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More writers are hiring editors these days, whether they’re going indie or just making sure the manuscript is polished before submitting to agents and publishers. If you’re a newer writer, unpublished, here are some things I think you should do before spending your hard-earned money on a freelance editor.
(1) Get objective feedback.
It’s best to have a critique group or partner, if possible. Try to get the most honest feedback you can—not on grammar and punctuation, but on the overall content of your book. Are readers finding the book engaging? Are they reading to the end? Are they confused?
(2) Edit & revise your book using reputable sources.
Find fiction resources HERE. My favorites for the revision phase are Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Browne & King, and Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell.
Non-fiction resources HERE. Writing a memoir or personal story? Click HERE.
(3) Understand and follow 3-act structure.
This is for fiction and memoir. PLEASE don’t underestimate the importance of story structure. (Tweet this.) If your editor has to spend the bulk of their time fixing your structure and educating you about it, you won’t get the best value for your editing money. You can learn structure on your own—and seriously, your book won’t work without it. A couple of helpful resources are Structuring Your Novel by K.M. Weiland, and Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell.
(4) Read your book out loud to catch awkwardness and poor phrasing.
This is especially helpful to make sure fiction dialogue is snappy and believable. But it helps with any kind of writing. Often when you read it aloud, you’ll catch problems you’d never spot by reading silently. (Tweet this.)
(5) Make sure your editor has edited published books.
It’s difficult to verify the legitimacy and credentials of each editor. So do your best to verify that they’ve edited books that have been published by traditional publishers. It’s your best bet for getting a good edit.
Here are some freelance editors. There are a lot more out there in internet-land! Do your research.
I can never understand why so many writers have websites and/or blogs, but do not have their email address or a “contact me” link easily visible.
It’s a frequent source of frustration for me. Why would you bother putting yourself out there without giving people a way to contact you?
There are two circumstances in which I come up against this:
(1) I’m following links to various websites/blogs, find something I like and become interested in talking to the writer about whether they’d ever like to be published, whether they have an agent, etc… and there’s no email address.
(2) I want to respond privately to a comment someone has left on my blog, rather than put it out there for all the world to see. I’m interested in engaging in conversation. Yet when I follow the link to their blog or website, again, no way to contact them.
Listen, there’s a lot of dialogue going on out here on the web, and real connections are being made. If you don’t include a way for people to contact you directly, it says you’re not interested in making connections, that maybe you’re just interested in being heard but not interested in hearing from others.
You’re here to network, to learn, to communicate, and to create relationships. It’s not just about putting your blog or website up and commenting on others’ blogs. Let people know how to reach you, too. Just in case.
And by the way, the excuse that you want to avoid spambots getting your email address is so five years ago. You can encrypt or obscure your email address so that people can see it but spambots can’t. If you want, you can also create a separate Gmail or Yahoo address for public use. It’s free and takes 30 seconds.
So, if you have a website or blog, and if you’re leaving comments on others’ blogs, make sure you have your email address or “contact me” plainly visible.
If you’re one of those without contact info on your site—why not? Are you going to add it today?
Have a blog or website? Make sure people can find your email address or contact page!
Click to Tweet this.
The post And to Whom Should I Reply? appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
I’ve been coaching several of my clients through the process of coming up with a good title for their book, so I thought I’d share my tips with you.
Let’s start by acknowledging a few things. The publisher is usually responsible for the final decision on title, and in the query stage, it’s not that important. In fact, some agents have said they don’t pay any attention at all to titles. But at some point, you’re going to want to think seriously about this. Your title is part of the overall impression you’re creating about your book. It can set a tone and create an expectation. Whether you’re pitching to an agent, or your agent is pitching to publishers, I think you want to have the strongest title possible.
Think of it this way: the better your title is, the better your chance that the publisher will decide to use it, rather than changing it.
So here’s what I recommend when you need a title, for either fiction or non-fiction.
First, make sure you know the genre of your book, and identify what kind of feeling or tone you want to convey with the title. Write it down. This is important, as I’ve seen humorous books with dead-serious titles, contemporary books whose titles say “historical romance,” novels that sound like self-help books… you get the picture. Be clear on what your title needs to instantly communicate.
Time to start brainstorming:
→ Find twenty books on Amazon that are in the same genre as yours and whose titles you like. Write down their titles. Try to get a feel for what works with your genre. What do you like about the titles? What don’t you like? Then put the list away for awhile.
→ Sit with a pencil and paper (and maybe your critique group and a white-board) and free-associate, making lists of words related to your book. Put them in columns: nouns, verbs, adjectives. If it’s a novel, list words that describe or suggest the setting. Then think about each of your major characters and write down words that relate to them. Think about the action in the story and write down verbs that capture it. If your book is non-fiction, list words that capture what you want your reader to think, feel or do after reading it. And words that describe what your book is about.
→ Nothing is off limits—write down anything you can think of that conveys anything about your book. Use visual words that suggest a scene. Other words that evoke an emotion. A sensation. A location. A question. You should have at least 100 words.
→ See if any of the words would work as a single-word title. Then start experimenting with different word combinations. Adjective-noun, verb-noun. Keep a thesaurus handy and look up other words. Write down as many word combinations as you can. Try not to self-censor at this stage.
→ From these lists, come up with at least 20 possible titles. Then put them away for 24 hours. Two things will happen: your subconscious may still be working on it; and when you come back to your list, you’ll have fresh eyes.
→ Go back to your title list. Add any new ideas you’ve had. Then narrow it down to three to five possibilities. Run them by a few people. (This may or may not help, depending on if there’s a consensus or the opinions are all over the map.) Take a little more time before narrowing it down to one. If you can, wait another day or two.
→ Remember your list of titles from Amazon? Go back to it. Ask yourself if the title you’ve chosen would fit the list—without being too similar or generic.
A few more questions to ask about your title: Does the tone of the title match the tone of the book? Does it convey the right genre (including time period if applicable)? Would it attract attention? If the book were spine-out on the shelf (so the cover and sub-title were not visible) would it still attract attention? Would a reader have any idea what the book is about just from the title? (Sometimes important for non-fiction.)
Once you’ve made a decision—celebrate!
Q4U: How have you decided on titles for your books? Do you find yourself emotionally attached to the one you’ve been living with since you first thought of the book?
Rachelle Gardner, Literary Agent
The post Create a Compelling Book Title appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
Sometimes it’s hard to believe how difficult it can be to write about yourself in a bio—after all, you’re a writer! But I understand it’s not as simple as that, so here are a few tips to make it easier.
Write your bio in first person for query letters, third person for most other purposes including proposals, book jackets, article bylines.
Make it professional but you also need to convey personality and writing style. Don’t try too hard to be funny, but include something that makes you seem like a real person.
What gives you credibility? What makes you interesting? What helps people connect with you? (When you’re on Twitter, Facebook or your blog, what kinds of posts seem to get the most comments?) These are things you can briefly include.
If your book centers on something specific—the Civil War, for example—are you a member of a Civil War society? Have you published any articles in historical journals? Include that.
Try not to include too much “resumé” type information–education, job history, etc. because it tends to be boring. Only include what’s relevant to the book you’re pitching.
As you write a bio, consider carefully the purpose of the bio – who is the audience? Is it agents and editors? Is it your blog readers? Tailor it to this audience.
How to write a bio if you have no publishing credits:
- If you’re a member of a writers’ organization such as SCBWI, ACFW or ASJA, you can mention it.
- You can mention if you’re a member of critique group or if you have a degree in literature or writing.
- Don’t say something like “I’ve been writing stories since I was two years old.”
- Keep it short and sweet, i.e. “Jane Smith is a fifth grade teacher in Bellingham, Washington, and is a member of RWA.”
A bio for a query letter:
- For FICTION, if you’re unpublished, it should be one to two sentences—about 50 words or fewer.
- For NON-FICTION, it should be longer, enough sentences to establish your credits, credentials, and/or platform in the subject matter of your book.
Some tips for the process of writing a bio:
- Read author bios in a dozen different books. Note what you like and don’t like.
- Make a list of things you MIGHT want to say about yourself. Try to list 20 to 30 things—don’t self-edit, because you don’t want to leave anything out. Later you can choose the best elements to include.
- Write two or three bios of different lengths and keep them on file so that you have them ready when you need them.
- Trade author bios with a writer friend and help each other make them interesting.
What has worked for you? Comment to this post and share!
The post How to Write an Author Bio They’ll Remember appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
By: BookEnds, A Literary Agency,
Blog: BookEnds, LLC - A Literary Agency
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I'm thrilled to announce that BookEnds has set up a new home and a new look. From this moment forward you can find BookEnds at www.bookendsliterary.com
Head on over to today's blog post to read more about the exciting new BookEnds.
We've had a great time here at Blogger, but it was time for some changes, something to really highlight who BookEnds is and who we plan to be and we can't be happier. Come on over and join us for the same great BookEnds we've always been.
I’m always talking with authors about marketing their books and growing their platforms. It’s a challenge for most writers, who are constantly trying to figure out the formula for gathering more fans (i.e. potential book-buyers).
While writers typically don’t love the idea of marketing their books, ironically they’re more suited to it than many other kinds of business people these days. (Click to Tweet this.) Why? Because today the #1 strategy for marketing in every kind of business is CONTENT MARKETING.
And what is this newfangled, businessy sounding term?
According to Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
In other words: WRITE STUFF.
And who better to write stuff than YOU? (Click to Tweet this.)
It’s funny, the rest of the advertising-marketing-business world is calling it “creating content” like it’s this brand-new thing they’ve invented. Um, it’s called “writing” and YOU do it every day.
Another way of putting it, also from CMI, is:
…content marketing is the art of communicating with your customers and prospects without selling.
The key words: communicating without selling.
So to become an expert at content marketing, here is what I want you to do:
Write and post stuff your readers will love.
By “stuff” I mean “content,” of course: blog posts, Facebook and Twitter posts, newsletter articles, images on Pinterest or Instagram, or videos on YouTube or Periscope. Anyone who is trying to build a following on social media needs to be posting content regularly—at least a couple of times a day. The tricky part is knowing what that content should be.
The key to identifying the kinds of content you should post is in knowing who you are as a writer, and who your audience (generally) is. This is easier for non-fiction writers, who can create an online persona that swirls around the themes of their books.
But even fiction writers can develop a brand and a style so that people have a strong idea of what to expect. You don’t want to be “that girl who is always posting about her books,” but rather, “the one who always has great articles that inspire me (or make me laugh… or educate me…)”
The idea is that when people are accustomed to receiving material from you that they deem valuable in some way—whether it’s informational, inspiring, thought-provoking, or entertaining—they will eventually reward you with their business (i.e. they’ll buy your books).
Fewer than 1 in 10 of your posts should include “selling” language. (Click to Tweet this.) The rest of your content flows from who your audience is, and the brand or online persona you’ve created.
Focus on your readers’ needs, not your own. (Click to Tweet this.)
Interestingly, you don’t even have to be the creator of all the content you share. To keep your social media presence dynamic, you’ll want to use “curated content,” a fancy word for “other people’s stuff.” Make sure you’re following people or organizations whose content tends to complement yours, so that when you see an appropriate post, you can easily share it with your followers.
Content marketing should be easier for YOU than for most businesses. After all, you’re already a writer. In fact, companies using content marketing typically report that their #1 challenge is “producing engaging content.” But you’re a writer, so this is right up your alley!
The key in content marketing is that you are engaging your audience. (Click to Tweet this.) You are in conversation with them through your interesting posts, and they’re coming to expect good things from you. So when you happen to share some news about your new book releasing, or your older book that’s on a promotional sale on Amazon, they’re willing to pay attention because you’re not continually bombarding them with marketing.
Of course, I’ve given you the highly simplified description of content marketing. It’s more than just writing great stuff—it’s writing great stuff as part of an overall marketing strategy based on your brand. But for now, let’s just start with the basics: write stuff your readers will love.
So: content marketing. A business-world term for what you already do everyday.
How are you already using content marketing? How do you think you might increase or improve that strategy in the future?
Image copyright: golfloiloi / 123RF Stock Photo
The post What the Heck is Content Marketing? appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
You are standing in an elevator and have two minutes to tell someone about your book. Today we’re going to talk about crafting that one-sentence summary, also known as a logline, a hook, or a one-sentence (elevator) pitch. This is not your book’s tagline!
What: About 25 words that capture your novel, memoir, or non-fiction book.
Why: To get someone interested in reading your book.
When to use it: The start of a query, or anytime someone asks you, “What’s your book about?”
What it does: A one-sentence summary takes your complex book with multiple characters and plotlines and boils it down into a simple statement that can be quickly conveyed and understood, and generates interest in the book.
What it should include:
→ A character or two
→ Their choice, conflict, or goal
→ What’s at stake (may be implied)
→ Action that will get them to the goal
→ Setting (if important)
→ Keep it simple. One plotline, 1 or 2 characters.
→ Use the strongest nouns, verbs and adjectives.
→ Make the conflict clear but you don’t have to hint at the solution.
In your one-sentence summary, try not to pitch a theme. Pitch what happens. Examples of themes:
This book explores forgiveness.
This book looks at the thin line between right and wrong.
This book explores the meaning of independence, and asks if it’s really possible.
Here is Nathan Bransford’s simplified formula for a one-sentence pitch: “When [opening conflict] happens to [character(s)], they must [overcome conflict] to [complete their quest].”
Examples of one-sentence summaries:
Harry Potter And The Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
• A boy wizard begins training and must battle for his life with the Dark Lord who murdered his parents. (Thanks Randy Ingermanson for this one.)
→ Character=boy wizard
→ Conflict=battling the Dark Lord
→ Stakes=his life
→ Action=http://www.rachellegardner.com/feed/wizard training; avoiding the same fate as his parents
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
• In the south in the 1960s, three women cross racial boundaries to begin a movement that will forever change their town and the way women view one another.
When Faith Awakes by Mike Duran
• Chaos is unleashed on a quiet coastal town when an unassuming crippled woman raises a young boy from the dead, unlocking a centuries-old curse.
Medical Error by Richard Mabry
• Identity theft becomes fatal for a patient and puts a young doctor’s reputation and medical practice in jeopardy.
Chasing Superwoman by Susan DiMickele
• A successful attorney and mother of three battles discrimination, exhaustion, and a clueless boss while balancing a career, a family, and a life of faith.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN. Leave your one-sentence summary in the comments.
The post Your Elevator Pitch appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
How many times have you heard the new-writer’s advice: Develop a thick skin.
You’d think this would be even more of a requirement for an agent. It’s good advice for anyone who’s visible on the Internet, frequently giving their opinion on things. So all in all, you probably think I’d be a person with a thick skin.
However, I have a confession: I don’t have a thick skin.
Not at all. I have a fragile heart, I take things personally, and I don’t just bounce back right away when I receive criticism.
Paradoxically, I truly appreciate helpful critiques of my work,or advice on how to improve any area of my life. I crave it. I value the input of others. Yet at the same time, if it’s not always positive, I have a hard time getting over the hurt feelings (or the knee-jerk angry reaction) and moving on to actually learning from the criticism.
The reason I’m telling you this is because I know people are telling you “develop a thick skin” and I know some of you are thinking, “I don’t know how to do that.” And I’m here to tell you: Some of you will never develop a thick skin.
But the important thing is: You’ll survive.
If I’ve survived all these years in the competitive environment of publishing, and previously, five years in the extremely dog-eat-dog world of network television, you will survive, too. You survive by first, allowing yourself to experience the pain. You find ways to express it in a healthy way, perhaps by taking a day to cry, or talking it over with your best friend, or calling your mom because she’s the one person who always supports you no matter what.
Then, you turn it around. You ask yourself if the criticism came from someone to whom you should listen. If the answer is yes, then you begin looking for ways to learn from what they said. You ask yourself whether you disagree or agree with what they said. (You give yourself permission to disagree with at least part of it.) Then you take what you can learn from, and discard the rest. Move on to the next thing.
Easier said than done, of course. And I admit, it sometimes takes me awhile to work through this process!
So what about you? Are you thick skinned? If not, how do you handle criticism? Are you able to learn from it anyway?
The post Thick Skin: The Key to a Writer’s Survival appeared first on Rachelle Gardner.
Is this something you believe to be true about agents?
I'm not sure literary agents are the right way to go, as their interests are bizarrely narrow, and seem to be looking continually for exact replicas of successful works from the past, rather than compelling untold stories.
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:
Sworn off family in-fighting and rivalries, Apollo has spent the last decade in Portland, Maine, incarnated as research scientist Dr. Paul Archer. Family’s not the only thing Apollo’s sworn off — he’s also done with women (of the mortal ilk), and most of all, Pantheon, a chess-like game the gods play with human lives. So when Venus drops by unannounced, demanding that Apollo repay a debt dating back to the Trojan War by helping her pull off a move in the game, Apollo’s intention is to execute the move, wipe the slate clean, and get right back to work in the lab.
What Apollo doesn’t expect is how much the pawn, college senior Theresa DiPaulo reminds him of his late mother Leto. Or how Theresa’s implication in the game revives his long-buried feelings of guilt and failure stemming from Leto’s deicide at the hands of his stepmother
— in the very round of Pantheon in which he came into Venus’s debt. Nor does he expect how compelled he feels to intervene to save Theresa from the same fate. As the game unfolds, and the parallels to that long-ago round of Pantheon mount up, Apollo gets sucked deeper and deeper in, until he can no longer run from the intrafamilial conflict he left behind when he abdicated Olympus and took refuge DownEast. Apollo’s got a plan — if only Theresa would open up and let him in, if only she’d stop trying to protect him, if only she loved him back, pulling it off would be so much easier.
I am seeking representation of Playing God, a contemporary fantasy
with a romance component, complete at 125,000 words.Playing God picks up where mythology leaves off, bringing the petty and not-so-petty grievances of the gods, their slights and affairs and ambitions, to play out in the modern world. Zeus, Hera, Ares, Artemis and Mercury all engage, playing for the fate of not just Theresa, but the world. While Playing God stands alone, I envision it as the first in a series about the Pantheon games, and I have a draft of the next episode.
I am an attorney (Harvard Law School), real estate broker, and proud alum of Bowdoin College in Brunswick, ME, the prototype for the college Theresa attends, and where much of my novel is based.
As directed by your website, I am including the first few pages of my manuscript below. I’d be happy to send you the manuscript upon request. I appreciate your consideration, and look forward to hearing from you soon.
You should know that this is typically not my type of story. I like fantasy, but tend not to gravitate toward stories this closely set in mythology. For that reason I would pass on this. I'm only telling you this to give you an idea of how truly subjective this business can be.
That being said, I think this is a strong query. I really only made edits to tighten this.
Time is coming for our summer intern, James, to head back to school and for a new Fall intern to start. I know Beth is looking at internship prospects right now.
As I'm preparing for James's departure I'm thinking of the work that goes into having an intern, and the advantages too.
Having another person in the office is always an asset. It's great having another hand to get things done. More than that though, an intern really challenges us and helps us to see things differently. He asks questions that make us think about the way we do things and consider whether another way might be better. He tests our knowledge of the industry and, through his questions, encourages discussion that allows us to learn from each other. Discussions like how publishing houses work, what an editorial meeting is like or what we look for in a certain submission.
One of an intern's primary tasks is helping us read submissions. We will often pass a handful of requested materials on to the intern and ask the intern to write a reader's report. It doesn't end there though. When reading the report we will each give feedback, to let the intern know what worked with the report, what didn't work and explain what we're looking for. Most publishing job interviews will require a reader's report so our hope is that we're building that intern's resume and teaching him to strengthen his skills. Sometimes this requires me to read the report and the material before giving feedback. It's not necessarily a time saver.
As James's internship winds down I'm working to make sure I get him the feedback he deserves on all of his reports as well as fill out an exit evaluation. James will receive one of these from each of us. Ultimately, it's like his internship report card. We will give him feedback on his strengths and weaknesses in different areas of importance to us and hopeful advice on what he needs to work on as well as the areas that will help him succeed in a publishing career, or any career.
I enjoy having interns, but I especially enjoy the interns who make themselves a part of our team. In the short few months James was here he's become a valuable asset to BookEnds and he will definitely be missed.
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.
Greetings Query Queen:
Everyday parenting is demanding enough, but expecting parental perfection is the curse of our age. As a grandmother, I have seen way too many households ruled by small despots, with parents scurrying to clear the path for the mini-monarchs. Really? I wonder. Could this be doing anyone any good?
Grandma Has Seen It All, and She Suggests That You Avert Your Eyes gives moms and dads the support and tools they need to enjoy a more balanced, productive, and fun parenthood. The tone is calm, authoritative, and light. I haunt mommy blogs and toy-strewn playrooms, and load up my pocketbook with nuggets of wisdom from the best current research. The book will be 250 -300 pages.
Some background: my book, [redacted], was quoted on the front page of the New York Times, and Time magazine, and sparked a family meals movement. Since becoming a grandmother (I now have four grandchildren.) For years, I have written a family meals blog for the [redacted] Company. I have written a blog about grandparenting for [redacted]. And I have my own grandmother blog. Now I want to help the beleaguered parents I have seen in my recent time on the playground. Many of them could do with the hugs and forgiveness and dignity that they lavish on their children.
Today’s parents wistfully recall the freedom they enjoyed as youngsters, but insist that the world is now too dangerous to let their kids out of their sight, despite all evidence to the contrary. Child abduction? Recent research from the University of New Hampshire shows that children taken by strangers or slight acquaintances represent only one-hundredth of one percent of all missing children. We turn our worry that our kids won’t get into college or get good jobs into straight jackets for them and for us. And our culture of competitive, fear-centric parenting doesn’t help. Today’s families are smaller, with older parents who are unlikely to have experience taking care of kids other than their own. We are facing a famine of common sense. Somebody has to call “Time!”
I trace the beginnings of our current “priceless child” mentality to the end of the 19th century, and help parents to move themselves, and their families, out of the path of this anxiety juggernaut. The bonus is that our kids are more likely to grow up to be responsible, optimistic, capable, fun-loving adults.
Important books about the meaning of parenting draw wide audiences and spark intense conversations across the culture. Many of the recent popular books have been written not by parenting experts, but by journalists like myself. This book, which questions current assumptions and gives parents more satisfying options, has the potential to be such a book.
More background: an earlier book, [redacted], won the National Jewish Book Award, was on the Boston Globe bestseller list, and was translated into German, French, and Dutch.
I have to say. This is a really strong query.
I love that you started out with "Greetings" instead of the typical "Dear". While it's not that big of a deal I think it opens the book in a friendly, cheerful way and I think it really represents your voice and tone.
Your first paragraph grabbed me and hooked me in. I'm not a fan of rhetorical questions, but it works here.
I don't love your title. It just doesn't grab me, but that can easily be fixed. By the way, I only thing titles can be easily fixed if the rest of the query is working for me.
It's smart to open with your credits which are quite impressive. What would add to this would be numbers. When writing nonfiction, we want to know who your audience is and how big they are. We don't need numbers on everything, but generally that you're reaching 10,000 people a week would be hugely helpful. This is almost required. Mommy bloggers were huge a few years ago, but the ones who sold books had not just a great voice and idea, but a huge following.
My only concern with the next paragraph is that it feels very specific and a little judgmental. Not the tone any parent wants, especially from a grandparent. I wonder if you can't blend the next two paragraphs, discuss some of the specific issues you will be addressing, but also talk about tracing the "priceless child" trend.
I think you have a good idea here and I won't be surprised if you get lots of requests on this.
Recently you've spoken about the changes at Berkley and how that has impacted authors. I was wondering how that impacts the author/agent relationship? If an author has their series dropped does an agent drop them as well? Or do you work together to find a new direction for the author to take their writing?
Thank you for your great question. As I've mentioned many times before, I love questions.
As you should all know by now each situation is different so while I will speak generally on this, I'm sure every author's experience is different, whether it pertains to Berkley or simply a career experience in general.
At BookEnds we like to say that we're in it for life. When we sign an author we believe strongly enough to really want to stay through the long haul; the good, the bad and the ugly. Selling a client's book is the easy part, maintaining and continuing to grow and build a career is where it can get tricky.
Just because one publisher makes a decision doesn't mean every publisher will feel the same. A publisher choosing not to renew a contract, in my mind, isn't a good reason to simply drop the author. As long as the author is determined and continuing to write great (or better) books, I will stick by through whatever the publishing world throws at us.
In a situation where a publisher doesn't renew, the author and I will have conversations about what's next, but as many of my authors can attest, we often have those conversations well before any decision is made by the publisher. I'm a strong believer that every author should always have something in her back pocket.
A good agent should see the writing on the wall. We see sales numbers and talk to the publisher enough to know what might be coming so, in truth, we're prepared and ready to go with that next thing well before an official decision by the publisher is made.
In short, one decision from a publisher will not impact how I work with an author.
If you follow me on Twitter you'll see that lately I've been doing a lot of complaining about people not following query guidelines. I'm not sure if there are some new rules out there that I'm not aware of, or if people are just spending the summer querying without doing proper research.
I've written endlessly about what makes a good query. What I don't think I've ever done is written about why there are query rules.
An agent's query inbox can be daunting. Moe just confessed to me that in two months at BookEnds she has received 1500 queries. That's, well, insane. When facing any challenge like that I think we can all agree that we set up perimeters to thin things out. It's like organizing your home. The first thing you're going to do is throw away anything that's broken. Then you might throw away anything you haven't used in years, etc, etc. A query inbox is the same.
The first thing an agent will likely do is look at the genre. If it's far outside of what the agent does she'll reject it. For me that would include short stories, children's picture books, techno-thrillers and screenplays. I don't do those, it's unlikely you'll sway me on that.
The next thing an agent will do is read the blurb. This is why you need a blurb. I need to know in a few short paragraphs if the book is what I do. Sure its a thriller, and I do those, but is it on a subject I'm interested in? Does it grab my attention? That will help me weed those out.
Then I'm willing to read more. Once I've weeded things out I can really get to work. That's the point where I'll start looking at chapters and a synopsis. Not before. At that point I have my short list and a good idea whether or not these projects are right for me. Now I can devote time away from clients and other BookEnds duties to build my client list.
Not following the guidelines makes it more difficult for me to quickly evaluate and make decisions on things, other than what you might be like as an author.
If you feel like sending me a paragraph about yourself and how you have dreams of writing the book and instead of a blurb have simply pasted the synopsis below I'm going to think you're someone who thinks you're above the rules. That's going to make it hard to work together and, likely, not someone I want to work with.
No matter how you spin it, we make decisions based on your query, not following the rules (or even attempting to follow the rules) gives us an immediate impression of what life would be like with you.
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,
Wildlife carer Madison Starr is in trouble. She’s back in Australia after her father’s death with one goal: to sell the family home and leave forever. But thanks to her big mouth her plan is in tatters. When Jaylee Olsen
, the local realtor, offers to buy the perfectly situated property herself. Madison lets an old grudge speak for her and refuses to sell to her childhood nemesis. Their confrontation is watched by most of the small town. Hours later Madison is horrified to find Jaylee dead on her doorstep.
I did not like the word "carer" this is super picky and a little ridiculous (no query is judged on one word), but I had to read it twice since I thought you misspelled career. Caretaker?
My only suggestion is maybe to tighten this a bit.
Branded the number one suspect Madison is forced to surrender her passport, killing any chance of heading back to her carefully constructed life in America. She has no option but to hunt down the killer and clear her name. Her best friend from high school, along with her old teen crush, now a forensic expert, reluctantly help her delve into Jaylee’s life.
Collecting a kleptomaniac dog, assorted puppies and an orphaned ring-tailed possum along the way, Madison and her friends discover she’s not the only one who considered Jaylee their nemesis.
DEAD IS FUR-EVER is a 72,000 word,
third-person cozy set in Australia. I hope to feature Madison Starr in a continuing series (The Pet Shop Mysteries - featuring a mix of Aussie wildlife and rescued domestic animals, each with their own quirky personality) and am currently working on a sequel.
I’m an environmental scientist and have lectured in wildlife caring as well as being a carer myself. I am a member and active participant of Romance Writers of Australia and Sisters in Crime Australia. This series has interest and a request from an editor of Penguin Australia but is not yet submitted.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Honestly. I think this is a really solid query. My only concern is that your hook, which is vital to cozy mysteries, is buried at the end and doesn't appear in the blurb at all.
In cozy mysteries, the hook is what initially sells the book. What makes your book stand out from every other book on the market? What will the publisher put on the cover? A gorgeous home with books out front? A lighthouse? A knitting shop? etc.
For the cozy market I think this would be stronger if the reason she needed to return to Australia had to do more with the hook. Perhaps she's selling her father's shop of some sort.
I love that it's set in Australia, but it might make it a more difficult sell, especially if your hook is more or less anywhere. What about a hook that's more unique to Australia?
Lastly, on a beyond-the-query note, I think you should consider a hook that stands out a little more. A pet shop has been done. Is there something that hasn't been done yet?
This is great overall.
In preparing for death we buy life insurance, longterm care insurance, we make wills and some even choose burial clothes or write out funeral wishes. Sadly, I've yet to experience a situation where an author makes similar arrangements for their literary works. And I've had a number of clients who have passed away.
I am not a legal expert so my first bit of advice is to talk to a lawyer about how best to handle your literary works after your death. When you do however I think there are some things you need to think about.
How will future earnings be distributed? Will they go to one person or set up in a trust?
Who will make decisions regarding the rights to the work? Just because a book is published doesn't mean decisions regarding its rights are finished. There are times when the publisher will ask for revisions (and in this case want to hire someone to do revisions), they might want to change or update the cover or, if its a series, continue the series. Who will be your go-to person for these decisions?
What will happen to other works? Will you allow "found" manuscripts to be published? What if you are in the middle of a contract? Are you okay if the family opts to hire an outsider to see the contract through?
Once you've established the legal portion concerning your books, don't overlook the day-to-day business of your publishing career. My suggestion is put together a file and let everyone in your family know where it is and what it's labeled. Maybe label it with the name of your children, spouse, niece or nephew so they won't need to remember what it's called, but it will easily stand out to them when they're searching for it.
In this file you should include a list of all your publications, earned or unearned. I've had situations where a book never earned out, until it did, at that point sending checks became difficult since no one kept me updated with contact information.
Include who handles the statements or sends checks for those books. If they are self-pubbed you'll need to include detailed information for each account from which you receive money. I would suggest including all passwords and how payments and statements are distributed.
If you have an agent you'll need to include the agent's name and her contact information so the family can get in touch about statements and earnings.
I don't think preparing to make your family's life easier is that difficult, but I do suggest it be done. Until I hear from next of kin and am given strict instructions on how to move forward I will continue to send checks in the name of the author. I'm unsure how long that's going to work for the family or how it will play out during tax time.
There's a new query trend out there, one that isn't helping authors at all, but is driving me crazy.
Here is how the query goes:
Dear Ms. Faust, After seeing on #MSWL that you've been looking for books set in Alaska I knew I had to query you. My book is called Alaskan Cool Guy. The book is about a guy who finds himself alone in the Alaskan Bush after a freak snowstorm downs his plane. Everyone dies. It's truly horrific. Now he must get out all by himself, with only a scissors and an old seat cover as a jacket. ****please note I made up this horrible blurb on purpose --jhf
I have included a brief synopsis and bio below. I hope you like it enough to ask for more. Many thanks,Jessica Author Brief Synopsis: When Frank Franklin's plane crashes in the Alaskan Bush in the middle of Winter, this self-described Whiz Kid finds himself in a situation he never imagined. Lost in a country few could survive with only the remnants of a broken plane for tools, Frank sets out to face what the wild throws at him. At first he's fighting only Mother Nature, but after finding the dead body of what looks like a hunter, Frank starts to wonder if the Grizzlies aren't the least of his concerns. Finally he makes it to safety, changed for the better.
Jessica Author has been writing since she was 12. It's been a dream of hers to be published. Born in Alaska, she has a strong desire to bring this beautiful country to life for readers.
Jessica FaustAddressPhone Email
Okay, here's the problem, besides the fact that your synopsis isn't very good, it's buried. Why would you include the blurb for your book after your letter? I'm already done reading. It's like sending a cover letter and saying, "P.S. Here are the skills that make me best suited for the job"
Query letters should look something like this:
Opening introductory paragraph
That's it. Don't over complicate it.
I've done a ton of blog posts on how to write a proper query letter. Query Shark
is an excellent source of information. Use them.
Everywhere I turn people are talking about Go Tell a Watchman. And I don't blame them. This is probably one of the most exciting things to happen in publishing since Harry Potter. But unlike Harry Potter, I'm not sure I'm going to read this one.
To read this book I'd have to read To Kill a Mockingbird first. I've read it, and I've seen the movie, I believe as an assignment sometime back in my teen years. I have incredibly fond memories of the characters. They live on in my head in the same way an old friend lives on. I don't remember all the details, but I do remember them with a fondness that I hope never to lose.
It's because of those memories that I might never read Go Tell a Watchman. I've been saddened by the controversy surrounding the book and even further saddened by some of the reviews I've read. Everyone is entitled to an opinion of course and I think many will find they need to read the book to see what people are talking about and, possibly, prove reviewers wrong. For me though, I'd like to hide my head in the sand on this one and remember Scout as she was in my childhood.
For those who aren't a member of the romance community, RWA is the Romance Writers of America national convention. Each year it's in a new location and brings in close to 2000 writers, editors, agents and other industry pros. There are workshops, signings, appointments, cocktail parties and meet n' greets. The entire week wraps up with a giant awards ceremony.
Just typing that exhausted me.
This year RWA convenes in NYC and while that makes it more fun for the writers, it makes for more work for the rest of us. My week started on Monday and I have appointments and meetings through Saturday. It's exhausting, it's exhilarating and it's definitely productive. Like with any professional conference (Malice, Bouchercon, Thrillerfest, etc) I'll be leaving with a long to-do list.
All of BookEnds (including our intern James) will be traveling the halls of the Marriott. We'll be taking meetings, taking notes and posting a lot of what we're learning on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. So keep an eye out to learn not just what's hot in romance, but what's hot in all of publishing.
If you see any of us, make sure to take a moment to say hi. If we have a spare moment we'd love the chance to pull up a stool and talk.
Ooh, my first interview. I feel important. I’m coming for you, Oprah.
What's your name? Where do you go to school? CUNY- College of Staten Island What kind of books do you most like to read? I’m a big YA reader. I love pretty much all subgenres, from Fantasy to Contemporary. I’ll also take this time to tell you that Harry Potter has been proven to be the best book series on the face of the Earth. Proven by me. Just now. I also love a good Psychological Thriller. If you can keep me confused for 200 pages and then reveal a killer in the last 50, I’m down. What's the last book you read (not including a submission)? So, I’m always juggling reading. The last book I’ve completed was THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu. I’m still on LEGACY OF KINGS by Eleanor Herman, and loving it immensely. What interests you about a career in publishing (assuming you'd like a career in publishing)? It took me a lot of sitting and wondering to figure out what I finally wanted to do, and I didn’t even figure it out when I was sitting and wondering. When I finally discovered that there were people behind the books besides the author, I was immediately hooked. I’ve tried my hand at writing a thing or two (and those of you who can do it have been touched by an angel), but to no avail. I began to immerse myself in the publishing industry and researching the logo on the spine of every book. I’m just interested in all that I haven’t read. I want to see the behind the scenes of the things I love most and discover everything I haven’t already. What lead you to BookEnds? Long story or short story? Short story- I realized no one would hire a college grad without some experience, and did my research into agencies I would like to be a part of.
Long story- I was born on a snowy night in late Decem— I’m kidding. After reading the acknowledgments in Divergent and discovering my career goals, I researched all positions in the industry. I came to the logical plan of applying to internships in the agenting world first, before applying to a House for an internship. I can’t decide where I would rather be. I’ve applied to many agencies before coming across Jessica Faust on twitter. I’ve read every word on the BookEnds website, including the internship post and what made me apply was how nice the posting was. Seriously, go look- so nice. So I applied, and I had a good feeling after polishing my cover letter to as best as I could. The excitement was real when I got an email back.
What has surprised you most about your internship at BookEnds? Truthfully, I am endlessly surprised by the amount of knowledge that the BookEnds ladies hold in their brains. I am constantly learning new things. I always try to contribute at meetings, but at many of them I just to sit back and watch. Seriously, my head bobbles back and forth from agent to agent. The way they talk about market trends, submissions, contracts, royalties, everything from legal to industry news… it amazes me. I understand an internship is a learning opportunity, but I never, in a million years, would have expected to learn as much as I have. What have you enjoyed the most at BookEnds? 1. My weekly run-ins with Buford the BookEnds Mascot-Dog. Quite the character. 2. Just being in the office and listening. The one-on-one conversations that I’m able to have with any of the agents, about any topic are truly enjoyable. They’ve allowed me to come into my own more in the publishing world, and I could talk, or sit and listen for hours. What do you think authors or other prospective interns might like to know about the BookEnds team? I think authors and fellow students/interns to be need to know that this is the agency that should be at the top of your list. Everyone here loves their job, clients, and work. Authors- These agents are some of the most helpful, knowledgeable and creative people that I’ve had the pleasure of working for. Interns- You’ll never feel uncomfortable in the office. Everyone is down to earth and personable. You’re constantly learning, and if you’re going to spend time interning, at least make sure you are getting the most out of it. I’m also going to take this time to publicly thank every agent for everything they’ve taught or done for me. I appreciate all the guidance and working opportunities you’ve given me. I’m proud and grateful to have begun my publishing career at BookEnds. After nearly completing your internship, what are your thoughts on being an agent or working in publishing in general? After almost finishing (sadly) my internship at BookEnds, I have many thoughts about the field. For instance, Agenting is the most freedom any human could ever have in a professional position. It’s fun and creative and ever changing. You abide by your rules and only take on projects you love. As far as the industry, in general, I’m happy that I’ve found something I love and am passionate about, and that it is within my arm’s reach. Hey, if you’ve made it this far into the post without checking Twitter or Facebook, Thank you for reading! And what’s a self-respecting Tweeter without some self-promotion? Follow me here!
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I received this question from a reader. I can't thank you enough for that. I'm clearly running out of ideas and need all the help I can get. That being said, you didn't exactly send me an easy question to answer. ;)
I was wondering if you'd do a post regarding author branding? Specifically, how an author should brand his/herself. How an agent can help this process. And the importance of creating a brand.
Kudos on thinking about this and what it means for your career. Branding is important. Think about some of our most famous brands. In almost any decision, Coke, Rolex and Harlequin make they consider their brand. Sometimes a brand changes or brands shift, but everything you do from your website to your social media, your book covers, the next book you write, and even your presentation at a writers conference should reflect your brand.
When we think of branding let's look at publishers as our guide. Every publisher has an overarching brand--Grand Central for example. Under that brand Grand Central has found a way to distinguish the various things they do. Forever is the line that focuses on romance, Grand Central Life & Style focuses on, well, life and
style books (nonfiction), and Twelve
their specialty imprint (for lack of a better term).
As Jessica Author you need to determine what your brand or brands are. If you want to write in multiple genres then the
best thing to do is create your own "imprints" which would be brands under one brand umbrella. Maybe Jessica Author is where you start so that's also your thrillers, but Jessica Writer is where you want to start your historical romance career. In some cases the areas might crossover so you might be able to stick to one brand (thrillers and romantic suspense or YA thrillers for example). If they don't cross over you might have to start an "imprint."
No matter what you do your brand needs to become so representative of what you write that when someone says Jessica Author people know exactly what you write. Think Stephen King, Nora Roberts, or Sarah Dessen. Authors often get frustrated with agents and publishers who encourage them to write in one genre. But this is why. If you want a brand, you need to stick with something to build it with. Later, once you have that brand name, you can expand and build, maybe add Dassani water to your list ;)
As for how to brand yourself, well there are no easy answers to that and it would depend on what you're writing. How do you want to brand yourself? Would you like to be the author who dispenses writing advice or legal advice? Maybe the one who makes great pies. Whatever you do, make sure it ties in to what you're writing and the person you are. And everything you do should match the tone of your books. Design a website that matches the cover of your books (use the same font even) and use a social media picture that constantly sells your brand (book covers probably).
This is where your agent can help. Together you can talk about the website and social media, your bookmarks, ideas for marketing and new and different ideas for building a brand.
Just like writing a book, there are no tried and true guarantees to what works and what doesn't when it comes to brand building. However, thinking about it is the first step to success.
Note: I did not credit the reader for the question. I wasn't sure if you wanted your name public. If you'd like the credit leave your name and a link to your website (if you have one) in the comments and I'll add it to the post.
I've done posts on this subject before and I will likely do it again, but some things have come up lately that make me think it's time for a refresher course.
That and Sally MacKenzie suggested I write this. Sally knows.
Congratulations! You just got the call. All of your hard work, all of the rewrites, the query rewrites and the angst have paid off. An agent (or possibly an editor) wants to work with you. This is a big deal, a big step in your professional career, so let me give some tips on how you should handle this in a way that helps make it a successful step in your career.
1. If at all possible, be prepared. Hopefully you're not reading this post after the offer came in, but instead you're reading it as a way to prepare and make a plan for when the offer does come in. I'm a planner so I like having plans. They don't have to be rock solid, but when something this important happens to me I like to have some idea of what I'm going to be doing and how I'm going to be handling it.
2. Spend some time talking to the agent making the offer. Don't expect this to happen in the first phone call, you're going to be way too freaked out, but plan to have a second phone call. In other words, thank the agent, listen to what she has to say and ask her if you can set up another time to talk when you're thinking more clearly. And yes, its absolutely acceptable to let the agent know that you're overwhelmed with excitement. In fact, I often tell authors to get off the phone, tell friends and family, and let's set up time to talk the next day when she's more prepared with questions and can absorb the answers.
3. Ask questions. This goes back to #1. There are a lot of places online where you can find lists of questions to ask an agent before signing. There is even a list on this blog (one I should probably update). In all likelihood, if you've done your research before submitting, you'll know the answers to a lot of these questions. The more important questions are those that relate directly to you and your career. Some of this will mean knowing what you want out of an agent or what you expect from an agent. Are you looking for someone who edits, who gives marketing guidance, who talks on the phone a lot or prefers email communication? Thinking about what you want in an agent will help you find the questions you need answered. Also knowing what you want from your career (hybrid, traditional, ebook, hardcover, paperback, which houses, etc) will help you formulate questions.
3. Give a time frame. Assuming you have queries and partials or fulls out with other agents you will need to give that first agent a timeframe for when you'll get back to her. I usually think 7-10 days is more than enough time. Anyone who can't respond in that timeframe isn't enthusiastic enough to want to work with you and, let's face it, you want to get your career started so waiting weeks and weeks isn't advantageous to you. So tell the first agent that you do have other agents considering your work, but will get back to her in the timeframe you've established. One little thing here. I would suggest, if you have the opportunity, to always, always, always use this time to get as many agents interested as possible. The agent offering might have been the top of your list, but that's usually not based on actually meeting and talking to the agent. Talking to other agents will give you some level of comparison to know if, yes, this agent is still the top of my list.
4. Contact all the other agents who have your work. There might be some on that list you definitely want to talk to, there might be some you queried, but already know you aren't interested in any longer (this first agent would beat them hands down). That's fine. Knowing that is great. Either way contact them all. For those agents you'd still love to work with, email (or call) to let them know you have an offer and give them a date by which you need to hear. If you've given the first agent 10 days, you might want to give these agents 7 so you have time to deal with any more offers that come in. If there are agents on that list who you just know you aren't that interested in, let them know that you received an offer and you're pulling your material from consideration. That way they won't read the submission unnecessarily and you've given up your time slot (time the agent spends reading submissions) to another author. If there are agents who you've only queried, but still desperately have on your "A" list, email them. A lot of times agents get behind in queries so giving them a chance to request and read the material only works to your advantage.
5. Wait for the offers to come in, spend some time talking to the agents and enjoy the ride. This is your time as an author, your time to make some smart decisions, enjoy the competition for your time, and find a business partner who is truly best suited for you. Go with your gut. Assuming the agent is reputable and experienced then it doesn't matter who else is with the agent or what your friends think. All that matters is that over the course of a phone call this agent feels like she's the right fit for you and your work. No one else's.
There's a kid chant, "first is the worst, second is the best, third is the one with the treasure chest." While obviously first is not likely the worst, I do think this little chant is worth keeping in mind. The first agent will often get the edge just for being first (which makes perfect sense), but in the end the agent you choose, no matter the order she offered, will be the one who is the best fit for you and your work. Her vision for your work, communication style and a general feeling of connection will be what determines who is best for you, no matter the order she came in.
When coaching my assistants and other agents on how to approach editors I've always been very particular about word choice. The word "just" has been a pet peeve of mine for a number of years. It's a word I've consciously worked to remove from my vocabulary and a word I've encouraged my team to drop.
Imagine my surprise when I came across this article
written about Ellen Petry Leanse and her distaste for the word "just".
I agree with everything she says. Using "just" takes away our power. We're no longer marching into someone's office to tell them we've got something they have to read. We're now slinking in to ask meekly if they think it's worth reading and, frankly, giving them permission to reject it rather than telling them they'd be making a mistake by not reading it.
We are word people, it's our job to embrace the power a single word might have and use it to our advantage. Take a look at some examples of publishing correspondence with or without the word "just." You tell me which is stronger.
I'd like to ask if you have just a few minutes to discuss my very important concerns regarding these edits.
I'd like set up some time to discuss my very important concerns regarding these edits.
I am writing to tell you about the terrific new thriller I've written.
I am just writing to tell you about the terrific new thriller I've written.
I'm following up on the submission I sent back in January.
I'm just following up on the submission I sent in January.
Take a look at your query, at all the professional correspondence you have written. Let's work together to eliminate just
from our professional vocabulary.
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I've been remiss in doing critiques. Primarily because, well, they aren't that much fun for me. That being said, I've noticed a definite need for them in my inbox and have been asked by a few of you if I'll continue them. I'm continuing them.
Watch for more critiques throughout the rest of summer. I'll be going through those in my inbox. Keep in mind, if you've submitted in a genre I'm not necessarily comfortable with I will probably skip over your query (unless I can convince some of the other BookEnds gals to take it on).