Pub Rants

Category: editors

Something Learned In 6 Years In The Biz

STATUS: It’s ten minutes to midnight and I’m now going to leave the office. Needless to say, there were quite a few things that needed to be taken care of before I left town. Normally it’s not quite so silly that I’m here until midnight. Just one of those flukes.

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

So reading Molly’s interview got me thinking about what will I know in another 23 years from now. Since I’ll be in my 60s, I guess I might have my fingers crossed for retirement. Big smile there.

But I do know one thing I’ve learned over the course of the 6 years I’ve been running my agency and that is this. Life is too short to deal with crazy editors.

Early in my career, I did a negotiation with an editor who thought that the best way to get her way was to simply yell at me–loudly. So loud I had to hold the phone at arm’s length.

Since this was early on, I didn’t hang up on her although I should have. After that bit of nastiness where I did finally get the editor to talk like an normal person the very next day and the deal concluded, I decided that I would never put up with that again—nor would I ever submit to that editor again (which I haven’t).

And I haven’t had to deal with anything similar until just this year and even then, I still can’t believe it. This time I didn’t put up with it.

Because as Molly points out (although she was talking in the context of problematic author clients and not editors), the deal is ultimately not worth the drain on your energy nor does it remotely create a sense that as an agent, you’ve done the best by that book—either in the negotiation or placing the author with the right editor if you know what I mean.

Life is just too short.

I’m on a plane all tomorrow and honestly, with the Maui Writers Conference going on, I’m not sure I’ll be blogging for the rest of the week but we’ll see.

Summertime And The Fridays Are Easy

STATUS: Ack. It’s late and I was supposed to have stats today. Till Tomorrow!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SEXUAL HEALING by Marvin Gaye

It’s summer time and the publishing is easy. Actually, that’s not true right now. I was trying to get something accomplished on Friday with an editor until I realized that the half days are here again.

It’s such a civilized notion doing half days on Fridays for the summer. After all, we should be out enjoying the late summer nights and reading books for pleasure.

I have to admit that it’s easily been 3 months since I last read a book solely for pleasure—as in not with an eye to take it on or not, to edit it, what have you.

I have to get cracking as my book club is meeting next Sunday and I haven’t had a chance to start the book. Like normal, I’ll probably read it all on Friday night and Sunday morning. And my book club members always wonder why so many of the details are fresh in my mind…

Reporting From The Floor

STATUS: Tired and my feet are a bit sore.

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

Today was my first day at the BEA so I haven’t had anything to report until now. Last night I went to a Hollywood party but for the life of me I couldn’t think of anything to blog about except that I had met so-n-so and so-n-so and I had a glass of wine.

Rather boring. But today I actually did stuff—like walked the floor, attended some interesting panels (and some not so interesting panels), and chatted with a bunch of editors I knew.

So as promised, here are some pics from the floor via my iPhone. The LA convention center is divided into 2 halls—the south and the west.

The South Hall being the main floor. So here’s a pic of entering the main floor—literally right after exiting the escalator. Obviously the Hachette Goup (otherwise known as Grand Central Publishing and before that known as Warner Books) has some prime real estate.


This second pic was taken at my first panel for the day, which was the Editors Buzz. This panel is hosted by Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly. PW chooses 6 editors to buzz what they hope will be the next big books for the fall season (or books they feel deserve special attention).

From left: Sara Nelson (at podium), Richard Nash (Soft Skull), Megan Lynch (Riverhead), Jonathan Glusman (Harmony/Crown), Sarah Knight (Henry Holt), Reagan Arthur (Little Brown), and Laurie Chittenden (William Morrow).


Now, if I were a good reporter, I would have written down the titles of all 6 books mentioned at the panel! But I’m not; I’m a lazy BEA attendee who couldn’t type fast enough into my iPhone notes section so if anyone was there and can provide the other titles, please do so in the comments section.

At the end of the panel I only snagged two galleys—THE HERETIC’S DAUGHTER (Which Reagan discussed) and THE LACE READER (which Laurie mentioned). Noticed they were at the far right and therefore went last on the panel, which is also after my chai latte had kicked in. (This panel was excruciatingly early in the day…)

This last photo is from an afternoon session. As you can tell, I was a bit far back in the room but this is Jeff Bezos from Amazon talking. And what a snoozer. I’m as evangelical for the Kindle as any good consumer can be but the first 30 minutes of his “talk” was basically a commercial for the Kindle. Yawn. Things got a lot more interesting when interviewer Chris Anderson (author of THE LONG TAIL) did the spontaneous interview. Mr. Bezos, however, still managed to sidestep the question regarding Amazon and the controversy generated by their recent Booksurge decision (where Amazon would only allow easy access to POD books generated by their Booksurge arm).

Ends up that I was sitting right next to Ellen Archer, Publisher of Hyperion (and of Chris’s book) so we had a fun chat.


Off to bed so I can do it all again tomorrow. If I see some fun shots, I’ll snap and post.

What’s In An Edit (After The Sale)

STATUS: Total confession time. Yes, I’m addicted to nostalgia because I couldn’t resist going to the Duran Duran concert last night for their new album Red Carpet Massacre. Last time I saw this group was in 1984. Yep, twenty-four years ago when I was 16. Oh, how time flies. I have to say that the group as a whole aged fairly well. They even did Planet Earth and Girls on Film in concert. Those were the days…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RIO by Duran Duran (duh)

Yesterday I talked about new clients and on agents editing manuscripts before going out on submission for the very first time. What about new projects by current clients who are previously published? Do agents edit those manuscripts as well?

The answer is both yes and no. For the most part, when a current client has sold that first book and has an editor, then I, as the agent, don’t usually work on the edit with the client for the next subsequent book. After all, that’s why they have an editor and I don’t want to interfere with the editorial process.

There are some exceptions to this though:

Exception 1: the author has an editor who isn’t editing and sending in the delivered book straight into copyediting (and yes, this has surprisingly happened). If an author doesn’t need much editing, then this can be a positive thing but for the most part, I have to say that most writers need a bit of editing and guidance before a project is ready for copy edits. So as the agent, I have worked with my authors to do the edit if this is happening.

Exception 2: if this is an author’s sophomore attempt, I will sometimes read and work on an edit with the author before their editor sees the manuscript for the very first time. This way we can avoid the sophomore disaster that often happens when an author has spent several years writing the first novel and then has to write the second on a deadline under a year or 8 months or whatever. It’s hard to imagine this is a different process but it is. Editors often complain of the messes they have to clean up when the second (sophomore) contracted book is delivered. If I can help to avoid that, then we’ll do it because I want my author to look great.

(If my client has a strong relationship with his or her editor and I know the editor likes things done a certain way, then I stay out of it—even for the sophomore effort. It’s the editor’s job to edit and there’s nothing worse for an editor than having an author who is getting conflicting opinions on the edit from the agent. My job is not to make the editor’s life more difficult on this aspect—on other things yes, but not on the edit. Now if the author is convinced the editor is wrong about the editorial direction, then I’ll be jumping in but as you can see, it all depends on the situation.)

Exception 3: If a current client published in one field with one editor is looking to do something else in another genre or in YA (if they write for the adult market), then yes, I’m usually reading and editing that project.

Exception 4: If a current author client wants feedback on a new idea or proposal and they’ve put together sample chapters, then I’ll often read and give some feedback for revision before the editor sees it. This doesn’t always happen though. It depends on how strong the client’s relationship is with his/her editor.

As you can see, there are just as many ways to edit as there are to agent and how involved the agent is in the editorial process varies greatly! It all depends on the situation.

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.

AAR Night

STATUS: 10 weeks on the NYT bestseller list and counting…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FREE FALLIN’ by Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers

Last night I attended the Association of Authors’ Representatives monthly meeting. It was meet the editors of FSG night (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). An aspiring writers dream I imagine as there were easily 40 agents all in one place—not to mention 8 terrific editors at the front of the room.

Yes, these meetings are top secret…

Here’s what I found interesting. One editor pleaded with agents in the room not to “clean out their drawers” so to speak and send everything they have. This editor was quite blunt and said she couldn’t imagine that agents who do that really thought each book was really that good and deserved a spot on the rather small and intimate FSG list.

Personally, I was appalled that there were any agents doing that at all! I mean why? There can’t possibly be an upside to that. After all, our most important asset is our reputations. Or perhaps I just feel that way.

You’re looking at an agent who might take 5 projects out on submission in a year and that’s pretty much it. (I’m not counting new sales for current clients in that total.) I haven’t got any drawers to empty—metaphorically speaking.

Also, the editors all said they really preferred a phone call rather than an email before a submission. If I don’t know the editor, or don’t know him or her well, then I always call first but I must confess that all the editors I know super well I almost never do. Seems to me that people are so busy, it’s just easier to respond to an email when you have quiet moment to. So, that was good to know. FSG editors like a phone call.

In good news, I convinced an agent friend who is rather a Luddite that the Kindle really was worth its weight in gold. She’s going to buy it,

And the most fun? I went to lunch with Kathy Dawson at Harcourt Children’s and when I popped open my bag to show her my palm treo (she asked), she noticed my kindle and said she had one too!

The first editor I’ve lunched with who has had the Kindle two months longer that I have. Tomorrow, I’ll report how the Kindle reading is going so far.

Vampires All The Time Or None Of The Time

STATUS: What news I’ve received this week! Ally Carter is in week 9 on the New York Times Bestseller List with I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU. If that isn’t enough, my author Hank Ryan just found out that PRIME TIME has been nominated for a 2007 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Holy wow!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WATCHING THE WHEELS by John Lennon

So what became clear today? On the romance side, the editors are feeling a little tired concerning vampires. On the Urban fantasy side, editors say “bring it on.” Vampires sell. Vampires all the time.

And I had lunch with a children’s editor from HarperCollins and she said vampires are still okay with her.

But the one thing EVERYONE agreed on is that the vampire twist would have to be special, something different, really solid world building, for them to make the buy.

Anybody sick of hearing about vampires yet?

In other news, contemporary or urban fantasy is selling very well. All the editors are open to a large (or epic) fantasy along the lines of Patrick Rothfuss THE NAME OF THE WIND but unless it’s a title that can go big like that (and in hardcover), the mood isn’t to take the chance as the market is soft in that general realm at the moment.

High concept, big, up-market commercial literary fiction that can be done in hardcover (or maybe broken out big via original trade paperback) is on everyone’s wish list.

There has been lots of buzz around a Ace buy last year that’s coming out this year called DESTROYER MAN.

That’s military/alternate world fantasy and I have to say that although it’s not my usual bag (military that is), the description of this novel had me wanting a copy. Just proof that any tale well told can cause excitement.

I also had the best sushi in a long time tonight in my hood (Sushi Samba). I had been told it was overrated and I was a bit hesitant but was won over completely by an amazing bottle of Saki and something they call the Pacific roll. Truly, I have not seen the like in Denver and that makes me rather sad.

The Year Delay

STATUS: I’m awake. Heck, that’s a good start to the day. I love being in NYC and doing appointments but it’s tough to be gone all day and then still keep up on all the work that needs to be attended to at night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ONCE IN A LIFETIME by Talking Heads

Most of you already know this but for the new readers who might not, this is what you need to keep in mind.

What editors bought last year are the projects that are hitting shelves now. That means if you have a project now that has similar elements to novels hitting the shelves, you’re too late. This is especially true in the world of romance (paranormal in particular) where the trends are pretty easy to spot and the market does shift within a year or two timeframe.

I had coffee with an editor at Dorchester yesterday afternoon. If you know anything about this house, they lean toward debut writers, the editors read a lot of slush on their own, and they don’t mind taking risks with new kinds of material.

This editor is even still open to dark, interesting paranormals but lately there has been a trend of demons being the new vampires.

Or instead of demons, we have dragons.

Folks, it’s not the paranormal element that makes your story fresh or original, it’s the amazing world you build within your paranormal romance that makes the difference. From the slush stuff Sara and I have seen lately, a lot of writers haven’t quite learned that distinction.

So what would this editor love to see?

1. Blends of historical with fantasy (C.L. Wilson’s LORD OF THE FADING LANDS did well—and was quite long to boot)

2. Urban fantasy with a strong romance.

What this editor has too much of?

1. Mystery romance

2. Romantic comedy or straight contemporary romance is a tough field for them (but I have heard that editors are looking for it at other houses so this might be a publisher-specific thing.)

I think what you should take away from all these posts of mine lately is that it’s good to know the market but ultimately don’t get overwhelmingly caught up into it.

I’ll tell you right now that if I found a new, exciting author with a fresh mystery/romance or a vampire paranormal, I could sell it if the story was original, amazing, and basically reinvented how we view the paranormal romance world.

And that’s the kicker. It would have to be just that good when the market is awash in vampire stories or what have you.

Make sense?

No Two Editors Are Alike

STATUS: It’s super late here but I’m just getting this blog in under the wire Denver time.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? D’YER MAK’ER by Led Zeppelin

I had lunch and several meetings with the editors of Bloomsbury/Walker Children’s today. It was a day at the Flatirons.

And the adage couldn’t be more true. No two editors are alike.

I asked them to name the top 5 things they don’t want to see in a children’s submission.

One editor said “no more vampires.”

But the other editor said, “I’m still good; send me the vampires” (but she says she is “slightly tired” of trolls in middle grade fiction).

I have to say that for troll fiction, I have not seen nary a one.

Top five list for Editor A:

1. No more girl stories with famous dad, friend, family member or other. Give her a couple of years and then she’ll be game to see Hollywood insider stories again.

2. No teaching a lesson
(and let me add for the record that saying such in your query letter is always the kiss of death at the Nelson Agency. We are interested in the story you want to tell; not the moral you’d like to teach. Blech!)

3. Time travel is not this editor’s cup of tea (but the other editor says to bring it on).
Once again proving that an agent’s knowledge is often key concerning who is the right fit for a manuscript.

4. No more vampires, please.

5. No more comparisons of Harry Potter meets anything (and the same can be said about the Twilight series).
Darn it all. When are the other agents going to compare their submissions to the Gallagher Girls?

Editor B:

1. No including a sales or marketing plan where you tell the publisher how the book should be published.
(Gee, can’t imagine why that would go over like a lead balloon)

Dang I’m funny this late at night…

2. This needs to go to Oprah.
(Just in case you folks didn’t know, Lady O only does adult trade books).

3. No comparisons to Harry Potter
(hum… where did I hear that before?)

4. For picture/chapter books, please refrain from feeling the need to provide cover illustration done by a friend or Uncle Bob or better yet, your nephew. In fact, no “drawings” are necessary.
(Learning moment: Publishers hire the illustrator—not the author.)

5. If it’s over 400 pages (and first ask the question why your YA or middle grade is that long), but if it is, don’t send the whole thing. A couple of chapters will suffice.

Common sense that is perhaps not so common.

‘night all.

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…