Category Archives: advice

1

The name game

There’s nothing quite like starting off a new season with a book sale, particularly in Autumn, when the summer’s lethargy fades and it feels like everyone in publishing is back on the hunt for new work. And happily enough, I was able to place a middle grade novel that I absolutely loved, made even more gratifying by the fact that, full disclosure, it took quite a while to find its home. But back-patting aside, I wanted to share this story because it speaks to the importance of a really good title.

So, the first time I sent the novel around, it had what I thought was a snappy title—two words that rhymed, which seemed quirky and fun, plus it came from a line in the book, which is always a good thing. Yet, on the first round, despite some enthusiastic reports and near misses, we didn’t end up with a sale. And after enough passes, for which a lot of editors said the same thing, the author and I decided to table the novel for now and work on something new.

But then, a few months after we put it aside, the author came back to me and asked if we could try again with a new title. He just had a feeling that the original title wasn’t quite representing the substance and tenor of the book. Instead, he suggested a three-word phrase that was much more literary and ambiguous, though still taken from a line in the book. So, we gave it another shot, and lo and behold, the offer came in about a month later!

Now, there could certainly be many other variables here at play—the timing of the submission, not finding the right editor until late in the game, the holes in the editor’s list, etc. But I do think that the new title reframed readers’ expectations about what was inside and put them in a different mindset when reading it. Yes, titles can be a struggle, and since publishers almost always contractually control the title, the struggle can seem counterproductive at times. But I hope this story shows how important it is to find a title that truly reflects the book—and at the same time, if the title isn’t quite working but the content’s there, a title change just might be what the doctor ordered…

5

Why we do what we do

With my kids finally back in school and my twins finally starting Kindergarten, I feel like a new chapter of my life is beginning. And it’s one I’m really looking forward to. The focus is more on things outside of the basic needs of keeping small children alive, which in addition to working full-time, has consumed me in big and small ways for the better part of almost 10 years.

The last couple of years as my kids have grown and our amazing nanny and my supportive husband have enabled me to step up my work schedule, I’ve talked so many times to my kids (not to mention interns, editors and authors) about what I do, answered questions about what I like about my job (a lot — the creative process; working with smart, talented people; developing projects I’m passionate about; business lunches; the flexibility of my work schedule), what I don’t like (admin; industry challenges which include great books not selling or not selling well; commuting to NYC when I go in for meetings). I’ve also had many discussions about what my kids want to be when they grow up (so far, we have a pop star, a writer, a mom or Kindergarten teacher, and an undecided). There’s so much clichéd advice out there about doing what you love and doing what makes you happy, but it’s all so subjective and hard to articulate.

Now that it’s a new school year and my thoughts are with new beginnings, I wanted to share this lovely piece of writing advice from Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s not new or groundbreaking, but so much of what she has to say about writing and the life of a writer resonated with me. I especially loved the idea that you can begin a writing career at any age. It’s so true and how many jobs can you say that about?

So, enjoy the read, get inspired, and get to work on something you love. Let us know what that might be and what you want to be when you grow up, or grow old.

1

Defining children’s categories

I often get asked what the differences are between a middle grade and young adult novel. I think with the success of the children’s category in general over the last decade or so, those answers have changed. There is a lot more overlap now between upper middle grade and younger young adult, and with older young adult to adult crossover. The books that work best in both categories are the ones that become widely read by boys and girls, children and adults. Think blockbuster series like Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent and our own Maze Runner.

I found this article from my favorite source, writersdigest.com, about defining middle grade and ya fiction. While there is some really good basic beginner advice here, I do think that some rules were made to be broken. Don’t get caught up in word count to stick to category norms. Then again, don’t submit a manuscript that’s 150,000 words either. But straying 10k in either direction is totally fine.

Another important point to consider is that the majority of middle grade is third person, and the majority of young adult is first. You might think of this as children’s books 101 but I’ve had authors try to do third person YA and then find switching to first works a whole lot better for the book and the category.

I think that children’s books are opening up in many directions and kids today are able to digest a lot more than ever before. I see it with my own girls, two of whom are reading and two are about to be as they enter Kindergarten. Their minds are so open to the many adventures that await them in both middle grade and young adult novels. I can’t wait to share it with them! Please let us know about your favorite MG and YA novels, and if they follow the guidelines set forth by Writer’s Digest.

Writer’s Digest x2

Coinciding with my turn to blog this week, I was fortunate to realize that one of my wonderful clients was kind enough to write a guest blog post on Writer’s Digest about the author-agent relationship, and share her experience at finding an agent and publisher.

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to link to the WD piece. First, I thought this post might be useful to aspiring authors. I think it gives a unique perspective that is just that – personal and individual. I always find stories of how authors got their start fascinating because they are all so similar in terms of the process but so different in terms of how it plays out. And there is something to be learned from each and every story. Beth talks here about how she got 32 rejections before she got to me. Persistence can certainly pay off, but so can paying attention to your rejections and learning from the feedback. She also talks about researching agents before you submit, a very important part of the process if you want to target an agent that is right for you and your work.

Second, I spent most of the day this past Saturday at the Writer’s Digest annual Pitch Slam conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC where the several hundred attendees took turns pitching the many agents who volunteered to be there. Each author waited in line for the agent they wanted to pitch to, and then had 3 minutes to share their story. The day was broken up into 3 one-hour pitch sessions where they split up the attendees to make the room less crowded (I’m told it was the first time they did it this way, and it worked really well).  I really enjoy meeting aspiring authors in the trenches and seeing motivated people who are looking to improve their craft and network with professionals. It was a very fun, productive, exhausting day for authors and agents alike!

7

MG vs YA

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle. At the opening Agent’s Panel, I gave my usual spiel of what I’m looking for–Adult nonfiction, a smattering of offbeat adult fiction, and the broad range of children’s projects–YA, Middle Grade, and picture books. After that, I settled into my seat in the ballroom for a long stretch of power pitching, where the writers line up for 4-minute pitch meetings one after the other in the hopes of getting a request to see a full MS.

As exhausting as power pitching can be, it does serve to give an agent a good idea of what writers are generally working on these days. Although we often recommend that writers NOT write for the market, it’s natural for writers to turn to what seems to be popular. And hence, I heard a ton of MG pitches, which makes sense, since a ton of editors seem to be focusing on it these days.

But what surprised me about these MG pitches is that a solid majority of them featured a main character who was 13 years old. Which, if you go by the traditional demarcations of MG as ages 8-12 and YA as 12 up, means that they’re really writing YA. At the same time, the stories seemed to be solidly MG–heavy on fantasy and school stories, light on teen issues and racy content.

So what gives? Do these writers not know the basic guidelines? Are they just trying to age down their YA novels for the market? Or has MG become more elastic and less constricted by age distinctions than in the past?

Frankly, I’m not exactly sure, so I was very interested to read this article from PW Children’s Bookshelf, which looks at how bookstores are struggling with how to shelve MG and YA. And from their survey, it seems that stores are making up their own rules–some are keeping YA and MG totally separate, some create overlapping sections of 8-12, 10-14, and 14 up, while others lump them all together. Different strokes for different customer bases, perhaps, but for me it seems like there’s just confusion all round about where books belong on the shelf.

So, what’s a writer to do? Well, like a lot of category distinctions in publishing, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear answer. My personal feeling is that despite the shifting winds, a writer seeking representation is still better off adhering to the old guidelines–if your character is 12 or under, it’s MG, 13 and up, YA. Not that I’m trying to take the easy way out here, but the last thing I want to hear from an editor is that they love the book but aren’t sure where it would live on the shelf–that’s a classic rejection line.  So I’d much prefer an author adhere to what’s been done in the past when starting out and go genre-busting on book 2.

That said, others may have different ideas of what marks MG versus YA these days, so I’d love to know what you’ve been hearing. Are 8-12 and 12 up still recommended? If not, what are folks suggesting as new guidelines?

 

3

Boost your traffic

Today I bring some smart and simple advice on growing your website or blog traffic from the always entertaining Chuck Sambuchino. In his column for thewritelife.com he offers tips for growing your platform. This has become widely applicable not only for nonfiction authors, for whom a large following is mandatory, but also for writers of fiction who need to engage with their audience as well.

It’s also worth paying attention to the comments section of the piece because there’s some good additional advice scattered throughout there as well, both from the editors at thewritelife.com and from authors who’ve tried things not included in Chuck’s list.

From an agent’s perspective as we are considering a new author, it’s so helpful to be able to confirm that the author has a good sense of social media and how to effectively run a website or blog. Even if the numbers aren’t huge, a successful site is one that’s professional, informative, and provides consistently updated content. Good luck, and let us know if you have any tips not included here.

0

Those other social media websites

Over the last few years I have counseled my clients to build and/or increase their social media presences.  It is, after all, what can really make a difference to the success or lack of success of one’s book.  When I was giving this advice though, I was more often than not talking about Facebook and Twitter.  We have found over time that the more friends and followers an author has, the higher their book sales.

Now though I have discovered the effectiveness of Pinterest.  My client Sarah Kiefer (http://www.pinterest.com/threadedbasil/) has a large following on the site, and it is building.  We are certain this is going to be effective in selling her new book THE VANILLA BEAN BAKING BOOK.  Stacey Glick represents several authors with big Pinterest followings as well, including Jamielyn Nye of I Heart Naptime and Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats.

Last week, I discovered my newest client Derek Krahn on Vine.  Here he is with a sneezing baby lion:

And here he is trying to take a selfie with a tiger named Levi:

His contributions are really effective and they attracted me immediately.  Right now, he has 420,000+ followers and growing, and I am certain this is going to help me sell his upcoming book BIG CAT.

I am sure in the months to come there will be newer and more innovative sites on which potential authors can and should promote themselves.  To that end, I would love to hear from you about any you know of and how effective you believe them to be.

4

Things to think about after your publishing contract is executed

Congratulations!  You’ve sold your book and are about to embark on a new experience.  Recently at a writers’ conference at Sarah Lawrence College, Julie Shoerke provided some tips which I think are extremely valuable and which I would like to pass along here:

  • Save part of your advance towards publicity and promotion.  Generally, I would put this to building your social media as I have found that having a strong presence in this space is incredibly effective in the current publishing climate to publicize your books.
  • Appreciate the people who are working for and with you.  This will make everything during this experience that much more enjoyable and it will increase productivity on all sides.
  • Network with booksellers, librarians and other authors in your category.  I cannot tell you how important this is.  You will stand out to those who will be buying your book and you will undoubtedly learn from others.  Be open to doing this.
  • Stockpile stories/jokes for appearances.  I can’t tell you how difficult that opening anecdote is – I always have to spend lots of time thinking what an effective, attention getting one would be.  This, though, is critically important in getting your audience to listen to the rest of what you have to say.
  • Be realistic about the effort you/your team will put into promoting the book.  Keep in mind how many books you will have to sell to earn back the costs of publicity and try to budget accordingly or you could be in a financial hole.
  • Your name should be across all platforms so people can find you.  Be sure to buy your name.
  • Brand your name not your book’s title – titles can and do change.
  • Team with other authors in the same category to cross-promote.  I have found this to be extremely effective.
  • Be nice!  Understand how lucky you are to be traditionally published—and show your appreciation often.

I hope you will find these tidbits useful and I would be most interested in hearing if you have any others to add.

0

Developing a nonfiction “slam dunk” book concept

We have many ways in which books become books. Each title we sell has its own history and path to print. I thought it might be an interesting exercise for you to hear about a recent project of mine and how it came to be.

I represent Amar’e Stoudemire, best known as an NBA basketball star, but also the co-author of the just-published  COOKING WITH AMAR’E, which he wrote with his personal chef, Maxcel Hardy. Max and I got together initially in February of 2012 to talk about book ideas that he and Amar’e could pursue together, and he was initially thinking about a Kosher cookbook. We went through a list of ideas and the one that seemed most interesting to me had the two of them in the kitchen together doing informal cooking lessons, Max teaching Amar’e how to cook for his family and friends. It felt very commercial to me, and very accessible for a broad audience.

After finding a writer, Rosemary Black, to help them develop the proposal, which was a process that took some time, we sent it to publishers and hosted a lovely cocktail party for interested editors with recipes and cocktails from the proposed book. We sold the book to It Books/HarperCollins just over a year ago and everyone worked tirelessly to produce the book in time for Father’s Day of this year.

The publication was a whirlwind of media events for Amar’e, including appearances on Today and The View, and several book signings in and around NY. A picture from a midtown B&N signing below of yours truly with Amar’e and Chef Max (good thing Amar’e was sitting down or we wouldn’t have fit together in the photo!).

So, what I’m trying to get at with this post in addition to showing you some fun behind-the-scenes insight into the publishing process, is that there are many ways to develop a book and no matter who the author is or what the book concept is, it is a process that can take many turns and a long time from soup to nuts. Being in the business of ideas allows for a lot of creative brainstorming and you never know when that next great one will present itself.

3

Step out of your algorithm.

Did you know I used to work in a bookstore? It’s true, for about four years altogether I worked for Barnes & Noble – two years in a sleepy metro Detroit store, and two years in a huuuuge store here in NYC. And once you’ve been a bookseller, you really never quite stop being one. I still love recommending books to strangers, I’m an absolute whiz with comp titles, and I compulsively neaten stacks when I find myself in a bookstore.

But as many things as I loved about being a bookseller, I also came away from that career with quite a few pet peeves. So when I saw an Esquire article called “How to Shop in a Bookstore” flying around Twitter, I opened it with trepidation. Just what kind of bookstore behavior was being suggested? Then I was pleased to read a quite beautiful little essay on the joys of discovery in bookstores – on going in with an open mind, and letting yourself be guided by the brilliant, hilarious, sophisticated, and elegant bookstore employees. Or the article puts it, “I advise finding the man or woman with the weirdest glasses.”

So now that the readers of Esquire will be storming into bookstores eager for recommendations and serendipity, I decided I should to put a few comple

mentary bookstore Don’ts out there:

  • Are you looking for a specific book? Do your friendly bookseller a favor and try to remember the title or the author. Don’t just say “It was on TV.And it’s orange? Or red?” Though you’d be amazed how good a mind reader you become after a couple of weeks at the info desk. And Google will be your new best friend.
  • Do you see a book you’re interested in? Don’t wait – buy it right now! Bookstores change their displays all the time, often on a regular monthly or weekly schedule, sometimes on the fly in response to hot news topics or emerging trends. We’re BOTH going to be unhappy when you storm up to my counter grumbling “HEY where’s that book I saw on this table the other day.” Buy it when you see it! Or come in happy to discover whatever book took its place, as the Esquire writer suggests.
  • Want to dip into a book before you buy it? Go right ahead! That’s one of the beauties of a bookstore – flipping through the pages (and yes, that bookish smell) will always beat out the LookInside preview. But don’t forget that the book isn’t actually yours yet, and be respectful of its pages, cover corners, and spine.
  • Don’t take off your shoes in the bookstore. Seriously.
  • Don’t dismantle a display to create a computer desk for yourself (yes, this happened).
  • And please, for the love of all, do not use the children’s department for free babysitting. ‘Nuff said.

    Don't forget to appreciate  your hard-working booksellers!!

    Don’t forget to appreciate your hard-working booksellers!!

Okay, so maybe those last couple etiquette points are the kind of outlying horror stories that grizzled booksellers love to swap when they get together,

and not the kind of behavior any reader of THIS blog would engage in. And pet peeves aside, there’s nothing a bookseller loves more than meeting a reader eager for suggestions. No matter how you feel about Amazon, whether it’s your best friend or your Lord Vader, nothing quite matches the experience of wandering through a bookstore. The Esquire article puts it beautifully:

“Somewhere in there is something that’s entirely fresh to you, and will reward your soul by exposure. That’s what good books do, and good bookstores, too. They let you step out of your algorithm.”

Do you have a wonderful bookstore in your area? Or do you have any tips for serendipitous discoveries when shopping for books online?