Pub Rants

Category: conferences

Unexpected Twist To Economic Downturn

STATUS: Off to Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado Writers Conference. Lots of new publishing news hitting the internet. If you haven’t seen this article about HarperCollins advance-less imprint in WSJ, you might want to give it a look.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE WAY I AM by Ingrid Michaelson

It is of no surprise to me that the publishing world may need to rethink its business model in the not so distant future. Returns haven’t made sense for a long time and I’m still flabbergasted at how long it can take to publish a book (up to a year and sometimes more).

Heck, I’m still surprised when editors hand-mark a paper manuscript. It just seems so old-fashioned (and a lot of copy editors do the same). So changes are imminent and probably necessary—especially with the economic downturn driving tight bottom lines.

But here’s another interesting take on how the economy might be impacting authors and the world of publishing. An agent friend visited her local B&N, Borders, and Books-A-Million earlier this week to check out her April releases. [Yes, agents are guilty of shelf elving to turn our clients’ books face out etc. You’d think it would be beneath us but I must admit I do the same thing always if I find myself in a bookstore.]

So my agent friend visited three stores and not one of them had her April releases on the shelves. Of course she talked to the store managers at each location. All of them cited the economy—they’ve had to cut staff and don’t have the people to get the books onto the shelves in a timely fashion. It could be as late as April 10th before the books hit their real estate.

One manager took her to the storeroom where she was greeted with boxes from floor to ceiling—some of which contained March releases.

Now I don’t want to cause a nation-wide panic as this might be a localized event for this specific area of the country (rather than a national trend) but it does highlight how an economic downturn can impact the success of an author’s book in all kinds of un-thought of ways.

Hard to get good initial sales numbers when your book hasn’t even made it to the shelf yet!

A Reflection On Horror

STATUS: Stuck in Glenwood Springs because of a 40-car pile-up on I70 that closed Vail pass. Reminder to self. No driving to conferences in the early Spring…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Denver Nuggets game on the telly.

The biggest question I received this weekend, and rightly so, is why was I attending World Horror when on my website I clearly state that the Nelson Agency doesn’t handle Horror.

Good question. It was my same question I asked when the conference organizers called to invite me.

Why don’t I rep horror? I’ve certainly read enough in my lifetime so what’s the scoop? It basically came down to the philosophy that I have enough things keeping me awake at night, reading a good horror submission would just scare the bejesus out of me and I need a decent night’s sleep.

But I’m very glad I attended. The definition of “horror” can be pretty broad and lots of things that could be categorized as such would not necessarily alienate me. Maybe I need to rethink our policy as I certainly don’t mind SF&F with horror elements. In other words, dark SF &F. We’ll see.

It also was rather refreshing to chat with some male writers. Whenever I attend conferences, and this certainly isn’t a bad thing, the majority of my pitch sessions are from women writers (obviously this would be true at romance venues) but I’m certainly not opposed to adding some testosterone to my list. So World Horror was a nice change as the pitches were so different than anything else I’ve read or listened to lately. Right now it’s too early to know if any will be a match but I think I’ll enjoy the process.

You Know You Have A Tired YA Fantasy Theme When…

STATUS: I had a great time listening to pitches that had a horror element to them and so different for anything I’ve looked at lately. It’s so rare to have 18 pitches and only three women in the mix. What a different mix-up so I’m enjoying World Horror.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TOMMY THE CAT by Primus

Tonight I had dinner with fellow blogger and YA fantasy editor Stacy Whitman from Wizards of the Coast.

When you get an editor and an agent together, talk turns to submissions as we are wont to do. And you have to remember, we like to talk shop and even though we might highlight some tired themes in our conversation, any fresh twist on it can change our mind in a heartbeat.

Dinner conversation kicked off with a moment of understanding that it’s really hard to carry off a YA novel where a monster eats a child in the first chapter.

On one hand, it’s immediate conflict. On the other, not sure where the story can go from there….

But here’s our dinner list. You know you might have a tired YA fantasy theme when:

1. Your main protagonist is the “chosen one” and only he or she can save the world.

2. You have a lost magical amulet and that search alone is driving the story.

3. When your main protagonist is waking up and getting ready for the day in the opening chapter.

4. If you have to go through the portal to actually begin the story.

5. If your Mom & Dad are dead (and on top of that, they are dead wizards or something similar) that the protagonist must live up to.

And I would have added, you know you have a tired YA fantasy theme when your characters are on a quest but Stacy says she’s still game for those stories (albeit a little tired of Vampires because she can’t see how a writer might pull of an original story in that realm at the moment).

TGIF. I’m out!

Come Wind, Rain, Or Snow

STATUS: Tired. (and I see all my youtube tries finally showed up. Nothing like overkill. Sorry about that).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing on at the moment…

Like the mail people, I’ll make it to the conference regardless of weather. Got to Salt Lake City late after spending more than an hour at a dead stop on Wyoming’s Interstate 80 heading west from Rawlings.

Serious white-out conditions (wind blowing the snow something like 40 m.p.h.) and semi-trucks in the ditches on both the left and right side of us. Finally made it down from the pass to hear that the highway was closing behind us (and it stayed closed the rest of the day according to NPR). But once down, we were greeted by clearing blue skies. It was sunny the rest of the way to Salt Lake. And I thought Colorado had strange weather.

But I’m here and haven’t got the brain power to blog. It really was white-knuckle driving for a solid 2+ hours.

We Interrupt This Blog Pitch Workshop To Bring You…

STATUS: Excited. CROSS MY HEART AND HOPE TO SPY is still on the NYT top 10 bestseller list for the fourth week. It can’t last forever but I’m going to be happy while Ally is still there!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I COULD WRITE A BOOK by Harry Connick, Jr.

An awesome cover! Shanna and I got this late in the day yesterday. I have to say I love all the Enchanted Inc. Series covers but this one, this one is just perfect. I couldn’t resist posting.

And sorry to get you all excited because it won’t release until April 2008. Don’t worry. I’ll remind you then.

I also wanted to give a big shout out to a conference that is going to be happening in Denver at the Convention Center the week after next (Nov. 8-9, 2007). It’s an Executive Leadership Development Conference sponsored by the National Hispanic Leadership Institute.

Although most of the topics are about achieving successful corporate careers, there are quite a few workshops regarding publishing. One of them is being given by a good friend whom I met when she was working at Simon & Schuster several years ago. If you live in the area and this applies, you might want to check it out.

From Inspiration to Publication: What Latinas Need to Know About Getting Published
By Marcela Landres

WHAT: Finding the right publisher is difficult for any writer, but Latinas face unique challenges–and opportunities. Topics discussed include: the significance of Latinas to mainstream publishers; writing in Spanish vs. English; dealing with the label of “Latina Writer”; how to find a good agent and editor in a non-Latino industry; overcoming cultural and social barriers; and the most important thing you can do to ensure the future success of Latino publishing.

WHEN: Friday, November 9, 3:30 – 4:30 PM

WHERE: Colorado Convention Center, 650 15th Street, Denver, Colorado 80202

Click here to find out more and if you’d like to register, here’s the link.

Genre Lunch!

STATUS: Soon to be off to do the conference lunch and pitch appointments for this afternoon. Wish me luck! So far I haven’t even needed my Advil because all the conference attendees have been great and well prepared. I love the Surrey International Conference.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MONEY BURNS A HOLE IN MY POCKET by Dean Martin

Talk about a busy last two days! I’ve been getting back to my hotel room too late to blog, and I’m even breaking my weekend blogging embargo because I feel so guilty.

So I have about 20 minutes before the Surrey Genre lunch and I just have to laugh (I’ll share why in a moment).

First off I want to mention how much I enjoy this conference. It’s huge—something like 800 attendees this year. This means there are lots of writers, writing lots of genres, and the likelihood of hearing a good pitch is high.

After all, that’s the reason why I attend conferences. I’m totally looking to expand my list—especially in literary or commercial mainstream (and folks that doesn’t mean thrillers because that’s a genre onto itself and I don’t rep mysteries and thrillers). I also want more SF and Fantasy writers and hey, it doesn’t have to be female-reader oriented. I’m open to ANYTHING. And, since I’m having so much success with Ally Carter and Sarah Rees Brennan, bring on the young adult!

But here’s why I’m laughing about the genre lunch. They have me sitting at a table labeled Chick Lit.

You remember my rant about being considered just a Chick Lit agent? It always cracks me up because out of my 22 clients, only 4 (yep, you read that correctly) clients write in the world of Women’s fiction and only 2 of them might be aptly described as chick lit.

The four clients are:
Jennifer O’Connell (who in my mind doesn’t really write Chick lit but women’s fiction)
Ally Carter (and her adult novels such as Cheating At Solitaire leaned more toward romantic comedy then chick lit per se.)
Becky Motew (she’s so wonderfully quirky (and her heroines older) that she really is more women’s fiction than Chick Lit)
Shanna Swendson (whose Enchanted, Inc. series should probably be labeled fun contemporary urban fantasy than Chick Lit or Women’s fiction)

And yet, I’m sitting at the Chick Lit table and let me just highlight here that when I sit down to lunch, I’ll have to deliver the bad news. Chick Lit is, for all practically purposes, dead at the moment. As agents, we are really careful not to say that word when shopping current women’s fiction manuscripts. And a novel needs to have solid substance (such as LOVE WALKED IN), or it’s just not getting play.

Now I still love women’s fiction but here’s the other funny thing about this lunch, I haven’t taken on a new women’s fiction author lately (in fact it has probably been more than year—maybe close to two since I have).

But what the heck, that’s where I’ll be at the genre lunch and I’m sure we will all have a blast.

Conference Prep

STATUS: Yep, it’s late.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THING CALLED LOVE by Bonnie Raitt

Tomorrow I’m off to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference in Vancouver, British Columbia. Yes, that would be Canada folks.

Now, I can’t just up and get on a plane and head north. I need to prepare. So what does an agent do to get ready for a conference (besides stocking up on the post all-day-pitch appointments Advil?) Just Kidding! Well, sort of.

Here’s my list from the day:

1. Clear off the decks (or desk for that matter) by handling everything that is urgent and can’t wait until I’m back in the office next Tuesday. (You can probably tell that this was most of my day.)

2. Locate Conference info folder. Even though everything is entered into my palm treo, I like to be anal and have the paper version handy as well.

3. Gather client books for the requested door prizes and give-aways.

4. Locate my conference business cards so people will actually know how to contact me.

5. Check my Powerpoint presentation to ensure it’s up-to-date and on my laptop (which reminds me, I really need to update that presentation background layout because the color scheme isn’t working).

6. Print out the submission instruction stickers so when I do request sample pages, I can paste the sticker directions on the back of my business card and the conference attendee will have an easy-to-use reference.

7. Email to the conference organizer the most recent, just updated handout that goes with the workshop I’m giving.

8. Get home and remember everything that I forgot at my office. Go back to the office and get it.

9. Remember to change my voicemail message to announce that I’ll be out of the office until next Tuesday (and I just remembered that I have forgotten to do this).

10. Pack. And what I have is what I have. What I’ve forgotten, well, I’ll wing it.

Agents, Agents, Agents!

STATUS: Rainy days and Mondays. Kind of sums it up.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG LOG by Robert Plant

Kind of reads like Girls, Girls, Girls! on an Adult entertainment site billboard.

But seriously, if you want to attend a conference with a serious agent list, take a look at this line up for Backspace’s Agent-Author Conference on Nov. 6 & 7 in New York City.

There are a couple of mighty fine editors thrown in there for good measure but Agents, Agents, Agents! just sounded better.

I’m just sorry I won’t be there. I imagine you could ask about any question your heart desires at this conference and then you wouldn’t need to read my blog anymore. Look at this program!

Speaking of reading my blog, boy did I cause some consternation on Friday.

And y’all are so smart. You figured out right away it wasn’t about me since I only do submissions electronically (and can you tell that to all those folks who keep snail mailing me stuff). Next year we are going to have to stop responding. It’s eating up to much letterhead and time. I hate to just recycle without replying but desperate measures may call for desperate action.

But back to Friday’s post.

The problem was not with the request to email it. Some agents might not be fine with that but then they’ll simply tell you so and then you can choose whether to snail mail it or not.

The problem was not in letting this agent know that the full manuscript was out with other agents. To me, that’s just professional.

The problem was in detailing that 30 other agents (or pick some other high number) had already requested the full by email.

Why? Because of the subtext of what is implied. Look at me agent. My manuscript is hot. You’d better get on board and let me email it to you because so many other agents have asked to see it right away and I’ve emailed it to them. (By the way, this author could be lying. It’s happened before…)

Yuck. I’m not sure I care how good this manuscript might be and the reason why I shared this story is that many of the agents I knew felt the same.

Unreasonable? Maybe. I don’t know. I’m just telling it like it is and if it’s helpful, great. If not, it’s not.

How Honest Do You Want Us To Be?

STATUS: I spent the day working on a contract, tracking down one that hadn’t shown up, starting negotiations on some deals, and following up on submissions. And just to show you the randomness that sometimes occurs in the day-of-the-life of an agent, I ended up having this whole long conversation with an editor about baby names. We both agreed that we liked strong names for baby girls. She called me about a project and since we know each other well, we just go off on this side conversation.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOODBYE AGAIN by John Denver

This is an interesting question I think. Just recently, I participated in a conference workshop called 2-pages, 2-minutes. The premise of the class was that participants could submit the first two pages of their novel anonymously (and there were various workshops that tackled different genres). Then the workshop moderator would simply read aloud the two pages while 2 agents (and the participants who submitted) listened and read along with him. If we, as agents, would have stopped reading the submission, we were supposed to say so and then discuss why we wouldn’t read on. Or if by the end of the two pages, we would have read on, then we would explain are thinking for that as well.

A simple premise, right? Execution was incredibly difficult. Why? Because I have to say I felt a little uncomfortable being that brutally honest. There were some instances where the other agent and I wouldn’t have finished reading the first paragraph of one of the entries but how harsh would it be to say “stop” after reading only a sentence or two? I have to say we fudged a bit and waited until the conclusion of the next paragraph so as not to seem too harsh.

Now, being me, I tried to be honest about why I would have stopped while also offering constructive criticism on what could be changed or if there was an interesting premise or whatever but I have to wonder: how valuable is that? Did we crush any writer spirits? I hope not. I did emphasize that the writers there shouldn’t think this is the end-all, be-all moment of their writing career and that our response simply means that this manuscript isn’t quite ready to take them where they want to be. Still, it’s tough to hear that an agent couldn’t get beyond the first two paragraphs. My question is whether it’s important for participants to hear that.

Do aspiring writers really want us to be that honest?

I’m asking because I have to decide if I want to participate in a workshop like that in the future. Now, the conference organizers did poll the participants and the good majority of them said they did find it enormously helpful. Hum… were they just saying that?

Also, we only had one participant argue with us. When that person did, I just said, “okay, I’m just one opinion” and left it at that.

Memoir—The Most Popular Genre At Any Writing Conference

STATUS: It’s raining in Denver and we need the moisture so it’s a happy thing. Chutney is not so happy about the thunder though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GO YOUR OWN WAY by Fleetwood Mac

Last week when I was out in New York, I did a panel at the Backspace conference entitled How to Publish A Memoir If You Aren’t Famous with my terrific author Kim Reid and David Patterson, an editor from Henry Holt (but not Kim’s editor). He’s simply another editor who handles the genre.

The session was packed, which rather stunned me. I shouldn’t have been. Lots of people want to write a memoir and it’s also the hardest project to get published by a non-celebrity. And here’s my little rant, very few people actually have stories that are big enough to capture national attention and hence, editor attention.

Honestly, I’m not trying to be mean when I write this. It’s just the truth, but the attendees ended up asking some great questions that ultimately might make good blog material so I thought I would talk about the memoir this week.

I even had one of the attendees email me out of the blue with a thank you. In her email (and with her permission), she wrote, “I enjoyed all three workshops I attended in which you were a presenter, but the memoir workshop was my favorite. It really helped clarify the genre and gave me a new perspective on what it takes to stand above the crowd in that area. I appreciated the workshop and the opportunity to talk with you and Kim Reid afterwards. I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear, but I did hear what I needed to hear and I appreciate that.”

So I asked her to expand on that last sentence. She wrote me back and I think her email really sums up the essence of what makes writing and publishing a memoir one of the hardest genres to break in to. In short, most writers think they have an interesting enough story to share with the world and very few of them are correct in this assumption.

With her permission:

When you’re writing a memoir – telling your own story – the stakes are extremely high. It’s very personal. It’s easy to lose perspective. My parents divorced when I was a child and I had serious abandonment issues. So did millions of other people. I was in college in the 60’s and 70’s and participated fully in the sex, drug and rock and roll culture of the time. So did millions of other people. I got my master’s degree and had a great career. So did millions of other people. I had cancer. So did millions of other people. I had a business failure that resulted in bankruptcy. So did millions of other people. I turned my life around and ended up happy and healthy. So did millions of other people.

Aside from the fact that it was my life, what sets me apart from the millions of other people who had similar experiences? What makes my story worthy of being published?

People need to have a persuasive reason to read your story. Were you famous or associated with someone famous? If not, you have to find a way to tell your story that is so involving and compelling and unique that it grabs the reader from the very first sentence and never lets them go until the end.

When I sat in your workshop and truly listened to what you, Kim and David said, I realized my life is interesting to me and my friends, but in order to make it interesting to others, the telling of it needs a lot of work.

Between this workshop and the few minutes of time I had with you and Kim after it, I had the answers to the questions for which I traveled 2,400 miles.Was my manuscript good enough to be published? No.Was I ready to query? No.

Your workshop really helped clarify the genre and gave me a new perspective on what it takes to stand above the crowd in that area. That’s why I said I didn’t hear what I wanted to hear, but I did hear what I needed to hear and I appreciate that.

So how was I able to sell Kim’s memoir NO PLACE SAFE since she isn’t a celebrity?

I’ll tell you.

1. She had a compelling story about coming of age during a national tragedy otherwise known as the Wayne William children serial killings in Atlanta. (In other words, her memoir had a backdrop with a greater scope).

2. She had a unique perspective. Her mother was a lead detective on several of the cases—one of the first female African American detectives in the state of Georgia–so Kim had an inside view of the case unfolding and she was a teen straddling two universes—her black neighborhood where kids were literally disappearing off the streets juxtaposed next to her all-white exclusive private school across town where she had won a scholarship and where the news of black kids dying didn’t seem to touch.

3. There have been other works published about these killings both in fiction and nonfiction but NO ONE ELSE has told the story from the perspective of being a daughter of a cop involved in the investigation. Of having a mother who basically disappeared for two years in order to keep other people’s children safe—even when she knew that could put her own kids in jeopardy. Of becoming an adult at basically age 14 so she could help raise her younger sister.

Isn’t that compelling? My just writing about it gives me shivers.

4. This story is back in the news as several of the cases have been re-opened and coverage is happening today in TV/Radio etc and will continue.

5. Kim had access to private files that her mother had kept about the cases.

All of these things together just made for a bigger package that allowed me to sell Kim’s memoir. Some other thoughts tomorrow.