Sunday, March 29, 2009


Slogging my way through queries over the weekend. Since I twittered (tweeted?) about the overwhelming quantity, most people are suggesting I get some help with them, which is not a bad idea, but problematic because I am such a total control freak. If you've been reading this you know that I am an optimist, and so the query-filled in-box, as much work as it represents, also always feels full of possibility. Over the years, I have found such great projects in what used to be known as slush, and even with a very full client list I find I can't take the plunge and ask people not to send. Here, off the top of my head, are a few published titles--jewels, all of them--which were sent to me unsolicited. The fun in selling them was heightened by the fact that discovering them felt like a true mitzvah. So as not to play favorites, I'm only listing ones from earlier in my career and a few whose publication is upcoming, but there are many, many more.

HER INFINITE VARIETY by Pamela Rafael Berkman
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

And now for something completely different

You know what? I was thinking about it and I decided I'm kind of over this whole whats-working-in-this-market thing. I mean, I think it's important to consider the market when writing, don't get me wrong. But I think an alternate point of view is equally important, which is to say:

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: . 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

What next? Or, strategery [sic].

Whew! I survived the first week. Kind of. I have a lot of queries to sort though so if you're waiting, rest assured that I will get to them in the timeliest way possible.

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

Welcome to the Jungle

Well, hello there. Thanks for joining me. And thanks too, to Axl, for the shout-out. I think he says it best and most appropriately given the current climate, don't you? And yet, as anyone starting a business right now would have to be, I am actually feeling pretty optimistic these days.

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.

The Bent on Books List of Topics To Write About In the New Economy

1. Selected business and personal finance

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.