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!

Monday, February 25, 2013

An interview with Kristen Lippert-Martin: Part II

Welcome to part II of my interview with my amazing client Kristen Lippert-Martin, author of TABULA RASA (Egmont, Fall 2014). When we last left Kristen, she had shared with us how she’d come thisclose to walking away from writing. Read on to find out where she found the inspiration to keep following her passion!

KLM: I’ll jump ahead to fall, 2008. I remember this one weekend. My (amazing, supportive, long-suffering) husband was planning to get up at O Dark Thirty to ride his bike. He and a group of other cyclists would ride their bikes fifty, sixty miles on Sunday mornings just for fun. I thought, geez, there isn’t a single thing in my life that I would willingly get up that early to do. And that struck me as kind of pathetic.

A few weeks later, I started getting up at 4:45 am to write because that was the only free time I had. And it was like this fire in the belly feeling, this burning desire to write, came back times ten. I told myself that if I was going to get back into writing I was not going to give up this time. Whatever came along, I was going to keep on swinging, until I was beaten to a bloody pulp and couldn’t get up off the mat.

And over the next three years, through all that querying and all those months on sub, I never reached the completely vanquished, bloody pulp stage. I may have gotten close a few times, but every time I got concussed, I’d think, “Typing fingers still functional? Brain still largely intact? Yes? Then get back to it.”

Truly, my greatest sense of accomplishment in all this comes from keeping that promise I made to myself. To not give up on writing, and more importantly, to not give up on me. Yes, I’m over-the-moon excited about the actual book deal (Hi, Alison! Love you!) but this is what makes me want to fist bump myself and say, “Damn, girl. You all right.”

MJ: What was the most unexpected part of your path to publication?

KLM: I guess it was realizing how very wrong I’d been about what it takes to succeed. I used to think you had to have this iron-clad ego to survive rejection but really, it’s just the opposite. More than anything else, you need humility in order to keep going. You need to humble yourself so you can listen and take in whatever lesson you can glean from the no’s you get. Assuming there is one. Sometimes a no is just a no and in those cases you have to shrug them off. But sometimes a no will force you into the corner for a good long pout and at some point, while you’re pouting away, you’ll reluctantly start to see things you couldn’t before. No’s can help you get better if you let them. Because they hurt like hell. Alas, happiness rarely yields these same opportunities for growth. I really hate that about happiness.

So, yeah, I’d say the most unexpected part has been this: I didn’t have to possess heroic levels of valor to see my way through to getting published. I just needed to be a little bit brave, a little bit each day. Just enough to put my butt in that chair to work.  

MJ: I don’t think I’ve ever heard it put that way: a little bit brave. That’s a really great way to think about it. So what’s been the best part of this journey so far?

KLM: The best part has been the collegiality of other aspiring writers. In the old days, not so long ago, there were no message forums, no websites for writers, no blogs. You worked alone and every fear you had about the uselessness of your efforts would roost like a big, fat squawky bird on your shoulder. Caaww! You suck! Caawww! You’ll never make it! Cawww! You shoulda gone to law school!  There’s nothing like finding a writer buddy who can take out a cricket bat and say, “Hold still while I give that parrot on your shoulder a good, hard smack in the beak.” Just having one person like that in your writing life makes all the freaking difference in the world. I’ve been fortunate to have one good friend in particular who has read every single terrible stinky awful story I’ve ever written. God, I should really send that woman a box of chocolates.

MJ: I’ll send her some too! She sounds invaluable. Knowing what you know now, would you have done anything differently?

KLM: I’ve been asking myself this a lot in the last year and really, I don’t know that I could have. We all have a unique road to travel, and learning curves are always hard to climb, no matter when you encounter them. My long, circuitous route has yielded a lot of good things. At one point in my life I was obsessed with getting published by the time I was 30. I put my entire life on hold trying to meet that ridiculous and arbitrary goal. All I can say is, thank GOD, I let that go. The fact that success eluded me for so long turned out to be a good thing. I have four kids now, and they are The Right and The Real in my life and probably the biggest reason I learned how to cope with the pain of disappointment in a way that I couldn’t when I was younger. Nothing teaches you how to soldier on in the face of adversity like having kids.

MJ: What are your hopes for your writing career going forward?

KLM: Weeeellllll, one thing I’ve learned in this business is to only try to control the things you can control, and that means keeping your mind and heart focused on your work. I always want to be engrossed by what I’m writing. That’s when I’m happiest, and right now, that’s where I am with my WiP. And maybe, just maybe, dearest agent, you’ll be getting to read what is currently engrossing me in just a few months.

MJ: I can’t wait! Thanks again, Kristen. Anniversary trip to Tijuana?

That’s all, folks! Readers, when it comes to your writing, how do you make yourself be a little bit brave?

Friday, February 22, 2013

Tijuana, broccoli fertilizer and the writing life: an interview with my client Kristen Lippert-Martin

Hello, dear readers! I'm pleased as punch to share the following interview with my amazing client Kristen Lippert-Martin, author of the forthcoming TABULA RASA (Egmont, Fall 2014). I think you'll be able to tell from this interview alone why I fell in love with her voice as a writer--and why everyone is going to fall in love with TABULA RASA. Read on to find out how we met, how people have reacted to her book deal news, and what she learned from her MFA program. 

MJ: Hi, Kristen! Thanks for joining me today. Did you know we’ve been working together for nearly three years now? What do you even get someone for a third anniversary? Google tells me it’s leather.

KLM: Gosh, has it really been three years? Seems like only yesterday I woke up in Tijuana handcuffed to you. I mean, what were the odds that the Mexican police would cuff us together in the same jail cell like that? I’m telling you, it was meant to be.

MJ: Yeah. I knew I had to represent you from the moment you started pitching me your book while we were cuffed back-to-back in that windowless cell with no food, water or iPhone reception for three days. I thought, wow, finally someone’s come up with a crazier place to pitch me than the bathroom.  So I fished a retainer agreement out of my back pocket using my teeth and a bent cocktail umbrella right then and there.

KLM: Every time I hear mariachi music, I think of you, Molly.

MJ: Me too. I mean, I also display symptoms of PTSD, but yeah. Anniversary celebrations aside, there’s something even bigger for us to celebrate: your first book deal! TABULA RASA, your kick-butt YA thriller, is going to be published by Egmont USA in Fall ’14. How are you feeling now that we’re a few weeks post-deal?

KLM: I’m still feeling pretty dang buoyant. Yep. I’m a veritable zeppelin of buoyancy! Look at me floating like I’m full of highly flammable hydrogen! I should probably watch out for pointy things right about now. And maybe open flames.

MJ: Good idea. So what’s the strangest reaction you’ve gotten to the news from friends and family? The best? Anything odd from strangers?

KLM: I’ll start with the best reaction, which has been, “I always knew you’d make it one day.” I mean, COME ON. That’s such a nice thing to say. And so many people have told me that.
As for strange or odd reactions, I guess I’m not the sort of person who other people say such things to. It’s because of those years I spent in NYC cultivating my “you really really do NOT want to mess with me” squint.

MJ: It’s a useful skill. I practice it daily on cabbies and the small children riding scooters in my neighborhood. Anyway, back to you. I don’t think I’ve ever met a more hardworking, dedicated author.

KLM: First, thank you for saying that. A lot of people who read my book deal post over at the blog told me they were inspired by my story. Never would I have believed that I’d become a poster child for perseverance, but I’m very proud of it.

MJ: I’m proud of you for posting it. There aren’t many authors who are willing to talk so candidly about their struggles in pursuit of publication, even though the journey is rarely quick or painless for anyone. Can you tell our lovely readers a bit about your writing history?

KLM: I know a lot of writers say they always knew they wanted to write from the time they were kids, but for me, the idea of being a writer wasn’t even in my frame of reference. I’m sure a lot of us come from backgrounds where that kind of creative life isn’t something we can begin to relate to or imagine for ourselves. To even to get to the point where I could think, hey, I might maybe kinda want to be a novelist meant climbing a mountain of unlikelihoods and doubts.

But climb I did, and through some series of miracles I got into Columbia’s MFA program. A lot of folks knock MFA programs as useless, but for me, getting my MFA was a hugely important part of my growth as a writer. Absolutely huge.

MJ: What was your biggest takeaway from the MFA program?

KLM: Well, for one thing, I realized that, yes, people actually do this crazy writing thing for a living. Wow. Who knew? Mostly, though, I learned how and when to trust my creative instincts. And when to say, yikes, this is poop. Toss it on the garden and you might get some decent broccoli in a few weeks. Good writing means making good choices over and over and over again. There are so many ways to get lost and go wrong within a story. It’s very hard to learn how to separate the good ideas from the broccoli fertilizer ones.

The down side was that after grad school, all the supports were gone, and those post-MFA years were pretty horrible. I took this slacker admin job “so I would have time and energy to write.” Yeah, that’s a great theory and all, but it sucked to feel like this massively underemployed loser. Because it’s not like I was telling anyone that I was trying to be a writer in my spare time. As far as anyone knew, I was just that surly gal who cleared the paper jams.  

After a few years of that fun, I despaired of ever being successful. I became convinced that I didn’t have IT. Whatever IT was. I decided IT was either a talent so mind-blowingly obvious that all who beheld it were immediately struck dumb in awe or, failing that, a moderate amount of talent paired with an indomitable self-belief that would allow one to endure countless, cruel rebuffs.

Ha. Right.

The fact was, back then, just one “sorry, you’re not right for us” turned me into a quavering, dejected blob, and ultimately I just couldn’t take it anymore. Of course, all these self-defeating thoughts coalesced just as child-rearing demands were kicking my butt. I don’t think I slept for four solid years, so putting writing aside was all too easy.

Now, fortunately this tale has a “BUT THEN…” or else, Molly, we would never have met in that Tijuana jail cell.

MJ: Well, thank God. 

....To be continued! I'll post part two, in which the indomitable Kristen shares how she found it in her to pick up the pen once again, on Monday.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Open Question Day!

Happy Friday, dear readers! I hereby pronounce today Open Question Day. Please feel free to post any publishing-related question you might have, from queries to signing with an agent and beyond, in the comments by 6pm EST today. I'll do my best to respond throughout the day and over the weekend. If any question requires a particularly in-depth response, I may use it as a springboard for a future blog post. Thanks for stopping by! I look forward to hearing from you.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A love letter to books that aren't exactly mine (or, why I love foreign rights)

I am not this book’s domestic agent. But I have known it since before it was a capital-B Book, and yes, every time I see it in a bookstore I smile and turn it face out. Every time I see someone reading it on the subway I want to shout, “THAT’S OUR BOOK!”, but I don’t, because 1) people don’t take kindly to shouting on the subway and 2) how would I explain to a subway passenger that I handle foreign rights to the book they’re reading?

I’ve known this book since before it was a gleam in its editor’s eye. One of my amazing colleagues came down to the back corner office, where the two Foreign Rights People live, and said, “I’m about to send out this incredible manuscript and I want to know what you FRPs think of it.” And I read it, as did my colleague, and we fell in love with it. We thought about the territories where it might sell, based on the genre, the premise, the writing. (“Germany and Brazil, for sure, probably France, Scandinavia…”) The agent asked us what we thought the UK potential was and how hard she should fight to keep those rights. She asked how much we thought we could get for the book in translation. And we crunched numbers and looked at our spreadsheets and gave her our estimate (“Not more than X here, around X here, probably a total of X across Eastern Europe over the next few years…). And she took that into account when she negotiated the US deal.

When the agent sold World English rights (meaning, she retained translation rights), we rejoiced! And we added this book to our foreign rights list, which is a guide to the books for which we have UK and/or translation rights. Each book has its own page with a synopsis, author bio, and other information that helps us pitch it to editors around the world. (I’m so fiercely protective of this list that I fear for my future children.) This book’s page would eventually showcase the great reviews and awards it received, as well as its many foreign sales. It’s been exciting to watch the page—and the list of foreign deals we’ve negotiated—grow.

We thought carefully about the timing of sending this book out into the world. We had conversations with its agent: What changes do you think the editor will want made? How closely will the manuscript you sold resemble the final book? We strategized about which version of the manuscript to submit, and how we would describe this manuscript to our co-agents, the literary agents who work with us in different territories. (We write a completely new pitch letter for each book. Books get a lot of pitch letters over their lifetimes.) Should we send it to scouts? Which ones?

I have boarded planes to pitch this book in three different countries. I’ve spent time practicing my pitch and reworking it for editors in different territories (in some, I’ll lead with impressive sales figures and awards; in others, I might start with a more personal, heartfelt approach). I’ve pitched this book as often as once every thirty minutes during eight-hour days at international book fairs. It’s made me tear up in front of total strangers. I love it so much that it’s easy to pitch.

I’ve checked my iPhone at 4am and discovered a foreign offer for this book that left me wide awake and ready to negotiate. (This happens frequently in foreign, what with time differences. If you think you might want to work in this part of publishing, you’d better be an early bird.) We’ve had this book sell at auction in some territories. I’ve loved seeing each foreign cover revealed. And my colleague and I have had the thrill of calling or emailing this book’s domestic agent with all the good news.

So even though I am not this book’s domestic agent, I feel especially close to it. It’s ours—all of ours—and it now it belongs to a global readership, too. And I love being part of the process that makes that happen. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Writer's Guide to Rocking It on Twitter

You’re a querying or soon-to-be querying writer. You’re on Twitter, doing your research, following agents and editors, carefully choosing which agents you want to query, and networking with other writers. You’re doing a lot of work to learn the ropes, and now you want to make Twitter work for you. How can you make that happen?

Like quite a few agents, I spend a bit of time sussing out potential clients on Twitter. Maybe you queried me and included your Twitter handle; maybe you didn’t include it and I Googled you. Maybe you’re not querying yet, but you followed me and I clicked through to your profile (I really do this, and I’m not alone!). While there are no hard-and-fast rules of Tweeting that are guaranteed to impress all agents, there are certainly some basics (Disclaimer: I can’t speak for all agents here, only myself). So, without further ado, I give you seven tips for writers who want to rock Twitter:

  1. Your username. If possible, pick a username that’s your real (or pen) name, or something close to it. Agents will see @Jane_Smith as much more professional than @JaneyCat523. Also, you should always be thinking ahead in your career: when your book is published, your readers are going to want to find you quickly. An intuitive Twitter handle makes it easier for readers to connect with you. (Okay, it also makes it easier for agents to find you on Twitter once you’ve queried us and we’re interested in learning more about you.)
  2. Your bio. You don’t have a lot of space, so make the most of it. You might identify primarily as a mother to three adorable kittens (aww!), but if you’re looking to be taken seriously as a writer, I wouldn’t recommend putting that first. Make sure to include the genre(s) in which you write and a link to your blog or website, if you have one. I’ve clicked through to author websites before, read about an intriguing WiP, and emailed the writer from there! If you’re a member of a writers’ organization, like the SCBWI or RWA, you might mention that. A cool identifying tidbit—it could be as crazy as “Silver medalist in curling!” or as simple as where you live—helps make it personal.    
  3. Your picture. Keep it classy. It doesn’t have to be taken by a professional photographer and you don’t have to look like a model. A simple headshot will do. Make us think “book jacket!”
  4. Your reading tweets. Tweet about books you love. It’s okay to @ authors in your tweets! They’re people too, they’ll often write back, and it’s great to get involved in the community. If you hate a book (or even a certain genre), don’t needlessly eviscerate it. These things can come back to haunt you when you’re trying to get an agent (she reps the author!), on sub (the editor offered on that book—or even acquired it!), or being published (you need a blurb, and the author and all of his/her friends found your burn online). There’s no need to lie and say you loved something when you didn’t, but don’t go out of your way to be mean. Karma, y’all.      
  5. Your writing tweets. One of the great things about Twitter is that it allows authors to share and bond over their thoughts on the writing process. You can get—and give—a lot of helpful advice. If you’re querying, though, I’d advise against tweeting about the rejections you’ve received thus far. I’m not saying that agents are like lemmings; we’re not going to reject you just because other people have. We know this business is subjective.  But we don’t want to sign someone who comes across as overwhelmingly negative. Conversely, if you received a full request from your dream agent, it’s best to keep that mum for now. First, it’s the professional thing to do. There will be many times throughout your writing career when you’ll need to keep something private, and it’s good to practice that now. Second, if I’m interested in a query and I see the author gushing online about how they’ve connected with their One True Agent, I probably won’t want to spend the hours it’ll take to read the manuscript, take notes and throw my hat into the ring.
  6. Your fun tweets. It’s perfectly fine to tweet about your personal life, of course! Just try to tweet things that are appropriate to the genre and audience for which you write. If you’re writing middle grade, you don’t need to be tweeting sex tips. If you’re writing a memoir of your time as a phone sex operator, sex tips are totally appropriate. You’re always building your brand, even before you have an agent. 
  7. A sort-of secret about how agents use Twitter. When I’m interested in a writer, I look to see which other agents they’re following. That gives me a sense of who else she might be querying, and it also makes me go ACK! I must email her now! I can’t let Agent X get this one! If agents I know are following the writer I’m interested in, that’s even more telling, because they’re probably interested, too. Several of my agent-friends have confessed to using similar tactics, by the way. So now you know. Nothing like a little friendly competition to stoke the flames!     

These tips are, of course, no substitute for a great manuscript and a killer query letter. Those always come first! A great Twitter account alone isn’t enough to get an agent, but a badly handled account can be enough to turn off an agent who might otherwise be interested in your work.  Happy Tweeting!

New Year, New Blog

I can’t think of a better time to start a new blog than in the New Year. Sure, there were other new things I thought I might try in 2013—yoga, keeping plants alive, swearing off eating in bed—but I’ve accepted that those things simply aren’t going to happen. So here I am, in hopes that this blog will enable me to connect with writers and vice versa. My goal is to provide a bit of insight into agenting, the world of foreign and other subsidiary rights, and the goings-on at Folio Literary Management, the agency I call home.

There have been some exciting new developments in Folio-land, chief among them a fabulous new colleague who is now co-heading the International Rights Department with me.  This means I’m able to spend much more time focusing on growing my domestic client list. In 2013, I’ll be requesting more manuscripts, giving more revise and resubmit notes, and looking to sign more clients in more genres (in fact, I already requested one manuscript and offered representation with the span of a week—fingers crossed!). 

I can’t wait to see what 2013 holds. I welcome comments, questions, and blog suggestions!