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26. 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 During much of this I was in the same place with authors, published and unpublished, agented, not-agented, ept and inept.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 Win the William F. Deeck Malice Domestic Unpublished Manuscript grant.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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27. Managing Creativity When It's Your Job

I've always talked about the job of getting published. That writing the book is great fun, but once you determine that it's time to seek out an agent, a publisher or even self-publish you've entered a new realm. Your writing is no longer a hobby, but a job, and you need to treat it as such. That means strict deadlines, focus, planning, management and all of those other things that drive business owners crazy.

I was reading a great article in Fast Company about The Secrets to Being Creative on A Deadline. In the article, Roman Mars, host and creator of the 99% Invisible podcast had this to say,

"Just sit yourself down and make yourself do it. That's the difference between being a professional and an amateur. Deadlines focus your attention and make sure you get stuff done rather than worrying about inspiration. The key is to sit and suffer through it. It comes to you when it has that pressure. I became a much better in the years after I had kids, because I didn't have the luxury of time."

For some authors the hardest change to being published is accepting that the writing has become a job. You now have set deadlines (even if you're self-publishing) and you have to meet those deadlines. Sometimes it means just keeping that butt in the chair and writing no matter what else is pulling at you. It means quitting your job as class mom, skipping your book club, turning off the game on Sunday or whatever it is you need to do, or say no to, to get that book done.

Often I hear authors complain that the creative process doesn't work that way, etc, etc, but to think accountants, lawyers. literary agents, chefs or mechanics don't need to be creative is short-sighted. Every job takes some amount of creativity and every worker needs to find a way to tap that at times when she least feels able to.

Taking breaks is an important part of any job. You wouldn't believe how much of BookEnds was founded in the shower or emails written on the drive to the gym. Getting out of the office and thinking helps build our business and is important, it also keeps us all on deadline.

--jhf

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28. Week in review 5/3/15

The week got off to a lovely start last Sunday. After four days of lolling around at the beach reading manuscripts we headed back to the city.  Y'all were busy reading the Week in Review.
One of the things I really love about the round up: your writing. All of you are writers of course, but sometimes there's a turn of phrase, or sentence (or like with Julie Weathers an entire post!) where I think "oh boy, there's talent!)

Here's one from Jennifer R. Donohue like that:
Does anybody else's dog like Spam? Elka went high obedience ballistic for it last night when it was cooking. Like "I am sitting. I would like that meat in my mouth. Oh, come on. I'll testify as hard as I can. spamspamspam"

LynnRodz asked:
I wonder if Barbara Poelle ever pops by here and sees all the praise you bestows upon her?
I think Barbara is too busy juggling auctions to do much blog reading. Either that or taste testing the new vodka crop.

Dena Pawling has a good idea:
I figured out that OP meant the person who had submitted the question, without really knowing what the acronym actually meant. It would take quite a bit more mental energy plus the search feature, to figure out the possible meanings of Carkoon and Buttonweezer. Therefore, not knowing what those two meant would possibly make more timid folks (1) feel like an outsider, (2) be embarrassed to ask, and (3) not feel comfortable posting their own comments. Therefore, because I've been on the excluded side of blogs and groups many times in the past [I vacillate between not wanting to join a group that would actually want me as a member, and not wanting to participate in a group that doesn't want me], and the knowledge that Ms. Reid loves her blog community and wants it all-inclusive even for the likes of me, I'll offer up my definitions. Maybe Colin, the compiler of the acronyms [Compiler Of Links creating Inclusion for Newbies], can provide that aforementioned list, complete with links if they can be found. Hopefully, having such a list would make new folks feel welcome [because they are], rather than even MORE hesitant to post a comment.

You'll notice there's now a link to terms used on the blog on the right hand side of the blog roll.  If any of you think others should be added let me know in the comments section here.



S.D. King's eagle eye caught something:
"learn the category (I have a middle grade novel on submission now.)"


Janet, You thought you could slip that in there and I wouldn't notice?

Now I really need to send my query to the shark to prepare it to send to the shark!

Here's the bad news: I don't take on middle grade. Yes, I have one on submission right now but it was written by a CLIENT that I signed for another project in a category I do take on. This was how Brooks Sherman ended up selling a picture book written by my client Sean Ferrell.  Now that Brooks is Bent, I can't force him to do my bidding.
But, to the point, middle grade queries are still going to get a redirection to a more suitable agent. (sorry!)

Lance's comment (As a serial, part-time lurker, I thank Dena for the glossary) reminded me that glossary was the word I was looking for to describe terms used on the blog. And it's such a lovely word! Glossary!

I thin Amy Schaefer summed up my intent on acronyms and now the glossary much better than I did (which is what happens when you have writers hanging about!)

I am glad to have support in my anti-acronym battle (notice how I didn't shorten that), and I think Janet's point about including one and all in our commenting nonsense here is critical. I've avoided many an internet community (and even a few real life ones) because the members seemed too clannish, too caught up in their inside jokes and common history to allow a newbie in. I'd hate for that to happen here.

Lurkers, you're just like those of us who can't keep out hands off the keyboard. Don't let our nonsense hold you back if and when you have something to say. And, if it suits you, come be nonsensical with us!


Lance also asked
 I don't understand the relationship of woodland creatures to The Shark unless it is a metaphor for how we writers yet to be published (WYTBP) exist separate from the publishing world. That is to say, we have to form pyramids of 'possums and heave our queries over the seawall into the lagoon wherein lies The Reef. Once agented, a writer is magically transformed into a creature of the reef, interacting more directly with The Shark.
Pharosian reminded us of where that term came from:
On several (okay, many) occasions, unpublished authors have posed questions to Janet that indicate a certain amount of over-thinking, anxiety, lack of self-confidence, timidity, uncertainty, and a general fear of Big Bad Agents. In her response to the questioner that day she said, "Writers are woodland creatures who worry about every single thing they can think of and when that isn't enough, they look for newly discovered things to worry about."
Julie suggested the titmouse as a typical example. I tend to think of wide-eyed, innocent Bambi types, or twitchy-nosed bunnies. Regardless, the term stuck. One thing this group has demonstrated an aptitude for par excellence is taking an idea and running with it!



and didn't this just make you want a dinner invitation to John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur's house?
My rule is, if I can smell you across the table, you're wearing too much. If I can smell you before you come in the door you're wearing WAY too much and need to be tranqued with a dart gun.




On Monday, the we talked about novels on submission that might be too similar to what an agent represents.

brianrschwarz got his wifi on Carkoon working long enough to say this:
To the topic at hand - I want to say it was either Tolkien or Lewis who were once quoted as saying "great writers don't rip one person off... they rip EVERYONE off"

Their point was just that you can't write in a vacuum. It's just not possible. So no matter what you do, you're borrowing from somewhere or someone or something. The line between taking a usual device, name, location or trope versus copying entire segments of a story or a blueprint of a character of course are different things.

Which is exactly what I meant, but better.

And I like what Shaun Hutchinson said too:
Coincidences happen. Even really weird ones. You think you've written a wholly unique book that no one could have possibly ever come up with, but you're probably wrong. What sets books apart is how you write them. Your ideas may not be unique, but your execution is. That's how you set yourself apart from similar plots.

bjmuntain made another good point with this:
It's so, so important to understand the difference between ideas and tropes. I don't think anyone here would have that problem, but a writing group I used to belong to fell apart because a beginning writer claimed her 'ideas' were being stolen, because another writer just happened to be using the same old fantasy tropes that Terry Brooks used long before then.

brianrschwarz asked:
Question for Janet - How do intellectual rights work in writing? What is being copyrighted? The main themes? Character names and generic profiles? Is the court the ultimate decider?

I mean, if fan-fic isn't considered a copyright infringement than I think the questioner is probably quite safe. But where is the line?

Copyright protects the work you create. Another person can not copy your book or portions of your book without your permission.

Titles do not have copyright protection.
Names do not have copyright protection.
Themes do no have copyright protection.
You don't need to worry about court here. You need to worry about the warranties clause of your publishing contract where you warrant that the work is your own and indemnify the publisher against claims that it isn't. 

Fan fic is very murky in terms of copyright, but the general idea is that if you're doing it for fun, and not trying to hoodwink anyone that you actually created Jack Reacher, it's all good.

What you can NOT do is lift parts of books wholesale, and pass them off as your own.



On Tuesday, the topic was BEA and why writers should NOT plan to attend.

AJ Blythe asked:
Just googled BEA to find out what it was. Interesting they have author signings when the conference is really aimed at industry professionals. Is there something for readers besides the signing? Or are readers happy to attend just for the signing?

Jenny C provided a great answer:
BEA is not the place to be as a writer unless your book is already published or going to be published and you are there to meet booksellers and librarians. I used to attend when I worked as a buyer for a bookstore and I have to say, I always had a fabulous time. I heard authors speak at breakfasts, met them, got signed ARC's and came home with lots of tote bags to share with the staff at the store. (Publishers give out tote bags and booksellers love to collect them.) I also went to fun parties and once in Miami I met Oprah! All the people who work the booths want to meet booksellers and its nice to feel appreciated! And the stacks of ARC! Absolutely the best part! Quite honestly, I never even knew agents attended. You would have to search hard to find one in the sea of booksellers, sales reps and marketing people.

And she added this:
I've been nostalgic this morning, thinking back over all the BEA's I attended. My favorite one was not the time I met Oprah, who ended up canceling her autobiography, but the time I heard a relatively unknown writer named Terri Macmillan speak about her forthcoming book WAITING TO EXHALE. She blew away a room fill of bookseller who just about trampled each other like teenagers at a rock concert to get to the signing line and get a copy. I read it on the plane on the way home, and I still have it. WAITING ended up being a major bestseller for a lot of reasons, but I like to think bookseller enthusiasm generated that day was one of them.

And JEN Garrett took my breath away with this one:

I recently heard advice from a former agent to go to BEA and "give chocolates" or "stuffed animals" to the publishers and agents there. The idea is to make a good impression. But I didn't like the advice at all. I didn't think publishers were there to be schmoozed by "UN" writers. I thought they were there to sell books.

Holy smokestacks that was bad advice. Maybe that explains the "former" part of agent.  At the risk of repeating myself endlessly: the ONLY thing that is going to make a good impression on me is your writing. You can be nicest person in this world or the next but if your writing isn't what I'm looking for, no amount of chocolate or stuff woodland creatures will change that.  Also, those kind of geegaws are expensive and you should save your money for a publicist for when you are published.



On Wednesday the talk turned to online crits.
I like this point, made by Susan Bonifant with a hat tip to DeadSpiderEye, a lot
Dead Spider Eye (shudder) made an EXCELLENT point:

"To generalize, the problem with on-line communities is ...communal behaviour. What that means is, your standing within the community is likely to prejudice how your work is considered."

Some sites are like polite neighborhoods - welcoming, and nice enough but not useful because the polite culture suppresses honest critique.

And some are Lord of the Flies.

I liked what kregger said here:
Writing is a craft and within any craft there are beginners, journeymen and masters. I was a beginner once, and I had no idea how ineffectual my writing skills were to readers until I joined a critique forum.
I think it is important for the discussion in this forum to differentiate between getting help at the skill of writing and help about a plotline or story arc.
I agree with the majority of the pro and con about critique forums as listed above and have probably participated unwittingly in the good, bad and ugly of the forums. It's part of the learning process.
The hard part for a writer is either knowing (or not) the amount of help they need.

And Megan V made a good case for online crits:
I'm a proponent of using random people from online forums as critics. My reasoning: In the music world, some people have perfect pitch and can't sing worth a damn. Likewise, in the writing world, some people can't write worth a damn, but when they read another writer's work, suddenly they are gifted surgeons who know when their incisions should be accompanied by anesthesia.

Of course, you find out rather quickly who has the pitch and the gifted hands and who is just cutting for the sake of drawing blood.

On Thursday we talked about whether a publisher can force a writer to change the ending of a book:

Lisa Bodenheim asked:
I suppose this is NOT something to put in a query letter because we don't tell the ending in the query letter. But it would be a good question to ask an agent when The Call is received, just to be sure an agent is fully enthusiastic about our book with the ending we've chosen.

You don't put that in a query letter for a different reason. A query is not the place to be listing what you will or will not accept from a publisher. That kind of list makes you seem hard to deal with and/or uninformed.  While I can and do sign authors who are uninformed about how publishing works I don't want to deal with people who are intractable. Publishing is a team sport and authors who don't understand that generally get picked last, if at all.

I think Matt Adams has a nice summation on this topic:
I think the questioner is about ten steps early to worry about this, but I'll relate my story. After a bunch of querying, my agent offered rep. One thing though, she asked, what would you think about changing the ending (she thought it would be better a bit more ambiguous than the happy one I'd written). I thought about, asked a few people who'd read.

Then i changed the ending. Either you trust the people you work with or you don't.

And I would guess the questioner would, too, if given the actual choice between publication and non-publication. I think an editor would tell s/he that before offering to buy the book, but if they didn't, you'd have to understand they are BUYING the book. Not agreeing to print your masterpiece, but buying the print versions of it. If the questioner is uncomfortable with that idea, s/he should self publish and save everyone involved a lot of hassle.

It's like Dave Berry said after he sold the rights to his life/books/columns to a TV show (It starred Harry Anderson, the guy from Night Court). He insisted he retain complete creative control over how he spent the money. I think that's the way to look at it.

Shaun Hutchinson added to that:

Matt, you make a good point. When we were shopping my first book, a publisher was interested but only if I was willing to rewrite the last third of my book. I was initially against the idea, but when no other publishers bit, I talked it over with the editor and submitted a revised outline. She bought the book, and I rewrote the last third. As I started doing the rewrites, I was still skeptical, but by the time I'd finished them, I realized that my editor had been correct all along, and that the rewrites improved the book significantly.

That said, I think if an editor didrequest a significant change to the ending, I'd do the rewrite beforesigning the contract to make sure both the editor and I were happy with the new changes before committing to them.

Bonnie Shaljean asked:
Assuming that an author adamantly does NOT want major surgery done on her book:

Can the creator of the work require that she be given final refusal on proposed major changes, and legally ensure that the publisher cannot force them on her, without her having to actually withdraw the book and face punitive financial consequences (never mind lost time)?

After all, the publishers do know what story they're getting before they sign on: they've read it. Whereas the writer can't foresee all the changes she might be told to make, so she can't always forearm the agent. Has she any power other than bailing out and going back to the trenches?

No.
Of course, in the real world, the editor and the agent are discussing the book, and the editor's ideas long before anything drastic like "your editorial suggestions are like capcha cupcake choices: one dimensional, tasteless and serve only to block me from expressing myself fully"
I do have a deal pending in which the editor has said there will be some substantial changes requested. The author and I agreed to the deal and signed the contract, but we're both waiting to see what the editor wants before  doing anything bold like cashing the check and announcing the deal.



and then there was just this glorious little nugget of great writing from REJourneys that made me life and reminded me how amazing y'all are:

Of course, the author should stay up with the trends of the market, but when you are being flung across the globe, signing children and kissing pictures, do they really have time for that? (The answer is you have to make time, but no one has made time yet. If they had, they'd have to invent a new number for how rich that person would be. Either that or they are keeping the knowledge of how to actually make time to themselves).

On Friday, I might have gone a bit ballistic on the topic of wasting an agent's time, but the overall blog post was about querying an unfinished novel when you have a backlist of published books.

bjmuntain summed up my point very nicely:
The reason an unpublished author needs to have a completed manuscript before pitching it is because they don't have a track record of finishing publication-ready manuscripts. But I've often heard this is different for previously published authors simply because they've proven they can finish a manuscript that's appropriate for publication.

It's like the tendering process for projects. If you've never managed a project, you're not going to win a tender no matter how much you undercut the opposition. However, if you have a good background in completing projects with very good quality results, you can probably bid higher and be more likely to get the contract than someone with a less stellar background.

Mary Feliz just cracked me up with this:
I'm so torn. While I aim to be bold, brave, and brilliant in my writing career, that woodland creature cake "hand" delivered by a shark on a broomstick seems really too tempting to pass up!

Christina Seine asked:
Also, another question for QOTKU: any other traveler tips for someone who's never been to NYC before?

1. Ride the Staten Island Ferry. It's free, and it's the best way to see New York's glorious skyline at night.
2. Don't be afraid to ride the subway. It's very safe, it's the cheapest way to get around town, and there are people who will help you if you get turned around. Just ask.
3. Don't go to any chain restaurants.
4. The most beautiful view of the Chrysler Building can be had walking north on Lexington Ave on the left side of the street between 5 and 6am starting at 21st Street.
5. The best view of the Empire State building is from Sixth Avenue and 29th Street.
6. The best time to visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art is Saturday night after 6pm.
7. There is no good time to visit MoMA. It's too crowded for any kind of sane experience.
8. Bryant Park is a lovely reading spot (42nd Street at Sixth Avenue)
9. The best way to see all of what makes New York glorious is to start at Broadway and 72nd street and walk south on Broadway till you hit the Staten Island Ferry (see #1)
10. If you see a lithe blonde woman on rollerblades, zooming south on the Hudson bike path, barking "I don't get out of bed for less than fifty thousand!" that's Barbara Poelle and you should get OUT of her way with alacrity.

and just PS: Happy Birthday dear Gossamer!



On Saturday we talked about Chum Bucket and junior agents.

MB Owen asked a very good question:
I'm not sure how a person could: "make triple dog sure that she isn't heading for the exit anytime soon," unless maybe a little work history.

It's really hard to ascertain that, I agree. I think it's a question of listening closely to how a new agent talks about her job and her life. Someone who hates New York isn't a good candidate for lasting a long time here. Someone who really wants to be something else either (a writer, an actor, a lawyer.)
Mostly though I'd want to make sure that the junior agent is with an agency that's been around awhile and can step in if the junior agent gets recruited for the circus.

S.D.King mentioned my former companion in query shenanigans, the erstwhile Brooks Sherman:
I queried Brooks and heard nothing back. His website says if you don't hear, resubmit the query because they respond. I resubmitted and still crickets. I suppose I could re-resubmit but I don't think he's looking for a long-term non-relationship.

Last time I asked, Brooks had 700 unanswered queries. Behind? He was so behind I threatened to lock the liquor cabinet.  I think he probably still is, but I also think he does respond to everything…eventually.



This was an incredibly busy week here at the Reef. The Edgar festivities commenced on Monday, culminating in the Awards banquet on Wednesday night. It was great fun to see everyone  and catch up on projects, new ideas, great stories, and what everyone is excited about reading.

On Thursday, after thinking my traveling was done, and I was now chained to my desk, I decided to hit Malice Domestic instead. I got on the train at 7am on Friday morning and was in Bethesda by 11, ensconced in "my" spot in the bar. More on that on tomorrow's blog post.

Spring seems to be fully here, thank all deities foreign and domestic. It's not warm really but it's not raining and it's not freezing. I'll take it!





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29. Query Question: feedback and junior agents

I have a scenario for your wonderful blog, where the readers comments are as insightful as the posts. Here’s the situation: I’ve been reading awesome agent’s (AA) blog for almost a year now. From time to time AA holds an incredible open query event for her followers, promising to provide a personal reply, even if the query isn’t right up her alley. Suspecting a fatal conceptual flaw in my manuscript, I have intended to submit to this open query event. But, being the neurotic author that I am, I waited, not wanting to blow the opportunity with a manuscript or query that wasn’t up to snuff. I’ve finally gotten my act together, but AA seems to have suspended her open query events. Meanwhile, at AA’s agency there is a new junior agent (JA) seeking in my genre and firing off #MSWL tweeter twits that look they were targeted directly at my manuscript. What’s a neurotic author to do? (1)

There are probably two specific concerns here. First, after we’ve read every bit of advice on your blog, how can we find better specific feedback than the typically vague agent rejection? A few rejections along the lines of “You certainly write great dialog, but I just don’t feel passionate about your main character,” or “I love your concept and writing, but unfortunately I’m not connecting with your story,” are nice but don’t really help. More rejections are just a flat no, or worst of all, a no reply. Your recent post on professional editing services made this approach to getting good feedbacks look like a chancy proposition at best. And my CP, despite her excellent advice on my MS has little insight into what my fatal flaw might be. (2)

The second concern is regarding the wisdom of submitting to junior or new agents. What should we be looking for in a new agent? What should we be looking out for? Is the fact that JA works for a well respected agency with people like AA surrounding her, and presumably guiding and mentoring her recommendation enough? (3)


(1) Hmmm...I wonder who that slacker AA agent is?


And let's all remember that the purpose of Chum Bucket isn't to get feedback alone. It's querying for real. And that's the problem. I've been backed up on requested fulls for more than six months. I request a HUGE percentage of manuscripts during Chum Buckets (often up to 10% of total queries) so if I'm backed up on reading, the last thing I should do is add to the inventory.

I know that's not what you want to hear, but telling people they need to wait for me to read their work in 120, 150, 180!!!! days makes me crazy.

Therefore you should be casting a wider net. Which brings us to

(2) An agent's job is NOT NOT NOT to critique your work. You can get that sometimes from requested fulls, or more likely if you meet an agent at a conference and have her look at your synopsis, with the idea of helping you identify plot holes, or look at your query to identify weaknesses. Short of that, you need to get advice from other sources.

(3) You look for a junior agent who is sitting five feet away from a fierce senior agent who will keep her out of trouble.  You look for an agent who loves your work and thinks she can sell it.  And you make triple dog sure that she isn't heading for the exit anytime soon.


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30. Happy Book Birthday to Lois Lane: FALLOUT!

A YA novel about Lois Lane as a modern teen reporter? By the amazing Gwenda Bond? Um... YES PLEASE!

Lois Lane is starting a new life in Metropolis. An Army brat, Lois has lived all over--and seen all kinds of things. (Some of them defy explanation, like the near-disaster she witnessed in Kansas in the middle of one night.) But now her family is putting down roots in the big city, and Lois is determined to fit in. Stay quiet. Fly straight. As soon as she steps into her new high school, though, she can see it won't be that easy. Agroup known as the Warheads is making life miserable for another girl at school. They're messing with her mind, somehow, via the high-tech immersive videogame they all play. Not cool. Armed with her wit and her new snazzy job as a reporter, Lois has her sights set on solving this mystery. But sometimes it's all a bit much. Thank goodness for her maybe-more-than-a friend, a guy she knows only by his screenname, SmallvilleGuy . . .

KIRKUS *starred review*: "A nifty investigative mystery akin to Veronica Mars or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Readers are in for a treat. A spectacular prose start for DC Comics' spectacular lady.

"Lois Lane has always been one of my favorite characters in American literature. Who is this human, un-powered woman who so easily stands up beside the most iconic superhero of all time? Gwenda Bond's book asks, who was Lois as a teenager? The answer is a spirited, engrossing story that kept me flipping pages and rooting for stubborn, clever, fearless Lois Lane."  -- Shannon Hale, NYT bestselling author of Dangerous and Princess Academy

BUY THE BOOK: At your local independent bookstore, Powells, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold. 

And check out this lovely letter from Editor Beth, who helped Gwenda bring her version of Lois to the world.

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31. Happy May Day!


I love May Day. To me its filled with flowers, special treats and the anticipation of good things to come.


When I was growing up May Day was  a celebrated holiday. Children would decorate little baskets or (really) small paper cups, fill them with candy or other treats and secretly deliver them to friends and family. 

On May Day you would sneak up to a friend's door, leave the basket, ring the doorbell and run. The idea was to get away without getting caught because if you got caught you were kissed.

May Day isn't celebrated on the East Coast, or at least where I'm living, but since I love surprises I might just have to make a few little paper cup baskets and see who I can surprise.


Photo and craft idea courtesy of The Crafty Crow

--jhf

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32. Query Question: pitching an unfinished novel with a backlist

I'll be attending RWA in July and intend to pitch agents. I've been told more than once not to pitch unless I have a ms polished and ready for sale, but I have a dilemma with that. Here's the situation.

I have a book releasing with a small publisher in June, and two more books completed and in the hopper with the same publisher, scheduled to release at the end of 2015 and early 2016. Since I can point to these three novels with regard to how I've been spending my time, will agents be okay with the fact that the book I'm pitching (contemporary romance, 95-100,000 w) will be incomplete with only a synopsis and five chapters written? (2)

It seems ridiculous to attend RWA and pass up the opportunity to pitch just because of timing. If the conference were in November instead of July, the ms would be complete. I have a track record to prove that I finish what I start. Will that be good enough for most agents, or will the lack of a completed and polished ms be a deterrent? (3)

If a deterrent, can I still schedule to pitch but use the time to ask for feedback on my query letter? (4)
Would that be considered bad form? (I don't want to waste anyone's time.) (1)



Let's take these questions in numerical order.

(1)  YOU ARE NOT WASTING MY TIME TALKING TO ME ABOUT YOUR WORK or your query.  Like every agent worth having, I make my living from the work you trust me to sell.  Even if your query needs work; even if your book does not fit my list, it is NEVER a waste to time to talk to a writer who is serious about his/her career, and may be a potential client (ie REVENUE SOURCE.) And clearly you are in that category (for starters, you're reading this blog)

DO NOT EVER let me hear you talking about wasting my or any agent's time again, or I will get on my broom and fly to your house and bring you a Woodland Creatures Cake....and I'll leave the cake server at HOME.


*rant over*


(2&3) Given your publication history, I think agents will be confident you can finish the book. They can probably tell you if this new one fits in a category they want to consider. They'll probably want you to finish the book but you're right, an unfinished ms in your case is not the same as an unfinished ms from an unpubbed writer. You'll want to have a reasonable estimate of when you'll be finished with the novel (which you do seem to have now.)

(4) Yes.

RWA is in New York this year so a lot of editors and agents will be there. You'd be crazy not to take advantage of this opportunity.  Bring your query, bring a list of your published books, and get as much info as you can during your meeting times.

And bring your parasol. It's going to be hot and muggy. 



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33. Erika Chase's Favorite Reading Spot


Like the saying goes, if you want the best seat in  the house, remove the cat. Keesha shares my feelings that this is a comfort chair, one where you can sink down and in, relax and spend some time. Of course, nothing's better than sharing that time with a cat and a book. Always good to have a TBR pile! 



--Erika Chase

Erika Chase writes the Ashton Corners Book Club Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The fifth in the series, LAW AND AUTHOR, is due out Sept. 1, 2015, and finds the book club members helping one of their own whose granddaughter is accused of murder. How did reading mysteries turn into solving them! www.erikachase.com

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34. Query question: can the publisher make me change the ending?



Six people I asked to beta read my work completed it and had useful feedback about where the story lagged or where it might be confusing, but two of them (a third of my readers!) didn’t like the ending. They wanted a happy ending for the characters that they had invested in, and I don’t write those. I strongly feel that protagonists must face the consequences of their actions, and sometimes those consequences are heavy.

I guess the silver lining is that they cared enough about the characters to be upset about the ending.

Now obviously, when I’m looking for an agent, I’d be sure to find one that is happy with the current ending. But what happens if we sign with a publisher? Is it possible that a publisher would have a similar view as a third of my beta readers? Could they be thinking “it’s got promise and once we sign, we’ll fix the ending”? Does a writer have any control at that point?

If the publisher tries to radically change a book after the author signs, can the author withdraw the book?


Yes.
If the author doesn't want to do the edits or changes that the publisher asks for, it's entirely possible to pay back all the advance money and cancel the contract. (You'll end up paying back the agent's commission portion too--we did our job and sold the book. You back out of the deal, we don't give the money back)


This doesn't happen often, but it does happen.


The way to avoid this is to have an agent who asks the right questions of the editor: do you love the book? do you think there are major changes? if you do, what are they?


The editor doesn't want to sign up a book and work on it for months only to have the author disagree and back out of the deal.  The editor will have some serious explaining to do up his/her food chain, and those are NOT fun conversations.


Your agent should know before going on submission that changing the ending is a deal breaker for you. That will help her figure out what questions to ask when negotiating the deal.



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35. Author Branding through Pinterest


Authors, like all other business owners, are constantly looking for new ways to use social media, find readers and, eventually, sell books.


I was recently reading a Fast Company article in which they discussed branding through Pinterest and it made me think of authors and some of the things you could be doing to build your brand through a social networking site like Pinterest.

A number of my own clients have helped expand their brand not by talking about their books, but by talking about the things their books have that make them stand out. A group of mystery writers, for example, got together and formed the Mystery Lovers' Kitchen blog where they share recipes and cooking tips. Another group of mystery writers formed The Nose for Trouble Facebook group for fans of pet related mysteries. Both of these are unique ways to take your book's hook and sell the book based on interests your readers might have, beyond the book's genre.

I'm on Pinterest primarily as a way to store all of the great things I see online. My latest pins have been motivational sayings, logo designs and shoes, because everyone loves shoes. If you're an active Pinner is there something you could do with your pins to help build a brand for yourself? What about design tips from your interior designing character? Food tips from the chef in your book or a wedding board from the character who dreams of some day finding Mr. Right? 

I guess what I'm trying to say is that when building a brand on social media the trick is to find a way to go viral. I don't think you're going to do that simply by talking about your book. You might however go viral by creating something that links to your book and help potential readers find you in a completely different way.

--jhf

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36. Query Question: online, public crit groups

 

I've joined an online writing group called Scribophile, where you can share you work with others to be critique. It's open to anyone, and what you share is public until you can join private groups. If i put my work up to be critiqued on this online community, will agents consider it tarnished? Or unpublishable because it's already been shared?

Nope.
As long as you don't attach an ISBN and print it up and sell it, (or the electronic version of print it up) you're fine.

On the other hand.

I'm VERY hesitant about just letting random people critique your work.

Criticism can cut you to the quick, and letting random people flail at you with knives seems like something to avoid.

Second, you don't have any idea of the quality of their work do you? Someone who can't string sentences into paragraphs isn't someone I want telling me how to write.

Third, hives like that tend to reward bland, middle of the road, unexciting writing.There's nothing "wrong" with bland; it's just not very interesting. It's when you break the rules with elegance and style that you get my interest. Breaking the rules on those kinds of sites isn't always viewed with the same enthusiasm.

The commenters today will probably have advice based on actual experience with sites like this. I'd pay attention to what they say particularly if they don't agree with me.


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37. Saying No to Exclusives


Years ago, I mean back when I was a baby agent, I sat on a conference panel with about three other agents. During the panel the question of exclusives came up. Since this has always been a (odd) passion of mine I spoke up to say how wrong I felt exclusives were. Another agent disagreed.


She spoke up and said that she always asked for an exclusive. Her reasoning was that it was a waste of time not to because if a "bigger" agent offered, writers were going to go with the bigger agent and she wasted her time. First, I was shocked that she didn't believe in herself enough to think authors would benefit from being with her and second, I was shocked that she actually justified locking authors in without any options.

So we argued. And it wasn't pretty, but I bet it was fun for the conference attendees.

Agents still ask for exclusives and authors still need to respond to that. My advice on saying no to an exclusive is you kind of don't.

When an agent asks for an exclusive I would still send the material and simply say in my letter, "I'm afraid I can't offer an exclusive since I have queries/requested material out elsewhere. However, I will gladly keep you informed should another agent come forward with an offer."

Simple and straightforward and my guess is that the agent will read your material anyway.

--jhf


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38. BEA for aspiring writers


I'm an aspiring novelist and an assistant editor for a travel book company. I'm going to BEA for the first time this year and I'm a little overwhelmed by the schedule. Do you have any recommendations of the best ways to spend my first BEA, given that I am trying to get published/get an agent within the next few years (knock on wood)? 

Yes. Don't go.

Unless your job for the travel book company requires you to attend, you're better off not going. If your job
does require you to attend, focus on what you need to do for your job. At your first BEA that will be more than enough to keep you busy.

BEA is NOT a place for writers to meet agents or try to get info on getting published.  Yes, I'll be there. So will everyone from my office. I'm not there to meet you. I'm there to see what publishers are doing. I'm there to meet with my co-agents from far flung lands.  I'm there to get a sense of the sea changes in the industry.  


The people who staff the booths of the publishers are most often NOT the editors who acquire manuscripts either. They're the sales people, the marketing folks, the publicity team.  They're there to talk to book buyers from bookstores, librarians, wholesalers and overseas publishers.  


Every single person working a booth at BEA has a horror story of some deluded author trying to press a manuscript on them, or asking who to send the manuscript to. Don't be that author, please.


And just in case you're absolutely sure you're the exception to this rule, here's a little known fact that should seal the deal: often times the people in the booth wear the wrong name on their badge because they share badges.  You think you're talking to a marketing person, it's really an intern brought in to help pack up boxes or hand out ARCs.


I know many authors who've gone to BEA and the most common response has been "I had no idea there were this many books." In other words, it's a daunting place to be particularly when you don't have an agent, let alone a book deal.


You want to go to WRITER'S CONFERENCES, not trade shows.  Go where agents ARE actively looking to talk to you.



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39. How Exclusives Harm Authors

Last week I wrote a blog post about exclusives and I received a lot of great comments and questions. Rather than answer in the comments I decided to use the opportunity to write another blog post, or a few blog posts. That way anyone with the same questions can see the answers and I have filled yet another day (or days) on the blog :)

For those who might not know, an exclusive is when an agent asks for you to submit material exclusively to her. That means you stop querying other agents and if you do get a request on a query that is already out you must wait to either hear from the agent with the exclusive before sending to other agents, or wait until the exclusive time period is up.

Why is this a problem?

1. We all know how long agents can take with submissions. It's not because they want to take forever, it's because other things come up. Contracts must be negotiated or reviewed, an author's manuscript needs to be read or edited, or lunches with editors must be lunched. All of these things mean the submission pile grows and before long said agent (ahem) looks at her list and realizes she has requested material from as far back as February 1 (sorry about that).

2. Giving an exclusive, even with a strict time period, means that you've already committed to this agent. You've said, "yes I want you to read my work and if you like it and offer representation I'll sign with you because I have no other options." This is the part about exclusives that tweaks me the most.

When you commit to an agent you are hiring someone to work with you. Repeat this: YOU are HIRING someone to work WITH you. Would you ever agree to have a landscaping company give you a quote only if you give them an exclusive on that? Meaning you can't ask any other landscaping company to give you a quote. I hope not. And that's just to have someone cut your lawn.

By offering an exclusive you are giving someone the opportunity to manage your career, your dream career, without the chance to interview the right person for the job. And that's a big mistake.

One more analogy. You're a business owner. You have a vision for your business and you need to bring on a partner to help make things happen. You find about 10 people you'd like to interview for the job, but one of them tells you she wants an exclusive interview, which means that you eliminate the other 9 people without even having the chance to talk to them.

Would you do it? Because I've just described exactly what an exclusive is.

Later this week I'll discuss how to handle an offer in more detail. As for Exclusives:

Just Don't Do It.

--jhf

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40. Query question: my novel isn't a ripoff, I swear

I've just had a terrible shock.  I have been taking my time meandering through all your author's websites.  There is so much to read on the blog AND also to keep up with the daily writing you do, fun commenters, other blogs, my own work and then, of course my full time gig, mothering/homeschooling.

I just read this in the works of Phillip DePoy: "2013 December's Thorn... Fever's wife? The mythology of Tristan and Isolde combines with Fever's dim past". And this: "To his family home in Blue Mountain, a small town in Georgia's Appalachian Mountains."

I know my story and this one cannot be the same at all from the little blurb I have read. My ms was written last summer before I had even heard of your blog. My point is, my story takes place in Appalachia in the Georgia Mountains and the mythology of Tristan and Isolde combine with my character's lives as well.  It wouldn't/couldn't happen again, such an odd coincidence? But what if I did query you and there were these bizarre similarities? What if I hadn't gone through all your authors books and queried?! I might not comb through other agent's websites as I do yours. This is so strange, would an agent see something like this as a joke? Or worse somehow, along the lines of plagiarism???

Yikes my heart skipped a beat.  To have two such strange coincidences...if this book also has to do with the Foxfire Magazine...errg. It's not like being queried for another vampire novel.  It just seems so strange. I know I am overreacting. Would you notice something like this? And if so what would your reaction be?


 I most likely will not notice if you too use a long established literary trope like Tristan and Isolde as the narrative blueprint for your novel.  Well, I'll notice the Tristan and Isolde part, I just won't assume you're lifting it wholesale from one of my client's books.

Tristant and Isolde is everyone's to use. As is Romeo and Juliet. As is "a monkey and horse walked in to a bar."

On the other hand, we're going to have some problems if you query me for an ex-military policeman, doing the vagabond shuffle, carrying only a toothbrush, and getting into trouble in cafes where he drinks too much coffee.

That's NOT a trope, that's a fully fleshed out character and Lee Child isn't a guy you'd want to steal from. 

Do you see the difference?

And even if you lifted every single element of Phillip DePoy's amazing Fever story, unless you write as well as he does, you're out of luck that I'd want to read it.

As long as you really are doing your own work you'll be ok. 

 

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41. Week in review April 26, 2015




Last week in the WIR, Jennifer R. Donohue said 
"But really, I want to hear more about the Buttonweezers, et al." 
which reminded me to tell you all about a fabulous moment of query serendipity! I got a query from a writer named Buttonweezer! Spelled differently of course, but still. I fell upon her query with glee and told her of the Buttonweezer clan that lives here on the blog.  Even more interesting: her first name was Janet! This falls under the truth is stranger than fiction category heading!

Dena Pawling added some interesting info to her bio with us:
Besides that description of how my husband asked me out on our first date, one of my earliest memories is of his car-at-the-time, a Triumph Spitfire. All you car types are groaning now. I don't remember where we went on this date, but while he drove me home in the rain, the generator caught fire. So, wearing a dress, I helped him push the car (in the rain) into a gas station. He says he was surprised I still agreed to go out with him. I always thought our dates were like an adventure.

One of these days I'll tell you about how my car caught on fire when I had Sue Grafton with me. Her next book is the X in the series. I'm lucky it's not X for eXtinguish.

bjmuntain offered up two links on publishing rights. I'm not going to reprint them here because the first one was full of errors. (Her later comment fixes the link to the second one)  When you're researching stuff about publishing PLEASE consider the source.  The first link was written by a writer trying to be helpful. I'm all for helpful writers but it's clear to me this one didn't know much about contracts.  
The SECOND link (publishinglawyer.com)  looks like correct information.

Then bj further asked:
I spent a lot of time last night checking out submissions guidelines, payment and rights bought for several magazines. Many of them say they buy First North American Serial Rights, or First World Rights, or First Electronic Rights. Or even a combination of those. A couple bought First Australian Serial Rights. One or two bought first English language serial rights.

So maybe I'm dense, and if I am, I'd love to have it explained to me.

You're not dense. You're reading what the site says they buy.

Here's the horrible truth: they don't know what they're doing!  Contracts from magazines and smaller publishers are NOTORIOUS quagmires. I could show you some that make sharks weep. I see a LOT of these since one rule here at the Reef is that no client signs a publishing contract of ANY KIND without me looking at it.  Even if I didn't sell it; ESPECIALLY if I didn't sell it in fact.

Some contracts are just blatant rights grabs (university presses wanting copyright for published thesis) and some are a mishmash of terms that fail to cover things like the duration of exclusivity.

If you REALLY want to know about contracts join the National Writers Union or the Author's Guild and get their information on contracts.



And I'm really sad that the only thing *I* get on Capcha is "I am not a robot." I am not so very many things, I wonder how they came to decide this one the one thing I shouldn't be in order to comment.



On Monday I answered a letter from a writer that left me horrified. His agent pretty much revealed his own idiocy by submitting to editors with the assumption they'd pass it along if they weren't the right choice; used a mis-leading pitch; and gotten the category wrong.

It's the trifecta that demonstrates idiocy; we've all done one or more of the above, but I hope to garamond, never on purpose!

Lisa Bodenheim asked the question I should have answered:
Wow. So what's an author to do? Surely the author is in a contract with that agent. If the author does not appreciate what is happening, they can have a direct conversation with their agent. But if the agent doesn't get it or if the author remains unsatisfied with their agent, then what?

You fire the agent. 



MB Owen asked:
Can an agent "un-deliberately" mislead? It sounded intentional, trying to make the pitch fit with an editor's tastes while knowing his client's book was something else.

This is an interesting question, and one I actually know something about right now. I did not "deliberately mislead" an editor about a book he bought on proposal but it was clear that what I had loved about the story, and talked about in my pitch, had NOT made it in to the first draft of the book. 

The author and I realized this together, and actually decided she'd rewrite to incorporate more of what I'd seen in the story. That's why it's the trifecta of errors that is cause for alarm. I not only didn't get the category and editor wrong; I sold the book.


Christina Seine brought up another good point:
This makes me wonder if that rep has a bad rep among editors. Because it sounded like he really pooched it, to more than one editor. I bet that's not a first. So what I imagine then are editors receiving pitches from Agent Stu Pidd and going, "Not this guy again! Hey guys, did I tell you about the time he pitched a contemporary YA as historical romance? I don't think he ever even read the book!"

Under those circumstances, you're lucky if anyone reads the guy's correspondence at all. Yikes.

You're right: they DON'T read the submissions from agents they think are idiots.  I've heard from MANY editors about "schmagents" who are permanently barred from serious consideration.  It's one thing to send something an editor doesn't like, or doesn't think can sell. It's another thing entirely to get EVERYTHING (the trifecta again) wrong.

But mostly schmagents are the ones who don't have a clue how publishing really works. The good news? If your agent is one of them, your book is probably still submittable in that the editors on the submission list never saw it.


REJourneys asked:
Though, is it possible for editors to turn down books because they don't like the agent? I assume that is another business relationship that needs to be at least workable. Knowing that certain agents (well, agent) are misleading you the first time would make me question if I ever want to read something they have again.

Yes it's not just possible, I know it happens. It's not for misleading pitches or getting categories wrong though. It's cause the agents are impossible to work with. Things like insulting the editor during negotiations, or using foul language in email (even I, known dropper of the F-bomb do NOT do this!) or being intractable about things that can't be changed (or dim witted about how to ask for changes.)

The problem here is, as a writer, you'll never get this information. I can't tell you who are on those lists; I don't know more than a few names, all of which were revealed to me in total and complete confidence, usually in person, far from any publishing ears.  In other words, never even written down.  


Dena Pawling made me laugh out loud with this one:
And excuse my woodland creature brain, but thanks for clarifying this line - “I spend time talking to them on the phone, over lunch, on Twitter, and in other odd places (like conferences)....” After last week's discussion, when I read “in other odd places” I pictured you sliding your pitch under the restroom stall door.

I very rarely slide mss under bathroom stall doors when I'm meeting editors. Under their martini glass, you betcha!



On Tuesday we talked about withdrawing a novel on submission if you think another one is a better fit.

Pharosian asked this:
Wow. That's one situation I never even thought about. So if I sign with Fabulous Agent and she sells my cozy mystery (or mysteries), and then sometime down the road I write a slasher (or some other project FA finds distasteful), is FA obligated to try to sell it? And if FA doesn't want to, what's her recourse? Fire me as a client?

No, I'm not obligated to work on anything but that's not really the right question to ask.  When I talk to a potential client I ask about the kinds of books the writer wants to work on in the future. If the answer is "well, this cozy series is great but my true love is writing romance" I am NOT going to sign the client no matter how much I love the mystery series, because the author needs an agent who can do both kinds of books effectively. I'm probably not that agent. The slithery force of nature that is Barbara Poelle probably is.

Of course, if a client develops a sudden interest in a category I don't do well, it's too late not to sign them. In those cases I call in favors from friends (Brooks Sherman for example sold Sean Ferrell's picture book on my behalf) or learn the category (I have a middle grade novel on submission now.)

And it's entirely possible that if a client's work shifts to a new category, she gets traded to the other team for a draft round choice to be named later.


Sadly brianrschwarz earns a lifelong residence on Carkoon with this one:
I hate to say it QOTKU, but you might be right.

Then tried to cancel his ticket with this:
After flipping back and forth, I eventually decided to take QOTKU up on her advice and sent my email an hour ago. After all, if it failed miserably, I'd just blame my writing career on Janet. ;)

But to my surprise, it turns out sharks are sharks for a reason. TFFA responded within the last hour and recommended I leave the bloody book in question on the table, but reply with my query and full for my YA novel. I suppose then if she hates the query for YA book, she can still read bloody mess with renewed fortitude and a more accurate expectation.

So basically, I owe Janet a drink. Let me know when you're in the Midwest.

Midwest? Is that near midtown? Cause if you can't get there on the subway…

Turns out Christina Seine will be joining brianrschwarz on the trip to Carkoon.
 Also, apropos of nothing but Twitter, I was not surprised to learn that Janet is a pimp. I kind of always pictured her as one, in a John Travolta suit, leopard skin coat, flat-brimmed hat, heaps of gold jewelry, base thumping in the background, and of course the razor-sharp teeth. SO badass.

bjmuntain had an interesting question about withdrawn mss
A question just occurred to me, while reading through comments again. If an author withdraws a submitted manuscript for X reason, would it be possible - or even ethical - for the agent to decide that X isn't going to bother her and read the manuscript anyway?

I'm not saying 'ethical' as in morally right. I mean professionally ethical. Is it something that is seen as wrong in the publishing industry? Or is it really just a morally indifferent choice? I can see it going either way.

I think if an author asks you not to read a manuscript, you don't read it. From a purely pragmatic time management point of view, it makes no sense to read something if it's not on submission. I think from a business practices standpoint you really do want to convey to an author that if they ask you to do something, you honor their wishes.  I've had clients ask me to do stuff I thought was the wrong choice for their career, but it's THEIR career. I offered my opinion, the client elected to do something else.
I don't think it's morally wrong to read a withdrawn ms, but I don't think it's something I'd do.



 Susan Bonifant summed it up nicely:
My only experience with a hired editor was as a new writer when I would have taken advice from the neighborhood grocer.

It was awful. She was borderline abusive when I disagreed, found ways to charge more than she should have and made me feel like I was lucky to be wasting her time.

I think she may have even suggested a prologue. No, that's not true.

My (embittered) take, now that I would never consider it again, is this:

One, don't do this if you are not feeling strong about yourself as a writer yet. And two, consider whose advice would be more valuable - someone who is paid to find problems, or a beta reader who is going to tell you why they put the book down to get a drink and didn't come back.

And let me add that anyone you work with on your creative projects who makes you feel "lucky to be wasting her time" is not someone you want to work with. The reason for that isn't cause they hurt your feelings, it's cause they don't know what their job is.  Their job is to help you. That's the reason you're paying them. It's entirely possible to be direct, no-nonsense, AND helpful. I have the replies to rejection letters to prove it.



Amy Schaefer asked a good question about what happens NEXT:
Here is my concern. Let's say I hire Editor Redpen to fix my manuscript. She does an excellent job, and as a result of her advice, I sign with Agent Superpants. She sells the MS. Fast forward a year or two, and I'm ready to show Agent Superpants my new manuscript.

The phone rings.
"Hi, Amy, it's Agent Superpants. I've read the new manuscript you sent me."
"Great! How did you like it."
Long pause. "It's... rough."
"Rough."
"Unpolished. Flabby. Your pacing dies completely in chapter four, and doesn't come back until chapter 17. All of your male characters are generic, and your protagonist is unfocused. What happened?"

The writers I work with who hired an editor to help them  both said that it made them better writers. Not just improved the manuscript, but the process itself helped them see what a novel needed. That's really the goal of spending that money: to learn how to do it yourself next time.

BUT, that is also the reason I think hiring an editor to write your query is not a good idea. Writers need to learn  how to draft a solid query, and the only way to do it, is to do it. Sure you can get help on spotting flaws but you yourself should write your query.




Susan Bonifant brought up Grub Street:
I'm not opposed to the idea of paying for a second read. But how and why is it necessary to consider all that is available for 4K, rather than what is essential for far less? Grub Street in Boston for example charges way, WAY less to pair a writer with a completely objective, multi-traditionally published author, often an instructor, in the genre you select, who will tell you exactly where the suckage is from a reader's standpoint.

By sheer happenstance I'm writing the Week In Review here at the Delaware shore and on the next couch over is an agent who will be at Grub Street next week, and what is she doing? Reading manuscript pages from the people she has pitch sessions with. If you're looking for a place to discover the Suck, Grub Street (and other good writing conferences) can be it.

InkStainedWench had an interesting question:
Now I'm curious. Do editors reject a book with a simple "Dear agent, no thanks, have a nice day."

Generally no. They usually give me some feedback which they know I will share with the author.  If things really go wrong, I'll get a phone call and nothing is put in writing. How to share that information is then up to me.
 
Some editors do have form rejection letters. I have no problem with those, but if I get more than three, I know I'm missing the mark pretty completely with what that editor is looking for, and it's time for some digging and reading.

And Donnaeve asked:
 Janet, don't you find it strange not one acquiring editor gave the OP and their agent anyfeedback?

Yup. I'm hesitant to guess as to the reason however since I don't know the book, or the editor submission list.

But as it turns out there WAS some feedback: Matt Adams said
Hi guys -- OP here.

To answer some questions ...

We got some feedback and got passed around the office by three editors, but that was as far as we got. Two seemed close, but in the end decided not to offer. The feedback was diverse -- there was no universal complaint.

My agent has always thought it should be a big book and has told me she'll push it as far as it can be pushed. She's told me she feels confident she could find SOME publisher for it now, but thinks it deserves better -- I think she's more baffled by the lack of success than I am. And while I understand the concept of trunking it, that's hard to do when she's still willing to find it a home. She's not demanding the edit, but she thinks it would be helpful in helping the book become what she thinks it should be. I'm not saying that I'm sure the book is big or even publishable, but I think I owe it to myself (and her) to give it every opportunity I can to succeed. And before I give the wrong impression, my agent is awesome -- she got everyone to read, which was her job as far as I'm concerned. It was my part of the equation that was lacking.

But I think Janet's right in that saying a second read instead of the full edit is the way to go. Or second read then a full edit.

Thanks for the input everyone. I appreciate it.

I think Matt's agent is smart. If the novel isn't working, it's time for a second set of eyes. That's a demonstrable lack of ego, and business savvy there.

Amy Schaefer asked a good question:
Hmm. With 28 rejections but no consensus on what is wrong (or holding you back, or making editors say no), I sincerely wonder what insight any new editor, paid or otherwise, can give you. 28 is a decent sample size; if there were a major fault in your work, I would have expected that feedback to bubble to the surface from multiple sources by now.

Which leaves the paid editor's professional opinion about what is going wrong here. It doesn't sound like you have much to lose in buying a second read, but if there is no particular thing wrong with your book, I wonder how much she can really help you. Maybe your book is just quirky and different and hasn't found the right home yet. Best of luck!

 That's entirely possible, but remember an editor at a publishing house isn't required to tell you what doesn't work in a novel, only if s/he intends to acquire it.  Much like agents in the query queue, "not right for me" is the only required answer.
Editors often times will not say negative things in a "not for me" letter to an agent because CLEARLY the agent feels the book has merit.  "This book has no plot" is not something I'd expect an editor to say to an agent, and yes, I've sent out books where the plot could be found only with a magnifying glass…

brianrschawrz demonstrates he wants to live on Carkoon forever:
You may not always be right,

RobCeres asked a question that I think a lot of writers would ask here:
Oh to have this conundrum! Assuming the publisher is reputable, what is the downside of going both routes? If the publisher wants the book isn't that tremendous ammunition for a query letter? I mean if I was an agent I would love the first line "I am querying you because (whatever the reason is), and INHO (I'm Not a Hobby Outlet) is offering a publishing contract.

And you'll be surprised to learn that having an offer in hand doesn't make you more attractive to an agent. In fact, it can be a problem.
If you turn up with a contract in hand, you'll be thinking your novel is publishable as it stands. And it is: at THIS publisher.
I can't think of a single book I've sold that I didn't have at least one round of edits on before I sent it on submission. Most are three rounds, a couple right now are on Round Ten and Eleven.
Telling an author with a publication offer in hand that their novel isn't ready isn't fun. In fact, it often leads to hard feelings that end in fuck you and flouncing off.
If your novel is terrific, I probably want to take it out for a spin at the larger publishers.  It's hardly ever possible to say to a small publisher "Hey, can you wait on this offer for two months while we see if we can get something better?"  and even harder to say to editors "hey, can you read this really soon cause I have an offer pending from the Carkoon Illuminated Manuscript Society."
This is why agents BEG you to query them first, and publishers second.




JEN Garrett had an interesting piece of advice:
Here's one way to implement Janet's awesome advice about doing your research.
If you want to know whether a publisher sells to libraries, find a title that the publisher has published (there should be a list on their website). Then call your local librarian and ask if they CAN order the book. Make it clear you are not asking them to order it; you just want to know if the publisher is legit.

The reason you want to do this, is because library books are sold through different distributors than a bookstore. But really, you can use this simple test anywhere you want to see your book in print.


And then you guyz just went completely nuts with list of seasons you all enjoy. In other words, the kinds of comments that really make me laugh.



Colin Smith had an interesting turn of phrase here:
1) If your first book is published, as far as an agent is concerned, there's nothing more to be done with it. There's no point trying to get an agent for it, and why would you? It's published already!

I'm going to quibble here: There's a LOT more to be done with a book even after it's published. The problem is there's NO MONEY. My policy is that if I don't sell something I don't take commission. (co-agenting things are the exception). 

If an author comes to me with a book that's under contract, I don't get a commission but I DO end up doing a lot of work on the book because my job is advocating for my author NOT making money. I need to make money so I try to avoid situations where doing my job means I won't make money. 

This situation happens more than you think when you sign a client who has been repped and sold by another agent for previous books; or who has a backlist and no agent.

The conversation then turned to acronyms, and you guyz had some hilarious versions thereof.
That said, the fewer use of acronyms here on the blog the better. Acronyms create a sub-strata of readers, those "in the know" and thus a group of readers who are NOT.

I'd like to keep all of us in one group as much as possible. If you don't get the Carkoon or Buttonweezer references, you can still get value from the blog. If we start abbreviating the important stuff like Original Poster it's harder for new readers to feel welcome.

Speaking of welcome, I'm writing this from the Delaware shore where I've retreated to read requested full manuscripts.  It's been a VERY productive four days let me tell you.

On Thursday, I strolled around the little town and found a terrific bookstore.  One the shelf as I walked in, this greeted me:




On Friday, my companion in world domination and I took a short break and drove to Assateague Island to see the wild ponies.  I grew up loving the Misty of Chincoteague books. Marguerite Henry was the first author I ever met. Her kindness and graciousness to an awestruck, tongue-tied eight year old girl with a red leather autograph book warms me to this day.









Next week is the Edgars so I'll be hanging out with a lot of out of town friends coming in for the festivities.  Not much work gets done  but a good time is had by all.





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42. Query question: I have a contract but want an agent for film/translation

 I have recently secured a book contract without an agent for my YA novel with a small press. I retain  the film and foreign rights, which I believe should be left up to an agent. Will having a book contract provide me with more cachet to getting representation, or will my queries still be relegated to the "thanks but no thanks" pile?

First, you were smart to retain the rights your publisher is most likely not able to fully exploit.  

Second, if you're querying for a novel that's already got a contract, your situation is a bit different than most.  You'll want to query for your SECOND book, and mention that you retain the translation and film rights to the first book as well.

Most agents will not take on one book just for translation and film rights.  There simply isn't enough money in it to justify the amount of work.

But, if you secure an agent for the second book, having your sub rights for the first book will be a bonus particularly for film.

 

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43. Why You Should Resist Giving Agents Exclusives


I can't even begin to think about the number of times I've written on this subject. One search of exclusives on the blog will probably bring up a ton of posts. And yet, I still get emails like this:


I'm sorry for bothering you, but I wanted to check in with you on the status of my romance novel, SECOND CHANCES. I first submitted the book eight weeks ago and I'd like to know if I should continue to wait or start querying other agents. Thanks again for this opportunity. 

Aaaaaaaaaaaah!

Why, oh why are you waiting for me to respond before querying? I never, ever, ever asked for an exclusive and I don't think I've ever asked for an exclusive. There are very few agents who will ask for an exclusive these days and if they do, ignore it and send your queries out anyway.

Your search for an agent is about finding the best partner for your career. Waiting months for a response from one person at a time is never going to help you kick that career off the ground. So query and submit widely, talk to as many agents as possible and choose the one who is the absolute best fit for your work.

--jhf

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44. I Might Be Getting Soft in My Old Age

I've been thinking about writing this post for a few weeks and was finally pushed into it when this comment was left on a six-year-old blog post:


Gourgandise said...
I understand that agents are swamped by queries but really, if I knew that my future agent was getting annoyed by tiny little things like an e-mail attachment or the "it's not addressed to me personally", sorry but red flag, this agent 1)has an ego that I won't be able to deal with 2) sounds rather lazy and opted for comfort a long time ago. So I'll be glad to be sent to the recycling bin actually, nobody will have wasted the time of the other. If I have to go on a business adventure with somebody I might as well pick a lovely person. I'm sorry, you might be lovely in real life, but you sure don't sound like it in this post. (Before somebody says anything, English is not my first language and I don't write in English. I was just passing by, checking what happens on the other side of the fence.)


The power of the blog. Where a post never goes away and you'll be skewered for something you wrote when you were, frankly, a different person.

This particular comment was left on the post I Stop Reading When.

As I'm reading queries these days I'm sort of amazed at how much I'll forgive. Am I getting soft? Am I getting old? or do I just care less about the minute details of life? I'm not sure there's a precise answer, but I am sure that I've become far more forgiving when it comes to queries.

These days I reply to almost everything. I reply to queries that you send to the wrong address, I reply to queries that are addressed to me, Kim, Jessica, Beth and every other agent and even their mothers. I reply when there are clear typos and I even reply when it's not really a query at all, but something that simply says, "read my book." I've established a system that makes it a lot easier for me to reply to all of these things and sometimes it's just as easy to hit delete.

Of course, just because I'm getting soft doesn't mean everyone else (or anyone else) is. I'm pretty sure The Shark will never soften on us and that's ok, a good thing even. We all need to be held to higher standards and pushed to be the best we can be. Query and submission guidelines should be part of that push.

You should also know that while I'm getting soft and answering all of you rule breakers, it doesn't mean you're getting the answer you want. Most of them are rejections.

--jhf


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45. Query Question: paid editors

 This Question comes on the heel of wasted money and confusion.  I am committed to writing the best books I can + to getting published.  I love words.  I love the world of words.  I read authors whose works inspire + teach me.  I have solid critique + beta partners.  On occasion, I'll take a class online or otherwise.  On those occasions, I'll look into the background of the instructors + editors to ensure there aren't any crackpots.  Here's the question + the rub.  Twice I have worked with paid editors and twice I have gotten either bum advice such as: you don't need to tell the ending in synopsis; or a critique that would have changed the body of my work so dramatically as to be a Dementor's Kiss.  Thinking an editor should be seeing the landscape, I worked with (some) of their recommendations only to find that, yes, the soul truly had been sucked out of the story on their (paid) advice.

Does this happen to author's with whom you've worked?  Does this happen frequently or is it only "paid" editors?  (Is there a difference) because I'm getting jaundiced on them as a whole.  (PS. I've since written the soul back into my work.) 


It doesn't happen with editors at publishing houses because if they want to suck the soul out of a manuscript, we have a conversation that involves changing editors or moving the book to a new publisher.  My job is to find an editor who actually likes the book, not one who wants to change it completely.

Outside/paid/independent editors are a whole different kettle of fishies.  I've had terrible luck with most, and great success with a very few.


How to find the latter and avoid the former? READ the books they've edited. 

Also, have a clear idea of what you want the editor to do. Do you need the plot strengthened, the dialogue improved? The pacing quickened? 


Often an editor can make suggestions about how to do those kinds of things without going through the entire manuscript page by page.


If you're looking for someone to read for plot holes or narrative arc, then you do need someone who will read the entire manuscript.


Good editors are not thick on the ground. Finding a good one is not easy. The REALLY good ones are booked up so far in advance, even their pals can't get a project on their desk (I'm looking at you Kristen Weber!)




I wish I had more to offer on this topic but it's an ongoing problem here too.

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46. A Shout-Out to Beth Campbell

It's administrative assistant week and I want to take a moment to send a shout-out to Beth Campbell. Not only is Beth the assistant for the entire BookEnds team, but she is also actively building her own list and has had some wonderful successes. In fact, just this month we celebrated three sales for Beth.

I'm not going overboard on Administrative Assistant Day for Beth. She can blame my old boss for this. I was "raised" in publishing to believe that I wasn't an assistant to be honored on this day. I was a fledgling editor who was learning my trade and growing in my profession. Instead of handing over flowers on Administrative Assistant Day, my boss celebrated my successes as an editor any time I had them.

So while I want Beth to know how much I appreciate all the work she does as an assistant, I want to use this day/week to let all of you know what a great new agent Beth is becoming. She's actively building a list in urban fantasy, science fiction, YA, suspense, romantic suspense and mystery and if you're writing in her areas of expertise I think you'd be a smart writer and query her. And fast, before she's too busy to add anyone else.

--jhf


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47. Query Question: value of second read

 I’ve been on submission for about a year. We’ve been passed on about 28 times. Not the end of the publishing world, but I feel like we’re getting closer. Recently my agent suggested that I hire a professional editor to give the book a read, because the rest of the world doesn’t love the book as much as she and I do. She re-itterated that she loves the book and her representation of it doesn’t hinge on my agreeing to do this, but in her opinion, we’re missing something and after a year, maybe we ought to let someone with experienced eyes take a look because she wants it to have the very best shot it can have. And to be fair, I’ve edited this book so many times that I can’t tell the difference between “better” and “different” anymore and she’s probably in the same boat.

She referred me to someone who’s worked for a couple of the big five houses. I checked her books and she’s thanked in a couple of the acknowledgements, so I think she’s legitimate. It’s expensive — 4 grand —and it’s still spec. I can afford it — means a little less fun this summer, but not like missing a house payment or anything. But I’m mostly thinking of the mantra that money should flow to the author, and that amount of money would be hard to recoup. And while I’m sure she’ll make it better, there’s no guarantee she’ll make it more sale-able.  At the same time, I’d hate to pass on it, exhaust the rest of the publishing pool and always wonder whether I should have had her take a look at it.

Do you ever make that kind of suggestion to your clients? I figure the worst that can happen is I do it, everyone passes and I’ve got a really well-edited book to put up on Amazon. But four grand is still four grand. If it matters, I’ve talked to her — she’s read the first few chapters — and she thinks there’s something there (but that’s also something someone would say to a prospective client) Her fee is for a detailed editorial letter and a comprehensive line edit.


Yes, I do this. I think your agent is smart to suggest it, and it's something you should seriously consider.  A second set of (fresher) eyeballs on this can help.

That said, you don't need a $4K edit. You need what's called a "second read."  That is, you need someone to read it and say "I think this sux here, here, and here. Also there."  You're NOT paying for compliments. You want the Suck. You EMBRACE the Suck.


Write to this editor and tell you need a second read, essentially a reply letter if she was considering the book for publication.

Make SURE you LIKE the books that this editor has worked on, and think they're well-written. Not every opinion is equal. 


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48. Query Critique: Fade to the Edge

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:
           
Tracy Allen wakes to find DJ, her seven-year-old son, missing. With a custody hearing just days away, this could be her soon-to-be ex’s way of show how unfit a mother she really is.**this sentence feels awkward to me. Would it be cleaner to say her soon-be-be ex's way of showing that she is an unfit mother? An awkward sentence like this can completely ruin it for the reader. My thought is that if the first sentence is this awkward, what does the manuscript look like? Another concern: if the ex took the kid wouldn't he be the one who would look bad? I'm unclear about how this works which is a red flag for the plotting. But when the police locate DJ’s suitcase and the clothing inside covered with blood**this also feels awkward. I get what you're trying to say, but it doesn't read clearly, she knows this is more than a mere “get even” scheme. And once Tracy realizes she’s the mains**yet another typo suspect, she is determined to locate DJ, whatever it takes. But how can you save the one person who relies on you most when those closest to you are the ones you should trust the least?**I think this is generally a good hook overall, although nothing special, but I guess I haven't seen in the previous paragraphs who is closest to her that she trusts the least. If you're going to make a statement like this at any time you need to make sure you show it before making the statement.

I am writing in the hope you will be interested in reading my completed suspense book, Fade to the Edge. It is approximately 73,000 words in length.  

My current releases are as follows: 
  1. My award winning inspirational romantic suspense, Breathless (first place Royal Palm Literary Award), and it sequels, Catch Your Breath (Third Place in the Heart of Excellence Contest), both published with Pelican Book Group in 2012; Also the third in the series One Last Breath, self-published December 2014;
  2. Suspense short The Visitor, self-published September 2014;
  3. Game of Hearts, a humorous novella published with Astraea Press, released in March 2012;
  4. A humorous mystery, Knight & Day published by Write Words, Inc. in 2013; and
  5. Beautiful Imperfection, inspirational romantic suspense, was published through Pelican Book Group on September 29, 2013. It was also the winner of Best Inspirational Cover for 2013 in the “Show Me Your Covers Contest.”  
I was the President of Florida Sisters in Crime from January 2010 – December 2011, and am currently the Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors. I am co-chairing the September 2015 Ancient City Romance Conference. I have spoken at several writers’ events including the 2014 Florida Writers Association Conference.

I am also a Florida Certified Paralegal and work for an estate planning attorney in Jacksonville, Florida.  

Thank you for your attention. I look forward to hearing from you.  

Sincerely yours,
  

[redacted]
www.[redacted].com
Writing Clean Fiction with an Edge!

I'm always intrigued by missing child suspense novels. I'm afraid though that I probably would not request this. Setting aside the problem with the awkward sentences and errors, this just didn't feel special to me. A boy is missing and his bloody suitcase is found. That doesn't make the book stand out for me. What makes this book special? What makes it different from any other book about a mom trying to find her child?

Does the case link to an old case from her childhood? Is there a clue left behind that links to a past she's been running from? Is her ex a big muckity-muck in town and not really the boy's father? In other words...what's your hook?

The biggest mistake this makes is that it's bland. It's a common mistake, but one that equals rejection.

As for other parts of the query. I'm fine with your list of current releases, but I do feel like they are lacking information. I'm not sure they need to be a bulleted list as much as a paragraph with the publisher's name in parenthesis after.

your final paragraph about yourself is fine. You can probably skip the sentence about being a paralegal. It just isn't necessary.

I hope this helps. By focusing more on your hook I thin you'd have a strong query. If you have focused on your hook you might want to go back and rework the book itself to make it bigger.

--jhf

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49. BACKLASH by Sarah Darer Littman

BACKLASH is not "officially" out until next week, but I've started seeing it in stores already sooo... I don't mind bragging about it! 
 
This is a contemporary YA about cyber-bullying from multiple points of view - it's timely and so important.

BACKLASH by Sarah Darer Littman
Scholastic Press


He says: You’re an awful person.

He says: What makes you think I’d ever ask you out?

He says: The world would be a better place without you in it.

Lara just got told off on Facebook.

She thought that Christian liked her, that he was finally going to ask her to his school’s homecoming dance. They’ve been talking online for weeks, so what’s with the sudden change? And where does he get off saying horrible things on her wall? Even worse — are they true?

It’s been a long time since Lara’s felt this bad, this depressed, this ugly. She’s worked really hard to become pretty and happy — and make new friends after what happened in middle school.

Bree used to be best friends with overweight, depressed Lara, but constantly listening to Lara’s issues got to be too much. Secretly, Bree’s glad that Christian called Lara out. Lara’s not nearly as amazing as people think.

But no one realized just how far Christian’s harsh comments would push Lara. Not even Bree.

As online life collides with real life, things spiral out of control, and not just for Lara. Because when the truth starts to come together, the backlash is even more devastating than anyone could have ever imagined.

What happens online doesn't always stay online .
. .

Buy BACKLASH from Your Local Independent Bookstore, Oblong, Book Depository, Barnes and Noble or Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold. (Or, request it from your library!)

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50. Query question: so I queried publishers and agents and now I'm in a pickle

I queried a bazillion agents and wasn't patient enough to give them what seemed like 17 years to reply (it had only been a month.) In a snit, I sent a query to a publishing house that takes direct submissions.

Then, in the excitement of having agents (not you, alas) request full mss, I forgot about the publisher.
Recently, the publisher has requested a detailed synopsis and a full manuscript.

On the one hand, several agent requests and one publisher request mean I'm deeper into the forest primeval than I was with my first book. Which makes anything that happens at this point good news. I'm also close to finishing my third book -- and querying that.

But...do I risk offending the agents or the publisher if I fill my dream agent (not you, alas) in on what's going on with the publisher and hope she responds saying "Let me take it from here...I was just seconds away from offering you representation because yours is the best book I've seen in a decade?"

Or do I send the mss package to the publisher and hope for cosmic coincidence  -- that they'll offer me representation the day before dream agent does?

Being a wee woodland creature, I'm tempted to hide under my rock, berating myself for snorting in the face of the guideline "Be Patient" and the one that says "Query agents first, publishers second."

Can you help clear out my muddle puddle? 









First, you're going to go back and do some in-depth research on the publisher to make sure they're serious about publishing print books.  You're going to look for things on their website that indicate they sell to wholesale accounts like bookstores, or to libraries.  You're going to make sure they actually sell books to somoene other than the author and the author's one hundred closest friends.


The reason you're going to do this is because if the publsher is NOT a serious publisher, no agent is going to want to deal with that contract, and knowing you have interest from them won't make any difference.


But, if the publisher is a professional place (rather than a hobby outlet--a phrase I'm going to catch hell for I bet) then you let the agents know. It may not make a difference, but you'll want to let them know in case it does.





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