Monday, December 28, 2009
Most often, as we all know too well, our relationship ends before it can begin and we want you to know that we grieve for every “no thank you” we send. We are always amazed by your courage, your ideas, your talent and sometimes, your madness.
Sometimes we feel like psychiatrists when the query is a raw and bleeding cry for help—an attempt to work out childhood abuse, rotten luck in love, or appalling loneliness. At these times our inadequacy is so obvious and we wish we could reach out and help. But that’s not our job.
Our job is to try to find the needle in the haystack, the idea, the skill, the talent that may have what it takes to overpower a publisher’s cynical editorial board. It’s a daunting task, but one worth pursuing. Without all of you we would be nowhere and we want you to know that.
As always, we encourage you to keep trying. If we say no, another agent might jump at your idea. If we reject your book, it may find life elsewhere. Perhaps you need to rethink your premise, to rewrite your pitch and try again. Just know that we and many other agents support your efforts and really want it to work. We know how hard you struggle and we appreciate the work you do—even when we reject it so coolly.
The face of publishing is crumbling under our feet and turning into something different. We are all hanging on for our lives, trying to figure out what our roles will be in 2010. But one thing is certain. People want to read stories and good writing will never go out of style.
Happy New Year! Jon and Kae
Sunday, December 27, 2009
It's Myrtle's fault.
Myrtle is Jon's 95-year-0ld mother who, until a few weeks ago, lived in suburban Chicago. Now she lives 8 miles away from us. It took lots of time and effort to get her here.
Instead of reading queries I flew to Chicago with Jon's sister to fetch Myrtle and bring her to PA.
Instead of responding to my piles of partials I spent days shopping for furniture and household goods to set up Myrtle's new apartment.
Instead of writing blog entries I spent a day setting up the new apartment while Jon worked in Chicago to close the old one.
Myrtle is sharp as a tack, but she is 95 years old and she cannot walk very well. Her hands are arthritic and she has trouble manipulating things. We are so relieved to have her close by at last. It's wonderful to be self-employed at times like these. It's truly liberating to take the time one needs to get family affairs in order.
But it does not happen without a cost. The cost is to our business and to you, our clients and our would-be clients. We will take the next quiet week to begin the long process of getting caught up. Meanwhile, let me apologize for being so slow in responding to everyone.
My New Year's resolution is to get back to work, to take on new clients and to sell some books!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Finally, about 11, I scooped up a few pieces of mail that needed to go out today, threw on my sweatshirt and headed for the mailbox. I got to the end of the sidewalk and stopped in my tracks when I realized I was staring into four sets of big brown eyes. Standing in the orchard across the road were two does and two yearling fawns. (I use the term "road" lightly. Cricklewood Cove is a two lane cul-de-sac, more like a paved path.)
It's cool and cloudy today and I could see the warm air swirling out of their black, shiny noses. They flicked their huge ears, and pawed at the sod. They didn't seem afraid of me, just curious. I stood as still as possible and stared right back at them. One of the fawns grew bored and stepped over to a young oak tree and began nibbling on the remaining dry leaves. I don't know how long the rest of us just stood there. Perhaps a few minutes or so. Finally one of the does began moving toward the street. I did not want her to go that way--in that direction lie real roads, real traffic and terrible consequences. So I whispered, "You beautiful things," and walked toward them. One of the does continued to stare at me as if to say, "Why are you in such a snit?" Then the group slowly turned, gave me a few second looks and headed back from where they had come, in the direction of woods, cover and some serenity.
I watched as they ambled nimbly away, stark white tails flicking in the breeze.
A transformative moment? For me it was.
Deer are everywhere in Pennsylvania, and most people think of them as pests. I've been told that the Pennsylvania white tail deer are not even native to the area but were imported from the West by hunting enthusiasts. Nonetheless, they are magnificent when you unexpectedly encounter them. They can elevate a bad mood in a heartbeat. They can help you put things into perspective.
I still have too much to do. It's still grey and cold today. Emails are piling up. But somewhere not far from here four lovely deer are living in the moment. E-books, publishing and the recession are simply not an issue. Munching on leaves and grass and finding a place to bed down are the real concerns.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
After giving brief comments about ourselves and our book "wish lists," we agents answered questions from the audience. The questions were excellent. Here are a few samples:
- Do you need to be a celebrity to sell a memoir? Answer: No. But you need to be a powerful writer with a memorable and life changing story. (One of the agents quipped that it would be very cool if you'd given birth to an alien baby.)
- Is "chick lit" dead? Answer: No. Now it's called women's fiction.
- Is it OK to send a query for a novel that is not completed yet? Answer: NO.
- Is it OK to send a query that includes several projects? Answer: No, no, no.
- What about poetry? Answer: Oh, dear. Most agents love poetry. Trouble is, there is not enough money to go around, so there are few, if any, agents representing the genre.
- Is it best to email or snail mail queries? Answer: It depends on the agent. Find out which format they prefer before sending. There is not a standard answer to this question. It's up to each individual agent.
After the panel discussion, Jon and I had 5-minute "dates" with authors. The authors were splendid--knowledgeable, passionate, innovative and funny. This part of the conference was especially well-managed by the MCCC staff.
All-in-all, it was a great writers conference. Montgomery County Community College is the ideal venue for this event with ample parking, beautiful campus, and great facilities. The writers conference is held every year at this time, so if Philadelphia is nearby, or if you would like to travel to Pennsylvania in the fall, consider going next November.
Friday, October 16, 2009
I hope it made her feel better. Getting form rejections is no fun at all, I understand. But, for most agents, as we've discussed on this blog, the other option is no response at all and most authors don't want that either.
We receive over 100 emailed queries each week. Can you imagine how many hours we'd spend writing personal rejections? We'd have no time to read OR to sell.
So, Ms. Simply Too Busy, suck it up. If you're a fine writer and you've written an exceptional book, some lucky agent will want you to be his or her special darling. Excellent writing trumps all.
Happy weekend to all my author friends!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
Friday, October 2, 2009
I likes this one!
It's been a busy week. I'm leaving for Boise at the crack of dawn tomorrow and packing files and partials that will accompany me. Although the purpose of this visit is to help my brother and his wife as she heals from ankle surgery, it will be a working trip.
Lots of queries today and lots of "old fashioned" fantasies. I am so overloaded with queries that it's becoming a problem. So I'm initiating a moratorium on them until November 15. That's right. I need to catch up on my manuscripts and partials and hope the flow of queries will slow a bit for the next month and a half.
So, off to Boise I go while Jon (and Norton and Wylie) hold down the office. As you can see, the manuscripts are in capable paws.
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
T'was a good decision. We shared a huge house right on the ocean with our lifelong friends Ray and Phyllis and our son Joel and his wife Phaedra from Portland, OR. The weather was perfect--70s and 80s most days and 90 plus on Thursday when we went to Ocracoke Island for a day of fishing. Where does the time go when you're on vacation? I can't tell you. I simply floated from one lovely activity to the next and spent lots of time on the deck gazing at the ocean.
We ate fish every night--had a bluefish feast on Thursday compliments of Jon, Ray and Phaedra who pulled them in. We played cards and Scrabble, took walks on the beach, swam in the warm September ocean and shopped for stuff we didn't need. We watched the sun rise, drank endless cups of coffee and lots and lots of wine, plus one vodka and tonic.
Jon brought partials and spent an entire afternoon reading. Not me. I didn't read a thing.
Now I'm knee-deep in partials and manuscripts and we're back on track. A good thing too. I think summer's finally over. Tomorrow is October 1. On Saturday I fly out to Boise, ID to help my sister-in-law who just had an ankle replacement. But, I'll be working while I'm there and Jon will keep the office running.
Yes, we're more behind than ever, but we're reinvigorated from our vacation and pursuing work with a new vengeance.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Monday, September 14, 2009
He came into the office a few minutes later, complaining of terrible dizziness. He was sweating profusely and pale as a ghost. I was terrified that we were in the midst of a stroke or some kind of cardiac event. Our doc instructed us to get him to the hospital ASAP. An ambulance ride ensued, followed by 8 hours in the ER, every medical test know to man, and a shot of Valium to stop the vertigo. A "questionable" smudge on the cat scan required that he be admitted that night and on Saturday he had an MRI. By this time Jon was feeling fine--no dizziness at all.
After checking out all the tests (except for the MRI) our doc at the hospital assured us that it was most likely a BPV attack--benign positional vertigo, which is often caused by a virus in the ear canal. Yesterday the MRI results confirmed the doc's diagnosis and Jon came home with a prescription for an anti-vertigo medicine in case of another bout.
Result is, as I've always thought, Jon is healthy as a horse and now all the tests confirm it. But, what a scare it was for awhile. The coincidence in this whole matter is that our son Joel in Portland, OR accompanied a friend to the hospital on Thursday with exactly the same symptoms and the same tests and final diagnosis.
Anyone out there feeling dizzy? Oh, and by the way, two weeks ago we had a major water leak in the office, so now the back room is in total disarray, waiting for a new floor to be installed.
I vow that this will be the last of the "poor us" missives. It's time to get back to work!
Friday, August 28, 2009
Jon spent the last week in Chicago finalizing his dad's papers and helping his mom with assorted tasks. Now what? The death of a parent, even one who is 97, leaves a hole in our lives.
Our apologies to all of you who have partials and manuscripts with us. We beg your indulgence as we put things back together and move forward.
I've been keeping up with emailed queries and had a lovely batch to peruse this week. I'm so impressed with most of what we're getting. "Lee" and the abused woman composer are seldom seen any more, so that's made life easier!
It's cool and rainy in Pennsylvania today. Hope you are all enjoying these last few days of summer!
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
He was fierce, always fierce. Whether he was preparing perfect pork barbeque on the outdoor smoker he designed, fishing in his beloved Caloosahatchee River in Florida, selling insurance policies, or advising family members, it was always done his way or no way. He was tireless, working two jobs for half of his life. By day, a respected businessman, by night, "the grassman."
He taught his children the value and honor of work. He demanded perfection and when he didn't get it, he often closed the door forever.
He was tough. Perhaps it was the "small man complex" or maybe it was that he was the middle child of 12, born to Dutch immigrant parents with no time for coddling.
If you met him once, you didn't forget him. Though opinionated and outspoken, he could be charming and outgoing. When he talked to you, he talked to you. And he listened to you too. How many people do that today?
He was a man of another era. A time when men were men, women stayed home and took care of the house and the children, and good work was rewarded.
But he was the father of my husband and I'll always owe him everything for raising my Jon, an improvement by 100% on the old model. We'll miss John Franklin Tienstra and we will pay him homage each day when we talk to our fabulous children, and look into the clear, Dutch blue eyes of our grandsons.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I spent almost an hour on the phone yesterday with one of our agency authors. His first book in a three-book series will be published next winter. The author has this series is well in hand and he is in the process of writing book number II. But, as he works away at this commitment, he wanted to talk about his writing career in general. This was an exciting and positive conversation on so many levels. This author is bright and dedicated and wants to make book writing his full-time career. At this point he's supporting himself and his family by writing--magazine articles, web writing, etc. His book deal with a large publisher adds to that income, but now the goal is, in his words, "a BIG book."
He had several ideas in mind, but before fleshing them out he needed to talk about them. Two of them are real winners and one just blew me away. So, like a couple of kids planning a summer performance ("I know--let's put on a SHOW!"), we talked about his great plot idea and how to make his protagonist come alive. I love this kind of collaboration because it allows my creative, frustrated author side to shine. By the time we closed our discussion both of us were bouncing off the walls with the excitement of this new project.
As a new literary agent, this was a unique experience for me and I found that I truly love this part of our work. I'm delighted that he instigated this collaboration and I look forward to helping to guide his work in months and years to come.
Happy August everyone!
Thursday, July 30, 2009
What is UP with the abused woman composer guy? I just today saw some slightly older posts from J. Lyons and J. Faust about this exact same query. And there are at least two more reputable agents who posted in the comments that they're getting the same thing.Where did he get the idea that constant badgering was going to work? I'm fascinated, yet repulsed.
I'm fascinated too, and often, p---ed off! I've deleted Lee W's query over 20 times this month. Someday, maybe we'll know the whole story. Until then, I keep my delete button polished and at the ready.
It's been a chaotic time here on Cricklewood Cove. Jon's dad is now under hospice care in Chicago and Jon returned yesterday, sadder but wiser about hospitals, docs, and the mishmash we call our health system.
I've been less than efficient in running our businesses in his absence and I apologize to all of you whose partials or manuscripts are in our possession. Next week we'll be better, I assure you.
Jon came back with several "airport books," those titles that you wouldn't buy ordinarily, but now that you're in an airport, well.....
I asked him about one by Lee Child that was tossed out of his briefcase. "It's not nearly as good as several of the partials we're considering," he said.
Kinda makes you wonder, doesn't it? We are becoming extremely picky about what we take into our agency because the editors we pitch are so picky. Yet Jon said the protagonist in the Child book was like a bad, featureless paper doll. "There was nothing there that made me want to read on," he said.
I shouldn't be too hard on Child. (I've never read his books.) Jon had just finished the newest James Lee Burke novel and who can come up to that? But I guess the message here is to craft your characters well. Lee Child writes to a formula, but it's not a formula that resonates with Jon or me. Do you have a formula?
Monday, July 20, 2009
Monday, July 13, 2009
I'm catching up on queries so I can then catch up on partials and finally get to manuscripts. Today's mantra in my mind is, "Sometimes it's just not fair!"
It's not fair to authors that we agents have our own little quirks, likes and dislikes and that we can dismiss a perfectly good query--maybe a great query--because of our biases. I have so many queries to go through each day that I have a standard "boiler plate no thank you." I very seldom diverge from this. But I just rejected a fine query for a police procedural and it gave me pause. The author may truly be the next big thing, but I rejected him. Why? Because the topic of the novel is the kidnapping and murder of little girls. Can't do it. Sorry. It's my own little problem. I can't deal with child abuse.
I can't deal with animal abuse either, nor most religious topics, nor angels, nor swords and dragons. It's not that those topics aren't hot stuff with some editors and publishers, it's just that I can't stomach them. Yet I continue to get scores of queries each week on these topics.
So, my words for the day are, "Take heart." When you get a rejection it may not be that you have a lousy query. It may be that the agent simply hates your topic, not your writing. It happens! Don't take it personally. Read agents' write-ups in the books; read their websites and blogs and then send to those who really like your topics. It will save us all a lot of muttering.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
- Three more "abused woman composers," my personal burr under the saddle.
- Several queries to "Kate," "Kay" and K. "Treinster." Does it really take that much time to get the agent's name spelled correctly?
- Oh, the bad grammar out there. It's even worse in some cases, than the spelling. Forgive me if I'm harsh, but if you're querying me you want to be a writer, correct? And, as a writer, you know the tools of your trade, correct? Then why or why do we continue to get queries that an 8th grade grammar teacher would throw out?
- I'm still getting "querries," "quaries" and "quares." Huh?
- "I have a fabulous fantasy about a wizard and dragons. Interested?" NO. Contemporary fantasy only.
- Guilt trips, oh, my heavens, do I hate guilt trips. "Dear Ms. Tienstra: I'm at the end of my rope; you my last hope. Please, please take my book."
OK. I'm done. I love queries, I really do. But what I really love is when y'all get it right!
Thursday, July 2, 2009
"Fireworks, who needs stinking fireworks?"
By the look of my inbox, lots of folks have taken off for the holiday weekend. (I emailed a press release yesterday to 200 health editors at newspapers and 20 bounced back as "out of the office.") We're not going anywhere this weekend, preferring to use the time here. Jon's got a stack of partials and manuscripts to read and so do I.
OK, even though Norton opposes it, we will go to a nearby park for the fabulous fireworks display brought to us each year by the local mortician. Yep, that's right, the mortician. Think about it--it's great PR! Blast off with us...before you blast off for good!!
Since it's the start of the holiday weekend, I have some random thoughts to air, some book-related, some not.
- On the query front--another "abused woman, greatest composer." When will it end?
- We've always asked for partials and manuscripts in hard-copy format. We're beginning to change that policy. I'm asking for manuscripts to be sent electronically and partials will follow soon, I expect. Jon is wedded to his hard copies, and he's not unlike a large ocean liner, difficult to turn around. But eventually, he too will be reading online I suspect.
- I want to get an electronic reader that allows me to load in partials and manuscripts. Any suggestions? Does Kindle do this?
- As I've mentioned before, I read constantly--not just partials and manuscripts, but books. I'm reading Hotel Paradise by Martha Grimes now. It was published over 10 years ago, but it is worth your time if you like cozies. Grimes is so brilliant in relating back story.
- I'm also reading an advance copy of a book I picked up at BEA called Friend of the Family, published by Algonquin. The author writes with a precision and flair that keeps me turning pages. She's not Jodi Picoult, but she's every bit as good. I'll give you her name in another post.
- Jon's off to Chicago next week. I'll be busier than ever here.
- When Jon returns we'll gear up for 3 days of grandsons Rob (age 4) and Max (age almost 2) while their parents go camping.
Happy Fourth of July everyone! Take a break from your writing. Eat a hot dog. ENJOY YOURSELVES!
Monday, June 29, 2009
The Nightmare Sun has it all--dark, gritty action, a tough and harrowing plot-line, likable protagonist, monsters, and robots. What more could you want? Apparently our editor friends want something else, though none have been able to articulate just what that "something" is. 'Tis a puzzlement! I guess we feel just like you do when agent after agent tells you your work is not for them.
So, like you, we persevere. I still believe that there's an agent and a publisher out there for every good book. It's up to you and to us to find them!
Jon's next challenge is another sci-fi, this one a space opera entitled Savannah Rane. I love this book and its kick-ass female protagonist who raises cane and battles really skanky enemies. I can see the jacket now and eeeeww the slithery thing bedevils Savannah and defies description. He (she, it) makes Jabba the Hut look like a teddy bear.
Tomorrow's another day--perhaps it's the day we'll find homes for The Nightmare Sun and Savannah Rane.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
"You know," she says, "writing's creative and all this, certainly, but you don't just wander around dreaming. That's not what you're getting paid for."
"People go, 'Oh, you work six or eight hours a day, oh my God!' Well, yeah, how many hours do you work?.....this is my job. And I think people who"--she hesitated for a moment--"have more of an artistic bent, they're just not as productive, and their writing is probably not any better than mine at the end of the day."
Collins estimates that it takes Roberts, on average, forty-five work-days to write a book. "Roberts, who, as J. D. Robb, also writes futuristic police procedurals, has written a hundred and eighty-two novels, in addition to short stories and novellas. In a typical year, she publishes five "new Noras": two installments of a paperback original trilogy; two J. D. Robb books; and, each summer, what her editor Leslie Gelbman, refers to as the 'big Nora'--a hardcover stand-alone romance novel."
Nora Roberts is not every one's idea of a great writer, but you can't argue with her productivity. What can you learn from this dynamo?
- AIC--Ass in the chair, each day, every day. It's the way books are made.
- OOC--Get your head Out of the Clouds. It's your business to be a writer and that takes hard work. Go out, look at the sky, think about your characters, and then, start writing!
- Learn how to write dialogue--If you're a fiction writer, it will save your butt.
- Learn how to research--Roberts uses the Internet, you can too.
- Engage your reader--Create characters that readers can relate to.
So Happy Father's Day! Kiss your dad on the forehead or give him the homage of your choice. Then, get busy!
Thursday, June 18, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
Reason Reanimator: Hi. I've always been a fan of Rodale's books and information. Years ago I found an old copy of Make Compost In 14 Days squeezed in among my husband's grandparents' books--I immediately asked if I could have it. And I've still got it! I think that you worked there for years is very cool.
New Literary Agents: I'm glad you like Rodale books. I think it's cool I worked there too. It was better than going to grad school and I still have dreams about Bob Rodale--he was the genuine article!
RR: I'm confused over how you can wear both agent hats and publicist hats; they seem conflicting roles in at least one way. Publicists tend to take on works easier than agents could because publicists are typically paid ahead of time.
NLA: We operate our two businesses in parallel fashion. Publishers and published authors hire us after a book is published to work on the publicity campaign for the book. They pay us to do that work. We sometimes are hired to work on retainer for publishers.
As literary agents we take on authors whose books we think we can sell to publishers. Like all ethical agents, we take NO MONEY from our literary agency authors. If we sell a client's work we take the standard 15% cut of the advances and royalties paid by the publisher. We DO NOT take money to publicize our literary agency client's work. We do, however, talk up the books after they are published and try to get a good publicity clause in the contract with the publisher.
RR: So, theoretically at least, as an agent you could reject representing a manuscript but as a publicist wind up representing that finished book in future.
NLA: Possible, but hasn't happened yet. If it does, you'll be the first to hear about it!
RR: I should say that I'm down on agents (sorry about that), but I'm not down on publicists; especially because of the increased "noise" in society, good publicists are probably needed now more than ever. But simply put: someday you could find yourself publicizing a book you'd previously rejected as a manuscript. Wouldn't that be a little like, well, eating crow (so maybe you ultimately wouldn't publicize a book like that then lol)? ...Hmmm, maybe more agents should become publicists too. Maybe they'd learn more humility about what "quality writing" is, how well they know publishers--and especially how well they "know the reading public"! Everyone probably wishes they crystal-ball knew what would sell, but I think comparatively few people even come close to guessing with high accuracy.
NLA: I'm sorry you're down on agents too, but glad you like publicists. (By the way, did I mention I'm a Gemini?) But let's talk about why we reject so many projects. Sometimes the book is just not good enough. Or, the book may be fine but it just doesn't resonate with us. We have to be PASSIONATE about a book to sell it to an editor. And quite often we pass because we simply don't think we have the contacts necessary to sell the book. It just happened this morning. I rejected a potentially winning book on weight-loss, not because it wasn't good, but because I don't have a clue how I could sell it. I'm thrilled when a book we reject gets snapped up by someone else. It means the system is still working. And, BTW, there are other agent/publicists out there!
RR: Your blog seems low-key, personal and more writer friendly; I cannot say the same for most others. I'm curious if your place will remain the same the longer you're at the agenting role. I do think that the nicest agents tend to be the newest ones. In general, publishing burns out most people pretty fast. WHY has always been beyond me. Publishing's hardly air-traffic controlling! I worked in and for a large nonfiction house myself--quite a tiring job at the quarter ends, but other than that, not much stress.Anyway, good luck to you!
NLA: Thank you for the compliment! I guess you'll just have to keep reading to see if I turn into the wicked witch of Fogelsville. If you have other questions about the way we work, we'd love to hear them. Jon just said that he when he's in the midst of logging in and reading partials and manuscripts, answering queries and keeping it all organized, he feels he IS an (air) traffic controller! But, meanwhile it's a beautiul day in the neighborhood and we love our jobs!
I'm knee-deep in emailed queries this morning. It's my own fault. I have not been as diligent as necessary. I've endured several more queries about the "abused woman composer." I sure would like to know the back story there. I'm working through queries sent in May and should be into June by the end of the week. Progress is being made.
I'm still receiving queries for the following genres. PLEASE DON'T SEND THESE TO ME:
- Fantasy. If they are not contemporary, I'm not interested.
- Science fiction. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org, not me.
- Attachments. If they are not requested, I won't open them and will delete the entire email.
- Loooooong queries in tiny print with no paragraphs. Ugh.
- Thrillers (with lots of car chases, espionage, and explosions). Ugh. Send them to Jon. (See above.) He's a real guy and often enjoys this stuff.
Sorry to keep harping on this kind of thing, but it makes the entire process much smoother if we all understand each other.
Friday, June 12, 2009
By Debra L. Schubert
First of all, Kae, I’d like to thank you for inviting me to fill you in on BEA and the Backspace Writer’s Conference from a writer’s perspective.
I was fortunate enough to attend both of these conferences during the last week of May in NYC. BEA – The Book Expo of America – was actually a five-day conference, but the first day, Wednesday, May 27th was the writer’s conference portion of the event. (The following four days were mainly for agents, editors, and booksellers.)
The day started out with an opening keynote speech by author Karin Slaughter. Karin is a petite blonde spitfire. Her genre is crime, but it may as well be comedy – she’s the Ellen Degeneres of the publishing world. She spoke of how she owned a sign company, although her true passion was writing. After ten years of seeking representation, she became an overnight success. Since then, she’s written several number one international bestsellers and doesn’t miss selling signs one single bit.
After that, I attended a workshop on “How to Write Great Characters” by author N.M. Kelby (author of the Whale Season and Murder at the Bad Girls Bar and Grill) and an agent panel featuring Janet Reid, Barbara Poelle, Michelle Andelman and Ted Weinstein regarding what agents are looking for in queries and sample pages. This included brave souls from the audience going on stage and pitching their stories. The afternoon was the Big Event – the terrifyingly wonderful (or just plain terrifying) PITCH SLAM! This is like speed dating for writers and agents. Sixty-six agents were in attendance and you could pitch your story to as many agents as you could fit in to the two-hour time slot. There were no sign-up sheets. You just got in line in front of the agent you wanted to pitch to and waited your turn. My genres are women’s fiction and cozy mystery, but I was pitching only my women’s fiction novel. I met with six agents and all six asked for sample pages (one even asked for the full ms!). It was a miracle that my stomach made it out of the enormous Jacob Javitz Convention Center along with the rest of me. To tell you the truth, at the time I wished it hadn’t. I was a bundle of nervous energy, as I’m sure most of the writers were.
The Backspace Conference was a three-day event held at the Radisson Martinique Hotel. The first day was Agent-Author day where your query and first two pages were critiqued. Different groups of agents rotated through and listened to your work. They’d stop you when the pitch or pages no longer worked for them and gave their opinions. This was also fairly brutal. However, that’s the whole reason writers attend conferences – to receive honest critiques and hopefully click with an agent. The second and third days were filled with wonderful workshops including a role-playing exercise in which different publishing industry parts such as editor, marketing manager, publicist, etc. were taken on. Led by Agent Jeff Kleinman, it was fun and informative. I learned you need to have as much of a platform as possible, even for fiction. Another panel I attended was entitled, “The Agent-Author Relationship” led by two agents and two of their published clients. This relationship really is like a marriage on a lot of levels. First of all, you have to “fall in love” with each other, or at least the agent needs to fall in love with your work and as a writer you must feel he/she is the “right” person to go to bat for you. It’s also, hopefully, a LTR, one that lasts throughout your whole career. It was interesting to see how the personalities of the agents and authors on the panel “matched.” Another interesting panel discussion was with Agents Matthew Mahoney, Alexandra Machinist, and Colleen Lindsay. It was entitled, “What Literary Agents Want and Why It’s So Hard to Find Representation.” They spoke about keeping their eyes on the current market, being aware of what editors are looking for, and writing great queries and, of course, a great book.
With the exception of the Agent/Author Day at Backspace, my overall impressions of both conferences were that they were extremely worthwhile and I would highly recommend them to any serious writer with a completed manuscript. The problem with Agent/Author Day was that we were supposed to be able to pitch to at least two groups of agents, but only got to pitch to one. Given the cost of the day (approx. $200), I would say this was not worth the money. The people running the conference are aware of the problem, so hopefully it will be corrected by next year. However, the 2-day workshop portion of the Backspace Writer’s Conference was invaluable as was BEA.
If you have any questions, please feel free to stop by my blog and ask away. Again, I’d like to thank Kae for the opportunity to share my thoughts on these wonderful conferences.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
It was a quiet show, but it was the real thing. We met some new publishers and talked about the struggles they face. Again we were told that for nonfiction, "platform" is EVERYTHING. For fiction, it's the writing the counts and the story that seals the deal.
It was a quiet show. We had a few pre-arranged meetings and they went well. For the most part though, we simply dropped in. I was amazed to see how few editors attended. I'm not sure what that means, but time will tell. Highlights and buzz:
- We met a charismatic and quite helpful sales director who gave us excellent suggestions about a book we've been trying to sell for far too long.
- I saw Dr. Ruth exiting the ladies' room. I see her every year.
- We had an illuminating conversation with an editor about how blogging and websites are mandatory for nonfiction writers.
- "Celebrity" bloggers are the hottest.
- Positive quotes from said bloggers about a book can be as helpful as a large-circulation book review.
- I talked to Sherman Alexi--be still, my heart.
It was a quiet show and I'm still exhausted and trying to get caught up.
Friday, May 22, 2009
BEA has come up with the coolest tool ever this year. It's an online listing of all exhibitors and their booth spaces which enables you to track them down and plan your convention meetings accordingly. Thank you BookExpo! This is really making pre-show planning so much easier.
We will be visiting as many out-of-the-city publishers as possible, along with old friends and new contacts in New York houses. Jon will be pitching several of his projects including Breeder's Choice, a cozy mystery featuring a traveling veterinarian and his ebullient sidekick, a raven named Mrs. Pine. I'm hoping to interest some new editors in Below Par, a humorous novel about a slacker who rises to a unique challenge. At the heart of it lurks the very thought that keeps amateur golfers buying new clubs every year: "If only I didn't have a job and family, I could practice all the time and be as good as those pros I see on TV."
We both have several other projects we'll be pitching when appropriate, but much of our work will be to simply identify and introduce ourselves to editors we'd like to know better. My situation is unusual in that part of my time will be devoted to the publicity side of our business, so my work is truly cut out for me.
In general, BookExpo is the time to greet old friends, develop new business, enhance relationships with ongoing clients, check out the competition, recharge your batteries and recommit yourself to another year of books and authors. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging have revolutionized our business, but the old "meet and greet" still has a huge impact on everyone.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
One of our readers, Debbie Schubert, is fortunate enough to be attending BOTH of these events and has agreed to be our eyes and ears. Check back after BEA to read about Debbie's impressions of these prestigious conferences. She's going to guest blog here.
I'd be interested in hearing from others out there who have attended or are planning to attend various writers conferences (not just BEA-related). Send me a quick email with details? email@example.com
Monday, May 11, 2009
We're registering for Book Expo America this week. We'll spend the rest of the month getting organized so that we make the convention as productive as possible. This pre-BEA flutter of activity brings back memories of BEAs and ABAs past. (It was called the American Bookseller Association convention--ABA--when I was just a new kid in publishing.)
The big book for Rodale in 1980 when I attended the first "ABA" was, I kid you not, Movable Insulation. Those were the good old days at Rodale when "organic" meant compost, sprouts and rice cakes and Bob Rodale came to the booth and sat in a rocking chair. I remember a guy passing our booth and saying to his friend, "That guy looks just like Bob Rodale!"
As time passed and Rodale began to move from the old mail order books model into the scary world of trade books--those that would do well in bookstores--our image at BEA began to change. Instead of baking bread in the booth as we did in the 70s, we concentrated on pushing books out the door. Instead of do-it-yourself insulation, draft horses, nuts and grains, we began to promote running, back packing, beauty and "delicious cooking."
Then we found Dave Barry and everything really changed for the book division. Our crack director of trade sales, Barbara Andrews, discovered a column Dave had written for a suburban Philadelphia paper. His column entitled "How to Make a Board" charmed Barbara and all of us in publicity. This guy Dave Barry was REALLY funny. And he was writing about a topic near and dear to us at Rodale, building things! He should write a book for us!
We contacted Dave who was unagented at the time. He agreed to write a short humor book entitled The Taming of the Screw. As publicity director, I was thrilled, but didn't know how to publicize such a book. I got smart with his next book, Babies and Other Hazards of Sex, and hired Donna Gould, a freelance publicist who had done a great campaign for The Preppie Handbook. Instead of Movable Insulation, we launched Dave's Babies book at BEA and the rest is history. Donna and I collaborated beautifully on the publicity campaign for the book which included a 12-city author tour for Dave. Babies and Other Hazards of Sex became a Rodale bestseller.
Dave went on to write several more books for Rodale, but was eventually wooed away to Crown who could pay him more and invest more into his career. It was a good move for him--he's a famous guy now. But, now you know where he got his start!
What does this mean for writers today? I think modeling your career after Dave Barry's might be a good idea.
- Work like crazy. Dave wrote for newspapers to pay the bills. You may need to write a blog.
- Get yourself out there.
- Keep writing, no matter what else you have to do to pay the bills.
- Take advantage of whatever opportunities come your way.
- Play nice. Don't burn bridges and do what your publisher tells you.
I got carried away with the good old days with this entry. Stay tuned for more on Book Expo!
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
The hot spell forced all the spring trees to blossom at once and now we have the end of the forsythias in combination with lilacs, dogwoods, cherries, and now honeysuckle. Beautiful-odd, but beautiful. The hummingbirds have returned from South America and I worry about them shivering in the cold.
A morning of queries. Would you believe it? Two more "literary" queries from the "abused woman" author(s). Maybe this is a scam designed to drive agents nuts and will eventually land a book contract for the demon behind the whole affair.
Amazon.com, Inc. announced that it will increase its fees for "wireless transfer of personal documents to a user's Kindle." The article goes on: "The fact that Amazon feels it necessary to up the charges means the service must be proving popular, and that fits in with anecdotal evidence that e-readers are mostly being used to read documents rather than magazines and/or books. Anyone who's job involves, say, reading reams of Ofcom reports and radio-spectrum analysis will love a device that enables easy transportation and keeps track of progress - not to mention removing the intimidating heap of paper from the desk."
OK. Here's the question of the day for those of you who are Kindle-owners. Do you read books / magazines / newspapers on Kindle or do you read your own documents? I have been lusting after the Kindle because it would be a great way to read manuscripts. But, can I afford it?
Friday, May 1, 2009
In order for a mystery to be considered a "cozy," does it have to have a craft-type element? (Blueberry recipes, how to knit a 200-thread-count sheet in five easy steps, etc?) Or, is it just a strong female protag who is not in the crime field investigating one or more murders? The latter is what I've read as the definition, but it seems most cozies have a craft element.
I don't think the "craft" element is essential, Debra. But I checked with some experts. Here's what the "Cozy Mystery List" website says:
"I think that people who read Cozy Mysteries probably have their own unique ideas about what they think Cozy Mysteries should be... I know what I like, and look for in a Cozy.... I find that most of the cozy mysteries that I read take place in a small, picturesque town or village, with characters who I could envision having as neighbors or friends. (Of course, once I find out who the killer is, I wouldn't particularly want that person living next to me!) They are usually not zany people, although an eccentric or two might lurk here and there. On the whole, they are usually normal, every day characters you might have known at one time in your life. Cozies don't usually involve a lot of gory details or explicit "adult situations," either."
I think she/he is right on the money. Whenever I think of a cozy I think of the Miss Marple series written by Agatha Christie. Themis-Athena, one of Amazon's Top 500 reviewers, gave this information in her review of a recent new edition of the Miss Marple series:
"'Miss Marple instituted herself so quickly into my life that I hardly noticed her arrival,'" Agatha Christie wrote in her posthumously-published autobiography 1977 about the elderly lady who, next to Belgian super-sleuth Hercule Poirot, quickly became one of her most beloved characters. Somewhat resembling Christie's own grandmother and her friends, although 'far more fussy and spinsterish' and 'not in any way a picture' of the author's granny, like her, she had a certain gift for prophecy and 'though a cheerful person, she always expected the worst of everyone and everything, and was, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.'"
Does this help, Debra?
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
In the quaint seaside village of Cape Willington, Maine, Candy Holliday has a mostly idyllic life, tending to the Blueberry Acres farm she runs with her father, and occasionally stepping in to solve a murder or two…
Candy is just as shocked as the rest of the locals when two murders occur back to back. First, an aging playboy takes a midnight nosedive off a seaside cliff. Then gossip columnist—and recently crowned town Blueberry Queen—Sapphire Vine stops the business end of a hammer with her head, right in her own home.
When her friend, a local handyman, is accused of the murder, Candy investigates to clear his name. Was the gossip columnist moonlighting as a blackmailer? Was the playboy playing around with the wrong person? But as Candy sorts through the town’s juicy secrets, things start to get very sticky indeed…
INCLUDES DELICIOUS BLUEBERRY-BASED RECIPES
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
If you're fond of analogies, I guess you could say that agents are to editors as authors are to agents. In other words, if you are an author wooing a literary agent you want to play by the rules, you want to put your best foot forward, you don't want to goof up by sending a sci-fi query to an agent who hates that genre. In short, you polish your shoes, iron your shirt, brush your teeth and put on lots of hair goo before you query an agent.
We're in the same boat when we pitch an editor. We normally call editors we've never met to discuss a project we think will be of interest. Sometimes we talk to the editor; sometimes we talk to the editor's assistant. It makes us nervous. We plan carefully before we make these calls. Our hands sweat and we take a deep breath before we dial the number. We don't want to waste their time or pitch a book that is not of interest. We brush, floss and sit up straight and usually the editors are very nice and tell us to send our projects in. We feel very good after these calls. (It's even more nerve-wracking when we meet editors in person for the first time.)
But, maybe we can increase our outreach. That's why I'm writing today. This blog has always been dedicated to authors. We write it to keep you informed about our business and to make sure you know just what we are looking for. You seem to appreciate this information and your comments and suggestions are much appreciated.
As you know if you read this blog, I am now Twittering and find that publishers are beginning to follow my Tweets. I hope they will follow me back to the blog. I'm thinking of writing about the books our agency is trying to sell to editors, reporting on what we're working on and how we're approaching publishers.
Here's the big question: Would you, the authors who read this blog, find this information interesting? Or would you feel I'm straying from the basics of author-agent relationships? Let me know what you think?
Friday, April 24, 2009
I almost self-published my first book through LuLu, who were great to work with btw. I had gotten to the point where I was working on the cover art, but my heart wasn't into it. I've always wanted to go the traditional publishing route, so I stopped in the middle of the process. I left that book and LuLu behind, and I'm glad I did. For some people, I'm sure the self-publishing route is the way to go. It just didn't feel right for me.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Two publishing veterans announced recently that they are going to hold a Self-Publishing Book Expo:
The time has come to have an exhibition where the spotlight is solely on self-published books and authors. The first annual Self-Publishing Book Expo—or the SPBE as we’ve begun to affectionately call it--will bring national focus and attention to the fastest-growing segment of today’s publishing industry. Unlike any other book exhibit, the Self-Publishing Book Expo will be the only event of its kind to highlight the books of self-publishing companies and their authors, and give them the prominence and prestige they deserve.The SPBE will bring together many of the key players who make this universe the thriving area it has become, while simultaneously exposing both the houses and the authors to a greater audience of other publishing professionals, booksellers, media, and consumers.
The Expo will be held in NYC on November 9. Who will attend? You can certainly expect to see self-publishing companies like Author Solutions (owners of iUniverse, Author House and Xlibris) and perhaps others. Whenever something new like this crops up it's always wise to "follow the money" and these are the folks who stand to profit from this event. The fee for the day is $15.00, so many frustrated authors will probably attend too.
[NOTE: Author Solutions will have revenue of $100 million this year according the The Wall Street Journal.]
Is this a good thing? Well, I'm for any venue that brings writers and book lovers together. I would caution authors to take it all in, but not to get carried away. Self-publishing is an evolving art and fraught with monetary and emotional pitfalls. "Buyer beware" is an apt warning to he or she who wants to self-publish. When you sign on with a publisher who asks you to pay for the process only one of you is assured of a profit, and it's not the author.
I'll keep track of this event and may even attend myself just because I'm curious. I'll keep you posted.
Do any of you have good or bad self-publishing experiences to relate?
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I'm exhilarated because there are so many creative writers, wearing their hearts on their sleeves and doing their level best to find someone who agrees that they have talent. They read our blog, they read our profiles in Jeff Herman's book and on various writers' websites. They work hard to craft their queries and they don't waste our time with meaningless drivel.
I'm depressed because, like most agents, we have to turn down most of the queries. Some of the queries we turn down are just great--problem is they simply don't resonate with either of us. Some of the turn downs are rejected because they too closely match projects we are already representing. When I reject these I feel bad because they are truly worthy. My hope is that other agents will snap these up.
But what REALLY is depressing is that there are so many people out there who still don't get it. They don't know what we want, they don't know the business, they are clueless! Even worse, the art of writing eludes these folks; the queries are so awful, I can't imagine what their "books" are. So, please bear with me while I vent about this category of queries. After all, it is my blog and I can vent if I want to!
Vent number 1--The person who flatters us with false information. "I am so impressed with your vast list of formidable clients." Huh? Last time I checked our "list of clients" was nice, certainly not vast. Formidable? Oh, please!
Vent number 2--Clueless in California. "My project is an 89,000 word fictional novel." Really? No nonfiction novels? IF IT'S A NOVEL IT'S FICTION.
Vent number 3--Stooping to consider our services. "You may be fit for my completed 91,000 word middle-grade urban fantasy." Sorry, I checked our fitness quotient. We failed.
Vent number 4--Get with the program. "My work is a 48,500 word supernatural horror story." Story is right. More words, please. Bare minimum is 60,000; our preference is 100,000.
AND Vent number 5--THE PRIZE WINNER. "An abused woman is the greatest composer who ever lived....." I have gotten this query and rejected it at least a dozen times--so has Jon. Sometimes it's from different writers. What's going on here? Anyone have any ideas?
Thanks for bearing with me today. I'm really in a good mood. Really!
Monday, April 20, 2009
Town in a Blueberry Jam charmed us from the beginning. Set in a coastal town in Maine with the blueberry farm of Doc and Candy Holliday as a backdrop, the book has everything a good "cozy" mystery needs--a likable and interesting protagonist whose curiosity gets her in and out of trouble and whose intelligence solves crimes; a set of quirky and amusing minor characters; crimes that puzzle and defy the experts; a simmering love interest; a conclusion that leaves readers wanting more.
The cozy mystery genre is one that continues to thrive. People just can't seem to get enough. From Agatha Christie's Miss Marple to television's "Murder She Wrote" to The Cat Who.... series, to Town in a Blueberry Jam, cozies are here to stay (at least for now). We have another on the back burner that features a remarkable new writer--hoping to sell that one soon!
Are you a cozy writer? If so, send us your query!
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
The speaker for the meeting whose name I did not get (and will report in the next post) told everyone to calm down. She said that the STORY is still all important. It doesn't matter what the format, the STORY will live on. Her words resonated with me. And they should with you too. After all, you write the stories--you need to know that there will be a place for them, new media or old.
And speaking of "new media," I also had a great meeting with Laura Nixon Dawson, a digital strategy consultant who has launched a new service called AuthorWeb. Laura and her colleagues do the "technology scutwork for small-press/independent authors--getting them set up with Google Book Search, making their titles available for the Kindle and other ebook readers, enhancing their listings on B&N and Amazon, getting them the right identifiers from Bowker, and working with Filedby and other author services." For all the services they don't do, they use a referral bank of PR reps, website developers, and tech folks who can step in when needed. [Note: I have not used her services and can't vouch for her, but I enjoyed meeting her and think it's exciting that the new media is creating new opportunities such as this.]
A scary time for publishing? ABSOLUTELY! But, with the scary time come many new opportunities. Keep your eyes open and keep writing.
Friday, April 10, 2009
To complicate things this week--we are breaking in a new email system. Our old system, Lotus Notes, has been great, but it's time to move on. So our friends/clients Rob and Jane Kirkland spent all day last Sunday installing the new Outlook 2007 with Business Contact Manager on to our computers. Notes is still there as well until we get all the kinks worked out. Jon's Outlook seems to be working like charm; mine is not, so things are moving much slower than usual. Rob and Jane will be here again this weekend to work out the glitches and finish the installation. Watching those two work, one on one computer, one on the other is awe-inspiring. They are both IBM/computer geniuses and I swear, for them it's a competition to see who can correct the glitches first. (I hear strains of "Dueling Banjos" in the background when they work.)
We'll feed Rob and Jane a nice Easter dinner and celebrate Rob's birthday when they finish their work and we should be up and running full-speed next week.
For those of you who have queried, your queries will be answered. Jon is afraid that he's missed a batch of queries in the transition and encourages you to query again if you've not recieved an answer. We usually answer queries within a month. And for those of you who've been good enough to send requested partials and manuscripts, we thank you for your patience. We are moving forward and we will someday get to the bottom of the piles!
We wish you all a lovely holiday weekend!
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Our agency, as you readers know by now, is interested in all kinds of fiction. Lately we've become more attuned to YA books as well as books for adults. The only kind of fiction I'm not keen on (from an agency perspective--not a personal one) are sword and dragon (S&D) fantasy books. Contemporary fantasy is just fine, however. Jon is still looking at the S&Ds and he likes detective, action, police procedural, military, spy and end-of-the-world thrillers and science fiction of all kinds. He likes to read these books and he hopes to sell them.
I am taking a new liking to nonfiction of all kinds. I don't, as a rule, read health books. But I am interested in representing them. Here's what I'd like to see: books about one disease or syndrome written by a doctor, a nurse or other health professional, or even a patient who happens to have a beautiful writing style and unique perspective. Like all nonfiction, it helps if the author has credentials, is a noted blogger or expert. If you or someone you know fits that description, let me know.
Jon was reading this over my shoulder and pointed out that I just wrote a query! Oh, geesh, that's a lot of pressure!!
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Check out the "Bright Ideas" column in Sunday's New York Times. A mad scientist named Bradley Inman is "...starting Vook, a platform for e-books that will combine text, video and social networking."
The mind reels! (Special note here: I've been listening to P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster series in the car for the past few weeks and am really into English prep school terms.)
I may be betraying my age and station, but this one is, as Bertie Wooster says, "A bit thick!" I'm trying to figure out how this is going to work. Let's take a popular book we all know and love and turn it into a vook:
Title: Angela's Ashes
OK, we're enjoying the adventures of this downtrodden Irish family when we get to the part about them staying overnight in a stone hovel that is absolutely teeming with lice. (Insert video here of family jumping around whacking at lice, and screaming and scratching wildly.) Now it's time to visit our "social network" to comment on this scene.
Kae says: Eeeeww! How gross!
Jon says: For god's sake, grow up! This is a tense piece of literary stuff here!
Ellen says: Well, I agree with Kae, it IS gross. Why don't they just f***ing leave?
Kae says: Those poor children! (Video close-up of lice crawling on mattress)
Jon says: I'm outta here!
Ellen says: Oh, yuck. IMO, this is lame. Later.
Kae goes back to reading? Watching more lice video? Looking for more folks on the social network to commiserate with about lice-borne diseases?
Forgive me, but I can't get my head around it yet!
The nice part is, if vook takes off, they'll still need stories. They'll still need authors and they'll still need agents!
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
The jury is still out on the ultimate value of Twitter, but you can be sure we'll continue to evolve on this blog. Hey, I'd better Twitter about that!
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Hi Kae, Are you on Twitter? It's fun, informative and there are numerous agents, editors and publishers that tweet about the industry. It's also very addicting!
OK, here's the brutal truth. Yes, I have an account on Twitter. And, yes, I have Twitted, but here's the rub. I can't, for the life of me, figure out how this is going to help our business(es), our standing with authors and publishers, my bank account or my general well-being.
And it's not for lack of trying! I really, really want to be part of the Twitisphere. Peter Shankman says I must. Friends say I must. The industry Twits constantly. What's WRONG with me that I haven't found the key to life, love and happiness through Twitter? Jon and I both feel that this is a cute fad that takes up time, but will wither on the vine in good time. Are we wrong? Why?
So, dear readers, help me out! How will my regular Twits (Tweets) help me as a literary agent? How does Twitter help you?
Monday, March 23, 2009
"Literary agents are crucial when publishers believe that their choice of content is essential but have too many choices and too little time. But publishers don't trust every literary agent. They trust agents they believe in. Key point: anonymous agents are interchangeable and virtually worthless. Agents that don't do anything but help one side find the other side in a human approximation of Google aren't so helpful any more."
I couldn't agree more. Literary agents need authors who trust us and want to work with us. But unless we have solid relationships with the editors who will purchase our clients' work, we cannot succeed. This is the most difficult hurdle new literary agents face and one we've been working on since we opened our agency. As book publicists we knew and had contacts with many publishers--on the marketing/publicity side. Our challenge was (and is) to step across the hall and buddy up to the editors at those houses. The only way to do that successfully is to bring them books they want.
Here's another priceless nugget from Seth:
"...agents must...consider who they are selling to. Should talent agents only sell to Hollywood? Literary agents only to book publishers? ...When markets change, agents can lead the way, not follow along grudgingly."
I confess I've been thinking about this for some time. In these days of POD and instant books, there are many strategic marketing benefits available to savvy companies who want to put their brand on an appropriate book. After all, Starbucks picks bestsellers to sell in it's stores. What about taking this a step further? Would Honda consider publishing a book about the open road? If we take on a book about eyesight, should we approach Lens Crafters as a potential publisher?
Just a few thoughts spurred on by Godin. He's always one to kick one's brain into motion.