Welcome to the week that was.
This past week pretty much all of trade publishing decamped to the Javits Center for BEA. For those of you not familiar with the term, it's Book Expo America, the industry trade show for publishers. Back in the day, when God was querying for the Bible, it was the event where publishers introduced their spring/fall line up to bookstore buyers, librarians, book reviewers and the other folks who did retail book work.
Now in the new electronic world, there is still some of that but catalogs have gone online, the number of bookstores have shrunk, and ways to reach people has expanded.
Reed Exhibitions who put on the trade show have had to scramble mightily to figure out how to get more people to buy booth space and get more bodies to buy tickets. They've experimented for a couple years with co-conferences like Reader.Con and Book.con and Digital Book World happening concurrently or adjoining the BEA dates. Someone buys a ticket for one, they get a discount ticket for the other.
Having readers (ie non-trade professionals) on the show floor in the past years has been a HUGE source of annoyance for the rest of us. This year, the organizers ran Book Con on Saturday and Sunday and let the rest of us go home on Friday. I've yet to hear from my spies about how Book Con went. I think they're going to be too exhausted to speak for a couple days.
Reed has also amped up its outreach to the self-publishing world. Where self-pubs were once consigned to the lower floor in the farthest reaches, this year they were on the main floor, spitting distance from the main exhibitors.
Of course, six years ago, BEA took up about twice the floor space it did this year.
And next year it's in Chicago. That's going to be a VERY interesting year to watch. We all spent a good deal of time this year talking about whether we're going to Chicago in 2016. Consensus: nope.
Here on the blog this week was pretty fun.
During last week's review I asked what PBs were, and now feel rather stupid to learn it's shorthand for picture books. Very obvious once you hear it. And of course, it's not like I hadn't seen it before, either. Thanks to all who reminded me kindly.
Jennifer R. Donohue asked
And with novels, the querying process is different, isn't it? You write a proposal or whatever, instead of a query letter?
You write a query for both fiction and non-fiction. The difference is when querying a novel you have to write and finish the novel first. For non-fiction, you write the proposal. I have a blog post from a ways back about what you need to have before you query fiction and non-fiction.
One of the coolest things ever happened when Julie.M.Weathers asked Flowers McGrath
Have you ever read any books by Marsha Skrypunch? She writes a lot of stories about Ukrainian immigrants and is a wonderful writer.
And then Marsh Skrypuch joined the conversation!
Hey Julie Weathers! Thanks for the kind comments about my books. Just wanted to clarify that my name is Skrypuch, not Skrypunch.Skrypuch, in Ukrainian, means violinist. It also means irritating squeaking sound.
It's always fun to see who reads the blog!
Colin filled us in on how Mrs. Smith ended up on medical leave. We're all glad she's doing well, and of course, had to use some of Terri Lynn Coop's prompt words for Friday's flash fiction contest.
CarolynnWith2Ns prompted a deluge when she asked where the blog readers are from. You're very close (Bushwick!) and very VERY far (Carkoon, Australia, Paradise)
Later in the week S.D.King said:
I was just thinking. . . this group is so spread out. . .so I created an interactive pin map.
I will wait for Janet to say if it is genius or creepy (I think a little of both). If she thinks it is fun, I can "share" with commenters and you can drop a pin on your location and identify your genre.
I think it's a terrific idea! I love maps, and seeing where y'all are sounds fun. Thanks!
Turns out Amy Schaefer is off on a high seas adventure for a while.
Just a little housekeeping: Paradise is going to be untended for the next 2-3 weeks. If anyone wants to keep on eye on things here, please apply forthwith. Duties include gathering coconuts, guarding the wormhole against incursions from Carkoon, and scanning the high seas for signs of literary piracy.I will be busy sailing from one place to another. See you all in a few weeks!
I failed to apply in time, and I have a cat-sitting job starting tonight but next year, I'm all over this one!
For those of you wondering how Jed Cullan got dead:
Quick note for those who keep wondering why I'm Poor Dead Jed. It has to do with an unfortunate accident involving the relocation of Sharky's cake from her plate into my mouth.
In other words, he baked a cake for ME, and then ate all of it. ALL of it. Cake piracy is NOT a minor offense.
Sandra F. Cormier has one of the best reasons for being late to the blog EVER:
I got to this late because I was interacting with a pregnant groundhog who has taken residence under my porch.
If you're not following the saga of Mrs. Groundhog on Sandy's facebook page and twitter feed, well, you're missing out.
Matt Adams just cracked me up with this:
Also, 11 years ago today I met my daughter, still the highlight of my life. The slumber party with six other 11-year-old girls last night, not so much.
And doesn't LynnRodz's comment just beg for a short story:
Late to the party, but it was such a beautiful day in Paris my husband and I sat at a sidewalk café sipping our wine and watching people pass by. We called one of my exes and he came to join us with his significant other. We then went to have dinner, so it was a nice evening.
And further on when Lynn said
When my husband was taking me to the hospital, here's what I was thinking, "Dear God, you can't let me have a heart attack and die when I haven't even begun to query."
I was reminded of the death (sorry Lynn) of a writer I'd been in communication with for a couple years about a novel he was working on. I loved the concept, but the plotting and point of view needed some work. I'd read probably three versions of the novel, the last one sent when he was getting ready for heart surgery. Of course I sent him my best wishes for a complete and quick recovery but it was not to be. I got an email from his brother some months later as they were closing up James' affairs, telling me that he'd passed away.
I am sad to this day. Never met him, never spoke to him on the phone, but he was important to me. I think of him still, and wish there was some fitting way to honor his memory. He wanted to be a writer, was working hard at doing so, but just ran out of time.
And Flowers McGrath, who lives probably six seconds from me, just offered to help me paint:
And I know this is strange to put out there, but Janet, if you ever need help painting, I'd love to give back some good karma.
I guess I forgot to mention I haven't done the ceilings yet.
On Monday the question was how to interact with someone you admire without coming across as insincere
I mentioned earlier that I attended BEA this week. One of the great things about BEA is the serendipitous meetings one can have.
On Friday I was strolling the floor, and who did I come across leaning against a cement pillar looking just exactly as cool as he is? Yup, Michael Connelly. I'm a devoted fan (well, who isn't!) so I took advantage of this lovely moment to stick out my hand and say "Michael Connelly. You don't know me, I'm Janet Reid, I'm a great admirer of your writing. And your acting"
It was the "and acting" part of course that galvanized the conversation. Mr. Connelly was a cameo poker player on the TV show Castle.
We talked a bit about that, a bit about the Harry Bosch movie on Amazon, Titus Welliver who
plays the lead, and bit about his most recent novel The Burning Room. I told him I used the book
to illustrate excellence in multiple character books: each character, particularly the minor/supporting ones are distinctly drawn, and utterly memorable.
Was there gushing? Sure, some. Hard not to gush. But mostly I could mention specifics about his work that I loved.
And boy was I glad I'd binged watched Castle this winter!
kdjames nailed it with her comment on people who disparage this blog and the comment on it as "sucking up"
Wait a minute. There are people who say it's "sucking up" to comment over here? Really? Good lord, that's so funny I'm snort-laughing. Those people must not have a realistic grasp of how the whole getting-an-agent process works. "Yeah, that Janet Reid, she signs ALL the writers who comment on her blog." Seriously?
Honest to god, I comment over here IN SPITE OF the fact I know she's reading the comments. It's entirely likely I'll say something, eventually, that will convince her I'd be a horrible client. Probably I already have.
Well, no you haven't, but do keep trying! And the insincere stuff I was talking about comes in query letters, not here on this blog. Honestly if someone made endless suck up comments here I'd probably delete them.
Colin Smith cracked me up (of course) with this:
OK, confession time. Here at FPLM-Carkoon, we do have a picture of Janet on the wall. But it's not out of any gushy devotion. We are required, according to the articles of exile, upon entering the office each morning to bow humbly before the picture of Mighty QOTKU and say three times, "I am most dreadfully sorry for--" followed by the offense(s) for which we were exiled. Failure to do this invokes article 12.1.4 which requires completion of THREE synopses while wearing Beelzebub's underpants. It's not pleasant, I can tell you.
What Colin forgot to include is the actual photo. Here it is:
When the talk turned to rhubarb, and then of course rhubarb pie, W.R. Gingell captured my thoughts perfectly:
Also, if there's pie going round, can I have a piece? And by piece, I mean half the pie.
and what has to be the craziest bit of self-delusion I've ever seen: Julie.M.Weathers said this about herself:
Julie and anyone else for that matter here, I am Julie_Weathers on twitter if you want to connect with me, but I am pretty boring.
On Tuesday the question was whether an ISBN meant you were published
I surprised a few of you by saying no, it doesn't.
Now I know, no copyright, it's a no-no. Years ago, I did copyright some of my music and lyrics and poems. If I ever want to self-publish those poems/odes (see yesterday's comments) is that going to give me problems I didn't foresee?
Probably not. If you've already registered the copyright with the copyright office (and not some morally bankrupt company trying to sell you something) then you simply list © your name/year you registered copyright
Here's a picture of the copyright page from that book that Colin Smith likes:
And W.R.Gingell said:
Huh. I thought once there was an ISBN, that was it. Kaput. You're published.
Nope. You have to offer the book for sale. Or someone has to offer the book for sale. This is where it can get murky. I've seen writers find their beta reader manuscripts for sale on Amazon. That means published. You can work around that, but you have to know about it to do so.
A good agent can help you on that.
Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli asked:
I have a question: Is obtaining ISBNs the authors responsibility? Or is it the publisher?
Publishers obtain the ISBN for books they publish. It's entirely possible for a book to have more than one ISBN. And VERSIONS of books have different ISBNs. One for hardcover, one of paperback, another for calendars etc. One for the version published by SweetCheeksPress in 1982. Another for the edition brought out by BigAssPublisher after the rights reverted to the author and she got really famous for marrying Justin Bieber.
ritzyplace had this cautionary tale for us:
I'm really glad the OP asked this. A couple years ago, my mom collected all my childhood poetry, typed it up, and published it on Amazon. Under my real name. I'd been hoping that, since I was fourteen when I wrote it and it seems to have sunk into obscurity, future agents won't mind... but there's a part of me that wondered whether they would look at the samples and decide I don't want to work with this lady, she's going to be way too much trouble.
That book is horrible. Horribly written, mainly. I probably look like one of those annoying kids who thought everything they wrote was a literary masterpiece. Well, I didn't. My mom did. I tried to convince her not to publish it, but, you know, she's my mom and it made her happy. At least the book has that going for it.
This is a really interesting problem. The truth is your mom did NOT have the legal right to do this. She can't publish something she didn't write, unless you agreed to it. She can NOT say "I'm your legal guardian, I can do what I want" here. And now, as an adult, you can ask Amazon to remove the book.
Whether you want to do this is of course not about legal rights and entirely about family harmony, but at this point, if you're really concerned, there are remedies.
It's great to have a proud mom. It's really great to have one who'll actually listen to what you want to do with your career.
As it turned out CarolynnWith2Ns had a story that I think needs highlighting:
For all you parents out there with college on the near horizon for your children, (Colin listen up, your six will be there before you know it), DO NOT, under any circumstances, take out PRIVATE student loans for your children.
Go federal money only and DO NOT co-sign. If you don't co-sign the loans may have a higher interest rate but they can be consolidated at the end (which makes the monthly payments manageable based on the kids income) and you, as a parent, don't have to haul that ball and chain until you die.
Even some fed. loans, like 'signature loans' can't be consolidated either so check it out. And DO NOT do 'parent plus loans'.
If your kid goes to a private college or university the loans almost always offered first are private. They are evil. (Especially the ones offered by the bank Elizabeth Warren said she wanted to break into pieces. (God Bless that women).
So that's my major, clicked-to-f***-up and it has cost us our retirement.
On Wednesday, the question was how much of your book can you post on a website, and how can a writer use a website to augment a a query.
I wasn't thrilled with any of this.
I think Brian Schwarz said why all this website stuff is a waste of time quite cogently:
…When you're in a band your primary goal is writing and selling music. You do this, of course, by recording an album and selling it. And even though plenty of bands play shows before they have a cd, mostly they're just wasting time. Because if someone loves them and wants to support them, the band has no way to let them do so.
During the first few months of my own bands existence, I would commonly get caught up in how I wanted to tour this winter or how I wanted to play with these big bands or at these colleges and my drummer would always stop me dead in my tracks with this quippy one-liner - we don't even have a band yet. Because until you have something recorded, you haven't accomplished the one thing that matters about playing music. Having something to show for it.
I understand the temptation. One of the hardest things about being an artist is learning to accept that you are perpetually and invariably miles ahead of the rest of the world. Because I had written some of those songs 4 years before they hit a record. Because a book idea starts long before the first page. And by the time the world sees this finished product, you've practically memorized it. You know everything about it. To you it's an old friend, and the rest of the world is just now saying hello.
The point is this- you don't have a band yet. Don't worry about websites or multi-interactive experiences or marketing plans or generating buzz. Worry about getting that idea down, and if it's down worry about ripping it up and fixing it, until it's a polished, shimmering, glittery thing that needs zero stretches of the imagination to realize in its full glory. Do that first. The rest can wait till you have a band.
W.R.Gingell made a comment that got me thinking:
I like the idea of interactive websites with lovely illustrations and character deets and bits and pieces of the author's writing, so that if I love the characters, I can get more.
Since no one at this point has read the book, no one "loves the characters"…yet.
This would be like building a fan site for Game Of Thrones for people who'd never read the books or seen the HBO edition.
Even at the query stage, the agent hasn't read the book.
And what Angie Brooksby-Arcangioli said underscored this:
Brent Weeks has an excellent author website, maybe a little overboard. He posts artwork his fans create of his characters, maps to his fantasy lands.
His FANS do the artwork. In other words, there are books out there for people to read and love.
I think that's the key point here: you can't create a website about the book until the book has an audience.
Angie further asked:
On my emails I have a signature line with my website but thought it not good practice to include it when querying. Am I wrong? Should I leave it when I start querying? Usually I delete it when contacting non-art professionals.
Mostly when I'm looking at a query writer's website it's to find out if they have previous books, previous representation, or some piece of information left out of a query. If it's all about your art, and not about your books, it's not a problem.
And I really like this insight from Ashes:
I think it's common to think of gimmicks because writers are creative people who often have other creative outlets (drawing, music composition, rug-hooking) that they think will add value. Back then I was under another misguided impression, I believed my query should showcase my creativity. I thought the concept should sell the book. After a lot more research and self-education I learned the simple truth, one Janet preaches again and again, the writing is what should sell the book. The writing is the only thing that matters.
And I think Elissa M had a good point here, even though she's disagreeing with me:
So here's where I disagree in the teensiest way from the Shark: "Every minute you spend creating art work for a book is a minute you're not reading widely in your category."
Every minute I spend creating artwork for a book (or anything else) is a minute I'm exercising the right half of my brain and giving the left half a rest. Of course, it works the other way around, too. Writing gives my drawing side a break. For me, the two endeavors work together, helping balance a sometimes unbalanced mind.
Still, I get Janet's main point: Don't waste time on peripheral things. Do the work.
I think Jenz nailed this whole thing most succinctly:
My dad told me to look at what my bosses wear to work and dress at that level. Do the same with your site--look at what the pros do and emulate it.
And note that they don't heavily promote books they don't have deals for yet.
On Thursday the talk turned to a querier who couldn't stand how a prospective agent sounded on the phone and wondered if this should be a factor in signing with her.
I said it should not.
brianrschwarz nailed it with this comment:
I've worked professionally with lots of people who annoyed me.
And Colin Smith did too:
What if all the time you're listening on the phone thinking, "Uggh that VOICE...!" she's thinking the exact same thing about you?
And Matt Adams had a very interesting point:
[A published author friend] also told me something that many might find disagreeable (and it's her saying it, not me): she said that she doesn't know many writers who like their agents. She respects her and she has a career because of her, and her agent is great at getting her books sold, and is a great person to navigate all the crap that comes with publishing. But she and her agent aren't buddies; they only talk the books, only see each other when business requires them to be together. But she gets her books sold, gets her freelance assignments. And that's the agent's job.
Now, I like my agent a lot, but I do think there is a danger of all of us in wanting agents to be more than they are -- we get desperately needed validation from them, and I think we like to like anyone who likes our books (there's some solid writing there, huh?). We expect them to be cheerleaders and editors and confidants and best friends. And I'm sure that sometimes happens. But we have to remember that their job is to find someone to publish the books we write. Anything else is gravy, and expecting anything else is unrealistic. The job itself is enough.
Helen DeWitt made a good point:
It sounded to me as though the problem was not just the voice, it was the fact that the agent talked at great length about herself, her deals, her other clients. My guess is, it's unlikely that an agent would take up an editor's time with her brilliant career - I wouldn't worry so much about whether she might come across to an editor the way she did to me. I WOULD be a little worried by someone who, on the client side, spent time talking that she could have spent listening. Selling a book is not just selling a book - a good deal is not the deal for the biggest bucks, but the deal that gives most weight to the client's priorities. If an agent thinks she will impress a client by talking about herself, rather than getting a sense of what the client cares about, that's -- something to bear in mind.
I might be reading too much into this, but it sounds to me that it's more than just the sound of the agent's voice that bothers OP. Talking "non-stop" might mean the agent is coming across as rude. When OP gets The Call, can she ask for a week or two to think it over? Then, she can contact the other agent(s) who have her query to see if there's any interest. Or, would it be bad form to ask for time to think it over after they have already talked on the phone several times?
It's certainly ok to ask for some time to consider an offer of representation. Generally a week is the outside limit. Two weeks, and the agent making the offer is having troublesome thoughts that you're shopping the offer for a better deal someplace else. (This is true with publication offers as well)
The other thing to do here is contact the agent's clients. Get a sense of what she's like to work with. Ask if The Voice Thing bothers anyone. Be judicious here. Consider that everything you say will most likely get back to the agent in one form or another.
DeadSpiderEye conjured up an image from the past that I miss more than many of you will know:
The agent sounds pretty keen, the only one I knew would sit across a desk while chain smoking hand rolled Turkish tobacco, from a stubby ivory cigarette holder, pinched erect between her thumb and and forefinger. The only word she'd utter would be the occasional, 'Yes' with which she'd punctuate a prospect's stream of hyperbole and pronounced with a deep glottal extension of the vowel, that only a chronic smoking habit could produce. Let's call her Mr. C, she was something of a legend but her and her kind I suppose, are long gone, replaced by the ebullience borne of a rolling order of double strength espresso from the nearest coffee chain outlet.
And this from french sojourn really said it best:
I don't know if this a little TMI, but when my wife had a tubal pregnancy, I called 911 as she looked like a Kabuki theater reject with dark circles around her eyes. Paramedics arrived and couldn't find a pulse. They get her to the Cedar Sinai Emergency room and have the crash team doing all sorts of tests. I had managed to get a message to her least favorite doctor, and he arrived and saved my wife's life. He had the bedside manner of a Russian foot soldier in Berlin in the spring of 45. He said in his odd creaky voice."I've never had someone lose so much blood and survive." As I hugged him I thought he sounded like Cary Grant.
We still joke about his voice, but at least she's here to laugh with
Friday and Saturday were taken up with the flash fiction contest.
I was late to both open and close the contest…bad bad me.
Contest results will be posted on Monday.
On Saturday I was late cause I overslept. BEA just knocked the wind out of me, and I paid for it on Saturday with a lot of snoozing.
On Sunday I was so caught up in the week in review that I failed to notice the time.
In other words, I'm trying to weasel out of the blame here for being late twice.
I'm very much looking forward to a quiet first week of June. I'd hoped to take the week off for reading but that's not going to happen. Entirely too much work has stacked up.
Next weekend I'll be at the Biographers' International Organization conference in Washington DC. I'm not sure yet how that will affect the blog but I'll let you know.