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This is my reading spot in the corner of a patio in North Fort Myers, Florida. Since my Read 'Em and Eat series is set right down the road in Fort Myers Beach, I like to pour myself a glass of sweet tea and relax in the sunshine with my pal "Fishy" and an entertaining cozy mystery. Speaking of cozies, I am busting my buttons becauseWell Read, Then Dead has been nominated this year for the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. At the same time, the excitement is building because the next book in the series is Caught Read-Handeddue out July 7, 2015.
--Terrie Farley Moran
Well Read, Then Dead
Berkley Prime Crime
Is it unreasonable to expect intra-agency referrals when one agent rejects a query or passes on a partial or full MS but thinks an associate may be interested? I believe that the rejecting agent would not be burdened with much extra time, and could possibly earn valuable extra credit points for a comfy (rumored) afterlife existence.
It's not reasonable to expect anything other than a reply to a query. Anything else is a bonus.
Very rarely will I reply to a query with "Agent X here at FPLM might be a better fit." When I do, it's NOT a referral, it's a redirection. Agent X handles dinosaur porn, I do not. I have not read your pages of dinosuar porn, and even if I had, I have no way to judge their merit.
And what you think is not "extra much time" isn't. Inevitably there is a back and forth with Agent X so s/he can know how much I've read, and if there are any special circumstances ie it's my mom querying the dinosaur porn so X has to be polite etc.
And I'm not depending on earning afterlife points in my query queue. I earn those when I negotiate contracts.
I posted on Twitter the need for blog ideas. It seems I've run out already.
@BookEndsJessica Hmmmmmm.... any changes to your/your colleagues' wishlists?
2/11/15, 9:44 AM
This is actually a great question only because these things change all the time. An agent can talk to an editor or read a great new book and get excited about something new.
While I'm always looking for the standards: Cozy mysteries, mysteries, suspense, romance, women's fiction and YA, there are those submissions I will drop everything for.
Suspense--a great dark suspense stand alone or series with, preferably, a female protagonist, romantic suspense and definitely YA suspense. Give it to me dark, make it gritty, and I require that it leaves me in a panic about what's around the corner.
Women's fiction with magical realism ala Sarah Addison Allen.
Contemporary YA with dark secrets and big story lines.
An entire week where nothing happens so that I can catch up on all the reading I want to do and need to do. If that week happens to be at the beach with margaritas at the ready even better.
A new talented agent knocking at my door. I'm looking to grow our BookEnds team and I really only have a few requirements: Smart, fun and someone we'd all like to have a drink with. Oh, and you'll need some experience as either an agent or an editor. Your areas of expertise can be just about any genre. http://www.bookends-inc.com/employment.html
This new standing desk from Ikea
Richard Blais or either Voltaggio as a private chef.
I'll keep my fingers crossed.
I've been reading a small debate on a writing forum. Someone stated that only 50-60% of first novels (represented by an agent) actually get picked up by a publisher. Their source is an agent's blog post. Another person questioned whether that agent's estimates are accurate. I'm sure some agents have different rates, this is supposed to be a rough average.
Is it true that even if someone signs with an agent, their odds of successfully getting a publisher for that book are only 50-60%? At first glance, that seemed a low figure. I'm afraid it really is accurate. But I'm curious about your thoughts on this. I want to recall a post by you about this (though maybe it didn't give actual figures?), but I can't find it again now.
You're missing two key pieces of information: time period, and number of books.
First, if an agent hasn't sold a novel within a day of signing the client, that's not a problem. A month isn't a problem either. Six months either, particularly in this acquisition climate. I've got several novels I've had on submission for longer than six months right now. There are a couple strategic reasons, and a couple just have editors who are backlogged as hell right now.
So it's entirely possible that I won't sell half my novels on submission within six months.
I have sold books that I've had on my list for nine years.
And let's all remember that Philip Spitzer, an agent I revere, had a James Lee Burke novel on submission for something like seventeen years before selling it.
The amount of time is hugely important for assessing something like this.
And here's the other factor: if I can't sell the novel I signed a client for, generally s/he's going to write a second or a third. We'll hit on one of them, we hope, eventually, but it makes the stats look bad if you're only considering the first novel an author writes.
But, more important here, your question tells me you're having doubts. Stop it.
As a writer, you must be determined to be the exception to any statistic that says you will fail. You must be willing to see that bleak truth, and refuse to let it apply to you. There's a lot to be said for vision and tenacity as keys to success.
Don't focus on statistics right now. Focus on your writing.
Recently I posted on Twitter that I had run out of blog ideas. Brilliant planning since I just restarted the blog. Well thankfully a few kind souls came to my aid with questions that they thought I might be able to answer. We'll see about that.
@BookEndsJessica @BookEndsKim What is something that you wish people who submit to you knew about your job?
2/11/15, 10:55 AM
Thank you @EmilieLoritch for your question. This is something I hope I convey regularly on the blog when it might feel like I'm really just kvetching. Of course a couple of things came to mind, but the very first thing I thought of has more to do with writers and their expectations than it does with me and my job. At least I think that's what I'm about to write.
The first thing I want people to know about agents is that the least important thing we do is actually sell the book. I think there is, understandably, a lot of emphasis on that sale and while that's not wrong (because without the sale none of the other stuff, the more important stuff, would really happen) it's probably, in some ways, the easiest part of an agent's job.
What an agent actually spends the day doing is dealing with all that other stuff which really amounts to planning the author's career. I would say the most important thing you agent does for you is negotiate the contract and I don't mean the advance and royalties. I meant he nitty-gritty details of the contract that will allow, or not allow, you to do other things in the future. With contract negotiations comes an eye toward the author's career. What will this author want to be doing next year or two years down the road and how can I make sure this contract doesn't prohibit that?
I'm going to keep this simple rather than go into the myriad of other things an agent does, but what I will tell you this, which I know you've heard before, is that one of the things an agent rarely does while in the office is read. That means submissions or otherwise. Between phone calls, meetings and contracts there's very little time to put my feet up and whip out a good book.
In a recent post, you offered as an aside that a writer whose platform involved speaking out on the issues of the day might not be a good fit for you. Can you expand on why a polemicist or controversialist, however well known, might not be right for you, and why such a platform might be counterproductive in the realm of fiction writing. I make my living selling books to publishers and then helping authors have successful careers. By and large this means selling Many Many copies of this book, then the next book, and so on. Rinse, remainder, repeat.An author who is busy writing blog posts on why Felix Buttonweezer is a scamp are 1. alienating all Felix Buttonweezer fans; and 2. getting known as a Felix-basher, not novel writer.I'm not saying don't do it, I'm saying do it in moderation. A blog that's all Felix, all the time isn't a blog that general readers are going to follow, or check in with to find out there's a new book coming.What many writers realize only after the book is published is the author persona is an entity that may not be a clone of the writer.May I use myself as an example here? I've been known to rant about certain political things once or twice. Most often it's in response to a query.
Sometimes I really bring out the big guns and start quoting Scripture.Most of my blog readers are willing to let me do this because I don't do it often, and I'm generally not going to delete their comments if they disagree with me.This blog is known for dispensing information, advice and rants to writers. That's my goal. The other blog posts are just cause I get riled up sometimes as we all do.When you're planning your social media, ask yourself what your goal is. Is it to make friends who will buy your book and support your career? Is it to convert people to your political agenda, or show them the error of their ways in thinking differently than you do?Those are mutually exclusive goals, and if you don't know it, I do.
Today's blog post brought to you by The Tao and The Bard by Phillip dePoy.
The Tao Te Ching or Book of the Way of Virtue is a touchstone of Eastern philosophy and mysticism. It has been called the wisest book ever written, and its author, Lao Tzu, is known as the Great Archivist.
Shakespeare, the Bard, was the West’s greatest writer and even invented human nature, according to some.
The Tao and the Bard is the delightful conversation between these two unlikely spokesmen, who take part in a free exchange of views in its pages.
I know not every agent works this way, not even in our office, but I want to put it out there that if I send you a helpful rejection I am alway happy to see the material again should you make dramatic changes based on my suggestions.
In fact, my guess would be that most agents would rather see a query again than hear later how the book sold, with another agent, because on the suggestions she made.
So even if I fail to ask you send the book to me again, the door tends to be open. Because I hate to lose out on something I liked enough to give advise on.
My question regards comp titles. You've spoken many times about the need to know what's selling in your genre right now, and to showcase this knowledge in your queries by naming successful comp titles. You've also said that if we can't find appropriate comp titles we're not doing the right research.
I write high concept YA, of which there are many, many on the market right now. My main character is also a lesbian. The number of YA novels featuring f/f romances is on the rise, but everything I've seen is exclusively contemporary or science fiction/fantasy (m/m romances are a different story). I've scoured Goodreads, Absolute Write, and many other forums, but the recommendations I get there tend to be obscure. Titles that receive more than a couple thousand reviews on Goodreads are rare. The most mainstream I've found are Malinda Lo's books, which were published by Little, Brown and have sold reasonably well. They are also fantasy novels. The lack of representation motivates me to finish my novel, but at the same time discourages me from ever hoping to be published by a large company.
My question is: Am I focusing on on the wrong aspects of my work when looking for comp title, i.e., should I list titles that are similar in concept and tone but with straight MCs? Yes. What you're missing here is the unique selling point for your novel: your character is a lesbian. AFTER you've done research and found few titles, then you know that you've got something that is probably fresh and new. That's a GOOD thing.You're on the right side of "there's nothing quite like mine" because you've found books that are similar to yours but without the main character being a lesbian. Comp titles aren't the same as clone or twin titles. Lee Child writes very different books than those of John Sanford. I love both authors and their books. Both are generally called crime novels. They appeal to the same readers. They're not similar books in plot, tone or character. You've also not mentioned utilizing one of the best resources available to you: your local library. Librarians live for this kind of question. Give them a shout.And while we're at it: writers, support your local library. Join Friends of the Library and volunteer to work at the annual book sale. Kick in some money to the fundraiser. Writer letters of support to the government body that funds the library. Libraries, like writers, are the foundation of democracy and we all need to make sure both stay strong.
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Today's blog post brought to you by The Tao and The Bard by Phillip dePoy.
The Tao Te Ching or Book of the Way of Virtue is a touchstone of Eastern philosophy and mysticism. It has been called the wisest book ever written, and its author, Lao Tzu, is known as the Great Archivist.
Shakespeare, the Bard, was the West’s greatest writer and even invented human nature, according to some.
The Tao and the Bard is the delightful conversation between these two unlikely spokesmen, who take part in a free exchange of views in its pages.
I have lots of client books coming out in March. It's thrilling - but it also makes it somewhat difficult to blog about all of them without this blog becoming a wall-to-wall advertisement. So instead of doing a post every time one is released, I'm going to post about them in categories. Here, then, are the Picture Books of March 2015. Enjoy!
0 Comments on March New Releases: Picture Books
as of 3/2/2015 1:36:00 PM
On my post for How Much of the Book Do You Read? this comment came up:
Bonnie @ A Backwards Story has left a new comment on your post "How Much of the Book Do You Read?":
I try so hard to read a book all the way through--especially if I've bought it!
If it gets to the point where I'm just skimming to read and don't care and am not retaining what I've read, I'll stop. Every once in a while, I'll skip to the end to see if it gets better (And I never read the end first!).
Sometimes, it's hard to say if the book isn't for me, or if it's because I'm headed into a slump. I think I'm headed into a slump now. I didn't love a major YA title that many other people are loving and buzzing about. I put down two other books without finishing them for the moment because I wasn't enjoying them, and I've been looking forward to both. I picked up the one again two days ago and managed to finish it BUT didn't really enjoy it and I normally love the author!
So am I slumping? Did I just have three not-me titles in a row? I don't know!
And I think it's a great question. Do you ever have a reader's slump? Those times when you seem to hate, or not like, or just are bored by everything you read?
Sometimes I think we need a change of pace and sometimes I think I read for my mood. I find that I read heavier things in the winter or crave classics (lately I've been craving both Little Women and Pride and Prejudice). In the summer, I want a wonderful romance or a fast-paced suspense. Something quick and easy. When life is hard and busy and hectic and I want something that's going to easily take me away from it all. Other times I just need a good cry. In all of those cases where I need something from a book another genre isn't going to work. If I need a good cry, something light and funny is only going to aggravate me.
But Bonnie, I've been there, I've been in a place where I'm fidgety and another book won't help. Is it a slump or just a reader feeling unsatisfied.
I don't know the answer to your question. However, I would like to know if you ever finished and enjoyed those books.
A recent comment on an earlier blog post about how money flows to writers prompted this blog post. This is a refresher course in how that "big book deal" actually translates to your finances.
For the ease of discussion, I'm going to use ball park, round numbers as the advance amount.
When your brilliant and sharkly agent sells your book she calls you up and you both whoop with joy. Then you get down to brass tacks on how much that offer is for:
$10,000 per book for a two book deal. That means the offer is for $20,000 (2 books x $10k each)
When the contract is negotiated and signed, you'll get a check for a partial amount of that. Depending on how the payout is structured on the contract it could be:
1. 1/2 on signing, 1/2 on delivery
2. 1/2 on signing, 1/2 on publication
3. 1/3 on signing, 1/3 on delivery, 1/3 on publication
4. 1/4 on signing, 1/4 on delivery, 1/4 on publication, 1/4 on paperback pub.
The HIGHER the advance amount for each book, the more splits you're likely to have.
Using our $10K book, here are the numbers:
1. If it's half on signing, half on something else:
$10,000 divided by two payments =$5,000 for the on signing payment.
Less: 15% for your brilliant, sharkly agent is minus $750.
Total to you for for Book One on signing is $5000 minus $750 which is $4250.
BUT, there's more! You ALSO receive the on-singing payment for Book#2.
Thus the check you get for on signing is $8500. ($4250 for each of two books!)
The next payment you see is $4250 (Book 1, less commission) either on delivery or on pub
depending how your contract payout is set up.
The next payment is on delivery or on pub of Book 2, and that's another $4250. And this is where things get tight. If D&A is delayed, or publication is moved, you might go a year between these payments.
I've seen all those things, and other calamities as well, happen.
Here are some other things that can muck up the works:
You sign a three book deal, but you can't deliver the third book for some reason.
In this case, you have to return that on-signing payment you got for Book#3, way back when you signed the contract.
And here's the kicker: we don't return the commission. You're on the hook for the entire amount.
Generally we can negotiate with the publisher about this, but this is something to remember when you're planning your finances. Don't spend the money received on a book you haven't written. Better to drop that in a savings account or a interest bearing instrument until you know for sure you get to keep it.
Obviously this is more important for big ass deals of $100K/book than it is for $10K/book.
This also applies to translation and audio deals.
(Generally, you don't have to give the money back if the publisher cancels the book.)
Here's another thing to remember: the advance money may be the only money you see on a book. The higher the advance, the more that has to be earned before royalties are paid. Royalties are paid to the author ONLY when the book has earned back the money paid out on the advance. I rep books that have never earned out, and some that earned out within weeks. You might guess that the lower advance ones earned out faster--that's not always the case.
The next thing to remember is that the money from the publisher is all taxable. When you start your writing career, you're esssentially starting a small business. You'll need to file a Schedule C with your income tax forms, showing how much you earned and how much you spent. It's entirely possible you'll spend more than you earned. That's one (of many!) reasons you keep very good records and don't get cutesy with your deductions. The IRS looks askance at people who deduct their living room couch as "home office" even if that's where you do your writing. Also deducting trips to France as "research"is a really good way to get a second set of eyeballs on your tax return. You want to be careful, and follow the law scrupulously here. A good tax preparer is essential.
And you'll pay tax on the money as you receive it, so that first big chunk o'advance: you'll pay tax on all of that, even though it's income on a book that isn't written yet.
Very few writers are living on what they make publishing books.
Any questions? Fire away in the comments column.
At the end of last week (and the post on speculative fiction) Amy Schaefer (who really should be dead to us living here in the cold frozen island that used to be Manhattan, since she lives in Paradise!) commented
"I also find it funny, Janet, that you think your category post amounted to: "why I don't rep spec fic", whereas all I got out of it was: "send me everything." I'll bet you a wheelbarrow full of nuts that I wasn't alone."
You'll be perplexed to discover that the number of queries neither rose nor fell but held quite steady at about 100 a week. Later in the week I had an opportunity to compare query stats with other agents. Some of my pals are getting upwards of 200/week. Interesting. Unexplained, but interesting.
Also in the WIR, Kitty linked to a good article by Cheryl Strayed on how the money flows in publishing. This prompted me to write a blog post for this coming Monday about money, specifically how advances work.
Yup that's Joanna Volpe now of New Leaf Literary, the agent for Divergent and The Duff. She's the only one who sort of liked it. Given Joanna's great professional success, maybe we should all be eating more vegemite!
On Monday, the discussion turned to a writer who asked about having gotten a lot of help on her query, only to discover when agents read her pages, she was getting almost universal rejections.
No one picked up on Julie Weathers mentioning she'd entered hog calling contests. I think we need to fund a pool to pay Julie for video of that fine event. I'm in for $100.
There was some question about whether you needed a finished manuscript to send a query to the QueryShark.
Here's a list of the various ways to interact with me, and what you need:
QueryShark: a completed query letter that you think is ready for submission to agents. Whether the novel is done is less important.
Chum Bucket: a query and a finished novel. If you query on Chum Bucket and your novel isn't ready, I will not respond well. ChumBucket is querying for real, and you do NOT query unless your novel is ready to go out the door, that very day.
Query Questions: a question, hopefully succinct, sent to my email address with Query Question in the subject line.
Blog comments: just post away and I'll read.
And Julie also gave us the Mrs. Chicken story. Sometime soon we're going to have a book-length work of Julie Weathers hilarity, and wouldn't it be hilarious if THAT was her first published work?
MeganV told us of her experiences querying as a 12year old writer. Turns out her MamaBear wrote the query. This was very illuminating. I do get mail from writers who tell me they are 12 but the tone and syntax of the letter is very clearly adult. It had actually never crossed my mind that MamaBear was writing the query.
If you're wondering about whether to do that for your kid, DON'T! A kid who sounds like an adult gets a form rejection. A kid who sounds like a kid gets a much much different reply.
S.P. Bowers had the most succinct thought on voice: "Voice is like an accent. You never hear your own. But that doesn't mean you don't have one." I like this a great deal and plan to steal the line shamelessly.
And donnaeverhart mentioned the late, great amazing Larry Brown, with whom I had the great fortune to meet briefly in my days in the publicity trenches. Gone too soon indeed.
On Tuesday, we talked about illustrations in novels, and when to mention that you envision your work including them.
Jenz commented on the cost of a good illustrator (not cheap) and from what little I know of picture books, she's right on the money.
Adib Khorram was the first to mention THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY as an example of a novel that included a graphic novel in it.
Then we heard from the author of FIVE STAGES, Shaun Hutchinson, and what he said was very illuminating and applicable I think to all authors who want to include things other than text in their novels.
The agent I signed with (the amazing Amy Boggs) was totally on board with the graphic novel elements, but we both knew that when we went on submission that the publishers might be less receptive since they'd have to hire and artist and such, and I prepared myself mentally to redo those sections as prose if a publisher made an offer but didn't want the added burden of doing the graphic novel.
Luckily, the editor who acquired my book was enthusiastic about the graphic novel portions of the book, and they did hire an artist to turn my script into a graphic novel.
So it can be done. But I think you need to be very clear as to what you're looking for and you need to be very sure that those graphic elements are absolutely vital to the story. If the book can exist without them, an agent or editor is probably not going to want to do them.
If you want to read my query for the book, my agent did a breakdown of it over here.
Of course I went out and bought a copy of FIVE STAGES immediately, and had a chance to start reading it on the train Friday night. It's fucking amazing. I haven't finished yet (despite letting three trains go by at West 4th cause I didn't want to stop reading--it's impossible to read in a really crowded train) but look for more on this in the coming weeks. Let me just say this now. The first line is "The boy is on fire."
On Wednesday we return to the question of query decorum: is it ok to query another agent at an agency where an agent has said no. (say that fast five times!)
My reply was Be Bold, and in fact I've updated the blog post to make that the latest in the Rules for Writers. [Rules for Writers are on the right hand side of the blog in a separate column.]
I liked how Susan Bonifantphrased it: "err on the side of possible success."
Dena Pawling gave us a hilarious bad query example, but sadly, writes too well for it to give off the true aroma of badBadBAD queries.
KrisM asked if the writer should mention the first agent query whilst querying the second.
Yes you should. Here's why: you don't know the inner workings of the agency. If someone queries me, and said they queried another agent here at FPLM, I'll know if that agent is just behind on queries, or doesn't respond to queries if not interested, or is slacking off in the south of France eating lima beans and looking at kale, thus giving me a chance to scoop this treasure from under his/her nez. The querier won't know any of that, and it's better to let the agent know than run into a problem down the road.
And after that the comments just fell right off topic into a soup pot of lima beans that ended when Colin Smith exiled himself back to Carkoon.
The fact that these comments crack me up again three days later means you all really are hilarious.
Thursday, we're back to correct form in a query. Is it ok to ask questions?
Kelsey Hutton has a nice take on this:
"I read a lot of queries on QueryShark and Evil Editor, and I find questions that boil down to "Will Jane Smith save the day??" get rather tiresome, since, after all, readers usually expect the hero to end up saving the day. There's no tension there; I already know the answer.
"How far will Jane Smith go to save the day?" is a far more interesting question to me."
Susan Bonifant (with an assist from Colin Smith) phrased it best: "One (question) rising naturally from the conflict of the character, rather than one aimed at the agent's personal curiosity seems workable to me."
Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli (a name that I just love to say aloud!) is going into the nostrum business with lima beans and kale. Felix Buttonweaver is involved (cleverly concealing his real name of Felix Buttonweezer!)
And Craig is writing lima bean thrillers, which while not as terrifying as dinosaur porn, is pretty much immediately on my This Will Not Fly list.
Christina Seine riffed on Goldilocks and questions in query which prompted Colin Smith to give us the other side of the story.
Amazing is one word for it.
Agent Goldie Lox had only been in the program three months and already she was staking out the humble home base of the feared Bear Family. Suspecting they had hijacked the village's much-needed supply of lima beans to sell on the black market, she tears the place apart looking for evidence. However, she is seduced by Mama Bear's intoxicating porridge, and falls unconscious just as The Bears return.
Meanwhile, her hapless companion, Woodman "Woody" Cutter is investigating Lox's disappearance. But his is more than a quest of duty. He gave his heart to Lox when they were in the Academy together, though he hasn't yet revealed the truth of his feelings for her.
Does Cutter have enough courage to take on the Bears and declare his love for Agent Lox, whatever the cost?
LOX AND THE LIMA BEAN CONSPIRACY is a 70,000 word suspense fiction novel. It's truly amazing. Really.
And honestly I'm getting pretty spoiled: if the comments trail doesn't have a hilarious story from Julie the world feels a little bleak. No pressure there One L.
Friday we return to query decorum: is it wise to resend after fixing what an agent said was wrong with a requested full?
Colin Smith took the shark by the teeth and wrote:
"It really would help cut down the chattering in the forest if agents would be clear and honest in their feedback to the woodland creatures. "I liked your writing, but in the end I didn't love it enough to feel I could give it the representation it deserves. If I might, let me make a couple of suggestions that I think will help you win over another agent..."
I can tell you that's never going to happen. There are a couple reason. The first and most often is that agent's live in fear of someone quoting their rejection of a novel that went on to sell a million copies. I've been in ballrooms where authors giving keynotes have done EXACTLY that. Let me tell you, it's gawdawful, even if it's not your rejection, or no names are mentioned. It's the flip side of those insanely stupid agent tweets about why a query is rejected. It may not be yours but it still makes you feel icky.
Second, unasked for advice or commentary is very seldom received well. I know this of my own experience, experience learned the hard way. You've never seen true venom and vitriol until you offer unsolicited "help" on a query that desperately needs it.
There's a reason I limit ChumBucket to people who pay attention and know the parameters: they've signed on for feedback. Same with QueryShark. I no longer reply to a regular query with specifics.
Third, what's crap for me is gold for someone else and better to have them query on, than give up because I or another agent didn't like the project. Which is exactly what Colin Smith said better here "Just because an agent rejects your novel, it doesn't mean s/he doesn't love you. Indeed, maybe the kindest thing they'll do is say NO."
Then Bill Negotiator reminded us:
I thought I was ready for rejection when I started querying five months ago. Form responses rolled off my back, and I was proud that the process hadn't gotten to me, as it had so many others. I was all doors and windows, no means yes somewhere else, this is a breeze.
But then the partial requests came in, and the fulls. The stakes felt impossibly high when I remembered where I began, twenty-something me with a whim to write chick-lit. Chick-lit? So I tried not to think about it. I obsessed over Twitter and reassured myself when agents tweeted pitfalls I didn't enter. "No More Unicorn Samurais with Cancers" #checkmywishlist, or the very Breaking Bad pleas for us to remember their names. #I'mNotDearAgent.
It's no surprise that I got a personalized rejection on a full. But what I didn't know, what nobody had told me in this rush to stay positive, was that the compliments, the glimmers of someone almost on board with my writing, would be the hardest part to swallow.
Which was a valuable reminder for me particularly since some of you who comment here have had novels on submission with me. "Almost" is really tough.
DLM's comment was salve:
Yesterday, the light in my living room was unlike I've ever seen it. It was a snow day, and the sky was clearing, and the sun came out in that peculiarly platinum-colored glare it does over a world gone highly reflective white. I saw the paint color in a way it has never appeared, and it was an almost creative experience - the pleasure we as writers can take in seeing something a new way. Literal new light.
I chose that paint color with a lifetime's taste, expectations, some wisdom, and a lot of creative hope. I'd lived in this house and had strong ideas about what would work and what I wanted to see. Yesterday, it told me (as it always has) I made the right choice.
When you are a professional in the business of choosing creativity itself for a catalog of product you can believe in and SELL - as well as you can - it takes that combination of experience, expectation, and creativity.
I'm nothing like any of the rest of you as an author. None of you is like the rest of us. Each of us has demonstrated here - we're not merely good with words, we're good storytellers. But how many of us does Janet rep? Janet, who clearly appreciates our ways with words - she says it, with highly specific examples, over and over again, and not even only in the WIR posts. She sees and supports every one of us.
But she's not the right agent for MOST of us.
I can't wait to find out who the right agent is for me. I've had theories, some of them haven't borne out; some may still come to something. We'll just have to see. Like when the sun comes out after the snow.
On Saturday we discussed when/if a query needed to reveal previous representation. I casually mentioned that I do sniff around your websites etc if I'm interested in your work.
elisabethcrisp contributed this comment to the discussion of what kind of blog content works:
Long term planning has helped me get back up on my blog horse. Four days a week, I write topic-based posts. One day, I post a photo. One day, I post an excerpt. One day, I write a journal-type post for the past week. I keep everything under 350 words. It works for me.
I agree. When I started this blog, it was rather haphazard. Over the months and years I developed a plan and stuck to it. The results is an enormous increase in traffic and comment volume. I'm not sure if this is replicable for authors, but I know it worked for me.
Karen McCoy commented "Mostly, I try to remember that my writing comes first, because without it, my platform accounts for nil." which is an excellent thing for all of us to remember. Even me! (instead of writing, think clients!)
This week I'm reading THE FIVE STAGES OF ANDREW BRAWLEY, and just finished MURDER AT THE BRIGHTWELL, which I loved. It's an old fashioned British seaside, sprawling cast of suspects murder mystery. It's absolutely in the tradition of Agatha Christie, and I was surprised in the end by whodunit.
My favorite story of the weekis has a terrible clickbait headline, but I love the story, want to lead three cheers for the mum who understands that HOW you tell the story is really important.
Over on my Facebook page, there were two posts with cat pictures, one with a fish movie, and two slice of life scenes from the office.
Have a swimmingly great day!
PS on top: I found some posts by other smart folk like agent Mandy Hubbard and author Jim Chines - if you want to like, double or triple-reinforce the point I'm making. But I'd already started typing by the time I saw those soooo... here you go.
One of the questions I dread most at conferences is, "how much money do books make?" I have a sort of pat answer I usually give, whilst eye-rolling. Something along the lines of "somewhere between $1 and $1,000,000." or "I dunno, how long is a piece of string?"
But let's get real. Many new authors will probably be offered $4-8,000. on a debut picture book text-only to a normal mid-sized traditional publisher. $5-12,000 on a chapter book. $8-20,000 on a middle grade novel. $12-30,000 on a YA. I'm talking average - yes, some will be higher, some whill be lower.
These numbers will be much lower for small presses (and probably much MUCH lower for digital publishers or startups). The numbers will be higher for extremely commercial books with great crossover potential, or for an author who is well-known, or if there is lots of competition for a title or it is "hot" in some way. (The numbers may also be different depending on what rights you sell.) Still, these would be what I'd consider to be unexceptional starting offers. Nothing to get mad about, just, you know. Normal.
Yet we all know of people who got paid a lot more than that.... so what about THEM? Well, first of all, I'd say they are outliers. Yes, I have certainly had awesome six-figure debut sales. But they consist of maybe -- 10% of deals. Most are Normal. On the high side of what I quoted above, perhaps, when all the negotiating is done, but still, not megabucks
SHUT UP JENNIFER! SHUT UP! THIS IS DAYDREAM TIME!
OK fine. Cue the mystical bossa nova music and IMAGINE IF YOU WILL:
You're a new author - maybe you don't even have an agent yet, but you are actively querying, reading all kinds of Publishers Weekly deal announcements, and dreaming of the day your very own manuscript will go on submission and sell, too.
These magic words echo in your daydreams.... six-figure deal. SIX-FIGURE DEAL!
With that kind of money, you could quit your day job, pay for your kid's college tuition in cash AND afford to supersize them fries, possibly from the comfort of your Mercedes-Benz. CHA-CHING, AM I RIGHT? Soon you'll be in a beach house, smiling gently whilst typing away on your latest brilliant novel. Everything is clean and inexplicably made of white linen or similar and somebody has brought you a cup of tea and there's a cool ocean breeze that also somehow smells of chocolate chip cookies and all the cares of your old life behind you--
Not so fast, Hoss. Here comes the dream-shatterer. *music screeches off*COMMISSION:
If you got a six-figure deal, you probably have an agent, too. Your agent will take 15% of your income (possibly 20-25% in the case of foreign income or film deals). This is money worth spending, because without your agent, you would have probably had a lot less dough in the first place, or nothing at all. And your agent is protecting your interests and guiding you in the long-term. OK, fine. But don't forget about --TAXES:
Even if you have a day-job, when you get paid for writing, you are also self-employed. A freelancer. As a writer, you have to pay both Income Tax AND Self-Employment Tax on everything you make writing
. Does that suck? Hell yes
it does. Sorry. You can expect to pay about 30% of your writing income in taxes.
Also: I might sound like a broken record on this one, but seriously, if you are going to be a career writer, TREAT YO' SELF to a good accountant who knows a lot about artists and freelancers. They will save you much money and angst in the long run, and, your accountant's fee is tax-deductible.EXPENSES:
As I said, you're self-employed. All the fun stuff like office supplies, a new laptop, travel to some conference or bookstore, HEALTH INSURANCE, etc? Probably coming straight out of your pocket. The good news is, anything related to your writing job, including said office supplies, your office space, travel for research or promo, and other self-promotional stuff, is tax deductible, at least in part, so keep good records
. The bad news is, well, you have to pay for it in the first place, "tax deductible" doesn't mean free
. (As far as insurance, unless you're lucky enough to have a great day job or a spouse who can provide, well... thanks, Obama. Seriously... thanks, and God bless you, Sir.)
Most book deals in the kids book world are structured so the payments are split into 2 or 3 parts. (Many huge deals and books in the grownup world are divided even more than that!) So you get one part on signing, one part on delivery and acceptance (D+A) of the final manuscript, and sometimes one (often smaller) part on publication.SO LET'S CRUNCH THE NUMBERS.
If you luck out and get a "six figure deal" today, assuming all works according to schedule in a perfect world, and your agent doesn't have to chase down any money for you, and your publisher doesn't go under, and your editor gets notes to you in time, and you have no crises ... your deal might look something like this:March 2015: Make the deal! Yay! It's a nice one. 2 books for $100,000 total! Welcome to the six-figure club! :D
April/May 2015: Your agent gets contracts and negotiates! June 2015:
PAYMENT - on-signing, 20k each book, 40k total - minus 15% for agent, and let's be generous and say 25% for taxes because of that great accountant: $24,000 total
November/December 2015: Book 1 Due (for publication Winter 2017)January 2016:
PAYMENT - D+A book 1, 20k - minus 15% for agent, 25% for taxes: $12,000 total
November/December 2016: Book 2 Due (for publication Winter 2018)
PAYMENT - - D+A book 2, 20k - minus 15% for agent, 25% for taxes: $12,000 total
February 2017: Book 1 PublicationMarch 2017:
PAYMENT - On-Pub Book 1, 10k - minus 15% and 25%, $6,000 total
February 2018: Book 2 PublicationMarch 2018:
PAYMENT - On-Pub Book 2, 10k - minus 15% and 25%, $6,000 total
So you didn't make 100k, actually, you made 60k (or less), spread out over the course of four years, and probably at least one of those years you get... not much. In this example, $24k in 2015, $12k in 2016, $18k in 2017, $6k in 2018.
I mean, you know, that's not NOTHING, it's a great deal for most kids books... but it's not exactly "bathe in champagne" time. You'd make as much or more working minimum wage at the Gap for four years.
SO, what to do?
The single best thing you can do for your career is KEEP WRITING GREAT BOOKS.
Seriously. Keep writing. Success builds. Books in print, books that continue selling, may make you money for years to come. A nice fat ADVANCE is great, but ideally you'll earn out your advance and collect royalty checks for the rest of your life.
But earning out and seeing more $ probably won't happen until after the book has been released, and sometimes it doesn't happen till LONG after... and can never be counted on to happen at all. So that means that you probably won't see a non-Advance check on these particular books until late 2017 at the very earliest - probably, in reality, not until sometime in 2018. Meantime, you'll be dead of starvation. So yes. Don't quit your dayjob. Or do, and WRITE MORE BOOKS!
I could go on and on but I think that's enough out of me - maybe "how to quit your day job" can be another blog post for another day. What about you, any thoughts on this or further questions?
My former agent and I recently parted company on good terms. Without going into details, we inherited each other when his partner left the business. and weren't really a good fit.
I am currently completing a non-fiction proposal, which was not completed at the time when we said "bonne chance and farewell" and which he did not send out. Do I mention previous representation in the query or bring it up later in the process?
You do not need to mention a former agent for a new project UNLESS you've been published before. If you have been published, you'll need to mention the earlier works, the publisher and that the agent who handled the deal for you left the business.
If you haven't been published, you don't need to mention any previous agent relationships since this project did not go out on submission.
Make sure you update your website if you have the old agent's name on it. That's one of the easiest ways for me to discover that someone has been represented/published before if they don't mention it in the query. And yes, I DO look. If I'm interested in reading your manuscript (or in this case proposal) I do some sniffing around ahead of time to see if there are any bumps in the road.
This is the reading chair. It’s huge and we all - husband, son, and I take turns reading or napping in it. It’s in a strange location though - a corner of the kitchen. We like the sun that comes in during the day but the lamp is good for night. It’s a good place to either read in while you’re preparing dinner or hang out with whoever is.
It's the end of the line. Absent the phrase "revise and resend" or "fix this and send it back" or "if you fix this, I'll take another look" the agent has said No, thanks. In other words, absent a specific request to get in touch after revisions, don't.Often I can point to one or two things that will help a manuscript improve and I try to give that info to writers when I'm passing on their work. The piece of information you're missing here though is this: that's not the only reason the ms is not right for me. There are a lot of good manuscripts out there that aren't right for me. A pass from me (or any agent) doesn't mean anything except it's not right for them.Expand your query search. It's really easy to focus on the agent who wrote back, but you need to look for other agents because the right one won't know about you till you query her.
I received a few requests for my full manuscript about six months ago. One agent told me that she liked the story, but one specific part at the end seemed a bit unrealistic to the situation. I thanked her for her time, said I was sorry it couldn't work out, and went off to go weep in my keyboard. A couple of days went by, and I started to think about what she said a little more. I realized that the issue she had with the ending could have been fixed with a few added sentences of explanation, or something of the like. It really think I could have made it work. I kicked myself for not realizing it sooner, and even though I've moved on from that novel (it never worked out), I still keep thinking about it.
So my question to you is:
Would it have been out of line to email the agent back with my suggested fixes? Or is a rejection on a full manuscript considered the end of the line?
I tried to convince myself that if the agent thought the manuscript would work with a few changes she would have said something, but I can't help wondering just the same.
Confession: I don’t really keep records on Poetic Asides, but I’m pretty sure Kristina Marie Darling has the record for most poet interviews in PA history.
Kristina Marie Darling
If this is your first time hearing her name, Kristina Marie Darling is the author of over 20 books, which include Vow, Petrarchan, and Scorched Altar, all available from BlazeVOX Books. Her writing has been recognized with fellowships from Yaddo, the Ucross Foundation, and the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, as well as grants from the Kittredge Fund and the Elizabeth George Foundation. She was recently selected as a Visiting Artist at the American Academy in Rome.
Visit her online at http://kristinamariedarling.com.
It’s been fun watching her writing evolve over the years, and in Darling’s collection Scorched Altar: Selected Poems & Stories 2007-2014, it’s now possible to get a sampling of her writing from 12 different sources.
Here are a few of the pieces you will find:
Forget Revision, Learn How to Re-create Your Poems!
Do you find first drafts the easy part and revision kind of intimidating? If so, you’re not alone, and it’s common for writers to think the revision process is boring–but it doesn’t have to be!
In the 48-minute tutorial Re-Creating Poetry: How to Revise Poems, poets will learn how to go about re-creating their poems with the use of 7 revision filters that can help poets more effectively play with their poems after the first draft. Plus, it helps poets see how they make revision–gasp–fun!
Click to continue.
What are you currently up to?
I’m getting ready to leave for a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts and couldn’t be more excited. I’ll spend my time there working on a new collection of erasure poems, which examines the egregious amount of gender violence in Shakespeare’s tragedies. The fragmented, elliptical poems ask reader to consider whether the literature we’ve inherited has normalized gender violence, since plays like Hamlet, King Lear, and Othello are so present within the public imagination.
Part critique, part excavation, the poems are intended to redirect the focus of scholarly and readerly attention. It is when we become conscious of underlying beliefs and assumptions in culture, and their roots, that change emerges as a real possibility.
Scorched Altar is a collection of selected poems and stories published by BlazeVOX [books]. How did this collection come about?
That’s a great question. I initially contacted Geoffrey Gatza, the fabulous editor in charge of the press, to inquire about the possibility of a Selected Poems.
It turns out that Geoffrey had the same idea himself, and I simply e-mailed first. Since I had worked with BlazeVOX on numerous previous collections, I knew that my Selected Poems was in very good hands.
Was the process of selecting pieces from previous collections different than putting together a new collection?
When I compiled the poems from my previous collections for Scorched Altar, it was a much different process than working on a brand new collection. For me, writing a new poem or poetry book is an intuitive process, and I don’t reflect much on what I’m doing, at least in the drafting stage. If I allow myself to become too self-aware, that allows me to become self-critical, and then no writing gets done at all.
What I really enjoyed about the process of compiling Scorched Altar was that it prompted me to reflect on my body of work as a whole, to see patterns emerge from my writing over the past seven years, and to see progress and growth. The act of examining my poetry over the course of several years also helped me see what ideas, obsessions, and literary forms I returned to most frequently. And as a result, I came away from the process with many ideas for new projects, experiments, and poems that were completely different from anything I’d ever written before.
In many ways, the act of examining my body of work showed me what is possible within it.
Many of your pieces, especially in collections like Correspondence and Fortress, have a very visual element to how they’re arranged on the page. Do you ever perform these in readings? If so, do you have to explain how they’re set?
I think every poetry reading has some element of performance. Whether the poet shouts their poems, or sings them, or invites audience participation, I’m positive that all writers have a constructed persona, which is an extension of the work itself. With that in mind, I love performing my footnote poems at readings.
I typically read them in a completely flat, monotone voice, almost like the bad math professor that just about everyone had in college. I love seeing the audience lulled into a sense of comfort by the unexciting presentation of the work, only to be surprised by the wildly imaginative content.
You’re an active literary critic. Does this inform your writing? Help? Hinder?
I’m glad you asked about my reviewing and involvement with literary criticism. I love reviewing books, because it exposes me to poetry that is completely outside my comfort zone. This is great because it helps me question and interrogate what I normally do in my own writing. It pushes me to try new things and experiment more within my own practice. And it helps me see more clearly where my poems fit within the larger literary community.
The best thing about reviewing, though, is that it helps build relationships within publishing and writing. I’ve met friends, collaborators, and even mentors when working on reviews. And there’s nothing better than free books!
You’ve published 17 collections now. How do you keep the writing flame lit?
By reading and reviewing other poets. As long as you’re constantly being exposed to new ideas, literary forms, and aesthetics, you’ll always have something to write about.
I also run a small press, Noctuary Press, which has been great for my own creative practice. The press primarily publishes women’s writing that takes places across and beyond genre categories. Although I pride myself on my ability to question genre distinctions, reading submissions for the press has shown me the tremendous variety inherent in contemporary cross-genre writing by women. My work as editor has helped me see what’s possible within the hybrid forms I typically inhabit, and it’s a great deal more than I had initially envisioned.
One poet who no one knows but should–who is it?
Erin Bertram. She has several magnificent chapbooks out, including one from Kristy Bowen’s fabulous Dancing Girl Press. I’m just waiting for someone to realize that her first full-length book needs to be published (so I can buy it and read it!).
Who (or what) are you currently reading?
I’m very excited to check out Donna Stonecipher’s Model City and Dawn Lonsinger’s Whelm. I also just picked up Olena Kalytiak Davis’s newest collection, which I’ve been eagerly awaiting for quite some time.
And if you haven’t checked out Carl Adamshick’s Saint Friend, just published by McSweeney’s Books, then you sure are missing out. It’s a terrific collection, even better than his first book, Curses & Wishes.
And usually I ask for one piece of advice for poets, but we’ve done a few interviews together now. So instead, and this is probably still one piece of advice for poets, I’m going to ask you about your amazing organization and follow-up abilities, because you do a better job than most. Could you share how you stay organized and on task for writing, submitting, following up, etc.?
I’m probably going to out myself as a total nerd with this answer, but here goes: Excel Spreadsheets. I keep track of everything (applications I’ve submitted, review copies sent, deadlines for applications) in a couple of gigantic spreadsheets.
If I could offer one piece of advice to poets, I’d say keep records of where you send your work, whether it’s review copies, applications, or poems. If you don’t remember where you sent something, then there’s no way you’ll ever be able to follow up with the decision maker.
And believe me, persistence pays off, especially in small press publishing.
Robert Lee Brewer is the editor of Poet’s Market and author of Solving the World’s Problems. Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.
Check out these other poetic posts:
A 7th-grader reached out because she wanted to interview me about being an agent for an expository writing assigment. Since some of these are questions that I get a lot, I figured I'd answer on the blog. Hopefully the answers are helpful to the student, and may be of some interest to other readers, as well! :-)
1) What role do literary agents play in the writing community?
A literary agent helps a writer navigate and manage their career. Much in the same way most actors have talent agents who help them get fancy movie roles and negotiate their contracts, or basketball players have sports agents who get them sneaker endorsement deals, authors have literary agents who help place their work with publishers. Agents also may help get those books translated into other languages and get made into movies, apps or toys. And an agent helps an author with all kinds of other business matters. Almost every book that you see in the bookstore is there because an agent helped the author place the book with a publisher.
2) Who or what inspired you to want to become a literary agent?
My friend Barry Goldblatt is an agent, and when I met him ten years ago, I thought his job looked super cool and interesting. (He represents Libba Bray, Holly Black, Shannon Hale, Jo Knowles, among many other amazing authors.) I decided I wanted to do that, too! So I got an internship in 2006 or so, then joined my agency in 2007, and officially became an agent in 2008.
3) What did you have to go through to be a literary agent?
Everyone has a different path to becoming an agent. Personally, before I ever started, I first worked for a decade in bookstores as a buyer and events person... So I knew a LOT about books and publishing, and a lot of authors, illustrators and people in publishing. That means when I decided I wanted to become an agent, it was probably easier for me than it would have been for somebody starting from scratch. I still started out essentially as an unpaid intern, but I was able to move up a bit more quickly than usual.
Still, what might have looked like "overnight success" to an outsider was, in fact, the result of 15+ years of work.
4) Was it hard to get the job?
Again, it's not really a job you apply for and interview and either get or don't get. You don't get a regular paycheck or have to wear a uniform or anything. Instead, it's a career that you build. So, yeah, it's hard to build a successful career - it takes years, and patience.
5) What was the biggest lesson you've learned so far in you career that you would like to share with fresh agents? And what is the hardest thing about being an agent?
Imagine if you turned in an assignment to your teacher on Friday... and instead of getting the grade back the following Monday, you got the grade six months later, out of nowhere, when it had been so long you'd already forgotten about it, gone on summer vacation, become an 8th grader. Now you have to go back and re-do part of that old assignment AND add an essay and make a poster for it, tonight. UGH! What the heck! You don't even TAKE that class anymore! But you have to do it, or you'll retroactively fail. Well.... that's kinda what publishing is like. ;-)
If you are expecting overnight riches and success, you will probably be disappointed. Everything in publishing is extremely slow, and patience is critical. (This is hard for me, as I am rather impatient by nature.)
As for the VERY hardest thing about being an agent -- well, agents get new clients when the authors write us what is called a "query letter." I get hundreds of query letters a week, but I can only take on maybe five new clients a year. It's definitely hard to say no to good projects... but I have to do it, every day. :-(
6) What kind of writers have you worked with? Are there certain writers you work with more than others?
I only work with authors of books for children and young adults. Other agents have other specialties; my specialty is kids and teen fiction.
7) What are some things you need to stay organized?
I use a paper calendar, a google calendar, and a bullet journal for day-to-day scheduling and assignments. To keep track of all my clients and their various projects, I have a lot of excel spreadsheets, plus color-coded labels in gmail, plus a paper notebook in which I have a page for each book we are working on with all the pertinent info on it. I do end up double-entering some of the information, but I have had my computer crash and lose tons of information and it was very horrible, so I always like to write things down on paper, too, rather than rely exclusively on the computer!
8) Did you have to take extra classes in high school and/or college to become a literary agent?
Agenting is essentially an apprentice business - really the only way you can learn it is by doing it, while being mentored by a more successful agent. There are no "agent classes."
I know agents who have MFAs in writing, PhDs in Literature, Masters of Business Administration degrees, law degrees... or, like me, studied something totally random in school, like theatre or history! What you major in doesn't really matter. But what DOES matter, whatever your college major, is that you become quite good at writing clearly and reading critically.
In addition to English (writing and literature) classes, you might also find that classes in contract law, business, marketing, web development or book-keeping come in handy. But they aren't required by any means.
9) Would you do anything over the summer before or while you've been an agent to be a better agent?
Well, sadly, I don't get summers off. :-) Probably you mean, would I suggest anything that YOU might do over the summer to potentially become an agent in the future. IF that's the case: I'd suggest you try to get a job in a bookstore or library.
Read everything you possibly can. And don't just READ... read critically, and pay attention to which publishers make which books. If you do, you'll start to see that different publishers have different styles and specialties. Pay attention to who publishes what. This will come in handy if you become a professional book person later -- book people pretty much always talk about who the publisher is when they talk about a book.
10) What qualities do you need to be a successful agent?
At the very least, a successful agent will probably be a great communicator, and know a LOT about books and publishing.
I hope that helps - let me know if the comments if you need clarification or have other questions.
Reminder: New literary agents (with this spotlight featuring Amanda Leuck of Spencerhill Associates) are golden opportunities for new writers because each one is a literary agent who is likely building his or her client list.
About Amanda: Amanda Leuck started her career in various facets of the media, including work on a TV talk show, at a fashion magazine, as a print journalist, and as an on-air traffic reporter. After graduating from New York University, Amanda went on to study literacy and literature at the post-graduate level. It was then that she developed a passion for the publishing industry. Amanda started at Spencerhill Associates as an editorial assistant, and was promoted to agent in August 2014. Her Twitter handle is @MandiLeone.
(Learn why “Keep Moving Forward” may be the best advice for writers everywhere.)
Amanda is seeking: strong, character-driven stories, written with an unforgettable voice. She’s looking for literary and commercial YA, new adult fiction, urban fantasy, and romance in all genres, including edgy romantic suspense, contemporary and paranormal with a fresh twist.
How to submit: Send all submissions to submission [at] spencerhillassociates.com. Send the query letter in the body of the email. Address the query to Amanda. Include the pitch, and information about past publishing credits in the letter. Attach a detailed synopsis, and attach the first three chapter in .doc, rtf or txt format to the email.
(How long should a synopsis be? Is shorter or longer better?)
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On some agency websites, the submission guidelines state that should an agent turn down a query, the author is allowed to re-query another agent at that same agency. What happens after a full or partial manuscript is requested? If the first agent turns you down after reading your full/partial, is it still okay to query another agent at that same agency?
There's no right or wrong answer to this since it depends on the individual agent and agency involved. My advice is always to Query Widely. That means if they don't say "don't do it" then go right ahead.
I'm always looking for good projects. If one of my colleagues was short-sighted enough to miss your brilliance, well you should have queried me first, but at least query me second.
Don't be afraid of offending agents. There's no blacklist, there's no such thing as the Query Police. There are couple ways to shoot yourself in the foot by querying stupidly but you're clearly not in that category.
If you spend a lot of time fretting about doing the right thing, you're going to miss out. Be bold. Query like you have the answer to my prayers.
Yesterday's post sparked a few new questions and you know how much I love it when blog post take on a life of its own.
I have a question. When you begin the editing process are your notes and revision-suggestions based on a first read?
I'm thinking that if you have not read the entire book at least once you may make note of, or question something, which happens later on.
Copy edits pretty much jump right off the page but the other stuff, like plot holes filled, questions answered, twists and surprises may be further down the line because that's what the writer is intends, even though as a reader you may feel a little lost as the story builds.
Great post. I love learning how you guys actually do your job.
Typically my revisions are based on the first read. There is one exception and that's if the client is brand new and I just took her on. In that case, I read the manuscript first just to see if I love it and after the client agrees to become a client I read it for revisions.
Your question about what happens if later on I discover the author has done what I wanted is valid and it is definitely something that happens. However, in some cases I might think that it should have happened earlier. For example, if on page 25 I note that the heroine should have kissed the hero right here, but she does so on page 27 I might say, "ah, I see she does it here. That works." or I might say, "this works too, but I really do feel like you might want to consider moving this up a bit."
My feeling when making revisions/edits is that I want the author to see my thought process while I'm reading. If something seems off to me, tedious, over-written or lacking I want her to know. Maybe she cleared it up later or maybe she disagrees, but I think she'd rather hear it from me than reviewers later. Or at least I hope so.
If the writer intends for twists and turns to happen down the road that's fine, but if the reader feels lost as the story builds that's not a good thing. You never want your reader to feel lost because you only, typically, lose a reader once.
I’ve been a bit careless today. You see, I took the day off (the kids got a snow day today), and I didn’t get my poem-prompt written this morning. However, I’ve still got a solid 30 minutes of writing time left, soooooo…
For this week’s prompt, write a careless poem. That’s right, a careless poem. It’s funny; I actually had this prompt planned out weeks in advance. Somehow, I must’ve known life was going imitate art–or vice versa.
2015 Poet’s Market
Publish your poetry!
Get the most trusted guide to publishing your poetry: the 2015 Poet’s Market!
Edited by Robert Lee Brewer, this edition of Poet’s Market includes articles on the craft of poetry, business of poetry, and promotion of poetry. Plus, interviews with poets and original contemporary poems. Oh yeah, and hundreds of poetry publishing opportunities, including book publishers, chapbook publishers, magazines, journals, online publications, contests, and so much more!
Click to continue.
Here’s my attempt at a Careless Poem:
I forgot to lock the car
which means my mixtapes
are at risk
only no one listens to tapes
anymore & anyway
I meant mixdiscs
which few people even
listen to because they
can download their music
& no one listens to the same
stuff anymore anyway
& while I’m at it
I forgot to lock the gate
which means my backyard
is at risk
only no one plays outside
anymore & anyway
to lock the doors to my house
which means my stuff & me
are at risk
only no one wants a box tv
or dvd player without hdmi
& I’m not
as valuable as I used to be
because who wants a worn out
father of five
who forgets to lock things up
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of the poetry collection, Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). He edits Poet’s Market, Writer’s Market, and Guide to Self-Publishing, in addition to writing a free weekly WritersMarket.com newsletter and poetry column for Writer’s Digest magazine.
After writing today’s poem, he’s suddenly paranoid that he really did leave everything unlocked, but he’s reassured that he has nothing much of value for folks to take anyway.
Follow him on Twitter @robertleebrewer.
Find more poetic posts here:
is it okay to ask a question in a query?
I've just read this brief on the movie American Psycho
"Patrick Bateman is young, white, beautiful, ivy leagued, and indistinguishable from his Wall Street colleagues. Shielded by conformity, privilege, and wealth, Bateman is also the ultimate serial killer, roaming freely and fearlessly. His murderous impulses are fueled by zealous materialism and piercing envy when he discovers someone else has acquired more than he has. After a colleague presents a business card superior in ink and paper to his, Bateman's blood thirst sharpens, and he steps up his homicidal activities to a frenzied pitch. Hatchets fly, butcher knives chop, chainsaws rip, and surgical instruments mutilate-how far will Bateman go? How much can he get away with?
I began to ponder if someone could write something like this as a query, with those two questions at the end?
It's ok to ask questions in a query if it works. This works, which is not surprising since it's a pitch for a movie and people spend a lot of time and money making sure those pitches entice movie viewers.
What you want to avoid in a query are rhetorical questions: what would you do if? Have you always wanted to do X?
Things that assume a mind-set of the reader are dangerous because agents on the whole are a caustic, jaded lot and we would simply prefer you tell us about the book, and leave the other stuff on the cutting room floor.
Joan Didion’s award-winning memoir The Year of Magical Thinking begins, not ends, with death. It is the sudden loss of her husband that launches her into the “year of magical thinking.” The story starts the second her husband’s life ends, and at that very moment the first parameter of the story is (very tragically) set.
When attempting to translate a significant portion of your life’s story, it is crucial that you set limits early on and decide which portion of your life will prove to be the most colorful, provocative and representative of the story you wish to tell. If you don’t set limits early in the writing process, your story can easily get out of control, meander and become completely disorganized. A well-crafted memoir will encapsulate a specific story that fits somewhere within the larger framework of your life.
This post is an excerpt from literary agent Paula Balzer’s Writing and Selling Your Memoir. Balzer is the founder and owner of The Paula Balzer Agency. She represents writers of memoir, popular culture, journalism, and fiction, including Oscar-award-winning writer of Juno, Diablo Cody, author of NYT bestsellers Pledged and Quarterlife Crisis, Alexandra Robbins, American Idol judge Randy Jackson and author of cult classic Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Bobby Henderson. Purchase her book here.
Thankfully, not all memoirs are written under such dark circumstances (although if you are an avid reader of the genre, you know by now that a good number of them are). The sudden and dramatic death of Didion’s husband provided an obvious beginning to her story. But do all life stories have such clear starting and, for that matter, ending points? Unless your story begins when you received an unpleasant diagnosis, the day your spouse left, or—on the brighter side of things—when you won several hundred million dollars in the lottery, memoirs often start with more of a whimper than a bang. The same is true of endings. Some memoirs end with complete resolution, some leave us at a comfortable middle point, and others leave us hanging. How do you know when to end a story that might still be going on?
[Memoir or Novel? 8 Issues to Think About Before Writing Your Own Story]
Setting these kinds of parameters isn’t about blowing your reader away with a gripping first page or wrapping up a complicated memoir with a perfectly poetic ending. It’s about sorting out your story before you find yourself buried in so many details—memories, ideas, facts, tangents, anecdotes—that you can’t dig yourself out.
Without having a clear framework in mind before you begin your story, you risk losing sight of why you started writing your memoir in the first place.
1. Find Your Moment of Discovery.
How does a writer decide where to begin when a life story is so full of laughter, conversations, friendships, adventures, tragedies and day-to-day memories? Knowing how to literally begin telling a story is a huge challenge for any writer—whether your story opens the day you leapt out of an airplane, or starts more subtly, at the moment you began to realize that your marriage was over. With the latter example, do you start with a description of what you were thinking? Or maybe with the conversation you had with your husband when you woke up that day? Maybe that moment came while you were watching the clock, waiting for your husband to come home on your anniversary. Or maybe it was the morning he stopped asking you if you wanted a second cup of coffee.
As a memoirist, it’s important that you take a step back and recognize when your personal journey began. This is your moment of discovery, and it sets the first parameter of your memoir. I realize this sounds a bit grand, but I promise it’s not as dramatic as it seems, and thinking along these lines when planning your memoir will prove to be incredibly helpful.
The moment of discovery is the key moment signaling that the memoirist’s story has begun. In her memoir A Three Dog Life, Abigail Thomas recalls her own moment of discovery:
Monday, April 24, at nine forty at night, our doorman Pedro called me on the intercom. “Your dog is in the elevator,” he said. The world had just changed forever, and I think I knew it even then.
“Your dog is in the elevator.” After her doorman spoke these words, Abigail learned that her husband, who was out walking the dog, had been hit by a car and had sustained a traumatic brain injury. Her memoir is a moving and eloquent account of her life with a man who lives in the continual present. While I’m sure the author wishes she had never heard those words, it is her skill as a memoirist that enables her to recognize them as a moment of discovery. It was that sentence that signaled the beginning of her new life, as difficult as it may be.
What makes Thomas’ moment of discovery so astonishing is that it is such an incredible mixture of ordinary and bizarre. Although she had not yet learned about the accident, the situation immediately suggested to her that something was desperately wrong. Several connections must have been made in her mind at once for her to realize that this simple scenario—her dog returning home alone from his walk out on the city streets—was just the beginning of a tragic and dramatic story. She was able to trace the beginning of all the massive changes she was about to experience back to this one particular moment.
Not only does this moment of discovery provide the first parameter of her story, but it is also engaging, powerful and meaningful, and it draws the reader in right from the beginning.
2. Don’t Search for Something That Isn’t There.
Perhaps you’ve chosen to write about your bucolic upbringing in a small town in Iowa, where everyone loved each other. After winning a football scholarship, you became the town doctor, beloved by all, and you married your high school sweetheart and eventually had four kids who are even more wonderful and noble than you.
Sounds pretty picturesque, right? So should you start digging through your family files to see if you had any aunts who might have lived in the attic for a spell? Or ask around to see if you’re related to any devil worshippers or ax murders? Do you need to get arrested in order to make your memoir marketable?
No, no and no.
The parameters you set for your story may be very personal and subtle, or they may be big and unmistakable. But remember, this isn’t about drama; you just need to stay focused and work within the boundaries you’ve chosen. If you’ve decided that four years in the life of a small-town doctor will make for a great memoir, there is nothing wrong with opening your story with a scene from your waiting room. It doesn’t need to be the scene of a grisly accident. It just needs to fit the story you plan to write.
[Are you writing a memoir or an autobiography? Click here to learn the differences.]
3. Work With the End in Sight.
Perhaps one of the biggest challenges of memoir writing is knowing when to end your own story. Some memoirs will have natural endings, such as when a battle with a long illness ends, when a person leaves a difficult situation, after a particular decision is made, or even after a trip has ended. But when a situation is ongoing, how do you possibly decide when it is appropriate to end your own story? While it may seem counterintuitive to know how to conclude a book before you’ve truly gotten into the thick of things, I’m a firm believer that when writing a memoir it is best to work with the end in sight.
One of the biggest advantages to memoir writing is that you usually have access to most of the materials right up front, since the story is largely composed of your own memories. Because memoirists have the advantage of knowing everything they have to work with, you can start to envision where you would like your story to go and to plan how to reach that ending point.
I think it’s important to remember that the ending of a memoir means the ending of this particular story. With memoir writing, it is the author’s job to place this parameter appropriately in the story to give the reader closure. While the memoirist’s story may change the very next day, or maybe the following week, or several years from now, at some point a decision needs to be made about how much of the story is appropriate to relay in this book.
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So if your memoir cannot be wrapped up easily at an obvious point in time, try answering the following questions when making a plan to tie things up:
- Is there an ongoing theme in my memoir that can come full circle in my ending? Is there a memory or event that I can use to demonstrate this?
- Is there a specific age or year of my life I want to end with? (If so, be sure you know why—how does this play into your memoir as a whole?)
- Was there a decision I made or an action I took at some point in my story that changed the direction of my life?
- Was there an internal change that took place? An emotional response to something that happened that played a key role in my story?
As a memoirist, you face many considerations when writing your story: how to structure it, what events to include or leave out, what tone and voice you should employ, and more. But perhaps the most important considerations are the parameters for your memoir. Setting these parameters—making these decisions—before you sit down to type will ultimately save you time and will result in a story that is centered, focused and compelling to read.
Thanks for visiting The Writer’s Dig blog. For more great writing advice, click here.
Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.
Follow Brian on Twitter: @BrianKlems
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So Kim tagged me in a post on Facebook. Apparently I'm supposed to share 7 things you don't know about me. Since I don't make it to Facebook as often as I would like I thought I'd share my things here, even though I find it hard to believe that there's anything left for longtime readers to learn.
- One of the first cars I ever learned to drive was my grandfather's canary yellow 1967 Mustang convertible. My dad still has that car and I still love that car.
- I played both volleyball and softball in high school. Badly. Okay, I sat on the bench.
- Pitbulls are my dog breed of choice. I believe strongly in shelter dogs and will pick a pit or pit mix over anything else any day.
- My first pair of designer jeans were Gloria Vanderbilts with bright blue stitching. I sort of wish I still had them.
- I prefer extreme temperatures. Give me hot or cold any day. It's the mild temperatures I can't stand.
- One of my dreams is to stay at the Ice Hotel in Sweden.
- My absolute favorite thing to do at Disney World is drink at Cava del Tequila in Mexico.