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Photo by Vicky Lorencen Painting by Sir James Jebusa Shannon, Metropolitan Museum of Art
I’d like to ever-so-gently suggest a best practice for agents to consider. Writer friends, see what you think of this.
In case you’re not familiar, a best practice is a method or technique that has consistently shown superior results. This method can then be used to create a standard way of doing things. Best practices are identified in manufacturing, health care, agriculture and laboratory science, so why not literary representation? I mean, really, why the heck not?
I’m in the midst of my first full-on agent search and I’m experiencing a fairly new practice agents have adopted regarding query responses. In lieu a personal email or even a form rejection, agents specify the number of weeks a query will be under consideration. If no response is received in that time, the author should consider the query declined. I can understand this practice. Really, I can. Like editors, agents are incredibly busy people who need to make the most efficient use of their time. Devoting fewer hours to follow-up on queries that hold no interest equates to more time to devote to clients, networking, considering queries (and hopefully dining, showering and sleeping).
But here’s where I think this no reply practice can be refined into a best practice–I would love to see it become an industry standard to provide an automated confirmation of receipt to all email queries. Receiving this kind of response would let someone like me know, okay, the meter’s running now. She really got my query. I’ll wait six weeks per her guidelines. If there’s no reply, I’ll move on. Without such a receipt, it leaves room for nagging, festering, niggling doubt–what if she never got my email and that’s why she’s not responding. Should I check in even though she says not to? Of course, some authors do, and that just adds to the agent’s Mt. Everest of emails.
To their credit, a number of the agents I’ve queried have provided an automated response. I offer mywholehearted thanks to those agents for practicing what I hope will become a best practice.
To be fair, we writers must do our part to uphold our best practices too, such as:
Following an agent’s submission guidelines like we were assembling a nuclear warhead. No fudging on the details.
Always, always, always being polite, kind and respectful at all points of contact with an agent. Just like proper spelling and punctuation, professionalism matters.
Abiding by the agent’s follow-up rules—if he says to check in after 8 weeks, then do it. If he says no word from me in 6 weeks equals a pass, then it’s a pass. Don’t stand there fogging up the glass. Git along little dogie.
So, that’s it. That’s what I want to suggest–oh sogently–to agents. Thank you again to the best practice practitioners. You are appreciated.
And as for my writer friends, just because you’re cute as a button on a ladybug’s vest, I want to give you this. Go ahead. Open it. It’s helpful.
I wish to be cremated. One-tenth of my ashes shall be given to my agent, as written in our contract. ~ Groucho Marx
Amazon and Hachette have been locked in a feud over eBook pricing since May 2014. Many members of the publishing community have spoken out about this situation and some have even mobilized to form the Authors United group.
In an interview with Vanity Fair, the veteran literary agent shared his opinion on this dispute. For Wylie, “the issues at the heart of the conflict are both margin and price…Losing the fight over margins would be an immediate blow to the publishers’ profits, but losing control over pricing could be fatal.” Do you agree with Wylie?
We have another crowded weekend, with several events happening Saturday, including opportunities at writing conferences. Good luck to all who are toiling away on NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) or PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month)!
In MORTAL HEART (Harcourt Brace and Company), the powerful conclusion to Robin LaFever’s NYT bestselling His Fair Assassins trilogy, Annith has watched her gifted sisters at the convent come and go, carrying out their dark dealings in the name of St. Mortain, patiently awaiting her own turn to serve Death. But her worst fears are realized when she discovers she is being groomed by the abbess as a Seeress, to be forever sequestered in the rock and stone womb of the convent. Feeling sorely betrayed, Annith decides to strike out on her own. She has spent her whole life training to be an assassin. Just because the convent has changed its mind, doesn’t mean she has.
Picture book author Kathy Duval will be reading and signing at St. Vincent’s Family Night. In TAKE ME TO YOUR BBQ (Hyperion/Disney) aliens have landed on Willy’s farm and they’re not leaving without a square dance and a square meal! So fire up that grill, lay on the barbeque sauce and snatch up that fiddle. Told in verse, this rollicking story puts a twist on the typical encounter with the third kind.
All-day workshop: How to Finish Your Novel with Sarah Cortez. Daunted by characters who won’t cooperate inside your plot? Foiled by narrative arcs that don’t end, lost their tension or, worse yet, fail to deliver reader satisfaction? Come to the Houston Writers Guild, November Fall Mini-Conference session conducted by award-winning teacher/writer/editor Sarah Cortez to learn tips used by professional novelists in these exact situations and more.
Pick up the Pace!—A Workshop with Agent Jodell Sadler of Sadler Children’s Literary: Story pacing can make the difference between a “nice try” rejection and a publishable manuscript. Whether you’re working on page turns in a 500-word picture book or end-of-chapter cliff-hangers in a 50,000-word novel, Jodell Sadler has tips and tools to help pick up the pace. Join SCBWI Brazos Valley for a day-long workshop focused on pacing and strong writing skills. Register through the event website.
Join the writers of the Katy Kritique Group and The Space City Scribes for a free workshop! They’ll help those wanting to independently publish and will provide information on sales channels, covers, editing, marketing and more.
Teen and tween aspiring authors and adult authors who write for teen and middle grade audiences, talk about their books and about other teen and middle grade fiction, book signings. More info about this event here.
Join KBB to celebrate the release of Kimberly Hix Trant’s first book #HASHTAGGED (Tate). #hashtagged is a chilling new science fiction novel about a daughter’s journey through her father’s past and into a frightening future. This future is something that Oliver Smith has seen firsthand and for which he has been preparing his daughter, Madeline. After Ollie’s death, Maddy must follow a trail of secrets that leads her into the arms of her first love, Jagger, the only person that can truly help her fight against a future world governed by artificial intelligence.
Space City Scribes, an author collective of Houston indie authors, introduce their new anthology, SPACE CITY 6: HOUSTON STORIES FROM THE WEIRD TO THE WONDERFUL, a collection of short stories with a Houston flair.
Sophie Foster is ready to fight back. Her talents are getting stronger, and with the elusive Black Swan group ignoring her calls for help, she’s determined to find her kidnappers—before they come after her again. But a daring mistake leaves her world teetering on the edge of war, and causes many to fear that she has finally gone too far. And the deeper Sophie searches, the farther the conspiracy stretches, proving that her most dangerous enemy might be closer than she realizes.
As many of you know, we have been expecting a baby, and are happy to announce that our second daughter Elyse Zivoin arrived this past weekend! Our 3 year old daughter is very proud of being a big sister. Elyse is doing very well, and we love having her in our family!
Also, the new MB Artists catalog, themed "School", has been released! Check out my page at the end for a sneak peak at my newest picture book to be released by Magination Press in 2015....
I had the pleasure last month of attending the Agents' Party at Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road, London, organised by the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).
It was called a party, but I'd say that's stretching the term; despite the free wine and nibbles, gratefully received, this was a place to pay full attention.
The agents attending were a good cross-section. Those on the panel were:
Ella KahnDKW Literary Agency
Jo WilliamsonAntony Harwood Ltd
Julia ChurchillA.M. Heath Literary Agents
Lauren PearsonCurtis Brown
Penny HolroydeCaroline Sheldon Literary Agents
Yasmin StandenStanden Literary Agency.
There were also other agents in the room:
Alice WilliamsDavid Higham Associates
Bryony WoodsDKW Literary Agency
Elizabeth BriggsLAW Literary Agents
Eve White and Jack RammEve White Literary Agent
Hannah WhittyPlum Pudding Illustration
Louise BurnsAndrew Mann Literary Agency.
In the assembly were up to 80 of us writers and illustrators. On the way in we were handed two badges to fill in and stick onto our clothing: one saying our name, and the other our favourite children's character.
I spotted at least one person who'd chosen a character from their own book. There's confidence for you.
Who did I choose? – Skellig, the brilliant creation from David Almond's beautiful novel, a broken winged human found in a garden shed who, maybe, has miraculous powers. I thought he might bring me good luck.
Thus protected, I entered the airy new seminar room on the top floor of the wonderful new bookshop (they've moved a few doors down the hill away from the Crossrail engineering works. I went to the old bookshop first by mistake – shows how long since I was last there!)
(ASIDE: I remember the days when Foyles was completely disorganised, full of dusty piles of randomly assorted books that the overworked staff never got around to sorting out. If you wanted a book, it could take you days to burrow through them, like looking for a diamond in a snow drift, you'd have to take a whole week off work. While the old bookshop was definitely Dickensian, the new one is well into the 21st-century.)
Yes! There were a few familiar faces, very nice to see some old friends I hadn't seen for ages. (I confess I am a lapsed SCBWI-er, recently returned to the fold.)
So first of all there was a panel with Nick Cook as the ringleader, and lots of questions being asked about what agents are looking for, and how they make their choices, and then we could queue up to talk to them individually.
Here's what I took away from it:
In the younger age group, humour is popular and perhaps something with a strong literary bent. Others are looking for something more quirky, but above all they are looking for a powerful voice, something with attitude, strong and moving. Some of them were looking for a paranormal story, some for something with lots of twists.
Other keywords for older readers included dark, emotional, historical, with flow, written from the heart, and another interesting thing was said by Ella: "I know it's ready to be submitted to a publisher when I get lost in it".
That is really important in the context of answering the question: "When do I submit? – Either to a publisher or an agent". The answer is, don't send it in until you are absolutely sure it is ready for publication; is it in the form that you would like to see it in print? Because if it is, then the agent or editor receiving it will stop looking for mistakes and become absorbed, as if they were reading a book that had already been published.
And then all the agent has to do is send it straight off to their favourite editor. With absolutely no work for them. What could be better?
In connection with this, another piece of advice was: take your time. There's no rush to submit, not even when an agent gets back to you and suggests some changes. It's far better to get it right than to get right back.
That certainly good advice and probably the best thing I took away from it.
Website: davidthorpe.info. My new book, Stormteller, is out at the end of the month.
What I’d like to do is take that idea a step further and invite you into my brain. It’s fascinating to see what someone does, externally, on the daily. But what are they thinking while they do it? Well, below is what I’m thinking these days. Of course this shifts and morphs based on external situations and forces. For example, a few weeks ago I was thinking “Is summer almost over? How did that happen? I need to go on vacation, quick!” and about 6 months ago I was on the red carpet at the Divergent premiere and thinking “Theo James looks rather dashing in his suit!” But now that I’m back into the the swing of things for work, that’s on my mind most. So come on over and take a peek and what’s in this crazy thing I call a brain. These are not in order of priority. Thoughts don’t work that way!
1. What do I need to print to take home with me today? It’s Friday, and that means the weekend provides some serious reading time. I’ve been more cognizant of having a work/life balance, so I won’t take home 3 full manuscripts this weekend because it’s unrealistic and I will forget what my husband’s face looks like. I’m going to go for: 1 contract for review, 1.5 manuscripts (both which do not need line edits), and a synopsis that I’ve been working on. And yes, I still print my manuscripts. What’s it to you?
2. Where are we with XX contracts? These days contracts are taking longer and longer to negotiate with publishers. With all of the industry upheaval, each side is trying to look into their crystal ball and figure out the new and vitally important things we need to ensure are in the contracts to cover our needs. In my case, the needs are the needs of my authors. Right now I have 7 outstanding contracts on my personal list that I wake up thinking about almost every day, even if it’s just for a minute or two. Of course I have a badass contracts person handling them, but we go over them together weekly.
3. Damn. B&N didn’t take any (or very little) copies of title X. What can we do to help the book get the exposure it needs for readers to find it? I can only speak for my agency, though I know colleagues at other companies have the same worries about this. In this ever-changing industry, it’s getting harder and harder for new voices to be discovered. We’ve cultivated a Client Care program that focuses on: publicity & marketing (both traditional as well as school & library) as well as educating authors/illustrators to give them the tools they need in today’s publishing world.
4. This work is just not at the level it needs to be for me to take it on submission. This happens more frequently than I think people talk about, and not just with queried project. Even with clients I’ve worked with for a long time. We can both do a ton of work on it, but it Just. Isn’t. There. And I have to be the one to break that news. But I wouldn’t be doing my job if I was sending out work that wasn’t up to snuff with the competitive market. It would be doing a disservice.
5. This manuscript is amazing! Where am I going to submit? This is always, always going on in the back of my head as I start to approach submission time for a project. It’s like I’ll be reading and email and suddenly think “ya know who would be perfect for project X….” and I jot it down. This goes on over and over until submission time comes, and then I’ll sometimes share my sublist with the team to see if they have any thoughts or ideas to add. I love this part of the process. It’s all about sharing a great story with the right person.
6. I should tweet/FB/pin/post about that. “That” is referring to whatever awesome thing one of our clients is doing. But of course, I don’t want to be just a self-promoter online, so I also try to balance it with enough social media that’s simply for funsies. It’s a lot of work to be mindful of that balance!
7. What is the next big industry thing to happen? Of course I don’t always have a prediction here, but sometimes I do. And in either case, we’re always touching on the big items in our weekly meetings (at the very least) and how they affect our clients. Right now, it’s the Amazon-Hachette business. We have Hachette authors, and this whole ordeal has really affected their sales. This is the kind of thought that will lead me back to thought #3! And of course we’re discussing who is going to be the next publisher that will be in this situation.
8. I can’t make the email stop; make it stop! Yes, I actually have this thought. Sometimes the sheer volume of email becomes so heavy that all I can think is “stop!” At that point I usually take a walk, have a coffee, come back and plow through. But with it being so easy to stay connected these days, the workload has shifted with a heavy emphasis on email.
9. I wonder if there’s a book in this? I’ll be reading an article, having a discussion, reading a script, a web comic, watching a youtube video…whatever! And usually somewhere in the back of my mind there is something connecting dots and thinking about book potential. If I’m still thinking about it a week later, that’s usually when I’ll bring it up in our weekly meeting.
10. I need to follow up with X person on Y thing. There is a lovely app called Mailbox, and without it, I would go crazy. It will pop something back into my inbox when it’s time for me to follow up, based on a pre-determined date/time that I set. I don’t even remember what I did pre-Mailbox. I think I always had 10 or so To-do lists going at a time (I still do this a little). Either way, there is ALWAYS things to follow up on. Where are our cover comps? What’s the eta on the publicity and marketing materials? Where is our payment? Did you lock in that date with the venue? Have you had a chance to review our contract notes? How are revisions going? etc, etc. A lot of the work I do is about keeping things moving. I don’t want anything to slip through the cracks for our clients. And also, I have an amazing, godsend of an assistant who takes over most of this follow-up so I can focus on bigger picture items. Like “how many books are selling for title X?” And yes, I just snuck in an 11th thought to this top ten list!
There you have it. And that’s just the Top Ten (11)! I’d love to hear about what goes through your mind on the daily, too. Please share in the comments!
Joanna Volpe is a literary agent who represents all brands of fiction, from picture books to adult. When she’s not reading, she’s either cooking, playing video games, or hanging out with her husband and chihuahua.
Agent shopping can be daunting. But recently, and who knows how, I connected agent-shopping with shoe-shopping, and the process is taking on new meaning (and making me want a new pair of pumps).
Here’s how I pair my shoe and agent preferences . . .
Must match. Having one fabulous flat isn’t so fab, is it? Sure, it looks pretty and fits like a dream, but unless I’m leaving a ball in a hurry, going half shoeless is no way to go. And just like shoes, I want to be paired with an agent whose genre preferences and approach match my own.
Must be the right fit. This is a biggie, isn’t it? I may have written the most charming picture book or witty MG novel, but if it doesn’t “click” with an agent, it just doesn’t. Agents are people with tastes and personalities just like anyone else. An agent needs to be flipped over my work in order to be its best champion. Much as I’d like to, I can’t cram my size 10 dogs into a pair of six 6 mules. I can’t, and wouldn’t want to, force an agent-client relationship either.
Must compliment what’s already in my wardrobe. I wouldn’t pick a pair of chartreuse polka dot flats that only go with one outfit. Ideally, I want an agent who can embrace all of my ambitions and not just one part of my writerly “wardrobe.” (It absolutely can work on a one-genre basis, but it’s not the best option.)
Must be supportive. Oui. Oui. I know. It makes me sound like I’ve become what the French call a woman of a “certain age,” but I want shoes that not only look stylish, but feel comfy too. And while I don’t think an agent has to be my best ever friend, I do want someone who can support not only my project in progress, but encourage me as an author as well.
Must receive good reviews. This is a deal breaker category for me. I sometimes buy shoes online, but I never, ever click “Complete Order” until I’ve read customer reviews. I work in marketing and I know that while the description may be beguiling–and hopefully accurate–it doesn’t tell the whole story. I want to hear from those who have walked in those shoes. It’s no different with agents. Whenever possible, I talk with current clients of the agent–politely and discreetly of course–about their experience before I send click “Send” on that shiny query letter.
Must be able to go the distance. Nothing’s worse than trudging half-way across a mall or reaching the half-mile on a hike and realizing I wore the wrong shoes. I want shoes that offer the right fit and support so that I can feel comfortable and confident. As far as agents go, I want someone who would be there for me for the long haul too.
Here’s wishing all of us in search of an agent a perfect pairing soon (and yes, maybe some new sling-backs too).
Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. ~ Marilyn Monroe
She has deep experience in this business, both as an editor and an agent. For more than 25 years, she was a publisher in London, working with the likes of Judy Blume, Meg Cabot, and Karen Cushman. Her agency, launched in 2008, is based in both the U.S. and London. She considers both the U.S. and U.K. her domestic market, and represents writers in both places, although most clients live in the United States.
Greenhouse's affiliate Rights People is the top seller of international rights in the business. Being international is part of the agency's DNA.
She gave us a detailed talk about the international aspects of publishing, which she finds "quite exciting." She also walked us through the anatomy of a complicated deal simultaneously struck on both sides of the Atlantic.
Some excerpts from her remarks:
Why care about foreign sales?
These sales mean more income for writers. The biggest contenders are Brazil, France, and Germany. Your advance can equal or exceed a U.S. advance. They can also lend prestige and profile.
"Success breeds more success," she said.
Territory is where all negotiations begin, she said. Publishers want as much exclusive territory as they can get for as little money as possible. Her agenda as an agent is different, but there are three types of territorial contracts she can make:
One for North American rights (usually U.S. and Canada) - the publisher can publish in English in those two places, their dependents, and the Philippines.
World English language - the publisher can sell your book anywhere in the world in the English language.
World rights in all languages. Subsidiary rights are potentially very valuable. There are good reasons for your agent to sell them to your publisher, e.g. if your publisher has a good track record of selling your rights. These count to erode your American advance, which is good for the writer. There are also good reasons to retain those rights, and Greenhouse tries to do just this.
When a sale happens, percentages are divided. If Greenhouse sells for you, as opposed to your publisher, you will end up with a bigger percentage.
In terms of book publishing, all sales play into making your brand and your book bigger, she said. Buzz goes on internationally and nationally. And the book business is a small, interconnected world.
A book called HALF BAD by Sally Green holds the record for foreign sales: 40 countries before it was even published. On how books get buzz (a few of her observations):
She told us about some "shadowy figures" known as book scouts who live in NYC and London network with agents to find the hottest upcoming properties. They usually represent foreign publishers and film clients. "They are desperate for early information and hot tips," she said.
Book fairs also spread buzz—Bologna and Frankfurt (which is all books, not just children's books).