Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The emotional life of a character

by Stacey

With a strong interest in psychology combined with a more obvious interest in books, I thought there were some interesting pearls of advice in this piece. It suggests using a well-known psychological concept, "The Five Stages of Grief", to create a character's response to anything they might be going through in a meaningful, believable way. He coins the stages for the purposes of character development "The Five Stages of Misfortune", a clever way of spinning this to apply to fiction. I read so many submissions where I find the characters don't handle their emotional life in a satisfying or realistic way, and it definitely impacts the overall success of a story. Like Jason Black, I'm not convinced that each of these stages of misfortune needs to be followed in every case, since not all misfortunes are created equal and you don't want an overly dramatic reaction to a relatively minor problem, as his example of stubbing a toe illustrates. But I do think it's important to keep reminding yourself as you are writing that all your characters need to be fleshed out in big and small ways depending on what they are going through in their emotional life. Using these guidelines as a reference is a good tool for that.

If Margaret Atwood can do it...

by Miriam

One of the more frustrating things about our work these days is trying to convince certain authors of the need for establishing a presence on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Some of them claim that they can’t possibly do this, as it would prevent them from meeting their deadlines. Some tell us they’re too old to learn new tricks and they’d rather leave that newfangled stuff to the kids…who don’t read anyway. Others get on a very high horse and lecture us about the death of culture these sites represent and chasten us for asking them to prostitute themselves.

Then, there are those adventurous souls who are game to try anything that will broaden their readership, allow them to connect to their fans, and sell books! So, it was with great delight that I read this piece by Margaret Atwood--whose literary bona fides are hard to challenge and who could comfortably rest on her mountain of laurels at this stage of her career--about the pleasures of tweeting.

What it boils down to is “communication,” isn’t it?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Using what's out there

by Lauren

Have you ever discovered that the exact information you were looking for was readily available online, but not found it until months after you first decided it would be of use? It just happened to me this morning, and it’s a reminder that no matter how hard you search, there’s still a lot out there that you might be missing. While Googling can get you far in life (and I firmly believe everyone should cultivate reasonably good search skills for their personal and professional benefit), sometimes the greatest sites are ones you’d never know to look for. It can be really helpful to know what sites others with similar interests and needs find handy.

Certainly, all authors should be sure to check out the website of the Authors Guild. Some of their resources are only for members (authors with publishing contracts should think about joining), but others, like the information on the Google settlement, are freely available. For anyone interested in the possibilities that the world of social media has to offer (and frankly, you should all be, because it’s not only personally fun and useful, it’s critical to a successful career in publishing these days!), Mashable is one of the best sites out there, including how-to guides both basic and advanced to get you started and then help you take it to the next level. If, like me, you’re a grammar nerd (or simply need the help), check out the Chicago Manual of Style’s free monthly Q&A. There’s also the option to subscribe to the manual itself online, though I’m personally partial to the hard copy on my desk with post-its flagging the issues for which I’m most likely to need reminders.

Which sites do all of you find useful? We find the blogs in our blogroll (take a look to the right!) to be pretty informative, but I think the best resources for authors, both published and aspiring, are probably those their fellow authors are already using. So share below your favorite resources for authors and publishing professionals! I’ll definitely be looking to add to my list.

Does Random House know something we don't?

by Michael

April 3 is right around the corner! For those of you who don’t pay attention to, well, any form of media, that’s the day that Apple’s iPad finally hits the stores. And, being the nerd that I am, I have to say I’m pretty excited. I love product launches, and Apple does them like no other. (I was very disappointed by the lack of excitement surrounding the launch of the Palm Pre when I went to purchase it on day one last year, but I digress.) I think our readers know how this relates to books, but in case you don’t, Apple is launching their iBookstore that day, as well. They’ll be offering books from all the major publishers, with one huge exception: Random House. When Steve Jobs announced the iPad back in January, he said that 5 of the 6 biggest publishers were onboard for the iBookstore. The absence of Random House was conspicuous, but they released a statement afterwards saying that they were working on an agreement with Apple. I’d assumed there’d be one in place by this point, but it looks like the iBookstore could very well launch without the largest trade publisher on board, as reported by the Financial Times. Honestly, I was really surprised. Until last week.

That’s when this article popped up on an iPhone fansite. It purported to show the working iBookstore, along with the prices. And the price for 27 of the 32 listed bestsellers that day? $9.99. The same price that publishers have been fighting against in the Kindle bookstore. I was thrown for a loop. The reasoning behind the to switch to the agency model was to take control of pricing and get rid of the expectation that ebooks cost $9.99. But here we were at that price again. Then, only two days later, a new screenshot showing most (but not all) of the bestsellers at $12.99. Color me confused. This pricing kerfuffle brought to mind this New York Times piece about publisher agreements with Apple. The piece suggests that Apple wanted the flexibility to drop prices for hot books that would be majorly discounted in print. As of today, it’s not at all clear what iBookstore pricing will be on April 3.

Thinking about the possibility of an ebook sold at $9.99 is troubling. In the agency model, retailers act as an “agent,” selling books at prices determined by publishers and collecting a percentage of each sale (30% in most cases). Authors are generally being offered a percentage of the net income from these sales—publishers are pushing for this to be 25%, so we’ll roll with that number for the purposes of this argument. In the agency model, with a book priced at $9.99, authors will earn $2.50 per book or less. Compared to the $3.75 they currently earn on a $25 hardcover (15% of list price), this is a dramatic reduction. Comparing this amount to what authors would earn under the current ebook market conditions is nearly as depressing. In the current sales scheme (the consignment model), a retailer is buying the book for about a 50% discount, then selling it at whatever price they like. Assuming the same $25 price list price for the ebook (which is pretty standard) and same 25% royalty for electronic books, the author receives a royalty of $3.13. (The question of why they would receive less than they do on the hardcover in this situation could be a blog post in itself.) If ebooks eventually make up 50% of the market (a number I believe is possible), that royalty arrangement will radically alter author compensation. That, obviously, concerns me. I’d really like to hear more directly and transparently from publishers on this issue. What effect will these arrangements with Apple and Amazon have on authors? It seems, from the Financial Times piece, that Random House may soon be having these conversations. But what about the other 5? Is it wrong of me to expect a little more openness? This makes me all the more impressed with John Sargent at Macmillan and his willingness to blog about their plans, admitting what they do and don’t know.

So, is there something in the Apple agreement that we don’t know about that Random House does? Or is it just, as Mike Shatzkin thinks, that Random House is trying to maximize their profits in the short term with the idea that they can jump on the bandwagon if the iBookstore takes off? We’re going to learn a lot more about all of this in the coming days.

On April 3, I’ll be picking up an iPad for myself (no willpower!), downloading the iBookstore, and most definitely tweeting about the experience. If I have important publishing observations, I’ll post them here, too. Looking forward to hearing what you all think about this.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Jim will tell you what to read

by Jim

A few days back, John Warner, one of the commentators for The Tournament of Books, offered up a service. If you listed the last five books you had read, he would tell you what you should read next.

It sprang from a discussion about how we decide to choose what we read when we each know darn well that we’ll never get through every book out there. So a lot of folks stick with what they expect to like and might miss out on some great reads.

Unable to turn down something like this, I listed the last five books I had read (that weren’t work related). Warner suggested I read Await Your Reply by Dan Chaon. I groaned a bit since I had read a collection of Chaon’s short stories a few years back and was underwhelmed. I wouldn’t have picked his new novel up on my own without the recommendation, but I grabbed it that night and finished it this weekend. It’s a literary whodunit that is enervating and upsetting, beautiful and bleak. I loved it.

All of this said, the Tournament of Books commentators and readers seem to have a distinct literary fiction bias. The proportion of readers who included Sam Lipsyte’s The Ask in their past five was very telling (which is not an insult—it was in mine!). Knowing that we have readers who write across genres and for very different target audiences, I’d love to try to recreate Warner’s experiment here and see what the results are. What I’ll try to do (and I have no idea how this will work in practice) is recommend a little outside the box. Maybe an adult novel to someone whose last five reads were YA. Or a thriller to someone who skews more romantic. Or maybe there’s another book just like the ones you list that I’ll think you absolutely have to read. I will try to recommend only books that I have read but may have to turn it over to colleagues or our readers if I feel stumped. So let’s see if this works: just promise that you’ll let me know if and when you actually read the book—y’all can find my email address!

Update: A little confusion--sorry for my lack of clarity! Post the titles in the comments, and I'll give the recommendation there. You should email me if you read the book and/or want to chat about my choice!

Why do you need an agent?

by Jane

So back to that age-old question again, and an experience I had last week that provides the response.

I received a call from a man who had already sold his book to a publisher (he had not submitted it to multiple publishers, and so really had no idea what it was worth) for a modest sum and had located and “hired” a movie agent through the internet. He had found an attorney (I am not sure how) who had “reviewed” his contract for him.

When he called me, he wasn’t sure why--he had just been told by his editor and publisher that he should have an agent.

I agreed that I would be interested in helping him, and he instructed his attorney to send me a copy of the contract and to talk with the movie agent to tell him that I would be on board.

But then I looked at the contract and I was stunned. There was a huge problem on the very first page; knowing that we didn’t have a signed agency agreement, I didn’t read further but I am absolutely certain that there are other major problems in that contract that will lead to problems down the road.

Ultimately, this writer told me that he had decided not to use an agent, after all. He thought there was no need as the publishing contract was already signed. I wished him well, but thought to myself that he had made a very big mistake at the beginning and hoped that he doesn’t rue the day he made this decision and that the movie agent is successful in helping the book become a film.

Vetting contracts, of course, is not all we agents do. And, as you’ve gathered from our posts on this blog, the sale of a book is just the beginning of our work with our clients. But, this is a good example of why it’s important to have an agent in your corner.

I am curious what you think about this experience and look forward to hearing.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Literary Elite vs. Literary Underclass

by Rachel

Robert McCrum’s article in the Guardian is probably one of the most interesting reads I’ve had in a while concerning literature with the ranking of class.  McCrum gives us a rundown of who he believes sits at the top and who’s at the bottom of the heap in literary society.

At the top of the British ladder, McCrum – with the help of a recent Ian Rankin interview, places the poets. “To be a poet,” he says, “is to be a member of an elite.”  Next come the playwrights. Third down the line are the literary novelists, which McCrum points out are “rather middle-class types who spring from bourgeois society in all its complexity.” Crime authors, thriller writers and spy novelists are then all grouped together, followed by – clumsily put – the literary underclass: the writers of celebrity biographies. The writers of children’s books are given a slight mention at the end – some are on the “right side of the tracks”, and others are too rich and famous to care.

Do you think authors of different genres earn more praise or respect than others because of their “class”? And, while the article gave insight on literary class in Britain, do you think there’s a cultural difference when it comes to literary rankings?

Entering the publishing world

by Lauren

Are you new to the whole publishing thing? Maybe you’ve just finished your first ever masterpiece (and by finished, I mean edited, polished, had readers give you feedback, etc.) and are ready to look for an agent. Maybe this is even the first place you wound up after googling—in which case, welcome to publishing, my friend! You’re going to love it here (also sometimes hate it, but mostly, we hope, love it). There’s a lot of great advice here, if we do say so ourselves. But much of it is detailed and narrowly focused, and maybe you need a quick overview. If so, Eric over at Pimp My Novel has a very brief tutorial that’ll help you figure out where to begin—and give you a sense of what questions you need to be asking. My only caveat is that the year he mentions between acquisition and publication is more likely to be two years for non-fiction—or fiction that is sold on a partial or needs a lot of editorial work before acceptance.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


by Jessica

I was chatting with some colleagues about assorted misconceptions about publishing, and I thought I’d pass along three.

1) In the name of writing an arresting, throw-down-the-gauntlet type of query, insult the agent to whom you are writing. Every so often I get a query that dares me to look past my own evident myopia/mediocrity/corporate co-option and read a project so mind-blowing that it will challenge everything I presume to know. Although it’s true I am near sighted (and entirely open to earth-shattering literary experience), I’m always a little astonished that anyone imagines contempt might be an effective conversation starter. I do wonder whether the writer in question started out composing less strident letters, and has simply grown bitter over time. If so, I get it. Rejection is excruciating, and who wouldn’t love to craft some cutting cri de couer? Satisfying? Certainly. Self-sabotaging? Probably. Calling an agent a tool seems a poor way of hiring one, but perhaps even Pyrrhic victory can be sweet.

2) I often hear it bandied about that it is harder to get an agent than a publisher. Comforting as this may seem, I feel fairly certain it’s not true. To find representation, you must convince only one person that your story is well-crafted, saleable, and worthwhile. To get a book into print, you generally need to convince a battery of people with disparate tastes and interests, a long, highly particular history of success and failure selling books, and improbably high sales targets that your work is worthy and commercially viable. Most slots on a given list are carefully guarded, and awarded to people who can play some active role in rounding up readers. In the case of business books, an “active role” might take the form of a “buy-back” in which a company or foundation commits in advance of publication to buy ten or fifteen thousand copies. Quite a deal sweetener, also something like the publishing equivalent of Stone Soup. The house brings the stone, but the author brings all the other ingredients, including a baseline of sales. Getting an agent means recruiting a single (albeit tenacious) ally; getting a contract means winning over a whole team.

3) Once you have a publisher, your book will be available in bookstores throughout the country. Not always the case. Publishing houses, even those with great distribution, are not solely responsible for the number of copies shipped. They may announce an ambitious first printing, but the bookseller accounts have a say in how many copies they will take, how many stores will stock it, and for how long.

Any misconceptions that you have encountered/discovered? I’m happy to add to the list.

Industry insight—all the way from Ireland!

by Michael

So Lauren isn’t the only one who can blog about the Irish! One of the publishing folk I follow on Twitter is Eoin Purcell, a publishing analyst and editor of Irish Publishing News. Over on his Green Lamp Media blog, he’s currently running a feature about “Things Publishers Fear.” So far the list is Amazon, Google, Apple and Price. I don’t agree with everything he says, but for those interested in the future of the business, the series is worth checking out.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Creative ways to get published

by Stacey

I saw this piece about a writer who found a fairly unconventional way to get published after trying the traditional way unsuccessfully (rejections from several dozen agents!). To me this is an example of how many resources there are to get your work noticed, and to connect with others in your community. It's inspiring to see that there are success stories like this out there, and that they are happening to writers who are motivated, focused, and creative in finding the right outlet for them. I hope some of you will have or have already had similar success stories, and will share them with us and our faithful readers.

Thrills and thrillers

by Miriam

I struggled to get past the first 50 or so pages of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, thinking, as I dutifully turned the pages, “this is boring and the writing (or translation) is flat.” I’m almost embarrassed to admit this because it seems that everyone I know has been urging me to read this book (people speak of it with the kind of reverence I usually reserve for the likes of Ian McEwan and Toni Morrison) for months. I’m about 150 pages in now and I’m definitely more engaged, but I’m frankly (don’t yell at me) still at a loss as to why this book has been such a huge global success.

And that leads to the subject of Alexander Nazaryan’s piece in the Daily Beast about the decline of the American thriller now that the category has been hijacked by foreigners. Mr. Nazaryan wonders, “Will the American thriller go the way of the American automobile? Will even this small part of our superiority cede to another part of the world?” My response is “Does it matter?”

In fact, it seems to me that anything that revives this rather tired category is a good thing. The problem, as I see it, is not that the foreigners are taking over, it’s that readers have become so used to the big, bloated franchise writers who dominate the bestseller lists (I’m looking at you Dan Brown and James Patterson) and publishers so unwilling to nurture the more daring and intriguing entries into the field that it takes an international Cinderella story to make American readers pay attention once again.

I’m a big fan of intelligent, well-written, well-plotted thrillers with iconic protagonists and thorny moral issues. And it’s always seemed to me that, like jazz, the thriller is a quintessentially American literary form (no disrespect to Dostoevsky and Hugo). Like all things American, however, in order for this genre to evolve and prosper, it needs to allow and be allowed new influences and styles.

What are your favorite contemporary American thrillers?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Checking in

by Lauren

So how's it going DGLM blog readers? We wanted to take the opportunity now that we’ve had time to settle in to find out how you feel about the changes we made here.

We've all been thrilled with the feedback we're getting and how active you guys are. Finding time to work on this without taking time away from our clients has been a challenge--I'm writing this on the subway en route to the office, for example--but we're having fun being part of the discussion with you.

So how do you feel about the redesign? We're blogging much more than we used to, but are there areas we're still not covering (or covering enough) that you'd like us to consider? What are you liking most? Least? The title contest and Slush Week were both a lot of fun for us, and we'd love to do more contests and series--what do you think? Is there a helpful button or widget you wish you could find in our sidebar? We've gotten great suggestions from you guys, like Slush Week and the I Wish I Saw More... sidebar, so please keep 'em coming. (In the comments below, but also in the comments at any time! We're always interested to hear what you think.)

You can see the blogs that we're reading to the right--we'd love more suggestions! In particular, I'd love to read a blog by someone who works in sub rights. Anyone know of one?

Speaking of which, who are you? Unpublished authors, published authors, editors, agents, publishing professionals, tax attorneys who simply love our sparkling wit? Let us know below, anonymously or otherwise.

Some housekeeping as well. We stopped doing questions corner because we weren't really getting many questions emailed, but we're reading the questions you ask in the comments and try to cover the bigger ones in separate blog posts. If you're missing that feature, try clicking the advice tag in the cloud at bottom.

Speaking of the tag cloud, I may have gotten a little overambitious early on with the tagging and created a ton of tags that aren't very useful, so I'll be cleaning that up a bit.

And for our fellow Blogger bloggers, are there any handy widgets or tricks we should know about? You guys were very helpful in resolving our color issues some time back. If anyone has any tips on embedding video in particular, that'd be great. We've had sizing issues, fought with the HTML forever, and then given up when it was still not quite right.

Most of all, thanks to everyone reading! Thanks to the linkers and retweeters and Facebook sharers who've helped us find others. Thanks for actively participating in the discussions, letting us know what you think, and helping us improve. Thanks also to those of you who read but don't comment--we hope to hear from you, too! It's a genuine pleasure talking with all of you.

And now the train's pulling into 14th Street, so it's time for me to go!

Spring cleaning

by Chasya

It’s time to take out the trash--literally. As the birds come out to sing and the bitter cold edge of winter fades into a distantly unpleasant memory, I’ve been spending the weekends wrapped up in a yearly ritual that’s both exhausting and fulfilling--the purging and cleansing of my apartment.

That’s not the only thing I suspect being cleaned up, and on this helpful page run by a group of romance writers, Sylvia Rochester offers some good starter tips on polishing up your manuscript. Anyone else have some great tips to share?

Let the spring cleaning begin!

Monday, March 22, 2010

The submission process

by Jane

In the comments last week, Joan Swan asked us to review how submissions are done. I raised my hand to offer this explanation:

I submit proposals and manuscripts on a multiple basis nearly all the time. While the proposal or the manuscript is being completed, I am talking about the project with various editors who I think might be interested. If they are, I add their names to a submission list, and when we deem the proposal or manuscript ready to submit, I set a date and tell the author when I am planning to send it out.

All of our proposals and manuscripts are now being submitted electronically as opposed to only a short while ago when they were sent in the mail. We find this is far more efficient and it has helped us streamline the process. With nonfiction proposals, we generally go to at least 20 publishers at a time. With fiction, we submit to 5 or 10. On the day of the submission, I sometimes call editors to say the material is coming to give them a heads up--editors receive so much material from agents and authors, I don’t want our submissions to get “lost” in a crowded inbox.

With nonfiction I usually begin following up, if I haven’t heard back from editors, about a week to 10 days later. With fiction I will wait for two weeks as reading an entire manuscript is bound to take longer than just a proposal. I ascertain the editor’s level of interest (and, yes, I collect their rejections) and then I gently try to press for when we will have an offer. If more than one publisher makes an offer, I usually try to have an auction.

Sometimes this process takes only a couple of days; sometimes it can take months depending upon how many interested parties I have and how many rounds of publishers I have to go to.

If I feel after the first round that more work needs to be done to improve the proposal or manuscript, based on feedback from the editors, I will suggest that to my client and share the comments that I have received from publishers. It is up to the author to decide whether he or she wants to make any changes.

Depending on the project and the comments I receive back from publishers, I decide just how far I will go in terms of submitting to more and smaller publishers. Sometimes we go to a number of rounds and sometimes we don’t. I do find though that I am persistent enough to sell a very high percentage of the projects I take on.

I am happy to answer any specific questions on this process if you have them.

Dialogue tips

by Jim

It’s my opinion that one of the elements that trips writers up more than any other is dialogue. Understandably so. Creating independent voices for each of your characters is hard enough. Also making sure that the natural flow of conversation is always present while simultaneously using it to move the plot forward? That’s damn tricky.

I went looking for a handy set of guidelines for dealing with dialogue and found a really impressive one on Who knew?

As always when it comes to writing, the rules are made to be broken, and blah, blah, blah. But really…follow the rules. They’re pretty dead on.

Friday, March 19, 2010

A gritty, unflinching and epic blog post

by Rachel

Michelle Kerns has read my mind. In her blog for the Examiner, Michelle points out a literary epidemic--the dull and clichéd book review. I agree with Michelle that there is nothing worse than reading a review where the words “compelling,” “tour de force,” and “readable” are used to describe a literary work. Readable? Really?!

So, in order to draw attention to those book review offenders, she invented a new game: Book Review Bingo!

If you go ahead and play this, beware! You’ll be surprised as to how fast you shout “Bingo!” with the reading of a couple of book reviews.  It only took me three! Did anyone beat me? And which riveting and timely cliché is your (least) favorite?

In control

by Lauren

Yesterday, Michael offered some really sound advice on how to deal with potentially difficult situations that arise in the publishing process, and I wanted to follow that up with a link to something of a companion piece over at Pimp My Novel. Eric outlines what you can’t control as the sales force tries to make magic happen for your book and then finishes with a sobering but important fact: “Everything from having your partial MS passed on to the agent by his/her assistant to the final sales call to winning all kinds of fancy literary awards will inherently contain an element of randomness or luck, and it's up to you to make the best of it, regardless of the circumstance.” That last part is key to a satisfying publishing experience. Some things will be affected by chance, but that doesn’t mean you should just passively leave your entire career in the hands of fate! For everything that lines up perfectly, capitalize on opportunity and don’t bank on chance. Lucky enough to have some author signings in an era where that’s less and less the case, don’t forget to tweet about it, make a Facebook invite, and email your address book. When things seem to be going wrong—and inevitably something will—do what you can to fix them and do everything you can in other areas to minimize their impact. Pretend you’re in AA and memorize the serenity prayer—and talk to your agent when you need help with the “wisdom to know the difference” part.

And if you’re still wondering how to make the best of it, run don’t walk to the previous post Eric links to in his entry: What You Can Do: Twelve Easy Steps. His hypothetical timeline may well be much shorter than what you’ll experience—except in the parts where the work is on your desk and you’ll be praying to every god anyone has ever believed in for more hours in the day—but it outlines clearly just how proactive you can and should be. You can’t force luck to go your way, so make sure you don’t forget to do all the things within your power.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Think before you kvetch

by Michael

Over on the Waxman Agency blog, there’s a great piece for authors on how not to piss off your editor. The main advice is very good, and comes directly from a “very smart lady who people love to work with.”

But I wanted to highlight a few of the smaller points that might be overlooked. Before writing a vitriolic email to your editor (or publicist or assistant or whomever), call your agent first. We all get frustrated, we all need to vent, and your agent is the person to do that with. We agents play an important part of the publishing process because we serve as a buffer between author and editor in contentious situations, giving perspective to the author and communicating clearly and professionally with the editor. We may be able to address the matter in a way that doesn’t offend the editor and gets the client what she wants. So call your agent!

For all authors entering the publishing process, please read, memorize, and repeat this sentence: “I’d add an additional caveat that you have to let the people on your team be good at what they are paid to do (otherwise why are you working with them?), and accepting that your process of publication won’t be exactly like what your friend/critique partner/Stephenie Meyer’s was like is also an excellent skill to cultivate as you enter the publishing process.” Let me tackle the first part of that sentence: “Let the people on your team be good at what they are paid to do.” The advice in the first half of this sentence may seem obvious, but I don’t think it’s often adhered to. Authors (ok, and agents) often second-guess the editor, the designer, the publicity and marketing teams, the publisher...the list goes on. And, we have every right to do so, especially in a business where most things are subjective. But I think everyone in the publishing process would benefit from taking a step back and thinking, “We all want to succeed here. I may not agree with the decision, but let’s discuss why the decision was made and figure out how to move forward in the most productive way.” Especially in these tough times, I like to think that we’re all in this together, trying to make the best books possible.

The second half of the sentence is just as important. The publishing version of keeping up with the Joneses is the most destructive game an author can play. Instead of worrying about what so-and-so got for an advance, print run, publicity/marketing plan, gift from editor, etc., worry about making you book as successful as it can be. I’ve seen authors destroyed by jealousy and preoccupied with parts of the process well beyond their control. Don’t let it happen to you!

We’re all in this business together, and working collaboratively with one another is the best way to achieve our mutual goals.

Romance versus love story

by Jessica

Apropos of Stacey’s post about genre, a recent interview in USA Today with New York Times best-selling author Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, Nights in Rodanthe, etc.) shines a revealing light on our discomfort with assigning labels. According to Sparks, he writes not romances but "love stories." He is quick to point out that his form is drama, not melodrama, “It's a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it's very rare that it works. That's why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It's all drama.” And that he hearkens back to the traditions of Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides.

The author doth protest too much, methinks. For someone who has achieved the level of success that Sparks has, he is curiously keen to erect a wall between “romance” (obviously a lesser category) and love stories, and proclaim that he is the only writer working in his self-defined genre. That he is the literary successor of the Greek tragedians is perhaps open to argument, but it’s true that writers—most of them anyway—are inheritors, imitators and innovators of long established traditions. In last week’s New Yorker, James Woods  pointed out that most novels, at least those that are not labeled “experimental” (another imperfect category), are “conventional.” Which is fine by me—convention does not preclude excellence. I understand why authors protest narrow categorization, or fear being trapped in “genre ghettos,” but in Sparks' case, it’s hardly because he worries it will hurt his readership. Indeed, whether or not you can spot the Aeschylus in The Last Song, it seems to me that Sparks’ interview just might reveal a different sort of classical legacy—hubris.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Getting ready for BEA

by Stacey

I know it's a little ways away still, but I've been starting to see some marketing materials for this year's BEA, taking place in NYC May 25-27. The website gives a lot of great information about the event, and they recently announced that they are trying to broaden the appeal and turn it into an entire New York Book Week May 24 through May 28. This is very cool, and offers not only authors, publishers, agents and the entire publishing community a chance to come together, but it also gives regular New Yorkers the opportunity to get involved and come out to join in the fun. Many venues are taking part, and people will be able to visit places all over the city for events, including bookstores, the 92nd Street Y, and the NY Public Library. If you'll be in town, take a look at some of the great programs they are planning and put them in your calendar now so you can come out and support the book biz.

A viral video about PUBLISHING?!

by Michael

I was really impressed by this video from DK in the UK.  It was designed for use in-house, but it was so popular that they decided to share the love.  And, in my experience talking to teen readers at events, this video is right on!  (Make sure to watch it all the way through--you'll miss the point if you don't!)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Getting creative with book promotion

by Chasya

We at DGLM talk about covers from time to time. When one comes in that is noteworthy we pass it around amongst ourselves to garner thoughts and feedback. Having seen so many in their finished stages, I was fascinated by this great video that I first saw on Galleycat, which offers a glimpse into the work that goes into creating a book cover. For anyone who missed it in the past few days, check it out. It pulls double duty here as a clever promotional video, too! Kudos to Orbit, the creators of this clever clip! This is a great example of a publisher getting creative with their online marketing. Super cool!

Genre, part II

by Stacey

I received so many great responses last week when I posted about different genres that it made me want to answer some questions, and offer some thoughts that might be helpful to all of you aspiring authors out there as you think about your writing future. Many of the questions you have about pitching your book effectively, finding the right genre for your writing style, and creating a work that is commercially viable are the same ones that we have when we consider a new project. Will editors know where it fits, will booksellers know where to shelve it, and will it be able to stand out in an increasingly difficult and competitive marketplace? I wanted to ruminate a bit about this, and answer a couple of specific questions posted by readers, so here goes.

First, I wanted to talk a bit about nonfiction since my post only referred to fiction categories, and I personally handle a ton of nonfiction across many categories. My list has changed a bit over my eleven years at DGLM, beginning with a love of food and cookbooks and quirky, fun how-tos, and then moving into various practical areas of nonfiction, from health and fitness to sports (especially baseball) to crafting, and finally finding some nice success with narrative nonfiction. The key thing to consider for pitching nonfiction is who your reader is and how you will target that reader. If it's a craft book, a popular category over the last few years, and you have the right credentials and platform, you'll be able to illustrate where your readers are and how you will find them. Same goes for any other category of nonfiction. Identify your reader and then clearly go on to explain why you are the person most qualified to write the book, and to market and promote it. Seems simpler than it is, of course, but if you aren't able to clearly and concisely do this, then you should focus on building your credentials and platform until you are at a level where it's an easier pitch to make.

Moving on to fiction, there were a number of questions about what constitutes literary versus commercial fiction, so I wanted to share a couple of comments and then respond with a few thoughts.

Anonymous said...
I would love to see somebody post about what "Literary Fiction" really means. It seems to me that when writers use it in queries to describe their work, they label themselves as amateurs. Is that true? Is it something that agents put on their lists because many writers think of themselves that way, though they may really be writing, say, commercial/upmarket or women's fiction?

Empty Refrigerator said...
 Exact same question as Anonymous! How do you tell the difference between lit fiction and commerical/upmarket? And if this is subjective as it seems, what would you, as agents, suggest using as a default? Does "lit fiction" make an author seem like a snob?

To go into this a bit, I often ask myself the same questions and when a project presents itself that I can’t find the answers to, I know it meant it wasn't for me. We always talk about this being a subjective business, and it can't be reiterated enough that our rejecting a project in many cases is not so much a reflection of the quality of the project, but where it fits on our list, or whether we are able to see pitching it effectively to editors whose job it is to say no more than yes. To speak specifically to the question about literary fiction, I once got a great piece of advice from a very well-known and well-respected editor who has been around a long time. We were talking about literary fiction and she told me the term she used to describe books that work was "literary accessible". I thought this was a great way to think about the difference between literary and commercial, and know that there are ways to present a literary work that still feels accessible to a wide audience. That's what editors want to find. Beautifully written, well crafted novels that will find a large readership. It's not always about the book itself, but about how a publisher envisions publishing it, and how they will position it in the marketplace. A book like The Help, a huge breakaway hit, isn't an obviously commercial book on the surface, but it has found an eager and enthusiastic audience and I think falls into that "literary accessible" category. Years ago when chick lit was popular, I sold a ton of it, and before long, it became over published and you couldn't get anyone to buy a chick lit novel. But the books that were working were still arguably the same, just positioned as commercial women's fiction, a very broad but generous category where many kinds of literary and commercial novels can peacefully coexist. Lorrie Moore's recent award-winning A Gate at the Stars, a literary novel, will still be shelved in the same section with Jodi Picoult, a more commercial writer, and Sophie Kinsella, a very commercial writer, whose books managed to stay a notch above chick lit and continue to survive and thrive.

Another couple of questions came up about YA versus adult fiction, and this is another point that we've all thought a lot about and discussed ad nauseam in our publishing circles. Questions below and my responses to follow.

Nicole L Rivera said...
I had trouble with this myself. The specific question which has kind of been answered is: Is twenty-something YA or adult? I have received mixed reviews but they all come with the same pained expression and a not so clear answer.

Anonymous said...

Nicole I thought 20 something facing first time independence events (like moving out, first job, etc) was New Adult. I am still not sure though whether a coming of age novel should be marketed as YA or literary fiction or commercial fiction. It has romantic elements but not the predictable happy ending. What do you call that? Protagonist is 17 and there are a lot of ideas as well as plot.

  With the success of Harry Potter and Twilight, middle grade and young adult books have become the movie equivalent of a blockbuster series franchise, and we all aspire to find the next big thing. So it's no surprise that plenty of adult authors are writing into this category. For some interesting insight, check out this video interview with Rebecca Stead, author of this year's Newberry-winning When You Reach Me. I've recently sold several books for younger readers by clients who had only previously written for adults. In some cases, the differences in writing and plot are subtle, and the real differentiating factor is how the book is positioned and marketed. An ideal to strive for is a middle grade or YA book that has crossover appeal, or the ability to reach an older audience as well as a younger one. These books are hard to find, but when they work, they can work big. Books written for a younger audience often have protagonists whose voices speak directly to that reader, and the themes are often handled in a way that is more sensitive to a younger reader. I think it would be challenging to make a book with a 20-something protagonist work as a YA novel. I recently considered something that crossed this line and I wound up passing because it read like YA, but the themes were too adult, and the protagonist was in her 20s and I just felt like it fell into that dead zone between YA and adult, a very difficult audience to find. A coming-of-age with a 17 year-old protagonist would likely be a YA if the voice and themes support the market. For example, while The Lovely Bones is narrated by a teenager, it clearly is intended for an adult audience. Literary accessible rules apply to younger audiences as well.

I hope this genre talk has been helpful, and has answered some questions about the many ways in which a book can be written, pitched, sold, positioned, and marketed. As is always the case, there is a lot of grey area in categorizing your work, but it's worth taking the extra time to research the market and other projects that speak to your intended audience, and to keep a clear focus on pitching your work effectively. If there's anything I've missed, as I'm sure there is in this big discussion, please let us know and we'll try to get to it soon!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The future of the written word

by Jim

Peter Miller has been logging interesting reports from the South by Southwest Interactive festival in Austin. This one in particular amuses me.

We in publishing are obviously concerned with the future of epublishing and where the ebook will take us. But those folks who seem to think we’re all on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg are all a bit too panicky for my taste.

No matter how many twits are tweeting or how many people buy the unbelievably badly named iPad; whether books will develop interactivity in the electronic age or formats actually become open, this remains a business about the written word.

It’s so now to be convinced that the industry is outmoded and to cast about blame rather than looking for actual solutions. It’s nice to see someone at SXSWi with an open mind toward the potential developments of the future who also isn’t about to ignore the fact that publishing has already survived other potentially crushing developments like movies and television.

I’m excited to see whatever the future looks like, as long as I can keep reading.

What does negotiating look like?

by Jane

During Slush Week this question came up and I wanted to provide a brief description of how a publishing negotiation generally works. Undoubtedly, this will raise other questions which I would be happy to address.

When a publisher makes an offer, he or she does it either on the phone or by e-mail. I prefer the latter initially so that I can see all of the terms of the offer spelled out: advance, payout, royalties (including electronic royalties now), territory covered, rights splits and any special terms.

Once I have all offers in from publishers (hopefully there will be more than one), I take them to my client, explain what they are and which I think is best and why. We come to a decision on which publisher(s) to continue to negotiate with and I then go back to the publisher(s) by phone or by e-mail and ask for changes or additional terms. Often I will ask for a different, higher advance, a more favorable payout, different royalty splits, things like that. Sometimes I suggest that different rights be in play.

Most often, we come to an agreement in a very short time--usually a matter of a day, but sometimes, depending on what the project is, these do go on over a longer period.

If we arrive at a stalemate--that is, a point that we and our client will not accept and the publisher won’t budge on--we make that very clear. We call this a “deal breaker” and if we say something is a deal breaker we have to mean it. (Between you and me, most of the time these things can be worked out before we get to that point.)

Once this basic negotiation is completed, a deal memo is done--we send one to the publisher and often they send one back just to make sure we are all on the same page in terms of the basic terms of the deal.

We then go on to the contract where additional negotiation is done on boilerplate terms.

Negotiating a deal is one of my favorite parts of agenting; the process encourages creativity on all sides and often breaks new ground.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Stepping into the e-book time machine

by Rachel

Remember those exciting edge-of-your-seat Choose Your Own Adventure books we read as kids? I always loved them--one book with so many different outcomes. Well, Michael passed along Nathan Bransford’s Choose Your Own Adventure approach to the future of the e-book market. There are so many ways the e-book can change the future of publishing, and Nathan has done a wonderful job of showing us his predictions.

I’m still rather traditional when it comes to my book collection and though I have an e-reader now, I actually miss the nuisance of turning pages and sometimes getting paper cuts which I, of course, don’t get while reading from an electronic tablet. But, having said that, I’ll read in whatever format is available if I have to, and as the e-book market booms, it’s interesting to see from Nathan’s blog entry where we could end up if only a couple of e-book vendors dominate the field and publishers become an afterthought. A depressing end, to say the least.

So, having chosen your own e-book adventure, what outcome do you think is most likely? I’d like to hear your predictions.

Stop buying books? Never.

by Lauren

The ever entertaining Laura at Combreviations was inspired by a Guardian blog entry to recount her year of not buying books: a year in which money woes meant reading all the books she already had.  The horror!

I'm a pack rat perpetually lured by the siren song of materialism to own an awful lot of things that I don't, perhaps, need to permanently possess.  I rarely get rid of books I've read and dislike.  I get a bit twitchy when items loaned out don't get returned, even if I don't have any need for them back.  And if I love it, I simply must give it pride of place. 

I certainly don't want people to stop buying books simply because they don't need to (if they did, how on earth would I make money to buy all the books I want to buy?), but I am sometimes alarmed by the sheer percentage of books in the teetering piles that I have not and, let's face it, will not ever read.

When this happens, though, I just resolve to read twice as much, to continue to justify my spending.  And with a weekend of rain and a day's wait for the cable guy looming on the horizon, it's nice to have the reminder to aggressively get through at least something the next few days to make room on the to-be-read pile for the six recent purchases threatening to fall off my desk here before I get them home.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Too much information?

by Jessica

Reader Laura A. posted the following response to Jim’s slush week round-up:

There were a lot of places where the agents seemed to want more information, and yet we're always advised to keep queries brief. I've also read that agents don't want you to give too much away - just give them enough information to want to keep reading. I realize it's a fine line to walk. Perhaps if you do this again, you could address those types of questions regarding length and how much of the plot-line you should include.”

Laura A. makes a good point, and at Jim's suggestion, I’m happy to address the “Be brief/Not enough information” conundrum. First of all, while I cannot speak for all agents, I have no inherent objections to long-ish query letters. In fact, I just received a terrific pitch letter for a novel in the vein of Donna Tartt’s Secret History. It stretches, beautifully and unabashedly, over the better part of two pages, and I read every word. And just as soon as I finish this blog entry, I will request the manuscript.

On the other hand, I sometime receive queries that are just a few lines long:

Dear Ms. Papin,

I am looking for an agent to represent a work of literary fiction, a coming-of-age story of a young woman who overcomes abject poverty to succeed—both against all odds and on her own terms. Kindly let me know if I may send you my manuscript.

This letter is correct. It is certainly concise. It is also devoid of any detail that might pique my interest. A pitch letter is a space to showcase your talents, and you are well served to take advantage of it. Give yourself some room to maneuver (or enough rope to hang yourself, as the case may be) find an elegant summation of your story, deploy an original turn of phrase. Don’t hide your light under a bushel.

As for the nitty gritty: take a page from journalism 101 and be certain to establish the who, what, when, where, why and how of your story. In prose as clean and effective as you can make it, give me the set up. Lay out the setting, characters, primary conflict, and give me a sense of the pace and the tone. Is the ending a surprise twist? Thereafter, turn your attention to the two additional “w’s” of book publishing, namely: the “who cares?” and the “why you?” Establish your readership—will your novel appeal to fans of Carl Hiassen or Jodi Picoult, Chang Rae Lee or Dennis Lehane? If you are writing non- fiction, who is your target market? Why are you uniquely suited to write the work at hand?

Resist the impulse to describe the book in its entirety. Few things are harder to write than an interesting synopsis—indeed, I’ve read grant proposals that are more compelling. You’re describing events, not the mood or the logic of the story, and asking your reader to accompany characters whom they don’t yet care about on adventures they don’t entirely understand can be deadly.

I tend to agree with Jim that modeling a query letter on flap or back cover copy is a helpful exercise. Jacket copy, like a query, is a selling tool, one that aims to capture the interest of its reader. Flap copy may be written by an in-house copy department or the book’s acquiring editor, in either event, it’s instructive to note the plot points a house chooses to include and those they decide to omit, as well as general the approach they take to selling a given project.

That’s not to say that flap copy is the gold standard. Once you start reading enough of it, you’ll come to spot stock phrases (“Tour de force” is a good example.) Leave these out. Ditto showy phrases that convey little actual meaning—“a story as luminous as it is unforgettable.” In fact, scrubbing your letter of clichés, literary or otherwise, is probably a good idea. And above all, be interesting. Banal is as damning as badly written.

And then bear in mind that even if you do craft a great letter, sometimes it’s the subject—and indeed, the necessary subjectivity of this business--that’s the problem. For example, while I am interested in the history of religion, I don’t represent Christian-themed books. Nor am I the agent to represent any one of the dozens of rebuttals to Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins that I have been pitched. I also like to believe I have a sense of humor, but apparently my taste in fiction runs to the mostly humorless. Madcap and zany are not my cup of tea. So even a well-tuned pitch for a quirky caper novel is unlikely to win me over—though I’ll never say never. In the service of excellent writing, I’m happy to be wrong.

The truth about "open"

by Michael

One of my favorite websites, Gizmodo, has a great piece up about e-book interoperability. As they point out, what Steve Jobs meant when he said “open” isn’t exactly what you and I might think of as open. The short story is that iBooks books will only work on the iPad (and I’m guessing the iPhone and Macs, at least eventually), just as Kindle books only work on the Kindle. That certainly isn’t my idea of open. And it’s not great for publishing, either, when people can’t take the books they think they’ve bought with them. It’s not the expectation, and I fear it encourages piracy. What do you think?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What's your genre?

by Stacey

I am often pitched projects where an author will describe the book as a cross between several different categories. I usually find this problematic for the simple reason that a book that is described this way often suffers from an identity crisis, and publishers want to be able to clearly identify how a book will be positioned, marketed, promoted, and at its most basic level, where it will "live" in the bookstores (this despite the fact that authors often complain that their books are not available at bookstores anyway, since they can't possibly carry everything, and there are so many outlets now outside of traditional stores to buy books, but that conversation is for another blog post). For the most part, at the chain bookstores, books are shelved in one place and one place only, and it's not always where the publisher or author want it to go. If it's a cookbook that's also a self-help book that's also a memoir, or a literary historical romantic mystery, well, that makes it a lot more difficult to place.

I recently found this piece that talks about the different genre categories in fiction. It doesn't address nonfiction, which has its own language of categories, but it does serve as a good basic summary of the major fiction categories. There are always subcategories within each of these, and she leaves out thriller, which is often confused with mystery, and which I see as a subset, but really is its own category. The takeaway here for me is that whatever category your book falls into, you need to do your research into the best books of that category, where you can find them in the bookstores, and also which agents represent those books. That's who you should target first, and your pitch letter should be clear about which category your book falls under because if it's not, or it's a mix of too many genres, it's easy for the book to get lost before the reader even gets to page 1.

Facebook for fun and marketing

by Miriam

Being a relative latecomer to Facebook, I’ve embraced it enthusiastically. On a personal level, I enjoy knowing what my friends are up to without actually having to schedule a phone call in the middle of a busy week. Given how busy most of my friends are as well, I’m pretty sure that the feeling is mutual. On a professional level, I like to keep tabs on our clients and publishing colleagues – it’s helpful to know who’s doing and saying what, and, often, rumor and information get around faster on Facebook than through PW or Pub Lunch. And, of course, it’s undeniable that with the gazillion members and the sophisticated networking capabilities, Facebook is a great way to market yourself and your book. Thing is, you gotta do it right.

Because I’m far from being an expert in this area, I won’t go into technical details about what doing it right entails. (In fact, I would suggest that those of you trying to establish an effective presence on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites, who have the means to do so, should seek help from a good brand building consultant specializing in this area.) But, I can share some of the things my colleagues and I have discussed as being turnoffs:

1. Be interesting. If you’re using social media to further your career, don’t treat it like the equivalent of sitting on your couch in an old t-shirt, watching reality tv and eating Doritos. You should make an effort to make interesting observations, post entertaining links, etc. Telling all your friends repeatedly that you love your cat, or offering local weather reports in your area, or what you had for dinner last night is nice every once in a while but if all your posts are the same, people will stop paying attention.

2. Don’t oversell yourself or your book. If you only post when you have a book event you want people to go to or use your update screen to post fragments of your novel, your “friends” will start to get annoyed. Your posts will become the equivalent of spam and be roundly ignored.

3. Try to read your friends’ posts and comment when appropriate – don’t just indiscriminately “like” everything or offer clichéd or throwaway responses to their posts. Remember, their friends are seeing your comments too and that’s an opportunity to expand your own network.

4. Avoid sending “gifts” en masse. A birthday greeting to a friend is fine. A “blessing” that will appear on the walls of your 1,500 friends…not so much.

What are the Facebook practices you all find irritating? And which other social networks do you find yourself and your favorite authors on online?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

DIY Book Tour

Before working in publishing, I thought an author's life consisted of sleeping in late, wearing a dressing gown all day, writing chapter after chapter of the next big novel, and attending glamorous book tour events. I pictured authors being shuffled from bookstore to bookstore for signings and readings and warm cozy nights tucked away in five-star luxury. Well, those thoughts were soon laid to rest upon entering the business.

The LA Times published an interesting article over the weekend which describes the kind of book tour that is most common these days - the drive-yourself, couch-surfing, expenses-out-of-your-own-pocket kind of book tour. It's nothing like what some of us dreamed up for our favorite writers. Now, more and more writers are promoting their books the DIY way because as the publishing business changes, so do the money risks of sending authors on book tours.

Not only do you have to be an incredible writer to gain a fan base these days; you have to be an incredible marketer. It takes a fair amount of effort to promote a book and reach out to new readers, and seeing the amount of work some authors put in when publishers cannot, is something that I greatly admire in authors. It's all about dedication to the craft, and from reading that article, there certainly remains a lot of dedication in the world of writing.


Reading “books”

The Guardian book blog has an interesting post about the newly fractured reading experience. With books now outnumbering games in iPhone app downloads and the release of the iPad getting closer, it’s no wonder blogger Molly Flat is feeling a big frazzled by the numerous options she has in reading platforms. I can relate as an owner of a Kindle, subscriber to numerous magazines, frequenter of blogs and someone who has spent the past two weekends at Ikea buying new bookshelves for a personal home library. I suspect Molly and I are in good company, too.

How about it readers? Anyone else feeling overwhelmed by the many choices in reading platforms lately?


Monday, March 08, 2010

Slush Week: The recap

by Jim

So kids, did we learn anything from Slush Week? We hope so! Obviously, the subject of query letters is one that makes some authors very tense. I noted a touch more hostility among our commenters than ever before! And I understand. It’s an enormously frustrating process. Even from this vantage point I can see that. Hopefully, though, the exercise helped to further demystify the procedure at least a touch. Here’s what I consider the takeaway:

--For those who weren’t sure, the final tally was 6 passes and 3 requests: Jane, Chasya, Miriam, Stacey, Michael, and I would have passed. Jessica, Rachel, and Lauren would have requested more.

--There’s a lot of okay happening: That was a solid representation of what our inboxes actually look like. One we sort out the queries that make terribly obvious mistakes like addressing us by the wrong names, we’re left with a lot of queries that are very…okay. I can’t remember who said it to me all those years ago when I first hit the slush pile, but: “If it isn’t a yes, then it’s a no.” There’s no “maybe” option with unsolicited queries. We request things, or we don’t. And with the volume that’s coming in and the number of clients we already have, there often isn’t the chance to consider material if you’re waffling after the query. So often you won’t be turned down because you’ve written a bad query but because you haven’t written one that’s great. It’s a fine line but a crucial one.

--Compare yourself to other authors, but not all of them: There was a touch of confusion about our recommendation to compare yourself to other authors, particularly when Miriam had just said not to compare your work to “canonical titles.” “Canonical” is the key word there. We want to know who of today’s authors you’ll be shelved with. The comparative titles should give us an idea of the type of work you have and who you see your audience as. Once you start getting into the classics, well…it’s dangerous territory. You can compare yourself to great writers working today—let’s say you’re writing a novel from multiple point of views that you say is reminiscent on Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin. That’s bold, but I’d be on board if the writing bore it out. But if you tell me you’ve written the next Anna Karenina, my response will be, “Oh, realllllllllly?” Keep it contemporary, and don’t be a braggart. Be careful about comparisons to massive bestsellers: comparing your book to successful authors who aren’t the most obvious choices (as in, not Dan Brown) gives us a stronger sense of what sort of book you’re writing and also shows that you really do know your category—not to mention that you’re less likely to be comparing yourself to the same author as everyone else in the slush pile.

--Be straightforward: you want to give us enough information to want to read more. As Jessica pointed out, it could take two single-spaced pages to do that. More often, it does not. Give us a snapshot of what your book is in the most concise way possible while still focusing on what makes it stand apart. It’s a taller order than it sounds, but it is the recipe to success.

--This is subjective: I was surprised when I saw that Michael suggested not to make your query sound too much like cover copy as I’ve given quite a few workshops at conferences where I told people to study just that copy and use it as a model for how to frame a query. That, in itself, is probably enormously frustrating to authors. But the truth is, there’s no such thing as a perfect query, and people respond to different things. It IS a subjective business. Remember that just because one person doesn’t have a positive reaction to your work doesn’t mean the next won’t.

--There are no right answers, only wrong ones. Bottom line: you can screw up a query by being too boastful, rude, silly, gimmicky, or underinformed. Once you’ve avoided all of those things, you have to rely a bit on kismet—whether your letter hits the right person at the right time, whether it sounds like something they think they can sell, if anything too similar has hit their slush pile on the same day, if they already have a project that would compete with it.

At the end of the week, what I can say is that we honestly are looking for those books that break out of the slush pile and grab our attention. The query itself is, as a commenter noted, simply a means to an end. You want to convince us that we want to read more, and we honestly do want to be convinced. So as frustrating and unnerving as the process is, do keep trying.

Any lingering questions still unanswered? Did you feel like you learned enough for us to do this again down the road?

The role of the editor

by Jane

It must be in the wind. Twice in the last two weeks there have been major articles about an age-old subject that is still so very important in the business of publishing: the role of the editor. Even though publishers keep cutting staff, including some key editorial people, the editor’s value hasn’t diminished; in fact, in this era of growing digital publishing the role of the editor--whether he or she is on staff inside the publishing house, functions as an outside freelancer, or is even, as in our company, an integral part of a literary agency--has remained an incredibly vital one to the author and the quality of the book.

In her piece last week in the Huffington Post, well known literary agent Jean Naggar describes this role beautifully.

The bottom line is that the editor’s role should never be taken for granted.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Lauren's Slush Week entry

by Lauren

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

Dear (Agent's name),

Cleopatra Giancarlo is different from your average twenty-something career girl. For one thing, she knows when people lie because she can see the truth in their shadows. For another, she doesn't use her power for good. Or evil. After repeated failures to help others, she mostly just uses it to get deals at Bloomingdale's. She fears what the government would do if they discovered her ability, yet she longs to find out if there are people like her out there. If there's anything more she could be.

She gets her wish when two strangers whisk her away from her old life and introduce her to the world of suprasensors. John Arlin and Samantha Grooms represent an organization called YuriCorp, one of many privately-owned firms that employ supras like Cleo to increase their profit margin. Any of these firms would be thrilled to have Cleo on staff, and their methods of recruitment aren't always friendly.

But even in the world of supras, Cleo doesn't get to be normal. Her new boss wants her to go undercover and seek traitors in the company ranks. Her new friends know what she can do and how to work around it. And her new assignment might end up with her in a coma--or worse.

The Whole Truth is a 100,000 word paranormal women's fiction with a mouthy heroine who finds out people are people even when they can bend spoons with their brains. I've got an MFA in creative writing and am published in (titles/publishers/genres redacted for Slush Week purposes).

Thanks for your time, and I look forward to your response.

(Author's name)

Rachel's Slush Week entry

by Rachel

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

Dear (Agent's name),

Before she was F. Scott Fitzgerald's muse, seventeen-year-old Zelda Sayre was a mischief maker in her childhood town of Montgomery, Alabama. Known for wearing flesh-colored bathing suits and staying out late with boys, she caused her daddy some real grief.

Flirting with boys and breaking their hearts was a daily occurrence for Zelda. Until she met Scott. He was a handsome lieutenant on base near her hometown. With one dance, Zelda was in love with him. But Scott was transferred to a different base, and love letters helped their romance. After an on-again, off-again courtship, they were finally married.

And although their marriage was fun, darker things ran deep underneath the surface, like Scott's obvious alcoholism and the beginning of her schizophrenia. Growing up seems like a boring task and Zelda never thought she'd have to do it. But she can't stay a child much longer, can she?

My YA historical fiction, GOLDEN, is complete at 80,000 words. The full manuscript is available if requested. Thank you for your time and consideration.

(Author's name)

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Michael's Slush Week entry

by Michael

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

We'll start with the query on its own, then the response after the jump:

Dear (Agent's name):

An imprisoned poet. A mysterious orb. And one mega-dose of snotty older sister, named Athena.

Twelve-year-old Jared Ahern’s got all three on his plate. (And that’s not counting the orb’s vicious inventor, trapped in a time sump.) Jared desperately wants to pry himself out from under Athena’s shadow and get some adulation of his own. When the orb, with its power for time travel and shape-shifting, summons him and Athena to rescue Shakespeare from the Tower of London, Jared leaps at the chance to show his mettle. 

Jared’s quick-thinking springs Shakespeare from his cell. But things go awry when Shakespeare returns with Jared to Oregon, leaving Athena stranded in the sixteenth century in the guise of Good Queen Bess. Worse yet, Jared’s sixth-grade enemy steals the orb. Now Jared must use both his skateboard and his love of “Star Wars” to retrieve the orb and rescue Athena, before she becomes the Queen of England. Permanently.

Shakespeare on the Lam is a middle-grade adventure, complete at 28,000 words.
I follow the blog on your agency's website and see that you are looking for adventure middle-grade for boys, so I believe it might be a good fit for your list. I am enclosing a sample chapter, as stated in your submission guidelines. I’m also querying other agents.

I am a member of SCBWI and Willamette Writers. My short story, “Carlito’s Question,” won 3rd prize in the 2009 Kay Snow Awards competition, sponsored by Willamette Writers. Shakespeare on the Lam is my first novel.

Thank you for your time.

(Author's name)

Jessica's Slush Week entry

by Jessica

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

We'll start with the query on its own, then the response after the jump:

Dear (Agent's name):

My dad made his living off people's inability to keep on living.

Dad, who called himself Digger O'Dell, was the gravedigger and cemetery
caretaker in small-town Waseca, Minnesota. Death was our family business,
and I spent long summer days in cemeteries. I wandered graveyards, reading
names off tombstones and wondering about the people in the ground. I
absorbed the stories and images of those who had gone before me: a mother
and her six kids killed by a train, a rosy-cheeked 15-year-old girl, a
county sheriff shot on duty.

Yet, as I write in my memoir, We'll Be the Last Ones to Let You Down, a
strange silence about death pervaded our lives. A large divide existed
between working with death each day and actually understanding grief. Dad
and Mom were no strangers to mortality-they bought their own giant tombstone
in their early 40s, and they knew death intimately through the loss of loved
ones. But in this stoic Midwestern place, our stories were not ours to tell,
and I sought answers and explanations through the stories of others. After
my dad died from a fast-growing cancer when I was 15, the silence in my
family grew exponentially. But I realized that just as the stories I grew up
with kept the dead alive, words would be the only way to prove that my
father walked this earth. Our stories must be ours to tell.

Eight excerpts from my 68,000-word memoir have been published in print and
online literary journals. A short chapter earned first place in creative
nonfiction in the 2009 Missouri Review audio competition. Another chapter
was selected runner-up for the 2006 Bellingham Review Annie Dillard Award
for Creative Nonfiction. It was published in the Spring 2007 issue and
subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. My memoir earned me a spot in
the competitive mentorship program at The Loft writing center in Minneapolis
in 2007-08, and I also received a Jerome Travel and Study Grant for my
creative nonfiction work.

I spent seven years as a journalist for a small daily newspaper. I have
written more than 20 nonfiction books for children, and I teach journalism,
English, and history at the college level.

I would be happy to send you a book proposal, sample chapters, or the entire
manuscript. Thank you for your time, and I look forward to hearing from you
at your earliest convenience.

(Author's name)

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Stacey's Slush Week entry

by Stacey

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

We'll start with the query on its own, then the response after the jump:

Dear Mr./Ms. (Insert Agent's Name),

Life is tough, but Natalie MacKenzie is about to find that it gets a whole lot tougher when your stepsister is a succubus.

After Natalie is accused of burning the high school science wing to the ground (without anything more explosive than a pencil and paper), her father finally tells Natalie the truth: her mother wasnt human. Her father and stepmother decide to ship her off to a special school in Turkey where she can learn how to control herself and her fire abilities.

The only thing that makes the idea bearable is that her parents allow her stepsister and best friend, Olivia, to join Natalie and the other students for a two week tour of the country. On the way, Natalie and Olivia fall for the same guy, David, and when he chooses Natalie, Olivia makes a deal to become a succubus, which gives her power to have any guy she wants.

And she wants David.

Its up to Natalie to figure out how to use her fire abilities to rescue both Olivia and David--assuming that the other elements let her live that long . . .

My Stepsister is a Succubus is a young adult contemporary fantasy novel with 70,000 words. Although I have not yet published a novel, I have sold two magazine articles to the Ensign magazine. Thank you for your time and consideration.

(Author's name)

Miriam's Slush Week entry

by Miriam

(For details on Slush Week, see Chasya's introduction.)

We'll start with the query on its own, then the response after the jump:
(Dear Agent:)

I would like you to represent, The Price of Blasphemy, a complete 62,000 word work of up-market fiction and social realism.

The novel is told as a first-person narrative, throwing the reader into the tumultuous mind of Richard Bunbury, a charismatic and volatile agnostic who is determined to live a simple, Monticello-inspired lifestyle by operating a charity that aims to impede America’s divisive nature.

While living in Washington D.C., Richard falls in love with Dawn, a devout Christian attorney who specializes in non-profit law. Incompatible faiths eventually create a fissure between the unlikely pair. Dawn begs Richard to convert, but he refuses, arguing that her God, if he exists, is passive and weak. Angered and outraged by Richard’s blasphemy, Dawn abruptly brings the relationship to an end. When the fury caused by his broken heart mixes with his preexisting (yet dormant) mental instability, Richard lashes out, which results in disastrous and shocking consequences.

Beginning with the murder of an imaginary homeless man and progressing to leasing, insuring, and converting dilapidated Bible Belt churches into satanic places of worship, Richard is out to prove his theory that God is passive, while exploiting the Christian religion in order to acquire his personal Monticello. As Richard Pavlovian-ly predicts, the rural communities of North Carolina unknowingly facilitate his scheme with their helpful acts of arson, but as Richard’s sanity continues to crumble, his plan gets sloppy. Richard fails to account for the media’s outrage and the anger of the local townspeople, causing the reader to learn that drawing the ire and contempt of a pious following carries a steep price.

The Price of Blasphemy explores themes of love and inhumane manmade divisiveness. In the tradition of A Clockwork Orange, The Catcher in the Rye, and Fight Club, this novel is deeply probing and begs the question: Which is more godly, faith or love?

My book will be of broad public appeal in that it offers the fervor of controversy, true love, and a fragile protagonist who is a talking looking glass, representing the society of yours and mine. Our readership will vary from those with an appreciation for a touching story with clean, fluid prose, to those desiring to relate to a voice that shares feelings of isolation and an uncontrollable instinct to self-destruct.

This is a multiple submission. If you are interested in reading the manuscript, I would love to give you the exclusive opportunity over an eight week period. Thank you for taking the time to help me pursue my literary endeavors.

(Closing, Author's Name)

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Tempus fugit

by Miriam

We all know birthdays are a time for deep reflection, for taking stock of the present, reviewing the past and charting course for the future. (Or, if you’re me, pouring yourself a glass or five of wine and hoping the whole ugly business will go away by the time the Advils kick in.) But this year, with another birthday looming and a long post due for the DGLM blog, I’ve been doing more reviewing than usual. It occurs to me that I’ve spent almost half of my adult life working in publishing--for those of you trying to do the math, yes, I started out when I was 14. To put it in perspective, the first George Bush was in his freshman year as president when I first walked into the offices of Acton & Dystel; Oprah’s Book Club was seven years away, and the kids who founded Facebook were getting ready to start kindergarten.

A lot of cataclysmic events have come and gone since the day I sat in Jane Dystel’s office for an interview wearing my best (okay, my one) gray suit and hideously uncomfortable matching gray pumps. I can’t remember exactly, but since this was the ‘80s, there must have been shoulder pads and white pantyhose involved. Jane was--and is--a tiny, delicate blonde with a voice like whisky soaked granite (I think I’m actually quoting someone here). She was, herself, relatively new to the agenting side of the business and was a tightly wound bundle of energy and determination. She was building a client list and learning the ropes from the then very successful Jay Acton--a fascinating man whose clients ranged from bestselling romance writers to the legendary Tip O’Neill to numerous sports stars whose memoirs all went straight to the Times list--and she needed an assistant.

Long story short, reader, I took the job and never left. Occasionally a friend or acquaintance will ask why I’ve stuck around so long. “Don’t you get bored?” “Aren’t you itching to try something new?” “Isn’t publishing a dying industry?” The answers: “never,” “sometimes,” and “emphatically no.” Thing is, like any other line of work, what we do is sometimes tedious but never boring. (Does that make sense?) Literary agents don’t spend all their time schmoozing celebrities and cashing $1,000,000 advance checks or even reading great literature. There’s a lot of haggling over ¾ of a percentage point in the royalty section of a 25-page publishing agreement written in a cross between Sanskrit and legalese with a font size of 5.5. There are the endless stacks of queries (some of which make you wish you’d never learned to read). There are unhinged authors and psychotic editors. There are big disappointments when a book you had high hopes for gets remaindered almost before it’s published or when you lose an author you’re pursuing to a bigger, flashier agency, despite the fact that you know they’d be better served by a smaller, more attentive outfit.

But there are also great rewards. You meet and befriend talented, interesting people. You get to be “in the know” about all sorts of events--current and scandalous. You get to have engaging conversations about relevant issues or important subjects almost every day. All that and free books!

The kid who walked into Jane’s office those many years ago wasn’t looking for riches or fame (she was incredibly dumb that way). She just loved books and wanted to be a part of making them happen. All these many years later, I’m still doing it and it’s still (mostly) a pleasure.