That sound you just heard was the gasp of air I just took as I finally have caught up on Bologna follow-up, as well as all the stuff that didn't get done while I was there. Sheesh, sometimes a week out of the office is just plain brutal. I often wonder why, too, especially during Bologna, when more than 80% of the people I work with are there with me!!!
Lots of exciting things brewing for clients, including an auction in the UK, several new deals, and a whole lot of contracts finally showing up on my desk. Hurray! Of course, now I have to get them off my desk, but that's so much better and in my control than trying to get them on my desk in the first place.
I'm proud to announce, in case there were any doubters, that I did not make the list of 20 Worst Literary Agents. This link's been copied lots of places, and the various comments left by people who were taken in by these scammers just left me sad and bewildered. People, I don't care how desperate you are to get published, if an agent asks for money in order to sell your book, run don't walk! Money should always flow towards the author, period. 'Nuf said.
OK, I'm off to a quiet bench in the park to read some manuscripts in the warm-ish spring sunshine.
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That sound you just heard was the gasp of air I just took as I finally have caught up on Bologna follow-up, as well as all the stuff that didn't get done while I was there. Sheesh, sometimes a week out of the office is just plain brutal. I often wonder why, too, especially during Bologna, when more than 80% of the people I work with are there with me!!!
It's that time of year again, one of the highlights of my job. I'm off to the Bologna Children's Book Fair tomorrow. I've got meetings scheduled with about 60 editors/publishers/subagents from around the world, where I'll do my best to convince each and every one of them that they should buy translation rights to my wonderful clients' titles. By the end of the week, I'll almost certainly be hoarse, exhausted and, believe it or not, actually ready for a light meal (so, yea, I like to overindulge there...with wine and food like that, why wouldn't I???) and an early bedtime.
One of my favorite things about Bologna, actually, is getting to see people face to face, catch up with friends and business acquaintances that I only get to see there. I love the socializing aspect of this business; there are so many wonderful, smart, witty people...and the fact that most of them are multi-lingual (and often overly apologetic about their so-called poor English) reminds me that I really should have put more effort into learning a language or two in college.
There's a million and one things to do before I leave, of course, which has made me a bit of a quivering wreck all week, but after runs to the bank and post office today, I think I'll be as caught up as I can be. There's still that teetering pile of manuscripts I really had hoped to get to this week, though....
However, before I go, I want to announce the official launch of my new website, which was designed by the brilliantly talented theoblack. Yea, yea, I know, a few of my clients still haven't sent me pictures, but I can only pester them so much. I hope you like it!
I realized the other day that I hadn't done a spring book announcement yet, which was rather silly of me. I typed one up and was ready to post it when I stopped and thought it looked darn boring, just a list of titles and all. After a few days of tinkering, and the help of theoblack, I now can do it with jacket art. So, without further ado...
Spy Mice #1: The Black Paw by Heather Vogel Frederick (UK edition) -- Puffin Books
Rx by Tracy Lynn -- Simon Pulse
Cha Cha Chimps by Julia Durango, illustrated by Eleanor Taylor -- Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
ttfn by Lauren Myracle -- Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc. (debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list!)
The Queen of Cool by Cecil Castellucci -- Candlewick Press
Rhymes With Witches by Lauren Myracle (paperback edition) -- Amulet Books, an imprint of Harry N. Abrams, Inc.
On Top of Spaghetti by Paul Brett Johnson -- Scholastic Press
Rocko and Spanky Have Company by Kara and Jenna LaReau -- Harcourt Children's Books
Get thee to a bookstore and buy, buy, buy! Add a Comment
Was rather stunned this weekend to hear of the sudden death of Octavia Butler. Many people reading this blog may be unfamiliar with her brilliant work, and if that's the case, go right now to a bookstore or library and read something, anything (Parable of the Sower is probably my personal favorite). If you want to know more about her and see the impact she had on many, many people, just search the web right now. Or read Scott Westerfeld's eloquent post here.
Darren McGavin also passed away this weekend."Kolchak: The Night Stalker" made a huge impact on me growing up, and I, like many others, could recite every line of dialogue from A Christmas Story (though I certainly couldn't swear like Mr. McGavin!).
Wow, umm, where did January go? And half of February already? Sheesh. I
knew buying a house and selling our apartment would be time consuming,
and work certainly hasn't let up at all (which is a Good Thing), and
then there was the Great Blizzard of '06, but seriously, someone's set
the Wayback Machine on fast-forward or something.
But today is not a day for complaining. Today my agency reached another milestone. With the sale today of jbknowles's novel to Candlewick (yay Jo, you sooo deserved it!), I no longer represent any unsold authors. While I do still have a few clients for whom I've not personally sold something, no one on my list remains without a deal or a publication. Wow.
Hmm, guess I need to find some new unpublished authors to champion. ;^)
Oops, sorry, didn't mean to keep this secret quite so long. Just had to
make sure all the i's were dotted and t's crossed. My newest client is
the wonderful Sara Ryan! Sara's long-awaited new book (probably awaited by no one as much as herself), The Rules for Hearts, will be released in October 2006. I'm a happy camper.
By the way, someone who's more technically savvy than I might be able to sort out why the LJ syndication of Sara's blog is no longer working. Same for John Green's. Anyone? Buehler? Buehler?
What a wonderful weekend! As if spending five days talking with smart,
passionate people about books wasn't enough, there was also so much
fantastic news for my family of clients. Shannon's Newbery Honor
surprise certainly set the tone, but by the time I got on the plane
Tuesday afternoon, I knew I had lots more congratulatory phone calls to
Four of my clients' books were named Best Books for Young Adults: Valiant by Holly Black, Rebel Angels by Libba Bray, Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci, and Stained by Jennifer Richard Jacobson.
Valiant and Boy Proof were also on the list of Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, making them two of only ten books that were on both lists.
Yum! Yuck! A Foldout Book of People Sounds by Julia Durango (co-authored with Linda Sue Park) was named an ALA Notable Book, along with Princess Academy by Shannon Hale.
I'm so proud of all of my wonderful and talented writers...as I've said before, and will say again I'm sure, I am one lucky, lucky guy.
But wait, that's not all! I also signed a new super-secret client...don't worry, I'll tell you when I can. For now, suffice it to say that I'm extremely excited about working with her (yea, yea, now you know it's a she, that narrows it down, right?).
I'm facing mountains of paperwork, the huge pile of mail awaiting me at my p.o. box, and a dozen phone calls to return, but today at least, I'm not complaining one bit!
Managed to snag a computer to make a quick post.
My client, Shannon Hale, received a Newbery Honor for her book PRINCESS ACADEMY! She didn't have my cell phone number, so I learned she'd won along with everyone else, at the press conference. I'm thrilled for her!
Also, my good friend John Green won the Printz Award for his brilliant first novel, LOOKING FOR ALASKA, and I was extremely thrilled as well when both BLACK JUICE by Margo Lanagan and I AM THE MESSENGER by Markus Zusak were named Printz Honor books.
More detailed news once I'm back from San Antonio.
This is just too cool not to do a quickie announcement about: national media coverage for the lovely and talented Libba Bray!
Alas she is on a plane to Miami on her way to a SCBWI conference, so I can't share this with her yet.
Time flies when you're working up a storm (and trying to buy a house,
sell an apartment and other general life stuff). I really didn't mean
to go this long without an update. But honestly, selling 23 books since
September 1 just seemed more important, you know?
I haven't done a "hurray for my clients" post in a while, so, in the spirit of holiday cheer, let's do it!
All of my clients' novels published this year that were eligible (save one which didn't come out until November, so will hopefully get in next year) are nominated for Best Books for Young Adults: BOY PROOF by Cecil Castellucci, STAINED by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, RHYMES WITH WITCHES by Lauren Myracle, VALIANT by Holly Black, FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY by Andrew Auseon, and REBEL ANGELS by Libba Bray. I'll be sitting in the discussions in San Antonio quite nervously next month...sure hope they all make it. Strike that, I'm going to be positive...they're all gonna make it!
BOY PROOF and RHYMES WITH WITCHES are also both nominated for Quick Picks.
STAINED was named a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year.
BOY PROOF was named a Publishers Weekly Flying Start.
REBEL ANGELS, Lauren Myracle's TTFN, and Holly Black's THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES all spent time on the New York Times bestseller list this year.
SKETCHES FROM A SPY TREE by Tracie Vaughn Zimmer, PRINCESS ACADEMY by Shannon Hale (my newest client, hurray!), and FOR YOUR PAWS ONLY (Spy Mice #2) by Heather Vogel Frederick all made the New York Public Library's list of recommended children's books for 2005.
FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY is one of the five finalists for the 2005 Borders Original Voices Award in the intermediate/YA category.
REBEL ANGELS was named an Amazon.com Best Book for Young Adults.
Toni Buzzeo's THE SEA CHEST won the Children's Crown Gallery Award.
Libba Bray's A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY was named YA Book of the Year by the Northern Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association.
Julia Durango's YUM! YUCK! (co-written by Linda Sue Park) was named a best book of the year by Nickelodeon Magazine.
I'm sure I'm forgetting a few things, but still a rather impressive list nonetheless. I'm so proud of my clients! And you know what? I think I can finally even say aloud that I'm pretty darn proud of myself as well. I love what I'm doing, and I'm fortunate to be working with such fantastic writers and artists, and I'm just glad that I can help each and every one of them get their work out into the world. To think just a little more than five years ago I was stuck in that dreaded state of unhappy employment, where every day I woke up and dreaded going to the office. If you'd told me then that this is where I'd be just five years later...well, let's just say I'd have had strong doubts for your sanity.
I'm off to Texas for a week...given the onset of the transit strike, I suppose I picked a good time to get out of town. Hope everyone has a great holiday season!
Happy birthday blackholly!!!
Please everyone stop by and give her your best wishes. She's on tour, in a hotel, without her husband and probably dead tired, and I'm sure it would help.
I've been back from Madison since early Monday morning, but this is the first chance I've had to do anything other than catch up on work and sleep.
I had a great time at my first World Fantasy Convention. I admit I spent much of the first day or so feeling like a complete fish out of water. Everyone seemed to know everyone else, and every where I looked I was seeing authors whose work I've been reading for years. One big reason, I realized, was everyone's name tags simply had their names...no flag or ribbon reading "author," "editor" or "agent;" I was just one with the crowd. Fortunately, both blackholly and suricattus helped by introducing me to many people, which made an enormous difference. By Friday evening I was feeling more at ease, though I still had moments of feeling like a complete newbie.
This was a very different con than anything I've attended professionally. First, for the most part, everyone attending WFC is a professional: many are published authors (and I don't just mean in some small little magazine or newspaper no one's ever heard of), editors, agents, reviewers, etc. There aren't really that many panels, and it often seemed that most attendees considered going to panels kind of odd. There are multiple parties every night, lots of eating, drinking and merriment, and more in-jokes than you can shake a stick at.
I've misplaced my program, on which I'd made some notes, so I'm not going to be able to do the thorough report I'd hoped (which is probably a good thing, as it most likely would have been dreadfully boring). Of the programming I attended, there were two panels I particularly enjoyed. The first was called something like "Fantasy on the Fringe" with Kelly Link, Jeff VanderMeer, Graham Joyce, Patrick O'Leary and Matthew Cheney. The five panelists clearly knew each other pretty well, and they were so comfortable and casual that I felt like I was listening in on a private conversation, even though we were in a pretty crowded room. For those who don't know, all of these writers tend to be given some rather odd labels ("new weird," "slipstream" etc.) which, as they explained, are simply marketing labels used to sell books. Holly pointed out after the panel that for writers who are supposedly writing such weird, complex work, they were incredibly down to earth and accessible. I'm not doing this justice at all, but I found most of the discussion fascinating as the panel explored what being on the fringe meant, both over all and to each of them personally. The other panel I liked was one highlighting the state of fantasy in Australia, and the writers to be watching. (And yes, I was definitely taking notes on which ones might not yet be published in the US and might need a US agent...hey, I was there on business remember!)
One of the things that left the biggest impression on me was the health and breadth of the small press community. There are some amazing publishers out there, including Night Shade Books, Small Beer Press, Prime Books and many others, putting out gorgeous hardcover collector editions and lovely, inexpensive chapbooks, giving genre writers a myriad of opportunities to get their work in front of an audience hungry for it. They get to publish things that, in many cases, mainstream publishers might not touch, and the word of mouth on these editions can be tremendous. I wonder if it would be possible to do this specifically for the children's/YA market, because I love the homegrown feel of it. (And I'd like to take a moment to plug The Rose in Twelve Petals & Other Stories by Theodora Goss, which Holly introduced me to. Goss's writing is simply magical, and I can't wait to read more.)
There were lots of great moments throughout the weekend, but I'll just highlight a few:
Facepalm moment of the weekend: riding in the elevator, I found myself face to face with Garth Nix (whom I'd avoided introducing myself to the previous night, hoping his US editor, Ruth Katcher, would introduce me once she'd arrived at the con, because I was just too nervous to do it myself), who looked over at me and said (come on, you all knows what's coming) "Oh, I've read your blog." Aaagh! Garth Nix reads my blog! Good thing about it was that it totally broke the ice...and it made it even funnier when he said the same thing to Holly, who reacted similarly.
Although Justine Larbalestier and Scott Westerfeld had to cancel at the last minute (poor Scott got some nasty bug, which I'm certain is the parasite world's revenge on him for revealing so many of their nasty secrets in his new book Peeps), Justine had kindly made reservations for dinner at a terrific restaurant, Harvest. Since we had extra seats available, Holly and her hubby theoblack invited Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman and Caroline Stevermer joined us (yea, yea, I know I'm shamelessly name dropping, but really, I was in fanboi heaven, and just desperately trying not to grin too hard). Dinner was as fabulous as Justine had promised, and I just felt lucky to be part of it. The best part was when one of the waitstaff recognized Holly as the author of The Spiderwick Chronicles and proceeded to tell her how much she and her nephew loved the books, as Holly's face glowed redder by the second. It was lovely and sweet, and I wish that I'd had a copy of one of the books for Holly to have signed for her.
A very late night in a hotel suite, chatting with Garth Nix, Justin Ackroyd, Jonathan Strahan, Ellen Datlow, Christopher Schelling, Holly and I, which, in spite of the fact that we really weren't drinking, grew increasingly silly. I'm certain that none of the things that had us in fits of near-hysterical laughing would translate if you hadn't been there, but suffice to say that I will forever carry an image of a mini-temple to Bast in Mesa, Arizona.
Trapped in the dealer room with suricattus, a truly powerful enabler, who tempted me beyond control with shinies. I am now the proud owner of a simply stunning silver and black star sapphire ring in the shape of a dragon's head (I'll try and post a picture later). But was she done? Oh no! I also bought a gorgeous necklace for Libba, which she loved. So, thanks Gilman...but I'm still not going anywhere near another dealer's room with you around!
Getting to meet so many LJ people in person, especially janni (who had thoughtfully made LJ name stickers for everyone), and aynjel (who really does look fab in her tuxedo corset and silk top hat, and who only taunted me once with her ability to play City of Villains).
Hearing the fabulous news that Margo Lanagan won two World Fantasy Awards, one for her collection Black Juice, which I think is absolutely brilliant, and another for the first story from that collection, "Singing My Sister Down." I'd originally heard she might be attending, and I'd so looked forward to meeting her, but alas, she stayed in Australia.
Finally, and best of all, was the opportunity to spend loads of time with Holly, who was using WFC as her mini-break in the middle of another long Spiderwick tour. Although Holly is one of the clients I get to see quite frequently, it's usually quick gatherings in the city, and often business related. We rarely just get to hang out and talk, and the more we did, the luckier I felt to be working with her. You folks in Denver, Houston and Austin, go see her if you can!
I'll definitely be going again next year, especially since it's in Austin, one of my favorite cities. Hopefully next time I won't geek out quite so much when meeting the likes of Gene Wolfe, Peter Straub and Charles deLint. Aww, who am I kidding?Add a Comment
Another fine day at the annual One-on-One conference, which continues
to draw writers from all around the country...and just about every
editor and/or agent they can drag over from NYC.
Easy enough train ride there, and a chance to chat with some editors while waiting for the shuttle bus to the site. Then the mentors breakfast, where I attempted to suck in some sugar and carbs while also catching up with some authors I generally only see at this event, like Sally Keehn and Pam Swallow, and also reading the writing sample from my soon-to-be-met mentee. Got to fanboi David Lubar about his new book, Sleeping Freshman Never Lie (which if you haven't read yet, you simply must...his best book yet), and he in turn pointed some writers my way. Also finally met Nadia Cormier (agentobscura) in person, which was funny, as we'd just been emailing about getting together and meeting. Finally started feeling awake enough to be coherent just in time for my one-on-one session.
Here's where things definitely stopped following the usual path. I'd no sooner sat down with my mentee when he announced that he wasn't quite sure what we should discuss, because he'd just accepted an offer from FSG for the book I was supposed to critique! (Congrats again Eric!) So, instead of doing the usual critique stuff, we talked about the business, contract stuff, what to expect as a first-time novelist, etc. I think it went well, and hopefully he got something useful out of it all.
Next was a panel on taking risks, chaired by Kathy Dawson; the panelists were Linda Pratt, an agent at The Fogelman Agency; Michael Stearns, executive editor at HarperCollins; Sarah Sevier, editor at McElderry Books; and Samantha McFerrin, editor at Harcourt. I found it quite interesting, as they sort of came at things from a lot of different angles, but I think gave the writers there a chance to see how much an editor and/or agent puts him or herself on the line every time they decide to not only acquire something, but even to engage in an editorial relationship with someone. Alas, it seemed some writers there I either spoke to or overheard felt it was all a bit harsh and demoralizing, but I felt it was good dose of reality...and it showed why we agents and editors are both as picky and as passionate as we are.
Lunch then, which was kind of whirlwind of introductions (and the occasional pitch), and then it was time for the Five-on-Five portion of the program. The other mentors at my table were Samantha McFerrin, Karen Chaplin (an editor at Puffin), Linda Oatman High (author), and Robin Friedman (author). I felt I talked too much during this, but no one complained to my face, so maybe it was ok. We talked about a lot of different topics, covering everything from finding writing time to more nuts and bolts issues about submitting and the revision process.
Finally, it was time for Richard Peck's keynote address, and once again, Richard wowed everyone. He's just such an incredibly dynamic speaker, and while I don't necessarily agree with everything he says (I'm the perfect example that video game addiction does not destroy one's intellect or love of reading), I love hearing him say it. Oh how I wish I could do public speaking like that! I also love being in an audience when he speaks and watching people who've never heard him before slowly become awestruck
And then it was time for goodbyes and a shuttle bus to the train station and then a train home. One of my favorite things about Rutgers, year in and year out, is meeting new editors, often whose names I've never even heard before. Usually it's because they're young, new editorial assistants, or newly promoted assistant editors, who may have just started acquiring. This year, however, along with a few that fit that description, I was introduced to Jim Thomas, a senior editor at Random House. Now, let me repeat that: Senior Editor. How in the world is there a senior editor at a major children's publisher, one who's edited some huge books (including Jeanne DuPrau's City of Ember trilogy), and I've never even heard his name before??? And he's a guy too! That makes him stand out even more in this industry. Well, we hit it off great, and in fact have been inspired to launch Guys Drink, a night out for male editors and agents, because...well, frankly, because the women are always doing things like that, and we felt its our turn! (Actually, as an aside, as Jim and I were making a list of all the guys we'd invite, we were somewhat astonished to realize there are quite a few more guys in children's publishing than we'd initially thought.).
I'd heartily recommend this event to any aspiring writer. It's a real chance to find a community, as well as get some good insight into the industry, as well as some real feedback on your work.
Libba's signing at Books of Wonder this Sunday, October 9th, from 12:00 - 2:00pm. She's incredibly nervous, as she's on the bill with Alice Hoffman, so if you can, please come and show her she's just as big a star. And if she has more people in her line than Ms. Hoffman does, well, I for one will grin from ear to ear. I'll also win a bet, so you know, get your butts there!Add a Comment
My agency has now been open for five years. Whoa. Let me take a deep
breath and sort of contemplate exactly what that means. When I first
talked with a friend, another agent, back in August 2000, about going
out on my own, she was encouraging, but also cautious. Basically, she
told me to be prepared for a long, slow buildup, and that five years
would be the magic measurement. At the end of five years, she said, I
would know whether or not I could make it successfully as an agent, as
I'd either be making a living at that point or not. If I was, great; if
not, I would need to seriously consider trying something else.
I am pleased as punch to say I am making a living, and I have no intention of doing anything else.(Clients may all now breath a sigh of relief!) I love what I do, and it's both reassuring and rewarding that I'm actually pretty darn good at it too. What more could I ask for, then to have as a career something I actually love doing and can do well?
I thought it would be fun to do a quick snapshot of where I am today. As of this moment, I have 36 clients, some of whom have been with me almost from the beginning, a few who are brand new. I have sold, on their behalf, 55 novels, 34 picture books, 3 graphic novels, 2 easy readers, and one short story anthology. That's nearly 100 books sold! (And if all goes as planned, there should be five more added to that total by early next week, which would put me over 100.)
During these five years, my clients have received multiple awards, including a Printz Award, a Coretta Scott King Award, and a Macarthur Genius Grant. Three of them have had New York Times bestselling titles. Many of them have appeared on the Best Books for Young Adults lists, as well as Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers and ALA Notables. Two have been named Publishers Weekly Flying Starts.
I've held three client retreats, each of them different, and each of them equally wonderful. I've learned so much each time, and I'm so glad I let myself be talked into what most other agents think is the most insane thing I could possibly do.
I'd like to thank each and every one of my brilliantly talented clients, who trust me to take care of them and their work; the wonderful editors, publishers, art directors, and designers, who have worked with my clients to make their books the best possible; the marketing, publicity and sales folks, who have done all manner of creative things to usher those books out into the world; and the readers, without whom all of this would be pointless.
Here's to many more years...onward and upward!
I know many of you have been salivating for this day, and at last, it's
almost here. Tomorrow, Christopher Paolini's latest epic comes out. Oh
wait, no, that's not important. Tomorrow the fabulous, glamorous and
incredibly talented Libba Bray's new
novel, REBEL ANGELS, goes on sale! Go out, buy as many copies as you
can afford, squirrel one away for yourself and then donate the others
to your favorite reading types. I guarantee it was worth the wait.
(Yea, of course I'm biased, but I also happen to be right!)
But wait, that's not all! Make sure you also save some money for these other terrific books coming from my clients this fall:
FOR YOUR PAWS ONLY (Spy Mice #2) by Heather Vogel Frederick (If you ever loved The Rescuers, this series is for you!)
WORLDS APART by Lindsay Lee Johnson (Growing up in a mental institution in the midwest in the 60s...unusual and moving.)
THE WINTER WITCH illustrated by Robert Bender, text by Clay Bonnyman Evans (A perfect picture book for anyone dealing with a multiple-holiday family.)
DREAM HOP by Julia Durango, illustrated by Jared Lee (Ever had a bad dream you just had to get out of?)
SNOWBABY COULD NOT SLEEP by Kara LaReau, illustrated by Jim Ishikawa (A clever bedtime book featuring creative--and determined--parents!)
ARTHUR SPIDERWICK'S FIELD GUIDE TO THE FANTASTICAL WORLD AROUND YOU by Holly Black, ill. by Tony DiTerlizzi (yea, yea, you've been salivating over this one too, along with the rest of us...big, full color and simply stunning!)
And it's ok if you save a few dollars to buy Scott Westerfeld's latest, PEEPS, which just may be one of the coolest--and most stomach churning--modern vampire novels ever. (Wash your hands. No, seriously.). He's not a client, but I still like him anyway. And besides, he named his book after little chemically enhanced marshmallow theoretically-edible treats, right?
Oh, a belated welcome to two of the latest LJers from my gang:traciezimmer, author of the recently published SECRETS FROM A SPY TREE, and </span>juliadurango, author of the recently published YUM! YUCK! which she co-authored with Linda Sue Park.
Ever since I switched to query only for unsolicited submissions, I've
received a lot of complaints (which are easily ignored), but also a lot
of questions. Ultimately what the questions boil down to is this: how
in the world can you tell anything at all about a writer's work from a
one-page query letter? I often respond in the generic "I know it when I
see it" vein, but I thought I'd see if I could boil it down to some
actual specific things I look for in a query, and why each might tell
me a heck of a lot about a writer and his/her work.
This is really one of the first things that will impact me from a query letter. If I see my name misspelled, typos, bad grammar, or things of that ilk anywhere at all in the letter, I can guarantee I won't be requesting that manuscript. Those kind of mistakes tell me right away that the writer is careless, didn't take the time to proofread, and is most likely a true amateur, someone who isn't passionately pursuing a career as a writer. It takes a few minutes at most to proofread one page; if you can't bother to do that, why would I ever trust that, if I represented your work, you'd get the job done once an editor gave you notes?
2. Publishing experience
The next thing I look for is whether the writer has been previously published by a nationally recognized magazine or publisher, or has received recognizable awards (i.e. SCBWI grants, PEN awards, etc). I don't require that a writer has any of these things, but it will certainly impact the way I think about the rest of the letter. Also, on the flip side, writers who list magazines, publishers, or awards that I've never heard of do them a disservice, as it just generally annoys me, because it doesn't mean anything in the big scheme of things. The thing I'm seeing lately that just makes me guffaw are the number of writers who tell me they've recently been published by PublishAmerica, or any of those vanity press type outlets. Honest, folks, this won't impress me or anyone else. Ever. No really.
3. The Pitch
Ah, here it is, the meat and potatoes portion of our program. Now, I know there are writers who agonize over this, take classes and workshops, buy books galore to learn just how to do it. I know it's not easy, and I'm not expecting most writers to be able to do it perfectly. What I am expecting is that a writer can clearly and concisely, in a paragraph or two, tell me the truth of their work, the guts and underpinnings and what makes it special and worth my time. Note that doesn't mean a meandering summary of the story from beginning to end. That doesn't mean a screenplay-like presentation of the cast. Nor does it mean glowing quotes of undying worship of the story from your friends/family/students/etc. (This last could actually go under professionalism too, since it's a sure sign of a lack thereof.)
What I'm looking for is a compelling reason to request the book. Often it can be something as simple as the period the book is set in, or a character trait that feels fresh to me. Perhaps it's a truly intriguing story line, or that ever-difficult thing to describe, strong voice. There's no one-size-fits-all answer here. But you'd better make your book sound original and distinct and unlike anything else out there.
Ah, that last point. Let's look at that a bit closer. I can't tell you how many times I get queries that say things to the effect of "this is the next (insert blockbuster/award-winning/genre-shaping work here)." Or that use the Hollywood-style pitch of "this is like X meets Y" (i.e "think Star Wars meets Garden State...with cats!"). I don't CARE if that's what the books say to do! It's wrong, it's stupid, and it won't get you anywhere with me or most of the agents I know. The other silly thing I see are writers who list one of my own client's books, and say theirs is just like that, only better. (Do I really need to point out the number of things wrong with this approach?)
4. Life experience.
No, I don't want your complete life history, or even a detailed biography. But, if your story is about a teenager working as a law clerk for a Supreme Court Justice, you sure as shootin' better have the legal expertise to write that story. Yes, I know, anyone can do research, but having that experience to begin with certainly adds a legitmacy to the query letter, don't you think? If you have legit reasons that make you more qualified than anyone else to tell a certain story, than by all means point those out. At the same time, be aware that (sticking with the above example) stating that you're a stay-at-home mom with no high-school degree who has watched every episode of The Practice doesn't count as a reasonable qualification.
That's about it. These are the things I'm looking for as I approach any query letter. You can probably guess that less than 5% of the query letters I receive ever actually lead to my requesting a manuscript. I'm jaded and not easily impressed, and I know what I'm looking for; I don't want to waste anyone's time (especially my own), nor do I want to lead a writer on. If I ask for something, it's because I really do want to see it, and am really hoping that it will blow my socks off.
Just a note to say that any and all interested should stop by the YA Author's Cafe tonight at 8:30pm EST and join a live chat with Libba Bray, whose new book Rebel Angels will be out a week from today, and E. Lockhart, author of The Boyfriend List as well as the forthcoming Fly on the Wall. Come and pepper them both with questions...you know you want to!
And yes, I will be updating this blasted journal soon!
Bleh, ok, sorry, this post is nowhere near as interesting as it was the first two times I wrote it and it disappeared into the electronic ether. But third time's a charm, yes?
Barryfest 05 as my clients have dubbed it (I've tried to come up with ANY other name, but this one seems to have stuck), couldn't really have gone much better. (Well, a few transportation issues aside that is.) I began with a wonderful pre-retreat event at Books Inc., thanks to the fantastic efforts of literaticat and Shannon Mathis, as well as the rest of the fabulous staff at the store. Each of the authors read a bit from their novels (and kudos to all of them for stepping up, since I'd sort of neglected to determine exactly what they were going to be doing at the event other than sign). They had a mic, so even the quiet ones could be heard. It was actually the first time I'd heard several of them read their work aloud, a nice bonus for me. There was a good turnout, a mix of librarians and teen readers, and it was loads of fun. I forgot to bring a camera, of course, but hopefull some pics will turn up eventually.
The next day, after some very brief touristy stuff in Chinatown, we packed into a van to drive to The Headlands Institute, where the last few members of the crew met up with us. We got situated amidst the gorgeous surroundings, and after some brief introductions, we got to it. Lots of great discussion about everything from marketing to motivation, plotting, and insecurity. Once again, I was reminded how lucky I am to have the opportunity to work with such brilliant, talented, and downright fun writers. I love that they are all able to come together, leave egos behind, and do everything they can to learn and teach, to help each other grow. I'd been slightly worried that this year might not work quite as well, as there were only 13 of us (as compared to 19-20 the previous two years), but the intimacy of it allowed probably even more in-depth conversations, and it also ensured that no one could just sit back and not speak, as she would really stand out. Two things I learned this time around: good food makes for happier than usual clients, and next year's retreat needs to be a day longer. I'll see what I can do. (Oh, and a hearty thanks to Nan Sincero and the rest of the staff of the Headlands, who couldn't have been nicer or more helpful. If you ever need a retreat site, consider this place!)
I think if you poke around, you'll find better and more interesting reports on the retreat. Hey, they're the writers, not me! I hope they all--libba_bray, blackholly, cassandraclare, castellucci, jbknowles, lizbraswell, Jennifer Richard Jacobson, Heather Vogel Frederick, Mette Ivie Harrison, Ann Angel, Jane Kurtz, and Cylin Busby Ross--had as much fun as I did.
And for those of you who have grown weary of my "aren't my authors wonderful?" posts, I promise in the next few weeks to tackle some Serious Publishing Issues. Or at least stop crowing for a little while.
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ALA was lots of fun, even if it was very brief for me. Mostly I was
acting as dad and husband to famous author, so I didn't spend much time
at the show itself. I did bump into lots of people in the lobby of the
Fairmont, where we stayed, so it felt like I participated more than I
Made it to the S&S dessert party on Friday night, which was loads of fun. Many of my clients were there, as well as plenty of authors I don't represent (which does not in any way make them less cool). One of the real highlights for me, though, was getting to introduce Franny Billingsley's daughter, Miranda (aka anwariel), to the awesome and oh so gracious John Green, whom she'd been eager to meet. Much drinking and silliness all around, and eventually the exhausted S&S staff had to chase us out of the King Arthur Room. <lj user=blackholly>, castellucci, and Sara Ryan then moved on to the hotel bar, for a rather amusing and somewhat surreal close to the evening, featuring more drinks, a cheese plate and a Big Publishing Executive.
I only got to the floor of the show on Sunday, and frantically ran around trying to see as many people as I could while also exploiting adorable red-headed son for cool swag. Then Libba took him off to the children's museum while I went to the BBYA teen discussion, which was terrific. A really passionate group of teens, quite articulate, with distinct and disparate tastes; it was a real joy to listen to them. (And thanks again, anwariel, for your impassioned defense of Jennifer Jacobson's STAINED!)
Then it was a looong slooooow cab ride back to the hotel, courtesy of the charming Bloomsbury ladies (why the driver went straight down Michigan at rush hour we'll never know, but at least the company was pleasant), and finally dinner with some of my clients at a local family style Italian place. Much laughter ensued, and Cecil captured the heart of my son (and the eternal gratitude of his parents) as she played an endless number of hidden picture games with him. Terry Spencer Hesser emerged from hiding and joined us, as did Julia Durango, and Kara LaReau got to wear her author hat for an evening too, which was great.
And that was it! We spend Monday as a family at the Museum of Science and Industry, which was just plain awesome, and then all collapsed from sheer exhaustion around 8pm. Flying home Tuesday proved a real drag as we had weater induced delays and got home several hours later than planned, but all in all, a very successful trip.
Now I've got loads of work to catch up on, and just two weeks to go until my third annual client retreat in San Francisco. I'm feeling a bit frantic about it all, but I'm sure I'll survive.
Let's see, a few things to cheer about: Cecil was one of three authors named Flying Starts by Publishers Weekly (yay!), I've signed four new clients in the last three weeks (what can I say, when it rains, it pours!), and summer camp starts in just a few more days! Hurray!!
Edited to add: Oh, and the charming and brilliant Andrew Auseon, author of FUNNY LITTLE MONKEY, has joined the blogosphere, and I've syndicated him at andrewauseon.