Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Where Did You Buy The Last Book You Bought?

Book buying habits are changing rapidly, bookstores are closing, Amazon's sales are robust. Personally, as much as I love bookstores, I find the temptation of having a book delivered to my door in a couple of days nearly always too strong to resist.

Where did you buy your last book? Online? At a bookstore? The supermarket?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Literary Estate Representation

Some people look over at the smattering of books on the right side of the blog and see a few that were originally published before I was even in diapers. Then they wonder: how is this possible? Is Nathan trying to pull a fast one?

Nope -- these are all authors I have represented. I just didn't have the pleasure of meeting them when they were alive.

Many people think that representation stops when the author passes away. Not so! We here at Curtis Brown often work with the heirs of literary estates to try to make sure that the authors' works continue to find new life via new editions and make sure every new opportunity is explored. So in addition to my living clients I also work on behalf of incredible authors of yesteryear like Gerald Durrell, Lawrence Durrell, Richard Powell and Winston Churchill. Also I just noticed that all of their names end with two Ls.

Managing these rights is just as challenging and rewarding as working with living authors, and I have to say, one of the great pleasures of being a literary agent is helping to ensure that great literature finds new readers. We also handle the mountain of permission requests that pour in for classic works.

I should also mention that I'm happy to receive queries from heirs and proprietors of literary estates -- it's often extremely daunting to manage these rights without an experienced advocate, and I might be able to help out.

Friday, April 25, 2008

This Week In Publishing 4/25/08

THis wEek in PUBlIShINng

The shrinkage of the publishing industry seems to be continuing this week as Thomas Nelson laid off a little less than 10% of their workforce. CEO/blogger Michael Hyatt explained in a blog post that the change is not do to financial considerations, but rather is consistent with a readjustment of their business model toward publishing fewer titles that generate more sales. Condolences go out to the employees let go. From a broader perspective, this really seems to be the direction the industry is moving at the moment -- fewer, bigger books.

Evil Editor's prodigiously faithful minions threw him an online 2nd Anniversary party, complete with tributes, games and surprises. Happy Anniversary, EE!

On Monday you saw how one author made it to publication, Janet Reid linked to a Shelf Awareness story on another happily-ever-after story about Garth Stein and THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN, which is poised for some big ole bestsellerdom.

Janet has also started up a new query critique blog called Query Shark, which you should definitely check out. Cue the Jaws soundtrack!!

Remember that Borders contest started way back when for its employees where they would publish one of their books and give it marketing and stuff? Well, we have a winner! Congrats to lucky and talented Borders employee Ralph Ashworth, who has worked for Borders since 1994, and whose novel THE KILLER OF ORCHIDS was chosen from among 200 employee submissions. 200! I thought there would at least be 7,000.

And finally, the always-entertaining Michael Cader had a riposte this morning to publishers in the US and the UK squabbling over e-book territories. Let's listen in, shall we? "Speaking of UK tizzies, otherwise sensible executives continue to find new ways to go to war over miniscule and/or non-existent revenue streams. The latest thread is on territoriality for ebooks: Harper and Simon & Schuster in the US are said to be insistent on retaining global erights for books even when selling print rights to a UK publisher."

Have a good weekend!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Why Is Personal Taste Taken So Personally?

Well. I thought yesterday's post was extremely informative, not least of which because hopefully people were reminded that J.D. Salinger is still alive.

It really was alternately fascinating and gut-wrenching for me to see all of the beloved books that people loathed. I'm sure everyone who read the comments had one of their favorite books stepped on in a big way.

I know in particular the skin on my neck prickled whenever I saw Faulkner thrown under the bus. I mean, sure, I can understand not liking MOBY DICK. I know it's not everyone's cup of whale lard. But Faulkner?? Really?? Say it ain't so!

I know books are subjective, but it's amazing to see HOW subjective. And what's fascinating/horrifying to me about personal taste is the way personal preferences morph into a die-hard nasty Amazon review style slam. People don't tend to say, "Oh, you know, I really couldn't get into X, but I can see why others enjoyed it." Run a personal preference through the Internet and somehow it becomes: "That book was AWFUL and I HATED IT and in fact I weep for the oxygen that was consumed by the author during their pitiful lifetime."

I mean, just imagine if I rejected someone's query with "This is a piece of trash and I wanted to gouge out my eyes while reading it." And yet this is how people very regularly talk about books online? This is an ok thing to do?

Why is taste so personal? And not just personal as in subjective and individual, personal as in people take it personally when someone likes what they don't like, or vice versa.

I mean, I'm guilty of this too -- I get that pit in my stomach when I see my favorite authors trashed. I get actually physically angry! What is so threatening about a dissenting opinion? How does a personal preference turn into an ironclad judgment?

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

What Revered Book Did You Just Not Get?

We all have them. Beloved books that we just didn't get, that make us question the sanity of the world for liking said books in the first place. It inevitably goes something like this: "Clearly I'm not crazy, so the fact that so many people liked X book is a sign that the rest of the world is crazy."

But of course it's just a reflection of the subjectivity of books and the fact that no one will ever agree on one book. And also, I hope people will consider this subjectivity before they describe something as a "piece of trash" in an Amazon review. (You know who you are, nearly everyone in America.)

So You Tell Me: What revered/beloved/classic book did you just not get into? PLEASE RESTRICT YOUR ANSWERS TO DEAD AUTHORS, and let's even try and treat them with respect. I don't need to be haunted by the ghost of Edith Wharton this week.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The No A**hole Rule

Remember all those stories about great cantankerous authors way back when who were legendarily inebriated most of the time, were notoriously difficult to handle, got into fisticuffs, and were generally misanthropic to every human they encountered but people still published their books because they were wonderfully talented?

How many successful authors today do you know who fit that description?

Um. On second thought, don't answer that. But now think of the huge number of bestselling and successful authors you know today (some of whom comment regularly on the blog) who are awesome, cool people who you would love to hang out with even if they weren't also incredible writers.


I'm not sure what's in the cultural waters, but I'm hearing from non-publishing people in the world of business that there's a new trend afoot toward politeness, anger management, and a less rigid hierarchy -- in other words, in business you can't really be a jerk anymore. Managers are no longer allowed to mistreat their assistants, it's essential to treat people with respect, contain tempers, work together, and generally avoid being a misanthrope. Stanford prof Richard Sutton chronicled the negative effective of assholes in the workplace with his appropriately titled book THE NO ASSHOLE RULE, and it's been a bestseller. Jim Collins showed in GOOD TO GREAT that the best leaders are humble, not egotistical.

Now, with publishing you're dealing with artists, who are not exactly known for an even temperament. And no doubt there's much more tolerance for eccentricity in publishing than there would be in the rest of the business world. But even in publishing an author who is a joy to work with and has a dynamite, charming personality has a leg up over one who doesn't. Allow me to venture a hypothesis on why this be so: I think this has a great deal to do with the role of the modern author.

Way back when in simpler times, the book was what mattered. The author may have had to do some events and readings, but for the most part an author's engagement with the public was limited. Word of mouth and reviews drove sales. If a writer wrote a good book but was a pill to deal with, that was basically ok.

Not so much anymore.

Now, via TV, radio, the Internet, lots more travel, etc., the author is face to face with their readership more than ever before and is called upon to generate sales opportunities -- this requires social skills. They are also more closely in touch with people within a publishing organization -- also requiring social skills. And it helps when people want to work with an author because they're an awesome, friendly, professional, hardworking author.

Is a publisher going to decline to publish a great book simply because the author is a jerk and a handful? Probably not. But when those difficult and nebulous decisions are being made in a publishing house, such as who gets what advertising and who is going to be the lead title and a great deal of complex factors are being weighed, put a great personality in the "pro" column for an author.

Personality counts.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Hubbard On Going From Blog Reader to (soon to be) Published Author

As promised, today we're peeling back the curtain a bit to show what happens behind the scenes as a book goes from a query to a book deal. My client Jennifer Hubbard is the author of the young adult novel BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD, which will be published late 2009/early 2010 by Viking. It's her debut novel. She also has a wonderful blog on writing.

BLACK MOUNTAIN ROAD has an incredible plot: When popular teenager Julia Vernon dies in a car accident, no one knows why Colt Morrissey would care -- they didn't even say hello in the school hallways. But at the time of her death, Julia and Colt had been harboring an intense secret: they had been hooking up in fleeting moments, away from the view of their classmates, including Julia's boyfriend.

A few days after the funeral, Colt discovers Julia's diary, which is full of unsent letters that poetically describe how much she cared for him and wanted to be with him, but she didn't have the courage to send them when she was alive. As he struggles to cope and move on, the letters keep pulling Colt back to their intense romance as simmering class issues ignite the town.

It's just an amazing book, the writing is beautiful and moving, and Jennifer is a pro who has done her research about the publishing industry and is a pleasure to work with.

So how did it all happen?

Here's Jennifer's guest post:

When Nathan invited me to blog here, I thought you might want to know what a client’s side of the story is like. If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that he doesn’t discuss the details of his clients’ business, such as works in progress, deals in progress, etc. Published books just magically appear along the right margin of the blog! But I am willing to demystify the process a little.

Not that there’s so much mystery involved. I signed with Nathan not as a result of knowing any magic words or secret handshakes, not as a result of being related to him, and not as a result of cocktail-party schmoozing. (As if I’ve ever been to a cocktail party in my life.) If I knew any magic words, I would tell you. Or sell them at an entirely reasonable price.

I first found Nathan’s blog through a link. I wasn’t looking to add to my daily blog-reading at that point, but there was a lot of good information, so I marked it as a weekly read. But I quickly upgraded it to daily, because aside from all the practical information I found here, it was just plain fun to read. Even though I didn’t share Nathan’s infatuation with something called The Hills, I still got the jokes.

Which is not to say that it’s essential for a client and agent to have the same sense of humor. But it helps. In fact, nothing helps a person weather the publishing business like a sense of humor.

Aside from reading this blog (and particularly the posts listed in the right margin under “The Essentials: Please Read Before You Query,” such as “Anatomy of a Good Query Letter,” “How to Format Your Query Letter,” etc.), I did some other research: consulting reputable databases, reading online interviews (an amazing number of agent-interview transcripts are out there in cyberspace), and so forth. I read a couple of Nathan’s clients’ books, including one in the genre I was querying.

I worked on my query letter for about a week. At the last minute, I pared it down, cutting some subplot details out of my synopsis. I figured that when you’re writing to someone who receives hundreds of unsolicited emails every week, shorter is better. And if my main plot wasn’t good enough to pique interest, no subplot was going to do it.

My query letter went like this:
An introductory statement about what kind of project I had (YA novel).
A sentence or two about why I was querying Nathan, specifically. This part included a reference to the blog, and a reference to the clients’ books that I had read and liked.
A brief synopsis of my book (about 150 words, summarizing the secret relationship and the death around which my story revolves).
A sentence or two about my writing experience (I have had several literary short stories published; I named two of the journals).

This query yielded a request for a partial, which yielded a request for the full manuscript. When I got the request for the full, I pulled together a list of questions for prospective agents, which came in very handy when Nathan called that week.

I will say one thing about that call. Writers sometimes get letters that say, in essence, “You have talent, you have a good story here, but I don’t quite have that special connection with it...” Which can lead to a muttered, “Heck, if it’s good enough, why can’t they just take it anyway?” But the truth is that it’s better to have someone who’s excited about the manuscript. Only an enthusiastic editor or agent is going to do it justice. Nathan was excited about my book, and that call was worth waiting for.

He suggested some edits on the manuscript, and then shepherded my work into the hands of editors. While he did that, I worked on new projects. I managed to distract myself so thoroughly that when I got The Call, the Book Offer Call, Nathan may have thought he had just roused me from a coma. I suppose many authors shriek or jump up and down when they get The Call. I did not. I’m not much of a jumper and shrieker anyway; most game shows would never want me as a contestant.

Rather, I digested the news slowly, like the rich meal that it was.

Friday, April 18, 2008

This Week In Publishing 4/18/08

ThIs WeEk In PuBlIsHiNg

As some of you have already discovered, my wonderful and amazing client Rebecca Ramsey has started an equally wonderful and amazing blog! Check it out -- Rebecca's family is the proud owner of a dog who would probably win some sort of national award for craziest-things-eaten-by-a-dog-who-still-survived. She also has some beautiful photographs of her hometown, which basically prompted me to start considering South Carolina as a top vacation destination.

In other client news, one of the requests in the "advice for me" post from last week was more about what I've sold and my tastes and things like that. Happy to oblige! Well, mostly. As I've discussed previously, I'm still trying to find the right blog balance between a) not talking about my work with clients and the way deals happened so that my current and future clients (not to mention the editors I work with) don't have to worry that they will be blog fodder (this is really important to me) and b) giving my future clients a sense of the things I've worked on. I'm happy to publicize books when they come out, not as comfortable to talk about things before then.


This is all a long way of saying that I may have found a solution: have someone else talk about it. Next week I'm going to have a guest blog post from a client of mine who wrote a wonderful debut YA novel that recently sold to Viking (and it all started with a query letter). So stay tuned for that.

And SPEAKING of amazing debut novels, your friend and mine Patricia Wood made the shortlist for the Orange Prize for her novel LOTTERY, and is going to London!! Go Patricia go!!!

Maya Reynolds has continued her indispensable series of posts on the Amazon issue, and the latest is a simultaneous rundown of some of Amazon's past tactics as well as the history of Tim O'Reilly of O'Reilly Media as a past (and possibly current) Amazon contrarian. Really awesome.

And finally, NY Times bestselling author and friend-of-the-blog Lisa McMann recently had an awesome interview with Kelly Spitzer in which she breaks down some of the things she did to help turn her novel WAKE into a breakout success (and these are things you can do too).

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Words Are To Writers As _____ Are To Basketball Players

Reader John Askins pointed me to an interview with Benjamin LeRoy, the publisher of Bleak House books, who offered quite a bit of awesome, quotable wisdom.

In particular, I'd point you to this fantastic nugget:

"As soon as I see awkward prose on page one, I reject a book. You wouldn’t trust a clumsy surgeon with a scalpel. I don’t trust authors who aren’t in complete control of their environment. Sloppy work is sloppy work. Doesn’t matter the profession, I don’t want it."

This is very true, and perhaps the number one reason I reject queries and partials: awkward prose.

Allow me to use a basketball metaphor. LeBron James (who should win the MVP award this year without a contest and frankly if Kobe Bryant wins I might hurt someone) might dribble the ball off of his foot from time to time, but he's not going to miss the backboard when he shoots a free throw. He's not going to overthrow a pass to a teammate by 30 feet. There are certain mistakes he's just not going to make in an NBA game because he's an NBA caliber player.

The same goes for writing. There are some mistakes and awkward phrasing that a publishable writer just isn't going to make -- it wouldn't even occur to them to make the mistake in the first place because it just wouldn't look right. I'm not talking about typos, which are like turnovers, but repeated misuse of its/it's, confusion of homonyms, run-on sentences, poor word choices... these are the equivalent of LeBron James missing the backboard.

This is also why I'm skeptical when people tell me they can write a compelling novel but not a query letter. Do you have a command of words or not? What if you need to craft a short, wonderful scene in your novel? You can't marshal the words to write it because it's too short of a space? You can't convey a great deal of information with an economy of words? (And sure, Shaq can't shoot free throws, but.... um.... did I say this was a perfect metaphor that would stand up to scrutiny?)

And then of course there is the fact that published authors have to write blurbs about their work and describe their work in a few compelling sentences all the time. I mean, when you go on Fresh Air and talk to Terry Gross about your novel and she asks you what your book is about, are you going to tell her that you can't describe it in a few sentences but totally swear it's a great novel and she should just read the first page instead?

Should I ask rhetorical questions the rest of the afternoon or should I stop now?

I'm sure there are instances when someone wrote a great novel but really did just lack the knowledge about how to go about writing a query letter (because if there's anything I've learned in publishing it's that there is an exception to everything), but this is all still hearsay to me and I haven't personally seen it.

But most importantly, your command of words is what you're banking on. It's like musical ability to a musician, athletic ability to an athlete, swinging on trees to a monkey. If you got it you got it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Will the Economy Affect Book Sales?

So I'd like to a render a verdict on yesterday's Can I Get a Ruling? The people have spoken, and 80% are against the use of "our hero" in queries, although some have pointed out in the comments section that if it matches the world of the book and is done purposefully it can be quite effective. I find this argument very persuasive, I have seen times when it works, and so I believe my own personal feeling is now: if it's done carelessly, 80% of my blog readers will hunt you down. However if it is done with purpose and the effect is intended, it can and should be used with gusto.

Whew! Glad we got that settled.

I like how our inaugural Can I Get a Ruling? worked, so hopefully I'll remember to do them in the future.


As you might have noticed, our economy has seen better days and there is a great deal of uncertainty all around the country. Gas prices are high, pocketbooks are tightening.

So far, the book industry seems to be weathering the downturn -- Jonathan Lyons pointed out that book sales in January were up. But will this trend continue amid higher prices for pretty much everything?

Put on your wonkish policy hat -- will the book industry see slumping sales with the slumping economy? Or will people decide that buying a hardcover beats $40 at the movies?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Can I Get a Ruling?: "Our hero"

For the first time in pretty much forever I'm going to introduce a new feature on the blog, and hopefully this one will be a little more successful than my previous "new" blog feature Publishing Myths 101, which I continue to forget about entirely.

Anyway, Can I Get a Ruling? will be kind of like You Tell Me, only with a yes or no answer and a poll attached. Instead of asking an open-ended You Tell Me style question, I'll ask a more basic question and we can argue it out, vote, and deliver a verdict. It will be like democracy, only without endless presidential elections.

So first up: the use of the word "our" in query letters.

You have probably seen this before, and particularly the phrase "our hero." As in, "Our hero is a twenty four year old genius monkey who is ready to turn the tables on evolution, and this time, brain size is personal." Notice. Not "the" hero. "Our" hero.

Now, I'm not blaming anyone because this is a common trope, and I would never reject someone's query for using the words "our hero." But my mind always trips up on the use of the word "our," and I start asking questions like: Are we reading this book together? Is this hero acting on behalf of all of us, including those of us in the non-fictional world? Who else is included in this hero's constituency? Did I help write this book and suffer from massive amnesia?

As you can see, when my mind trips up on something it quickly heads in dangerous territory.

But maybe this is just my own neuroses at play and I should leave the word "our" well enough alone.

So Can I Get a Ruling? How do we feel about the phrase "our hero"?

Monday, April 14, 2008

You're Not Wasting Our Time

I have seen quite a bit of anxiety around the Internet this past week from authors who worry about wasting an agent's time with a query.


Well, almost never. Assuming you devoted the proper amount of time and attention that a query deserves and made a good-faith attempt to make sure that the query was in the vicinity of the ballpark of the agent's genres (and I'm talking one huge ballpark) and follows the agent's submission guidelines, you're not wasting anyone's time.

I know. You've seen the complaints about the bad queries and how long it takes to get through the slush pile. Including, um, some that perhaps were on this blog. But what you're seeing is the natural, occasional frustration that comes with the herculean task of judging hundreds of different projects a week. It gets tiring. You get a little frustrated, even.

But that does not mean that anyone who even made a half-hearted attempt to follow my guidelines was wasting my time, nor are you wasting any other agent's time by querying them.

Buck up, aspiring authors! We want you to query us. Even if we sometimes have a funny way of showing it.

Friday, April 11, 2008

This Week In Publishing 4/11/08

THIS week in publishing...

So after my snit on Tuesday during which I complained about query quality as the world's smallest violin played in the background, I would like to update you that as the cosmic fates would have it things have very much improved in both the quality of queries and my own temperament, so I hope history will judge said snit as a momentary bout of frustration in a business in which frustration is not only a stock in trade, but practically an overinflated currency. It happens. As you were.

Meanwhile, in other happy publishing news, Moonrat joyously points out the incredible significance of Jhumpa Lahiri's new book UNACCUSTOMED EARTH debuting at #1 on the New York Times Hardcover Fiction list. Not only is it significant that a work of serious literary fiction is debuting at #1, but this is a collection of short stories no less, puncturing several "rules" of publishing all at once. So congrats to Jhumpa Lahiri, and we'll see if this marks a trend or an outlier.

Maya Reynolds has continued her excellent series of posts on the ramifications of Amazon's move to pressure POD presses to use their BookSurge program. The latest news is that writers groups, headed by the Authors Guild, have urged the Washington State Attorney General's office to investigate whether Amazon's move represents a monopolistic practice, and apparently the Washington AG has agreed to look into it. Stay tuned.

The Pulitzers have been announced, and Junot Diaz has capped a wondrous year of praise and attention for his novel THE BRIEF WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO with a Pulitzer for fiction. Other book winners included WHAT HATH GOD WROUGHT by Daniel Walker Howe for History, EDEN'S OUTCASTS by John Matteson for Biography, TIME AND MATERIALS by Robert Hass and FAILURE by Philip Schultz for Poetry, and THE YEARS OF EXTERMINATION by Saul Friedlander for General Nonfiction. Congrats to all the winners.

HarperCollins continues to make aggressive moves to woo editorial talent, and announced this week that Hyperion Children's editors Alessandra Balzer and Donna Bray are joining HarperCollins under the newly formed imprint Balzer & Bray. Hyperion also announced that they will be putting Disney in their name and will be henceforth known as "Disney-Hyperion."

And finally, Editorial Anonymous has a fabulous post on what happens to your manuscript once it lands on an editor's desk. It is a journey fraught with peril, lonesomeness and, hopefully, redemption.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

How To Find A Literary Agent

We're going back to basics today. Way back two years ago (!!) I wrote a post on how to find an agent, only I've never really been happy with that post and had always meant to replace it with a better one. Well, two years later, here we are.

So here goes. I give you........... How to Find A Literary Agent

Welcome to publishing, the land of books, writing, and agonizingly long waits. Pour yourself a drink. You're going to need it.

Step 1. If you are trying to find an agent and you are not a) a celebrity or b) a deity, you will need to have a finished and polished manuscript if you are writing a novel or memoir, and a finished and polished proposal and sample pages if you are working on a nonfiction project. Did I mention the finished and polished part? Well, you missed a spot. Go back and polish some more.

(Also, you might check out my guide to writing a novel while you're at it: How to Write a Novel: 47 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever. On sale for just $4.99 at:

Amazon Kindle
Apple iBooks (coming soon!)
B&N Nook

Step 2. Ok, so you've finished and polished your manuscript so much it's shining like the top of the Chrysler Building. Now it's time to find an agent, right? Nuh uh. Time to learn about the publishing business.

Many aspiring authors feel that all they have to do is write a good book, sit back, and let the God of easy money and literary groupies take care of the rest. Not so! Before you embark on your quest for a literary agent, you should devote many, many hours to familiarizing yourself with the business, literary agents, editors, and anything else you can possibly do to discern how this unique industry operates. Luckily there is more information out there on the Internet than ever before.

Now, hopefully you took care of all this research as you were procrastinating while working on your manuscript. But honestly, in today's publishing clime it's just not enough to have written a good book. Treat this business seriously, because it is a business. Explore the links on the left side of this page, read blogs, talk to booksellers, attend conferences, get to know authors. If you do this BEFORE you try to find an agent your odds of success will increase dramatically, because you will ooze professionalism and knowledge, qualities that bode well for future successful writers.

Step 3. Finding that agent. There are many ways of going about this, and, believe it or not, none of them involve telling an agent they're a cutiepatootie. First off, we'll address referrals.

Referrals are a great way to find an agent, and for many of your more experienced/legendary agents they're darn near essential. And it's easy to see why -- you're coming in with an endorsement from someone the agent respects, you've got their attention, and you're more likely to get a thorough look.

How do you get a referral? It's kind of tricky. If you don't have preexisting personal connections, the best way to do this, especially if you live in a big city, is to get involved with local writers communities, fraternize with writers, and put yourself in a position where your work will be seen by other established writers. Genuinely (and not selfishly) invest in those writers and you may find that they will invest in you -- trust me, they remember what it was like to be an aspiring writer. If you don't live in a city, get your stories published in journals, become involved with writers' blogs and online writer's communities, and really invest in authors until you are virtual friends.

Now, notice that I didn't suggest the "e-mail random writers and ask for referrals out of the blue" approach, which has about a zero chance of success. These things have to evolve organically.

Step 4. No referrals? Time to write a query letter.

A query letter is a short letter that describes your work. Please consult this comprehensive post on how to write a query letter, and there are examples of good queries here and here and here. You should adapt and personalize your basic letter depending on which agent you're submitting to in order to demonstrate your aforementioned professionalism and knowledge. Which leads us to...

Step 5. Now you need to figure out who to submit to.

Here's a comprehensive post on how to research agents.

There are various resources on the Internet you can use (again, check out the links on the left side of the page and the how to write a query post) to narrow down the search. You should try to target agents who represent your genre, but avoid agents who previously represented something extremely/eerily similar to yours. Another way to target agents and get personalization fodder is to check the acknowledgments in your favorite books in your genre and see who represented those writers.

Before you submit, Google the agent and the agency to try and find their submission guidelines. If you find it, go precisely by what they ask for. If you do not find any information online, I'd just email the agent directly.

Step 6. Query widely. Don't blanket the town with your query unless you want to end up on Gawker, but agents assume you are going out there trying to find an agent. Also, you should limit your query to one agent per agency. After you've heard back, it's usually ok to re-query another agent at the agency if their submission guidelines don't suggest otherwise, but wait a couple of months.

Step 7. You wait. You want a request for a partial or full manuscript, and then you wait some more. You wait until you think you are physically going to die and/or commit a drastic crime. And then you get "the call!"

Now, chances are at this point you are going to be in a psychological state where you are ready to sign over a body part just to get an agent, and you will be predisposed to say "Yes, for crap's sake, yes!!". But take a step back, take your time, make sure you're very comfortable with the agent before you enter into one of the most important business relationships you will have in your life. You and your agent are going to have to seriously trust one another, so ask questions, don't be shy, and make sure you're ready.

That's it! You've done it! Now that wasn't so hard, was it? Oh. Wait. Yes, it was.

Please continue adding thoughts in the comments section, and if I missed something I'll update this post as needed.

Art: Portrait of Father by Bruno Liljefors

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

What Advice Would You Offer An Agent?

I've grown quite used to pontificating on this semi-frequented blog, but now it's your turn to get all Dear Abby on me.

What advice would you offer me?

This can touch on anything from how to find clients to how to deal with queries to how to maintain a social life (ha!) while working full time and reading hundreds of pages a week.

Really, you tell me this time.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Query Stats Eeyore Would Love

Do I sound depressed? No? Give it time.

Usual preface: there were three or four queries over the weekend from regular blog readers that followed the rules, wrote good personalized queries, and were perfectly fine and just weren't quite for me. Keep on trucking, I'm sure you'll find the right agent.

Everyone else?

Wow. Let me elaborate: WOW

Here come the stats from the last three days:

Total queries: 93

Young Adult: 16 (this is the first time YA took the lead)
Suspense/thriller/mystery: 14
How-to/Self-Help/Guide book: 8
Historical fiction: 8
Science fiction: 7
Women's Fiction: 7
Fantasy: 6
Male Ennui: 4
Literary fiction: 3
History: 3
Politics/Current Events: 3
Religion/New Age: 3
Memoir: 2
Screenplay (I don't represent): 2
Short story collections: 1
Middle grade (I don't usually represent): 1
Picture book (I don't usually represent): 1
Graphic novel: 1
No freaking idea: 3

Of those 93, a mere 19 were personalized, or roughly 20%, which is down from the already-paltry 29% last time I compiled stats. And even that number 19 is somewhat deceptive, since at least half of those mentioned the blog but clearly hadn't read even the Essentials (or at least hadn't adjusted their query).

And of those 93 I didn't request any partials.

Some random categories:

Guides to life in prison: 2
Said they submitted because of my physical appearance: 1
Queries for works that the author professed will change the world: 2
Addressed “Dear publisher,” “Dear Sir/Madam,” or to the wrong agent: 5
Said they were “published” without providing publisher and/or year: 8
Sent query letter as an attachment (which I deleted): 1
Began query with an excerpt from book: 2
Received one of those annoying “in order to control spam you are receiving this automated e-mail” messages after sending a rejection: 2

I really do want to say that I appreciate how difficult it is to find an agent, I appreciate that people are thinking of me when they query, and I know it's not a whole lot of fun to hear agents complain about how hard it is to find new clients when you're reading their blog and shouting "I'M RIGHT HERE" at the screen. I definitely understand all of that.

But. These queries are really starting to get out of control.

Friday, April 4, 2008

This Week In Publishing 4/4/08

This Week in Publishing

Some big news afoot in the land of publishing, as Hyperion founding publisher Bob Miller is embarking on a project that is so futuristic and groundbreaking it just may involve flying cars and robot vacuum cleaners. Miller is moving over to HarperCollins to launch a publishing group that will involve a profit-sharing model for compensating authors rather than the advance/royalties model, and will attempt to find new avenues for books in electronic media. Early reports suggested that they would try to end the bookstore returns policy, but according to Publishers Lunch, this has been slightly exaggerated. Nevertheless, this is a venture that will be closely watched within the industry, and I think I speak for a lot of people in publishing when I tap my fingetertips together and say "Innnnnnnnnteresting."

Meanwhile, in other publishing-industry-confronting-the-future news, in the wake of Amazon's decision to pressure POD publishers to use Amazon's Booksurge program, Maya Reynolds has a must-read post that analyzes the potential effects of Amazon's increasing vertical integration, and how this might affect the industry in the future. The conclusion? Mainstream publishers' monopoly on production and distribution channels is eroding, and it's going to have some profound effects on the industry. GalleyCat also assessed Amazon's move.

And speaking of change and GalleyCat, they have blessedly switched to (almost) full RSS feeds, and they have also signed up former Gawker editor Emily Gould. One of her first orders of business was to dissect the contents of Spencer and Heidi's bookshelf. GalleyCat, are you trying to blow my mind? Because it's working.

Also, if you think I didn't press pause on the DVR while I was watching the Hills this past week to check out their bookshelf, well, you're crazy.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Follow-up On My Post About Follow-up E-mails After Rejections

I still can't answer your follow-up e-mails after rejections.

I've blogged about this before, and yet for some reason follow-up e-mails after a rejection have been spreading like a wildfire in a forest where the trees are made of matches and kerosene (yay similes!).

I'm sorry people, but I still can't answer your follow-up e-mails. I can't tell you how to fix your manuscript, can't tell you how to fix your query, can't recommend other agents.

Out of necessity I have to rely on form e-mails that, I am fully aware, aren't particularly helpful. But not only do I not have the time to respond to further questions (I don't) I honestly don't think I'd even be the right person to help you.

When I'm reading a query or partial I'm not thinking about why it's good or bad or what you could do better or what parts of the query or partial you could improve. I'm thinking, "Is this something I want to represent and/or is this striking a chord with me?" That's the only question I'm answering.

It's like riding a roller coaster. When I'm reading I'm on the ride, I'm not thinking about the joists and the structural engineering that makes it all possible.

Sure, if I decide to work with you on a rewrite I will sit down with the manuscript and devote a great deal of time to thinking about why it's working, and I will write an impossibly long e-mail detailing these points. When I do a query critique I will sit down with the query and think about what makes it strong or weak. With time I can explain specifically why it is or isn't working. And I'll try and give you some sense of my thought process in a partial manuscript response.

But if you need more input, you'd be better off seeking advice from people who are thinking specifically about how to make your query or manuscript better. Unless you're able to corral an agent to do that, a prospective agent just is not that person.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Who Will We Be Reading 50 Years From Now?

Sorry for the lack of post yesterday. Busy busy day.

Here's one for tomorrow's history books: which authors will we be reading 50 years from now?

This is a tricky question, because who is famous today is not necessarily who will be remembered by the scholars. Many of the authors we most associate with a time period, such as Melville and Faulkner, were not the most popular or famous writers of their own time. THE GREAT GATSBY wasn't even F. Scott Fitzgerald's most popular or best-reviewed book.

So who do you think is writing books that will stand the test of time?

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