Monday, August 30, 2010

Coolness in Publishing

Little late in waking this morning.  What I've learned in publishing?  The show will go on, whether I'm over sleeping my beauty rest or not.  However, with the lovely invention of the internet (it's bringing me to you, isn't it?), I can catch up on my lost last four days in only an hour surfing.  I'm still adjusting to the whole "watching the news and trends" thing, so I mix in some things I think are cool, with the things that (to me) are snooze fests.  However, they are all relevant.  So, cool things:

Tim Ferriss shows us what is actually happening with the Kindle phenomenon and dispels the notion that traditional publishing is going extinct in his blog.  He says that last year, for him, his digital book sales were a mere 1.6% of his total book sales.  My favorite part of the blog?  "Kindle books selling well does not mean that print books are selling poorly."  He claims the opposite to be true.  Coming into this business when I am, I was nearly frightened off by all the doom and gloom people are spouting about traditional publishing and how I (as a future agent) won't have a job in five years.  I thank people like Ferriss who keep things in perspective.
Read more:

I won't pretend to like movies made from books (or sequels, or spin-offs), but I guess if you are a many times best selling author getting a push from Hollywood before the movie is even made, well that's just down right cool.  It can only increase book sales and, when the movie does get made, a lot of the publicity is already laid in place.  Enter Nicholas Sparks, author of Safe Haven.  Book comes out on Sept 14.  Movie isn't due out for another year.  Will the hype work for you?
Read more:

Ok, I was just rejoicing that traditional publishing isn't disappearing.  However, the Oxford English Dictionary will not be printing another edition.  I'm not sure how I feel about this.  Is it representative of all publishing getting the boot?  Or does it simply mean that it is easier to type a word and "define" into Google and .000137 seconds later get the top definitions available online?  I personally can't remember the last time I picked up my dictionary.  My computer is under my fingertips, hooked up to the internet 24/7.  My dictionary is two steps away on a shelf in between other books.  To access it I would have to stand up, turn, take two steps, wiggle it out of its cozy home, open, and search.  Then again, my family still has a full set of encyclopedias downstairs in a crowded bookshelf.  I remember using those one year for a project in elementary school.  Now we have Google and Wikipedia.  So, was it just a matter of time before dictionaries and thesauruses went the same direction?
Read more:

When looking for a memoir to sell, we need only two things: adequate writing and PLATFORM.  Why the big letters?  Because it's important.  How can your cozy memoir about raising the most adorable three legged dog or battling terminal cancer possibly compete with former President Bush's new memoir?  Now, as I've said before, I don't follow news much, and that includes politics.  But I can't ignore how many books his name alone will sell!  What it means for the world of politics (will it change people's minds about him? will it reveal any new or shocking information on Katrina or 9/11?), remains to be seen. (I wonder if it had a ghost writer or if Bush wrote it all himself?)
Read more:

Imagine walking into your small local bookstore.  You ask the sweet old lady at the counter for a book you are sure is out of print.  Yup, it sure is.  Do they have it?  Not on the bookshelf, no.  But you won't walk away without it.  Print on demand is an up and coming fad (well, why not?).  Prices vary, but Oscar's "Dr. Art Hister's Guide to Living a Long & Healthy Life" sold for $19.95.  Beats driving all around town looking for it or ordering it online and paying shipping.  Plus you get to watch it being printed and binded, just for you.  Is it worth it for small chain stores?  "It's worth it because the store is getting a sale it otherwise wouldn't."

So that's what I've learned just this morning.  Off to other important publishing duties (queries, partials, and manuscripts, Oh My!).  Happy writing!

Friday, August 27, 2010

A Day in the Life

Great news!  I'm officially an Agent in training now!!!  A lot of my duties are the same, I'm just learning more.

We all know how busy agents can be, especially if they have other things going on: teaching, conferences, editing, training, meetings, life.  So they have us lowly interns/agents-in-training wading through their slush pile to dig up the best stuff.  We use our knowledge as readers to find what will appeal to a large audience of readers, when a query letter shows us that the writer has not bothered to research the publishing process, when a query letter proves that the writing simply won't be good, and what just works.

So an intern is in charge of all of this stuff, the lacky for the busy agent.  I'd like to, however, dispell the notion that we have no lives.  Let me walk you through my typical day.

7:30 wake up, eat breakfast, go for a run, shower, dress.

8:30 sit in front of my computer and read my emails, quickly check the agent's inbox for any emergency got-to-get-to-it-now emails.  Write a blog, catch up on blogs, check out Twitter and Facebook and publishing news.

9:30 (yes the above step takes that long, usually longer) wade through the queries and read partials.

11:00 (if I'm in the mood) write for an hour.  Have lunch.

12:00 read partials and full manuscripts, answer those texts from people that just can't be ignored (I get in trouble if I ignore my best friends too often, even though, technically, I'm at work!)

2:00 (sometimes I switch the schedule depending on urgency of material) work on my long distance learning course in which I learn how to Index.  It's tedious and if I'm not careful this time period turns into a nap.

3:00 read more manuscripts, answer emails, get restless (if it's sunny I tan on the porch with a manuscript)

5:00 eat dinner, dress

6:-midnight work at my "real" job where I actually get paid.  Minimum wage, but I have bills to pay.

And hopefully I can wake up the next morning early enough to get all my stuff done.  I've talked to the other interns, and we are in agreement: if we are not feeling able to focus clearly or are in a sour mood, we will set aside queries and partials until our heads are clear and we can give the attention each submission deserves.  Your beloved babies are in the best of hands, I assure you.

So, if it takes us six weeks to get back to you, it is neither good nor bad news.  It simply means we were busy.  We want to give the best attention to your work.  Of course, sometimes I've replied to writers within the hour.  It simply depends what is eating away at our schedule.

Don't despair, trust in the literary gods above, and happy writing!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Publishing cramps my (reading) style

My goal this past weekend was to read as much as possible to make a dent in that pile of library books on my bedside table.  One good thing about being around other people who love books all the time is that you get great suggestions of books to read.  I had a rather long list from the PNWA conference after attending a few classes on YA lit and simply talking to other YA lovers.  So I put them on hold at the library (I'm poor so I refrain from buying books).  My library list has also expanded from list of comparables I request of my writers.  If I haven't read a book on their list (more times than not I haven't even heard of them), I put it on hold and read it first chance I get.

I began six books in the last week.  During the week and early on Saturday I managed to finish two: Tiger by Jeff Stone (children's), and Magic Bites by Ilona Andrews (urban fantasy).  Both I highly recommend.  Then I began two YA: Deerskin by Robin McKinely, and Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan.  Both novels are written in a style I do not normally pursue.  The stories are lovely however, and the writing beautiful and heart wrenching.  Apparently I'm less prose and more contemporary (take that Herman Melville--I have a love/hate relationship with Herman leaning heavily in the influence of hate).  I began as well a book on tape to listen to while I drive, a romance, which I probably will continue listening to.  And, because I needed something raw, I began Dead until Dark by Charlaine Harris (True Blood), which I plan to finish reading.

Total: two completed, two abandoned, two in process.

My friends have always labeled me as bitter and cynical (I'm a realist), but I'm afraid working in publishing, in which we read dozens of queries, partials, and manuscripts every week (most of them very very very bad) has made me intolerant of even published works.  I used to be the perfect reader.  I was kind, patient, understanding, loving.  If a book didn't catch me in the first fifty, hundred, two hundred pages, I continued reading, making allowances for why it was slow, picking up on the beauty of the words and the intent of the author.  Alas, the world of publishing has destroyed the person I used to be.  No longer will I sit patiently with a book.  I have cast two aside this weekend (I haven't counted the books I have cast aside this summer), I've become extremely critical of the romance genre, and I laugh if the first fifty isn't the best thing I've ever seen.

As to whether my new reading style is a good thing, I'm still in debate over.  I'd love some input on this topic from my lovely readers.  If you are an author, how do you read books?  With an eye in mind for your own style and development?  Do you read at all (you should, for comparables)?  Agents, how do you chose what to read and how often do you find a published novel unsatisfactory?  Others, are you the kind and patient reader we all wish all readers could be?

Hopefully my discriminating eye will help me in the long run find that next best seller.  And hopefully you careful readers will love it.  Happy writing (and reading)!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Friday Realizations

Probably nothing too profound, but what I've discovered, or at least rediscovered, is that Agents are cool.  Which is a comforting thought considering I'll be entering training soon to become one of the elite (I'd like a red cape that sparkles please).

What brought me to this realization you might ask?  Looking at Twitter and Blogs, it's amazing how many authors and other agents follow and respond to agents.  They are revered.  But they are also just people.  We (preemptive use of the collective plural?  I hope not) have fears and make mistakes like anyone else.  But we also have hopes and dreams too. 

The coolest thing, is that agents are in this publishing game just the same as authors.  We want your book to succeed.  Every time we open a query, we think "This could be it."  It's not so much for financial gain (I mean come on, if I were in it for that I would have followed my father's advice to become a nurse and marry a wealthy doctor), so much for the love and passion for books.  I want to help an author realize his/her dream.  I want to walk into a bookstore, point to a book with the most striking cover, and say "I worked behind the scenes to make that book a reality."

All these really cool and not so profound realizations made me stop this morning and think, "I'm going to have a career!"  In publishing!  I graduated college exactly five months ago, and here I am, on my path, a path I hadn't even considered five months ago.  So, that's me, navigating this world that at one point makes all the sense in the world to me, and another is completely alien and foreign. 

Have a great weekend everybody, and happy writing!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Day on Whidby

Yesterday, I went to Whidby Island, as I do most Wednesdays, to meet with my agent/mentor/boss/friend/teacher Andrea Hurst, president of Andrea Hurst Literary Management.  We talked books and work and conferences, and then we went to the Pier in Coopeville, to Just Write, a writer's group Andrea put together.  Most Wednesdays, these writers can be found in the coffee shop or in the sunshine on the pier writing.  Days like yesterday, we are all treated to a guest speaker.

Tom Masters was our very talented and oh-so-knowledgeable guest speaker.  I've said it before, I'll say it again, I don't know everything.  I don't want to know everything.  I want to learn from the experts.  And Tom Masters is an expert on blogging.  In his talk, Blog to Book, he shared the importance of blogging and using other online tools to create a platform and excitement for your book.  There are so many resources out there to help the scared, lonely, and computer illiterates.  You can find Tom Masters' book, "Blogging Quick and Easy", on Amazon.

After Just Write, we had a farewell dinner with our lovely intern Katie Flanagan, who returning to roam the stately halls of Northwestern.  Follow her journey from lowly water-cooler-changing intern and creative writing student to a big wig in the Big Apple and literary genius,

In case you hadn't heard it before, and in case you have just nod and follow along, things in publishing move rapidly.  Interns and assistants come and go within months.  Agents leave and reestablish themselves just as quickly.  And (hopefully in my case) new agents can spring up like daisies in spring.

Next week at Just Write, fellow agent Gordon Warnock will be speaking about "How to interest a literary Agent".  Everyone is welcome.  More information can be found at

Happy writing!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Learning More

I love being a newbie in this business.  Everyone is so friendly and so helpful.  A few weeks ago at the PNWA conference, everyone who found out I was going to be an agent one day congratulated me on it and (besides telling me how hard a job it is) said how much fun it was going to be.

I've said it before, I'll say it again.  I'm new to all of this: blogging, tweeting, essentially using the internet for social networking besides facebook and email.  The person that has been most helpful in this is Katie Flanagan, another intern at Andrea Hurst Literary Management.  She encouraged me to start my blog, was my first follower (yay! followers!), and helped me set up Twitter.  And now I've learned that you can generate more publicity by holding contests.  Contests!

Check out her blog and twitter for more information:

Is there no end to what blogging can do?

While I'm on this soap box about how great learning is, I'd like to repeat part of my blog from yesterday.  Read the blogs!  I am, and as an intern and future agent that will control you life (cue evil laugh), knowledgeable about everything.  I am all powerful and wise...  Ok, I've recently learned I am not.  Queries for example, I've read a good five thousand of them in my four months at the agency (I didn't count but I wouldn't be surprised if it were more and I really don't think I'm exaggerating).  I thought I knew what to look for.  I could certainly spot a good query when I saw one.  Well, ready to learn more?  Check out Query Shark, a great resource for learning how to fine tune your query and get past the first hurdle:

What else have I learned lately... O yes, the best thing in life is taking my pencil, a manuscript, and working on my tan in our beautiful summer weather.  So, go learn things, get away from the computer for an hour, and soak up some Vitamin D.  Happy writing everyone.

Monday, August 16, 2010

A note about querying agencies

I really didn't think this needed to be said, but as I talk to more and more aspiring writers, I realize that this is not self explanatory.  Firstly, I'll give you the advice anyone should be giving you, if you want to be published, research.  You've already done hours and hours of research and traveled to Rome and South America and the Antarctic and spent five months in silence with a Buddhist Monk for you 200,000 word fantasy novel?  Guess what?  The research isn't done.

For one, if you were informed, you would know that no one is going to look at your 200,000 word novel no matter what genre it is.  Nothing over 100,000 words please (yes there are some exceptions for world building, but please don't go too far over that, 20,000 words max).

Alright, here's a recent anecdote which has led me to this blog post.  A few months ago I had been working with another agent in the agency, and had come across a vampire-fantasy-detective novel.  The title was good, the concept was good--good enough to stick with me--but the writing wasn't up to snuff.  So it was ultimately rejected.  Last week, I'm going through my boss's queries (same agency mind you) and I see a familiar title.  Same title, same man, same story, same writing.  Different Dear so-and-so at the top.

Not allowed!  If you query an agent at an agency and are rejected, do not query another agent at the same agency.  You will be caught.  You will be made the fool.  The man was rejected again.  Now his name is imprinted on my special little list.  Should I ever receive a query from him in the future, I'll be raising my brows, scoffing in my head, and clicking the shiny red reject button.

Agents live by the same rules when we submit your manuscripts to editors.  One editor per publishing house.  It would reflect badly on us if we blindly send to everyone in the department, and it won't get your manuscript sold.

Below are some tips for aspiring authors.  Even if you think you know what you are doing, read them, consider them, and do them.  You are not the exception to the rule.  No matter how amazing your manuscript is, you must play by the rules.

1. Read blogs by authors who have successfully been published--blogs are the most up to date information you will get.

2. Attend conferences and talks given by recently published authors--again I stress the recent.  Publishing is changing rapidly, and someone might give you out of date information.

3. Read about publishing--I recommend The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting Published.  I'm serious.  Sounds silly?  It's not.  When I started my internship with an experienced agent, she told me to read it.  There was so much more to publishing than I had realized!  Look around on Amazon and check out other blogs to see which publishing and writing books are favored.

4. Read about publishing--wait, I already said that?  I'm not blond, I'm just reemphasizing a point, so it must be important, right?

5. Join writer's groups, online chats, Publishers Marketplace, critique groups--listen and take notes, introduce yourself (not only does this give you information, it also gets your face out there for people to see).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Voices in my head

Alright, so everyone always talks about needing voice in your stories.  And your story has voice, right?  I mean, there is a character and he talks and has original thoughts.  Everyone will love him/her!  I've been reading for what seems like forever, and recently, with my internship and all the reading I'm doing, I thought I knew what voice was.

Now, under my list of job titles and achievements, you might notice that "writer/author" is not present.  Before you say "wow, she really doesn't understand our side of the story since she doesn't write", I'll tell you that I do write, but just for me and a friend and not for the goal of publication.  A while ago, I finally finished my first full length novel, and sent it to a friend for him to read (since then it's gone through seven rewrites).  Well, he only read about ten pages and all he could say was "I don't know who this character is."  I batted the comment away like a pesky mosquito, thinking "you're an engineering major, you don't know what you are talking about" (which I'm sure plenty of writers do).  But the other day I was sitting in my car, delaying going into work by listening to my book on tape.  Now, not only does this book have the best first line and title I've ever come across, but it has voice.  And I got a light bulb turned on right over my head: my character has no voice.

Well, there it is again.  Voice.  What is it?  Well, other than the personality we see when the character interacts with other characters and responds to certain situations, there is a certain inner monologue.  Now, this can be third person, first person, even second person.  But the narrator needs a voice.  The characters need thoughts.  They can be sassy, crazy, sarcastic, deeply wounded and dark... anything really.  (More on character quirks in a subsequent blog)

Your homework, read a book.  Pick up your favorite book, a book you haven't read, something on the best seller list, but read with voice in mind.  What are you learning about this character when he/she is not interacting with others?  What does his/her inner monologue sound like?

And try this: after you finish reading, put the book down and think "Do I remember what POV it was in?"  For a full five minutes I couldn't remember if I had written my story in third or first person (warning bells), and another manuscript I'm reading right now I had forgotten if it was first or third (warning lights).  So go find your voice, stick it in your story, have someone read it, and ask them "Who is my character?"

Thursday, August 12, 2010

What's This?!

One year ago, one month ago, one week ago... let's just say it: yesterday I hadn't imagined I'd give into the craze.  Me blogging?  But if there is one thing I have learned in my four months as an intern, reader, and assistant agent at a literary agency, and that one busy weekend at the PNWA conference, it's that blogging matters.  If you don't have web presence, and you aren't already best friends with Oprah, you aren't anything.

Ok, not true.  You are potential.  We tell aspiring authors to get blogs all the time--but as I began exploring the world of blogging this morning, I decided that anyone's voice needs to be out there in the community they want to participate in.  Artist, engineer, school teacher, president, opera singer.  If you have expertise, share it.  If you want expertise, look for it.  If, like me, you are pure potential, on the cusp of breaking out of the cocoon into the beautiful butterfly everyone will aspire to be (I hope I have purple wings), well, share that too.

I'm not what you would call technically savvy.  I'm resistant to technology.  My cell phones have all tried committing suicide to get away from me (one succeeded by leaping from my pocket as an industrial toilet flushed--uh, bu-bye).  With a real fear that technology will take over my life and squeeze the living essence, personality, and uniqueness out of me, I try to stay away from it.  But I can no longer live in fear--besides, that would make me a hypocrite.  This blog is, in part, for all those aspiring authors out there that I have told to get a blog.  I didn't have one myself, and yet I was telling them to get past their insecurities and establish themselves in their communities.

So here I am, about to share the trials and tribulations, joys and achievements of my career (the tiny caterpillar that it is).  I've got my scissors, my wings are furled, I'm ready to take that plunge off the branch into the abyss beneath me.