Nathan Bransford, Author

Monday, November 24, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving Week!

Greetings from my secret bunker! Dick Cheney says hello.

Hope you enjoyed your expert guest bloggers. And now it's time to enjoy time with family I mean completely neglect them in favor of finishing your NaNoWriMo book.

And remember, I like my books the way I like my turkey: dry, well-seasoned, stuffed with a duck, and deep fried. Make of that what you will.

See you in December!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: Tracy Marchini on 21 Things an Author Can Do With Twitter

According to Wikipedia, internationally there were 111 Twitter-like micro-blogging sites in May 2007. Twitter itself has become so popular it's spawned everything from tweet-managing platforms (Tweetdeck) to Twitter slang - "That's a fail whale."

So what can authors do with Twitter?

1.) Tweet your book release dates. Especially on the day of release.
2.) Tweet your tour dates.
3.) Tweet changes in your tour dates.
4.) Tweet your progress on a much-awaited sequel.
5.) Tweet your readers for feedback - do they like your new (fill in the blank?)
6.) Tweet your readers links to your website when it's updated.
7.) Tweet the links to specific posts in your blog.
8.) Tweet some micro-fiction. (It's harder than it looks!)
9.) Tweet some encouragement to a fellow writer (keep good company!)
10.) Tweet your followers with a special promotion. (Twitter followers get a code to unlock a special part of your site?)
11.) Tweet when your book wins an award.
12.) Tweet when your book gets a good review.
13.) Tweet when your book goes into paperback.
14.) Tweet when you made a fantastic dinner (especially if you write cookbooks) or if you found an old record (especially if you're a musicologist), etc.
15.) Tweet about what you would like your readers to know about you right now, at this very second.
16.) Tweet when you need to hear some encouragement from a reader.
17.) Tweet when your next pub date is announced.

But also, authors can read:

1.) What their readers are tweeting about.
2.) If their readers had a good or bad time at their last author event.
(They could be tweeting from their cell phone right next to you! Awk-ward.)
3.) What other books their readers are talking about.

Finally, one of the best tips I've ever read for using Twitter was to sign up to the rss feed of a search term. So, get your Twitter account, search for your name and/or your books among the twit-o-sphere, and sign up for the rss feed.

Happy Tweeting!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Guest Blogger: Tracy Marchini on the Conference Etiquette Dating Game

Hello Nathanites! My name is Tracy Marchini, I’ve been with Curtis Brown for over two years, and I have the honor of being one of your guest bloggers today. (Does anybody else feel like they’re on a game show? No? Well let’s fix that…)

Host: “It’s time to play, The Conference Attendee Dating Game. Today we have three aspiring writers hoping to wow an agent at our conference. Agent, tell us a little bit about what brought you here today.”

Agent: “Well, conferences are a great way for agents who are trying to grow a list to meet new, talented writers. Also, they’re a good way to network with editors and agents from other houses.”

Host: “Ah, I see. Well then, let’s get right into it. Agent, ask your first question.”

Agent: “Gladly. Contestant number 1, I like my manuscript pitches to be short and sweet. Tell me, what pitch would you sell me?”

Contestant 1: “Well my book is about this guy who goes into the mountains. I actually used to live near the mountains. Have you ever read that book HEIDI where she lives in the mountains? Well, actually, my book is not at all like that. It’s like THE DA VINCI CODE, but set in the mountains.

Agent: “Contestant number 2? Perhaps you could be a little more precise?”

Contestant 2: “My book is about Madison, a high school girl who goes mute after her father’s mysterious death. Only her widowed next door neighbor can draw Madison out of her self-imposed exile. Ultimately, this is a coming of age story of loss and acceptance.”

Agent: “Interesting. Contestant 3, how would you approach me during the conference lunch?”

Contestant 3: “I would tap you on the shoulder until I got your attention. Then I would hand you my manuscript and ask you to read it.”

Agent: “Contestant number 2?”

Contestant 2: “I would wait until you were done eating your lunch before approaching you. I would never presume to bring an entire copy of the manuscript that I could hand you, rather I would ask you whether you were open to submissions, give you my pitch and ask if I could send it to your office.”

Agent: “Would you wait for me to finish my dessert too?”

Contestant 2: “I would even bring you dessert*.”

(*Hey, contestants on The Dating Show always exaggerated about how great a date they would be. I’m just trying to keep it real.)

Agent: “Contestant number 1, if we had a one-on-one critique, what would you do?”

Contestant 1: “First I would ask you why you didn’t come with a contract. That is a major mistake. I mean, honestly, I haven’t read THE DA VINCI MOUNTAIN CODE in a while, so I wouldn’t really have any questions other than why you won’t buy it. Maybe I’d ask you for a list of your colleagues to see if maybe they want to buy it. Also, I would bring the sequel, THE DA VINCI MOUNTAIN CODE 2: THE ONE WITH HAIRY POTTER, and ask you to read and comment on that one while I stare at you. Also, did I tell you about the third book, DA VINCI MOUNTAIN TWILIGHT?”

Agent: “Hm, I’m not quite sure that’s my cup of tea. Contestant 2?”

Contestant 2: “After rereading my manuscript, I would come with a list of questions that pertained to that manuscript in particular, and my strengths and weaknesses as a writer in general. I would listen silently as you gave me criticism on my work, and then ask my questions. If I felt that the reader didn’t “get” what I was trying to do, I would ask what I could do to make my intended purpose clearer to the reader. After my session is over, I would thank the agent/editor for their time and then ask if they had a business card.”

Host: “Agent, our time is almost up. Are you ready to make your decision?”

Agent: “Well contestants, after listening to your responses, I think I’ve made my choice.”


Agent: “My choice is – contestant number 2! They are courteous, professional, and seem to be thinking critically about their work.”

Host: “Congratulations contestant number 2! You win a manuscript request by our agent and a trip to Tahiti. That’s all for this edition of the Conference Attendee Dating Game. Good night, and good querying.”

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Literary Acclaim or Big Money?

Nathan here! Well, actually it's Nathan of November 12th writing this ahead of time.

So wow, it's the future. Do we have flying cars yet? Did Nathan of November 19th get a haircut?

Today's You Tell Me comes from Orange Slushie, and it's a good one. Take it away, Orange Slushie:

"You go down to the crossroads and make a pact to have your novel and future novels published. You are given a conditional choice. Either you can receive the highest literary acclaim for your work, but a guarantee that you will never earn enough to give up your day job. Or you can always be considered a terrible hack, but make bucketloads of cash.

Which do you choose?"

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Guest Blogger: Katherine Fausset on Her Literary Utopia

Katherine Fausset is an agent at Curtis Brown, Ltd., New York.

Dear Lucky Readers of the Nathan Bransford’s Blog,

Why are you lucky? Because every time you visit this blog you are getting—for free, I might add—a hot cup of freshly brewed, anti-oxidant rich, organically-grown publishing wisdom from a superb blend of literary agent and reality tv connoisseur. In my fantasy world, writers who are just starting out would have all read Nathan’s informative and entertaining posts about the best ways to query an agent, craft a cover letter, and navigate their way in the early stages of the publishing process, before submitting work to agents.

Also in my fantasy world (since we’re on the subject):

-Chain bookstores would invent a device that could scan customers’ souls to determine which books they would find most meaningful (including, but not limited to, all the wonderful midlist, backlist, barely-made-it-onto-any list titles which don’t necessarily appear on front-of-store display titles.)

-The number of calories burned per minute from reading would be equivalent to swimming against a fast-moving current in ankle weights and a too-large flannel shirt.

-A new episode of The Office would air every night of the week.

-A series of industry-wide discussions on the current and future state of the e-book would result in an e-book royalty rate that would make everyone on all sides of the table feel warm and fuzzy inside.

-One could actually go to Mel’s Diner, order a short stack, and be told by a certain sassy redhead to “kiss her grits.”

-There would be enough time in the day for agents (at least this agent) to send back thoughtful, useful, in-depth comments to every single writer who submits his or her work.

-Women’s magazines would publish short fiction.

-New writers seeking publication would join a writers’ group, and/or enroll in a writing class or workshop, and/or seek some kind of critical feedback from a trusted source (i.e. not someone related to you or who owes you money) before submitting their work to agents.

-I wouldn’t have yet read Nathan Englander, David Mitchell, Donna Tart, Brady Udall, Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels, Frederic Tuten’s short stories, or Matthew Stadler’s Allan Stein (to name just a very few) so I could experience reading them again for the first time. (I’m not including my own clients here because if I hadn’t yet read them then I wouldn’t be an agent, Nathan wouldn’t have invited me to write this blog, and I wouldn’t have been able to create this fantasy world in the first place. Otherwise, I would want to read all of my authors’ books for the first time, too.)
Alternatively, there would be a law requiring everyone, once a year, to take a day off to re-read a beloved book.

-Every person on earth would give or receive a book as a gift this year.

My blog was going to be about e-books, in which I was going to ask people when and where they tend to use their e-book readers, but then I got carried away with—and delighted by—my book-centric, nerdy utopia. So thank you for indulging me.

Lastly, I wonder, what does a certain literary agent blogger take with him to read on a long vacation?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Guest Blogger: Ginger Clark on the Frankfurt Book Fair

Ginger Clark is an agent at Curtis Brown. Check out her Publishers Marketplace page here.

I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair last month for the second time with Dave Barbor, our Director of Foreign Rights. My first time was in 2007, and I was very nervous and excited beforehand. Nervous because I was not sure what to expect. What would the foreign editors be like? (More later, but in a word—wonderful) Would I get lost on the way from the airport to our hotel? (No!) Would the Germans have weird bathrooms (of course not)?

I was excited because I was finally going to an event that had seemed so glamorous to me, when I was an assistant scheduling my boss’s trip to Frankfurt years ago. I was looking forward to meeting our foreign agents, and to visiting a new country, and attending the famously huge Bertelesmann party.

This year, I was more just mostly excited—because I knew what to expect. Frankfurt is hard work, but it is also invigorating.

Dave and I spend four days of the Fair (Wednesday through Saturday) in the agents’ centre. It’s a large room with around 400 identical tables with white walls and brown carpeting and plastic chairs. There are not enough stalls in the ladies room and so there’s always a line.

But, it’s smoke free now, which I’m told is a real step up over previous fairs. We have a snack bar and six computers where we can check email, and plenty of water coolers regularly spaced around the tables.

We’re there from about 9 AM until 6 pm for four days. We do half hour meetings with foreign editors and also meet with our two dozen subagents from around the world. The meetings are themselves 30 minutes each, so that’s about 18 per day. Dave and I are double booked for the first three days of the fair. That means we both have meetings going on at all times, and so neither of us have any time to grab lunch beyond flagging down a cart with sandwiches and trying to eat them quickly between meetings.

(I will tell you—the food is Germany is a lot better than I expected. They do wonderful things with potatoes, and their Italian restaurants are quiet good. Except the sandwiches at the agents’ centre. Those are deeply unimpressive.)

Saturday afternoon is usually not entirely double booked, which means one of us can have a leisurely trip to the restroom while the other handles a meeting. And we actually were done early this year—our last appointment was at 4:30, so we were out of there at 5 pm!

Prior to these four days of meetings, we also do a half day on Tuesday at the bar at the Frankfurter Hof. Hundreds of agents and editors wander around the bar (which is better described as the bar, a couple of restaurants, and the front terrace of the rather large Frankfurter Hof) trying to find one another so they can discuss books while sitting at a cramped table, or huddled outside on a wall surrounded by all the smokers. (Everyone smokes at Frankfurt. Even people you thought did not smoke, smoke at Frankfurt).

Somehow, that half day at the Hof is just as exhausting as the four days you spend at the agents’ centre. It’s the wandering around in a crowd trying to find people you might never have met before that is draining.

So what do we do during these meetings? We pitch the editors our lists, which consist of the new books coming our from our clients in the near future where we have kept foreign rights. We also discuss ongoing business with editors who have bought from us in the past, and find out what they are looking for in the future. We catch up on their careers, and if we can, gossip a bit.

Then the editors check their watches, realize they have only 5 minutes to make a 15 minute trip to Hall 8, and dash off apologetically.

And the editors!

They are, with very exceptions, energetic, brilliant, enthusiastic, and friendly. Almost all of them speak perfect English. They all care just as passionately as we do about books and readers. And they have a much more demanding Fair than Dave and I do, because not only are they dashing from hall to hall, needing often up to 20 minutes to run between meetings, but—they do most of these meetings in a non-mother tongue.

In our world of multi-national corporations and global trade, that always amazes me. Being fluent in a second (or third, or fourth, or…) language has become so very valuable in business. Many of these people could be making a lot more money working at a bank, or as some kind of interpreter for diplomats or businessmen.

And yet, here they are, working in publishing. Publishing famously does not pay well here in the US, and it is often the same way abroad. These editors DEFINITELY care as much about books as we do.

Coming home from Frankfurt is a relief. But it’s also so reassuring and invigorating. Not only do I work in an industry here that still cares about books, but—it’s still that way, around the world, as well.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Guest Blogger: Jeff Abbott on the Importance of Having an Agent

Jeff Abbott is an international bestselling author and Curtis Brown client. He has been nominated twice for Edgar awards, and his most recent novel, COLLISION, was published in July by Dutton.

Obviously, you know you need an agent, or you wouldn’t be stalking Nathan, er, reading his blog. But I have found that too many new writers eager (or desperate) for representation are not thinking beyond the agent’s sale of their first book. And some aspiring authors balk at surrendering fifteen percent (or more) of their income to an agent. Others feel sure that their lawyer brother-in-law can cast an adequate eye over their contracts with publishers. (After all, using a lawyer for representation worked for President Clinton.) And with all the free agenting advice on Nathan’s blog and elsewhere, can’t smart, savvy authors just represent themselves?

Here’s some reasons why having an agent is crucial to your long-term career—and what an agent can do for you that you may not have even considered.

Advice you can use. A great agent does not just get you a solid advance and favorable contract terms for that first novel. A great agent will help you think about what your strengths are as a writer, and how to develop those strengths with each new book you write. For instance, I had written two successful crime series when my publisher suggested I might write a standalone thriller. A common thread in my mysteries was family relationships twisted by past secrets—not an obvious component of a novel of international intrigue, which was what I was envisioning for my standalone thriller. After my agent said, “you really do family relationships well, and you might consider carrying that over to a thriller, even though it’s a rather different kind of book.” I thought about it and realized he was right. I kept family secrets as a cornerstone of the standalone novel—it was a way to offer my existing readers a facet of my writing they already knew and liked. At the same time, it brought a fresh sensibility to an “innocent man on the run” novel. My agent had the wisdom to remind me family dysfunction would be an element I would love to write about—whether writing a small-town mystery or a global thriller. The result was Panic, a novel that has sold a half-million copies around the world, and is in development at The Weinstein Company.
Sound advice is not just about markets; it is about you, as a writer.

Subrights matter. A greater than anticipated amount of my annual income comes from subrights: foreign sales (my books are popular in the UK, Ireland, France, Portugal, and other European countries, and there is no single explanation for this) and from film options (either new, in the case of Collision, or renewed, in the case of Panic) and from screenwriting work that my film agent got for me (rewriting a treatment for a film that will most likely never be made—but I still got paid). Most new writers don’t think for a moment about the potential of their foreign or subright sales, or for additional writing work that their agents can negotiate for them. (Imagine an agent hearing that an editor would like to buy more historical fiction, and knowing that one of their clients has a burning passion for all things medieval, for instance.) New writers tend to think only of their agent’s relationship with American publishers. But an agent who is prepared and experienced in dealing with subrights negotiations—and works with overseas agents who know their markets—can have a profound effect on your bottom line. Authors representing themselves, or relying solely on local lawyers, are at a staggering disadvantage in these markets.

The quality and nature of the meeting. Most authors attempting to represent themselves are going to get only one kind of meeting: with an editor. (This assumes they’re extremely lucky enough to get that.) And of course, no meeting is more critical; the editor is every author’s first advocate inside the publishing house. But the best agents don’t just meet with editors. They also meet with editorial directors and publishers. Here I mean publisher as an executive title—the person who is the head of the entire publishing firm or imprint. In other words, the editor’s boss. Editors can only approve deals up to a certain dollar level; beyond that, it must be approved by the publisher. The agents who can get meetings with those executives are at a decided advantage in furthering their client’s careers. As well, truth be told: editors don’t want to negotiate with authors. They’d much rather deal with agents. Editors would prefer not to muddy the waters of their relationships with their authors—which involve a lot of creative feedback, revision, and trust—by haggling. Let an agent take point on those rough-and-tumble negotiations; you can focus on having the best creative relationship with your editor.

Your long-term relationship. I have been fortunate in having had the same agent now for twelve years. He took me on just as I hit a very unproductive streak: my father was terminally ill and I was working full-time and taking care of him, and not writing. I didn’t sell a book in the first two years of working with my agent. I wrote proposals that garnered no offers. Many agents would have dumped me. He stuck by me, constantly encouraging me, never giving up. When I started publishing again, I went through three wonderful editors in the course of six books. My agent has been the constant: through editors coming and going, multi-book deals, tough negotiations, setbacks and leaps forward, foreign sales to twenty countries, film options. An excellent agent can be not just your representative, but your rock.

These thoughts are based only on my own experience. But I urge you to think about your agent as more than a sales rep for your first book. And if you think you don’t need one—think again.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Word on the Next Few Weeks

Look, ma! No hands!

Um. Sorry. Let's try again.

I'm not here! Well, technically I am here as I'm typing this, but I'm not here when you're reading this. Yes, it's worse than you've feared: you've been trapped in a Kurt Vonnegut novel.

So! I'm going to be away from the office for a little while and will not be posting "live." But as you can see, through the WONDERS OF THE INTERNET the blog will be on autopilot and it will be as if I've never left. Spencer Tyra Heidi Phil Keoghan Collier Strong Bachelor. See? You won't even miss me.

I have lined up a stellar crew of guest bloggers who will be keeping you company when I'm away. I will not be around to answer questions in the meantime, so if regulars could please fill in as needed and help the uninitiated I would greatly appreciate it.

Tomorrow we will be hearing from international bestselling author Jeff Abbott, and after that.... well, you'll just have to see.

So please, have the run of the place but no roughhousing and mind the babysitter! I've already placed an order with the pizza parlor. Ta ta! See you on December 1st!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Should the Publishing Industry Do in the Downturn?

Some of you already got a head start on this question in the comments section of yesterday's post, but today's question is a biggie: What should the publishing industry do to weather the downturn?

Moonrat also got a head start, and she lists ideas such as lowering print runs, more online retail, and of course, everyone's favorite head scratcher: the returns system.

What do you think we should do?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Commerce and Art, Art and Commerce

Schadenfreude lives! In the comments section of yesterday's post there were several people only too happy to urge the publishing industry to look in the dang mirror already in the face of a (ahem largely universal) retail downturn that is leading to all sorts of chaos. This has led me to believe that all we need to do to cure the recession is bottle up the schadenfreude going around and sell it at a profit, because schadenfreude is a booming market. Get it while it's hot!

I want to address a few things that have been discussed here and elsewhere around the internet expressing antipathy toward the publishing industry. Now, I try and sort out the sorts of comments that are thinly veiled variations of "the publishing industry would be making money if only they published MY book" vs. actual constructive criticisms that should very well be absorbed and can be learned from. Tomorrow we'll have a big ole You Tell Me about all this, but in the meantime I thought I'd frame the coming debate a bit.

A lot of people feel that the publishing industry needs to publish new and varied voices rather than the supposed same old stuff that you see on bestseller lists. No more same old same old! The publishing industry would make more money if only it didn't publish commercial schlock.

Or to distill it still further to show precisely what I'm getting at: the publishing industry would make more money if only it didn't publish and promote the books that sell really well.

Uh... QED?

Now, let me say that investing in new, talented voices and sticking with them is something I can really truly get behind. As the industry moves to a blockbuster model, it risks missing people who don't break out in a major way on the first try. That's a shame. Jason Kaufman at Doubleday stuck with a little author named Dan Brown, who then wrote THE DA VINCI CODE, and now he owns like seven countries.

But it seems to me that if you think the publishing industry should publish more books with artistic merit... that isn't exactly a sure route to a better bottom line. Either the publishing industry should focus on the bottom line and it should publish what sells, or it should cast profit to the wind and publish what it feels are the best books period.

Or, better yet, a mixture of the two. Which is basically the industry you have now. Is it perfect? Nuh uh. Could the publishing industry be smarter? Yuh huh. But better commerce through lack of commerce is not a very appealing path to restoring the health of the industry.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Tough Times and the Publishing Industry Stimulus Package

The publishing industry is so vast and varied that it is often difficult to get a true pulse of the industry. Often one genre will do really well while another one is suffering, or one agent will struggle while another is having an auction a day, and particularly when you're down in the trenches it's not easy to get a sense of the bird's eye view.

But these days it's pretty much inescapable: these are tough times.

Now, first of all, we must remember the advice of the late Douglas Adams and Don't Panic. The book industry has been through worse times than this, people will always read books, books will still be published, and until that changes most of us will still be here.

But any illusions the industry might have had about escaping the recession are going the way of a Bachelor engagement.

On Friday GalleyCat reported that Borders has told an anonymous distributor that they will not be paying them for two months, and this has forced that distributor to ask publishers to decide whether they want to ship to Borders. The distributor is nevertheless recommending that publishers continue to fill orders, but this is undoubtedly prompting all sorts of contingency plans at publishing houses.

Also last week, Moonrat posted about the October publishing crash and the factors therein (and October numbers didn't even factor into some disappointing end-of-quarter results).

My fellow book lovers, let me just second Moonrat and endorse her Publishing Industry Stimulus Package: buy books, and buy them often.

Most importantly: BUY NEW BOOKS

Sure, not everyone can afford books, and I understand. That's why we have libraries. But the best way you can help the publishing industry and the authors you love is to buy their books, and to buy them new.

This isn't a time for cheaping out on the authors you love. Publishers are going to be making very tough decisions about which authors are going to survive and which will be dropped. They're being extremely selective about supporting new authors. You can do your part by buying new, asking for new books for the holidays, and encouraging your friends to do the same.

So my 2008 holiday season campaign slogan: BUY NEW BOOKS? YES WE CAN.

Friday, November 7, 2008

This Week in Publishing 11/7/08

This Week! Publishing!

This week marked the publication of CHURCHILL BY HIMSELF, edited by Richard Langworth, a book you also might know as one of the books that is posted to the right side of this blog. This is THE authorized collection of Winston Churchill quotations, it is exhaustively researched, superbly accurate, and is simply an amazing, authoritative, and essential book. It would make a fantastic Christmas present for your Churchillian-inclined friends and relatives. I'm just sayin'.

I'm still saddened by the death of Michael Crichton. C. Max Magee over at the Millions sums up what Chrichton meant to my generation -- he was the guy who really sparked our love of reading when we were growing up. SPHERE, quite simply, blew my mind. What a great book.

In book promotion news, The Swivet recently featured a guest blog by Courtney Summers, who broke down the different social networking sites and provides pros and cons. Bonus points for a Phil Keoghan reference.

Also in book promotion news, at the indispensable HarperStudio blog, Seth Godin is sanguine about the powers of free. He offers this wildly comforting quote: "Novelists and musicians can make money with bespoke work and appearances and interactions. And you know what? It's entirely likely that many people in the chain WON'T make any money. That's okay. That's the way change works." Ahh... don't you feel better already? Embrace the poverty.

Less sanguine is Booksquare, who notes the recent Random House e-book and downloadable audio adjustments as Not Good Things, and I think correctly notes that they are moving in the wrong direction.

Remember the hullaballoo when Knopf paid Bill Clinton seventy three gazillion dollars to write his memoir? Well, Hillel Italie assessed the interest for the coming Bush memoirs and....... not so much.

I can hardly bear to open Publishers Lunch these days for fear of reading about more horrendous publishing news. This week's carnage: HarperCollins' operating income fell to $3 million in the third quarter, Barnes & Noble's CEO noted that we're in the worst retail climate ever, and Borders lost its credit cover. Uncle!!!

And finally, in still more tragic news, I'm not sure if you heard but the Bachelorette has shattered my belief in true love YET AGAIN. Yes, Bachelorette Deanna Pappas and her erstwhile fiancee Jesse Csinsuiwnelkfj have shockingly called off their engagement. This marks the 14th time the Bachelor or Bachelorette has forever destroyed my belief in true love. Luckily we have an upcoming season to restore my faith that love can be found on a reality TV show in which you date multiple people simultaneously.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

When Should I Tell an Agent X?

Some of the most common questions I get in the ol' inbox are some variation of when and whether to tell an agent something. When should I tell an agent about my previous agent? When should I tell them about my pen name? When should I tell an agent about my foot fungus?

Ask no more. Or rather, if it's on this list ask no more. I'm going to put together a definitive list of when to tell an agent what. Please note that this is my list, and other agents' lists may vary.

I'm imagining this as a collaborative post and am starting with a bare bones list, so please make a note in the comments section for anything I'm missing, and I'll add it.

When should I tell an agent about my....

Previous agent: Somewhat up to you. If you want to include that you had a previous agent in order to show that you were good enough to attract one, at the very least mention that you parted on good terms. Otherwise it can wait until you're farther along in the querying process.

Pen name: I strongly prefer that an author queries me as themselves. There will be plenty of name for discussions of pen namemanship around the time you are discussing working with an agent.

Editors already considering/have considered your manuscript: In the query.

Manuscript request from another agent: If an agent asks to see your manuscript you do not need to notify the other agents you are querying.

Offer of representation: Tell the other agents who are considering your manuscript immediately, and give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to you. Also tell the agents you have queried in the past month but you haven't heard back from (see the comments section for more on this).

That you originally self-published: in the query

That you are previously published: in the query, with publishers and dates listed.

Your age: if you're under 18, in the query. If you're over 18, not really necessary.

That you have already an agent but are looking for another agent for a genre they don't rep: In the query

Your other book projects: I recommend sticking to one book project in the query, and waiting to discuss your other projects. Usually this will come up when you've received an offer of representation. When you're talking to the agent, be sure and tell them about your other projects and gauge their response.

Foot fungus: Only if you're asking an agent for a foot massage.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

RIP Michael Crichton

Wow, very very sad. Michael Chrichton succumbed to his battle with cancer. What a terrific mind and a terrific writer.

You Tell Me: No Really, You Tell Me

First things first, we're celebrating Moonrat's two year blogoversary over at the Moonielove site, so stop by and pay tribute to all things Moonrattable.

Today: wow. I got nothin'. I think we can all safely agree that whatever your politics it's a big, incredible new day in America's history. And yet I'm reminded this morning that for every two steps of progress there's always a step backwards. I'll say no more because this isn't a political blog. Ok, I will: really LA County? Really?


So while I will return tomorrow to post something about publishing, today's You Tell Me is whatever is on your mind.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


Why are you reading this? You should be voting!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Query Critiques

Whew, where did the day go? Let's get to these critiques, and thanks so very much to the brave souls who offered them up for our learning pleasure. As always, if you would like to make any comment about the queries, please be constructive and ridiculously nice to the point that you might qualify for some sort of politeness and constructiveness award. Gold stars, people. I, on the other hand, will not be obeying rules of nicety when I delete comments that I deem insufficiently polite and constructive.

Now then. I will first print the queries so you can get a sense of the flow, and then I will offer up some comments.


Please consider representing Sir Earl, the children's novel I have written which takes place in a land where the fantastic fairy tales we grew up hearing are just a part of common, everyday life. In Fairyland, the land where enchantment is ordinary, a young man named Earl has always dreamed of being a "Knight in Shining Armor," a group of stuck-up jocks that love walking around in their flashy letterman jackets, yet he always finds himself a cut below the best. To prove his worthiness to be a "Knight in Shining Armor," Earl seeks to rescue every damsel in distress he can, and in this fairy tale land damsels in distress are a dime a dozen. They even have classified ads in the Fairyland Times.

When Earl finds one such add for the Princess Esmerelda, he embarks on an adventure with the falsely accused Big Bad Wolf and the beautiful but himble girl next door, Sara, as his companions. When he finally reaches Esmerelda's castle, Earl finds that this rescuing business isn't all it's cracked up to be. In fact, it seems a little easy. Earl just walks in and finds the princess without having to fight any dragons, ogres, monsters or anything. He soon finds, though, that Princess Esmerelda isn't all she's cracked up to be. She's kind of bossy, more than a little conceited, and she's just plain annoying. Earl starts to realize that he wasn't looking for a princess all along, but a normal girl like Sara, who's been sitting under his nose this whole time. It could be too late for Earl and Sara, though, because the Princess Esmerelda is actually the evil Sorceress Vennulga, disguised as a princess in an ill-executed attempt to leave evil sorcery behind her. She won't let Earl go without a fight. But it's a fight Earl is up to, because he has finally found something worth fighting for in the girl next door.

I am a previously unpublished writer, though I am working hard to change that. I am from Sacramento, California and recently graduated from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah with a degree in English. To read the first two chapters of Sir Earl and some of my other writing, you can visit

The manuscript for Sir Earl is about 42,000 words in length and is made up of fifteen chapters with a short epilogue. I have pasted the first chapter below. If you would like to review the entire manuscript for possible representation, I have it ready for submission in hard copy, and any electronic means you may require. Thanks again, for considering Sir Earl for representation. I look forward to hearing from you.

I must confess that there are have some red flags up front, and my skepticism radar thus was sent into high gear.

1) This query is on the long side. It's 443 words, well outside of the sweet spot of 250-350. There are some details (such as the number of chapters), which could very easily be cut.
b) We have a possible typo or that/, which confusion in the first sentence. "the children's novel I have written which takes place" is missing a comma. I'm not a stickler for typos, but I am on very high alert for grammar errors. This falls into the latter category.
&) This feels like a run-on sentence "In Fairyland, the land where enchantment is ordinary, a young man named Earl has always dreamed of being a "Knight in Shining Armor," a group of stuck-up jocks that love walking around in their flashy letterman jackets, yet he always finds himself a cut below the best."

Now, assuming this is just a question of polish and this query wasn't a final draft, I would set those things aside and look at the heart of the project, which is a fairy tale kingdom gone bad. Because it's a variation on prevalent cultural tropes, such a re-telling depends immensely on the style, humor, and inventiveness of the writing, and thus, the query must be incredibly snappy, polished, and witty in order to convince me that the writer has the chops to pull something difficult like that off. I'm afraid it's not there for me yet.


Seventeen year-old Audi Layton has a secret. No one in the small Midwestern lake community knows why she and her father have relocated from Chicago a month before the end of her junior year in high school, and she wants to keep it that way. She tries to avoid sharing too much with the girls at the doughnut shop where she works, and she especially keeps things from Emerson, the handsome boy who visits the shop daily. The appeal of having friends again, and maybe a boyfriend, is strong though, and before Audi knows it, she has fallen in love and is close to exposing the secret that threatens to destroy her.

COMING UP FOR AIR is more than a novel about first love or a teenager experiencing grief. It’s a story for anyone who has watched someone they love struggle with pain that runs so deep it’s deadly. Audi’s fight to recover from the loss of her twin and to forgive herself and her sister for the mistakes they made is one many of us can relate to, and the thrill of Audi’s finding friendship and romance has universal appeal.

In journalism there's a phrase called burying the lede, which means the reporter didn't lead off with the actual big story, but rather only arrived at the essential heart of the story later on in the article. I thought of that phrase when I read this query.

My experience while reading was to go along not necessarily responding one way or the other, and then, just as I was getting to the end and felt like things were wrapping up, I read "loss of her twin" and thought, "Wait, what??"

I know that people always say that the point of a query is to get an agent to want to read more. And yes, that's true. That does not, however, mean that one should withhold so much information that the agent misses the heart of the story. Blink and you might miss that this is the story of a girl who has just lost her twin and is trying to start over.

I actually would probably still request this because I like the idea so much, but I wonder if the balance between starting off with the mystery and then arriving at the source could be rejiggered to allow the agent further into the story before the query begins wrapping up. The first paragraph could also flow just a tad better, methinks.


If Seth McCoy had asked his Magic 8-Ball whether he’d ever get his life on track, the answer would have been: Very doubtful. Or maybe: Don’t count on it. For too long, Seth’s only focus was getting wasted with his band—a pastime that contributed to his reputation as a slacker, a jerk, and an all-out loser. But there’s one thing the Magic 8-ball didn’t predict: Seth’s close friend dying after a night of partying.

Scared sober, Seth finally notices a girl who’s been there all along: sweet, beautiful, broken Rosetta. She’s a brainiac from Rich Bitch Hill, but she doesn’t judge Seth for who he’s been. Instead, she challenges him to become the person he wants to be—the person no one else sees. Seth and Rosetta confide in each other, and are comforted to find parallels in the troubled pasts they’re struggling to leave behind. Still, when it comes to their relationship, Seth can’t help thinking: Outlook not so good.

THE FAKE MCCOY is a YA novel about defying expectations and breaking free of the words that define you. Straddling the line between literary and commercial, it runs 74,000 words and should appeal to readers of Barry Lyga or Sara Zarr.

I can't decide how I feel about the 8-ball concept. On the one hand, it's kind of catchy and this query flows very well, and I get the sense that the author has talent. On the other hand, since the 8-ball doesn't really seem to figure into the story, that hook feels a bit extraneous.

Nathan's reaction: Reply hazy, try again

Ultimately, a novel about a teen dealing with death depends very heavily on the quality of the writing. And because of the aforementioned flow, I definitely get the sense that the author can write. So I would probably request a partial.

In sum, my reaction to these queries speaks to an important element of query-writing that can be overlooked in the drive to try and hammer your whole book into a 300 word pitch. It's so important not just to present the heart of your work, but also to give a sense that your writing is up to the challenge. That is why query writing differs so much from jacket copy -- you aren't just selling me on what the story is about, you're also selling me on your ability to write it.

Thanks again to the brave writers who ventured their queries!!

Free Query Critique

It's been a while since I've talked about queries on the blog, so I thought I'd do a couple of query critiques today. The first three people to post queries in the comments section will get a free public critique.

It's on!

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