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BookEnds, LLC, is an innovative and energetic literary agency. We represent a diversity of authors, from spirituality, self-help and business writers to mystery, romance and literary novelists. BookEnds works with authors and publishers to produce the books we all want to see on our shelves.
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1. Kim's #GiveABook Holiday picks

I bought A LOT of books for Christmas gifts this year.  I went crazy with my daughter’s Scholastic club flyers and realized the other day that my kids are getting a combined total of 18 books from us this year, and that’s not even counting the ones I bought for other family members.  Here’s just a few:


For my 6-year-old daughter: 

THE SNOW QUEEN: A POP-UP ADAPTATION OF A CLASSIC FAIRY TALE by Hans Christian Andersen (Author), Yevgeniya Yeretskaya (Illustrator) — Like most girls her age, my daughter is “Frozen”-obsessed.  While the original tale is darker than the Disney version, I think she’ll enjoy seeing where the whole idea came from.  She also LOVES my crusty old mildewy pop-up version of SLEEPING BEAUTY from when I was a kid.  The illustrations in THE SNOW QUEEN are much more beautiful and elaborate and I think she’ll be in awe of it.

For my 9-year-old son:

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC LITTLE KIDS FIRST BIG BOOK OF WHY by Amy Shields — My son is in 3rd grade, but he’s on the Autism Spectrum and doesn’t quite read at grade level.  He is obsessed with the National Geographic joke books (Can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard “Why did the chicken cross the dusty road twice?”  “Because he was a dirty double-crosser!”)  He also loves Science.  It’s his favorite subject.  I think he’ll really enjoy the bright beautiful photos in these books as well as the layout which will be easier for him to read the cool information.  And his aunt has him covered on more joke books!

For my mother: 

THE INDIA FAN by Victoria Holt — I’ve mentioned several times in the past that my mother and grandmother instilled my love of books through their collection of gothic romances by Phyllis Whitney, Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt.  Recently, I asked my mom for what remaining books she had so that I could reread them.  In her search she realized that she’d given away her Victoria Holts while she was downsizing and she sounded somewhat regretful. When I was searching for more of my favorite Phyllis Whitneys to read on my Nook, I was disappointed to see that most of them are not available in ebook and are all out of print.  But when I searched for Victoria Holt, I was thrilled to learn that Sourcebooks Casablanca had reprinted a bunch of them into beautifully packaged trade paperbacks.  I’m buying this one for my mother so that she can reread a favorite too.

--Kim


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2. Jessica A’s 2014 #GiveaBook picks


As many of you know, Penguin Random House has started the #GiveaBook social media campaign to promote books this holiday season.  If you haven’t already heard about it, check out this page (http://randomnotes.randomhouse.com/tis-the-season-give-books-and-give-back/)  for all the details.  You won’t see me doing a video (I didn’t do the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video either—thanks a lot for that nomination, Andrea Laurence!) but you can consider this post my contribution to the campaign.  

Books have always been among my favorite gifts, both to give and receive. I love being given something I might not have found on my own but that was picked out with my tastes in mind. And I love being able to do that for others.  So, for fun, I decided to pick out the books I would gift to everyone at BookEnds.  Here’s what I chose:


For Jessica F:  Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. Kim gave me Jerusalem last Christmas.  I love it and I have a feeling Jessica would enjoy Ottolenghi’s newest cookbook. She’s a pescetarian and she enjoys cooking, so this collection of creative vegetable recipes should hit the spot with her.  

For Kim: As everyone who follows her on Twitter knows, Kim loves nothing more than a tortured, wounded, scarred, maimed, beat-up hero.  Especially in historicals.  And, if I remember correctly, she’s never read Judith Ivory.  She would get Ivory’s Beauty and the Beast retelling, The Beast.  How can you go wrong with a scarred man who pretends to be an Arab pasha in order to seduce his beautiful fiancee under the cover of darkness on a boat?  But I might have to give Kim two books because I don’t think she’s read Mary Jo Putney’s Thunder & Roses either.  I don’t think I could count on my two hands alone the number of times I’ve read and re-read Mary Jo Putney’s Fallen Angels series.  They were among the first romances I ever read and they got me hooked on the genre.  Thunder & Roses is the first in the series and is about an earl who is part Gypsy.  He doesn’t have any physical injuries but he’s angry and bitter and feared by everyone around him.  But a schoolteacher with a spotless reputation is brave enough to ask his help, and is reckless enough to agree when his help comes with the condition that she stay with him for three months, even if it means her reputation is left in shreds.

For Beth:  Beth is a hard one for me.  Our reading interests are very different so I wouldn’t attempt to pick out fiction for her.  But I think every English major of drinking age needs a copy of Tim Federle’s Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.  This witty collection of literary-inspired drink recipes is a must.  The S(ide)carlet Letter is one of my favorites.

For Me: I’m a big believer in giving gifts to myself so I had to include myself on this list. As much as I love my work, sometimes I need to take a step away from romance and women’s fiction and read something completely different.  For some reason I can’t explain, what I choose usually ends up being morbid and, well, gross nonfiction. Two books I’ve been dying to read and might be gifting myself for Christmas are Dr. Mutter’s Marvels by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz and Working Stiff by Dr. Judy Melinek.  The first is an account of Dr. Thomas Mutter’s life as an innovative plastic surgeon and collector of medical oddities.  The second is a memoir of a New York City medical examiner who started working right before 9/11. 

-Jessica Alvarez

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3. That Holly Jolly Feeling

Here's what happens this time of year. I become extra thankful. Actually, this is something that happens regularly throughout the year, but right now I'm blogging about it.

I have been an agent for 15 years. It's a job I've always been proud of and a job that I have never really felt was a job. Sure I get to read for a living and sure I get to be the one who helps a great book find its way into the hands of thousands of others, but one of the unexpected side benefits of my  job is the people. I really, truly adore my clients.

Some of my clients have been with me for nearly 15 years, others for only 15 months and a few even less. No matter how long we've been together, each client has a way of bringing a smile to my face, not just because of the great books they write, but because I really enjoy spending time with them. I love tweeting silly comments or exchanging emails about grandbabies, kids, books you can't miss, travel, recipes, dogs, home repairs, antique hunting, the weather, and anything else you can think of.

My clients have a way of publicly thanking me through the acknowledgements in their books. Some have even dedicated a book to me. Those words mean the world to me and each time I read them I feel like it's my first book all over again. Guaranteed that an acknowledgment or dedication will make me tear up. I wish I had a way to dedicate or acknowledge each of them for how much joy they bring to my days. But truly, every day these people are what give me a holly jolly feeling.

--jhf

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4. Have a Bookish Holiday #GiveaBook


I'm sure I'm not the only one who loves to gift books and loves the gift of a book. Typically everyone on my list is doing to get a book of some kind or another. Sometimes it's a book I've read, loved and want to share and other times it's just something that seems to fit. I'm always looking for new ideas for books for the people on my list and want to share a few that I hope you'll love as well.


Years ago I gave a copy of I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron to my mother-in-law. I'm not going to lie, it was a brave move on my part and she didn't look thrilled when she opened it. No, let me correct that, she looked completely confused. However, I won her over. She agreed that the book was charming and hilarious. Phew.

The Book with No Pictures by BJ Novak is not just adorably fun, but its actually a great family activity. It seems odd I know, but I recommend it for anyone with small children. Kids and adults will find this one hard to resist.

If you haven't seen it, because it's everywhere, Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa) has a new cookbook out. This one is Make It Ahead. I haven't read, or even looked through this one yet, but hands down The Barefoot Contessa is one of my favorite cookbook authors. Nearly every recipe I've made of hers is simply and amazing. If you have a cook on your list, whether she's experienced or a novice, I would recommend any of the many Barefoot Contessa Cookbooks. They are all amazing (I own most of them).

And since many of you know that I'm a Gluten Free cook I think I would be remiss in not sharing one of my favorite Gluten Free cookbooks. I have a number on my cookbook shelf and I tend to use a little from this and a little from that. But if there's one cookbook that looks the most tattered it would probably be Kelli Bronski's Artisanal Gluten Free Cupcakes.  I've been told time and time again that my cupcakes and cakes do not taste gluten free (whatever that means) and I credit this cookbook. It's divine.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is back in the news with the publication of Christopher McCandless's (the protagonist of the story) sister's memoir. I haven't yet read this and I first read Into the Wild a million years ago. But it's a book that sticks with you, haunts you and is an amazing story. It's a great gift for anyone who likes adventure. Honestly, it's a great gift.  

This book came up in a post just a few weeks ago, but since it seems so few people have read or heard of the series I have to mention it again. Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace is a wonderful book for any young reader. I first gifted it to a 7-year-old friend of mine who loved books and she fell in love. Fans of Anne of Green Gables will love it. I know I did.

There are so many other great books. So many that I'm missing. So help me out. I still have some shopping to do and could use some nonfiction, something for the Broadway musical lover, something for a teen girl and, well, maybe something for me.

--jhf

#GiveaBook
Help donate a book to a U.S. child in need this holiday season. Simply post or tweet #GiveaBook on Facebook or Twitter before 12/25 and Penguin Random House will donate up to 25,000 new books to Save the Children – helping build a better future for us all.
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5. Publishing Facts and Figures

A few months ago I was asked to be a guest on Writers2Writers  a local cable show for writers. Just as I thought it was a really fun and different experience. I'm not sure I've ever been on TV as an actual guest. The group I met were all so wonderful that I wished I had been able to hang around longer.

So with only some nervousness I'm passing along my first TV interview:






And if you liked it you should definitely check out their other interviews. There's a lot to learn there.

--jhf

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6. Branding Yourself for Publishing Pros

We talk so much to authors about the importance of branding yourselves. Of picking a genre and sticking with it or at least identifying what you're really strong at and making sure that comes through in your brand. We encourage authors to have a brand and a hook and tell them that they should be able to pitch themselves easily and succinctly when asked. But what about agents and editors? Shouldn't we be required to do the same?

Yes, absolutely. And it drives me crazy that so few can or do.

When anyone asks an agent or editor what they are looking for we should be able to give a few really strong concrete answers.

It drives me crazy when I'm meeting a new editor and looking to find a way to make her stand out and feel special enough to submit to and what she gives me when I ask what she's looking for is the company line. Yes, I know your company publishes contemporary romance and suspense, but what I want to know is what floats your boat personally. If I already have a relationship with Jane, Betsy, and Amy at your publisher than I need to know what you're doing that makes me want to send to you. Do you have a passion for werewolves or sexy lawyers or erotica? Are you confused by historicals or exhausted by suspense? Those are the details that build you as a brand in my mind and make me think of you when I have a sexy lawyer novel and submit to you over Jane, Betsy or Amy.

Agents need to do the same. When we're meeting authors at conferences or mingling at the airport bar we need to be able to tell the author specifically what we're looking for. Sure I represent romance, but my true love is dark, gritty suspense or right now I'm just tired of anything involving a CEO bachelor.

Our brand is going to evolve and change a bit as the market changes. An author's brand might do the same. Sure we're all still looking for romance, but now we miss those CEO bachelors and might want more of them. So updating the brand on your website and through social media is important, but so is making yourself stand out by saying, once in a while, this is exactly what I want on my desk right now.


--jhf

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7. Hold Up, It's the Holidays!


If you're still actively submitting queries and submissions my suggestion is stop. In fact, stop by Thanksgiving. It's exactly what most agents have done when it comes to submitting.


Let's face it, publishing isn't that much different from many other companies. People are busy with holiday parties, shopping and daydreaming about sugar plums (whatever those are). Getting to submissions at the end of the year is either bottom of the priority list or falls somewhere between clean off the desk for the new year and regift the fruitcake. In other words, you don't want to be part of the office cleanup.

So hold off, polish your letter and your manuscript, take some time out to enjoy a festivity (or holiday cocktail) or two and be ready to hit the ground running come January. Maybe January 15 so you give agents some time to clean out everything that's come in while they were busy eating the figgy pudding.

--jhf

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8. The Synopsis: The Final Word (at least for this week)

Unintentionally we had a week devoted to the synopsis, two of the posts came organically from your comments. I love that.

I had no plan to do a Friday post on the synopsis until I saw this comment from yesterday:

This actually exemplifies for me *exactly* why synopsis-writing is frustrating. Not only is there a very wide range of quantity requested ("three to five paragraphs" or "one page" or "three pages" and so on), but there are a number of agents I've queried who in fact specify that all characters *must* be mentioned. I know this is a sure way to clunk-ifying a synopsis. And mine is clunked, because I've seen more guidelines instructing the inclusion of characters than not. Like a lot of neurotic pre-published authors - I obey like a spanked puppy.
Then there is the reworking of the clunker for almost every single query, because of all those varying particulars in submission guidelines. It's a bit like the Biblical genealogies; "who really reads The Begats?" But The Begats are canon.
Unless they're not! 


I think this comment illustrates the feeling most writers have about submitting in general. There are too many rules, too many different requests and when a writer tries to please everyone she comes up with a clunky mess.

My one suggestion to this is write the synopsis that works, that shines and that tells your story in your voice. Forget everyone's peccadilloes and do what works for your book. I'm pretty sure Melissa Cutler never rewrote that synopsis to please a different agent or a different editor. She wrote one synopsis, submitted her project and published her book. Done.

One paragraph or three to five paragraphs is not a synopsis. That's your summary for your query. If someone asks for that you should have it when you wrote the query. So that's easy. As for other preferred page lengths, no one is going to reject your book because your synopsis is longer than a page or longer than two pages. No one. Write a solid three-page synopsis, give or take a page, and you have all you'll need for every submission.

--jhf

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9. Synopsis Tips from an Expert


The majority of my clients view writing a synopsis as a necessary evil.  They don’t like writing them, but they know they have to.  There are one or two who might give away their firstborn children if it meant getting out of writing a synopsis, but there actually is a handful that seem to like writing them.  Then there’s Melissa Cutler. She does workshops on how to write a synopsis and openly declares her love of writing them.  And, I gotta tell you, her love shines through in the synopses she writes.  They’re vibrant and entertaining and they not only maintain the reader’s interest, they make the reader want more.

Melissa was kind enough to share with us her top tips for synopsis writing as well as the synopsis for her most recent release, The Mistletoe Effect, so you can see how a great synopsis is done.  If you’re as inspired to read more as Melissa’s St. Martin’s editor and I were, I’m including some handy-dandy buy links at the end of the post.  I hope you enjoy!

-Jessica Alvarez

Melissa's Top Tips for Synopsis Writing1. Don't include any secondary characters' names if you can help it.2. Don't include backstory in the first few paragraphs.3. Write the synopsis in the same hook-heavy language and tone as a back cover blurb--in your written voice--because that's what your proposal is actually selling: a hook, the tone, and your voice.4. Contrary to what editors and agents say they want, don't "just tell me what the book is about". Only use plot points and backstory as supporting details to explain characters' emotional arcs. This means you're not utilizing very much plot. 


The Mistletoe Effect: Synopsis
Melissa Cutler

Anyone who thinks shotgun weddings disappeared along with the rest of San Antonio’s Wild West history has never stood in Carina Briscoe’s boots. But there she is with a bouquet in hand, in front of a crowd of hundreds, standing next to the bad boy she’s crushed on since her awkward teenage, and all because her overbearing family insists the show must go on after Carina’s sister and her fiancé call it quits and flee the altar.

After years of fighting for their hotel’s success in the competitive market of destination weddings, the Briscoe family is banking on the publicity surrounding their month-long fiftieth anniversary celebration of the hotel’s Mistletoe Effect—a perfect record of divorce-free marriages during the month of December—to secure a coveted spot in Wedding World magazine’s annual “Best of the Best” issue. But when Carina’s superstitious and not-quite-all-there granny decries that if a wedding doesn’t happen, then the Mistletoe Effect will be jinxed, the rest of the family springs into action. They’re determined that nothing, not even a bride and groom’s imploding relationship, will interfere with their company’s future.

Carina has never been good about standing up to her family, and with them making her feel like the fate of the business rests in her hands, she doesn’t see any choice but to agree to the charade. She comforts herself with the fact that it’s only an act, not a real wedding on paper. And besides, maybe playing along will help smooth things out if and when she finally gets the courage to tell her family about her dream to quit her job at the resort and strike out on her own.

Stable manager James Decker doesn’t know much about weddings, but he does know that Best Man duties definitely do not include standing in for the groom—even if said Best Man harbors a secret soft spot for the Maid of Honor, who also happens to be his boss’s daughter. But one look at the panicked expression in Carina’s big brown eyes as her family tries to fake-marry her off to any willing male with a pulse, and he’s powerless to refuse.

Playing bride and groom with Decker at the lavish reception that follows is way more fun than Carina expected. How could she not enjoy a night of dancing and laughing with the sexy cowboy-in-residence whom she’d never wound up the courage to flirt with, much less get her hands on? But when their harmless evening of jinx prevention ends with a scorching, sleepless night in the honeymoon suite, Carina knows she’s in way over her head.

For years, she’s dreamt of putting some breathing room between herself and her family by quitting the family business and leaving the resort to live on her own in the city, but as holiday festivities celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of the Mistletoe Effect go into full swing, she and Decker find themselves swept into even more jinx prevention duties…and sheet-sizzling, sleepless nights.

Haunted by a bad boy past that won’t let him go, Decker has poured years of blood and sweat into building a career-launching resume. Briscoe Ranch Resort was supposed to be a stepping stone to bigger and brighter plans, but embarking on a torrid affair with the daughter of his hotel baron boss just might ruin everything. The trouble is, he can’t keep his hands or his heart away from Carina no matter how much he fights it.

Carina had no idea that falling hard for a cowboy would be just the ticket to bring her out of her shell. She’s never felt so free or strong as when she’s in Decker’s arms or stealing secret kisses from him in the stable, despite daily dealings with her pushy father, her superstitious granny, and the Texas-sized list of duties she has at the resort as Christmas marches closer. Decker brings out the best in her, and before long, she has enough courage to stand up to her pushy family and pursue her own neglected dreams.

Decker started out in his fake marriage with the goal of helping Carina gain the courage to pursue her dream career, just as he was pursuing his, but he never could have imagined that he’d fall in love with her in the process—or that the pursuit of her dreams would be the one thing that would end their relationship after she receives a life-changing career opportunity thousands of miles away from the dream job Decker is all set to start after the holidays. He refuses to be one more person in her life holding her back, and so he doesn’t see any choice but to let her go.

He quits his job at the resort and she quits hers, both determined to support the other’s dreams by letting them go so they can spread their wings and fly. The problem is, as soon as Decker quits, he realizes that his dream has changed. A life with the woman he loves is more important than a career, so he decides to follow Carina to California and turns down his new job. Little does he know that Carina has reached the same conclusion, and has turned down her new job in order to follow Decker. After all, what good is a dream career if you can’t share it with the person you love?

Decker and Carina’s final jinx prevention duty is at the resort’s annual Christmas Eve vow renewal ceremony being held for fifty-years’-worth of couples who’d had December weddings at the resort. Decker comes armed with an engagement ring and a plan for the woman he has fallen head-over-boot heels in love with. But he’s not the only one with a plan up his sleeve to keep the couple together. With a little bit of Christmas magic and a surprise proposal from Carina’s family to bankroll both of Carina and Decker’s dream careers at the resort, this cowboy and his lady love prove that there might just be some truth to the Mistletoe Effect after all…



Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/T4FYVx

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10. Mastering the Synopsis


The title of this post is a little bit of a misnomer because I'm not sure I have the ability to teach you how to master anything. I suspect that only practice can do that.


That being said, I think I can give you some tips on writing a strong synopsis. 

1. Actually write it. A synopsis isn't a rough outline for your eyes only. You will be judged on the synopsis in the same way you are judged on your chapters. So if your synopsis goes something like this you're definitely in trouble:

Margie found a dead body. It was brutal. She cries and carries on, but calls the police. Police come, do their stuff, she's not happy. A few days later or so Margie is back at work when she remembers what the police says. She calls friend. Friend tells her to relax. Yada, yada. After a few days Margie meets a dark and mysterious man who is really creepy....

A synopsis needs to be written with the same skill and effort you put into the entire book. You need to show the editor that you're a hard worker and that at no point will you think anything about your book is a throwaway.

3. Write to the expectations of your genre. In other words, if you are writing a romance, your synopsis should show (notice I said show and not tell) that the reader can expect a romance, romantic tension and probably some romantic scenes. If you're writing a dark mystery than you need to show the darker aspects of the plot as well as how the protagonist will solve the mystery. And the voice should give a feeling of the same darkness your readers will find in the book. If you're writing SF you'll need to show what makes the book SF and not just the general plotting. If you're writing a cozy, show what will appeal to the cozy audience.

4. Make your hook present. Every book has a hook of some sort. That distinguishing factor that makes your book stand out from others in the genre. In a cozy mystery it might be a hat shop, in a romance it might be a Spinster House, in a fantasy it might Steampunk elements or a dystopian world. Whatever it is, you need to make sure you show how this hook factors into the plot and the story as well as showing the plot.

5. Give us everything, but not quite. In other words, a synopsis definitely needs to show us how the book plays out, but we don't need every single tedious thing and every secondary storyline. Stick to the parts that are relevant, but leave some elements open to allow you to edit and play around a bit as you write.

6. Have fun with it. Don't make your synopsis too stiff and formal. Let your voice and your writing shine through. Imagine sitting down to tell someone about your book, or have someone sit down and tell you about your book. What are the important elements and what can the reader discover for herself?

--jhf

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11. The Dreaded Synopsis


I've yet to meet an author who likes the synopsis. The word seems to spark fear and hatred in the hearts of writers. Well get over it.


The synopsis is going to be part of your writing life for as long as you decide to be a writer so it's something you better learn how to do and how to do well. Most agents and editors are going to want a synopsis when they're reviewing materials. It helps them get perspective on your story, allows them to know how the story plays out before they finish reading, and allows you to, potentially, sell on proposal rather than writing the entire book.

As your publishing career grows you might have the opportunity to sell a new book, or the next book in the series, on synopsis only. If you plan on doing that you better understand what makes a good synopsis.

And if that's not enough, your synopsis goes a lot further than just selling your book. It's what will be used to write your cover copy and create your cover. It's what the office will pass around to sales reps and marketing people and possibly some version will even go out as publicity. 

In other words, you better learn how to write a synopsis.

--jhf

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12. Queries: Getting Pickier and Pickier


When I first started out as an agent I was desperate. I'm not going to lie about that. I was sitting in my spare bedroom, turned home office, aka BookEnds headquarters trying to eek out a living by reading query after query (all via snail mail in those days) hoping one or two would be a winner. Needless to say I wasn't very picky. 


It wasn't long before stacks of binder clipped pages lined my walls and filled my one bookshelf. Each shelf had it's own month designating when the materials had arrived. The sad thing was that in about an hour I could get through 5-6 of those proposals. Most of the time I didn't read much beyond the first 10-15 pages. Most of the time I probably knew that from the query letter alone.

As time went on and I started building a client list I got pickier and pickier. I would trust my gut when reading a query and stop requesting things that were outside of my expertise just because they sounded interesting. Still though, there were times when I was asking for things I knew would be clunkers, but I just had to see for myself.

My time is even more precious now. I have a pretty full client list and with email queries I get tons and tons. I barely have time to read the submissions I request and I'm just not adding that many new clients to my list. Therefore I am much stricter with my queries. In fact, I just rejected one. 

In the past I know I would have asked to see more. The idea was really intriguing. But the writing was weak. The query felt unpolished and a little cliche. It didn't grab me in every way. So I passed. 

I'm not alone in this. I would say most agents (except those who are new and building a business) are going to be just as picky as I am. As much as they'd love to read just because it might have potential, they usually don't have the time. Queries are there for a purpose, they are to allow us to weed through what we want to spend our time on and what we don't. They're an introduction not just to the author's plot and characters, but to the author's writing as well and we're going to look at all of that when making our decision.

So write those queries carefully.

--jhf

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13. Happy Thanksgiving!


BookEnds is closed for Thanksgiving. We will be taking this time to enjoy ourselves with family and friends and celebrating all we have to be thankful for in our personal as well as our business lives (which are often intertwined).


We hope only the best for all of you and thank you for continuing to come back to the blog and participate.

--jhf

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14. Characters I am Thankful For

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US so of course I had to come up with a list of things I'm thankful for. Instead of the usual list of my clients, my BookEnds team or all of the blog readers, writers and editors who make me better at my job (see how I slipped that in) I thought I'd put together a list of characters who helped shape the me I am today.

Like anyone in the publishing business I spent most of my childhood with my nose in a book. I went to bed reading, falling asleep with the light on, and spent Saturday mornings curled up under a blanket reading a book from beginning to end. I'd actually hide in the corner so my parents wouldn't notice me and force me to go outside. During those years there were so many characters who shaped me and who I wanted to be like, characters who refuse to leave my head and in many ways have become my role models. People (because that's how I think of them) I still think of today.

Anne Shirley, that tenacious, spunky redhead who wanted to be a writer. I loved Anne of Green Gables and really, really wanted to be her. Well, honestly, I think I wanted to be all of these characters. Anne always said what she believed and despite so many obstacles that would make many sad, Anne was optimistic and confident. She was also determined and wanted to be a writer. Who wouldn't be inspired by that?

Jo March, if you read this blog you'll see Jo's name (or at least Little Women) come up again and again. In some weird way I feel like Jo is a good friend, someone I haven't seen in a while and miss dearly. Jo, like Anne, was spunky, tenacious, brave and determined to be the woman she wanted to be and not the woman everyone thought she should be. It broke my heart when Jo said no to Laurie, but part of me cheered her on. It was a shocking bit of bravery for anyone who dreamed of romance (which I did).

Betsy. I know Betsy has a last name, but I swear I have no idea what it is. Betsy was very similar to Anne and Jo. She wanted to be a writer, she spoke her mind and she stood up for what she believed. Betsy also had a thrilling imagination that often got her and her best friend Tacy, and later Tib, in loads of trouble. It reminded me a lot of me and my own best friend growing up. In the end though Betsy excelled and achieved her dreams. If you're unfamiliar with the Betsy-Tacy series by Maud Hart Lovelace please check it out.

Meg Murry is a little different from my other characters. Meg didn't want to be a writer, she wanted, if I remember correctly, to be a scientist. At least that's what her parents were in A Wrinkle in Time. Meg was one of the bravest characters I have ever known and everything she did she did for the love of her family. She was an adventurer, an explorer and such a cool nerd. Who wouldn't want to be Meg?

I'd love to hear who you're thankful for.

--jhf




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15. Submitting to Agents: What Not to Do

Or maybe this post would be better titled, What to Do Proofread and, if necessary, hire a copyeditor.

I've already been very honest about my shortcomings when it comes to grammar and punctuation so when I come across a query where I can see tons of grammar and punctuation problems I know there are problems.

Your query reflects your manuscript in every way and if its riddled with errors I'm going to be fairly certain your manuscript looks the same. Think of your query as the first page of your manuscript. You wouldn't send the book out until its shiny and perfect. Your query is no different.

--jhf

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16. Knowing Your Brand





I came across this on Pinterest one day and it struck a chord with me because it speaks to a blog post I've been wanting to write for a while.

Before we ever write a book or put ourselves out there as authors, agents and editors we're creating a brand. When we're in any public forum where we present as an author, an agent, an editor or whatever it is we are professionally, we need to think of that brand. 

What does it say about you and your brand if you show up at an appointment in jeans? What about a suit? I think most of us choose something in between. What does it say to you about an agent who shows up to an appointment in jeans or a baseball hat versus the one that wears a suit versus the one who wears a skirt and simple top? 

How we present ourselves is the first impression an agent or editor gets not just about us, but about our books. If you show up to an appointment in a baseball hat and yoga pants I'm going to wonder if you've bothered to polish your book or if you're really serious about your career. And I imagine if I showed up in workout clothes you're going to wonder where my priorities as an agent are.

What I really like about this quote is the part on trademark. It's something I've often thought about, but never put words to. I hear stories all the time about agents who are nasty or harsh or scary or snobby or sweet or funny or charming.... What about authors? Are you kind and thoughtful? What kind of trademark are you presenting to other authors, readers, agents and editors? Are you too busy to stop and chat, are you kind and present even if the conversation is boring you to tears? All of this is part of your Author Brand and all of it needs to be considered beyond just the hook, title and writing.

--jhf

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17. Have We Learned Nothing

Have we learned nothing from the recent news about authors trying to get rights back from their publishers? Authors who signed contracts without an agent, a lawyer or anyone paid to protect the author's rights?

As I'm sure some of you have heard I'm not always that fast on queries or partials. I can be really good at times, but throw in a week off, an influx of queries or clients who need me to read their works and I lose ground fast. Recently I heard from an author whose manuscript I had (for about 4-6 weeks). The author had received a contract from a publisher and, in her words, "didn't need an agent's help."

I'm an agent. Of course I'm going to tell you that you need an agent, but I'm telling you that not because I'm dying to get my 15% of what can often be very little, but because I've seen too many authors make career mistakes because they wanted to save that 15%.

These are the authors who find their books trapped with a publisher because they signed a contract without any sort of rights reversion or out of print clauses. I've seen authors who signed contracts which basically calls anything else they could write in their professional expertise competition. In other words, they can only write the one book they wrote. I've seen authors sign away copyright without even realizing it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I see why you might want to hold on to that 15%, I have a sneaking suspicion that in the long run you're going to end up paying far more by not giving up 15%. If that makes sense.

--jhf

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18. Selfishly, Rudely Running Late....Or Not?

I've always been the type of person who obsesses over being on time. I think in 15 minute increments which means even if I know it will only take me 20 minutes to get somewhere I leave 30 minutes before. I'd always rather, in fact prefer, to be 10 minutes early. If I arrive and the other person is waiting I always feel like I'm late, even if we're both early.

Now I'm not perfect and I think its gotten harder for me to be regularly on time as my life has gotten busier, but I'm still pretty determined to do my best. It's why this article, You're Not Running Late, You're Rude and Selfish  really rang true for me.

The one thing I've always thought about people who are perpetually late is that it's just rude and inconsiderate. Like you, I could have used an extra 20 minutes in the office, or 10 minutes getting ready, but I was on a schedule, a schedule to meet you and I had to get out of there.

Which is why the issue of agent response times has always been a stickler to me. As we say on our website, we work really hard to respond in a timely manner, but our clients have to be our first priority and that sometimes (often) means that submissions and queries get placed on the back burner. Our clients are the people we promise arrival times to and those are the times we need to make (and let's face it, even that doesn't always happen).

Being on time, with submissions, reading for clients, phone calls, and appointments is something I'm always working harder on and beating myself up over. But I'm curious, what do you think about submission response times? Our website reads this:

BookEnds agents do reply to all submissions and queries and hope to do so in a timely manner. Our response time goals are 6 weeks for queries and 12 weeks on requested partials and fulls. Unfortunately, at times circumstances mean we fall behind in our responses. We do try to post status updates through Twitter and Facebook. For updates on where we are with queries and submissions, as well as what we're most actively looking for, please check out our Facebook page:

As you can see we used a lot of disclaimers, but if we're far later than 6 or 12 weeks do you see this as an agent missing an appointment? or do you hope it means that the agent is making all other appointments, especially those you hope to have at some point?

--jhf


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19. Dissecting the Query

I feel like I've written so much on queries over the years that there isn't anything more I could possibly say. In some ways I feel like the subject is old news. I hope you're here to tell me I'm wrong.

For those who don't already know this, agents write queries too. At times we will verbally pitch manuscripts to editors, but even if we call every editor to pitch a new project we still need some sort of cover letter to include when sending the material. Hence, the query.

Just before sitting down to write this post I sent along some thoughts on a query one of my BookEnds team members is working on. We don't always share our queries with each other, but every once in a while we come across a book that's particularly challenging to describe and need the help of everyone else.

While reading the query I had some thoughts or tips on what we all can and need to look at when writing our own queries.


  • Keep it short. Not just the query letter, but your descriptions. Try not to get overly descriptive in your query. If you can cut a word or two you absolutely should. Remember, a query is meant to grab the reader's attention and too many words often loses someone. An example of this would be in a recent query about an apocalypse. The letter writer had said, "a near-future version of our world." My feeling is that an apocalypse in a SF book is likely always a near-future version of our world so that line could be dumped. Short, tight and to the point
  • When in doubt start fresh. Sometimes the biggest struggle we have when writing anything is that we're trying too hard to rewrite. Don't. Instead sit back, think about the story and just start writing. Maybe you'll end up using some of the same material you've already been working on or maybe you've just written the perfect query.
  • Use others, especially those who haven't read your book. In this case I was the perfect sounding board for the query because I really had no idea what the book was about therefore I could look at the query and think about what would entice me to want to read more.

Now, keep your fingers crossed that the query we just finalized grabs editors.

--jhf

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20. Senseless Queries


Recently I had a rash of queries that I couldn't make any sense of. It was so bad that I started to wonder if maybe I hadn't had enough caffeine and it was me and not the authors.


When writing anything--your book, your query, this blog--we sometimes know exactly what we're thinking and what we're going to say and forget that we need to step outside of our own heads to make sure that what we're saying is going to make sense to the reader. In this case, the queries were difficult to follow and I didn't get a good sense of the story.

Let me see if I can give you an example:

Frani Franks and her best friend Frankie have no idea that opening the ice cream shoppe, Ice n' Delicious will lead to a murder that's most definitely not vanilla and that seems related to the cocoa beans they love in their chocolate.

The victim loves to eat pistachio ice cream every day and once came in a stole an entire gallon from the shoppe. But vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and the shoppe's brand new table and chairs are all linked to the mayor of the town and Frani had no idea that her new shoppe could be her last hurrah.

The killer's enthusiasm to eat ice cream leads Frani to the mayor's house where they find that it's more than ice cream that they're after, that the entire town might be in danger because of a giant land development project....


And yes, I do get queries that are this confusing.

If you're struggling to write the query read some back cover copy to see how books do it and then review some of the queries I have on this blog and some of the critiques Janet Reid has done on her blog. Because, honestly, any agent who receives a query like this is going to reject the book simply because we assume the book is just as confusing.

--jhf

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21. Reader Question: When to Say When


This actually came up as a comment on a blog post I wrote about Cutting the Apron Strings.


In the comments the reader asked, "Is there a point where you should give up on querying a book?" 

I think the logical answer to this question is yes, but then I think back to the story I shared about client Shelley Coriell and some of our own submission stories about books we wouldn't give up on. Do you know that I once had a proposal sit on an editor's desk for two years before I got an offer?

There are two answers to this question for me. The first is that you stop querying when you know it's time. People often say, "you'll know" about a lot of different things in life. Usually unpleasant things. Although it's cliche, I do think it's true. We usually know when enough is enough with something. The real struggle is admitting it.

The second answer is when you start querying your next book. The minute you start querying you've put that book away and have started work on the next book. If you haven't, you better. This means you're busy doing two things at once. Sending out queries, and maybe reworking that query letter a few times, and writing the next book. You are NOT rewriting the book you are querying. Once you start querying it's too late for that. If you haven't received an offer by the time the second book is ready to go out it's time to put the first book to rest.

Presumably you've learned a lot from the query process and your own writing so it would be a shame to continue to query the weaker of what are now your two books.

--jhf

**If you have a question for the BookEnds Blog feel free to email us at blog@bookends-inc.com and we'll answer as soon as we can.

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22. Reader Question: On Self-Publishing

Hello! I have a long, rather wordy question for you about self-publishing.

Say I've written a book, polished it up and gotten it as close to publishable as I think possible. Following preliminary letters to agents who would accept my genre, I send the requested portion of the manuscript out to all the agents with all the requested additions (synopsis, cover letter, etc). Perhaps some of them even request the full manuscript afterwards. But say I've done all of that and in the end I'm rejected by all of them, despite comments such as "well-written", "readable", "clearly talented" (things I dearly, dearly hope are honest and not just being said to ease the blow of rejection). I can't resubmit, of course, because that's not how things are done.
Would I be foolish, then, to NOT self-publish that work?

I've got many, many ideas for many different fantasy books, each quite different from the last, and once I've finished and polished up one book, I submit it to several appropriate agencies and move right on to my next idea, writing a brand new piece. I'm certainly not lingering on one book and afraid to move onto the next, so I'm hoping that something will peak the interest of an agent enough in the end to take a chance on me, so I'm wondering, if a book has been rejected and is not likely to be reconsidered, would self-publishing it do future book submissions good?

I've read several of your posts about self-publishing, and what I'd really like is as definitive an answer as I can get about whether it's smart to do it or not, though I am fully aware that every case is different, with varying results. In general, would it help or hinder my efforts?
Thanks for your time, and have a great day!

Kim x



I never think you'd be foolish to self-publish a book. As long as you have a plan and the decision to self-publish fits into your career goals (which, by the way, will be constantly changing). 

There are a ton of different ways to go about building a career in publishing and one of the many ways is by self-publishing. If your true desire is to be traditionally published, but you have that one book that just hasn't made it, I see nothing wrong in testing the market by self-publishing. However, the one thing to keep in mind, is that self-publishing that book may very well make it more difficult to find a traditional publisher for that particular book (not necessarily for anything else though).

So, here are my thoughts to your very specific questions....

Would self-publishing do future submissions good? Not necessarily. If you have absolutely amazing numbers it might push an agent's or editor's hand to read more or even offer if she is on the fence. And of course hopefully your readers will cross-over. But we are talking the need for amazing numbers. Thousands and thousands of sales at a competitive price point before a traditional publisher will really be impressed.

Would it hurt you? I don't think so. Not in today's market. Sure, I suppose there is still the editor that might be turned off, but they are few and far between these days.

So, if you're asking my opinion based upon this question alone, go ahead and self-publish that book. It sounds like you've given it a huge effort and have a very strong belief that it's time to move forward, but you don't want to put this under the bed. So go for it. Self-publish that one book and move on to continue writing and querying your other books.

There is no linear career path when it comes to publishing, well when it comes to any business really. You have to follow your heart and trust your own instincts. You're going to take some hits, you're going to have failure and you're also going to have success. The key is to keep going and trust in yourself.

--jhf

**If you have a question for the BookEnds blog you can email us at blog@bookends-inc.com and we'll answer as soon as we can.

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23. Inside an Agent's Head

It's amazing how much a new submission can mess with an agent's head.

We take on a new project from a new client or we finally get that fresh manuscript from a client whose books we're always excited to read. And as we're reading we're getting more and more excited about how amazing this book is and how we can't wait to sell it. And then the panic sets in. Just as the excitement rises, so does the doubt. But what if it doesn't sell, what if I'm jinxing it with my excitement? Oh crap, I just told my colleagues how amazing it is, I'm sure to have jinxed it now.

So the next time you worry that you're bugging your agent or too neurotic to talk to her don't.

--jhf

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24. The Tax Man Cometh

As the year comes to a close agents and publishers are preparing to send out 1099 forms. As per IRS guidelines those need to be mailed by January 30. If you've moved or changed your name anytime in the past year I would strongly recommend you get that information to your agent now so come February 1 you aren't freaking out that your 1099 is missing.

--jhf

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25. Thrillers v. Suspense

You would think that after 20+ years in this business I would have all the answers. Well there are days when I definitely still feel like I have more questions than answers. One of those questions is how do you define the difference between thrillers and suspense. I tend to think that I like suspense more than I like thrillers and I think I know what the difference is, but when asked by writers to define them I'm not sure I know exactly how to do that. I guess I'm not sure the answer is always cut and dry.

So today I'm asking you. How do you define the two?

--jhf

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