Pub Rants

Category: requesting material

Hold The Gimmick

STATUS: Snowing like crazy today in New York. I actually didn’t have any lunch dates for this Friday as I was running an auction instead and that can be quite time consuming.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE’S DIVINE by Seal

However, I did have lunch with an editor from the Penguin Children’s group yesterday (I know, my waistline doesn’t much appreciate breakfast immediately followed by lunch but what can you do!)

This editor likes girl stuff (so this is the context.) She wants high concept novels because they only have a few slots open per season and the work would need to stand out as a debut.

Problem is that she’s getting gimmicky novels with very little substance or a plot that’s not big enough. She’s dying to buy that manuscript that achieves the fine balance of a great voice, terrific writing, high concept, and good character development.

In other words, just write a great novel.

Well, duh. That’s all you need to land an agent and a book deal as well.

But I do think I understand. She’s seeing submissions that have a good hook but don’t seem to have much else and that can be a problem. I know this because we see similar patterns in our own submissions.

It can be equally problematic to have great writing and no solid story to drive the plot forward.

So, for what that is worth…

Too Many Space Ships Spoil The YA

STATUS: Heading out to check out the Off Broadway musical Altar Boyz.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? AUTUMN IN NEW YORK by Harry Connick, Jr.

It was late when I wrote yesterday’s blog so I can be forgiven but I totally forgot a key point the editor from RH had shared. She’d love to see urban fantasy with a male protagonist. They’ve been kind of scarce and there seems to be room for a new Dresden Files type work (nod to fav agent friend Ms. Jackson).

Today I had breakfast (so rare to get the editors out early!) with an editor at Tor who acquires young adult and adult SF&F.

We mostly talked about her children’s list so here’s the lunch plate of the day.

If you didn’t already know this, SF children’s is a tough sell. It has to be the right balance between SF elements and a recognizable world that has a larger general appeal. Good author examples of successes would be Garth Nix and Scott Westerfeld.

This editor is dying for something that will be accessible to a wider audience and all she seems to be getting is space ship stories, zombies, and disaster scenarios—all of which feel tired or a bit old-fashioned. She also sees a lot of stories where the parents or all the adults have kicked the bucket and it’s up to the teens to save themselves, the planet, or all of the above.

Now it’s not to say that these elements won’t work in the right story with a fresh twist but it’s the fresh part that seems to be missing.

She wants stories that are about social issues but have a cool SF element that is integral to the story. Some good Tor examples are Cory Doctorow’s LITTLE BROTHER and debut author Isamu Fukui’s TRUANCY.

No Vampires Please

STATUS: It’s really late to be blogging…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? JUST CAN’T GET ENOUGH by Depeche Mode

So I had lunch with an editor from Random House who acquires for SF & F.

Her plea? No more vampires. Please. Every urban fantasy does not need to include them. Hum… where did I hear that refrain recently? Big smile.

She also expressed a longing for female heroines that aren’t killing machines. It’s okay to have a little vulnerability or emotional pull in the character.

I have to say I didn’t realize that the heartless woman assassin was a current trend but there you have it.

Paranormal to UpMarket Women’s Fiction

STATUS: I got several emails this morning asking me if I was okay since I didn’t blog yesterday. I never blog on holidays! And yes, maybe President’s day is a bit of a debate but nobody in publishing was working yesterday so I took that as permission to take the day off. Besides, it was 60+ degrees here in New York and Chutney and I had Central Park to explore. Like a dork, I forgot the camera.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FIELDS OF GOLD by Sting

Today I had three meetings.

I had lunch with an editor from Little, Brown Children’s. Coffee with an editor who does both young adult and adult at Kensington. And then in late afternoon I had a meeting with an editor at Ballantine who handles upmarket commercial/literary women’s fiction.

So what did I learn?

Paranormal elements in YA is still quite hot but (an especially for this editor at Little, Brown, if she sees another Twlight vampire look-alike, she’ll spontaneously combust).

So the paranormal elements have to be really different, intriguing and in a really well-built world because the editors are seeing a lot of submissions. The manuscript would really need to stand out to cause excitement.

In terms of upmarket commercial women’s fiction, it’s all about the writing. Really, editors are looking for literary writers who can tackle the more commercial themes in a way that’s fresh and well constructed.

In other words, if you are writing in this area, go to the bookstore and see what is coming out in hardcover in this realm and start reading. Some examples from Ballantine would be Nancy Thayer’s MOON SHELL BEACH, Carol Goodman’s THE SONNET LOVER, and Nancy Pickard’s THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS.

Evil Dry Spell

STATUS: It was one of those busy Mondays that when the day concluded, I had to sit there for a moment and think about what exactly did I do all day. I feel this way when I haven’t been able to tick off my big To Do item for the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DOS GARDENIAS by Buena Vista Social Club

An agent friend just emailed me to say she’s in the “zone.” The evil dry spell. I’m actually happy that the year is winding down because I can already sense the approach of one for me as well.

What that means in agent lingo is that everything we have cookin’ is already out on submission and there’s nothing new in the hopper (and that includes no new current client stuff). They are all off writing like the good authors they are.

For unrepresented writers, this is actually a good thing because that means we are looking furiously for something new to take on because in the dry spell, we start reading our queries faster. We ask for more sample pages then we might ordinarily. We’ll take a chance on reading full manuscript of a work that maybe didn’t win us over entirely initially in the sample pages but because it’s so dry, we’re more lenient and will request a full.

Now I do have to admit that when a dry spell hits, it doesn’t necessarily translate into taking on more clients (at least for me). But I do read a lot more when I’m “in the spell” so to speak.

Unless something amazing hits my desk in the next couple of weeks, I’ll probably be in that zone come Jan. 2, 2008.

And after the holidays, I’ll be gung-ho to tackle it.

Rejection—The Humane Way?

STATUS: I’m feeling great because Chutney is finally on the mend. A puppy dog with diarrhea is not a pleasant thing. She’s curled up and sleeping on her snuggle ball right now. And of course she comes to the office. What’s funny is that she’s not the only dog at the offices in our building. It’s a very Colorado thing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FNT by Semisonic

I have to say I’m a little curious as to how this little experiment will unfold. As promised, I said I would post my standard rejection letter.

Here it is. I’ve included my comments about the letter in blue. I’ve had this letter, or a close version of it, for the last four years. It may be time for change.

March 14, 2007

Dear Author:
Some salutation seems necessary. We used to include the writer’s name but that was too time-consuming. Not to mention, this is a standard letter and wouldn’t “Dear Author” signal it as so?

Thank you so much for sending the Nelson Literary Agency your query.
And we mean this. Thank you.

We’d like to apologize in advance for this standard rejection letter. Standard letters are so impersonal so we do want to apologize for it. The volume of queries as of late has been too overwhelming to personalize our response anymore. Very true and that’s why we have a standard letter. Rest assured, we do read every query letter carefully and although your work sounds intriguing, we’re sorry to say that we don’t believe we are the right agency for you. I imagine that a lot of writers don’t believe that we read query letters carefully but we really do. Also, many writers have mentioned getting annoyed with the “although your work sounds intriguing” line. After all, if it’s so intriguing, why aren’t we asking for sample pages? Good question. I can’t think of a better way to handle this. Sometimes we do really get intriguing letters but it’s not a book I would pick up and read so ultimately it’s not right for me—but the idea is sound.

You deserve an enthusiastic representative, so we recommend that you pursue other agents. We want to be encouraging after all and it could just be us that doesn’t like the query. After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match. I explained this line yesterday. Sometimes it really does come down to finding the right agent match who loves the idea and the work.

Good luck with all your publishing endeavors. We want to end on a positive note.

Kristin Nelson
Sara Megibow
Signed by both of us. Here’s an interesting tidbit. I used to read all my queries but then it got too overwhelming and I couldn’t expend the time on it. In the beginning of my agency, a good day was when we received 10-15 email queries. Now we receive anywhere from 50 to 80 a day. I got desperate so I hired Sara and trained her to screen the queries for me (among other things).

So, Sara reads them all. I only read a percentage of them since Sara will set aside the queries she wants me to read. I will then say ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on whether to look at sample pages from that batch.

So technically, it is a process with both of us involved and I wanted folks who query us to know that.

So that’s the letter. Things we can’t do.

1. Mention or recommend other agents.

We get requests for this all the time but I like my colleagues and want them to continue liking me so including recommendations is not an option.

2. Personalization of the letter.

It literally is too time-consuming. I know this because we used to do it. I know there are software programs that can drop in the writer’s name as well as the title of the project but I wonder if that’s misleading. This is a standard rejection letter after all. The point is for writers to not take it personally and adding those touches may make the letter a little less impersonal but it’s still a standard one.

What’s better or worse?

Oh The Foibles of Email

STATUS: Gorgeous day. Unfortunately Chutney is sick and I need to run her to the vet this morning.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SENTIMENTAL LADY by Bob Welsh

The problem with email is that sometimes the tone is not clear—or it can be very open to interpretation.

First off, just let me say that most agents have a standard rejection letter. It’s not good or bad or in any way a personal reflection on you as a writer. It’s simply a standard letter so that writers get a response versus none at all.

Isn’t it in the Godfather movies where he says, “This isn’t personal; it’s business” or some derivation of that?

That’s how you have to view standard rejection letters.

Now of course I have one as well. In the past, I’ve received numerous compliments on how nice my standard letter is. Great. I’m glad it works for some people.

But every once in a while I get an email reply from a frustrated writer that would like to critique the letter. Yesterday, the writer had a problem with the line “After all, it just takes one “yes” and with so many different opinions out there, you could easily find the right match.”

The writer found the phrase condescending, insulting and ridiculous because in her view, it’s not easy to land an agent, that a writer doesn’t have many options, and the market is hard to break into. So my guess is that she has concluded that I’m being unnecessarily cavalier by indicating that it just takes finding the right match in my standard rejection letter.

But I include the line because in many instances, it’s true. I pass on lots of manuscripts that don’t work for me but are sell-able projects that other agents have liked, taken on, and then sold.

So the line is in fact true. For some writers I’ve rejected, it really was about finding the right match. Not for all the writers rejected, mind you, but for some, yes it was.

Tomorrow I think I’ll share my standard rejection letter. Break it down and analyze why I include the things I do in it. Maybe there’s a better way. You guys can chime in and if what you say is valuable, maybe it’s time for a revision. I’m always open.

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.

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.