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.