Pub Rants

Category: Writing As A Career

Titles (cont.)

STATUS: Preparing for a big day tomorrow. More details later.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FOOL IN THE RAIN by Led Zeppelin

Agenting is a never-ending learning process. So I’m chatting with an editor about the title change we are attempting and she pointed out something I hadn’t noticed.

In all the suggestions we had given her, only one title contained a verb. All the others were nouns with an adjective (or adjectives).

Kristin slaps hand on forehead. The publisher is looking for a more active title. That means the title needs a verb.

Betcha none of you thought of that right off the top of your head. And if you did, you are one smart cookie because to be honest, I hadn’t noticed that.

Guess what Sara, the author, and I will be doing tomorrow morning? Coming up with titles that contain verbs.

And just in case you need a verb refresher, feel free to click here. Ah. Fond memories from my childhood.

A Good Title Is Hard To Find

STATUS: I finally finished the “out of the office for four days” catch up so I can concentrate on the projects on my To Do list. Yea!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BIZARRE LOVE TRIANGLE by New Order

Some days it seems like we don’t get paid enough or maybe we get paid too much. You’ll never believe what Sara and I did this morning.

We brainstormed for possible titles for a client’s delivered novel. I kid you not. We spent a good hour, maybe more, cruising Amazon.com and looking up synonyms for the word “dark” (amongst other words).

Why? Because our client hates the title her publisher wants to name her new paranormal romance novel. And I don’t mean she “generally dislikes” the title they have chosen; she is in passionate disagreement. We were agent-bound to come to the rescue.

Title needs to be in by Friday so we got down to the nitty-gritty. Later today it occurred to me that my blog readers might benefit from the strategies we used. Maybe this will spark some good possibilities when naming your own work of art.

A good title often carries the day when we read queries. Just last week I asked for sample pages for a manuscript because I thought the title was so cool, I didn’t care what the blurb was. I’m not joking either. I saw the title, skimmed the blurb, asked for 30 pages.

So here’s what we did:

1. We begun by reading the back cover copy (which is actually quite good) that the publisher did for the novel. (You can use your own pitch blurb that you created for the work.) We listed on a piece of paper the key words that captured the essence of the story so we could play with them in different word combinations. This actually didn’t yield as much as we had hoped for in creating a new list of possible titles.

2. Then we brainstormed for authors who write similar stuff. In this case, we made a list of folks writing sexy paranormal romances.

3. This got the juices cooking when we looked on Amazon for what titles have already been done in the field. We made a new list of words that caught our attention, sounded cool, or whatever.

4. Then we played with combinations. At several points in this process, Sara and I were practically rolling on the floor in mirth. We came up with many stupid titles, let me tell you. It was really clear what didn’t work the minute we uttered it aloud (so maybe share you title choices with others before settling on one).

5. We also did a couple of out-of-the-box exercises by trying to come up with cool titles that at first glance don’t have anything to do with the main thrust of the story. (For example, I think Bantam was brilliant to come up with the title PRIVATE ARRANGEMENTS for Sherry Thomas. In a subtle way, it exactly sums up the novel because the two main characters are having a big conflict over a private arrangement that both have agreed to undergo.)

It’s an out-of-the-box title though so you want to reach for things that might be odd but sound cool. Make a list of those choices and play with them as well. Another way to do that is simply to search through titles on Amazon that also stand out (even if the book is a different genre) just because they sound original or unusual. This helps the mind to focus on something other than the themes in front of you. We got stuck often on stuff like that when title brainstorming so that pushed us out of our thinking rut so we could explore some other possibilities.

Happy titling! Once the title is decided upon and with client permission, I can perhaps share more details.

Author In Distress

STATUS: Well, today couldn’t be nearly as exciting as yesterday. I mean I can’t expect an offer every single day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MISUNDERSTANDING by Genesis

An author I have known for several years (because we’ve worked together at a couple of recent conferences) called today in obvious distress because her agent had had her proposal for three weeks now without response. What does it mean and what should she do?

Well first, I think she should take a big deep breath and a take a moment to examine her thinking. My guess is that the author has been playing a greatest hits record of all the worst-case scenarios and therefore can only imagine the worst possible outcome (and once in that mind set, it shapes all other thoughts from that moment on!).

It might be as simple as the agent not having had enough time to turn-around the proposal in a timely fashion.

Of course that’s never happened to me (ahem, coughs loudly).

So what does it mean? Possibly nothing and the agent has been time-crunched. Now it could also mean the proposal stinks, the agent now hates you, and is planning to drop you faster than a hot potato.

But I kind of doubt that.

So what should she do? Take a deep breath and then write a straight-forward and professional email that says something along the lines that she is very excited about the proposal and would like to simply check in on the status, make sure it was received, and when does the agent think he/she will be able to respond.

Then start a new project or go walk the dog or in some other way embrace life.

Now if the agent doesn’t respond to that email in 3 weeks, that might be cause to start worrying. The agent should at least reply to a status inquiry email.

One Path to Career Suicide

STATUS: Yes, I know. I didn’t blog yesterday. I got back to the hotel too late to form a coherent sentence. I’ll try and make up for it tonight.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WICKED GAME by Chris Isaak

Here’s a bonus tip garnered from an informal agents’ roundtable I attended (otherwise known as the bar). We were chatting about things that might not constitute author career suicide but might come close and that is when an author disses his/her editor in a public forum (be it blog, chat loop, on website, etc.)

This might seem rather obvious as something that might not be wise to do but it’s obviously not for some folks because I heard a number of stories where an author had done just that. So let’s highlight a few things.

1. Know that the editor will always find out. (Just take my word on this. The Grapevine is powerful.)

2. This makes an editor rather disinclined to help that author (or to want to continue with that author).

These types of public proclamations do not forward a writer’s career. Enough said.

On to much more fun topics such as the first RWA Spa Day hosted by yours truly. Yep, it was good to be a Nelson Agency client on Wednesday.

My authors (and their editors who could attend plus some few key guests) had a day of pampering at the Spa at the Crescent.

From left:

Top row: Nancy Berland, Linnea Sinclair, Me, Lucienne Diver, Simone Elkeles
Bottom row: Sherry Thomas, Brooke Taylor, Leah Hultenschmidt, Marianne Mancusi
Several authors/guests not pictured because they were off having amazing massages and didn’t pop into the lunch area until later (or they weren’t willing to be pictured in a bathrobe!) There were 17 of us total.

Mum’s The Word!

STATUS: I love when editors email and say they are ready to buy!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HEARTBREAKER by Led Zeppelin

This is my public service message to help out all my fellow agents. A lot of writers (published and unpublished) blog these days so I want to send out a helpful hint to all you unpublished writers who blog and who now have representation and are just about to go out on submission.

As soon as your manuscript is submitted, mum is the word. You can’t blog about the manuscript, the submission, the editors who will see it, or any rejection letters because guess what, interested editors will often read the writer’s blog.

And how do I put this delicately? There is just information that we, as agents, want to control about the status of the submission (for example, who is interested or who has rejected it and if the writer is blogging about it… well, you can see where issues might arise).

Repeat after me. Mum is the word. Do not blog about it.

The Best “What Not To Do At A Conference” Story Ever

STATUS: I don’t know what it is about Mondays but I seem to rarely accomplish anything that’s on my list and every Monday seems this way. The real work can’t happen until Tuesday.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LONELY NO MORE by Rob Thomas

If this were a contest, I think I would win hands down. I defy any other agent to come up with a story as good as this one but if you have one, feel free to post it in the comments section.

I was doing a panel at one of my recent conferences when this happened (and as you know I’ve done several already this year so I’ll just let you guess which conference this was because it’s no reflection on the conference organizers if one of their attendees is a clueless boob).

One of the participants stood up to ask a question, which I, and the other members of the panel, were happy to answer, when his cell phone went off. He asked us to wait until he finished the conversation for us to answer his question. I’m not making this up.

But it gets better.

I wasn’t too inclined to be all that helpful by answering the posed question but hey, it’s not the rest of the audience’s fault if there is a rude person in their midst so I begin my answer. Cell phone rings again. Participant, still standing, answers it. I don’t stop to wait and finish my response.

The guy finishes the call and asks me to repeat my answer. I decline. Next question please.

I probably don’t have to tell you what was running through the panelists minds but it goes without saying that this person could have written the best book in the entire universe and I would have refused to represent it.

Making Me Cringe

STATUS: TGIF and it’s sleeting in Denver. Ah, spring.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SLAVE TO LOVE by Bryan Ferry

So I’m finally getting caught up on my favorite writers’ forums and blog sites, and let me tell you what makes me cringe.

Writers bad-mouthing a particular agent or agency. Now I’m not talking about revealing a scam artist or lodging a complaint about being charged a fee on a public forum. Heck, that’s a public service. Go for it.

I mean complaining about a legitimate agent who might have been rude because he/she didn’t respond to a query or sample pages in a prompt manner or was a little curt when doing so (and remember, even that is sometimes open for interpretation). Even if you post the complaint anonymously, it’s funny how often that veil of anonymity can get lifted!

Now, I’m not talking about objectively posting that such-n-such agent wasn’t right for you or your communication styles didn’t match (or whatever) and you share that info in a neutral, professional manner.

I’m talking about just being irritated and posting your irritation. It’s tempting I know but I really do think that no matter what, you come out sparkling clean by always remaining professional—even in the face of somebody else’s unprofessionalism. If you practice this on a regular basis (even in chat world), it will carry you through a tough time if and when it ever happens in real life.

Agents are human too and some more so than others by displaying un-admirable behaviors. It is a cross section of the general population after all. But never let your actions be what’s in question. I don’t think you’ll regret it.

Why It’s Probably Not A Good Idea To “Pop By”

STATUS: I didn’t accomplish nearly what I wanted today. Yuck.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GUILTY by Bonnie Raitt

I admire the passion that would propel a writer to want to pitch a book in person to an agent and at the agent’s office.

The motive is admirable; the actual deed is not.

Please! I strongly recommend that you don’t follow this impulse. Regardless of the desire, it can be viewed as unprofessional and despite my best efforts, I end up having to be firm about saying NO about not taking the pitch in person—which is always construed as being rude.

Yes, you can probably guess this happened to me today. Not to mention, if the popper by is aggressive enough (as in not taking NO for an answer via the intercom and waiting in the lobby until somebody exited so they could come through a secure entrance), the whole action can be viewed as a little threatening. Now that wasn’t the case today but you can see where it could be.

When I mentioned the incident to a friend, he said “Your daring intruder may be right about the importance of sharing her passion for her project, but she has a few things to learn about listening, boundaries, and respect.”

And ultimately in the end, agents want clients who understand that.

What You Should Never Do

STATUS: I signed a new client today. That’s always fun.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? I MELT WITH YOU by Modern English

I want to begin this blog by saying that I do understand the incredible obstacles writers face in terms of finding an agent and selling a book. I understand that if you, as a writer, get rejection after rejection, it’s frustrating not to mention disheartening.

I get that.

And I imagine that every writer at one time has THOUGHT about writing an industry professional to express frustration. That’s valid. Think about it; just don’t ever do it. This is what journals are for or venting with your best writer friend.

I received an email over the weekend that just makes me want to shake my head in pity.

Clearly stating a name and title of the project, this writer emailed to tell me that he/she had decided to destroy his/her book thanks to my agency. That I, as well as many other agents who had rejected it, had destroyed his/her dream and I should put that on my resume.

Sigh. This is a mistake for so many reasons. I don’t know where to begin, so I’ll just list them.

1. The only person responsible for your dream is you. It’s obvious that this writer is into blame and once begun, there is no end to who else’s fault it can be. It couldn’t possibly be because the writing isn’t strong enough, or the concept is unoriginal, or even that it’s not right for the current market. Nope. It must be those evil agents who haven’t recognized the brilliance; those evil agents who are keeping down deserving writers.

Real writers take personal responsibility for their work and even if it truly is the publishing world that has missed the boat (and it happens) a real writer perseveres in the face of challenge and writes another book. (John Grisham comes to mind. After all, the first book he wrote was a TIME TO KILL but that was not the first novel he sold.)

2. Sending such an email is just unprofessional. Think of any other business endeavor (such as applying for job etc.) and it would never occur to a person to send such a communication. Would you email all the people who interviewed you for a job but didn’t hire you about what a mistake they made? They would potentially think you unhinged. Not to mention question your age and maturity level.

3. Some agents have blacklists folks. This person did not send the letter anonymously. Guess where the name just went?

Uh, yikes? Why would you deliberately hamper a potential career that has not yet begun?

So think about it all you want. Vent to your writing friends and release the negative energy. Write numerous angry letters in your journal.

Just don’t send it.

Title Tales

STATUS: So far I’ve spent all day reading—a full manuscript I requested and then a client work. Only one more day until we officially close so I’ll probably be reading late into the evening.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS by Elvis Presley

Diana Peterfreund is talking about titles on her blog and being the lazy person I am this week, I thought I’d piggyback on her topic.

I want to reiterate here that authors should not get too attached to their titles. Sometimes they’re perfect and the author, the editor, and the whole sales department (and the buyer from Barnes & Noble) are giddy with excitement over it.

Then sometimes they’re not. Or they might be perfectly okay titles but not quite the angle the publisher is looking for.

Any agent that’s been around awhile can regale you with tons of title tales and it seems a fitting end to the year. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to share a few.

Paula Reed’s first romance entitled INTO HIS ARMS was originally titled KEEPING FAITH (as in the main heroine’s name was Faith and the hero should keep her). Kensington, her publisher, thought it sounded too inspirational so changed it.

I don’t think anyone can mistake INTO HIS ARMS for a religious tome.

In contrast, the obvious title for Jenny O’Connell’s upcoming second YA is THE BOOK OF LUKE. Speaking of religious references, we thought there was no way MTV Books would let us keep it (although it totally fit because the protagonist takes it upon herself to reform the baddest, most popular boy in school—named Luke of course—and keeps a book about the effort.) We spent days coming up with some alternatives (if I remember correctly, Nice Is A Four-Letter Word was the runner up). It ended up being unnecessary as MTV kept the originally proposed title.

But here’s a great instance to show that a writer shouldn’t get too wed to a title.

For book 2 in Shanna’s ENCHANTED series, she had the perfect title. For years, she had wanted to write a book entitled Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered. Finally, her chance had come in the form of the second book in her series. The manuscript was edited, delivered, and heading to press.

Then her agent opened up the then new spring catalog for Berkley (back in 2005) and lo and behold, you guessed it. Berkley had just released a book with that same title. As a book at Ballantine, we didn’t want to compete with a same-title release from another house.

Suddenly, we had no title. Enchanted Book 2 wasn’t really going to cut it. We spent weeks trying to come up with a new title only to be saved by the Ballantine marketing director. It was he who came up with ONCE UPON STILETTOS—in a moment that could only be described as sheer brilliance because what a great title.

For book 3, DAMSEL UNDER STRESS, the brainstorm brilliance was all Shanna and in this instance, Ballantine loved it immediately.

Title crisis averted—this time!