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where book news, agentish advice, party planning, cute animal pictures and general shenanigans collide.
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As of November 20, 2012 (that is, Midnight Eastern Time tonight) I am closed to queries. I will reopen to queries January 7, 2013.
If I already have your work, you should hear from me by January 7. (That's the point of taking the break, I have to catch up!)
I'm sorry to say that I cannot respond to new queries sent during this time.
The exceptions will be: work that I've requested -- conference material -- client or editor referrals -- and people I actually know in real life. If this is you, please be sure you've said so, along with the word Query, IN THE SUBJECT LINE of your email. Otherwise, your query will be deleted.
For all other regular queries, please feel free to try any of my colleagues at Andrea Brown Lit, or else try me again in January.
Thanks again for thinking of me in regard to your work.
Wishing you all the best, and Happy Holidays,
Andrea Brown Literary Agency
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.
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
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.
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 Benâ€™s perspective as a medic in Afghanistan, Bickâ€™s story isnâ€™t a mystery in the whodunit sense. Instead, itâ€™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 Benâ€™s increasing paranoia and delusion is nimble, making this a violent, and very smart, take-no-prisoners experience.â€” Daniel Kraus
School Library Journal"This novel should be in all YA collections, and would be interesting reading for members of GSAâ€™s." â€“Suanne B. Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL
LITTLE RED HOT
is a super-fun Tex-Mex re-imagining of Little Red
Riding Hood from the gifted Eric A. Kimmel, with bright and lively illustrations from Laura Huliska-Beith. I just saw it in real life for the first time, and it is a real charmer, perfect for fractured fairy tale fans.
Little Red Hot
loooooves to eat hot
peppers, the hotter the better. Why folks say that she could eat the fire out of a stove, but to that she'd answer, "Fire ainâ€™t hot
enough." When she gets into some hot
water with the wicked SeĂ±or Lobo, she knows exactly how to stop him in his tracks... with a little help from a Jalapeno Pie.
If you follow me on Twitter you've probably already seen me babbling about this, but here it is in the long-form version:
I'm thrilled to tell you that Daniel Pinkwater's FISH WHISTLE
is finally available as an e-version.* This is a collection of very short (and hilarious) essays and stories, many of which were originally presented on NPR's All Things Considered
These little stories are like comfort food for me. I love these the way that I love stuff by James Thurber and David Sedaris - they are instant mood-lighteners, and you don't even need a prescription. Topics range from Hot Peppers (and the eating of them), to Crazy Dogs (and the training of them), to Art (and the making of it), and everything in between. What they have in common is great good humor.
The book originally appeared in 1990 but hasn't been electrified till now. The content has been somewhat refreshed for the new edition and there's a new introduction, so while it is not a carbon copy of the paper edition, all of Daniel's favorites, and more importantly all the fan favorites that we get requests about so often, are included.
AND the collection is currently selling for a mere $2.99 -- get em while they're hot
**Praise for FISH WHISTLE... From Publishers Weekly
"An inspired satirist
, Pinkwater speaks for all who suffer from those "Who Only Stand and Snarl," instead of doing their work; for fat people who can't lose weight; for those who can't find a real Jewish deli; for everyone benighted by life's perversities. In a lighter vein, the author tells about times at home with his wife Jill, their dogs and good friends. But readers will perhaps be most charmed by memoirs of Pinkwater's Polish immigrant parents, especially his father, who is the inspiration for "Fischvistle" and other affecting pieces."
From School Library Journal
"Readers familiar with Pinkwater's books for children will enjoy this collection of humorous adult essays. The man is mad, and so are his comments. He takes on the characters of his small town in upstate New York, as well as those of his childhood; he comments on his weight problem and various methods of weight loss; he recalls incidents experienced while traveling the world. No topic is sacred, and all are cynically hilarious.
From Library Journal
"Almost anything-- Mad
magazine, shopping malls, being a writer, air travel--will set off and away his fancy flutters on a brief, airy little excursion. He is a writer with whom the reader goes lightly. He writes to amuse, and rarely does one feel that the effort of facetiousness is too ferociously sustained... the book is wholesome medicine for gloomy moods
-- * The fine print: Currently FISH WHISTLE is only available for Kindle, though other e-reader versions are forthcoming. It should be downloadable throughout the world (though foreign price depends on local currency and is not set by us.)
** Reviews for the original hardback edition.
As many of you know, each month I co-host an awesome event for YA book lovers at Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck. The Hudson Valley YA Society has been going strong for two years now, and I'm proud to say that the events just keep getting better and better. WE LOVE YA BOOKS AND READERS!
I want to draw your attention to the event TOMORROW, Sunday Feb 17 at 4pm, because it is going to be very special indeed. We're celebrating the release of Marissa Meyer's SCARLET (the sequel to the amazing CINDER). If you haven't read CINDER, it's essentially a reimagining of Cinderella, if Cinderella was a cyborg. SCARLET picks up where Cinder left off, but also introduces two new characters... Little Red Riding Hood, and a very big very bad Wolf indeed. These books are thrilling and addictive and we're SO excited to meet Marissa Meyer.
But it's not JUST Marissa... what makes this one even cooler is, she'll be in conversation with her editor and publisher, Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel. If you are curious about the "behind the scenes" world of book publishing, this is really the event for you. Come with questions! There will also be some very special giveaways and prizes. Oh and of course cupcakes... mustn't forget those. :-)
To RSVP for this event, click here.
If you can't make it but would like to order signed books, click here.
Hope to see you at Oblong!
Each year one of my talented illustrators designs a Valentine for me, which I send to clients, colleagues, editors and friends. (This started because I am always too swamped in December to do regular holiday cards, and it stayed because I love it, and I think people like getting unexpected mail!)
This year's card is by the talented Raul Gonzalez III. Raul is a fine artist who is new to the Children's illustration game, but is an up-and-comer. He's currently working on two graphic novels that are forthcoming from Chronicle Books, and has just done sketches for his first picture book. Yay!
So happy day, everyone. LOVE!
I'm delighted to say that I'll be teaching a Writers Digest Webinar for the first time on March 7. The topic is "Beyond the Query" -- because let's face it, there's a ton of info out there about how to write a query letter, but not a ton about what happens NEXT. So there will be info about how to research agents, red flags and the like... but also useful information about how to navigate the agent-author relationship, what to do while you're on submission, following the path of a book from your brain to the bookshelf, what to expect when you're expecting (an offer), and tons more.
EVERY participant will get to ask questions, and EVERY question will be answered. Additionally, every participant will be able to submit a query for critique. So whether you're a new-newbie or you've been around the block a bit, hopefully you'll gain useful information and insight. Consider it "everything you've always wanted to know about Agents but were afraid to ask." ;-)
I promise that this will be an ENTERTAINING, CANDID and INFORMATIVE 90 minutes. I can't wait.
For more info or to sign up for this webinar, click here!
Any other questions about this? Feel free to ask in the comments.
I'm so proud of this debut novel from Miriam Forster. It's a murder mystery set in a fantastical world that reminds me a bit of Tamora Pierce, a bit of Jacqueline Carey... it's just so good, and Miriam is a new talent to watch.About the book:
Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a little girl. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. She makes her way as Matron's errand girl, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow.
Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city's handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die. Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls' deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls--but also her life.See the official Book Trailer (which I have to say is RAD)
A great interview with Miriam on the Cynsations blog
For more information about Miriam and her work:
--"Forster makes a strong debut with a fresh South Asian inspired fantasy/mystery crossover...Forster's well-crafted story and confident prose are rich, packed with small details that immerse readers in her sumptuously imagined world." -- From the Publishers Weekly starred review"With fantastic world building and a wonderful heroine, City of a Thousand Dolls intrigued me from the first page."--Cindy Pon, author of Silver Phoenix
"A fantastical murder mystery with a creative premise, heart-pounding pacing, and characters with secrets to keep."--Cinda Williams Chima, author of best-selling The Exiled Queen
I wanted to clarify this tweet a bit. So, as you might know, I'm an enthusiast
. Sometimes when I'm super excited about a new novel that crosses my desk, I might get second reads or talk to agency colleagues about it before I even sign it. If I know it is up some editor's alley, I might tease them with it -- "I'm about to offer on an aweeeesome super-secret new space opera with dragons... you want to be on the list when I go out with it?" Or "ooooh have you seen this website, what do you think?"*
There's a difference between being a fan of something, having enthusiasm and seeing if other people share that enthusiasm, and actually submitting a person's intellectual property for publication and acting on their behalf when they haven't given you permission to do so.
If you query an agent with your novel** and they tell you they're going to "shop your manuscript around to editors"... and that IF they get an offer, THEN they'll sign you up*** (but they won't otherwise?):
HUGE RED FLAG. THIS IS PROBLEMATIC.
* If they shop your manuscript, and you aren't their actual client, how do you know what they are doing, who they are talking to, what they are saying on your behalf?
* If they shop your manuscript and end up with an offer... it will probably not be the best offer. Why? Because this type of schmagent is unlikely to have primo publishing connections. There are times that going with a small press or an e-book only press or a no-advance press or a start-up press might be a fine idea... but do you really want that to be your ONLY option?
* If they shop your manuscript, and end up never getting an offer and never signing you (which is quite likely, since they will have no particular pressing interest in trying hard, since you aren't a client) -- then let's say you get another agent? A real one? ALL THOSE BRIDGES ARE BURNED. Your new agent won't be able to send your manuscript to any of the editors that already declined it. Assuming you can even find out who those editors were.
An agent isn't just a person who likes books and puts a website up. They SHOULD have a ton of contacts in the publishing industry... and when they talk to those contacts, they REPRESENT YOU. That means they are meant to be acting on your behalf and speaking for you. (Not to mention they have access to your finances and potentially your financial future and career!) -- you definitely don't want somebody you don't trust in that position. Do your homework.
This isn't a game, or a joke. Don't treat it that way. And don't let anyone else treat it that way, either.
-- * Mind you, this wouldn't affect MY feelings about it. If somebody was like "ew dragons are dumb" -- I'd think "Oh, they are stupid", not "Oh, I am wrong."** ETA: I'm talking specifically about NOVELS here, and note that my expertise is in kids and YA. Pop culture nonfiction or other works you sell on proposal might be different, I have no idea. And as some point out... publishers themselves may do some "pre-shopping" to their retail clients when deciding what to acquire. Sadly, there's nothing much you can do about that. *** ETA ETA: I'm also not talking about people who are legit agents you've agreed will represent you on a "handshake" basis but who don't have a formal written agency agreement, or who only make a formal written agency agreement when money is going to change hands. While this isn't how my agency works, I know some legit agencies that don't have a formal "agreement" per se -- but they will ASK YOU before they start REPPING YOU!
WE GO TOGETHER! (A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse) is a perfectly charming collection of whimsical and wonderful love and friendship poems from NYT bestselling author-illustrator, Calef Brown.
It's the perfect Valentine's present to share with a friend or loved one of ANY age. It's a cute small size and under $10, so it makes a great gift. And while kids will certainly delight at the fun words and bright illustrations, the poems are even a little bit extra-charming for grownups.
Need a Valentine for your daughter, son, bestie, westie, sister, brother, "Significant Other", BF, GF, BFF, or super secret crush? Look no further!
Seriously, buy several, they're small. ;-)
"In a collection that celebrates loving friendship, Brown artfully captures the comforting, sometimes odd moments of true affection."
"The cheerful, rhythmic rhymes help make this book perfect for reading aloud, and it would be an ideal choice for two friends to share."
--School Library Journal
"Brown... pairs a heaping spoonful of nonsense with unexpected yet genuine observations about the joy of companionship."
--Publishers Weekly STARRED review
In Calef Brown's poem "We Go Together," he jubilantly decrees: "We go together / like fingers and thumbs. / Basses and drums. / Pastries and crumbs." In "You Are Two (Kiwis)," he muses, "I am quite frequently, / reminded by thee / of a kiwi. / Either kind." Yes, silliness and sentimentality have free rein in this "curious selection" of childlike poems about love and friendship, each accompanied by an equally absurd, stylized acrylic painting. Like Sandol Stoddard's I Like You, WE GO TOGETHER! makes an offbeat Valentine's gift for anyone with a good sense of humor and a penchant for wordplay.
I don't buy it when people say online friendships are not "real." I have plenty of online friendships that have developed into real life friendships; there is a lot of fluidity and crossover. I love to meet "twitter peeps" when I'm traveling to conferences and the like. In fact, some of the people I like most in the world are ones that I met online first.
I talk to the people inside the twitterbox more than, well, anyone else besides the dog. And probably because I'm chatty, I do tend to feel like I KNOW these people. Like, personally know them. Even the ones I don't know personally at all. Maybe I just have a clingy personality or something - or maybe it is natural that humans like to make connections. I don't know. Who am I, Oliver Sacks? (No.)
So my confession is: A few times I've noticed that people I follow and admire on twitter (and in some cases, even have met or know IRL) don't follow me, or worse, have unfollowed me. And it causes me a sharp pain not unlike grief. Micro-grief, if you will.
THIS IS RIDICULOUS.
If you've ever felt this twinge of micro-grief when you realize somebody isn't following you... SNAP OUT OF IT. If you've ever gotten upset that somebody didn't retweet you or respond to you... GET OVER IT. If you expect "auto-follows" or that somebody should follow or always converse with you or RT you or whatever just because you follow them... GTFO.
Everyone uses twitter in different ways. MOST people are not on there 15 hours a day like I am (because it is in the corner of my screen while I am working, which is almost always). Some people only want to follow a very small number of folks, or people they know IRL, or nobody they know IRL, or whatever. Some people have strict limits with themselves about how often they can check in, and so limit their "follow list" to ones they can keep up with easily. Some people unfollow people who tweet too much, or who curse, or post pet pictures, or don't post pet pictures, or who only talk about books, or who never talk about books, or who the hell knows.
The point is, how other people choose to use it or not use it is not a judgement about us, and is also not our beezwax.
If you're only following somebody because you have the expectation they'll follow you back, you're doing yourself a disservice. Yes, twitter is a lot about conversations and connections... but you can't control what other people do. And vice-versa. So hey, feel free to keep following people you enjoy and have the bandwidth for... and stop following if you don't want to anymore. No need to make a big to-do about it. No need to announce it to anyone. It's not an insult to not follow somebody or to stop following somebody, it's just you choosing how to spend your own time and energy.
Spend it well!
I get asked this question many times a week via twitter, in emails, at conferences, at the bookstore... Here's how it goes:
[scene: a podium in a random hotel conference room in Anytown USA]
Stranger [raises hand]: OK, SO, PEOPLE SAY I SHOULD LOOK FOR AN AGENT. BUT MY QUESTION IS, DO I NEED AN AGENT?
Me: Probably. Depends what you want from your career. I'd get one, personally... but of course, I'm an agent, naturally I'd say that.
Stranger [impatiently]: NO. I MEAN DO I REALLY NEED AN AGENT?
Me: Oh man. Since you asked with that inflection... wow. I guess I have to give it to you straight. You got me. There's a little something that everyone else knows except you. Every time somebody suggests you "query agents" they are really trying to TRICK you. Because they don't want you to know the secret! *Muwhahaha!* <!------>
Oh. You can tell I'm poking fun, and you don't like it. Sorry. I'm going to be totally serious now. When you ask that question, it sounds to me like "but I don't want to read the manual, instructions are for suckers, I'm gonna find the shortcut and do this the fast and dirty way!
And I get that. I'm impatient too. The fact is, much like putting together the elaborate entertainment center from Ikea, getting an agent is usually difficult, or at least inconvenient on some level. There are almost always some bruised egos and frustrations along the way. It can take a long time. It can be a lot of work. And even when you have it figured out, that is only the beginning. Ugh what a pain in the ass.
So look. It DOES depend on what you want from your career.
* If you want to go the self-publishing route and would never consider traditional publishing... you may not need an agent. (You'll find that it is a lot of work to be successful at this game, but hey -- it happens. Elbow grease, baby!)
* If you have a very "niche" type of work -- highly technical, educational, religious, or specialty-type content... novellas, chapbooks, and other things that are not usually found in regular bookstores... you may not need an agent.
* If you want to be traditionally published and are a super-type A personality, know a ton about the vagaries of publishing, have lots of insider publishing connections, know contracts well, understand the market for your work specifically, enjoy talking about money and don't mind things like asking for a raise, know how to sell subrights and foreign rights, want to spend time pounding the pavement on your own behalf... you may be not need an agent.*
Otherwise? An agent is going to be hugely helpful to you.
In fact, here's the secret. As big a pain as it is? GETTING AN AGENT IS THE SHORTCUT.
Recognize this? It's called an allen wrench, or a hex key.
You can put the Ikea entertainment center without it, but dear god, it's a hell of a lot easier with it.
Consider an agent your hex key.* (Though I do know people like this, and after a certain number of books... guess what, they got an agent. Because it is a huge time-suck to do all these things for yourself, the time-suck gets exponentially worse the more books you have out, and that is time you could be spending writing. Or, you know, lounging in a hammock drinking mocktails. Whatever.)
Today marks my 5th agentversary. Here's my post from last year on the subject. And this one from two years ago has the tale of how I became an agent and the story of the first book I ever sold.
So you know, I've already done the wordy thing. This year I did a bit of number-crunching instead. Depending on your POV, this'll be either deadly boring or geekily interesting - if the former, forgive me, please do skip it. Here's 2012 by the numbers:
In 2012, I got approximately 4200 queries (an average of 80 per week). I didn't actually count this part, but I'm gonna take an educated guess and say about half were not even in genres I represent, were not addressed to me, were barely in English, had attachments or otherwise didn't follow submission guidelines, and thus were automatic deletes. (In other words: if you are following guidelines and subbing the correct material, you're already in the top 50%!)
So let's call it about 2000 viable queries. Of those, I took on seven new clients (aka, .35%).Of those, two were total slush-puppies and debuts (one of which I signed right away, one after a revise-and-resubmit). Two were referrals (one previously published, one not). One I knew in real life from SCBWI (previously published). One I met on twitter, then in real life, before she queried me (previously published). One, another debut, I knew in real life from my old bookstore job! Of the seven new clients, four are debuts, six have have deals done or in progress, and one I haven't yet sent out.
In 2012, I sold 14 YA, 9 MG, 6 PB.
Of these, seven were debuts: Three YA and two each MG and PB.
This also marked the year I sold my 100th*
title. I'm at 103 now (46 of which have been released), and the breakdown is:
Total: 44 YA, 32 MG, 27 PB
WHAT DOES ALL OF THIS MEAN?
I guess that I work with totally awesome authors and illustrators, that books are still selling, that good stories are still finding readers, and that it was a very busy and very productive 2012. So let's do it again in 2013!
Wishing you time to read, inspiration to write, and much happiness in the coming year. :-)*I'm not counting foreign sales, subrights sales or sales where I rep both the author and illustrator - that would get way too complicated. Each book only counts once.
The hottest non-book item in the bookstore this holiday season was probably Spikeletz. They are awesome and weird bracelets made of this spiky-looking (but actually ultra-soft) plastic, in all kinds of wild color combos. Kinda like having a neon caterpillar around your wrist.
Most people like the Spikeletz. Some adults are sort of weirded out by them, because their texture is so unexpected compared to how they look. Girls and boys seem to appreciate them fairly equally. But one parent was overheard to say to a son, "Bracelets are for girls."
I wish I had been there. Because I would have said ok first of all WHAT and second of all NO and also CALL THEM WRISTBANDS THEN and by the way YOUR KID LIKES SOMETHING WHY ARE YOU GONNA RUIN IT and also SPIKELETZ ARE FOR AWESOME PEOPLE! Actually I probably would have said none of that, but I might have slipped the kid a wink and a sticker or something at least. Ugh.
So then today I was reading my twitter feed (as one does) and I came across this innocuous tweet from @HarperChildrens (a publisher I greatly admire), about the darling new book FOXY:
I have to admit, I was irritated by that tweet. I mean - why say it is a GIRL book? Because the human child in is a girl? But Foxy himself is a boy fox. And MAGICAL FOXES seem to be totally rad regardless of gender. If I was a boy, I'd sure as hell like a book about a cool MAGICAL FOX. Why not?
The thing is, in the kids section, so many picture books scream BOY BOOK or GIRL BOOK from a hundred yards. FANCY NANCY is a "Girl Book" - it's covered in glitter and is bright pink. I STINK is a "Boy Book" - it's got a giant trash truck on it. It is very simple for adults to choose "the one that fits" without even having to read the text. It makes life easy in some ways. But it's also so, soooo irritating.
I mean, OK. If a boy loves trucks, am I gonna say "No, you can only read about Princess Barbies"? Heck no. I'll give him a truck book, and we have plenty of them. But if a boy wants to read about Barbie, I am never going to say he's wrong. And the same goes vice-versa. I'm in the business of getting kids to read and love reading, I'd not want any kid to feel shamed for what they enjoy.
Goodness knows, pink glittery books don't need my help to sell! Nor would I want them to. I know that the masses of money a publisher makes from something like PINKALICIOUS may well go to buy some less obvious texts... maybe even one of mine. And heck, I loved
pink and purple and glitter* when I was little, and I know I would have adored stuff like Lego Friends: Treasure Hunt in Heartlake City
even though I may find it gagworthy now. (For the record, I loved firetrucks too!)
I can't stop publishers from producing and marketing books the way they do. Hey, they are companies, they are doing what makes the most money for them, and I get it.
But what I CAN do on a day-to-day level is, make even more of a point to seek out less-discovered gems, books that reflect all kinds of experiences, and try to push THOSE as much as possible. And I can stop using language like "Boy Book" and "Girl Book", and try to get others to stop using it too. It's shorthand, and it's lazy, and if it makes any kid feel bad or NOT want to read something, then it's a terrible shame.
*full disclosure: I STILL LOVE PINK AND PURPLE AND GLITTER!
Sometimes I'm asked why agents talk about Picture Books but almost never about Board Books. Maybe I can shed some light.BOARD BOOKS
, aka Baby Books, are those chunky little books generally made of thick cardboard, for about ages 0-2. They're what kids get before they have the manual dexterity to turn the thin pages of picture books, when they would still rather drool on, chew, or tear up paper than delicately peruse it.
Board books are almost always small and made of cardboard. Their covers can be flat or puffy or shaped like something. They can be stories (basically small versions of regular picture books) but they are also often concept books or novelty books. Subspecies:
- CONCEPT BOOKS are board books that teach about things like ABC, 123, Up/Down, Colors, Animals, etc. in an extremely simple way.
- NOVELTY BOOKS have some sort of special interactive element like lift-the-flap, textured touch-and-feel, sliding panels, a spinning wheel, etc.
Because they are brightly colored, printed on thick cardboard, and often have special elements to them, board books are very expensive
to produce compared to their retail price. This means there is a very small profit margin. Which means publishers really need to both keep costs down and sell a lot
for these books to be successful. They are unlikely to take big risks in acquisitions for this market. For these reasons, you will typically find books that are either:
- Written by the artist (so they only have to pay one person)
- Written in-house with an artist hired on a work-for-hire basis (so they only have to pay one person, and that, usually for much less than for regular picture books), or better yet, written AND designed in-house, AND/OR
- Branded "spin offs" of existing popular picture book characters (like OLIVIA COUNTS or CURIOUS GEORGE COLOR FUN kind of thing), OR
- Board book versions of existing picture books (in other words, the SAME ALREADY SUCCESSFUL BOOK, just shrunk).
There are a few artists who produce simple and bright board book originals, like Sandra Boynton
and Leslie Patricelli
. There are fewer still who are masters of the novelty board book. Salina Yoon
and Matthew van Fleet
come to mind. But it's much less likely that you'd find a non-artist author
of these types of books. In fact, I can't think of ANY text-onlys bought specifically to be board books*. I'm totally willing to be corrected about this, but every board book I can think of off the top of my head was either written by the artist or editor, or is a spin-off or shrunken version of an existing picture book property.
If you are a terrific artist/designer, and you have an awesome idea for a fun baby book or set of novelty books, there is a (slim) possibility you might break in this way. As an author who is NOT an artist, though, I'd think it would be VERY DIFFICULT INDEED to sell your text as a board book.
Not impossible, I suppose. Almost nothing is impossible, and there may be exceptions to every rule. But as the dear departed Editorial Anonymous said in her post on the subjec
t (which explains what I just explained but in an even clearer way):
"Take my advice and don't present a manuscript as a board book just because you think it'd be cuter that way. Starting a book off as a hardcover picture book is always more profitable for the publisher, which means the acquisition pulls more weight for the editor, the book gets more attention, and it's more profitable for you.
"* ETA: I stand corrected! I couldn't think of any board book originals, but the lovely Emily Jenkins reminds me that she wrote an original board book series, "Bea and Haha", illustrated by Tomek Bogacki - sadly out of print, though. And Laurel Snyder wrote one "Nosh Schlep Schluff" - but there were special circumstances. And Lawrence Schimel has a series called "Little Pirate" from Innovative Kids. But I still say these are highly unusual in the board book realm.
I've seen a lot of people online opine recently that agents who say they are looking for something they "love" are basically idiots. Agents shouldn't be looking for something they LOVE - what are they, giggling teenagers? This is a BUSINESS! Etc.
I also got an email response to a rejection today that basically said the same thing (though much more nicely) and, while it was not meant in a bad way, it was surprising to me. Very nice writer, nothing against them, but the fact is, I take on so few projects, out of thousands of submissions. Damn straight I have to love them.
As a writer, you write things that you love and are fascinated by, no? Isn't that one of the glorious things about being a writer? You might have unsteady income, you might not know if the next thing will sell, you might win the lotto with one project and strike out with the next... but you still get to write the stories you are passionate about. Sure you might make some concessions for "the market" - or sometimes you might be a 'pen for hire' and need to suit the company you're writing for - but you can still decide NOT to write something that makes you miserable, if you want.
You wouldn't spend a year or more writing and revising some project you don't believe in or enjoy (especially with no guarantee you'd get paid for it!) unless you were a masochist. I'm not a masochist. I'm in the business I'm in specifically because I love books, and I love the freedom to choose the projects I work on and rep the stuff I love. If I wanted to work hard on something I don't enjoy, I could get paid more for it in another line of work.
Anyway, would you really want an agent who DOESN'T love your writing? Really? Come on. If I don't believe in a project or an author, I can't be an effective advocate for it. Full stop.
Thing is, of course, the things I love and the things I think I can sell tend to be one and the same. And in my career (knock wood) my intuition about the sort of projects I should take on has been very right. FOR ME. That is no reflection about what the greater world will think, or what any other editor or agent will think. I absolutely would have turned down TWILIGHT or 50 SHADES or DA VINCI CODE, with no regrets... because it would have been a misery for me to work on them. I'm glad they exist, I'm not jealous of their success... they just aren't for me.
I'm going to quote myself because I've said it before :
For me, rejections and acceptances are entirely down to my personal weird quirky taste, and the fact that I only take on three or so new things a year. Very occasionally there is some concrete point I can give the author, and I try to do so when it is easy to see. But I advise against replying to a rejection with a plaintive "Whyyy??", because you probably won't like the answer: "I didn't like it enough."
Which totally sounds mean, right? But think about it this way: I also don't like the color yellow. Or the flavor of clove. Or Irish Wolfhounds. Or the way birds legs look like dinosaur legs. Or messy food. Or summertime. So what? Are any of those things bad? No! They just aren't for me.
So there. While I do agree it's a business, and I want to find the things that I think will do well... I also really do think that any publishing endeavor is much more likely to be successful if everyone involved is invested in the project. What do you think? Could you work on something you don't care for? Would you? Ugh.
The best time of year swiftly approaches - the time for the Big Sur Children's Writer's Workshop
! And guess what? There are still a few places available Nov 30-Dec 2.
This conference is truly amazing. First of all, the location is just stunning - in a redwood forest, on cliffs above the Pacific, surrounded by nature... It's a retreat from the distractions of everyday life that allows writers to really focus on getting deep into their manuscripts and doing that hard work that will take them to the next level. It is a combo of small critique groups led by stellar faculty
(editors, agents, award-winning writers), plus time to actually REVISE based on the feedback. And the high faculty-to-writer ratio plus casual and family-like atmosphere means you'll get plenty of time to hang out with editors and agents and writers without feeling "on the spot" or nervous.
It sounds cliche but it is true: I've seen miracles at this conference. The difference in work from the first workshop on Friday to the last on Sunday can be truly astonishing. I just can't say enough good things about it. If you can join us this time around, you SHOULD! Here's the registration page
If you can't, do keep it on your radar, as we do this twice a year. March is in Monterey, December is in Big Sur. Hope to see you there!
PRETTIEST DOLL is three weeks in the life of Liv Tatum, who is 13 years old and already a veteran of the beauty-pageant circuit. Though she's as pretty and successful as can be on the outside, on the inside Liv is struggling to cope with the death of her father, the demands of her mother, her pageant coach's insistent criticism, and her own ambivalence about her looks. When she up and runs away with 15 year old Danny Jacobson, a troubled Texan on his way to Chicago, she'll have to rely on her own resourcefulness and courage, rather than on her fake eyelashes and singing, to make it back in one piece.PRETTIEST DOLL is somehow simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming, zeitgeisty and timeless. Gina Willer-Pardo is a master at writing realistic stories with a pitch-perfect middle school voice.
I love this book!"Willner-Pardo deftly captures the complexity of adolescence as these resilient teens endeavor to define their identities and establish control over their lives."--Kirkus
"Willner-Pardo gives Olivia a realistically conflicted narrative voice . . . [Olivia's] growth is organic and genuine."--Publishers Weekly
Available on IndieBound
, from Powells
, at Barnes and Noble, Amazon
, or wherever fine books are sold.
You'll probably be hearing about this a lot from me in the coming days, and my... well, not apologies... just warning.
As we all know by now, Hurricane Sandy has had a devastating effect on many of our friends and neighbors in NYC and beyond. My author Kate Messner has come up with a very awesome fundraiser which will allow you to help those who REALLY need it right now, and at the same time, GET STUFF.
Here's more about the auction.
The prizes at this point? Seriously almost unbelievably great for writers, teachers OR readers.
* Skype visit with MO WILLEMS.
* A HUGE school and library publicity/marketing package for your book.
* A picture book crit with amazing editor Melissa Manlove from Chronicle PLUS "FREE PASS" FOR THAT BOOK TO A CHRONICLE EDITORIAL MEETING HOLY CRAP.
* a FULL YA critique with author Kody Keplinger
And so many more. Such talented and amazing authors, editors and agents are donating their time, talent and resources. PLEASE check it out and bid! Bid!
(Oh also I donated: Mine is a query critique plus 20 minute "ask me anything" phone call in which I help you get ready for the query trenches!)
I'm so excited to tell you that Jill Pinkwater's classic CLOUD HORSE, out of print for years, is now back in shiny e-book form! Huzzah! It is the story of two girls, one a Viking maiden, the other a modern American -- separated by a thousand years, but brought together by their love of horses.
Best part: To celebrate the book release, for the next couple of days, it is FREE. FREE. ZERO DOLLARS AND ZERO CENTS. Only through midnight tomorrow, then it goes up (to a whopping $2.99).
"Wait a minute, is this a CHILDREN'S BOOK???" -- Nah. Well, OK, kinda. But I think it is suitable for all ages. There's a little romance, a little magic, a witch, a pinch of time travel, plenty of wild ponies... what's not to like?
"Is this a trick? What's the gag? Why are you giving the book away? Grrr!" -- Relax! Consider it a gift. Or... well, I would love to request a favor. If you feel like it, press "like" on the book page. This doesn't go to Facebook or anything, it just makes things rise higher in Amazon's own search algorithm. And if you enjoy the read and are so moved, please do write a review of the book on the Amazon site.
No pressure! Just these simple things help enormously when it comes to helping other readers discover books. All the pony magic in the world does not help as much as a great review. :-)
"But I don't have an e-reader!" -- Welp, the good news is, you can download and read the book "in the cloud" online, straight off the Amazon website. Or download a free Kindle app to your phone, iPad or other device.
"But I hate shopping on A**zon!" -- Hey, I feel you, friend. The book will be available in other formats soon. Meanwhile, this is your chance to download it for FREE, which is almost the same as STEALING from them. Stick it to the man!
"Will there be OTHER Pinkwater books in e-book format?" -- We're working on it. We'll be rolling out a few more Jill P. books in the next few months. And after that, who knows. If you have particular hard-to-find favorites, let me know. :-)
Every year at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck, we "adopt" several classrooms of kids who don't get books as presents, and we make sure that they DO. Each star on the tree represents one local child and is labeled with their age, reading level and interests.
Last year went smashingly thanks to our neighborhood shoppers... and also thanks, in no small part, to friends from the Twitterverse and blog readers who also chipped in to make the holidays a bit more special for some kids in need.
This year we challenged ourselves to the biggest Book Angel project yet. We just about doubled the number of kids we're helping, and we've added a batch of high schoolers - which means the Book Angel project now officially spans 100 local Hudson Valley kids of all ages, K-12. ALL these 100 kids will get great new books this year!
UPDATE: WE REACHED OUR GOAL!!!
As of last night, we'd taken care of about half the kids on the list... but there were still so many stars left! So at 7pm eastern time, I threw the challenge down on this blog and on twitter.
I'm so proud and excited to tell you that thanks to YOU we reached our goal in ONE HOUR.
Each of the 100 kids on our list will receive at least TWO* brand-new, hand-chosen (and if I may say so, superb) books. That is four classrooms of kids who may have never had a new book of their very own before. I am beyond delighted. You are all amazing.
Suzanna at Oblong Books and I stayed until 10pm running around the store like mad selecting all the titles. This part is both the most thrilling, especially when one of the children seems like a kindred spirit so you can gift a personal favorite and know they will LOVE it... and the most challenging, when you have to find the PERFECT books for the kid whose star says something like "1st Grade: Dirt bikes and wrestling!" Anyway, it was fun and exhausting and I loved it, and I might have cried a little from happiness, and today we have a lot of presents to wrap. :-) If you still want to be a Book Angel, consider a donation to FirstBook -- they do this all year long: http://www.firstbook.org/ * "At least two" because in the case of early readers which are so short and slim we chose 3, or a pb/early reader combo. YA and MG novels got 2 each, a mixture of hardcover and paperback. Our goal is to give books that are both appropriate and that they'll adore based on the interests and level they shared with us.
Let's be honest: We all want to work with people we personally enjoy. I'm not saying you need to be BFFs with your co-workers, but if given the choice, we'd all want colleagues who are not only good at their jobs, but are also kind and pleasant to communicate with.
Luckily for us as agents and authors: We often ARE given the choice.
I have an amazing group of authors who I love hearing from and talking to... and I got to choose them (and they, me). There are certainly people I haven't offered representation because, based on my communication with them and/or their online presence, I felt like they might be a thorn in my side. I don't WANT a thorn in my side, thanks.
To that point: Yes, your professional and courteous communication matters. And yes, even if your blog or twitter gets very little traffic, if it exists as a public thing, it isn't invisible. Agents and editors will look you up and see what you say online. If you come off as an negative jerk who can't stop complaining about life or how dumb agents are or how unfair the publishing industry is (for example)... well, it's just not very inspiring. It doesn't make me think "oh wow that person would be a pleasure to work with."
Everyone has a bad day, I get it. And I do believe that there is value in "telling it like it is" and not being a freakin' Pollyanna every minute if that is not your style. But come on. If EVERY SINGLE TWEET OR POST is horribly grim/depressing/ranty/unkind... what will the personal conversations be like?
(This cuts the other way, as well -- If authors don't like the advice an agent gives on their blog, or the way an agent treats people on social media, or whatever, they should certainly avoid querying that agent!)
I don't want this to seem like a conspiracy theory. Agents aren't lurking around SPYING on you or anything. But if I'm interested in possibly repping somebody, I sure as heck look them up online. If I see an interesting, generally upbeat, sane, smart and fun-seeming individual, I'm more likely to want to take the conversation to the next level than if I see an awful crabby complainer (or drunken Nazi, or similar).
Even if somebody is a good writer, I'd never want to take them on if I thought I'd dread getting emails from them, that'd be a nightmare. There is enough drama and heartache in the world (and in this business) without purposely inviting emotional vampires in.