Pub Rants

Category: queries

Summer Heat Must Be The Culprit

STATUS: Busy. I’m in the middle of negotiating several new deals.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SWEET SURRENDER by Bread

The summer heat must be going to people’s heads because this is my third rant in a week regarding odd submissions here at the agency.

People! Get down to the pool and take a break I think. Yesterday I received a large box that the writer had spent $32.00 sending express mail. Egad! That’s a lot of money to spend sending a submission to an agency that only accepts electronic submissions. And a colossal waste at that because when I opened this package, inside were pages and pages of a handwritten manuscript.

I’m not kidding blog readers. The submission wasn’t even typed. I’m not even snorting with laughter; I’m too stunned.

There’s no email address included and no SASE. I’m not going to look at it. If that makes me heartless, so be it, but I don’t think I can toss this into the recycle bin either. What if it’s the only copy? Surely a writer wouldn’t be stupid enough to send us the only copy, right? I mean it looks like a photocopied version (another waste of money as we do electronic submissions!) but sometimes that’s hard to tell considering photocopying quality these days.

Okay, do I expend the money to return it? We could send via media mail, which would be pretty inexpensive. I think that’s what we might do but only because I’m feeling generous. Normally I don’t think twice in terms of pitching something like this in the recycle bin.

Do You Do Big Money To Big Publishers?

STATUS: Responses are still trickling in so I’ll probably wait a day or two before tabulating the very unscientific results! Thanks to all who participated in the survey!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DANCING IN THE DARK by Bruce Springsteen

In our June newsletter (which will probably go out this week), Sara talks about a query we received that began with this sentence: “Do you sell books to really big publishers for a lot of money? That’s all I am interested in and if you are small potatoes, please don’t bother responding…”

Insert picture here of Kristin snorting with laughter. The answer is yes, I certainly do sell books to big publishers for big money but I’m pretty certain I don’t want you as a client.
This opening is wrong on so many levels, I don’t even know where to begin this rant. I’ll just list some thoughts.

1. Why are you emailing me this query if you don’t know my sales history and what I’ve sold lately and in general, for how much? That info is certainly out there if one does the research.

2. How do you define “big” publisher? I know a lot of smaller, independent houses I’d love to do a book with. Algonquin and MacAdam/Cage come to mind. Aren’t they big enough?

3. How do you define “big” money?

4. It’s not always about the money. Now, it’s always foremost in my consideration but sometimes it’s about the right editor, the right house, the right vision and that doesn’t always equal the most money.

5. No agent can guarantee that a project will sell for X amount of money and if they tell you they can, they’re lying. Now sometimes my gut will tell me that a project will go at auction and for good money and sometimes I’ll cautiously share my optimism with the client but it’s always tempered with the caveat that I can’t promise a specific dollar amount.

6. Lastly, if you are in the publishing game for the money, you’ve got a rude awakening in front of you. Do I need to trot out the statistics on how many queries we get versus how many authors we take on and actually sell? Do I need to dig up the stats on how many authors actually make a full-time living solely from their writing? (And the stats are even smaller when we are talking about writers making their living from writing fiction!) Do I need to list the stats on how many author advances are under the 25k range? Or reverse and list some stats on how many authors make six figure advances?

So yep, we do occasionally sell to big publishers for big money but we’ll be saying NO to this query without a second thought. We just don’t need any clients with misguided attitudes. If that’s the case, our client list is full up.

How Not To Land An Agent

STATUS: TGIF and I’m leaving the office before 6 p.m. Almost unheard of. But you guessed it, I’m still behind so plan to work this weekend.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? NOBODY DOES IT BETTER by Carly Simon

Today was crazy. The phone was ringing off the hook. Sara & I were trying to finish up letters to authors whose fulls we had read. We were trying to organize the author dinner at RWA and just generally running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

So when the buzzer rang, and while Sara was on the phone, I just popped over there to hit the door open button thinking it was Fedex or UPS or whoever.

No, it’s this woman who has come to drop off a package. The dog is barking (as it’s the highlight of her day—after her morning walk that is) and Sara is telling me the agency lawyer is on the phone and do I want to take it, so without thinking, I just say “is this a delivery for me.” The woman smiles and says “yes” so I take it, set it down, and dash back to the phone (as my lawyer and I have been playing phone tag for a couple days).

I don’t think anything more about it until an hour later when I remember the package so I go over to check it out.

I had just closed a deal for a client recently and often clients will send thank you gifts for a first time sale (which isn’t necessary but we never say no!) so I just assumed that was what it was (and from a local Denver place and hence the hand delivery). One of my favorite gifts was designer cupcakes from a local Denver Bakery that a client in Oklahoma had sent us. Yum!

Guess what? It wasn’t. It was an author delivering a personal query letter, a copy of her book, and a lovely package—which we can’t accept.

So Monday, Sara is going to have to ring her up and ask her to come and retrieve it as it’s just not appropriate. As an agent, I have a lot of integrity and I don’t want to be “bribed” to review a project (however nice the gesture is on her part). This is not how you land an agent.

And we really don’t want to accept the gift. Had I been less frantic at the moment, I would have asked her the nature of the delivery and would have refused it there and then but alas, there was just too much going on.

So don’t do this folks. We do read all our queries and every author we have taken as a client sold us on their project via a query letter and then their sample pages. No bribe needed.

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Six Redux: Ysabel)

STATUS: I’m beat. I just can’t stay up until after midnight without consequences. Makes you wonder how we did it in college all those eons ago.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CANDY EVERYBODY WANTS by 10,000 Maniacs

I think I can officially call my work done here. You guys don’t need any more lessons on pitch paragraphs. You’ve got this nailed. It’s so easy—until it’s your own work, right?

Step One: Find the plot Catalyst
It’s pretty easy to spot in this one. It’s in the second paragraph when Ned & Kate surprise an intruder with a knife in a place he should not be. Cryptic warning ensues!

Step Two: Identify what method is being used to build the paragraphs in the cover copy?
Paragraph one is mostly back story (why they are living in Aix-en-Provence) and a little bit of hint in terms of Ned’s character with the reference to inheriting his mom’s courage.

Paragraph two highlights opening plot elements and then the catalyst.

Paragraph three is setting actually. Not something I’ve really talked about much in relation to pitch paragraphs. Here, setting the mood is rather important to the story so the copywriter juxtaposed the modern with the old to capture that this story has a timeless element to it.

Paragraph four is about how the setting relates to the other plot elements that will unfold. We are in a place where the border between the living and the dead is suspect. This means something from the past is going to be able to come into the present and if this copy is any guide, that’s not going to be a happy thing.

Step Three: Analyze the copy as a whole.
So this copy is 8 sentences. A lot going on in those 8 sentences. You can see where it pays to chose wisely the details to include.

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Six: Ysabel)

STATUS: So it’s after midnight, which should tell you how my day went. And is this Tuesday’s entry or Wednesday’s?

What’s playing on the iPod right now? DESERT ROSE by Sting

Okay so we didn’t have much luck analyzing the cover copy of THEN WE CAME TO THE END as we couldn’t find it online. Tonight (or this morning), let’s try a title where the commenter provided the cover copy for me. What can I say? I get lazy when I’m tired.

Are you ready? This one has elements of many genres so it should be fun.

From Guy Gavriel Kay’s YSABEL:

Ned Marriner is spending springtime with his father in Provence, where the celebrated photographer is shooting images for a glossy coffee-table book. Both father and son fear for Ned’s mother, a physician for Doctors Without Borders, currently assigned to the civil war-torn regions of Sudan. Ned has inherited her courage, and perhaps more than that.

While his father photographs the cathedral of Aix-en-Provence, Ned explores the shadowy interior with Kate Wenger, an American exchange student who has a deep knowledge of the area’s history. They surprise an intruder in a place where he should not be: “I think you ought to go now,” he tells them, drawing a knife. “You have blundered into a corner of a very old story.”

In a modern world of iPods, cellphones, and SUVs whipping along roads walked by Celtic tribes and Roman legions, a centuries-old saga seems to be beginning again.

In this sublime and ancient corner of the world, where borders between the living and the long-dead are most vulnerable, Ned and those close to him are about to be drawn into a haunted tale, as mythic figures from conflicts of long ago erupt into the present, changing and claiming lives.

Step One: Find the plot Catalyst

Step Two: Identify what method is being used to build the paragraphs in the cover copy?
* Back story?
* Other plot elements?
* Character?
* Combo?

Step Three: Analyze the copy as a whole.
How many sentences is it? What elements make up each individual paragraph? What seemed effective and why?

I’ll check back in tomorrow (or today) so we can discuss.

Foiled By Whether This Is The Back Cover Copy Or Not

STATUS: I’m really swamped right now so pardon yesterday’s radio silence.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? UNBELIEVABLE by EMF

So we haven’t analyzed back cover copy for about two weeks now. With that in mind, I thought I would pull up my list of suggested examples culled from the comments section for this blog entry.

I’ve been hearing the buzz (which has been around for a while) for the National Book Award winner THEN WE CAME TO THE END and since it was suggested, I thought it would make a good choice.

But I’ve literally just spent the last 20 minutes on and looking for the flap copy (if you are talking hardcover). This could also be the back cover copy for a trade pb but sometimes publishers decide to use that space for quotes instead (thinking that would be more powerful to sell the story).

On Amazon, all I could find were reviews. Clicking on a variety of “search inside” features didn’t get me to the flap copy or to the back cover where a blurb might be.

On, there is a synopsis listed. This may be the flap copy or back cover copy but it’s more of summary than what, traditionally, back cover copy or flap copy tends to be.

The Tattered Cover online has this same snippet listed as the description.

Here it is:

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.

With a demon’s eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life’s strangest environment–the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

I have to say that I’m not sure this little snippet would have sold me on picking up, buying, and reading this book. The reviews on the other hand made my book club interested in at least including this book title in our next vote.

Not sure what point I’m making but if this is not the book copy and the actual copy is noticeably absent from the websites, it does rather de-emphasize the importance of that marketing tool.

Still, I think back cover copy is valuable as a learning tool for writing query pitch paragraphs. Perhaps my real point is to say that online sites have more room to offer a variety of written info about a novel to the reader beyond the back cover copy. And in fact, maybe enticing back cover copy is less important than reader and professional reviews.

It’s an interesting discussion…

In A Positive Light

STATUS: I’m very upbeat today. I worked on finishing up two contracts and a submission (for a novel I’m super excited about). It just gets the blood flowing.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SANDY by John Travolta (Grease Soundtrack)

Since I’m in such a good mood, this seems cool to share.

Last night I read 6 sample page requests (out of 45 that I have in my queue—yikes—I’m behind as you can tell).

I sent a personal note with each response though. I could have just sent off our standard reply but I didn’t. So it happens and I’m really making an effort to include something personal—even with sample pages.

I also read 180 queries on Sunday night. Several of which weren’t addressed to me. That was an accident on the sender’s part but I’ll tell you right now that I chuckled, realized everyone is human and mistakes happen, and just read the query like it was addressed to me. Several were NOs but one did catch my interest so I asked for sample pages despite the addressing snafu.

And here are some kudos to Sara. I know that she doesn’t immediately nix a query if a writer has sent more than what we have asked for and when we receive queries for a genre we don’t represent, Sara usually just replies mentioning so instead of sending the “standard” letter.

Also, and I know this because I’ve seen the return replies, Sara will give writers a second chance if they attach their query letter to an email instead of sending it in the body of the email. She just asks them to resend instructing them to cut and paste it into the email itself.

That seems to me that we are going above and beyond… and please, if you have received no response from us on a query or on sample pages, please email us again to ask about the status. We do respond to everything but that doesn’t mean every email actually goes through.

And as last resort, occasionally writers will call to follow up and Sara is always pleasant and helpful.

So hopefully that lifts your mood a bit too.

Popcorn Motivator

STATUS: I’m excited because we finally got rid of Outlook for email and our firmly Time & Chaos (Intellect) users now. The transition took most of yesterday so sorry for not blogging. We wanted to be ready for Friday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SILVER WHEELS by Heart

This is also a heads up that although we think we transferred everything over correctly, it’s never 100% seamless.

I’m also three weeks behind on reading the queries I need to review so don’t email us quite yet to follow up. I plan to tackle stuff over the weekend and into next week so if you haven’t heard from us yet, wait one more week and then maybe requery as an email or two might have gone astray.

This may sound odd but I actually look forward to reading queries because that’s when I allow myself to have a nice big bowl of popcorn while reading. Popcorn being one of my favorite foods. (I sometimes do this for reading sample pages as well.) When I’m editing, I need both hands to type so alas, no popcorn. When I’m just reading, buttery fingers and the kernel Chutney accidentally dropped in my lap doesn’t make a difference.

Who would have thought that popcorn could be such a great agent motivator?

So this is what I’ll be looking for in the queries I read. Since I’ve been blogging about using the plot catalyst to form your pitch, I’ll really be leaning toward letters that will grab my attention right away. I think I have 150 queries waiting for my attention. This will probably take me about 2.5 hours to read through.

So basically I’ll be reading fast—which makes it extra important to nail that pitch paragraph.

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Five Redux—INTERPRETATION OF MURDER)

STATUS: Ready for sleep.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SHAPE OF MY HEART by Sting

It’s obvious to me that you guys have got this down. If you look in the comments section, everyone got the catalyst right off—Freud arriving on American soil at the same time as one rather gruesome murder and another attempted murder.

You also got that the Publisher was playing off of what they assume the general reading audience would already know about Freud.

Not to mention the “Sherlock Holmes” type set up in the language of the blurb sends some clear signals about what the reader can expect. Hence, the short and pithy pitch. In the Publisher’s mind, no extra details were needed to hook the reader (and some of you might disagree with that) but for the most part, it’s going to be effective.

By the way, the pitch used all plot details to build the paragraph. There are hints of character because of what we know in our heads about Freud but the reader is bringing that to the pitch. Character-building itself is not actually present; it’s all plot details.

My work is done here. Go forth and write awesome pitches for your novels.

I do have some more examples culled from that previous comment string but I’ll just intersperse them in here and there in future blog entries for the next couple of weeks. It just gets boring after awhile to do too many in a row.

Building The Pitch Paragraph (Part Five—INTERPRETATION OF MURDER)

STATUS: Why am I blogging at 10 p.m. at night? Because I’m nuts, that’s why!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHO WANTS TO LIVE FOREVER by Queen

Now I find it interesting that back cover copy is often hard to find on both and B& The sites will often list reviews, personal commentary, even a bit of a synopsis but the back cover copy is often missing. In fact, sometimes you can’t find it unless you use the Search Inside feature so you can see flap copy or the like.

Considering how much time is spent on the pitch—by aspiring writers, by the agent when it comes time to sell it, by the editor who is pitching it to ed. board and then to sales reps at Sales Conference, and then reps to the booksellers, both these online sites almost eschew using the copy…

What am I saying? I don’t know. It’s too late to really analyze what I’m saying but it’s interesting to note.

And today’s entry was a must in light of the terrific news I get to share. My author Hank Phillippi Ryan has won the 2007 Agatha for best first book for her debut mystery/women’s fiction hybrid PRIME TIME.

How cool is that? Out of all the mysteries published last year, only four were nominated and she won. And in even cooler news, MIRA is going to rerelease this title, plus the second book and two other new books in the series for some Summer 2009 back-to-back fun.

So this leads me into an example for a genre that I don’t really represent but I have to say that if I had gotten a query letter with this kind of pitch blurb, I would have said to heck with what I rep, this sounds like something I want to see.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

On the morning after Sigmund Freud arrives in New York on his first – and only- visit to the United States, a stunning debutante is found bound and strangled in her penthouse apartment, high above Broadway. The following night, another beautiful heiress, Nora Acton, is discovered tied to a chandelier in her parents’ home, viciously wounded and unable to speak or to recall her ordeal. Soon Freud and his American disciple, Stratham Younger, are enlisted to help Miss Acton recover her memory, and to piece together the killer’s identity. It is a riddle that will test their skills to the limit, and lead them on a thrilling journey – into the darkest places of the city, and of the human mind.

Okay, you know the drill. Find the plot catalyst. Then analyze what is used to build the pitch paragraph.

There is certainly an economy of words with this example. Four sentences total. Hit me with it and then tomorrow we can talk about it. Does it work? Why?

We could also talk about whether it doesn’t but for me, that’s not really all that important. If it doesn’t work for you, then you won’t be picking up this book nor if you were an agent, would it be up your alley either. This biz is all about personal opinion after all. Not much to learn from that. However, the publisher believed this short, and to-the-point copy would work. It’s up to us to try and figure out why as we demystify the pitch.