Monday, December 6, 2010


Just when I think I've seen everything, I discover, ta-da!! SUPER-QUERY-WRITER-FOR-U!!

Let me back up. I've been on a magnificent roll for the past week--dealing with a huge back-up of emailed queries and getting my responses down to under 4 weeks. (I'm now finishing up my November queries and am so proud of myself.) But, for the past few days I've been noticing an interesting phenomenon. I've been receiving clumps of queries for different books from different authors using different email addresses. HOWEVER, these clumped queries (sometimes as many as 8 0r 10 in a row) are virtually identical in their format, font and type size. Even the writing style of the queries is the same.

Let me explain how this works. I open query #1 for the day sent on November 10. It's a nice book, but not for me. I email my standard rejection and close and discard the rejected query. I open query # 2 from a different author with a different email address. BUT it's the identical format!! Same thing for queries # 4, 5, 6 and so on. Tonight I was really on a roll--I opened 10 of these in a row!

So what's the problem?

It seems to me that some nice authors are getting ripped off. I am assuming that these authors are paying someone to write their queries. And, to be fair, the queries are pretty good. They are brief and to the point. BUT the person writing them is sending them one after another to the same agent. Didn't that person think that it would begin to look a little fishy that all the queries look the same?

The problem is that this is annoying to this agent. I don't like it. I feel like I'm being played and soon, I stopped reading these queries and just rejected them because they were in that same confounded format!

I really don't have a huge problem with authors getting help with their queries. And, if they want to hire a pro to write a query for them, I can't complain. But, whoever is sending these queries is a bonehead. A great business idea, writing queries for a living. But, for heaven's sake, be professional about how you send them out!

Does anyone out there know more about this?

Friday, November 12, 2010


Quiet on the blog front for oh-so-many reasons. Jon and I took a week plus to travel to Florida and check on his mom's property there. Between watching the sunrise over the river, feeding the turtles in the marina, and taking walks on balmy mornings, we oversaw the installation of new carpeting and a kitchen floor and spent hours in Bed, Bath & Beyond buying kitchen necessities like shelf paper, cutting boards and zesters. The home has no Internet access and we found ourselves reading more, going to bed earlier and calming down quite a bit. I can't remember when I've been so relaxed!

We got home in time to vote and now we're both ratcheted up to cope with the real world.

Last weekend we enjoyed attending the Montgomery County Community College Annual Writers Conference in Blue Bell, PA. The keynote speaker Friday night was Michael Chabon, Pulitzer Prize winning author of novels including The Yiddish Policemen's Union and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. I have never heard a more inspirational, powerful, or entertaining speech in my entire life. Chabon, who claims to truly enjoy the Q&A format, asked himself questions, a most clever way to tell us what he wanted to tell us. His comments ranged from the value of an MFA program (for him, it meant everything) to where he gets ideas (the easiest thing about writing--they are everywhere!). I felt myself tearing up during his speech as he talked about the magic and agony of writing. If you ever get the opportunity to hear him, don't pass it up.

I sat on the agent's panel where the audience of writers lined up to ask questions of me and six other agents. The questions don't change too much in my experience, although sometimes they are quite bizarre. There seemed to be much interest in self-publishing and many of the questions related to that: I've self-published a novel--will publishers still be interested? (Yes and no. It depends on you, the topic of the book and how many copies have sold.) I want to write a very nichey book on real estate fraud. Should I self publish? (Yes.) Other questions included one about a cookbook memoir, a very hot topic now, even without star-quality.

The first question to the panel was rather blunt: You all say you get 100s of queries a week--why are you here? It seemed obvious to me that the author was sick and tired of being whined at by busy agents and wanted to know how we had the gall to take time off from reading queries to immerse ourselves in the rich literary stew of the writers conference. One of the agents answered in kind: "You need to know most queries are crap!" The rest of us added that you can only read queries for so many hours a day--you need to take frequent breaks to recharge and get your head on straight. A writers conference gives agents the perfect opportunity to talk shop, hear new ideas and maybe find new clients.

After the agent panal Jon and I and the other agents interviewed authors in the typical writers conference "speed dating" format.

The MCCC Writers Conference is a classy affair, always held in November. I encourage you to think about attending next year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010


Last month Angela responded to our post about self-publishing and asked this perfectly reasonable question about the publicity side of our business.

Angela said...
I agree with Alissa that there is more than one way to get published. I also agree with Julie that the business is really subjective.People often recommend self-published books to me and don't even know the books are self-published. They could care less who the publisher is, they just want to read a good book. That being said, I think it's hard to put a good self-published book out there and be successful without the benefit of editors, readers, proofreaders, a marketing and PR team, and sales team. Kae, do you and Jon do PR for self-published novels? And if so, I'm curious if you have a different strategy for promoting self-published books.

Jon brought this question to my attention this morning and we spent some time discussing it. While we have worked with self-published authors in the past and continue to do so today, these are authors of nonfiction. Publicizing fiction is very difficult, even if the fiction is published by a standard publishing company. Fiction benefits from the distribution, advertising, marketing and sales efforts provided by large companies. But, other than sending out review copies, most publicity efforts for first novels are minimal. When a novelist gains a name and reputation, there is the opportunity for a much wider publicity campaign. That's why you see famous novelists on "Today" and "Oprah."

I would never advise an author to self-publish his or her fiction. (Unless, of course, the author is famous, lectures widely, has a built-in audience of potential buyers, and is already a veteran of countless media interviews.) Without the support a publishing company provides, it's next to impossible to get a fiction book out there in the numbers required to make an impact. Now, I am sure there are exceptions. Perhaps you are a successful self-published novelist or know someone who is. If so, please let us know. I'd love to hear how you did it and so would our readers, I'm sure.

Publicizing self-published non-fiction is a different matter. We've been very successful with our nonfiction self-published authors. Because these authors are experts in their fields, they have the option of selling their books when they do lectures and programs, on their websites, and online. These people have a "platform" (a built-in audience) and can use that audience to promote and sell their books. Typically we will send out review copies, schedule radio and television interviews, set up book signings and pursue online opportunities for our nonfiction authors. Our campaigns for self-published nonfiction authors are the same as for published authors and are limited only by budget constraints.

Bottom line is, publicity for ANY book, published or self-published is tougher than ever as media channels morph and shrink.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


My friend Phyllis is an avid journal-writer. She has been keeping a journal for as long as I've known her and she's saved the day on a number of occasions. What year was it when we bought our house in the country? When did we all take that great trip to Bethany Beach? When did we take that long bicycle ride and get lost in the rain? Who gave us that recipe for "Oven Stew?"

I think of Phyllis as a domestic historian, the keeper of our families' combined memories. But, at the heart of it, Phyllis is not writing for me or for anyone else. She writes for herself and that's the real value of a journal.

But, if you are writing for publication, you are most certainly writing for others. If you still write for your own enjoyment that's fine. Just understand that if your mind is set that way you probably won't find a publisher.

Michael Cunningham, the author of The Hours, explored this topic beautifully in the Sunday Opinion section of October 3rd's New York Times. His article, "Found in Translation," is a must-read for would-be authors. I love his description of the students in his writing class:

"I teach writing, and one of the first questions I ask my students every semester is, who are you writing for? The answer, 9 times out of 10, is that they write for themselves. I tell them that I understand--that I go home every night, make an elaborate cake and eat it all by myself. By which I mean that cakes, and books, are meant to be presented to others. And further, that books (unlike cakes) are deep, elaborate interactions between writers and readers, albeit separated by time and space.

"I remind them, as well, that no one wants to read their stories. There are a lot of other stories out there, and by now, in the 21st centruy, there's been such an accumulation of literature that few of us will live long enough to read all the great stories and novels, never mind the pretty good ones...I should admit that when I was as young as my students are now, I too thought of myself as writing either for myself, for some ghostly ideal reader, or, at my most grandiose moments, for future generations. My work suffered as a result."

I hope you'll take a few minutes to read Cunningham's entire article. And next time you sit down to work on your book, remember your readers. Think about them and how you can best reach them. It's a good exercise and it will make you a better writer.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Our reader "Julie" posted this message here today in reference to our recent post on Bowker's new service for authors. I appreciate the time and effort Julie dedicated to this post and I think she brings up valid points that resonate with many authors and others in the book world. I'm going to attempt to answer and/or comment on some of the points she makes.

Julie: I agree that this sounds like a way for this company to make money. However, as an unpublished author, I find it frustrating that a very small group of literary agents gets to decide which books are shown to publishers.

KT: Yes, Julie, there is a small pool of agents. But not all publishers require that you submit your work through an agent. I'm always lecturing authors to learn about the book publishing industry. One of the things you should investigate is the publishers who accept unagented submissions. You'll find them listed in references such as Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents. You can also find this information on publishers' websites.

Julie: I’ve been sending queries out for at least 12 years. Over that time, I’ve been struck by what a small pool of agents we have and how many of them are based out one city.

KT: Ahem!! Not ALL literary agents are based in Fogelsville!

Julie: I can’t count the number of times that an agent has told me that he or she likes my work but doesn’t know how to market me. I understand why they don’t want to waste time on a writer who may not sell, but I wonder why we all assume that this small group of agents has their finger on the pulse of American readers more than anyone else.

KT: It's not the agents' fingers you should worry about--it's the publishers' fingers or other items they use to judge what Americans and others want to read. Agents are at the mercy of publishers. I just had my heart broken again last week when an editor at a major house emailed me that she'd fallen in love with one of our books and was taking it to the editorial board. She called a week later to report that the board said the author was "too close to the topic." They turned it down. I still don't understand why, but it illustrates that even when an agent is high on a book, and even when an editor shares our enthusiasm, we have to deal with editorial boards at publishers who must SELL, SELL, SELL. (Book publishing, like any other business, MUST make money to survive.) The editors who make these decisions are just human beings like you and me and, as far as I can tell, they make their decisions based mostly on what they've sold in the past. They are not perfect and they make mistakes and they take very few risks these days. An agent must temper his or her own feelings about a book with the reality of the marketplace.

Julie: It reminds me of how GMC and Chrysler keep building gas guzzlers because they think Americans want big cars. (I don’t want a big car. I want a fuel efficient car and I don’t think I’m alone, but I don’t own a car company).

KT: I don't want a big car either, Julie, but those guys are all morons, IMHO. We've all seen what happened to these companies.

Julie: I think that self-publishing to Kindle and other sites will democratize the publishing world and I’ll be interested to see if it alters the kind of books that become popular in the future.

KT: I would agree with you EXCEPT that most self-published books are simply not that good. There, I've said it. Although the book publishing system in place is inefficient, often unfair, unimaginative, and cumbersome, it still provides a structure for separating the wheat from the chaff. (Love that figure of speech--my mom used it all the time, but then she was born in 1911.)

Back to the point--self-published books do not have the benefit of: tough readers and editors who make them sing; proof readers to catch grammatical errors and misspellings; marketing and publicity teams who will get the word out about them; sales forces who will push them out to major retailers, Amazon and others. Is that to say a self-published book will never rise to the standards of The Great Gatsby or The Prince of Tides? No. It could happen. Maybe someday it will. But...don't hold your breath.

Agents and editors, today's "gatekeepers" for mainstream book publishing, are there for a reason. They love books. They've educated themselves about literature and most of them have developed a good instinct for identifying good writing. I believe they still have an important role to play in the publishing world. But time will tell. Self-publishing is here to stay and is a powerful force. Self-publishing and traditional publishing will operate on parallel tracks in the foreseeable future. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out.

What do the rest of you think? Will self-publishing eclipse the traditional model or is it more likely that the two will meet the needs of different kinds of authors and books?

Sunday, September 5, 2010


I've been following a fascinating discussion on the "New Authors Need Marketing Ideas" group at LinkedIn over the past few days. A new author posed a question about which self-publishers were most attractive to traditional publishers. It may not have been right way to pose this question, but it certainly brought opinions out of the woodwork!
The best thing I've gotten out of the discussion thus far is a link to a HuffPost article, "To Self-Publish or Not" by Boyd Morrison. Mr. Morrison gives one of the most complete and well-stated overviews of this topic I've ever read. I strongly recommend it!
Enjoying a quiet Sunday, listening to old jazz music. Happy Labor Day!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


brev-i-ty n. 1. Briefness of duration. 2. Concise expression; terseness.
That's today's word, boys and girls, and I'd like you to think of it when you compose a query.
I've spent the last few days (other than a 3-day break at the beach) trying to work through the queries that have built up over the summer. I'm finally putting June to bed and will be done with July soon, I wager. I've rejected many, which is just how these things work.
When Jon and I reject queries that don't interest us, that's not a fault of the query. Many of these are well-written, but the topics just don't grab us. Sometimes we like a query very much, but don't think we can sell the book. In the past few days I've rejected queries about child prostitutes, lots of teenage super heroes, an adult fairy tale, a mislead preacher, short story collections (we don't represent short stories), and four queries sent to me and scads of other agents as listed in the "To" box, which is an automatic turn-off and DELETE. Many of these queries were quite well-written and compelling, just off-topic for me.
But, lately, I've been slogging through l-o-n-g queries, consisting of many paragraphs that require much attention just to get to the point of the thing. I know I've mentioned this before, but it's so important, it's worth another discussion.
It's September first. Autumn is on the way. Time to act like a writer and make a promise that you will remember how many queries agents read each day. Then edit your content to make your query a stand-out. Remember the word of the day: BREVITY!

Thursday, August 19, 2010


I visited the Putnam/Prime Crime editor for our client "B. B. Haywood" (pen name) on Monday in NYC. We talked of many things, including Bowker's new program. Her comment: "Are they going to PAY editors to view the manuscripts?" (I don't think so. I think they are expecting editors and agents to visit the site on their own steam.)
Of course we discussed Haywood's forthcoming second book in the Candy Holliday series, Town in a Lobster Stew. It will be published in February. Here's the new book cover. I'm especially thrilled to see "National Bestselling Series" over the title!

Monday, August 16, 2010


As I took my morning walk on Saturday I was stunned to see a "For Sale" sign on one of my neighbor's homes. This is a beautiful property with a swimming pool, bikes in the driveway, a waterfall and a pergola covered with trumpet vines. A big, happy-looking family has lived there since it was erected 10 years ago and I was surprised to see it up for sale. As I looked at the sign, my gaze ventured up to the roof. There, perched on the perfect rooftop, was not one, but two TURKEY VULTURES! In all my years in this neighborhood, I've never seen these morbid (but necessary) birds anywhere but in the sky or chomping on something dead and stinky by the roadside or in a field. Why did they pick that particular day to roost on that newly listed house?
Talk about a bad omen! I hope these birds don't take up residence there. It would be very bad karma for the open house tour.

The vultures remind me of the publishing news I read last week. It seems that the bibliographic company Bowker, in a thinly-veiled effort to pump up their coffers, now offers authors the ability to submit their manuscripts to publishers through the new Bowker Manuscript Submissions feature. According to Bowker's August 11 press release:

" (BMS) is an Internet-based service that enables authors to be seen by publishers and ensures publishers don't miss the next bestseller. BMS brings authors, publishers and agents together in an efficient online system, where authors present their book proposal to the leading publishers in the industry from one central location and acquisition editors apply e-tools that allow them to sort through them and zero in on the ideas they find most interesting."
Hmmm. I kind of chuckled when I read this. The idea is that agents, after they are done wading through hundreds of queries and tons of partials and manuscripts, will log on to Bowker's website and start the process all over again? Wow! That sounds like a great idea! Not.

And, if I'm interpreting this correctly, editors from leading publishing houses will do the same thing! Why should editors depend on agents to sieve through the slush-pile when the editors now have the ability to do it themselves by logging onto Bowker's "proven model?" I'm sure they will be thrilled to spend their evenings searching for the "next bestseller" on Bowker's "simple, intuitive website." (Oh, I forgot to mention that authors pay $99 for the service.)

I apologize for my sarcasm, but this just seems like a bone-headed idea to me. Am I wrong? Is Bowker really providing an innovative service to frustrated authors, publishers and agents, or are they simply like the vultures on the rooftop, sensing the desperation among these groups and cashing in on this desperation while they can? What do you think? Will you post your work on Bowker's site?

Friday, July 23, 2010


Check out what author Jennifer Hillier has to say about form rejection letters. Food for thought on this midsummer Friday. Kudos Jennifer!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


As a seasoned book publicist who doubles as a literary agent, I sometimes stumble on evolving trends that give me a unique perspective into the publishing business. Here is an example. This afternoon I've been calling chain bookstores in the Los Angeles area trying to set up a signing event for an author who is a publicity client. A few years ago this was a fairly simple process--call the store, tell them when the author would be in town, set up a signing date 6 weeks to 2 months in advance of the event so that the store could order books and announce the event in their newsletter.
Not so easy now. The events managers I spoke to wanted to know what the author's connections were to the bookstore's neighborhood. Could the author provide a 150+ mailing list with LA zip codes? It seems the competition is so fierce for signings in big metropolitan areas like LA that authors have to come equipped with their own fan club--folks who the store can be certain will show up and buy books.
This situation speaks to just how competitive the book business is--from query to book promotion--you've got to be head and shoulders ahead of your brethren if you expect to make it. If you are fortunate enough to snag an agent who is fortunate enough to snag a publisher you are still not home free. Often times the publisher's publicity staff is small and overworked and you will be expected to play a huge part in the publicity program to get attention for your book. Sometimes that means contacting all your Facebook friends and asking them to come to your book signing. You may need to call Aunt Lucy and Uncle Herbert too--authors can't be shrinking violets anymore.
Traditional venues for book reviews and media interviews are shrinking, unfortunately--especially book reviews.

Galley Cat, a fabulous source of book publishing wisdom says, "Space, resources, and freelance budgets are shrinking at traditional book review outlets. But one thing hasn't decreased: the number of incoming galleys."
Check the photo above: Galley Cat says, "You are looking at the July fiction reviews bookshelf of the Philadelphia Inquirer. These are the galleys that the Inquirer is considering for reviews during the month of July. Mind you, this is only the fiction section; the nonfiction section has a cabinet with just as many galleys waiting for review. This is only for the month of July, and these are the survivors after a severe winnowing down of all the galleys the newspaper received for this month." [Note: Yen Cheong, Viking/Penguin assistant director of publicity and author of the excellent "Book Publicity Blog," is collecting photos of book reviewers' "to be read" piles.]
Sobering, huh? But this is important information for any aspiring author. You need to know that publishing a book is a mammoth achievement. If you want to capitalize on that achievement, you need to do everything in your power to become a publicity-oriented author. Write a blog, give speeches, visit schools, keep yourself informed by reading everything you can get your hands on. Books are still being published, books are still being reviewed and authors are still being interviewed. It's just much harder in this brave new world.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


An Open Response to Redleg

"You may well have passed on the next Henry Darger," said Redleg in response to yesterday's post.

Jon immediately knew who Henry Darger was; I did not and did some Googling to find out. Darger was a self-taught artist who lived in relative isolation and plastered the walls of his apartment with wild and beautiful, if controversial, art. The amazing works were discovered after Darger's death.

We get very cocky about our wired world and tend to discount any would-be authors who cannot or will not keep up with the current technology. Perhaps we do it at risk of passing over a literary Darger. I appreciate Redleg's take on this and will keep it in mind.

However, I don't think the call I received was a budding Darger. Sometimes people are just ill-informed and even lazy. We can't take the time required to tease them out of their ignorance and teach them how to write. There are ample resources available for ANYONE to learn this business. All it takes is some initiative.

I'm sure there are brilliant writers out there toiling in isolation and we and the entire publishing world will never hear about them because they don't use the Internet and they don't immerse themselves in the "proper" way to secure an agent and publisher. Like Darger, they pursue their craft out of passion, not in order to be published. We can hope that these writers will be discovered by someone who recognizes their talent. If not, their work may simply die when they do.

Thanks, Redleg, for reminding us that this work is not all slick and digitized. Fine writing is fine writing, no matter how it's done.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


It's been hotter than blue blazes here in beautiful Pennsylvania. Humid too. This extreme weather causes people to act strangely sometimes, even if they don't live here. Last week, as I was trying to finish up the revised manuscript of a new client, the phone rang.

"Kae Tienstra."

"Is this Kate Ienster?"

"Yes, this is Kae."

"OK, what do you do?"

"I'm an agent and a book publicist (now I'm getting antsy). How can I help you?"

"Do you publish books?"

(Really getting steamed--looking longingly at my most excellent manuscript.) "We don't publish books. We are agents. We are publicists."

"Do you take women's fiction?"


"Like I have this book I'm working on, but I don't know where I should send it."

(Inner monster has arisen--fangs are now unsheathed.) "You need to go to the library and read The Writers Market 2010. You need to go online and learn about the industry."

"Learn about what?"

(Monster salivating now, making low moans, putting claw over phone and making obscene gestures to Jon. Now, taking deep yoga cleansing breath...) "You need to educate yourself about the industry. Do you ever go online."

"Online? What do you mean?"

(Now monster is being tempered by good fairy on right shoulder. Be kind!)

"Do you have a computer?"


(Monster is now weeping slightly and glaring at good fairy.)

"You need to learn about computers. You need to learn about publishing. Most publishers today want electronic copies of everything."

"What is an electronic copy?"

(Monster in a pool of tears.)

"Go to the library. Learn about publishing. Learn about computers. Write your book. Then send me a query."

(Monster goes up in puff of smoke.)

"What's a query?"

(Good fairy explains query and quietly finishes conversation.)

Sigh. Happy summer all you informed writers!

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Seven things we've done since our last post:

  • Went to BEA

  • Spent a week in the Great Northwest

  • Went to a clown party in Seattle with Patch Adams (really!)

  • Visited a ranch near the Cascade Mountains where kids with addiction problems work with horses

  • Spent time visiting awesome tide pools on Oregon coast with son Joel--pink starfish

  • Attended Robert's "graduation" from pre-K (believe it or not)

  • Took on a cool new memoir (more about this later)

  • Continued to read queries, partials, manuscripts--terribly behind again, but working to get caught up!

Something we've NOT done:

  • Posted new blog entries

Stay tuned. We're back.

Monday, May 24, 2010


I've whined a lot on these pages about how sad it makes Jon and me to turn down well-written, deftly plotted books, not because they are lacking something, but because we just can't sell them. It's one of the most difficult aspects of this business.

But the book world is being turned on its head, and many authors are using this to their advantage. Instead of going through the "traditional" publishing channels of agents and mainstream publishers, some authors are choosing one of the many self-publishing routes. One of these books has come to our attention this week, and I want to mention it here.

I reluctantly turned down a manuscript entitled A Place to Die by Dorothy James. I just loved how Dorothy set the scene for this murder mystery that takes place in an upscale Vienna nursing home. In my opinion, this book had the makings of a best-seller--quirky characters, romantic setting in the Vienna Woods, marital discord and sexual misbehavior. But the editors I contacted were not moved to buy. Some didn't like the European setting, others found it too long and involved. After working for several months, I decided that I'd have to let it go.

Dorothy just emailed me to tell me that she's self-published A Place to Die. In her words, "The fact that you genuinely liked it -- I was always convinced of that -- helped me not to give up altogether on the idea, and I finally decided to self-publish -- something that more and more people are doing. I do not know how this will turn out, but I am giving it a go, and I now have a very nice looking book -- whether I can sell it remains to be seen! If you have a moment, I would be very pleased if you could look at the web site."

I did look at the site and it's quite striking. I hope this works for Dorothy. She's a talented writer with entertaining stories to tell.

The point here is that as literary agents, Jon and I work very hard to find books we think we can sell to traditional publishers. Sometimes we can; sometimes we can't. But today there are other options for authors who cannot find representation or whose books are not being picked up by publishers--self publishing is one.

Is self-publishing a threat to traditional publishing? I don't think that's the right question to ask. I believe that the traditional model of book publishing will be with us for a long time. But it's changing too, and the self-publishing / e-publishing /traditional publishing worlds will meld, morph and separate many times within the next few years. No matter what form it takes, the important thing is the story and the story will always be with us in one form or another.

It's Book Expo week in NYC. I'll be there on Wednesday and then off for a week in the Northwest with a client. Jon will go to Book Expo on Thursday. Have a great work week everyone!

Monday, May 10, 2010


This post dedicated to Norton, 8-20-1995--5-6-2010

We seemed to touch a chord with readers with our last post on the writing process. We received several thoughtful responses, some of which we'll feature here.

Jon and I just registered for BEA (Book Expo America) which takes place this year from May 25 through 27. BEA, like book publishing itself, is in a state of flux--it ain't the show it used to be. But we'll go because we have to go. We need to see it, feel it, and get a sense of the publishing vibe outside our Fogelsville office. It's still a great opportunity to meet with non-New York City publishers and we always run into folks we don't see often enough. I'm going on Wednesday, Jon on Thursday, taking advantage of the one-day option provided by BEA this year.

I'll leave BEA Wednesday afternoon and head over to Newark International Airport to take a flight out to the Northwest. One of our authors has been invited to a celebrity birthday party and she invited me to join her. Bonus is, I'll get to visit with our middle son Joel and his wife in Portland, OR. Jon will hold down the fort in my absence.

Busy morning with lots of queries and a few exciting possibilities. Now, on to your comments about the writing process.

Here's what Jake Seliger has to say:

NLA: Do you write every day?


NLA: Do you write at the same time every day?

JS: No, although I tend to write in the morning or late evening. Something about the afternoon puts me off.

NLA: How much time do you devote to your craft?

JS: A lot, especially if grad school in English lit counts as time spent on craft.

NLA: How do you stay on track?

JS: With a pair of rails and a great steam engine pulling me. Anyway, when I'm working on first drafts I shoot for a thousand words a day and usually hit 500 – 1,000; most of the time I read what I did the day before first, fix that, and then go on. Once done, I go back through a printout, then make those changes on screen, then give it to friends, then make their changes, then let it sit, then go through it one more time.Then I think "this time will be different," and it usually is, slightly, and then it's not.

April 29, 2010 12:45 PM

Thanks, Jake! I love your spirit, your organization, your attitude and sense of humor.

A sad post script: Chief Office Cat, literary friend and champion shredder, Norton died peacefully last Thursday. He is survived by his brother Wylie. Jon and I miss him mightily.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


I was talking to an author the other day about his writing schedule. This man is a published novelist who hopes to support himself with his fiction one day. His advances and royalties are a nice source of income, but not enough to support him and his family. In order to say afloat and pay the bills, he has to "work" for a living, just like the rest of us. He carves out time to write in the evening, just after dinner and he writes for at least an hour every day.

Maybe you also have to work for a living. Or, perhaps you are fortunate enough to have another source of income that allows you to write full or part-time. Whatever your circumstance, I'm interested in how you structure your writing life. While some authors proclaim that they only write when the muse insists, it seems like many successful authors are more disciplined.

What is your process? Do you write every day? Do you write at the same time every day? How much time do you devote to your craft? How do you stay on track?

I'd like to start a discussion on this topic because it's one we tend to underplay. How do you approach the craft of writing? Please post here and we'll make sure your comments are read by all.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010



The other part of my career, the one I don't talk about much here, is my role as book publicist. As we slowly build our literary agency, it's book publicity that pays the bills. Today I'm paying homage to book publicity and how it's changed.

Every few months I meet three other "freelance" book publicists at a cheap and yummy Chinese restaurant in NYC. We've been doing this for over 15 years--after C left Ballantine, D left Putnam, I left Rodale and ML left show-biz publicity. We talk about the biz, about how we're each doing, about the authors and publishers we service. But mostly we talk about CHANGE. Sometimes we wax nostalgic about the "used-to-be-years" when we could do a whiz-bang author tour that included national television interviews, three or four or more radio and television interviews and at least one print interview and a book signing in each market. We remember when we could sit down with the producers of the BIG shows like "Today" and "Good Morning America" and get at least one interview for our clients per season. Life was good. My friends and I complain that it's hard to get an editor on the phone or pitch a radio producer. "Everything is voicemail and email!"we cry.

Oh, how things have changed. Sitting down with the producer of a national television show? Maybe--if you're the PR director for Random House or the press agent for George Clooney. Author tour? Hardly. It's just not worth it, not when you can do radio-telephone interviews and guest blogging. Book signings? Yes! But these are usually in the author's home town or in markets where he or she is traveling.

Now, there are exceptions. I've been very impressed with what Ree Drummond, "The Pioneer Woman" has been doing. Ree is probably the best blogger in the universe and she wisely parlayed her fabulous cooking-confession-parenting-marriage-lifestyle blog into a colorful cookbook for William Morrow Cookbooks. The girl is a publicist's dream and kudos to Morrow for recognizing that. Morrow put her out on the road on a 27- city tour, including Tulsa, Denver, Phoenix, Little Rock, Philadelphia, Seattle, Portland, Chicago and New York City. She schmoozed with Whoopie Goldberg and the ladies on "The View" and cooked for the hosts of "Good Morning America." I noticed that her "tour" always included book signings and presentations, but was short on interviews. Who needs interviews when you sell hundreds of books at every bookstore / venue you visit?

Ree's is an interesting case because suddenly this woman is a celebrity. It's because of her blog. She attracted a steady stream of readers with her brilliant, useful and colorful posts. When she was named "Blogger of the Year" a few years ago, it was time to become a book author. The entire arc of her career and heady success could be seen as a case study of what book publicity has become.

So when we four publicists who've been in the trenches since the 80s moan about the changes, we need to slap ourselves and get social--social media I mean. It's how things work now.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010



Brian Rush, an alert reader, showed me the error of my ways with yesterday's post. Here's what I said:

"I make the assumption that you all understand that 'on demand' publishers charge the author for their services and the finished books and the price can be high."

And Brian said:

"There is no reason for anyone to 'understand' this, as it is not true. What you are calling 'on-demand publishing' is actually vanity publishing, an entirely different subject. 'On-demand' refers not to a type of marketing arrangement but to a publishing technology which allows books to be printed only when purchased. It is not exclusively used by vanity publishers (the ones that charge authors a fee). It is also used by traditional publishers (so far mostly small ones), and by self-publishing outlets that do NOT charge authors a fee, but instead take a percentage of all sales (which is also what traditional publishers do).If you want to give people advice about self-publishing, I would suggest learning a little more about the subject. I pretty much stopped reading at the point I just quoted above."

Brian is correct, harsh, but correct. Mystery Writer used the term "on demand" and I heard "vanity." I believe that's what she was talking about. But we're not sure. If you're reading this, Mystery Writer, could you get back to us with more details?

Here's a good definition of Print on Demand from

Print on demand (POD) refers to digital printing technology that allows one or two copies of a book to be printed at a time, dispensing with the expense of warehousing books. It also allows a publisher or author to have books printed only as they are ordered, which means that at the end of the year, a publisher doesn't face costly returns from bookstores. In recent years the quality of print-on-demand books has improved to the point that there often is little difference between them and the average traditional print book. says this about self-publishing:

Self-publishing is the act of publishing your work independently of an established publishing house. In the past writers unable to publish their work through larger presses have gone through vanity presses, but with print-on-demand services, there are more options today for writers interested in self-publishing than before.

Hope this clears things up. Thanks, Brian, for calling us on this.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


On March 19 “Mystery Writer” sent us the following comment:

“I have written a cozy mystery and am trying to get an agent with no luck so far. The ‘On Demand’ publishers are calling me and tell me that most publishers expect authors to publish ‘on demand’ before they will consider them. Is this true? What do other people think?”

It’s an interesting question and one worth discussing. I’d like to know which on demand publishers are saying these things. (I make the assumption that you all understand that “on demand” publishers charge the author for their services and the finished books and the price can be high.) My experience is that self-publishing (the old word for on demand) can work against a new author. Many agents and publishers do not want a book that has already been “out there,” preferring to work with new material. Having said that, the first two non-fiction books I sold had been self-published prior to their sales to big New York houses. Both of these authors were high-profile and media-savvy and their self-published books were selling very well.

So there is no right or wrong answer to this question. I have a feeling though, that many new fiction authors self-publish or go with on demand publishers for the wrong reasons. They’ve worked long and hard to finish their novel only to find that their work has just begun. It’s often harder to land an agent and a publisher than it is to write a book. So authors give in to the “instant gratification” and lure of the on demand publishers. “Hey, kid. Come with us. You’ll have a real book with your name on the cover in no time! You’ll be an AUTHOR!”

The self-publishing option works better for some non-fiction authors who often are building a platform and can sell their books when they travel the country, teach courses or give presentations. Their self-published book can help elevate their status and can attract the attention of agents and publishers who are looking for a non-fiction author with a large following.

But “Mystery Writer” is the author of a fictional work. I’d advise her to concentrate on making her book as good as it can possibly be. Hire an editor if you can or have a trusted literary friend give you feedback. Join a writer’s group and go to writers conferences where pros will often give you good advice. When your work is as good as you can get it, begin working on your query. Investigate blogs and websites to discover what works best in a mystery query. Then try again. After all, if you can’t find an agent you can always take the on demand bus at a later date. What do you all think?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


"It was the end of the world as she knew it,
and Kate Carmichael felt something short of

-- Alissa, First Lines Contest

We took off our agent hats and our publicist hats, put on sunglasses and SPF 15 and took off for Florida earlier this month. Jon's mother owns a little place down there and it was time to check on the property. Her home is in a "backwater" region of Florida with limited email access and, though I am the proud owner of a new HP Netbook, I did not use the great little machine to post a blog entry.

The weather was perfect for winter-weary souls--60s and 70s, most days. (The Floridians say it's "cold.") We spent most of our time cleaning, throwing out items and boxing up others that Mom can use up here. We were able, however to make side trips and enjoy the weather.

We flew back in a tropical rainstorm and arrived in Philly just in time to participate in a massive Nor'easter. "At least it's not snowing," grumbled Jon as he glared through the soaked windshield as we floated down Rt. 95.

Since we've been back we've been working hard to get caught up. We've requested several partials and a manuscript or two. Again, your patience is much appreciated as we plow through the projects.

I made an executive decision while we were gone. From now on I'll request emailed partials and manuscripts. I can load them on a memory stick and read them nicely on the Netbook. Saves paper and shelf space.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


Nicole said...
Everyone jokes about the little devil
and angel on their shoulders;
my problem is that I actually
have them.
[Entrant in "First Line" contest]
Maybe it's because I've been plowing through email queries all morning or maybe it's because snow is coming down again and will probably never, ever stop. Whatever it is, Jon and I had "words" just now about queries. Turns out we have totally differing opinions about how to handle them.
"So," I said, "I'm going to write a blog asking our readers to do the following when they query me:
  1. Put the word count and genre in the subject line of the query.
  2. Write a first paragraph that represents the best writing you've EVER done and sums up your book perfectly.
  3. End up with a few words about your qualifications and then--STOP!

What do you think of that, dear?"

Jon got that look on his face that usually means, are you nuts? or yeah, you are nuts.

"That's taking the wind out of everyone's sails!" he said. "I think writing queries is part of the creative process and by dictating your standards you're ruining the entire experience!"

"But," quoth I, "if they are sending said query to ME, shouldn't they know what my preferences are?"

"Of course all writers should learn how to write a query," he said. "There's an entire Internet out there where they can find out how to do that. Why spoon feed them?"

"It's not spoon feeding. It's giving them valuable information so that they don't bury their good ideas in unnecessary verbiage which ends up pi**sing me off so that I reject them within a few seconds. I'm not saying every agent wants queries delivered this way. I am the agent that likes things delivered this way!"

"I, for one, feel it's an agent's job to go treasure hunting to weed out the wheat from the chaff," said Jon (a bit smugly at that).

"That's because you don't have 300 emails waiting for you at this moment," I sniffed.

(Sigh) "OK. But as for me, I want authors to know that they should write the query the way they want--use their creativity and give it their best shot," he said.

"Fine then. I'll write the blog post with that in mind. For me, put the word count and genre in the subject line, write one powerful paragraph and a bit about yourself and then STOP. And, for Jon, use your best creative ideas."

Queries, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. I think I'll go outside and make a snowman.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


These three lucky people responded that Maggie Tremont is Candy's best friend. They each have won a copy of Town in a Blueberry Jam:

Noelle Nolan
Beth Sorensen
Megan Rebecca

Ladies, please email me at with your snail mail addresses and I'll get your copy in the mail.

Thanks for your enthusiastic responses!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010


The editor at Berkley/Prime Crime called me this afternoon with good news.
Town in a Blueberry Jam is # 35 on the New York Times mass market fiction bestselling extended list!!

To make it better, the book has gone back for a second printing. I checked the Amazon ranking and we're at 3,540. I do believe that this is the little book that could.

Congratulations to Bob and Beth Feeman aka B.B. Haywood and to Berkley/Prime Crime.

I'm sure this kind of thing happens a lot in the big agencies. But for Jon and me this is a red-letter day. Now, don't go running to see the listing in the NYT Book Review list yet. They only list the top 20, so Town in a Blueberry Jam has a way to go to arrive at that coveted spot. But, I think it could happen.

Just had to share. It's a ray of sunshine in a most bitter and snow-filled winter. The ramp we installed at the front door for Jon's 95-year-old mom's transport chair is like a luge run. I have to mince my way around it to avoid breaking my neck and the UPS man is ready to strangle us!

I'm in the mood for another contest to celebrate Blueberry Jam. The first three people who give me the name of Candy Holliday's best friend (in the comments section) will win a brand new copy of Town in a Blueberry Jam.

Monday, February 8, 2010

WILL THE REAL B.B. HAYWOOD STEP FORWARD? An Interview with Bob & Beth Feeman

Today we're celebrating Town in a Blueberry Jam--again!

It's such a great feeling when one of our books becomes a reality. I'm tickled with Berkley/Prime Crime's treatment of Town in a Blueberry Jam, especially the fact that it's so well distributed. Let me know if you see it in your local bookstore?

As promised, I vowed to reveal a surprise about the author, B.B. Haywood. Mr./Ms. Haywood is not one, but two authors--Bob and Beth Feeman. Here's what they have to say about the publication of their new book:

Q: Why do you use a pen name?
A: We get asked this all the time. We knew fairly early on we didn’t want to use our real names. There are a number of reasons why, but the simplest explanation is that our real last name is sometimes difficult for people to remember, and it gets misspelled a lot, so we thought we would create a name that’s easier to remember. Plus, since we’re co-authors, it’s shorter to use a single name rather than two. We hope the name we chose--B.B. Haywood--sticks in people's minds and they'll remember it when they see our future books on the shelf.

Q: Why did you set the book in Maine?
A: We’ve lived in Maine for almost a decade, and it’s a beautiful area of the country. It’s truly iconic in many ways, with the lobsters, lighthouses, vast blueberry barrens, and an amazing rocky coast. People come from all over the country and the world to visit Maine. So it seemed like a setting with a wide appeal. And there’s nothing quite like a New England village for a murder mystery.

Q: How difficult was it to create a mythical town?
A: It was actually surprisingly easy. Very early in the process, we debated whether to use an actual town or a fictional one. Novelist Sarah Graves, for instance, uses the actual town of Eastport, Maine, as the setting for her mystery novels. We wanted to do something different. With a fictional town, we could do whatever we wanted to make it fit the needs of the story. We designed it. We populated it. We molded it any way we wanted. We have, however, borrowed pieces of many actual New England villages in creating our fictional one. It’s based, in part, on Maine villages like Boothbay Harbor and Blue Hill. Even the name is a hybrid of three New England towns: Cape Elizabeth in Maine, Williamstown in Massachusetts, and Hopkinton in New Hampshire. Beth melded the three names together and came up with the name Cape Willington.

Q: How did you settle on the Candy Holliday character? Is she a compilation of people you know or a true "fictional" character?
A: Candy is a completely original character, and we have to say, over the course of writing the first book, and working now on the second one, we’ve both come to really like her. We think of her as a real person, and we care about her a lot. We knew the sort of person we wanted to create—an intelligent, hard-working heroine with a lot of common sense, and a certain amount of bravery. Candy’s very brave at times, which surprises us. The character who really surprises us, though, is Maggie Tremont, Candy’s best friend and our comic relief. Maggie literally came out of nowhere, and says things we never planned for her to say. She just speaks her mind, and we write it down. That’s why we love her. She’s a lot of fun to write.

Q: What's the most challenging aspect to writing this kind of book? Plot? Dialogue? Character development?
A: Believe it or not, the hardest part is continuity. Writing a book is a process stretched over days, weeks, months, and years. It may take days just to write few pages, and weeks to write two or three chapters. So when you’re writing something today, you have to remember what you wrote last week, or last year, and sometimes it can get tricky. Just getting the color of everyone’s eyes right, so it’s consistent throughout the book, can be a problem. Names get spelled different ways. Someone may pick something up in one scene, and you have to remember that person has that item in a future scene. It’s tricky. We have a complete character list now, and we’re trying to note various character traits as we write them so we’ll have them for future reference.

Q: There is another book in the Candy Holliday series. Can you give us a hint about the new book? Have you finished it yet?
A: We’re working on it right now, and it’s actually about two-thirds finished. It’s due to the publisher in March 2010, and will appear in bookstores in February 2011. It’s called TOWN IN A LOBSTER STEW, and involves an award-winning lobster stew recipe with a secret ingredient in it. As the book opens, it’s in the possession of Wilma Mae Wendell, one of Cape Willington’s senior citizens. But when the recipe is stolen from Wilma Mae’s house on the eve of the annual Lobster Stew Cook-off, she asks Candy Holliday to find out who’s behind the theft. What Candy doesn’t know is that there are people in town who want that recipe so bad, they’re willing to kill for it. In this novel, we’ll introduce Candy’s arch nemesis, as well as a number of new characters, and of course we’ll make sure many characters from the first book make a return appearance.

Q: How would you advise other beginning writers?
A: First, don’t give up. It’s tempting at times. We’ve been working at this for two decades, and there are many times we gave up. But the next day we started again. Just work on improving your craft, and write the very best story you can write. It also helps to keep an eye on the shelves in bookstores, so you know what’s currently popular. Mysteries are always popular, which is good for us.

Everyone jokes about the little devil and angel
on their shoulders; my problem is that I actually
have them.--Nicole (First Line Contest)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


Entry from First Line Contest:

"It was the end of the world as she knew it, and Kate Carmichael felt something short of fine."--Alissa

Happy Groundhog Day to all. Here in PA this is a big deal. The sun is creeping over the hill and I think the royal rodent is going to see his shadow. Six more weeks until Spring!

Town in a Blueberry Jam is officially out and has garnered some nice reviews, including one on the Barnes & Noble website and one in Mystery Scene to come. I'm in the process of interviewing author B. B. Haywood now, so check the blog in a few days to find out this author's BIG SECRET.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Jack Roberts (pen name). His real name is Scott Bryan.

Our Random Integer Generator picked number 14, the number of Jack's entry:

"I’m not supposed to get cold. Eliza shrank into the dark corner of her living room. Her immortal body was free from disease and uncomfortable temperatures, but she felt colder every time the horrible sounds continued."

Now, technically, Jack stretched the rules a bit by using not one sentence, but three. But who's counting? The Random Integer Generator rules, and Jack is the winner this time. Here's a bit more about Jack:

"I'm a husband, father of four and full time CAD drafter. On the side I'm striving to become a full time writer. I've written two books. The first one, Annabelle and Roland; The Night Children, is the one I'm trying to find representation for. The other one is the sequel. I'm currently writing a different novel called Myths. Night Children follows the adventures of Annabelle and Roland as they learn to be vampires while surviving the Vampire Lord's attempts to kill them. Jeff Herman's book will be a considerable resource in my search for representation. Again, thank you very much."

Our first "Blogtest" was great fun for us and I hope you all enjoyed it.

And keep reading the blog where we'll feature some of our favorites in the first "First Line" contest!

Friday, January 22, 2010


We've had great response to our "First Lines" contest. (See below.)

If you haven't entered, there is still time. Get your submission in before 2 p.m./Eastern today, Friday, January 22 and you could still be the lucky winner of our pristine copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents.

The winner of our contest will be determined by a random number generator and will be announced tomorrow, January 23.

I'll be highlighting some of the submissions in days, weeks and months to come in this blog because there are some great lines!

Friday, January 15, 2010


Our "First Line Contest" to win a free copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents is steaming right along! We have been having a ball reading your submissions! Such imagination, wit and variety proves the written word is still alive and well.

So continue sending in your fabulous first lines--deadline is next Friday, January 22. And just to inspire you, here's British novelist Mo Hayder's ("the U.K.'s Thomas Harris) favorite first line, featured in an interview posted today on Shelf Awareness

The opening line of Earthly Powers by Anthony Burgess. "It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me."

"Woah," said Ms. Hayder. "Now there's a sentence that does the work of an army in terms of plot and characterization and pacing."

OK, see if you can top that one!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Sourcebooks was kind enough to send us a copy of Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents 2010. Every writer needs this book--at a cover price of $29.99, it will make an invaluable addition to your library. And now, it can be yours for free!!

As I mentioned yesterday, we purchased the book last fall, so.....we have a copy to give away to one of you lucky readers! All you have to do is answer the following question and you will be registered to win the book. (A random number generator will make the final decision.)

Here's the question: Pretend you are the author of the hottest new novel of the year. What is this novel's first line?

So let yourself go--your "novel" can be about anyone or anything. Only one entry can win the book, but the most interesting "first lines" will be featured in this blog. Deadline for submissions is Friday, January 22. Post your entry in our "comments section."

Monday, January 11, 2010


Three books arrived on our front porch this morning--each one important, each one meaningful--for very different reasons.

Book Number I--Shantaram (St. Martin's Griffin / 2003) a novel by Gregory David Roberts. My client/friend Paddy sent it with a note that read: "I agree with Pat Conroy." I was stumped at first until I read the endorsement on the cover: "A novel of the first order, a work of extraordinary art, a thing of exceptional beauty."--Pat Conroy
Paddy told Jon last week that she began reading this book last summer, and just finished it. She said that multiple times during her reading she was stopped cold and forced to ponder the author's words. She said the book was life-changing. said: Roberts is not reluctant to wax poetic; in fact, some of his prose is downright embarrassing. Throughout the novel, however, all 944 pages of it, every single sentence rings true. He is a tough guy with a tender heart, one capable of what is judged criminal behavior, but a basically decent, intelligent man who would never intentionally hurt anyone, especially anyone he knew. He is a magnet for trouble, a soldier of fortune, a picaresque hero: the rascal who lives by his wits in a corrupt society. His story is irresistible. Stay tuned for the prequel and the sequel.

Paddy and I don't always agree on books, but I respect her judgement and look forward to diving into this one. (First though, I have to finish Pat Conroy's South of Broad for reading group next week.)
Book Number II--Town in a Blueberry Jam by B. B. Haywood (Putnam Prime Crime / February 2, 2010). Haywood is our client and this is his first book in the Candy Holliday Murder Mystery series. The advance copy looks great with an illustration of the fictional town of Cape Willington, Main gracing the cover. It's so exciting when we see the fruits of the author's (and to a lesser extent, our) labors in real book form! I highly recommend this book. : }

B. B. sent the following email yesterday: The first review of Town in a Blueberry Jam is up on the Barnes and Noble website and Harriet Klausner, a layman (or laywoman) reviewer who has a huge following on Amazon, gives us five stars!! She calls the book "a charming and amusing Pine Tree State cozy in which Cape Willington is vividly described so that the reader feels they are attending the Blueberry festival." She adds, "The cast is solid as the residents bring out the ambiance of the seaside village. Although the amateur sleuthing is similar in tone to many sub-genre entries, the irony of readers knowing a lot more than the cops or the BFF detectives and the Twitter sight provide a fresh spin to B.B. Haywood's first Candy Holliday whodunit."

Very cool indeed!
Book Number III--Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, & Literary Agents 2010 by Jeff Herman (Sourcebooks / 2009). I've mentioned this book many times in this blog and always recommend it to new writers. It's chock-full of great information about publishers, agents and the whole world of books. In addition to this invaluable information, Jeff Herman always features several excellent articles and other resources for writers. It's a real bargain for the cover price of $29.99. This book was sent to us compliments of Sourcebooks because we are included in the text--page 650 to 653 to be exact. What a nice gesture! Thank you Sourcebooks!

However, we got antsy last fall and bought a copy for our library. Now we have two! That's a win-win because I'd like to give one of these books to one of you readers.
I think we'll have a contest! Stay tuned for more information!