Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, April 30, 2007

Don't Call Us, We'll Call You

A couple of different blogging agents have posted recently about the taboo of calling a prospective agent, and I'd like to chime in with my own endorsement of the "You probably shouldn't call" policy. Clients should feel free to call their agents (really, I'm happy to talk, ohmigod did you see Lost the other night?? Do you think it's purgatory or are they trying to trick us?), but most of the time prospective clients should not.

Here's the thing about calling a prospective agent (and I get an average of five of these a day, sometimes more): it takes up time, and it seriously adds up. Most of the time people are inquiring about submission policies, and I respect that a lot of times submission policies are murky and not easy to research online. But here's what you should do instead of calling when you don't know an agency's submission policies: Just guess.

Unless you see somewhere that an agent is definitely NOT taking submissions, you can assume that they are taking queries. You can assume that they want a query letter, you can assume that if you can't specifically find that an agent takes e-queries you should send it in via the mail, and no one is going to kill you for sending a few sample pages. Just guess. No agent ever rejected a great manuscript because the author sent 15 pages when their submission guidelines calls for 10.

Oh, and if you're calling up to pitch a project to me, you should know that I am a visual learner and when I hear a plot summary it goes in one ear, sails right through the tangled, dark miasma that is my brain, slaps high five with the portion of my brain devoted to sports, and goes right out the other ear. I need to read it if I'm going to make a decision, so no need to tell it to me over the phone.

Times when it's ok to call: if you're telling me I won the lottery and you work for the State Lotto Commission, if you are the general manager of the Sacramento Kings and you'd like to consult with me on a trade or draft pick, if you have appeared or will appear in an episode of The Hills and you are calling my homeboy phone, or if you're a client or work in publishing.

Other than that, the post office and email are your friends!

Friday, April 27, 2007

This Week in Publishing 4/27/07

We lost another great writer this week, David Halberstam, who wrote about history, sports, politics and a lot of other things I find very interesting (and a lot of other people too). The Times obit is here, and the Sports Guy has a heartfelt appreciation of Halberstam's BREAKS OF THE GAME here.

MJ Rose consulted with an honest-to-god ad man for the seventh installment of The Ad Man Answers, which features a super-awesome multicolored funnel explaining the progression from awarness to sales that I stared at for about forty minutes. Aside from the awesomeness of the funnel (which should not be underestimated), the post, of course (this is MJ Rose's blog, we're talking about here), has some really good advice on brand awareness and how that relates to books. Check it out here.

The Edgar Awards came and went, and believe it or not, no forensic pathologists were forced to chase a reclusive serial killer leaving tantalizing clues during the ENTIRE ceremony. Congratulations to all the winners anyway.

First there were mommies. Then there were mommy wars. Now comes the war about the books about the mommy wars. On the heels of a controversial New York Times article on mommy war books and sales, Galleycat has coverage of the mommy counteroffensive. The lesson, as always: you don't mess with the mommies.

And finally, get ready for the summer of Princess Diana. In, uh, commemoration of the 10th anniversary of her death, according to the Wall Street Journal there will be.... wait for it..... 14 BOOKS PUBLISHED ON DIANA THIS SUMMER!!! 14!!!! Do you know how many books will be written this summer on the Hills, the NBA, monkeys, query letters, literary agents and "for the love of God will Jim and Pam ever get together," combined???? (Answer: Not 14.)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

You Know All Those Rules About How to Write a Query Letter? Yeah, About That...

There are quite a few agent blogs out there now, and the millions of query transgressions are well-documented and, of course, well-mocked. It's a wonderful time to be an aspiring author since it is now easier than ever to figure out how to send a query letter using proper protocol and to network with publishing types. But. There is a downside to all this information: agent blogs have created authors who are so scared about messing up one of the millions of query rules that they're more nervous than a bachelorette at a rose ceremony.

So I have a new recommendation to add to the pile of query letter advice: don't sweat it.

I mean, you should definitely sweat some things. You should work really hard to write a query letter that is an appropriate length, is gripping and amazing and makes me want to read more, and it should be personalized.

But beyond that? I'm not going to throw out your query if there's a typo, or even if you spell my name wrong. I'm not going to laugh at you if I ask for a three page synopsis and you send me a four page synopsis. Heck, if your material is good enough, feel free to send me a query letter that begins with a rhetorical question, smells like it's been sitting in a trashcan for three weeks, is addressed to the wrong agent, and even insults reality television and the Sacramento Kings. If it's good, you can get away with quite a few mistakes.

What you should be worried about: writing a good letter. Agonize over that. Don't worry about breaking a byzantine rule.

Remember these three C's: use Common sense, be Courteous, and don't be Crazy. If you follow the three C's (and, um, write a brilliant letter), it's gonna be ok.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Do Reviews Translate to Sales?

There's some debate this week in the bookosphere (I thought about trademarking that made-up-word and charging people money every time they said it, but a website beat me to it, proving once again that life isn't fair) about the impact of the demise of the newspaper book section. The Millions, as is their wont, recently posted a thoughtful assessment of the possible elimination of the Atlanta Journal Constitution's book section and the reduction the size of the Chicago Tribune's book section as they move it to, shudder, Saturday's edition.

Some people feel that the decline of the books section is a sign that books are losing their cultural foothold, others point out that the review section is outmoded in the day of internet reviews and book websites, which allow debate and linking and all those other things you can get without walking down the street and paying $1.25 in quarters for the Sunday paper.

So you tell me: have you ever bought a book because of a newspaper review? Do they translate to sales? Do you see the decline of the Sunday Book Review as a harbinger of doom or a harbinger of "Enh, I wonder those thoughtful and insightful The Millions people are up to today? I bet they totally knocked out an awesome review today, those silly goons."


Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Publication Alert: FRENCH BY HEART

My wonderful client Rebecca Ramsey's debut memoir is coming out today! FRENCH BY HEART, published by Broadway Books, tells the heartwarming and seriously-hilarious story of her Southern family's four year stay in France. Rebecca's husband Todd was transferred to France for work, and so they packed up their three kids and the cat and headed off to the land of pain au chocolat. Rebecca chronicles the struggle of culture shock and learning the new language, but she also falls in love with France and its charms, and even the cat gets a bounce in her step with a new diet of pate. And the heart of the story is Madame Millet, the Ramseys' finger-wagging neighbor, part nemisis and part dear friend, who tsks as the Ramsey children walk around barefoot (she calls them "sauvages"), but whom the Ramseys grow to love.

But, as Lavar Burton says, you don't have to take my word for it: Publisher's Weekly calls FRENCH BY HEART "charming" and "endearing" (and I didn't just cherry-pick the good parts!).

What drew me as an agent to Rebecca's writing is her natural storytelling ability -- she has an incredible talent for making characters leap off the page with just a quote or a description. The result of this is that you really connect with her family immediately and feel emotionally invested in everything that happens to them, and in the end you just want to stand up and cheer. If you're hoping to gain some insight into how a great writer captures characters (especially when you're talking about real people here), and then uses that connection to craft a great narrative, Rebecca is as good as anyone.


Monday, April 23, 2007

The Best Book About Writing a Novel That Isn't About Writing a Novel

So, remember in the movie Adaptation when one of the two Nicholas Cage characters went to the writing seminar hosted by the guy who cursed a lot and then the movie descended into a baffling chase in the swamp that, while kind of funny, left you with a confused feeling since the movie kind of had you hooked and then all of a sudden people started dying? Well, the guy hosting the writer's seminar is Robert McKee -- well, it wasn't actually Robert McKee, it was an actor playing Robert McKee. As I'm sure you know, Robert McKee is an actual person who hosts actual screenplay seminars and who wrote an actual book called STORY, also featured in the movie (the book plays itself). I'm not sure whether Mr. McKee actually curses.

STORY is all about the elements of story -- how stories are driven by character desires, through conflict, through points of no return, and other elements that have been around for thousands of years. McKee was talking about how to write a screenplay, and a lot of the more specific advice doesn't apply to novel writing, but his elucidation of conflict, the importance of crafting an interesting inciting incident and his dissection of climax apply equally to novels.

So if you want to brush up on your story elements, pick up a copy of STORY, and continue to hone your craft.

Lastly, you can save your anxious e-mails, I did indeed hear about Spencer from The Hills issuing the ultimate, blindsiding insult to Lauren, telling Us Magazine, "Lauren couldn't even get into clubs before she met us!"

Wow. Just, wow.

Friday, April 20, 2007

This Week in Publishing 4/20/07

Well, the London Book Fair came and went and the biggest buzz was generated by........ (drumroll please)........ THE WEATHER!! Everyone who attended was stunned that the weather was nice in London, which apparently hasn't happened since the 12th Century. If you want actual book-related buzz from the London Book Fair, Galley Cat was all over it.

Another week, another major award for Cormac McCarthy. In case you haven't heard, THE ROAD won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction as well. Next up for Mr. McCarthy: the Nobel Prize for Literature, the Medal of Freedom, Time's Man of the Year, and American Idol.

Oh, I was shocked to find out that some non-Cormac McCarthy-authored books won Pulitzers as well, including Lawrence Wright's seriously-it's-incredible-you-should-read-it THE LOOMING TOWER for nonfiction, THE RACE BEAT by Gene Roberts and Hank Klibanoff for history, and THE MOST FAMOUS MAN IN AMERICA by Debby Applegate for biography.

Chronicle Books announced that Hachette (formerly Time Warner Book Group) will now handle their distribution, although Chronicle will still handle their own sales. So just in case you were up in the middle of the night last night wondering how Chronicle's books get from the warehouse to bookstores......... now you know.

British Magazine The Bookseller's annual pick for the Oddest Title Award went to THE STRAY SHOPPING CARTS OF EASTERN NORTH AMERICA: A GUIDE TO FIELD IDENTIFICATION. Congratulations. I think.

And finally, hey, kids! Want to pretend you're a gruel-eating orphan or learn about how the French chopped off people's heads during the Reign of Terror? Well, the coolest amusement park EVER is opening up in Kent, England: the Charles Dickens theme park, DICKENS WORLD!!! The main event: only the awesomest log flume in the world, you guessed it, based on GREAT EXPECTATIONS!! Hurry kids, be the first on your block to brag that you stole a kid's wallet in Fagin's Den!!! (And if you think I'm making this up, read about it all here.)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Better Than a Blog?

Thanks to everyone who listed their favorite book/publishing blogs, my Google Reader thanks you (feel free to continue posting on that topic if you stumble upon a new gem). The Internet has really been wonderful for books -- as space for books in newspapers keeps shrinking, the Internet has really filled the void.

Segue. One of the other benefits of the Internet is that people without a platform and starting from scratch have a new opportunity to get up on a virtual soapbox and make themselves heard. These days publishers are all over well-trafficked bloggers like stink on a monkey (stole that one from Seinfeld).

I receive a lot of questions from bloggers about how much blog traffic counts for a platform, and how they can translate their blog into a book deal (this mainly applies to nonfiction -- the rules of fiction are mostly the same). To me, even apart from the audience a blog reaches, I ask one main question about a potential blog book: would the book be better than the blog?

Think about the appealing characteristics of blogs: they're instantaneous, they're free, they can respond to current events, they can be linked to, they're free, you can leave comments, and they're free. As much as your blog audience loves you (really, they told me you're awesome), do they love your blog enough to plop down $24.95 for a book that doesn't even have a comments section that they can curse you out on? Or more to the point: does your book idea contain enough unique material and is it on a meaty-enough topic that it can transcend the year it takes to get a book from writing to published?

So yes -- there are certain blogs that can benefit from the length and scope of a book, and there's a reason publishers have been snapping up blog books. But for others, especially blogs that are current-event driven, it's tough to beat the timely material you're already dispensing for free. So if you're hoping to transubstantiate your blog into a book deal, make sure you have a clear idea why a book based on your awesome blog would be even awesomer.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

What Are Your Favorite Writing/Publishing Blogs?

Since the title of this blog post is completely self-explanatory, let me just take a quick moment to express my appreciation for this season of The Bachelor: An Officer and a Gentleman. Not only is the officer and the gentleman THE SAME PERSON (I was stunned), but he drives in one of those funny cars where the door goes up into the air when you open it. Plus, he is a doctor, but he misdiagnosed one of the bachelorettes who sprained her ankle in the last episode, telling her she had a displaced fracture. She was so excited that she got a rose that she didn't seem to mind that her potential future husband apparently skipped the part of medical school where they teach you about broken bones.

Also, if you are the drinking type (I'm guessing you are, if you take the time to read this blog), watch the Bachelor and, ahem, raise your glass every time someone says "amazing," references a fairy tale, or questions whether one of the bachelorettes is in it for the "right reasons." I don't actually play this game, becuase if I did my liver would stop functioning and I would end up in the hospital, where Dr. Bachelor would probably tell me I was suffering from a hangnail.

Anyway, on to the actual part of the blog where we talk about publishing. My Google Reader is just itching for some more feed adds, so You Tell Me: what are the best writing and publishing blogs out there?

This blog is officially ineligible for votes, and this isn't one of those "Oh, PLEASE don't VOTE FOR ME" type of things, I'm serious, I want to hear about the other blogs out there. And if you were even thinking of voting this blog, I encourage you to re-read the first two paragraphs and promptly seek help. Preferably not from Dr. Bachelor.


Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Let's Do Lunch

First of all, a tech note, the people have spoken and the people want full RSS feeds so they can read the blog in the RSS reader of their choice. I have reluctantly agreed to switch over on a trial basis -- please, I beg of you, don't forget to come out of your RSS Reader bubble and leave comments on the site!

I'm having lunch with an editor today, and I had breakfast with another editor yesterday, which really has me in a good mood. You see, while I'm told some people in the industry feel roughly the same way about agent/editor lunches as they do infectious diseases, I say bring on the viruses, and I'll take a side of fries with that. I love 'em.

So here's how the lunches basically work. An agent and editor will meet by an e-mail or a phone call or via a "you should know this person" suggestion from a third party, and then they agree to meet at a designated lunch spot. Carnations are not worn, and the first fun part of agent/editor lunches is actually finding the person who you are having lunch with. One editor I know actually got all the way to sitting down for lunch with the wrong person before figuring out that the guy wasn't an agent.

Then, once you have safely established each other's identity, you sit down for lunch and talk about what type of books the editor acquires, what type of clients the agent has, the weather, industry gossip of the moment, what trends you're hearing about (can't help it), etc. etc. After you've run out of book industry topics (usually before the appetizers), you find common interests, which is the part I really like, because if you do some digging people have some really amazing interests.

And then, at the end, the editor pays. That's just the way it is. I think back in the sixteenth century an agent and editor had lunch (mutton, I'm guessing), flipped a coin, the editor lost, and ever since then that's just the way it is.

Then, once the check has been paid, you exchange cards, express a mutual desire to work on a project together, and then you go back to work.

So, here's the checklist: interesting company, lunch at good restaurant (for free), excitement of possible mistaken identity. What's not to like??

Monday, April 16, 2007

Random Q's.... A'd

I received yet another query today without any contact information at all. So if anyone sent me a query and thinks they might have neglected to include even the most rudimentary of contact information, keep your eyes to the sky around 4:30, when I will spell out my standard rejection in smoke signals.

In other news, I've been receiving some very good questions on the Absolute Write Message Board, and since I'm told recycling is good for the environment, I thought I'd save some pixels and bytes and re-use the questions here with slightly expanded answers. And please, save your congratulations for my environmental philanthropy. I'm just one guy doing my part.

Q: Here is my question: I just got my first rejection off my full mss read and with it came some very helpful feedback. I have three other agents reading the full mss, and am now launching into a revision because dang it all, that first agent's input is spot on. After I revise the manuscript, is it okay for me to approach the agents reading the full mss (If I have not heard back from them yet - They all three are well-established and have reputations for having a long turn-around time with mss) and offer them the revised version, or does that scream "UNPROFESSIONAL"? If this is okay to do, is there a proper protocol as to how to do this?

If you're going to send an agent a new draft to read, the key is catching them soon enough so that they haven't gotten to the manuscript and thus can just substitute the new manuscript for the old -- so, say, in a week, or two, tops. There is nothing greater in the Department of Irk than getting halfway or more through a manuscript and then the author says, "Just kidding!" and wants me to read another draft. Close behind in Irkland is when someone pulls a manuscript to work on it more after I'm already halfway through. Because of that, since there's probably no way you could complete the revisions in time, I'd just let it go with the two agents who have the manuscript. (Note: the rules are always different with clients)

And who knows, maybe one or both of them will think it's perfect. The next time two people in publishing agree on a manuscript will be the first time.

Q: If the agent who declined my full mss did not mention that it would be acceptable to resubmit after revision, is it okay to resubmit to that agent again after making the changes? I fear coming across tacky and obnoxious if I ask for a second chance. I don't want to ruin this agent's view of me in case I end up querying again sometime in the future with another book.

When I am willing to reconsider a revised manuscript I'm very very clear about it. I tell people, "I'd be happy to take a look at another draft" or something along those lines. When I don't specifically say that I'm open to a new draft it means I've made my decision, and I'm afraid that I won't reconsider. As a general rule I don't reconsider something I've passed on, because, as you can imagine, it's enough work to keep up with all of the first time queries I get let alone all the ones that would flood in if I considered revisions.

That said, after you've completed the revision I don't see the harm in thanking the agent for the suggestions, say you revised the material and feel the work is much stronger, and say that you appreciate their time but wonder if they'd take another look. At worst they're just going to say no, but who knows, maybe they'll be persuaded to look again.

Q: When you get a contract from a publisher who wants exclusive rights to a piece of fiction and for a limited time (let's say two months) what exactly does that mean?

Exclusivity means that you are giving a publisher the right to print and sell your material exclusively for a certain period of time, in this case, two months. If you're granting exlusivity, those rights can't be otherwise encumbered, so you couldn't, say, grant someone rights to your work and then two months later grant another publisher exclusive rights. Exclusive is exclusive.

The term of exclusivity begins when the contract is executed (or at time of publication, depending on the contract), and at that time you execute the contract you have to guarantee that those rights are free and clear. And yes, once the rights revert back you could re-sell those rights to another publisher. You could have published the story before, as long as you have the rights back and as long as you can guarantee the new publisher exclusivity. This means that the story could exist in already-printed books, but the previous publisher couldn't be actively selling those copies. You are essentially giving the publisher the exclusive right to sell your work.

Don't forget, at 4:30 keep your eyes peeled for my standard rejection letter in smoke form!

Friday, April 13, 2007

This Week in Publishing 4/13/07

Dust off your Harris Tweed and practice your best "Cheerio," it's London Book Fair time. Or at least, it will be London Book Fair time on Monday. Yes, publishers and agents and authors and booksellers and Yorkshire lasses will meet and greet, sell subrights, build up buzz for hot titles and break for afternoon tea. Insert your own British sterotype here.

This isn't quite book publishing related, and it didn't really happen this week, but I have to say that the May issue of The Atlantic is pretty darn incredible, including an article by Mark Bowden (BLACK HAWK DOWN) about how US interrogators broke down terrorists to figure out the location of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and a report by Nadya Labi on homosexuality in Saudi Arabia. Surprising fact: Labi quotes multiple people Saudi Arabians saying it's easier to be gay than straight in Saudi Arabia. Do yourself a favor and pick up a copy. They're not even paying me to tell you this.

In very depressing news, Cody's Books is closing its San Francisco store on April 20th. The San Francisco all but writes an obituary for the cozy bookstore. Fortunately, I have it on good authority that all bookstores go to heaven.

Thomas Nelson CEO/blogger Michael Hyatt explains why they don't have any imprints anymore. The jury is still out on whether imprints go to heaven.

And finally, as reported by Publishers Marketplace, a THE SECRET parody has been acquired by Nation Books: Jim Gerard's WHO MOVED MY SECRET? The Ancient Wisdom That Tells You It's OK to be Greedy and that Bad Things Only Happen to Good People Who Vibrate on the Wrong Frequency. Jones postulates that the real Law of Attraction "means that if you're gullible enough to believe in it, The Secret folks will be attrcted to your credit card number." I will not comment on this sale out of fear that The Secret believers will think really hard about me falling into a trash can.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

RIP Vonnegut

As I'm sure you've heard by now, Kurt Vonnegut passed away. The Times obit is here. I read SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE when I was in high school, and it was one of the most influential books that sent me on a path to book publishing, so I was very sad to see news his passing.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

How Do You Feel About Creative Writing Schools?

Thanks to everyone who posted comments about my stilted-fantasy-dialogue and weighed in one way or the other. Survey says: majority of the readers are turned off by stilted dialogue unless it's done right. There you have it. Just be thankful I didn't post my re-imagining of life as seen through a romance novel. Or a The Hills episode.

Moving on, whereas authors of yore graduated from the school of hard knocks and Jack Daniel's University (I'm looking at you, Hemingway), many authors these days are getting their MFAs and MAs in creative writing, honing their craft in institutions of higher learning. Authors such as Michael Chabon, Anthony Swofford, Daniel Alarcon and ZZ Packer, to name but a few of many, got their chops in graduate writing programs. Judging from the lists of distinguished alumni of these programs, not to mention the lists of distinguished faculty at these programs, these schools seem to be performing a valuable service for American letters (and books too!). I heard a great quote (I don't remember who said it) along the lines of "Creative writing schools can't teach you how to write, but they can teach you how not to write." And that's pretty valuable.

However. Some people feel that if you can write you can write, and creative writing programs tend to stress short fiction writing even as magazines such as The Atlantic are dropping short stories, and short fiction collections have a reputation as being difficult to sell. If creative writing schools are going to prepare a new generation of writers for the current publishing landscape, should they be teaching novel and book length nonfiction writing? Also, a lot of creative writing schools are very expensive, and in a world where writing is not usually the most lucrative pursuit, should people be spending the money?

So you tell me - how do you feel about creative writing schools?

I'd like to clarify that I have clients who have graduated from writing schools and clients who have not graduated from writing schools and I love them all, so I'm as neutral on this issue as an ambidextrous Swiss Unitarian.


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Thy Dialogue Dost Sound Strange

I want to stress first off that I am not writing this post in response to any particular query or submission -- I never do that, never will. You can continue submit to me without fear of public flogging. Seriously.

Anyway, as I was riding the streetcar to work (you know the ones in the Docker's commercial where the guy and girl see each other and then they run out to catch up to each other only to find out that they both did the same thing? Those streetcars. I ride those to work. I heart San Francisco).. anyway, on the way to work I was mentally narrating everything that was happening in that sort of mystical/stilted dialect that fantasy writers sometimes use when their characters talk.

Like this:

Streetcar driver: "The morning sun is rising over the misty water of the Bay of San Francsico, and the next stop our transporting vehicle will make is Chestnut Street. Those wishing to depart should signal with the bell of stopping."
Rider: "It is my keenest desire to depart, and I will pull the bell. There. It was my desire and I pulled the bell of stopping."
Me: "It has been many moons since I departed on Chestnut Street, but I too will depart at Chestnut since the bell of stopping has been pulled and my legs desire movement."
Streetcar driver: "The stop upon which our wheels rest is Chestnut Street. The gods deem it so."

Annnnnnnnnd so on.

Can I get a ruling on this? I have to admit that while that type of language is rather common when it comes to fantasy and I by no means wish to disparage it wholesale... well, I personally have a bit of a hard time with it. On the other hand, maybe some people find it transporting to imagine a world where people talk differently and the language serves a purpose, so maybe it's just me? Should I drop my bias?

Mini you-tell-me for a Tuesday. How do you feel about this type of dialogue (in its proper context)?

Monday, April 9, 2007

When Agenting is Like Dating

Hi everyone, hope you had a great weekend. I received quite a few queries over the weekend, and you know how I like to spot query trends. Well, two things popped out this weekend: I received quite a few JFK queries, and also an abnormally high number of queries from young writers (18 and younger). So mark my words, a bio of JFK written by a 14 year old is due to burst on the scene. Or not.

In other weekend news, in case you don't get HBO or otherwise do not keep up with the happenings of one of the greatest shows on television, Entourage started its third season last night, and, to put it mildly, I was excited.

To catch you up: Vince dumped Ari in last season's finale (as Bob Ryan would say: What if I told you Ari pissed off Vince one too many times and Vince fired him in front of his entire agency. Would that be something you'd be interested in?). Well. In the season premiere we find out that Vince has now signed with a fabulous new agent and has moved on, but Ari is pining for his lost client and is trying to win him back. So in the episode last night there were several hilariously awkward conversations between Ari and Vince where they acted like old flames who had broken up. Sample conversation: "Ari: You look good, Vince. Really good. Vince: We're just friends, right? Ari: Of course, Vince. Just friends." Insert some awkward pauses and forlorn glances for good measure.

Now, as you may have deduced from my disposition, political correctness and lack of sassy assistant, I'm nothing like Ari Gold, nor do my clients usually have birthday parties on massive yachts sponsored by Victoria's Secret and Skyy Vodka (but I am avidly rooting for them to do so). And yet Entourage has hit on one of the more hilarious aspects of the agent/client relationship, which is that when you squint your eyes right it does bear some resemblence to dating.

Think about it. You have the courtship process, the cementing of the relationship, the exclusivity but potential for cheating, the messy breakups (Allegedly. I have only heard rumors. I know nothing.) And of course, there are the children: the books.

I will stop the metaphor there so we don't extend the images to prams and amniotic fluid, but let's just say that if you're ever wondering about how to conduct yourself with a prospective agent, don't do anything you wouldn't do to someone you'd want to date.

Would you follow a prospective date into the bathroom at a writer's conference? I think not. Would you yell at someone who politiely declined your offer to buy them a drink? Not if you want a shot at the other prospective dates at the bar.

There you have it. The Ari Gold guide to dating/finding an agent. A 14 year old JFK expert is starting the proposal as we speak.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

This Week in Publishing 4/25/07

The Nathan Bransford blog is going on hiatus tomorrow, which means I have to sum up the week today. We will return to our regular schedule on Monday.

First off, multiple choice question for you: What was the most shocking part of the season finale of The Hills? Was it:
a) Heidi moving in with Spencer
b) Spencer getting a homeboy phone (A homeboy phone!!!! I will recover from this approximately seventeen years from now)
c) Audrina moving in with Lauren
d) Lauren shown on camera reading AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH by Al Gore.

I'm going with d. By a landslide. I nearly fell off my couch. First of all, a book?? Second of all, AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH? Lauren is concerned about global warming?? Just, wow.

Also, if you Google the words "sweet, my answer is get out of my car" I'm the second link that appears. This may be the crowning achievement of my life thus far.

Sorry. Anyway, now onto actual publishing news.

Cormac McCarhty's THE ROAD, fresh off of getting a gold star from Oprah, also deservedly won the Tournament of Books, hosted by The Morning News and Powell's. Can someone please give this man the Nobel Prize already??

Another week another imprint name change. Since Time Warner sold the Time Warner Book Group to French conglomerate Hachette a few months back, Warner Books decided the Warner part was a little outdated, so they will now be known as Grand Central Publishing. Also, Signet and NAL started a new imprint dedicated to mysteries called Obsidian. Approximately 75% of my brain is dedicated solely to keeping imprints straight.

Literary agent Jonathan Lyons (who recently started his own eponymous agency) has some good advice if you're attending a pitch session. My favorite is the part about buying the agent beer. Ok, he doesn't say buy per se, but he does mention getting a beer to talk publishing, and I connected the dots myself. Hey, people started fermenting things thousands of years ago for a reason.

Pope Benedict has a new book out soon, and this just in: the Pope is not a capitalist and has some kind words for Karl Marx. I would quibble with him, but hey, he's the Pope. The Guardian has the story here.

As linked to by Jessica Faust at Bookends, bestselling author Barry Eisler talks about how you can network and market through Myspace. He doesn't mention the part about writing a really amazing book, which Barry has done, repeatedly. You're on your own there.

Shelf Awareness reports on the way independent booksellers have to strategize to make money off of the Harry Potter book due to competition from deep discounting and big bookstores offering HPATDH as a loss leader. I have no joke here, just horror that booksellers may not make any profit off of a 12 million copy bestseller. Pure, unadulterated horror, like Lauren from The Hills probably felt after reading AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (and like Heidi felt when she saw Lauren reading a book).

And finally, every local news broadcast worth its salt ends with a heartwarming pet story, and who am I to doubt the quality and production values of local news. So here's your pet story, and you have to imagine me saying this in my best newscaster voice: And finally folks, we saw this deal note in Publisher's Marketplace and thought we'd share it with you: "Iowa librarian Vicki Myron and former HCI editorial director Bret Witter's DEWEY, a Small Town, a Library and the World's Most Beloved Cat, about a kitten found in the library's book drop who grew into a beloved town mascot, to Karen Kosztolnyik at Grand Central, in a major deal, in a pre-empt, reportedly for about $1.25 million, by Peter McGuigan at Sanford J. Greenburger Associates." Wow. People sure do love kittens, don't the? What a heartwarming story and what a great deal. Mmm. Folks, stay tuned for Book News, and that wraps up this week's edition of This Week in Publishing. It's 9:45 am. Do you know where your children are?

Have a good weekend everyone!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

New or Used?

Spencer from The Hills has a homeboy phone. I may die. He has one cell for his girlfriend Heidi and one for his homeboys. This seems perfectly sensible. So attention authors: I will no longer be reachable on my regular work phone. If you need to reach me you need to call my homeboy phone.

Wow. Anyway, a few days after I posted the You Tell Me about bookstores vs. online, there was an interesting discussion at the end of the comments section that I thought would make for and interesting You Tell Me. To wit: how do we feel about used books?

You might not have given too much thought to used books, but here's the thing: authors and publishers don't make any money off of used book sales. So while of course an author might appreciate that you read their work, that used book sale doesn't count as an actual sale, and thus won't count toward the books sold tally and won't go to the author's royalty account. Sure, it's all about the love of writing and all that, but when a publisher looks at the author's sales and decides whether or not to publish their next book, all those used book fans don't count toward the total.

Now, of course, used booksales might help an author develop a fan base and might help with the next book sale. Used books are a great way to find a new author that someone might not have otherwise risked $24.95 on. But used books, even for very recent publications, are increasingly easy to find and buy -- before you had to stumble upon a bargain in a used book store, but now you can find a used book online extremely easily.

So you tell me (preferably on my homeboy phone): how do you feel about used books? Are they an overall benefit to authors or are they something an author should be worried about?

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Starting Before the Beginning

So, regular readers know I am a bit obsessed with basketball. We had some wonderful friends in town last night and so I DVR'd the game and then set about trying to block out the outside world throughout dinner. I turned off my cell phone. I put my computer in an out of reach place. I had my girlfriend scout out the downstairs of the restaurant for TVs before I ventured down to the restroom (yes, she's wonderful. Also understanding.) And it worked..... until we were walking around outside and I looked into a bar and happened to see a bigscreen TV showing Billy Donovan with a net around his neck. A;LKDJF;LAKJF I about fainted on the sidewalk. Nooooooooo!! Anyway, congrats to the Gators, even if I didn't get to be surprised by the win. I still watched the game when I got home.

Anyway, the advice given in this blog has been mostly devoted to the art of the query letter, but really, that is putting the cart before the donkey. Aspiring writers agonize over query letters, they strive to make publishing contacts, they pour their time and energy into getting their book published. But actually, the absolute most crucial decision you can make as a writer happens before you take out your pen and write down, "Once upon a time in Borneo." The most important decision happens when you decide what you're going to write about.

Too many people assume that good writing is all you need, and believe what you write about isn't so important as how you write. Such thinking results not only in meandering 200,000 treatises on the peculiarity of our contemporary mores, but also in more mundane and unoriginal plots that aren't well thought through and thus, no matter how good the writing is, they are a tough prospect to sell. To put it short: You need a good idea.

When you're considering what to write about, you have to start with the assumption that everyone you're up against in the slush pile can write -- it's your idea that will set you apart. This may seem like really obvious advice, but an unoriginal or not-good-enough book idea is the basis for approximately 90% of my rejections. In a story-saturated world where it seems like every original idea is already taken, really great story ideas are very rare and precious. I find it much more agonizing to reject someone with a really great idea where the writing isn't there than I do passing on a project with great writing where there isn't a solid enough idea. I think this is because it's so hard to find a great idea. They're as rare as an intelligent conversation on The Hills.

So what can you do? One way to test your idea before you start writing is to tell it to someone out loud. If, after a short description, someone genuinely, involuntarily responds, "Wow, that's a great idea," you're onto something. If you have to include the caveat, "Well, anyway, it sounds boring but really, it's all about the writing," you might want to add some monkeys to the plot.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Quick on the Draw

Miss Snark recently linked to a writer who expressed confusion and angst about having a query letter rejected in nine minutes flat. Anyone who has submitted a query to me probably knows that nine minutes would be a slow response time for me, and that includes both requests for partials and rejections. To quote Val Kilmer playing quick shooting Doc Holliday in Tombstone, "I'm your huckleberry."

Here's the thing about queries -- they come in really fast, and they add up quickly. If I ignore them for a couple of hours my computer starts smoking and sparks fly out of the monitor from being overloaded (not true, but that's how it would happen in an '80s movie). Sure, I could read these queries, wait a day to be polite if it's a no, and then send a reply, but that takes twice as long -- I would have to re-read the queries to refresh my memory, and when you're talking about hundreds of queries a week, that time quickly adds up. And a no's a no, right? As Socrates said, does not ripping off a band-aid quickly remove thy band-aid as surely as removing it slowly?

So here's what I do. I read the queries as soon as possible after they come in (repeat: I read them. Repeat repeat: I read them I read them). I think about it. I type out a response immediately. It really doesn't take very long. Just because I respond quickly doesn't mean I didn't think about it, it doesn't mean that I disliked your query way more than one I didn't get to for a day or two and then rejected, and it certainly doesn't mean I dislike you. I like you a whole lot, especially that new sweater, which looks terrific on you.

Besides, no one ever complains about getting a request for a partial in five minutes!

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