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Viewing Blog: BookEnds, LLC - A Literary Agency, Most Recent at Top
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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. The Art and Death of the Thank You

This is really more of a personal rant than a business post, but it's my blog so, hey, why not.

What happened to thank you notes? Is it just me or are they getting more and more rare, almost nonexistent?

I tend to really like the written or snail mailed thank you. Sometimes I take the effort to hand write a note, other times I use an app service like Postagram to mail a postcard thank you with a photo and personal message. It's rare that I'll write an email or social media thank you, but that does happen as well. Now I'm not saying I'm perfect. Sure there are times I've forgotten or neglected to send a thank you, but I think I get it done more often than not.

I don't expect anyone to be as nuts about thank you notes as me, but there are certain times I do, in no uncertain terms, expect a thank you. Recently I sent gifts for the following occasions and received no acknowledgment; a wedding, a baby shower, and birthday parties in which the gifts were shuttled to another room and opened after the guests left. In all of those cases I took the time and spent the money to choose a gift I thought the recipient would like. Don't I deserve a thank you?

Anyway, I think it's common courtesy to send a thank you of some sort, even if it's a message in my Facebook inbox, and I'm a little annoyed by those who don't make the effort, mostly in the case of the events I listed above. But maybe I'm just an old fuddy-duddy.

--jhf




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2. Making the Most of Publicity


Once an author gets published there is so much she needs to learn and do. Besides trying to understand the publishing process and what can be expected from the publisher, she needs to suddenly become a publicist and marketer, in addition to being an author.


Now, even if you have the resources to hire a full-time publicist to do a lot of this work for you, its imperative that you have a basic understanding of what is needed. The more you know, the more successful you'll be.

So while I'm not going to get into every detail here, I am going to give you a short checklist of things to include whenever you have a publicity opportunity and by opportunity I mean blog tour, article, interview, conference workshop, Facebook post, GoodReads account, etc, etc. Remember, anytime you do anything that others will read, see or look into its a publicity opportunity.

  • Become your pen name. If you write under a pen name make sure that in everything you do that's the name you work under. It's your name tag badge, your introduction, your everything. So choose wisely.
  • Include a bio. Always let readers know who you are. It doesn't have to be long, but a bio gives some insight into you and, you never know, someone might grab your book simply because they too are from Ohio.
  • Make it interesting. Have an Instagram account that you're using for publicity? Make the pictures worthwhile and interesting. Use the filters and make them pretty. In other words, whatever you're doing make it something worth sharing, a picture, a Tweet, a quote that others will helpfully pass along to others.
  • Put in the effort. Take some time to come up with creative answers (not just a cut and paste from your last interview).
  • Plug your books. Big! Don't just include the title after your name, give a one or two sentence description, include the name of the series (if there is one) and send a copy of the cover of your next (or your last) book. Give them a visual to go with your title. Make yourself unforgettable.
  • Show them where to find you. If readers like what you have to say they'll want to learn more. Don't just include your website, but give them everything you've got--Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, GoodReads. Go big or go home they say.
Publicity can be a lot of fun. I know I rarely mind doing an interview and I've done a ton. However, if I'm doing the work, and taking the time out of my other work to do it, I really want to make sure that's it's going to have the potential impact I want it to. Just throwing up my name and book title isn't going to necessarily grab the readers like I hope. Providing them with a real peek at who I am and what my books are about will.

--jhf

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3. How Jessica A Reads Queries


When it comes to how I approach my queries and submissions, I don’t have any firm rules.  Sometimes I start at the top of my inbox, sometimes I start at the bottom.  Sometimes I pick a submission in a genre that I’m in the mood to read or that I know an editor is looking for.  And sometimes I pick a submission that I think might be a pass so I can deal with it quickly and make my inbox less crowded.  By the way, I love it when I’m wrong about those submissions.  It’s great when I go into something thinking it’ll be a fast pass, and it ends up hooking me instead.  I love being surprised that way. 

I tend to answer queries quickly. When I want to procrastinate on another task, I answer queries.  When I’m watching tv at night and there’s a commercial break, sometimes I open up my queries. If things are slow, sometimes I answer queries as soon as they pop up in my email.  But sometimes things get busy and a week or two goes by without me even looking at my submissions box. 

I generally go with my gut reaction on queries. Is this something I want to read or not?  Is it marketable or not? Are there significant publishing credits in the author’s bio?  Is the writing great, just average, or terrible?  Is the query professional or does it feel amateurish?  Honestly, it probably takes me less than a minute to reach a decision on most queries. Sometimes I’ll put aside certain queries to think about more, but generally I go on my initial reaction.

I’ll admit, I’m slow with requested material.  I like to read requested material when I have a nice big chunk of time to devote to it.  I don’t like to read manuscripts in bits and pieces.  It makes it harder for me to keep my thoughts straight that way.  It’s rare I get to read a manuscript in one sitting, but I aim to at least get through 50-100 pages at a time. 

Also, as much as I try, I can’t get into the knack of reading submissions on my Kindle.  Back in the old days of hard copy submissions, I would cover the margins with Post-It notes of my thoughts.  And now, I can’t live without Track Changes and Comments in Word.  I’d probably be faster if I read on my Kindle but it just doesn’t gel with the way I like to take notes. 

With submissions, there’s still a bit of reacting on gut instinct but I also like to mull things over.  After reading something enjoyable, I like to put it aside for a day or two and think about it.  Do I still remember it clearly in two days?  Am I still as excited about it?  Is it something that I want to talk to my colleagues about and get second reads on?  Do I sit down at the dinner table at night and tell my husband all about the great story I read?  How would I pitch it to editors?  Then again, if I’m mulling over the project for too long and something is holding me back from offering quickly, I want to analyze why I’m hesitating. Sometimes it’s a problem that can be fixed with revisions, or a question of whether I want to take a risk on something that might not be super marketable at the moment, but sometimes it shows me that I’m not as enthusiastic about a project as I should be.  And, really, that’s what every decision comes down to: do I love this book enough to read it over and over again, and read anything and everything else the author writes? 

—Jessica A

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4. Are You Getting What You Pay For

At the beginning of every year, and usually another time mid-year, I spend some time going through all of the things I pay for (cable, internet, lawn service, accountant, etc) to make sure that I'm really getting what I pay for. In some cases it's a matter of looking at what I have and changing to less expensive alternatives (dropping some of the cable channels I pay for, but have never heard of), in other cases it's a matter of looking at how I use the item and seeing if I should be doing more with it (asking the accountant to review my books bimonthly instead of quarterly).

The same should go for your relationship with your agent. Now, I'm definitely not advocating for dumping your agent (do you think I'm insane!), but I am suggesting that since you pay your agent you take a look at how much you're actually utilizing her.

I have some clients who are terrific at using me when they need me. We brainstorm ideas for new books, titles, editorial suggestions. We discuss and help resolve emotional breakdowns, deadlines and editorial conflicts. They keep me posted and updated on marketing and career plans in general so that I can help guide, direct, or even keep them in mind when something new pops up.

There are other clients however who seem very fearful of bothering me. Usually it's because things are going along smoothly, they have a great relationship with their editor and they are great at managing it all on their own. And that's great. Until it's not. The client who is used to doing it all herself will often also put out all fires herself but, let's face it, even the best firefighter can't do the job on her own.

An agent gets paid a 15% commission and that job should entail more than just selling the book and negotiating a contract. It should be about building a career and all that goes with it. If, for example, your cover stinks but no one bothers to show your agent until it's final she can't go to the publisher and insist on changes. If the cover stinks and the book doesn't sell. Well, it's hard to build a career if your books don't sell. That's just one example, but I think you can see where I'm going.

Your agent is your business partner and if you're running a business with a partner hopefully you aren't making all of the decisions on your own. Use your business partner as much as possible. They say two heads are better than one.

--jhf


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5. Kate Douglas's Cozy Reading Corner


Inspired by a Mashable piece about cozy reading spots, BookEnds will feature our own favorite reading corners. Here is author Kate Douglas's:

My favorite spot is the old recliner in my office where I write. Rufus beside me, a soft chair under my butt and books all around. It just doesn’t get any better.




--Kate DouglasDark Refuge—Book 4 Spirit Wild or coming in May, Hot Alphas anthology with Tangled

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6. How Much of the Book Do You Read?

I absolutely LOVED this article from The Guardian  about how ebooks can tell us how much of the book readers are actually reading.

It's a fascinating look at how some of today's bestsellers are actually not being finished. Frankly, this information doesn't surprise me at all. I haven't read many of the books mentioned in the article, but I am notorious for putting a book down when I just don't love it any longer. Life is short and if I have time to curl up and read a book it better be a good book and not just any book. By the way, good book is entirely subjective.

As an agent I would love information on how books are being read and when they're being put down. It's great sales research. As an author advocate I'm not so sure it's great for an author's sales if this kind of information becomes widely known. After all, would you buy the next big bestseller that everyone is talking about if you found out that everyone only read the first 25%?

Either way, it's definitely cool information.

-jhf


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7. Fingers Crossed

This is how I imagine some authors look when their material has been requested by an agent. I know that this is how some agents look when we get a call from an editor.






--jhf

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8. Following Your Passion

I recently stumbled upon this Yellow Hammer News article from October 2014 in which Mike Rowe of the TV show "Dirty Jobs" discusses why he actually doesn't believe in advising people to follow their passion. It's something Rowe has apparently said before, but a fan wrote to him questioning his reasoning for telling people not to follow their passion.

Here is Rowe's complete response,

A few years ago, I did a special called “The Dirty Truth.” In it, I challenged the conventional wisdom of popular platitudes by offering “dirtier,” more individualistic alternatives. For my inspiration, I looked to those hackneyed bromides that hang on the walls of corporate America. The ones that extoll passersby to live up to their potential by “dreaming bigger,” “working smarter,” and being a better “team player.” In that context, I first saw “Follow Your Passion” displayed in the conference room of a telemarketing firm that employed me thirty years ago. The words appeared next to an image of a rainbow, arcing gently over a waterfall and disappearing into a field of butterflies. Thinking of it now still makes me throw up in my mouth.

Like all bad advice, “Follow Your Passion” is routinely dispensed as though it’s wisdom were both incontrovertible and equally applicable to all. It’s not. Just because you’re passionate about something doesn’t mean you won’t suck at it. And just because you’re determined to improve doesn’t mean that you will. Does that mean you shouldn’t pursue a thing you’re passionate about?” Of course not. The question is, for how long, and to what end? 

When it comes to earning a living and being a productive member of society – I don’t think people should limit their options to those vocations they feel passionate towards. I met a lot of people on Dirty Jobs who really loved their work. But very few of them dreamed of having the career they ultimately chose. I remember a very successful septic tank cleaner who told me his secret of success. “I looked around to see where everyone else was headed, and then I went the opposite way,” he said. “Then I got good at my work. Then I found a way to love it. Then I got rich.”
Every time I watch The Oscars, I cringe when some famous movie star – trophy in hand – starts to deconstruct the secret to happiness. It’s always the same thing, and I can never hit “mute” fast enough to escape the inevitable cliches. “Don’t give up on your dreams kids, no matter what.” “Don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have what it takes.” And of course, “Always follow your passion!”
Today, we have millions looking for work, and millions of good jobs unfilled because people are simply not passionate about pursuing those particular opportunities. Do we really need Lady GaGa telling our kids that happiness and success can be theirs if only they follow their passion?

There are many examples – including those you mention – of passionate people with big dreams who stayed the course, worked hard, overcame adversity, and changed the world though sheer pluck and determination. We love stories that begin with a dream, and culminate when that dream comes true. And to your question, we would surely be worse off without the likes of Bill Gates and Thomas Edison and all the other innovators and Captains of Industry. But from my perspective, I don’t see a shortage of people who are willing to dream big. I see people struggling because their reach has exceeded their grasp. 

I’m fascinated by the beginning of American Idol. Every year, thousands of aspiring pop-stars show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t have anything close to the skills they thought they did. What’s amazing to me, isn’t their lack of talent – it’s their lack of awareness, and the resulting shock of being rejected. How is it that so many people are so blind to their own limitations? How did these peope get the impression they could sing in the first place? Then again, is their incredulity really so different than the surprise of a college graduate who learns on his first interview that his double major in Medieval Studies and French Literature doesn’t guarantee him the job he expected? In a world where everyone gets a trophy, encouragement trumps honesty, and realistic expectations go out the window. 

When I was 16, I wanted to follow in my grandfathers footsteps. I wanted to be a tradesman. I wanted to build things, and fix things, and make things with my own two hands. This was my passion, and I followed it for years. I took all the shop classes at school, and did all I could to absorb the knowledge and skill that came so easily to my granddad. Unfortunately, the handy gene skipped over me, and I became frustrated. But I remained determined to do whatever it took to become a tradesman.

One day, I brought home a sconce from woodshop that looked like a paramecium, and after a heavy sigh, my grandfather told me the truth. He explained that my life would be a lot more satisfying and productive if I got myself a different kind of toolbox. This was almost certainly the best advice I’ve ever received, but at the time, it was crushing. It felt contradictory to everything I knew about persistence, and the importance of “staying the course.” It felt like quitting. But here’s the “dirty truth,” Stephen. “Staying the course” only makes sense if you’re headed in a sensible direction. Because passion and persistence – while most often associated with success – are also essential ingredients of futility. 

That’s why I would never advise anyone to “follow their passion” until I understand who they are, what they want, and why they want it. Even then, I’d be cautious. Passion is too important to be without, but too fickle to be guided by. Which is why I’m more inclined to say, “Don’t Follow Your Passion, But Always Bring it With You.”

Carry On
Mike

It's an incredibly interesting response and one that really got me thinking. We live and work in a business that is a lot about passion. We preach it at conferences and in our blogs and tell people all the time to follow that dream.

Mike Rowe's thoughts on the subject actually parallel something I've thought often, but have never verbalized or put into words myself. There have been so many times when I've read query letters or manuscripts and really thought that maybe the author of the material needed to find something else to become passionate about. While she might have loved writing, it was pretty clear that it wasn't something she was probably ever going to succeed at. And while certainly it's not my job to tell the faceless writer of a query to go and find another passion, it is something I've said to others in this business.

Once, long ago, I had an assistant who was passionate about books and publishing. She loved everything about both and had dreams of working in the business, finding authors and building careers. Unfortunately, while she had passion, she didn't have two things required to be an agent. She didn't have the drive to spend her weekends and nights culling through submission piles, reading loads of material to find those one or two great things that would rock her world. And she didn't have an editorial eye. No matter how much she read, for herself and for us, she just didn't quite understand what made a book good and marketable. What made it a potential sale. It didn't mean she wasn't good at anything, it just meant she wasn't clicking with what she thought was her passion.

In a number of different meetings I encouraged her to consider other aspects of publishing, jobs I felt she would be really good at and that played to her strengths. She ended up leaving the business altogether and, hopefully, finding other things she was passionate about.

Here's the thing about passions. Hopefully we have a lot of them and hopefully we develop more as the years grow. I got into publishing in some ways by chance. I had a passion for writing and initially thought I wanted to be a reporter. I pursued that for a while. Until I discovered that I might not have been as good at it as I thought and maybe I didn't want to do that for the rest of my life. I knew I loved words though. So I tried magazines, copy editing, design and, yes, writing. It wasn't for me. So I figured books must be next. I kept with my overall passion, but moved around until I found the fit that was right for me.

And what if I someday learn that my passion to be a literary agent isn't the right place for me? I bet I can easily find something else I love just as much. I love food and all things related to food. I'd love to cook, or create recipes, or blog, or.... I think you get the picture. I also love photography, fitness, dogs, and vacationing. Hmmm, a career vacationer maybe?

I think Mike Rowe has some really interesting things to say about passion. I liked what he said. It doesn't mean you should give up on what you're doing, it just means you should be willing to explore various aspects of that passion.

--jhf






















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9. Five Books or Authors I'd Love to Represent, but I Don't


In a recent interview with the NYC Writers Network I was asked what five books or authors I'd love to represent, but don't. When I get asked these kinds of questions I've learned to simply write down the first things that pop into my head (or on the Barnes & Noble website if I'm researching). If I don't do it that way these interviews would take hours.

I gave my list, in no particular order, of writers I preorder, can't wait to get my hands on or have read or own a number of books from.

Here it is in no particular order:


5. Sarah Addison Allen
4. Chelsea Cain
3. Ina Garten
2. Enemy Women, Paulette Jiles
1. Elizabeth Hoyt

And when I think of this list and these authors I usually think that, in most cases, they are writing books that I'd like to see more of from other people (hint, hint).

Now let's see if we can get other BookEnds agents to create their own five.

--jhf

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10. Your Favorite Cozy Reading Corner

Thanks to Twitter I just came across this great article on Mashable about cozy reading spots. I loved it! So immediately I went to my own Instagram account to check on the one or two photos I've taken that might fit. Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered a whole slew of cozy reading spot photos. I guess it might be an obsession of mine.

This was not the photo I initially thought I'd share when I read the article, but when I saw the photo I knew it was perfect. I actually love to fly primarily because it allows me hours of peace and quiet, time when I can lose myself in a book with few interruptions. Just me, a bag of peanuts (aka lunch), a glass of water and a great book.





Throughout the year I'm going to share some more of these photos with you and ask other members of the BookEnds family to do the same. But we'd love to hear from you too. Whether it's on our Facebook page, tagging #BookEnds on Twitter or Instagram we'd love to see your cozy reading corners.

--jhf

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11. Reading Queries

After returning from a long holiday I sat down to tackle my query inbox. Doing this got me thinking about how I tackle my inbox and wondering how other agents handle this job.

Here's a typical query day for me.

The first thing I do is read through the queries. I immediately reject those that don't fit what I'm doing. Some I read and skip over for the time being. There's something there that interests me, but I'm not sure if I'm interested enough to want to read more. At least not right now. And of course I request material from those that grab me.

The next thing I do is choose a few requested submissions to forward to my Kindle. Occasionally I'll read on the computer, but usually it's more comfortable for me on the Kindle. One thing to keep in mind is that pdfs don't work as well as Word docs so I usually prefer a doc over a pdf.

Sometimes, but rarely I'll work from the bottom up, simply grabbing a few of the oldest submissions to ready. Typically however I want to get a jump on something that really excites me so I'll skim through my requested material to forward the 2-3 things that grab me the most, that I think have the most potential (again based entirely on the query). Then I'll read.

So if you're waiting for a response from me this is typically how I'm working.

--jhf

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12. A New Year, New Goals

Every year at this time the BookEnds team sits down to reevaluate what started out as the company's business plan. We take a look at things like our mission statement and company objectives, both short-term and long-term. We also take a look at our own personal goals for the upcoming year and share them with one another.

I just finished making a couple of goal lists. The gym I belong to asked each of it's members to write up two goals and pass them to our trainers. I think it's a great idea. Obviously these goals are gym related, but by sharing them I have the support I need to help make them happen. I then made a list of personal goals. I printed these out and hung it on the Vision Board I told you about last year. This list includes the goals for my gym, some goals for things I'd like to achieve at home and the BookEnds goals I'll be passing along to my team for our business plan.

The thing to remember about goals is that it's good to have some that seem tough, nearly unattainable, and that it might take you a year to achieve. Those could include things like selling your first book or finishing your first book. But to make goals really effective you need to also include those things that you're better able to achieve. Maybe finishing the first draft or actually querying agents.

In my case I'd like to discover a wonderful new suspense or general mystery and add it to my list. I'd also like to sell that mystery. The first might take me at least 6 months, it's conceivable the second will too. No matter, I'm looking forward to the challenges.

--jhf


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13. How to Query Multiple Books

After responding to a query I received this email from the writer:


Thank you, Jessica. I know I'm not supposed to ask questions of an agent, but this time I'm going to chance it, as the answer will influence any queries I send in the future: I have three finished ms, all in the same genre, but I never know which one to send to an agent. Should I send one and add a note that I have two others? Or stay quiet on the other two?
Again, Jessica, thanks for your quick reply, and if I'm off base just delete and I'll understand.


I'll admit I don't always respond to questions like this on queries. Not because I wouldn't like to, but there are some days when I barely have time to get my coffee in and on those days I usually delete. In this instance however I was able to write back a very quick reply and with the blog I can expand on that a bit.

I don't think it ever really hurts to let an editor or agent know that you have other books that you've written and might be available. That being said, the response you receive on a query letter will be solely based on that query alone. So I would worry less about trying to tempt them with everything and focus on that one thing you think is the strongest. What is the strongest story with the strongest hook and the strongest writing? Put everything else aside and make that your focus.

Also keep in mind that an agent usually assumes that what you're querying is your most recent work so if this doesn't grab her it's unlikely something she thinks will be less polished will.

--jhf

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14. Some Thoughts on Referrals

Thank you AJ Blythe for following Janet Reid's direction and emailing me on this subject. I actually like this back and forth blogging that Janet and I have going and would like to issue a directive. If you ever read a post either of us has done, or in my case any agent has done, that would you would like a second opinion on, please email me. I'd be happy to post my thoughts on the same subject.

For those who didn't read Jane't original blog post here's the gist:

Janet received a question on how she prioritizes referrals. The author wanted to know the difference between a referral by an agent or an author and she explained her process in great and impressive detail. I'll do my best to do the same.

For a long while I was open to submissions by referral only. Then for a while I was open to submissions for various types of mysteries and everything else by referral only. I think now I'm more or less open to everything. More or less.

Believe it or not referrals don't happen very often. I know from experience that most of my clients are very cautious about passing someone my way. I think they feel like I'm busy and they don't want to add to my piles and don't want to be judged on something they might or might not have read. What if they refer something and I think it's absolute crap for example? And I think most agents feel the same. We all have a lot on our plate and we hate to just pass things off to other people, unless of course we really feel it has potential, but needs someone who has a different or better vision for it.

Believe it or not, most frequently I get "referrals" from people I don't even know or have even ever heard of. I'm not sure if its confusion on the author's part or someone really trying to snow me. Those, obviously, I don't consider real referrals.

In Janet's original post the author implied that any agent who didn't respond quickly to a referral from a client was problematic. I'm not so sure. For me a referral usually means that I'll automatically request to read the material. How quickly I read the material however depends on a variety of things and who the referral is from is just one of those things, but not everything.

Remember, I'm a strong believer that an agent should never be judged on the speed she reads submissions because presumably, if she's slow at submissions, it's because she's spending her time where she should be spending her time, with her clients.

So how do I prioritize? Usually by what excites me first. Sometimes I'll just start at the bottom of the pile (those that came in first) and read up, but many times I'll go through, evaluate the queries, and read what I want to read. It's the same way I prioritize the reading pile next to my bed.

That being said, a referral from another agent will often peek my interest enough to move it pretty near the top of the pile. After all, what did my trusted colleague see in this project that they thought warranted a referral? I also tend to move client referrals up a bit and treat them more delicately (you might get a more detailed rejection than normal). In my mind it's a matter of helping the client out. If she went so far to refer someone to me I want the person she referred to have real appreciation for her efforts.

In a nutshell, I would say that referrals from editors or agents probably move to the top of my pile the fastest, clients next and lastly referrals from friends, family, or the random person on the street. In the end however, it's all about the book and whether it works for me.

--jhf




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15. Tis the Season for Queries

Typically I don't send out submissions between Thanksgiving and the end of the year. Editors (and agents) are busy cleaning off their desks and doing last minute end of the year type things (like eating fudge and drinking champagne to celebrate an amazing year).

I had one submission to go out though, it was under a bit of a time constraint, so I let the author know that I was going to send it to a few editors as soon as I got my query written. Ever helpful, she sent me this:

Dear Awesome Editor: 
This story rocks. You should buy it. There are six other sisters, so we can do a series. You should buy them all. The author is a bit neurotic, but she does what she's told and tries to be prompt and considerate.

Happy Holidays.

Smooches,
Jessica.

P.S. Put a few extra zeros in the check. 'Tis the season. 



I wish you knew how many times I've said to Jessica, Kim and Beth that I wanted to know why I couldn't just send a query exactly like that. And, well, to be honest, with editors I know really, really well. Sometimes I will. Without the smooches.

--jhf

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16. Your Brand, A Professional Courtesy

After reading my post on Knowing Your Brand one reader made this comment:

I truly appreciate this post. I'm wondering if you could elaborate a bit on the flip side. What does it say about an agent or editor who (after meeting in person) fails to communicate in any manner to a writer? After pitching at several conferences sometimes I'm left...baffled. In my mind, a professional courtesy is to simply respond in some way, even if months later. Short and sweet does the trick. I've started to consider (or maybe it's a light bulb.)that the vast business of publishing has a dark side. As a writer, I enjoy wordsmithing so, most of the time, practicing my craft keeps me smiling. (I'm generally, a glass half-full kind of person.) I move on pretty quick after rejections, but I do wonder, why many times "no response" is considered okay? I'm just sort of curious. I look at pitching as a job interview and take the time to look and act professionally, so the "no response" is confusing.Any of your thoughts would be terrific.Thanks so much,Tricia Q. 

Tricia: I have to agree with you. Why is "no response" considered okay in publishing, in job interviews or anywhere for that matter? We use the excuse as a society that we're just so busy that we don't have time to respond, but that feels like just an excuse to me. Not an acceptable one either.

I'm not sure it's so easy to define someone's behavior and say that by doing x they are y. Life and people aren't that simple. I think the answer is what does it say to you. An agent might be incredibly busy with clients and not actively seeking new clients so "no response means no" doesn't have a big impact on her business. In other words, she is focused on clients and doesn't care about the rest. That might mean that should she take you on she'll be equally focused on you. It's exactly what you want. However, it could also mean she just doesn't like to respond to people.

I think it's easy to say that publishing has a dark side, but anything that is run by people has a dark side. People have a dark side. Not everyone is friendly and wonderful. That goes for agents, editors, authors, bankers, car salesman, Starbucks baristas and even ice cream scoopers. However, more often than not people in those same businesses are wonderful and kind and generous with their time. They go out of their way to help others whenever they can.

So if an agent acts in a way that seems unprofessional and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth then she's probably not the agent for you. If you're able to shrug it off and still hope for the best, feeling that she's the person to do the job for you, then that's great too.

--jhf


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17. Sometimes Short is not Sweet

We get a lot of queries that go something like this:


The Secret Life of Frankie P opens in present day Minneapolis with a damaged, but strong protagonist who sets out to turn her life around by joining a group of misfits like herself who are determined to assist victims of domestic abuse. By opening her suburban home to those in need she begins her new life, one where people pay handsomely to disappear. However, things go horribly wrong when she starts to question the group she's joined. She suspects that things aren't all that they seem and when one of the women she's helped is found brutally murdered she looks to discover the truth. When she finally figures out what is going on the secrets are darker and more evil than anyone could ever imagine and knowing the truth might mean her death.

Here's the problem. This query says absolutely nothing to me. I don't know anything about the protagonist. She's damaged and strong? That's pretty much every single suspense protagonist. She wants to help victims of abuse and by helping she's risked her life. Let's face it. We've all read this book a million times before.

So what makes this book interesting? It's probably in the part the author tried to downplay. What's really interesting, what's probably really the hook, are the secrets that she doesn't seem to want to tell us. After all, isn't that what this book is really about? The rest is just backstory.

Another picky thought question, is this how you'd describe the book to your best friend? In other words, would you use the word protagonist and tell us where it opens or where it's set? Keep that in mind when pitching the book. How would you pitch to your best friend. It likely wouldn't be using writerly terms.

--jhf





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18. It's All About Revisions

I hear from a lot of writers, especially after NaNoWriMo who were inspired and whipped out a book in a month. That's amazing. There are certainly a number of writers out there who can write quickly, I have a few clients of my own who amaze me with their abilities to write terrific books quickly. But a month! That's incredible.

And it's probably not done.

More power to you if you can write a book in 30 days or less, but writing the book is the easy part, at least that's what a lot of authors will probably tell you. Once the book is written you start the real work--editing, revising, and perfecting.

And that can take another month, maybe two. Because it's at this stage that the real writing is done.

--jhf


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19. 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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20. 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.
<!--[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 false false false EN-US JA X-NONE <![endif]-->



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21. 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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22. 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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23. 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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24. Have a Wonderful Holiday and #GiveaBook


The BookEnds team is headed out for our annual holiday lunch. We're going to eat well, drink well and celebrate an amazing year. I can't give thanks enough for the team I'm lucky enough to work with every day, for the authors I have the pleasure of representing and for all the great books, published and unpublished, that I get to read.

Remember, before you pack up for the holidays, to include a book in the gift box to those you love.


Happy Holidays! See you in 2015!

--BookEnds

#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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25. Query Management

I recently got an invitation to a query management system. To the best of my understanding its a service in which the author submits the query to the company who feeds them to me based on my likes and dislikes, the appropriateness of the query and the condition of the query.

In the email they said specifically that I would no longer have to deal with the following:

1. Authors who don’t listen to instructions2. Incomplete and irrelevant queries3. Email flame wars with wounded authors4. Query-borne viruses5. Lost queries and requests for status reports

Which for some might be great, but for me this is a little too sterile. See part of the query process is using the query to get to know the author. If the author doesn't listen to instructions how does she break the "rules?" Sometimes not following instructions are what endures me to the author. Other times it makes the decision to reject for me. I know it's not someone I could work with.

What about irrelevant queries? Just the other day I got a query for something that I'm not looking for at this time. But the idea was so intriguing I had to request it. If the proposal intrigues me the same way the query did I bet I have a new client in an area that I didn't think I wanted a new client in.

And flame wars. I have a secret love for flame wars. They shake up the day, amuse me and, let's be honest, they give me something to blog about. But, they also teach me a lot about an author. Recently I had a situation where I asked the author to keep me in mind if she wanted to make revisions or for her next work. She sent me back a very condescending, snarky email. Decision made. I don't need to read her work ever again.

As for viruses and lost queries. I've yet to receive a virus from a query and if a query is lost it can be resent.

In other words, I think sterilizing the query process too much can actually be a detriment. A query isn't supposed to be a form. It's supposed to share a bit of the author and the author's work with the agent and we can learn a lot more from what's between the lines than from what's simply on the page.

--jhf

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