Friday, December 11, 2009
Thursday, December 10, 2009
If you’ve been reading this blog, you know I love me an inspirational success story. Which is why I asked Mandy Hubbard, YA author extraordinaire, to do a guest blog today. I do not represent Mandy, she has a wonderful agent all of her own, but I am beyond lucky and blessed to have Mandy as an intern at the Bent Agency. Her energy and knowledge and good cheer astound me, and the story of her path to publication amazes me.
At TBA, we do an intern conference call every other week. Many of our interns are writers at various stages in their careers and sometimes we discuss the trials and tribulations of getting published and offer each other advice and encouragement. Mandy told us how she’d happened to get published and I thought it was such a great story that I asked her to tell it here.
This is what I hope you’ll get from it:
- Mandy never gave up.
- Her superagent never gave up (I’m very impressed!)
- See what happens when you never give up?
Okay, over to Mandy…..
Hi Everyone! And thank you, to Jenny, for having me. :-) My name is Mandy, and I’m an author. (Why do I suddenly feel like I'm in AA?) My debut, Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill/Penguin) came out in June. I also have four more projects in the works with Harlequin, Razorbill, and Llewellyn Flux. You can learn more about my books at my website (www.mandyhubbard.com) Eighteen months ago, life was different for me. I was lucky enough to have an agent, but after two years, the phrase “my agent” had lost some of its novelty. My first project didn’t fare well and had been retired, and Prada & Prejudice had racked up over 20 rejections, from every major house in NYC. Every day, I feared the email from my agent saying it was time to give up and move on. In February of 2008, when Prada & Prejudice was in its 8th draft, I received my third revision request. Except it was really a rewrite request, because all they liked was the concept. And the title. But the rest? It had to go. Even while I was still hitting my head against my desk, I emailed my agent and told her I’d do it. I opened a blank word document and started over. I never once opened the old book, never copied a single word. I spent six weeks writing and polishing the first hundred pages of the 9th draft of Prada & Prejudice. We sent it back to the editor, and then I crossed my fingers. Two weeks later I was rejected. My agent, undaunted, told me she’d give it another shot. After all my work, it was practically a brand-new book. So we put our heads together and came up with a list of six or seven publishers. I knew in my heart that it was the last hurrah. If it didn’t sell, it never would. In May, it went out. Two weeks later, we received not one, but two offers. When I got the news, it was like a freight train was roaring in one ear and out the other. I couldn’t hear a thing, and I was convinced my heart might actually break one of my ribs, it was beating so hard. The final tally? Twenty-six rejections, almost two years on submission, and nine drafts. What’s more? The editor who purchased PRADA & PREJUDICE rejected it twice before offering it. Since P&P has been published, it's received positive reviews from SLJ and Publishers Weekly, been featured in TIME magazine (why yes, I bought 5 copies, why do you ask?), and is now in its 5th printing. There were many, many times I wanted to rip my hair out, one strand at a time. I remember the angst, the frustration, the longing. I’ve never wanted something so fiercely as I wanted to be published. And yet it’s one of the most difficult things to achieve, because it’s a dream that relies on someone else granting it. A few months ago, I went into my blog and unlocked the posts dealing with rejection, despair, frustration—the ones most people don’t seem to want to share. My hope is that some authors will find in encouragement and realize that there is a happy ending, if only you work at it. They can be found here: http://mandywriter.livejournal.com/tag/the+road+to+publication All I can say is: It’s worth it. It’s worth every second of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes. The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is one day. It only takes one day, one moment, for your whole world to shift. I firmly believe that if you work hard at improving your craft and you simply do not give up, your day will come. The question is: will you quit before then?
And thank you, to Jenny, for having me. :-)
My name is Mandy, and I’m an author. (Why do I suddenly feel like I'm in AA?) My debut, Prada & Prejudice (Razorbill/Penguin) came out in June. I also have four more projects in the works with Harlequin, Razorbill, and Llewellyn Flux. You can learn more about my books at my website (www.mandyhubbard.com)
Eighteen months ago, life was different for me. I was lucky enough to have an agent, but after two years, the phrase “my agent” had lost some of its novelty. My first project didn’t fare well and had been retired, and Prada & Prejudice had racked up over 20 rejections, from every major house in NYC. Every day, I feared the email from my agent saying it was time to give up and move on.
In February of 2008, when Prada & Prejudice was in its 8th draft, I received my third revision request. Except it was really a rewrite request, because all they liked was the concept. And the title. But the rest? It had to go.
Even while I was still hitting my head against my desk, I emailed my agent and told her I’d do it. I opened a blank word document and started over. I never once opened the old book, never copied a single word. I spent six weeks writing and polishing the first hundred pages of the 9th draft of Prada & Prejudice. We sent it back to the editor, and then I crossed my fingers.
Two weeks later I was rejected.
My agent, undaunted, told me she’d give it another shot. After all my work, it was practically a brand-new book. So we put our heads together and came up with a list of six or seven publishers. I knew in my heart that it was the last hurrah. If it didn’t sell, it never would.
In May, it went out. Two weeks later, we received not one, but two offers. When I got the news, it was like a freight train was roaring in one ear and out the other. I couldn’t hear a thing, and I was convinced my heart might actually break one of my ribs, it was beating so hard.
The final tally? Twenty-six rejections, almost two years on submission, and nine drafts. What’s more? The editor who purchased PRADA & PREJUDICE rejected it twice before offering it. Since P&P has been published, it's received positive reviews from SLJ and Publishers Weekly, been featured in TIME magazine (why yes, I bought 5 copies, why do you ask?), and is now in its 5th printing.
There were many, many times I wanted to rip my hair out, one strand at a time. I remember the angst, the frustration, the longing. I’ve never wanted something so fiercely as I wanted to be published. And yet it’s one of the most difficult things to achieve, because it’s a dream that relies on someone else granting it.
A few months ago, I went into my blog and unlocked the posts dealing with rejection, despair, frustration—the ones most people don’t seem to want to share. My hope is that some authors will find in encouragement and realize that there is a happy ending, if only you work at it. They can be found here: http://mandywriter.livejournal.com/tag/the+road+to+publication
All I can say is: It’s worth it. It’s worth every second of the blood, sweat, and tears it takes.
The difference between a published author and an unpublished one is one day. It only takes one day, one moment, for your whole world to shift. I firmly believe that if you work hard at improving your craft and you simply do not give up, your day will come.
The question is: will you quit before then?
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Friday, November 27, 2009
> If you have the time and inclination could you answer this
> question...just what ARE you looking for? It's not that I'm going to
> write something according to formula, but I'm curious. I certainly
> won't blame or hold it against you if you never reply to this reply
> (the department of redundancy department strikes again!), but any
> insight into what the market seems to be would be of great benefit.
I asked him if I could reproduce his e-mail because I think it's a question that comes up a lot. It's also along the same lines as a question I've discussed extensively with an intern of mine who is also a writer: If I think a manuscript is good, or even great and absolutely saleable, how come I will still pass on it? After all, if it's saleable, why not go out there and sell it?
And the answer is thus: why do you like Hemingway but not Fitzgerald? Why do you walk into a bookstore and pick up one book but not another? After all, you know Fitzgerald is a masterful writer. And you know that in the bookstore you could find many more books that you would conceivably buy.
Taste, my friends, it all comes down to taste. If you go into the bookstore with a budget to buy only one book by an author that's new to you, you have to pick out the book that's your very favorite out of the books that you see. When I'm reading manuscripts, I have the same constraints. I must pick out my very, very favorite. If I took on every solid manuscript that I read, I wouldn't have nearly enough time to sell them all. It has to be a labor of love and passion for me to sell your book; otherwise I'll potentially lose interest if I can't sell the book in the first round of submissions.
Additionally, even if I see that a book is saleable, that doesn't mean I can personally sell it. I have to pick a book that I have a true affinity for so that as I'm reading I'm composing a pitch letter in my head and a list of editors that I think will love it. If that doesn't happen, it means that I truly don't know how I would pitch this or sell it. If I love a science fiction novel, that doesn't mean I know how to sell it. I don't work with the editors that buy it, and I'm not familar with the genre so I don't know if it competes with what's already out there, or if editors will think it's old news. I would be doing the book's author a disservice by representing him or her.
So, Author X, I'm looking for a book that speaks to me somehow, in a genre that I know how to sell. And that "somehow" is of course the mysterious element that authors can't predict. The solution of course is to submit to multiple agents who could potentially be a fit, and keep submitting, until you find the agent who truly "gets" you. And that's also what agents do with editors. You know that a particular manuscript will probably be to a certain editors taste, but you never know if it will truly spark with them enough for them to try to make an offer.
As it so often is, the message is to keep trying, believe in yourself and your work, and hard as it is, don't take rejection personally. Remember that Fitzgerald papered his wall with rejection letters, Dr. Seuss got turned down by at least 20 publishers (check out this link: http://www.skrause.org/humor/rejectedseussbooks.shtml), Alex Haley was rejected over 200 times before Roots was finally published, etc., etc. And finally, I leave you with this a great link with lots of rejection stories for when you're feeling discouraged:
Thursday, November 26, 2009
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Well, of course, then I had to start reading it. Jane Austen is my very favorite author and for a few years running I read all her works every year over Christmas break, but I'd fallen out of that habit. And what a pleasure to be reminded all over again why I absolutely love this book--the writing, the characters, the dialogue. But this time I've noted something else about it. I'm reading so many manuscripts these days looking for new clients that I bring a new perspective to this book, which is: damn, if this book just isn't FULL of plot. I think many of us (me included) tend to think of the classics as slow-moving, ornately written, focusing on character as opposed to plot. But reading Austen reminds me that beyond Austen, plenty of classic literature has fast-paced, rip-roaring adventure, edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff. And reading Austen makes me realize very clearly what's missing in a lot of the manuscripts I'm reading these days.
Which (finally) brings me to the point. I am reading so many beautifully written novels whose descriptions in the query sound fantastic--full of plot and intrigue. But when I sit down to read said novels, I find myself reading page after page of description and conversation with no real movement forward in terms of plot. I've said it before: start your story, don't set up your story. From right around page one, I want to be plunked down in the middle of intrigue. I'm not saying write a mystery, but I am saying that I want there to be a kind of mystery element, a reason to keep reading because I want to know what happens next. Let your book pose a question almost from page one: will Annabelle find her father? Who is the mysterious character following Bob? What is the story behind the family bible with significant words blacked out? Will Jane find love (and more importantly marriage) with Bingley? What is the story behind the Wickham-Darcy feud? Will Lydia be rescued in time?
Even the most character-driven novels, in my opinion, work because you love the character so much that you want to see what happens to them next. Will they get the promotion, fall in love, get the girl, lose the weight, find their dog? There's still a question being posed and you keep reading to get the answer.
As I write, Rachelle Gardner just tweeted the following:
"A good plot is about disturbance to characters' inner and outer lives." ~@JamesScottBell
I think that sums it up perfectly.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
I think that's wonderful, and like I said, I remember it still. And his agent and his editor are both stellar and important members of the publishing community.
But there's a nagging voice inside my head which asks the following: what if he'd had different luck? What if he'd started with a different agent, an agent who was a lemon, or maybe even not a good fit? What then?
In a business where the personal and the professional are melded much more closely than in other industries, I think there is often an expectation of loyalty that perhaps is not so warranted. Publishers are often outraged if successful authors leave them: after all, they are the ones who made said author a huge success, they reason. They feel that the author has taken advantage, and used their hard work to leverage a better deal with another house.
Agents are often furious if clients decide to leave, using the same reasoning. They worked so hard to build an author, after all, and this is how they are repaid?
And some authors are angered if their agent or editor tells them it's time to part ways. They feel abandoned, rejected, dumped. It's been a close personal relationship, they've exchanged hopes, dreams, and baby pictures, and now they are being discarded? The agent after all reaped the benefits of their career for a long time and should stick with them.
And while I understand all these reactions, and they certainly have merit, I do see the other side, which I think is as follows:
This is a business and while loyalty plays a role it is not the only factor. Regardless of the friendships that are formed along the way, this is the way we all make a living. And if anyone: editor, agent, author, publisher, feels that it's time to make a decision which may be painful, but is ultimately necessary, if we are at the receiving end perhaps we should set aside our egos and recognize that it's not personal, it's professional. (I struggle with this myself, don't get me wrong.)
Having said that, I also say this: the fact that it is a professional decision does not mean that it shouldn't be carried out in a direct and kind way. The goal is to part friends. This is a nod to the personal side of this business, the side that means we are all so often friends as we all do our individual jobs.
So here's my conclusion. Be a loyal friend. Be a pragmatic businessperson. And meld them as much as you can: when you have to make tough business decisions, keep in mind that you are often dealing with a friend and act accordingly.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Please read it for your own protection. Most agency agreements protect the agent, not you, and you can end up agreeing to pay the agent commission even if the agent doesn't sell your book.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Even with three interns working very hard, we are still way behind reading queries. Does anyone want to help out? We have a lot of fun and do conference calls together to catch up and talk about the industry.
If so, send me a resume and a letter telling me what you like to read. Publishing background a plus, but certainly not required and I welcome hearing from everyone--particularly people who
want to transition into the industry. Oh, and send me a list of your most recent and favorite reads.
Update, in response to a recent comment: stay-at-home mothers are more than welcome to apply!
email to email@example.com
Monday, August 31, 2009
Sunday, August 23, 2009
The Return of the Twelves by Pauline Clarke.
Looks like it's out of print but you can buy it cheaply used.
Tell me your favorite children's books. Kids' classics are my favorite vacation reading.
Friday, July 31, 2009
The Kentucky Women Writers Conference is September 10th through 12th. An amazing line up of writers will be there and it seems like it will be a really warm and nurturing environment with lots of intensive workshops (and you know I'm in favor of those).
The Writers Digest Business of Getting Published is September 18th to 20th in New York City. I'll be on a self-publishing panel (I'm a big fan of self-publishing as many of you know). Again, an amazing line-up, including an intriguing panel on book doctors. I don't seem to be listed as a presenter, but that may be because after a nightmare of a picture of me was posted on the Kentucky website, I refused to provide a picture of myself on the grounds that I'm probably the least photogenic person on the planet.
The South Carolina Writer's Workshop is from October 23 to 25. A number of great agents and editors are attending, including my agent friends Holly Root, Janet Reid and Jeff Kleinman.
http://www.myscww.org/conference/ They'll have some fantastic panels and workshops as you'll see from the website.
Back to queries: It is our goal to respond to each and every query that comes our way. But the volume is still pretty heavy and sometimes the entire e-mail system breaks down and we lose stuff. So if you sent something in March or April and you never heard back, please send another query. Or, if it's been two months and you haven't heard back, please send another query. I apologize profusely for these kinds of delays and mishaps and promise that eventually we'll have things worked out.
Looking forward to hearing from/meeting all of you.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
And that makes me feel bad. Am I a bad agent? Why don't I see it? Why aren't I in a huge auction having vast sums of money thrown my client's way?
I tell you this because sometimes I think authors think we agents have it made in the shade (it's my day to use very dated expressions I guess). But the fact is that we experience professional jealousy and insecurity just like you do. And the fact is that we shouldn't. It doesn't get us anywhere, and in fact, it probably gets in our way.
If you're feeling bad because your friend is getting a book tour and you're getting bupkus, or your friend sold their book for six figures and you sold yours for 15K, or you haven't sold at all, or you don't have an agent, or you don't even have time to write even though you love it but you're working two jobs just to make ends meet....well, you're not alone.
I know because I spend a fair amount of time talking to authors who feel this way. And of course, because I sometimes feel this way myself.
I think my point here is two-fold.
One is that it's all relative. I often tell my discouraged authors to realize what their careers look like to others. Mostly, they look pretty damn good.
Two is everybody feels like this some of the time.
And three (I added one) is that we ALL need to avoid this thinking as much as we can because it's negative and destructive and crazy-making (another terrible expression, sorry).
You hear it all the time, but it's so true: there's an unlimited amount of success and good things out there. If your friend makes a book deal, that doesn't mean there's one less book deal out there for you. If your friend hits the Times list, that doesn't mean you won't too.
Okay, yes, once in a while you're allowed to feel shitty and get into bed and eat lots of sugary candy (that's me anyway) but really, try to limit feeling shitty not about others' successes, but maybe just about the fact that you haven't met your own personal goals.
And that, I think, is the antidote to all this obsessing about other people's success. Set goals for yourself. Figure out a plan so that you can meet them. Don't think: he got a NYT book review. Think: I want to sell 10,000 copies of my book. How exactly am I going to do that? Here is step 1, here is step 2, etc. etc.
Come from a positive place--what do I want to achieve--and not a negative one--why don't I have what he has?
I can't promise you'll be more successful--but you'll certainly be happier.
And I'm going to (try to) move on. I have a list of about 20 things I was supposed to get done today and I don't think that obsessing about this auction was on it. Onward and upward!
Friday, June 26, 2009
Sorry for the cheesy saying, but what can I say? I love cheesy sayings and this one may be one of my favorites.
Here's why. You know how you always hear don't write for the market? It's true. Even for the practical reason that by the time you've finished writing the market has usually changed.
But what you should do is be hyper-aware of the market so that you can fully take advantage of the market. Number one easiest way to do this is by reading the NYT list and seeing what kinds of books are working, but you should also check out Publishers Marketplace and Kristin Nelson's blog and Janet Reid's blog (I link to both of them) and really as much as you have time for. Publisher's Marketplace and the agent blogs will lead you to other great resources.
Here's a great example from the Times list. A new book just debuted a few weeks ago at number two on the hardcover fiction list. Without a big push from Oprah this really never happens so it's a notable example.
The book is called The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and it's one of those novels where there's a mystery happening in contemporary times and the narrative takes you back into history to tell you a story that helps solve the present-day mystery. Another good example of this is a book called The Secret History of the Pink Carnation.
Publishers already are disposed to like this sort of novel, but right now you can guess that they are all dying to buy something similar. And in about a few months time, they will have been so deluged by similar books that they will have moved on to the next thing.
So there's a small window of opportunity here.
Obviously, you're not going to be able to sit down and write a novel like this in time to get it out there and take advantage of the buzz. But if you happen to have one just about ready to submit--get it out there. And make sure to tailor your pitch to refer to Deliverance Dane.
So the plan is two-fold.
First, write the book of your heart. Don't worry about the market.
At the same time, pay attention to the market in every way you can. Watch bestseller lists, read industry news. When you're done with the book, put your knowledge of the market to use and figure out how what's going on in the market matches your particular genre/style/characters/plot. Preparation will meet opportunity. You'll make your own luck. And the great thing is that the way the market shifts and changes, the windows are always opening up.
And of course, if you've written the next Deliverance Dane, hurry up and get it to my query in-box.
Signing off at midnight on Saturday, just having finished the latest Tana French. Tana, Dennis Lehane, Lee Child, you have caused me too many sleepless nights of late. And still I love you all...
Thursday, June 18, 2009
So I'm thrilled to report that last week I sold an amazing literary suspense novel called BENT ROAD by first time novelist Lori Roy. It went to Denise Roy, at Dutton, at auction. Exciting stuff--Lori is the first new author I signed at the Bent Agency and we found her because she sent in an unsolicited query.
If you're noting all the funny coincidences (her title; my name; her name; the editors name) you're not alone. Corelle strikes again!
You also may recall that I had posted about needing interns. I found some great ones. One of them, Judy Walters, found Lori's e-mail and knew it was something I would love. I'm seriously lucky to be working with Judy and Erin Sanger and Ryan Archer. These guys are smart and terrific and talented.
The take-away for the as yet undiscovered writers out there is that I am actively reading and considering unsolicited material. Nothing is more fun or satisfying than "discovering" a new writer that way, and nothing is more fun than selling someone's first novel. I'm so excited about working with Lori from the ground floor of what I know will be an amazing career.
And I'm looking for more suspense, thrillers, literary horror. Something to fit the mood of these dark, dreary rainy days (which I hate to admit, but I'm kind of enjoying!)
On a practical note, if you sent me a query in late March and never heard back, you should probably resend it. We're still catching up on April e-mails but I'm afraid that some of March may have slipped through the cracks.
And, you heard it here first, on a quiet summer Friday: we're open for new queries once again. Please just e-query-we regret that we can't respond to snail mail queries.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
What I am going to talk about is conferences. I've had a great time recently attending a few different conferences. One of the terrific things about starting this business is everything feels so new again--and so where I once might have viewed conferences with ennui and even a little dread (I'll explain why), now going seems fun and filled with possibility.
So I'm going to discuss several different concepts, which I'll number.
1. Why Agents Dread Conferences
2. How to Succeed at Conferences
3. How to Make the Most of Pitching
4. What are the Best Conferences to Attend
1. Why Agents Dread Conferences: It's the Workload, Stupid. If I go to a conference I feel a real sense of responsibilty towards the authors I meet. I want to read their material and give them some sort of personal and thoughtful response. But it's really hard, because you get back from a conference and beyond your normal backlog of work and queries, you now have that much extra--and it's a lot of extra because you ask for more sample material than you ordinarily would if it were a blind query. So the number one reason I don't go to a whole ton of conferences is that I can't handle the extra work and it makes me feel too guilty to let it sit around for six months. I still haven't responded to a bunch of material from the last two conferences I went to. Argh.
I also find conferences emotionally taxing because the people who attend have so much on the line. I don't want to disappoint them and I want to make them feel at ease when they are pitching to me. But after about ten pitch sessions I am exhausted. It's very, very hard to sit there and be responsible for potentially dashing someone's hopes and dreams. At one of the conferences I went to recently I made a woman very upset for suggesting that she self-publish--and this was after spending the whole panel explaining that I loved self-published books and represent so many self-published authors. I don't blame her at all: the point is that it's very easy to upset someone at a conference because it's an emotional, pressure-filled, scary ride for them. So I can only handle so many pitches before I am worn out emotionally myself.
2. How to Succeed at Conferences (without really trying)
Volunteer. Do whatever you can to come into lots of contact with the attending agents. Be the hospitality person or drive them to and from the airport. Volunteer to get them diet coke (okay, that one's just for me). I will confess that I did once ask someone at a conference to run out and get me an egg and cheese sandwich and I've never forgotten them (in my defense, I was really pregnant at the time). But here's the secret: DO NOT PITCH THEM. Be super nice and friendly and help them out as much as you can, but do not pitch. Two things will happen: either they will be so curious about the fact that you didn't pitch them that they will ask you what you write, OR, they won't ask you, but later on you can e-mail them and remind them who you are and then pitch them and they will like you so much, in part because you didn't pitch them, that they will be favorably disposed towards your work. It's all about the personal connection, it really is.
Also, remember that often an agent feels awkward and out of place at a conference where he/she doesn't know anyone. I know I often feel shy walking into the bar, or dining room, or opening party where I don't know anyone. So you get points for rescuing me and being friendly and welcoming. But again, don't pitch. See below.
3. How to Make the Most of Pitching. Try to limit pitches to the pitch sessions, agent/editor speed dating, etc. I would avoid pitching in places like (these are all places I have been pitched) the bathroom, the salad bar line, the bar, a noisy cocktail party, the hall going to the bathroom, a car filled with two other agents, the baggage carousel, when I'm on the phone or checking e-mail, basically anywhere where the agent is trying to have a little downtime or needs to focus on something else. It's great to meet an agent at a party and talk to them (see number two above) but pitching there probably means you'll be forgotten because the agent is so distracted.
The time to pitch is in a pitch session or perhaps after a panel. Or if the agent is available at other times.
Note, this is just my personal take. Other agents/editors may completely disagree. But pitching when an agent is distracted or busy doesn't seem very productive to me.
Also, do your homework, so you don't end up at a pitch session with an agent and not know anything about what they represent. You don't want to pitch your mystery to an agent who only does picture books. You're wasting your time and theirs.
4. In my opinion, for what it's worth, the best kinds of conferences to go to.
Go to conferences where you have intensive workshops with published authors, editors or agents. To my mind, anyway, these are more useful than having a bunch of five minute pitch sessions with agents. I think the conferences were you are working intensively with other writers and even sometimes agents or book editors are the way to go because you create relationships which end up being helpful professionally, creatively, and personally.
Next time, if people are interested, I'll go through frequently asked questions at conferences.
P.S. No, I'm not calling you stupid, by the way. Would never do that. It's a play on the famous Clintonian expression, "It's the economy, stupid."
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
And here's a new post about age vs beauty, or, what an older agent knows that can hurt you.
As I have started out on my own, inevitably it has brought up memories of the last time I went out on my own. I was 26, and I was working for an agent who was reluctant to let me represent my own titles. Since like most twenty-somethings I was ambitious and impatient, I decided to go work for an agency which did not pay me a salary but let me have a desk and a computer in exchange for keeping a portion of the money I earned.
--I interrupt myself here to say that I am so grateful to everyone who helped me get to that point and beyond, people like Nina Graybill, Elaine English, Michael Cader, and Raphael Sagalyn---
I hate to admit it, but I really had very little clue of what I was doing. I did have a number of people who helped me, particularly Howard Yoon, another D.C. agent. And I learned as I went. But what I didn't have in knowledge and experience I made up for with boundless enthusiasm, determination and really almost desperation, since I had a mortgage to pay and no other resources available. I worked my a** off. And here's the other cool thing about those days, and really the whole point of this post: I had no idea what I couldn't do. Short story collection? Sure, why not? And I did sell a few of them for clients that I still represent. Incredibly moving and very dark memoir about mental illness (in a time when memoirs were just impossible)? Absolutely. And again, I still represent that author. Self-help books by people with very few mainstream credentials? Hell, yeah. My first six-figure deal fell into that category. And it continues to sell very nicely.
So flash forward to right now. I have an extensive client list, lots of great contacts, and I have learned so much. My knowledge has absolutely made me a better agent. In fact, as I look back on my twenty-something self and how I negotiated, etc., I am really grateful to so many editors who didn't make me feel like the idiot I so often was. (Interesting tidbit: most of the editors who were jerks to me back then are out of the business. And the ones who were nice are now giants: Jonathan Karp, Jordan Pavlin, Geoff Kloske, Laurie Chittenden to name just a few off the top of my head.)
But as I have gained, I have also lost. I feel just as enthusiastic as I ever did (I just remembered another shout-out: Hillel Black. Hillel was great to me back then and I will always admire Hillel for his boundless enthusiasm and joy for what we do in publishing. At this point Hillel has as many years in the business as anyone out there and he is still so excited by what he does every day.) but in some ways I know too much. I know what kinds of books are supposed to be successful and what aren't. So in terms of what I choose to represent, I have to balance conventional wisdom with trusting my instincts and my passion. I have to be on guard that I don't turn down a project that's about, say, peaches, for the silly reason that I tried to sell a different book about peaches and couldn't do it. Or because everyone is saying that books about peaches don't work.
So I guess what I'm saying is that as a writer, when you're searching for an agent, keep in mind that a younger agent may be more open-minded than the old folks. They're certainly hungrier and often more energetic. And if they don't know that they aren't supposed to be able to sell your work, chances are that they probably will. Here I'll do a shout out to Holly Root at Waxman and Victoria Horn at Liza Dawson who are two agents building their lists and who are as smart and savvy as any agent I know--much much smarter than I was at a similar stage in my career.
And as for me? I'm feeling inspired by that younger, clueless me. I'm keeping myself open to the possibilities and remembering the days when I had no idea what my limitations were.
P.S. Terry Bain, I'm assuming you will provide hyperlinks? I still don't know how.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Friday, April 10, 2009
Anyway, some time ago I decided I had a desperate need for Corelle. The why of it does not matter but it was not entirely frivolous and kind of benevolent. But I needed it a whole lot. And I couldn't figure out where in Brooklyn or Manhattan I could buy it. Flash forward a week. We are driving home from Vermont. We need to pull over rather urgently and we stop at the discount mall called Woodbury Commons. The first thing I see as I walk into the mall? A Corelle outlet! I kid you not. Who knew?
So I needed Corelle and a week later the Corelle was mine. I know this is sounding kind of silly. But you know that it's happened to you before, right? And for bigger needs than just some silly Corelle (although I did have a good purpose for it). You say it, you think about it, and somehow you get it, whether it's the universe at work, or a higher power, or the power of positive thinking, or the secret, or whatever you want it to be.
So, if you are a writer, what is your Corelle? I think it's really important to articulate it. Figure out your end goal. The NYT list, the quitting of the day job, the Edgar Award, the Oscar, whatever it is. And then work backwards from that to figure out the steps you need to take. I'm not saying that it will be handed to you in some sort of bizarre writing award outlet at an insanely busy outlet mall off the Jersey turnpike. But I do believe that you'll never get it unless you figure out exactly what it is that you want.
Now back to me. Here's my latest Corelle: I need some interns who like to read commercial fiction. So if you are one, or know one, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org with a resume and a cover letter with reading interests listed. Oh, and New York area is a plus but not essential.
And I need some good suspense/crime submissions. I like Lee Child, I like Elmore Leonard, I like Jonathan Kellerman, I like Ruth Rendell, Tony Hillerman, early James Lee Burke, C. J. Box, Tana French, Robert Ellis, just to name a few. I like clean, clear writing with very little embellishment. I like scary and I like dark. Email me at email@example.com and put "suspense/crime" in the subject line. Don't forget to include the first ten pages in the body of the e-mail.
Just a little boring anecdote/pep talk/selfish listing of my needs on a Friday of a holiday weekend.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
HER INFINITE VARIETY by Pamela Rafael Berkman
SONGS OF THE GORILLA NATION by Dawn Prince Hughes
TRUTH by Jacqueline Sheehan
DIARY OF A VIAGRA FIEND by Jayson Gallaway
YOU ARE A DOG by Terry Bain
CARTER FINALLY GETS IT by Brent Crawford (upcoming from Hyperion)
ONE SCREAM AWAY by Kate Brady (upcoming from Grand Central)
And I'm in the midst of making a deal right now for someone else who e-mailed me cold. I'll report this later because it's been such a fun and exciting journey with her.
Most of the projects I've listed above are memoir and fiction. The nonfiction I do for the most part is how-to/lifestyle/humor by people who have good platforms and those are mostly from referral or that I read about/hear about somewhere and go after. But it's very good business to find memoir and fiction from new writers because building a list as an agent (just to let you in on my personal business plan) is about selling enough fiction to build a good backlist. You want to sell the frontlist splashy nonfiction but many of those books are one-offs. To maintain a list, you also want to find those writers of fiction and memoir who will write book after book and make good royalties on them over time. So my goal every year, for what it's worth, is to sign 3-5 first novels a year and these mostly come from the slush pile.
Please comment and let me know your slush pile success story. For the purposes of this post, I'm only listing first time authors who came in over the transom without referrals, but I love all my authors unreservedly, of course.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
You should write the book that you love and try to market it and if that doesn't work, try again. A good friend of mine who wrote a very successful first novel once admitted to me that it was actually his eleventh--the first ten he wrote were in boxes under the bed.
If you can't sell your book to a traditional publisher get it out there however you can. So many of my clients self-published first: Laurie Notaro, Will Clarke, Frank Daniels. In fact, go check this out: http://www.myspace.com/nfrankdaniels . Frank's first novel, FUTUREPROOF was published this month by HarperCollins, and the story of how he got there is pretty amazing.
Writing to the market so often doesn't work because it doesn't feel sincere. I know it's corny, but I really do represent books that come from the heart. And to be honest, I'm a true contrarian who loves going against the grain to a certain extent--I get pretty excited about a project I love that I know will be a tough sell. So I'm less worried about the marketability of your project than I am about the emotional truth of what you have to say.
That's my middle-of-the-night-can't-sleep pep talk. More later.
Saturday, March 21, 2009
And thank you so much to every one who commented or sent me e-mails or twittered me. It means a lot as I start out on my own.
This topic: what to do if you're not writing any of the kinds of books I mentioned in the last post. And by the way, I forgot one, which a prominent publisher mentioned at lunch Friday: humor.
But back to our topic, what to do? Please do not change course abruptly. I mean it. This sounds corny, but you must stay true to yourself and what you are writing. Just try to do it in a strategic way. In an economy like this one, I think we all need to stay flexible in whatever we do.
So, tweak. Try to mold whatever you are currently working on so it will be attractive in this market.
This isn't always going to work. If you are writing a biography of Martin van Buren, it is hard to tweak that so it is also about organic gardening. (Unless Martin van Buren was in fact an organic gardener. I don't know. ) But certain genres are evergreen, like biography, so in that case you don't have to worry about it as much.
But what if you are writing a memoir? You certainly might try to pitch it as uplifting. You might add a dog or a cat (only if there is one, of course). I'm kidding about the dog, mostly. If you are a person of faith, consider adding that element. Or don't be afraid to add humor as per my comment above.
What if you're writing a second novel and the sales on the first one really aren't all that great? Here's where you should really try to be creative and flexible. Consider a pseudonym although I know that's a tough decision. Try to think of a way that you can keep your unique voice and style but make the book feel a little more marketable to editors. Again, dogs are good (kidding. sort of.) I know this is vague advice, but I'll talk a little bit more about what makes a book seem "big" to editors in another blog. One thing to do is look at books that are working in your genre and think about topics or approaches that they have in common.
In terms of any book you're writing, think about what you'll want to be reading and what you think other people will want to be reading during some really tough times. To my mind, it means funny books, inspirational books, uplifting books, books that take the reader back to simpler, happier times.
Sometimes it's just going to be impossible to tailor your book for the market. In that case, be stubborn. Sometimes the books that work best in the market are the ones that are hardest to sell to editors; the ones no one thinks are going to succeed. That's been true for me many times in my career. Although, be stubborn and have a backup plan. As soon as you start trying to find an agent/get published, get to work on that next one. That's a good rule for anyone to follow.
This post seems kind of all over the place and nonspecific to me--bear with me, I'm still getting used to blogging. I'll try to do better on the next one. Someone asked the question why, if platform for nonfiction is so important, why isn't this the case for fiction? Good question so I may attack that next.
Comment away but be gentle.
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
I know things suck in publishing right now. But I wouldn't be setting out on my own if I didn't think that there were ways of working with this. Let's not forget that editors still need to buy books and are in fact continuing to spend significant amounts of money on said books. So to survive as agents and authors we need to put ourselves in their shoes and think about what they will need to buy. Here's a list of what I'm thinking it will be, in no particular order. It's just kind of off the top of my head and I'm sure I'll forget lots of stuff, so please post with your own ideas. Or tell me I'm a moron. Or whatever.
1. Selected business and personal finance
The Bent on Books List of Topics To Write About In the New Economy
A. As subset of the above, books on saving money, sustainability, downsizing, surviving hard times
B. Also subset, books on job hunting, resumes
C. Books on starting your own business
2. Fiction by authors who have a good solid track record with numbers that are trending up. Even if the numbers are not huge, if there is solid improvement over time, editors will be interested.
3. First fiction, particularly with a commercial hook--more trade paperback and mass market than hardcover
4. Celebrity books, even by minor celebrities
5. heartwarming nonfiction--particularly heartwarming nonfiction which will get a lot of media attention
A. about pets
B. about surviving hard times
C. insert something else heartwarming here
6. faith-based fiction and nonfiction
That's all for now. Thanks for tuning in.
P.S. Coming soon: what to do if you're not writing any of the above.