Thursday, December 11, 2014

Open to queries

So, long time no blog! 2014 has been an exciting year, full of book deals for authors I'm beyond lucky to represent, both in the US and in translation. I keep my client list small and selective, both because I want to give each one the love, care, and attention they need as I shepherd them toward a book deal and beyond; and because, with my ever-challenging, always-thrilling work as Folio's Co-Director of International Rights, I just don't need to sign new clients unless I can't live without them. (And be honest: how many books can you really not live without? A handful, no?) This year has been a wonderful year for my authors, and I've spent it working closely with them to achieve their goals.

I know it's that time of year when most sane people close to queries, but after having been closed to queries for a few months, I'm once again looking for that special author (or authors!) to join the team.

Have you written a middle grade novel that's a beautiful mix of humor and heart? A book that makes kids roar with laughter when they're not busy contemplating how they want to be in the world from now on, now that they've read this book, while also making adults tear up from sheer nostalgia and the pang of remembering the way anything once seemed possible? Please send it to me! Some of my favorites: Crystal Chan's BIRD, Wendy Mass's JEREMY FINK AND THE  MEANING OF LIFE; Tim Federle's BETTER NATE THAN EVER; Jacqueline Kelly's THE EVOLUTION OF CALPURNIA TATE; Rebecca Stead's WHEN YOU REACH ME; Holly Goldberg Sloan's COUNTING BY 7S; Ann M. Martin's RAIN REIGN.

As for YA? I spent the last Frankfurt Book Fair raving about a YA novel I described as "the most feminist, sex-positive YA novel I've read in ages", only to have many foreign publishers ask with slight disdain, "Yes, but is it all handled in the American way?" -- to which I knew the only answer was a resounding "no," because this book wasn't judgmental or afraid to express the truth of teens' lives. And then the publishers were interested.

So I'm not looking for YA novel that "pushes boundaries", because that implies that teens' lives happen within prescribed boundaries in the first place, or that I want books that shock just for the sake of it. I'm just looking for real stories. Do you write novels like those by A.S. King, Katie Cotugno, emily m. danforth, Andrew Smith, Amanda Maciel, Jenny Hubbard, Rainbow Rowell, Benjamin Alire Saenz, or John Corey Whaley? Or maybe you have a frank, unafraid voice that reads like a teen take on Lena Dunham's voice in NOT THAT KIND OF GIRL (a must-read)? Please write me!

Fantasy was my first love as a reader, and I'm still looking for it in both MG and YA when the concept feels fresh and comes with strong writing in addition to great world-building. I'd love something in the vein of Sally Green's HALF BAD for YA, or Karen Foxlee's OPHELIA AND THE MARVELOUS BOY for MG.

More blog posts to come! In the meantime, please send your query and first ten pages in the body of the email to molly [@]

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Personal query responses!

Form rejections can be frustrating for writers and agents alike. Writers don't like getting them, and we don't like sending them! I often wish I had more time to respond personally to queries, and I sometimes do when it's a very close call. Unfortunately, the volume of queries I receive and my duties to my wonderful clients make it impossible to do this all the time. If you query me between today and Sunday, though, with "Personal query response" in your subject line, I promise to be 100% honest in my response to your query. If you think this might be helpful to you, please send queries for completed, polished works of middle grade or YA fiction along with the first ten pages of your manuscript to molly [@]

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The truth about being an editorial agent

Lately I’ve heard more and more writers say that they want an editorial agent. Long gone is the notion that an agent’s duties are limited to finding the right editor, yelling “SHOW ME THE MONEY!”, and negotiating a contract (though all of that is really fun). In our increasingly competitive publishing world, it’s not uncommon for agents to put extensive editorial work into projects before submitting them to editors. We want each manuscript to be as strong as possible before we send it out, because it increases the chances that the project will sell. Yes, there are plenty of good agents who take a more hands-off approach, and there are many great authors who prefer it that way. That’s A-OK, too! But the influx of writers wanting a more editorial agent makes me happy. I consider myself to be one, so hey, more awesome writers for me! 

The idea of working with an agent who wants to help you elevate your already-great manuscript to the “WHOA!” level before going on submission can sound good in theory. And in practice, it can—and should—be extremely rewarding for both agent and author. That said, it’s not always kumbaya-‘round-the-fire in Editorial Agent Land. Before you decide to query or sign with a self-proclaimed “editorial agent,” you should know what that entails. If the below doesn’t sound bad to you (or better, if it sounds fantastic), great! If the reality makes you want to head for the hills, though, you might prefer an agent who leaves the craft aspect to you, which is also a valid choice. Regardless of where you stand, have this discussion before you sign with an agent. So let's commence with the truthiness.

Truth #1: You won’t always agree

I love my clients, and sometimes it feels like we share a brain. But that’s not always the case. When I offer representation, I usually mention a few overarching editorial ideas I have for the project. I’m not going to go into tons of detail, though: that’s something I reserve for our first editorial letter. My thoughts on your manuscript will change throughout the revision process, just like yours do, and I will almost certainly float some ideas during revisions that weren’t discussed in that first phone call. If there’s an aspect of your novel that you know you absolutely will not rethink under any circumstances, The Call would be a good time to float that point by your potential agent. Otherwise, assume all aspects of your novel are up for discussion post-signing.

“Discussion” is just that, though – a discussion, not a command or a deal-breaker. Hopefully it’s productive, lively, and illuminating for both author and agent. Obviously your agent loves your manuscript the way it is, or they wouldn’t have signed you as a client! But that doesn’t mean we won’t ask you to consider killing a darling at some point. Sometimes major character issues or plot holes don’t reveal themselves until after a first revision. Sometimes we might need two or three rounds to work it out, and that’s hard to predict from the initial phone call. Ultimately, we both want the same thing: for the book to be successful and still true to the author’s vision. In my experience, this sometimes-tough process is actually great preparation for when a book sells and an author works with an editor for the first time. They’ve already been through it with me, and I like to think that they’re a little more prepared for it.

Truth #2: It’s all in the timing

Being an editorial agent means reading our authors’ work a lot. I read a manuscript once or twice before signing the author, and then I want to read it again once I need to write that first editorial letter. Introducing new ideas to an author’s baby is a responsibility I don’t take lightly, so I need to be thorough and take my time. That nail-biting wait for your edit letter can be tough, I know! But it’s better to give your agent time to really think his or her thoughts through. You don’t want us doing a rush job on something that could end up shaping your manuscript. We also don’t want to miss something important that would have been obvious had we read more carefully.

When you get that letter, you might be really excited to dig in, revise, and send that manuscript off to your agent again. I can’t emphasize this enough, though: it’s okay to take your time. Not only does a rushed revision not do you any good (you might have regrets later, and it likely won’t be your strongest work), but it can be a bit frustrating to your agent. When we spend dozens of hours reading your manuscript, taking copious notes, and formulating what’s likely a multi-page edit letter, we want your best work in return. If you turn that revision around in a week or two, it’s likely not quite there yet. There’s also no way I, your agent, will have the brain space to read your book again that quickly. I need to be able to see your manuscript with fresh eyes each time I read, and the more times I read it, the harder it is to evaluate it from a first-time reader’s (or potential editor’s) perspective. Sometimes I have to say, sorry, but as excited as I am to dive back into this, I think you need to take more time away from the project to see it clearly—and so do I. Waiting isn’t fun, but at the end of the day, your book will hopefully be stronger for it. When your book sells, your editor won’t be turning around your manuscript in a week or two, either, because she also has many other projects on her list, other responsibilities, and a need to cleanse her palate before diving back in to your work. (Also: she’s human.) Working with an editorial agent can be good preparation for this!

Truth #3: Submission

Before I sign a client, I’m always upfront about how my submission process works. We only get one chance to make a great first impression with your manuscript, and I don’t want us to waste our bullets with something that’s not ready. Nothing’s ever perfect, and even something we’ve worked really hard on together may not go on to sell, but if I know there’s still more work to be done, I’m not hitting “send” yet. My number one concern is launching your career successfully, and sometimes that means a little more tweaking. Do agents and authors sometimes disagree over what qualifies as “ready”? Sometimes, yes, though rarely. Do I know plenty of agents who have said “We’ve revised this fiftyleven times and even though I think it needs more work, I’m getting the vibe that this author will fire me if I don’t send it, so I’m going to send it to five people”? Yes. And you don’t want this, because it doesn’t tend to end with a sale. When you sign with an editorial agent, decide if you want this kind of feedback, and be ready to have the “what happens if we disagree?” conversation. In short, having an agent who wants to work with you editorially may mean that it’ll take a while before you go on submission. It definitely means that communication is key.

Personally, I love being an editorial agent. I adore working closely with my brilliant clients and helping to shape their work. Do we always agree at every stage of the revision process? Of course not. But at the end of the day, I know that if I make a suggestion, they trust me enough to evaluate it carefully and will try to understand where I’m coming from, even if it’s not part of their original vision. And I’ll never ask them to make a change with which they don’t agree, because that wouldn’t ring true and would hurt the manuscript. So while revising can be challenging, we always end up on the same page, and I hope we’re both happier with the result. I know I am. In this crowded market, working with an editorial agent can give you an extra competitive edge. Plus, the editorial journey strengthens our agent-author relationship, sharpens our skills, and – in the end – makes the book even better!

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Frankfurt Book Fair, Part Two

My first Frankfurt Book Fair post was about the business side of the fair. That’s only half the story! The social aspect of the fair—networking at drinks, dinners, parties, and hotel bars—is just as important.

One of those hotels, the Frankfurter Hof, has been the unofficial social hub of the book fair for years. Some publishing people actually stay at the Hof, but regardless of where you hang your hat, you’ll end up there at some point. People make business appointments at the Frankfurter Hof, do lunch, and drink in the lobby or linger outside until 4:00 in the morning. I'm not cool enough to stay out quite that late, but some scouts and foreign editors even have to show their bosses a receipt for drinks to prove that they were there until a certain time, partying networking the night away. 

On Tuesday, before the fair has formally begun, some people take meetings at the Hof. It’s crazed and crowded, and you never know who you’ll bump into while trying to find your next meeting. It’s often the first time you'll see someone you haven’t seen since, well, last Frankfurt. Reunions abound! This year we arrived at 9 a.m. to snag a coveted table on the terrace just outside the hotel. Just like at the fair itself, we had meetings every thirty minutes, but in a much nicer setting, and with wine (we waited ‘til 3:00, okay?). The editors we met with were happy to have a glass, and I swear our meetings were 99% more entertaining and productive after that.

What you do after those meetings can be just as key as what happens during them. Frankfurt is one of the few times when we’re able to meet with our co-agents in person, though we’re in communication with them every day. (Quick co-agent primer: we partner with literary agents on the ground in every territory. They get 10% of every foreign deal. They rock.) There are only a handful of really great co-agents in every territory, and tons of US agents. When we have a longstanding, productive, and exclusive relationship with a killer co-agent, we want to show them how much we love and appreciate them. Agents often take their co-agents out to dinner and/or drinks to say thanks. (The pic to the left is a popular outdoor drinks spot.) It’s good for our relationships--and our business--to get to know each other offline.

We also want to get in some social time with the editors who publish our clients’ books abroad, and the scouts with whom they work. We see them at various publisher-hosted parties, and again, sometimes at drinks or a dinner. A typical day in Frankfurt can involve meetings from 9-6, then probably a drinks meeting, then a dinner function, then some kind of shindig until the wee hours. If you don’t have anything else to do, you might end up at the Frankfurter Hof (again!) just to see who’s around. There's some hot gossip, bookish and otherwise. Though you’re not always talking business, you’re always on the job – and always on, so for super-introverted book people, it can be an intense week of late nights and early mornings. So, when your agent comes home from Frankfurt, don't assume he or she has been taking anything resembling a vacation for the last week. They probably feel like a beer-soaked, exhausted lump of potatoes and schnitzel, and are only capable of speaking in pitches. 

This is getting a bit long for one post, but next time, I’ll address some trends we’re seeing in international rights. Questions? Comments? Let me know!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Frankfurt Book Fair, Part One

Last week, my client Kristen Lippert-Martin took a trip to Disney World. I went to the Frankfurt Book Fair with my amazing colleague Melissa, with whom I co-direct Folio’s Foreign Rights Department. Though some might call me crazy, for me, the two trips aren't that different. Frankfurt is my Happiest Place on Earth. Despite the jet lag, the less-than-beautiful city, the exhausting schedule of 160+ meetings, the days that begin with an alarm clock at 6 a.m. and don’t end until you collapse into your hotel bed at 2 or so in the morning, it’s the event I most look forward to all year.

Frankfurt is the one place where everyone in publishing all around the world gets together. There’s this simmer of excitement, a sense of literary history unfolding around you, of books being made, that permeates the fair. There are editors and agents and publishers who have gone to the fair for 30 years or more, who have seen our book world made and remade over and over. I’m always in awe at how lucky I am to be part of something so big—bigger than just U.S. book publishing, even. I kind of feel like Will Smith in Men in Black walking in there every morning. There’s some serious damn-I’ve-got-some-great-books-to-unleash-on-the-world swagger going on.

So what happens at the Frankfurt Book Fair? While pitching books is the most time-consuming and labor-intensive aspect of the fair, we’re really there for the networking. If you’re going to be a major player on the literary scene, especially on the adult publishing side, it’s important to have a presence there. (Bologna is great, but it’s only for children’s books, doesn’t draw as diverse a crowd, and lasts just three days; London is big, but it happens in the spring, before the Big Fall Books have emerged.) Frankfurt is where it’s AT.

To give you a sense of how many agents attend, here’s a picture of the Literary Agents Center (from last year, I forgot to take one this year!).
Each agency has a table. You can see where they begin, behind the wall of the cafe: there are hundreds! This year, Folio’s tables were nestled between other American agencies, an agency from India, and one from France.

A typical day for us at the fair begins with a 9 a.m. meeting and ends with a 5:30 or even 6 p.m. meeting (we start scheduling these meetings in June, so a lot of prep work goes into them).  During the day, meetings are scheduled every 30 minutes, with editors hailing from all over the world, who are looking for everything from picture books to adult literary fiction. Every 30 minutes, a different editor from a different country comes to my table (pictured here; you can also kind of see Melissa’s table to the left).

Depending on how well I know the editor and where they’re from, a meeting begins with a handshake, cheek-kiss, or hug. The practice for exchanging business cards varies by territory. Then we begin with the requisite small talk: how the fair is going, what the big books are, and sometimes more personal things if we know each other from previous fairs. I ask what’s working well for them and what they’re looking for now (though I’ve already researched that prior to the fair and have taken extensive notes), then select a handful of books I think would fit their needs and (hopefully) pitch them like there’s no tomorrow. It’s better to pitch just a few books than too many. Editors should feel like you’ve tailored your list and pitches specifically for them, their publishing house, and their market. We don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks (you could do this, and some territories are too polite to say no, but others will look at you like you’re a crazy American). 

Folio represents hundreds of titles across all genres, and at any given time it’s important to be ready to pitch most of them at the drop of a hat (yup, we read them all). A pitch can include the, well, pitch, but also the US publisher, when it publishes, any awards it’s gotten, the print run, copies sold (if it’s already published and the numbers are impressive), what countries it’s sold in and to whom, as well as information about the author. A foreign rights person has to be able to adjust pitches on the fly to suit different markets, too. You’ll pitch a book a bit differently depending on which country an editor is from, because you know what aspect of a book is going to be most important to them. We also need to shift seamlessly from pitching one genre to another, which, all told, can make you feel a little schizophrenic by the end of the day. We practice our pitches quite a bit before a fair.

In short, the Frankfurt Book Fair is sort of like trying to tap-dance while morphing between Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for a week straight. In some meetings it is appropriate to shout about the hilarious book we have involving giant, retractable duck penises, and in some, it decidedly is not. In some meetings I did a weird bird-like dance to illustrate a point; in others, I sat stoically for thirty minutes. But that’s the beauty of the fair. There’s nothing like the high you get from a string of really great meetings and successful pitches. It’s exhausting and insane, but a hell of a lot of fun.

In the next Frankfurt blog post: What happens after-hours! Trends! And more! If you have any questions about the fair, please feel free to leave them in the comments. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Who does your contracts, baby?

A savvy writers conference attendee recently asked me what questions I wish people would ask when I offer them representation, and it really got me thinking. Most writers know to ask the important questions related to the creative process: What do you like most about my book? What parts of my book do you think need work? What’s your agenting style?

These are all great questions, but signing with an agent is ultimately about much more than your manuscript. You’re interviewing someone who will be overseeing a significant part of your career, including your money. It’s a business. And while the whole making-money thing may seem like a long way away when you receive an offer of rep, it’s never too soon to start thinking about it. So what’s one question I wish writers would ask for their own benefit? Here’s an easy one: Who does your contracts?   

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that someone has an in-depth knowledge of publishing contracts just because they call themselves a literary agent. Most literary agents aren’t contracts lawyers. (Some are, and if your agent is, fantastic!) Good agents, lawyers or not, know how to read and negotiate a publishing contract because they apprenticed in the business, learned contracts 101, and have been successfully using and growing that knowledge base for years. But not all agents have the same depth of knowledge or breadth of experience with contracts. When it comes time to negotiate your first publishing contract, a rudimentary, working knowledge isn’t (or shouldn’t be) enough. Whether it’s your agent, your agent’s colleague, or an attorney, your contracts person’s expertise, experience, and reputation in the business are key to getting you the best terms possible (we’re not talking about your advance here—it’s all about the fine print).

Every agency has its own boilerplate contract with each publisher. More established agencies that have long histories of selling successful books to and negotiating good contracts with each major publisher will have stronger boilerplates at those houses. If you're with a newer agency, you need someone on staff who's experienced enough to elevate your contract from the basic boilerplate. Your agency, the way your contracts are handled, and by whom, all make a big difference in your bottom line as an author.

Some agencies retain an attorney who specializes in publishing law. (Side note: there’s nothing more annoying than when an attorney who doesn’t know anything about publishing tries to review a publishing agreement.) In this ever-changing business, publishing agreements are constantly in flux, and in my opinion, it helps immensely to have extra legal expertise in-house in addition to my colleagues’ collective decades of contracts wisdom. What does that mean for my clients? I think it means stronger contracts, which, in the long run, means more money in my clients’ pockets.

Can you get a good contract without a contracts attorney on staff or without your agent being a lawyer? Absolutely: many well-established agents without law degrees know a ton about contracts, and anyone would be lucky to have them as an agent. Should you know who handles contracts at your agency? Yes. If it’s your agent or one of your agent’s colleagues, what kind of background do they have in contracts? If they’re a newer agent, is there someone working with them to help them learn the ropes? If they’re a newer agency, do they have anyone on staff who came from a more established agency? Having a love connection over your manuscript with an offering agent is great, but when you have that phone call, don’t forget your due diligence on the business side as well.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bologna Book Fair 2013: The "Before" Post

Tonight I leave for the Bologna Book Fair, that magical place where, once a year, international publishing executives, editors, international rights managers and scouts gather together to buy, sell, and talk about rights to children’s books. It’s the big business event of the year for the children’s publishing community. There’s plenty of deal-closing, after-hours networking, and—oh, yes—pasta.

Before any of that can happen, though, there’s much work to be done. Every meeting in the Agents’ Centre, where each rights director gets her or his own table for the duration of the fair, requires meticulous advance preparation. We schedule appointments with editors from all over the world months ahead of time, and they come visit us in our little agent holding pen. (The Agents’ Centre can only be accessed by appointment and with a special pass purchased in advance; the public can’t come in. This keeps us from getting pitched by authors while we’re pitching to editors.)

I’ve received a few questions in the past about this, so I thought it might be helpful if I shared a page from my book fair bible: our rights list. This document showcases every title for which we have international rights. It includes covers, synopses, reviews, author bios, foreign sales, awards, and more, and not a day goes by in my job that I’m not updating it on some level. Here’s the amazing Erin Bow’s page: CLICK! You can see the well-deserved success of her gorgeous debut YA novel, PLAIN KATE, as well as some information about her next book, SORROW’S KNOT, which comes out this fall (and which I am so excited to take to the fair!).

Every agency’s rights list looks different. I’m really, really attached to ours, to the point that I texted a picture of them with the caption “Our babies!!” to my colleague when I picked them up from Kinko’s. (To her credit, she finds this totally normal. Because it is. Ahem.) To work in foreign rights, you have to be super type A. We have most of the information on our rights list memorized, but when you’re doing back-to-back meetings all day on very little sleep and suddenly you need to remember if that one book has been acquired in Brazil or Portugal or both, which production company optioned that other book, and how many starred reviews that last one got, your rights list has to be there, and it has to be 100% correct. There would be nothing more embarrassing than pitching a book to an editor from a territory where the book has already sold. Or forgetting the name of the book you were going to use as a comp. Or not remembering which US imprint is publishing a title. Or not being sure if you have UK rights or not. (I'm cringing just thinking about it.)

The other key element of Bologna prep is your schedule. Each of my international rights meetings gets its own page in a Word doc. It lists all the deals we’ve done with that particular publisher and its status (Have they paid? Has it published? Have they sent us the cover for author approval yet?), a history of all the books we’ve ever submitted to them and their statuses (Rejected? When? Have we received any news since then that might make them reevaluate? Or is it still under submission?), notes from past meetings we’ve had (sometimes including what the editor looks like so I remember!), and notes on books they’ve published or acquired recently. If I haven’t read the books, or if they haven’t yet been published in the US, I do some research to find out more about those projects. Knowing this in advance helps me decide which of our dozens of titles I want to focus on during the meeting.  You only have time to focus on a select few books, and it’s important to pick titles that are a good fit for that particular editor, house, and territory. With my rights list and schedule in hand, I feel well prepared to do that.

Lastly, I read all the books on our list and practice my pitches out loud. And that’s my Bologna prep in a nutshell! (Okay, there’s also a lot of pre-Bologna dress and shoe shopping. A lot.) For another take on fair prep from a really awesome rights director that's super helpful, check out Kathleen Ortiz's blog

I’m going to try to tweet throughout the fair, and I’ll do a wrap-up post when I return. Until then, I’m off to finish packing (the rights lists are so going in my carry-on). I can't wait to fly the Folio flag at Bologna -- I'm truly lucky to have so many great books to discuss!