Nathan Bransford, Author

Friday, May 29, 2009

This Week in Publishing 5/29/09

This Friday in publishing... I'm not here!

I wrote this a few days ago and set it to post automatically. I'm not in the office, and in fact I'm currently hanging out with Dick Cheney in his top secret bunker and I'm so glad to be...... that's messed up, Dick. Come on man, seriously, light a match or something.

We'll have some classics and some new posts and possibly a guest appearance running at regularly scheduled blog times early next week to tide you over. (Oh, and I'm not actually at BEA, hope everyone has a good time though.)

See you next week! Assuming I survive this. I don't think Dick likes me very much.

Unsupervised open thread! No roughhousing allowed!


Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest Blogger: Ms. Sally Spitfire on a Day in the Life of a Book Marketing Manager

In honor of Book Roast, anonymous publishing insider Ms. Sally Spitfire was gracious enough to stop by and share with us a day in the life of a marketing manager at a major publisher. Enjoy!

My luvin' cuzin Suzy,

I'm so sorry that I had to cancel my trip to visit you and the family for this upcoming weekend! I know it's simply dreadful, but I just have so much on my plate right now between work and life... I think it would be a more enjoyable trip for everything if I came when I was less distracted and more in a vacation frame of mind. Maybe mid-July? The heat here in NYC is unbearable that time of year anyway...

In place of my visit, I thought it would be fun to send you--my email--a little tour of the office where I work. I usually use these letter to you to talk about one specific detail of my job, but sometime I wonder if I'm neglecting the whole picture...

You know, of course, that I work as a Marketing Manager for one of the top ten commercial publishing houses. In case any of the crazy cousins ask "what that really means," just tell them that, in brief, the marketing manager must figure out: 1) WHO the target audience is for each book 1) how to make that book APPEAL to that audience (think book format, cover art, etc.) and 3) HOW to reach that audience (think advertising, blogger outreach, etc.)

So that's the BIG picture.

But how does it work on a day to day basis?

My job is, as Dolly Parton would put it, basically "Workin' 9 to 5... barely gettin' by..." That being said (or sung), I prefer getting to work an hour early when possible, because it's the only peaceful time of day at the office. So, every morning around 8am, I ride up the 9 floors in the quiet elevators, clutching my to-go tea from home (now cold) and my e-reader (never far from hand) and step into the narrow, white hallway that has become a home away from home...

Even though I do an incredibly wide array of tasks, from overseeing cover design, to choosing advertising for books, to contacting bloggers, 75% of my day is spent sitting in one place: at my desk. Honestly, Suzy, I can't imagine how people did this job before email.

I'm lucky in that I have a very close relationship with my direst boss. Although for the most part I manage my own projects and time, I go to him with any questions that seem beyond my experience and make a concerted effort to keep him in the loop for all major projects and any important accomplishments. Here's teensy peek into his office...of course, the bigwigs get the really niiice office furniture. Someday, I aspire to leather couches.

Let me just say, before we move on to the next stop on my tour, that I secretly LOVE working in an industry where every single office is required to have multiple bookshelves. I try to keep at least two copies on my bookshelf of every current project I'm working on. It's not at all unusual for a sales rep or a publicist to come to me in dire need of a copy to send to a bookseller or magazine reviewed.

Sometimes, I get a bit protective of my books. Too many just seem to disappear without any explanation...

You asked me once for my favorite and least favorite parts of my job. Without a doubt, my least favorite thing about my job is working this copy machine. I've never seen a machine that has such a simple job to do that makes it so complicated. Paper jam! Needs new toner! This machine has as many emergencies as the publishing industry itself.

My favorite part? FREE BOOKS! Have I ever told you about the free book boxes? There's usually one per floor--give or take--and everyone piles it with books that they don't need or want any more, some from the office and some personal from home. Anyone can take them and, once they get so full they begin to overflow, one of us boxes the books up and sends them off to charity. Money doesn't grow on trees but, in publishing, books spring up in bushels! Love it!

Back to the tour: One of the most important promotional objects created by the marketing team is the ADVANCED READERS' EDITION for an upcomign book. At any given time, I usually have these advance copies (also known as galleys or ARCs) for 3 or 4 different books, waiting to be sent to bookstores or to early reader programs (such as Amazon Vine, Goodreads Early Reader or Library Thing Early Reviewer). I keep them all stacked along the hallways outside my office.

And, of course, where would we be without office supplies? Ah, how I wish I had time to write an ode to the office supply cabinet where all wonders reside--for free (to me)!--just waiting to be snatched and used.

And that's it, Suzy. I hope you haven't been too bored. Even more so, I hope that you'll come visit in person some day! For all my humor and sarcasm, I do love it here...

Lots of Love from your NYC Cousin,

(Ms.) Sally S.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How Does Technology Affect Writing Style?

Lynn Viehl (aka Paperback Writer) had a really interesting post last week where she talked about how she was influenced by learning to write books on a typewriter.

She writes:

"It's not easy to backspace and rewrite on a typewriter; with the two I owned I had to use White-Out or correction tape, or rip out the page and start over. I also couldn't review and edit anything I wrote before I printed it out -- naturally using a typewriter = printing it out instantly. Add to that the fact that back then typing paper was expensive, and my mom had a fit if I wasted even a single page of it.

I never thought about it before, but I guess subconsciously I did teach myself to wait until I was clear in my head about what I wanted to put down on the paper because of the limitations of my equipment. When I typed, I wrote straight through the page while trying to make as few errors or mistakes as possible."

This got me to thinking. Do you think how you write affects what you write?

As in, if you're using pen and paper, typewriter, or a computer, how much (and how) does that impact your writing style?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Taking a Chance on a Young Agent

Back at the Pike's Peak Writer's Conference a few weeks ago, one of the best audience questions came during my panel with fellow Curtis Brown agent Ginger Clark. Eden Lane asked us what it was like taking on our first client compared to what it was like taking on clients now. Ginger and I looked at each other for a moment and confessed that taking on our first clients was kind of petrifying.

I wasn't nervous because because I didn't know what I was doing -- I had been in training as an assistant for years. Sort of like Rocky running up the steps, only with manuscripts and Pub Lunch e-mails.

I was nervous because I couldn't answer the questions "Who are your other clients?" and "What have you sold?" Umm... I.... Have I mentioned how much I LOVE your book and think you're a literary genius??!!!

Here's the thing to remember: Every agent starts out with zero sales. They need someone to take a chance on them and place their faith in them, and quite honestly, a young agent can really do wonders for your career. They're hungry, they're going to give you 110%, they tend to be more willing to go the extra mile working with you on revisions and polishing diamonds in the rough, and everyone starts somewhere.

If you hear from an interested young agent without any sales or a limited track record... don't hang up on them! However, it's extremely important to find out what kind of experience they've had in the industry. Make sure that they've had at least a couple of years of experience working with a reputable agency or publishing house. There's really no replacement for that kind of experience. I was an assistant at a very reputable agency for two years before I took on a single client. I had sold audio book rights, worked on reprints, knew which editors liked what kind of books, and had incredible mentors I could turn to at any moment. I was ready.

Get a sense of their experience and knowledge, and then use your best judgment. And if you're ever in doubt, remember the best story I've seen about taking a chance on a young agent, courtesy of Nicholas Sparks. (Needless to say it all turned out just fine.) He recounts his first conversation thusly:

"Well. . . how long have you been a literary agent?"

"About six months."

My heart sank and I swallowed.

"Well, have you ever sold a novel before?"


"Okay," I said, "You're hired!. . ."

Friday, May 22, 2009

This Week in Publishing 5/22/09

Very big week for links, so let's get started!

First of all, I hope everyone remembers that This Week in Publishing is but a pale imitation of author Cynthia Leitich Smith's comprehensive weekly Cynsational News and Giveaways, which rounds up all of the best news and promos all in one place. It's a weekly must-read.

Andrew Sullivan recently summarized two different anguished posts about the effect piracy is going to have one the future books. In order to enjoy my weekend I will stop thinking about piracy now. Okay now. Now.

Over at Bookpage comes word about Stephen King's new book UNDER THE DOME, a 1,136 page epic novel about a town that is suddenly surrounded by an invisible force field and things start to go crazy. Anyone who has spent a day in 100+ degree weather in New York City probably knows what this feels like.

The Guardian recently featured the opposite of the "end of publishing as we know it" article: the less common but still enjoyable "things have always been this crappy" take on the book business. And actually, they have the audacity to suggest that some things might be less crappy now than before.

Janet Reid ponders what I've been pondering, which is that we agent bloggers may have terrified the wrong group of writers. It's the age-old blogging agent conundrum: we want to reach the truly clueless, but the truly clueless don't read agent blogs. If an agent screams in a forest about rhetorical questions, does he make a sound?

Kristin Nelson has some really terrific advice if you're going to name-drop someone in a query: remind us who that person is. Our brains are full.

In agent pushback news, Jennifer Jackson took up one of my personal sticking points, and reminds authors to remember the difference between what is wanted and what is owed.

Via reader Tomas Mournian comes a really great post by author Joshua Mohr about his path to publication with big agents and a small press. He gets at some of the essential truths about the business: luck is huge, and rather than knowing everything, agents and editors are just making the best guesses they can.

Neil Vogler pointed me to an article in the Bookseller that provides the very interesting news that in 2008 the number of self-published books exceeded the number of traditionally published books for the first time. Wow.

And finally, I'm sure that I'm the absolute last person to know about this in the universe since even the New York Times wrote about it a couple years ago, but reader John Ochwat took pity on me and pointed me to the review page of a gallon of Tuscan Whole Milk, which has the best and most hilarious review thread on the Internet. Enjoy. If you haven't already.

Have a great (long) weekend!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Re: Re-querying Redux

This is something I have touched on in a previous post, but since it is among the most-asked topics of all, I thought I would revisit it and make it a bit more comprehensive. Here it is. Re: re-querying reimagined, revisited, renovated. Re.

When is it okay to re-query the same agent? When is okay to query someone else at the same agency?

Here's a (hopefully) comprehensive list of scenarios (and please bear in mind that these are just my opinions and others may feel differently):

If the agent passed on your query: Do not re-query with the same project, even if you've revised your query and/or manuscript. The agent has made their decision.

If the agent passed on your partial or full: If the agent specifically asked for revisions they are expecting they will hear from you again (and please check out this post for more about those expectations). If they didn't specifically ask for revisions, most agents will be open to hearing from you again about the same project if they provided specific advice and you took said advice. Whether they will ask to see the revised manuscript again is decided on a case by case basis. UPDATE: And as Jessica writes, definitely remind them that they had seen an earlier version.

Querying an agent who previously passed on your work with a new project: If the agent previously passed your query for a previous project, especially if it was a form rejection, I wouldn't mention the previous query. If the agent requested a partial or full but ultimately passed, definitely mention this to them when you query for your new project.

But whatever you do, wait three to six months after receiving a rejection from an agent before querying them with a new project. There's really nothing worse than passing on a project and then getting an immediate e-mail back about a different one. I just passed on one work, am I really going to be predisposed to saying yes to the one that comes five minutes later?

Querying different agents at the same agency with the same project: Do not query two agents at one agency simultaneously. If you receive a rejection from one agent, it is usually okay to query another agent at the same agency, but check their guidelines. If they don't specify otherwise you may query another agent after receiving a rejection from one, but wait at least three months. You never know if agents share assistants, and you don't want them to think you're papering the world with queries.

And whatever you do, do not e-mail an agent back and ask them to refer you to someone else or ask for query tips. If your query wasn't quite right for me but I can think of someone else, I'm going to refer your query anyway. And no agent I know has time for personalized query tips.

Hope this helps! Let me know if I missed anything in the comments section.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Who is Your Favorite Character of All Time?

It's a simple question that I'm finding nearly impossible to answer:

Who is your all-time favorite character in a novel?

Sherlock Holmes? Quentin Compson? Jay Gatsby? Zaphod Beeblebrox? Willy Wonka? Leopold Bloom? Ahab? The whale?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Getting Crazy With Fonts

And then it was 3:30. Apologies for the tardiness of today's post, I had a great time meeting with an editor this afternoon -- networking is easy in SF because everyone comes here on vacation!

Now then. I have already blogged about how I advise people to format their query, which can be summed in one word: don't.

Block paragraphs. Default fonts. Black. No fancy background. No animated gifs. No indentation. No centering. No bolding. No images. Just type your words, double space after paragraphs, and click send.

Don't even worry too much about how your sample pages are formatted: I understand that not all e-mail programs offer double-spacing, so just paste it in and send it however that works out.

I honestly don't know what's behind the wacky formatting craze, but it seems to be sweeping query nation. Please bear in mind that because e-mail programs vary, the wackier you get with your fonts and formatting, the less likely it's going to be readable when an agent receives it.

I just want to see your words. They don't need to be dressed up in fancy clothes.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Must. Drink. Coffee

Hello! I recently returned from the SCBWI Western Washington, which was a truly fabulous conference where I got to listen to incredible keynotes from such authors as Adam Rex, Grace Lin, Ellen Hopkins and Jon Scieszka (these people have turned the Power Point presentation into an elite art form), where I met with very talented and friendly editors and agents, and also got a chance to meet some blog readers in person (hello blog readers! Thank you for introducing yourself!).

I realized this morning on the bus that by Friday I will have worked 28 out of the last 31 days on account of going to conferences three out of the last four weekends, and thus whatever brain resources I have left at my disposal today are going straight to clients and work, where they are most needed. It's like mental triage.

So rather than risk giving you hallucinatory advice like "only query in iambic pentameter" and "the best synopses include every single character in your entire manuscript no matter how minor," I thought I'd turn it over to you for an open thread.

Open thread!

Friday, May 15, 2009

This Week in Publishing 5/15/09

This week in the publishing.

Not as many links this week! We can savor the few we have. Ahhh....

First off, there's an ongoing charity auction benefiting author Bridget Zinn, who at just 31 was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Please check that out and bid if you can.

In friend-of-the-blog news, a major congratulations is in order to Aprilynne Pike, whose debut novel, WINGS, landed at #6 on the NY Times bestseller list! Congratulations, Aprilynne!

And in other friend-of-the-blog news, have you ever wanted to see your name in the acknowledgments section of a book? Check out Anne & May's new contest, and you too could see your name in print.

The New York Times recently published and article about growing e-book piracy concerns in the new Kindle/Sony Reader era. Kassia Krozser at Booksquare was not impressed.

Meanwhile, the French unsurrendered their fight against Internet piracy and passed a law that cuts off Internet access to people who repeatedly pirate copyrighted material, and creates a government agnecy to enforce the rule. Tres interessant.

Sarah Palin got a book deal. No word on the advance, but I'm guessing it could buy a whole lot of moose meat.

My awesome client Jennifer Hubbard recently posited a really fascinating question about children's book writing. Click over to see what it is.

And finally, in case you need proof that I have strange interests, behold this engrossing video that models all of the world's plane flights in twenty four hours.

Have a great weekend! See some of you in Washington!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Interview With S.E. Hinton

I had the immense pleasure of meeting S.E. Hinton in Tulsa last month, and not only did I discover that she is a faithful lurker around these parts, she very graciously agreed to an interview. Her debut novel, THE OUTSIDERS, which she wrote when she was sixteen, revolutionized the children's book world upon its publication with its realism and immediacy, a stylistic shift that is still reverberating to this day. She is the author of six other much-beloved novels, a picture book, and her new linked story collection, SOME OF TIM'S STORIES, was recently released in paperback, so please check that out.

You grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and still call it home to this day. What does it mean to you as a place, and what it is it about Tulsa that keeps you there?

Well, Tulsa is home, I was born here, still have family here, have friends I go back forty years with here. It's a city that supports the arts, it's easy to get around, it's easy to work here. Tulsa gets the same Internet, same magazines, same cable as larger cities, we have a strong film community that brings us the best foreign and indie movies.

I like having a history with the place I live, seeing what is changing and what stays the same.

And the restaurants here are GREAT.

I would have to agree about Tulsan restaurants. “The Outsiders” is sometimes credited with creating and popularizing Young Adult fiction (YA) as a genre. Did you set out to write something new and different when you were writing? What was your mindset?

I guess in a way I did set out to write something new and different with The Outsiders, because I wanted to read something that dealt with teen life as I saw it. There wasn't anything realistic for teenagers to read back then; I was through with the horse books, not ready for a lot of adult books, couldn't stand the "Mary Sue Goes To the Prom" books, so one of the main reasons why I wrote it was to read it. Also, I loved to write, and had been writing since grade school, and I was angry about the social divisions in my very large high school (Will Rogers High).

Something I never knew about “The Outsiders” until we met is that even though you wrote it when you were only 16, it was actually your third novel. What did you learn about writing when you wrote those first two novels? What happened to them?

Like everyone else, I learned from my mistakes. I think every book is practice for the next one. At that time I still needed a lot of practice so I wisely never tried to publish them.

“The Outsiders,” “Rumble Fish,” “Tex,” and “That Was Then… This Is Now” have all been made into movies. What is it like seeing actors play the part of characters you created and having someone else’s vision shaping what the audience sees? Was it tough letting go of the control over your stories or did you enjoy it?

I was lucky enough to be very involved in three of my movie adaptions, Tex, The Outsiders and Rumble Fish. Tim Hunter and Francis Coppola made me welcome on the set--I was there every day--and I got to be in on many aspects of film making. It's a community way of story telling, and I loved it. Luckily, too, the directors' vision was close to my own. As a rash generalization, I like actors. They think and talk about things writers do. I was very close to the Tex and Outsiders cast, (my horse played Tex's horse, and he was a star) they were great actors and good kids.

I would love to work on a movie again. Working with the right people feeds your own energy and imagination.

In recent years you have moved from writing for children to the more adult novel, HAWKE’S HARBOR, and the new collection SOME OF TIM’S STORIES. What prompted this shift, and did you have to adjust as a writer as you moved into new territory?

I just wanted to do something different. HAWKE'S HARBOR seems different from my usual writing, an adventure and horror story, but basically it is about relationships like all my other stuff. I let myself go with that one, all over the globe, and all over the map, sometimes humor and tragedy on one page.

After that one, I went to the strict discipline of the Tim Stories, settling into one voice, allowing only a thousand words a story. I just like to shake things up sometimes. Some Of Tim's Stories is the best writing I've done yet. I'm not going to equal that for a while, so I am working on something very frivolous right now.

You were represented for many years by Marilyn Marlow, a groundbreaking Curtis Brown children’s book agent who passed away in 2003. What was it like working with her, and what was your relationship like?

Marilyn was the first "professional" to read The Outsiders. I still have her first letter to me, saying she thought I had "captured a certain spirit" and would try to find a home for it. My age and inexperience did not seem to matter (although I am sure my spelling horrified her). She sold it to the second publisher who saw it, and I remained with her until her death.

Marilyn looked out for me. She was there to meet the plane when my fifteen year old sister and I (eighteen) came to New York for the first time. I think in a lot of ways, she always thought of me as a child needing protection, she certainly was the last person to think that way, and I loved it. I had to look out for myself and other people at an early age, so it was a great relief that I had Marilyn to deal with the business side of things, who was a tough lady (and I emphasis "Lady" because she always conducted herself as such) and a very thorough agent. Nothing got by her.

But Marilyn was also a personal friend, always concerned about every aspect of my life. I miss her very much.

What is your writing process? Do you get it on the page and revise later? Outline? Plan ahead? Let the writing go where it goes?

I think I've tried every writing process there is, trying to find an easy way to write a novel. If I do find it, I'll publish it and retire. Sometimes I revise as I go. Once I used an outline. One time I thought in terms of movies and wrote scenes out of order, as they occurred to me, and stitched them together later. I wrote That Was Then, This Is Now, two pages a day and did almost no revision. I originally wrote Rumble Fish as a short story, did the novel, and threw that one away because it was too easy, and wrote it again with Rusty James as the narrator, which was not easy at all. The Outsiders was forty pages long, single-spaced, typed, in its first draft. The third draft was the one Marilyn saw. The only thing I am sure of in my "process" is that it involves a lot of staring out the window.

You have a reputation for avoiding the spotlight, which in these media-centric days is something of a rarity. Do you find it difficult to maintain a private life in today’s Internet-driven world?

Nope, not really. Just say no to most interviews. I'm not living in seclusion here. Anybody who wants a look at me can go to the Reasoner's grocery store, it seems like I'm there every day. I've been happily married for thirty-eight years, I ride my horses, read books, swim in my pool, not a lot of headlines here.

Sometimes I get recognized, usually if I'm running into a drug store, with no makeup, unwashed hair and desperate for personal items, but it's not a problem.

How interesting can a person be who spends a lot of her working hours staring out a window?

What advice do you have for writers who are just starting out?

Write for yourself first. Don't study the market, it will change before you can get a book done. The writing is the thing to concentrate on. If you don't want to read it, nobody will. Then read Nathan's blog and figure out how to get an agent. Actually, my teenage cousin wrote a book, studied Writer's Market for advice, and received some favorable responses (as well as rejections) from a few publishers, and used them to get an agent. She now has several YA books published and is writing more.

God sent me Marilyn, I can't really advise writers to wait around for that to happen.

Of course, when it did happen, I had my book ready.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What Is On Your "To Be Read" List?

If you're anything like me you have a "want to read" list that is longer than an encyclopedia (ha - remember those?).

Right now I'm reading the fabulous BLUE BOY by Rakesh Satyal, and I'm dying to read LOVE WILL TEAR US APART by Sarah Rainone and THE RUINS OF GORLAN (RANGER'S APPRENTICE #1) by John Flanagan and COLUMBINE by Dave Cullen and THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann and SINGER by Ira Sher and SUNNYSIDE by Glen David Gold and and and and (you can see where I'm going with this)........

What about you? What's on your shelf?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

How Would I Know What I Like Until I've Read It?

Very closely related to the hoop jumping complaint about the query process is the lament that agents often have vague guidelines about what they're looking for. Thus, an author may have to waste time querying agents who may not be a proper fit because they inadvertently send something that just happened to not be up that particular agent's alley.

Well... yeah.

Let me first say that some agents are wonderfully specific about what they're looking for. They can tell you their preferences right down to the general plot points.

I am not this way. I never know what I'm going to like until I've seen it, and thus, am open to queries for pretty much anything.

But let's set that aside for a moment and pretend that I am obsessively following Publishers Marketplace and looking at what is selling and could tell you precisely what I wanted to acquire, down to the genre and spirit of the book. Let's say you write that book in six months. Let's say it takes a couple of months to sell. Let's then say it takes a year to come out (because it will). That's still a minimum of a year and a half from idea to publication.

Who in the heck knows what's going to be popular a year and a half from now?? We could all be wearing levitating hats by then. (See my other trend watching admonition here).

Trying to time the market based on what's hot right now is kind of like trying to drive down a highway while looking through a rearview mirror. By the time you see something it's already too late.

If you're even going to try and time the market the only thing you can do is lick your finger and hold it up in the air to see which way the cultural winds are blowing. Think a couple of moves ahead, and take your best guess about where the world will be in a couple of years. Or crash land yourself on the island on Lost. Either way.

And, again hypothetically, let's say I could spell out precisely what I wanted, right down to the shade of your protagonist's eyes. Is this really a world you'd want to write in? Even if I were more specific in genre and plot terms, wouldn't you rather write in a publishing world where we're not dictating to you that you should write what everyone else is writing?

Admittedly, there are times when a story misses the cultural mark by just a couple of years, and stories that might have worked in 2005 don't work in 2009. The culture is always shifting.

But the great stories are not timely: they're timeless.

I can't tell you what to write, and I can't tell you in advance what I'm going to like. Just pour your heart into telling a great story that you want to tell, and let the gods of culture and publishing take care of the rest. I just want to represent great stories that the author is passionate about. Isn't that the way it should be?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Hoops vs. Hints

Some of you may have noticed while perusing agent blogs that there are quite a lot of "rules" about the querying process. You know: not too long, not too short, novels need to be finished, and some wacky agents out there even loathe rhetorical questions.

Some of the more jaded writers among us have taken this as evidence that we agents delight in making the unpublished jump through hoops. Every new "don't do this" blog post, in this view, becomes one more thing a poor author has to remember, and given the number of opinions out there, it's impossible to keep every single rule straight.

And you know what? They have a point.

While we agents are not diabolical sadists (most of us anyway), there is a truth at the heart of these complaints: there are hoops that you will be made to jump through along the way to publication, not all of which will make perfect sense, and some of which are based strictly on individual agents' preferences.

I think what really rankles some authors is that it's time-consuming to keep up with all the rules, and they begin to feel like they're made to run around in circles trying to get everything right, while at the end of the day the agents may not even respond. I understand this feeling, and I'm very cognizant that this is part of the power imbalance between agents and the unpublished, which itself is a source of a lot of the angst of the query process. I understand how incredibly frustrating it is to spend hours personalizing a query only to receive a rejection five minutes later or even not hear back at all.

So let me say: I hear you.

But might I suggest a new way of looking at this?

The fact is, you don't have to follow any of the "rules." Where's the law that says you have to follow someone's guidelines? What's stopping you from writing a hand written query on pink paper that you dashed off in two seconds? You won't get arrested! (At least not until I'm sheriff).

I use the extreme example to illustrate a single point: these query rules we blogging agents blog about? They're not about making you jump through hoops or because we hate pink paper or because we're meanies. We're just trying to help you improve your odds.

Let's take one particular element of the query process that particularly seems to get under some people's skins: personalization.

Many writers associate personalizing a query with kissing up. This is not the case! I get queries that are personalized along the lines of, "I read your blog and I kind of think it sucks, but here's my query anyway." And you know what? I don't stop reading.

But here's the reason why personalization works so well: there's a correlation between personalization and the quality of the query.

The type of person who researches the proper way of writing a query, who personalizes, who follows the "rules," who goes the extra mile and takes the time and who somehow avoid getting all freaked out about the way their pride is being vanquished by jumping through a few hoops: these are the people who tend to go the extra mile when they're writing their manuscript. They're the ones who tend to listen to critiques, who don't suffer from excessive pride, and who understand that this is a business where it pays to be professional.

In other words, the type of people who personalize their queries are the type of people we want to work with. This isn't always the case, obviously, and there are non-personalizers who are incredibly professional and personalizers who aren't professional. But there's a fairly strong correlation. So I pay extra attention when someone personalizes and urge everyone to do so on my blog.

These "hoops" you're seeing are merely hints. We're just trying to tell you what the good queries look like and what we respond to positively so that you can imitate them and conduct yourself professionally. You don't have to follow the rules! But this is a business where the odds are long, and it pays to make them as good as possible. Even if it means jumping through some hoops.

Friday, May 8, 2009

This Week in Publishing 5/8/09

This week! Publishing! Busy day!

Time is money, and I'm time poor. Here is this week in publishing, brevity style.

Bigger Kindle!

Marc Fitten: 100 Indie Bookstores in a single tour! Also among Marc's abilities: leaping tall buildings in several bounds, being an extremely cool guy, and keeping me up until 3 in the morning at a writer's conference with loud conversation outside my window (true story - I've almost forgiven him too). His debut novel: VALERIA'S LAST STAND

Kassia Krozser: So publishers, what's the Google Book Search Plan B? Um, you have one, right?

Farhad Manjoo: Google Book Search could be kind of great. Or also kind of not.

Moonrat, in response to #1 most asked question: here's what's safe to post of your work online.

Cormac McCarthy: another award, of course!

What Jessica said.

And finally, John Ochwat: Here be some great book videos.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Brenda Novak's Auction for Diabetes Research

Brenda Novak's annual auction for diabetes research is underway, and there is an incredible and vast array of goodies up for auction: everything from an African Safari to lunch with bestselling author Barry Eisler to OMG you guys a guitar autographed by the Jo Bros.

Oh! And lest we forget: you can bid for a partial manuscript critique from yours truly, and I'll get back to you within a week. It says the first three chapters, but I'm willing to go up 50 pages if your chapters are short.

Since so many of us have loved ones who have diabetes, this is a wonderful opportunity. I know these are tough times, but if you can spare it, it's a really good cause.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Should Publishers Publish Works Posthumously Against the (Deceased) Author's Wishes?

A few weeks back reader Neil Vogler pointed me to an article in the Guardian that addresses an interesting question about authorship, intent, and propriety.

Recently, several different posthumous book projects have been announced, some even that are against the deceased author's wishes.

How do we feel about this? Should an author be able to dictate what works are and aren't published, even after death? Should we abide by their decisions? Or does the public deserve to have a full airing of an author's work?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writing as an Identity

One of the more unique aspects of writing is the way people associate themselves and their identities with their words on the page. People don't just spend time in the evening reflecting on the capricious vicissitudes of life and/or zombie killers from another planet. It somehow becomes more than that.

You can see this in the way people talk about writing: some people compare it to oxygen, i.e. something that they can't live without. They don't say, "I like to write, it's fun, I enjoy it." They say, unequivocally, "I am a writer. It's who I am."

I'm going to be honest here and say that while I don't judge people when they define themselves as writer, whatever their publication status, I find it a little unsettling when they make it an overly intrinsic part of their identity.

First of all, people just don't tend to define themselves by what they do in their spare time. You don't hear anyone shout to the rafters, "I AM STAMP COLLECTOR!" or "I AM A CONNOISSEUR OF REALITY TELEVISION!"

To be sure, there's something about writing that's a little different (to say the least) from stamp collecting. It's more personal, even when it's not a memoir or something that relates directly to someone's real life. Putting thoughts on the page, any thoughts, means taking one's inner life and putting it all out there for the world to see. Normally we're at great pains to keep our emotions hidden, whether that's concealing anger or love or nervousness. Writers do the opposite: they take their innermost thoughts and show them to the world. And there's something scary/thrilling about externalizing what is normally kept hidden.

But an identity?

Here's where that becomes problematic. Once someone makes the leap from writing as a fun, intense pursuit to something wrapped up in identity, it's a dangerous road to be walking on. As we all know, the path to material success in the writing world is ridden with obstacles and rejections. And when people begin to wrap up their identity with the publication process, the rejections become personal, and a judgment on a book becomes intertwined, in the writer's eye, with a judgment of self.

Sure, there's something unique and personal about writing, which is what so many people love about it. But I don't think the ideal is pursuing it in an all-consuming Randy "The Ram" fashion. The moment the writing or the publishing process becomes the defining part of someone's identity, when it becomes oxygen, that's a time when the writer is risking having that oxygen choked off by forces completely outside of their control.

I hear from these people all the time. They're the ones who start spamming agents, who write me angry e-mails, and who go on tirades about the publishing process. They've stopped enjoying the writing process, and because writing is so wrapped up in their self-conception, they can't bear the pain of rejection and instead look outward for blame.

What do you think? Is it realistic to think that something so time-intensive and personal can be placed in a more hermetically sealed mental box? Is there even an ideal approach?

UPDATE: I scrubbed this post of the word "hobby" because I think it was distracting from the intent of the post. For the record: I don't think a creative pursuit is the same thing as a hobby, I don't prejudge people who call themselves writers, and as I hope is already abundantly apparent, I admire anyone and everyone who takes the time to put word to page. I only meant "hobby" as in something that one does that is not one's career, not as something trivial.

As I mentioned in the comments section, this post could have been summed up: "Don't let the publishing process define you." But I didn't have time today for such a short post.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dropped Articles

Am blogging to show what it's like when writers drop articles and pronouns like "I" and "the" and "a." Happens lots in queries. Seems they don't have time to write a proper one. Maybe going for familiarity or possibly typed letter in five seconds. Don't know why so common. Even if novel is breezy, still means author can write proper query without imitating telegrams.

Excess informality. Dangerous in business letter. Killer of queries.

Friday, May 1, 2009

This Week in Publishing 5/1/09

Lots and lots (and lots) of links today. There is so much "future of publishing news" this week my head is spinning. Let's get to it!

First up, those of you who have e-Readers may have wondered on occasion why there are lots of books missing from the e-libraries. Well, AP reporter Hillel Italie wrote a recent article assessing some of the reasons, which include skepticism about the whole e-book thing and a strong disagreement over royalties. You might see the CEO of a certain agency interviewed in the article. A certain agency that likes the color orange. Okay, it's Curtis Brown.

Speaking of e-Readers, via HarperStudio (love those guys) comes a blog post at the NY Times about the effect e-Readers are going to have on books, including making them easier to buy (and stop reading), a great jockeying for search engine optimization, and the possible return of the cliffhanger as a way to entice buying. I love the idea of cliffhangers making it

Speaking of the New York Times and e-Readers, they have a separate article, crucially, about the Kindle's effect on literary snobbery. In other words, who is going to try and impress everyone on the subway by reading ULYSSES when no one can see what they're reading? It's the end of literature as we know it, people.

And now for the corporate side of the future of publishing, some big news afoot as Barnes & Noble launched an mp3 audio book store, and Amazon acquired the company that makes the iPhone e-Reader app Stanza, possibly in anticipation of an Apple/Verizon tablet-sized device that could be a serious game-changer in the e-book world.

And lastly in future of publishing news, my awesome colleague Katie Arathoon passed along two articles, one about the launch of the Espresso in England, a machine that can print and bind a (warm) book in five minutes, and which is probably the future of many paper books as it will allow even the smallest of bookstores to offer the same level of selection as online booksellers.

The second article is about a partnership between hip-hop group De La Soul and Nike (yes, the shoemakers), a sponsorship relationship that could perhaps be a model for authors of the future.

Whew. Things are changing quickly around here.

In agency news, William Morris and Endeavor got married, and I'm told they registered at Bloomingdales. I already got them a rice cooker, so don't even think about it.

Agent Rachelle Gardner (who I had the pleasure of meeting in Colorado Springs) has an awesome post this week compiling some of the horrible Amazon reviews some beloved books received. If you need a pick-me-up (or laugh) after receiving a rejection, check it out.

And speaking of pitch sessions, Janet Reid has a sure-fire guide to bombing one.

Whew. That's a lot of links. AND THERE'S MORE.

In news that surprises absolutely no one, Susan Boyle is shopping a book.

Slate's site The Big Money discovered that there may be some moms out there who are obsessed with TWILIGHT.

Over at Murderati, Allison Brennan has another terrific post on Agent for a Day, musing about whether marketability is more important than story. It's a terrific defense of the importance of story.

Almost finally, via PublicAffairs Editor Niki Papadopolous comes word of a cool project by Perseus. They're going to be compiling a book based on user entries and then publishing it in as many formats as possible in 48 hours at BEA. All you have to do is submit your first line to the sequel of a great book.

And finally, finally, via the Huffington Post comes an amazing video of a dancing parrot, which scientists are using to prove that not only do some animals actually have rhythm, they have horrible taste in music, too:

Someone get that parrot a book deal.

Have a great weekend!

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