Tuesday, December 30, 2008


One of our favorite authors, Patrice Sarath, just checked in to tell us some good news. The romance review site "Paranormal Romance" recognized her debut novel Gordath Wood as a Top Pick for December.

You can read all about it here along with the great review of the book:


The other good news is that Patrice's second book, a sequel to Gordath Wood, will be published by Ace in 2009. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


Holiday Greetings to All!

I was just reviewing our blog entries throughout 08 and discovered that one of the most popular posts dealt with the New England Book Festival. On August 20 I posed the following questions:
  • Have you heard of the New England Book Festival?
  • Have any of you published authors won the New England Book Festival Award?
  • Which books have won awards?
  • What wonderful things happened to winning authors?
  • How significant are these awards?

Since posting these questions we've received 14 comments and they run the gamut from caution to celebration. Because many of you had GOOD experiences with the New England Book Awards, I want to bring these to light. (No one came back with negative comments or horror tales, by the way.)

Rick Robinson, author, said, "I have participated in their events and have found them beneficial. The Hollywood Book Festival in July was a great event."

K. Patrick Malone said, "I have entered and gotten Honorable Mentions for both my books from both the New York and Hollywood Book Festivals in both 2007 and 2008. I also attended both New York Book Festival Awards. I found that it seems to be a growing business. The 2007 New York Book Fest Awards was in a small NYC pub, nice fun, met some people, got fed for free and had some drinks. It was fun LOL. This year the 2008 event was held at the Algonquin Hotel in Manhattan, a hotel with a real literary reputation, once again, got well fed and had more than a few drinks, met some really fun people and had an all around great time. Was it the red carpet at the Oscars, of course not, but it has certainly been a worthwhile venue for the exposure of small and independent press publishing, and not for nothing, any good recognition small press authors can get is good recognition. And particularly with small and independent presses, the little gold, silver and bronze stars it allows us to put on our books does attract readers attention...I say go for it."

Editor's Note: Algonquin Hotel? My favorite. I like to drink tea with authors there. Very Dorothy Parker.

Steven J. Harper said, "My book, "Crossing Hoffa: A Teamster's Story" (Borealis, 2007) won Honorable Mentions at the New York and Hollywood Book Festival; the audiobook won Honorable Mention at the London Book Festival--all JM Media sponsored-events. I agree with Patrick that the program is worthwhile."

John Graham said, "I just won first prize in the Biography/Autobiography section of the 2008 New England Book Festival for my memoir, Sit Down Young Stranger. I'll let you know what comes of it."

I think we can safely conclude that The New York/New England Book Festivals are on the level. So, if you don't mind parting with the $50 entry fee, go for it. And, by all means, let us know how you fare.

I'd be interested in hearing about other awards and contests you all recommend!

Friday, December 12, 2008


Laura R. commented that a novella by Stephen King inspired her to become a writer. I replied that Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is the best book I'd ever read on the topic. Here's a brief excerpt from that book:

"If you want to be a writer," King says, "you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot."

Thursday, December 11, 2008


I love to read. The love of reading is not a prerequisite for a life in publishing, but it's what got me here.

My favorite books are usually fiction--all kinds of fiction. But last night I began reading A Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. My reading group chose it as our January selection and it's a long book. I figured I'd better get started because I'm not a fast reader.

This book tells how Abraham Lincoln chose his cabinet. Rumor has it that Barack Obama read this book and has used it as a model for his own work in filling out his cabinet.

After I had read a few pages I took a deep breath and realized that I was in the hands of a master writer. Have you ever had that feeling? It's so soothing, yet exhilarating to know that the author you have chosen is in total command of this book and, as his or her "passenger," you are going to have a wonderful time.

It may seem odd that agents read so much. After all, we read submissions from potential clients every day. Wouldn't it make sense to do something else in our free time like going bowling or decorating the laundry room? It's imperative that we read and that we read the best books we can find. We need to compare our submissions to competing authors out there and to hold our potential clients to a very high standard if we expect to sell their work to publishers. I look forward to finding a submission that will give me that kind of "master writer" feeling I'm having with Doris Kearns Goodwin. I has happened a few times and it's what agents live for.

But, it's just as important for writers to read constantly. It's a good place to get your inspiration and it may help you hone your craft. If you're a sci-fi author, you should be reading every sci-fi book you can get your hands on. But don't stop there! Read the classics. Read romances and histories. The more widely you read the more widely you can write.

What books inspire you? I'd love to hear from you.

Friday, December 5, 2008


I've blogged in the past about how important it is, especially for a nonfiction author, to develop a "platform." Publishers need to know that you are media-worthy, capable of doing interviews and able to present your ideas in a compelling fashion. If you have a popular website or blog which is read by many, that's even better. Why is this so important?

It's pretty simple. If you already have a following, those people are your potential readers. If people already know you and like what you say they will be very interested in reading your book when it's published. This, in a nutshell, is why books by celebrities are so popular. The publisher doesn't have to invest time and money to introduce the author--the author is famous and her fans will flock to the bookstore to buy her book when it's published. A celebrity is a ready-made publicity machine. But, if you're not Britney Spears or Laura Bush, a blog or website can help you raise your profile.

My longtime client, Paddy Welles, Ph.D., is a noted speaker with great credentials. She is a marriage and family therapist and the author of two books on the topic of intimate relationships. But when she and her co-author Rudolf Harmsen, Ph.D. decided to write a book on the topic of love and war, the playing field changed. Harmsen, an evolutionary biologist and Dr. Welles decided to create a book that would compare and contrast the evolutionary and psychological roots of humankind's need for love and war. It's never been done and it's fascinating.

But Paddy's experience is in the psychological field, not sociology, not in the study of warfare. She needs to do something now to reintroduce herself as an expert on the topics of love AND war. She will do that, in part, with her new blog http://paddy-loveandwar.blogspot.com/.

Take a look at how she's doing this and consider how you might use a blog to help in your quest for a publisher. But blogging is not for everyone. Don't do it if you don't have a strong point of view, a love of writing and the commitment and the time to write frequently. If these traits apply to you, blogging might be a good way to introduce yourself to a wide audience.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


One of my favorite long-term clients called me yesterday, nearly in tears about the rumors surrounding the $7 million Palin book deal. "I simply can't believe that publishers would want a book like this when they won't give our book the time of day!" she wailed.

She has a good point. This author has had two books published and she is highly credentialed with a Ph.D and vast experience in her field. Her co-author has similar credentials. But neither of them is famous. They don't write a column for a magazine or a newspaper. Their opinions aren't sought by television or radio shows. You wouldn't recognize their names.

Their book is wonderful--well-written, well-researched with thought provoking ideas that could be of great help to a great many people. Why are we having such a hard time getting publishers to look at it, when "that woman" (Palin) is being courted by the biggest and best?

First, of all, I cautioned my author, no deal has been struck, to my knowledge, between Palin or Palin's agent and any publisher. (Rumor has it that the $7 million dollar balloon was floated in order to get the attention of publishers.) Will Palin get a book deal eventually? Of course. Why? Because we all know who she is. Because her face is familiar. Because we've seen her on television and on the cover of newspapers and magazines coast-to-coast. Because the Palin buzz is still out there and we all want to know more about this quirky character who made "mooseburgers" famous.

Does this mean that you can't get a nonfiction book published if you're not a household name? No. It happens every day. But most published nonfiction authors developed a "platform" in order to give publishers more confidence in their ability to sell books. Perhaps they are public speakers, or MAYBE THEY BLOG. It's not enough to write a good nonfiction book these days. Your platform must precede you so that by the time your agent is approaching publishers, he can tell them how many people listen to you already and are dying to get their hands on your unpublished book.

"But, it's not fair!" says my author, and I agree. It's not fair. But that's that way things are. So, if a nonfiction book is in your future, start working on your platform now. You'll be glad you did.

Oh, and my author? As I'm writing this she's working on establishing a blog. She's a fine writer with great information. I'll let you know when she has posted a few times.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Busy day of reading and publicty projects. But, fear not, Norton and Wylie are keeping a sharp eye on the manuscripts. (See the eyes of Norton over Wylie's right shoulder.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


One of the things that lured me to become a book agent was the idea of helping to make literary dreams come true. What an awesome feeling, I thought, to be the one to tell a hard-working author that I've sold his or her book to a respected publisher!

What I didn't think about too much was the flip side of this equation--telling a hard-working author that we are "passing" on his or her project. It's no fun and, unfortunately, we do this many, many, many times every day. No to the queries; no to the partials; and sometimes even no to the manuscripts. Today I had the even more poignant chore of writing to several authors who were under contract with us. The contracts have been over for some time and we've not been able to find a publisher. We had gotten very fond of some of these authors and we feel like--uh--failures when we fail. It's awful every time we have to do it and it goes to the heart of this business.

Today I resolve to be a sterner, more calculating agent--to practice a kind of tough love. So let me bare my soul (again) and tell you how I'll do this:
  • I will NOT ask for partials if the query is flawed.
  • If the partial is weak, even if I love it, I will NOT ask for a manuscript.
  • If the manuscript doesn't knock my socks off, I will NOT ask to represent you.
  • In fact, I will not ask to represent you until I have several editors and houses in mind for the work.

I love the dream maker part of this work; I hate being a grim reaper, even with queries. So forgive me for laying this on you, but I've crushed a lot of hopes today. Yet, on a positive side, I'm just one agent in a pool of thousands! So, just because we can't sell something does not mean Ms. Snark, Mr. Post or Laura Literary can't. Don't let one agent's rejection get you down. (Even if I'm that agent.) Send your work to everyone you can think of and continue to improve it as you go. That's the way dreams are made.

Monday, November 10, 2008


Like all businesses, the world of publishing is rumbling with news of layoffs, restructuring and new ways of doing business. Publishers large and small are looking at their bottom lines and trying to figure out new ways to make their businesses more efficient. Independent bookstores and chains are struggling. Borders is in big trouble and their problems seem to be increasing. How does this impact authors who simply want to get their work published?

Unfortunately, the challenges to becoming a published author are increasing. But I advise that you listen to the rumblings, then keep doing what you do. Write and improve and push yourself. Pay attention to social media and consider starting a blog if you have something interesting to say. Write, write, write for whomever you like--church bulletins, your local paper, websites, clubs, organizations, newsletters. Write a journal. Write a cookbook for your family. Write letters. Write every single day.

After all, you're a writer. Just cause the bottom is slowing dropping out of the industry doesn't mean that you should stop writing. When the dust settles, we'll still need writers. We'll still need stories and information. So, write already! (Oh, the photo? That's Norton, one of the office cats, taking a well-deserved rest from shredding duties and enjoying the autumn color.)

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


Something is happening with the agency. The partials and manuscripts we requested last spring and summer are of a consistently better quality than those we requested in the "early years." That's the good news AND the bad news. Now it's much harder to make a final "go or no-go" decision. Jon employs the "sleep on it" technique. If he's having trouble deciding on a partial or manuscript, he'll put it aside for at least a day or two. When he comes back to it, his head has cleared and he can make a decision based on:

  1. His passion for the plot and the writing

  2. His belief that others (in other words EDITORS) will share his enthusiasm

  3. The joy the work brings him; how it rattles in his head long after he's read it

If the work stands up to those judgements, he'll move forward. If not, he'll reluctantly pass. It seems to be a good method and I'm trying to employ it myself. I have two such projects on my desk today. At this point, they are both calling to me. I think I'll sleep on it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008


"Ye gods!" It hit me this morning. That line is NOT from "Oklahoma!" It's from "Music Man." (See post from last week.)

Luckily I'm better at book titles than musicals.

Friday, October 24, 2008


Dear Writers:

Please make sure this email message isn't automatically sent to the agents who kindly respond to your queries:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email. To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand. If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox.

We get these responses every once in awhile and I always ask myself, "Huh?"

You go to the trouble to email a perfectly good query. Then we go to the trouble to email back a nice rejection--or--be still my heart--perhaps a "Please send more--we love this--we love you!" response. And what happens? A robot tells us we are not approved. It makes me feel like my credit rating isn't up to snuff or my deodorant has failed me!

We trash these messages and then you never know what our response was. But that's your fault. Make sure we never get this silly automated message. I'm not going to take the trouble to become one of your special "approved senders." Why, I hardly know you!

OK, I feel better. It's going to rain tomorrow and I'm going to bake cookies and drink wine while Jon cooks one of his special dinners! Have a nice weekend.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


"Ye gods," as they say in the movie version of "Oklahoma" in-which-is-starring-one-of-my best-friend's-handsome-sons-in-a-local-production. (Remember the name Colin Hooker-Haring--he'll be a big star one day.)

Where was I and why haven't I been blogging? I've been working on our local presidential campaign, that's where. Phone banking, meeting, cooking for the crew, stuffing envelopes and sorting brochures. Oh, yeah, also working on our book publicity campaigns and the literary agent biz. For sure I haven't been blogging.

But today I write because I want to talk about exclusives. We don't ask for them. We don't want them. Jon is struggling with a writer at this very moment who is being rather troublesome. Jon enjoyed this guy's partial. He asked for the manuscript, but certainly did not ask for an exclusive look. We are so behind in our reading that asking for an exclusive would be completely unfair AT THIS POINT.

In the end, Jon turned down the manuscript for many good reasons. He wrote to the author and told him, in broad strokes, why he was not going to take the book. The author asked for specifics and told Jon that he'd given the manuscript to us "exclusively," and therefore, Jon was obliged to give the author his reading notes. He then suggested that he'd pay for the reading notes. Jon is writing him yet another email with the final goodbye.

But this experience has left a bad taste in our literary mouths. You should never consider that an agent has requested an exclusive unless that agent has said he wants an exclusive. And, please don't offer us money for any reason. That is a big, big no-no.

Now for the good news. We've been up at 6 every morning for the past two weeks to get caught up on our partial and manuscript reading. We'll continue until we have read everything through the September pile. So, if you're waiting to hear from us, give us a bit more time. We're getting there!

Saturday, September 13, 2008


In response to a recent post, a reader inquired:

"On a new subject, how would you, or do you, handle someone who submits a novel that he has already published on the Amazon Kindle, or similar e-reader device? I currently have three previously self-published titles listed on the Kindle and have just finished my third round of edits on a new novel and am considering sending that straight to the Kindle, with or without an ISBN. If I do would I be killing any chances of obtaining agent representation for it."

I'm not a Kindle expert--Jon and I are looking into this. It may be that if you publish with Amazon, they hold the rights (at least the e-rights) to your book. We'll find out and blog about this later.

I can't speak for other agents. But we have received several queries for novels that have been self-published or have been published as e-books. Right or wrong, we're never inclined to look too hard at these--perhaps to our peril. Unfortunately for self-published or e-published novelists who query us with their project, neither Jon nor I can muster the enthusiasm to give them much attention. Other agents may have a totally different view--that's just our bias and we can't even defend it at this point.

To answer the reader's question: We don't know if it would be killing your chances for obtaining agent representation. That's up to individual agents. But, it would not be a project we'd pursue with vigor.

On the other hand, before I was a "real" agent, I sold two self-published books (nonfiction) to big publishers. I would consider an excellent nonfiction self-published book today as long as it was uniquely wonderful and the author was a great spokesperson for the book and has "great platform." As for Jon, nonfiction seldom interests him, unless you happen to be a Formula One driver writing about your career.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Another morning of query responses. I'm continually amazed by the number of queries you all send us--some great, some so-so, some just not for us, some awful. Each week we ask a few of you to send us more. But, most of these queries are rejected--a sad fact of this business. As I've written before on this blog, we've developed a pretty standard rejection email which states that the query simply does "not meet the needs of our agency." A few days ago a rejected author asked, "Why isn't it right for your agency?" I didn't answer his question because I simply can't get into that kind of dialogue.

But I can address questions like that here. So, without further ado, here are a few reasons your project is not right for our agency:
  • We don't represent the genre--If it's a memoir (unless you're Hillary Clinton or Madonna), a business book, Christian fiction, or deals with child or animal abuse, it's not for us.
  • The query is badly written--Face it, if you can't write a good query, you probably can't write a good book.
  • I'm bored after the first two sentences--Nuff said.
  • You've told me much too much in the first paragraph--Please, please, please, don't tell me about your husband, wife, children, education, parents, job, etc. I DON'T CARE! (at this point). Later on, when we're working together, I'll care--a lot.
  • You've sent us attached material. We don't open unsolicited attachments.

I could go on and on--in fact I think I have gone on and on at some point!

But let me close with the "Pip of the Day." An author asked in his query if I was the right agent for his work and if not, if I could please recommend other agents who would be better for him.

Hello? That's not our job. Get thee to a bookstore and buy a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents, www.jeffherman.com/guide/. The 2009 edition should be available soon.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Busy time here at the agency. I wish we had more hours in the day!

Today, though, I have another question for you. It concerns the New England Book Festival. Have any of you heard of it? Have any of you published authors won the New England Book Festival award?

I ask because we regularly get notices from the JM Northern Media family of festivals encouraging us to enter our clients' books (at $50 a pop) for award consideration. In addition to the New England Book Festival, JM Northen Media sponsors the DIY Convention, Do It Yourself in Film, Music & Books, New York Book Festival and Hollywood Book Festival. They are sponsored by The Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony, The Hollywood Creative Directory, eDiffy, Shopanista and Westside Websites.

I Googled "The Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony" and was immediately bounced back to JM Northern Media. Hmmm. Now, I'm not saying this isn't on the level. I'm just asking: Which books have won awards? What wonderful things happened to winning authors? How significant are these awards? AND MOST IMPORTANT--Who the heck is JM Northern Media? Just curious.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Three weeks ago Jon requested a manuscript from a promising writer. It arrived, was logged in and Jon looked forward to reading it in the near future.

This morning the "promising writer" emailed Jon to tell him the manuscript had been snapped up by another agent and that he (the author) was now under contract with that agent. Actually he said, and I quote, "Please be advised that I have accepted representation with a respected literary agency in NYC."

"Rats!" said Jon. (Well, perhaps not "rats" exactly, maybe it was a longer and much dirtier word.) "We missed a hot one," he grumbled. Then he wrote "promising author" a congratulatory email.

Miss a hot one we probably did, but kudos to "promising writer" for letting us know that he was in a serious relationship with another. Please, all you other promising writers, heed this writer's example. If you are fortunate enough to land an agent, tell all the other agents who are in the process of falling in love with you that your heart belongs to another. It's the right thing to do, even if it makes us sad.

Thursday, July 31, 2008


It appears I hit a nerve with my question yesterday. I was whining about writing multiple "no thank you" notes to authors' queries and wondered if it was a worthy endeavor. I asked, "Would you rather have a form rejection from us, or would silence suffice?" All of you who responded said a word from an agent, even a discouraging word, is better than nothing.

I hate to admit Jon was right on this one, but you guys agree with him. So, we will continue to answer any and all queries. Thanks for taking the time to weigh in!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008


Jon and I have been working feverishly for the past few days, reading and responding to the snail-mailed and emailed queries that we've received this month. Like all agents, we are flooded with queries. We are so glad, because that means people are writing; even better, the writers know about us and are interested in working together.

That's the good news. The bad news is that we sometimes feel overwhelmed with the wealth of queries we receive. We try to treat each one with the respect and the attention it deserves; when we feel our attention lagging, we stop and move on to another project. Now, here's the part none of you want to hear about and I don't blame you. We reject most of the queries we receive for a variety of reasons: the topic does not interest us; we don't represent the genre; the query is poorly written and unfocused; or, in the worst-case scenario, the query is awful and so is the book idea.

With the exception of gang-queries (the ones with all the agents in the world listed in the "to" section), or the queries where the author specifies that we answer only if interested, WE RESPOND TO ALL QUERIES, usually within 6 weeks. But maybe we shouldn't. The truth is, our responses are pretty boring and are not unique. We've learned that we have to be cold and perfectly clear about the turn down. I used to say, "...your project does not meet our agency's needs at this time." I don't say that anymore. "...at this time..." acted like an open door through which many a hopeful author shoved in a foot asking, "If not now, when will you be interested?" Shades of meaning are nothing but trouble in a turn down response.

Jon and I are of two minds here. He feels very strongly that every query deserves an answer.

I am not so sure. If I delete queries that do not interest me, how would you feel? (Jon handles all snail-mail, so if that's how you query us, you'll get an answer for sure.) I know lots of other agents don't respond to any but the queries that they want to pursue. Maybe most authors assume that a non-response is a turn down. But I'm just not sure.

The responses to queries I don't want take up a lot of time--time that I could spend reading manuscripts and chapters, visiting and pitching editors, and writing this blog.

How do YOU feel about that the dreaded turn down? Would you rather get a standard "so sorry" response, or would you prefer silence from me when I'm not interested? I'm just askin'.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Jon and I launched our literary agency about two years ago. "How's it going?" friends and colleagues ask.

We smile and tell them it's slow. We tell them that we've been learning as we go and that we've made lots of mistakes. Then, if they are not glazing over, we tell them that we're getting better all the time and that we're in this for the long term.

We've learned (ahem, I'VE learned) that:
  • I love too much too easily. Just because I love a book concept doesn't mean I can sell it. (On the other hand, I certainly can't sell something I don't love.) I'm vowing to think about publishing houses and editors first, then find the books I can get behind that will fit what the publishers are buying. It's simply putting the horse before the cart. If I can't envision a publisher's logo pasted squarely on the spine of a project I'm considering, I probably won't take it on. Within the past two years I've put the cart before the horse too often. I'm learning.
  • Good nonfiction is hard to find.
  • Most editors are overworked and sincere. They want to succeed. They want to find talented, hard-working authors. They want us to help them.

Jon has discovered that:

  • Almost everyone wants to write a book, but few have the tenacity and talent required.
  • Beginning authors think that a passion for writing will get them through. They are always surprised by the fact that this is a business. They must learn how the business works.
  • He must continue to read voraciously and widely in order to be a good judge of the things that come his way.
  • He can't read requested chapters and manuscripts fast enough and worries constantly that he's "sitting on" the next Great Gatsby and may lose it because he can't get to it in time.

We hope you're all having a wonderful summer.

Friday, July 11, 2008


I spent Wednesday in New York City. Hot, humid, just plain muggy--just how we like New York in July. The purpose of my visit was two-fold: 1. a meeting with the editor of a health publisher 2. yet another raucous dinner with my "old" PR buddies. Here's how it went--

The Editor Meeting
The editor was delightful. We shared publishing tales and I went away with concrete ideas about the books this editor is seeking. Note: If you are a doctor, RN or other health professional and have a book about how to cope with a specific disease, contact me. I am simply thrilled that this editor found me and am looking forward to working with her in the near future. (I'm also thrilled that she introduced me to Gregory's Coffee Shop--so much cooler than the S-place!)

The Raucous Publicity Mavens Dinner
I launched my publicity business 15 years ago and for at least 10 of those 15 years I've been dining in New York on a regular basis with three other publicists, all of whom run their own shops--two in NYC, one in New Jersey, mine in Pennsylvania. We originally met to share publicity stories and dish the publishing dirt. Our mission hasn't changed much in the past 10 or so years.

  • We've experienced health crises, the entry into college and graduation of two of our children, the marriage of two of our children, the birth of 4 grandchildren with another on the way.
  • We've travelled the country and the world--Italy, France, Turkey--just to name a few places.
  • We've experienced a complete overhaul in the way we run our businesses, from phone-based to Internet-based.
  • We've worked with the big name publishers, smaller independents and tiny houses.
  • We've been hired by authors, by publishers, sometimes by other businesses.
  • We've had great successes and hilarious mishaps.
  • We've counseled each other on how to handle dicey editors, nasty publicists, clueless producers and head-in-the-clouds authors.
  • We've tirelessly and dependably shared our precious media lists.
  • Mostly we've laughed, driven waiters crazy, drunk far too much wine and generally had a wonderful time.
Here's to you Carol, Donna and Mary Lou!

Now for a special side note for Friday, July 11. Those of you who read this blog regularly know our office cat Wylie. Wylie sits poised on the brink of stardom. Please visit "Galley Cat" , scroll down the "Adorable Summer Cats" photos and see Wylie the accountant. OK, you can see it on our blog as well, but he's in such good company in Galley Cat!

Monday, June 30, 2008


If you like contemporary fantasy, horses, adventure, time travel and just plain GOOD WRITING, check out Gordath Wood by Patrice Sarath. It's in bookstores now.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to hear Patrice's story about how she rose from the slush pile, listen to her interview on Adventures in SciFi Publishing. (If you are an aspiring sci-fi writer, this is a very good site for you to visit.)

Let me know how you like Patrice's book--you may just see your comments posted here!

Thursday, June 26, 2008


We're back from a lovely week in Boise, Idaho. Let me tell you a bit about Boise. It is one of the nicest cities in the country, a secret the Boise residents don't want me to reveal. But I just can't help myself. Why is it so great?
  • Climate: I was born and raised just outside of Denver, Colorado and have NEVER gotten used to the humidity and skunkiness of the Northeast. (Skunkiness is defined as grey, hot days with lots of haze, heat and humidity.) Summer in Boise features blue skies, sun, dry air and cool nights--just like my hometown.
  • Emphasis on the outdoors: There's a greenbelt that runs from miles and miles all along the Boise River. You can walk. You can run. You can bike. You CAN'T drive a car! Parks and festivals abound. Bike lanes are common. What a place to raise a family. What a great place to live as gas prices continue to soar.
  • Lots of coffee shops that AREN'T Starbucks: Each one is unique and...you can walk there!
  • Nice people: It's true. On the surface at least, people in Idaho are nicer than people in the Northeast. From waitresses to rental cars, we were overwhelmed with kindness, manners and thoughtfulness. They are even nice at the airport!

I'm sure I just scratched the surface. Boise offers a lot more.

The purpose for our visit to Boise was to spend time with my brother and his family. While we were there we gave a workshop for authors at the Garden City Library just outside the city limits. (The library is brand new and gorgeous.) About 30 authors attended our presentation and afterwards we met with as many as time would permit to discuss their individual projects.

I was impressed with the quality of the writers we met. If you read this blog regularly, you can guess what we talked about--the business of writing and the quality of the work. The authors asked interesting and intelligent questions such as: How much money do publishers pay as advances? (It depends.....) How popular is narrative nonfiction? (Very.) Is it OK to query several agents at one time? (Sure. Just don't put all their email addresses in the "send" field.) Do we use an author-agent contract? (Yes.) How do we negotiate the author-publisher contract? (With great respect and humility and an eye on the bottom line, public relations, and marketing.)

My personal favorites that evening? The young lady who considers herself a modern pirate and the gentleman who sees the world through the experience of making omelets. Jon's personal favorite is an author whose partial we had already requested. She, her children and her mother drove 5 hours from Salt Lake City to meet us. With this kind of effort on the part of authors, we just hope we were helpful.

Look out New York--the Boise authors are headed your way!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


We are pleased to announce that after serving for over 10 years as "official office shredder," Wiley-the-Cat has been promoted to Corporate Accountant.
Given his penchant for detail and his interest in keeping the larder stocked, we think Wiley will excel in his new job.
We hope our authors and other clients will join us in congratulating Wiley and wishing him many long years as the "watchdog" of the bottom line.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Last week was not the best.

Jon received an email from an author whose chapters we'd requested in April. The author was simply asking if we'd received his materials.

As new literary agents, we've devised our own system to insure that all requested material is recorded in a written log. It works well for us and has saved us countless headaches. We record the author's name, date of receipt (in log and on package), and book name as soon as we receive the material. This time, however, we couldn't find any history of this author's chapters.

We've concluded that the material was truly "lost in the mail." We had to go back to the author and tell him his baby had not arrived. He was not happy and is sending us a new copy of the chapters. Jon assured him that he would not lose his place in the stacks. We've reserved his original spot and his chapters will be read as if we'd received them in April. We're still scratching our heads and hoping this doesn't happen very often.

Note on Queries: We receive SO MANY of these and we do not keep track of them in any way, unless we love them and ask for more. Please don't write (or--shudder--call) to ask if we've received your query. We'll be clueless! You'll hear back from us, one way or the other, in good time. We answer every query we receive. Exceptions are: no SASE included in mailed queries; gang email queries to every agent in the book; or really offensive and creepy queries. (Don't ask.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Jon and I will be doing a workshop at the Garden City Library just outside of Boise, Idaho on Thursday, June 19. I'm not sure of the time yet. It will be early evening. As soon as I have definite information I'll post it here. Meanwhile, here's a quick description:


A 1-hour workshop designed for writers of fiction and nonfiction books.

Presented by:
Jon & Kae Tienstra
KT Public Relations & Literary Services
Fogelsville, PA

· What can a literary agent do for me?
· Should I try to query publishers without an agent?
· Are emailed or hard-copy queries best?
· Should I include a synopsis and sample chapters with my initial query?
· Should my fiction book be complete before I query an agent?
· Should my nonfiction book be complete before I query an agent?
· How long do I have to wait for an answer when an agent has requested a partial or manuscript?

· What can I expect from a publisher and agent after my book is under contract?

These are just some of the questions that will be covered in this informal and informative workshop presented by Jon and Kae Tienstra, book publicists and literary agents. The agents will present a brief program followed by a question and answer session. Interested authors can sign up in advance for a 5-minute “interview” with the agents after the program.

Please come see us if you live in Boise or will be in the area. We'd love to meet you!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


We spent a day in New York City last week visiting editors and cementing a new relationship with a Dutch publisher for whom we'll do publicity work.

Because we are not based in New York City, it's imperative that we regularly visit the publishers there to find out what they are looking for and how they prefer to work with agents. Simply stated, it's important to meet editors face-to-face.

Familiarizing oneself with a huge publisher like Random House could become a full-time occupation. Personally, I love the ambiance of the place. The lobby is a book-lover's dream with floor to ceiling glass-fronted book shelves lining the walls. The shelves are stocked with Random House "first editions." Actually, I don't think they are the real thing. An editor told us a couple of years ago that the original first editions are archived "off-campus" in a place friendly to aging paper and bindings. It doesn't matter if the books in the lobby are real or not. It feels wonderful to be surrounded by the classics that bookend our world. Jon advises every writer or would-be writer or anyone who loves books to step into the lobby, take a few deep breaths and spend time scanning the shelves. It's like visiting old friends in a museum of the written word.

We visited three Random editors. Here are a few things we learned:
  • Nonfiction is "the way to go" for new agents. A Crown editor advised us to concentrate on this genre. "Fiction is a hard-sell," he said. Editors must defend their choices at editorial meetings and fiction is often extremely difficult to champion. It's a hard business fact and it's why we and other agents scour the queries for the gems that can survive the editorial trials.
  • In nonfiction, superlatives sell--the best, the biggest, the greatest.
  • Platform is everything. He advised us to look for journalists and hot bloggers for new book ideas.
  • REAL GOOD WRITING is still the gold standard. (But we all know that, don't we?)
  • Another editor is looking for "fiction that is believable as nonfiction and nonfiction that reads like fiction."
  • Steampunk is still alive and well. (Yea! We have THE steampunk novel in the re-writing stage.)
It was a great day, complete with two hours at the Museum of Modern Art and lunch at the Carnegie Deli where the waitress kept interrupting our meeting with the Dutch publisher to talk about my bracelet! Gotta love New York.

Monday, May 12, 2008


...in the post above. (..those, that time). Seems our blog isn't letting us edit this morning. Now you know that we know the mistake is there and won't let us change it. Sigh!


I spent two hours this morning reading email queries. Jon spent an hour doing the same thing. We broke up those that time with a couple of phone calls, coffee breaks and other quick duties, such as brushing Norton the office cat.

We did not count the number of queries we each read, but I'd estimate that I burned through 20 to 25; Jon says he read 5 or 6, plus a few more snail mail queries. That's more than enough for one morning. The problem is that they all begin to blur and when that happens it's time to stop. It's simply not fair to those at the end of the reading session.

Of the 25 queries, I passed 4 or 5 to Jon who is more enthusiastic about military thrillers and science fiction than I am. I rejected the rest, with the exception of one commercial fiction / suspense novel.

"So, what the heck are you looking for, anyway?" you might well ask. And, it's a question we ask ourselves every day. The simple answer is "good writing." After that, here's what I'd love to see:

A contemporary fantasy with a strong female protagonist.

A really, really good love story that hasn't been done to death.

Good women's fiction with characters I like. (Think Jane Porter)

Jon is looking for:

Innovative science fiction.

A solid military thriller with a complicated protagonist.

The next Robert Parker. ; )

Please, oh, please says Jon--NO MORE DA VINCI CODE WANNABEES!! He gets at least 5 of these things per week.

Now it's on to partials and manuscripts. We have slipped another two weeks behind.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008


Jon grew up in suburban Chicago when times were slower and simpler. One hot summer day when he was about 12 or 13, he decided that what he really needed was a horseshoe court. He'd seen one at a family picnic earlier and decided that his dull back yard would be an ideal spot to create one for himself. The spot he chose was out by the garage, right where a pile of junk and lumber now sat. He figured all he'd need was a couple of lengths of pipe and some horseshoes and he'd be in business. Cheap. Easy.

So, on that hot day in July he approached his dad. "Can I build a horseshoe court out by the garage?"

His dad looked at the spot and scratched his head. "I guess so. You'll have to move that lumber and other junk to the back lot before you do anything though."

Jon began moving the lumber. It was heavy. The day was hot as hell. It was really awful. He stopped for a bottle of pop (remember this is Chicago). He looked at the pile of lumber which was still huge. He sat under a tree and thought about his horseshoe court; then he went back to work.

There was still a lot of lumber left by suppertime. Jon worked until dark and then started again the next day. Eventually, by the end of the day he (and his dad) had moved all the lumber and other junk out to the back lot. Finally, Jon thought, the place was ready for the horseshoe court.

"Not so fast," said his dad. "You've got to cut all these weeds and then move those cinder piles left over from the coal stove. Jon realized that the job was far from over. He got to work again. He cut the weeds, a backbreaking job in itself. But moving the cinders was worse than the junk moving. The piles of cinders defied him and he figured it simply wasn't worth the effort any more. When his dad told him he'd need to dig and frame out the court, Jon gave up and went swimming.

To this day in our family, the term "Horseshoe Court" is used to describe the job you undertake only to find that there are a gazillion little jobs that must be accomplished before you can even get to Job One.

Jon relived his Horseshoe Court this afternoon. It's gorgeous today and when we broke for lunch we decided to eat on the back patio just outside our office. During lunch Jon noticed the hummingbird feeder hanger which needed to be moved to another location. "I'll do it after lunch," he told me. "It'll only take a few minutes.

He went into the utility room downstairs and retrieved a screwdriver. Back outside he quickly unscrewed the hanger and took it over to the new fence where it was to hang. He realized that he'd need to make new holes in the fence and went back inside to find a gimlet. He looked in both tool kits, to no avail. He went upstairs, got the garage key and opened the garage. He looked in his tool chest out there--no gimlet. He locked the garage, put the key away and came back downstairs. He took his drill out of its case and was about to assemble it when he decided to look in his tool kit one more time. Voila! He found the gimlet. He put the drill away.

Back outside he made two holes in the new fence and went to screw in the hanger. He was tightening the first screw when it gave way and the head stripped off. Back inside, he looked in his tool kits for brass screws--no luck. Back upstairs, he retrieved the garage key, unlocked the garage, found two brass screws after 10 minutes of searching. He locked the garage, went back inside, down the stairs, and out to the back again. He screwed the hanger into the fence.

Job One done--it took almost an hour. He could have read two partials in that time. Damn Horseshoe Court!

Saturday, May 3, 2008


Pretty good day for a Saturday. I spent the morning with my friend Carol tread milling and steaming at the gym. When I got home I checked my inbox and discovered a FLAMING email from an angry author. I rejected his science fiction query and he was royally outraged that I did so.

Angry Author (AA) told me I wouldn't know talent if I stepped on it. Actually, he said "You wouldn't now talent if it PAID YOU to publish." Huh?

AA said I didn't know what my agency needed. Then he listed all his books, just to make me sorry I'd passed. To quote AA again: "Here's what you miss forom actulayy working with a literate professional." What's that you say? Literate. Well, AA did spell literate correctly.

All of this information was dispensed in nasty, angry verbiage, which is this author's right. But, it's actulayy very stupid. AA and I will never work together, but agents do talk and they do blog. We don't enjoy rejecting your queries and we usually have good reasons for the rejections. Responding as AA did demonstrates that he really hasn't a clue about how this business works.

Jon and I are very fortunate because we seldom get responses like this. In fact, we seldom get any response from authors whose queries we've rejected. And that's just fine. Once in awhile, an author thanks us for our time which is very thoughtful.

So, Angry Author, I hope it made you feel better to get it off your chest. And I want to thank you for giving me a good blog topic!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


We rejected a manuscript today. It was a well-written piece of women's fiction.

Question: We put SO much time into this. Read the query; loved it. Read the partial. Ditto. Read the entire manuscript. Why did we turn it down?

Long Answer: We hated the characters. There was nothing to hang onto. They were simply awful women.

Think back to your school days. Remember the gorgeous girl who seemed to want to be your friend? You were pleased and flattered. She was smart, beautiful, funny and had lots of other friends. Then you really got to know her. You saw the cruel trick she played on the fat girl in algebra. You heard her lie to the teacher. You saw her cheat on every test. You even saw the nasty note she wrote about you! You began to dislike her very much and soon you moved on to a new circle of friends.

That's how this book made me feel. It's women's fiction. Ya' gotta' give me something to love, people!

BUT on a positive note--We took on a new author today. The book is funny, sweet, and fabulous. It concerns golf, the 60s and a dog with great power. I'll tell you more about this project in weeks and months to come, but let me just say, reading this manuscript was a pure delight. I've been chuckling all day.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


Jon and I designed our literary agency to run parallel with our ongoing book publicity firm, KT Public Relations. When we began this blog our intention was to show how the two businesses ebb and flow. However, up to now, we really haven't shared what the publicity side entails. So here goes--life in the other side of the office.

I handle most of the publicity. Jon takes off his agent's hat and helps in a crunch--crunch defined as a big mailing or any nasty projects that involve meeting the UPS man out front and hauling heavy boxes in. He also acts as editor to make sure that everything I write gets a second look before it goes out.

This week I'm concentrating on several projects:

1. My ongoing and longtime client, Jane Kirkland, award-winning children's nature book author. In days to come I'll tell you more about Jane, a successful self-published author who makes it look easy. (It's not.) Jane's latest projects include her first book for educators, No Student Left Indoors: Creating a Field Guide to Your Schoolyard and her first FREE book for kids, Take A Cloud Walk which you can download at her website. I line up lots of school programs for Jane and we're now trying to find sponsors for her. If you know of any product or business that would benefit from being affiliated with a green, kid-and-nature-oriented author, let me know!

2. A new book entitled Fully Fertile: A Holistic 12-Week Plan for Optimal Fertility by Chicago-based authors Tamara Quinn, Elisabeth Heller & Jeanie Lee Bussell. We're mailing review copies and pushing for national television and radio. This book will be a godsend for many women. Find out more about the book and authors here.

3. A forthcoming book, Pennsylvania's Forbes Trail: Gateways and Getaways along the Legendary Route from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh published just in time to celebrate the Trail's 250th anniversary and the 250th anniversary of Pittsburgh. Great fun, great book.

4. Books from Visible Ink Press including American Murder: Criminals, Crime, and the Media. Oooooo!

That's just a start. Stay tuned for more tales of Frantic in Fogelsville: How Two Mature Book Publicists Pursued their Love of Books into a New Era.

Labels: Publicity

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


I've been trying to make a dent in the emailed queries this morning while Jon sequesters himself in the back room reading snail mail queries and chapters.

The emailed queries are non-stop and I really do my best to give them all a fair read. The hard truth is that only a few of the queries are unique and well-written enough to merit a request for a partial. Most are simply not for us for oh-so-many-reasons. But a few are almost there and they break my heart. Early on I tried to personalize some of the responses to the "almost theres," but found these gestures generated more responses and questions than I could handle. So now, a no is simply a no.

Some queries are easy to reject. They stop me in my tracks and force me to send our "boiler plate" response. I've talked about this before, but here are:

The Top Five Ways to Make Sure your Emailed Query
is Rejected and Deleted by Us

5. Tell us your book has been published by Author House.
4. In the opening paragraph give us your life story, none of which relates to your writing career.
3. Tell us that you are a fan of all of our clients and their works. (We really don't have that many yet.)
2. Send your query as an attachment.
1. Send your query to us and every other agent in the world and include all our names in the "TO" line.*

*Jon disagrees with this. He says he WILL read the query with lots of agent's names in the TO line. He says the value is in the query itself and he's not as picky as I am about gang submissions. His number 1 is my number 2. He deletes attachments immediately and does not read them. Nor do I.

So, even in our little world, there are many ways to do things. Go figure.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


Jon and I were out the door before 7 AM this morning to take our traditional "walk to the polls." It's primary day in PA and ever since we've been self-employed, we've made it a tradition to walk the two miles through the woods and down to the bustling berg of Fogelsville to cast our votes.

It was a perfect morning--after all, it IS Earth Day as well as primary day. The little dirt road behind our neighborhood snakes along a trickling stream and through dense woods. The birds were doing their best to drown out the drone of traffic you begin to hear as you near the Interstate that borders Fogelsville. At the end of the dirt road is a small farm pond surrounded by wetlands. We often see a Great Blue Heron and kingfisher feeding there and ducks and geese stop by frequently for a brief hiatus. We did see the kingfisher as well as red winged blackbirds, woodpeckers, robins and assorted sparrows, finches, juncos, crows and vultures. We saw a few cars and a pedestrian or two as we finished our walk to the Fogelsville Fire Company, our district's polling place.

In "the old days" we used to vote in the Fire Company garage, right there with the fire trucks. That was most cool and very exciting. Today, we vote upstairs in the big room where they serve banquets and have chicken and waffle (yes, that's right) dinners. (Note: It shocked us no end when we moved here from the West many years ago. "Chicken and waffles?" we cried. "Ugh." But our 1-year-old son taught us to shut up and eat. He loved the stuff.)

We signed in, got our "voting cards" and cast our ballots using the new electronic machines. It doesn't take long at all to vote in Fogelsville. We were back home in about an hour after we left, refreshed by the exercise and the process of voting.

Now, back to the queries, chapters and manuscripts.

Friday, April 11, 2008


It's official. "Our" author Patrice Sarath has just launched her gorgeous new website!

Patrice's novel, to be published by Ace Books in July, is Gordath Wood, a contemporary fantasy adventure about a girl, a horse, and a mysterious place in the woods where time gets wrinkled.

If you're intrigued, go to Patrice's site (www.patricesarath.com) and read the first three chapters. You'll also find Patrice's blog and other information about the life of a sci-fi/fantasy writer.

The site is gorgeous.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008


I really enjoy reading Sid Leavitt's "Readers and Writers Blog."

Leavitt has created a virtual coffee house for writers to post their work, read others' work and catch up on publishing news. His current post on writing leads is priceless.

Saturday, April 5, 2008


Just discovered an intriguing blog here.

"Literary Rejections on Display" is a smart and sassy look at the uphill climb writers face. Take a look!

Friday, April 4, 2008


I've blogged on the romance/agenting business before--it still works. Agenting involves unrequited (and requited) love, passion, rejection, abandonment and loss--and bliss. Bliss comes in many forms. When we started our literary agency, we thought we were pretty smart. After all, between us, we have over 30 years in various aspects of the publishing business. We are avid readers. We know the difference between good books and bad. How hard could it be to read queries, chapters, and manuscripts; find the "flowers"; pitch them to editors; sell them?

We were blissfully ignorant of just how hard it really is. We were in love with the work--success would follow!

We blissfully read the incoming material, falling in love too fast. Saying, "Yes! Send us the partial.....Sure, send us the manuscript!" Sometimes we even said, "Let's do it! Let's work together." We fell in love, in some cases too easily.

The reality of this romance is that it's a tough business, a business about SELLING. We may love a book, but if we can't find the right editor, we're all dead in the water.

But, we're learning. We know that the editors have to be totally convinced that our book can make a good showing or they won't take it on. Each house has its own formula for determining that, and it's up to us to learn those formulas and to learn what each editor wants. The result is that, like a disappointed lover, we aren't nearly as much fun as we used to be. Like you, we get rejected frequently by editors and it's awful. To prevent that, our goal is to become much more picky about what we take on and much more educated about who takes what at the publishing houses.

We are saying "yes," to authors very infrequently. And we're taking on new clients very slowly. Our mantra is, "It's better to reject a query than to reject a partial. It's better to reject a partial than to reject a manuscript. And, if we're rejecting manuscripts, we need to rethink our strategy."

So, what's the upshot of this romance? You need to work harder to write books that editors will want. We need to stop wasting your time and to bring on only those books we KNOW we can sell. After that? BLISS.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


Before I launched my own book publicity firm and then this new literary agency, I spent over 13 years at Rodale where good health, "healthy living," exercise and the "organic lifestyle" was what our company stood for. More important, it's what most of us employed there really believed. I learned so much in those 13 years, things that continue to impact me every day. Rodale in the 80s was an Eden, at least for me, a former stay-at-home mom and freelance writer.

I was hired as "publicity assistant" for the book division. My first day my wonderful boss, the publicity director, showed me my desk and my cubicle. She took me around the company and introduced me to the marketing, sales and editorial people I'd be working with. She showed me where to get coffee, where to eat (company subsidized) healthy lunches and where people exercised. She even introduced me to the CEO himself, Bob Rodale. Then she took me back to my cubicle where I stood, dumbstruck for a few moments. People get PAID to do this I thought?

For the next 13 years I learned all about the world of book publishing. I took Dave Barry on his first book tour. In a stretch limo I picked up James Michener and his wife at the Newark Airport and accompanied them to "Good Morning America." I planned fine dinners at places like The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Texas, I drank fine wine, I spent time in green rooms, I media-coached and I travelled all over the country, meeting authors, producers, editors and sales people. It was my version of graduate school.

The company valued its employees and whenever possible I took advantage of the corporate gym, taking aerobic and yoga classes and enrolling in the "Beginner Running" class given by corporate running coach, Budd Coates. Coates, an elite runner, gave all employees the opportunity to take his running course beginning in April and ending with a corporate 5-K run in New York's Central Park in July. I took the course. I learned to run. I ran my first 5-K thanks to Budd.

So, my natural tendency to believe that we are responsible for our own health was honed at Rodale. I still believe it. I eat well. I try to exercise sensibly. But sometimes, like last week, I get sick. I'm not a good patient. And last Tuesday, when I was still feeling miserable, I broke down and went to see my doctor. He said I was OK, but that the virus had probably turned into a bacterial infection. He gave me 5 pills. I took them. Now I'm well.

I HATE taking medicine. But, sometimes you just have to do it. At Rodale we practiced and preached "Prevention" as much as possible. But Rodale is not anti-doctors. We used the term "complimentary medicine." Use natural methods first, employ doctors when necessary. I still believe this.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


OK, let's get this straight. No religious connotations in this headline, even though it is Easter Sunday--it's simply the phrase that came to mind as I awoke this morning after a wretched 4 days of upper-respiratory flu, or plague or who knows what. The bug felled me Tuesday night as I sat with my neighborhood book group discussing The Other Boleyn Girl. (Loved it!) As the night progressed and our discussion got juicy, my used Kleenex piled up next to me--to the horror of my book buddies. I just couldn't concentrate. I also couldn't touch the wine which should have been a tip-off.

By the next day I was in fever land with chills and headache and that old "I couldn't give a s--t!" feeling. My dreams of a productive work week flew out the door with the used Kleenex. Each day I would creep down to the computer and look at the email queries waiting for me. I wisely didn't open any, knowing my powers of judgement were severely impaired. I had to beg off a movie night with the girls, forget lunch with Rodale buddies and cancel my trip to NYC to visit editors. I told publicity clients that I'd be back to them "next week," told my kids to stay away and let Jon take care of me. I learned once again what a marvelous thing it is to have a husband who can cook and clean AND do the taxes when you are just too sick to do anything but watch Turner Classic Movies.

And, oh, boy, did I watch movies. I watched "The Shining" from beginning to end. I swear, it's better now than it was in 1980 when it was made. Also watched "The Music Man" which became tedious, although I still love to watch Ron Howard as a 5-year-old. I can't exactly tell you what else I watched because I think I slept through most of them. I did enjoy "Easter Parade" today before I gave myself a stern talking-to and went up to the shower.

When I wasn't sleeping I was reading Crime and Punishment, our book group's selection for April and an advance reading copy of Mrs. Perfect, Jane Porter's forthcoming sequel to Odd Mom Out. I began reading manuscripts today and I think I'll actually do some real work tomorrow!

Friday, March 14, 2008


I've spent several hours this week on the phone and on the computer with a client who is the author of a nonfiction book. She is a brilliant author with an academic background. We worked together on her first book which sold quickly because it was a trade-oriented psychology book geared to a popular audience.

[Note: This client is "grandfathered" in to our agency. We were her publicists first and consented to represent her new book because of a long-standing and productive relationship.]

This new book is tougher because the topic is serious and borders on the academic. She's writing it with a co-author. It's also tougher because the "platform" bar is higher than it was when I sold her first book five years ago. (I wasn't even an agent then--I worked with an agent friend to make the sale.) Today, nonfiction authors looking for a quick sale need to be near-famous, with regular television appearances, regular radio interviews and/or print and public speaking venues. My author(s) have none of these things and their book is going to have to stand on its own merits. In other words, it's got to be perfect, or at least near-perfect to have a chance.

My client has been writing chapters and the formatting is all wrong. I asked her to please change it to meet current standards--double-spaced throughout, author name, title, page number at the top of every page, etc. I should have brought this to her attention earlier, but I didn't, so we've been making the changes this week to bring the formatting into line.

I just reread the proposal and the sample chapters again this morning and am pleased that it is now perfect. I can make new copies with a clear mind and begin my publisher pitches again.

The point of this ramble is this. Book writing has an element of "housekeeping" inherent in the process. That housekeeping includes all the boring stuff: grammar, punctuation, and FORMATTING. Make sure that your manuscript (or partial, or proposal) "house" is in order before you send it to anyone. You don't want to be rejected on the basis of sloppy housekeeping.

Monday, March 10, 2008

ODD MOM OUT Revisited

I finished Jane Porter's book tonight, and gads, I cried. I cried on page 404 when Luke said, "I haven't given up on you, not by a long shot."

Now, I'm not an easy cryer. I started thinking about the books that have made me cry. I must admit, Love Story did it, but that doesn't count because I was pregnant and uber-hormonal at the time. Sophie's Choice, Cold Mountain, Of Mice and Men, and Oh, Pioneers! brought me to tears. But a girly romance? Not in recent memory.

So, what is it about Odd Mom Out that engaged this jaded reader to such a degree? Why does this book work so well in the women's fiction genre? Let's get out the white board and do an analysis. It might help me as an agent and you as a writer of women's fiction:
  1. Porter is a slick, powerful and gifted writer. That is the first and most important reason this book works so well. In her hands you feel safe and you feel pampered. She won't let you down. Her language, word choice, tempo, plotting, and energy work together to weave a fine tale.
  2. The characters are believable. Marta, the odd mom, is plucky, brave, funny and passionate. And, as I mentioned in the previous post, her priorties are in the right place. Her daughter is number one. Marta and her daughter moved back to Seattle from NYC to help Marta's dad and her mother who has Alzheimer's. Marta loves her family and will not betray them. This character development is a vital part of women's fiction. If you don't identify with and like the protagonist, you are not going to like the book. [Readers' Note: I HATE Madame Bovary, but I LOVE that book. It's a classic, for heaven's sake. So what's up with that? Yes, dear reader, Madame Bovary is a first-class bi---. But that novel is not women's fiction. It's a literary masterpiece. We don't like Lady McBeth or Becky Sharpe much either. Again, they're not chick-lit, oops, sorry, women's fiction.]
  3. The plot moves rapidly, yet believably. We follow Marta and her daughter Eva from late summer through the new year. We meet their friends, their enemies. We attend meetings, endure Eva's struggle to be "popular," agonize with Marta's balancing act as mom and career woman. But we are caught up in all the action and we keep turning pages.
  4. The love interest is engaging, hot and lovely. (OK, Porter walks a fine line here, but I don't want to give away the plot.) Luke is a hottie and he is kind, gentle, smart and we can't wait for Marta to give in.
  5. Jane Porter wraps up loose ends, gives us a happy outcome, but doesn't whitewash some very real problems.

That's it. Can you write a book for women that keeps these things in mind? Can you make me cry?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


With spring around the corner, Jon and I have resumed our early morning 2-mile walks. Our conversation on these walks, though we’re both barely awake, often centers on books and our business--What we’re reading. What we’re rejecting. What we’re dreaming about. What’s knocking our socks off. Then we talk about what we’re reading for fun.

Today I monopolized at least one mile telling Jon about Odd Mom Out by Jane Porter. I picked up the advance copy of this book at the Book Expo in New York last year. I’ve never read this author, but I liked the sassy jacket which features a tea kettle and a svelte female in a red dress, fishnet stockings and platform mules. (Plus, like most advance copies at BEA, it was FREE!)

I’ve read up to page 150 and I love this book. It’s not fine literature. It would have been considered “chick-lit” a couple of years ago. Now it’s “women’s fiction.” Ms. Porter knows her way around a story. She writes in the first person with lots of dialogue to move the action ahead. The protagonist, Marta, is compelling, smart, and has her priorities in the right place. I like her. I like her daughter Eva, and the story rings true. I find myself rooting for Marta, hoping she gets the best of the snobby “A-List” moms at Eva’s school. I know there’s a love interest in the wings—I just haven’t gotten there yet. He’s big. He’s handsome. Be still my heart!

So, is that all it takes to get a book published? Likable characters, believable action, good dialogue? Hunky love interest? Perhaps not, but it’s a good start. If you write women’s fiction, read Odd Mom Out. And if you can structure a story as well as Jane Porter, I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Vampires never die--at least not in literature. This genre is still alive and well, especially if the vampire in question is a modern-day girl or guy.

I like vampire books quite a bit and I'm not alone. From Dracula to Lestat to those slayed by Buffy, vampires offer readers a love-hate thrill. So, how does an aspiring horror / fantasy / romance writer compose a vampire book that will rise to the top of the slush pile?

In the words of a fellow-agent, "Good writing trumps all." Give your vampire a unique personality and a job to match. A vampire is just like you and me. He has his good side and his bad side. In the vampire's case, however, his bad side involves, well, drinking human blood and sleeping all day. There are so many ways you can spin this to your advantage. But, dear writer, as you spin your vampire novel, write like an angel.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I met our one of our authors yesterday in New York City. We had an informative and stimulating lunch with her editor. During our conversation I began to get a full appreciation of this author. I understand now how her writer’s journey ended with a contract with a reputable house. After I returned home last night I thought a lot about our meeting and decided that this author’s successes could help other writers. So, here is a list of five of the traits that have helped her to become a published author. I hope they are helpful and I hope other writers will take heed.

1. She treats writing as a business—The editor asked the author how she was doing on book two, due in September. “It will be finished,” said the author. “I’ve put myself on a writing schedule. I write every night.” (After she gets home from work, makes dinner, and helps the kids with their homework. This lady does not let grass grow under her feet.)

2. She is an avid reader—I consider myself a literati. In the company of the author and her editor, I’m a true lightweight. We discussed everything from The Other Boleyn Girl to Emily Bronte and everything in between. The passion the author has for other authors is almost as all-consuming as that she has for her own writing.

3. She is a professional—This also falls under the business category. When she says she’ll have something done, it gets done. The author understands how important it is to follow through.

4. She understands how publishing works—She is not an overnight wonder. She has done her homework, going to writers’ conferences, talking to authors and agents, getting a sense of what it takes to succeed in this business.

5. She is talented—Notice that I put this as number 5. As the author told me, “I know a lot of writers more talented than I am. Trouble is, they just don’t know how to get their work noticed.”

Friday, February 22, 2008


Six inches of snow on the ground this morning with more to come. It seemed like the perfect day to get out a publicity mailing for one of our publisher clients. Our office cat, Wiley, (named after Jon's favorite author, Philip Wylie) is always game for such a project. Though his office skills include shredding and not much else, that does not stop him from engaging in paperwork. Thanks to Wylie, the press materials were folded and tucked into the envelopes which were addressed and sealed, ready for the post office. The book we're promoting concerns allergies--luckily allergies to food, not cats!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

SO CLOSE! The Curse of the Almost-Theres

It's easy to say no thank you to a below-par query, partial or manuscript. The tough part is the "almost theres." I'm talking about the pieces that have great plot lines, or fabulous dialogue or believable, rich characters. Problem is, these "almost theres" don't have all those things. And, sadly, editors won't pay attention until the project is near perfect. Therefore, we can't pay attention either.

Last year, when I was much wetter behind the ears : }, I accepted far too many of these. And, after trying to interest multiple editors in these not-quite-perfect projects, I'm sadder but wiser. It's kind of like love. You fall in love with a man because he's handsome, courteous, funny and nice to your mother. You try not to see that he seldom tips waiters, hates dogs, never helps you do the dishes, and criticizes your friends and your wardrobe. If the warning bells don't go off at some point, you are going to be sorry. Cute goes only so far. Courtesy can be phony. Funny is easy and your mom likes everyone. Bail out now!

I keep reminding myself of this analogy every time I begin to fall in love with a flawed project.
If it's lacking one of the vital components necessary to a fabulous read, I have to say no. It hurts, but I have to say no. What really kills me is that I often run these by Jon, just to be sure. He's much tougher than I am, and I've learned to listen to him.

I fell in love with a query last week, read the partial on Saturday and, sadly, realized it was an "almost there." Sigh.

So, what's an author to do? My suggestions are to read fabulous books in your spare time. Go back and read your book. You'll find many ways you can improve. So improve, already. Rewrite. Hire an editor. Start over. But don't send anything to an agent until you are sure you are THERE, not "almost there."

Saturday, February 16, 2008


It's so easy to tell writers what we DON'T like. But, ugh, that gets boring. So, on this cold February day with a Puccini opera warbling in the background, let us fantasize about the kinds of queries we love to recieve. (OK, there is some stuff here about what we don't like--can't help ourselves.) Understand that our dream queries are specific to US. Not all agents may have the same wish lists, but here are our top 7 features of a winning email query.

  1. Easy to Read: The query is written in a simple font like Times Roman or Arial; type size is 11 or 12.
  2. Everything Important is at the Top: Get to the point! What's your name? What's the name of your book and what's the genre? How many words does it contain?
  3. Unimportant Details are NOT Included: We don't need to know the authors you love to read. At this point, it doesn't matter where you went to school or whether you are married. Don't tell us how impressed you are with the number of books we've sold, cause, well, we just haven't sold that many! Don't tell us how well we will get along. We really don't need to hear how your book is the next Harry Potter or The Road.
  4. The Selling Point Jumps Right Out: We LOVE it when you can tell us why your book is destined for greatness. Yes, this is very hard to do. But take the time now to craft a sentence or two that sums up the essence of your book and makes the project irresistible to us, and eventually to editors.
  5. Information on the Book Supports the Selling Point: Now that we know why your book is the cat's pajamas, give us a bit more information about the main characters and the plot. DO NOT give us a complete synopsis here!
  6. Important Author Details and Marketing Information is Revealed: Now that you've written a drop-dead query, end it up with vital stats on you, your platform, your publishing experience, and how you intend to support the book. Are you in a reader's group? Do you work with an editor? Do you blog? Have you been published in any form? This kind of information is helpful at this point.
  7. End your Query, Please: You've done a fine job. Enough already. We'll get back to you if we want to read some chapters. Don't attach anything, and don't add the synopsis or chapters to the body of the query.

OK, that's it. What we didn't mention is that we adore snail mail queries; Jon actually prefers them. But email queries are just fine, especially if they adhere to our 7 features!--JT & KT

Friday, February 15, 2008


Today's post concerns an ethical and/or systems question. Jon received an email from an author who sent us his partial several months ago. (OK, I admit it; we're behind in our reading.) The author said he was simply checking on the status of the project. Jon responded that, yes, we'd received the partial and that Jon would be getting to it within the next few weeks. The author wrote back saying that he's continued to work on the chapters and now has a "much improved" package. "Can I keep my place in the reading pile if I send you the rewritten package?" he asked.

This is a first for us, and, frankly we're boggled by the request. On the one hand, I can understand why the author wants us to get rid of the old, as-yet-unread package, and to read the new, improved version. On the other hand, it creates a mess on this end. At any given time we're juggling between 30 and 50 partials, (not to mention manuscripts and queries), trying to read them in order of their receipt. If we tell this author to send his new stuff and that we'll save his place in the reading pile, we're suddenly responsible for a lot more work. First, we have to find his chapters and flag that package with a note to ignore--no biggie. The deal-breaker is that in order to save the author's place, we have to keep an eagle eye out for the NEW package which would be troublesome. We get lots of packages each day. When the new package arrives, we need to put it in the place we promised to reserve. Worse, if we let this author do this, we have to let every author do this if they want. It's time to set a precedent. I have nightmares of us flagging and searching and missing and jumbling and panicking and tearing our hair and sobbing into the night! (Well, maybe not sobbing into the night and Jon has no hair to pull anyway, but you get my drift.)

So Jon set a precedent. He told the author that he's welcome to send the new package. Then he told him that, in so doing, he would lose his place in the reading pile. As far as our systems go, this was the sensible answer. But, was it the ethical thing to do? We'd love to hear your comments.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A LONG WAY GONE--The Controversy

I read Ishmael Beah's book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier last month. It's a horrific story about the author's boyhood in Sierra Leone where he lost his family and then was conscripted into a brutal army when he was still a child. You may have read the controversy now surrounding it. Journalists in Australia question Beah's timeline. They say he couldn't have done the things he said because his timing is off. Beah's response is that he was a child and that he stands by the spirit of the work. His editor and publishers back him up.

I wish this whole tempest in a teapot would to away. It's a luminous book, a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Maybe Beah's facts got a little fuzzy regarding months and days. But no one questions the experiences he relates. It's a MEMOIR--not a fact-checked biography. Memoirs are written from the writer's memory and, in my opinion, shouldn't be subject to line-by-line scrutiny.

If I wrote the story of my childhood, it would not agree with how my brother sees it. It's MY experience. There's some of that in the Beah controversy. My fondest hope is that he stands his ground and shuts everyone up when he produces his next book.

Monday, February 11, 2008


We want you. We need you. But there ain’t no way we’re ever gonna love you.
(Sorry, Meatloaf!)

As a former magazine writer, I’ve experienced firsthand the standard “no thank you” rejection letters. It’s a sinking feeling to discover that the work you’ve done is not appreciated by professionals. After several of these rejections, it’s hard to dust yourself off and try again. Even harder, because most editors don’t give you any kind of feedback, so you are left out in the cold, wondering where you’ve gone wrong.

Obviously, I don’t have the stomach for rejection. I’ve moved on from being a freelance writer to being a publishing professional, both a book publicist and a literary agent.

As an agent, I’m on the other end of the rejection pipeline now. (Though I still get my share of “no thank you” comments from the media we pitch for our publicity clients.) I’ve discovered that it’s no more palatable to hand out rejections than it is to get them. So Jon and I struggle to do it with as much class and thoughtfulness as possible.

Like most agents, we’re inundated with queries. We receive upward of 100 email and snailmail queries per week. It’s simply impossible to write a personal note or to detail why we’re passing, but we do think it’s important to respond in some fashion. Jon usually hand writes notes on the hard copies of queries he receives; I respond via email with pretty standard language.

We both wish we could do more, but if we did, we would take valuable time away from reading partials and manuscripts, pitching our editorial contacts, processing manuscripts for mailing and doing everything else necessary for our business. We try to add a personal touch when we must reject partials or (gasp!) manuscripts. We feel it’s the least we can do.

So, I guess this is my mass apology for rejecting your work. I’m sorry. I hate to do it, truly I do. But, at the basis of all this verbiage, we need to sell what we take on. We can’t sell it if we’re not passionate about it. So if you get a rejection from us, that’s why—we may like you, but we’re not in love with you.

Sunday, February 10, 2008


A wonderful surprise arrived in yesterday's mail--the jacket for our first book sale, Gordath Wood by Patrice Sarath. I like what the copywriters used as a subtitle: "Between two worlds...war will be waged."

Here's a bit from the back jacket: "Lynn Romano is a tough woman with a big job. As stable manager for Hunter's Chase, north of New York City, she manages horses that weigh more than a ton, have unpredictable tempers, and are worth more than most people make in a year. Emergencies are what she's paid for. When an earthquake tremor--almost unheard of in this part of the world--spooks the stable's most valuable stallion, Lynn decides to reide him home through Gordath Wood rather than try to load him into a van. They never get there....Lynn stumbles into a hole between worlds and now finds herself in a world at war--a medieval society that doesn't have much use for women...

Intrigued? Look for Gordath Wood on sale on June 24--published by Ace.


Maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s something else, but many of the emailed queries I’ve been reading in the past couple of days have been quite good. I’ve invited a couple of authors to send us partials and am looking forward to what they will send.

I did what no agent should do last month. I fell in love with a query. Why is this a bad idea? Well, for one thing you really can’t get a sense of someone’s mastery of writing in an emailed query. For another, it’s just a QUERY, for God’s sake! But, I fell in love with the plot line and the first few sentences of the first chapter which the author included. So I whisked off a quick, “Please send more” response. Then I forgot about it….for awhile. But wouldn’t you know, the one query I fall in love with is the one whose partial never came. I waited some more and finally, for the first time ever, wrote back to the author and asked where the partial was.

Poor author responded that he/she had had a crisis of confidence and assorted health problems. Author assured me that my interest in his/her book was enough to get him/her moving again. The author told me that the partial will come one of these days.

I hope so. I still can’t get that query out of my mind. Am I out of my mind?

Saturday, February 9, 2008


Spent this morning going through my email queries—some good, some poor, some just not my thing. No matter how many “no thank you’s” I send, I can’t get over the guilty feelings. I know how much work, blood and tears most authors put into their work. I give their queries a minute or two, then make a decision. Most authors I never hear from again, some send me a kind little thank you note.

But last week we received a two-page, hand-written note from a very indignant rejectoid. (Jon often hand-writes his rejection notes on queries that have been mailed, thinking it’s more personal than a boiler-plate rejection note.)

This lady was pissed! How dare we write all over her query? Why did we simply say “No”? Why don’t we go into more detail about why we are rejecting? Why were we so rude?

Whew! That one goes in the “Authors We’re Glad We Don’t Represent” file, right along with the guy who wrote a book, complete with photos, about the adventures of a blow-up doll…eeeww!

Back to the guilt feelings. I guess I’ll never get over feeling bad that I have to turn down so many good efforts. It’s even worse when we request chapters that just don’t live up to the query’s promise. And today, we had to reject 6 manuscripts that we foolishly requested when we were young and optimistic.


Jon and I have been debating the wisdom of writing a blog to document our adventures as book publicists and new literary agents. We've decided to jump into the blog pool in the hopes that we can add some helpful ideas and also benefit from the experience. We can't wait to get started.