Monday, December 28, 2009

Vacation and Oh Yeah, the Industry's Collapsing

The title of this post may be exaggerating, but I am going on vacation and disabling comments as a result. I'll be back in mid-January. Here are some random articles on the industry crisis - eBooks are selling and no one knows how to make money off it so they sue Google instead. Google settles, continues doing what they're doing, that Amazon guy gets really rich as people continue to underestimate him. Enough said.

E-Books blah blah blah industry being inane blah blah blah Kindle will eat us all blah blah blah.

E-Books Spark Battle Inside the Publishing Industry

E-Books Beat Regular Books on Xmas

The Impending War Over E-Book Publishing

Book Publishers Go Stupid

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

I Stand Corrected

My boss has informed me that she really likes getting cards in the mail. My previous boss was the one who didn't care for them. So, take that into account. It couldn't hurt, but again, it's not expected. But it's nice.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Holiday Etiquette

A little review for people who currently have agents:

(1) Holiday card/gifts are by no means expected. They are simply what we like to call in the business "nice." If you are cutting back on things, by all means, skip the agent holiday card.

(2) If you do send a card and are wondering what denomination your agent is, go for a generic "holiday card." If you can't find one, Christmas is fine, unless your agent's name is Hebrewburg and she only represents Jewish fiction. Then Channukah is a pretty good guess. Or their name is Fatima al-Islam, in which case I wonder if they make "You don't have any holidays coming up that I know about because your lunar calender is on a different cycle this year but have a good time!" cards. (Is the Haj over? Does it apply to people not on the Haj itself or just make them feel guilty about not going on it?)

(2) If you are sending a gift, do not send perishables. Your agent may be out of the office and the fruit will rot. It's better not to send food at all, in case your agent is kosher/vegan/halal/Jain.

(3) If your agent has done a lot for you in the past year and/or you have a lot of upcoming projects they will be working hard on and you feel compelled to treat them to a gift, a Barnes & Noble or Amazon gift card is what I go with as a gift-giver myself, as I know my agent will definitely come up with a reason to use that.

Monday, December 07, 2009

How Good is it? Good enough?

Dear Rejecter,

I have sent my novel to thirty agents and publishers and counting, and obviously all have rejected it or I wouldn't be writing to you! A lot of the rejections say the same thing. They compliment me on my writing, tell me the novel is "evocative", "atmospheric" and "page turning", but none of them know who would publish it so they pass on it. The novel is set in the music industry of the US in the 80s and 90s and I am wondering if this is the problem. There don't seem to be many books published using the music business as a setting and I am wondeering if there';s a reason for it.

Any light you can shed on this perplexing topic would be very much appreicated.

I would definitely say that the topic is not the problem. If anything, I'm slightly interested by the idea. And clearly your query letter isn't the problem if they're complimenting you on your writing, which I'm going to take to mean that they asked you for partials and fulls.

My only conclusion that can be drawn without reading the manuscript itself is that it's not quite there. Maybe the plot needs tightening, or has a weird ending. Maybe the writing isn't good enough to hold up the material. A lot of novels don't end well - this is a comment complaint of my boss, who requests a lot of novels and represents very, very few. This doesn't mean happy vs. sad, this means there's something in the last 1/4th of the book that doesn't work, often because the author has trouble with climaxing the story. I'm not saying that's your problem, but there is a problem. If an agent requested a full, and rejected, it is fair to email them to ask them what they didn't like.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting a higher degree for the sake of a book

Hello -

I have a question about the kind of experience, academic background, etc. required for book-length nonfiction writing. I wrote my undergraduate thesis on post-apocalyptic literature and recently wrote an article for a popular sci-fi blog on why we like the apocalypse, which got something like 20,000 views and has helped make my blog (which has other nerdy apocalypse stuff) pretty popular. A lot of commenters have been asking for my thesis and encouraging me to publish it, which is flattering, of course, but who wants to read a book by someone who only has a B.A.? As a reader, I would definitely be suspicious of the author's credibility. Obviously, if I went off for 8 years, got a PhD, and came back to the topic, anything I'd write would be much better, but I don't think what I have to say now is valueless, either - I think it's pretty cool, actually, and I know that there are some science-y writers (like Mary Roach) who've successfully built a career without an advanced degree. So my question to you is: would any publisher look twice at a proposal by someone like me who's armed with such a short (but focused) resume?

Here's how I look at a query in terms of higher education credentials:

(1) Fiction - no credentials needed if book is good

(2) Memoir, "learn from experience"-type non-fiction - no credentials needed if book is good, but probably shouldn't come out of nowhere (i.e. you should have some real-world credentials of some kind, even if they're not academic)

(3) An academic book - requires some credentials. These are not necessarily "PhD in your area." You don't need a PhD in international relations to write about international relations; you need some experience in the IR field, maybe a posting or a job or field work combined with publications in journals. If you're writing about an area of medicine and it's not your medical memoirs, you should have some kind of medical credentials, preferably an MD in your field, but we do get a lot of submissions by social workers, nurses, and medical professionals who did not attend a full course of medical school. In other words, if it's a highly technical book, you need some excuse to have the authority to write it.

If your thesis is good, and you felt compelled to turn it into a book, I would look at it if the query letter was good. I'm not clear on your field here, but I'm not even sure you can major in the apocalypse, much less get a PhD in it, but I guess my answer is yes, I would look at your query and not toss it because you don't have a master's.

One area where people generally do not have academic credentials is historical fiction. I have a BA in history but decided not to pursue a masters or PhD because of the nature of academia. Though many writers have some sort of "background" like the one I've described, the majority of their material is derived from private research, scouring libraries and interviewing experts, not sitting in a PhD program preparing a thesis that by definition has to be as boring as possible (I was once graded down for my paper being "too dramatic). If it sounds like they know what they're talking about, I don't look for historical fiction authors' credentials at all.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Yes, yes, I know you mean Twilight

Also, I am deeply sorry, I feel as though I am pestering you, yet, since you are an agent...what do you see in this paranormal trend for young adult novels? That is the manuscript I have been sending out since April.

I would think it would be easier now, considering the fame of a certain book. Yet, almost all the rejections are automatic. I know, certain agents have their areas, but even to agents who have represented young adult/paranormal, I received form rejections. (And I am not even writing about vampires, werewolves, ghosts, or faeries!)

Do you think that agents automatically reject these queries because they hate the trend?

Just to clear things up, I'm an agent's assistant, not an agent. I don't represent any clients or make any deals.

As to the paranormal YA trend, it's still going strong. I'm sure there's people who are sick of it, but I wouldn't reject a good query because of a trend being overdone. A good book is a good book. What we do know is that publishers are still buying paranormal YA and adult, which is what we really care about, because it's the job of an agent to sell a book to a publisher. It's the job of a good agent to know which editors are particularly interested and/or don't have too many vampire/zombie books on their list already to justify another buy and then to get cozy with those editors. But that's on our end; your job is to write a great book.

I was at an AAR meeting last week to discuss the convention at Frankfurt, which for financial reasons a lot of people who normally attend didn't attend this year. In discussing what people were buying, two things were agreed upon as being hot:
- paranormal romance
- Scandinavian literature

I don't know the reason for the second one.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Google Books Ducks Copyright Law, Sort of

I thought this was an interesting article. It reminds me of a case I once heard about from a copyright lawyer:

A publishing company decided to republish a book that was on their backlist. The original contract of course stipulated that the author had to be paid royalties, something they hadn't had to worry about for some time because the book wasn't in print. Most contracts say that if the book goes out of print for a certain amount of time (usually 5-10 years), the rights revert entirely to the author and the author can republish the book with a new company if he/she chooses to, or can negotiate a new contract with the old company if it wants to keep the rights to the book. In this case I don't remember if the publishing company still had partial rights or not; the point was they wanted to publish the book and they had to alert the author.

The problem was they couldn't find him.

The author had vanished without a trace, leaving no living relatives in charge of an estate that would manage the book rights. Living relatives can only get book rights if the will stipulates it; in this case the author had no will and couldn't even be proven to be dead. The publishing company hired the contract lawyer, who went to the judge with all of the documentation. The judge ruled that they had to do a certain amount of regular attempts to find the author - hiring private investigators, posting in newspapers, etc - and if nothing came up, they could republish the book without the author's permission. If, however, the author then reappeared or the author was proven dead and a will surfaced granting rights to living relatives, the publisher would then have to pay back-royalties to the author/author's estate.

I thought this was a very interesting case. A week after I heard him speak, I got my first offer from a publisher. It's been a few years now and I have two books published and a couple in the can. On the way home from shul on Yom Kippur my family happened to walk home with our lawyer/accountant, and I mentioned to him that I should write a will soon because I now have a literary estate that will last for 70 years after my death. It might be a minuscule or nonexistent estate, but it will be there. In fact it will probably be longer than 70 years, as they keep extending that number whenever Mickey Mouse is about to go into public domain, and books I publish in the future may fall into a later time-period extension.

I'm actually against the extension of copyright laws to the point that it has now reached for the written word. Works in the public domain are more published and better-read as a result, and if an estate is large then children are likely to squabble over it, sometimes preventing a book from being republished long enough for it to disappear entirely. Do my potential, currently non-existent heirs need to benefit that badly? If I were to live another forty years, which is extremely possible, my current books won't go into public domain until 2119. Does that sound ridiculous to anyone else?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

A rare reason to make a call

Dear Rejecter,
I moved this past summer. Before I moved overseas, I sent a query to an agency that doesn't have a website or e-mail address. My relatives in the US informed me that the said agency replied asking for a full. I sent the full from my current country of residence in September. (The letter for the full came in July). My question is, should I call the agency to know the status of my manuscript? I know this is a no-no, but I did not send the package as certified because it was going to a PO Box, and for the past month, many letters have gone missing in the post offices around here.

I really want to make sure that they received the manuscript since they are the only agency to ask for a full. Thank you in advance.

The agency has no email whatsover? Check that it's a legitimate agency at Preditors and Editors, do a web search again for the email, and if you find nothing, I think you're justified in making a call. On the phone, be brief. Just ask them if they received it and if they have an email address, not whether they've read it or not (they probably haven't).

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Non-Platform Fiction

I'm a completely non angsty person, so feel free to punch as hard as you want on this one.

I know that most non-fiction depends on a great platform; either you are famous already or you are writing about something insanely compelling(you accidentally spent a magical summer with chairman mao.). With that said, and while I acknowledge that this is a completely logical and fair way to do business, is there any space for someone with an interesting non-fiction concept, written with humor and wit?

I'm talking about something without historic signifigance or tear-jerking poignancy, but still a concept which an average person might find interesting and amusing. I'm purposely leaving out my concept for two reasons: you don't want to waste your time reading it, and I want more of a general industry answer than a specific acceptance or rejection of my ideas.

David Sedaris makes a pretty good living talking about wacky neighbors and childhood memories, which would make a terrible platform if you pitched it like that, but he's actually really funny and, I think, deserving of his bestseller status. At least for When You Are Engulfed in Flames.

In short: My answer is yes.

Friday, October 16, 2009

I Should Finally Say Something on E-Books

Since I got a Sony e-Reader for my birthday, my parents have been utterly dedicated to cutting out clippings from newspapers about e-books and either mailing them to me or leaving them on my desk when I come home for some family event. When I came home last night I was met with about 7 clippings, and there was a front page article in today's New York Times that was already highlighted for me before I came down for breakfast. They all pretty much say the same thing, which is that e-books are new and awesome and libraries are using them to reach digital readers and Sony and Amazon are lowering their prices to battle for the market in e-readers (finally). A lot of the articles have noted that people can't get library books or Google books on the Kindle, which is exclusive to Amazon and the reason I got a Sony. Very few articles have much to say about the publishing industry other than this must be good somehow, because all things internet are good until they're bad and destroy industries (music and, slowly but surely, movies).

I would have reported on my e-Reader early but honestly, I don't use it that much. I own a lot of books. Way too many books. I have too much to read in book format at the moment, and I haven't been on any vacations where carrying 503 books around in one slender case in my backpack would have been helpful. That's how many books I have on my e-Reader, by the way - 503. How much did I pay for them? $0. I read a lot of public domain books - classics, translations of classics where the translation is in public domain, and non-fiction books that were written earlier than 1932. Google Books could literally provide me with millions of these if I could afford that many memory cards. Oh, and that's just if I stay legal, and don't take advantage of the fact that people have been massively digitizing their private collections (mostly sci-fi) for years and posting them as torrents. So far I've had no reason not to stay legal, but to be honest, sooner or later some book is going to come along and it's going to be overly expensive and a used copy isn't going to be available, the library copies are not going to be available, and because I hate the author or something I'm going to download it to read it.

There are some kinks to the e-Reader. The version I have seems to drain its battery if you don't use it for awhile, so when you turn it on after a couple weeks it barely has enough life left start up. Sony's having some software problems with the book version of iTunes, and the books won't sync properly to my computer and I have a lot of doubles on my memory card. Books scanned by Google instead of being designed for the reader can be hard to read, as in the text will be small and up in the corner of the screen if it's a .pdf or if it's an .epub, not all of the text will translate. The software that translates it will pick up some old fonts as different letters and some dirt on the ancient pages of a library book as marks so the text you're reading is only 95% there and your mind has to make some jumps. And frankly, I'm not as impressed with the e-Ink technology as I first was. It looks a lot like text, but the screen is still glass/plastic and therefore there's a glare from bright lights or sunlight. It's obviously not a book. Still, 503 free books on a single device? I'm going for it.

This device will not destroy publishing, but it will reshape the industry as we know it.

The biggest issue I see here is the market for classics. Publishers make huge amounts of money on public domain books, and once the e-Reader becomes advanced enough to feel more like a book (like they finally decide to put in a second G-ddamn screen so you can open it like a book) and becomes cheap enough, the market for classics and other public domain works will fall out. Not entirely, but it will take a large hit. Some imprints dedicated to these books will fold. Also once publishers digitize more of their own books, more will be leaked (I've never heard of drm technology stopping anyone) and you'll be able to download thousands of current books with torrents or whatever the next generation of downloading software is. Current publishing (new books) will take a hit. Textbook publishers, who have been screwing over students for years by publishing a new edition of everything every year to make sure nobody just hands over their old copy to a new student, will insist that schools only have licensed copies of their e-versions, and charge a lot for the licenses. Like, thousands of dollars, like Adobe does for photoshop. After many years of enjoying the program, I actually went to buy photoshop in gratitude, only to discover it was a thousand dollars. How the hell was I supposed to buy that? How was anyone who does photoshopping for fun?

In the end, the book market will survive because its essential medium is not something that cannot be digitized, unlike music, tv, and movies. It's paper. In your hand. But man, will it take a hit. And from the looks of all of these articles, nobody's ready for it.

(PS I'm out a lot this weekend so on top of Shabbos, most comments won't be approved until Sunday because I won't be around to approve them. But by all means, leave them for approval)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Misleading Demographics

Dear Rejector,
I have written a memoir about my experiences as a military brat living overseas (Vietnam). I've been sending out query letters and receiving mostly rejections (got one request for a MS from BIG NY AGENCY -- they passed), but I haven't been including any demographic info about my primary target audience: the approximately ten million former US military brats living around the US and world today.

These brats (sometimes called Third Culture Kids) form a large, but mostly invisible sub-culture that has gotten little attention in the literary world. It seems like every week there's a new book about heroin addicts and child abuse victims. I know that I would love to read about the experiences of other military brats, but the shelves at B+N never have such books.

Question: Should I include this demographic info in my query? It seems to me, that if an agents is looking for something to sell, it might be good to make them aware of the huge, mostly untapped market for this type of memoir. On the other hand, I don't want to oversell the MS.

If even one half of one percent (or so) of the former military brats still living wanted to read this particular book, the sales would be in the 40-60,000 range. Does that make sense to you?

A lot of people like to put demographic information in their queries even when they don't belong there. In one case, someone had written about driving around in his RV and said that all 3.4 million (or whatever the number is) RV owners would obviously want to buy his book and that's why it would be a bestseller. That's something not to put in your query. That's something that's so funny that I might mention it two years later in a blog post.

In your case I would say giving a statistic isn't bad. Statistics are good if they're not well-known; I didn't know how many army brats there were before you told me despite knowing a couple. Other cases include rare diseases and other things we might have heard of but not know a lot about. However, it deserves a line and nothing else. It's not a selling point so much as useful information for us.

The reason it's not a selling point is that we know that 40,000 army brats aren't going to buy your book. The truth is some people don't like reading about things they already know; it's a turn-off. I don't care for reading about Crohn's Disease. Someone's saga of doctor visits and bowel resections and screaming, "$39 a pill for Zofran?!?" isn't news to me. People for the most part read books because the things contained in them are new and interesting. In the case of non-fiction it's usually because the topics are things they want to know more about. True, some army brats would probably buy your book, but not a whole lot. We wouldn't lean on that demographic for sales. We would lean on a demographic of people who want to know more about army brats, and off the top of my head I have no idea what that demographic would be.

The story sells your book, not the demographic. Exceptions are made for doctors writing books for patients and the like.

Also, Zofran is worth every penny.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Questions I decided to answer because they were easy to find in my overflowing email account

Questions for The Rejecter...

1. Is there a support group for people with completed manuscripts and six rejections from agents?

Only six? Definitely not. You need like 50 rejections to qualify for terminal depression - for several manuscripts submitted over many years. At which point the support group would be called, "How to Find a New Hobby."

2. How many rejections received would be the equivalent of a “universal hell no” ?

I have no idea. Less that 40%. I'm just throwing out a number here, but most are just average manuscripst that don't sound compelling or wouldn't sell as a book or are the wrong genre for the agent. There are much less that are really, really terrible.

Edit: IF you meant how many rejections from an individual writer would be a universal "hell no" form me, the answer is probably infinity because if you submit another book a year later and don't mention the previous one I probably won't remember you.

3. What percentage of literary agents attempted writing and after receiving a barrage of rejections, changed careers and became the rejecter.

Very few. A lot of people in publishing are aspiring writers, but most of the agents I've met are not. Agenting is a sales position, with pitches and finances. That turns a lot of writers off. I know a lot of editors who are also writers, but no agents that I can think of.

4. If you trash 95% of the submissions, does it really matter if my Query Letter sucks?

If your query letter sucks, you will get rejected. If your query letter is awesome, it will earn you a request for a partial. It's that simple. The 95% is just the amount of people who send in query letters that are bad, not your chances.

5. Do literary agents where black sunglasses with black suits like in The Matrix?

No, they dress normally. Kind of office casual when they're not meeting with clients or editors and standard office suits/skirts/pantsuits when they are.

Any direction on the support groups would be appreciated, If I can’t find one I was thinking about starting one. Do you have any suggestions for names of my support group?'s forums are pretty good. Both budding writers and hopeless cases there.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Established vs. Less Experienced Agents

The subject line should really be something like, "Less Experienced vs. Established Agents" but here's the question.

A lot of never-published writers, myself included, think maybe I'm more likely to get a hearing -- a reading, really -- from a younger, less experienced agent, that someone still building their list is more likely to take a chance on an unestablished talent than a well-established agent with a big backlist who can pick and choose very selectively who he/she takes on.

But then we think, a more established agent is more likely to have better contacts among editors, more likely to know which editors can be persuaded to buy the book.

The question really boils down to this. Since agents are to some extent competing with each other, how collaborative are agents in one firm with another? Is the young and inexperienced agent who takes on my book going to get a lot of help and advice from senior agents in the firm or will they be reluctant to be too helpful in steering the young agent towards the right editors, since that might make it more difficult for them to sell a potential project of their own to the same editor (siincd there's a limited number of books any publishing house can buy). Do the agents within a firm really work as a team towards the overall success of the firm, or are they really lone wolves who do enough, but just enough and no more, to help the overall effort?

To break down a couple different issues here:

(1) Older agents do take new work if their old work isn't selling. Agents who have some huge estate and aren't actively agenting don't accept new submissions and sometimes don't bother to appear on agent rolls, except when someone hunts them down and puts their email up on a website. If an agent is accepting new material, send them new material.

(2) I can't speak for every agent team that has younger members, but my agent (my agent agent, not my boss who is an agent) is part of a team, and she is very young in the field, but the senior agent clearly has a hand in the financials of the business and hired her because he trusts her judgment and would help her out if she needed it. I used to work for an agent who had two sub-agents, and one was more independent than the other, but both could ask the top agent for advice.

Then there's groups of agents and there's agents with sub-agents. An agent with a sub-agent takes a cut of the sub-agent's earnings while the sub-agent learns the trade and uses the head agent's resources, so the head agent has a huge stake in the success of her sub-agent. My boss used to be a sub-agent, and when she had enough clients she split off and now has her own successful agency, but some older business still goes through the old agency she worked for because of contractual issues. For multiple agents working together, they do tend to share things - that's why they're working together. That or to save on rent on office space, which is a huge deal and a good reason to join a large agency in NYC. Either way, people in the same office have a vested interest in seeing the others thrive, so if you are applying to a sub-agent or a new agent under an older, more experienced one, I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over their age or experience.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A page count? Really?

Dear Rejecter,
I've gotten past the query letter stage and now they want a book proposal package. This is my first so when they ask for a projected page count, are they asking for the manuscript page count, or the final, bound book page count which I assume (yikes) will be standard 8x5 paperback?

Also they don't ask for autobiographical information, but most resources on proposal packages say to include this Do most publishers assume this is standard and I'll include one or should I eave it off?

(1) I'm not 100% sure here what they're asking, but I'm going to have to assume that they mean word count, and an estimated page count of the manuscript based on assuming 250 words a page. I wouldn't ask for page count myself, as it varies wildly based on layout, but that's their thing. It's not a huge deal. Guesstimate.

(2) In the standard proposal laid out on tons of websites, it says to include autobiographical information. That's why they didn't ask specifically for it. They expect it to be in the standard proposal.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Authors and Publicity

Dear Rejecter,

My manuscript has made it to the desk of a large NY house. Not one of the big 5 (or is it 3 or 4 now?) but still a large and well-known house.

I have no agent and followed up with the editor’s assistant after 3 months with an email. He informed me he has given the ms and a “report” to the editor and I should hear from her when a decision has been made.

Obviously, this is exciting since I’ve made it through the query and first full review stage.

Now it’s on the editor’s desk I am wondering if I should follow up and let them know a couple of things.

From what I understand this house encourages its writers to publicize their books and take ownership of pushing the book.

I work in the software industry, have a degree in computer science, develop web sites and have a good idea on internet promotion and using the internet as a useful sales channel.

My question (finally!) is this: should I follow up with the assistant and let him know I have this background and am willing to throw myself 100% into helping promote the book using my skills?

Would this sound desperate or amateurish? Or would it help possibly sway a 50/50 decision?

Amateurish. If you made it this far I don't think they would toss the book just on that, but they will laugh at you behind your back.

Many authors put this sort of thing into their initial query, and unless you have big media connections, it's irrelevant. Yes, you're willing to do publicity. Yes, we want you to do publicity. Guess what? If minimal publicity is actually budgeted for a first author, we expect the author to participate in publicizing their book. I think there's a line in the contract about how the publisher will do all it can and the author will do all they can to promote the book. Today, in the world of tight publication budgets, this generally means the author being asked to make a website and write up guest blog posts. Publishers will help the author do this if they are inept. I was recently offered web space for my books on the publisher's site, and I told them thank you, I already had a site. Then they made recommendations for mine.

Publishing companies expect that the author, if required, will be part of the publicity. They often won't contractually require it, especially if it involves traveling a lot, and the author can always turn it down, but authors generally don't. I did everything my publisher asked of me, and then some, but they don't expect you to go door-to-door with copies of your book. At most that would sell a couple dozen out of guilt, and publishers think in the thousands, or tens of thousands.

Also, while it really helps if you can launch some national media campaign, it doesn't mean that the book is good. And, at least on principle, we don't accept books that suck, even if Oprah is on your speed dial.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Dumb Things Said In Query Letters

Here, severely paraphrased, are some things I've encountered recently in query letters.

"No one has ever written about recovering from sexual abuse before."

"After sending the first 3 chapters when requested and getting universally rejected, I've decided to send two later chapters unrequested in hopes that they will make a better impression."

"Frankly, this book is exactly what the world needs right now."

Think before you speak.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

The Art of Craft

As I've said before, the frequency with which I update this blog always falls short of the mark, though there's not really a mark for these things. I prefer meaningful posts or touches of humor, or avoid posting altogether. I'm not holding back so much as I have other things to do. In the past month my health has been poor in a particular way that I've had trouble concentrating, a particularly problematic ailment for someone who does a lot of reading and writing. My scheduled projects have fallen behind, except for the ones that simply were due to the publisher's, and had to be finished on time.

I dedicated a book to a former teacher, and I met with her on Friday. She mentioned to me that if I did marry (as I've come to the age where older women start dropping hints about marriage prospects on any occasion) a rich person, I could sit at home and practice my craft without the financial worries that being a starving writer/artist comes with. If you think there isn't a woman artist or writer out there who hasn't had the stray thought, "G-d, if I just married a rich guy, I could focus on my art," I'd like to inform you that you're wrong. In the end our feminist ideals usually win out, but the idea pops up from time to time.

I answered her not that I was against marriage but that being free from financial worries would not necessarily improve my craft. Very much the opposite; rather than spending years obsessing over a single manuscript, trying to make it a perfect work of literature, I have to produce. It used to be that an established author could produce about a book a year and earn a $30,000 advance, and provided they could keep that pace they could pay their bills. Now advances are lower and bills are higher. You have to already be thinking about the next idea while you're writing your current book. You take pay-to-work jobs to write tie-in books to TV shows, novelization of crappy movies, or young adult series crap because there's a check involved - and it stretches you. While this is not true of everyone, I've met many, many writers who are obviously hyperfocused on getting that one perfect novel just right. While publishing is famously littered with examples of famous one-book authors (or authors where only one book became a classic), there's no way of counting the number of wannabes who, having spent a decade perfecting a novel only to discover their writing has changed so much that they can't look at it, should abandon the project and write something new but don't know it. Sitting on my C drive are about 6 novels I wrote in the last 8 years that came close to publication, but were not 100% there, and weren't accepted. Now that I have an agent, she tells me to revise, but some of them I can never seem to get right. One novel she did send out and it didn't sell. We were hoping there was enough there, but the metaphors were too obscure and I understand I was asking the reader to handle too much. In other words, it wasn't good enough to be published. I dropped it and moved on. Since then I've written four novels in a series, the first of which might be good enough to publish with enough revision.

In short: When you have to pay the bills with your writing, you have to write. The constant pressure to perform results in more writing than you might have done in a stress-free environment. This isn't true for everyone, but it's true for a lot of working writers, and it's definitely true for me.

As I was driving home from the chat with my old teacher, I realized how many times in the conversation I had mentioned money - how much I had received for some book or what the work-for-pay offer was and such and such, while she was talking about craft. There's a saying in the publishing world that I heard for the first time at Worldcon: "Wannabes talk about craft. Writers talk about money." This is not meant to imply corruption. Very few people go into writing strictly to make money because there isn't a lot of money to be made. It's something you have the talent and patience and passion for, but when it becomes your main source of income, it is your source of income. You have to produce. And to quote Dilbert's boss, "Pressure makes diamonds." I can't remember Dilbert's witty follow-up to that (Scott Adams loves bad analogies), but in this case, it can actually be true.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Multiple Projects Submitted

I'm wondering if you have any advice on how to write a query letter when
A) You have a completed short story collection. Many of the stories have appeared in good journals; a few have won awards.
B) You have the first sixty pages of a novel and a full synopses.

How do you combine both projects in a query, when you're looking for a two-book deal? Or do you just plug the novel, and then tell the interested agent the novel isn't finished yet, but...?

When we receive multiple projects from a new (as in, not published) author, we tend to treat the projects separately unless they're books in a fantasy series published by Lulu with a self-drawn cover (in which case, we reject). Maybe we'll want one project and not be interested in the other(s), though honestly I can't remember a new client my boss has taken on who had multiple projects presented. On the other hand, she does reject well over 99% of her applicants, so maybe it's just the way things played out.

Of your two projects, which I would examine separately:
a) Short story collections are bad. They're hard to publish. Very, very rarely do I put a short story collection in the maybe pile for my boss, and that's usually because the author says that every story in the collection has been published, and I recognize the names of the publications as being major places for short fiction. As for "awards" I've grown cynical about them, because there are, it seems like, an endless amount of writing awards someone can win if they just send the story around, as a large percentage of queries mention writing awards even if the writing is terrible. But you've got a decent pedigree there; it's worth a shot, but don't get your hopes up.

b) The manuscript should be finished before you submit it. End of story.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I'm sore, but I'm back. Stupid armor, biting into my neck.

Need an agent to read MS. Topical, antic murder mystery (7-2009, topical). Unlikely to be viewed sympathetically by PC person. Any suggestions?


Well, this is just my advice, but you could try writing a query letter and submitting it to prospective agents. That might get you somewhere.

You're welcome.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

I Disappear

Not one of Metallica's better songs, but not one of their worst. It was decent.

Yes, I haven't been updating much as of late. This blog is a side thing, not my life. It's not only the only blog I keep - there's my author blog, the live journal for friends, etc etc. Sadly, it's one that gets shoved aside when I'm in rocky health seas. I'm not sure that allusion made sense, but the point is, hopefully you can find your answers in the archives when I can't get out of bed.

I'm feeling better, but I'm disabling comments while I'm away this week, taking my frustrations over my health out on whomever gets in my way on the battlefield at Pennsic. I'll be back next week. Until then, surf the archives for your answers, and good luck!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Editing Questions

I have just spent the past five years perfecting a manuscript that is a love story which takes place in New Orleans. I have sent it to 8-10 agents for a "Sample test" to see what the responses were. I received some very kind praise from many agents, including good atmospheric description, but still received rejection letters. A lightly famous film producer looked at it and thought that it had enormous potential as a film project, but that it needed some more editorial consultation to "harness all of the creative energy". Do you think that these rejections are matters of taste, or is it worth a second look to iron it out?

So there are two separate issues here, the film producer's comments and the agents' comments. The two are not as related as you think. I don't know much about the film industry, but I do know it involves a lot of lying and false praise and then crushing disappointment, or so all my screenwriter friends tell me. If you didn't write a screenplay, I don't know why you're talking to a film producer (are you friends?) but getting it into a screenplay you would want to sell is a whole different genre and industry in writing and something that's beyond my abilities to really judge.

Except in rare cases, movie rights to a published book are sold by the agent to the film company. When a book is bought by a publishing house, they do not buy the film rights unless that's specified in the contract, and it would be weird for a publishing house to ask for film rights and then something the agent would immediately demand to be deleted from the contract. A lot of money is to be made from film rights to a book, provided your book goes to film, but that rarely happens.

EDIT: Look in the comments, where someone in the film industry has written a long and instructive post that is better informed than mine.

As for the agents, if they wrote personal, descriptive comments and didn't send a form letter, that's pretty awesome. It's still a rejection, but you're close. Revise the manuscript based on their comments if you feel their comments are worthwhile and keep querying.

My other question is, how do you know when a manuscript is ready to sell?

It's done to the best of your abilities as a writer and editor.

And would your recommend me spending an extra thousand dollars to have it professionally edited before sending it out?

No, absolutely not, unless you are completely inept at grammar and spelling. In which case, buying a copy of the Chicago Manual of Style is much cheaper.

I feel that the manuscript is completed to the best of my ability, and thought that the kinks could be ironed out by a publishing house editor. I have heard mixed reviews about this-- some people say that they don't spend as much time as they used to on editing manuscripts, and that the industry is more about business. I was wondering if you could comment on this aspect in your blog.

How much editing gets done at the agent stage and/or the editor stage often depends on several factors, but the two biggest ones are (a) the time people have to put into it, (b) how much editing it actually needs. Speaking as someone who helps edit client's manuscripts, I say that you really shouldn't be submitting something you feel needs tremendous editing. You should be doing the editing yourself, then submitting the manuscript that you feel is as good as it can possibly be within your abilities as a writer and then if people along the way have comments, you work with them. Speaking as a writer, I can say that I feel your pain, in that I am always terrified that my work isn't good enough and that the editor didn't catch mistakes they should have caught that I never should have written, and that I'm going to get slammed for it in reviews. I live in constant fear, but publishing is terrifying. However, most things worth doing are a little terrifying, so get a prescription for a tranquilizer/SSRI combo and throw your stuff out there.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Conservative Follow-up

I attempted to reassure our conservative writer friend that the publishing industry loves those books, despite his initial bias.

Yes - but unfortunately - since the process requires an agent - the bar is still very high for a first time author to get a fair assessment. I have sent out quite a few query letters to agents who specialize in non fiction and virtually all of them respond with a form letter and of course they do not bother to ask to read a chapter or two to evaluate it. So until agents wise up and make the connection that a lot of conservatives buy books and publishers like to make money - I guess they will continue to represent authors who sell those wonderful and very important works on specialized topics that no one wants to buy!

I would like to assure you that agents buy books they believe will sell, at least to some degree to make their effort worthwhile. It's true that agents will often not take on a book they don't care for - which can mean a lot of things, but also they feel goes against their own personal beliefs. This isn't wrong; it means they're not the agent for that work. Someone else is.

If the work is great and has something important to say, someone will pick it up. If you've gotten no hits on your query letter, it's time to vastly improve your query letter. That or you've written a bad book and blaming the "liberal bubble of New York" is just the beginning of your problems. Either one. Glenn Beck would probably get going if I had a chance to prod him on the liberal media bias and NY liberals, but Simon and Schuster publishes him without batting an eye and damn, does he sell a lot of books.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Conservative Political Books and Their Non-Existence

I just finished a conservative political non fiction book and after a great deal of effort put together a pretty good query letter if I do say myself. Of course, the real problem was the fact that it was a "conservative" book in the world of a very liberal publishing world. Do you honestly think that a first time conservative writer will get a fair shot in the very liberal world of publishing unless of course, he's got a major talk show?

With a straight face - tell me how the publishing world can ignore the fact that the mega hits of non fiction have come from conservatives - without a NY Times book review. Don't tell me that you have to be a major talk show host or big time blogger to write and sell a conservative political book because I think that's just a convenient excuse.

Regnery is no longer the only game in town anymore for conservative publishing - so I know liberals enjoy making money too. Here's a fact that the liberal publishing world cannot seem to deal with: Conservative books, like talk radio, resonate with the rest of America that doesn't live in the bubble of New York or a few other cities - and hold your breath - there are more of us than you!

I couldn't find "Regnery" in the dictionary, but apparently it's a conservative press. Why I didn't think of that first, I don't know.

I won't address the poster directly here, as I don't want to start I fight. I will say that a simple look on Amazon will assure him that there is a huge audience for books by conservatives and the publishing industry knows it and regularly publishes and promotes these books. Glenn Beck's book on common sense (insert your own 'does he have any?' joke here) is currently number 1 on Amazon, which means it sells about 300 copies an hour, and it's been there for 45 days. Mark Levin's Tyranny or Liberty: A Conservative Manifesto is number 9, and number 2 on the New York Times bestseller list for non-fiction (Bill O'Reilly is number 13). This is not unusual; the bestseller list on Amazon is generally made up of fiction that's doing insanely well, books by angry conservatives, and a slot for "flavor of the week" (the Jackson unauthorized biography thing). And this is Amazon, which ranks solely by copies it sells, as opposed to the New York Times, which is ranked in some mystery way no one knows, but does somehow reflect national interest in books. There's very few political books that are bestsellers that I would consider "liberal," though occasionally a book by a Bush staffer makes it up there. My boss handles a lot of "liberal" books that are quite good, and I say that not because of my political affiliations but because I've read them, and they're not rants but summaries and interpretations of things that have happened or are happening in the world, and only one them cracked the NYT and only for a week.

I will add an interesting side note here, which is that a lot of these conservative-rant books (as opposed to books written from a conservative viewpoint discussing history or a particular issue by examining it and drawing conclusions over the course of the book) get some nasty tags on Amazon. Ann Coulter is pretty much the queen of getting bad tags, as every one of every edition of her books was tagged by a ton of people as "stupid" and "evil" and "waste of a good tree." If you are an Amazon junkie, I encourage you to explore the tag system, an entirely impartial (as much as it can be) and spontaneous way that viewers can express praise or criticism of book.

For "waste of a good tree" here are the top 10: (meaning, they got the most of those tags)

Anne Coulter, Guilty: Liberal "Victims" and Their Assault on America
Katharine DeBrecht, Help! Mom! There Are Liberals Under My Bed!
Bill O'Reilly, A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity
Paris Hilton, Confessions of an Heiress
L Ron Hubbard, Dianetics
Alan Sears, The Homosexual Agenda
Ann Coulter, Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism
Ann Coulter, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (paperback)
Bill O'Reilly, Who's Looking Out for You?
Ann Coulter, If Democrats Had Any Brains, They'd Be Republicans (hardcover)

So, conservative books and Scientology. That's what internet shoppers don't like. For fun you can also try the tags "evil" and "Keeping America stupid" and get mostly the same results.

Monday, July 06, 2009

More Formatting Questions

I apologize if it's been awhile. I haven't been well/upright much the last two weeks, for reasons unexplained and I wouldn't explain a publishing blog anyway.


* When starting new chapters, do we just make a few returns (so there's obvious white space) or start each new chapter on an entirely new page?

A new chapter should have a new page.

* Also, when changing POV in a scene, I always used to see * * * * * to indicate the switch. Now I sometimes just see white space. Does it matter how you indicate the POV/scene change?

As long as they're space it doesn't really matter, but you can add something like ****s or ##s if you want, as long as it's unobtrusive and doesn't confuse us into thinking we're reading a new chapter.

* I've looked at several agents' blogs, and different agents suggest different footers/headers. Is there a standard? i.e., should it be book title/name or name/book title at the top left? Also, should the page number appear top right or at the bottom?

Standard is:
In the upper right hand corner of the page on every page. Minor alterations to this, such as the author's full name, or reversing the positioning of the title and the last name, or putting it on the bottom of the page, are not a huge problem unless the agent specifically told you what to do on their website and you didn't do it. Then you look lazy/obnoxious.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Infamous Synopsis

A lot of recent questions seem to be synopsis-related, so I figure I'll go over this once and for all so that it can settle the issue until a few months bury it in the archives and someone new comes along and answers the questions because they don't know how to use the "search" function on the blog.

Writers are irrationally scared of the synopsis. How long is it? Does it have to be really good, or is it just a summary? Should it have the character's name in bold? How is it different from an outline? I remember being terrified of the idea. I'd already gone through the manuscript, the editorial phase, then perfected my query letter - and now I had to write more? Holy shit! This just goes on and on and I could screw up at any time! And I went to write a synopsis for a novel that was rejected, though I assume it was because the novel didn't make much sense and not because of the synopsis. This happened again with a different novel a few years later, and when I did eventually get accepted and get an agent, I was thrilled to be done with the synopsis - or so I thought.

After my first book did well, my editor requested a synopsis of the next two books before she bought them. In a panic I asked my agent what to do, to which she said, "Summarize the books. It's not a big deal."

Which it isn't. Really, the synopsis is straightforward. The agent is asking you for a summary of the events that occur in your book, over about 1-2 pages. I say "1-2" because less than one is probably not descriptive enough in my experience and three is generally too long. Some agents do specifically ask for more, and you should give them a more detailed synopsis. If they ask for it chapter-by-chapter, write a paragraph for each chapter.

While the synopsis can be very important when we're trying to determine if the book is going in a solid direction and has a good arc without reading it all, it lacks a certain formality that squashes the query letter. We're also not as serious about formatting like we are in the manuscript itself, where we really, really want you to use the manuscript format described on every single writing website ever. Why? Because manuscript format is specifically designed to be easy on the eyes - spaces between the lines, large font, page numbering - and we need things to be easy on the eyes because we're going to be spending hours reading your manuscript. The synopsis? Not so much. Twenty or thirty seconds, maybe more. Presentation is not so important. Double-spacing, 1.5, single, whatever. Font? It should be readable. Should the characters have their names in bold? Uhm, if you want, sure.

The only important things are to (a) cover the important events in your manuscript, including the ending, and (b) not go on for too long. Seriously, no 80-page synopses. If we can't tell the difference between a chapter-by-chapter synopsis and actual chapters, your attempts have gone horribly awry. (And yes, this happened) So, 1-2 pages, maybe three if it's a long book with a lot of intricacies and you just can't fit it onto two pages. Only do more if it's requested.

As to an outline, it seems to mean a lot of different things to different people, but to me it means "a synopsis with a lot of structure to it." Really I'm not the person to ask about outlines as I never bother to distinguish them from a synopsis. Follow the agent's instructions and you should be OK.

Publishing will provide you with plenty of chances to stress out over real and imagined crises. The synopsis doesn't have to be one of them.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Don't Go All St. Elsewhere On Us

I've heard conflicting things about submitting a synopsis. Some say tell ALL (the plot twists, surprises, even the ending) and others say allude to those events but don't necessarily tell exactly how everything is ironed out. Which is it?

Basic answer here - give away the ending, be it in synopsis or outline form. We want to know that the spy thriller doesn't end all crazy with everyone riding off on a magic unicorn.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Small Press vs. No Publication

I have a novel submitted all over the place and have a few requests for fulls. I also have a bite from a very very small press that usually only sells between 100 to 500 copies of a book and usually poetry.

My question is: if the big/medium presses don’t come back with a contract, should I pursue the small press. Knowing I’d have to do all the publicity etc. I think I could sell 500 books easily.

Im working on my next novel which I think will be much better than my first.

Should I shelve my first novel or go with the small press? If I go with the small press and only sell 500 copies, will this hurt me if a I look for an agent for my second (and better) book?

If you get no hits from the big presses, go with the small press. You don't have to take my advice here. It's not a hard-and-fast rule I'm laying down. But I am saying that it is awesome to be published, especially for the first time. You don't know when the next time is going to come, so shoot for the stars. If the small press is your only offer, you should go with it.

The other legitimate option is to shelve it and focus on your new work. I've certainly shelved a lot of work - in fact, most of my work - either to revise it later or never to look at it again, but usually I shelved it after it was turned down everywhere, a surefire sign that something was wrong with it. Some people are not proud of their early stuff. Some people believe that a small press is harmful to your resume. This is not true, necessarily, it just isn't as helpful as you would think in comparison to having a shorter piece published in a major magazine.

A lot of people talk about waiting to have written the "right" book which will land them a good advance at one of the big 5/6 publishing companies. These people generally do not get published.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

BEA Roundup

Officially, I did not go to the BEA. I went into the building on Sunday, the only day I was available because of Shavuos, but I didn't have a badge and I went to meet with my editor, who was in town for the convention and pre-scheduled it. At that point I could have gotten a free badge from her, but the convention was over in about an hour and I have no more room in my apartment for free books. From my editor and my boss (who attended on Friday), I learned the following things:

(1) There were less people this year. Some booksellers didn't show up at all, or sent very few people. It was not a wasteland, but it was no 2007.

(2) There were a lot of panels on e-books, as nobody knows how to price them and is mad at Amazon for arbitrarily deciding how books should be priced for the Kindle. Whatever the price is, in the publisher's opinion, it's always too low. About a year ago I went to a talk where I publisher said he thought e-books should be priced the same as regular books because they were the same, which had to have been the stupidest thing that came out of anyone's mouth that evening. Obviously they're not the same, and the lower price is a discount because of the production saved in creating a physical book and the money spent on the reader.

(3) Whatever company that decided to send drummers and dancers to promote their new e-Book deserves to die a fiery death of flames, or at the very least get some acid in the face. In other worsd, the people who had to be at the BEA for 3 days (or even 3 hours, really) did not appreciate their ear-pounding presence.

If you have interesting tales from the BEA, feel free to share them with the other readers here.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Travel Writing

I'm back. You probably figured that out from, you know, a new post being up, but I feel like it's the thing to say. For years I haven't traveled abroad because of illness, except to go to Israel, but this year I said, "Screw it, I'm doing okay" and went to Asia, and surprised everyone by not getting sick. Of course I mainly ate trail mix, so that probably contributed to it.

If you're a writer, you should really travel. If you've been saving up for years and you're not dipping into that savings to pay rent, do it now. My plane ticket was cheap, my tour was like half their regular cost, and there were all kinds of free upgrades at hotels because they were deserted. Of course now I have to be really careful with my spending, but I'll manage. As they say, "You can't take it with you." But really, it's important to get out and see something completely foreign, which opens your eyes to so many different things that contribute to the creative process. Man, I hope this is the last time I ever use the words "creative process."

Every once in awhile we get a travel memoir at work - today was one of those days - where the traveler is obviously racist. You can tell because they talk at great length about how open-minded they are and how they're really throwing themselves out there, and then go on to say how like every Middle Eastern guy tried to rape them. You would think that extensive international travel would broaden horizons, not limit them. Of course stereotypes are based on fact, and there is horrible shit out there that will harden your stance on things, but usually if you come out of a place with no respect for its culture and a bad opinion of its people, it's justified because something bad happened to you.

For example: I have friends I met through the SCA who were shot at by a Palestinian sniper on a regular basis, and knew people who had died because the windows of the car weren't bulletproof. They could point to the sniper site, actually, from their backyard. The problem was, they lived on the border with Gaza (a lesser border, with just some chicken wire up), and a blue-topped UN car would drive up and down the road every once in a while to make sure that the Jewish townspeople weren't violating Palestinian territory by, say, arresting or killing the one sniper. Or just destroying his nest. Nope, the UN is there to safeguard the Palestinians. Thank goodness.

Now obviously that's an isolated situation, and the politics are vast and complex and the Palestinians are really suffering, not entirely but mostly because of Israel, but I would see a lot of situations like that, and they would harden me, whether I wanted them to or not. Like seeing a blown-up bus or having a friend who was on a bus that blew up, but she got off just in time because she was in the back. These things are events that shape your perception because they're just so terrible, and if you happen to write about them, you should probably do so with every attempt at perspective (that sniper felt the Israeli community had stolen his home even if it wasn't true, he was given a gun by the government but not food, he sincerely felt that the situation was desperate enough to call for violence, and if he had his own home and good plumbing and and a job, maybe he wouldn't pick off kids walking from the school building to their houses with a rifle, i.e. some of this is our doing for not helping him). People have called me a racist for telling the sniper story, though people have also called me a racist for saying that Scientology is a dangerous cult, so I feel that word is just thrown around a lot. Also, Scientology is a dangerous cult.

It bothered me that this writer, who was talking about the 1970's when she traveled around Asia Minor and the Middle East, discussed her various fears based on ignorance (she wouldn't be allowed in mosques, she would be raped, she would get involved in some Arab honor killing somehow) and then described a trip where none of those fears manifested into reality, and she had no attempt to justify her early assumptions or say something like, "How foolish I was to think that all Turkish men are gay." It just astounds me that a person could be that way, and then have the gall to write about it as if she did a great thing by traveling to these horrible countries where the food was all bad because she didn't know what it was and so she ate bread and onions the whole time.

So, travel. Then consider what you actually want to say before you write about it. We will judge you.

Note to commentors: I am not interested in turning this into an Israeli-Palestinian political discussion; I was just using that as an example. I will reject comments that are about that and not writing or travel writing and instead are attempting to inform me of how racist I am.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

It's About Time Is All I Can Say

Despite the current economic crisis and the size of my royalty check, I am going on vacation. I know it seems like I take a lot of breaks because of writing or the constant barrage of Jewish holidays, but now I am seriously taking advance of the excellent airfare available and going away. I will be not near my computer or updating this site for about three weeks.

While I'm gone, I'm disabling comments so I don't have to approve anything in the few stops I will be making to internet cafes. Take some time to enjoy the many other publishing blogs out there and then when I return you can complain about how we give contradictory advice and have typos in our blogs.

Be well!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Earth Takes One for the Team, Again

Hi Rejecter,

Why do agents still go from a five-page sample with a query, to a partial, to a full? I understand the wisdom of taking samples and partials when submissions arrive primarily in dead tree form, but in this day of electronic submissions and vast inboxes, storage doesn't seem like it would be a problem. What other function does the system serve for agents?

I'm to combine the answer with an answer to this comment by someone else:

Yes, Priority + DC is what I use. I was callling that "Express," without realizing that express actually means overnight.

So, when facing a dinosaur (i.e. they insit upon snail mail), then I respond with Priority mail + DC. There is never a reason for overnight. If they want it that fast, I'd say they need to accept emailed attachments.

Furthermore, it's becoming an environmental taboo to use paper and fuel-hogging snail mail--I don't want to be repped by an environmentally insensitive company, so if they don't take e-mail, they're probably not going to work out for me, anyway.

Mionions, I have spoken.

So this may be shocking to some people, but some people have problems reading manuscripts on a computer screen. The computer screen was not designed to be easy on the eyes and e-Readers are still ludicrously expensive. So is printer ink and paper and we don't like spending money on a client until they are actually a client, because then it's just lost money. So, when we ask for something in hard copy, it's so we can read it without our eyes starting to burn. Granted I'm on the internet a lot, I do read things online, but if I had to do it all day every day for novels, I would be wearing glasses a lot sooner. Yes, it's not environmentally friendly. You know what's not environmentally friendly? Basically everything we as human beings do on this planet. So until they invent an e-Reader that's like $20 and everyone in the publishing industry buys one to save paper, deal with it.

Moving on and assuming the agent asked for hard copy, most agents don't ask for 5 page partials. they ask for at least 30 or 50 pages, or three chapters. I knew an agent who asked for 5 pages, but she made a lot more partial requests than the average agent, knowing the writing would just knock off most of the submissions and she could tell that in 5 pages. It wasn't very paper-efficient and I don't know if she still does that.

If you feel really bad about the environment, watch the show Life After People, which relieves some of the collective guilt by showing just how quickly nature will reclaim the earth after we're gone.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Dropping Off Requested Material

If you live in New York, any harm in dropping it off quickly and politely, leaving it with the receptionist?

Ask. Agents feel differently about this, usually depending on how often they actually come into the office (as opposed to working from home) and whether they actually have a receptionist. I used to work for an agency that did not have one, and anyone could walk in, and we all want to avoid the awkward conversation with the author we are probably going to reject, statistically. My current boss works in a building with a lot of different small offices and does have a receptionist for the building, so she allows drop-offs, but only when she knows to expect them and ask if there's anything behind the desk for her.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saving $$$

Today I opened an express mail envelope that contained a requested partial.

Really, you don't have to do this. Express mail is very expensive. If we request a partial, we expect to wait 2-5 days for it, at least. If we for some reason need it faster than that (if you have a book deal with the publisher and are just agent-shopping before you sign on the dotted line), we'll say so, and then you can ask if you can email it.

If you're querying via mail, you're going to be spending money. You can spend it unnecessarily if you want, but don't think dropping a twenty on express mail will impress us. Your manuscript is the thing that needs to impress us. Save some money and send it media mail or at worst, priority. If you live in a state close the agent, totally send it media mail.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Agent For You

Dear Rejector,

My memoir involves my experiences in music. The agent who wants to represent my work is passionate about my book, understands the concept and what I am trying to do, and all of his books are extremely successful. My only concern is that most of the books he represents are mainstream Christian. Although my book doesn’t fit anywhere in that category, this agent seems perfect for me in so many ways. His Christian books are all best sellers, so clearly this agent knows what he is doing in that area. Will he have the same pull with publishers in a book that is off his topic area?

If he's a good agent, he wouldn't offer to take you on without some idea of whom he was going to sell your material to. Ask him where he would try to sell it and what editors he knows. If he has a comprehensive response, he'll be a good agent for you. If he doesn't have a real plan and you have other options, go elsewhere.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Death of a Contract II: The Hypothetical's Revenge

Dear Rejecter:

How about this scenario: Agent sells author's first novel to a well-known house and a well-regarded editor. Agent then leaves agency for another line of work, and is succeeded by another agent from same agency, who is not nearly as committed and energetic. Editor who bought book jumps to another house without taking the book with her. New editor clearly doesn't understand the manuscript, dislikes it and sends a lengthy letter essentially demanding a stem-to-stern rewrite with major changes to key characters that will destroy intent of said novel. Agent is useless and apparently has not even read the manuscript. After some more dicking around, editor cancels contract.

Heard that one often?

Usually when I'm answering questions, they're not so much theoretical as situations the author is in or heard about. Here we have a situation that's pretty far gone in the theoretical area, but I'll look at it anyway. The situation is: author gets book contract via agent, and then both agent and editor abandon her.

(1) The agent. You can fire your agent if you don't like them. Most agents work only off a verbal agreement with their clients anyway (though a contract is not unusual) so all you have to do is say, "I don't want you to be my agent anymore." The tricky thing here is that the agency's name is undoubtedly on the contract. The agent represents the author, so though the author's name appears on the contract and it requires the author's signature, somewhere in the first few paragraphs of a typical contract is a notation making it clear the author is represented by the agency, and all monies will go to the agency address and not the author's address. If you have a legitimate reason to fire your agent, but their name is on a contract, they may fight to keep it there and collect their 15% on future royalties. I'm not actually sure how you would go about solving this situation if you felt the 15% wasn't deserved, as I've never had this come up before. In this case, though, the 15% is deserved, as the agency did make the deal, even if it wasn't that particular agent at the agency who made the deal.

There's some issues between agents that go on for years, usually not involving the author. For example, my boss used to be a subagent at another agency when she was starting out. Her boss got a cut off her earnings. When the contracts were signed, they had the agency name on them. Now it's been a few years, but there are still some royalties being earned by authors who have followed my boss when she formed her own agency, but as her old boss had a part in the original contract, the money still goes through her old boss and has to be passed on to her. We get a lot of mail with that agency's letterhead on it. You would think agents wouldn't fight over pennies (in this case it's not a fight; it's a completely mutual agreement that does not subtract from the author's cut in any way) but sometimes they're not pennies. You never really know if a book is going to succeed wildly or get a second wind (especially if it's a political book) and royalties are going to be rolling in; the agent and their old boss have it worked out as to who gets what and where before the check is cut to the author, still at the rate of 15% for the agent(s).

(2) The editor. This may be a problem and it may not be. If the book was fairly far along in the process, it might not be a big deal. Editors work on things they don't care for all the time, either because they got handed someone else's workload or because they're an assistant to a bigger editor or a long list of other reasons. Editors are editors; their responsibility is to edit, which can be as minimal as "let's see if there's any huge inconsistencies before it goes to the copyeditor." If the deal is done, and the advance has been paid, and the publisher has already invested money in publicity for the book and hours of editorial, then the publisher has a good reason to go forward with the book and the editor has a good reason to just do their job and push the book to the copyeditor's and be done with it. If the editor decided to kill the book, there would need to be a really legitimate reason to justify all the time/money already spent on it. If the editor doesn't care for working on the book, they'll probably rush it to the copyeditor, who usually has no emotional investment in the book and is simply doing their job, which is to copyedit the hell out of the manuscript before it goes to layout. Once it's in the copyeditor's hands, it's pretty much going to be published unless something unusual happens, like the company goes bankrupt.

EDIT: So I'm now told this was not a theoretical; it happened long ago. Says the person who emailed me:

It wasn't a theoretical situation -- all of it happened several years ago. The book had already been scheduled (as a paperback original) and the cover design was being discussed. The author in question did drop the agency. A portion of the advance had been paid, and the author was never dunned for it. I've had writers and agents tell me this is the worst publishing story they've ever heard.

I'm not going to change whole post around, but yeah, that is a pretty bad situation. It also is very rare, I'm assuming.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Death of a Contract

I was expecting to make this post under more depressing circumstances, but I reached an agreement with my editor. I decide to make the post anyway, because it's informative.

Let's say you've got a book deal with a publisher, agent or no agent. You get the long contract in the mail - easily 10-17 pages - and it feels like you're signing away your work. While you are signing a binding legal agreement, you're not actually selling your soul, nor is your publication really guaranteed, though it's mostly guaranteed. Once the contract is signed by both parties, there are three essential ways a contract can be severed:

(1) The author fails to live up to the obligations stated in the contract. The author doesn't deliver the manuscript by the agreed-upon date, the author refuses to revise, the author dies (the company is not obligated to publish the book if the author dies before delivering the contract, though the estate of the author can push for publication if the manuscript has been delivered), etc.

(2) The publisher fails to live up to the obligations stated in the contract. The publisher does not pay the advance money by the agreed-upon dates or in the agreed-upon amount(s). The publisher does not publish the book within the agreed-upon time (usually a year after signing, sometimes two years). The publisher goes under and stops publishing books. Etc.

(3) The author and the publisher do not reach an agreement on the final version of the manuscript. Either party can sever the contract over this, though it tends to be mutual because there's been a ton of fighting leading up to it. Generally editors buy manuscripts that they like, then ask for some revisions to clean up the manuscript. Sometimes the author will deliver a manuscript radically different from the one that was bought (the version that is "delivered" is a version delivered AFTER signing the contract, not necessarily the version the editor read when deciding whether to buy the book). Sometimes the author will refuse to do revisions because they're too radical (in the author's opinion). Sometimes the real life situation the book is based on, especially if it's a political book, will change dramatically and the author will feel that the book is no longer relevant or needs so much altering that it's not worth publishing.

Either way it's a painful process, feeling a tiny bit like a divorce. If the book is not published, any advance money paid must be returned, though if the author decides to just keep it, the publisher has to then sue to the author to try and get it, and if the advance is small enough the legal fees won't be worth it. The author, if they have other books at the same company, may say, "Take it out of my future royalties for book X" so that the author doesn't have to write a check and the publisher doesn't have to process it. Any money not involving the advance spent by the publisher - in editorial hours, promotion, sales, design, etc - is considered lost and the author is not responsible for publisher's expenses.

Publishers try not to let this happen, but it does. Authors die, or disappear, or don't deliver manuscripts. Publishers are bought by other companies and forced to reduce their line. Publishers go under. The editor who bought the book moves to another company and takes the author with them, involving a whole new contract. It happens. It's one of the reasons the contract is so long, covering a ton of possibilities that are not likely to ever happen but occasionally do. The contract is meant to state what everyone's responsibility is in the production of the book and what happens when situation X or Y occurs, and who is responsible for resolving it. Authors and publishers only go to court when (a) huge sums of money are involved and (b) someone is wildly violating the terms of the contract.

There was a case a year or so ago where someone sued their publisher for "failing to promote the book successfully." Essentially she blamed the publisher for the failure of the book and its low sales. I don't remember who it was or how this case turned out, but it would be a difficult case for a judge in my opinion, as nowhere in the contract does it stipulate what the publisher has to do to promote the book, just that it has to do something. The money allotted to publicity and promotion is not a number the author sees at any point, and would look like monopoly money anyway, because it's impossible to tell what those numbers represent unless you work for that particular company's imprint and know precisely what they typically spend on a book in that genre in the area of publicity and what the budget was when they were deciding and how feasible it was to promote this book anyway. In other words, you would have to be the publisher.

Anyone know how that case turned out?

Monday, April 20, 2009


Dear Rejector,

my first question is : do you think that blogging can pay as well as writing novels can?

Yes, if you're the chick who thought up "i can haz cheezburger." Otherwise, probably not. The money to be made in blogs is pretty illusory. I think the ads in my blog have made me about $70 total.

My second question is: how did you become a writer?

I started writing when I was in 3rd grade. As to how or why, I don't really know. As to how I got published: practice, practice, practice, followed by rejection, rejection, rejection followed by a little bit of luck and a decent manuscript after 10 bad ones.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


Things have been a little slow here at the Rejecter because of Passover/editing book issues, and they're about to get even slower as I log off for Pesach. I'll be back up Saturday night, then down for two days next week, so if you post a comment, it may not get approved for a few days. Feel free to post it anyway, just expect a delay. And if you send a question, it will go in my "to answer" box all the same, so go ahead.

Chag Sameach and Happy Easter to all who celebrate.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Boundaries of Young Adult

Hello Rejecter,
I am new to writing and have paged down many months on your blog. I'm not sure if you answer this type of question, but I will ask.

I am at the final chapters of a YA. My question to you is my ms to much for a YA? In brief it takes place in a high school and includes relationships, drugs, sex, kidnapping/torture and murder. It has description to feel the emotions, but not to much depth in the sex and drug portions.

Really, anything goes in YA these days. Basically, don't write smut that has no plot, or PWP as we say in fanfic. (Porn Without Plot or Porn Without Point) And don't be excruciatingly descriptive unless you're being raped and it's an autobiography. Then sit back and wait for the awards to roll in.

Also, do you ever give pro's/con's on query letters?

If by this you mean review them, no.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Rejecter's Rejections

So the editorial situation for my third book is still a mess, and has gotten more complicated, to the point where it's really not appropriate for me to continue posting about it on an anonymous public blog, as a lot of specifics are involved. And curse words.

Today I was back in my hometown to give a speech to students in my high school about my book and the publishing process. This was requested by an English teacher I didn't know, which shocked the hell out of me. I babbled for about 45 minutes and I'm pretty sure I might have said something in there about something related to writing. When I do public speaking it's kind of blur. It's good to go into my 10th reunion this fall with a major accomplishment. I looked in my yearbook when I got there to jog my memory of the names of my teachers, as I am especially terrible at remembering names, and discovered that in my senior profile, I asked people to buy my book (the one I was trying to publish at the time) or "a book by me by another title." Actually the English teacher, the alumni director, and the librarian all got copies from me for free, but the principle is there, which is that I had a dream in high school and I've fulfilled it. I need to come up with some crazier dreams.

Also very satisfying: My mother asked me to clean out my desk while I was home, which was filled with old paper and bank statements that needed to be shredded alongside the very important documents to save, like GRE scores and proof of jury duty service. Included in this desk was a huge stack of rejection letters from various graduate programs in creative writing. I was rejected almost everywhere I applied, and I applied repeatedly: my senior year of college, the year I was in Israel, and the year I was home sick after Israel. I applied to Columbia's MFA program three times (and was waitlisted once, but never got off it). My fiction was apparently "too commercial" as grad professors have admitted off the record. Obvious I did get in somewhere, really a middle tier school looking to expand its program with more students, and even there I was ostracized for writing "popular fiction" and one professor threatened to flunk me if I didn't write about myself. Also I probably burned the bridge of being hired as a professor there by calling the head of the department a sadist to his face.

Number of books under contract 1 year after graduating with my MFA: 5

Anyway, I shredded all of my rejections (and the acceptances to the crappy programs). Let me tell you, it was very satisfying. Especially for Columbia. Three times I paid that application fee, which went up from $85 to $120 the final year. Also Iowa, just because everyone applies to Iowa and no one gets in. Man, they rejected the hell out of me.

So, for those you receiving rejection letters: keep at it. Persistence pays off. And shredding is very theraputic.