Pub Rants

Category: general rants

Ally Carter In Colorado

STATUS: Sorry! You know it’s a tough week when I can’t find 15 minutes to squeeze in a blog. RWA is next week in Orlando. Probably don’t need to say more.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? LOVE MY WAY by Psychedelic Furs

I’m going to start today’s entry with a totally non-publishing related rant. All I want to say is that just once, I want to walk to work in the morning without seeing some male stranger’s underwear. Seriously people, pull your pants up or use a belt. This isn’t complicated because if you don’t look like a ripped athlete or Calvin Klein underwear model, then it’s not sexy. It’s just underwear (and not all that attractive at that!).

I don’t think I’m asking too much here…

But in fun news for ONLY THE GOOD SPY YOUNG, Ally Carter in the flesh is coming to Colorado (Boulder to be exact) this Sunday, July 25. I’d love to see you there and come say hello.

Barnes & Noble
Crossroads Commons
2999 Pearl StreetBoulder, CO 80301303-444-0349

Here’s the link to check out the event and to get more info!

Brilliant! Just Brilliant!

STATUS: Just another crazy Monday disguised as a Tuesday!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? VOLCANO by Damien Rice

As you folks know, we agents receive deluges of queries and sample pages from aspiring writers. One of the industry’s laments is that everyone seemingly wants to be a writer but when we compare that number to the statistics on the number of Americans actually reading books, well, according to studies, the average person only reads 2-3 books a year.

Then I read this tidbit in Shelf Awareness (source Galley Cat), that Tin House Books will require that any writer wanting to submit to them must also include a copy of a receipt that proves the writer has purchased a book recently from a bookstore.

I love it! I wonder. If we required same, would that drop the number of queries we receive? Better yet, could we have the writer prove that he/she actually read the book for said receipt?

I know. Impossible but there’s something about this idea…

The Importance Of Proof Reading

STATUS: Hubby got me XM radio at the office for my birthday! I’ve wanted this for a while. I now have access to fun stations such as Indie/College/Unsigned and UK Pop hits. If I’m in the mood for maudlin, I could play love songs 24/7. How about Spa: New Age. Oh this is going to be fun.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? 40 DOGS (LIKE ROMEO AND JULIET) by Bob Schneider

As all writers should already know, spell check is your friend but it’s not a savior. If the typo is one that won’t be caught by a simple spell check program, you might be in a world of trouble.

A fact that Penguin Australia recently discovered when they had to reprint 7000 copies of a cookbook…

Most people should laugh as that’s quite the whopper of an error but part of me thinks that maybe Mr. Sessions should have consulted with a PR person and just admitted some mortification over the snafu rather than making a statement that he didn’t understand why people might find the error offensive. Err on the side of sensitive I’m thinking.

Just an observation. Grin.

Interview Tips

STATUS: Only 372 emails in the inbox at the moment. That’s progress.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHATTERED by O.A.R.

This probably won’t come up for the majority of my blog readers but just in case, I’m going to dispense a few more interview tips if you ever want to work at a literary agency.

Before the interview, visit the agency’s website. (I know—no brainer but hang with me here.) See what kinds of authors and books the agency handles. Then, in preparation for your interview, read some of the authors before your meeting. (Or at the very least see if you can find the first chapter on Amazon’s Search Inside or the author’s webpage so you can read a snippet of the work.) Then demonstrate that knowledge during the interview.

We were hugely impressed with candidates who did that.

Another bit of advice? Be prepared to ask some insightful and/or intelligent questions. At the end of each interview, we always asked the candidate if he/she had any questions for us. Good questions really stood out for us—especially if it showed the candidate’s awareness of current events in publishing (like the Google Settlement or anything else that may have hit the major newswires).

And one last bit of advice. Practice your interview with a friend (and have that friend make up some questions for you). This will allow you to think on your feet if you receive a question that is unanticipated. This will also allow you to practice your speech and conversational ability during the interview. The biggest killer for us in our recent interviews was the constant repetition of the word “um.”

Now we realize that people are nervous in interview situations. We do expect some “ums” (after all, anyone who doesn’t make a living in TV or radio will interject an occasional one here and there). It’s the excessive amount of “ums” that are the problem. Unfortunately, that can make a candidate sound verbally ineffective or tentative—not two qualities you want to project in an interview.

So be conscious of that possible verbal tic during an interview and if you practice before, you’ll have some answers ready and smooth. Trust me, that will impress.

When What We Are Looking For Is Not On A Resume

STATUS: Calling it a day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEARTBREAK WARFARE by John Mayer

This past week we hired a new assistant. I cannot tell you how excited Sara and I were for this person to start. At the very least, the last 2 months without an assistant aptly demonstrated how much we need one!

During the process, I was talking about it with a friend who is an HR manager. She was absolutely appalled to learn that we planned to interview about 14 candidates (from the over 50 applications we received). After all, we obviously must not have specified the job requirements accurately enough. In her mind, we should only be interviewing about 5 candidates total.

On one hand, she’s probably right. But on the other, the one main criterion we were looking for cannot really be specified on a resume. Lots of our candidates had terrific qualifications. What we were looking for, however, was a demonstrated passion for reading—and not just for one type or genre of fiction. That’s not really going to show up on a resume. It’s only going to be apparent when we ask one specific question.

In our interviews, that one question was this: Tell me about the last three novels you read. Why did you choose those books? Did you enjoy them? Why or why not?

For candidates interested in working at a literary agency, you’d assume this would be a slam dunk kind of question to answer. A “no brainer” if you will.

Surprisingly, a lot of candidates struggled to answer this question.

We were not expecting that. We, of course, had other questions about how detail-oriented was the candidate and how they handled processes etc. but it was really the above question that was the most important to us. So keep that in mind if you ever decide to pursue this type of job path.

Luckily, in the end, we had several terrific final candidates and it was rather sad that we only had the resources to hire one person.

A Milestone

STATUS: Some pretty great news today.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GIRLS JUST WANT TO HAVE FUN by Cyndi Lauper

One of my agent friends is constantly chastising me for not taking a moment to celebrate when really big things happen at my agency.

For example, last week, we did a huge film deal and I barely broke stride. I have to admit, I didn’t even go out to a celebratory dinner or anything. I just kept my nose to the grindstone (in my defense, Bologna Book Fair is rapidly approaching—I have to be ready!)

But today, I really can’t just do that. Besides, I don’t want her to berate me again (and I know she’s reading this and will call me up).

Last week was big—no doubt. This week is a huge milestone for an agent and in truth, it doesn’t happen often so I really need to take a moment and acknowledge it so that’s what I’m going to do.

Today, I have two authors sitting on the New York Times Bestseller list at the same time.

Now, I’ve had one author with two books sitting on the NYT list at the same time but never two authors on at the same time.

Wow.

Great. Now I’ve just raised the bar and I’ll have to do 3 authors on the list at the same time or 2 authors with 2 different books on the list at the same time…. Naw. I’m just going to enjoy this moment.

Looking For A Few Good Men

STATUS: I’m actually leaving the office before 6 pm. I know. I’m stunned too.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLACK by Pearl Jam

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been interviewing for a new assistant. We are doing our final second round interview next week and then hopefully the new person will start. Sara and I can hardly wait I have to say. We are really missing having a right hand to help with the workload.

During one of the interviews, an applicant asked a great question. She asked if we had anything against male authors as we hardly had any on our list.

In looking at all our sales, the question is not really a surprise but the answer is that we would love to find a few good men to add to our client list. So what’s the deal?

I have a couple of hypotheses:

1. Overwhelmingly, the majority of our query letters are from women. Statistically speaking, there aren’t as many male writers out there looking for rep.

2. We don’t rep thrillers. A lot of male authors write in that genre so right there that reduces the number of inquiries we get from men.

3. A lot of the inquiries we get from male writers tend to be for literary fiction. My tastes really lean commercial in this realm. I’m more of a Jonathan Safran Foer kind of gal than an Arthur Phillips. And let me tell you, the Jonathan-type writers are hard to find and chances are my agency is not high on the radar (although I do hope Jamie’s HOTEL changes that perception some). I can make a book hit the NYT list folks.

4. Women read more and buy more books. This is why we tend to rep a lot of women’s fic and romance. We gotta pay the bills and genre writers tend to do more than one novel a year and it’s an easier sell. Imprints are always looking to fill slots in romance.

5. For whatever reason, our queries from guys in the field of YA and MG fiction is slim. Where are you? We are gamely waiting.

6. We do get a lot of fantasy queries from male writers. I’ve had some stuff come close (as in I worked with the writer on revisions etc. but so far the final connection hasn’t happened).

I have a theory that women writers tend to participate in critique groups more than male writers and subsequently, a lot of those submits aren’t as polished when the writer is first querying. This is totally a guess on my part and I could be wrong.

I probably shouldn’t say this but if you are a guy and your query is solid, chances are really good we are asking for sample pages.

We want you on our client list. Jamie Ford is lonely.

Publishing Is Not Color Blind

STATUS: Ready to head home. It’s after 7 o’clock.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RESPECT by Aretha Franklin
(I’ll admit I did pop her on just to write this entry.)

In order to celebrate Martin Luther King Day, I blogged about three terrific African-American authors and suggested that folks might want to check them out and even potentially buy an African-American author to honor the day.

One commentator admonished me with “there’s an unspoken implication that readers only need to think about books by black authors on a particular day, kind of like Black History Month.”

I actually don’t disagree; however, I still would have recommended some great AA authors on MLK day regardless of the unspoken implication that they might “need” the extra help by highlighting them on a special day.

Why? Because publishing, sadly, is not color-blind and despite some big AA break-out authors, books by people of color are not published equally.

It’s the truth.

And now I’ll explain.

First off, I want to point to yet another recent controversy spawned by the Publisher Bloomsbury Children’s. They didn’t quite learn their lesson the first time around with the cover fiasco involving the novel LIAR. They had to do it again with a debut novel called MAGIC UNDER GLASS.

Maybe I should assume that in this case they thought any publicity was good publicity because really, are they this inept?

Notwithstanding this recent issue, in general when you browse the bookstore fiction shelves and there are people depicted on the cover, how often are they non-white?

Perhaps iconic images for all books are the way to go….

But here’s another case in point. Let’s go back to my author, Kim Reid, and her debut memoir NO PLACE SAFE—which is an amazing read by the way.

This is a memoir. Logically speaking, where do you think this book ought to be shelved in bookstores?

Gee, I don’t know. Maybe it should be shelved in memoir—say next to Mr. Frey who might have been better represented in fiction? Or, how about in the same section that houses THE GLASS CASTLE or EAT PRAY LOVE—both of which are memoir books.

Nope. Barnes & Noble shelved this book in African-American studies.

Yes, you read this correctly.

And go find the AA Studies section in your local BN store. See what other titles are there. That’s like shelving A MILLION LITTLE PIECES under drug addiction and nowhere else.

Yep. This despite the fact that Booklist called it a gripping memoir, “Part mystery thriller, part coming-of-age story, and part civil-rights history.”

Shelving like that can kill a book.

So I don’t care what my suggestion implies on MLK day, I’m darn well going to highlight Kim’s fantastic memoir and I’m going to do it again here by giving you the opening pages–especially since we’ve been talking about opening pages that grabbed an agent’s attention. If this doesn’t compel you to buy it, well, I’m not sure what will.

CHAPTER ONE

The summer before I started high school, two boys went missing and a few days later, turned up dead. They were found by a mother and son looking for aluminum cans alongside a quiet wooded road. It was already ninety degrees at noon, even with an overcast sky, because it was the end of July in Atlanta, Georgia, which I imagine is similar to the heat in hell, except with humidity. The mother thought she saw an animal at the bottom of a steep embankment that started its descent just a couple of feet from the road. The combination of heat and damp created a smell that frightened her. Something about the odor must have told her it wasn’t an animal at all, must have made her call her young child to her lest he discover the source. They left off the search for discarded cans and walked to a gas station where the mother called her husband, and he called the police.

The boys were friends, one about to celebrate his fifteenth birthday, the other had just turned thirteen, same age as I at the time. One went missing four days after the first, but they were both found on the same day, not two hundred feet apart in a ravine just off Niskey Lake Road. The two detectives first on the scene, responding to a signal forty-eight (person dead), noted in their report that either side of the road was bordered by trees, like most streets were in Atlanta at the time. Loblolly pine, white oaks and the occasional stray dogwood that played unwitting hosts for the creeping kudzu vines that threatened to take them over completely. The officers also noted that the woods and ravines lining both sides of the road were “used as a dumping ground for trash.” This was where they found the first body. A vine growing from a nearby tree had already wrapped itself around the boy’s neck, unaware that his last breath had been stolen from him days ago.

While making notes of how the child’s body lay among other thrown-away items littering the road’s shoulder, the detectives caught an odor on a small hot breeze coming from the north. Being detectives, they knew the smell immediately and it led them to the second boy’s body. At the time, no one knew the boys were friends because the police didn’t know who they were. By the time school started, only one boy had been positively identified. More than a year would pass before a name could be given to his friend.

#

It wasn’t much more than a blip in the news – two black boys being killed in Atlanta in 1979 didn’t get much news coverage. The only reason I knew what I did was because my mother, an investigator with the Fulton County District Attorney’s Office at the time, told me to be a little more careful. She said it was probably just a coincidence, but just as likely not, that the boys were close in age, black and found in the same wooded area.

Warning me to be a little more careful because those boys were killed was a waste of words. By my thirteenth summer, I’d learned to be nothing but careful, whether I wanted to or not. I couldn’t help but think like a cop. Even though they were my favorite, I rarely drank frozen Cokes because I avoided going into the convenience stores where they were sold (an off-duty cop still in uniform is a sitting duck if she walks in during a robbery). At restaurants, I never sat with my back to the door (you need to be aware of everyone who comes in and out, and know your entry and exit points). I always tried to carry myself like I wasn’t scared of shit (even if you are, don’t let them know or they have you). My friends called me Narc.

Ma told me about the boys while we got ready for work, sharing her bathroom mirror. I combed my hair while I studied her use of blush – the sucking in of cheeks to find the bones, the blowing of the brush to prevent over-application. This girly part of her never seemed to go with the other part, the other woman – the one who, as a uniformed officer, carried a .38-caliber service revolver in her thick leather holster, along with other things difficult to associate with a woman, especially a mother: handcuffs, nightstick, and the now illegal blackjack – solid metal covered in leather for handling an uncooperative perpetrator, or bad guy as I called them. Perpetrator filled my mouth in an uncomfortable way.

My use of cosmetics was limited to tinted lip-gloss and a brush to tame my thick and unruly eyebrows. But I watched her anyway, filing away the technique for the time she’d let me use real make-up to turn my face into something that resembled hers.

In Honor Of Martin Luther King, Jr.

STATUS: Today is a holiday but I came into the office to try and catch up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? PRIDE (IN THE NAME OF LOVE) by U2

In honor of MLK, why don’t you buy a novel today from an African-American author.

I’ve got three Denver writers I’d like to suggest to help you do just that.

Kim Reid’s NO PLACE SAFE

Carleen Brice’s ORANGE, MINT, & HONEY

Elyse Singleton’s THIS SIDE OF THE SKY