Nathan Bransford, Author

Thursday, August 28, 2008

This Week in Publishing 8/28/08

Yes, TWIP on a Thursday -- I figure people are going to be cutting out early for the long weekend (who, you?), and thought I'd get a jump on things.

Next week my client Rebecca Ramsey is hosting a blog party at her amazing blog Wonders Never Cease! All you have to do is leave a comment on the official party thread, and then on September 3rd post your favorite Wonder of the World on your blog. Rebecca will link to you and you'll be able to check out everyone else's posts, which, as Rebecca says, will make it quite a Wonder-full Wednesday.

Anne & May (as in, Anne Dayton and May Vanderbilt) are counting down to the release of their fourth book (and first YA novel) THE MIRACLE GIRLS, which kicks off a four book series about four high school girls who meet in detention and bond when they discover they've all survived near-death experiences. And in honor of the upcoming publication, they have written a series of very helpful posts on writing, including things you can do to help your writing career, how to balance the day job, writing and revising rules of thumb, and, of course, killing your darlings.

I've seen this all over the web after it was published by PW, and with good reason: this interview with superstar agent Molly Friedrich is fantastic. My favorite snippet: "But seriously, it is a business of staying with it long enough to really build up credibility and respect and a reputation for honesty. Always for honesty."

Another week, another company purchased by Amazon. This time it's book social networking site Shelfari, which, as GalleyCat notes, is currently third in the race to become the biggest book social networking site behind GoodReads and LibraryThing (although actually, as Joe Wikert notes, LibraryThing is also partially owned by Amazon since it was partially owend by AbeBooks, which is now owned by Amazon). At this rate, I am scheduled to be purchased by Amazon in approximately seven months.

Annnnnnnnd in still more Amazon news, new editions of the Kindle are slated to come out just in time for me to smack my head for buying one a few months before they announced new editions were coming out. But that's ok, I figure when Amazon owns me they'll just replace my forearm with a Kindle, which would be freaking awesome. UPDATE: Reader rhienelleth notes that Amazon has quashed these rumors (well, the one about a new Kindle this year, not the one about installing one in my forearm).

And finally, marketing book author Richard Laermer lent his own entry into America's most crowded of genres: disgruntled author rants about the publishing industry. The litany: 22 year old editors deciding advances themselves (I want to meet these up-and-comers!), books are too expensive, the slow publishing schedule, resistance to putting things online... Oh, and it's Part 1 or 2, so stay tuned for the sequel. Meanwhile, former book editor and current bestselling author Jason Pinter lent a measured response to Laermer's article with a post entitled "Richard Laermer can kiss my young a**."

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Who Most Influenced You as a Writer?

Every writer has people in real life and authors they've never met who put them on the path to scribe-dom, whether it was an encouraging teacher or a writer who revealed what was possible with the written word.

Who influenced you along the way? Who helped make you the writer you are today?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Unagented Revisions

In response to yesterday's post on Literary Agents and Exclusives, an anonymous commenter raised an interesting point of discussion that I promised to elaborate on in the future. And the future is now. (soundtrack: dum dum dummmmmmm)

But back to yesterday -- Anon had been working with an agent for 9 months on a revision, and was frustrated at the length of time it had been taking and was contemplating jumping ship. My response was that 9 months is a blink of an eye in this business, and to make sure Anon appreciated that they had an agent's attention!

I think some people were surprised to hear that agents even embark on revisions with people who aren't their clients. And yes, we do. Typically it's your younger agents (such as yours truly) who will take the time to do this because we are the ones who are able, willing, and have the motivation to try and turn diamonds in the rough into polished gems. More established agents are able to pick and choose their clients a bit more and don't have as much incentive to take on projects with uncertain prospects of success -- and there's nothing more uncertain than a revision.

There are a couple of different levels of pre-submission revisions:

1) I vaguely suggest what I think is wrong on a book level (such as "I had problems with the pacing"), followed by an invitation to resubmit after a substantial revision.

In this scenario I assume the author is going to continue querying, but if they come up empty and take another serious look at the manuscript and spend a lot of time revising, I'll take another look. Usually this means I see something of value in the manuscript but it's a ways off and needs to be revisited.

2) I provide a more specific suggestion, followed by an invitation to resubmit if the problem(s) is/are fixed.

Often there will be a glaring but relatively easily fixable problem, such as writerly tics that distract me from the narrative or a particular character that isn't working, and I'll ask the writer to make the change and resubmit so I can consider the whole thing again. Usually I'll specifically say I'd like to reconsider once that change is made. In this scenario I assume the author is going to make the change and resubmit to me, but is welcome to continue querying in the meantime.

3) The deep edit.

In this case I'm providing copious, extensive notes in the hopes that with a revision (or two or three or four) the manuscript will be in a place where I'll be able to take the author on as a client and submit to editors. In this scenario, whether you've explicitly discussed exclusivity or not, if the agent is investing this much time in your project they are assuming that you are going to give them first crack at representing the revised project. If you were to take the manuscript you improved with one agent and let another agent represent it, the revising agent would be colossally pissed and will be casting spells and sticking needles in your book on the day of publication. This is why I typically spell out exclusivity beforehand; just so we're both clear on what it means.

Those are the basic unagented revision scenarios. So when does representation enter the picture?

Well, that varies from agent to agent, and there are two basic scenarios (more bullet points!). Both have some advantages and disadvantages for author and agent.

1) Agent signs up author to an author/agency agreement before embarking upon revision.

Some agents want to wrap up a possibly-hot project and will take on the client before they embark upon revisions. The author is happy (they have an agent!) and the agent knows the author won't ditch them for another agent once the manuscript is completed without having to formally cancel a legal document. However, the downside with this scenario is that revisions are murky, tricky, stressful processes. Who knows where the revision will lead and if both author and agent will be ready for it to be sent out when the revision is complete? Who knows if the agent and author will work well together?

Which is why I tend to prefer...

2) Agent signs up author after the revision is completed and both author and agent are happy with the relationship and the manuscript.

Other agents want to see how things go. They want to see how the relationship works, they want to make sure that they are totally enthusiastic about the revised manuscript before they formally commit to the author. And, on the plus side for the author, there is no formal commitment in place. If, after completing the revision, in good faith the author doesn't feel that the author/agent relationship is working or isn't happy about the direction of the manuscript (i.e. not just taking the revision and bolting), they too can walk away. A revision is a really great way to learn about a relationship, and both agent and author learn a great deal about each other's style in the process. It takes some faith and trust on both sides to proceed in this manner, but I have taken on several clients this way and feel like it's very fair for both sides.

Word of warning.

When presented with a choice between Scenario 1 (signed up immediately) and Scenario 2 (wait and see), authors will almost invariably choose Scenario 1. And in fact, I've personally seen this happen. But I would really really caution people about taking the bird in the hand -- I've had several situations crop up where a writer took the bird in the hand even though they agreed with my vision for a rewrite, and they later came back to me after their new agent had submitted to lots of houses unsuccessfully, regretting that they didn't take the time to revise. Don't get so caught up in the rush to representation that you lose contact with your gut instincts! (That will be a future post -- this one is long enough).

So hopefully this epic peels back the layer a bit on the process of revisions. Yes, they happen! They don't always work, but when they do, a young, enthusiastic agent and a hardworking, enthusiastic author can take a manuscript to the next level.

NOTE: see also Jessica Faust's post on this topic.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Exclusives and Literary Agents

Becca asked an interesting question about exclusives in the comments section of a post a few days ago, and it occurred to me that I'd never really blogged about these slippery devils. So consider this niche filled, and the FAQs will be amended accordingly.

First off, definition: an exclusive means just what it sounds like. You are giving an agent the opportunity to consider your work exclusively and you are agreeing that you will not submit to another agent until you've heard "yea" or "nay" from that agent. Sometimes exclusives are open-ended, sometimes there's a time period attached.

Feelings about exclusives vary wildly among agents, so please take my feelings as my own and not as any kind of industry standard. There is no standard when it comes to exclusives. It's a veritable Wild West run by nonconformist anarchists.

I'm going to break down my thoughts on exclusives based on the different stages when they might arise and give you some dos and don'ts along the way:

Query stage: Agents expect that you're querying simultaneously and widely, and frankly, if they don't, they should. If you're querying agents one-by-one I hope you plan to live as long as Methuselah because that's how long you're going to be querying. Remember to target your agent search, personalize your queries, and don't query the entire agent world all at once, but also don't needlessly slow down your search by waiting on exclusive queries.

Now, you might give your first-pick agent first crack, say.... oh, I don't know, a certain agent who will get back to you within 24 hours if you submit on a weekday, and you might mention that you're querying them first, but mentioning that it's an exclusive is not necessary, and don't give them forever to get back to you before you move on to the other agents you plan to query.

Partial or full manuscript request stage: Some agents will ask you for an exclusive when they ask for your partial or full. Whether you choose to grant this is up to you, but I would strongly, strongly advise against granting an open-ended exclusive that ties you up forever. 30 days is a reasonable time period for an agent to consider a partial or full exclusively, after which you should feel free to send your manuscript to any agents who have inquired in the meantime (and keep in mind that submitting your partial exclusively does not preclude you from continuing to query other agents, although it does mean that you have to put any agents who ask for a partial on hold until the period of exclusivity is up).

You are within your rights to (politely) decline their request for an exclusive, in which case you may simply write that you would prefer to continue sending your manuscript to interested agents but hope they will still consider your work. Or you can decide to grant it. Up to you. But keep in mind a few things: 1) You can't grant an exclusive if another agent is already considering your partial or full manuscript (and you should let the inquiring agent know this.) 2) Some agents feel that if they are going to take the time to read a manuscript they want to do so with the understanding that the author is not going to be swept away by another agent in the meantime (thus wasting the time they spent reading that partial), and they may well decline to consider your partial on a nonexclusive basis.

So when faced with an exclusive request, you have a decision to make: possibly alienate the agent or try and keep your options open? That's a decision only you can make. No matter what you decide though, be exceedingly polite, and always notify any agent considering your work when you have an offer of representation.

Revisions: I don't generally ask for exclusives at the partial or even full manuscript request phase. But there is one situation when I often will. And that's during a revision.

It's very time consuming for an agent to read partials and fulls, although I see it as going with the territory. But a revision with a prospective client takes time-consuming to a whole new level. It means a serious commitment on the part of the agent without a sure prospect of success, it means committing to reading a manuscript multiple times, taking notes, thinking about the manuscript during most waking hours, and for me it means writing 10-20 page e-mails full of suggestions on each draft.

I don't know if there would be anything more gut-wrenching than to embark on a time-consuming revision to improve the manuscript only to have an author take that improved manuscript to a different agent who gets to benefit from my hours of hard work. Quel horreur! The mere thought of this happening gives me dry heaves.

Fortunately this hasn't actually happened to me, but just to make sure we're all clear what a full manuscript revision means, I often ask for an exclusive before embarking on a revision, and I think this is fair. When the author is done, if either of us aren't happy with the manuscript or how we've worked together in the process then we're still free to go our separate ways, but while we're working on that revision we're going steady, pinning each other, and any other serious dating metaphor you can find. If we are happy with the manuscript at the end, then it's time to move on to formal representation and submissions.

Ultimately, the thing to remember about exclusives is that agents mainly ask for them for peace of mind and efficiency. Agents are busy and they want to know that when they are reading something they don't have to worry about having an author swept out from under them and having that time wasted. But they aren't always advantageous for an author because they can limit an author's choice and stall the process.

Be selective about how you grant exclusives, and make sure there's a time limit affixed.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Podcast With Bleak House

Hi everyone, I did my first-ever podcast with the good people over at Bleak House Books, so if you have a spare 10-15 minutes... here it is.

We talked about the challenges of becoming an agent, the future of the business, the author/editor relationship, and much more. Enjoy!

Friday, August 22, 2008

This Week in Publishing 8/22/08

This is a seriously linktastic This Week in Publishing, so let's get right to it.

Let's see... hmm... where to begin..... Wait, I know! Franz Kafka's taste in porn! Oh, and you thought I was joking. Via Publishers Lunch, a controversy is brewing because a British scholar Went There and detailed Kafka's penchant for prOn. Now some German scholars are in an uproar and saying "Oh no you di-in't" in German. Clearly this is the most exciting thing to happen in the world of Kafka scholarship since... uh... ever.

Speaking of, Random House UK has begun inserting morality clauses in their children's book contracts. Basically, if you accept this language and "act or behave in a way which damages your reputation as a person suitable to work with or be associated with children" they can either terminate or renegotiate the agreement. Boy, it sure is a good thing children's authors of the past have always lived up to morality standards. That might have gotten awkward.

In the world of blogs, the good people at Book Roast are partnering this month with Reach Out and Read, a charity that gives books to kids as part of pediatric care. Definitely go over to Book Roast and check that out. And for you blog contest fans, Chuck Sambuchino at Guide to Literary Agents is hosting a Worst Storyline Ever contest, so if you can top my idea of a coming of age novel about a man, a pig and Heidi Montag as they find redemption by writing a scholarly article on Franz Kafka's porn collection.... well, good luck to you.

Also via Publishers Lunch, slashing Book Review sections isn't just for Americans anymore! Yes, the Canadians decided that the literary apocalypse looked like so much fun they didn't dare miss out on the action. The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star have both reduced their book pages, proving that a quirky accent and Celine Dion are no defense (or should I say "defence") against the decline of newspaper book coverage.

The indispensable Jessica Faust at BookEnds has put together an indispensable Publishing Dictionary, so if you're ever wondering about what terms like sell-through and AAR mean.... that's your source. Also in literary advice news, Adrienne Kress continued her awesome breakdown of the road to publication, this time detailing the path from agent to publisher.

Remember how we were wondering if the slumping economy was going to drag down book sales? Well, via Shelf Awareness, even as they cut their sales forecast, Barnes & Noble CEO Steve Riggio reports that "Even in this soft retail environment across America, the book business is stubbornly holding up." So there you have it.

And finally, if you're drawn to bookish librarian types, Penguin UK just might be launching the dating service for you, in conjunction with A book publisher getting into an online dating service business? Why no, this doesn't make me worried about the state of the book business at all. Not. At. All.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Open Thread!

Haven't done one of these in a while, so I thought I would open things up so everyone can talk about what they want to talk about. I'll try my best to stop by to answer all questions.

Everyone, jump in the pool!

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Publisher's Responsibility?

There have been two interesting publishing controversies recently, one involving a book that a publisher chose not to publish, and one involving a book that a publisher did choose to publish.

The not-published book, of course, was THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, which Random House canceled after concerns were raised by an Islamic scholar about its contents. Random House was worried about a backlash and possible acts of violence, while some people were disappointed by the decision, such as Salman Rushdie, who charged that they gave in to "censorship by fear."

Meanwhile, Simon & Schuster recently published a, shall we say, less than truthy smear of Barack Obama called OBAMA NATION, which promptly went straight to the top of bestseller lists everywhere. The Obama campaign issued a 40 page rebuttal and the book has been criticized in the press, prompting the Observer and Politico to wonder if Simon & Schuster will have to answer for the book and suffer a backlash.

So, with all of that fresh in your brain, here's what I'm wondering: how much responsibility should a publisher bear for what they choose to publish and choose not to publish?

Is a publisher morally responsible for the content they publish, or should the publisher respond to public demand, stand back, and let the public and marketplace determine the merits of the books they publish?

Do publishers have a civic responsibility or should they let the public decide?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Random Query Trend: Fire

I'm not quite sure what to make of this, but I have read four partials in the last month that open with the protagonist watching their house burn down.

Well, I do know one thing to make of this: I'm checking the smoke detectors when I get home.

UPDATE 12:15: Um. Make that five.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Referrals and Blurbs and Quotes, Oh My

Thanks very much to the organizers and attendees of the SCBWI San Francisco Agent's Day on Saturday, which was a lot of fun! It was held at Fort Mason here in San Francisco, and the weather was nearly expressly engineered to strike fear into the hearts of the non-Bay Area agents in attendance. Fog, cold, wind, August... just another summer day in San Francisco!

I gave a presentation on Finding an Agent That's Right for You, in which I hopefully did not just repeat information from the blog (although you will find much of what I said here), and which hopefully did not simply boil down to the phrase "do your research and take your time." Sure, I could have said that and sat down, but people love specificity, and I aimed to deliver.

Although I will probably be mining the event for blog material for quite some time, I wanted to start off by addressing a question that was asked after Kate Schafer Testerman's extremely impressive power point presentation on things not to do in a query letter (seriously, the slides alone were worth the price of admission).

Someone wanted to know whether they should include quotes and blurbs in query letters from authors they know or who have read their book and commented favorably. Kate's answer was lukewarm toward these types of quotes, and I share her lukewarmicity.

Personally, I think there are a couple tiers of quotes and blurbs and referrals.

Tier 1: A referral from a client, author, editor, or some other professional I know and trust who writes me and says "You should take a look at this I really love it." Tier 1 is an extremely effective means of gaining my attention, perhaps the most effective method in existence short of sending a query printed on courtside tickets to a Kings game. If someone I respect is recommending something: I look very, very carefully. I still have to love it, but you can bet I'm looking closely at the manuscript.

Tier 2: A blurb or quote from an author famous enough for me to start envisioning the blurb on the cover of a book and thinking, "Huh, that could probably sell some books." This type of a quote will definitely catch my eye and will be worth a few points in the query points system, but it's not necessarily going to tip any scales. I take these types of quotes with a grain of salt (more on that later), and again, I still have to really connect with the query.

Tier 3: Quotes from other authors who I'm sure are extremely nice people but may not have enough name-recognition factor to move copies with a blurb. I sort of absorb these quotes and move on to the rest of the query.

Tier 4
: Quotes from everyone else, including friends, family members, classrooms of kids, and supposedly impartial observers. In a query letter, these quotes will actually harm your chances of finding representation because not only will agents not believe them, they'll think you are, um, what's a nice word, gullible (sorry) for believing them and thinking it would help to list the quotes. Would you list your mom as a reference on a resume? Um. I guess don't answer that.

The reason for the grain of salt-taking in Tiers 2 and 3 is that most authors are extremely nice people. They remember how hard it was to be an unpublished writer struggling for a break, and they really want to help people out. There are a couple very-brand-name authors who I now know to be extremely generous with quotes, which makes me love them a lot, but I have to second-guess these recommendations because I don't know the backstory. Does the author really love it? Are they just trying to do a favor? Are they just trying to help out a fan? If they loved it so much, why didn't they already do a Tier 1 recommendation to their own agent?

I don't know the real story, and thus at the end of the day I have to judge Tiers 2 and 3 with healthy skepticism and reach my own conclusion.

So before you go spamming authors for blurbs, please keep in mind that at the end of the day it's probably not going to be a deal-breaker in a query. And please also keep in mind that Tier 1 blurbs don't really just happen and no one is going to get a Tier 1 blurb out of the blue. They certainly do not arise by Spamming the published. They takes investment in an author, friendship, and a great manuscript, and none of those come easily.

Friday, August 15, 2008

This Week In Publishing 8/15/08

Isn't this supposed to be a slow time in publishing? Is there a slow time anymore? I'm not feeling it. Meanwhile...

The brainiacs at the Millions have a great post on the implications of Amazon's purchase of Abe Books, and what it means for the future of their business. Basically: when vendors sell on Amazon and Amazon doesn't have to do anything... Amazon makes money.

Another brainiac out there wrote a post on basic concepts in publishing accounting which.... uh... I haven't read. Kinda busy. But the people at Fine Print did, and they linked to it, and if it's good enough for them, by golly it's good enough for me!

GalleyCat had more on the controversy surrounding Random House's cancellation of THE JEWEL OF MEDINA. Salman Rushdie? Not impressed with the decision.

And finally, I've noticed that there's been a marked uptick in traffic to the blog lately, and so I'd like to extend a special welcome to the new visitors! I hope you will comment and make this blog your home. Seriously, kick off your shoes and steal stuff from the fridge. As always, come for the publishing advice, stay for the monkeys.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Help, I've Been Getting Too Many Good Queries


There is something about blogging and advice-giving that tends toward the negative -- frankly it's easier to explain why a query doesn't work than it is to explain why one does. The do nots are easier to list than the dos. And so, after reading this blog for a while, you might think I'm just sitting here getting all these bad queries and gnashing my teeth and banging my head on the desk.

Well, not lately.

I don't know what in the heck is in the water, but I have a new query complaint: PEOPLE ARE WRITING TOO MANY GOOD QUERIES.

I'm totally kidding about the complaint part -- by no means is this a bad thing, and it's really exciting to notice a serious uptick in quality query writing. I'm very happy about it. However, just to put this in perspective, in the last two weeks I have requested 50 partials. 50 PARTIALS!!!! In two weeks!!! That's 1500 pages!

And that doesn't even include a whole lot of other good queries, especially the ones from blog readers, that were totally fine and solid, but just weren't quite for me.

Add in the fact that I've been working on three separate manuscript revisions and the other day-to-day tasks I have to take care of, and it will explain why the timestamp on an e-mail I send you just might say 11:24 PM. August in publishing.... not so slow.

But really -- give yourselves a round of virtual applause. It's been an impressive month.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Do Author Blogs Sell Books?

Judging from the comments section of yesterday's post, it seems that we're all in agreement that some sort of web presence is necessary for published and unpublished authors alike.

But how much of a web presence is ideal? How much time should an author be devoting to their site? And how much of a difference-maker is it?

I know authors who are incredibly busy, who have day jobs in addition to successful writing careers, and time for book promotion is markedly limited given that they also have to, you know, write books. So what should they be doing with the limited time they have to promote their books? Is blogging and/or working on a website the most effective use of that time?

And, ultimately, does blogging sell books? Are there authors out there who have made "the leap" because of their blog? Or do successful books drive successful blogs? Is the time it takes to build a successful blog worth it?

Really looking forward to this discussion.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Author Websites

Some people have been asking me about the ins and outs of author websites, especially for aspiring authors -- whether I pay attention to them, whether (and how much) original material to put on the Internet, and whether to include websites in queries.

Honestly this is something I've kind of avoided blogging about simply because I don't know if there's yet a consensus on what exactly author websites should entail, how much energy authors should devote to them, and whether original work should be posted therein. So please pretend that there's a big warning label affixed to this blog post: publishing professional opinion may vary.

My own personal feeling is that every author out there is doing themselves a disservice if they don't have some sort of a Google-able web presence with an e-mail address. Often I'll come across a short story or an article that strikes me (ouch!), and I'll try and track down the author, sometimes to no avail. Avail, authors, avail! You know what they say, opportunity can't knock if opportunity can't find one's Myspace page.

The website does not have to be a web miracle. Something simple and professional is totally fine, although if you are an aspiring author, definitely don't forget that professional part, and that goes for every single thing you post online, whether it's a blog, blog comment, or Twitter.

On the all-important matter of how much work to post online -- I think it's fine to post some work. However, I would be very, very, very careful about posting excerpts from a novel you want to publish. If you can control the material and the amount you are posting is limited to a chapter or two and you can pull the work from the Internet at any time, I don't think there's necessarily a problem (but again, there are varying opinions about this).

But be exceedingly, ridiculously, copiously careful when you allow excerpts of your novel to be published in journals and/or elsewhere -- not necessarily because of the risk someone stealing your work (that's extremely rare) but rather because you might be tying up the rights. As always, know what you sign!

In query letters, yes, absolutely include a link to your website if you have one, although if you want me to see something, put it in the query -- I can't tell you how frustrated agents get at the "please click here for my query" e-mails. If we have to click on a link or an attachment to see something that could just as easily be written into the e-mail if the author had taken the time..... anger, folks. Anger. We don't have the time and we don't want the viruses. If you do have a website just put a link beneath your name. Simple as that. It's like dessert -- a nice bonus if we're still hungry.

Lastly, how much time you devote to a website is up to you, although I think the jury is out (or rather, will convene in tomorrow's You Tell Me) about how much it pays off to have a blog, expansive web presence, and whether that time is well-spent. So please stay tuned for that discussion.

Monday, August 11, 2008

When Brevity Doesn't

Been getting queries from people w/ overly breezy styles. Definite articles dropped. Aversion to full sentences. Way casual. Texting abbreviations (srsly).

Makes me think they didn't take time to write a proper query.

Not taking time to write a query doesn't bode well for the book.

That or they're unprofessional.

Doesn't bode well for the book either.

Friday, August 8, 2008

This Week in Publishing 8/8/08

So. As you may have noticed, I have compiled a list of the most frequently asked questions I receive in my Inbox and in the comments section, along with links to the relevant posts. Hopefully I got everything, but if not, please leave a comment in that post and I will add the question in. Henceforth, if you have a question, please please please check first to see if I answered it there.

In other FAQ news, Janet Reid has written a post on what you need to know if you handle a contract on your own that is so incredibly awesome and indispensable I'M GOING TO WRITE THE REST OF THIS SENTENCE IN CAPS AND BOLD TYPEFACE. Seriously, check out this must-read post.

And in still other FAQ news, Adrienne Kress has compiled a great how-to on how to find an agent. Always good to see the perspective of a published author on this topic.

There's some very big and interesting news afoot at Random House, who has canceled a controversial novel about Aisha, the young wife of the prophet Muhammad. After an Islamic scholar who read an advance copy raised questions about the prospect of a backlash, Random House decided to cancel the book. Publishers Lunch has the latest. I shant be weighing in on this topic because I don't want to step on toes, but I would be really curious to hear what you think (and please keep it civil).

Maya Reynolds has a very interesting post this week about how we're going to make sense of the fracturing landscape for books following the decline of newspaper page and the rise of the Internet as a force.

Knowing I am a fan of all things space monkey, reader Joel A. Hokstra passed along his hilarious cover for the (sadly unwritten) SON OF JOXER AND THE ESCAPE FROM SPACE MONKEY ISLAND.

Reader Dan Donovan also passed along a hilarious art link, this time to the Cartoon Bank (which is a pretty incredible site). I give you: a cartoon of Shakespeare's first draft of Hamlet

Have you ever "wondered" why so many people use "quotes" when they aren't "necessary?" Well, now you have an "opportunity" to "laugh" at them too. Check out this "hilarious" site: The "Blog" of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks.

And finally, also via Adrienne Kress, here's a seriously funny and awesome video of how one writer used to think the publishing industry worked. If only!

Have a great weekend!



Finding an Agent and Query Letters

Working with agents and editors

The writing process

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Choosing Among Projects

Lately I've been seeing quite a few queries telling me about multiple projects, as well as multiple e-queries from the same author. I totally understand the sentiment -- people justifiably grow attached to their work and they want an agent who is going to be able to champion all their projects. Also, taste is subjective and different agents might respond differently to different projects, uh, differently.

But, as I'm sure you've noticed by now, finding an agent is hard. And it's even more difficult when you split your time and energy between multiple projects. There's a major dilution effect -- the more projects described in a query, the less each one stands out.

You know what else is hard? Reading queries! (I know, I know, the world's smallest violin is playing softly in the background). And when you are responding to a couple hundred queries a week and have 15 partials sitting in your inbox, the prospect of reading 5 different magnum opuses (opi?) can seem a little daunting. Images of five 500 page manuscripts sitting on one's... uh... Kindle start passing through one's head.

Decide which project you love the most and go full throttle on that project. I know it's hard to choose among children. But do it anyway. In the meantime, keep writing, and don't mention the 10 manuscripts in your drawer until you're farther along in the process. And if you decide to re-query an agent, give them a couple of months.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Are Good Writers Taught or Born?

Is good writing innate? Or is it learned?

And if it's both, what's the balance between the two? Which is more important?

And a special note for those who subscribe to the blog by e-mail: Rather than e-mailing me your responses, please join the spirited online discussion and click through to the site and post your comments there.

In order to post a comment, please click the blog title in this e-mail (i.e. You Tell Me...). Scroll down to the very bottom of the page, and you will see a link that says "Post a Comment." Click that, then follow the directions to enter and post your comment.

Happy commenting!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Me and Romance

I know, it's confusing. I'm a guy in publishing, I watch the Bachelor, I like to wear orange shirts, I watch a lot of sports, I attended RWA.... So I just want to make it clear:

Yes, I represent women's fiction.

I know! Women's fiction. Not just for women anymore.

Now, when it comes to romance romance, I should probably clarify a few things: I don't represent category romance, and if it's too squarely in pure romance territory there are probably agents out there who would do better by you than me.

I did attend RWA though, because in addition to more mainstream women's fiction and memoir I'm also interested in what I like to call "romance plus." As in romantic suspense, romantic sci-fi, romantic (fill in the blank).

All this said, especially because all of these genre distinctions blur into each other I still stand by my main sentiment on the subject -- when in doubt, query me.

Hope that clears things up.

Monday, August 4, 2008

RWA Recap

Some people have asked me for an account of what it's like attending a conference as an agent, and of course I'm only happy to oblige.

As you consider the agent conference experience, keep in mind that for the vast majority of the time I spend at work I'm sitting in front of a computer (or Kindle, as the case may be), performing mundane tasks like comparing and negotiating contracts, preparing submissions, following up with publishers on things that need to be done, etc. There are some exciting moments from time to time, but I ride the bus, go to work, go home, do a lot of reading... and there you have it.

So attending a writer's conference can come as quite a shock. It's seriously a trip to be recognized and to have people attending my panels and waiting in pitch sessions and all the rest. I really, really appreciate that people want to talk to me, and I don't take any of it for granted, but seriously -- it's a shock to go from mild mannered agent working in front of a computer to someone who strangers say hi to. I guess it's sort of like being a celebrity for a weekend, only I don't have to be on The Hills and when I leave the conference it's straight back to normalcy.

Every agent and editor who has attended a conference has their own favorite tale of being accosted by an overzealous conference attendee, but honestly, I'm always really impressed by the people who are able to come up and introduce themselves to me and be cool and just act like it's the most normal thing in the world. How do these people do it?? I applaud the courage. So please, feel free to come talk to me at conferences -- I may be rushing off to do something and won't be able to stop, but we both came to the conference, so hey, why not chat?

Attending RWA was pretty great -- everything was very well-run and organized, and everyone seemed like they were having a fabulous time. And, what with it being RWA and all, the innuendo was flying!

And of course, no conference would be complete without some old fashioned networking. I was able to have meetings with some really great editors, including one I have been chatted with many times in the past but hadn't yet met in person, and I was able to meet up with some authors as well. Unfortunately I also missed out on meeting some people I was hoping to bump into... hopefully next time.

So overall, I never quite know what I'm going to get with a conference, and especially with pitch sessions, I never know how successful they are until the queries and partials start showing up in my inbox. But I really enjoy conferences and it's a great time to remind myself that even though I stare at a computer most days, there are plenty of cool people behind those queries. Thanks again to everyone who attended my panel and session and it really was great to meet blog readers!

Friday, August 1, 2008

This Week in Publishing 8/1/08

This will be a quick This Week in Publishing because I have to leave soon to get back to the RWA conference for another round of meetings.

Colleen Lindsay linked to a really great interview with Ballantine editor Liz Scheier, which has all kinds of essential info, especially about why it's so important to have a strong hook.

You gotta love the New Yorker -- this week there's a fascinating article about the feud between Anne Carol Moore and E.B. White over STUART LITTLE. Moore was a pioneer in the creation of children's sections of libraries, and also a fearsome tastemaker. E.B. White, of course, was E.B. White.

USA today featured an article on all things Stephenie Meyer and deems her the heir apparent to J.K. Rowling. BREAKING DAWN goes on sale Saturday at 12:01 am with a first printing of 3.2 million.

Amazon has continued its company buying spree -- they have acquired AbeBooks, which will remain a separate website. I'll be curious to see if Amazon will try to incorporate AbeBooks to facilitate used books sales (and remember, used book sales don't result in author royalties and publisher revenue).

And finally, thanks to everyone who attended the PRO Retreat agent panel at the RWA conference yesterday! As a first time RWA attendee, let me just say that the conference is a blast, and I really appreciated all of the excellent questions. It was so great to meet blog readers in person.

Have a great weekend!

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