Pub Rants

Category: editors

An Argument For The MidList

STATUS: Can you say snow in Denver? Oh my. Good thing the weather forecast is sunny and back in the 50s come this weekend.

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

As a follow up to yesterday’s entry, I want to remind editors that sometimes break-out books come unexpectedly from a midlist author.

Simone Elkeles is a terrific case in point.

Before PERFECT CHEMISTRY hit (close to 100,000 copies in print and over 1500 to 2500 books sold every week for months and months), Simone was certainly what somebody would have called a solidly midlist author.

She had published three previous novels before PERFECT CHEMISTRY. All of which had done respectably but certainly nothing like her current novel.

It’s the right book at the right time but when I was selling her two years ago, I had many an editor pass on her with the words “we don’t see this as a big enough book” or “I don’t think we can break this out in a big way.”

Hum…reminiscent of what I’m hearing now.

And yet, some midlist authors grow into big sellers. So just a gentle reminder even though I know all you editors already know this. I get that this isn’t always the strongest argument to sway the powers that be in the ed. board meetings.

But I feel like saying it all the same.

“Just Don’t See How I Can Break This Out In A Big Way”

STATUS: Ready to turn in for the night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I GOTTA FEELIN by Black Eyed Peas

I have to say that lately, these are the most dreaded words an agent can hear from an editor.

As I mentioned last week, midlist authors are getting hit the hardest—especially when it comes to option proposals. This and debuts.

Lately, the most common editorial refrain seems to be the above. In fact, editors will even be wonderfully complimentary—really highlighting how much they liked the writing, the concept, the talent of the writer but… And the ‘but’ is the tough part.

If editors don’t see something as a big book, they are passing. Or my other recent favorite, if it doesn’t fit into a very narrowly prescribed genre of what has worked for them (oh let’s say something like dark YA angsty romance), then they are also passing.

Okay…. Hollywood does this too until the next big hit comes out of “nowhere” because it’s nothing like any movie currently out. I know it’s tough, editors, but I’d love a little vision.

Editor Rant–Daniel Menaker

STATUS: TGIF and I’m heading out of the office early to do a little reading.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? STORMY BLUES by Billie Holiday

Ah, I couldn’t get the Friday Funnies to work and since I’m heading out, I’ll just have to let Daniel Menaker rant in my place.

If you haven’t checked out his blog posting at the B&N blog, it’s really worth a look.

Warning—this article is not for the faint of heart.

It’s definitely the unvarnished inside perspective though….

Have a great weekend.

Because Inquiring Minds Want To Know

STATUS: I worked on outstanding issues on two contracts, did a phone conference with an author and my film co-agent, touched base with my marketing director on two outstanding issues from last Friday and answered 118 emails. Maybe tomorrow I can actual tackle my To Do list for the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE MUMMER’S DANCE by Loreena McKennitt

At the end of each day, I do try and catch up with what is going on in the blog world. I like knowing about what other agents and editors are writing about.

So that was what I was doing when I stumbled upon this entry by Editorial Anonymous. I avidly read the entry and looked at the comments. Only 20 people responded? Unbelievable. I get comments like this every day on my blog and here we have an editor answering some key questions such as:

Q1. Given these recessionary times, are nervous publishers holding back on making decisions to take on a book?

You bet I’m reading that with interest.

Q3. As agents go, do publishers give them a pecking order, and so my agent may be lower in the pecking order?

Inquiring minds what to know!

Q7. Do you think it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I’ve yet to receive a response?

So I obviously need to point out this revealing entry. On submission right now, get ye over there and read Give Me Your Tired, Your Confused, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Know What the **** Is Going On

And if you’re not at that stage and wondered about these Qs, you’ll also want to check it out.

Q8. From roughly what proportion of partial submissions do you then request the full?

Q9. Of those fulls you request, what proportion of manuscripts would actually be acquired?

Q10. Are you more likely to request a full if you met the author and got on reasonably well with them at a conference or workshop, or would that have no bearing whatsoever on your decision?

Q11. Or if the author had already been published, would that be more persuasive?

What Surprises An Editor

STATUS: I love going to conferences abut I have 246 emails in my inbox. And I was checking and responding to emails when I was away!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOME by Face

When I was at RWA in D.C. last week, I was having drinks with an editor from The Penguin Group (I think that was the house—it’s all a blur really). We were talking about passing on sample pages and I had mentioned that I had just passed on an author who already had an offer on the table.

She was really surprised and said, “I didn’t know that agents did that. I thought you’d always take the sale.”

And then I looked at her surprised (there was a lot of surprise going on in this conversation) because I just had assumed that editors knew that agents pass on projects—even with offers in hand. Even if the agent can see that the project might excite other agents and probably sell. Guess I shouldn’t assume what an editor would know or not know about the agent side of the biz.

Maybe I’m unusual. Maybe other agents wouldn’t have passed but right now, when I think about taking on authors and really pushing them in what is a tough fiction market, I’ve gotta feel the love. It could be a tough slog—even with a prior publishing record!

This offer was from a previously published author with a debut track record (so neither good or bad in that aspect). It’s not like I didn’t like the project or didn’t see the merit it. I did. It just didn’t speak to me so I could champion the author’s career.

And in this case, I don’t think the author had prior representation but had worked directly with the publisher. I don’t remember. She may have left the previous agent (which is a requirement for me as it makes me uncomfortable if an author is shopping new agents without leaving the old. I know it’s done and I know we’ve debated the pros and cons on this blog about that. I’m just saying what I’m comfortable or not comfortable with.)

Of course, I’m always wondering why my favorite authors aren’t ever dissatisfied with their current agents. Grin.

Editor Rejection Remorse (Definition)

STATUS: Technology can make working effortless. When it’s not working, let me tell you what a headache it can be. What a miserable Wednesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HUNTING HIGH AND LOW by a-ha

I have to say that I got a kick out of reading all your definitions for editor rejection remorse. In fact, just about every entry had a terrific definition. No one quite nailed what I had in mind when I was coining the term but more on that in a minute.

In the comments, the most popular definition for editor rejection remorse was an editor who had turned down a manuscript only to later see it be really successful or hit the NYT list.

I think that would also be agent rejection remorse. Grin. Funny enough, I’ve had two books I passed on hit the NYT list and sure, I took a moment to second guess myself but the truth of the matter? I still don’t like either of those books. It so wasn’t right for me. But there is an upcoming release that I went back and forth, back and forth on and then passed—mainly because I was crunched for time and had to make a decision so I let it go. It’s building in buzz as of late so I’ll probably have good regret on that one. Oh well, I only have so many hours in the day.

And editors I’m sure have a moment’s pause as well but every editor I’ve asked said that they can’t spend too much time on things they passed on because maybe it took that certain house with that certain editor to have the vision to put that title on the bestseller list or to give it the good success it had.

Do we believe it? That’s the question….

Now I think it’s normal to have genuine regret if you are the editor who was the underbidder in the auction (as in the editor lost out but really wanted the project). That just plain sucks—especially if the editor did everything in his or her power to get the higher ups to go the distance and they didn’t. Nothing the editor can do there and then to see the project they really wanted be successful can be painful.

Now for me, here is the definition of editor rejection remorse I had in mind when I was typing up last night’s entry. This actually happened. I had an editor pass on a submission with a really glowing rejection letter. The editor used words such as “savored” this novel and “was mesmerized by the beautiful language.”

Yeah, I know. I still can’t believe that was a rejection letter.

A week later, the editor couldn’t stop thinking about the novel and so out of the blue, wrote me an email with an editorial revision letter for the author. The editor mentioned how she would very much like to see this novel again.

She was obviously having rejection remorse. Editors have a lot on their plates in any given day or week so the fact that it was still in the forefront of her mind a week later says a lot. Now whether that will than equal a sale is the crucial question.

Editor Rejection Remorse

STATUS: It’s rather late but I’m thinking of squeezing in one quick sample page read before I call it quits for the night.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHO WILL SAVE YOUR SOUL by Jewel

This is rather like playing a round of Balderdash. Do you remember the party game where you are given a rather obscure vocabulary word and each player has to create a definition? The captain of the round then writes down the actual definition, mixes up the entries, and then the players get to vote on which entry is the real one.

You win points as a player if other players vote for your made-up explanation. If you vote for the real dictionary definition, then you win extra points as well.

So I though tonight we might play a little round of balderdash because editor rejection remorse rather sounds like a phrase that I made up. (In fact, I may very well have but surely I can’t be the first agent to call it such.)

It does occasionally happen and tomorrow I’ll talk about it but before then, come out and play and give the definition your best shot. What do you think it means?

What Editors Bought or Wanted To Buy Recently

STATUS: I think I’ve officially beaten the “What Editors Want” horse to death now!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU AND ME AND THE BOTTLE MAKES THREE by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been asking editors what they have bought lately or what they had been the underbidder for in an auction. Here’s what a couple of editors had to say.

These folks were from a variety of houses such as HarperCollins, Penguin Group, Simon & Schuster, Random house, Macmillan group etc.

You’ll notice the reference to well known projects. Editors use it too. It’s a quick way of summing up a project for someone who hasn’t read it. And I know a lot of my blog readers will say that editors don’t want to buy anything new or original (and that’s certainly true in some respects) but all I’m trying to point out here is how important and effective a tool it can be to know where your book fits in the market.

On the Adult Side
1. A memoir the editor described as 3 Cups of Tea meets Into Thin Air
2. A collection of essays about motherhood
3. A Friday Night Knitting Club type book for the women’s fiction market
4. A thriller with a dark and damaged heroine
5. A thriller with a nasty vampire FBI agent as hero (and this was not to an SF&F house)
6. Women’s fiction about a group of women attending a cooking school
7. Historical novel set in Russia and featuring a Ballerina
8. A literary novel that is atmospheric and interior
9. A literary satire on a main character who becomes a famous novelist
10. A crime caper that’s sharp and funny
11. A commercial novel about the retelling of Dracula from Mina Harker’s POV
12 A commercial novel by a Nigerian author where the main character who has many wives and many children but when his newest wife can’t get pregnant, it calls into question his whole family life.
13. A women’s fic novel where the main protagonist doesn’t realize she is in a coma and reexamines her life.

On The Children’s Side
1. A story with the Fae but from the boy’s POV
2. a middle grade novel set in Afghanistan and San Francisco—kind of like Kite Runner for kids—serious themes but without the adult content
3. A YA done in free verse where the narrator has to save her older sister
4. A YA horror novel
5. An alternate history/steampunk type YA set in London after WWII
6. a YA where a college drop-out crosses a necromancer.
7. A literary YA with a Southern setting from an adult author who is lauded for her literary adult fiction.
8. A telling of the Anastasia story but with a contemporary spin
9. A historical YA with a supernatural twist
10. A biography of Charles Darwin told via letters Charles wrote to his love Emma

[And I forgot to mention this when I originally posted but if you want the real skinny on what editors are buying, sign up for the Deal Lunch daily email via Publishers Lunch. Deals included usually have a short description of the novel sold as well as who sold the project and who bought the project. In three months, you’ll have a good idea on what is selling.]

The Value Of A List

STATUS: Heading into the final week of meetings and boy the days are packed.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIG TIME by Peter Gabriel

Here’s my advice for the day. Don’t read too much into these lists I post. I do it because writers are so interested in knowing what editors want (or don’t want in this case). As if there is some magic formula embedded in their “want” list.

The actuality is this. There are certain trends in publishing. Right now in YA it’s the paranormal element—be it a zombie, vampire, werewolf, witch or what have you. Basically, editors end up seeing so much in this genre, they get weary of it. Only THE best projects will stand out in the crowd. Only a really unique story will grab the attention of the sales force in an editorial meeting. In fact, editors contemplate their spin (how they’d pitch it) before they are even willing to make an offer to buy it. If they don’t have that new spin, they’re passing. Market is crowded.

Logically, you guys all know this. So when I say that editors aren’t buying epic fantasy, is that true? Sure. Until I put an amazingly written, wholly original epic fantasy in front of them. Suddenly, they are open to buying.

But what I’m trying to point out with my lists is what editors are seeing too much of—so those books are going to be a much harder sell for the agent. That’s it.

Today I spent the morning at a wonderful literary house—Grove Atlantic. They don’t have mandates. They don’t follow trends. They buy brilliant writers who write screamingly well. (So hard to find I might add…)

They did a title called BROKEN FOR YOU that I wish I had sold. In fact, I’d love more submissions in that vein—literary novels with emotional heart. Oh, that’s so hard to find. The level of writing matched with the emotional complexity of character… A lot of times writers will have one or the other fabulously done. That’s what upmarket commercial fiction usually encompasses. To have both together, well, that’s the trick.

As an agent, I’d love more of that. I’d love to do a book with Grove Atlantic. I waited five years for a book like Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet. I’m willing to wait another five for a title like Broken, but I’m hoping I don’t have to.

What They Don’t Want

STATUS: I’m always an optimistic. It’s no longer morning (shoot, it’s almost dinner time) but I am going to blog today. TGIF!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHAT YOU NEED by INXS

Sometimes it’s just as interesting to find out what editors don’t want. I’ve perused my notes to come up with this little list to share with y’all.

1. Thrillers where the conclusion is obvious.
2. Police procedurals that try too hard to be multicultural rather than authentic.
3. Romance that is too soft and fuzzy with no real meat to the emotional story.
4. Romance set in the Regency ballroom. Let’s mix it up some.
5. No stories about women over 40 starting a new life. Seen this too many times. Even if well written, it’s going to be too hard to push.
6. In YA and MG, taking popular trends and trying to make the story deep and literary.
7. MG fantasy that is too average and with the regular story tropes.
8. Epic fantasy—unless something really unusual or phenomenal writing.
9. Chick litty YA with no substance.
10. A bad story poorly told

Just wanted to check that you were really reading…

And just to top it off, in film, dark stories with no happy ending are a tough, tough sell.