Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Submitting to Agents: What Not to Do

Or maybe this post would be better titled, What to Do Proofread and, if necessary, hire a copyeditor.

I've already been very honest about my shortcomings when it comes to grammar and punctuation so when I come across a query where I can see tons of grammar and punctuation problems I know there are problems.

Your query reflects your manuscript in every way and if its riddled with errors I'm going to be fairly certain your manuscript looks the same. Think of your query as the first page of your manuscript. You wouldn't send the book out until its shiny and perfect. Your query is no different.

--jhf

Monday, November 24, 2014

Knowing Your Brand





I came across this on Pinterest one day and it struck a chord with me because it speaks to a blog post I've been wanting to write for a while.

Before we ever write a book or put ourselves out there as authors, agents and editors we're creating a brand. When we're in any public forum where we present as an author, an agent, an editor or whatever it is we are professionally, we need to think of that brand. 

What does it say about you and your brand if you show up at an appointment in jeans? What about a suit? I think most of us choose something in between. What does it say to you about an agent who shows up to an appointment in jeans or a baseball hat versus the one that wears a suit versus the one who wears a skirt and simple top? 

How we present ourselves is the first impression an agent or editor gets not just about us, but about our books. If you show up to an appointment in a baseball hat and yoga pants I'm going to wonder if you've bothered to polish your book or if you're really serious about your career. And I imagine if I showed up in workout clothes you're going to wonder where my priorities as an agent are.

What I really like about this quote is the part on trademark. It's something I've often thought about, but never put words to. I hear stories all the time about agents who are nasty or harsh or scary or snobby or sweet or funny or charming.... What about authors? Are you kind and thoughtful? What kind of trademark are you presenting to other authors, readers, agents and editors? Are you too busy to stop and chat, are you kind and present even if the conversation is boring you to tears? All of this is part of your Author Brand and all of it needs to be considered beyond just the hook, title and writing.

--jhf

Friday, November 21, 2014

Have We Learned Nothing

Have we learned nothing from the recent news about authors trying to get rights back from their publishers? Authors who signed contracts without an agent, a lawyer or anyone paid to protect the author's rights?

As I'm sure some of you have heard I'm not always that fast on queries or partials. I can be really good at times, but throw in a week off, an influx of queries or clients who need me to read their works and I lose ground fast. Recently I heard from an author whose manuscript I had (for about 4-6 weeks). The author had received a contract from a publisher and, in her words, "didn't need an agent's help."

I'm an agent. Of course I'm going to tell you that you need an agent, but I'm telling you that not because I'm dying to get my 15% of what can often be very little, but because I've seen too many authors make career mistakes because they wanted to save that 15%.

These are the authors who find their books trapped with a publisher because they signed a contract without any sort of rights reversion or out of print clauses. I've seen authors who signed contracts which basically calls anything else they could write in their professional expertise competition. In other words, they can only write the one book they wrote. I've seen authors sign away copyright without even realizing it.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that while I see why you might want to hold on to that 15%, I have a sneaking suspicion that in the long run you're going to end up paying far more by not giving up 15%. If that makes sense.

--jhf

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Selfishly, Rudely Running Late....Or Not?

I've always been the type of person who obsesses over being on time. I think in 15 minute increments which means even if I know it will only take me 20 minutes to get somewhere I leave 30 minutes before. I'd always rather, in fact prefer, to be 10 minutes early. If I arrive and the other person is waiting I always feel like I'm late, even if we're both early.

Now I'm not perfect and I think its gotten harder for me to be regularly on time as my life has gotten busier, but I'm still pretty determined to do my best. It's why this article, You're Not Running Late, You're Rude and Selfish  really rang true for me.

The one thing I've always thought about people who are perpetually late is that it's just rude and inconsiderate. Like you, I could have used an extra 20 minutes in the office, or 10 minutes getting ready, but I was on a schedule, a schedule to meet you and I had to get out of there.

Which is why the issue of agent response times has always been a stickler to me. As we say on our website, we work really hard to respond in a timely manner, but our clients have to be our first priority and that sometimes (often) means that submissions and queries get placed on the back burner. Our clients are the people we promise arrival times to and those are the times we need to make (and let's face it, even that doesn't always happen).

Being on time, with submissions, reading for clients, phone calls, and appointments is something I'm always working harder on and beating myself up over. But I'm curious, what do you think about submission response times? Our website reads this:

BookEnds agents do reply to all submissions and queries and hope to do so in a timely manner. Our response time goals are 6 weeks for queries and 12 weeks on requested partials and fulls. Unfortunately, at times circumstances mean we fall behind in our responses. We do try to post status updates through Twitter and Facebook. For updates on where we are with queries and submissions, as well as what we're most actively looking for, please check out our Facebook page:

As you can see we used a lot of disclaimers, but if we're far later than 6 or 12 weeks do you see this as an agent missing an appointment? or do you hope it means that the agent is making all other appointments, especially those you hope to have at some point?

--jhf


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thrillers v. Suspense

You would think that after 20+ years in this business I would have all the answers. Well there are days when I definitely still feel like I have more questions than answers. One of those questions is how do you define the difference between thrillers and suspense. I tend to think that I like suspense more than I like thrillers and I think I know what the difference is, but when asked by writers to define them I'm not sure I know exactly how to do that. I guess I'm not sure the answer is always cut and dry.

So today I'm asking you. How do you define the two?

--jhf

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Tax Man Cometh

As the year comes to a close agents and publishers are preparing to send out 1099 forms. As per IRS guidelines those need to be mailed by January 30. If you've moved or changed your name anytime in the past year I would strongly recommend you get that information to your agent now so come February 1 you aren't freaking out that your 1099 is missing.

--jhf

Monday, November 17, 2014

Inside an Agent's Head

It's amazing how much a new submission can mess with an agent's head.

We take on a new project from a new client or we finally get that fresh manuscript from a client whose books we're always excited to read. And as we're reading we're getting more and more excited about how amazing this book is and how we can't wait to sell it. And then the panic sets in. Just as the excitement rises, so does the doubt. But what if it doesn't sell, what if I'm jinxing it with my excitement? Oh crap, I just told my colleagues how amazing it is, I'm sure to have jinxed it now.

So the next time you worry that you're bugging your agent or too neurotic to talk to her don't.

--jhf

Friday, November 14, 2014

Reader Question: On Self-Publishing

Hello! I have a long, rather wordy question for you about self-publishing.

Say I've written a book, polished it up and gotten it as close to publishable as I think possible. Following preliminary letters to agents who would accept my genre, I send the requested portion of the manuscript out to all the agents with all the requested additions (synopsis, cover letter, etc). Perhaps some of them even request the full manuscript afterwards. But say I've done all of that and in the end I'm rejected by all of them, despite comments such as "well-written", "readable", "clearly talented" (things I dearly, dearly hope are honest and not just being said to ease the blow of rejection). I can't resubmit, of course, because that's not how things are done.
Would I be foolish, then, to NOT self-publish that work?

I've got many, many ideas for many different fantasy books, each quite different from the last, and once I've finished and polished up one book, I submit it to several appropriate agencies and move right on to my next idea, writing a brand new piece. I'm certainly not lingering on one book and afraid to move onto the next, so I'm hoping that something will peak the interest of an agent enough in the end to take a chance on me, so I'm wondering, if a book has been rejected and is not likely to be reconsidered, would self-publishing it do future book submissions good?

I've read several of your posts about self-publishing, and what I'd really like is as definitive an answer as I can get about whether it's smart to do it or not, though I am fully aware that every case is different, with varying results. In general, would it help or hinder my efforts?
Thanks for your time, and have a great day!

Kim x



I never think you'd be foolish to self-publish a book. As long as you have a plan and the decision to self-publish fits into your career goals (which, by the way, will be constantly changing). 

There are a ton of different ways to go about building a career in publishing and one of the many ways is by self-publishing. If your true desire is to be traditionally published, but you have that one book that just hasn't made it, I see nothing wrong in testing the market by self-publishing. However, the one thing to keep in mind, is that self-publishing that book may very well make it more difficult to find a traditional publisher for that particular book (not necessarily for anything else though).

So, here are my thoughts to your very specific questions....

Would self-publishing do future submissions good? Not necessarily. If you have absolutely amazing numbers it might push an agent's or editor's hand to read more or even offer if she is on the fence. And of course hopefully your readers will cross-over. But we are talking the need for amazing numbers. Thousands and thousands of sales at a competitive price point before a traditional publisher will really be impressed.

Would it hurt you? I don't think so. Not in today's market. Sure, I suppose there is still the editor that might be turned off, but they are few and far between these days.

So, if you're asking my opinion based upon this question alone, go ahead and self-publish that book. It sounds like you've given it a huge effort and have a very strong belief that it's time to move forward, but you don't want to put this under the bed. So go for it. Self-publish that one book and move on to continue writing and querying your other books.

There is no linear career path when it comes to publishing, well when it comes to any business really. You have to follow your heart and trust your own instincts. You're going to take some hits, you're going to have failure and you're also going to have success. The key is to keep going and trust in yourself.

--jhf

**If you have a question for the BookEnds blog you can email us at blog@bookends-inc.com and we'll answer as soon as we can.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Reader Question: When to Say When


This actually came up as a comment on a blog post I wrote about Cutting the Apron Strings.

In the comments the reader asked, "Is there a point where you should give up on querying a book?" 

I think the logical answer to this question is yes, but then I think back to the story I shared about client Shelley Coriell and some of our own submission stories about books we wouldn't give up on. Do you know that I once had a proposal sit on an editor's desk for two years before I got an offer?

There are two answers to this question for me. The first is that you stop querying when you know it's time. People often say, "you'll know" about a lot of different things in life. Usually unpleasant things. Although it's cliche, I do think it's true. We usually know when enough is enough with something. The real struggle is admitting it.

The second answer is when you start querying your next book. The minute you start querying you've put that book away and have started work on the next book. If you haven't, you better. This means you're busy doing two things at once. Sending out queries, and maybe reworking that query letter a few times, and writing the next book. You are NOT rewriting the book you are querying. Once you start querying it's too late for that. If you haven't received an offer by the time the second book is ready to go out it's time to put the first book to rest.

Presumably you've learned a lot from the query process and your own writing so it would be a shame to continue to query the weaker of what are now your two books.

--jhf

**If you have a question for the BookEnds Blog feel free to email us at blog@bookends-inc.com and we'll answer as soon as we can.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Senseless Queries


Recently I had a rash of queries that I couldn't make any sense of. It was so bad that I started to wonder if maybe I hadn't had enough caffeine and it was me and not the authors.

When writing anything--your book, your query, this blog--we sometimes know exactly what we're thinking and what we're going to say and forget that we need to step outside of our own heads to make sure that what we're saying is going to make sense to the reader. In this case, the queries were difficult to follow and I didn't get a good sense of the story.

Let me see if I can give you an example:

Frani Franks and her best friend Frankie have no idea that opening the ice cream shoppe, Ice n' Delicious will lead to a murder that's most definitely not vanilla and that seems related to the cocoa beans they love in their chocolate.

The victim loves to eat pistachio ice cream every day and once came in a stole an entire gallon from the shoppe. But vanilla ice cream, hot fudge and the shoppe's brand new table and chairs are all linked to the mayor of the town and Frani had no idea that her new shoppe could be her last hurrah.

The killer's enthusiasm to eat ice cream leads Frani to the mayor's house where they find that it's more than ice cream that they're after, that the entire town might be in danger because of a giant land development project....


And yes, I do get queries that are this confusing.

If you're struggling to write the query read some back cover copy to see how books do it and then review some of the queries I have on this blog and some of the critiques Janet Reid has done on her blog. Because, honestly, any agent who receives a query like this is going to reject the book simply because we assume the book is just as confusing.

--jhf