Pub Rants

Category: websites

Hello to all the PubRants readers sheltering at home. Hope this article finds you healthy, safe, and sane. Glad you are still with us and reading our monthly missive. It’s been a year in the making, but I’m very excited to share with you our brand-spanking new website that just launched this past week. Although September’s newsletter follows the old format, you can expect a newly redesigned newsletter to follow in a couple months, so stay tuned. 

For eight months, I was closed to queries to cover two back-to-back maternity leaves for the NLA family. Congratulations, Samantha and Maria! At long last, I’m back in the query game, so it seemed apropos to talk about trends I’m seeing in my QueryManager inbox

As always, don’t put too much weight on the trends I spotlight here. It doesn’t mean your project is dead in the water. It just means you need to be more creative in your query letter to make your story stand out. One interesting thing to note is that we’re fielding a lot of queries from authors who’ve had prior agent representation and are looking for a new partnership. Because of Covid, agents, like everyone else, are juggling a lot, and I wonder if some are paring down their client rosters. 

Good luck out there! Persevere. 

In the Adult realm:

  • Historicals set in the time periods of the 1960s through the 1990s. Might writers be reminiscing on their pasts so as to escape our present crises?
  • International thrillers with main characters that work at the CIA, FBI, etc. This is a specific thriller genre (espionage thrillers) and not something Joanna or I are looking for, but we still get a lot of inquiries.
  • Lots of stories that use BIG LITTLE LIES as a comp.
  • Jane Austen retellings are trending again. Humorous. Gender-swapped. From a different character’s perspective. That kind of thing.
  • Old-school speculative fiction in the vein of Philip K. Dick and William Gibson—which isn’t quite where the SF&F market is right now.
  • Angsty fiction in which the characters must “find themselves,” but that lacks a clear hook or concept to drive the story. This tends to be perennial.
  • Short books—queries for novellas and novels under 70,000 words. For some reason this is popular, but 70K is pretty short for a full novel.

In the YA and Children’s realm:

  • Steampunk submissions have really wound down over the last year.
  • Pirates, pirates, pirates! Not sure what in the Zeitgeist is driving the trend, but it’s big in YA and MG (middle grade).
  • Fantasy built around elemental powers or magic.
  • Fantasy built around the guardians trope: characters who must protect a chosen one, a secret, a portal, a wall, a source of magic, etc.
  • Fantasy built around court intrigue. Heads up: this market is saturated for editors. Some sales still occur, but they are far fewer than two years ago.
  • Cool dragons with inventive premises are trending for both the YA and adult-fantasy realm.
  • Middle-grade portal/time travel stories—probably because we need to escape our current world. 

What Are You Looking For?

STATUS: Doing meetings in New York all week.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I’M A BELIEVER by The Monkees

Good question. What am I looking for?

Because I’m rewriting content for our new website (and the submission guidelines are an integral part of that), this question is definitely on my mind as of late. Not to mention, when I attend a conference, invariably I get asked this question. By now, you’d think I’d have a good answer ready. To be honest, I don’t.

We also have to answer this question on our new website for our submission guidelines. Since Sara’s answer is different than mine, we are tailoring our “what are you looking for” list for our specific agent pages.

By the way, the launch of our new website is a bit delayed. Our web developer lives in New Jersey. Yep, Hurricane Sandy.  He actually emailed me to apologize for the delay as he didn’t have electricity. Holy cow! No need for an apology there. We can wait a few more weeks.

But back to our website submission wish list. When I sat down to evaluate what I’m looking for, I find that I’m not interested in creating a nice, neat little list.

Right now our site says I’m looking for literary fiction with a commercial bent, commercial mainstream, women’s fiction, romance, science fiction, fantasy, young adult and middle grade.

Sure, that’s accurate and true but you know what? That doesn’t quite capture what I’m looking for. I want an intense, well-told story and the “genre” is incidental.

This summer I sold a literary cross-over novel that had a lot of horror elements – BIRD BOX by Josh Malerman.

Look at the list above? Do you see the word “horror” anywhere?

Not exactly. Yet, that story was perfect for me.

My book club is going to read Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL.

That’s totally up my alley. Do you see “thriller” on that above list? Nope. So what I’m looking for is not clearly defined by a neat little list that I can post on our website.

And today I had lunch with an editor from St. Martin’s and a bubble tea with an editor from Random House. (I think the tapioca is still stuck in my teeth…) Both had great previous experience in working at genre imprints earlier in their careers and now, neither is a genre editor per se but both love a big story that has a genre element to it. That’s what they are looking for.

And that’s what I’m looking for.

I have to find a way to say that on my page that outlines my submission guidelines. Not an easy trick. I do know that I don’t plan to post a handy little list because that doesn’t really capture what I’m looking for.

I want a good story well told. How you tell that story doesn’t need to fit in a neat little category.

New Website Going Live On Nov. 12 or Nov. 19

STATUS: I’ll be a much saner person then. Hey, I’m an optimist!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now?  YOU by Bonnie Raitt

Thanks for all the comments and feedback on FB versus blogging. Quite frankly, I had been sensing that blogging in general was becoming a bit passé. But it sounds like there is still a lot of interest in educational posts being delivered through the longer blog medium. Well, I hear you. I’m still debating on how practical it will be given my overwhelming workload. It’s much easier to throw up some insightful posts on Facebook. But I also get that a lot of folks aren’t on FB and have no interest in joining. And to be honest, I’m too verbose for twitter. *grin*

When I think of our new redesigned website going live, I start bouncing in my seat. It’s amazing. But it’s also good fodder for a blog entry.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned and some tips to share:

1) If you haven’t updated your website in the last 3 to 5 years, it’s time to take a look at your site and evaluate its effectiveness. I know from our site, it wasn’t highlighting all the different ways folks could learn or follow us via social media. Given how much has changed in the last couple years, our site was looking tired, old, and dated. None of that stuff was linked together. That’s not effective.

As an author, you can’t afford for fans to think the same of your site. They expect more. Is it fair, no, but there you have it.

2) Big question you must answer: who is your audience and what do you want them to learn from the site? The answer might be simple and then evolve into something more complex. For example, a simple answer for our site is this: our audience is writers looking for representation who might be interested in our agency.

So our site has to answer some basic questions – like how to submit to us, etc.  Well, that’s obvious.

But our site shouldn’t stop there. Writers who look at our website might also be enthusiastic readers (or at least I hope so!). So our site should also be a non-obtrusive advertisement for our client books in the sense that visitors to our site might also want to buy the books they stumble upon there.

Of course we “knew” that for our original site but we were not exploring the full potential there. The new site is going to be great for that without us coming across as used car sales people (or at least I hope that’s the case!).

So how does this apply to you as a writer? Well, I see any number of writer sites that don’t really answer this question well. How does it appeal to folks who are already fans of your work and then how might it rope in the possible new fan? I honestly don’t see writers doing a lot for that second question. If you’ve seen some good sites that handle it well, include the links in the comments. We can use those examples as learning tools.

3) For our new site, we are adding a “how they came to us” under each client so aspiring writers can literally see who sent us a query (and we found them that way) versus who was a referral or a current client recommend. I imagine including stories like this will keep visitors engaged in our site and may be motivated to click around more and spend more time with us.

As a writer, what have you got that might create that for your visitors? I see so many writer sites that tend to be a plug for the book or books and not much else. If that’s the case for your website, it’s not doing the right job for you.

4) Clean design – I’m a huge proponent of this. I see so many wordpress websites that have good intentions but as a visitor, I’m completely overwhelmed by the amount of links, buttons, images, or what have you. It may just be me but I can actually feel my heart rate speeding up when I’m confronted with too much info on a web page. It’s stressful.

So I can’t wait to show you the new site. And yes, I’m getting back to blogging even though that means more entries to migrate over to the new site. I pity our web designer.

Do You Indiebound?

STATUS: Going to bed early. I’ve got to kick this cold.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I”LL BE AROUND by Joan Osborne

Because writers are quite comfortable with online book sites such as Amazon, often times it doesn’t occur to them to include independent bookstores in the links they provide on their Buy My Book website page.

If you’ve got a book about to be published and a website to promote said book and you as the author, the first think your publicist is going to ask you to do is to link fair on your author website. Include Amazon, BN, Borders but don’t forget the Indies.

Not sure how? Click here.

Haven’t got an indie link? Might be time to update the old website.

Haven’t ever heard of Indiebound (formerly Booksense)? Can’t hurt to learn a little more.

Talking Websites

STATUS: I’m working on contracts. Need I say more?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STICKSHIFTS AND SAFETYBELTS by Cake

I had many interesting chats with editors while I was in New York City this past month but I just remembered one that I had meant to blog about. And then I received an email survey about this very question and that reminded me that I hadn’t yet blogged about it.

The editor and I were talking about not-yet-published writer websites and whether we look at them when we’ve requested sample pages and might be contemplating asking for a full. (The URL is often included in the cover letter.)

For both of us, the answer was “yes.” When reviewing sample pages where we like the writing, we’ll often give the writer website a glance and see what’s there. I don’t bother if the sample pages haven’t caught my interest.

I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a good website, with solid content, if you are going to have one at all. More on this in a minute.

If you don’t have a website, that’s fine too. I’ll still ask for a full manuscript if I like the sample pages enough. There are pros and cons to footing the bill of a website before you are even published so don’t stress about it or run out and get one right now because I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary.

But if you do have a website or blog and you are currently looking for an agent, or to make your first sale, or what have you, I can offer a couple of words of advice.

Don’t have a website/blog unless it can be a professional one. The homemade sites look it and just make me cringe. It won’t keep me from asking for your full (or if I like the novel, offering representation) but it’s not putting your best foot forward and that’s never a benefit.

What content should it have? Well the standard. About you, what you are working on, any cool interests you have that might inspire your writing, workshops you are doing, critique partners or anything about the writing process.

What you might not want to include is a whole play-by-play of your current editor, agent, or publisher search. This could backfire. I have seen sites where an author has clearly outlined all the rejections (sometimes the letters are posted there verbatim!). It would make me think twice about asking for the full (although the one time I encountered it, I did end up requesting the full as opinions can vary widely) but think of the psychology impact of that. If lots of people are saying NO, maybe I’ll think twice about saying YES.

Now once you have that book deal or agent or editor, I think it’s okay to write about it after the fact.

For blogs, remember that the writing you have there needs to be representative of you and your good work. It doesn’t have to be perfect but you shouldn’t blog if the writing doesn’t represent your “usual” quality—if you know what I mean.

In short, if it shows you off to an advantage, then have a website. If it can’t at this point in time, I wouldn’t worry about it.

New Rules For Promotion

STATUS: Boy, I’m not off to a good blogging start in this new year but I promise that I’m not flaking out either. I still plan to blog M-F like normal. I just need to get control of the chaos first!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHEN IT’S SLEEPY TIME DOWN SOUTH by Louis Armstrong

Last week I spoke on a panel at the Boulder Bookstore with publicity expert Bella Stander where she outlined for the audience 5 new “rules” that soon-to-be published authors need to know. In fact, we had lunch a week or two before then and that’s when she first unveiled them.

The minute she spoke them aloud, I knew I had to share with my blog readers because I hadn’t thought of this before but she’s spot on.

Most of you already know this but if for some reason you don’t, I’ll tell you the number one rule right now. If you are a published author (or about to be), you need a website. And not some do-it-yourselfer page by the way. You want to pay someone for his or her expertise in this field because that does make a difference.

But here’s what most authors don’t know. That website needs to be up and ready before the book is actually published. In fact, that website should be up and running when the catalog copy is being done for your book.

Why? Because your publisher is going to be sending out ARCs to reviewers and to other terrific people who have the power to give you a plug, and it’s at that moment in time when they might want to find information about you and the book quickly and easily. What better way than through your website?

Darn straight! Consider this a new rule to live by and if you want to check out the other four, click here.

How Would You Describe Your Client From Hell?

STATUS: How is it possible for this many things to pile up after only being out of the office for one week? Truly, my piles of “need attention right now” is astounding.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I WANT YOU TO WANT ME the remake by Letters From Cleo

One thing I spent two seconds on this morning is updating our entry for the Jeff Herman Guide to Literary Agents (which I’m thinking of just deleting anyway). If you can’t find me via the internet, I’m not sure I want you as a client.

In fact, that’s one of the questions on the entry survey: How would I describe a client from hell.

Well, let me tell you. A client from hell (and I actually don’t have any) would be a person who is not internet or tech savvy and has no intention of becoming so. When I first launched my agency in 2002, I had one client who met this description and I will never do that again. Communicating with the person was just too time consuming. Luckily, this client had a book that was a one-off (meaning it was just a one time thing and doesn’t plan to do more.)

So now let me describe a dream client by giving some examples (and I might do a couple this week because darn it, my clients are savvy and I love them for it). Also, it’s worth sharing some of the stuff they are doing because you blog readers can benefit from it. They are creative and some of their creativity might spark a promo idea for you.

First up, a new client for me: Marianne Mancusi

She and another fellow author Liz Maverick both write for the just launched SHOMI line at Dorchester (WIRED and MOONGAZER). They call themselves The Rebels of Romance (which is a great promo hook by the way) and when they can, they cross-promote their titles together. In fact, they have done such a good job, Dorchester decided to feature them in their booth at Book Expo this year. Here is Mari, in costume, getting ready for the signing.

Being the savvy gals that they are, Liz and Marianne did a youtube piece because they are all about the viral video marketing these days. (Now granted, Mari has a background in this since she is a former TV Producer but anyone can get savvy on this tech; it’s not complicated). The idea was to create a funny video that can spread the word about their new books without being obnoxious self promoters.

Check out their video on youtube here.

But then they didn’t stop there. They got Media Bistro to post it on their blog Galley Cat (and now they want to interview the two Rebels of Romance). In addition to targeting media and other blogs with it, they sent the link to sales/marketing at Dorchester who in turn sent it to all their book buyers. The Borders buyer even wrote Liz and Mari to tell them she loved it (and Borders do include things like that on their e-newsletters that go out to hundreds of thousands of people).

Not a bad return on some photos and a couple of hours of editing.

That is worth getting tech savvy for I think, and it makes Mari one of my dream clients.

A Cautionary Tale

STATUS: It’s a Monday and the first day back after a holiday. Enough said.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WINDMILLS OF YOUR MIND by Sting

Caution: titillating blog ahead?

This weekend a librarian got a little eye-brow raising shock.

She clicked on one of my authors old, outdated website urls and got, yes, you guessed, a gay porn site advertising “super big you-know-whats.”

Okay, maybe you didn’t guess that. Luckily the librarian had a lively sense of humor and wrote a lovely email to my author informing her of the new home for her old website url and how and where she had found the old link (just in case we wanted to address the issue).

Well, my author had a non-suggestive and completely non-porn former url so of course I had to give it a look-see. Why on earth would someone use that address for a gay porn site? Didn’t make sense so I thought the librarian might be having a bit of fun.

I got an eyeful that’s for sure.

But this is an issue that I imagine few authors have ever imagined. Having an old url data out and about in the world that you release and then is later legitimately bought and used for porn site probably doesn’t happen often.

But I’m here to tell you it does happen.

By the way, my author is super savvy did everything right. She launched her new site and notified any website linkers of the change so other sites could update their content. She even held the website url for two years after the switch with a nifty message redirecting visitors to her new site.

She never imagined what the next url owner would have in mind.

So if there is even a chance of readers clicking on that old url information and you’d like to control what they see, maybe hold that site (and spend the money) for a little tad longer.