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1. New Ways to Annoy Agents

Maybe I was just in a bad mood, but I recently received a request that set my teeth on edge. I mean this really irritated me.

Not too long ago I received an email from a writer I've never heard of with a request that, frankly, I was astonished by. While I'm not quoting her email verbatim to protect her identity it was basically this:

Dear Ms Faust, I hope you don't mind me writing to you like this. My debut novel is a romantic comedy with a strong 'career girl' angle. It was released as an e-book by [redacted] Publishing recently. It would be a huge boost, were you to do me the kindness of a tweet of the link below. [title of book and description redacted]. Very sincerely, [author name redacted].

#TitleRedacted  [links redacted] via @[AuthorTwitterAccount Redacted]

I've never heard of this author, to the best of my knowledge we've never met, she never queried me and I definitely do not represent her.

This is one of those instances where someone has lost sight of how best to publicize and promote a book. Requesting that people you don't know Tweet about your book is offensive and ridiculous. It's equally annoying to receive email (I receive a lot) announcing your book when, again, I don't know you. This is all called spam people. Don't be a spammer.

--jhf

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2. 5 Rules For Getting Your Query Read

There is so much information about how to write the perfect query and what it needs to include. In all this advice the one thing everyone focuses on is how many queries agents get, the one thing they fail to focus on is how much email agents get.

Whether its a query, emails from editors, authors or spam, agents, like everyone else, receive hundreds and hundreds of email every day. Let's face it, it gets tiring and a lot of the time what we really want to do is just hit delete. So how can you ensure that your query has what it takes to avoid the delete button and, even better, has what it takes to get the agent to read it right away?

1. Who? Make it personal. No Dear Agent, To Whom It May Concern or avoiding an address. If you want an agent to think you're serious about your book and hiring an agent you need to show that you've done your due diligence. A Dear Ms. Faust or even Dear Jessica Faust is all you need.

2. What? Show the agent what you're offering right off the bat. That means in the subject and in the first line.

If you know what the agent is actively looking for via #MSWL or elsewhere that's perfect in the subject: #MSWL Historic Mystery set in New York City or if you know the agent's tastes and clients she represents: Funny Contemporary Romance like Christie Craig I know that in my case a subject that tells me this query is going to be exactly what I'm looking for will probably get me to open it almost immediately.

Everyone is inundated with too much email and too much to do. If you want to grab an agent's attention you need to do so immediately. That means, you have your subject and the first one or two lines before an agent decides whether she'll read more or just reject. Make sure what you give her in those lines is exactly what's going to make her want to read more.

Don't clutter the first line of your query with nonsense. Get to the point. Give her an amazing title, the genre (if you haven't already) and tell her about the book. I don't want to know that you've spent 15 years writing it or that it's based on a true story. You can tell me that later. Hook me and give me what I want. I want a really great book that's going to sell to millions.

3. Why? Why should I want to read your book? This is probably one of the key things an agent looks for in a query. Why should this book be any different from others in the same genre? This is the place to tell me how your book stands out in what is guaranteed to be a crowded genre (they all are) and why I should take it on. What's the hook? How is that different from every other mystery/romance/fantasy/YA out there? If you can't answer this question easily you might need to take another look at the book itself.

4. Where? Place can tell a lot about a book so tell agents where your book is set. A book set in the back woods of Mississippi has a very different feel than a book set in Portland, OR. It also helps give the agent a visual for the book. This includes time period as well.

5. How? How you write that query will make a difference. Check, double-check and recheck for typos. Send it to a couple of people in your critique group to see how it will look in an agent's inbox and, very, very important, keep it short. No one wants to spend more than a minute or two reading a query so keep it as concise as possible and give only the most important facts.

--jhf

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3. SIX BY SONDHEIM for writers


The other day I watched the terrific documentary SIX BY SONDHEIM. (available streaming on HBO-Go, or on Amazon or iTunes.) It's part biography, part show-biz history, following Sondheim's career guided by six important songs in his life. It's excellent, and I was particularly struck by how many nuggets of wisdom I found, profound insights into not just Sondheim's creative process, but a creative life in general. Though he is writing musicals, obviously, I think that much of this is applicable to novelists as well. Just replace "put on a show" with "publish." You should watch the doccy yourself because I can't do it justice... but I can provide six things that I found worth remembering:


1) On "writing what you know":  "Part of the author is always in what he writes, and partly [it's] a work of imagination. It's like what Faulkner said about Observation, Imagination and Experience - you can do without one of them, but you can't do without two."

Sondheim was paraphrasing Faulkner, but yeah. This is good advice. You may not have lived something yourself, but if you have good observation and imagination skills, you can still bring it alive on the page.

2) On harsh reality: At 15, he showed Oscar Hammerstein something he'd written.... Oscar was nice about it, but Stephen said he wanted to get REAL feedback, just like he would rate it against something professional. (Young Stephen thought his own work was terrific, and was pretty sure he was about to be the first 15 year old with a Broadway show.)

Oscar said,"Oh well in that case, this is the worst thing I've ever read." Sounds pretty harsh, but Oscar then went on to show young Stephen point-by-point how his work was failing, and Stephen had to agree. Awkward! But a learning moment. You may not want to hear that your work isn't good enough - but if you are submitting to agents and editors for publication, they will expect your work to be on par with that of a professional.

And even excellent professionals get a LOT of stinging rejections!

3) On imitation: "One of the things he [Oscar] told me to do was not to imitate him. 'If you write what you feel it will come out true. If you write what I feel, it will come out false. Write for yourself and you'll be 90% ahead of everyone else.'"

4) On learning to write: "You can't learn in a classroom and you can't learn on paper. You can only learn by writing and doing. Writing and doing. A friend says 'write something, put it on. Write something, put it on.' -- well, you can't always put it on, but that's the only way to do it. That's how everyone who's ever been good got good.

5) On failure: "I experienced real failure when I did I Hear a Waltz... we thought, well, this'll be an easy job and we'll make a quick buck. Those are reasons never to write a musical.

It was a respectable show. It was not lambasted by the critics. It was politely received by critics, and politely received by audiences, and had no passion, and no blood, and no reason to be. And I learned from that, the only reason to write is from love. You must not write because you think it's going to be a hit or because it's expedient, or anything like that. It's so difficult to write, it's so difficult to put on a show, that if you have the privilege of being able to write it, write it out of passion

That's what failure taught me." 

6) PROTIP: "I work entirely with Blackwing pencils for a number of reasons. One is, it's very soft lead, and therefore wears down very quickly, so you can spend lots of time resharpening. Which is a lot easier and more fun than writing." ;-)




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4. Happy Memorial Day!

Our offices are closed to celebrate Memorial Day. 



We wish you a great day.

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5. Get to Know Moe Ferrara

We are so excited to have Moe join BookEnds. It's always great to have fresh ideas come into a team, and Moe has already made some wonderful changes. At this point, you probably all know that Moe is looking for adult, young adult and middle grade submissions, especially in Science Fiction and Fantasy. She's also looking for romance and LBGBTQ characters. However, there's more to Moe than just her submission guidelines and I wanted to give her the floor to let you get to know her a little better.

Oh, and don't forget to follow Moe on Twitter: @inthesestones 



Tagline: I’m not really a coffee addict, I just play one on TV.

What Excites You About Being an Agent: I honestly cannot wait to dive into my submissions inbox. HINT: this totally means that if you are writing in the genres I represent, you should be flooding my inbox to the point I’m quoting JAWS and asking for a bigger boat. (please say I haven’t just dated myself here…)

Book Concepts You Never Want to See in Your Query Box: No vampires. Please. No vampires. I will look at literally ANY other paranormal creature… save vampires.

Glass ½ full or ½ empty: Actually, it doesn’t matter if it’s half full or half empty. What matters is that there’s still room for more coffee or more wine. My ideal glass is the one that will hold an entire bottle of wine… but I digress.

Starbucks Drink of Choice: Back in another life I worked at Starbucks, so I’ve lost the taste for it after making one too many caramel macchiatos. However, I have two drinks I absolutely adore — one is on the menu and one is something we baristas came up with. On the menu, when I need a caffeine jolt (are we seeing a trend here?) would be a grande sugar-free cinnamon dolce Americano. For those playing along at home, that is the proper way to “call” a drink. Some habits never die. However, if you want a fantastic drink in the fall/winter, ask for a “Chaider.” Order a caramel apple spice and ask for a bit of chai in it. Trust me — tastes exactly like mulled cider.

eReader or Print book: It really depends on the type of book I’m reading. If it’s submissions, I tend to read them on my iPad because it puts me in the frame of mind to read critically. My Kindle is stocked with about 90% erotic romance and the books I utterly adore and want them close to hand if I want to re-visit an old love. Otherwise… as the friends who have helped me move can attest… I own far too many print books. So the not-so-short answer is “both.”

Morning person or Evening person: Well, since it’s currently 1:38 AM as I’m answering these questions, I leave it to you to decide if I’m a morning or an evening person.

Working soundtrack: I oscillate between Broadway and film soundtracks depending on what I’m working on at any given point in time. Right now, I’m staring at Spotify waiting for the Something Rotten! soundtrack to drop so I can play it obsessively.

If You Could Move Your Office Anywhere in the world where would you go: I say this without hesitation: London. I lived abroad for five months during law school and it’s one of the few places that just feels like home to me. If money weren’t an object, I’d base my office near Earl’s Court or Kensington.

Any other questions for Moe? Now's the time to ask.



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6. Query Critique: YA Thriller

Jessica-

Thank you so much for offering to critique queries on your blog. I don't mind brutal honesty a bit. I understand that you will receive many query letters and that mine might not get picked. 

Best regards,

[redacted]



"I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog."

Dear Ms. Agent,
When [I think it would be helpful to include her age here so we know right off the top it's YA] Sasha’s [could you just say Sasha and Raj's so we can tighten?] jewel-thief father dies before completing the greatest heist of his career, she and her brother, Raj, they vow to steal a  the priceless sapphire for him in his memory. Her father had meticulously planned the heist to every detail. As long as they stick to his notes, nothing should go wrong . . . but of course everything does.  I think it's obvious everything is going to go wrong, but keep us hanging on that a little. It builds suspense and I'll want that in the book too.
Sasha and Raj discover the safe open and the sapphire already gone. Even worse, the owner’s teenage daughter lies unconscious in a pool of blood. Moments later the police arrive, and Raj believes he and Sasha have been set-up. They manage to escape, but not before being spotted by guests at a party next door. When the theft hits the news, Sasha learns her father’s darkest secret.
He stole more than jewels. He stole Sasha as well. And here's where you lose me. Suddenly this feels like two different books. I was super intrigued by two kids who were completing their dad's jewel heist. I pictured a YA Italian Job in my head. And then all of a sudden it becomes a story about an abducted child which interests me as well, but doesn't feel like it's necessarily the same book.
The girl accused of the crime, Avery, is a sister Sasha can’t remember. The newspapers tell a startling tale of Avery’s past: her identical twin was abducted from a playground in London. Since the party guests are certain they saw Avery flee the apartment building on the night in question, Sasha must unravel the tangled knots of their father’s past to win her sister’s freedom. If she can find the link between the missing jewel and whoever set them up, then perhaps she can find the sapphire and clear her sister’s name. And, most important of all, reunite with the twin she hasn’t seen in fourteen years. You start to lose me here too. Why would Sasha suddenly care about Avery? And why is Avery accused? Suddenly your query has me asking a lot of questions about the book and to me it feels like the book itself isn't working. I'm not saying that both aspects can't be in the book, I'm just saying that to me it doesn't feel like they're working. They don't feel cohesive.
My YA Thriller VANISHED is complete at 78,000 words. I envision this title as the first in a two-book series. I am working on the second book now.
Recently, I was fortunate enough to hear Ally Carter, author of the HEIST SOCIETY books, speak at a local library on her book tour. She mentioned that most of her readers are Middle School students. I believe VANISHED will appeal to readers who devoured Ms. Carter’s books in Middle School and are looking for something geared to a slightly older audience.  I'm not sure you need this. It's sort of interesting so it can't hurt, but most agents/editors will know who the YA audience is and will hope you know it too.
In your interview with Kirkus Review you mentioned an interest in YA novels about siblings. I hope you will enjoy meeting Sasha and Raj. Below is the first ten pages of VANISHED. This is good. Show that you've done your research. Obviously you can't do this for every agent you query, but it does help when you can.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
[redacted]
[phone number redacted]
@[redacted]
[redacted]@yahoo.com

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7. Meet Moe Ferrara, The Newest BookEnds Agent


I have been waiting and waiting to announce this news, not necessarily patiently, and here it is. I am thrilled to announce the addition of Moe Ferrara to BookEnds.


The very first time I talked with Moe I knew she was someone I wanted to have a beer with and, therefore, the perfect fit for our team. Before even officially starting at BookEnds she's proven herself to be smart, creative, passionate, motivated and a real go-getter. I feel very lucky that she's chosen to continue following her publishing dreams with BookEnds.

Moe is looking to acquire adult, young adult and middle grade fiction in science fiction, fantasy and romance. She's also actively looking for projects with LGBTQ characters. Queries can be sent to Moe at MFsubmissions@bookends-inc.com.

Moe joins Kim Lionetti, Jessica Alvarez and Beth Campbell at BookEnds. I couldn't be prouder of this team and everything they do. 

More information on all the BookEnds agents, who they are and what they are acquiring can be found on our website.

Today is a great day to celebrate at BookEnds. Please spread the word and help me welcome Moe.

--jhf

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8. New Writers Digest Class: Writing and Selling Children's Books 5/21

I'm teaching a new Writers Digest Webinar this Thursday with critique incuded, and if you are interested in writing for kids, you should be in on it! The class on Middle Grade Fiction has been by far the most well-attended and often-asked-about - I think I've repeated it three times. But I kept getting requests for Picture Books, too! So this is a new class: WRITING AND SELLING CHILDREN'S BOOKS.

The live webinar is Thursday, 5/21 at 1pm eastern. Critique of your work OR query is included, and all questions will be answered.

If you cannot attend live DON'T WORRY! Everyone who signs up for the live webinar WILL get a critique and ALL questions will be answered, even if you can't be "in the room" on the day you'll have the opportunity to send questions in. And you'll have access to the program materials for a year.

The class will cover a brief overview of the children's market from baby books to middle grade fiction (some of this will be info that has been covered in prior MG only webinars). The ALL NEW sections are all about picture books, chapter books and early readers, including common Picture Book pitfalls, self-editing picture books, agent-snagging tips and more.

Some success stories:

I found my client Jennifer Torres from a WD Webinar when she submitted an early version of her awesome middle grade book STEF SOTO, TACO QUEEN to be critiqued. Not too long after that, she revised, queried me, I signed her, and we sold her book in a two-book deal to Little Brown.

I also saw this on twitter - Julie Falatko not only got an agent after the critique, but that agent went on to sell THREE books to Viking/Penguin. Awesome!




There's more info on the Writers Digest Website - hope to "see" you there! 

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9. The Time to Edit

We talk a lot about the writing process and how each writer has her way of doing things.Believe it or not, editing isn't much different. Each editor has a different editing process and, like writing, it tends to be as creative as it is technical.

Most of the editing an agent does, or at least most of the editing I do, is for content. I'm not a copyeditor and therefore that's not my primary concern. My concern is helping the author create the strongest story possible to either sell it to the publisher or, in some cases, sell it to the reader.

A common misconception is that editing shouldn't take much longer than reading. I think you'd be surprised how often I'll get a book on a Monday with a request to have it edited and returned by Friday. That can only be done if I shut down everything else I have scheduled for the week and edit.

On the quick end an edit is more or less reading the book and taking notes as you go. This can be done about twice as long as it takes you to read a book. If however the book needs more work it can take a whole lot longer. Recently I edited a book and timed myself. It took me two-three hours to get 50 pages done. That means with a 400 page book I spent roughly 8-12 hours editing. And editing, like writing, cannot typically be done all in one sitting. I get sloppy, I get tired and I can't focus. So in this case I was breaking it up into 1-2 hour time slots. I still had other work to do after all.

It still took me most of the week go get finished.

My suggestion to authors looking to get an edit from their agent before sending to an editor is to give it to your agent at least 4-6 weeks prior to your due date. Your agent needs time to edit, but you also need the time to revise or incorporate those edits. I would also suggest planning this time well-ahead with your agent. Make sure you get on her schedule and she's aware it's coming. The worst thing that can happen is that you spring it on her, expect it in a week, and she's facing one of the busiest weeks of her year. That's probably not going to make anyone happy.

--jhf

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10. Let the Main Character Drive the Bus

A special thank you to author Rebecca Petruck. I read her article in the March/April edition of the SCBWI magazine (originally published on the blog Nerdy Chicks Write) and was inspired. My original plan was to write my own version, but after reading hers about three times I realized there was no way I could do it better. This breakdown of Hunger Games is absolutely brilliant. So instead I went to the source and she was kind enough to allow me to reprint her original version. I think its valuable advice for writers of all fiction, especially those of suspense of any kind.

Let the Main Character Drive the Bus, by Rebecca Petruck

You know how “Show Don’t Tell” is both true and kind of meaningless these days? I think the same about “Start with Action.” That advice drives me crazy because it’s incomplete: “Start with an Action that Reveals the MC’s Character.”

Imagine if The Hunger Games opened with Katniss volunteering. It would be dramatic, and we’d think her brave for taking her sister’s place. But would we be invested in the decision? A lot of people are surprised when I lay out the actual opening of The Hunger Games:
·       Katniss wakes up alone—Prim isn’t there (motivating fear);
·       Katniss sneaks across the perimeter to hunt (not afraid to break what she considers senseless rules; demonstrates a skill);
·       talks with Gale (establishes rules of world; her focus on survival blinds her to his feelings);
·       stops by the market and to see the mayor’s daughter to trade (confidence in navigating her world);
·       prepares for the reaping (Katniss’ soft side revealed in her care for Prim);
·       at the reaping (Katniss’ view of the world).
Laid out like that, the scenes don’t sound very exciting do they? And, they take up twenty pages of space. Yet, the opening of The Hunger Games is deeply compelling because of the sense of dread hanging over every moment and because we are getting to know a fascinating and contrary character. On the surface, Suzanne Collins didn’t start with action that seems particularly interesting, but she started with the right action to reveal her MC’s character.

Which is why when I work with critique partners, the thing I often get most passionate about is plot. Plot is the action the MC takes to reach her external goal, and that action ultimately must reveal not only her true, internal goal but also her soul, the “Why” of everything she does. That’s a lot to ask of an action which is why a well-conceived plot is essential. I don’t care what happens next; I care how what happens next affects the MC.

In Wired for Story,* Lisa Cron discusses the action-reaction-decision triad of effective scene-making, which I interpret as plot-character-character. Plot is the speeding bus your MC can’t get off. How she reacts to her situation and the things she decides to do because of it is what your story is about. In itself, plot is fairly passive—it’s a bus. The driver is the reason we care.**

Once you know your MC well, certain decisions become inevitable, which means key elements of plot become inevitable, too. That doesn’t mean your plot becomes predictable. It’s that the logic that guides your MC’s decisions means certain actions must follow. Plot unveils that logic and reveals a compelling and unpredictable character. Often, because your MC’s worldview is skewed by some conditioning event, not only can’t the reader predict how the MC will react and what she will decide, but also the MC is frequently surprised, too. This cycle reveals the MC not only to the reader but to herself, and forces her to react and make more decisions that lead to the internal change she may not be aware she needs and actively resists.

In that sense, don’t look at plot as “What Happens Next.” Look at plot as the cattle prod that forces the MC to make decisions that reveal her strengths, weaknesses, professed goals, and secret goals, often unacknowledged even to herself. Plot is what lays bare your MC, peeling back layer after layer of flesh until we finally glimpse the beating heart. I like the way Cron decribes this, “…the heart of the story doesn’t lie in what happens; it beats in what those events meanto the protagonist.”

What does this mean in the practical sense of putting words on the page? Try out your MC in a variety of scenarios, looking for actions that she will resist the most, that will draw the strongest reactions, and force the most difficult decisions. Dig past your first two, three, four ideas and see what happens when you get down to the fifth or sixth. Once you’ve collected a number of actions your MC will particularly detest, check out Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. It’s an effective tool for organizing those actions into a plot. (You may download a Beat Sheet here: http://www.savethecat.com/category/beat-sheet.)

In short, seeking the answer to a question your characters want answered should lead them to the question they actually need answered. Seeking requires movement. Plot creates that movement and in doing so reveals your characters’ true selves.


*I <3 i="" style="mso-bidi-font-style: normal;">Wired for Story
. Seriously, it took extreme willpower to not quote half the book and call this post done.
**Did I torture that metaphor? I really wanted to use Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, so I had to shoehorn in the driving metaphor somewhere. Also, Speed, because that movie should not be so damned watchable.


Rebecca Petruck is a Minnesota girl, though she also has lived in Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, England, Connecticut and, currently, North Carolina. A former member of 4-H, she was also a Girl Scout, a cheerleader, and competed in MathCounts. She reads National Geographic cover to cover. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Fiction, from UNC Wilmington, and is represented by Kate Testerman of kt literary. 

Her debut STEERING TOWARD NORMAL is a Blue Ribbon winner as a Best Book of 2014 by the Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books (BCCB), an American Booksellers Association Indies Introduce New Voices selection, as well as a Kids Indie Next List title. Vanity Fair's Hollywood dubbed it a "book we'd like to see made into a film," the L.A. Times included STEERING TOWARD NORMAL in its Summer Books Preview, Christian Science Monitor named it one of 25 Best New Middle Grade Novels, it is part of the International Reading Association's list "Books Can Be a Tool of Peace," in the 2014 ABC Best Books for Children catalog, and an American Farm Bureau Foundation for Agriculture Recommended Publication. The BCCB gave it a starred review.
 

STEERING TOWARD NORMAL was released by Abrams/Amulet May 2014. You may visit her online at www.rebeccapetruck.com.

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11. Prioritizing Your Submission List

This question came from a reader:

I was wondering your thoughts about prioritising agents for querying? I've got a list of agents who represent my genre. Based on the authors they represent and what I've read about them I have 6 of those agents at the top of my list. How should you query to give you the best chance of landing a top-of-list (TOL) agent:
  • Send to your top agents first and work down?
  • Send to the other agents first so you can edit your query based on the outcome of those queries before sending to your TOL agent?
  • Send a mix to TOL and other agents?


I think the best people to answer this question are probably other authors. Since my submission pool (editors and publishing houses) is a lot smaller than an author's my process is a little different. That being said, I have some thoughts.

I think you should make a list of Tier I, II and III agents. That doesn't necessarily mean the agents themselves are better or worse than each other, but make the list based on how you think the agent will suit you. What kind of books does she represent, have you ever met her and what was your rapport like, what have you heard from others about the agent.

And then I would divide them up. If you have 15 agents on each list I would take five from each for your first round of submissions, five from each for your second round, and so on. That allows you the possibility of editing while still reaching your Tier I agents, but also gives you the opportunity to explore agents who might end up quickly moving to that Tier I slot.

I also think you set a timeline for that next round. Don't wait until every agent from your first round responds, instead give them about 2-3 months (whatever works for you) and then send your next round. There are agents who don't respond, those you'll never hear from and those who are just slow. You can't let them dictate how quickly you move.

--jhf

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12. Happy Book Birthday to MRS NOODLEKUGEL AND DROOLY THE BEAR!

In the hilarious third book in the MRS NOODLEKUGEL series, Nick and Maxine encounter meet, and lose, and have to find, a large and rather... well, DROOLY new friend.

From the publisher: "When their father decides to compete to be speed-knitting champion of the world, Nick and Maxine are happy to stay with their babysitter, Mrs. Noodlekugel, along with her talking cats and four mice who wear glasses. What they don't expect is a dripping-wet, whiskered man in the kitchen the next morning. Captain Noodlekugel has left his seafaring life to train animals for the circus, and he's even brought with him a hefty bear named Drooly for practice. But whenever he tries to teach Drooly to dance, the bear wobbles and falls asleep on the tulips. When Drooly goes missing, the siblings must try to figure out where a big clumsy bear might go!"

Perfect for little kids with big imaginations (or actually any aged people who love a huge dose of funny in their chapter books!) Pinkwater is at the top of his game, and illustrator Adam Stower has outdone himself with his goofy and adorable drawings.

Also, the first two installments of the series are now available in paperback, and each book does stand alone.

Buy the book from your local independent bookstore, Oblong, Powells, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or wherever find books are sold.

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13. An Agent's Definition of "A Lot of Work"

In response to last Friday's post on Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters there was a great comment from a reader that I thought would be better addressed if I broke it up and posted it for the audience at large.

E.L. Wagner said...
I've heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it's hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn't quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they're sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn't sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it's one that I've wondered about.
I get the "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn't prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can't sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?



In yesterday's post I discussed why an agent might think another agent could better sell a book. Today I want to address why an agent doesn't seem willing to work with an author editorially.

Why if, "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" won't an agent take on the job. If this is the rejection you're getting it means that it doesn't need a minimum amount of polishing. It means that book still needs good, intense revisions, and possibly a couple of rounds of them.

I'm working with a new client right now. She just completed a very intense round of revisions for me. When I offered representation I thought the book was in great shape and of course I absolutely loved it. I did have some concerns and I addressed them with the author when I first offered, so I thought we both knew what we were getting ourselves into, but as what often happens, once I sat down to read with my editor's cap on I found a lot that was going to need revising. And let me tell you something, when an editor or agent tells you a lot needs to be changed, you better expect to move mountains. I always tell authors that "minor revisions" to an editor or agent mean something completely different (and usually much bigger) to an author.

She dove in, but I will tell you right now that book is, in some ways, a completely different book. And we might go another round or two before I'm ready to submit. And that's a minimum amount of polishing.

If an agent is telling you you have a good idea, but it still needs work you need to take a close look at the manuscript because it probably needs a good rewrite or two (or something close to that).

--jhf

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14. The Many Reasons an Agent Rejects a Book

In response to last Friday's post on Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters there was a great comment from a reader that I thought would be better addressed in a post to the audience at large.

E.L. Wagner said...
I've heard these kinds of comments before, and as someone who is out in the trenches querying a novel, of course, it's hard not to get discouraged when an agent says they liked your book but it wasn't quite what they need for their list at the moment, but they're sure someone will end up repping it.
Out of curiosity, why would an agent feel that they personally couldn't sell a well-written and marketable novel (or get it a deal that does it justice), but another agent might be able to? It may seem like a naive question, but it's one that I've wondered about.
I get the "this is promising but it needs a lot of work yet" rejections some people get. All else being equal, who wouldn't prefer to take on a manuscript that needs a minimum amount of polishing before shopping it to publishers? But all else being equal, what makes an agent think they personally can't sell a given manuscript when someone else might be able to?


I can imagine that as a querying author there is always so much to get discouraged about. I know I feel it myself when I'm submitting my client's work and get those second reads that don't pan out or an enthusiastic editor that can't get the support of the rest of her team. That being said, I also know that finding someone who has some level of enthusiasm is another positive step in the right direction. It means there is something there and that the author and I are on the right path. I'm also painfully optimistic that good things are always around the corner.

There are a ton of reasons an agent might personally feel she couldn't sell something. It could be that she likes it, but doesn't have the vision for it (I think I'll talk more about this tomorrow), it could mean that she sees the potential marketability in it, but also worried it's not quite there yet and doesn't have the time or enough enthusiasm to take the risk.

Different agents have different specialties and strengths. One might love editing and working on revisions while another feels she's better at selling and working with the author on the back end of things. Both might do mysteries, but one might feel her strength is historical while the other is a female protagonist. It could be a connection with the voice or a certain knowledge of just two editors who happen to be looking for this thing. Or, it could just come down to level of enthusiasm and how full an agent's list is.

There are so many different things that come into play when an agent rejects a work and its rare an author will ever know them all which is why it's best to take the good news when you can and run with it.

--jhf

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15. Query question: agents asking where you're querying

 I have a question about terminology. I received a request for a full along with a detailed synopsis "...and a list of submissions to other agencies or publishers, if any." I wasn't sure if this meant a list of queries sent or just a list of any agencies or publishers who also have the full ms.




It means a list of places that are looking at your manuscript. That's a submission. A query is only a query.


Those kinds of blanket requests bring out my inner curmudgeon too. I'm tempted to say "what the hell business is it of yours?"


On the other hand, if I've read your ms, and liked it, and want to discuss how fabulous I will be for your career, only to discover that other agents have their mitts on the manuscript too; well, then, I DO ask who has it cause if it's Barbara Poelle, I know to deliver a case of vodka to her office to distract her.

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16. Thoughts on Sending Rejection Letters


I'm not going to lie to you. More often than not I send a rejection letter without even thinking twice. In fact, sometimes I send a rejection with some relief. Relief that there's one less email for me to attend to.


Last week however the great authors in the universe got revenge on me by handing me two manuscripts that I felt I had to reject, but did so with much regret. Now to be fair, both of these manuscripts had been sitting on my Kindle for quite some time and in both cases I'd read a good chunk, but had put them down for one reason or another.

In the end, the fact that I had put them down and not rushed to get back to them, or thought about them since, was a huge factor in why I decided to reject these works. There were also some other issues/concerns I had with each book, but I don't need to get into those details here.

Rejecting a book isn't always easy. There are plenty of times an agent feels that a book needs more work than she's ready to take on or can clearly see why she wouldn't be able to sell the book despite the fact that she loved the writing, was riveted by the voice and maybe even finished it well after she knew she was rejecting. 

In both of these cases I won't be at all surprised if some other agent jumps on board and sells the book. Proof that I just wasn't the right agent for either of them.

--jhf


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17. Query Question: withdrawing a query

 Lets say you have sent out a certain number of queries and you're getting a rate of rejection that seems to beg a rewrite (even if its just of the first chapter). Not all agents whom you've queried have responded. 

Is it acceptable to send follow up emails to the remaining queries telling those agents that you would like to withdraw your query before they've reviewed it? (1) 
Would that be looked upon in a negative light? (2) 
Would it make querying those agents again harder? (3)

(1) Yes
(2) No
(3) No

I always want to see your best work. I'd rather you withdraw something if you've had a blinding realization that this isn't the best you can do.

This happens more than you think, and often with requested fulls. I actually have a file folder to store requested fulls that have been withdrawn pending revision and it's almost never empty.



And frankly, this is one of those things I'd rather help you avoid, instead of figuring out how to do correctly.

So, how do you figure out if your work is ready to be queried?

1. Did you let the book sit for at least a month, then go back and read with fresh eyes?
a. no--you're not ready. Do this, then go to 2.
b. yes, go to 2.

2. Have you read the book out loud to yourself?
a. no-you're not ready. Do this, then go to 3.
b. yes, go to 3.

3. Have you looked at each sentence in the book to make sure it is the leanest, most elegant sentence you can write?
a. no-you're not ready. Do this, then go to 4.
b. yes, go to 4

4. Have you asked beta readers, or critique partners to read the book?
a. no-you're not ready. Do this, then go to 5.
b. yes, go to 5.

5. Are the beta readers and/or critique partners enthusiastic about this project?
a. no-you're not ready. Time for a class or an evaluation from an agent at a conference.
b. yes, you're ready.


If you jump the gun, it won't kill you, but honestly you don't need extra rejections in your life. Making sure your work is really ready for the beady eyes of a mercenary agent isn't something you want to rush. And it's really not something you want to think "oh, it's good enough, let's just see what they say."


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18. Query Critique: Contemporary YA

I agree that the material in this email can be posted and critiqued on the BookEnds Literary Agency blog. I give permission for it to be archived for the life of the blog.

Dear Query Queen,

A text message leads seventeen-year-old Shaun Daley to question what everyone else has taken at face value—that his gifted twin committed suicide.
 
Torn apart already by grief and his parents’ crumbling marriage, Shaun turns to his brother’s best friend—nerdy, introverted Mira Patel—to help decipher the message.
 
Mira has her own problems, struggling between unrealistic parental expectations and a sister who breaks every rule in their traditional Indian household. But she helps Shaun track down the ex-classmate who sent the text, only to witness the guy’s death in a freak hit-and-run. Then her sister dies of a drug overdose.
 
Three deaths—a hit-and-run, a suicide, and the overdose—that share a common link. And, in order to stop a killer clever enough to mask his murders as accidental, Mira and Shaun must find that link and trap him before he finishes them off, too.
 
My Young Adult contemporary, IMPERFECT LIVES, is told in dual POV and is complete at 56,000 words. Thank you for your time and consideration.

JHF: Thank you for submitting your query. I think this this one, since it's short, I'm going to give my overall impressions.

My biggest concern is that this doesn't feel like anything special or different. The entire query feels like it falls a little short to me. I know you meant your opening line to be dramatic, but it wasn't. It's a common YA trope (which isn't necessarily a bad thing), but because of that it doesn't have the in-your-face factor that I think you were looking for.

In fact, that's one of my concerns with the entire query and, therefore, the novel. It feels sort of familiar. It doesn't have the special oomph or hook that makes it really stand out. I think what this book really is about is, "a killer clever enough to mask his murders as accidental." While that's not entirely different, it feels like that's what is supposed to make this book stand out.

You label this as YA contemporary which disappointed me a little because what I was most excited about was this killer. For that reason I would want it to be suspense, which I assume its not.

--jhf

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19. Interacting with agents in the wild

Last week was filled with revels surrounding the Edgar Awards,  then Malice Domestic. During much of this I was in the same place with authors, published and unpublished, agented, not-agented, ept and inept.  After a week of seeing some good interactions, and more than a few bad ones,  here are some tips on what to do to increase your chances that if you are looking for an agent, your interaction with one you meet in the wild will be a good one.

First, how to introduce yourself.

1. Tell me you read the blog.  It's better if this is actually true of course. As an opening, this is gold, because then I am thanking YOU, and can then ask where you're from and what you write.

If the agent doesn't write a blog, figure out something else, like "I saw your interview in Writers Digest, it was very helpful."

2.  Tell me that QueryShark helped you.  That's a sure-fire winner because then, I can ask you about your book.  This is so much more effective than you leading with "here, let me tell you about my book."

If you start by making it personal and important to ME, you've engaged my interest.  This is the first rule of selling, and if you want to talk to me about your book, you ARE SELLING.

Second, if you want to meet me, here's how to get on my radar at a conference:

3. Be nice to my clients. Often they introduce me to their friends at conferences. Any pal of a client is ok in my book.

4. Give good panel. I attend panels that my clients are on, and if you're fabulous I will buy your books and introduce myself.  How do you give good panel? You read the books of the other panelists, interact with the other panelists in a good way, and are charming. A light-hearted bio always helps.  A willingness to be funny about yourself too.  Not everyone is capable of giving great panel, but it's a great way to get my attention.


5. Win the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript grant. I pay serious attention to this contest.



Third, once the conversation gets started:

6.  Don't mention previous rejections. There's simply no way to reply to that, even if you say it without rancor, with something other than:
"Oh I was deranged, please send it again?"
"Oh did you find anyone who thought it was good?"
"Yea I remember that."

None of these lead to pleasant conversation. Pleasant conversation is your goal here!

Look for another gambit.  The very best one is asking about my clients:
 "How's that amazing Stephanie Jaye Evans?"
"I loved RUNNER!"
"Steve Ulfelder's books knock my sox off."

If you don't have those salvos available (and it's ok if you don't) ask what I'm reading. Ask if I'm having a good conference. Ask me if you can buy me a drink!

Since I too am in a social situation there with you, I am fully prepared to take your opening salvo and return it with gusto; Yes, I'd love a drink. Shall we find a waitress? What do you prefer?  or I'm exhausted I had to catch a 7am train! How did you get here? Where are you from?


See how that works? Now we're having conversation, and I don't want to eject you from my table because you started out with that stupid "hey you rejected me" thing.


Fourth, be attuned to setting

7. Don't interrupt a meeting. ASK if you're not sure. I was always glad to say "no, you're not interrupting" this weekend at Malice. I'm much more likely to be in a meeting if you see me talking to someone at BEA.  That said, two of my colleagues at Malice were there for LOTS of meetings, so don't ever assume. ASK.

8. Don't hover if I'm talking on my phone. 

9. Don't start a conversation on the way in to the Ladies. Start it when I'm washing my hands.

10. If I'm wandering around looking distracted and anxious, I'm probably trying to find the room I'm supposed to be in in five minutes. Asking if you can help me is a very nice thing to do.


When you look at that list, it's true, it's all about ME. Remember, this is a sales situation. You want my attention. I'm not sure yet if I want yours.

And if this feels one-sided, just remember, I'm in YOUR position at conferences when I'm introduced to or want to meet editors. These tips apply to that situation too.

Above all, remember agents are people. You're just not going to like some of us, and that's ok. I don't like some of us either.



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20. Query question: when the call isn't The Call


What are your thoughts on agents who make "the call" but only to gauge the writer's interest in revising, as opposed to offering representation?

Note: This has happened to me twice. I'm beyond frustrated and, quite frankly, a tad insulted that (proverbially speaking) an agent won't put a ring on my finger until they see how I perform in bed. Sounds crude, but it's true :/

My thoughts are, would you like it more if we called with form rejections?

I'm not sure how "the call" came to be the expectation for how agents offered representation, or that the only time an agent calls is to offer representation.

I've called several people at that query stage, and it wasn't to offer representation, it was to straighten out something like missing pages, or screwy manuscript format, or some other lesser matter. I'm really sorry if they were disappointed about the subject of the call, but it's a whole lot easier to do some of this stuff by phone rather than email.


You've set yourself up here. If an agent calls you to discuss revision, it's a whole lot better than a form rejection.
And trust me, finding out if an author is open to revision is one of the key things I'd want to know before offering to take them on as a client.

"The call" is like "happy book birthday"--something invented within the last couple years that has taken on an importance that is not warranted. It's a shorthand used by  authors to talk amongst themselves, but it's not a shorthand used here.  I can't think of a time when I've said "time to make The Call" when I was considering taking on a client. In fact, by the time we get to that point, we've had SEVERAL phone calls.

Try not to see it as an insult. It's an expression of interest. In other words, it's a good thing.


 

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21. Recent Reads


I've been getting a lot of reading in lately which I love. I've also been determined to stop buying new things, including books, until I use and read what I have. Which means I'm finally working through the piles of books I've been wanting to get to (some for years).


On my train ride to Malice Domestic I finally picked up Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. Weirdly I didn't realize what I'd done until I was about to board the train.  I've read some mixed reviews about this book, but I really liked it. Of course I really like psychological suspense. I thought the main character was intriguing and the concept was brilliant. Who doesn't ride a train and wonder about the lives beyond the windows? I definitely thought this book was worthy of the hype.

On my way home from Malice Domestic I started The Anatomist's Wife (A Lady Darby Mystery) by Anna Lee Huber. I'm embarrassed by how long this has been sitting on my shelf. Obviously I'm not finished with this yet, but so far I'm really enjoying it. I love historical mysteries with a female protagonist in an untraditional role. If all goes well I suspect I'll be looking for more in this series.

And the Malice Domestic conference? It was great fun as always. There is nothing I love more than the opportunity to sit down and talk with my clients in person. I've returned home with a list of goals and tasks I need to accomplish. So I guess it's time to put the pleasure reading down and get to work.

--jhf


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22. Happy Book Birthday to HOW TO READ A STORY by Kate Messner


Step One: Find a story. (A good one.)
Step Two: Find a reading buddy. (Someone nice.)
Step Three: Find a reading spot. (Couches are cozy.)
Now: Begin.


Storytellers Kate Messner and Mark Siegel chronicle the process of becoming a reader: from pulling a book off the shelf and finding someone with whom to share a story, to reading aloud, predicting what will happen, and--finally--coming to The End. This picture book playfully and movingly illustrates the idea that the reader who discovers the love of reading finds, at the end, the beginning.

 Ask for HOW TO READ A STORY from your library, or get your own copy at your local independent bookstore, or Oblong, or Bookstore Plus, or anywhere fine books are sold! 

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23. Query Question: prioritizing agent choice by publishers sales

I've been checking where agents have gotten their clients published. Should I be concerned if I don't see any larger publishers or publishers on my wish list? I wonder if maybe the books the agents were shopping weren't of interest to the larger ones or maybe the agents didn't have the right contacts with them. Is it advisable to still query them, then if I get 'the call' inquire about such things and make a decisions from there?
You're operating from an incomplete data base, no matter how carefully you research agents.

Not all deals are reported. Not all books have acknowledgements. Not all agents list all deals on their website or blog.  (I myself am WOEFULLY behind on posting deals for example.)


You're also operating from a limited knowledge base about publishers.  There is a lot of information about publishers you'll never see in public forum, and I wouldn't tell you unless you were a client and we were reviewing the submission data base.

In other words, you don't know enough to start culling agents at this point.

Query widely.

When you get an offer of representation, be forthright with your agent about what you want and then LISTEN to her/him when she gives you some info that might change your mind.


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24. Manuscript Read Times

The other day I received an email from an author checking on a manuscript that was submitted two weeks prior. Two weeks. I'm lucky if I get to the pressing things on my to-do list in two weeks, but submissions? Doubtful.

Anyone submitting to me can clearly see on our website that it takes me 12 weeks to respond to partial and full requests. I know that's a long time, but we discussed it in detail at BookEnds and decided we'd rather list the longer end of our response times to eliminate disgruntled authors after 8 weeks. That being said, as of this writing, I'm backed up on requested material to the beginning of the year. I have one or two from last year, but that's because they are going through some second reads.

I'm slow. I'm not going to lie about that. I also have an incredibly full client list, one that keeps me very busy, so when I do sit down to read and offer representation it's because I'm really, really, really excited about the book.

When submitting I can't stress enough how important it is to pay attention to reading times posted on an agent's website. Most agents will tell you, via their websites, that it takes a certain amount of time to read queries and an even longer amount of time to read requested material. Unless you have an offer of any sort there's no reason to contact the agent before that read time is up and, even then, I would suggested buffering it by a week or two.

If an agent doesn't have reading times posted I would assume 8-12 weeks for everything you send. While I suspect some agents are faster, and most are faster than me, 8-12 weeks is probably the standard rule.

--jhf


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25. Query Question: the hybrid author

With the growing popularity of hybrid and self-publishing options, I have a number of published authors in my writing chapter who are not represented and now wish to find agents.

Publishers like Tule, Booktrope, and Entangled are accepting authors without agents. In addition, several of these authors have pending deals that are based on proposals -- the books aren't written.

How would these authors find an agent now? What would a query letter from a published author seeking representation after-the-fact need to say? 

If you're querying for a novel that hasn't been sold, you query as normal. In your pub credits you mention the books you've sold previously and the publisher to whom you've sold them. If the books are sold but not yet published, you say "forthcoming from X Press."

If you're querying for a novel for which you have an offer in hand (book written or not), you put that information in the subject line:

RE: Query for Title (publication offer received)


One of the HUGE drawbacks of taking on clients who have not had an agent negotiate their previous publishing deal/s, is that the author is now tied up by the terms of that contract.

Sometimes that's not the best news you can bring to the table:



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