Pub Rants

Category: queries

Another Reason To Nail Your Query Pitch Paragraph

STATUS: Blogging before noon! That means I’m head of my To Do list.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? YOU’RE ONLY LONELY by JD Souther

There is an interesting trend I’ve noticed lately in publishing. I think it has to do with the tightening of budget and the laying off of staff (actually, I’m just speculating that is the case.)

More and more lately, my clients and I have been practically writing our own cover copy for upcoming releases. Lately, it’s been clear that the copy writer has maybe seen just a brief synopsis of the plot before coming up with copy. By the way, this is not unusual. There is no way a copy writer could read every single book he/she has to write cover copy for. Still, in my mind, you don’t have to read the entire manuscript to be ready to write good copy. You really only have to read the first 30 pages of a novel to knock it out (and that’s easy enough to do even if the copy editor has 30 or 40 books to handle).

As I’m typing, I realize that this entry might sound like a complaint but it’s not. I actually prefer when the author and I are intimately involved and really get a say in the copy text (especially if the first draft we’ve received is really bland or just off).

So it’s more of an observation—as something I’ve noticed in the past 6 or 7 months. You folks are going to hate me for this but yet another reason to nail your pitch blurb paragraph in your query letter. You might actually be called upon to significantly contribute to the final copy that will go on your book jacket. You might as well master the craft now…

Better Left Unsaid?

STATUS: The day started with a laugh, it’s going to be great.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? SMILE by Lonnie Plaxico Group

I know I’m going to get lambasted for posting this link and by mentioning that in reading these blog posts, I snorted my iced chai this morning but I’m going to share it anyway.

Some days, this is exactly what we agents are thinking when we read some of the odd query letters we receive.

And yes, I know, not all writers are as savvy as my blog readers and we really shouldn’t think it funny but trust me, if we didn’t have a sense of humor some days, we’d go nuts…

The July 13 entry might be my fav.

Brilliant! Just Brilliant!

STATUS: Just another crazy Monday disguised as a Tuesday!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? VOLCANO by Damien Rice

As you folks know, we agents receive deluges of queries and sample pages from aspiring writers. One of the industry’s laments is that everyone seemingly wants to be a writer but when we compare that number to the statistics on the number of Americans actually reading books, well, according to studies, the average person only reads 2-3 books a year.

Then I read this tidbit in Shelf Awareness (source Galley Cat), that Tin House Books will require that any writer wanting to submit to them must also include a copy of a receipt that proves the writer has purchased a book recently from a bookstore.

I love it! I wonder. If we required same, would that drop the number of queries we receive? Better yet, could we have the writer prove that he/she actually read the book for said receipt?

I know. Impossible but there’s something about this idea…

Sure Enough—Killed Off In First 5 Pages

STATUS: My To Do list was ridiculous and I didn’t even finish one item on it. In good news, some other fun stuff happened.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ONE AND ONLY by Teitur

I actually typed up yesterday’s blog entry while at the office. I headed home and then met with a friend for dinner. When back at home, I picked up my kindle so I could take 30 minutes to review some sample page submissions. (On a sidenote, this process is pretty typical for me. I only allocate about 30 minutes to review submissions. Now if something grabs me, then I’ll go beyond the allocated time frame. That’s how I know something is good if I’m “staying up” to finish reading the sample. I’ll ask for the full the next day).

But back to my story. I pick up my kindle and pop open the first submission—a young adult work. Sure enough, the main protagonist dies within the first five pages.

Considering I just literally blogged about that hours before, the irony was not lost on me. Y’all will be happy to know that I didn’t stop reading the submission. It was actually a rather cool premise so I did read the sample pages in its entirety (so about 30 pages). Ultimately I decided to pass on asking for a full. I didn’t connect to that main character and considering she is already dead, I felt like that was a rather crucial ingredient to make this novel work for me despite it’s rather unique setting and concept.

I figured blog readers wouldn’t mind hearing about this. As for queries that have yesterday’s outlined trends, we don’t dismiss them out of hand by any means. But it certainly has to go the extra distance in its uniqueness so that we’ll ask for sample pages.

So keep that in mind.

The Latest Trends in Query Letters and Sample Pages

STATUS: Importance of proofreading. I sent out an email with a sentence that featured the same word three times. Sheesh. It’s a Monday…

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ONE FOR MY BABY by Jack Jones

I have to say it’s getting a little gruesome in our query letters and sample pages. We’ve received an inordinate amount of queries where the poor main character has to be killed off before the novel can begin.

(1) Main characters dying and then being sent back to earth to redeem themselves or finish one last task.

(2) Teens dying in car accidents and then narrating their story from the other side.

(3) Main characters that become a ghost and narrate the story from that perspective.

I’m sure writers are simply trying to find a cool hook or an interesting framework in which to tell their stories but in the last month, we’ve seen a hundred of these.

Some other trends?

(1) Greek mythology characters in a modern setting (Thank you Mr. Riordan.)

(2) In women’s fic: 30-40 something women facing a choice between (1) a happy but mundane family life and (2) a new romance/exotic adventure; We assume most of them choose their families in the end. Also, we’ve been seeing a lot of stories about women who have discovered their husbands cheating, getting divorced, and then moving to a small town where they start their own business—like a B&B. They always move to the small town as the key feature.

(3) Adult novels with bipolar characters (not sure if this is relevant since we haven’t requested any of them, but it’s amazing how many of these queries we’ve seen).

(4) Psychics (both YA and adult) who solve a mystery or save someone or other people’s lives

(5) vampires (still) – in romance and YA (fewer werewolves, but amazingly still those pesky vampires)

(6) people (adult and YA) who “see” things in dreams that are real and lead them on an adventure (all sorts of genres, but same concept).

Age Is Just A Number

STATUS: TGIF! Getting ready for Book Expo the week after next.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? QUESTION by Rhett Miller

Lately, we’ve been getting a lot of queries from young people—and we know this because these writers are highlighting their young age in the query letters they are sending us.

I have a couple of thoughts on this.

1. No matter how you spin it, highlighting an age in your query just doesn’t come across as professional. Here at the agency, we don’t care how hold you are; we only care about how talented a writer you might be. If you have a good query with an interesting novel, we’ll ask for pages whether you are 15 or 85.

In fact, just last year we offered representation to a 15-year old writer. Now I didn’t know that when I called to offer representation. It hadn’t been mentioned in any of her submitted materials. In fact, we had a great phone convo and she actually didn’t bring up the topic of her age until the very end of the phone conference. She brought it up because she needed to know how it would work since she was under the legal age of 18. The answer to that question, by the way, is nothing really changes except that her parent or guardian must co-sign the agency agreement and if the book sells, the publishing contract.

Ends up she had several agent offers of representation and went with another agency so we didn’t end up signing her. (Side note: Her YA novel did sell though as I saw the announcement on Deal Lunch.)

But my point here is that her age didn’t matter; I would have still signed her on as a client.

So this makes me speculate that young writers like to specify their tender years for a couple of possible reasons:

1. Maybe it will impress us that they’ve finished a novel so young?

I find it impressive that anyone finishes a novel quite frankly! And I’m only going to be impressed if I offer for rep and then discover that you have that much talent and you are only 15 because when I read the sample pages, I couldn’t tell.

2. Maybe we’ll go easier on them while reading the pages?

Nope. We don’t grant leniency because of age and cut you slack while reading your sample pages. You’re either ready or you’re not and that’s going to show on the page via a clear demonstration of writing mastery and talent.

And ultimately, I think your writing talent should speak for itself—regardless of your age. So my advice? Don’t mention it.

Q&A—Round 4

STATUS: Boy this flu is just hanging on. I’m counting 15 or 16 days and it’s still not completely gone.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? YOU CAN LEAVE YOUR HAT ON by Joe Cocker

Pre-Bologna, I had not finished up our last round of questions and answers. I didn’t forget! I just haven’t had enough time to tackle them in a while. But I did save the questions and so I plan to dive right back in.

Anonymous Asked:
1) Who do you decide “gets” a project if you and Sara both want it? If someone queried “Kristin” or “Sara” and got back a partial request “from Kristin and Sara” does that mean you’ll both consider it and whoever likes it best might take it on? Or does that mean only the one it’s addressed to will consider it?
This is a good question. If the original query is addressed to Sara, then she has first dibs on it. If the query is addressed to me, then I do. We both, however, tend to read the submissions where a full is requested. Just so we can talk about the project and why one or the other might like it or want to offer representation. Sometimes, I like a project and it’s not Sara’s cup of tea and vice versa. That way if we both read the fulls requested (regardless of who asked for it), we know we won’t miss out on something that might come down to a difference in taste.

2) You are known for sending out a book until it sells, whereas some agents only send to ten or twelve and they are done. But do you have a list of favorite editors who you contact first no matter what?
Agents certainly have a list of their favorite editors. These are the people we connect with the most. We know our tastes line up etc. However, each submission is different. As an agent, we want the right editor to have it—not just a favorite editor so the answer is no, there isn’t a list of editors who get a submission no matter what.

Anonymous asked:
You seem to have a lot going on in the YA market. But as a romance writer, I wondered how many romance writers did you sign last year? And are you looking for more?

Hum…I’d say with 6 RITA nominations the week before last, we’ve got a lot going on in the romance world as well. Grin. Are we looking for more? Of course! There is always room for a good author. However, in general, I don’t sign a lot of clients in any given year. I’m very selective on who and what I take on. Last year I signed only one romance author. To put that in context, I only signed 2 authors total last year.

Katrina asked:
What are your biggest pet peeves for queries, and do you have a list of things you saw in past queries that rocked your socks off?
For queries, my only criteria be that it is well written and fit in the types of projects we currently represent. Otherwise, I don’t have any specific pet peeves. Peeves come from poorly written queries. For those, we just send the auto-rejection and move on. For queries that knocked our socks off? The writer had nailed the pitch paragraph. If you don’t know what I mean by that, check out my blog pitch workshop right here on the right sidebar of my blog.

Mechelle Fogelsong asked:
Nathan Bransford recently asked us which author’s career we’d like to mimic. I chose Jane Yolen, because her career has longevity. So my question is simple: what’s the key to becoming an author with longevity? To stay afloat for the long-haul?

The key to longevity is creating an excellent sales track record and continuing to write books that feel timely, fresh, and appeal to your established audience as well as to new fans.

Right. So much easier said than done. That’s why there is no answer to this question about what creates author longevity. It’s so many factors that come together and work. And those specific factors may differ depending on the author. In other words, what works for one career might not work for another.

Eika asked:
Going for the long shot here, but I haven’t started querying yet and I’m still feeling optimistic. What is the exact etiquette if you’re offered representation and someone else has the full? To the agent on the phone with, what do you say? And to the person with the full, do you phone them? E-mail?
The etiquette: If an agent calls and offers representation, you go through all the normal questions you should be asking an agent who has offered rep. Then you express your enthusiasm for the offer but since it’s a big decision, you want to give all agents with fulls time to respond. Set a timeline for one you will get back to the offering agent. That time frame can be one week, five full business days, over the weekend (whatever feels appropriate). Then inform all other agents with the full. I’d send an email first. If you don’t get a confirm after one day regarding your update, then I’d call to make sure the message was received. After that, I think you’ve done all the due diligence you need to.

Then stick to the timeline you had requested. And of course, if the first agent who has offered is your top candidate, there might not be any reason to go through the above. Of course if you do accept representation, then immediately inform all others with the full so they don’t waste time reading a manuscript that is no longer available. Hope this helps!

Q&A 2010—Round Three

STATUS: How can you not feel joyous with 70 degree weather in March? Chutney and I skipped home from the office.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RUNAWAY TRAIN by Soul Asylum

Just diving right into the questions today.

Shelley Watters asked:

1. As far as re-querying an agent – if a writer queries an agent for a story and is rejected, how long should they wait before submitting a new project (not the rejected one but an entirely new project) to that agent? It seems that agents differ on their answers to this question.
Of course we all differ on what the answer would be. That’s why publishing is so maddening to writers. For me, I’d say wait 4 weeks, then query with new project. But here’s the kicker. DO NOT mention that you have queried the agency before. Act like this is the first query ever that you are sending us. We get 150 queries a day. Chances are very good we won’t remember your name (unless you have a really unique name that is!) Writers for some reason feel obligated to tell us their whole prior history of our rejecting their queries. Don’t be seduced!

2. I understand that a writer/agent relationship is not simply for one book, but hopefully for the entire career of the writer. I write across genres (from children’s picture books to young adult novels to adult novels). I have been submitting my picture books to agents that specialize in picture books. If I manage to get an agent for the picture books but they do not represent YA novels, does that mean I have to start the querying process all over again?
I have to say I’d be a little surprised if an agent who reps picture books doesn’t also rep other children’s projects. Let’s say imagine they don’t and you have an agent for your picture book but also want him/her to shop a YA. I’d talk with the agent first and ascertain comfort level to do that. I know a lot of agents who specialize in children’s but will also rep an adult project by a current client and can do so quite successfully.

I have several YA and MG authors. If any of them had a picture book, I would shop it for them although in general I don’t want to take on clients for just picture books. It’s a really tough thing to sell.

Therese asked:
Is there a specific market for YA nonfiction?
Yes there is but it’s significantly smaller than the market for fiction.

I personally have a memoir (250 pgs) that I would love to target for High School Family Studies. It’s sort of like “Tuesday’s with Morrie” & “The Last Lecture” but as if written by Erma Bombeck -and no one dies until 46 years later – and it chronicles a happy family life after the traumatic event that shaped them… and no one did drugs, or got too depressed or… but boy is there conflict and drama. 🙂
And of course memoir would be THE toughest thing to sell in a YA market but it has been done. In fact, I took some time to look up a few titles that I had seen recently for teens but couldn’t remember the exact titles. A quick search on Amazon and BN didn’t yield much. That shows what you are up against. I ended up not being able to find the titles I was thinking about as I couldn’t remember the either author’s name–just the subject matter of each memoir.

Anonymous asked:
I’m curious to how you would handle an author who writes mainstream romance novels and multicultural romance novels under separate pseudonyms.

I’m not sure I understand the question. Authors use multiple pseudonyms often. There’s nothing special about “handling” it. An agent would just need to make sure that option clauses were restricted for the two genres so the author doesn’t get in trouble with the publishers over it. Also, agent would have to modify the no compete clause in both contracts to accommodate as well.

Kaya asked:
Are you open to queries from Asian countries as well?


Heidi Wesman Kneale asked:
We all know it’s a hooky voice that gets an agent/editor’s attention, but it’s a satisfactory story that cinches the deal. Say you get pitched by a hopeful writer who has a great voice, but their story plot fizzles. “Not interested in this story, but would like to see other works,” you might say

So they send you another pitch, and then another pitch, and then another pitch, but you must turn them down because the stories are dull, lackluster and very flat. At what point would you say, “You’ve got a great voice, but you can’t write a satisfactory story arc?” Or would you not say that at all, hoping that some day they will write a cracking good tale?
I can only say how I would handle it. For me, I’d give the writer two chances and if they couldn’t nail a great story with that lovely voice, I’d be moving on. There are too many other great writers out there who have mastered this.

Clare asked:
In Hollywood, the time of year a movie is released typically speaks volumes of a studio’s expectations of success, keeping tentpole movies in the May – July bracket and the less ambitious projects in January – March. Is the same true for publishing? Does the month/season a book is released say anything about how the publisher expects a book to perform? And are certain genres more commonly released during certain parts of the year?

The answer is yes—publishing mimics those months/seasons as well. Traditionally, it’s the hardest to launch a debut author in the fall—specifically in the months of October, November, and December as that is the time that the publishers release their big box authors for the holiday season. Competition is fierce for the customer’s attention and buying dollars.

Now having said that, Simone Elkeles was launched in December for what was her fourth book PERFECT CHEMISTRY and that gamble paid off handsomely. Walker knew that teens would be buying this novel on their own with holiday money or gift cards and so risked releasing that title during the “big release” season. Also keep in mind that the children’s world operates a little differently than adult divisions which is why Jamie’s HOTEL was released in January. Much easier to get review attention and the big push in that month. Fewer books to compete against.

Q&A 2010—Round Two

STATUS: The pre-Bologna must-finish-all-stuff-before-I-leave-town rush has begun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MERCY by Duffy

I thought I would have a bit more time to blog tonight so my apologies for not tackling a ton of questions this round.

kimysworld asked:
Compared to the first three months of last year, have you received more or less query letters in the first three months of 2010? What are the most common genres? What do you rarely see?

Yes, our query inbox has definitely grown from last year. This time in 2009, we were probably seeing 80 to 100 queries a day. Now it’s more like 100-150. I have no explanation for it. Perhaps we are on more people’s radar?

Most common genres? Young adult, romance, women’s fiction.

What I would like to see more of? Well written query letters. Grin. You knew I was going to say that. I’d say that easily 50% of stuff we get is for nonfiction or something else we don’t represent.

I’d love to see more queries for literary fiction with a commercial bent, middle grade, and more sf&f. I’d like to build in these areas (and yes we are still beefing our list in the above stuff as well.)

Anonymous asked:
If a writer has gained success in one genre (over twenty novels that have made money, helped build a large fan base, and five contracts for five more books) and he/she wants to switch genres after the contractual obligations have been met because he/she always wanted to write mainstream, is this writer starting from scratch again? But more than that, would this writer be taking a huge chance by walking away from a good thing and trying to pursue another?

I’m a little leery about answering this question. There are so many factors that need to be taken into consideration. Also, this is a conversation you really should be having with your current agent. Now having said that, I will try and answer—although my gut tells me that you already know the answers to your questions and perhaps you are simply looking for encouragement or validation as you walk this new path.

Of course the author would be taking a chance by walking away and starting something else. You already know that is the answer. My question is this: does it have to be one or the other? As in do you have to walk away or can you scale back the number of books in that genre in order to give yourself time to work on something mainstream?

Are you no longer passionate about the genre you are established in? If that is the case, then it may not be worth pursuing more books because your heart isn’t in it. What is your financial picture and can you afford to take a risk? Will fans of your current established genre be open to a move in a new direction? Can you live with that fact if the fans aren’t willing to follow you?

If you want to be safe, I’d keep a foot in your current genre and then test the waters with a new work that is more mainstream. If your heart isn’t in staying in the old genre than you just have to jump in and try it.

There are many stories where this has been successful for the author and I can probably highlight as many stories of where it hasn’t.

Anonymous asked:
How much of your time do you spend reading query letters versus time spent blogging? I’m just wondering because there are several agents who blog every day and I often wonder where they find the time.

I actually don’t spend a lot of time reading queries. First off, we’ve hired a wonderful assistant named Anita. Her job is to read all queries that come in as we can get up to 150 a day. She sets aside the ones that Sara and I need to review. Given that, I try and check my query email inbox once a week. It usually takes me 15 minutes to read the queries there and decide if I want to ask for sample pages or not.

As for blogging, I give myself 20 to 30 minutes a day to write my one entry. That’s it.

Constance asked:
How do you know if or when to resend something to an agent? Are you only supposed to resend a query when they ask you, or can you even when they don’t, if you’ve made extensive revisions?
Constance, I think if you extensively rework a query letter so it’s basically new, I’d resend it. My suggestion? Change the title to something new. Sometimes titles stand out and it will sound familiar. In terms of time span, if you submitted queries and have received mainly rejection responses, I’d revise significantly, wait about 3 weeks, then resend. What can an agent do? Track you down and chastise you for resubmitting? Grin. Be bold. Now if you are rejected numerous times by same agent. Move on. Lots of other agent fishes in the sea.

Alli asked:
Oh, boy, I should triple check before I press send. Here’s the real question:
Would you consider SOMEONE published if they have worked as a writer for a book packager?
Yes. Especially if the book packager is a well-known company with a strong record.

When A New Project Might Give You The Best Momentum

STATUS: Today was about foreign rights and taxes. One fun. The other not. I’m sure you can guess which is which…

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOW TO SAVE A LIFE by The Fray

Last week we got a query from a writer who had published a fantasy series outside of the US. This person was looking for new representation to shop the series in the United States. There was only one problem. It sounded like the writer’s prior agent had already done so.

Just to make sure, I wrote the author to inquire about that. The return response listed a wonderful submission list with all the editors I would have gone to if I had repped the project.

This author is between a rock and hard place. The submit list was good and if it was rejected by all those places, there’s only smaller publishers to try and to be blunt, potentially not worth the agent’s investment of time.

I responded to the author to say so. What advice would I give in this situation? As hard as it may be, it’s time to write something new. Go out with a fresh project in the US. If that book does well, then the agent can always go back to that initial series and rekindle interest in a possible buy. (Good sales can do that.)

Unfortunately, this author did not have anything new to share but I did respond again to say we’d be happy to look at new future work.