Pub Rants

Category: Publishing/Publishers

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!

Implications Beyond The Obvious

STATUS: Hey, I’m not blogging after 10 o’clock at night. This means it’s a good day!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TIN MAN by America

I read this article with dread. Despite how one might personally feel about buying from chain bookstores versus supporting independents (and that’s a whole separate debate I don’t plan to get into with this entry), Borders possibly going out of business is not good news.

Why? Because the general public doesn’t know that the decision about buying books for the chains, which ones, and in what quantities, is in the hands of a very few people who wield significant amounts of power. B&N has A non-genre fiction buyer. Yes, you read that correctly. A decision to carry a book (or not) by that one person can make or break a book.

If Borders is taken out of the mix (or bought by B&N), the decision-making powers about what books will be featured or given shelf space in the store at all will have just consolidated yet again.
This is not good news.

There have been many instances of Borders supporting a book that B&N hasn’t and that making all the difference (vice versa is also true as I’ve seen B&N support a book that Borders took forever to get on board with –Carter’s I’D TELL YOU I LOVE YOU BUT THEN I’D HAVE TO KILL YOU comes to mind). A Borders closing is particular hurtful news for genre fiction as things like romance and SF&F are often more supported at the Borders store and bought in greater numbers by readers through that outlet.

If Borders goes, so do their buyers. And with the ringing death knells of so many independent stores in the news lately, the future isn’t looking bright—as the independents, as a collective force, could create a balance to this.

So lots of implications beyond the obvious.

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.

Another Memoir Scandal In The Headlines

STATUS: Piping Mad!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? OMG! Somebody is practicing their horn nearby and I can hear it through the vent (maybe a tuba?) And trust me, they need the practice.

Unbelievable! Yet again, an NYT story on how a hugely lauded memoir called LOVE & CONSEQUENCES is basically a fabrication.

Funny how all the memoirs that publishers have bought and have deemed “big enough” have been nothing but fiction disguised as a memoir. The publisher, Riverhead, is now recalling the 19,000 copies that released last week.

I am steamed. Kim Reid and I worked very hard to find a home for her memoir NO PLACE SAFE. An amazing story. A beautifully written story. A completely truthful (and we can back it up with full documentation) story.

Do me a favor? Go to Amazon.com right now and buy a copy of NO PLACE SAFE that’s actually a true memoir. Buy it so these yahoos in publishing will quit paying six figures for what is essentially a work of fiction.

If I hear one more story in the news about a fabricated memoir, I’m going to spit.

Okay, rant over.

And even though John’s memoir LOOK ME IN THE EYE did extraordinarily well (and Kim and I are often in envy of his sales numbers), his story is also true.

So if you want to support truth in memoir by making a purchase, I guess you can buy a copy of his as well. (But only if you buy a copy of Kim’s—she says wickedly).

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…