The Silent Treatment

Empty MailboxIf you’ve every queried an agent you’re probably familiar with the no response = not interested policy. This is when an agent/agency says if you haven’t heard from them within X-amount of time, they’re passing on your project. This isn’t a new policy. It’s been around for years.

Writers hate this policy. We get a little neurotic about it. Waiting to see if someone likes us – Ahem! I mean, likes our project – is hard. How can we know if an agent “just isn’t into us” if all we get is the silent treatment?

On the other hand, agents are busy. I mean busy! One agent reported getting 20 queries a day, and at the time of the blog-post, had 967 queries in her in-box. Is she supposed to send a personal email to all of them?

This has been a controversy for a while now, and there seem to be great points on both sides of the debate.

too much spamThe agents say:

  • Not having to send rejection letters means they can actually read more query letters, request more materials, and find YOU sooner!
  • An agent’s time is valuable! They’re busy. They have their normal day-to-day duties to tend to – like selling their client’s books!
  • It’s a business transaction. Do you get a response from every job you apply to? No.
  • There’s negative karma with sending out rejection letters.
  • Agents have the right to create whatever submission policy they like.

But… some agents also say:

  • Responding to queries gives them a “leg up” on other agents. Now they have the “kindness factor.”
  • They like to send responses because it allows them to feel like they have no loose ends.

Patience ImageMeanwhile the writers…

  • Find it discouraging. A no-response can feel harsher than a rejection letter. Does the agent not respect them or their time?
  • It can make a writer feel like they are in limbo. Did the query letter even get to the agent? Was it ever considered? Did it get stuck in the SPAM filter? (To combat this problem, some agents have created auto responders which let a writer know the query was received).
  • May the mass-querying begin! If a writer knows they aren’t going to hear from an agent for months (and possibly never at all), they may start to send out mass queries. Of course, this creates more letters in an agents in-box, and the cycle begins.

Is there an easy answer to this? No.

I think an agent has every right to conduct business any way they see fit. But I do have respect for those who have sent me a rejection letter in the past. It shows me they’re a professional and they respect me. Personally, I am more likely to recommend that agent to my writer friends (even though I was rejected).

As for us writers, I think we all need to take a step back and practice our skills of patience and perseverance. The right agent is out there waiting for us – and they will contact us when the time is right.

Patience

Want to read more about this subject? Check out these other interesting articles:

SCBWI Open Letter to the Industry

Agent Natalie Lakosil’s Opinion

Agent Rachelle Gardner’s Opinion

Agent Janet Reid’s Opinion

Young Adult Literature: Still Thriving

At the end of June I attended the Independent Writers of Southern California (IWOSC) panel event Young Adult Literature: Still Thriving. The event was moderated by IWOSC member Gary Young, and featured panelists: Jen Jones Donatelli (Team Cheer Series), Ann Stampler (Where It Began), Amy Goldman Koss (The Girls, Poison Ivy, Side Effects), Lauren Strasnick (Nothing Like You, Her and Me and You), and Jen Rofe (Agent at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, who represents children’s literature and is also Lauren Strasnick’s agent.)

The following are my notes from the event:

Moderator Question: According to the LA Times, the average teen watches two hours of TV per night and reads only seven minutes per day. Why then is teen literature so popular?

  • The adults are reading it!
  • “The average person has only one testicle…so it’s probably the same average.”

Moderator Question: Why do you think adults are reading YA?

  • The quality has gone up and lots of adults are reading YA. It’s just good literature.
  • Coming of age stories now bridge both late teen to early twenties, which it didn’t before.
  • YA is more story focused. Adult books tend to meander.
  • There’s a lot of great experimentation happening in YA and that’s exciting for both reader and writer.

Moderator Question: Who Do You Write For? Yourself? Your Reader?

  • Lauren writes for herself. She doesn’t have a teen in mind.
  • Others write with the audience in mind.
  • You have to be honest to a kid and his/her world. You can’t write what you want a kid to be.

Moderator Question: What do you think about Harry Potter and its influence on the Market?

  • One author said it was irrelevant.
  • Jen Rofe jumped in to say that it is essential! That the market is what it is today because of Harry Potter and Twilight, etc. These books created a new readership and pays for other children’s books to be published. You don’t have to like these books. But you should respect their influence.

Some comments about the publishing industry:

  • Target used to pick books for their shelves based on the covers. They wanted books that matched the color schemes of the displays they were creating.
  • Scholastic has a branch that reviews books for their book clubs. This is how you get into a book club. You want to get into the club! Your sales will increase.

Moderator Question: How much swearing and edgy content can be in YA books?

  • If you want to be in a book club then you should curb your swearing. Librarians also don’t like swearing.
  • Cursing can be unnecessary. Check and see if you really need it.
  • Kids are grappling with big issues today: sex, drug, etc.  If it is part of your character’s world then keep it.
  • Drug use (in most YA books) comes with consequences. It isn’t there unless it’s a big part of the story.
  • Powerlessness is a gigantic part of kids lives.

Moderator Question: What actually constitutes a YA book (for those unfamiliar with the market)?

  • YA books have protagonists that are 15 to 17 years old.
  • They are written from the point of view of the teen.
  • There are Adult books out there with teen protagonists, like The Lovely Bones, but they aren’t YA because the story isn’t just about teens or it is written from the POV of an adult looking at a teen, or back on his/her life.
  • YA books tend to be around 75,000 words.  But stay under 100,000 words. (Lauren’s books, however, are short. They tend to be around 30-40 thousand words.

Moderator Question: How do you see e-publishing and self-publishing affecting the YA market?

  • Self publishing and e-books haven’t taken off in the kids market like it has in the adult market.
  • If you want to self publish then you need to sell LOTS of books for a major publisher to take notice. Lots of books is 10,000 copies or more!
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid was a self-published book that sold around 20-50 thousand copies, and that’s why it was picked up.
  • There is a community of people who exist to help you publish the best book you can (editors, marketers, etc.). You miss out on this community by self-publishing your book.
  • However, publishers don’t do as much marketing for you anymore. So if you are willing to market, market, market your own book. Then maybe self-publishing is a good route.
  • Any book needs good editing! If you are self publishing don’t forget how important editing is.
  • Self-publishing means less time writing.

Moderator Question: If you have a book-series idea, should you write multiple books?

  • No. Put everything into that first book! You want that one to sell. Then you will see about the possibility of more.
  • Leave holes in the first book that could grow into other books.

Moderator Question: Jen Rofe, what are you looking for in terms of clients?

  • She primarily represents middle grade and picture books.
  • She only has 4 or 5 YA clients, and really does a limited amount of YA.
  • She has a low threshold for teen angst.

Moderator Question: How successful do you think book trailers are?

  • They can help. It depends on the quality, etc.
  • Lauren said she made one, but she’s not sure it actually helped in book sales. (Ingrid’s Side note: I may only be one person, but I personally bought Lauren’s book because I saw the book trailer). Check it out for yourself: Nothing Like You Book Trailer
  • Check out the book trailer for The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer it’s fantastic.

Moderator Question: What is your opinion on self-promotion and contacting your audience through the internet?

  • Jen Rofe is big on her authors self-promoting their work.
  • Try and connect with bloggers. This is a great way to get press. In fact, think about having teens create a blog–tour for you. (There are groups of teen bloggers who do this).
  • Some of the authors on the panel really like blogging and using the internet. It’s a great way to connect with their audience and fans. But you have to make a personal connection with them.
  • One author made a twitter account for their protagonist.
  • Check out the author Melissa Walker – she has amazing self-promotion.
  • Beware of being inauthentic. No one like someone who is always always always promoting. Be a real human being online!
  • Reach out to High School newspapers and see about doing an interview. This is a great way to promote directly to the source!
  • There is a difference between promotion and commotion.
  • You only get a certain number of ARC’s (advance reader copies) to promote with. So think about who you send them to.

Panelist Bios:

JENNIFER ROFÉ, ANDREA BROWN LITERARY AGENCY. As a literary agent, Jennifer handles children’s fiction projects, from picture books to young adult. Middle grade is her soft spot; she’s open to all genres in this category, especially the tender or hilarious. For YA, Jennifer is drawn to contemporary works, dramatic or funny romance, and urban fantasy/light sci-fi. For picture books, early readers, and chapter books, she’s interested in character-driven projects and smart, exceptional writing. Jennifer’s clients include Kathryn Fitzmaurice, Barry Wolverton, Nick James, Samantha Vamos, Meg Medina, and Crystal Allen. Jennifer is co-author of the picture book Piggies in the Pumpkin Patch.

LAUREN STRASNICK is a graduate of the California Institute of the Arts MFA Writing Program. Her debut novel, Nothing Like You (Simon Pulse/S&S, 2009), was an RWA RITA award finalist in two categories, Best First Book and YA Romance. Her second novel, Her and Me and You (Simon Pulse/S&S, 2010), was an ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers. Then You Were Gone (Simon Pulse/S&S), Lauren’s third book, will be out in January 2013.

AMY GOLDMAN KOSS Amy teaches writing and has written 14 teen novels including The Girls, Poison Ivy, Side Effects, and The Not-So-Great Depression, as well as a few picture books and many LA Times Op-Ed pieces. She lives in Glendale, California, with her pets, family, and phobias, where she can usually be found hunched over, scowling at the computer.

ANN STAMPLER This March saw the release of Ann Redisch Stampler’s fifth picture book, The Wooden Sword (Albert Whitman, 2012), and her debut young adult novel, Where It Began (Simon & Schuster/Simon Pulse, 2012), a story set in contemporary Los Angeles. Her picture books, primarily Eastern European folk tales, have been Sydney Taylor honor and notable books, a National Jewish Book Award finalist and winner, an Aesop Accolade winner, Bank Street Best books, and PJ Library selections.  Ann’s next YA novel will be published by Simon Pulse in the summer of 2013, and her new PB by Kar-Ben in the spring. Ann has two adult children, and writes in the Hollywood Hills, where she lives with her husband and their dog.

JEN JONES DONATELLI is an author and journalist based in Los Angeles. To date, she has authored more than 50 middle-grade non-fiction books for tweens and teens for publishers including Enslow Publishing and Capstone Press. In addition, her fiction series Team Cheer is being released in trade paperback this July, with four more books to follow later this year. Along with writing books, Jen is also a seasoned freelance writer and regularly contributes to print and online publications including LA Confidential, Natural Health, San Francisco, Variety, MSN, E!Online, Thrillist and many more.

The Master List: 2010 SCBWI LA Conference

I’ve finally posted all of my notes from the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference!

For your convenience I have listed below and linked all of the keynote speeches and breakout sessions I attended to their corresponding posts. Be sure to bookmark this page for future reference!

2010 SCBWI LA Conference Keynote Speech and Breakout Session List:


FRIDAY:

SATURDAY:

SUNDAY:

MONDAY:

To learn more about the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and their events visit them online at: www.scbwi.org

Your Manuscript is Ready. Are you?

Author Jill Alexander and her agent Michael Bourret spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA conference about what happens in the time between selling your first book and getting it published.

Why We Created this Breakout Session:

  • For Alexander the transition between un-published and published felt like it happened in a whirlwind and overnight. So she wanted to create this session to let everyone know what the process is like and things to be prepared for.
  • The transition is a quick one.
  • Agents often forget all the steps that authors are unfamiliar with when they are publishing their first book. Bourret’s hope is that this session will help you to navigate the choppy waters ahead!

BEFORE -Things to do before you get published:

  • Develop a Web Presence:

o   Develop a web presence in some way. Create an online hub. This should be one central place where people can find you.

o   You want to update your online hub with new content on a regular basis so that you can begin to build an audience.

o   Think about your web presence as a way for people to contact you! A place for fan mail, or librarians to say hello, etc. Some people use Facebook, but Alexander doesn’t accept minors to be her friend on Facebook.

o   Forward thinking – you won’t have much time later! Think about it now.

o   Secure a domain name and get a blog. You don’t need a fake book cover or anything, just be yourself.

  • Create your Office Hours:

o   How many hours will you spend social networking? (Twiter, email, blog, etc.?)

o   Create a calendar system for school visits.

o   Think about writing not as a hobby but as a business.

The Real Work Starts After You’ve Sold Your Book:

  • We are not talking about writing here, we are talking about the media. You will have to talk to them! You will have to get used to having an audience.
  • Think about how you will talk about your book. What was your inspiration? Have pre-packaged answers to those questions ready (or some idea) so you don’t look like a bumbling fool. Practice your responses.
  • Alexander has a post on her website of common questions she was asked when she got published. Take a look at these and practice what you would say!  Questions are here: http://jillalex.livejournal.com/16841.html

The Funny Things You Never Think About…

  • It turns out there is another author out there named Jill Alexander. Only she is an erotic writer! That can be a problem when your young adult audience starts looking you up on the internet! Alexander decided to use the S. of her middle name to differentiate herself from the other Alexander. Her agent helped her through this issue.

Revision, Revision, Revision… 

  • Revision is a long process. There are a lot of little steps along the way.
  • Revision begins with a larger letter discussing the major story issues. This is the time you SHOULD address these issues. I can be hard to change major things later on. Editors hate hearing “Is it too late to change…” The earlier in the process you deal with these things the better.
  • Later you will get a long letter with lots and lots of notes on each line (copy edits). It can be intimidating.
  • Review your copy editing symbols so you won’t feel so confused when that draft comes along.
  • Expect to read your book another 8 to 12 times!
  • You will be addressing different things each time you get your manuscript back.
  • Learn to distance yourself from the manuscript and be willing to read your manuscript differently.

Renaming Your Book:

  • It is pretty common that the name of your book will change. This can be for a lot of reasons. For Alexander the word Christmas in her book title caused it to need to change so it wasn’t thought of as a seasonal book.
  • Have a list of other possible titles ready! Try to think up 5 to 10 titles.

What’s and ARC?

  • An ARC is an Advanced Reader Copy. These are copies of your book that are sent to librarians, reviewers, etc.
  • ARC’s are great for your first signing opportunities. You can raffle these off to your blogging community for example.
  • And ARC is a precious commodity.
  • You get 5 to 10 copies of your ARC’s. They are expensive to make so make sure you think clearly about who will get them.  They should be for people who will write about your book and will help sell your book. Be prepared to be told by your publisher that the supplies are limited. Ask who they have sent ARC’s to so that you don’t double up.
  • When ARC’s come out is when the “What’s Next” question starts to come up.

The Book Launch is More of a Wrap Up Party:

  • Once your book comes out a lot of the work will already be done. It’s the end result.
  • Pub dates – this day will only be super exciting for you the author. It doesn’t mean much for everyone else. That can be emotionally taxing. Don’t try to build it up too much for yourself.
  • Bourret tries to be mindful of publication date and calls his clients on that day.

The School Visit:

  • Have school presentation ideas in mind. Put your ideas up on your blog or website for schools to see. Have some of these ideas ready by the time your book comes out.
  • Schools will ask you to come visit for free. Tell them you have a set fee. “I would be happy to waive the fee.” This way you are giving them something.
  • Alexander used to teach high school, so doing a book visit at a school wasn’t very scary for her.
  • Set limits to the amount of students you will talk to. Never do an auditorium because it’s too big and the kids don’t care enough when they are in a large environment like that. Agree to go to 3 or 4 classrooms instead.

When the Book Comes Out:

  • “Free books are at the library.” Don’t give away your book. Have people buy them! Particularly your friends and family.
  • Your contracted books (that you get free from the publisher) don’t go to friends and family. They need to support you and buy your book!
  • Don’t give your contracted books away to anyone who doesn’t have some influence.
  • When you are post-publication you will have to spend time promoting, etc. This takes away from your writing. “My time is valuable,” is an important mantra. It shows that you need to be paid. Your time isn’t free.
  • Protect your creative think time. This is different than your writing time. Driving can be a great place to have think time. To help separate creative time from business time Alexander moves to different areas of her house. One area is for social networking (twitter, etc.) another area is for writing.

Remember Your Family Dynamic:

  • Remember that the world goes on for your family even after you are published. Life doesn’t change much for them. So be sure you still make your family an important part of your day/life.
  • Remember to keep a balance. There will be less home-drama if you do.

What Is Next? Writing Your Second Book:

  • Your next book is an important thing to talk about with your Agent. You want your career to be long so you want to have a good conversation about the best choices for you. Talk about this early with your agent and publisher. Never do things in the dark.
  • Alexander though a previous book that she had written would end up being her second book, but her agent thought it might be too dark for her audience and they went with another idea.
  • Michael Bourret likes to know everything and as soon as possible. He likes you to share what you are doing because it allows him to figure out the timing. This is important for you next book but also important for other things like promotion. If you set up an interview with a broadcast but do it before your book comes out then it can be wasted publicity. Timing is important.
  • You can bother your agent! Share! It’s their job to hear from you!

A Bit About Agent Michael Bourret:

  • He represents children’s ficton and adult fiction, but he doesn’t do adult genre fiction.
  • He does represent some children’s books but he isn’t dying to see more.
  • He advises everyone to find the editor and agent who lights up when they read your book.
  • “There aren’t good or bad agents, there are only good or bad matches.”
  • Bourret suggest you find an agent before you find an editor.
  • Bourret will Google an author if he finds their manuscript interesting. See what is out there on yourself!

Jill S. Alexander is an author and SCBWI success story. Her debut novel The Sweetheart of Prosper County was discovered through the national conference critique process and ha s received a starred review from School Library Journal as well as being awarded to the 2010 Texas Lonestar Reading List. Jill’s second novel Paradise and His Smokin’ Squeezebox is set for release in Spring 2011. Visit Jill at: www.jillsalexander.com.

Michael Bourret joined Dystel & Goodrich Literary Management as an intern while studying film and television production at New York University, and began at the agency full-time in 2000. After ten years as an agent in the New York office Michael now works in Los Angeles at the West Coast office of DGLM as Vice President. Michael’s authors include Sara Zarr, Lisa McMann, Bernadette Shustack, Anne Rockwell, and Heather Brewer.

The Digital Revolution: Writers Becoming Content Creators

The digital revolution is changing the way we publish books. With iPads and e-readers, blogging and the internet, the way in which we receive content is changing every day. Agent Rubin Pfeffer spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conference to address this very topic. In his opinion, we should all redefine how we see ourselves, we are not simply writers and illustrators, we are content creators.

Notes from Rubin Pfeffer’s Keynote Speech:

Let’s Clarify…

  • When talking about digital books and publishing in new media, this means “NOT INSTEAD OF, BUT IN ADDITION TO…”

What if SCBWI was SCCC:

  • SCBWI (as a name) is functional – yes.  But sexy? No!
  • The word society has a foofyness to it. A tea party sound.
  • When SCBWI created its name branding wasn’t (then) what it needs to be now.
  • SCCC = Society of Children’s Content Creators: Perhaps it is time for a moment of self examination. Where could this organization go?
  • SCBWI has 22,000 members (globally) as of 2010. We are a global force!

What Does It Mean to Be Relevant In the Digital Age?

  • The digital future has become the digital-NOW!
  • We are in a world commanded by e-retailers. There is no more “on ground” stores. Amazon is the number one retailer for trade book publishing!
  • Reading devices used to have a fast turnover rate, but the iPad has become the big game changer.
  • 70% of adults have not been in a book store in five years! They have a store in their poket/purse. It’s called an iPhone.

Agents as E-Publishers:

  • In response to the digital revolution certain agents are now becoming e-publishers as well. These pioneers include Richard Curtis and Scott Waxman.
  • Odyssey Company (e-publisher).
  • If you compare a $10 paperback to a $10 e-book, the author will get 80 cents per paperback book, and $1.75 per e-book.
  • E-publishers have talked about royalties as a high as $3.50 to $7 per book.  (These are theoretical and may not be uniform.)
  • APO = Alternate Publishing Options

An Opportunity is Upon Us…

  • Books in print will always be here, but they are not the only way.
  • This is a time of revolution and opportunity!
  • Why shouldn’t there be larger profits for you the content creators?
  • The opportunities are to be found in new formats.
  • The lexicon of formats are expanding – animation, phone apps, twitter, etc.
  • Look at the iPad as a dry sponge hungry for content with many multi-media possibilities.
  • We must remain high above the poor quality material that is published on the internet.
  • “Just because we can publish, doesn’t mean that we should.” -?

There is Fear in the Unknown…

  • Traditional publishers are scared that the way books are read is changing on a fundamental level. The book is presently going through a radical reinvention right now!
  • Think about how music changed over the years (in terms of the format in which the music got to  you). Originally it was live, then recorded on a record, then 8-track, cassette, CD, and MP3. The music is still good, the form we get it in has changed.

A Great Article on the Market…

  • “Publishing The Revolutionary Future.” New York Times Review, March 11, 2010

Rubin Pfeffer is an agent with East West Literary Agency. Prior he has worked in Children’s book publishing for many years as SVP of and Publisher of Simon and Schuster and overseeing the imprints of Anthem, McElderry, Aladdin, and Paula Wiseman Books.

Recap of the 2010 SCBWI LA – Agent Panel

Agents Ginger Clark (Curtis Brown), Josh Adams (Adams Literary), Lisa Grubka (Foundry), and Ken Wright (Writer’s House), all spoke at the 2010 SCBWI LA Conferences. They discussed what they are looking for, the state of the market, and how the rights landscape is changing. The following are my notes from the event:

MODERATOR: Introduce yourself, your agency, and a little about the marketplace from your perspective.

GINGER: I’ve worked for Curtis Brown for Five years. I represent middle grade and young adult novels. I also represent British rights to the Curtis Brown children’s List. It’s good to have an agent that can think globally for you. I have found that editors are looking for middle grade books, middle grade series or one shots. There is really a neglected audience in the 8-12 year old area. On the YA end I like fantasy and paranormal books. I look for the more unusual stuff. Angels were really big in Bolognia this year, but personally I am looking for any book with mermaids or sirens in it! Distopia is coming in and getting big. I prefer email queries, but will still accept snail mail as well.

KEN: Writer’s house is the largest and best known house for Children’s publishing. We have 3 or 4 agents that deal exclusively with children’s books. We have some good franchises at Writer’s House including Twilight, and The Baby Sitters Club. I was an editor at Scholastic before becoming an agent. YA literary fiction is selling right now, as is middle grade series. There is also a small phenomenon to take note of which is very young middle grade fiction. But we aren’t sure what that is yet. Picture books are really tough to sell right now. My personal specialty is nonfiction books.

JOSH: My wife and I run our boutique agency ourselves. We started our agency in 2004, and we represent the children’s book market exclusively. In our opinion the state of the market is strong. We’ve seen a resurgence in hiring editors, and more acquisitions lately. The market is bouncing back. When writing I would stress that you strive for something that is timeless, that’s really what we are looking for. Timeless will always be timely. We look to manage careers over time. We only take submission through our website, and we do get about 8000 submissions a year.

LISA: I’ve been at Foundry for about two years. Before that I was at Williams and Morris for six years. I represent both children’s books and adult books. I see that there is a trend in YA and MG for books that have an international focus, and that is also a personal interest of mine. I like reality grounded projects,  I like to feel as if I could be the character. Dystopian novels are hot right now. But I’m always looking for something that is voice driven with strong characters and humor. Adult crossover novels are also good.

MODERATOR: Can you explain how foreign rights and other markets work?

GINGER: An agent tries to keep as many subsidiary rights as they possibly can. This is so we can sell those rights over seas, etc. It is important for an author to try and not make their book super American, as it won’t sell well in another country. For example American Football or baseball are very hard books to sell internationally. Most agents will partner with an agent in another country to sell those rights.

KEN: It’s subjective on the other side of the ocean. You never know what they will buy.

JOSH: I agree. You want an agent that will market your book for you overseas. The publisher will probably take a percentage if they are marketing those rights overseas for you. It is better to have your agent do it for you so you get more of the pie. We have co-agents overseas, and we want them to aggressively market you. Though it can be hard to sell books in places like Scandinavia and Europe if your book is not a series.

LISA: You want an agent to have an eye on how to sell your book. Do you speak a foreign language? Tell your agent! Then you can do a book tour in that country.

KEN: If the publisher controls the rights, then your agent should still be talking with them on what they are doing with those rights.

MODERATOR: What rights should authors seek to obtain?

JOSH: All of them!

GINGER: There is a lot of arguing about audio rights, and there is plenty of discussion about multi-media and enhanced media rights. Boiler plate rights is when we’ve settle on one clause or term for all media. And that can be a problem. Film people don’t like to see that the publisher has the media rights, because there is some overlap and this can be very tricky. Media is more interactive with picture books.

KEN: We’ve started inserting aversion language into our contracts. Time limits for example…if they haven’t used said rights yet then they revert back to the author, etc.

JOSH: More publishers are looking for audio rights when they don’t have audio programs. We see rights grabs with the higher the advances. Don’t grant commercial and film rights to publishers.

LISA: There is so much new technology that we don’t know what the next thing will be. “Winter is coming and we all want to be in on it.” Publishers have been doing presentations for agents to show them the possibilities. But we are still waiting to see what’s really going to happen.

MODERATOR: Is a simultaneous book and e-release a good thing?

JOSH: The talk in Hollywood is all about convergence. What platform do you want to see it on NOW! Traditional books are still selling better, and e-commerce is only a fraction of the other sales. So the question is what’s fair for the author with these rights?

KEN: Three years later we often look back at rights and see what was used.

GINGER: 25% of net for e-book is the royalty right now. We are hoping this will change. Andrew Wyle launched his own e-rights publishing house (he’s an agent). Will this help or hurt?

MODERATOR: With so many new platforms how does this affect your opinion of self publishing?

GINGER: There’s a question right now with people like Andrew Wyle starting his own publishing company. Can we (as agents) ethically function as a packager for our clients? Do we do direct to self publishing? What’s okay or appropriate for an agent to do? We may see the cannon of ethics changing in the future and it may change our jobs as agents.

JOSH: Do you see self publishing as a way to break into traditional publishing? Everyone is looking for a new way to break into publishing. Maybe…

LISA: Most people who self publish are struggling to get the numbers. This is a grey zone and I’m not sure how an agent fits into that picture.

MODERATOR: How do you assess the business, conglomerates, and the opportunities right now?

LISA: It’s really hard for mid-list authors right now. Lots of imprints are looking for new authors. Amazon’s power grows daily and the publishers have to listen to them. How do you allocate money, balance budgets, etc.? An agent may need to help an author get a publicist if they are a mid-list client.

JOSH: It can be easier to sell a debut novel than say a third book. This is because there is no track record for that author. The PNL has more unknown variables. Some authors struggle in one genre and were trying to stretch them into a new place. Quality fiction will always find a home. But there are more challenges today.

KEN: The adult book market focuses on big books. But the editors are looking for great new voices.

GINGER: We are heading into a golden age for children’s books (particularly YA). People are seeing the importance and power of children’s books. I’m seeing the snobby side of the industry start to take note. Children’s books are paying people’s salaries!

MODERATOR: What services do you provide your clients? And what is your client/agent relationship?

JOSH: We are all about teamwork! Communication, and making sure you are on the same page in the relationship. Authors are looking for editorial agents, but agents aren’t here to replace the editor. I’m not going to re-decorate the house. But I will help you stage your book. It’s like real-estate.

BEN: Sometimes I’m your shrink. I’m your eyes and ears to the market. I’m the bad cop to your good cop.

LISA: I do edit quite a bit. I want to give the project the best opportunities. Communication is important. How will we work well together depends. Do you need hand holding, etc. I will help to manage your career, and I take my job very seriously.

JOSH: I like to strategize together. Always tell me what you are working on next, so we can think about the big picture. We may need to put things in the drawer depending on where we are taking your career. I want to manage your career to help maximize the earnings of your career.

GINGER: I am not your therapist, best friend, or your mom! This is a professional relationship. I won’t talk on the phone with you for two hours to shoot the shit.

JOSH: Some authors email or phone all the time. Some I don’t talk to for a month. We are here 24/7 for you.  And occasionally I can be your shrink for you, or at least suggest one. We are your rock. We want to help instill confidence in you so that you can do your best. Our job is to help you gain that confidence.

Audience Question: Can you address Asian Markets?

GINGER: Manga is its own world. It hit its peak and what’s here has been translated. Non-fiction adult books do well in Asia. Asia does not have the vampire virus. What’s doing well in Europe doesn’t quite sell well in Asia.

Audience Question: Can you comment on the state of non-fiction books in the market?

KEN: It’s been a great year for non-fiction! 2009 was a banner year for non-fiction. There’s been a ground swell of interest in non-fiction. Nonfiction doesn’t sell as well in the trade market, but it’s great in the educational market.

Audience Question: Is there a good season to submit to an agent?

KEN: Summer is a good time. We are trying to get things lined up for the Fall.

JOSH: When the work is ready that’s when you should submit! Some people mention the “lazy days of summer” but I don’t know what that’s about, I’m always busy!

KEN: Agents submit less to publishers in the summer because they are often on vacation.

GINGER: If an agent goes to Bologna, that’s not a good time to query.

LISA: There are spikes around certain times of the year.

Ken Wright was an editor and publisher for 20 years, most recently at scholastic, where he was an editorial director. Ken joined Writer’s House in 2007 as an agent, specializing in children’s literature. Ken’s clients have been the recipients of many awards including the Caldecott, Newbery, and Printz Awards.

Ginger Clark has been a literary agent with Curtis Brown LTD since 2005. She represents science fiction, fantasy, paranormal romance, literary horror, and young adult and middle grade fiction. In addition to representing her own clients she also represents British rights for the agency’s children’s list. She previously worked at Writer’s House for six years as an assistant.

Josh Adams, together with his wife Tracey, runs Adams Literary, a boutique agency exclusively dedicated to children’s book authors and artists. A graduate of Dartmouth College and Columbia Business School, Josh spent years in publishing and media before bringing his editorial and business backgrounds together as a literary agent.

Lisa Grubka spent six years at the William Morris Agency before joining Foundry in 2008, and represents both fiction (literary, young adult, and women’s) and non-fiction (pop-culture, food, and narrative). Lisa has worked with a broad variety of authors, from debut novelists to Food Network stars. She take a very hands on approach in working with her authors, and is a thorough editor, ensuring to the best possible proposal or manuscript.

Query Letter Suicide

Agent Jill Corcoran (of the Herman Agency) shared the following lists of things you should NOT write in your query letter. Take a look and make sure you aren’t committing query letter suicide!

Things NOT to write in you Query Letter:

1. I’m a new writer.

2. This is my first book or this is the first book I have written.

3. This is the second/third/forth/tenth book I have written.

4. This is the first book in my 9 book series.

5. I have recently completed the second book in a series of four.

6. The following example doesn’t tell the agent anything about the book: My book XXX, is a series of stories involving a cast of recurring characters. I have written approximately 20 stories in XXX series. Each story is more exciting than the last, and take the XXX to farther away places and more fantastic situations. The story, “XXX”, which I am sending you, introduces XXX, draws the characters and sets up the premise for the book. While each story may stand alone, they could be combined to form a chapter book following the progression of story lines and new characters.

7. This is not a good way to start a first paragraph: My book is called XXX. My target readership would be geared towards middle school children around ten years of age. I have completed the book, it is 88 pages in length and is the first book in the series XXX. (This intro is choppy and dull).

8. I hope you and everyone around you are doing well. (This is too familiar).

9. In my pursuit for agent representation, I am about as bedeviled as X, the protagonist, in XXX. (An odd way to start).

10. I am looking for an agent to help me publish my book, XXX, a 77,000 word long fictional young adult novel. (Get rid of the word “fictional”. Also, this is too non-specific, it seems like any agent will do. You need to say why you have picked this particular agent to query.) (It is best – and business like – to start a query like this: I am looking for representation for XXX.)

11. I am looking for an agent to help me publish my book, XXX.

12. Do not write in the subject line of an email query: One minute read. CB Query. (It’s rude).

13. I’ve worked on XXX for a decade, which includes feedback from writers groups, a freelance editor, and now an interested publisher. I believe XXX will benefit anyone, but targeted girls, ages 9-12. (Why have you been working on this book for a decade? That’s a big red flag.)

14. I hope you would like to represent my book, X, to publishers. (Too unprofessional, and not a strong sentence.)

15. This is not a full query, though I get this a lot: My children’s book is called: XXX. It is the story of an eight year old girl, X, who gets seperated (use spell check!) from her family on a fishing trip. She is rescued by and spends a couple of weeks in the company of a small family of x-fish. It is a simple fantasy story that includes a valuable lesson (Lessons are  no no!) for small children. The importance of heeding their parents advice even though it interferes with every childs wish to grow-up to fast. (This whole paragraph is blah, and lacks specifics.) If you would like me to e-mail you the full story, I would be more than happy to do so.

16. My completed novel, XXX, is an original and unique coming of age romance that will appeal to young adults, with a distinctive plotline. With so many stories in the YA genre out there now, I have managed to blend genres – contemporary YA and historical romance together into an interesting and one-of-a-kind premise. The writing is energetic, and the supernatural twists and turns make it a page turner. (I don’t think there is anything that is one-of-a-kind out there. There’s always something similar to it.)

17. XXX should fit in well with your other titles, though it is very unique in its own right, since there are no other YA novels out there like it. (Agents don’t have lists – like publishers. We don’t want things to fit in with our titles. We have clients not titles.)

18. Don’t write back and ask for a critique or a quick opinion. Most agents put this in their rejections if they feel like sharing. Often we don’t share so that we do not get more and more questions. If an agent is interested in your work they will offer critiques.

Jill Corcoran shared the above information at the 2010 Southern California SCBWI Writers Day. Corcoran is an agent with the Herman Agency. She has an English degree from Stanford University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago, Jill has marketed everything from sneakers to cereal at Leo Burnett Advertising, LA Gear, Mattel, and at her own consulting company, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing. Jill is also a children’s book author and poet. You can learn more about her on her blog: www.jillcorcoran.blogspot.com

Queries and Synopis: How to Get an Agent Salivating to Read Your Manuscript

Writer turned agent extraordinaire Jill Corcoran, of the Herman Agency, spoke at the 2010 Southern California SCBWI Writer’s Day about how to get an agent to request your manuscript. The following are her tips, personal preferences, and insight to help ensure your inbox is full of requests instead of rejection letters.

What’s a Query Letter?

  • A query letter is a simple letter to get an agent to read your book. That’s it.
  • It’s a pitch.
  • It’s a business letter. So be professional.
  • The purpose of the letter is to entice an agent to request your full manuscript (that’s your objective).
  • Sometimes an amazing query letter will have a book that doesn’t live up to the query.

What To Do Before You Write Your Query Letter:

  • Finish your book!!! Never query before the book is finished. In fact, the book should not only be finished, but should be so good that it is ready to be published! Be critical of your work.
  • Research what agents are good for you (and your book).
  • Know what your book is about. You need to be able to summarize your book in your query letter.

Great Ways to Research Agents:

  • Follow agents on twitter. You’ll really get to know them by what they post.
  • Read an agent’s blog! This is a great way to find out an agent’s individual tastes, personality, and what they are looking for.

How To Query:

  • The First Paragraph: There are two schools of though on how to open your query letter. The first one is to start your query with your story, just jump in and start with the synopsis. The other school of thought (which Corcoran prefers) is to explain why you are contacting the agent. The first paragraph in this situation should include short, precise and true reason(s) you are querying this particular agent. Research helps you to write this part, because it will show how well of a fit you and the agent are.
  • The Second Paragraph: Next is the story synopsis. Write a 2 to 10 sentence synopsis of your story. Here’s how: In (Title of book), X-Main Character needs to (define problem) before (obstacles). Now not all stories will fit into this neat and tidy premise, but you get the idea. Just remember that this is a sales piece and not a play by play of the story. The important information to include would be: title, main character and his/her age, the dilemma, the genre (YA, Picture Book, etc.), and the setting (if applicable).
  • The Third Paragraph: Write about yourself. Agents vary on what they like to see here. Corcoran likes to know whatever you think is important. While other agents don’t care if you train lemurs as a hobby, Corcoran thinks that would be interesting. But in general you should include: previously published work (yes, magazine publications count), writing honors and awards, a writing MFA, a specialty that relates to the book, SCBWI memberships, etc. Don’t include how many cats you have, or that your kids loved this book.

How To Write A Fantastic Synopsis:

  • Read flap copy from published books. This is a sales pitch to you the reader. When writing your query you are doing the same exact thing. Be enticing and keep it simple

Things to Avoid When Writing a Query Letter:

  • Always default to Ms. or Mr. and then the last name of the agent. You don’t need to include the first name. And be careful of using the prefix of Mrs.
  • Don’t be to “sales-y” in your query. It’s a turn-off.
  • Stay business-y and avoid getting to cutesy.
  • Don’t use large blocks of text. White space is good. Break up your paragraphs and keep things short.

Other Tips Before You Query:

  • Most agents do e-queries these days. But check submission guidelines to be sure.
  • You’ve got to know what sells “you”! If you’ve written books and are published then start your query with that. Know what makes you unique and will make you stand out.
  • Be specific!
  • It’s not bragging to talk about yourself and “sell yourself.” You’ll have to do this over and over. Get used to it.
  • Your query should be different for each agent you submit to. Particularly the part where you specify why you are submitting to this particular agent. Your synopsis may be the same, but the intro should be different.
  • Remember your query is a business letter.
  • Find out what other books are in the market that are similar to your book. Make sure that your work isn’t done already by someone else.
  • Sometimes an assistant will read your query before the agent will. Don’t fret, the assistant is trained to have the same taste (and look for) what the agent is interested in.

The Order In Which Jill Corcoran Reads Your Submission/Query:

  • Corcoran doesn’t always read query letters in order. She starts with who you are. Have you been published? What makes you interesting.
  • Then she look to see what genre your book is. Is it YA or MG (which she represents).
  • Now she goes back and reads your first paragraph, followed by the rest of the query.
  • If the query is interesting, she’ll read the first 10 pages (which you should submit with your query).
  • Then she goes back and reads your synopsis to see if the rest of the book seems interesting.

A Few Formatting Tips for Your Submission:

  • Use the Font Times New Roman with a 12 or 14 point size.
  • Don’t send your manuscript in Courier, as it will skew the page count.

About Little About Jill Corcoran and What She Likes:

  • At the Herman Agency, Corcoran represents young adult books, middle grade books, and chapter books. Meanwhile the other agent at the Herman Agency covers picture books and illustrators.
  • Corcoran and her partner are very close so it will feel like you get two agents in one!
  • She don’t like books about bullies. That is an automatic rejection based solely on subject matter.
  • Corcoran likes tight writing and poetry.

Jill Corcoran is an agent with the Herman Agency. She has an English degree from Stanford University and an MBA in Finance and Marketing from The University of Chicago, Jill has marketed everything from sneakers to cereal at Leo Burnett Advertising, LA Gear, Mattel, and at her own consulting company, LAUNCH! New Product Marketing. Jill is also a children’s book author and poet. You can learn more about her on her blog: www.jillcorcoran.blogspot.com

A Recipe for Writing the Breakout Novel

What is a breakout novel?

Read on as Agent Sarah Davies (of Greenhouse Literary) shares her opinion of what makes a breakout novel and the five secret ingredients that will make your novel a success. She shared the following information at the 2009 SCBWI LA Conference. So if you want to be the next “it-author” take a cue or two from Ms. Davies.

The breakout novel is the novel that will change a writer’s career. It is the novel that everyone is talking about. It has buzz. Publishers make 90% of their revenue from the breakout novels which represent only 10% of the books they publish. The breakout novel makes the money and makes the space for other novels to survive and flourish.

SARAH DAVIES’ FIVE INGREDIENTS FOR SUCCESS:

1) Your Work Must Be Unique!

  • Your work must have an inspired concept. Know your market, and then forget it – write from inside you.  “If there is a story you want to read that doesn’t exist, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison
  • 80% of the submissions Davis receives are what she calls “common stories.” These are stories about the paranormal, school bullies, outcast girls, soft coming of age stories, domestic stories. You need to stand out! A quality concept is very important to Davies.
  • What is your USP – Unique Selling Point? Don’t start to write until you have an astoundingly clear and clever idea. A couple of sentences is all an agent or editor or sales rep has to sell a book. Know your USP. Examples of some good attention-getting USP’s are: “A boy tries to rescue an elephant in Africa.” Or the book Princess for Hire – the title says it all. Think big! Be prepared to research! Think past your small world.
  • Concept is not enough. You must have the writing to back up your concept. Devil’s Kiss by Sarwat Chadda is a good example of a marketable idea that also has the ability to show off the author’s dark writing. 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher is another example where the story of a girl’s suicide is transformed into a thriller, and has the writing to back it up.

2) You Must Have Larger Than Life Characters!

  • Create vivid, true, leap-off-the-page-and-into-our-hearts-and-minds characters! You need to know your characters so well that you aren’t explaining them as you go along. Show not tell! Beware of the information dump.
  • “What I like in a good author is not what he/she says, but what he/she whispers.” (unknown source). Don’t explain everything. Whisper. Check out the book The Other Side of Blue by Valerie Patterson, as this is a good example of this point.
  • Description’s sole purpose is to reveal character.
  • Character is revealed by conflict and dilemma. All of these things will move us toward the revelation at the end of the book.
  • Listen to real conversations. You will realize that 90% of conversation is completely self-interested. The external conversation in your story must reflect the internal life of your character.

3) Your Story Must Have High Stakes!

  • You must always build and build and build tension in your story. Build to your story climax. Davies suggests outlining so that you know where you are going and then you can figure out how to build to the climax.
  • What are the stakes of your story? In Devil’s Kiss the stakes are love vs. the world, as the character discovers the person she loves is also the person she must destroy.  The Other Side of Blue is an inward story with the stakes of “internal death” emotionally. One of the most extraordinary books Davies has read lately is Tender Morsels which contemplates the effects of a world without evil, and what are the true consequences of such a world.
  • Always know what your characters stand to win or lose.

4) Your Story Must Have a Deeply Felt Theme.

  • What is the unique moral or spiritual element of your story? This is not a moral at the end of the story. Don’t moralize or force a story to say what you want it to. What is the humanity that this story reveals? You need something that will be deeply felt. What does your story teach us about what it means to be human? What are we left with after the book is finished?
  • Examples of deeply felt themes: 13 Reasons Why shows us that a multitude of small things can deeply affect other people. Even the smallest thing can be gigantic. It also tells us that sometimes there is nothing we can do to save somebody. In Devil’s Kiss we take away the knowledge that one must do what is right even at our own peril or risk, because if we did not do it we would not be able to live with ourselves. The Others Side of Blue is a story about hope.
  • “The best books teach us more about ourselves than about our characters.” (unknown source).

5) Your Story Must Have a Vivid Setting.

  • Create a setting that is imbued with emotion. Create a setting that becomes a character in and of itself. In Pullman’s The Golden Compass this is Oxford. In The Devil’s Kiss this is London.

6) Additional Sixth Secret – Voice!

  • Be a musician with your voice! Be aware of language. Develop an ear for language and find the music that is under it. Find the cadence.

  • Voice should be silvery and luminous.

Additional Comments by Sarah Davies:

  • The movie Slumdog Millionaire is a good example of all of the above points put into a movie. Watch it.
  • “Story is created by the revelation of the internal and the external.” (unknown source).
  • “There is more reward in fighting through the pain of revision than giving up and starting something new.” – Sarah Davies (Her writers put in months and sometimes years into revisions).

A Bit About Sarah Davis and Her Agency:

  • Sarah Davies (pronounced Davis) is the owner of Greenhouse Literary Agency.
  • Originally from England she moved to Washington DC to get married, and to start her agency.
  • She wishes to make her stamp on the industry with Greenhouse.
  • She represents Middle Grade through YA Writers. However, if you decide to diversify later in your career she will still represent you.
  • She receives about 150 queries per week. She is looking for the gold nugget that will shine through the slush.
  • She is passionate about changing lives and making writers dreams come true.
  • Sarah Davies is looking for a spark – something that makes her sit up in her chair. It needs to have a clear voice, and a descent plot. She will help you with the plot, but you must know the voice.
  • Davies is a lover of language. Language are her jewels.
  • To submit check out her website, as well as read her blog (there is a specific blog entry about submission). Don’t trust hard copy printed information – always check online.

Sarah Davies is an agent at Greenhouse Literary, who represents and manages the careers of authors writing fiction for children, from young chapter-book series through middle grade novels to sophisticated teen fiction. Her clients include: Sarwat Chadda, Jon Mayhew, Harriet Goodwin,Valerie Patterson, among others.

Agent Day: Insight from Brenda Bowen

The final speaker at the SCBWI OC Agent Day was the lovely Ms. Brenda Bowen. In addition to her great talk about agent/editor negotiation she also shared the following tid-bits about herself, her agenting style, and what she’s looking for:

About Bit About Greenburger Associates:

  • We are a full service agency with a large back-list that includes The Little Prince, Simone De Beauvoir, Kafka, and Dan Brown. We like to joke that we are the agency that represents Fancy Nancy and Kafka!
  • We have 8 full agents, and a sub-rights dept. Each agent seems to cover a specific area/genre so we have less overlap than other agencies. I am the children’s literature rep!

A Bit About Brenda Bowen:

  • I graduated from college with an English and Art History degree.
  • I started out as a secretary at Basic Books. I became a reader, and worked my way up. I have worked in everything from Middlegrade, to Young Adult (both commercial and literary), Picture Books, Trashy Teen Romance, the whole gamut!
  • Harper Collins created their own Bowen Imprint in 2007, but it was shut down in 2009.
  • When I got canned I decided to become an agent, and I really felt I could compliment the Greenburger agency.
  • I am also a published author and I write under the pen name of Margaret McNamara.
  • Some of my clients include: Rosemary Wells (her first agent retired), Hillary Knight (Eloise books illustrator), Vladimir Redemski, Karen Berger, and Bryan Karas.

What Brenda Bowen Likes and Wants to See in Her Submissions:

  • I am very Catholic in my tastes, but I can like anything from the trashy to the literary.
  • I am not a fan of paranormal books, and in general I am not hugely into young adult novels.
  • I really like to focus on Picture Books through Middle Grade (including chap books and the educational market).
  • What I like is hard to define.
  • I also fear the “conference polish” as Mary Kole mentioned earlier. So I always ask for the first three chapters in a submission.
  • I want to work with people I love to be around! I want to be happy to see their name in my in-box.
  • I would like to do more fiction, I already have a lot of picture books on my plate. I represent both picture book authors alone, as well as author/illustrators.
  • I like boy oriented books that are funny.
  • I want a story that I have never read before.

What Gets Brenda’s Attention in a Query Letter:

  • A catchy title can be reason alone for me to request a manuscript. For example: The Masterwork of a Painting Elephant. This shows me that the author is confident enough to name his/her book this. It shows me the book is not a trend, and the title has a lyrical sound to it.
  • Please query me as Ms. Bowen and not Mrs. Bowen.
  • I like non-classical queries that are whimsical and share a confident story.
  • Have a query that shows your voice.

Other Bits of Advice:

  • If you don’t have an agent, but you do have a relationship with an editor or and offer from an editor, ask the editor to give you an agent recommendation.
  • I don’t have a favorite house that I like to submit to. Different houses offer different things and it is an agents job to know these things. One house may be great for contracts, another may have fantastic production (which is important for picture books), another may have great marketing. There are a lot of reasons to pick a house, it is not always about the editor.
  • If you have a blog, don’t just talk about yourself. Make your blog interesting. Make content that will be interesting to multiple types of readers – teens, writers, librarians, etc.
  • School visits are great for you and your book!
  • Advances always come in three installments. One on signing, second on delivering an accepted book, and third upon publication. Publishers will do their best to push back payment as late as possible, and an agent is always pushing for payment to be sooner.

Brenda Bowen has held a variety of positions during her twenty five-plus years in children’s publishing. She has been editorial director of Henry Holt & Co., Disney/Hyperion, Schoolastic Press, and Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing. Books Brenda has edited have been #1 New York Times bestsellers, and have won the National Book Award, The Newbery Medal, the Coretta Scott King Award, The Caldecott Honor, The Printz Honor, and the Eisner Award. She is now a literary agent with Stanford J. Greenburger and  Associates, and continues to work closely with clients on the editorial direction of their projects.