Pub Rants

Category: Agents/Agenting

The Phone Is Your Friend

STATUS: My shoulder blades hurt from trying to handle all the tech problems on top of all the client work I need to review. I plan to finish up a lot of stuff tomorrow which excites me. Newsletter subscribe/opt-in is still an issue but I think we have finally nailed down the problem.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HARDER TO BREATH by Maroon 5

Agents must be snowed under in January or doing “housekeeping” without informing some of their clients because I’ve been seeing some posts on the writer sites I visit where the writer is lamenting about their incommunicado agent.

I realize that a lot of authors don’t have a close, communicative relationship with their agents, so it feels like “bothering them” when they have questions, need to know the status of a submission, or generally want to career strategize. But remember, they work for you.

If you are sending emails with no response for weeks on end, you need to know that the telephone is your friend. Pick it up and call.

At the very least you can confirm that there is no problem with your ISP or with your emails getting spam blocked if you leave a voicemail message.

Your agent may take several days to get back to you (he or she could be out of town, out sick whatever), but if weeks go by without a return call, then some of your questions are starting to be answered. You haven’t been demanding; has this agent lost that loving feeling?

Personally I think it’s an awful way for an agent to dissolve a relationship but I’ve heard of it happening that way often enough. You need confirmation so you can begin to move on and find that agent who will embrace you and your work and you can’t do that if you are stuck in limbo.

Get courageous. Pick up the phone.

Glitch! Take Two.

STATUS: Quiet in publishing because it’s MLK day. Take a moment to think about the impact he had on our world today.

I’m happy to say that the e-newsletter is undergoing a few tweaks and will probably be sent out by Friday. Don’t forget that the subscription process is a double opt in so there’s no chance of spamming. You must respond to the email sent to you in order to be officially on the mailing list.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SAILING by Christopher Cross

Let’s go from computer glitches to writer glitches because these might be the real rejection culprits. Are you ready to get critical and be honest about your manuscript? If so, here are some thoughts to keep in mind.

1. If writing suspense, is your story basically one long chase scene? This is a tough call because there appears to be a lot of events happening but ultimately, when the plot is broken down, and all you have are long, involved chase scenes, you’re going to run into problems.

2. In fantasy, how many scenes do you have where the main characters are sitting around a fire, dinner, at a table (insert whatever) and chatting? Don’t mistake event summary as actual action or scene building. In fact, do we need this summary? Good writers seamlessly interweave any summations to allow the story forward momentum.

3. In all genres, have you mistaken dialogue for action or scene building or for characterization? Remember, there has to be a balance. It can’t be all dialogue at the sacrifice of the other stuff. Some folks are great dialoguers. Don’t rely on your strength to carry a whole novel.

4. I see this a lot in fantasy. Do you have dramatic or action-packed scenes that are great but ultimately don’t further the story any? This is the hardest to be honest about because you love these scenes. They are sooooooo good but if they don’t help to develop the story, you’re going to get dinged.

5. Are you so in love with your characters that you have them do all sorts of fun stuff in scenes but ultimately these scenes don’t interconnect to the main story unfolding? Misguided character love has caused many a downfall for submissions received.

Can you list what actually physically happens in your story? Do it. How many things are on that list? Too many and your story is underdeveloped. Too few and it hasn’t got enough meat to it.

You’d be surprised at how often I pass on good, solid writing simply because nothing happens. Now with literary fiction, you’ve got a little more leeway but it’s the kiss of death for commercial mainstream and genre fiction.

A Call But Not THE Call

STATUS: It’s Monday. Today I went to an editor lunch with Kelly Notaras from Sounds True Audio. Since I mainly do my editor lunches in New York, this was a fun treat. We chatted about Chelsea Green publishing opening an office in Golden, Colorado. Dare I say it? An NYC exodus? Okay, probably not but I’m constantly amazed at how many publishing professionals are moving west. I consider myself on the forefront of the trend…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by Stevie Nicks

Last week I found myself in the interesting position of calling two authors but not because I was offering representation. Sometimes an agent calls but it’s not THE call. You’re probably asking yourself why I would bother if I were passing on a manuscript.

Here’s why. Sometimes the writing is just that good (and in these two instances, I was torn and seriously contemplated whether we could work on revisions with the authors), but ultimately, if I think a manuscript is fatally flawed and it would entail the author revising more than half the work, I have to pass. It’s not fair to them to say, “well, representation is contingent on XYZ first” (despite being sorely tempted).

My goal in calling is to offer encouragement because I believe it’s simply going to be a matter of time before they are in print.

And I’m hoping they’ll think of me for the next project (or maybe they have something else in the cooker I can review so it behooves me to call and ask).

I do consider this to be part of my job. So it’s an important call even if it’s not THE call.

Was That Requested Material?

STATUS: I made quite a few editors excited with the submission I sent out today. Love that.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AND WHEN I DIE by Blood, Sweat, & Tears

I have to say that most of the writers I talk to and interact with are wonderful. They are interesting, engaging, ask smart questions, follow guidelines, and don’t waste an agent’s time.

I just had to chuckle when my agency received a full manuscript out of the blue via the mail two days ago. First off, we never ever ask for a full manuscript to be snail mailed to us. Ever. Even from day one of my agency, I’ve always allowed a writer to send it to me by email. It’s the only time I allow a submission via that medium. Mainly because I don’t ask for that many fulls (54 total last year if you read my statistics entry) and I can do an intense virus scan before allowing that sucker to download.

And as y’all know, even snail mailed paper submissions are a thing of the past here at the Nelson Agency. I’m launching the new electronic submission database this week. The first request emails are probably going out tomorrow. Now if something comes via snail mail, we’ll KNOW that it wasn’t requested.

But I highlight this simply as a gentle reminder that it doesn’t help you or pay to circumvent the system. We really don’t want to read your work unless we’ve asked for it via the query process. Most agents simply discard unrequested material—no response sent.

I know that sounds harsh but I’ve said it here numerous times and I’ll say it again, the sheer volume of what we receive (even when we have actually requested it) is so large, we haven’t got time for the unrequested stuff. And now for us, the unsolicited stuff will be pretty darn obvious and I’m warning you now, we plan to discard it.

It’s also a small test. Do you understand publishing, agenting, and how the submission process works? Can you follow directions, instructions, or guidelines? Even these annoying steps (and I know they are annoying because every agent has his/her own unique, jump through the silly hoops, guidelines) acts as a filter for those who are truly serious about writing and publishing. Only the really serious would take the time to learn the biz and navigate the submission process.

Right there that’s an indicator to us that you have the fortitude and fortitude is an essential quality to becoming a future client.

Kristin’s Cheat Sheet

STATUS: I was a working machine today. I got a lot accomplished. Makes me wonder why I haven’t even made a dent in my To Do list for tomorrow.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHY CAN’T I BE YOU? By The Cure

Three days into the new year and it’s already clear that I’ll be negotiating some deals in the very near future. Now remember I did that whole Agenting 101 series starting back in late June 2006. So search the archives if you want to see the whole run-down on how to negotiate a deal.

Today I thought it might be fun to share my Deal Points check list. It’s my quick and dirty reminder of all the points that need to be discussed in the initial negotiation. All agents have one. It helps to keep an electronic paper record of all the points—especially if there is a lot of back and forth during the negotiation with points changing.

Once the deal concludes, I email the editor a copy of my deal points memo for written confirmation that our negotiations match.

I tell you. It’s saved me once or twice when an editor has left a house after contracting for a book but the contracts hadn’t been generated yet or were generated but something’s missing. In general, I just like being anal and detailed-oriented.

Ask what editorial changes will be needed.
Ask for potential pub date.

1. Rights Granted (If World involved, ask for confirm of splits, reversion in 18-24 months. If audio is involved, ask for a reversion in one year if publisher hasn’t sold it)

2. Advance
3. Payout
4. Royalty structure

5. Bonus clauses (I have a whole separate notes section for kinds of bonuses I want to ask for etc.)

6. option clause (Limit option clause to one name/pseudonym/next in series/or type of work)

7. No US-only Spanish language (however, if must give, ask for 1 year reversion clause, same royalty percentage, and for it to be excluded from the option)

9. Publication time frame (as in 12 months, 18, or 24)

10. No Joint Accounting if multi-book deal

11. Discuss non-compete clause/second option for smaller work (see publication house specific notes below) –These I’m not sharing because it would take too long to include.

12. Add reserved rights clause: “All rights not specifically granted hereunder are reserved by the Author, including, but not limited to US-Only Spanish Language, translation, motion picture, television, radio, calendar, commercial merchandising, audio, video, electronic, multimedia and/or interactive electronic rights.” (This sentence changes depending on rights granted.)

A Year in Statistics

STATUS: Sara and I are working like mad to finish everything up today. Tomorrow we close. By the way, I just saw fellow Backspace member Martha O’Connor comment about giving a donation to charity in the agent’s name. LOVE THAT. So add that to your agent gift-giving list.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHITE CHRISTMAS by Bing Crosby

20,800
(Estimated number of queries read and responded to in 2006)

54
(Number of full manuscripts requested and read)

8
(Number of new clients taken on this year)

21
(Number of books sold this year—not counting subsidiary rights stuff)

6
(Number of projects currently under submission)

2
(Number of auctions held)

1
(Number of pre-empts accepted)

16
(Number of months for the longest submission that ended in a great sale)

65,000+
(Number of copies in print for my best-selling title this year)

7
(Number of conferences attended)

54
(Number of editor meetings held)

200
(Number of Holiday Cards sent)

4
(Number of Starbucks eggnog chai beverages consumed in the last week)

Lots
(Number of late nights reading partials etc. on the couch with Chutney)

All
(Number of great days loving my job)

Don’t Box Me In

STATUS: I’m playing huge catch up this evening. My tech person was in to tweak the network earlier today. Now that is all good and done. Yea! It put be a little behind for my goals of the day though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, AND PROMISES by John Denver

One look at my website and it will be pretty obvious to any casual observer that I’ve been pretty darn successful at books for women.

Romance. Women’s Fiction, YA that appeals to young gals. Even my SF & F has a decidedly female readership bent. Heck, the majority of my clients are women too!

I want you all to know that this wasn’t planned. It just happened that way.

But I read a lot and a good portion of my favorite books off all time are not necessarily written by women or even remotely in the field of women’s fiction. (In fact, last night I picked up ENDER’S GAME by Card because I saw it in the YA section of a bookstore. I hadn’t read it in years and I wanted to give it that YA look—as in, wow, they didn’t originally market this as YA so let’s see how that would work. In one page, I just about swooned. What a writer. What a story! I’d sign that one up in a heartbeat and there’s nary a women main character in sight!)

So I just wanted to remind y’all to not box me in. I know it LOOKS like women’s stuff is all I’m interested in but honestly, it’s not. I’m so open that I’m actually more likely to take a risk on something that’s not in that realm because I’m actively looking to diversify my list.

And no, that doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to start looking at men-men techno thrillers. It just means don’t be afraid to query me for books in the genres I do rep just because the website is currently estrogen stacked.

Any Yahoo Can Do This Job

STATUS: Concluded a deal today that I’m pretty excited about. Look for the announcement tomorrow on Deal Lunch.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED LOVE by Queen

I got an email a couple of weeks ago from a guy who wrote to me to say that he was pretty business savvy, liked to read, had good taste, so might want to become a literary agent since it might be a lucrative venture and could I tell him if his yearly income estimates were accurate.

Which he then listed in a little chart.

His email was actually rather thought out and savvy (unlike other inquiries I’ve received) so I did send a nice general this-is-like-starting-any-new-business reply but I’m sure you could hear my mental sigh out there in blog world. I don’t think, with zero background or experience, that I would email, let’s say a mortgage broker, about becoming one because hey, I’m good at numbers.

What is it about this job that there is a perception that hey, any Yahoo could do it? All you got to do is be a good reader, pick some winners, and boom you’re on easy street. The money just rolls in.

Folks, I’m here to tell you that agenting is not a good, get-rich-quick scheme. It’s years of careful business management, budgeting, planning, great contacts, having solid sales, excellent royalties on the back list to really make it viable. Not to mention there is such a thing called talent in this biz. Some agents have it (I’d like to consider myself in that group) and lots of people have good intentions but not the T (hence, marginal agents with tiny sales records over many, many years not to mention folks who turn to just outright scamming or charging fees to make money). There are also a whole slew of people who actually had the background, started or worked for an agency, and then backed out after less than five years because it was just too tough. They couldn’t go the distance.

And there is so much more to this job then simply being a good reader who can spot a marketable project and sell it. In fact, that’s only 10% of what we actually do. What about author career planning? Negotiation? The deal as well as the contract. Cover issues. Tracking payments. Legal issues. And the list goes on.

You don’t want an “agent” who became one because gee, I’m a good reader. If there truly is an interest in this job, go and get some valuable experience by either working at an agency or at a publishing house to see if you do, indeed, have what it takes to handle all facets of this job because maybe you do. Lots of current, really terrific agents came to this career from different, interesting paths, and they have varied educational backgrounds as well as varied prior experience.

But ultimately, like any job, the talent aspect can’t be taught. You either have it or you don’t.

That’s my soapbox for the day.

Weight Of An E-Credit?

STATUS: Today I got a first look at our new sample pages upload database. Totally cool but it won’t be live until January 2007. We still need to work out a few kinks. The idea of going completely paperless is pretty exciting!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ALL MY LOVE by Led Zeppelin

Speaking of paperless, I’ve been fielding a lot of questions about e-publishing while doing internet interviews and chat loops lately. The biggest question seems to be whether an
e-publishing credit carries any weight with agents.

As always, this is going to vary depending on the agent. I tend to note them but the truth is they don’t impress very much. For some agents, not at all.

The only exception currently seems to be in the field of erotica where a lot of the erotic
e-publishers really paved the way for the genre to go more mainstream. A lot of e-authors are getting agents for the first time and deals with traditional publishers.

For erotica, it can carry some heft.

Does it hurt your chances? I don’t think so but as I like to remind writers, if you sell the e-rights to your project it can preclude a later print rights sale since most publishers often want to buy the print and electronic rights at the same time and if the electronic rights are tied up…

If you go the e-publishing route, be sure to get a reversion clause in your contract so the rights will revert back to you after a certain amount of time or volume of sales etc. You don’t want the e-rights held into forever. In a phrase, that would be bad.

Reverse Harbinger Of Doom?

STATUS: I’m doing great. Still working on a deal in process but hey, no one is going to be in the office tomorrow so it will just have to wait. The new network seems to be doing okay. I’ve caught a few minor glitches but minor they are so nothing to stress over.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU TOOK THE WORDS RIGHT OUT OF MY MOUTH by Meatloaf

I have to admit that when it came to the genre of paranormal romance, I’ve been a little bit of a harbinger of doom.

I’ve been stressing how tight this market has become. Paranormal has been popular now for several years. Basic trends in publishing will tell us that the market will eventually get glutted and reader demand will fall off, publisher interest will decline, and those authors who are strong in the field will only get stronger but the newcomer will have a hard time breaking in.

Then I held an auction for a paranormal romance last week. The deal is up on deal lunch if you get it.

If not, I’m happy to share. Here it is:

FICTION:WOMEN’S/ ROMANCE
Author of A Darker Crimson Carolyn Jewel’s next paranormal romance MAGELLAN’S WITCH, set in a world where human magic users and demons are on the brink of disastrous conflict, moving to Melanie Murray at Warner Forever, in a two-book deal at auction, by Kristin Nelson of the Nelson Literary Agency (World).

Does it change my mind? Yes and no. Maybe I’m not quite the harbinger of doom I’ve been lately but I do think the market is still tight.

Why did this project sell and at auction to boot? Well, I’m not sure if there is an absolute answer to that but here are some thoughts.

1. Carolyn was previously published in historical romance and for one other paranormal romance. Her numbers were solid. Editors like that.

2. The story line was fresh, fresh, fresh. Of course demons have been done before but her approach had a lot of original elements.

3. World building, world building, world building. When Carolyn and I were preparing for this submission, I really drove this home. To the point where she was probably sick of me but I really emphasized the need to layer her world with small details that make a powerful whole. Small things count in a tight market.

4. Her heroine had such an interesting dynamic to her paranormal ability. In fact, in the opening pages, we aren’t quite sure what exactly is unfolding because the heroine doesn’t know either. She also suffers from crippling “migraines” which ends up being something else entirely. The emotion and the tension in the opening scenes put the reader immediately on the edge. It’s also a great hook. The heroine simply thinks she is suffering from a debilitating condition that has shaped her life. Now a whole new world opens up—literally.

5. Sometimes what causes editor excitement just is. It’s the voice, the world, an original approach, they fall in love.

So the good news is there still is room in the paranormal world—even for a newcomer—so don’t put away those elements quite yet.