that's like your book? And don't say: nothing. That doesn't help me either; even if there are no other books just like yours, what other books are your audience buying that yours will be better than, and why?

  • Author Platform & Bio: see above!

  • Chapter Overview/TOC: an outline, with brief (1-2 sentence) descriptions on what each chapter will contain

  • Sample Chapter: This doesn't have to be the first chapter; it could be any bit of it. Though it's most typical to be the introduction and/or first chapter. After all, you could be killin' it at selling this thing...but I need to see if you can actually write*, too! 
  • *It's not uncommon to have a ghostwriter in nonfiction; it is uncommon, however, for a publisher to want to front this cost unless you're presenting a Big Book. If you want to go this route, expect to have to royalty and/or advance share or front this yourself. You'll typically want to have the ghostwriter in place before you sell the proposal. When you're looking, you'll want to make sure your ghostwriter is up to snuff too. Read: what else have they done? Get referrals and and references!
Whew! Lots to chew on here for those of you looking to take this plunge. Me, I think I'll stick with blog posts.


Further resources:

On platform:
  1. http://thewritelife.com/author-platform/ (it even includes a pie chart of what goes into platform):
  2. http://www.writersdigestshop.com/create-your-writer-platform-group

On proposal:
  1. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/10/nonfiction-book-proposal_n_3569043.html
  2. http://www.bradfordlit.com/how-to-write-a-non-fiction-proposal/

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Real Talk: Agent Life

So this happened:


And I'm pretty happy that Jenn clarified what she meant, because the statement in the bottom tweet has me all fired up.

Fact: for MANY, agenting is kind of like this: 

No, not that we're all secretly crazy (I just happen to like this clip); what I mean is that what we present, and what the world sees, is a fraction of the reality.

I'll be honest; it's taken me many years to find the courage to write about this in a post, because of potential backlash from authors OUTRAGED at the idea or my clients FREAKING OUT about my availability.

But you know what? That's crazy. Because the bottom line is that I am a better agent because of it.

So here it is: when I, and quite a LOT of new agents, started out...agenting wasn't my only job. I had three jobs, actually; mostly because I'm a crazy person who thrives on challenge, but even that isn't all that uncommon: I know agents who have two jobs, write their own books, AND have a bunch of kidlets running around. Some agents work 9-5 in an agency as an assistant; others also handle sub rights or even just have kids - that's a job in and of itself, you know.

And right now? Heck, I still have another job and a kidlet of my own, because I happen to love both things very much. And for any agent who continues to write, or assistant, or crochet and sell adorable little hats: if it's not slowing you down (and in fact, I'd argue a lot of "other jobs" only benefit the agent, in both experience and networking and time management), why do you have to stop?

Because trust me; as an agent who does it all, I am constantly only doing better because of the challenge. Last year was my best year ever, and this year, I've already exceeded that by 45% - even negotiated a deal while in labor. And the year's not over.

What's important, as Jenn noted in the tweet above, is that the other jobs don't conflict with agent duties; absolutely, a second job should never be a conflict of interests.

I LOVE what I do; and yes, I do think there should come a time when an agent can pay the bills from what they do - if he or she is doing it full time. It used to be a 3-5 year ramp up; now, with digital offers and lower advances, I'd say it can be 5-7. Because remember, this is a commission-based in a snail-paced industry job; royalties take time to ramp up, and advances are paid out in increments, once that contract is negotiated.

But even if an agent is never able to make it fully on their own (without another job, or support of a spouse) does that REALLY mean he or she isn't a real or legit agent? That he or she should try another job? I don't think so. Sometimes, doing what you love, what you're best at, doesn't ever pay the bills. Doesn't mean you should stop.

Writers, hear us roar! Publishing can just be that way. It doesn't mean we're not successful!

Though word of caution: there's still a big, big difference between a legit agent working her ass off who can't pay the bills yet and a schmagent.

But this publishing biz can be a bitch; let's not make it any harder for ourselves by being haters and assuming our walk of life should apply all around. That goes for everyone out there - writers (traditional, self pub, hybrid), agents, editors, publishers, publicists, etc.

Be strong. Be fierce. And don't apologize if you're being awesome just because it's not what everyone thinks being awesome should look like.




Friday, September 25, 2015

Read Aloud: the Magic of Picture Books

I was lucky enough to hear Mem Fox read her work at this summer's SCBWI LA. I wanted to share with you all a video of her reading, because I think watching her highlights PERFECTLY the complexities involved with writing a picture book:



I talked previously about the most common mistakes that I see writers make. Mem Fox boiled it down to: "Would a child give a damn about this book?"

In the video, listen to the rhythm of her words; listen for the inflections and try and feel the suspense. Picture books, unlike novels, are an interactive experience. When I love a picture book, I don't just recommend to others that they read it; I want to read it with them. I want to read it to them. I want them to feel what I felt.

That's what giving a damn is.

With the right rhythm, tone, repetition, pacing, and narrative arc, you can do that - you can share directly with others the magic you feel as you read. You don't have to be a brilliant reader to do it; the writing and flow does it for you.

Read your picture books aloud before you submit; and have others do so, too. Listen to others read it to you. How do they feel after reading? Did they stumble? Was the rhythm and emotion and spark you felt when you put pen to paper conveyed back to you from the reading?

If not, you've got some work to do.


More read-alouds are on Mem's website.

Monday, September 21, 2015

What's with the Banner?

I'm re-decorating!

I've been meaning to re-design my banner for a while now...and you know, what better way to give me a kick in the pants to do it than to take down what I have?!

(panics)

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Writing to Trend: the Easy Way Out, the Hard Way In

NANOWRIMO is fast approaching, and I'm sure the plot bunnies are hop hop hopping in preparation...what to write?

What's next? What's the next big thing?

Because of course, that is totally what you want to write next.

Wrong.

When you write to trend, you are incorporating elements to try and replicate another book's success. But it isn't those elements that made it great; what makes a book great is a magical unicorn of a thing - writing and hook and timing and passion and cupcakes and jalapenos.

So does that mean you should throw your hands up and leave it to fate? No; it just means that you can't force a great book to happen. You can't pop in the elements and expect that to do the trick; it has to be inspired.

Should a current trend inspire you, or totally be the launch pad for your crazy I've-had-this-in-my-drawer-forever wheelhouse, rock on. Publishing is cyclical, and so even if what your passion is now isn't "on trend," likely, there will be a time for it later (unless it's, you know, something like erotica for children 0_0).

So this NANO, let yourself be inspired; and write that next great book.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Words of Wisdom from SCBWI LA

I've been struggling to get back into the post-writing groove for a few months now; I keep starting and scrapping posts, second-guessing myself and trying so hard to pick the perfect first new topic...

Forget it.

Writer's block: take THIS!



All you need to think about when writing a picture book:

"Would a child give a DAMN about this book?" ~Mem Fox, author



When laboring over the start of your novel, think:

"If you were my friend telling these first ten pages to me in the grocery store, how would you start? How would you tell me?" ~Jordan Brown, Walden Pond Press



When agonizing why your R&R didn't make the cut, just realize - it wasn't the best fit anyway, because an agent and editor will only take it on:

"If I have a clear vision on how to fix it, a clear vision for how to make it sing." ~Alison Weiss, SkyPony Press




And remember:

"Envy is a good emotion if it drives you to be better." ~Jordan Brown.

Images: lolcats from 1911

Friday, April 3, 2015

Baby! and Agent Achievement: Unlocked!

My greatest adventure has begun:

I am thrilled to announce the birth of Robert Alexander Lakosil!



March 1, 2015 7.5 lbs, 19 in

Obviously, I have been MIA for a bit, and will continue to be as I'm on leave learning to normalize with this little guy.

BUT

There will be more posts. Promise. :)

In the mean time, I am also thrilled to announce that I have unlocked a pretty BAMF Agent Achievement: I totally negotiated and closed a deal while in labor and in delivery.

Yup.

It was a pretty fun conversation to have with the editor:

Me: Oh, sorry for the delay, I had a baby yesterday.
Editor: You had a baby yesterday?!

I can't say that all agents mark these same milestones, but to me, the Agent Achievements include first sale, first royalty payment, first released book, first auction, first pre-empt, first six figure deal, and, of course, negotiating a deal while in labor, etc.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED


Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why R&Rs Fail

I realize that a surprising amount of R&Rs don't lead to offers of representation. In your expertise, why is it that so many R&Rs fail?

Hot off my 2014 numbers breakdown, I thought this was an excellent question; because the truth is that the majority of R&Rs DON'T work out. And not just with agents; I get R&R requests from editors that don't work out, too.

I think the answer as to WHY lies first in breaking down two kinds of R&Rs:


  1. Surface-level R&R
  2. Love-the-premise-enough-to-not-let-this-go-but-needs-so-much-work R&R


The first can be a simple fix; a "I need you to take out the mention of the word birthday in this so I can take it to a meeting since my house is allergic to the word birthday" sort of fix. Those usually work out (and yes, an editor might ask for a surface-level R&R to take to a meeting - gone are the days of seeing potential and being able to buy. An agent is less likely to ask for this; perhaps only if the surface-level request changes birthday to anniversary and they want to make sure you're cool with that).

The second is asking for a very thoughtful overhaul.

In my experience, the R&Rs that I've seen come back and fail had one of four issues:

  1. The author took my notes, executed, and called it a day. 
  2. The author took the plot in a new direction that didn't resonate with me
  3. Timing - in the amount of time that's passed, the market changed
  4. The R&R ends up highlighting more issues, or that the hook you were looking for really just isn't there in the execution

(excluding unsolicited R&R, my opinion of which can be found here)

#1 is a problem if the R&R is not a surface-level revision request. Often, an R&R will have quite extensive revisions needed - and not just adding in a sentence here or there. For example, if your issue has to do with character development, or pacing, it could mean striking whole scenes, starting in a whole new way, finishing in a whole new way, ALONG with peppering in changes throughout. And those kinds of changes require a lot of thinking. If my note was, "I don't really find her likeable here," well, the answer may not necessarily be to just work on making her likeable right there. It might be that the situation needs more depth, that the reader doesn't understand enough where she's coming from - changes to OTHER parts of the book leading UP to that scene.

So if you want your R&R to have the best chance of succeeding, THOUGHTFULLY revise. I think it's perfectly ok to come up with a game plan, too, before you dive in, and run that game plan by the requesting agent or editor.

#2 is an unfortunate situation that might be because of a thoughtful revision. As I mentioned above, I think it's ok to ask if the direction you're taking the novel in sounds good to the agent or editor before you slash and burn to try and avoid it failing for this issue. But, at the end of the day, it might be that the new direction you're writing really IS the best direction for the book - and it's just that the agent isn't the best agent for it.

#3 is a tricky one. Because a thoughtful revision takes time. I know that. But taking TOO much time also leads to market shifts, and/or perhaps that agent or editor will sign a new project in the mean time that's too close to yours to be able to take yours on after revisions.

I think the time you should take on a revision really depends on the amount of work needed; if it's really more of a surface revision, I wouldn't drag that on for months. If it's something you're having to really spend time overhauling, a few months may be just what you need. I will say that the longer you take, the more I expect to see; I WILL be disappointed if you take four months and shift around some sentences. I have signed R&Rs even if they aren't totally there yet if the author has totally impressed me with the revisions undertaken. And I have never been impressed with surface tweaks when more depth was needed.

So don't cheat yourself worrying over this; if you have to take a year, take a year - just know it's POSSIBLE that you might run into the timing issue. If you do, that might mean timing was off for your book anyway - if it shifted that fast, likely your genre was in a down trend and selling it may have been difficult anyway.

#4 might happen when an agent is on the fence; it's possible for an agent or editor to just love the writing, and/or the hook...but...there's something...just something not there. We see that spark, and might do an R&R, hoping, ok, we fix this, and that'll be it. I'll be fully pushed over the fence. But when it comes back...nope. Still on that fence.

If that's the case, that's the point an agent will have to decide they're just not the best editorial fit. Seeing potential and not being able to take it where it needs to go, or realizing, you really DON'T love it as much as you thought, can happen - and be highlighted by the enthusiasm you feel for the project when the R&R comes back. This is a tough one, too; it's hard to know when this will happen. An agent isn't going to request a revision and all that work just to be mean; they genuinely want to see it get to the level of OMG I LOVE THIS!!!! And sometimes that doesn't happen.

That is a risk you take with revisions...and you must, in the end, decide to revise, or start fresh? Only you can answer that.

I think what helps with #4, and ALL issues, is that regardless of whether or not you succeed with an R&R, the goal shouldn't be to approach it for a WIN. The goal should be to approach it TO MAKE THE BOOK BETTER. Don't fixate on making that one person (agent or editor) happy; consider their notes as a free professional critique you won in a lottery. Ruminate and really dig into potential issues and fixes, and in the end, send out a book that you're happy is MUCH stronger knowing that it could be a yes - but it doesn't matter, because you have a stronger manuscript to keep sending out regardless.

Here are my tips on thoughtful revision practices:

Ponder, Polish, Perfect
Peripheral Character Development
The Plot Dot Test
Doctor Reader: Show vs. Tell
Pacing Your Hero

Good luck!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Breaking Down 2014

This was a year of GROWTH for me, and it's definitely reflected in my activity! More clients, more sales, more belly all the way around.

Here's how my agent life stacked up in numbers for 2014:

Queries (unsolicited) rec’d:


Request rates (based on above):

Partial: .4%
Partial Request genres:

  • MG Contemp Fantasy (3)
  • Adult/YA crossover contemp
  • Adult Cozy (2)
  • Romantic Suspense
  • YA fantasy
  • YA fairy tale fantasy
  • YA historical

Full: 1%
Full Request genres:

  • MG fantasy (3)
  • MG multi-culti contemp
  • MG contemporary (2)
  • YA paranormal
  • YA mystery/thriller/psych suspense (3)
  • YA LGBT fantasy
  • YA fantasy
  • NA contemp
  • NA fantasy
  • Adult/YA crossover contemp
  • Adult contemp romance (3)
  • Adult sci-fi/fantasy
  • Cozy mystery (2)
  • PB (text & art) (2)
  • PB biography (2)
  • PB (text only)

Offers: .6%
Signed Genres:
  • YA LGBT Magical Realism
  • Adult sci fi/fantasy
  • Adult psychological suspense
  • Adult contemp romance
  • Adult/YA crossover contemp
  • Cozy mystery
  • PB (text)
  • PB biography
  • PB (text & art)

This means, roughly, that I requested a partial on 4 out of every 1000, a full once out of every 100, and offered on 6 out of every 1000 queries I received.

This year, I was 270% likely to request the full from a partial
I was 59.3% likely to make an offer on a full request

In sum: I was more likely to request a full, and I was very much actively building my list, so this was a big request and offer year (vs. last year, I was 56% full from partial and 21.6% on offer)

Avg. response time:
Partial: 7 weeks
Full: 9 weeks

R&R’s requested: 3 (.1%)
Offers from R&Rs: 0 (however, I signed 2 I'd worked with since last year)

In Sum: despite it being a big offer and full year, I had little patience for revisions. It needed to be READY!


Months with most requests: February, April & May (last year Jan-Feb, September)

Months with most queries: March, June-July (last year, Jan-Feb & Sept-Nov)

Most active period of offering and signing: Jan-Feb & June (last year May-June)

Obviously, with being closed to submissions until May 1, this year's trends will be very different! But just how did last year's growth all pan out for me? Well:

Sales:
14 deals for 30 books
(not including 4 audio deals for 18 books)
vs. last year, where I had 11 deals for 14 books - I doubled the volume!

My agent resolution last year was to increase turnaround time (to respond) on requests and edits. How did I do? Considering that my response times were 7 weeks on a partial and 8 weeks on a full last year...I totally failed. I know my numbers got way dragged down later in the year during the Horrid First Trimester when I got behind in everything. BUT, maybe the longer wait was worth it as it was more likely to turn into an offer and/or sale?! :D

This year's resolution: keep up the momentum! 

I know this is going to be a particular challenge, as baby drops into my life and shakes everything up. I wanted, last year, to really have tons in the hopper in prep for that. But I'm a fighter; I'm hitting the ground running in 2015, and though this Spring may be a quieter time for me as I adjust to momhood (whoa) and focus on existing clients...look out Summer and Fall!!!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year!!!


CC by SA 2.0 at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Strawberry_and_champagne.jpg
(What I wish I was drinking)


May old rejections be forgot
And never brought to mind

May unmet goals be forgot
And left to days long ago


Dream big - set SMART goals - and DON'T GIVE UP!!