Pub Rants

Category: research

Dirty Word: Comment Moderation

STATUS: I have a lot that needs to get done today. Doing a phone conference in 5 minutes and I’m in the middle of negotiating a deal.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROAD by George Winston

This morning I have to say that I’m a little annoyed. I’ve been blogging since 2006. I certainly wasn’t the first agent to start this process (waves to Jennifer Jackson and Miss Snark) but I certainly was early into this game.

And for the most part, I love it. I love being able to rant when I want to and I love how sometimes my blog topics spark an interesting discussion in the comments section. I prefer open forums. Freedom of speech, etc. But for the past 2 months, I’ve contemplated turning on the moderating comments function again because there have been several posters (about 3 of them) who seem to have a personal agenda and regardless of what my specific blog entry is about, these comments hijack the comment section to turn the conversation around to their specific viewpoint on publishing or to highlight, once again, their personal taste regarding what they think is worth publishing and what is not.

Now this certainly isn’t a crime. Everyone is entitled to their own personal opinion but I’m finding that these constant hijacks are completely limiting the possibility of any other real discussion about the publishing industry in the comment section. Not to mention, my blog’s comment section has become a soapbox for a select few individuals.

Sorry, I’m done with that. Sadly, comment moderation is back on. It’s more work for me and it depresses the number of comments people actually want to make but I guess so does a constant soapbox.

As I’ve mentioned on previous blogs, there are plenty of terrific writer chat forums that are excellent vehicles for expressing opinions and having your voice heard. Here are three just to name a few:

Writers Net
Backspace Forums

Absolute Write Forums

Exploding The “Must Have Connections Myth”—Guest Blogger Megan Crewe

STATUS: For a Monday, it was actually fairly quiet. Only one major issue to solve.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RASPBERRY BERET by Prince

I thought this a pertinent and timely entry in light of a lot of recent discussions I’ve seen in the comment section of agent blogs lately.

Megan’s debut hits shelves this week—all done with nary a networked connection.

I think every aspiring writer hears this message at least once: You don’t have a hope of getting published unless you’ve got connections. I saw it pop up on message boards and websites as I was preparing GIVE UP THE GHOST for submission to agents, and couldn’t help feeling nervous. After all, I’d never talked to an editor or an agent in my life. I didn’t even live in the same country as most of them! And my close writer friends were currently unagented, so I didn’t have a referral, either.

But I’d also read posts by authors talking about getting picked out of the slush pile, and agents mentioning their excitement at finding a gem in their inboxes, and that gave me hope. So instead of digging into my savings to fly off to every conference I could manage, I simply wrote a query letter, revised it, and started sending it out.

Three and a half years later, I have an agent, a publishing deal, and a book that just hit the shelves. I met Kristin in person for the first time this past May, two and a half years after we started working together.

I know now that there’s nothing to worry about–people receive offers of representation and book deals without any prior connections all the time. I did, many of my writer friends did, and I’ve happily told this to writers who’ve said they’re afraid they won’t be able to find an agent or get published because they don’t know anyone.

Unfortunately, I realized offering my experience isn’t enough. Why should anyone believe me over those claiming that it’s impossible? Maybe my case was just the exception.

Which is why, last month, I set out to collect solid data. 270 fiction authors from a variety of genres filled out a poll asking them about their experiences selling their first published novel. With the results now in, I say with assurance that the idea that you need connections to get published is nothing more than a myth.

62% of the agented authors who responded got the agent who sold their first book through cold querying–no prior meeting, no referral.

72% of the authors sold their first book to an editor they had no connection to (either by cold querying themselves, or submitting via their agent).

You can find my full discussion of the poll results here.

Can connections help you out? Of course! But if you don’t have them, don’t sweat it. I’m a Canadian author who signed with a Denver agent who sold to a New York editor without my having any prior connection to either of them, and that novel can be found right now in stores across both countries. If I can do it (along with more than a hundred other authors who answered the poll), there’s no reason you can’t, too.

Art Of The Agent Search

STATUS: I’ve been so busy the last two days that honestly, I simply forgot to blog. Shocking I know. I woke up this morning and slapped my forehead.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG SKY by Kate Bush

Galley Cat just recently posted a fun entry on the Easily Overlooked Art of Agent Research where author David Henry Sterry gives the scoop.

Hum… I’m not sure what to say about the stalking part. Grin. Now I do think writers should have more than 10 possible agents on their submission list but besides that…

Now that’s a good tip on how to target the right agent. Here a few tips on some things that will hinder your agent search. By the way, all of these have just happened in the last few weeks.

1. Telling an agent during your conference pitch session that the agent will be sorry that he or she didn’t allow this writer to pitch his idea for a novel. (Mind you—not a novel that this person has written but an IDEA for a novel).

2. Calling an agent during a busy busy work day and leaving 4 or 5 voicemail messages highlighting that you, the writer, are not computer savvy and since you have questions about submitting, will the agent please call the writer back.

3. A first-time writer asking an agent if he or she can send the half-written first draft of their debut novel. (Gee, what is the likelihood of that being his/her very best work?)

4. A writer sending a note with their submission saying that they thought they should just send along, not what the agent asked for, but chapters 8 and 9 because that’s where the story really picks up.

5. A writer highlighting that they met you, the agent, at a conference that you didn’t actually attend. (Oops.)

6. Writers stating in their queries that were recommended by one of the agent’s clients when they weren’t. (Folks, agents check this and most clients give a heads-up email when doing a referral).

7. Starting an email query with something like “Knowing your expertise with thrillers” and it’s not a genre the agent has represented or handled.

No Freewheelin’ With The Blurb Endorsements

STATUS: It was quiet for one day. I can’t even believe I said it was quiet yesterday. Plenty to do between now and Thursday. Won’t be in the office on Friday and of course, no blogging.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DEMOLITION MAN by The police

I’m not really going to tally the results this time. Yesterday’s “poll” was more about creating a discussion around blurbs. For an author who is receiving the blurb endorsement, it’s an incredible feeling. That someone way more established than you (or famous) thought your novel worthy of praise. It’s big validation for a debut author in a world where there aren’t many validating moments outside of sales performance. And I always think of it as incredibly generous for an established author to do. When done right, it takes a lot of time to read a novel and it takes even more time to think of a short, pithy blurb that really captures the author’s emotion about it.

Try writing one for a favorite book of yours just as practice. It’s not easy.

For readers, it seems a mixed bag. I do know that booksellers and publishers absolutely do believe that blurb endorsements help to sell books.

Here’s what I’ve gleaned:

1. The author name has to be pretty big—as in immediately recognizable—for it to make an impact.

2. Readers do feel it’s part of the advertising.

3. Authors should not be too carefree about what they blurb as that can shape reader perception—of the blurbed books and for the books that author writes. Blurb only books where the endorsement is really meant.

4. Many readers find it helpful. That maybe they’ll try a new author they might not otherwise if a favorite author has blurbed the book.

5. The text of the blurb is just as important as the blurb itself. Faked enthusiasm is recognizable.

A Second Totally Unscientific PubRants Blog Reader Poll

STATUS: It’s a bit quiet leading up to the long weekend so I’m actually getting some things done. And yes, I’m still working on my query inbox…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNKNOWN LEGEND by Neil Young

When we did our completely unscientific first ever Pubrants Blog Reader poll, I realized that I left out one important question (or maybe series of questions).

We talked about covers and back cover copy influencing book buying decisions but we didn’t talk about author blurbs.

Often times before a book is to be published, the agent, editor, and author will put our heads together and discuss who would be a great blurb candidate for the project. Obviously blurbs are going to come for established authors with solid reputations and a large following, otherwise the blurb probably wouldn’t have much weight. The name has to be recognizable and appropriate for the genre, type of book, etc.

For example, this week has been very exciting at the agency as we just received word that Lisa See (author of Snow Flower And The Secret Fan), who we asked to read an ARC of HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford, loved the book and is thrilled to give us a blurb to use.

Needless to say, Jamie and I were giddy. Now I realize that the book isn’t out yet and therefore anyone who reads this blog can’t buy it yet, but would that influence you?

So that’s my poll for today:

Do you notice and read author blurbs on books you are potentially interested in buying?

If so, have you ever bought a book because an author you loved and trusted endorsed the book?

If you can remember, what established authors created the swing vote for you and you did indeed buy the book with their author blurb on it?

Have you ever bought a book based on an author endorsement and then were dissatisfied with the book bought? If so, did that impact a future buy for a book for which that same author has endorsed?

I imagine this random poll will spark some interesting discussions this week!

Stats And A Few More Thoughts

STATUS: I’ve got an auction happening tomorrow. That just makes the day crazy busy.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? A CHANGE WOULD DO YOU GOOD by Sheryl Crow

Basically last night was nothing but whining—at least I thought so until I started to really think about it. It’s actually extremely important for an agent to read for pleasure (and yes, sometimes reading sample pages is fun but ultimately it’s still working so it’s not quite the same thing as reading a book solely for pleasure). Do you know why? Because that’s when an agent feels the joy of the printed page and the written word. That’s when we remember how much we enjoy just reading like normal people do.

It also keeps us in touch with what’s out there, what’s selling or catching people’s attention. I love to read and when you work too hard, sometimes you forget that passion because all you want is to tick off one more item from your long list of TO DOs. So not only is it imperative (work-wise) to read for pleasure but it’s also wise for our sanity in general.

And finally, I have the stats for you from our poll on Tuesday, June 16, 2008. Some comments came in after the cut off and we’re sorry to not include you if your answer came late but we had to create a cut-off somewhere to compile.

Responses: 195
(not everyone answered every question which is why a few of the totals do not add up to 195)

Do you prefer hard copy or electronic?
Hard Copy: 185Electronic: 10
95% hard copy

When going into a store to buy a book, have you then bought a second title?
Yes: 187
No: 8
96% Yes

Have you bought a book based on the cover alone?
Yes: 63No: 131
68% No

Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy?
Yes: 155
No: 39
80% Yes

Kristin comment: If you ever needed proof that it was worthwhile to make your query pitch paragraph mirror back cover copy, here it is I think. Agents are just like readers. We can be swayed by good back cover copy.

How often have you bought a book based on a friend or family member’s recommendation?
Always: 5 = 2%
Almost all the time: 19 = 10%
Frequently (much of the time/ around 50% of the time): 75 = 39%
Rarely: 72 = 37%
Never: 23 = 12%

Have you ever bought a book because I mentioned it on this blog? If so, which book(s).
Yes: 63
No: 128
67% No

Which ones:
Ally Carter (23)
Sherry Thomas (13)
Linnea Sinclair (7)
Lisa Shearin (5)
Shanna Swendson (5)
Hank Phillippi Ryan (3)
Jana DeLeon (2)
Kelly Parra (2)
Marianne Mancusi (2)
Cheryl Hingley (1)
Leslie Langtry (1)
Kim Reid (1)
Jennifer O’Connell (1)

Kristin comment: Most interesting point about this question is that I actually mention quite a few non-client books on my blog and nobody mentioned whether that has swayed him/her to buy some other non-Nelson Agency Client book.

How many books do you buy in a year?
0: 01-10: 29 = 15%
11-50: 82 = 44%
51-100: 42 = 22%
100+: 35 = 19%
With several responses of 300+ and even 500+

Kristin comment: Holy cow you blog readers buy books. I love you!

How many books do you check out of the library per year?
0: 87 = 47%
1-10: 16 = 8%
11-50: 45 = 24%
51-100: 23 = 12%
100+: 16 = 9%
Again with several responses in the hundreds

Kristin comment: We love libraries and librarians so it’s perfectly okay with us if you check out from the library. Libraries often buy lots of copies of each book and that makes us happy!

eBooks For The Young’un’s

STATUS: I had two things I wanted to accomplish before I left the office today. Yeah, didn’t do either. But other great things are going on.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GOIN’ THROUGH YOUR PURSE by Material Issue

And I need to compile the stats from Tuesday’s poll but that will take a little time. In the meantime, here’s a cool article that fits right in to what we’ve been talking about this week. How interesting.

Survey Confirms Younger Generation Less Interested in Traditional Reading Habits
The Bookseller’s Reading the Future Survey, presented at a conference last week, reports only half of young people aged 18-24 years old think people will still be using bookshops in 20 years’ time. Looking deeper into 18-24 year olds’ reading habits, the survey found that 28% were favourable towards the idea of e-readers, compared to 9% of 65+ year olds, and 40% liked the idea of downloadable chapters of books, compared to 7% of 65+ year olds. Transworld publisher Bill Scott-Kerr said at the conference that the statistics point to where publishers are headed in the future. We all know the book is a great piece of technology – you can’t drop e-books in the bath. But we as an industry are in a lot of trouble; we don’t know where we are going.”

Here’s the full article at the Bookseller.

PubRants First Blog Reader Poll Or Something Equally Unscientific

STATUS: I’m getting my 80s groove thing on to start the week. How can you be upset when listening to nostalgia music like this?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE LOOK OF LOVE by ABC

So this morning I’m breezing through my copy of Publishers Weekly as we had just found out our author Sherry Thomas was getting a new PW review for her August release DELICIOUS (and a fab review at that!). I was pretty sure it was coming in the current issue that hasn’t hit my mailbox yet but to make sure, I scanned the latest copy.

Well, this article caught my eye. Zogby International, in conjunction with Random House, did a survey on current readership. Here’s the link if you want to read it more fully.

And here are just a few eye-popping stats from this poll.

82% of Readers prefer the hard copy of a book over the electronic version (Oy! I’m in the minority. I love reading on my Kindle.)

43% of readers go into bookstores looking for a specific title

77% of those readers make additional purchases when looking for a specific book

52% of book purchasers are swayed by cover art

49% of book purchasers are swayed by reviews

35% of book purchasers have been swayed by a cover quote (now my authors understand why we work so hard to get those cover quotes!)

60% of book purchasers are swayed by recommendations from friends or family members.

Word of mouth is everything!

Alas, I didn’t see any stats on back cover copy and whether that influences a purchase. That could have been relevant concerning all my recent blog posts regarding it.

But let’s do our own, not-so-scientific and spur of the moment sample poll:

Do you prefer hard copy or electronic?

When going into a store to buy a book, have you then bought a second title?

Have you bought a book based on the cover alone?

Have you ever bought a book based on the back cover copy? (what the heck, let’s ask).

How often have you bought a book based on a friend or family member’s recommendation?

Have you ever bought a book because I mentioned it on this blog? If so, which book(s). (oh boy!)

How many books do you buy in a year?

How many books do you check out from the library in a year?

I’ll compile our own totally unscientific stats tomorrow or on Wed.

Daily Digest Reading

STATUS: Caucus time in Colorado! I’m heading out early to participate in my neighborhood meeting to choose our delegate.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BAD SNEAKERS by Steely Dan

Two years ago when I was looking for an assistant, I did interviews with something like 13 or 14 candidates for the position. I began each interview with a list of our daily reading on top of all the queries/submissions/full manuscripts that we receive.

I literally had two people withdraw themselves from consideration because it was going to be too much.

Sara was actually the only candidate who said, “Yes, I understand all that but since I read very quickly, I’ll finish in no time so let me tell you how my background can contribute to growing your company.”

Yeah. Pretty obvious why I hired her, isn’t it? She’s one of the few people I have met who actually reads faster than I do.

But here’s why I share the story. You guys want to know the inside scoop about the publishing industry? Than why not read what most agents do every morning? Note: these aren’t necessarily free. Also, it will take a month or two before reading them begins to make sense because you’ll need to get more familiar with the industry, the players, etc. It is quite an education I imagine though.

In case you are interested, here’s the list of my daily digest reads:

Variety Daily News

Publishers Marketplace Pub Lunch
Publishers Marketplace Deal Lunch

Publishers Weekly Daily
Publishers Weekly Children’s Bookshelf

Media Bistro’s Daily Media News Feed

Happy Reading!

Research Is Free

STATUS: I can’t believe it is already 5 o’clock. Do you ever have those days where you start working and then realize you’ve missed lunch by a long shot? Sigh. All good stuff though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? EAT FOR TWO by 10,000 Maniacs

Here’s an axiom to live by. Don’t pay a service to do your agent research when you can find out most of that information for free just by spending some time on the internet.

Or at the very least, pay the $20 fee for one month’s subscription to Publishers Marketplace and truly get the insider scoop on what is selling, by whom, to whom, and generally for how much. It will only cost you twenty bucks and you can rest assured that the info is fairly accurate (or close enough for your purposes).

Here’s why I feel like ranting. There is a research service out there that prides itself on offering accurate reports that they will then share with paying customers. Now I like the entrepreneurial spirit and pretty much commend that in anyone but according to this company representative, they will only accept/verify information by talking with the agent directly.

In a way, that makes sense. After all, the source would know the best but I don’t think that’s the ONLY way to gather accurate information—especially when the conversations go along like this.

First Call from Research Service
This was actually several years ago but it stands out clearly in my mind and here’s why. The owner of this business rang up to tell me about the company and then to ask me about my current client list. All information I’m happy to share.

Until he asked me when Diana Gabaldon had left my agency.

Uh…

I know this will come as a big shock to my blog readers but I’m not, and have never been, the agent for Diana Gabaldon. I do have delusions of grandeur but I don’t ever ask anyone but Chutney to share in them.

Not to mention, Diana’s agent is a guy—and she’s been with him for years and years—long before I was even agenting. Makes you wonder to whom the thought he was talking.

That’s okay. Mistakes happen. When I asked to see my report and to verify the information contained therein, I was told that was not company policy. So, what I’m saying is that my report from this service might say that Diana is a former client of mine. Goodness, I hope not.

Second call
This happened a year or so later. Same person called to get information about my current sales. Most of which is public knowledge on my website and on Publishers Marketplace—the general info anyway.

For this call, this person insisted that I reveal the dollar amounts associated with my deals. A little surprised, I said I couldn’t divulge that info—that it was confidential (except in the general terms outlined in deal lunch and approved by the author before announcing). I was then subjected to tirade about how all the other agencies share that info (which I rather doubt but whatever). I politely suggested that he simply contact those authors and ask them about the deal as it is their info to share as they please.

I was hung up on.

Third Call
Happened quite recently. This time the call came in on a Saturday. I wasn’t at the office. What in the world would I’d be doing at the office on a Saturday (besides doing my accounting upgrade but we won’t go there). If this person would like to speak to me, why not call during business hours when I’m actually around?

To this day, I have no idea what my agency report from this service looks like. Let’s hope it’s accurate but I’m not feeling overly confident about it. This leads me back to my original point.

Why pay for something that you can find out for yourself, fairly accurately, and in most instances, for free?