Sunday, June 29, 2008

Busy Summer

Sorry we haven’t blogged much so far this summer, but things have been a little hectic here in “My Indiana Home” country. One might ask why that is and the answer would be that we took a vacation in early June and came home to full inboxes, multiple manuscripts, and a site to update. Then there’s the contracts--not that I mind contracts, mind you, because they translate directly into success, but they can be very time-consuming and producers of eyestrain, especially those sent in size eight font. And there are those sent in that font size.

So here we are, three weeks after returning from the Caribbean, rested, overfed and danced out, and we are finally seeing daylight.

We love that writers everywhere send us their queries and stories and are grateful for them. The big sigh of relief voiced here is that it feels so good to be kind of caught up enough once again to have some time to write on the blog, which we also enjoy. Publishing changes an awful lot, so posts can become irrelevant fairly quickly. This is one of the things I need to address in this post.

We’ve been tweaking our main site at since we returned. It needed updating and besides, Sharene has a tech habit she has to feed on a regular basis. Because of the workload described above, the cascade of changes caused by the initial update has not been dealt with entirely as of yet.

For example, we are getting inquiries as to why there are no word count requirements mentioned on our site when we have a blog post (which we recently updated) wherein we lament why people keep sending us books with word counts too high or too low for the range we seek . Notably, we no longer have a page on our main site that indicates our word count requirements, and so this is very confusing to those who scour the site searching for this information. We feel that the word count requirement vary so widely anymore that places them here or on our main site just adds to the confusion.

There are many, many places on the internet that discuss word count requirements so to discuss them or place stiff, unwieldy requirements here is redundant to say the least. If there are questions about this, please feel free to post them here and we'll do our best to help.

Robert and Sharene


Scott Jensen said...

Unless my memory is bad (not an impossibility), you seem to have one agent now gone. What happened? Do tell in the most soap opera fashion. Remember, all good stories need at least one shoot-out, a wild car chase, and a sex scene. Oh, and don't for the midget. Midgets are an absolute must. Sure, monkeys are good but midgets and monkeys are even better.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...


Very observant indeed. There was a third agent, but she was kidnapped by disgruntled midget ninja hit-monkeys after she rejected their 10,000-monkey typewritten version of Hamlet. We tried to intercept them, but, as with all small simian ninjas, they were extremely fast and too crafty for us. Finally, the police cornered them at a topless bar and I’m afraid riding around with inebriated apes and the ensuing shootout was too much for the poor lady. So she decided that being a literary agent was far too risky and retired to a less stress-filled job as a Manhattan bike messenger. Heh heh.

Actually, the truth is quite a bit less exciting, as it usually is. Ann left the agency to pursue other opportunities in the publishing world and we wish her well in her endeavors.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

And, yes, I do mean I was literally forced to watch it. Once I lost a bet and twice it was what I had to pay for my girlfriend to do something I wanted her to do for me. Oh really? This sounds quite interesting. To quote someone we know, “Do tell in the most soap opera fashion!”

1) Did I get all the hidden hints? We’ll give you 1.5 out of 4.
2) Will I ever get a reply to my white paper question to the "Questions and Answers" post? ;-) Yes, of course, as soon as we get a detailed description of the payment you got for watching Sex and the City.:)

3) What is the best way to pitch oneself to a publisher without an agent. Beg. No, actually, we will be doing a post on this later.

4) Yes, self-publishing can be a real option for a writer, usually more for nonfiction than for fiction, though, and it is not a step one should take without LOTS of research and planning. You really need name recognition in your corner and an audience to be able to get into bookstores, plus the right kind of product to get into their distribution chain (which is usually nonfiction). Yes, there were some bestsellers that started out as self-published, but there have also been many fantastic books with the potential to be bestsellers whose author self-published and the book went nowhere. It is a risky endeavor, and if you don’t know the ins and outs of publishing, it can backfire on you extensively. It’s kind of ironic that the technology that seemed to make self-publishing a viable alternative for anyone who wanted to write a book is really not as useful as it seems if you don’t fully understand how the industry works. Getting into the distribution chain, for example, is vital; however, it is virtually impossible to do for one book. Anyone considering self-publishing really needs to get as much info and as many facts before getting into it.

5) It’s kind of hard to answer this because “promotion deals” can be interpreted different ways. If you mean that you get people to invest in the promotion of the book based on some promised return for their investment, this may or may not sway a publisher depending on the publisher. However, from our experience, it’s never made a difference. It’s just extra publicity the author drums up. But here’s something to think about: If you go get promotion deals based on the content of the book as YOU see it, you’re limiting yourself. Publishers often times see books differently than the author or agent, pulling from them what they need to fill their lists. We’ve sold books that have been basically repackaged based on a different element in the book than one we focused on because that’s what the publisher’s interpretation was (Publishing people are, for the most part, human). So say you get promotion deals based on a novel with police officers in it and the publisher decides to focus on the element in the book that has to do with invitro fertilization because it will absolutely kill in the German translation for some reason. This may be a bit different for nonfiction with a platform, but for fiction this is what we’ve observed.

6) No genre=mainstream=midlist to publisher=really hard sell
You can mention that you believe your novel will start a new genre, but this probably won’t get you anywhere and may cause problems. Acquisition goes beyond the editor, extending to bookstores and bookstore distributors and what they want. If they can’t categorize your book, they don’t want to deal with it. Kind of sad and limiting, but it’s the business. Please remember—and this is really hard to swallow at the beginning of a career in publishing—for the most part, the industry is not caught up in noble causes or in promoting great literature by stretching the boundaries to create new genres. Most of the big changes in publishing happen completely by accident. And it is because there haven’t been any happy accidents in the last several years that publishing has become downright archaic and cautious. Publishers are about acquiring and producing books that bookstores will stock and people will buy. No worthy causes drive this machine except if they can somehow contribute to good publicity which contributes to the bottom line. Look at it this way--how many people in the USA are functionally illiterate? Think about that. The percentage of readers who would go into a bookstore and buy a book is really very low, so publishers, even though they may want to publish great books all the time, are stuck with having to publish books that will appeal to a population that may or may not appreciate great literature. That’s a big risk for a publisher to take. Please know that we are not trying to discourage anyone by saying this, but we want to be honest in our observations.

Scott Jensen said...

Reading your second reply over again, it would be off in either location given the reference to ninja monkeys and all. Maybe a redirect from "Gatekeepers Response" would help. Whatever you decide, delete my previous reply and this paragraph and post the below wherever you think is best.

The two things that my girlfriend did for me for my SUFFERING through two episodes of "Sex in the City" were...

A) The year was 1955 and the height of the Cold War. [Yes, I know when "Sex in the City" came out. Two words: time travel] I was working for President Ike as a secret agent. It has been long enough now so I can tell you what I did. After returning from the Moon (don't ask) and acquiring a laser (that's pronounced "lay-sir"), I was able to intercept the infamous Moscow midget-assassin who went by the code name "Comrade Short". And before you ask, he was a midget that was an assassin and not an assassin of midgets. Unfortunately, to assassinate him with my laser (lay-sir), I needed him to stand still for five seconds while I focused it on him. Being a midget, he was naturally a small target. My girlfriend was able to make him stand still for the required period of time in front of Big Ben by stripping naked and juggling live fish. Yes, you read that right. She juggled live fish. Rainbow trout to be precise, which isn't even native to England. Mission (code name "Short Stop") was successful.

B) When celebrating the 100th anniversary of the first Mars colony (again: time travel), the red planet was invaded by midget monkeys from Venus wielding 3000-volt lasers (lay-sirs) and driving an interplanetary city bus. Naturally, I knew that the city would be blown up as soon as the bus dropped below 50 miles per hour. [Standard suicide midget monkey procedure.] To get the midget monkey driver to not reduce speed, I and my girlfriend jumped in the first available hovercraft. She then stripped naked and waved a basket full of bananas at the driver. The monkey driver couldn't overcome his monkey nature and followed us as we wildly raced through the city streets of New New York City. Once we were out by the Statue of Exile, my girlfriend tossed the bananas to the ground, the driver slowed down to get it, and they blew up killing only the Paris Hilton clones sunbathing nude there. As it was then open season on Paris Hiltons, I didn't even get a fine.

Now her helping me in the past and future was something she was more than willing to do. Needlessly doing so naked though was why I had to watch "Sex in the City" twice.

Actually, the truth is she just didn't want to attend two parties that my friends were throwing. One a canoe party and the other a beach party. My friends and her had gotten off on the wrong foot and I was wanting her to give them two more chances. Unfortunately, the two additional times made things even worse between them. But she's now long gone and they're still my friends.

1) Which 1.5? I am especially interested in the ".5" one.

2) Paid in full.

3) Looking forward to it.

4) In other words, you pay one way or the other. If you self-publish, you get more profit off of each book sale. If you get an agent and publisher, they provide you what you would have to do yourself ... and very likely do so better than you can ever hope to do.

5) The promotion deals wouldn't be for a cut of the royalties, but in exchange for a product placement within the novel. They then promoting the novel in their advertising campaigns and, what I think is more important, purchasing copies of the book and giving them away as prizes and gifts. In other words, each day/week, the businesses committing to purchasing X number of copies of the latest addition to the novel series. Guaranteed steady book sales from bookseller websites. Not directly from the publisher but from bookstore chains so the book gets on their bestsellers list.

6) First, I really REALLY like this yet-to-be-established genre. I am very knowledgeable in its area and have credentials that should make readers feel I can write in it. Second, wouldn't what I just laid out in #5 help counter agent/publisher/distributor/retailer resistance?

Scott Jensen said...

I just looked over your website. You mentioned you're working to update it and I am wondering if it is done or still a work in progress. I say this since I read about both of you there and see that both of you are now open to all genres. But is that "now" really now or an old now that will be soon updated and changed?

And regardless if it is outdated or not, please define the following. What is...

"Breakout mainstream"? I know, I know, you don't mean something like my "new" genre, do you? Or do you? [Scott opens a tiny umbrella over his head and waits for the falling grand piano.]

And what do you mean by "highly commercial women's fiction"? I don't get the "highly commercial" part. No, I don't have a women's fiction manuscript I'm just waiting to throw at you two nor do I want to write such. My comments about "Sex in the City" is evidence of that. I'm just curious about your terminology.

And what do you mean by "selected commercial non-fiction"? I get the "selected" part being that you're selective about what you represent ... though have no idea what is your selection criteria. But what do you mean by "commercial" in regards to non-fiction? And why not add "very" in front of "commercial" like you did with women's fiction? Is there a difference between "very commercial" and just "commercial"? No, I'm not trying to be smart. Well, I am smart but not smart as in smirking "smarty pants" smart. Again, I'm curious ... though this time I do wonder if my white-paper book idea would qualify.

Wylie Merrick Literary said...

But she's now long gone and they're still my friends.—You broke up with a girl who could juggle live trout naked? What were you thinking? :)

Answers to other questions:

1. What do you mean, which 1.5? We’re not telling! We will say that the 1 was for the answer you got spot on, and the .5 was for an answer where you were on the right track but sort of derailed. Hint: Think more like a writer and less like a marketer.
4. Writers pay in energy, effort, anxiety, sacrifice, and sometimes money, no matter what path they take. There is no guarantee that an agent can get your book to the right publisher and it is possible that you can get your book published without an agent. In other words, it’s sometimes easier to find a publisher than it is an agent. Yes, publishers provide distribution and such, sometimes including some marketing, but the truth is that authors really never stop promoting (they have to remain visible to the public). In most cases, getting an agent/publisher carries a little less monetary risk; however, don’t fall into the trap that they will do everything for you (for example, not all agents are publicists as people believe) or that they will do it better. Just look at it like there is less risk in not self-publishing than there is in taking that path. Both require hard work, but self-publishing requires lots of money and hard work and your undivided attention, which can impact your ability to write your next book. No path to publication is easy, and the writer must choose the one that suits his/her skills the most.
5. Most publishers will not take too kindly to getting a manuscript with product placements in it. They aren’t really designed to handle this and so it could conceivably limit your book’s appeal. If there’s going to be product placement in a book, the publisher is going to want to do it because they have connections with movie studios and other companies because the conglomerates that own them also own these other entities. As we mentioned in #6 last time in regard to new genres, what you are doing is imaginative thinking, and current publishing is not set up for this. It’s not about brainstorming and coming up with the next big thing, not about trying to anticipate reader wants and desires. It’s about reading manuscripts and hoping you’re in the right place at the right time when the next trend accidentally takes off. Publishing is not proactive, which is shocking when you consider it’s supposed to be full of creative types. You may be asking yourself how we deal with this sad little detail. Don’t. We won’t tell you. It’s an industry secret.
6. First, Sharene would really like it if Russell Crowe stopped by and offered her a neck massage. I would really like it if he didn’t. So far, only one of us has gotten what he wants, so it’s a 50/50 split. Pretty good for a day’s work in publishing, I’d say. Sharene just grumbles though. Anyway, nothing new and innovative is going to counter resistance in the publishing ranks unless, like Dr. Seuss, you know someone in the industry who has the power and authority to try something new, someone who is a friend more so than an acquaintance. At every turn you will be encountering an industry professional who needs you to give him/her something he can sell based on his/her perception of what is salable at that time. Creating a new genre will take a lot of development work and anything with “a lot of work” associated with it will not fly. In publishing, as in any corporate environment, the goal is to do the least amount of work for the most return. We will say that both of us have worked on projects that basically started new genres or brought to light little known genres. Both of us have discovered books we adored and took them on, letting the authors know up front that the project would probably never see publication. Well, they did. We got them out there, and now each genre has blossomed and the authors are doing very well. But do you want to know how long it’s taken to get to this point? How much work and luck it took? How much patience and faith we and the authors have had to invest? How many times we’ve regretted being five years ahead of the curve? We were younger then and crazy and wild and stupid (picture Robert with long hair and bell-bottoms dancing at Woodstock—you get the idea), just like Bill Gates. Ask him if he’d start Microsoft again and I doubt the answer would be a resounding, “Hell yeah!” Or if it is, he’d probably have to think about it. If you want to send a description of the genre to one of us to get some feedback, feel free to do so. It’s really hard to get a feel for what you are talking about without more details, and, who knows, you might think it’s a new genre when actually it’s chick lit or something. Heh heh heh.

Scott Jensen said...

Chick lit?! *sputter* *sputter* *sputter* CHICK LIT?! *sputter* *cough* *gasp* My heart! My heart! I'm coming, Elizabeth!

[I wonder how many will get that last reference. Probably just us old farts, I bet.]

As for ditching the naked trout-juggling woman, I have to admit that she ditched me and not I her. We were at a party and she met an operator of a fish hatchery. They were the proverbial fish-n-chips couple from that moment on. They left together from that party and I never saw a trout bump the ceiling of my flat ever again.

More seriously (or at least pretending to be more serious)...

1) I'm betting the one I got spot on is the forever-repeated "be professional about being a writer". The one I got half right is probably ... hmmm ... "write what is popular"? As for how to shape that more into what a writer should be thinking than a marketer, that is a tall order for me. I've seen life through marketer eyes since as long as I can remember. Yup, since a little kid. However, a good marketer should be able to put himself in other people's shoes. Hmmm. How about "Be aware of what is in demand in the publishing industry and shape your writing to that as much as possible."? Am I getting hotter or colder?

4. Then what do us writers need agents for? Let us say that I become a bestselling author...

Oh wait. I'm sorry. I forgot how us unpublished authors are to relate to you agents. Let me start that over again.

Being a bestselling author, why should I give you 15% of my gazillion dollars in royalties? How are you worth 15% of that from here to eternity? Sure, you get us that contract with a publisher, but what else? That it? Do you just set up a folding chair, sit down, and ride on my coattails from then forward? Greedy naive paranoid minds want to know.

5. So in exchange for product placement plugs (and worse ... but I will save that shocker for another time), if I can get a number of businesses to sign legally-binding contracts to, in total, buy 1,000 copies of the book series each day and equally from the online stores of Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-A-Million, and to get the book on their bestseller lists, a publisher would say, "Oh no! No! Not that! We don't want to touch such a novel!"? That is hard for me to imagine. If that is the case, would it not then be a good idea to avoid those big-time publishers and instead go with a more open and flexible minded (yet still connected to the whole distribution system) small publisher or even self-publish?

As for you not telling us the industry secret, what if I said, "Please with butter AND sugar on top"? Would you tell us then? I'm not saying I will say that but merely inquiring if I did say that if you would tell us.

6. First, as we well know, I will be the exception to the rule. I know that goes without saying, but I said so for the ignorant peasants reading this blog.

Second, I would like to think that I am more than a one-trick pony. Couldn't I write other stuff while I establish the new genre?

Third, I will send in the description since I know you two have been holding your breath and just hoping and praying that I do. Feel free to smoke a cigarette and bask in the after-glow after reading it. You will never look at sliced bread ever the same again.

Barry said...

It is 4:30 PM, Feb 16, 2009 and i can't seem to break through your website in order to determine your equery requirements. Is it me? I also tried to email you and the email was returned indicating that address that I got from was wrong. It has been a bad day.