Wednesday, April 29, 2009

How I know Jeff Somers is working on novel #4

He sends me pages?

He sends me the novel for a quick look to see if he's on the right track?

He calls to tell me he's working hard?
ohhh no no no.

No, the reason I know Jeff is working hard on Novel #4 is because I find things like this on Youtube.

Social interactions with agents

In the next four days I'll be attending several festive events that bring together writers, agents and others of our ilk. None of these events are writing conferences or involve scheduled pitch sessions.

Nonetheless they are an excellent way to meet agents IF and only if you don't behave like a yahoo.

Here are some suggestions for staying on the right track:

1. If you are at a cocktail party and see an agent you'd like to meet, say "hello, my name is Celia Cephalopod, how are you?"

I will then say "Hello Celia, nice to meet you." Conversation will ensue.

2. If you are at a dinner and find yourself seated next to an agent, say "hello, my name is Celia Cephalopod, how are you?"

3. If you find yourself in the elevator with the agent of your dreams you say "hello, my name is Celia Cephalopod, how are you?"

Notice none of those phrases include are you an agent?, what are you looking for? can I query you? can I pitch you my book?

You'll notice the sentence I've given you is a general, pleasant friendly greeting. That's how you meet and talk to an agent. Like they were people. Of course, we're not, but pretend for awhile, ok?

I was at a party recently with several dozen writers. I ended up sheltering next to one I'd known from a previous event to avoid the other writers swooping around the room. My pal was talking to two other writers. I had a chance to visit with them, and make a connection. I encouraged them both to query me. I have their names in my date book, and I'll remember them when they turn up in the inbox.

And all they had to do to get my interest? Stand there, and not be yahoos.

I'm frustrated and exasperated in turn with how simple this seems to me, yet no matter how much I rant, it never seems to get better.

Could not have said it Be(n)tter myself!

Jenny Bent's new blog is full of good stuff. Her post today on new versus experienced agents is a must read for anyone getting ready to query.

I echo what she says (right down to Yay, Holly Root!)

PItch sessions suck, it's true; yet, you can make them worse.

Pitch sessions are the invention of the devil. I hate them. I loathe them. I will also never completely give up doing them because I believe that serendipity is alive and well, and I like to be ready when opportunity knocks (you should be too.)

I may loathe pitch sessions but I also understand that they terrify writers. Therefore my goal at a pitch session is to put you at ease, hear something about your project, and reassure you that I will not eat you for breakfast.

Here are the things you do that make me reach for the butter knife:

1. Introduce yourself and then follow it with "you rejected me."

Rejection is a part of this business. I've rejected one gazillion people and that was just last year. Telling me I rejected you makes me think you don't understand that it's part of the job. It also sets my teeth on edge. It also breaks the unspoken rule that we will be polite to each other. That's not a good start.

There's another way to say this: "I queried you on May 10 but it wasn't right for you. Thanks for replying."

2. Sit down, introduce yourself and then follow it with "I'm interviewing agents. Tell me a little bit about yourself."

My reply is "no." If I'm not annoyed past redemption I might say "tell me about your book." If I am annoyed, I'll just say no and sit there. I've negotiated with far scarier people than you and gotten what I wanted.

The reason this annoys the snot out of me is because you're NOT interviewing agents. You're at a pitch session. The purpose of a pitch session is to hear about your book. If at some point in the future you have a project that I'd like to represent, I'll be happy to tell you all the ways I'm the best agent for you and all those other slithery competitors are not.

Don't get ahead of yourself.

3. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I wanted to meet you because I think you need to go to AA"

My reply is: I hope you mean change the size of the battery in my flashing helmet, because otherwise this conversation is over and one of us is leaving the table. You can choose which one.

Making ANY kind of comment about what you perceive to be an agent's personal failings is completely out of line. My duty to interact pleasantly with you ends when you think you're my mum.

4. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I don't really want to get an agent but I know I need to have one."

My reply is: you don't have to have one, and I'm not going to talk you into it, nor do I want to debate the issue. I am a literary agent. Deal with it.

5. Sit down, introduce yourself and say "I memorized my pitch, here it is" then close your eyes and recite 150 words. I know you're nervous but you really have to look at me so I can smile reassuringly then stop you after ten words and ask you some questions that will help me figure out what your book is about.

In case you're wondering, all of these are based on actual experiences I've had at pitch sessions!

Your Second Agent

I've had a spate of queries from writers who are looking for a new agent. Some I'm eager to sign; some I know are a bad match instantly.

I think I'm able to get a sense of whether a client will be a good match pretty quickly --after all, I've got 47 clients, and there are a few formers running around too. In other words, I've had 50+ chances to see what worked and what didn't.

For writers, you don't want to come close to that many decisions! We hope you'll sign well the first time. If not, hopefully the second.

Here's a good post at BookEnds about how one of Jessica's clients decided how and with whom to sign the second time around.

Writing a novel? Read this.

I'm thinking of requiring every person who writes to me with a query also include a notarized statement that they've read Robert Gregory Browne's website about writing.


I particularly like this one about what to include in a query; and by default what NOT to include.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Why I Love Twitter

If anyone is keeping track I have 47 clients. Many of them have books that are being published this year, or next, or are working on books under contract. It's easy to stay in pretty regular touch with them because there are various deadlines: turning in a manuscript; turning in an author questionnaire, making sure they get paid. Deadlines that go on calendars and prompt an email or a call.

I have another group of clients who are working on books that aren't under contract. Fewer calendar items for this group. You can't call or email "how's it going" too often, but you need to do it often enough so they don't wonder if their agent is dead. It's really hard to know when it's a good time or a bad time to nag if you're living inside the NYC bubble.

Enter Twitter.

Because of Twitter I know one of my fabulous clients is literally up to her ass in snow. Is this a good time to nag about the novel? Probably not. Let's wait till she's not riding herd and rounding up pregnant cows in three feet of snow. July maybe.

Because of Twitter I know one of my fabulous clients is defending her thesis on a certain day. Probably not a good day to nag about her revisions.

Because of Twitter I know that one of my fabulous clients is not responding to her email cause she doesn't have electricity in her house and has to use the computers in the library for awhile. Not a good time to nag at all.

Because of Twitter I know when one of my client's kids has a broken arm or a bad day at school.

All this is valuable info. Yes it's part of a twitter stream that can be banal. Like any daily conversation there are jokes about toast and jam, coffee, not enough sleep, and the weather.

When your job is managing expectations, and hopes, selling projects of the heart, giving career advice and pep talks, it's invaluable to know where the clients are. Particularly if they are literally up to their ass in snow.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Hey, whatever works for ya!

Ok, so the idea of having your characters on twitter and talking to each other sounds...well..nuts, but if it WORKS, why the hell not!

I mean, I'm the one with a stuffed boa, a plush pink octopus, a (new) fanged asp and godhelpus a yellow ducky in my office AND who posts pictures of same on blog, so really, who am I to waggle a finger saying "nuts" to anyone!

In fact the pink octopus has an opinion about this whole thing:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Concetta Rocks the House!

I was a confirmed skeptic about people claiming to speak with the dead. Confirmed. Confirmed. Staunch. Solid. Head shaking, eyebrow elevating. Skeptique, c'est moi.

Then I saw this segment on The Early Show.

Concetta's new book is Do Dead People Walk Their Dogs, and the book that got her started is Do Dead People Watch You Shower? (one of my favorite titles of all time)

I've read Concetta's book cause the estimable FinePrint head honcho Stephany Evans represents her.

So, now maybe not quite such a staunch skeptic after reading the book, and seeing the segment!

C'est segment, très intéressant

Eau de Brimstone!

I wonder if I should use Jeff Somers recent blog mention as a trade reference on my Publishers Marketplace page:

A week or so ago I was sitting in my agent’s office, signing some contracts.

ME: Uh, was I supposed to sign this page?

AGENT: (peering through the cloud of brimstone and smoke that swirls around her perpetually) No! Does it have your name next to it?

I'm not sure whether this is an improvement over being run over by a cement mixer, being made into a ninja droid, or being made someone's crotchety great aunt-- all of which I've seen in the last couple manuscripts from my ..ahem...beloved clients!

Have you ever longed to eavesdrop on an agent/editor confab?

Do you think you'd come away enlightened about the inner workings of How Deals Are Hatched?

Think again!

Last night as I plied Moonrat with liquor and raw fish, our chief subject of conversation was this. And this. And this.

Oh sure we eventually talked about a book, but by that time I could have sold her the Brooklyn Bridge, and she could have talked me into including film rights to it. Fortunately neither of us could find our glasses or a pen so the clients and the contracts are safe for another day.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Couldn't do it without you!

Today is Godsend Day. Well, it's not, really. That's cause every day is Godsend Day here.
This office would run without them, but not as happily. No where NEAR as happily.

From answering the phone to sorting the mail to tracking wandering UPS packages to being sounding boards for projects, to making follow up calls, to vacuuming the rug, to just simply BEING there 10-5 to buzz the door open, our godsends are the cardiac system: they keep the heart pumping and the blood flowing.

It's impossible to overstate their value. We all know what it is though cause all of us have worked without godsends before. And we never EVER want to do that again.

Heather, Martin, Suzie, Amy: you all totally rock. Thank you.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

I know there's more to this story, but it still made me laugh

Two authors are suing Gotham Books (part of the Penguin Group) for breach of contract. The news article with a description of the suit is here.

This is the paragraph that caught my attention:

"Branch and Callaway allege Penguin breached their contract by failing to properly promote the book (including by failing to inform them that their publicist had left and their book tour had been canceled) and allowing it to be sold in discounted and bulk outlets without their permission.

The complaint describes significant tension between Branch and Gotham Publisher William Shinker, who “expressed his irritation with plaintiffs through the use of expletive-laced speech” and argues that in that regard, “Penguin’s actions were motivated by personal antipathy to plaintiffs, as exhibited repeatedly by Shinker, and by a desire to work on a similar project, or projects, with Keogh.”

Man oh man, I want to see their contract! I'm clearly not doing my job since every single contract I've negotiated not only allows discounted and "bulk outlet" (ie big box store) sales, it specifies the royalties to be received.

And I want notice when any person who works on my book has left the company!

And I've got to get that "no expletives" clause in my next contracts. Oh wait. The PUBLISHING contract only; if it's in the author/agency contract, I'm ....ahem...fucked.

Building an Elephant by Sean Ferrell

For a taste of how amazing Sean Ferrell's writing is, take a look at his short story Building An Elephant on the Adirondack Review site.

This story won the Fulton Prize for short fiction in 2007, and we were darn pleased to co-host a reading for Sean and the other finalists at the General Society Library.

And don't I look all clever and such with that line "you'll be hearing more about him!"

Ya baby indeed!!!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Publishing may not be perfect but...

Like any other industry publishing has its flaws. I'm not here to talk about those. We've had enough of that recently.

Instead let me tell you this: Tonight I sat down at my desk at 11pm to read my email. I have 143 unanswered messages (up from 56 just last night!) Some of it's pretty ordinary, some of it is just the social lubricant that keeps our business running, and some of it is magic.

Tonight the magic is in an email from a client. He's starting his third book. He sent me the first 20 pages and an overview of where the book would go. I read it. Then I read it again.

I'm amazed all over again at how talented this guy is. This isn't news: I knew it from the query letter. I knew it from the first and the second book. But, like a really delicious taste, you never fully remember till you taste it again. And yum yum yum, this is one tasty hors d'ouvre of a novel. And I'm sitting here at home, feet propped up, swilling a diet Dr. Pepper and reading something so good the only thing wrong with it is that there isn't more.

And reading this new work is my JOB! I don't have to excuse my reading as a pastime, or a hobby, or a break from work. This IS my work.

And I get to read these kinds of tasty things often!

Do you know how lucky I am? I do.

For every person who doesn't like the query system, or the agent/query/submission system, I'm sorry. I'm sorry because you don't LOVE your work, all aspects of your work. I do. I love this job. There are parts of it I love less than others, but I LOVE this job.

I'm profoundly grateful to be an agent, and be graced with clients who are talented beyond measure (although if you're an editor, don't think we won't be measuring with dollars, nosirree bob!)

I love this job, I do.
I hope you love yours too.

The pink octopus is bitterly disappointed

She thought one day lay down** was like a short reading vacation. She's even been practicing.

I had to send her over to Editorial Anonymous for a brush up on publishing terms.

sell-in and sell-through




and what sounds fun, but isn't what you think: strippable

For all the definitions click Publishing Dictionary.

**one day lay down, or lay down is the date when a title goes on sale in a special "not before today" way. It's usually reserved for books that have a lot of popular demand: Stephenie Meyer, William Gibson, Michael Crichton and the like. It's pretty much the antithesis of vacation day for bookstore staffers!

Sean Ferrell-Answer Your Pants!

Not too long ago I got a strange phone call on a Sunday evening. I thought it was from one of my fabulous clients Sean Ferrell (caller ID.) But, no, no it wasn't. Then I thought his son, the ever delightful Son of Sean had called. But no, t'was not he either.

As it turned out, Sean's pants like to make calls to Sean's agent.

Fortunately, they also receive calls because I needed to relay some darn good news last week.

Here's what it was:

Publisher's Marketplace 4/20/2009:


Sean Ferrell's NUMB, literary action/adventure novel about a man who wanders into a circus, and discovers he feels no pain and has no memory of how he got that way; and is then discovered by fame, fortune, and a New York talent agent, to Gabe Robinson at Harper, in a nice deal, for publication in Fall 2010, by Janet Reid at FinePrint Literary Management (world).

Sunday, April 19, 2009

How Do You Know When to Quit?

I am a head-over-heels, totally-devoted fan of Toni McGee Causey.
Toni frequently says what I'm thinking only better, funnier, more poignantly.

Here are her thoughts on two topics I've posted about this week
: Susan Boyle and the query letter system. Read it now.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Last word on the query letter system...I promise

If the query letter system is broken, you can't tell from my sales list. This is copied and pasted from my website:

What have you sold?
##Evan Mandery, FIRST CONTACT (Harper: forthcoming)
**Alysia Sofios, WHERE HOPE BEGINS (nee Into the Sun) Pocket: forthcoming)

**+Andrew Grant, EVEN (Thomas Dunne Books: May 2009)
**+Kennedy Foster, ALL ROADS LEAD ME BACK TO YOU (nee Standfast) (Pocket, forthcoming)

+Jeff Somers, THE ETERNAL PRISON (Orbit: May 2009)
Evan Mandery, THE KILLING COURT (Delphinium: forthcoming)

**+Gary Corby, THE EPHAILTES AFFAIR (Minotaur: forthcoming)
**+Sean Ferrell, NUMB (Harper: forthcoming)

**Lucy Hornstein, 10 LAWS OF THE DINOSAUR (Kaplan: August 2009)
**+Adam Eisenberg, A DIFFERENT SHADE OF BLUE (Behler: July 2009)

**+Patrick Lee, THE BREACH (Harper, forthcoming)

**+Amy Minato, SIESTA LANE (Skyhorse:2009)
##+Bill Cameron, CHASING SMOKE (Bleak House; 2008)

Eric Stone, FLIGHT OF THE HORNBILL (Bleak House, 2008)
+Jeff Somers, THE DIGITAL PLAGUE (Orbit, 2008)

+Dan Tomasulo, CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER CHILD (Graywolf, 2008)
**+Richard Gilbert, MARCHING UP MADISON AVENUE (Behler, 2008)

**debut writers
+writers whose initial contact with me was by a query letter in the incoming mail (fondly known as the slush pile)

## second novels by writers for whom I also sold their debut novels.

I'm now going to leave the query letter ranting to others. The bottom line for me is that the query system in place now works just fine. I find great clients there. I sell their work. I may miss good stuff, but I'm ok with that.

If you want to tell me the system is broken, ok, but...

If you want to persuade me that the agent/query letter form is broken, I'll listen. I'm usually up for a good rousing discussion of why I represent evil incarnate. There's one immutable requirement: you have to get the facts right.

There's a long comment under my recent link to Mary's long screed about how agents are conspiring against literary fiction.

Here's the text of it:

Yeah I have to actually be the one person that will disagree with the cadre of devoted fans commenting.

(*I'll be brief. Probably not, but one can only hope.*)

Basically explaining a book through a query letter in ten words or less is not only moronic, but also incredibly demeaning to the writers submitting.

I'm not sure where you got the ten words or less reference. A query letter is one page of 250-300 words (and often longer). Even if much of that page includes material not about the book in question, it's not ten words.
And I don't agree with your position that being able to hook your reader with a brief description is moronic or demeaning. I think it's actually an incredibly difficult art form, much like haiku. To do it well, you must think and write on several levels and use language like a rapier.
If you think that's demeaning, that's YOUR take on it, not mine. I have enormous respect for people who can write good query letters. Even if I don't take their projects.

I can appreciate that agents need to make a living selling scripts, but also the submitting process needs to be updated. There needs to be a way that people can submit their work without having to jump through seventy hoops just to send five pages of print. (To an intern no less...) Is this really that difficult of a proposition? I submit that it is not.

I don't sell scripts. I sell manuscripts. There's a difference. A very big difference. If you don't know what it is, ask me and I'll explain it.

I'm not sure why sending an email is considered 70 hoops. You write the email, you send the email. That's two. I read the email, I reply.
I think that's pretty straightforward.
Interns don't read my queries. Not now, not ever.

She did make some valid points, but at the same time the publishing houses do need some filtering process. (*Thus agents become the liver of this dysfunctional family of organs.*) Now the quality of literary agents (* Obligatory disclaimer: I don't know Janet personally, I'm sure she is marvelous, this is a biting satirical generalization aimed at provoking change or at least a brief thought to contrast the current wave of enthusiastic boos.*) could be improved by having education requirements for lit. agents similar to real estate agents. That way there'd be some level of consistency as to standards and practices. (*Note the AAR doesn't count because it is voluntary...there's no bite. If one were to mess up in real estate practice they might even end up in jail. That's what I'm referring to when I mean 'standards.' I was a real estate agent for a year or two. The regs are vicious if one were to make even a slight infraction.*)

I'm not even sure what you mean by quality of literary agents? People who understand contracts? People who know how to sell? People who know how to edit? People who have fewer than 70 hoops?
Do you want literary agents to be licensed? What do you test for? How fast someone responds to queries? Whether they like The DaVinci Code?
This isn't real estate. You can't say a book is worth two cents a page cause it's written by someone in Topeka, Kansas, or because it's genre fiction like you can say real estate is worth ten dollars a square inch cause it's on 35th Street in New York. Books aren't acreage. Even when they're in the warehouse.
How do you test for negotiation skill? For the ability to foresee problems and solve them? For giving pep talks to writers who've gotten unfair rejections? How do you test for the ability to see a story in a jumble of notes, shaking hands and a writer who's so nervous she's ready to throw up? How do you test for the ability to stay cool at the right time, and get hot under the collar at the right time?
All those things are my job. You figure how to test for that, and we'll talk. Until then, I have to disagree that licensing agents will do anything but create a new way for scammers to say they're legit.

Also agents ought to have a little more grace with the writers (*not to mention surly bloggers...) submitting. (*unless the writer is being completely unreasonable.*) It is important to note, no money would be coming in without the dreaded 'slush pile.' (Even if one does have a 'stable' of amazing authors, they received those authors at some point through submission.)
Agents are not bad people as a whole and I'm not trying to say 'all are bad and without merit.' I am saying that as a group agents can do better. The practices agents use can be updated especially with such improvements in technology. (*Example e-books and illustrated works will be eating up more of the publishing pie.*)
A little more grace than what? Than a form response? Than a personalized rejection? Than a chorus of "If I'd'a Known You Were Coming, I'd'a Baked a Cake?"
If by this you mean responding to all incoming queries, I agree with you.
If by this you mean personalized rejections, I don't.

Yes this is the point where I'm going to be crucified for the sin of speaking against the masses. One would hope my position would be attacked as opposed to my integrity, but given my experience on blogger as a whole I know that's not the case. Be fair or at least 'try' to be fair.
I'm not sure why you think I'm attacking your integrity. I'm not. I think your position is wrong. I don't have a clue who you are. All I know about you is that you write verbose blog posts and think I don't do my job well.

I'm trying my 'kinder and gentler' approach, because there have been claims that I'm abrasive and that people are taking my comments personally. This is the best I can muster. Seriously. Honest to God. No hard feelings. I just happen to disagree. This doesn't say anything about my ability to write or me as an individual. I'm just saying at least 'consider' the opposing argument, otherwise one will never evolve.

It says a lot about your writing. That's my point.

Yeah... that wasn't brief, perhaps won't even be printed and probably filled with typos but oh well.

You're wrong again. I even fixed the spelling errors because I don't want the commentariat to dwell on those instead of what you're saying. Don't feel you need to apologize. I'm too busy figuring out new ways to humiliate writers to listen to what people say to me.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why I read your blogs

I'm stealing this phrase and using it in every query letter workshop I present forevermore:

"Query letters are like a good strip tease. Reveal enough to stir up the reader emotionally and leave them wanting more."

(I hope I remember to give Julie Weathers credit for writing it.)

Sorry I haven't gotten back to you...

I've been busy killing talent -- and publishing.

What makes this hilarious as well as mis-informed is that the last thing I sold was of course...debut literary fiction.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Joanna loses her mind

Evidence for all to see is here.

I guess I better slither in to work to see if they've added padding to the walls in our office suite.

Who the heck is Susan Boyle and why is everyone tweeting about her?

Twitter now has a sidebar list of the most commonly tweeted phrases in a given day.
I looked at it briefly tonight as I was tormenting some of my twitter pals about revisions.

"Susan Boyle" was listed. Well, heck, I'd never heard of her, so I clicked.

Sure enough, someone had a link up.

Here it is.

I'm a sucker for these kinds of things. I bet you are too.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Rack 'em up, babeee--Jeff Somers in mass market

Jeff Somers gets a whole new look in the new, soon to be released mass market editions! There's an interesting post at the Orbit blog about how the new cover look came to be.

So, tell me what you think about Nathan's mad experiment

Nathan Bransford is running "Agent for a Day" on his blog.
I took one look and ran screaming to the bar (thankfully well stocked!).

If you participated in his endeavor, I'm interested to hear what you thought of it.

Friends of Mystery gets it ALMOST right!

The Spotted Owl Award, given annually to a resident of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho or British Columbia by the Friends of Mystery in Portland, Oregon has selected a winner.

Sadly, it was the wrong one.

Ok, all kidding aside, congrats to Phil Margolin, who won. Bill Cameron, fabulous client, is listed as the first runner up.

Maybe if Phil Margolin can't perform his duties as Mr. Spotted Owl, Bill will have to step in.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Don't Stop the Presses!

this is a terrific youtube video on the actual manufacturing of books.
The only improvement would be if they were showing one of MY authors' books!

slurped up from Patrick Lee's blog!

"I have a contract in hand, why won't agents talk to me?"

Pure and simple.

All publishing deals are not created equal. A contract in hand from a reputable publisher who will do a fine job on a book, and keep it in print for years may still not be lucrative enough to be a good risk for an agent.

It takes just as much time and energy (actually MORE) to do a $5000 deal as it does a $50,000 deal.

And most agents want more $500,000 deals, not more $5000 deals.

If you find yourself in this position there are two things to know:

1. You don't have to have an agent to be successfully published.

2. You MUST have someone who knows publishing contracts review your offer and advise you on what changes need to be made. If you need the name of a contract review specialist, email me and I'll give you one.

I've had to say no to some really wonderful projects simply because there wasn't enough money in them. That stinks, but reality is often odiferous in the extreme.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The shoe is on the other foot and it pinches!

Some weeks ago one of the head honchos here at the FinePrint Lit Bar and Grill forwarded a query to me with the usual "is this for you?" message.

I read it, and yes indeed it was for me. It practically had my name in lights at the top of the query. Never mind that my name is now apparently spelled RUBIE not REID.

But, I digress.

As usual when I get something I think is yummy, and might have already been snapped up by any of my more slithery colleagues, I give the prospect a ring on the phone.

Me: Hello, this is Janet Reid at FinePrint Lit. You sent us a query on such and such a date and it was forwarded to me since my list is a good fit for what you write.

Hot Prospect: Hello, nice to meet you.

Me: I'm calling to make sure you haven't signed yet with any of my slithery competitors colleagues whom I'm sure have been chasing after you.

Hot Prosp: No, no I haven't.

Me: Great, well, I hope you'll be ok with me reading your book then. I'm eager to get the pages.

HP: Well, no. I don't want you to read it.

Me: stunned, incredulous silence.

I've NEVER had someone refuse to let me read something. As you can well imagine, it's 100% the other way around, I'm refusing to read stuff left and right.

To say I'm stunned is to say Stephenie Meyer sold a few books last year.

In the next five nano-seconds I think the following things:

1. He's read my blog and he thinks I'm a foul mouthed bitch.
2. He's read my blog and he thinks I'm incompetent.

3. He knows me and doesn't like me.
4. He's heard of me and doesn't like me.

Now, these thoughts aren't as lucid as this list. It's mostly just an overwhelming feeling of self doubt and the instant assumption his refusal was about ME.

In the next moment, I have a blinding, and I mean BLINDING, realization that this is how some people who query me react to form rejections. I think the last time there was a bolt like this Saul might have been on the road to Damascus.

Then Mr. Prospect elaborates: "I've decided to re-work the novel and I'm several weeks from having it done. I'd rather send you the revised and polished up version."

Me: Sure, no problem. Glad to get it then.

I tell you this here to illustrate one more time that when you query agents and you get a form rejection, it's not always about YOU. It could be about ME.

It's ME if I'm not enamored of the topic no matter how well written;

it's ME if I'm overwhelmed with work this week, and just can't read one more partial;

it's ME if I've got a project very similar to yours and can't sell it for spit;

it's ME if I can't think of an editor who would buy this book and have no idea where to even start;

it's ME if a colleague handles this genre and I don't want to encroach on his/her turf.

I don't tell you any of this, and I don't apologize for using a form rejection in these cases. I do, and you'll just have to know that.

Sometimes of course it is the writing. But not always. And if you've been paying attention to this blog and others, you've avoided some of the classic mistakes (glitter! photos! fiction novels!) If you've availed yourself of QueryShark or Evil Editor or any of the other critique sites, you've probably got a decent query.

That means you press ahead. Don't dog paddle around the slough of Despond. Climb out, hose yourself off, and get back to work.

Rule for writers: Be rational. Understand that your first response comes from that reptilian base of your brain. Then engage your thinking brain.

Sunday night sale at the Question Emporium #8

Q: I have a burning question and feel free to change my name and use this on your blog because I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s done this, but...

Back when I was repped, I heard about HQN opening up their teen line and asked agent to send them my ms, which he did (I would never presume to do an agent’s job for them but he had no idea about the line *cough*).

The submission outlasted our relationship, but ultimately was a pass. The editor asked me for future projects, a fact I filed away in my head, hoping to sign with someone new and shiny who would then send new shiny projects her way.

Then, the other day, aforementioned editor is doing a guest Q&A stint on an e-mail loop I’m on. Someone mentions she’s working on a (specific kind of) book and would editor be interested. Editor says “Sure I would. I have yet to get a YA (specific kind of book) submission”. So I promptly e-mailed her offloop and she now has a copy of my (title redacted) on her desk.

Uh, was this stupid of me? Does this cause complications down the road when I do sign with someone? Is this the kind of thing that makes agents want to publicly flog clients?

Janet, I do hope you don’t mind me asking. I trust you to be honest, even if I’ve done a bad, bad thing. I’m one of those entrepreneur types who believes in carving her own destiny and sometimes that kind of chutzpah gets away from me. I think it’s clear this is one of the reasons why I need a good partner in this biz.

Thank you for all you do. Really.

A: First, you're not stupid. Second, you're really not stupid.

Here's what you think: if I've sent this out already, no agent will sign this book because it's been shopped around.

Here's what I think: one editor has seen this and if she likes it I can get some of those other slacker girls overworked and underpaid (and under appreciated!) editors to take a quicker look.

Here's what you DIDN'T do: send it out all over town to anyone whose name you ever saw or heard.

Here's what you DID do: sent it to someone who expressed an interest in the book in general and yours in particular, and who has a history with you.

HQN also buys books from unagented authors I believe (although, if I'm wrong, please correct me in the comments section)

On the more general note: authors need to be proactive. When opportunity knocks, open the damn door. Don't wait for some slacker agent over worked and slow poke agent to open the door. If you hear the doorbell, answer!

You're the person with the most to lose in this endeavor. Even if I am your agent, and I care about your book passionately, my career doesn't rise and fall solely on your work. Yours does. A good agent is riding shotgun with you on the Publishing Stagecoach but you're the one holding the reins and wielding the whip.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

You had me at hello...and then you kept talking

I'm always on the lookout for good business oriented non-fiction. As you might imagine, given my job, I read a lot of "how to sell" and "how to network" and "how to be efficient with your time" kinds of books. (In case you do too, the best book so far is still Harvey Mackay's Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and all of Julie Morgenstern's books)

If you plan to query an agent with a book in this category, you need to mention if you've already had it printed and assigned an ISBN number by xlibris, AuthorHouse, or any of the printing companies in that category.

Why? Because one of the biggest markets for books like this is back of the room sales at the author's speaking engagements. If you've already tapped that market with the book you've had printed earlier, that makes a difference in expected sales.

And if you plan to query about this kind of book, one of the first things I look for is not only platform (ie those speaking engagements) but also your real world experience. That's one reason I listen to Harvey Mackay. He actually worked in a company for many years; he wasn't just a consultant or speaker. This is when you say: "I worked in telecommunications sales for 16 years before becoming a consultant."

There are a lot of people in this world who'll tell you they know a better way to do the job. The ones to whom I listen say "I know cause I worked in that field and this is what I learned."

Saturday, April 04, 2009

What to Expect from an agent

Rochelle (egad Janet, it's not like you don't KNOW and LIKE her!!) Rachelle Gardner's list of ten things to expect from an agent.

I agree (10x10)%

Saturday Morning at the Question Emporium #7

Q: So is it acceptable protocol to ask a prospective agent who has expressed interest in signing you if you can talk to his/her other clients? I've been wondering this in the abstract for a while and you seem to suggest it's okay!

A: Heck yes it's ok. In fact, if any agent suggests otherwise, head for the hills while thanking your lucky stars for avoiding that little disaster.

When a prospective client is poised to embark on the SS FinePrint I tell them to contact any client of mine they want. No cherry picking, no "here's the list." I hope my clients are happy with me the day people email, but if they're not, that's my problem!

Last word on #agentfail (I think!)

I read through the comments on BookEnds #agentfail last night and wrote a post about it.

One thing I forgot to mention were the two instances where a writer said an agent had shopped a book before they represented it.

I've done that. Sort of.

Hear me out, ok?

What I didn't do was write a pitch letter and go out on a wide submission. That's beyond unethical. I haven't even sent a manuscript out before clients have sent me a signed letter of agreement (but I have been standing by the fax machine to receive it, and then dashed to the phone to pitch, damn right I have!)

What I have done is talk about projects I don't actually represent-yet. I know I shouldn't, I do. Lambast me if you must, but know this: when an agent literally cannot stop talking about how great a book is, you've got something really special.

Take Alysia Sofios. I met her at the Writers Digest Pitch Slam at BEA last year in LA.

She came over to the line of people waiting to talk to me (and I've never adhered to a three minute time limit in my life, so the line was lonnnnng since we were taking five minutes or more.)

She sat down. She pitched her book idea. She's a reporter who'd covered the story of one of the worst mass murders in California history and then the trial of the man who was convicted of those murders: Marcus Wesson.

At this point, I thought it was just another true crime and I'd lifted my pen to write "probably not for me" in my notes.

Then she told me the next part of the story. And the next.

I put down my pen. I said "holy moly."

I was KICKING myself for failing to bring an agency agreement with me. I whipped out my cell phone, called the godsend in New York, asked Alysia for her email address and said "send now!"

Of course, I did suggest she not sign quite that fast. I wanted her to review the agreement, talk to some of my clients, all that usual stuff. I also wanted to take a look at the proposal she'd worked on.

We agreed to meet the next day.

(As a side note: Alysia lives north and east of Los Angeles. She drove home that night to work, then back to LA the next day just to meet with me for maybe 30 minutes. She is one of the most focused and dedicated and hard working people I've ever met and that was clear to me from the second I met her. I value that kind of focus and dedication enormously)

So, there's a period now of maybe six days when I don't represent her, and I shouldn't be talking about her book. I'm also right smack dab in the middle of twelve thousand people involved in publishing. There's no WAY I could not talk about that book I was so jazzed up about it.
I always said "I don't represent her yet so I'm not pitching, but holy moly, isn't this terrific?"

And right down the line, every single person said "holy moly." If they were my boon companion competitors they said it while looking rather pea green with envy which just added to the fun.

I came home, ripped the representation agreement out of the FedEx envelope and called Abby Zidle.

Abby loved it too. A lot.

In case you missed the deal announcement here it is:

Alysia Sofios's WHERE HOPE BEGINS, memoir of the author's investigation of the 2004 Wesson Murders in Fresno, California in which she risked her reporting career and safety to help free the remaining members of the Wesson family from the psychological clutches of their murderous father and husband, to Abby Zidle at Pocket, in a significant deal, for publication in September 2009, by Janet Reid at FinePrint Literary Management (world).

I've done every single one of the things that people complained about at #agentfail, a lot of them more than once. And some of them, I'd do again.

Thank you Olen Steinhauer

It's been a brutal week.

I don't want dwell on the details but let's just say it's truly been a week I never want to repeat. And one of the worst things was that my usual way to deal with stress-- saying "it will be better tomorrow" -- didn't work because each day I knew what was coming the next and it was worse.

This week well and truly sucked.

By Thursday night I couldn't even think about work. I was tired, and dispirited and just plumb out of gas. I didn't want to be where I was and I couldn't leave.

I was desperate to get outside myself. This was beyond the medicinal power of scotch. I needed an intervention.

The only thing that works for truly dire straits such as these is a totally captivating novel.

So, I bought The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer. I'd heard about him from Sarah Weinman; I'd seen an ad for this book in The New Yorker. I'd meant to read it, I just hadn't.

Clearly the Universe was waiting to remind me to buy it when it wasn't categorized as "book purchase" but as "emergency medicine."

For just a few hours last night and today, I wasn't here. I wasn't thinking about the stuff going on, I wasn't thinking about much of anything, I was just inside a wonderful, all-consuming story.

I was able to do that because Olen Steinhauer knows how to spin a damn fine tale.
Thanks to his amazing writing, I feel much much better. Nothing much has changed; it was still a week of raw suckage, but now I can move ahead sans firearms.

I just needed a short break from reality in the hands of a master craftsman.

Thank you, Olen Steinhauer. I really really needed that.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Friday Night At the Question Emporium #6

Q: Janet, I'm curious. If you only had to respond to queries that weren't rejections, the requests for more pages and such, how much time would it free up for you to do other things, like catching up on partials or whatever?

A: Twenty minutes a day. Max.

Let me elaborate. There are a couple levels of the incoming queries.

The first and easiest are books that I know aren't for me. It can be for any of the automatic rejections I have listed; it can be that I don't really want to read the book (no matter how well written) which means another agent is a much better choice for this querier; or, perhaps it just doesn't engage my interest (not bad writing but not energetic).

Those are very fast decisions. I do those twice a day, once in the morning, once at night.
Even when I type in the querier's name (I was listening to #agentfail!) it doesn't take more than ten minutes.

Then there are the queries to which I give more longer attention. That takes maybe another two hours over the course of a week. This includes reading pages, thinking about the book, doing some research maybe.

So, sum total, maybe three hours a week? I guess that's a lot of time if you think I work a 40 hour week. I don't. Not even close. (no hyena yelps from the peanut gallery suggesting it's LESS than 40!!)

The other reason I don't ever want to do "no response means no interest" is that I know most people are hoping to hear yes. I have to disappoint a lot of people every week. I don't need to be rude to them on top of it. I don't have to imply my time is more valuable than their hopes. It's not.

I'm glad to receive every single query. I don't care if you misspell my name, call me someone else, or insinuate that my Herpet-American asssssistant is too slithery for her own good: if you write well, and it's a book I want to read, I will read it. I may not offer to represent it, but I will read it.

Fuck all that other crapola about do this /do that. Write well. The end.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

#agent fail at Bookends--glad I had my brolly up!

Whew! That was a tsunami of comments over at Bookends yesterday. It took a while to read through the comments but I finally finished tonight.

Several people remarked about the depth of anger revealed by commenters. I wasn't surprised at all. Anyone who's been to a conference lately and spent any informal time in the bar with writers has heard this kind of thing. It's not news.

What it is though is instructive. For example: the number one thing that pains your asterisks is the "no response means no interest" policy that's becoming common. Many who commented about how much they loathed that policy also added that they would not query an agency who said that. Others said if that's the policy, at least establish a time limit and put an auto-responder up so the writer knew the query had been received.

I loath no-response. I think it's rude and unprofessional and a short sighted business strategy. I've said all that before, and at length.

What was REALLY interesting though was the commenter who said "if your policy is no response means no, and I see an email from you, I think it's a yes. When it's not, I'm disappointed".

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhh boy. A LOT of agents salve their consciences by saying that even though the agency policy is a no response means no, they still try to respond to every query.

It's clear to me we can't have it both ways.

Uniform guidelines was another complaint. Frankly this one never occurred to me. I don't keep track of where my guidelines are posted, and I only update Pub Mkt, my website and AgentQuery. Since I'll read just about anything though, I'm not worried about people sending me the wrong stuff.

The other big complaint is lack of communication in all its permutations: lack of replies to status updates on queries; lack of responses to clients; slow responses to everything.

That one hit home. It's my worst fault. I've been trying to work on it for awhile, and it doesn't seem to be getting much better. Maybe one of the things I can do in the next blog post is talk about WHY that kind of thing happens. Despite all evidence to the contrary it's not cause I'm twittering or blogging all day. I wish it was cause then I could just stop doing that and solve the problem.

I had to laugh when a couple people mentioned an agent looked or sounded disorganized and that was a negative. Look at the picture of the pink octopus on the blog post below this. See that MESS of a desk? Yup that's mine! I actually shuddered a bit when I realized how messy it looks in the picture. I knew someone would notice and sure enough I heard about it on twitter!

I blame the octopus for that though. When you've got eight arms you need to have a lot of things nearby to keep them occupied!

Red-Headed Stepchild!

Red-Headed Stepchild by Jaye Wells arrived from Amazon! Hurray indeed, I've been looking forward to reading it.

I check the acknowledgments section. Not that I'll be in it, Jaye is ably represented elsewhere.

Holy Pantsers! There's Sean Ferrell (yes, THAT Sean Ferrell)

Aha! I'm NOT crazy!

Several nights ago my phone rang. Caller ID revealed "Sean Ferrell."
Well, I know Sean Ferrell, he's a client with a book on submission so I figured he was calling in the evening for a reason.

As is my habit with hilarious clients such as Sean, I answered the phone thus:

"Sean Ferrell Fan Club, Brooklyn New York Chapter, Janet speaking"


Background noise of a sort.

Figuring I'd shocked the caller with my rapier wit, I tried again, less cleverly:


More silence. Then some burbling cheerful noises, somewhat like..wait...somewhat like a three year old boy?? Aha! Sean Ferrell has one of those. He has a very darling son who apparently wants to be friends with ME!

Well, that's just fine by me, but I had visions of Sean (or Mrs Sean!!) getting the cell phone bill and hitting the roof.

I hung up and called back.

Here's what happened at the Ferrell residence end of things

I'm still laughing.

And I'm still the president of the Ferrell pere et fils fan club!

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

#agent fail at Bookends!

Here's your chance to really let us know what sticks in your craw.

I will be paying VERY close attention to the comments because this is a golden opportunity to hear valuable feedback.

And you can comment anonymously; you don't have to use your real name or your normal posting name.

I STRONGLY encourage you to use this chance.

(it's not an April's Fools Day joke, honest)

I'm feeling your pain...and I don't much like it!

This email address thing is making me nutso!

First, I pull all my email into an inbox on my computer with a mail management program called Entourage. If your email arrives in my Entourage in box, I read it. I don't inspect every email address to make sure it's not spam. Entourage does that for me.

The inspection happens when I log on to gmail directly at the website and look at those emails left in the spam folder. That's Priscilla's domain. That's when I inspect email addresses and try not to open email that's sent by someone who's email name doesn't seem to match their email address.

The reason I bring this up is not to add a new rule, or a new hurdle. It's to illuminate that if you do NOT hear back, it may be that your email didn't survive Priscilla.

Honest to helvetica I'm not trying to make your life or the query process more difficult.

I'm simply trying to tell you what happens on THIS side of the query process so you can avoid the Desert of No Response (particularly from those of us who do respond to every email query)

more on email addresses

My evil plan to cause consternation in the world of writers appears to be taking shape nicely. Yet again, I've posted something that I thought was clear only to read the comment section and hear "bzzzzt! wrong-o!"

Back to email addresses for a moment.

When your queries come to me I see your email address: "" or I see "amanda"

That looks pretty normal to me, and if it's in my in-box, Priscilla Queen of the Desert of no-response spam filter said it was ok too.

Good. That's what we want.

The trouble is when Priscilla has pursed her pruny lips and said "not so fast bucko."

Those emails stay in the spam filter until I wade in with a hook.

I don't open the emails. What I do is move my mouse over the address.

If I see "Amanda" but my mouse reveals "" is the real sender I leave it IN the spam filter.

That seems obvious.

Where it gets tricky is if I see "Amanda" as the sender but the address is ""

I don't open those either.

So, here's what you do. When you set up your email account and it asks for your name, put the name you want to use. Use that name consistently. And have it match the email that you're using. No "John Smith" name using "" for an email address.

For most of you this isn't a problem at all. And if you're smart of course, you've got your own email account; you aren't sharing it with people. But if I see "MummyTheLush" as your name and your email address is "" rest assured Priscilla and I have both sent you packing.

The account name, your name and the email name should all be reasonably identical. The key here is identical. They don't have to match your "real name;" they need to match EACH other.

So if you are one of ten thousand Annes in your family, maybe your email address is not Maybe it's The key is that the account name, the email name and the from name all say "AnneTheBaker" or something reasonably close so that when I'm looking at it, I intuit that yes, you are Anne the Baker.

You don't need your own domain name; I open email from gmail, hotmail, aol, comcast, verizon and a host of others.

What I don't open is email that looks like someone is trying to conceal the true name of the sender.

I'm not trying to be difficult here.

In the era of "no reply means no" you want to make damn sure your email didn't get waylaid by Priscilla or others of her ilk.