Monday, June 29, 2009


Jon is grumbling and wringing his hands tonight. He just got another publisher rejection for his dark steampunk novel entitled The Nightmare Sun. Jon is a real sci-fi head, reared on Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury and other greats. In his opinion, The Nightmare Sun is a real contender. But he's been rejected several times at houses we thought were shoo-ins. What to do?

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


Whether you write women's fiction, science fiction, YA, fantasy, romance or literary fiction--even nonfiction, you should read the profile of Nora Roberts in the June 22 issue of The New Yorker magazine. "Real Romance: How Nora Roberts became America's most popular novelist" by Lauren Collins takes the "romance" out of the writing life. Roberts, who grosses sixty million dollars a year for her books, has one key commandment of writing: "Ass in the chair."

"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


I am so excited! The cover for Town in a Blueberry Jam is completed and I think it's perfect! What do you think? The book will be published by Berkley's Prime Crime in February 2010.

And, the coauthor of our (as yet unpublished) Dear Daycare Parent, has launched her new blog by the same name.

Anyone who has a child in daycare or knows families with children in daycare should add this blog to their favorite places. Authors Jacqueline Rioux and Jo-Ann Parylak have a combined 35 years of experience as daycare directors and they know of what they speak. Their book is designed to help parents and others with all the thorny issues of daycare and their blog will give you a taste of what's to come.

Monday, June 15, 2009


OMG--Two posts in one day? Yep. Our reader "Reason Reanimator" just posted the following questions. Because we are unique, bi-tasking agents and because others ask us how it works, I felt it was important to answer RR's questions for all to see.

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!


First, let me thank Deb Schubert again for giving us such an insightful view of her experiences at two writing conferences. This kind of information is invaluable for writers, agents and editors.

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, 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


Note from Kae: Deb Schubert is an author (and now friend) who is shopping for an agent and a publisher for her women's fiction and a cozy mystery series. Thanks so much for this, Deb!

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

BOOK EXPO--A Quiet Show

It was a quiet show. Gone are the days with Richard Simmons jumping on the backs of husky passers-by and huge mega-booths from mega-publishers trying to out-glitz one another.

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.