Thursday, October 14, 2010

Tim Wins


Great news: Timothy Carters EPOCH/DÄMONENHUNGER got the second place in the category BEST INTERNATIONAL NOVEL of the rather prestigious German Fantasy Award. CONGRATULATIONS to the author … and all of us! ;-) tim

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Shrink

If you're asking why your fantastic novel wasn't snapped up and why your literary agent has been awful cranky and frustrated lately, this might explain why.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

What He Said...

Been busy here at WMLA, but will have a post soon. Until then, we think J.A. Konrath does a nice job of encompassing some ideas related to the ebook revolution with his latest post. Writers, pay close attention to the part about validation and legitimacy. :)

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Some Links to Thinks

In the past we’ve mentioned that we get information about publishing from outside the field almost as often, if not more often, than from inside it (see More Fuel for the Genre Fire), and today we’re reiterating that.

We read lots and lots of magazines, both online and print versions, and one of our favorites is the Smithsonian. The current issue commemorates their 40th anniversary, and, wow, they outdid themselves with tidbits of unconventional and conventional wisdom that we wanted to pass along. However, to keep this short, here are some highlights.

Reading in a Whole New Way

This fascinating article by Kevin Kelly, who has a book coming out from Penguin in the fall, is another take on the evolution of reading. There’s so much here that you have to read it yourself to sift through all the gems.

Listening to Bacteria

The subject of this article is wildly intriguing as well; however, it’s the writing you should pay attention to here. The author, Natalie Angier, is a Pulitzer Prize winning science writer as well as a book author. Pay attention to how she constructs her piece. At once both engaging and informative, her style makes the complex world of organisms and research accessible to the lay person.

Carl Hiassen on Human Weirdness

If you’ve ever read this author, you’ll want to read his take on the de-evolution of humankind. It's kind of a quirky bit to include; however, it serves as an example of how fiction writers, strangely, sometimes become the chroniclers of humanity.

Move Over Gutenberg: Will E-books Spell the End of Paper and Ink?

Author Paul Levine offers his insights on e-books and print books in this piece for the Huffington Post. More fuel for the digital revolution inferno.


Saturday, July 03, 2010

Has Your Ship Sailed?

So the other night Robert and I accidentally watched 2012, and I discovered the underlying, fundamental problem that publishing is having transitioning into the 21st century. HINT: AT THIS POINT, SCROLL DOWN TO THE TEXT IN ALL CAPS IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ THE WHOLE POST. THOSE ARE THE BULLETED MAIN POINTS FOR SKIMMERS.

First, before I let you in on my startling discovery, I should probably provide some context. I had just fixed the garage door and was feeling rather saucy when the “incident” happened. Well, actually, Robert fixed the garage door, but I diagnosed the problem (Honey, the garage door is broken!), and I was feeling quite smug.

Then Robert pushed one little button and that all changed. Late night movies are like that, you know. You figure you’ll vegetate in front of some B-movie wannabe and doze off, and the next thing you know, your world view changes and you’re re-writing your will, selling your most prized azalea, and re-naming your cat Contessa Biffy Skeffington.

Oh, it was supposedly an accident, but are there really accidents, or are they signs? Signs with big numbers on them, like 2-0-1-2. In case you don’t know, according to a Mayan calendar, 12/21/12 is supposedly the date the when the world ends. It’s the apocalypse (yes, another one), the end of everything as we know it, and even possibly the human race (which means certain politicians, celebrities, and pundits have nothing to fear). I’ve seen dozens of these apocalyptic movies, and they pretty much follow the same format with the same predictable violence, love matches, vows of courage, hopeful despair, strategic survival attempts, etc.

So you’re probably wondering how we accidentally watched 2012. Robert, who thought he was pressing the preview button on the new remote control that came with the new thigamajiggies we were told we had to hook up to our TV or forfeit citizenship, pushed the wrong button. Well, actually several. First the garage door went up. Then it went down. Then one of the cats disappeared and reappeared right in front of us as a dog dressed in lederhosen. Finally, we ordered a movie that neither of us had particularly wanted to see. However, being money-grubbing literary agents, we couldn’t bear to not watch something already paid for, so we did. Besides, we couldn’t have made it go away if we tried.

I usually dig movies with nature gone awry in some way, but I’ve not enjoyed movies based on the end-of-the-world scenario for a long time. However, until I watched 2012, I didn’t really realize why. As the movie progressed, one disaster after another—volcanoes, earthquakes, stiff acting and poorly conceived relationships—made it clear.

I ain’t getting on the boat.

You see, there are two different groups of people in a disaster movie—the ones who will survive to perpetuate the human species and the ones who won’t. There’s always a cataclysmic event looming, in this case a worldwide flood, and there’s always only one way to survive it, in this case four humongous mega-boats, aptly titled “arks.” These arks were built by world governments who then set about deciding who would get a seat on them, and it deteriorates from there.

So, who will get on the boat? Well, let’s see…
  • Rich people who buy, bribe, or force their way on
  • Rich people who are selected to go because they are rich
  • Government types and their families who will supposedly be needed to run the “New World” (in other words, rich people)
  • Scientists such as chemists and engineers (Hey, who else will resurrect Facebook and Twitter and develop patent-worthy male enhancement drugs?)
  • Scientists such as those who figured out the cataclysmic event was coming in the first place so they can figure out when the next one will happen so that movie directors and producers can make a wad of cash off movies speculating about said catastrophe
  • Movie directors and producers, obviously
  • First responder types such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, police, etc., for obvious reasons
  • Soldiers who will keep the peace when resources run low and heads of governments get into squabbles about religion, petroleum, hot pockets, and Frappucinos
  • Librarians who would quietly and in their wonderfully subversive way control the flow of information
  • Oprah Winfrey (Do I need I explain this one? Really?)
  • Experts in the various disciplines from universities all over the world
  • Teachers who will be responsible for taking the blame when the New World public schools fail
  • Scribes (yes, finally we get to the writers—nonfiction this time) who will record the historical events for posterity, at least until the world really does end
  • Entertainers such as singers, dancers, actors, and story-tellers of both the oral and written variety (fiction writers, that’s you) to help the soldiers keep the peace when everyone finally figures out there’s no cell reception in the New World and they forgot to invite a cell tower repairperson along
  • Earl Q. Partleberger of Fritterville, Arkansas, who lost a bet with his drinking buddies and had to sneak aboard an ark without anyone noticing, which he did just before the door closed (sadly, his friends will not be joining him)
So which category do you fit into? Me? I actually fit into about three, maybe four. However, here’s the kicker: Only the top 1% of anyone in those categories is getting on the boat. Space is limited. Resources are limited. And even though there’ll be more room because all the librarians will refuse to board once they find out there’s no room for them AND their personal book collections (and thus will stay behind with their books like the flaming torch lady in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451), that still doesn’t leave much room for me and you. Only the top of the food chain in each area who meet certain criteria are getting an invite to help rebuild the world. This means that not only do you have to have skills and expertise, but you must be healthy and sane as well.

I definitely ain’t getting on the boat.

However, that’s not such a bad thing if you consider who probably would make the New World Team. How could I sleep at night knowing Dean Koontz stayed behind while I bunked with Joe Biden, Sarah Palin, Nancy Pelosi, and Ronald Reagan’s bones on our journey to the New Beginning? Or Ursula Le Guin? Or Lois Lowry? What about you? Which fiction writer would you nominate to take your place? Which person would you charge with contributing to the entertainment of the New World denizens and also with helping chart their cultural history in creative prose? HINT: THIS IS WHAT YOU SHOULD COMMENT ON. REALLY. FORGET THE OTHER STUFF. IT’S JUST FLUFF.

We all come to that point in our lives where we realize that we either are or aren’t going to be able to cajole, solicit, seduce, force, fight, bribe, intimidate, beg, sneak, achieve etc., our way past a cataclysmic event, and I think this explains some of the attitudes we see in some writers, agents, publishers, editors, distributors, and all others affected by the digital revolution, which is the most frightening event to happen in publishing since agents stopped charging reading fees. WARNING: POINT OF ARTICLE FOLLOWS With all the lay-offs, changes, and folding of many established companies and the shaking up of the complete industry, it’s obvious that some publishing folks have come to believe that, when the Big One in Publishing finally does arrive for sure, there won’t be any room on the boat, or in the space shuttle, or on the mountain top for them, and it may be true.

However, unlike an event that would destroy the world, the big changes in publishing offer more opportunities for those who want to stay in that world to do so. If you aren’t invited onto the boat, you can build your own. Or you can swim. Or you can hop onto a life raft. In other words, the changes in publishing, as fearsome and loathsome as they seem to some, open up a whole new world of possibilities to reach out to the reader in new and exciting ways. I, for one, now realizing that I won’t be getting an invitation to join the President and First Lady on Ark Force One, am thrilled to get to take part in anything remotely resembling something survivable in my profession, and I firmly believe WARNING: THOUGHT-PROVOKING IDEA COMING UP this digital revolution is an opportunity for those who truly want to be in this branch of the entertainment field.

No matter how crazy and unstable publishing may become, it might be worth it—whether you’re an editor, agent, publisher, writer, distributor, etc.--to explore where the massive wave of technology can sweep you. It may be a risky and wild ride, but why not give it a go?

After all, it’s not like it would be the end of the world. :)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Me and Pedro Down by the Arizona Publishing House with Hadji—Part II

I believe in reading fees.

That caught your attention, didn’t it? Even though Robert already stated it, you probably thought I’d disagree just to play devil’s advocate. Not on this. Note that I didn’t say that I charge reading fees, but only that I would if I could. However, as an AAR member, there’s this whole Canon of Ethics thing to consider, and so I can only dream about charging reading fees as opposed to actually doing it.

Agents dream about lots of things, you know? Like repping a bestseller or meeting a favorite author, or living to see the day one of our brethren brings up the discussion of how and what agents get paid. We here at WMLA certainly couldn’t do it, because if we do, the Scary Scam People come after us, as we aren’t a large agency in a large city with a large legal department. However, the fact is that NYC agent Colleen Lindsay brought the subject up on Twitter a couple of days ago, and a discussion of it showed up on Writer Beware’s blog, so now we get to chime in with no worries except for how offended readers will get after scanning this post (yeah, we know you don’t read all of it lol).

The question posed specifically was should agents charge billable hours as opposed to getting a commission. I, of course, have a vested interest in this, since I’m an agent and I like to make money in my chosen field. You can read the whole discussion here, which covers the ideas being bandied about--including the initiation, once again like so long ago, of reading fees--and the positives and negatives of each payment structure.

I don’t have the space here to go into a lengthy discussion of the whole issue, and I really don’t want to. I want to just point out a few items I think should be noted. First, though, how about a little mood music from Paul Simon and Sesame Street to get us into the spirit, eh?

There is no other professional in publishing so reviled and despised as the agent. Even though editors, publishers, writers, and agents all serve their specific purposes, only agents are considered guilty until proven innocent of everything and anything, from taking reading fees to getting kickbacks from editing services to the current BP disaster. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been lied to by more editors, writers, and publishers and caught more of them with a hand in the literary cookie jar than I ever have literary agents. Editors, writers, and publishers have, too, but it serves everyone’s interest if there is just one scapegoat, and agents fill the bill.

I continually see this argument when talking about agent payment for services rendered: If you pay an agent no matter what, the agent could suddenly lose interest in actually placing your work. S/he could just sit there and take your money, because, you know, agents are like that. Because, you know, there have been agents who abused their positions and misled, misguided, or flat out defrauded their clients. Because, you know, agents, are you know…well, they’re agents!

We scalawags are only supposed to get paid when the author gets paid because we can’t be trusted to not take advantage of the writer. Not that we all would, mind you, but the opportunity is there and so as a group, we all have rules we must follow to ensure that none of us will be tempted to do anything bad because as a group we are more suspect than most to indulge in criminal or unethical activity.

Is this making anyone else a little uncomfortable? Ever since I’ve been in publishing as an agent, I’ve heard the same arguments, crude remarks, and lame explanations for attitudes and perceptions about my profession. I haven’t encountered it as a writer that I can remember, and I’ve been getting paid to write since I was a teenager. Reading the “how an agent should get paid” debate brought it all back, and I suddenly realized this is how it might feel to live in Arizona, have tan skin, speak Spanish, and be asked for my papers, or how it might feel to speak Farsi, wear a head covering, and have to deal with hostile glares in an airport.

It’s called profiling, and it isn’t fair. It’s based on prejudice. When one group of people is treated differently and subjected to having to justify their actions or having to overcome stereotypes when others are not, it’s wrong. Telling people they have to prove they belong somewhere—in a state, on a plane, in a profession—while other folks can roam freely in that domain doing whatever is called discrimination. If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, there’s a book called To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee you might want to read.

The problem with prejudice is that it destroys not only those who are on the receiving end, but also those who engage in it. Studies support this, and publishing is a good example of it. For years, agents have been told they are not allowed to do anything but focus on placing their clients’ books. We are not allowed to do editing, charge for reading or critiquing manuscripts, or be publishers, etc., or if we do, we must have a list of rules to follow to make sure we don’t do anything wrong or unethical or inadvisable, because, you know, agents can’t be trusted.

Can you imagine telling Chris Gardner that he shouldn't have tried to try to break into the world of finance because of his humble beginnings? Can you imagine telling Leonardo da Vinci he had to focus on painting? How about telling Dr. Mae Jemison she should stick with being a chemical engineer because she wasn't qualified to go into space because she'd never been in space before? How about Dr. Sanjay Gupta, the neurosurgeon/CNN correspondent who picked up his scalpel when covering the war in Iraq to save the life of an American soldier or two? You want to tell him that he can't be trusted to work with his patients and be a journalist, even though he saves lives doing both?

Now there are more agents than ever who have chosen to do their own thing anyway and have gone on to become editors, publishers, and writers in their own right, regardless of the restrictions placed on them. In doing so, they’ve paved the way for other industry professionals to take part in endeavors they’d have never been able to otherwise, including writers who never would have had a chance otherwise.

Most importantly, they’ve produced some good books for readers--that oft forgotten, but oh-so-important group of consumers who truly, for better or worse, control the market (like me and you). Unfortunately, for as many of those opportunities created, there were probably thousands more lost because of the skewed biased attitudes and protocols that were allowed to develop and evolve over the last couple of decades. It’s refreshing to see these phantoms slog back into the mist as we gallop into the new frontier of publishing, the Wild West of literary adventures. As Bette Davis said, though she wasn’t on a horse at the time, “Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!”

The majority of literary agents aren’t rich, although most people believe that I paint my cat’s claws every day with pure gold fingernail polish. They also believe that if you’re not rich, you’re not a successful agent. Everyone wants an agent like Jerry Maguire before his fall from glory, a wheeler-dealer who ideally has the phone number of every major publisher in his IPhone, who with the punch of a key can sell your book no matter what. You saw what happened to him, didn’t you? If you didn’t, watch the movie, which will clue you in to what agenting is all about (even though he’s a sports agent and not a literary agent).

Or, you can just watch the following clip, which takes less time and gets across a similar message: Sometimes in the entertainment industry, you find yourself doing things you never, ever imagined, like singing a re-tooled love ballad to an unkempt, grouchy puppet while a woman who can’t hear a word you’re singing signs along, instead of playing at the Grammys. You do it because that’s what you want your career to be, not what others tell you your career should be.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Me and Pedro Down By The Arizona Publishing House With Hadji--Part One

There was a fantastic forum discussion on Twitter under the hashtag #agentspay yesterday. The discussion started when agent Colleen Lindsay asked the question, "How would publishing change if agenting moved from commission-based payment to billable hours?"

Victoria Strauss followed up this discussion by asking the question, “Are Agents Underpaid” on the Writer Beware Blogs.

And now here’s my take on it… Sharene will chime in later with hers.

I’m for reading fees. There I’ve said it. Five years ago, or even last year, I would have been scandalized for such sacrilege; that I’m in favor of charging for labor expended. I also like the idea of charging for critiques and for edits and for all those other things we now do free of charge that are above and beyond what literary agents are actually paid to do. What has changed? Can we now, please, have this fascinating open discussion in a reasonably calm fashion? Have writers and agents matured enough so that we can sit down together and discuss the hard times we are all now facing?

There is so much I’d like to say and so much bitterness about how shabbily those of us who have tried to have this discussion were treated in the past. I’m clinching my jaws and gritting my teeth while writing this, but I’m going to contain my wrath and stay on point. Hopefully, my anger won’t leak through as I give, in an agent’s point of view, my answers to a couple of the questions posed in the above discussion.

Yes, agents have taken on more responsibilities, but there have not been any payment changes since I became an agent. Probably the reason is that every move an agent makes is scrutinized, measured and quantified and because most larger agents are satisfied with the status quo, while the rest of us have to go along with rules made by writer advocates and agents more powerful. However, now that things are getting tight for many, here comes talk of change. We have always changed a 15% commission and have always felt underpaid for what we do to move a work through the long process from writer to publisher’s editor. We put up with all the crap and do it, of course, for the same reason as writers. We love books and the written word.

As for the specter of abuse, I think it’s mostly fantasy made up by those who have prospered by spreading rumor and innuendo. Secret files, also, don’t help alleviate my disbelief. As an example, I receive spam letters daily notifying me that I’ve won lotteries all over the world and winning a lottery is much, much easier than writing a novel or trying to get it published. I’m sure many fall for these scams, but we all should know better. There have always been and will always be those who try to trick others out of their hard-earned money. Writers’ advocacy groups might have had some successes, but their war against scammers has been about as successful as the war on drugs. Where there’s easy money to be made from those not too bright, there will always be scams. The best advice I can offer to not be scammed is to be more intelligent than those who might prey on you. Isn’t intelligence, after all, the only strength the human species has against predators and hasn’t our unique minds allowed us to move to the top of the food chain? Knowing who is prey and who is wolf, however, is becoming harder and harder to discern.

I’m also reasonably sure there were some, when this discussion began, who suffered from elevated blood pressure. The reason is because agents, over the years, have been portrayed as the enemy and for one of us to have the nerve to actually suggest that we aren’t rich by now is definitely something some writers don’t want to hear. These same writers were and are the kings and queens of popular writer discussion boards and are not too happy that Twitter and Facebook are more civilized places where agent and writer can be friends, instead of enemies--or maybe just frenemies. It’s still an improvement.

As far as job description, ours hasn’t changed. We are still charged with getting our clients published before we get paid. We still lay awake nights plotting and wondering if what we told that editor we spoke with about this wonderful author whose novel we’ve discovered; whether what we said was strong enough to make her consider fighting for it, too. We still hurt when a client’s work is rejected. But what hurts even more deeply is when that wonderful novel we love and have worked so hard to try to get published fails. No, our job has not changed. We still become heartsick when someone whose work we admire must be told that no matter how hard we’ve tried, we’ve still lost the battle. Then, after defeat, we still have to try to explain the wacky world of entertainment to a truly talented individual, even as mediocre and poorly written novels fly off the shelves. No amount of money or a different way of charging for this or that will help ease that pain. A raise of commission rate, reading fees or pay for edits or critiques will never make that painful pill easier to swallow.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Retro, Baby, Retro

A narrow viewpoint is sometimes comical and at other times frightening. Thinking that everything happening today has never happened before also stifles the chances of competing in an age that is not much different from times passed.

Looking backward teaches us humility and also reminds us of the fact that not everything is new. For instance, does anyone realize that in the early 20th century Americans could buy just about anything while never setting foot outside their front doors? Much like today, a family could fill their home with purchased merchandise while sitting comfortably at their dining room table. A farmer living in remote Nebraska could order a new plow or even baby chickens while eating breakfast, and have it, or them, delivered to his farm in less than a week. No, they didn’t have the Internet in the early 1900’s. They had Sears and Roebuck.

Throughout the first half of the 20th century, Sears sold houses and even automobiles. They were successful because they were innovative risk takers. Daring and adventurous, they were the first to try a relatively new concept at that time called catalog merchandising. Before other merchants became aware of this new way of selling things, Sear and Roebuck controlled the direct catalog mailing/ merchandising world. Others came after them, but no one could match bold, innovative Sears.

The point here is that not many things under the sun are actually brand new. Amazon became the Internet’s Sears and Roebuck and, like Sears, realized that one trick ponies seldom win the race, let alone sustain profitability forever. Barnes & Noble and Borders are now recognizing this fact and are scrambling to catch up. To survive, they too will have to copy the Amazon business model. Ironically, Amazon’s Kindle e-book reader was challenged by other e-book readers but then computer giant Apple beat everyone to the next logical step—why not combine features of the IPhone, e-book reader and computer? Does this mean that no one can challenge Apple and survive? Does this mean with virtually millions of IPads being sold that it’s only a matter of time before Kindle becomes a thing of the past to be forgotten like Sears and Roebuck and catalog sales?

Innovation is never new. It’s just a natural extension of existing technology, and that’s really what all the hoopla is about, isn’t it? After all, the e-book is still a book. In this current sea of change, the book remains constant. When the dust finally clears, books will still be books and will still be written by very human authors. The only thing changing is that possibly there won’t be as many trees killed or as many landfills cluttered with discarded tomes. The only possible loser in this battle is the reader, as he or she will now have to pay for the presentation media AND the book. However, to some, it will be worth it. That’s up to the reader to decide. Imagine that. The reader has a say in something. Hmmmm. Now THAT’S innovative. Or maybe not. .

It actually seemed, for a while, that readers might catch a break. There seemed for a few dim moments back there that publishers might share some profit with readers. After all, if you eliminate printers and shippers and brick and mortar bookstores, doesn’t that mean that loads of cost of production has been eliminated? However, like the music lovers before them, when it comes to sharing a reduction in manufacturing costs, greed takes precedence over common sense or consideration of one’s target demographic.

It now looks like a repeat of what happened with digital music and the CD is happening with books. Publishers should think about what has been eliminated and what readers have to buy to enjoy the e-books. Isn’t the reader now being asked to forgo lettuce, tomato, mustard, catchup and the bun, to cook the burger themselves and pay the same price for their sandwich? Publishers should also realize that in a digital world, writers no longer need them to reach their audience. They have the means through the Internet now to go direct and do what Sears and Roebuck did a century ago. Now that’s what I call REAL innovation.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Do I Know You???

Most of us hate marketing. That’s probably why when I Google a writer who has just queried me I find nothing. Some would say that’s great because if there’s nothing, that means this person should be highly publishable, right? It means that this writer isn’t bad-mouthing agents and editors and because of that he or she has a clean bill of health. Right? Well, yes and no.

That might work well if your boss or the dean at the university to which you’ve applied Googles you. However, in the current publishing atmosphere, where everyone needs to begin building a platform about the same time he or she decides to become a professional author, not being known means you don’t understand the game. Before I get into the heart of this post, here's a little theme music to get you in the mood.

Recently, a writer was dismayed when asked why her name didn’t at least appear on Facebook and Twitter. Her paraphrased response was, “I’m not online because I’m busy writing. Once I’m published, however, I plan to then focus on my Web presence.”

Oh no.

That’s fine, but “publish” might not ever happen if you don’t start building a writer name. Many think I’m crying wolf here, but all one has to do is look at what’s being published to realize that there aren’t too many unknown writers getting contracts these days.

And, yes, even though you do need a large Web presence, it’s still wise not to broadcast your feelings about an agent who just rejected your wonderful book on why glow worms glow. It’s still also not a good idea to post those pictures of your mother-in-law when she was wasted at your Christmas party. However, if you do nothing about getting your name out there, then who will know who you are when your book hits bookstore shelves? It doesn’t just magically happen and you should NEVER depend on your publisher putting forth marketing money on your behalf, because that’s not go to happen either. So if you are going to get another contract for your next book, you’d better begin now to let everyone know you write and that you write very well, indeed.

One question writers often ask when I bring up marketing is that they just barely have time to spend on their WIP, so how in the world can they find the time to market too? In addition, I often here the lament that authors just don’t really want to market. It’s boring, and besides, is there any proof that it really works? I mean, look at Stephenie Meyer. She didn’t market her novel and look where she is!

Yes, there is always luck. However, to give Stephenie Meyer some credit, she did happen to write something that struck a chord and that something propelled her to where she is today. If you can find the chord she struck, then please don’t bother to market yourself because you won’t need a platform, either. Better yet, if you can figure out what that magical something is, sell your secret and make a million without writing a word.

For all the rest of those who someday hope to land a publishing contract, there’s the drudgery of marketing and it is advisable that you do as much about being known as possible. There are only so many publishing slots to be filled, and those who are known are there to fill them. It’s a very competitive writer world out there, so don’t let your competition leave you in the dust. Get known. Be known. Stay known.

Here are some tips on how to do it.

1. Start a blog…and actually write something on it. In fact, write something on it every day. You’re a writer, right? Then write. Readers, your audience, those folk who you expect to pay hard-earned money so you can get paid to write, want to know who you are. Show them you can write.

2. Offer to help those who are struggling and not just with writing. Be known for something and then let people know about it. Volunteer to teach kids to read, for gosh sakes. We need hundreds to teach the thousands who can’t read the novels you write. Teach them how and gain double the benefit, two for one.

3. Where’s your local library? If you don’t know, find it and find it now! Libraries are where books reside and people who love to read go there. Find a way to make it known that you write and someday hope to have your book on those shelves. Do talks. Readers love to hear about how and what you write.

4. Do an online seminar or help someone who is doing one. Get involved with anyone and anything that will get your name out there.

5. Get a Facebook profile and let everyone know you write. Make friends there. Join groups, especially readers’ groups. Build your friend list until you hit your limit and do it fast. Write on Facebook no matter how silly it may seem. Others will like you for sharing. They are your potential readers. Be nice to them.

6. Get on Twitter. Write there. Twitter-ers often post valuable information so when you find something interesting online, share it with others on Twitter. Follow others. Learn what the # sign means and use it often.

7. Get on LinkedIn. Link with agents, editors, writers and readers. It’s difficult to do so here because LinkedIn is supposed to be for professionals. However, you can do it because you aspire to be a professional writer.

8. Try to go to at least one conference a year. My suggestion would be to hit the big ones. If you write in a genre, join the national organization linked with that genre, such as the RWA for romance writers, MWA for mystery writers, SFWA for fantasy and science fiction writers, or the ITW for thriller, horror and paranormal writers.

9. At that same national writers’ organization, become active in your local chapter. Volunteer to work at their conferences. Working at a conference not only gives you access to agents and editors, but also gives you the opportunity to interface with those who have been successful, many of them famous.

10. Create a book cover for your novel. It’s very easy and inexpensive. Ask some who have already done so on your new Facebook and Twitter pages. You might even learn how to create a book trailer while you’re at it. Google for instructions.

There are many, many ways you can build a very effective platform in a short period of time. Getting out there is also fun and informative. Try it soon and you might wonder why you didn’t do it sooner…and so will all your new fans.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Hairy Query Theory

I continue to receive queries from very new writers who, because the process is new to them, begin their letter telling me about themselves. I’ve covered this before but think, because it happens so often, that it might not hurt to go over it again as many do not understand the query process fully, so let me say it a different way to hopefully make it better understood.

First, the query letter only begins the process and the choice of whether to go to the next step is purely a business decision. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the process stops at the query level. Many times (probably as much as 50% of the time) a query is rejected because the person sending it didn’t research us well enough to learn what we are currently seeking. Today, in fact, most of what I’ve received had little to do with what I represent. A couple of writers even said they had read our blog and thought I would be the perfect match for their mystery, suspense/thriller, or children’s picture book. Maybe we are unique in that we list our Needs and Guidelines on our blog on a special page located just under the blog’s mast, but I don’t think so.

Sadly, when I receive these queries, I have no recourse but to reject them. This is wasted effort for both the writer who sent the query and for us, but let’s move forward to a more cheerful subject-- what happens if the query contains something of interest.

When we receive a query, we evaluate it on the query’s merit first. If a writer actually reads our agency’s guidelines, his/her package will contain, along with the standard query letter, the novel’s first ten pages. Query letters tell me much about the person’s writing, organizational and research ability, and his/her preparation to be a novelist. If it passes scrutiny, then we go to the novel’s opening pages. What I look for in the ten-page sample is the novel’s hook. That first page or so should pull an agent (your reader) into the novel and the rest of the pages should keep her there and make her want to request more. That’s actually a query’s only job— to make enough of an impression that an agent or editor not only wants to request and read more, but he/she can’t wait to begin reading it. This is also the desired reaction potential book buyers should have when they take your novel off the bookstore shelf. Besides rushing to the cashier with your novel clutched to her chest, your reader should also tell everyone on Twitter, Facebook, and all her friends and relatives everywhere that she read your novel and loved it.

Since we request pages with the query, if the sample catches our attention, we request the rest of the work. Some might wonder why not just request three chapters or fifty pages. We used to, but since we do everything via email and email attachment, it’s just as easy to request a full as it is to request a partial. There is another reason for this and that is to pull three chapters out of a novel requires extra work on the author’s part, so why do this when it’s much easier to send a complete? If everything goes well up to this point, we begin reading. But let me digress for a moment. In addition to the writing, there’s another factor that many writers don’t consider.

The final decision on whether to go forward with any project normally rests on the question of how long it is going to take us to place this particular project. In this business, as in most businesses in which labor is expended in hope of a return on investment, time equals money. Many times marketability takes precedence over writing. One example might be where celebrity is involved.

Personality only enters the mix after the work’s marketability is considered. The reason I mention this is that many who query us somehow think that if they are personable, it will go a long way toward helping us make our decision. Not so, I’m afraid. Personality is not celebrity. Winning a writing contest or an award at a local or even regional writing conference does not give one enough celebrity it that would automatically get a writer a book contract. If you have won at writing comp at this level, please do put that information on your query letter. Unfortunately, however, only winning a national writer’s organization writing competition such as the RITA or EDGAR would give you the type celebrity we are referring to here.

Personality becomes a marketability factor if the author is a nationally known celebrity. Celebrity sells because of name recognition and a ready made audience when the book is published. This is the reason many these days suffer humiliation on reality shows. Getting one’s name and personality in front of a television camera means even if you lose, you win. Some writers team up with celebrity writers to get their name on a novel’s jacket. Well known authors recognize the power of name recognition. Clive Cussler, for instance, paired up with Jack Du Bru to write The Silent Sea (The Oregon Files). Clive has the name, which helps promote Jack Du Bru, a lesser known author.

Having had a novel published recently helps, especially if that novel was published by a major publisher and the novel sold well. Please also include recent sales in your query letter along with who published or will publish the novel, the publishing date and, if the novel is out there, how well it’s doing. Sales numbers are tracked by editors at larger publishers in large a subscription database called Nielsen Bookscan. Bookscan tracks sales at most bookstores, but its accuracy is only about 75% correct. For instance, Bookscan does not track sales at Walmart or Sam’s club, nor does it do a good job of tracking library sales, unless those sales are through a major bookstore. So, it’s always a good idea for the author to keep a record of sales on his/her own. These numbers, along with returns, should appear on your royalty statements. If you don’t have an agent, be sure to put these records in a safe place for future sales reference.

We hope this helps writers understand the query process. In closing, we would like to add that many authors do a very good job of writing good query letters; however, as with a person’s resume, a query should be continually polished and perfected. In this blog, resides a sample of a good and bad query letter. You can find them here.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Thanks, UCLA!

The other day, I had the pleasure of doing a Q & A for one of UCLA’s online extension courses. I love this sort of exercise because it breaks my daily routine and makes me use my brain in a different way. The writers I met were a lively group who keep me thoroughly engaged throughout the entire day as I answered their many questions. That evening I went to bed smiling because I had spent a lovely day with those who were truly interested in learning how the process works.

Writers should do this. Writers should prepare themselves for their chosen career by better understanding the industry into which they hope to publish. If a person doesn’t prepare, he will not do well because he will make huge mistakes in the beginning, which will then lead to a feeling that it’s impossible to write for a living, that somehow what he’s written holds no value. However, every piece of writing has value if that value is only appreciated and/or exploited properly by its author.

I have to commend the instructor, Caroline Leavitt, and the students enrolled in the UCLA online class Novel Writing ll: Writing a Novel the Professional Way Workshop, for their thoughtful questions and refreshing curiosity about the business of publishing. I thank them wholeheartedly for allowing me participate in their learning experience. I learned a great deal also and enjoyed my time answering questions tremendously. Thanks, UCLA!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tuff Writer Luv

I’ve gotten some questions/comments offline about my last post, a long time ago, on the Harlequin Matter (sounds like a great book title, doesn’t it?) that can only be characterized as…interesting. I know the situation has evolved over time, but I would like to address it. The general consensus was something along the lines of me being insane or possibly evil, or a combination of both, and perhaps I am. I am a literary agent after all. lol

However, I am also a writer. One who has enjoyed writing as a career and as a hobby. One who views writing for publication realistically even through the romantic haze that clouds its true nature. One who doesn’t believe that scribes are somehow gods, though some still do grant them that status. Because of that, I feel it’s time for some tough writer love. It’s for your own good. If you like living in the illusion wherein published authors wear black turtlenecks, smoke pipes (except the girls, who iron their hair instead), and espouse the virtues of using skulls for candle holders, stop reading right now. If you want a little dose of reality, keep going, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Writers serve a purpose. We are, for the most part, the flunkies of human existence, cursed or gifted, whichever way you choose to look at it, with the desperate need to communicate ALL THE FREAKING TIME through the written word. We record the human condition and display it for all to see and analyze, either in a fictional or nonfictional context, from the lowest lowly journalist to the lowest lowly novelist (we never get above lowly). In either case, we are valuable only so long as the stories we tell please or satisfy our audience. We are the jesters at the royal court of human nature, entertaining our audience so we can continue to entertain them again and again.

It is How We Are Made.

It is Who We Are.

It is What We Do.

Let me explain it a different way. Picture yourself on an airplane that finds itself in a bit of jeopardy. Maybe the wing fell off, and the pilot decides to do a water landing in Lake Michigan. For those who will worry, I will tell you right up front that the landing goes well and everyone makes it, okay? But let’s get on that plane, in the minutes before everything is okay. Let’s look into the mind of Passenger A for a moment.

Wow, that guy in first class is a doctor. With his training, he can save lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

Now let’s spin on Passenger B’s cognitive wheels for a second…

Wow, the person in the cockpit flying this plan is a trained pilot who’s practiced this sort of thing. With his training, he may save all our lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

And now for Passenger C

Wow, I’m glad that woman in 24 D is a nurse. With her training, she can save lives. Maybe she’ll even save mine.

And Passenger D

Wow, that man in 13F is a firefighter. With his training, he can put out fires if we crash and save our lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

Passenger E, your turn…

Wow, there’s a United States Marine in the exit row. With his training, he can take control and handle any intense situation, therefore saving lives. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

Passenger F, please weigh in…

Wow, there’s a minister in 10B. With his training, he can pray for all of us. He can help save our souls. Maybe he’ll even save mine.

And, finally, Passenger G

Wow, there’s a woman 20A scribbling away. Must be a writer. Wait, what’s that? We need to lighten the plane? Hey, you there in 20A…

You get my point?

I guess one of the last developments in the Harlequin Matter was that not only had the RWA revoked the publisher’s approved status until it straightened up and flew right, but the MWA had as well. All sorts of bad things happen to de-listed publishers, including werewolf attacks in broad daylight and surprise trips through wormholes to other dimensions where (fill in your least favorite president’s name here) is still in the White House. Also, the publisher’s authors’ books are not eligible for the Edgar Awards, which, like all book awards, is one group of publishing people’s way of telling another group of publishing people that they should pay attention to an author, if they haven’t figured it out already. Being de-listed, especially after years of being on the approved list, is not supposed to be in the publisher’s best interest. It’s supposed to be a big deal to be removed from a writer organization’s Nice list and put on the Naughty list.

I’m not fooling you, am I? You know, by now, that I’m going to, without hesitation and in a blatant manner, right here for everyone to see, state that it doesn’t matter. I might even write that when I read this tidbit, I rolled my eyes and snorted in an unagent-like manner that scared my cat. Oh, I know. I know! As an agent and a writer I was supposed to be all twisted in knots over this, but A) I’m not that kind of agent or writer and B) let me ask you one question: Do you honestly think that a reader searching for something to read will put down a book once she/he discovers that the publisher is not on the okey dokey roster of some group with W in its name?


I’ve read Harlequins for years. I practically teethed on them. I read them with my sick mother. I traded them with family members. I stuck by them even when a bunch of Gen-Xers obsessed with relationship slapstick who made fun of their moms’ Harlequins grew up and demanded something hipper and more relevant to their lives, which led to the dreaded chick lit trend until someone threw all the chick lit books in a pile in a stadium and…wait, that was Disco albums. Nevermind.

Anyway, at no point in time did I, Ms. Reader who spent my hard-earned money on books, give a flying rat’s bottom parts as to whether Harlequin was deemed suitable by the RWA, MWA, CIA, FBI, or any other acronym-monikered organization.

Readers buy books, and even if all the members of both of those groups had decided to boycott Harlequin for, well, I’m still not sure what the real gripe was, but if they boycotted them, that means Harlequin could potentially lose what, maybe thousands of readers? That leaves only a few hundred million around the world to keep their profits up. Sure, writers could try to enlist people who care about them and the cause, but I don’t see too much potential in that being successful. Not a lot of sympathy there (and if you don’t know why, see above) Can you picture that conversation?

Writer: Hi! I’m a writer and I would like you to refrain from buying Harlequin books.

Reader: Why? They’re my favorites!

Writer: Because of their non-standard business practices that offer authors the choice to publish their own books as opposed to finding a real publisher.

Reader: Huh?

Writer: They offer services to writers to self-publish their books.

Reader: So?

Writer: Well, some writers might think that they’re published authors when really they’re really not.

Reader: If they’ve got a published book, aren’t they published?

Writer: No! To be considered a real author, you have to be paid an advance by a traditional publishing house.

Reader: Why do I care if I like what I read?

Writer: Because some authors may be taken advantage of.

Reader: How’s that?

Writer: They may think they’re real authors when they aren’t.

Reader: Why wouldn’t they know the difference if that’s their profession? And who decides who a real author is?

Writer: Well, important people in publishing.

Reader: I thought I was the “important people” in publishing?

Writer: Um, it’s complicated.

Reader: Like on Facebook? Or in that Meryl Streep movie?

Writer: Well, er…

And on that note, and in the grand tradition of Atticus Finch, I rest my case.