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!