Pub Rants

Category: Publishing/Publishers

Market Savvy

STATUS: I’m battling myself to not leave the office early. It’s 70 degrees out. Must go to Park. Must take Chutney for a walk RIGHT NOW. No, I must be good and wait until at least 4 o’clock when it might be reasonable to pop out early to enjoy the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FALL ON ME by R.E.M.

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading the discussion in the comment section of last Friday’s blog so a quick thank you to all who chimed it.

It’s clear to me that writers who have considered the question of market will not run into a problem when querying a work—even if it’s not clear exactly where the work might fit.

Writers who understand and have analyzed the issue will figure out how to label it (literary fiction in an SF setting for example) or decide to not even try and really focus on the storyline in the query.

It’s hard to explain the issue of market savvy versus not when I can’t share a real query letter received that so exemplifies when it misses. The closest example I can give is that when writers miss, it’s usually because they describe the work in an odd manner so it ends up sounding like some strange cross between nonfiction and fiction (my work is women’s fiction that embraces many principles of psychological self-help that will really help readers). Or something like that.

That’s when Sara and I end up shaking our heads in wonder about the aspiring author’s cluelessness regarding the market. If I want psychological self-help, I’ll read a nonfiction book for it. I don’t read a novel to get those principles. I’m much more interested in the story unfolding and how the characters will grow and develop (and if those psychological self-help principals are subtly interwoven so I don’t notice it but it does enhance the story, all power to the writer—but it doesn’t need to be highlighted in the query.) Did I explain that well?

But I do agree that sometimes the most interesting and original fiction can come out of the exercise of writers bending the genres. I personally love that.

Several years ago when I first shopped Shanna Swendson’s ENCHANTED, INC., we were in a little quandary about what to call it.

Was it paranormal chick lit? Or was it fantasy? We ended up calling it paranormal chick lit for submission but in truth, that wasn’t quite right. Maybe today I’d call it lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy (and how many descriptors can I put on that?). That’s actually more accurate but three years ago, nobody in publishing was calling stuff “lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy” so we opted for the first option.

It can be annoying but we do have to name things when going on submission.

And I personally like to hear how writers consider their own work (even if it ends not being completely on target). It can be very telling about how writers perceive themselves, what they want from the work, their career, their style, their direction etc.

Knowledge is Power?

STATUS: Spring in Denver. It’s Friday! I should pop out early. On Monday, it’s going to be 70 degrees. How could I possibly work? Time to take the laptop and hit the park.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE IS STRANGE By Mickey & Sylvia
(and yes, that’s from the DIRTY DANCING soundtrack)

So this morning, Sara and I got into a big discussion about why it might be important for authors to know where their books fit in the market.

Certainly it’s the agent’s job to understand that (and some would argue—more so than the writers) but why are we, as agents, adamant that writers should to?

Well, we had a lively discussion because we wanted to tackle the concept from all angles. Should that responsibility be lifted from the writers’ shoulders? But then we delved into our query letters and what a difference it makes when writers do demonstrate that knowledge.

I hate to harp on all the queries we receive because isn’t that a dead horse. No need to keep beating it, but ultimately we decided that when writers have that market knowledge and use it correctly, it makes a difference in terms of helping your query letter stand out.

So, here’s our list of why writers should know where their books fit in the market.

1. Knowing clearly demonstrates your publishing professionalism

Right or wrong, we are suckers for that. I want to work with writers who are savvy about the world they want to be a part of. Call me crazy but the more you know as a writer, the easier my job is to help you get published.

2. Here’s a surprise that came up in our discussion. This might be a big assumption and a strange bias but we both agreed with it. Knowing shows that you are a reader and we naturally assume that folks who are good readers will potentially be good writers.

You’d be amazed at how many people I talk to who are “dying” to write a novel and yet don’t read on a regular basis. I’m not certain I get the disconnect there.

3. Not knowing shows your ignorance (and I don’t mean these people are stupid—just that they are lacking in knowledge).

Now, we understand that there will always be people who don’t know what they don’t know and that’s not a reason to dismiss the query letter. We will still read and consider it but right there, we now expect the writing in the query to rise above the standard to compensate.

Is that fair? Probably not but I’m just trying to tell you how it is. If a writer doesn’t know the genre or the book’s place in the market, it would be better to not even try and label it rather than mislabeling or doing so with a strange genre assortment.

Let the story speak for itself by writing a darn good query letter.

Literary Can of Worms

STATUS: Just got news that my author Linnea Sinclair’s GAMES OF COMMAND has hit the extended USA Today Bestseller list. No, it wasn’t the top 50 (that would be really exciting) but it’s a start—especially after being out on the shelves for only one week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY HOMETOWN by Bruce Springsteen

I just had to chuckle when reading the comments from yesterday’s blog. Who knew what can of worms I was opening by simply trying to define what is literary for edification.

Where in my post do I denigrate genre writers? Simply because I mention that “literary” writing is usually recognizable or defined by level or art of the writing doesn’t mean that genre writers don’t also achieve that. It’s simply that the industry doesn’t DEFINE them as literary. Folks, I don’t make the rules. I simply try and point out that they exist. That there is an expectation an editor has if I pitch a work as literary fiction. They are expecting whatever it is they consider to be literary—and in the way I took a stab at defining. (Mitchell, Robinson, Roth or whoever you put on that list.)

In fact, I posit that there are many terrific literary writers who write genre fiction (Dan Simmons, Diana Gabaldon, and Anne Rice immediately pop to mind) but that’s not how they are labeled in the industry.

They are labeled science fiction/horror or historical fiction (or as some would argue for Diana’s earlier works, romance), or fantasy despite the literary quality of the writing. Do I think that’s fair? No. But it’s the truth in this industry.

That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Still, I love when blog posts spark discussion because it has long annoyed me that literary genre writers don’t get the credit they often deserve simply because they don’t happen to write what is “traditionally” considered literary.

Defining Literary

STATUS: I accomplished a ton of stuff today. I powered through a lot of client reading, which was great. I usually don’t get to read during the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT by Michael Crawford (from Phantom of the Opera)

Nothing dooms a query faster than mislabeling the genre of your work. If a writer has a serious tone for his/her query with a lot of darkness only to wrap it up with “and this would be a perfect fit for the chick lit market,” I’m understandably going to be confused.

Or better yet, the queries that highlight that the work is every genre under the sun, including the kitchen sink, because then all bases are covered. (i.e. My work is a mystery, women’s fiction thriller that will also appeal to young adults—or what have you.) That’s problematic as well because it’s clear that the writer doesn’t have a clear vision of the market.

But nothing is tougher than trying to figure out whether your work is literary or not.

I wish there were a quick and dirty definition I could give you but there’s not. It’s often like porn. I know it when I see it. It’s pretty clear.

I can at least make a stab at defining it though. The term literary refers to the level and quality of the writing. The language itself is art. It also refers to the level of complexity in the story. So works like THE CLOUD ATLAS or GILEAD are definitely literary.

The writing itself has a beauty that’s palpable. Now, these works can also tell a good story (which both do by the way) but when you sit back in awe at the tightness of the writing and the sheer scope encompassed, then you know it’s literary.

Commercial fiction can certainly have literary leaning. Works such as COLD MOUNTAIN and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS come to mind. Jane Smiley (THOUSAND ACRES) and Jodi Picoult (MY SISTER’S KEEPER) also strike me as walking that fine line between the two but ultimately I would call their stuff commercial. (Okay, I might really say commercial fiction with a literary bent to show that the writing is above the ordinary.)

And yes, folks might disagree with me—hence the dilemma between what is literary and what is commercial.

Editor Dance

STATUS: TGIF. And all three contracts concluded! And here’s some irony for you. Even after yesterday’s blog, I got a person who called me today about their screenplay and how it was guaranteed to generate some cash. Sigh.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BELOVED WIFE by Natalie Merchant

Today I received yet another email that an editor was leaving his/her house. This one, however, didn’t specify a new home. Oh no, another good editor bites the dust.

This is the third email I’ve received in the last two weeks.

It’s no secret that the publishing world has a “use ‘em till you lose ‘em” approach because being an editor (and don’t laugh) is not a glamorous job. They deal with long hours (non-commiserate and non-commensurate! pay), lots of demands (from agents, authors, their bosses), and books that tank (in sales numbers) despite their love and tender care.

And no, it’s not all bad. Sometimes they find a gem, have an exciting auction, see a sleeper book fly off the shelves but for the most part, it’s just hard, hard work. And it wears them down.

And it’s so sad when I get the news of a departure. Someone I liked. Enjoyed working with. Knew their tastes and what would work for them. Now I’ll have to scout out whoever fills their shoes. See who gets added to the dance card.

This month I’m lucky. None of these editors had any of my authors’ books. Next month might be a different story.

Potpourri

STATUS: Amazed. It’s snowing in Denver. AGAIN. This is the 8th snowstorm in a 7-week timeframe. 3-5 inches predicated and it’s snowing like crazy at the moment. I should have a Snow Patrol song on the iPod for today instead!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? COUNTING BLUE CARS by Dishwalla

Michael Bourret at D&G has a terrific little essay on Judith Regan and about what publishing is missing without her—for good or for bad.

For full disclosure, I only interacted with Judith once. She was attentive and courteous. She didn’t end up buying my book (I sold it elsewhere) but I had no complaints. From her reputation, I must have caught her on a good day. Big smile here.

Gawker takes a nice poke at deals posted on Deal Lunch via Publishers Marketplace. A little sly commentary on what sells.

The Man in Black is hosting one wacky contest by making entrants create a contest so wacky as to win an ARC of his debut thriller THE MARK.

And I just discovered another agent who has joined our blogging ranks. Lori Perkins is the Agent In The Middle. She’s been expounding on marketing so if you’re interested, you might want to check it out.

It Takes A Freakin’ Village To Buy A Book

STATUS: TGIF! I’m feeling decent. Did I finish everything on my list for today? No but I came close and that’s always amazing since I usually have 10 things that have to be done and only one actually gets accomplished. I have two outstanding things that I’ll finish up (probably tomorrow) and email off to my clients. What’s that adage about all work and no play?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? TUB THUMPING by Chumbawamba

When I stop to actually think about it, I’m generally amazed that any book gets bought at all. Why? Because think about the levels of difficulty involved in the process. Sometimes it’s hard enough to find that one editor who loves it and will champion it through the process but since books are bought by committee, it’s darn near a miracle when an editor gets the second reads and the editorial director in love with it as well (not to mention the marketing director and sometimes the publisher). In reality, it takes a village (of at least 5 or 6 publishing people) to buy a book.

So imagine how heartening it is to find not just one editor who loves a work on submission but three and then imagine how heartbreaking it is to have those editors go for second reads, get full support from those reads to take it to ed. Board, get folks excited there, but ultimately the offer gets squelched from a higher up like the editorial director or the publisher and boom, the project gets no offer.

Rejection is always painful but nothing compares to that. To know your book might not be bought solely because of market conditions and not because of lack of talent or because no editors felt the love.

Squashed by the bottom line.

In general, that tends to tick me off as an agent but as I’ve said before and will probably say again. Publishing is a business. P&L statements are the ultimate decision-makers.

End of story.

Look! A Contest Without A Fee.

STATUS: Just when I think I’ve tamed technology… yes, there is an issue with the double opt in section of subscribing to the newsletter (you might be getting a system error message). We’re on it. It should be fixed by now but try again tomorrow and let me know via the blog comments if you are still having issues. Thanks y’all.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MANIC MONDAY by The Bangles
(this just might be my theme song) Manic everyday.

I know, I know. I’m a little slow to ring the death knell of the Sobol Awards over here at the Pubrants blog. I was delighted of course and not in the least bit surprised. If you haven’t heard the news, the contest is no more.

Now what does surprise me is how much Simon & Schuster’s imprint Touchstone/Fireside desires to publish a winner of a contest. They’ve lined up another possibility but this time, there’s no fee! It’s open to any unpublished author with a full manuscript.

You post the first chapters and the world (a la American Idol style) gets to vote on which manuscripts make the cut and go on. Well, the world of gather.com subscribers that is. Final judging compliments of Carolyn K. Reidy, the president of the adult publishing group at S&S, and George Jones, chief executive of Borders.

Here’s the article in the book section of the NY Times.

Here’s the website for gather.com. You need to sign up (which is also free) to get more details.

But the winner gets a book contract from Touchstone and 5k from Gather.com (and no silliness about being repped by an “agency” that has never brokered a publishing deal).

Now that’s a contest I can support. Go check it out.

(heads up about the contest compliments of my client Mari Mancusi)

Editors Get Serious About Historical Romance

STATUS: Feeling pretty good. Our new submission database is up and running—and smoothly to boot. No glitches have been discovered as of yet. I took my last two bins overflowing with paper down to recycling. It should be the last bunch—although there are a few paper sample pages request still out and about. Of course we’ll honor our request and read those submissions when they arrive. We do keep a log of requested material and cross-check with what arrives.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BE OUR GUEST from Disney’s Beauty and The Beast Soundtrack.

Now this is a sign that cannot be ignored.

First, an editor emailed me today and said she would be willing to cut off her left foot to get her hands on a good historical romance.

That’s serious folks.

Then not an hour later, I was having a phone chat with another editor at a completely different house who said, “I’m dying to see some historicals—but none of that drawing room chatty stuff. I like adventure with my romance.”

You heard it here folks. I’ve been telling you the tide is turning for this arena and editors are now getting serious about wanting to acquire historicals.

So hop to it.

Don’t Box Me In

STATUS: I’m playing huge catch up this evening. My tech person was in to tweak the network earlier today. Now that is all good and done. Yea! It put be a little behind for my goals of the day though.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? POEMS, PRAYERS, AND PROMISES by John Denver

One look at my website and it will be pretty obvious to any casual observer that I’ve been pretty darn successful at books for women.

Romance. Women’s Fiction, YA that appeals to young gals. Even my SF & F has a decidedly female readership bent. Heck, the majority of my clients are women too!

I want you all to know that this wasn’t planned. It just happened that way.

But I read a lot and a good portion of my favorite books off all time are not necessarily written by women or even remotely in the field of women’s fiction. (In fact, last night I picked up ENDER’S GAME by Card because I saw it in the YA section of a bookstore. I hadn’t read it in years and I wanted to give it that YA look—as in, wow, they didn’t originally market this as YA so let’s see how that would work. In one page, I just about swooned. What a writer. What a story! I’d sign that one up in a heartbeat and there’s nary a women main character in sight!)

So I just wanted to remind y’all to not box me in. I know it LOOKS like women’s stuff is all I’m interested in but honestly, it’s not. I’m so open that I’m actually more likely to take a risk on something that’s not in that realm because I’m actively looking to diversify my list.

And no, that doesn’t mean I’m suddenly going to start looking at men-men techno thrillers. It just means don’t be afraid to query me for books in the genres I do rep just because the website is currently estrogen stacked.