Saturday, November 03, 2007

Reading Lists and Market Shares

I officially have to stop buying books. Not only is there very little room left in my apartment (we haven't started using them as furniture yet), but I am legitimately behind on my reading.

As I've been told many times by different publishers and market researches, only has about a 17% market share, so publishers tend to ignore the website. I think this number is deceptive. I still do buy books in bricks & mortar stores, but I also write down the titles and authors of books I want that look too expensive and then go buy them online for 10% of the cover price, after shipping. I know I'm the exception to the rule, what with buying an overwhelming majority of my books online and having an Amazon credit card to earn rewards points to continue buying books online, but maybe the industry should take a little note: I buy around 200 books a year. That makes me unusual in a very significant way. Serious readers without a tremendous amount of disposable income now have a serious alternative to libraries - buying used books on the ever-expanding online used book market. Honestly the biggest hurdle to that is the recent postage increase, but it's worth it if the book costs $0.01 and is "used, like new." Used book sales aren't tracked (at least not by anyone I've heard from), and I wonder what Amazon's "market share" would be if they were.

Reading list this week:

- The Mishnah, Seders Kodashim and Tohoroth
- I am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert (gift from dad)
- Sefer Yetzirah, Chapters 1:1 - 1:14
- Samurai by Mitsuo Kure
- The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty by Anne Rice (admittedly, couldn't get through it)
- Half of an urban fantasy manuscript I'm reading for a friend

Friday, November 02, 2007

The Job Ladder

I was wondering... how much access do you have to clients and publishers, how do you get to know them, and how easy is it for you to move up in your world? In the Hollywood system, assistants are expected to listen in on calls, memorize everyone's phone number, and talk to clients a lot-- this is sort of the "apprenticeship" phase of your career, and while you are getting this education in "who's who and how to please them," you work for $300-500 a week, with the promise that eventually you will be a better-paid agent/manager/producer. Does the lit biz in NY work like this, or do you have to be creative in figuring out how to meet people? And are you paid any better?

If I was working even close to full time, yeah, I guess I would be making about $400 a week. I'm not, though. That's the first misconception. Most assistants are only part-time. I know assistants who work for multiple agents on different days of the week to fill out their schedule (this is an accepted practice).

Beyond the hourly-wage part-time assistant, you generally move up in two ways.

(1) You become a sub-agent to your boss or go to work for another agency as a sub-agent and start representing your own clients. Your boss takes a cut, but you get to use her name and contact sheet and she holds your hand through the process of your first few contracts. More and more people are doing this as agencies proliferate, but in the past, being an agent required years of experience working on the other side, in a publishing house. I could go into long theorizing about why that's changed, but it would be guesses and I can't say if it's better or worse for the industry. It's difficult to make any hard statements about the book industry.

(2) You now have a year's experience and get a job as an editorial assistant (or a publicity assistant, or a production assistant, or whatever - the bottom rung) at a publishing house through the normal methods of calling your contacts and submitting resumes and whatnot. This is what I'll be doing in December, when I graduate from my MFA program. While an agency would be a better working environment for me (setting your own hours) with my chronic illness, I don't want to be an agent. Contracts and sales and pitching books to editors and rights don't interest me. My first boss nailed it on the head when she said I was made for editorial. So, that's where I hope to be, in a few months (hint hint, industry people) - rejecting people from the actual publishing house and not the agency. Or just doing general editorial work. Plus it's a standard paycheck thing, not relying on the success of your author to make any money, which I'm more comfortable with. As much as I enjoy working for an agent, I'm not a saleswoman at heart and I don't think I could do it for a living.


On an additional note, many, many people have been emailing me, asking how to get a job like mine. Please refer to my earlier post about it.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

More on Rejections - Surprise!

Well! I'm less likely to respond to people flaming each other if I don't seem to be the one flamed, but I will answer some questions. Oh, and to clear things up, these segments are from different people's posts.

So Rejecter, if the personalized rejection comes five months after sending a requested partial which in turn came five months after sending a query, do I punch myself in the face or tell the agent's assistant (who, by the way, had no idea what he was talking about with respect to the subject matter - believe me, I know: I've heard from enough agents who DO understand the subject matter)to get F'ed?

You waited five months for a response from a query? Wow. The partial thing is not a surprise to me. Response time on requested material is slow. But if the whole process took 10 months, yeah, that is a little obnoxious, but surely you submitted to a ton of other agencies at the same time, right?

You can tell the assistant to get fucked only on the condition that you supply the money for the prostitute, with the understanding that the assistant might go spend it on a new hard drive instead. Or some DVD box set. Either one.

Here's to the fucking assholes of the world: they'll always be there and so will the professionals who see this whole process as a business.

We do classify our work as "business," at least to the IRS. Then books become a "business expense." Also agents rely on author's proceeds to pay the rent and electricity bill and stuff, so it actually needs to be a profitable business.

The agent in question has a blog where they blabber on about their vacations, and stuff they're doing with their kids and how they've been to this conference and that looking for clients, yet they can't keep their "house" in order with respect to projects they've requested. ... This agent reminds me of a part-time real estate agent - they were that unprofessional.

Not all agents act professionally all the time. Just like anyone in any other business.

I once got a rejection back from an agency on a partial after 3 days. The (requested) partial was 50 pages. No way they read it. And there were no sticky fingermarks, coffee rings, mustard stains or dog-eared pages on the pathetic pristine pages I got back. Nah, they didn't read it.

I would put my money on the idea that they did. We tend to treat submissions fairly professionally, especially if you supplied return postage for the entire submission. I don't smoke, drink coffee, wear lipstick, or dog-ear pages, and my hands are washed on a regular basis, so for the most part the partial looks the same when I'm done with it as when I started, and if it's going back to the author, I generally put it back together and make the neat before it goes in the envelope.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Inside the Partials Process

Obviously this is only true at agencies with an assistant, and then only some of them, but at every agency I've worked at, it's gone something like this:

(1) My boss asks me to read a partial she requested because she's especially busy lining up interviews for her bestselling author.

(2) I read the partial. (Obvious)

(3) We have a 2-minute conversation, tops, about the partial. Sometimes it doesn't take two minutes. I once worked at an agency where for the most part, the agent did not personalize the response to partials unless they were very close, but she did have a special form letter response specifically for partials. My current boss responds herself, in her own handwriting (not mine).

Most of the time with partials, I don't say to reject unless it's obviously so horrible that the query was just plain misleading. Partials are something the agent was interested in from the get-go, so I'm not quick to dismiss the work, and if I do, I have to give a reason. (Occasionally "The author can't spell" is enough) Here are some common responses I'll give her:

"I'm not thrilled about it, but to be honest, it's not my type of literature anyway, and there's nothing wrong with it on a sentence level, so you might like it."

"The author has a specific style of prose. You'll decide whether you love it or hate it in two pages."

"It's very similar to a lot of stuff on your list in terms of content, but I don't think it's as good as any of the stuff on your list."

"I can't make heads or tails of it. Was this an e-query you responded to? OK, you look at it then. I have no idea."

"Does this guy know you, or something? Why was this requested?"

"I hate literary fiction, and this is literary fiction, and I actually liked it a little, so that's pretty much a stunning recommendation."

And so on. If it's a reject and she doesn't want to read it herself for time reasons, she asks me specifics about it so she can be more personal in her reply.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Personalized Rejections

Dear Rejector,

I read in an agent blog today of a woman who hammered back at the agency with a long tirade of snide comments after receiving a rejection letter. I was horrified at her attitude.

Then I remembered a note by me to an agency about a year an a half ago where I frustratingly told them their standard rejection letter seemed very cold.

I have learned so much since then, and now look upon rejection letters as the things they truly are: not personal. It's a business. And a writer trying to sell a manuscript and enter into a business agreement should remember the other party has the right to reject it if it isn't good business for them.

Still, that comment I made might come back to haunt me when I start sending out query letters again. Yes? No? Probably wasn't memorable enough to stand out? Never darken an agent's door again?

To answer the second question first, no, that one agency will probably not remember you unless they rejected your full and you're resubmitting the same manuscript. And even then, it's one agency! There's over a hundred of them.

As to the first question, which was unasked, what is the deal with people complaining about personalized rejections? I mean it's still a rejection, but if you get a personalized rejection, it generally means we cared enough about your work to personalize our rejection. You were close. You were closer than about 95% of the applicants. Slap yourself on the back and then write something just a little bit better.