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Doing a ton of critiques for Writers Digest has been exhausting but fun, too. I'm in the home stretch -- 180 down, 20 to go -- and should finish in the next couple of days. I'll tell you this: 200 critiques in a row means common opening problems become crystal clear. I'm going to talk about a couple of pervasive ones today.
Please know, I AM NOT PICKING ON ANYONE. Everyone who sent in work to be critiqued is BRAVE and AMAZING, and this is NOT a negative reflection of any one person's work at all.
Out of 200 critiques, I'd say easily 85% of them had at least one, if not both, of these problems. Which means, obviously, they are common and easily fixable issues. . . and if this high a percentage of the WD crits had them, chances are, lots of people who did NOT get a crit may be helped by this info, too.
PROBLEM ONE: SPOILER ALERT aka "TELL, THEN SHOW"
This is a very common problem in first drafts. It's where the author starts with a paragraph that tells the reader in a nutshell what is about to happen, and/or the lesson that the main character will learn by the end of the scene, chapter or even the end of the book. . . and then the actual scene starts. It's almost like the "thesis statement" we used to have to write in school essays. Like so:
It was a day like any other. Little did Moxie the Dog know, but her world was about to get rocked. Not only would a new person soon be moving in to the house . . . but that person was bringing a CAT. Moxie had never met a cat, and probably would like to eat cat. There was bound to be trouble. But the two will have to learn to get along and even be friends if they are going to get through the next six months.
The doorbell rang again. Moxie was barking ferociously and leaping at the door. "BE NICE, it's just my new roommate!" Jennifer the Human yelled. "You'd better get used to it, Moxie, because she is going to live here now."
Not only is this clunky example torn from the headlines (my sister and her cat are coming to stay at my house soon!), but it illustrates the problem: it tells the reader what is about to happen before it happens, or gives away the end before the story even starts. It's not foreshadowing
, it's a tension-killer. Since the author has gone to the trouble of chewing and digesting the information for me, I don't have to read on.
The good news is, it's extremely easy to fix this. Just get out the ol' red pen and start with the actual beginning of the scene. PROBLEM TWO: RHETORICAL WHAT?
Often in drafts, the author peppers the main character's thoughts with rhetorical questions.
Here are some NON-rhetorical questions: When your character asks questions inside their own brain, who, exactly, is your character asking? Themselves? The reader? Are they breaking the fourth wall? If it is a thing where you have a very voicey narrator that is addressing the audience throughout the whole book, the occasional
question is probably OK. Otherwise, can it.
Rhetorical questions make your character sound wishy-washy and confused. It reads like shorthand or filler; like you've left a note for yourself: "develop this later!" They're ALMOST ALWAYS better expressed as declarative statements. And recasting them as statements often gives you a chance to give us a taste of character or a sense of the stakes in an unobtrusive way.
ORIGINAL: "Can I even get this done in time? What if I blame it on Aliens?"
RECAST: "There is no way I can get this done before school, and using the old 'Abducted by Aliens' routine isn't gonna fly this time around."
ORIGINAL: "I'd tried everything. Is it even possible to get rid of freckles? Is there such a thing as an anti-freckle potion?"
RECAST: "I'd scrubbed, rubbed, and even tried whipping up Freckle Juice like in that Judy Blume book we read in second grade. These blotches weren't going anywhere."
Like the Thesis Statement Spoilers above, rhetorical questions are another real tension-killer. There's a recent post on Mary Kole's blog
that addresses problems with this tactic in much greater detail, but suffice to say: it's another way authors pre-chew the information for readers. It's almost like you are pointing the reader to what you want them to think or the conclusion you want them to draw, without allowing them the opportunity to piece the clues together themselves. Trust your reader. We WANT to go on a journey with you and your characters! :-)
The majority of submissions I get are about kids and teens who are white, comfortably well off, able-bodied, secular, average-sized, cis-gender and straight. Maybe (in fact, probably) their race or economic status or religion or sexual orientation or whatever is never mentioned... but let's get real, if it isn't mentioned in any way EVER, the reader is going to assume and "default normal."
The question of WHY white-rich-ablebodied-secular-averagesized-cis-straight people are "default" in this country, or how to change that, is not one I'm prepared to tackle -- just let's go with the fact that at this point in time, it is the case that the people in this country who tend to think about race least often are WHITE PEOPLE. The people for whom money is rarely an issue are WEALTHY PEOPLE. Right or wrong, if you never ever mention anything about money or race, your reader will probably assume your characters are relatively well-off and white. And the same goes for all those other categories.
So does that mean you just need to randomly make all your characters Black or Japanese (or whatever) but have all their other dealings be exactly the same as they would otherwise be? Um. . . no. Nor does it mean that you should force a "mixed salad" tokenism where each and every character has one thing different about them. That's silly.
Taking your characters beyond "default" is really just about giving them dimension. If your character is deaf or blind or a wheelchair user or obese or agoraphobic, or doesn't speak the language, or is a child prodigy, or an uncomfortable fashionista wearing absurdly high heels, or an uber-confident princess wearing an ostentatious diamond necklace . . . or heck, even a super-mousy shy kid in a plain school uniform . . . each of these characters will certainly think differently about how to best navigate the crowded and unfamiliar stair-filled subway platform. They each might notice different and unexpected things in the auditorium on the first day of school. So if you don't mention anything about who they are, your reader will fill in with the easiest thing, which is a blank and boring "default." Which, OK. . . but again, characters who make interesting choices and observations have depth and are usually way cooler characters to read about.
"Look, my characters are just going to Mickey-D's, let's not make a big deal out of it."
Not every split second in your book will be able to further the plot. But, pretty much anything your character does, if it is important enough to put in a book, should reveal something about them. Even mudane things. Hell, ESPECIALLY mundane things.
If your character is going to eat at McDonalds, where they come from will inform how they approach that experience. Do they keep kosher? Are they diabetic? Do they have body issues? Must they stick to the value meal and worry about it? Do they recognize the person behind the counter? Is it their sister? Are they skeeved out because it is dirty in there and they saw a PBS show about what goes in the chicken nuggets and now they are wiping everything down with hand sanitizer and ordering vegetarian? Are they waiting for the bathroom because they need to brush their teeth and change clothes? Is it the one place they can meet up with their boyfriend away from the prying eyes of their family? Do they eat fast and thoughtlessly because they are wrapped up in writing a sonata and don't even notice their surroundings? Any of these choices would reveal something about the character. Otherwise, why bother putting it in the book?
"But I've heard you say you want books where people are just [gay, bi, queer, trans, etc], and being [any of these things] is not a PROBLEM."
Sure. Being gay [or whatever else] isn't a bad thing. It doesn't need to be a problem. Just, most of the books I see in this vein are coming-out narratives that include being disowned and beaten up or worse. While this is no doubt the experience of some people, it's not the only story, and it is a story that has been told a lot. I'd rather hear a different story.
Still, if you are tempted to just not mention gayness, you are making it invisible.
I don't want it to be invisible. It's real, and important.
"But I don't want to write an ISSUE BOOK!"
I'm not saying all books should include grinding poverty or racial unrest or fat activism or queer kissing or ANYTHING. (Well, actually, maybe all books should include queer kissing.) (KIDDING!) (or am I?) . . . Annnnyway, I don't think it has to be an issue book to reflect reality. I think it just has to reflect reality. If you want a book with interesting and vibrant characters, they should be multi-faceted and not cookie-cutter default. . . Reality happens to include all kinds of people.
I'm also not saying "I hate books about [xyz] people" OR "I only want to rep books about [xyz] people."
I think anything you want to write about is FINE. I'm not the topic-police. I'm just saying, straight-cis-white-ablebodied-uppermiddleclass main characters are the vast majority of what fills the ol' inbox (and, for that matter, the bookstore). So non-default stories, whatever they may be, will feel fresh, and are likely stand out in a good way.
TL:DR -- YES, PLEASE DO SEND ME YOUR DIVERSE NARRATIVES. I'M INTERESTED.
Some of you know that I still help out at my neighborhood bookstore despite being a full-time agent -- Booksella 4 Life! -- and I'm so excited that we're doing so many kids and teen events that get not only awesome and amazing authors, but also lots of equally awesome and amazing readers! There are TONS of great events coming up, but I want to highlight the one this Saturday because, well, I'm a bit afraid it is going to fly under the radar and I want everyone to know about it.
Our League of Extraordinary Readers is a Middle Grade event series where, once a month, we invite the best authors in the world to meet the best readers in the world. . . and have a party while we talk books. It's for 8-12 year olds, or anybody who loves Middle Grade books. And there are always treats, giveaways, prizes and lots of fun. What could be better than that?
The next League event is Saturday September 28, 4pm, at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck. The theme is THRILLS AND ADVENTURE, and we have four excellent middle grade authors for you to meet!
If you'd like to join us, please RSVP by email or Facebook. If you can't make it to the event, you can pre-order autographed books on our website.
's latest, WAKE UP MISSING
, is a thriller about four kids, each of whom has been sent to an elite brain research facility after sustaining some sort of traumatic head injury. But they swiftly find that there is something WAY creepier than research happening at this hospital . . .and they'll have to overcome their differences, and their injuries, if they are to escape.ESCAPE FROM THE PIPE MEN by Mary G Thompson
is about kids who are human exhibits in an intergalactic zoo (!!!!!)
, until their dad is poisoned and they have to scour the universe for an antidote. EXCITING!
In ANTON AND CECIL, CATS AT SEA by Valerie Martin,
what begins as a rescue mission turns into a pair of high-seas adventures, with thrills and danger bubbling under every wave. A colorful cast of characters, rich historical detail, and lyrical storytelling that will delight fans of such classic animal adventures as The Wind in the Willows
, Stuart Little
, and Poppy.THE TIME FETCH by Amy Herrick
is kinda like a combo of WHEN YOU REACH ME and WILDWOOD - a time-traveling adventure that also
has characters you just love and feel real.
Nick and Maxine and their babysitter Mrs Noodlekugel (along with, of course, her cat butler and four magical mice) are back! The first MRS NOODLEKUGEL adventure is now available in paperback, and as of today, there is a brand-new installment in the series: MRS NOODLEKUGEL AND FOUR BLIND MICE.Four farsighted mice get glasses — and a talking cat solves a family mystery — as the charmingly eccentric Mrs. Noodlekugel returns...
It’s all a day in the life of Daniel Pinkwater’s whimsical characters, in a chapter-book series whose comical tone and cozy illustrations are sure to keep young readers coming back for more.Praise for Book 1: Stower’s illustrations have an old-fashioned sweetness, while Pinkwater, ever the effortless storyteller, adds just enough bite with his signature deadpan, loopy humor. Pinkwater works narrative magic. . . readers should find Mrs. Noodlekugel’s world delightful and instantly familiar, and look forward to future installments.
)Praise for Book 2: If Pinkwater’s first Mrs. Noodlekugel book didn’t persuade readers, the second one will: it’s Mrs. Noodlekugel’s matter-of-factly loopy world—we just live in it. ... Stower’s sly, sweet illustrations provide piquant punctuation for Pinkwater’s special brand of nonsense.
You can buy the books at a fine bookstore near you, or online at Oblong
, Book Depository
, Barnes and Noble
. And hey, buy both, they're small. ;-)
When you're new to working with an agent (or heck, even when you aren't!) -- it's hard to know what is an appropriate level of communication. You don't want to seem pushy or demanding - but you also don't want them to forget about you. You get emails from your publisher, and maybe you aren't sure what's important and what isn't -- and you know your agent is busy, so you don't want to seem like you are pestering them -- so you leave them out of the loop.
I can't speak for every agent, obviously, and some might feel differently. But for ME:
I want your relationship with your editor to be about mutual respect and art and writing and craft and love and flowers and rainbows. If there are terrible conversations to be had (and I'm sorry to tell you, but there probably WILL be at some point) . . . I want to be the one to have them. Part of my job is to be a buffer between you and publisher drama* -- so please, let me be there, that's part of why I get a commission.
I don't need to be involved if the conversation you're having is chatty. I don't really need to be involved if the conversation you're having is editorial (though you can certainly loop me in if you want to, and I do find it fun to see the different visions editors have.**)
However, I do need to be involved if the conversation happening is about business. That means: Deadlines, money, subrights, anything about your contract, your unsold projects or option books, your cover, marketing, etc, I need to be IN the loop. It's so easy to just cc me. You aren't bothering me. I'd rather know too much than too little.
If you are in doubt about whether or not this is a time for you to cc your agent, err on the side of cc'ing. Even if there's no problem and I don't chime in, I want to have what is said on record, and I want to be able to jump in if necessary. If the publisher forgets to cc me, you can just add the cc in your response. I can't know what is happening with you unless you tell me. It's best if you don't wait until there's a fire to call me up in a panic -- go ahead and cc me on the spark.
* To piggyback on the point about Publisher Drama, I beg you, if you are ever tempted to fire off an irate note to your publisher about ANYTHING, please, please, sit on your hands for a few hours, do some deep breathing, and then send your complaints to your agent instead. Here's an excellent post from Rachelle Gardener which talks about how you should "Let your agent be the bad guy."
"One of the primary advantages of having an agent is that you have an advocate who can handle all the negotiations with the publisher and navigate difficult territory, allowing you to maintain a positive working relationship with everyone at your publishing house.
This positive relationship can have huge implications when it comes time for a publisher to decide whether they want to work with you again. It can also affect how you’re treated— whether it’s with respect, with kid gloves, or with dread. Most importantly, it can determine whether your publishing experience is mostly pleasant and rewarding… or not."
** ETA: I really want my authors to develop GREAT relationships with their editors, and that means having conversations that are just artist-to-editor at times. BUT. If you are my client, and you are having an editorial disagreement or miscommunication, or you don't understand something, or. . . well, ANYTIME you want an ear about stuff, I am there. I love these books too, so I really do care how the process is going!
I didn't say this above, but I also really want to be cc'ed when you deliver the final ms so I can have a copy of it AND so I can start chasing the check.
And, your agent should be the one to send new work to your editor, even when you have a good relationship with them
. I CAN'T STRESS THIS ENOUGH: Please don't send new work to your editor, even if they ask for it, without at least giving your agent a heads-up first.
One of the worst feelings I have ever had is when an editor called me to say, "we need to talk about this manuscript, it needs major surgery
" . . . and I had no idea what she was talking about, because I'd never seen it. Ack.
This month (and, who are we kidding, probably next month too!) I'm working on critiques from my Writer's Digest Webinar back in July. If you are still waiting for your critique, thank you for your patience.
As I said during the webinar, I'm aiming to get these done within 60 days of receipt. So if you sent yours July 11 (the first possible date) -- you should already have your crit. If you sent it in August 11 (the deadline) -- you should have it back by October 11. If it hasn't been 8 weeks, please don't stress out; If it HAS been more than 8 weeks, perhaps your crit got lost somehow -- by all means follow up.
For the record, I had about 200 critiques, and it takes me about 20 minutes per critique. When I am REALLY CRANKING, I can do maybe 6 an hour (10 minutes each) - but that kind of speed is super rare and unsustainable. Because it takes me a few minutes between each one to get into the "headspace" - forget what I just read and commented on, and start the new one with fresh eyes. And if I don't take breaks to walk around or stretch or snack, I tend to start to get cranky or misunderstand what I am reading. So yeah. 20 minutes is more realistic. (If you just crunched the numbers, that's 66.6 hours. I'm not going to read any significance into that number!)
And obviously, I have a full-time "real job" to do during the work week. So all of this is getting done in the dead of night and on weekends. You'll notice that your responses have time stamps of mostly between 11pm and 2am.
Hey, I don't mind, it's fun to see what people are working on, and it keeps me off the streets. BUT I wanted to take this opportunity to say a few words about conference critiques in general.
Quite often, agents find themselves doing critiques for conferences they attend. These may be short ones, like I am doing now - or they may be the 10 or so pages of the author's work, and/or a synopsis or query letter.
I know that sometimes people are disappointed after crits. They might have built up the potential in their heads. "They are gonna love this so much they'll offer to rep me!" or "They are going to give me THE KEY to the problem with my manuscript that is holding me back!" or similar. I hate to break it to you: That probably won't happen. But because of the excitement and nerves, I do understand it can be a real let-down when the actual critique comes and is just . . . ordinary.
Maybe the author gets their feelings hurt by what they feel is a harsh comment, or else they feel the critiquer is soft-pedaling and ONLY saying nice things and not giving them stuff to work on. Maybe the critiquer obviously just wasn't feelin it, or completely misunderstood the point of the work. It happens!
Keep in mind that, first of all, it is very hard to critique such a brief sample - - there may be "problems" or moments of confusion I see in the first page or two that will be addressed immediately after the sample. I'm just not able to know the whole story from the out-of-context pages I'm looking at. So please take my critique (or ANY critique) with a big grain of salt.
As I say to the people getting these crits:
You are awesome for diving in to the deep and and being serious about writing. You are doing what millions of people only dream about. But even the most dedicated and genius writer may get critiques that sting, or notes where the reader obviously just didn't "get it."
Remember that critiques of pages are not personal attacks or critiques of YOU. And ultimately, it's YOUR BOOK. If you think an editor or agent's notes are way off base, you certainly aren't required to do anything about them.
Nobody knows this story better than you or cares about this story more than you. So take what resonates with you and forget the rest. Critiques are HIGHLY UNLIKELY to be life-changing. But I do hope they can be a bit helpful at least. Good luck!
Wowza this is an eventful Fall already and it has only just begun! Today we welcome two more new books into the world, a Middle Grade thriller and the long-anticipated conclusion to a YA series! Meet Quentin, a middle school football star from Chicago… Sarah, an Upstate New York girls’ hockey team stand-out. . . Ben, a horse lover from the Pacific Northwest… And Cat, an artistic bird watcher from California.
WAKE UP MISSING by Kate Messner
The four have nothing in common except for the head injuries that land them in an elite brain-science center in the Florida Everglades. It’s known as the best in the world, but as days pass, the kids begin to suspect that they are subjects in an experiment that goes far beyond treating concussions….and threatens their very identities. They’ll have to overcome their injuries and their differences to escape, or risk losing themselves forever.Messner delivers an exciting middle-grade thriller inspired by cutting-edge science and historical events, drawing on the Manhattan Project and Tuskegee experiments to weave something new and interesting. - Publishers WeeklySix middle schoolers + mad scientists + Everglades = adventure. . .With plenty of thrills, friendship, some humor, intrigue and an easy good-guys/bad-guys escape plot, young readers will find lots of fun here. -- Kirkus "Kate Messner combines a fascinating concept with page-turning suspense. . . Reading this book is like a wild roller-coaster ride through the Florida swamps." -- Margaret Peterson Haddix
"Wowza! WAKE UP MISSING is a winner. I read it in a single sitting. As the secrets were revealed and the suspense mounted, I found myself turning pages at an ever increasing pace. I had to find out what happened next!" -- Bruce CovilleBuy WAKE UP MISSING: At Oblong Books, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold.
MONSTERS: Book 3 of the ASHES trilogy by Ilsa J. BickThe Changed are on the move. The Spared are out of time. The End...is now.
When her parents died, Alex thought things couldn't get much worse--until the doctors found the monster in her head.
She headed into the wilderness as a good-bye, to leave everything behind. But then the end of the world happened, and Alex took the first step down a treacherous road of betrayal and terror and death.
Now, with no hope of rescue--on the brink of starvation in a winter that just won't quit--she discovers a new and horrifying truth.
The Change isn't over.
The Changed are still evolving.
And...they've had help.
With this final volume of The Ashes Trilogy, Ilsa J. Bick delivers a riveting, blockbuster finish, returning readers to a brutal, post-apocalyptic world where no one is safe and hope is in short supply.
A world where, from these ashes, the monsters may rise.
Need to refresh your memory about Books 1 and 2?"So you read ASHES a year ago . . ." (recap of the story after Book 1) "So you read SHADOWS a year ago. . ." (recap of the story after Book 2) All of the Ashes Trilogy storylines converge in this action-packed series conclusion. . .The ending wraps up most questions but still leaves enough mystery for readers to dwell on. An opus of blood, gore and pain that will leave fans breathless. -- KirkusWant to win a copy of MONSTERS plus a SUPER COOL Ashes Survival Pack? More info, contest open til October 10.BUY MONSTERS: At Oblong Books, IndieBound, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and wherever fine books are sold.
I'm taking time out from my extremely busy vacation schedule of Napping, Reading Romance Novels and Eating Choco-tacos to tell you about THREE more YA book birthdays:DEAD ENDS by Erin Jade Lange
Two teens who should be natural enemies, tough-guy bully Dane and "special" kid Billy D, form an uneasy alliance to solve the a bunch of strange riddles left in an old atlas. The clues they uncover might
lead to the whereabouts of Billy's long-vanished father. The two piece the riddles together, leading to unmarked towns and secrets of the past. But they’re all dead ends. Until the final clue . . . and a secret Billy shouldn’t have been keeping. BUTTER author Erin Jade Lange knocks this sophomore novel out of the park.BUTTER (in paperback!) by Erin Jade Lange
A lonely obese boy everyone calls "Butter" is about to make history. He is going to eat himself to death, live on the Internet, and everyone is invited to watch. When he first makes the announcement online to his classmates, Butter expects pity, insults, and possibly sheer indifference. What he gets are morbid cheerleaders rallying around his deadly plan. Yet as their dark encouragement grows, it begins to feel a lot like popularity. And that feels good. But what happens when Butter reaches his suicide deadline? Can he live with the fallout if he doesn't go through with his plans?Buy DEAD ENDS or BUTTER wherever fine books are sold, or online at: Oblong Books, Barnes and Noble, Book Depository, Powells, IndieBound or Amazon.THE WOKEN GODS by Gwenda Bond
Five years ago, the gods
of ancient mythology awoke around the world.
This morning, Kyra Locke is late for school.
Seventeen-year-old Kyra lives in a transformed Washington, D.C., home to the embassies of divine pantheons and the mysterious Society of the Sun. But when rebellious Kyra encounters two trickster gods
on her way back from school, one offering a threat and the other a warning, it turns out her life isn’t what it seems. She escapes with the aid of Osborne "Oz" Spencer, an intriguing Society field operative, only to discover that her scholar father has disappeared with a dangerous relic. The Society needs it, and they don’t care that she knows nothing about her father's secrets.
Now Kyra must depend on her wits and the suspect help of scary gods
, her estranged oracle mother, and, of course, Oz--whose first allegiance is to the Society. She has no choice if she’s going to recover the missing relic and save her father. And if she doesn't? Well, that may just mean the end of the world as she knows it.Buy WOKEN GODS wherever fine books are sold, or online at: Indiebound, Powells, Oblong, Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or Book Depository.
It's new-book Tuesday and I'm delighted to introduce you to TWO brand-new reads for your enjoyment:
THE DARK BETWEEN by Sonia Gensler
A supernatural romance about the powers that lie in the shadows of the mind, perfect for fans of Sarah Rees Brennan, Alyxandra Harvey, and Libba Bray.
At the turn of the twentieth century, Spiritualism and seances are all the rage--even in the scholarly town of Cambridge, England. While mediums dupe the grief-stricken, a group of local fringe scientists seeks to bridge the gap to the spirit world by investigating the dark corners of the human mind.
Each running from a shadowed past, Kate, Asher, and Elsie take refuge within the walls of Summerfield College. But their peace is soon shattered by the discovery of a dead body nearby. Is this the work of a flesh-and-blood villain, or is something otherworldly at play? This unlikely trio must illuminate what the scientists have not, and open a window to secrets taken to the grave--or risk joining the spirit world themselves.
Kirkus says of THE DARK BETWEEN: "Lovers of intrigue should enjoy this lively Victorian mystery whose teen heroes experience danger, romance and ethical dilemmas as they delve into 'the dark between.'"
Want more? Check out the super-creepy book trailer.
Buy THE DARK BETWEEN at your local independent bookstore, at MY local independent bookstore, at Barnes and Noble, Book Depository or Amazon.
More about Sonia Gensler at her Website, Facebook and Twitter!
SLEEPING BEAUTY'S DAUGHTERS by Diane Zahler
A magical fairy tale re-imagining that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and Gail Carson Levine.
The daughters of Sleeping Beauty, Princesses Aurora and Luna, have grown up in a cliff-top palace by the sea, where they are carefully protected by their parents. No one visits, the girls cannot stray beyond the castle walls, and all sharp objects are forbidden here.
But accidents will happen--particularly when an old curse still has power. Soon, in spite of all precautions, Aurora is struggling not to slip into an enchanted sleep.
Frantic, the princesses accept the help of a young fisherman named Symon and embark on a daring ocean voyage to find their aunt--a fairy who may be able to break the spell. From fearsome beasts to raging storms, many dangers befall them, yet they must not give up . . . for if Aurora sleeps, she will not wake for one hundred years.
Kirkus says of SLEEPING BEAUTY'S DAUGHTERS: "A refreshing fairy tale that breaks the passive-heroine mold."
Buy signed copies of SLEEPING BEAUTY'S DAUGHTERS from Oblong, or get it at your local independent bookstore, at Barnes and Noble, Book Depository or Amazon.
And if you're in the Hudson Valley on August 31, you're invited to Diane's launch party at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck. :-)
More about Diane Zahler at her Website, Facebook and Twitter!
There was a ton of internet buzz in certain circles over the weekend about Small Presses, scamsters, schmublishers, etc. You can read the piece that touched all this off here on the YAwriters subreddit. There are responses all over twitter and the blogosphere. One response that resonated with me was from Jennifer L. Armentrout, who points out the fact that many small press deals carry a stigma, even when they are super-legit.
As an agent, I've done deals with the biggest publishers, with mid-sized and smallish independent publishers, with small presses, start-ups and e-only publishers. (And everything in between!).
So I must start by saying, I'm in NO WAY accusing anyone (in a veiled way or otherwise) or talking about any particular press -- I'm just about trying to help authors avoid fraud, scams and sadness.
And, I love the publishers I work with. Hey guys, you're awesome, keep up the good work! *running high-five to my publisher friends* -- now there's no need for you to stick around while the authors and I have a cozy little chat. Scoot along now, you cuties.
OK authors, now that we're alone, here's my perspective:
I've seen publishers do an amazing job - create lovely works of art and sell them exquisitely - take an newbie author from outta nowhere and make them a star (or at least treat them like one!) - lift their authors and illustrators up, make their work shine, give them support and clearly care on a personal level about doing right by them.
I'm not talking about just the big fancy rich publishers... ALL sizes and types of publishers.
I've also seen situations that would make your hair curl (or in my case, straighten!).... atrocious behavior, nonsensical business practices, lack of any communication, contracts with bizarre, byzantine language... stuff that almost seems designed to purposely screw with or possibly torture the author.
I'm not laying this at the foot of small presses... ALL sizes and types of publishers.
Whether big publisher or small press, mega-corporation or independent or start-up, most authors will experience at least a taste of both terrible and wonderful during their journey. I'd say the vast majority of my author's publishing experiences fall somewhere in between these two extremes, though much more toward the good end than the bad. Most publishers are trying to do the right thing by their books (and sometimes, like any humans, they don't do such a great job, and sometimes they do better than you can imagine.)
And again, yes... that's with ALL sizes and types of publishers.
The takeaway from the Reddit post, or from any of these other conversations, should not be "let's dog-pile on small presses and start-ups" or "you should avoid all small presses and start-ups" -- after all, there are many fine, totally legit, mega-awesome small presses doing great things.
The takeaway should be, "no matter WHO is offering you a contract, avoid scamsters and sadness by doing your due diligence as an author."
Now remember: No path to publication is going to be easy-peasy, bon-bons in a bed of roses. As should be clear by now, there are potential benefits and pitfalls to self-publishing, small-press publishing AND to publishing with a big NYC house.
For example, being published by ANY publisher, even the largest, does not guarantee bookstore placement... bookstores stock what they feel like, and plenty of books from major publishers do get skipped by stores.
So that being said, a clue when you are looking at whether a publisher is worth your time: Does the press have distribution? Do they publish books that you've heard of, or at least that you can look at and easily buy (or at least order) in a store or online? Get your hands on an actual copy of one of their books, or download it if e-only. How does the finished product look to you? Is it high quality and professional looking? Is the retail price competitive with other, similar books on the market?
WOULD YOU BE HAPPY TO HAVE YOUR NAME ON ONE OF THEIR PRODUCTS?
Are they asking YOU for money? Is there even a contract? Is the contract fair? Do they have good designers and editors and marketing/publicity folks on board? What happens when your book goes Out of Print? Are they trying to grab all rights in perpetuity? IF they want to keep rights like foreign, do they have a history of successfully exploiting those rights? If you're not being offered an advance, what are you getting? Are the royalties better than average, do they have marketing, and do they have a history of successful books?
The big question I'd ask myself is the one Saundra Mitchell brought up in the Reddit post. What will they be doing for me? Will I be better off WITH them or WITHOUT them -- are they doing things for me that I could not or would not do for myself?
DO NOT FORGET: YOU HAVE OPTIONS. YOU ARE ALLOWED TO ASK QUESTIONS. . . AND TO WALK AWAY FROM AN OFFER IF IT SEEMS UNFAIR OR FISHY.
I've noticed a common problem in many submissions. I call it, "waiting for the other shoe to drop." It's where the character begins a quick action... then interrupts it for an extended period of time... then maybe a page or two later FINALLY picks it back up again but by the time they do, I've forgotten why it even mattered in the first place or what they are referencing, or I am so irritated I've stopped reading anyway so I never even get there.
Terrible example I've just made up:
Jimmy lined up his feet on the free-throw line and crouched low for a moment, catching his breath. The tricky swoop-basket he'd invented and practiced a thousand times at home alone would win this game... IF he managed to make it in front of an audience. He stood, lifted his arms, and threw with all his might, then watched as the orange ball arced toward the basket.
Everyone always called him a shrimp, but Jimmy was determined to show them all he was the toughest little shrimp around. He could trash-talk better than any kid at his school. His step-dad always said, "what Jimmy lacks in height, he makes up for in mouth!" and that was pretty much the truth. But he had been working on this basket for days and days, even forgoing his favorite pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza at lunch because he heard somewhere that hunger gives athletes an edge.
His stomach rumbled. Man, maybe skipping the pizza was a mistake. If this was an 'edge' he'd rather not have it.
HEY SHRIMP, Kevin yelled from the sidelines. NICE SHORTS! Jimmy looked down at his shorts in dismay. Aw man, the juice he spilled before the game looks like a pee-stain. Ugh. Can't he go one day without dropping something on himself? He looked back at Kevin. "NICE FACE, DILLWEED!" he shouted.
If you're anything like me, by now you are tearing your hair out going OMG WTF DID HE MAKE THE BASKET????? WHY IS THE BALL TAKING SO LONG??!
Please don't do this to your reader. If you start a short action - by which I mean a literal physical movement or act - follow through. Throwing a ball, skipping a rock, taking a bite, sneezing, giving a hug... let the character do these things THEN move on, don't interrupt him or her right in the middle of it to talk about five other things.
Now, if the character is making dinner, that is a big act comprised of many small actions. So it is fine if the character has thoughts or conversations or reminisces about things or whatever while dinner-making is going on. But if you start an action like "Sarah began salting the roast" and then go off for five paragraphs about something else and then come back and the Sarah is STILL SALTING... I'm going to be worried about her blood pressure, at least. Or assume she is just a terrible, terrible cook. If that's what you're going for, then by all means carry on. Otherwise, let her finish salting quickly THEN go off on a tangent.
"Sarah salted the roast, then lifted the heavy steel pan into the wall-mounted oven with a grunt. 'Nothing like a home cooked meal', she muttered to herself. Then she thought about the arsenic she'd added to the cornbread, and laughed out loud."
In Kate Messner's latest picture book SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH, a new fish swims into Ernest the Sea Monster's life.
He's from a much bigger, much fancier school. He's hipper than everyone else, and knows all the best dance moves and he is... well, pretty much a jerk, actually.
So what do you do when the "coolest" fish around is also a one-upping bully who likes to make your friends feel bad?
Well, if you're anything like Ernest, you fight fire with friendship, and throw the best undersea party ever (and EVERYONE gets an invite.)
SEA MONSTER AND THE BOSSY FISH is delightfully finful and funny, and it's out today! Find it swimming around your local bookstore, or at any of these fine internet purveyors:Indiebound
* Oblong Books
* Barnes and Noble
* Book Depository
I've been asked to talk about Early Reader books.
Before I even get into this, a caveat: I am not a literacy expert or an educator. I am not passing judgement about these books, nor am I making recommendations about how to teach your child to read. And, since (for reasons I'll get into below) I have never actually SOLD an early reader... I might make mistakes in this post, which I am happy to correct should a true expert decide to weigh in! :-)
In between the sunny utopia of Picture Book Country, where grownups and kids read together, and the charming cobbled streets of Chapter Book Town, where kids roam independently, there a small stopping place.
Let's call it Early Readerville, sometimes known as E-Z Readerville. It's small - more of a hamlet, really. These are its denizens:
VERY EARLIEST READERS: Phonics books - kids are learning to identify letter combinations and sound out basic words. There plenty of phonics-type programs that utilize some sort of book, but probably the most popular are BOB books and Hooked on Phonics. These are book-shaped tools, not "real books" per se - you might get hired to create a book like this, but it is highly unlikely (ok: impossible) that you'll just write one and sell it to a publisher. So they don't even count as true citizens of E-R-ville, I just added them for the sake of thoroughness.
LEVELED READERS: The majority of early readers fall into this category. These books are generally thin, cheap, brightly-colored paperbacks with a big ol' number stamped on them. The numbers go from PRE-LEVEL 1 (very basic, short, repeated sounds - "Go Dog Go" type stuff) -- up through LEVEL 4/5 (depending on the company), which are much more complicated texts, but still short and with tons of pictures. These readers will probably conform to some sort of readability guidelines regarding the number of words or syllables per page.
Most children's publishers have some sort of early reader line, here are some major examples:
Random House STEP INTO READING * Harper I CAN READ * Simon and Schuster READY-TO-READ * Penguin YOUNG READERS * Little Brown PASSPORT TO READING
What you may notice from looking at those links or taking a spin around the spinner rack of your local bookstore:
There's a short window: Most kids are only in Early Readerville for a short time, compared to the length of time they linger in Picture Book Country or Middle Grade City. Leveled Readers are meant to be a swiftly-passing phase.
They're inexpensive: Most leveled readers sell for about $3.99 -- Publishers must produce these books VERY CHEAPLY and know they can sell A LOT OF COPIES to make it worth publishing a title in these series. Thus, leveled readers are often work-for-hire, or simply written in-house by editors, and/or generally feature characters they know have established brand-recognition.
Originality is not the first consideration. Kids love familiarity, and as I said, "brand recognition" is important. So on that spinner rack, I'd bet at least 50% of the books are licensed properties, spin-offs from popular movies and TV shows. (Muppets! Avengers! Wreck-it Ralph! Little Mermaid! Transformers! Angry Birds!). Another 25% or so are spin-offs from already-popular picture book characters (Olivia! Pete the Cat! Madeline! Eloise! Pinkalicious!). Let's say 13% are kid-friendly non-fiction topics that pretty much stay in print for ages (Volcanos! Meerkat Families! George Washington! Titanic!), and 10% are evergreen classics (Frog and Toad! Biscuit! Little Bear! Henry and Mudge!)...
What all this means: If you're crunching the numbers at home, that means only 2% or so of Leveled Readers are actually new, original stories, unaffiliated with any other book, movie, tv show or game. I made those numbers up, but I'd bet if anything I'm being too generous. Out of the many hundreds of writers I know, I believe only two (2) have written and sold an original mass market leveled reader.
Sooo... while you might be asked to write one of these work-for-hire on an established topic, it's relatively unlikely you're going to sell an original leveled reader.
ORIGINAL EARLY READERS: Non-leveled early readers are, generally speaking, released in hardcover first, or simultaneous hardcover/paperback. They are usually more expensive, both in terms of retail price and production value (the look/feel, the quality of the paper, binding and art). Sometimes, after they've been out for a while, they get re-packaged into leveled reader editions.
There are not a lot of original early readers published in any given year, and very few of the few are one-offs. Most of the ones that are published are installments in original series by already established authors: DODSWORTH by Tim Egan, MR PUTTER AND TABBY by Cynthia Rylant, ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE by Mo Willems, for examples. Again, "brand recognition" comes into play, only this time the brand is an author/artist rather than a comic book character.
CAN a newbie break out with an original early reader book? Sure, it just doesn't happen very often.
TRANSITIONAL READERS: There is also a relatively new micro-trend I noticed at ALA: books geared toward emerging readers who are pretty good, and out of Leveled Reader territory, but still not quuuuuite fluent enough for regular chapter books. These are more sophisticated and cool-looking than the typical leveled reader, but with more illustrations than the typical chapter book.
These are so new, it's hard to say if this is something that is going to flourish and spread to other publishers or not. Prime example: Scholastic BRANCHES - which seem to be partly work-for-hire and partly original, but certainly always very kid-friendly and commercial.
Also worth noting: TOON books (young graphic novels that hit that transitional spot between early readers and chapter books)
TO SUM UP: I'm not saying you CAN'T or SHOULDN'T write an original early reader book if that is where your passion lies. I'm just saying... it might be an uphill slog. You up your chances if the book is totally adorable and hooky, or if you're an artist, too. Or, you know... if you're already a popular picture book author/illustrator.
I would strongly suggest, if this is your goal, you go to the library and check out the past winners of the Theodore Seuss Geisel award. It is for early reader books of exceptional merit. Since so very few original books are produced every year for this age range, it will be easy for you to acquaint yourself with all these titles. (Bonus: They are super short!)
I'm so excited to tell you that I'll be teaching another Writer's Digest Webinar on July 11. This one:
WRITING AND SELLING MIDDLE GRADE FICTION!
There's so much out there about YA books but it is hard to find concrete info about what's happening in the Middle Grade market. Here's your chance to hear all about it from me. Including what's selling, rookie MG mistakes, how to make your book stand out from the slush, and much more.
For more about the webinar, and to sign up, click here.
* Every participant will receive a written critique of the first 500 words of their Middle Grade project (either work in progress or finished manuscript) from me after the event.
* You do NOT have to attend the webinar live -- if you've signed up but can't make it on the actual day/time of you'll still get the complete 90 minute audio visual presentations, follow-up answers, and be eligible for the critique.
* ALL PUBLISHING QUESTIONS ASKED DURING THE WEBINAR WILL BE ANSWERED. I'll tackle as many as possible during the webinar itself, or if we run out of time I'll do the remainder of the answers in writing. Seriously. All of them. So bring questions! :-)
If you have any questions about the webinar itself, feel free to ask me here. Hope to "see" you on the 11th!
It's been a while since I posted with my "author events" hat on but there are exciting things afoot at the bookstore and I figured I'd put them all in one place for future linkish reference. :-)
The Hudson Valley YA Society is a monthly event series for teenagers (and YA book lovers of all ages) that has been running at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck for a couple of years. HVYAS brings great authors to the bookstore every month for an informal and fun book party. We talk books and writing, we eat cookies, we give away prizes -- it's fabulous.
And, it's been SO successful that we've started a similar event series for middle grade books and readers! The League of Extraordinary Readers is for kids 8-12 (and kids-at-heart). There's a great write-up about the program in our local paper this week, too.
Here's our terrific summer line-up and links for more info and to RSVP. All events will be held at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck NY. I hope I will see some of you at the bookstore! :D AND if you can't make it but you'd like a signed book, just follow the link to pre-order - the authors can even personalize for you.
Saturday 6/22 - 4pm
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS with Ann M. Martin, Geoff Rodkey and Mark Goldblatt
Sunday 6/23 - 4pmHUDSON VALLEY YA SOCIETY
with Jennifer Castle, Liz Norris and Kim PurcellSunday 7/14 - 4pmLEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS
with Michael Buckley, Kristen Kittscher and Kirsten MillerSunday 7/21 - 4pm HUDSON VALLEY YA SOCIETY
- Phoebe North Launch Party!Saturday 8/31 - 6pmLEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS
- Diane Zahler Launch Party!
THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is the story of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous criminal... and they just might be right.
Neighbors Sophie Young and Grace Yang are two unlikely best friends whose game of neighborhood spying takes a dark turn late one night when they witness Luna Vista Middle School’s notoriously phony counselor wielding a cleaver in her blood-splattered kitchen. When Dr. Agford explains she was merely preparing her famous pickled beets, the girls find themselves in a world of trouble for lying to police. Yet Agford’s increasingly bizarre behavior and a series of puzzling encounters convince the two friends Dr. Agford might actually be a wanted fugitive. Young and Yang embark on a very real and dangerous spy mission to uncover the truth, never sure if they — or their friendship — will survive it. Too long? Here's the nutshell version. WIG is HILARIOUS. It's MYSTERIOUS. It's HITCHCOCK meets HARRIET THE SPY. It's a delight, through and through. And I think you should buy a copy.
"Ample red herrings keep young sleuths and engaged readers guessing in this thrilling debut mystery. Reminiscent of the ever-compelling film Rear Window, this appealing and often spine-tingling tale will leave its audience wishing for more." --Kirkus Reviews
"A witty, weird and wonderful book, The Wig in the Window's trouble-making detectives kept me laughing--while the suspense had me inching towards the edge of my seat. It's a perfect middle grade mystery!--Kirsten Miller, author of the Kiki Strike series and the New York Times bestselling Eternal Ones series
And here's the very best review in the history of EVER
from the Book Smugglers.
Oh and in case that isn't enough, please view the CUTEST BOOK TRAILER
no seriously it is adorable.
CONVINCED? Yay! You can buy the book online at your local independent bookstore
, or Barnes and Noble
, or Amazon
. If you're in the LA area, you can also go to Kristen's book launch party at Vromans
on Thursday. (Can't make it? Order a copy from Vromans before thursday
and Kristen can personalize it to you during the event!)
Find out more about Kristen and the book on her website: http://kristenkittscher.com/
Imagine if you could listen in on what people are really thinking. Not only the stuff they want you to know about, like "what number am I thinking of?"... or silly things like the identity of their crush... but the not-so-nice stuff. Like what they think about you when they are angry. Or secret feelings that are heart-breakingly dark.
Sunny's life goes from normal to whacked-out when her cousin Shiri commits suicide. Not only is she grieving her loss, but there's something weird going on. Sunny has somehow developed the disturbing ability to hear what people around her are thinking. Things she definitely should NOT be able to know. Friendship-ruining things. Possibly even LIFE-ruining things.
There are a ton of questions, of course. Is this a trick or something real? Is this a curse... or can Sunny learn to control it and use it as a tool? Or... is she actually going crazy... and is this what happened to her cousin, too? If so, is she bound to share the same fate as Shiri?
Here's what's great about UNDERNEATH (aside from generally being a lovely book, with a gorgeous cover):
* Like many of us, Sunny herself is a bit of a cultural mish-mosh, being half-Pakistani and half-Hippie-dippie-Americana. While that isn't what the book is about
, her mixed cultural identity does inform who she is. It's refreshing to have a different kind of heroine and family in a tale, and one so true-to-life and well-developed.
* At its heart, this is a contemporary coming-of-age story -- Sunny's learning to navigate her increasingly complicated family life, friendship issues and crushes. While it does have a glimmer of magic, it's actually quite realistic, and as Kirkus reviews noted, "takes the reader on a profound journey."
* So often in books with paranormal elements, the characters end up having to save the world from a supervillain or something. This one focuses much more on Sunny's personal story. She doesn't have to save the world
-- just herself.
* While lots of YA books seem to strive to push the upper-age-limits in terms of edgy or dark content, and there's nothing wrong with that -- this is not that kind of book. Sunny's issues, and her family's issues, are realistic but still appropriate for younger teens.
* It's a paperback, which means it is CHEAP! Yayyyy! :D :D :D
You can find the book at your local bookstore or library, or online at: Indiebound Powells Amazon
-- and you can find out more about the author, Sarah Jamila Stevenson
, on her website or twitter
It's so mind-meltingly hot in my house already, and it isn't even 9am. It's gonna be a looong summer. So hopefully I'll at least find some great books to make up for the misery! Here's what I'm seeking at the moment.
YA or... yes... ADULT ROMANCE
Yep, I know I've always been a kids/YA agent... And I will be VERY choosy about this... but. I am OBSESSED with reading romances, and I've decided I really want some of my own!
Specifically I seek: delicious, funny, sexy, swoony, single-title Regency/Victorian/Edwardian (Or WW1-era "Faded Gentility" in the Downton mold, or glitterati of the 1920's could be fun). An unusual setting or unexpected hero/heroine would be great, too. Some of my fave authors in this genre include Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, Elizabeth Essex and Sarah Maclean.
I like complicated heroes and witty and brainy heroines, and I'm a sucker for things like Mistaken Identity; Cross-dressing; Duckling-into-Swan; Gaming Hells; Rakes and Courtesans. Happily-ever-after a must.
An example of a specific book I recently loved: ALMOST A SCANDAL by Elizabeth Essex. It's an adventure about a girl who dresses as her brother and takes his place on a Navy vessel - she knows more about seafaring than most green sailors, so although her commanding officer figures out the ruse relatively quickly... he also needs her. So he lets her stay aboard in drag and... well. I won't tell you what happens. But ROWR.
Another: ANY DUCHESS WILL DO by Tessa Dare. A rakish Duke's mother insists he pick a woman to marry. She bets him she can teach ANY girl the lessons she needs to be a successful Duchess in a week's time. If she succeeds, he'll marry. If she fails, she'll never bring up marriage again. He of course doesn't want to marry, so he picks the worst possible candidate - a messy catastrophe of a serving wench. Good luck making a Duchess out of that, mother... (hilarity and kissing ensues).
I'd also be open to something in the above vein for YA...
LIGHT YA/NA CONTEMP
Funny, romantic, delightful. That's all. Think MEANT TO BE or ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. A diverse cast would be great. A light QUEER book such as this would also be great. If this tips into college-age NA territory, that's OK by me. And it can have issues in the way that, say, a Sarah Dessen book has issues - but I'm not looking for truly grim or dark.
FUN, HIGH CONCEPT MIDDLE GRADE
Think SCHOOL FOR GOOD AND EVIL or STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA. Humor is a must.
Here's the thing. I can list off things I'm looking for. But REALLY what I am looking for is SOMETHING I'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. Something that will surprise and delight me - something I could never have thought of on my own. And my mood changes all the time. Just because it isn't on this list doesn't mean I wouldn't be interested in looking! The flip side of that is, I take on VERY LITTLE. So just because your type of work IS on this list, also doesn't mean I'll take it on. But I would definitely love to take a look.
SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: "Query" in the subject line. Query letter and first 10 pages in the body of the email. No attachments.
Ilsa J Bick's latest is a gritty YA told from the perspective of a young soldier in Afghanistan; it traces the dark events (some illicit photos, gay-bashing, the murder of a friend) that domino'ed to his enlisting. As always with Ilsa, it's super intense. And it is already getting great reviews. Check it out!
From the Publisher:
People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams, even if I didn't understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them. Jimmy's dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don't know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don't know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?
Praise for SIN EATER'S CONFESSION:
Kirkus Reviews - STARRED REVIEW:
Bick's compelling tale manages to be a blistering confessional
and a page-turning whodunit (or maybe what-really-happened) all in one. Readers won't be able to look away even if they find they don't much like--or trust--Ben.
Publisher's Weekly - STARRED REVIEW
Bick crafts a powerful tale of bigotry and murder in small-town Wisconsin... Told entirely in flashback from Ben’s perspective as a medic in Afghanistan, Bick’s story isn’t a mystery in the whodunit sense. Instead, it’s a potent examination of teenage emotions and reactions to peer and parental pressures, and to the evil that people are capable of.
Bick proves again she is a writer to her core, never at a loss for things to say and uninterested in easy answers. Her handling of Ben’s increasing paranoia and delusion is nimble, making this a violent, and very smart, take-no-prisoners experience.— Daniel Kraus
School Library Journal"This novel should be in all YA collections, and would be interesting reading for members of GSA’s." –Suanne B. Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
I spoke last week at my local middle school for their career day. Part of my talk was given over to explaining what the heck a Literary Agent even does. And the issue of subsidiary rights came up. Now I know some of you are experts on this stuff already... but just in case you are unfamiliar, I thought I'd use the analogy I used on the kids. It's simple, and it makes sense (I hope!) and it is important.
You might think of your book as being a bunch of words in a document or on paper.
I think of your book as a rubber band ball.
The ball itself is your intellectual property. It is a real thing - it belongs to you. And it is made up of a bundle of rights.*
Each rubber band that makes up the ball is its own right. Right to publish the book in the USA? That's a rubber band. Right to publish in paperback? That's a rubber band. Right to make a calendar or an audiobook or a TV show or put excerpts in Vanity Fair or anything else? All rubber bands... that is, rights. Take SHREK for example. Publishing it in the US was a rubber band. Publishing in each country in the world, all their own rubber bands. The movie was another, the musical yet another, and lunchboxes another.
These rubber bands/rights can be sold separately, or in a bundle. Most US publishers for kids books at least consider publication of hardback, paperback, ebook, in English, in the USA, to be primary rights. It is pretty much a given that the publisher will ask for these (along with large print, book club editions, and other editions of the same book.)
All other rights are "subsidiary" rights, also known as "subrights." We can often negotiate to keep audio, film/tv, merchandise/commercial, and (hopefully) world English and foreign rights. EVERY book theoretically has all these rubber bands, though of course, some books are more likely to USE them than others ... "Guns Germs and Steel" is probably not going to make it to the lunchbox aisle at Target anytime soon. ;-)
And as for foreign rights, while it is TOTALLY COOL to sell them, not every book, quite frankly, is suitable for foreign tastes. Some books are deemed "too American" -- books about school, or specific types of pop culture, can be losers for other countries -- and of course every country has their own trends and preferences. The economy plays a part too; many territories are very choosy about what they bring on and only want topics or authors they know will be sure-fire hits, so they stick to big names.
Point is: It is the publishers job to get as many of the rights as they can, for the least amount of money they can. It is your AGENT'S job to keep as many rubber bands as possible, and get the best deal possible for the ones they do sell. If the agent keeps the rights, they then can sell the rights themselves and the client keeps all the profit (less agency commission of course). If the publisher keeps the rights, then THEY sell them, and split profits with the author (it goes straight to earning out your advance, though, until you've earned out at which point you get that percentage.)
The Bologna Book Fair is coming up next week, and that is where many hardworking foreign rights specialists will be pitching their books like mad, hoping their author's books will make it onto bookshelves in other countries and languages! It is an extremely interesting and rewarding fair, and I hope to have updates and fun news from it on twitter.
Hope this was a bit useful! Let me know if you have questions, I may or may not have answers.
* ETA: The obvious conclusion, which I should have stated in the first place: The ball itself is worth something. And each rubber band is worth something, too. Be sure you know what you're throwing when you throw it.
Prolific and brilliant Kate Messner
has a new installment of the delightful Silver Jaguar Society series out today. These books are total romps -- actiony, fast-paced, often funny mysteries for fans of "National Treasure" and the like. I love them, and middle grade readers do, too!New in paperback: CAPTURE THE FLAG
, book 1 of the Silver Jaguar Society series, in which the kids get caught up in an adventure of historic proportions in Washington DC.Bookstore Plus IndieBound Barnes and NobleAmazon New in hardcover: HIDE AND SEEK
. The thrilling followup to CAPTURE THE FLAG.
Jose, Anna, and Henry are junior members of the secret Silver Jaguar Society, sworn to protect the world's most important artifacts. When they discover that the society's treasured Jaguar Cup has been replaced with a counterfeit, the trio and their families rush to the rain forests of Costa Rica in search of the real chalice. But when the trail runs dry, new mysteries emerge: Who can they trust? Is there a traitor in their midst? With danger at every turn, it will take more than they realize for Jose and his friends to recover the cup before it falls into the wrong hands.Bookstore Plus IndieBound Barnes and NobleAmazon
The phrase "rock star agent" gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes even regarding me. That's fine, I know people mean it as a compliment. But the thing is... Agent TO rock stars is slightly different than "rock star" agent! I don't want to be a "rock star."
I want MY AUTHORS to be the rock stars.
Good agenting is not a popularity contest, and in my opinion, a good agent should not be seeking fame for themselves above their authors. YES, it's fine for an agent to be plugged in to social media and whatnot (hey, I am!) -- but just because an agent has a cool blog or website, or are funny on twitter... doesn't mean you necessarily want them handling your business.
I adore my social media friends. I've been blogging and tweeting and whatnot for a long time, and it is definitely part of my identity. But I cringe when I see people talk online about their "dream agents" and realize that most or all of them are actually just "agents who have popular blogs" or "agents who are big on Twitter." Some of the very best agents in the world have ZERO social media outlets. That doesn't make them ineffective or behind the times.
There are also schmagents out there who have web presence, but nothing to back it up. I know it might sound silly or obvious, but even if you read about an agency in a book or magazine, or see them online, doesn't mean they are good.
Of course, even a great agent at a totally legit agency might not be a great fit for YOU and your work. The agent relationship is unique from author to author. But at least do your due diligence.
Make sure the agencies you query have plenty of sales to legitimate publishers, and books in the bookstore. A new agent with few or no sales can be fine... but their agency should have a solid track record of sales and clear experience in the publishing industry. A new agency with no sales, made up of agents with no sales and little to nothing in the way of publishing industry experience? Or the agents don't seem to want you to find info about their authors or books? Or the sales are only to publishers you've never heard of and can't find in the bookstore? Well... I'd be WARY.
There are no special classes to take or tests to pass to become an agent (unfortunately) -- ANYONE can call themselves an agent and call it a day. Which is why even smart writers can be taken in. So don't be a sucker. A good agent won't just have a cool website -- they'll have either a proven track record of sales or the backing of a strong agency. They'll never, ever ask you to pay them fees. They'll communicate with you, be straightforward and honest. And of course, they will connect with your work and know how to sell it.
When you get an agent, you are putting your career in somebody else's hands. Be sure they are steady ones.
Before I was an agent, I was a buyer and event coordinator for a great independent bookstore for many years. I'm still a bookseller in fact (though now just very part time) -- I LOVE bookstores, have worked in them all over the country, and my experience as a bookseller has had a huge impact on my perception of the publishing industry.
The Ways of the Bookseller might be a bit mysterious if you haven't been one yourself, but I think they are important for authors to understand. For the record: I'm only talking about MY EXPERIENCE over the past couple-dozen years in half-a-dozen great independent bookstores. Large chain bookstores may be different, specialty bookstores may be different, online bookstores are certainly different, and self-pubbing/indie-pubbing is obviously different.
So. I asked Twitter what questions authors had for booksellers, and first up was:
How do bookstores decide what to carry... and what to return?
Brick and mortar bookstores choose the books they carry based on a combination of factors. In no particular order: How well that author's past books or similar comp titles have done; How well that genre or category has traditionally sold in their store; "Buzz" from review sources; Local interest hook (the book is set nearby or the author lives nearby); A publicity hook (like: celeb author, or recent scandal, etc); A sales/marketing hook (like: the publisher is offering a special discount if the store buys a whole display worth of specially marked Summer Reading)... and finally, the buyers own particular taste/sensibility/random love of the jacket art, etc.
Obviously no store is going to buy everything in a catalogue -- even if there were room on the shelves, it would just be a hodge-podge. So a good buyer curates the selection. They also very often have the help of an excellent publisher sales rep to help guide their purchases. A good rep is a god-send and will have a great sense of the store, its strengths and clientele and what will appeal to them, and can make recommendations accordingly. In my experience, buys usually happen with a marked-up online catalogue open in one window (or paper catalogue on the desk), and the store's inventory open in another, and the rep and buyer together go through the list either in person or by phone and talk about each book - what to buy, what quantity, and what to skip. The process can take anywhere from an hour to half a day for each publisher. (And sometimes involves a lunch - yum yum!)
Buys happen many months ahead of time. So, though we are still firmly in Spring, bookstores are now buying for the Fall. And the Summer books, which were bought in Winter, are now arriving in earnest. And there has to be room for them on the shelves....
"Turn" is how often inventory sells and must be replaced. It is extremely important to turn books relatively briskly. This isn't a museum where books are simply on display! Sitting inventory is not making money, turning inventory keeps the lights on. Turn is generally calculated on a per-section basis, so ideal turn will vary by section and store, but let's do a for-example.
If they've decided that the ideal turn for YA is 5, and right now the average turn in the section is actually 12, that means they may need to order more books and beef up the section, as there are likely holes and important books missing. (This is also an indication that the actual shelf-space allotted to the section might need to expand a bit.) If the turn is closer to 2, they definitely have too many books in the section and some will have to be pulled. (And probably the section, and buying for it, will need to contract a bit.)
Many kids books become hits by way of Word-of-mouth; Teachers reading to classrooms, kids passing the book around at school, the book getting awards and put on state reading lists, etc. Thus, stores do tend to let extra-special kids books linger longer on the shelves before returning them.
Some individual titles with very low or even zero sales might get saved during a return if a bookseller is feeling sentimental, but if your book is consistently dragging down the average turn, well... you see where this is going.
A very clever buyer (my sister in fact) once explained it to me this way: Your book is paying rent for its space on the shelf. Let's say that the average book in the section needs to sell or "turn" about 4 copies a year; that means "rent" is about .10 cents per day for an $8.99 paperback, .25 cents per day for a $21.99 hardcover. If the book isn't moving fast enough to pay that, it will eventually get returned to the publisher.
While to an author, returns day might be depressing, to a bookseller there is something immensely satisfying about packing up books that are gathering dust, and replacing them with shiny new specimens. To everything there is a season, etc etc, and bookstores can't afford to keep books around indefinitely if they aren't selling. Changing old for new also means an opportunity to "fluff" the section and make it look extra bright and inviting, which usually means increased sales for ALL the books in the section.
Will the system of returns change between publishers and bookstores? Likely at some point. Should it? Yeah, I think there are probably more efficient ways to handle inventory rather than shipping insanely heavy boxes of books back and forth all over creation. But I think it'll be a sad day if returns go away altogether.
Bookstores are already treading on a very thin profit margin and have to be careful about what they bring in. When they are able to take chances on quirky books and unknown authors, it's precisely because they are able to return them to the publisher if they don't sell. If they didn't have the opportunity to return items, they'd have to be much more conservative with their buys. And while that wouldn't be a big problem for the bestsellers, it would have a terrible effect on newbies and small fry.
Working on a longer post for later, but I wanted to be sure to share the following links of note:If you've read this blog for any length of time, or know me, you know that the first book I ever sold was FLASH BURNOUT by LK Madigan, which went on to win the Morris Award for best debut novel released in 2009.I loved that book, and I loved Lisa, and she was taken from us all too soon. But! She wrote a companion book to FLASH before she died. It's called PROJECT: BOY NEXT DOOR, and it's awesome. Her family has had it edited and indie-published it, and I'm so glad the world gets to read more of Lisa's wonderful words. Here's more about the book -- support it, won't you? You can purchase on Amazon or BN. Happy reading.
* A great post on What To Expect at BEA, perfect for first-timers. Especially important, I think: Don't be greedy, and for crying out loud WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES! :-) *You've probably seen it already, but if not, this is important: Maureen Johnson and the Coverflip. What happens when books by male authors are given "female" covers, and vice-versa? This would be funny if it weren't so bloody depressing. *Looking for a funny YA book rec? There's a flowchart for that. *I'm on the list of the "Top 20 Picture Book Agents" in very good company! Though, actually, this list is somewhat flawed because the sales are self-reporting, so some very good agents who simply don't report every sale are not listed. Still. Awesome.
*Finally, in non-book related (but VERY IMPORTANT) news: I baked home-made Sriracha Cheez-Its today. They came out delicious. I used gouda, very sharp cheddar and parmesan, and quite a bit of extra hot sauce. But I didn't roll them thin enough so they were more like cheese puffs. STILL.
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The other day I saw a blog post that surprised me. Surprised me because... well, because it is ABOUT me, in part. I am the mysterious "Agent #1." I suddenly feel the need to put on a wig and sunglasses. ;-)
I agree with the thrust of the post (that one should research agents, and that twitter is a good tool to learn more about them)... so I'm not knocking the post or the author. That said, I'm not sure that I agree with all the conclusions drawn from the examples used, so I'd just like to clarify, particularly as I've gotten LOTS of questions.
Two weeks ago, an agent (Agent #1) tweeted that she was interested in New Adult books. This is great information to know if you’re querying a New Adult novel (or will be), since it’s not mentioned on her website. It isn't mentioned on my website, because it's not a "thing" for me yet. And perhaps it never will be. I'm reading a lot of what-people-are-calling-NA (and books that are not "officially" NA, but maybe should be) -- I'm formulating my philosophy, and how NA books would fit on my list -- in other words, it is definitely something that is on my radar and I'm giving thought to.
In any case, I certainly wouldn't take something on if I didn't love it and think I could sell it.
Agent #1 replied and explained that she didn’t get the category, either, but she was willing to check it out. From MY point of view, the point of that tweet was that I am interested in NA and have an open mind about it. Which I'd have thought would be a good thing? A white flag, if you will? :-)
Red Flag #1
Why would you want an agent who doesn’t “get” your genre? How would she be the best advocate for it? That’s like letting a surgeon who doesn’t “get” the function of your pancreas perform surgery on it. You want someone who not only gets your genre, she understands what criteria readers expect to see.I actually said that I'm not sure I "get it", because I'd contend that NOBODY really knows what this "genre" is. (I'd also argue that it's not a genre at all, but rather a category... but that's another story.)
I simply don't think we can say that anything regarding NA is set in stone. Whereas the fundamentals of pancreas function are not really up for debate.
NA is a category that is very much in flux and still developing. Relatively few NA titles are actually on the market, compared to their YA brethren. It remains to be seen which titles have longevity and whether readers will embrace ALL kinds of NA stories rather than the contemps that have been best sellers so far.
This post here does a fine job of talking about what NA is, at least ideally. For the record, I disagree that NA is "sexed-up YA." But you have to admit, so far, that is a snarky but not wholly inaccurate way to describe some of the books that are doing well. This will change, if the category flourishes. But so far voicey, sexy contemp with college-age protags happen to lead the pack in terms of what is selling. Can we agree there?
If she offers representation, you can ask her what books she’s read in your genre and what she liked about them. If she has only read two, you’ve got a problem. Also, make sure she does understand the genre. For example, if you queried her for your NA novel and she tells you NA is really YA erotica, then you need to keep looking. This is not the right agent for you. She’s clueless about the genre. I invite anyone to whom I offer representation to ask me about books. I read a LOT. Hundreds of books a year, on top of manuscripts. I love talking about books, and I promise you, I'm quite good at it. After all, I do it all day long, for my job.
If you've done any amount of research about me and you still think I might be "clueless"... let me stop you right there. Don't query me. We definitely aren't a good fit for one another. Why would you query somebody whose opinion and experience you don't value?
Agent #2 tweeted back that he hoped Agent #1 enjoyed the porn that would now fill her inbox... I have no idea how Agent #1 felt about the condescending tweet, but it upset the individual who emailed me the conversation. It showed a lack of respect toward a colleague in the industry. I'm pretty sure if we asked "Agent #2" he'd be happy to own his words. And while I appreciate the concern, it didn't strike me as condescending at all. I took it in the spirit in which it was intended: as an amusing tweet from a good friend, in the context of a lighthearted conversation. It made me chuckle. Particularly because it was actually correct -- plenty of what comes in unsolicited to the query box could be classified as amateur erotica.
That's not because that's what NA is. That's just the nature of the slush pile. Just as the majority of what comes in when you open your doors to picture books, are rough drafts, or stuff that would be better suited to the inside of a terrible greeting card... not because picture books suck, but because a lot of queriers aren't ready yet and/or simply don't know how to write picture books. The same is true in every category.
The point I'm making is actually very similar to Ms. Lindenblatt's. It's a fine idea to acquaint yourself with agent's twitter feeds if they have them. It's one tool that should be used in addition to the others (looking at their website, reading interviews, reading the books they already represent, etc.) Of course the fact is, every agent-author relationship is different; it does have to do with chemistry in some ways, and you can't always know if you'll be a fit until you at least have the chance to talk to each other. Still, twitter can be fun and informative, and give you a sense of their personality and taste.
If you hate how they come across on twitter -- by all means, don't query them. But it's not an accurate way to gauge what somebody will be like to work with, or how they'll react to your work. And it's certainly not fair to cherry-pick a couple of random tweets out of context and assume that gives you an accurate snapshot of a person's worldview.
Anyway, don't spend TOO much time twitter-stalking. We want you to finish those manuscripts! :-)