Beware the prevailing wisdom

Since it’s Halloween, I dug up statistics to scare you today: five of the best-selling books of the twentieth century were initially refused by more than a dozen publishers who simply did not understand their market appeal. Get a load of what got turned down:

Richard Hooker’s M*A*S*H — rejected by 21 publishing houses.

Thor Heyerdahl’s KON-TIKI — rejected by 20 publishing houses.

Dr. Seuss’ first book, AND TO THINK THAT I SAW IT ON MULBERRY STREET — rejected by 23 publishing houses.

Richard Bach’s JONATHAN LIVINGSTON SEAGULL — rejected by 18 publishing houses.

Patrick Dennis’ AUNTIE MAME — rejected by 17 publishing houses.

Frightened yet? These first books were roundly rejected back when it was significantly easier to get published, too — they were all written back when the major publishing houses were still willing to read unagented work, and back before so many of the major publishing houses consolidated into just a few. With this much editorial rejection, can you imagine how difficult it would have been for any of these books to find an agent today, let alone a publisher? And yet can you even picture the publishing world without any of them?

See — we writers don’t have to dig up old ghosts to scare ourselves silly. The odds alone are enough.

At one time, all of these authors were just wannabe writers with a dream, the kind who were told not to quit their day jobs. Aren’t you glad they didn’t listen to the prevailing wisdom?

Boo! And keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Surfing in the sea of reviews

Hello, all —


In previous postings, I talked about how to track down who represents whom, so that you may address queries to the agents who represent authors whose work you like, or (even better) whose work resembles yours in some important respect. Today, I am going to talk about how to expand your querying list by reading book reviews, an inexpensive and highly effective way to identify agents with a solid recent track record of selling books in your area.


“Wait!” I hear those of you who have been paying attention to my recent postings cry. “Wouldn’t any list of books just coming out now be a reflection of what agents were selling at least a year ago, rather than now? Aren’t you always yammering about how agents live in the now, and how we should strive to be as up-to-the-minute in our research as possible?”


Why, yes, intelligent readers: you get a gold star for the day. However, keeping up-to-the-minute on who is selling what NOW pretty much requires subscribing to one of the rather expensive publishing databases, such as Publishers Marketplace, or an industry paper, such as Publishers Weekly. As a dispenser of free advice myself (free in both directions: writing these blogs is my volunteer contribution to the Pacific Northwest Writers Association, a fine organization devoted to helping all of us), I am very much in favor of highlighting any free resources that are available to writers. Most aspiring writers are already struggling to find time to write, and there is a whole industry devoted to producing seminars, conferences, books, and magazines devoted to helping all of them become better and more publishable writers. So if I can save you a few shekels, I like to do it.


And the book review method is undoubtedly cheap: if you go to a public library, you don’t even have to buy the newspaper to read book reviews. While print media book reviews almost never list the agent of a book in question (as opposed to industry advance reviews — see several posts ago — which occasionally do), reading the reviews will enable you to single out writers who are either writing for the same micro-niche you are (and the more specific you can be about that, the better, in terms of soliciting an agent) or whose style is similar to yours. Then, once you have identified the writers whose representation you covet, you can use the methods I have already discussed to track down their agents.


The book review will also tell you, by implication, how good the agent is at placing work with publishers who promote their authors’ books well. As you have undoubtedly noticed, the vast majority of books published in North America are not reviewed in the popular press; it is no longer sufficient simply to send a bound galley with a polite cover letter to a publication to get it reviewed. If you see a review in a major publication, it is because it is expected to be a big seller, is by an author already well recognized, or someone (usually the publicity department at the publishing house, but with increasing frequency, the author) has been a shameless nagger. Since even a poor review in a major publication will equal more book sales, it is very much in your interest to find an agent who is good at bullying publishers into nagging reviewers on behalf of her authors’ books.


Obviously, finding well-reviewed first-time authors in your genre should be your first goal in review-scanning, as their agents will probably be most open to your work. Once you start reading the major book reviewers, however, you will probably notice that first-time authors receive only a very small share of their notice. Personally, I would find it a bit tedious to keep on informing the world yet again that Alice Walker is talented and that J.K. Rowling has a future in children’s literature, when I could be telling the world about an exciting new author, but as I have mentioned before, I do not make the rules; I merely tell you about them.


If you have read a publication several times without finding a single author whose work sounds similar to yours, move on to another publication. And if you find it difficult to tell from the reviews whose work is like yours, take the review section of the paper to a well-stocked bookstore and start pulling books off the shelves. I’m sure that you are a good enough reader to tell in a paragraph or two if the agent who fell in love with any given book is at all likely to admire your prose stylings.


Often, though, this is not necessary, as many book reviewers rush to compare new authors to established ones, often within the first few lines: just today, I was reading a review of Stephanie Kallos’ John Irvingesque plotting. A statement like this can make it unnecessary to read the rest of the review. If your work resembles Irving’s, but you despair of hooking his agent, you would be well advised to try Kallos’. Get it?


If all of this seems like a lot of work, bear in mind the alternative: not targeting agents specifically, or, heaven help us, adopting a mass strategy where you blanket the agenting world with generic requests. Allow me to reiterate: just as trial attorneys learn not to ask questions whose answers they cannot anticipate, I, and literally every agented writer I know, have learned not to query agents who are not DEMONSTRABLY interested in our kind of writing. Sending only targeted queries can substantially reduce your rejection rate.


Especially if you have been going the mass mailing route — most agents simply ignore “Dear Agent” letters, but they genuinely do pay attention to queries that pay them the compliment of noticing that they have sold books in the past. As I have mentioned before (see my late August and early September postings), it is VASTLY to your advantage to be able to open your query letter with a clear, book-specific reference to why you have selected that particular agent: “Since you so ably represented David Guterson’s SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS, I believe that you will enjoy my book…”


Trust me on this one.


In postings to come, I shall be turning my attention from agent-finding to other aspects of the publishing process. This does not mean I am leaving the subject forever, though: if you have questions you would like answered, or agent stories you would like to share, feel free to chime in via the COMMENTS function, below. Heck, if you’re having an unusual amount of trouble finding out who represented a particular book, let me know, and I’ll see if I can help you out. (Within reason, of course; please don’t just send me your entire list.)


Keep up the good work!


– Anne Mini

The silence of the unpublished writer

Forgive my not having posted yesterday; I had just completed writing my post, when the lights went out all over my neighborhood. In retrospect, that seems symbolic: I received word this morning that my friend Marc, a genuinely gifted poet and playwright, has just died. He was only 39, and I have known him since we were both 18. And so, out of respect for him, I am going to delay my posting on how to expand your agents list and devote today to urging you to maintain faith in your own writing talent.

Marc was one of those writers whose promise was obvious to everyone early. Year after year, all throughout school, he won poetry and essay prizes; his English teachers adored him, as the kind of super-creative, insightful student who comes along only once in a blue moon; his basketball coach praised him as the ideal of a hard-working athlete with natural talent. Confident in his abilities, he never doubted that triumph would continue to follow triumph for the rest of his life.

Yet as every high school hero is shocked to learn, the rules change radically after graduation. The talents that spelled success within the sheltered confines of a private school are not automatically lauded in the world outside, and as many a crestfallen college freshman can tell you, there are always more than enough highly-praised high school Juliets on campus to fill all the roles in a college production of ROMEO AND JULIET forty times over. Big fish, welcome to the ocean; you’re not in your little pond anymore.

At Harvard, Marc was surrounded by brilliant young writers from all across the country and all around the world. His work was appreciated, because it was very good, but no longer was he the outstanding talent. While some writers might have embraced a new-found community of very talented people, Marc went the more common route: in the midst of such stellar competition, despite the fact that he was clearly able to hold his own with the best of them, he started to doubt himself. He started to wonder if he could really write.

Oh, if only we could all rewind our lives back to the point before we started to question our own talent! To before the demons of self-doubt and endless internal criticism started to nag us! How many among us have not been turned away from our computers at least once by the fear that our best was just not good enough?

Marc did keep writing, but increasingly, he kept his work to himself, thus reducing to zero the chance that it might see publication. He stopped entering contests; he stopped querying publications; his writing resume languished. Like so many aspiring writers, he began to believe that the slightest defect poisoned an entire work, so he stopped being able to incorporate good criticism. He wrote a solid first draft of an interesting novel — I know, because I’m one of the few human beings he allowed to read it. It would have been very marketable after a single revision, news that should have brought joy to his heart. Instead, after only one or two rejections from agents, he stuffed it in a drawer, never to see the light of day again.

He next turned his talents to play writing, but there, too, even the most minor criticism seemed to make his confidence wilt. Eager at first, he took attaining finalist status in a competition as evidence that he had failed. Like so many of us, he fell into the trap of expecting every word that sprang from his fingertips to be perfect without revision. It’s very seldom the case, even with the most brilliant of writers, but it’s an easy trick to play on yourself: if you were truly talented, the imp of perfectionism whispers in our ear late at night, you wouldn’t have to struggle. The world would be beating a path to your door, unasked, to read your work.

This isn’t true, of course. It is utterly impossible to sell work that you don’t send out, just as it is impossible to win contests that you don’t enter. Yet self-doubt would rather not try than to risk defeat.

Marc and I discussed his fears of sending his work out quite a bit. He was astonished that I just kept plowing ahead, regardless of rejection, until agents and editors started saying yes; having attained success so easily in the past, he was suspicious of incremental gains made through persistent effort. Yet by insisting that his own work had to be born perfect before he would allow others to see it, he made it harder and harder to get himself to sit down and write at all.

This is a very common logical conundrum for writers, one I tried to understand by incorporating an analogy gleaned from Neil Fiore’s excellent book on procrastination, THE NOW HABIT (without which, truth compels me to state, I probably would not have completed my master’s thesis). Fiore compares any major task to walking the length of a ten-foot board that is six inches wide. When the board is sitting on the ground, getting across it would be an easy task, right? Yet the procrastinator worries about crossing the board perfectly — and thus waits until conditions are perfect. As the deadline nears, it becomes clearer and clearer that the task is getting harder to do well — thus emotionally raising that board until it is stretched between two five-story buildings. Now, crossing the board is terrifying, as the stakes of failing are much more severe. What a procrastinator does to end this situation, Fiore argues, is to set fire to his own end of the board, metaphorically speaking: with absolutely no time to spare, perfection in execution does not matter nearly so much as simply scooting across the board as fast as possible.

For Marc, and for many, many writers, a similar logic applies to completing a book — or a play, or a poem, or a contest entry. They do not want just to walk across that board — they want to do so in such a memorable style that the admiring multitude will be talking about it for generations to come. With such lofty intentions, that board is not just stretched between adjacent buildings; it is wavering in the wind between the Empire State building in New York and the Transamerica pyramid in San Francisco.

No wonder it’s terrifying: effectively, every sentence the writer produces has to be the greatest since the invention of the pen. Marc, and writers like him, expect inspiration to waft them into a state of such divine creativity that all of their latent promise as artists will undergo some sort of instantaneous alchemy that produces the philosopher’s stone of writing, the book that is perfect with no revision. Then, and only then, will they believe in their hearts that they are genuinely talented.

And every single time that inspiration, as is the way with muses, comes and goes at its own sweet pleasure, the self-doubter comes to doubt his own talent more. And even when, as in Marc’s case, inspiration does hit hard enough to produce a stellar short piece, that success apparently does not count as proof: it could have been a fluke, or it wasn’t a big enough success. Or it was a short story, rather than a novel. Any excuse will do, because there is nothing more voracious than a talented person in the throes of self-doubt.

Painful? You bet. And painful to watch? Absolutely.

I am telling you this, not to criticize Marc, but in the hope that his story might help inspire those of you out there who are afraid that you’re not talented enough to start the book you’ve always dreamed of writing, or whose fears have paralyzed you into stopping in mid-draft or mid-revision to give yourselves a bit of a break. Instead of abusing yourself for not producing perfection every time you sit down at a keyboard, why not reward yourself for sitting down there at all? Instead of berating yourself for being in the midst of writing a novel for a year or two or ten, why not break the task up into manageable smaller goals, and celebrate those achievements as you reach them? There’s no better cure for self-doubt than tangible evidence of talent, and you’re more likely to convince yourself that you are indeed gifted if you don’t demand that you produce THE DIVINE COMEDY every time you sit down to write a poem.

Regardless of how talented you are.

Start small — remember, an ego is a fragile thing, and it needs to be rebuilt with care. You could start by setting time goals for your writing, logging in the minutes as you go, or set yourself a page goal for each writing session. Keep track of your successes, so later on, when you start to berate yourself for not writing as often as you should, or as much, you can look back in your log and say, “Hey! I wrote for ten hours last week!” or “Hey! I have been averaging three pages per day!” Start there, because no matter what the imps of doubt whisper in your ear, there’s never been a book written yet without the author’s sitting down day after day and writing.

So there.

If these goals seem too tiny to you, requiring too many added together to reach the goal of a completed book, remember this: prolific writer Graham Greene wrote only 147 words per day. (Which, I suspect, is why his dialogue exchanges are so short. Most of us can expend 147 words in debating where to go for lunch.) He carried around a little notebook, and (the story goes) would not allow himself his first drink of the day until after he had penned word 147. Now, I wouldn’t recommend emulating the drink part, but his strategy was basically sound: those words, few in and of themselves, added up to many very highly-respected novels.

And please start easing up on yourself soon, because there isn’t always time to change. I tell you this from experience, because I shall never be able to wipe from my mind that saddest of literary sights: a brilliant, partially-revised novel sitting in a drawer, awaiting the beneficial touch of a writer who can never come back to it again.

Keep up the good work, my friends. Your talent is worth it.

– Anne Mini

Expanding your agent list

Hello, writers!

My apologies for a terse posting today: for reasons I cannot in retrospect fathom, I spent the last two days sitting outside, overseeing a garage sale. (For readers outside the Pacific Northwest, let me fill you in on why my local compatriots are greeting this announcement with guffaws: in an area where it rains often, but seldom very hard, yesterday was a cat-soaking exception.) The result, predictably, is that today I am coughing like Camille. Since my creativity apparently resides somewhere in the vicinity of my sinuses, I must implore you to pardon my being comparatively brief today.

On Friday, I talked about how to track down the names of individual agents, once you had picked out a list of books and/or authors you would like to emulate. Today, I am going to give you tips on how to expand that list into one long enough to launch into a season-long campaign to nab yourself an agent.

The autumn is a great time to go agent-shopping. Not only are there always a lot of great new books hitting the shelves, but by doing it now, you’ll get a jump on the literally tens of thousands of aspiring authors who suddenly decide that their New Year’s resolution is going to be to query fifteen agents per month. Since the average New Year’s resolution lasts about three and a half weeks, January is when all of those resolvers’ missives hit agents’ desks. With the monumentally increased volume, agents and their assistants tend to get a might testy around then. The moral of the story: get your queries out before January. Beat the post-Christmas rush.

Once you have gone through your ten or twelve favorite living authors and tracked down their agents, where do you go next? What about checking out agents who represent authors in your demographic? For years, I made a practice of reading every first literary novel written by an American woman under 40 and published by a major publishing house. (It wasn’t hard; there were few years where more then 25 books answered that description; one year, there were only 7.) It is an excellent idea to form some idea of what agents and editors expect people in your demographic to write — just so you know, there are an awful lot of agents and editors out there who will automatically assume that ANYTHING humorous written by a young American or British woman is chick lit.

FIRST book is the operative term here: many agents prefer to work only with previously-published authors, and your chances are higher if you already know a particular agent has been successful selling a first-timer like yourself. (On average, less than 4% of the fiction published in any given year is by first-time authors.) It is considered courteous to say something nice about the book in your query letter to its agent, of course, so it’s a good idea to read the book first, but if you are in a hurry, you can’t go too wrong with something along the lines of, “As the agent who so ably represented Keanu Reeves’ BRAIN SURGERY FOR EVERYBODY, I believe you will be interested in my book…”

Now, on conscientious grounds, I really should reiterate that you ought to buy and read all of the books you are using as launching pads for query letters to agents. The world will be a better place for writers if we support one another by purchasing books by first-time authors early and often. However, books are expensive, and I know that some of you will be in too much of a hurry, so here are a few tips on how to expand your list without buying out Borders.

First, don’t wait until a book is actually published before querying its agent. Start reading the trade journals, or subscribe to Publishers Lunch. Publishers’ Weekly lists pretty much every sale to a North American publishing house, by title, author, agent, and often a one-line description of the book as well. (Many times, they will give a general indication of the advance offered as well, so you can start getting some idea of what your writing is potentially worth.) If you are a novelist, pay particular attention to the debut novels, which are often broken off into their own section. Once you have the agent’s name, it is an easy matter to look up the agency in one of the agent guides.

Since this is a situation where you could not possibly (unless you are a member of the author’s writers’ group) have read the book before querying, you need not worry about complimenting the book; by noticing the sale, you will be complimenting the AGENT. A good all-purpose opening: “Congratulations on your successful sale of BOOK X! Since you are interested in (type of book), I hope you will be interested in my book…”

By querying the agent before the book comes out, you will beat the crowd of writers who inevitably swamp the agent of any successful book. Also, your promptness will tell the agent indirectly that you are a savvy writer familiar with market trends — and you will become one, if you become a regular reader of book sales. It is surprisingly addictive, and you will quickly learn a great deal about what is and is not being sold right now. Not just what’s hot, but what is being sold with mid-list expectations.

Why is it a good idea for a writer to keep up-to-date on publishing trends? Because on average, it takes over a year for a book to hit the shelves after the contract is signed; in a sense, even a very hip bookstore is a graveyard of old contracts. What you are seeing in bookstores today, then, is not an infallible guide to what is selling NOW. Trust me on this one: agents live in the now, and you will be better off if you can address them on that level.

My cough is overpowering me, so I shall now retire to my boudoir to languish. Tomorrow’s posting will deal with the valuable agent information you can glean from book reviews.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

How to spot an agent in the wild

All right, I have clambered down from my philosophical high horse: back to practicalities. Today, I am going to take you through how to find out who represents whom, so that you can query the agents of authors whose work resembles yours. (For a discussion of why this is a good idea, see two postings ago.)

It has always surprised me that this information should be difficult to come by, but it undoubtedly is, at least without paying for access to an industry database. Many agencies do list in their blurbs in the agent guides what books they have sold recently. However, few of the guides include the authors’ names in the index, so the aspiring writer is reduced to skimming the entire book, looking for familiar names. Not terribly efficient.

Sometimes you can learn who represents an author via a simple web search, but this, too, can be very time-consuming. A standard search under the author’s name will generally pull up every review ever published about the work, every article in which the author is mentioned, and prompts to buy the book at Amazon or B & N. Wading through all of this information can be very frustrating, and does not always lead to what you need.

If you are searching for the agent who represented a specific book, it is worthwhile to check out the industry reviews that are often excerpted on the booksellers’ sites. Occasionally, the agent’s name is listed at the end of these reviews. (In case you do not know, the industry reviews are the advance press — Kirkus, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly — reviews written primarily for the benefit of retailers who are considering stocking the book. They appear considerably before the release date, and it is not unheard-of for editors to pull a book that has received a less-positive-than-anticipated advance review from the print queue, so that the book may be revised again prior to release. Print reviews, by contrast, tend to coincide with the book’s release, and are aimed at the general reading public.)

The writers-conference wisdom on the subject dictates that the best means of finding out who represents an author is to check the book itself for acknowledgments. In fact, I cannot even count the number of times that I’ve heard conference speakers advise aspiring writers to walk into a major bookstore, plop down in front of the genre-appropriate shelves, and just start making a list of every agent thanked in every well-packaged book. That way, the speakers assure us, you know that you will be dealing with agents who have made sales recently, and thus must have fairly up-to-date connections amongst editors, who are notorious for moving swiftly from one publishing house to another.

In many ways, this is good advice, but don’t be surprised if a couple of hours at Borders yields only a few names. Often, authors will thank their agents — and if not, the common wisdom goes, maybe you should think twice about that agent, anyway. (The notion that perhaps the author might merely be rude does not come up in conference discussions much.) However, with the rise of trade paper as a first-printing medium (as opposed to hardback, paperback, and pulp), fewer and fewer first-time authors are being allowed to include acknowledgments at all.

Then, too, agents are increasingly hip to the fact that aspiring writers who are neither buying nor reading their clients’ work are still sending them letters beginning, “Since so ably represented Author, X, I am sure you will be interested in my book…” To minimize the resulting avalanche of queries, many agents ask their clients NOT to include their names on the acknowledgement page, or at least not to identify them as agents. This is why you so often see a list of a dozen names loosely identified as helpers in the publishing process, rather than that standby of former days, “I’d like to thank my wonderful agent, Jan…”

Here again, the value of your time becomes an issue. As I said, the acknowledgments route is not a bad way to come up with five or ten names, but that’s really only enough for one or two rounds of simultaneous queries. Out comes my broken record again: if you are cold-querying — that is, soliciting agents whom you have not met at a writers’ conference or through personal connections — you will almost certainly add months, if not years, to your agent-finding process by querying them one at a time. It is not uncommon for cold-querying authors to try a hundred or more agencies before striking lucky. Unless an agency lists SPECIFICALLY in its agent guide listings that it will not consider simultaneous submissions, you will offend no one by respecting your own time enough to send out to many agents at once.

Take my advice: divide your list into reasonable increments — say, 5-8 names at a time; any more, and it will become hard to craft individually-specific query letters for each — and send your queries out in batches. (Do not, however, take your quest for efficiency so far that you resort to generic “Dear Sir/Madam” or “Dear Agent” letters. These almost always are rejected unread.) When a rejection comes back, immediately send a new one to the next agent on your list; I always advise my editing clients to send a new query on the same day, in order to prevent themselves from wasting energy sitting around and stewing about the rejection. Keep impeccable records, of course, but try to keep 5-8 queries out and circulating at all times.

So how is a clever writer without a lot of time to generate a list of 40-50 agents in order to launch upon such a strategy? Well, there are several websites that will provide you with access to agent databases for a fee. Usually, you ostensibly join a sort of club, and one of the perqs of membership is database access. Almost invariably, you buy membership in time increments, rather than per-use.

I use the Publishers Marketplace database, which has a very straightforward WHO REPRESENTS function, very easy to use. You can also track individual agents, to see whom they represent and what they have sold in the last few years. If you sign up for the for-pay Publishers Lunch e-mailings (which isn’t a bad idea, as pretty much everyone in the industry reads it; it’s a great way to get a basic idea of how the biz works and how swiftly publishing fads change without a major time investment), you will gain access to this database. There is, I understand, a free version of Pub Lunch, but you don’t get updates so frequently, nor do you gain database access.

PM charges month-to-month, so if you are strapped for cash, you could easily generate a list of authors, join for a month, search to your little heart’s content, then cancel. Or you could corral a few of your writer friends to go in on a subscription with you.

Even then, you might find it a little spendy. Before you dismiss the idea of spending money on database access, do sit down and figure out how much your time is worth, because the practically-free method of acquiring the same information that I am about to suggest is so time-consuming that $20/month may start to look more reasonable.

The sale of a book is a matter of public record, and as such, publishers must provide information about who represented the author to anyone who asks. Pick a book, call the publisher (there is often a number listed in the book, to facilitate further book sales), and ask to speak to the publicity department. You may encounter some incredulity once you reach a publicist, but do not let that deter you: ask who the agent of record was for the book.

See why I thought you might find it too time-consuming?

Next week, I shall talk about how to generate leads for agents, after you have queried those who represent your favorite authors and exhausted your personal leads and conference sightings. I know that it is tempting just to start querying every agent who seems remotely interested in your genre, but believe me, that’s neither efficient nor necessary. One well-targeted query can do far more good than ten random ones.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The perception of time

I know I promised you a practical posting today, on how to track down who represents whom, but I am feeling philosophical at the moment. Blame it on a call from an old friend, but today I want to write about the writer’s perception of time.

Have you ever noticed how writers who have finished a book speak and even think about the time spent writing as though it had been endless? Barefoot walks across the Sahara have taken less time, to hear us tell it. Even I, who wrote a memoir that necessarily dredged up some very tender memories in less than a year and a half, first idea to final comma, tend to describe the actual writing process as though it took years upon years. I heard myself do it twice today, and it made me wonder: is it because writing a book ages the writer at an unusual rate of speed, much as moving at the speed of light would make us age backwards, or am I and my writing colleagues, to put it colloquially, whiny wimps?

My theory is that most of us exaggerate the time spent writing that first book in order to try to convey to non-writers just how big a chunk of our mind, energy, and soul has gotten sucked into that all-too-often thankless project. And after writing it, sacre bleu! the time and anguish to find an agent for it! And then to sell it to a publisher! I think that in our heart of hearts, we want all of those hours to be apparent to outside observers, so that they may be impressed — while, of course, maintaining that writerly fiction that we are such geniuses that our work is invariably perfect on the first draft.

The hours of work, like it or not, are NOT readily apparent to outsiders. I write comedy, and I can tell you from experience that most non-writers think jokes flow off my fingertips at the speed of conversation; tell a non-writer that you spent a decade writing a novel, and half the time, he will automatically assume that you are lazy. This drives me nuts.

Am I the only writer in existence whose friends have no idea how she spends her day? For most people, the idea of spending hours alone with their thoughts on a regular basis is unfathomable. With painters and sculptors and other kinds of artists, it is at least self-evident to outsiders HOW they spend their time, but writers, alas, are not so lucky. Even when our kith and kin catch us in the act, all they really see are hands moving across a keyboard or eyes staring into space.

Thus, I think, the extraordinarily high value we writers place on the end product. It is something tangible we can show to people, physical proof that during all of those hours, we were actually DOING something.

Finally, I have found another line of work with a similar pattern: years of unrecognized work only being retroactively validated by the end product. An old friend from college, a mathematician by trade, called me today to catch up. Naturally, I told him about my book that is coming out in a few months (A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK; check it out on Amazon and/or B & N), and I heard myself perform that writerly expansion of time, making the writing process sound interminable.

Turns out I had mistaken my audience. Mathematicians, he tells me, often spend ten or twenty years on a single problem; there are proofs he does not expect to see solved in his lifetime. Physicists, too, routinely linger this long in thought: did you think someone just woke up one day and imagined the quark?

Granted, when mathematicians and physicists crack the big problems, they tend to be rewarded lavishly, with hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nobel Prizes, and similar trinkets. But imagine spending all of that time figuring something out, all the while wondering if someone else is going to solve your equation first. All the while waiting for recognition that can only come after years of hard, patient, lonely work, on a project that may never succeed.

Wait a minute — we’re writers! We don’t have to imagine it; we live it. While a few among us will ultimately be rewarded with lots of money (or, possibly, even the Nobel Prize), the vast majority of us will not. And yet, bless us, still we put in the hours, the years, for the same reason that the mathematicians and physicists do: we want to contribute something new to human thought. We want to explain humanity to itself.

I think that’s pretty terrific of us, really. What a nice thing to do for the world. I think we get a bad rap.

No wonder time seems long to us, with such lofty aspirations. I was reading the other day about a writer — a very, very good one, actually — who wrote for years before she became an overnight success at the age of 36. That may seem young for success as a writer, by current standards, but she wrote her first full novel at 22; it was not published until 14 years later. She did manage to sell another novel, to a reputable publisher — she completed it at 24, but it took her five years to sell it — but he paid her only the tiniest of advances. Maddeningly, the publisher ended up holding onto the second book for the rest of her life, publishing it only AFTER her subsequent books had attained significant success.

The author, as some of you may have guessed, was Jane Austen. The first book was SENSE AND SENSIBILITY; the second, the one held hostage by the silly publisher until after her death, was NORTHANGER ABBEY.

Try to remember this, the next time you find yourself feeling that the time between you and publication is apparently endless, in defiance of all the laws of physics. Remember this, whenever you are tempted by non-artistic logic to view difficulty in getting a book published as a sure indicator of low writing quality. Would any reader now say that SENSE AND SENSIBILITY was so poorly written that it deserved to be waitlisted for 14 years?

Let’s hear it for all of us who keep working in the quiet of our solitary rooms. Don’t let anyone tell you that finishing a book isn’t a significant achievement, regardless of the response of the publishing world. If people ask you what you DO in all of those hours sitting at your desk, tell them that you are emulating your Aunt Jane, trying to make time compress and shed a little light on the world.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Querying the agents of others

Have you missed me? Did you think I had traipsed off to Frankfurt with the rest of the book world? (For those of you who don’t know, this week is the Frankfurt Book Fair, an event that drains the NYC publishing world of many of its decision-makers annually at the end of October. It’s only a week, but hey, if you’ve already hopped the pond, why not take a look around while you’re there?) No such luck, although my editor is probably donning lederhosen as I write this — and everything has come to the predictable grinding halt, book-wise. Not a whole lot going on this week at any of the big houses.

Out comes the broken record: since many, many agents attend the Frankfurt fair, expect their desks to be piled high with backlog for the next few weeks. Delays inevitably ensue.

No, I have spent the last couple of days in one of those scarifying continuing education classes that make you want to track down every GOOD teacher you ever had and give her a box of chocolates while you sob out your thanks. Heaven save us all from uninsipired teaching under flickering florescent lights.

Today, as promised, I am going to talk about how to find an agent. Not in the traditional sense of figuring out who is who in the agent guides, but in the strategic sense of targeting agents who represents writing like yours.

We’ve all heard the advice to query our favorite authors’ agents, but if those writers are well-known and/or award winners, their agents may not be altogether keen on picking up the unpublished. Chances are, too, that the agent representing a major author now is not the one who first took a flier on him as an unknown. Well-established authors often move up to more important agents as they gain prestige, so by the time that a Pulitzer Prize-winner like Alice Walker ends up at the Wendy Weil agency, she may have traded up two or three times. Or, like John Irving, he may have married his agent (Janet Turnbull Irving of the Turnbull Agency).

My point is, these authors’ prestige was probably the key that opened the door to the top-flight agencies, rather than beginning-of-the-career raw talent. By all means, check an agent guide to see if your favorite bigwig author’s agent is even accepting new clients, but do be aware that Writers House sees a LOT of queries that begin, “Since you represent Ken Follettâ…” Recall, too, that an agent who represents a bigwig necessarily spends quite a bit of time catering to the bigwig’s business. In short, setting your heart on your favorite bestseller’s agent may not be the best use of your time and energy.

Where the “Since you so ably represent Author X, I believe you will be interested in my work…” gambit will serve you well is with lesser-known writers. Many agents are nurturing a pet author or two, someone whose books sell only a few thousand copies, but will be breaking into mainstream success any day now. Where recognition is scant, any praise is trebly welcome, so the clever writer who is the first (or tenth) to identify the up-and-coming writer as the reason for picking the agent is conveying a subtle compliment to eyes hungry to see it. The agent (or assistant) often thinks, “My, here is a discerning person. Perhaps I should give her writing a chance.”

A couple of words of warning about using this strategy: it’s dangerous to use the names of writers whose work you do not like as entry cards, and downright perilous to use the names of writers whose work you do not know. Assume that, at some point, you will be having a conversation with the agent about the author whose work you praised. The more obscure the author, the more likely this conversation is to happen. If you hate the prose stylings of Alan Hollinghurst (whose work I love; he’s represented by Emma Parry of Fletcher & Parry), or if you have never read any Dorothy Allison (Frances Golden Agency), it’s probably not the best idea to present yourself as an enthusiast to their respective agents, or indeed to anyone who knows their work very well.

Nor should you imply, even indirectly, that the writer you are citing SENT you to her agent, unless it is true. Aspiring writers do this all the time; it’s a well enough known dodge that agents routinely ask their clients, “Hey, what can you tell me about this writer?” If you do indeed have a recommendation, great. (And in terms of pure ethics, I think that a famous writer’s telling you at a conference, “Gee, you should talk to my agent,” constitutes a recommendation.) If you do not, however, do not tempt fate.

The “Since you so ably represent Author X…” technique works best, naturally, when the querying writer’s work bears some striking resemblance to that of the cited author. I wouldn’t advise hitting up David Sedaris’ agent (Don Congdon) with ultra-serious literary fiction, any more than I would send a rollicking comedy to Annie Proulx’s (Liz Darhansoff) or hard-right political analysis to Michael Moore’s (Mort Janklow). However, if your well-read friends and trusted first readers say, “Hey, has anyone ever told you that you write like Francine Prose?” it’s worth checking to see if Francine Prose’s agent (Denise Shannon) is accepting new clients. (If you missed my lecture on why best friends, family members, and lovers are NOT the best givers of feedback, see my post of September 21; it can save you a lot of grief, in the long run.)

Do be careful, though, how you present yourself: it pains me to say it, but the vast majority of agents will simply cast aside a query that quotes someone they have never heard of praising the book being offered. Avoid saying, “My writing teacher says this is the best book since BLEAK HOUSE,” or “A friend told me that I write just like Nora Roberts.” (Both of these are quotes from actual query letters, incidentally. Neither of them worked.) Nor will hedging your bets by vague statements like, “It’s been said that my book reads just like THE DA VINCI CODE” win you friends and influence agents. Such statements are far more likely to annoy than impress.

If you can legitimately say, “Colin Powell says my memoir, LUST FOR WAR, is the best war story since ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT,” by all means say it. But make sure that the person you are quoting is well-known (or well-known to the agent you are querying) AND that the quote is truthful. (You’d be amazed — at least I hope you would — at how many queriers gratuitously quote the famous without their permission, on the theory that the agent will never check.) But, hey, if you can justifiably say that Kurt Vonnegut wept over your text, place that information in the first line of your query letter — whether you are querying his agent (Knox Burger of Harold Ober Associates) or not. It’s too valuable a commendation not to use.

Do not give in to the temptation of quoting out of context, however. Years ago, when I was in grad school, I took a seminar with Saul Bellow. I still have the term paper on which he wrote, “You are a very engaging writer.” Oh, how easy it would have been to present that quote as though he had said it about my first novel! I am morbidly honest, however, and so have kept that luscious little blurb to myself ever since.

Tomorrow, I shall go into how to track down who represents whom, as the standard advice on the subject is not particularly helpful. As you may have guessed from the ease with which I was able to add who represented whom in this post, there is a trick to it, like so many things in the publishing world.

In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S.: Just so you know, I shall most likely be leaving this site within the next month, just as soon as I can get my website operational. My better-heeled writing buddies have been nagging me, and deservedly, for devoting this much time to a blog owned by others. Don’t worry — my blog will not disappear into the ether; it will merely move to where I, and not an organization, get credit for my writing. Details follow when I know them myself.

Does size matter?

Dearly beloved:


Today, I am resuming my series of posts on agencies with a discussion on the merits of big ones vs. small ones. I am certainly not the first to write on this topic, nor, I suspect, the last. Writers’ periodicals seem to have an especial fondness for the issue, so much so that I sometimes wonder if a visiting alien picking up a writers’ magazine would not automatically assume that every writer in America chooses representation based upon size alone.


It’s a big country, the alien might reason. They like EVERYTHING big.


However, a big agency is not necessarily the right choice for everybody. As the client of a large agency, you do enjoy many benefits: the prestige of signing with a recognized name, more support staff to answer your questions (or not), and often more collective experience upon which you can draw. Just as with a well-known agent, you are working with a known quantity, with verifiable connections.


With a new agency or new agent, it can be hard to assess connection claims until a track record of sales has been established. Sometimes, the hungry can be excellent gambles — if your book sells quickly and/or well, you can be the favorite steed in the shiny, new stable. Before that (and often after), a hungry agent often offers services that a bigger agency or a busier agent might not provide. Extensive free editing, for instance. (If you missed yesterday’s post on fee-charging agents, read it before you discount the value of such an offer.) Intensive coaching through rewrites. Bolstering the always-tenuous authorial ego. If you are a writer who wants a lot of personal attention from an agent, the less busy agent might well be the way to go.


Remember the question I asked a few posts ago: what do you want from your agent? Consider very, very carefully how important personal contact is to you, because if this relationship works out, you will be living with your decision for a very long time. Will you go nuts if a month goes by silently while an editor has your manuscript? Would you be happy with the occasional e-mail to answer your questions or keep you updated, or would you prefer telephone calls. Do you want to hear the feedback of editors who have rejected your work, so you can revise accordingly, or would you rather get through as many submissions as quickly as possible? All of these are very much dependent upon how busy the agent is, and what kind of demands the agency places upon her time.


Generally speaking, the bigger the agency, the busier the agent, which can seem a bit counter-intuitive. Big agencies have greater resources for support staff, whereas in a small agency (or with a stand-alone agent) the agents may be doing support work as well; it would make sense if the small agency agents were busier. However, nowhere is the old adage “tasks expand in direct proportion to the time available to perform them” more evident than in the publishing industry: as an agent becomes more important, he takes on more clients. Big equals powerful here.


There are exceptions to this rule, of course. A few “boutique agencies” that deliberately keep themselves small in order to occupy a very specific niche, but it is rare. There’s no missing these agencies — they ALWAYS identify themselves as boutique in their blurbs, lest anyone mistakenly think that they were small because they were unsuccessful. Often, they sharply limit the proportion of unpublished writers that they will represent, or do not represent the unpublished at all. They do, however, tend to lavish attention upon the few they select.


As do, admittedly, some agents at major agencies, but do bear in mind that no matter who represents you, no matter how much your agent loves your work, you will be only ONE of the authors on the agent’s list. Time is not infinitely flexible, despite anyone’s best intentions. Before you commit to a big agency or a major agent, ask yourself: do I really want to be someone’s 101rst client?


This sounds like a flippant question, but actually, it is a very practical one, and one that speaks very directly to your personal level of security about your work. Big agencies and important agents have made their names, generally speaking, on high-ticket clients; often, that high-recognition client is why aspiring writers covet their representation skills. However, it takes time to cater to a bigwig client: I once had a lovely chat with a past president of AAR who handled one of the biggest mystery writers in the biz; apart from handling her book negotiations, he told me, he also spent a week a year with her in a mountain retreat — not skiing, but micro-editing her next work to make its market appeal as broad as possible.


Before you float off into fantasies about being successful enough to command your own personal slave editor and/or mountain lodge, stop and think about the implications of being one of this agent’s OTHER clients. That’s a week a year when he is not available to pay even the vaguest attention to the needs of Clients 2 — 143. So who do you think ends up handling those other clients’ concerns? That’s right: not the bigwig agent at all, but his I’m-working-my-way-up-the-ladder assistant. Who, I have it on reliable authority, is somewhat overworked.


Which raises an interesting question: if a writer is actually dealing most of the time with the agent’s assistant, rather than the agent, with whom is the long-term, mutually beneficial interaction occurring?


Still, you cannot deny the appeal of the contacts and oomph of a big agency, even if you are not represented by the most important agent in it. Personally, I am represented by a big agency, one that handles more than 300 clients (and very well, too, in my opinion). How much of a difference does it make, on a practical level? Well, do you remember last month, when I was talking about how ALL nonfiction book proposals are presented to agents and editors in conservative dark blue or black folders, because a unique presentation is generally regarded as an indicator of a lack of professionalism?


My agency is influential enough to present its clients’ proposals in GRAY folders.


Yes, yes, I am very lucky, and people in the industry recognize that. When I was deciding between agents, I attended a small writers’ conference in Montana, one of those gloriously intimate ones where perhaps only one agent attends, but you can talk with her for an hour. Since I already had several irons on the fire, I did not approach the agent du jour, except to introduce a writer who I thought would interest her (I’m notorious for doing this; writers are often too shy to introduce themselves). By the end of the conference, the agent had heard that I’d won the PNWA award, and her curiosity piqued, she sought me out to see if I had signed with anyone yet. A couple of minutes into her pitch, I mentioned who I was deciding between, and the agent instantly deflated. “Oh,” she said. “We’re talking THAT league.”


As I said, I have been very lucky: winning the PNWA contest got me a hearing with many agents in THAT league. (In the unlikely event that I am being too subtle here: ENTER THE CONTEST!) I have also been lucky in that while I enjoy the benefits of a large agency, my agent has the time to answer my questions and talk with me about my future and current writing: whether our quite-frequent contact is primarily the result of our respectively scintillating personalities or the roller-coaster ride my memoir has been taking on the way to publication, I leave you to speculate. I suspect that I am taking up disproportionate amounts of her time, amongst her many clients, and am writing furiously on my next book to make it worth her while.


Which brings me back to a point I made a few postings ago: it honestly is a good idea to try to get some sense of who your agent is, beyond the cold statistics of her clients’ sales, before you sign. You don’t have to attend very many conferences before you meet your first hungry new agent, willing to promise the moon, nor to meet your first 100-client bigwig. There are a lot of alternatives in between, but the only way you are going to find your best fit is to give some hard thought to what you want and ask good questions until you figure out if the agent who wants you is in fact the best choice for you and your work.


In my next post, I shall talk about how to decide which agents to approach, beyond simply opening up a standard agent guide at random, sticking a pin in a page, and querying the agency with a hole in its description. Like most parts of the long endurance test that leads to publication, there are a few shortcuts I think you should know.


In the meantime, have a lovely weekend, and as always, keep up the good work!


– Anne Mini

What’s in a name?

Hello, dear readers —


I’ve been holding a client’s hand (she says hello, by the way) for the last two days while she struggles to come to terms with her publisher’s throwing out her (quite good) title for her novel. Yes, I know that the subject of the week is agents, but her plight reminded me to pass along something I have been meaning to tell you about the post-contract world: contrary to popular belief and writerly preference, authors seldom get to name their own works; we’re seldom even invited to the baby’s christening, metaphorically speaking. And for the author, the shock of seeing her own work branded with a new title can be very keen.


Since some of you are, I hope, going to be picked up by agents and sell your books to editors this fall, I think the time is now ripe to speak of titles, and the author’s relationship to them in the current publishing environment. Simply speaking, they’re like the names given to a newborn kitten: the tyke may have been a perfect Cuddles in her infancy, but as an adult, she is probably going to transmogrify at some point into a Chelsea.


As we all know, titles are crucially important to the success of a book. A good title intrigues potential readers: it has good meter, isn’t a cliché (and don’t we all wish the people who title movies understood THAT?), and feels good in the mouth. It is memorable, catchy, and ideally, has something to do with the content and/or tone of the book. Knowing this, if you are like most authors, you have probably spent months or even years agonizing over whether the title you have selected for your baby is the right one.


Please do not be too disappointed if the title you picked is not be the one that ends up on the published book cover. The author’s choice seldom is.


This is not, I’m told, a reflection upon writers’ ability to tell readers succinctly what their books are about so much as a practical demonstration that marketers control many ostensibly creative decisions. Even great titles hit the dust all the time, because they are too similar to other books currently on the market or don’t contain catchphrases that will resonate with the target market or even just don’t please the people who happen to be sitting in the room when the titling decision is made.


In fact, editorial rumor has it that many marketing departments will automatically reject any title offered by the author, on general principle, no matter how good or how apt it may be, in order to put the publishing house’s stamp upon the book. I don’t know how true this rumor is, but I can tell you for an absolute certainty that if your publisher retitles your book, literally everyone at the publishing house will think you are unreasonable to mind at all.


I’ve seen it happen too many times.


My memoir was originally titled IS THAT YOU, PUMPKIN?, but I certainly did not expect it to stick. As a freelance editor and friend of literally hundreds of aspiring writers, I have held a lot of weeping authors’ hands in the aftermath of their titles being ruthlessly changed from above. I was expecting my title to be changed, and frankly, I was not expecting to be consulted about it. I am, after all, not a person with a marketing degree, but a writer and editor. I know a good title when I see one, but I cannot legitimately claim to know why one book will make its way up to the cash register while the one next to it won’t. I was prepared, then, to be humble and bow to the inevitable. I was prepared to be spectacularly reasonable.


This compliant attitude, I am sorry to report, was not adequate to deal with the situation. I could have been as chipper as Shirley Temple in tap-dancing shoes and as willing to change my habits as a first-time dieter, and it still would not have been enough.


As it happens, outside forces intervened, sealing my fate. Philip’s work is, as you may already be aware, currently popular with moviemakers: one of the selling points of my memoir was that two movies based upon his works were scheduled to come out within the next year and a half: A SCANNER DARKLY in the fall of 2005 and THE GOLDEN MAN in the summer of 2006. Only, movie schedules being what they are and animation being time-consuming, A SCANNER DARKLY’s release date got pushed back to March, 2006. And THE GOLDEN MAN (retitled NEXT) was pushed back to 2007


This could not have been better news to the folks sitting in marketing meetings, talking about my book. IS THAT YOU, PUMPKIN? was already scheduled to be published in the winter of 2006. In the blink of an eye, my nebulous publication date gelled into almost instantaneous firmness, and the marketing department decided within the course of a single meeting to change the title of my book to A FAMILY DARKLY, presumably to make it reminiscent of SCANNER.


“Interesting,” I said cautiously when my editor first told me that my baby had been rechristened while I was looking the other way. “Um, do you mind if I ask what A FAMILY DARKLY means?”


Thereupon followed much scintillating discussion — and no, I still haven’t found out what it means, or why it was deemed necessary to throw the rules of grammar to the winds. Suffice it to say that both sides set forth their arguments; mine were deemed too “academic” (meaning that I hold an earned doctorate from a major research university, which apparently renders my opinion on what motivates book buyers, if not actually valueless, at any rate very amusing indeed to marketing types), and the title remained changed.


“Why,” I hear my generous and empathetic readers asking, “did they bother to discuss it with you at all, if they had already made up their minds?”


An excellent question, and one that richly deserves an answer; half the published writers I know have wailed this very question skyward repeatedly after their titles were summarily changed by their publishers. I believe that the answer lies in the field of psychology. Because, you see, when a brand-new title is imposed upon a book, the publishers don’t just want the author to go along with it: they want the author to LIKE it. And if the title goes through several permutations, they want the author to be more enthusiastic about the final change than about the first one.


Get out those tap-dancing shoes, Shirley.


Furthermore, your enthusiasm is, if you please, to be instantaneous, despite the fact that if the marketing department (who, in all probability, will not have read your book by the time the title decision is made) is mistaken about the market value of the new title, the author is invariably blamed. (Think about it: haven’t you always held your favorite writers responsible if their new books have silly monikers?) Oh, and unless your contract states specifically that you have veto power over the title, you’re going to lose the fight hands down, even if you don’t suffer the handicap of postgraduate degrees.


This is not the kind of frustration you can complain about to your writing friends, either. You will see it in their eyes, even if they are too polite to say it out loud: you have a publishing contract, and you’re COMPLAINING?


Thus, the hapless author gets it from both sides: you’re an uncooperative, unrealistic, market-ignorant mule to your publishers, and you’re a self-centered, quibbling deal-blower to your friends. All anyone can agree about is that you are ungrateful beyond human example.


I wish I could report that I had found a clever way to navigate past this Scylla and Charybdis, but I have not, nor has any author I know. The best you can hope to be, when your time comes, is polite and professional. And a damned good tap-dancer.


I guess, in the end, all the writer can do is accept that some things, like the weather and the titles of her own books, are simply beyond her control, now and forever, amen. For my next book, I’m going to give it my SECOND-best title, and reserve my first for the inevitable discussion with the marketing folks.


Keep up the good work!


– Anne Mini

Fee-charging agencies — and agencies that charge fees

If you have read virtually any guide to North American agents, you will have learned that there are two types of agents: fee-charging and non-fee-charging. Most of the agents found in guides are non-fee-charging, which is to say that the agency depends for income upon sales of its client authors’ work. Fee-charging agents, however, charge writers for feedback and/or representation, and thus often subsist not upon a cut of their authors’ royalties, but upon direct payments from writers.

As you may have noticed from the agent guides, fee-charging agencies tend to be frowned upon in the industry: if an agent cannot make a living purely through promoting its authors, maybe he should be seeking another line of work. In a way, though, this assessment is not fair. In a tight writing market, it can take quite some time for an agent to build up the contacts necessary to sell books rapidly; many new literary agencies go under after just a couple of years. (If you don’t believe me about the amazingly high turnover rate amongst agents, take your most up-to-date agent guide, go to a local library, and check out an earlier editor, say three or four years old. Randomly select ten agents from the old guide — not agency owners, just agents — and try to find them in the new guide. Were you able to find more than half?) To a struggling agent, the masses of frustrated, unrepresented writers out there yearning for attention might well look like a very tempting source of income.

Sad but true, one of the primary byproducts of the increased difficulty in gaining literary recognition has been a whole industry that serves the ostensible needs of the struggling writer. Agent guides. How-to manuals. Books on how to become a better novelist, written by people who have never written a novel. Classes. Magazines. Weekend seminars. Even my own field, freelance editing. We’ve all heard the hype: learn the secrets here of succeeding in the publishing world! Don’t miss out! You can’t ever succeed unless you buy this book!

There is no denying it: a tough market makes writers willing, even eager, to shell out big bucks to anyone who seems to be promising a quicker road to publication. Some are helpful, some are not: let the writer beware, especially of people who claim to GUARANTEE publication if you buy their products or services; a reputable provider of services to writers will be the first to tell you that there are no guarantees in this business, only probabilities.

To be fair, there are fee-charging agents who do make major sales, and most of them are far more willing to read entire manuscripts than non-fee-charging agents. Just make sure that you know in advance with which kind you are dealing, to avoid disappointment and unexpected bills. As a general rule, fee-charging agents are listed separately from non-fee-charging agents in the agents’ guides, so it is fairly easy to tell them apart. To be listed as non-fee-charging in one of the standard guides, an agency must generate more than 98% of its fees from commissions, which is to say from 15% of their authors’ royalties.

The most straightforward kind of fee-charging agent will tell authors up front that there is a cost associated with sending them a manuscript. Called a reading fee, the cost can run from $25 to $500. A higher price tag, alas, is seldom a guarantee of either eventual representation or more substantial feedback, or indeed of any feedback at all: what the writer is buying here is simply the agent’s reading the manuscript and considering whether to sign the author, not advice on how to make the book more marketable. This is, I should point out, a service that non-fee-charging agents provide for free, when they are interested in a manuscript. Fee-charging agents, however, tend to be open to a broader array of manuscripts.

With few exceptions, the reading fee is nonrefundable, so do make sure that you understand clearly what you are being offered in exchange for your money. Use the same judgment you would use for any other agent. If your work is similar to someone the fee-charging agent already represents, it might well be worth your while to submit a manuscript. If not, try non-fee-charging agents who represent work like yours first.

There are agents who are technically non-fee-charging agents (i.e., they do not charge for an initial read) who nevertheless ask potential (and sometimes even current) clients fees. These agents respond enthusiastically to a query letter, ask to see the manuscript, THEN ask for a critique fee in order to get the manuscript ready for publication. As with a reading fee, do be aware that paying a critique fee does not necessarily guarantee that the agent will sign you. All it guarantees is that you will get feedback on your manuscript.

A request for a critique fee should not automatically put you off a potential agent, but it should prompt you to ask some questions, such as how much of the agency’s income is generated by critique fees, rather than by commissions. Some critique fee-charging agents do make good sales, but bear in mind that an agent who spends a significant proportion of his time critiquing the work of potential clients must necessarily spend a lower percentage of his time selling the work of his existing clients.

Also, be aware that the quality (and quantity) of commentary varies widely amongst agents who charge critique fees. If the critique fee is low and the agent has sold many books in your market niche, it might be worth your while, especially if the agent has told you up front what specific areas she believes require work. However, an agent’s feedback carries weight that, say, a writing group’s does not. Before you invest significant amounts of time in following the advice you receive in return for a critique fee, do your research, to make sure that the critiquing agent does indeed have a good grasp of your market. Checking the Publishers Marketplace database to see if she has sold anything like it within the last two years would be a good place to start.

Another type of down-the-line fee involves agents referring querying authors to a specific book doctor or freelance editor. I’m not talking about their giving a general piece of advice after reading a manuscript, along the lines of “Gee, this could really use some professional editing” here, but about agencies that either sell their query lists to editing companies or who include an editor’s brochure as part of their rejection packet in exchange for a commission.

Often, such agencies will have asked the writer to send an entire manuscript before suggesting the book doctor, which can make the referral seem very credible. The implication is, of course, that if the author hires that specific editor, the agent will offer representation at a later date, but these agencies seldom put that in writing. No matter how complimentary a referring agent is about your work, this is still a rejection, and you should regard it as such.

I find this practice ethically questionable, because it plays on the author’s worst fears and insecurities. When such a recommendation is made by an agent who allegedly knows the market, about a manuscript that he has ostensibly read carefully, it sounds like well-informed advice. But think about it: how do you know that the agent DID read the manuscript carefully, or at all, before making the recommendation? Perhaps the agent automatically refers EVERY manuscript he rejects to that editing agency. Perhaps he gets a kickback for each writer he refers.

How can you avoid getting caught up in this type of disappointment? Check for membership in the AAR(Association of Authors’Representatives), which prohibits its members from charging reading fees; most agent guides list such memberships. Similarly, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) does not allow member agents to charge its members reading fees — which usually translates into not charging any potential clients reading fees at all. If you receive a fee request from an agent who lists membership in one of these organizations, report it to the organization immediately.

Many AAR and WGA agents do charge their clients for photocopying, postage, courier fees, and occasionally even long-distance calls, although this last practice has declined as long-distance calls have become cheaper. If your agency does so, it should be spelled out in your representation contract, and you should discuss it with your potential agent first. Often, these costs are deducted from your first advance check, but some agencies ask for some money up front; if you’re asked for hundreds of dollars, start asking very pointed questions. If the charges seem excessive, ask if you can make your own photocopies and mail them to the agency.

My point here is that you should be every bit as careful in dealing with a fee-charging agency as you would be in dealing with a freelance editor; there are good ones, and there are bad ones. Ask a whole lot of questions before you plunk down your cash, and make sure that you know what you will be getting in exchange.

And do be aware that despite the burgeoning market of products and services available to the up-and-coming writer, it is possible to navigate these waters on the cheap. A good writers’ group can provide you excellent feedback for free; libraries tend to stock the newest writing books rather quickly, and it only costs you time and effort to research agents. It may well be worth it to you to pay a freelance editor, rather than investing a year in a writing group to get feedback on your book, or to take a reputable weekend seminar on how to polish your novel, rather than reading all of the books available on the subject. It’s up to you. But for heaven’s sake, make it a conscious choice, not one unduly influenced by hype or the elusive hope of jumping the queue.

And, as always, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Cultivating patience

Hello, again —

As you may have noticed over the last few postings, I have been trying to burst one of the most common unrepresented writers’ preconceptions about signing with an agent: the notion that the hard work and months of waiting stops the moment that the representation contract is signed. It’s counterintuitive, now that agents expect prospective clients to send them fully-polished and print-ready manuscripts and market-ready book proposals, that the workload and time expended AFTER signing should not have compressed accordingly across the industry, but actually, it hasn’t. Even though agents are now signing writers with much more professionally-ready books in hand than every before, the time lapse between signing with an agent and selling the book is much what it ever was. Be prepared to wait, as well as to revise your book or book proposal until the agent loves it.

This is true, incidentally, even if the agent SAID she loved the book when she asked to represent you. I know many, many authors — and have had many, many students and clients — who have been left astonished when the initial raves of their new agent suddenly turned into change requests that took three months to implement. Try to take these requests as a compliment: if the agent did not think you were a good writer with a good idea, she would not be asking you to improve your work; she would not have picked it up at all.

Most writers serious enough to finish a book, however much they may think of themselves as procrastinators, do actually like the work of writing, but revising is another matter. Every agent in the world will, at the slightest provocation, regale listeners with horror stories about how hard it is to get writers to revise their own work after they have been signed. Writers, on the other hand, will happily tell anyone who will listen about the characters their agents had them write out, or the time that their agent wanted the same story to happen in fifty fewer pages.

What they do not do, almost without exception, is talk to EACH OTHER about this issue.

I think this is because translation is necessary. When an agent asks for a change, though, it is seldom (at least in his conscious mind) simply a matter of personal preference, particularly if the work in question is a book proposal. Usually, the change is to make the work more marketable — and, if I have not yet impressed this upon you, dear reader, take notes — good writing and marketable writing are not always the same thing.

And — are you sitting down for this one? — what was marketable writing two years ago isn’t necessarily marketable now, or two years hence. Standards, alas, change, and your agent is in a better position than you are to follow the fads on a minute-to-minute basis. (Remember, what you are seeing on the bookstore shelves today was actually sold to publishers a year to a year and a half ago.) Most of the time, an agent’s request for change, even if it’s purely stylistic, is either to avoid a common editorial pet peeve or to bring the work more in line with the demands of a very specific market niche.

When a writer receives a change request, however, even a minor one, he often hears it as a referendum on whether he can WRITE, or as a tactfully-put suggestion to revise the entire work, if not his entire life plan. Believe it or not, good writers have often far less experience dealing with constructive criticism than poor ones: the good students get much less feedback than the ones who are struggling. So very often, the writer who got nothing but As in English all through school crumbles into little tiny bits the first time he receives hard-core, professional feedback.

To remind everyone: agents and editors do not pull their punches to make writers feel better. Many of them regard tact as a waste of time. So what sounds like devastating, don’t-quit-your-day-job criticism to you may well be just an agent or editor’s way of being straightforward with you. As I said, in their minds, it is often a COMPLIMENT; they wouldn’t waste their vitriol on someone with no talent, right?

(Yes, I know: by this logic, the person eaten by a lion should be flattered by the lion’s impression that he tastes good. I don’t make the rules. I just tell you about ’em.)

I am reminded of an M.F.K. Fisher story about being solicited to write a preface for a charity cookbook. (I am writing a preface at the moment, so I’ve been reading them like mad, to get in the spirit of the thing.) The cookbook’s editors, both volunteers, came to visit Fisher, a neighbor of theirs, in the hope that having a big-name food writer attached to their compilation of local recipes would make the book sell better. It was, they told her, for a good cause.

Well (the story goes), Fisher took the draft book from them and had a good, professional look through it. Without missing a beat, she instantly began barking out everything that was wrong with the book: poor editing, meandering writing, abundant redundancies, all of the things that professional writers and editors automatically flag in a manuscript. When she looked up, however, the amateur editors were not gratefully taking notes. Instead, they were dissolved in tears. From their non-professional standpoint, Fisher had been hugely, gratuitously, deliberately mean, whereas in fact she had been paying them the compliment of taking their project seriously.

Believe me when I tell you: the ability to take criticism well is a highly valuable professional skill for writers; you need to develop it as part of your tool kit. Your dream agent, I assure you, will just assume that you have already acquired it. If you do not have experience rolling with harsh-but-true feedback, it is well worth your while to join a very critical writing group, or take a writing class from a real dragon, or submit some of your work to a freelance editor, before you send your work to an agent. It is much, much easier to learn the basic skills of revision with grace when your critiquers are your peers or teachers, rather than your agent or editor. The stakes are lower, and it’s less stressful by far.

If you are already in the throes of working with an agent and thus do not have the luxury of time to get your work dissected by a writing group for practice, here’s a trick for appearing to be coolly professional when you are in fact seething and sobbing inside: DON’T RESPOND TO THE CONTENT OF THE CRITIQUE RIGHT AWAY. Buy yourself time to think it over. For now, just nod, take copious notes, and say, “That’s interesting. I’ll have to think about that. Can we talk about it again after I’ve had a chance to re-read the text?”

Even on a tight deadline, few people will say no to such a reasonable request. This will enable you to go away, scream into a pillow, send bitter e-mails to all of your friends, and climb the nearest mountain to work out your aggression, out of sight and sound range of your agent.

This is not to say that you should not debate proposed changes that you feel passionately are wrong — you should. If you believe that any suggestion will harm your book — no matter who makes it, from writers’ group crony to senior editor — you have an obligation to discuss it. But calmly, coolly, rationally. You are your book’s keeper; it deserves both your protection and your best argumentative skills.

After you have calmed down, take another look at the feedback, if only mentally. Is there anything here you can use. Make a list of every single point that has merit. (If you cannot find any that you think are salvageable, have someone you trust go through the feedback and your text and pick the most reasonable. I do this for my editing clients all the time, incognita, and my clients’ agents and editors exclaim aloud at how easy the revision process is.) If you have time, go ahead and make the changes in the text.

Then revisit the other points. Are you willing to make any of these changes? Are there some that you might be willing to make if you could ignore others? Why do you hate the ones you hate most more than the others? Rank the suggestions from least to most odious, and come up with reasoned, text-based arguments for each.

Then, and ONLY then, call or e-mail your agent (or whatever publishing professional gave you the feedback. Say, “Gee, I tried out what you suggested about X, and boy, did it make a difference!” Repeat for all of the major points you used, to hammer home the underlying message: I respect you enough to take your critique seriously; I really am trying to work with you.

Then, after you have established agreement on these points and made your critiquer feel very clever, bring up one of your sore points. Ask if it is vital to make this change; could you perhaps change something else instead? Concentrate on making the process a negotiation between two reasonable people, not a resentful subject’s uneasy plea to an autocratic king. If your reasonable tack doesn’t work, you’ll have plenty of time to try resentment later, right?

If you are in a face-to-face meeting, you can still utilize this basic strategy. If you can possibly swing it, find a way to get out of the situation for a few minutes. A coughing fit will usually do the trick; no one will begrudge you a trip to the water fountain, followed by a trip to the restroom to blow your nose. Once out of the room, vent your anger on the nearest inanimate object, pick your points to praise, and walk back into the meeting, concentrating on the change you are most willing to make.

If you can’t get out of the room at all, respond ONLY to the critique you like best. This will give you time to calm down before getting into the truly contentious points. It also will disarm opposition: most people will jump right on the point they like least, and argue first about that. By finding at least one point where you can say, “Gee, that’s a great idea” (even through gritted teeth), you will be building up credit for arguing other points.

You may have noticed that I have not suggested that you don’t make any changes at all. You should, insofar as you can, trust your agent’s instincts about what will sell. But always, always, ALWAYS keep a copy of your original version, in case you later want to revert to it. Your biographers will thank you, believe me.

Whether you have serious problems with proposed changes or not, it’s a good idea to open a dialogue with your agent about them anyway. Ideally, you will be working with this agent over the course of many books: the earlier you can establish a good give-and-take, the better.

Many writers, disliking confrontation, just agree to make changes and then disappear for months on end, without ever discussing the potential problems of implementation. I feel that this is a mistake, again for reasons of translation: from the agent’s perspective, a long silence born of anger looks exactly like one born of confusion, or of laziness. If a few weeks have passed since your agent asked you to make a change and you have not sent back pages, get back in touch, if only to let her know that you are indeed working on it. If you are having problems making the suggested changes work, ask for advice. Trust me on this one: it will not make you look like a bad writer to share your concerns, but like a professional who is making a serious effort to understand what is required of her.

This, incidentally, is what agents mean when they make those ambiguous statements in the agenting guides about what kind of clients they want: they tend to list asking lots of questions as a major characteristic of both a dream client and a nightmare client. The difference lies primarily in how those questions are asked, and if they are asked in anger.

So ask your questions. The only question that I have found that agents hate universally is the grown-up version of the child’s car-tip whine of “Are we there yet?” Every agent I have ever met — and I get around, believe me — has complained about clients who call or e-mail every few days or weeks to ask what is happening with the book. Leave ’em alone; let them do their jobs. Remember, just as you want your agent to respect your writing time, your agent will want you to respect her networking time.

Which brings my little homily full-circle: to work well with an agent, you need to be both patient and flexible. Pick your battles, and remember, your relationship with your agent is not primarily a friendship, however much you may like each other. It is a business relationship, for the mutual benefit of both. Treat it as such.

Thus endeth the lesson. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Agents and geological time

I would wish you a happy Columbus Day, dear readers, but I happen to have grown up in an area renowned for the nastiness of how European settlers dealt with the locals. (I’ll spare you the whole story; it involved waiting until the native males were gathered in a ritual steam bath, then nailing the door shut. Fire, I’m told, was negatively involved.) Rather changes one’s view of Columbus, it does. But happy bank holiday anyway.

I’ve been concentrating in my last few postings on dealing with agencies, in the hope that some of you are even now being solicited by some of the best agents in the biz. For many writers, the actual moment of solicitation can be very, very disconcerting: after years of plowing through uncertainty and rejection, an agent who says yes can look a whole lot like the Archangel Gabriel. Often, writers are too dazzled by their own good fortune to ask pertinent questions.

One of the big questions that does get asked unasked is, unsurprisingly, “What are your plans for my book?” Equally surprisingly, at least to me, agents’ replies to this question are often rather vague, and this can give a false impression that they are either being evasive or that they have not thought about it much.

Actually, to the ear of a good agent, this question translates thus: “Who specifically will you be approaching first? Will it be a phone call, lunch, or coffee? Why is this the best publishing house for it?” Agents, in short, do not tend to think in vague terms.

So throw ’em a lifeline. Ask instead, “Are you planning to do individual submissions, or multiple submissions?” This question does not require translation for the agent to understand, and will elicit much of the information that most writers have in mind when they ask for a plan.

Did you think I was going on without explaining the difference between individual and mass submissions? Would I do that to you? Individual submissions are the more common for fiction. The agent pitches your work to an editor (via phone, lunch, coffee, chance meeting), and if the editor sounds interested, your manuscript or book proposal will wend its way to the editor’s desk. I would like to report that once there, it is instantly pounced upon and eagerly read by the editor, but in all likelihood, it will sit there for awhile, in a pile with other manuscripts. Here is where your agent’s persistence will really pay off: a good agent who cares about a project will keep on nagging unmercifully until your manuscript gets read.

How long can it sit there? Well, as I have mentioned, my agent is one of the wonders of the modern world. She believes deeply in my work, likes my projects — and I have now had a novel sitting at a well-known publishing house for seven months. In a way, this is good: I hear it has been read by most of the underlings who need to read it before the editor in charge, and if any of them had hated it, the manuscript would have been tossed out of the building. However, as you may see, this is not a situation where anyone concerned should be holding her breath, waiting for a response.

I wish I could say that such time lapses are unusual, but they are not. I know writers who have had good books held by editors for over a year — both books that the editor eventually acquired and books that the editor rejected. What will NOT happen, however, is that a book will be rejected and STILL remain sequestered in editorial files. While there is holding, there is hope.

From the writer’s point of view of course, this is maddening. The only sane response is to leave the whole matter in your agent’s hands and start working on your next book, but few among us have that kind of sang froid. In my case, I am lucky enough to have a memoir coming out next year: I certainly have plenty to do. Yet even I find myself wondering if the manuscript of my novel will sit so long in one place that the paper will spontaneously produce leaves, acorns, perhaps even an entire tree. Someday, will archeologists be trying to estimate the age of my manuscript by its rings? Or in geological time, if it petrifies?

This is, of course, the primary drawback to individual submissions of a manuscript. “Aha!” I hear you cry, “then I should press my agent for multiple submissions!”

Well, not necessarily. Multiple submission (also known as simultaneous submission; check out my postings for the end of September for a glossary of standard publishing terms) is, as the name implies, when your book or book proposal is sent to many editors at once. Nonfiction is very often sold this way, as is any book expected to generate an auction. Your agent will pitch your book (over the phone or the aforementioned comestibles), the editor will express interest, your book or book proposal will be sent, and this process is repeated with your agent’s entire A-list of editors.

The advantage of this is that interest from several editors can engender a bidding war. It can also speed up the submission process considerably. The disadvantage, however, is that it makes your book very subject to the winds of gossip. If half the editors say no, the other half will probably hear about it. (Yes, New York is a big city, but in many ways, its publishing world is a small town. Your agent’s assistant probably went to college with assistants of a couple of the editors who will see your book. People talk.) If one editor makes an offer, you can bet your boots that Books can go from very hot to very not in a matter of days.

For those of us who reside in more laid-back portions of the country, the speed of Manhattanite collective changes of mind can be perplexing. Why, we Pacific Northwesterners wonder, does everyone want the same thing at the same time? Surely, the book market is more complex than that?

I wish I could explain this phenomenon, my friends, but I can no more explain fads in the book market than I can fads in fashion. Why is it that when you walk into an NYC publishing house, all of the editorial assistants will be dressed more or less the same? Beyond me. (For a more extensive discussion of editorial fads and how they affect writers, see my posting of Sept. 6.)

Every time I encounter it, I am reminded of the time that I was writing for LET’S GO. It was my first post-college writing gig: I had been assigned to cover practically every small town of remote interest to tourists in Washington and Oregon. (What do you want to know about the pie at truck stops?) Because the job paid, essentially, nothing, I generally wrote my copy by firelight on rickety picnic tables while my boyfriend-at-the-time fended off marauding bears and curious squirrels. A good time was had by all.

In one such small town, the local tourist bureau had directed us to a genuinely unspoiled masterpiece of nature: 21 miles of unbroken beach, so much sand that intrepid souls were allowed to drive along it. It was the middle of a lovely summer day, so my boyfriend and I parked the car on a deserted patch of sand and settled down for lunch. Nothing but seagulls, water, and sand, as far as the eye could see. Until a car with New York plates came driving down the beach, parked about ten feet away from our car, and disgorged a flock of chattering children.

To West Coast eyes, this was just a tad strange. After some preliminary pleasantries, I asked the driver why, with so much empty beach, he had elected to stop right next to us. He looked at me very strangely. “It was where the people were,” he said. “It must be the best place.”

This same mentality seems to pervade the publishing world, alas. If the editor holding your book at the moment knows that other editors want it, it automatically becomes more valuable to him. Don’t try to reason it out more than that: it is one of the great mysteries of life, like the origin of evil and why the line you chose always moves more slowly than the others. Just look out your window at the Pacific Northwest verdure, reflect that you can probably see more trees from your office window than are in the entirety of Central Park, and reconcile yourself to regional differences in character. Remember that you perplex them, too.

So, too, should you regard the mystery of the alternation of glacially-slow reading times and we-need-you-to-overnight-your-changes urgency. Panic and apathy often seem to be the only two possible states of being. It might occur to you, living in an environment where the air is breathable, that it would in fact be theoretically possible for agents and editors to come up with a temporal plan, where one event follows another in a logical manner, and deadlines may be met with the calm tranquility that only comes from advance preparation.

Take my advice: don’t try to present this quaint view to people in the New York-based publishing industry, lest you be labeled a West Coast Flake. Instead, just take quiet steps to insure your own inner peace and personal tranquility, and let them get on with their heart-stopping perpetual panic. And no, I am not talking about meditation: I’m talking about adding two weeks to any negotiated deadline, so you may finish making your changes without losing too much sleep. I’m talking about pretending that FedEx does not serve your remote part of the country; the USPS’s Priority mail is more than fast enough for a manuscript that will sit on an editor’s desk until the next Ice Age.

My point here (and I’m relatively sure that I still have one) is that the more you know about your prospective agent’s preferred solicitation style up front, the more stress you will be able to save yourself down the line. Will you be dealing in the geological timeframes of individual submissions, or the live-or-die gamble of multiple submissions? Either way, get a solid explanation now, before the panic begins, because honey, trying to get an explanation from a Manhattanite agent in the middle of a panic is like Dorothy trying to talk philosophy with the cyclone that landed her in Oz.

Learn what you can first, then hold on for the ride.

And wherever you are in the process, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The agency contract

Yesterday, I discussed the desirability of getting a sense of who your agent IS before signing a binding agency contract. Today, I am going to launch into how agencies differ from one another. The short version: not all agencies are created equal.

It is, of course, vital that you understand how your new agency works before you sign the representation contract; don’t be afraid to ask questions about the fine print on the contract. Most agency contracts are easy-in-easy-out affairs, covering either the selling process for a single book or a year’s time — a choice generally made by the agency, not the author. Some contracts, however, have a rollover clause, which stipulates that if the author has not notified the agency by a particular date, the contract is automatically renewed for the following year. If you sign with an agency that favors the rollover clause, make sure you know precisely when the opt-out date is. Mark it on your calendar, just in case.

Yes, I know: mistrust is the last thing on your mind when you are thrilled to pieces that a real, live agent wants to represent you. But trust your Auntie Anne on this one: honeymoons do occasionally end. This is a contract to read with your glasses ON.

Because, you see, if you are successful, the agency, and not merely the agent, is going to be handling every dime you make as a writer. It will be producing those nasty, messily-carboned forms that you will be passing on to the I.R.S. If your work is going to be sold abroad, the agency will turn your book, your baby, over to a foreign rights agent of ITS selection, not yours — and will be taking a higher percentage of your royalties for those sales than for those in the English-speaking parts of North America. (If you missed my explanation about the rather bizarre distinctions between North American and foreign rights, check out my blogs of Sept. 26-28.) If something happens to your agent — a leave of absence, a move to another agency, or even just not being in the office when a crucial call from an editor comes — the agency will be handling your interests.

In short, you don’t just need to trust your agent — you need to trust your agency as well. A few quick illustrative anecdotes will help show why.

I had been signed with my wonderful, amazing, devoted agent S.G. for less than six months when she had a baby. Miracle that S.G. is, she managed to sell my book AND another client’s before they wheeled her off to the delivery room, but for some months, it looked very likely that the contract negotiations for my memoir might end up being handled by another agent. As it turned out, another agent held my hand during the rather nerve-wracking period between contract-signing and book delivery — which, in my case, was only about two months.

I think it’s safe to say that I was not always perfectly happy and level-headed during that intensely stressful period. I was lucky that I had been temporarily reassigned by my agency to a delightfully patient and kind listener.

More seriously, I was also still under the care of my interim agent when the first lawsuit threat came. (Oh, yes: it came in two waves, one in early July, followed by much silence, then another in early September. Different allegations about the book each time, I might add.) If my agency were not full of very competent, very supportive people, I might have been left to face the threat unadvised. Having known other writers who have had to deal with lawsuits over their memoirs (hey, I get around) without the help of an agent, I feel very, very fortunate.

And very glad that that I read my agency contract very well before I signed it, so I felt secure about the agency that would be taking care of me.

Okay, I hate to do this, but I am now going to share the story of Lois, a writer who did not fare so well. Lois’ agent just stopped answering her e-mails one day; returned phone calls became a thing of the past. And because Lois was, like so many writers, long trained in assuming that any silence must have something to do with the quality of the book, she naturally fell into hyper-revising mode. Yet when she meekly submitted a new version of her novel, she STILL heard nothing.

“Have I offended my agent somehow?” Lois wondered. After wondering about it for a couple of weeks, she concluded that she must have. She sent a formal apology. Still no word.

Weeks dragged on into months, and after three, Lois had had enough. She called the main number for the agency, and demanded to know how she could terminate her contract with the agent.

“Wait,” the astonished receptionist told her, “didn’t anybody tell you? She had to have emergency surgery. Poor thing, she’s been in physical therapy for months.”

Of course, Lois felt really small, but actually, I think that the agency should have been the ones apologizing. That many months sans agent, and the agency hadn’t thought to notify her clients? A quarter of a year can feel like a lifetime to an author whose book is being circulated.

When you are looking over the contract, check to see whether you are signing with the agency as a whole or with the agent specifically: contracts come both ways. Agents move around all the time, and some agencies can have pretty short lifespans. If your agent retired, for instance, would you still be represented? What about if your agent started an agency of her own?

May, one of the most gifted writers I know found out too late that her contract was with her agent, not her agency, upon learning that her agent had died. Something of a surprise; May hadn’t even known that she was sick. (After you’ve hung out around represented writers for awhile, you will start to notice how often authors are NOT informed about illness, imminent life or career changes, or sometimes even the firing of their agents and editors. We writers always seem to be the last to know.) May was very sorry, of course, because she had liked her agent very much, but it never occurred to her that she no longer had representation.

Until she received a letter from the agency, a couple of weeks later. Seems that the agency had hired a replacement agent — who did not represent May’s kind of work. No offer to help her find another agent, nothing. Just goodbye and good luck. May checked her contract and, sure enough, she hadn’t signed with the agency at all, only her late agent.

Why the distinction? Well, the contracts between agents and their agencies can vary quite a bit. Some are set up so the royalty money all goes into a common pool, funding the agency, and some run like hairdressing establishments, where each chair, so to speak, is an independent contractor. If you are the client of an independent contractor-type agent, if she leaves the agency, you more or less automatically go with her. If your contract is with the agency, you probably will not.

My very talented friend Sydney was recently caught in a sort of in-between situation: her contract left the issue a bit ambiguous, specifying that Sydney would be represented by Agent X AT Agency Y. So when Agent X, without any advance warning, suddenly decided to leave Agency Y to start her own agency, Sydney actually wasn’t sure if she was still represented at all. It turned out that she had three options: break her contract and sign a new agency agreement with Agency Y, but be assigned to a new agent whom she did not know; break her contract and sign with Agent X in her new agency, or break her contract and seek representation somewhere else. No matter what, her old contract was more or less defunct.

Since, like many of us, Sydney had spent years seeking the perfect agent for her work, Option 3 sounded to her a lot like putting her hand in a meat grinder. She ended up following her agent.

My point is, unexpected things can happen. If you understand your contract, you will be much better prepared to deal with emergencies as they arise.

Oh, and don’t forget, those of you who have material out with important agents and/or editors at the moment: the Frankfurter Buchmesse — that’s the Frankfurt Book Fair to those of us stateside — will be running from October 19-23. A hefty proportion of the heavy hitters in the industry attend this, often grabbing European vacation time on either end. As a result, work on NYC desks tends to pile up at the end of October.

What this could mean for you: a slower response time than usual, in an industry already notorious for slow response times. Don’t panic; it’s not about you.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

What do you want from an agent?

Recently, I had the great pleasure of teaching a class on how to craft attention-grabbing queries, full of intelligent, well-prepared students. (If you would like to be added to my notification list for my next set of classes, please give me your e-mail address via the COMMENTS function, below.) These writers had really done their homework, and most of them had novels and NF books very close to being ready to be sent out the door. Best of luck to all of them!

As widely diverse as their writing projects were, I was struck, as I always am, by the great similarity of their dream agents. Everyone, without exception, wanted a well-established agent at a well-known agency to fall in love with the book in question, particularly with the writing, and represent it with intelligence and verve.

“That;s great,” I said, when the last student had expressed this hope. “What else do you want?”

The room fell silent.

I am used to this; it always happens at this point. “What about an agent with experience in selling your type of book?” I suggested. “An agent who has built up the connections to be able to get your book or book proposal under the right eyes right away?”

Well, yes, the students conceded, that would be nice.

I persisted. “What about an agent who is hungry? Would you be happy to be represented by someone with a hundred clients, so the success of your book will be only a small proportion of her year’s income, or would you prefer to be one of twenty, where each sale counts more to the agent?”

It was difficult to get the students to talk about it; again, these are bright, talented, well-read people, yet their body language made it obvious that the very idea of setting anything but the most minimal expectations for representation rendered them uncomfortable. It was unfamiliar territory, and in a sense, by even asking them to think about it, I had broken one of the most sacred of the writers’ conference taboos: implying the possibility that not every agent who likes an author’s work is necessarily a good fit for it.

What the heck, I’m just going to go ahead and state it: I have very often seen good writers’ careers stymied by agents who, while not actually bad at their jobs, at least do not apparently share the same goals for the book in question. Anyone who has ever attended a writing conference has probably met at least one writer who gave her soul to an agent for a year or two, only to find herself dropped when the book did not sell right away.

To a writer who has yet to find representation — and if you are one of these, don’t be hard on yourself; there are plenty of brilliant writers out there who do not have agents — it may be hard to feel sympathy for a writer in this situation. Some are tempted to conclude that if the book did not sell, or if the agent stopped sending it out, or if the agent never sent it out at all, it was because the book itself had some irredeemable fault.

Don’t censure yourself if you are one of the many who would automatically assume this: it is something that writers are taught to believe, and the source of countless hours of self-doubt. Most of the writing manuals and pretty much all of the classes and conferences teach us to believe that the blame must lie with either the book or the writer. There is a reason that this is the case: what the manuals and experts are selling, generally speaking, are ways in which the writer can alter the book, the pitch, the query letter, even her own work habits, in order to make the book more marketable.

I regularly teach this type of class myself, regarding it as a way to arm writers with the tools that will help them succeed in a genuinely difficult endeavor: getting their work noticed by people who can bring it to publication. After all, it would make little sense to teach “Ten Tips on Being a Better Agent” or “Sharpen Your Eye for Talent: Make Yourself a Better Editor” to groups of aspiring writers. The fact remains, though, that even the best-prepared author of the best-written book is hugely dependent upon the skills, tastes, and connections of her agent and ultimately, her editor.

As I have pointed out in earlier postings, the power that agents wield has gone up astronomically within our lifetimes. The reason for this is simple: the consolidation of the major publishing houses. Now, none of the majors will read unagented fiction at all, as a matter of policy. (Bear that in mind, the next time an editor from a major house tells you to send a chapter or a synopsis of your novel after you have met at a writers’ conference. Even if the editor absolutely falls in love with your work — in the unlikely event that it is indeed that editor who reads over your material, and not an assistant — the absolute best-case scenario is that the editor will recommend you to an agent, not that the editor will immediately buy your work.) Some nonfiction is still sold directly, but even that has become relatively rare.

The result is that agents and editors at small publishing houses (who usually also prefer to work with agented writers, but often make exceptions) have become the arbiters of what does and doesn’t get published in the United States. The editors at the major houses see only a hand-picked minority of the writing actually being produced.

Since you are probably already aware of the importance of having an agent, I shall not harp upon this point, except to say: since the author now does not participate in the selling process, it is more vital than ever to find an agent who will represent your work well.

My students did not like this conclusion at all. “If an agent loves my work,” one of them asked, “won’t he automatically represent it well?”

The short answer is a resounding NO, but the long version requires a two-part answer. First, a certain percentage of the people working in any field will be still learning how to do it, and in the publishing industry, where success is so heavily based upon connections and luck, the agent who likes your book best (or, as usually happens, the one who likes your book FIRST) may not necessarily be the one with the right connections. Thus, that story we have so often heard: the agent falls in love with a book, signs the author pronto, sends the book out to an editor or two — then sits helpless after the first few contacts reject it. Since it is traditional for a book to be submitted to only one editor at each imprint, having your work sent out by an agent with the wrong contacts may actually endanger its chances of being seen by the right editor.

Lest you think that this is just the smug analysis of a writer who has already passed the gauntlet, I speak from personal experience here: my wonderful agent, S.G., is in fact my THIRD agent. As longtime readers of this blog are already aware, #1 wanted me to turn a serious literary novel on sexual harassment into a romance novel (that, or dump it entirely and write a self-help book, as she evidently believed everyone with a Ph.D. is qualified to do. I tried in vain to explain to her that not every doctorate is in psychology, to no avail), and #2 sent a cookbook to three editors, then I never heard from him again. Neither of these stories is at all unusual; I could introduce you to literally dozens of good writers still mourning similar experiences.

I should point out: all three professed genuine love for my writing, and I have no reason to doubt their veracity on the subject. All three expressed great admiration for the projects they respectively represented — and only S.G. has been able to sell so much as a line that I have written. I like to think that she loves my writing more than the others, but I know for a fact that I owe a great deal to her acumen, her experience, and her connections.

The second answer to the question is less well-recognized amongst writers, or at any rate, most of the unpublished writers I meet are surprised when I mention it. Now, it is the NORM for good agents to ask for significant revisions on a book or a book proposal BEFORE sending it out to editors. Effectively, this means that the agent you choose — and who chooses you — is your first editor. Which means that it is absolutely vital to sign with an agent whose taste and integrity you trust.

I want to get the word out there about the edited-by-the-agent phenomenon, because I have found that most unagented writers are quite unaware of it. Not all agents require up-front revisions, but a significant minority amongst those who work with previously unpublished writers do. I spent the first two and a half months of my representation contract with S.G. revising and re-revising my book proposal, at her behest; one of the best novelists I know spent a YEAR AND A HALF in agent-required revisions before her agent so much as photocopied it.

Other agents prefer to suggest only minor tweaking before sending out the first round of submissions, then, once they have garnered significant editorial feedback, ask the author to revise the book in accordance with the changes editors said they would like to see. (Be warned in advance: if three editors saw it, in all probability two of them will ask from mutually contradictory changes. A good agent can help you figure out which advice is worth taking.) Here again, many first-time authors are astonished to find themselves, a year or two after signing with a terrific agent, still in the throes of revising an as-yet unsold book.

My students, by this point in my explanation, were sitting speechless, aghast and disappointed. It is my sincere hope that their work will sell well and immediately, but the fact is, a quick sale of an unrevised work to a major publishing house has become quite rare. Frankly, I think it is quite unfair to writers everywhere that the prevailing wisdom so often says otherwise. Yes, from the agents’ and editors’ points of view, publishing is a fast-moving business, but from the authors’, it sometimes seems as if it barely runs on electricity.

I feel a trifle disingenuous saying this, because actually, my process has been one of the few exceptions: from winning the 2004 PNWA Zola Award for NF to signing with S.G. to book sale was only eight months, which is lightning speed. To put this in perspective, though, my book was only being circulated to editors for the last two of those months. The period between when I signed with S.G. (October, 2004) through when the book was first sent out to editors (end of January, 2005) was entirely devoted to tweaking my book proposal at S.G.’s behest.

Let that sink in for a moment: that revision time was unusually QUICK, with my getting pages back to her significantly prior to the deadlines we had agreed upon.

This realization, as you may well imagine, made my students groan, as it would many writers. Since attracting an agent’s interest is so very arduous, the vast majority of unagented writers tend to idealize just how much of a relief it will be to sign that contract. “Phew!” they think. “I’m working my fingers to the elbow now, but once I sign with an agent, my period of hard work will be over. I can just hand my finished book (or book proposal) to my agent, and wait for her to sell it. And because she will adore my writing, that will happen in a matter of weeks.”

With such expectations, it’s no wonder that so many writers give little thought to the personality of their dream agent: they are not expecting to have much interaction with this paragon.

Please don’t make that too-common mistake of not taking the time to learn a little about an agent before you gasp a grateful “YES!” to that long-awaited offer of representation. Ask a few questions: will you be working with the agent directly, for instance, or an assistant? (If the latter, it is definitely worth your while to have a conversation with the assistant before you decide, too.) Will the agent want revisions to what you submitted, and if so, would she be open to setting aside some serious time to discuss them? What exactly does the agent LIKE about your book, your ideas, your writing style? If you are not a person who likes hand-holding, is the agent willing to give you your space to work?

And so forth. The AAR (Association of Artists’ Representatives) puts out an excellent list of preliminary questions new authors should ask agents, to get you started. While the answers are important to figuring out how the agent will expect you to work with her, the discussion actually serves an even more important secondary purpose: it gives you are foretaste of what it will be like in the weeks and months to come, when your new agent is ruling your writing life.

It behooves you, then, to make very sure that this person is someone with whom you would be willing to be in frequent e-mail contact; make sure that this is a person you would be comfortable picking up the phone to call if you run into problems with your editor. Ask about her taste in literature, to get some indication if this is a person you can trust to give you writing feedback. (You should ask the same question, incidentally, of ANYONE you ask for feedback, from your best friend to a freelance editor. If you do not like the same kinds of writing, chances are lower that the feedback will be truly useful to you.) Ask for a list of clients, and for a few days to rush to the bookstore and see what their books are like. You would even be well within your rights to ask if the agent to pass your phone number along to another client who writes similar books, so you can chat about what it is like to work with this particular agent.

See why I have been so adamantly pushing the idea of querying several good agents simultaneously? Ideally, I would like you to have the luxury, as I did, of having these conversations with several agents before you decide who should represent you and your work.

Because, again, I speak from experience: I spent an hour and a half on the phone the other day with my agent, and not just because she and I are both charming conversationalists. The very idea of spending that long in unalloyed contact with either of my first two agents is laughable; I would not have been comfortable enough to do it. Thank goodness I had listened to the excellent advice my more established writing friends had given me, and made absolutely certain that I was signing with an agent I LIKED.

Oh, and she loves my writing, too.

If you are at the point of signing with an agent, or if you are waiting to hear back from an agent who has asked to see your work, and would like to discuss your experience, please drop me a line via the COMMENTS function, below. It can be as confusing as it is exhilarating.

And to all, regardless of where you are in the process, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The editorial memo

I received a package in the mail from my editor today, containing some manuscript pages he had marked up. When I opened the FedEx box, I swear that a puff of smoke came out of it, as if my editor had mailed me a small dragon. Turns out that those lovely-to-touch cotton-based papers that I like to print my manuscripts upon soak up cigarette smoke like the proverbial sponge.

The pages are lying all over my dining room table, airing out. My cats, who normally like to mark every manuscript that enters or leaves our house by rolling on it, won’t go near the table.

Ah, the chain-smoking, blunt pencil-wielding editor! Nice to know that some publishing clichés are still operational, isn’t it?

Marginal feedback, however, is actually not the primary means of instruction passing from editor to writer anymore. (Although it is still common enough for it to be worth your while to print your manuscripts on nice paper that render it a pleasure to turn the page. Even if you do not want to splurge on an expensive ream, never print your work on anything less than 20 lb. paper — you can see through anything lighter.) Nor, surprisingly, do many editors prefer to make changes, or even commentary, on soft copy, although the technology is certainly available and easy to use. As I have mentioned before, the publishing industry is paper-oriented: most agencies and even many publishing houses in NYC do not have in-house tech support. If computer-based changes are to be made, then, it is almost always the author who makes them.

So how does commentary pass from editor to author? Through a document called the editorial memo (a.k.a. the editorial letter), a brief, formal missive in standard letter format that gives a straightforward overview of what the editor would like for the author to change in the book.
Often, the editorial memo accompanies a marked-up manuscript, but not necessarily.

What does the editorial memo do that marginal comments or direct conversation do not? In the first place, it is not only sent to the author, but to the editors’ higher-ups as well, both to let everyone concerned know how well the editor feels the manuscript has lived up to the initial expectations of the publishing house and to demonstrate the editor’s active involvement in the book. Second, the editorial memo sets forth a series of requested changes, along with the justifications for them, that the author is expected to make prior to the copyediting phase.

It is often surprising for new authors that the content editing stage (performed by the editor), the copyediting or line editing stage (performed by a lower-level editor), and the proofreading stage (performed by poorly-paid flunkies) are broken out into distinct steps. Surely, the average author feels, the content editor might as well catch a few typos while he’s at it?

Content editing, however, is not always geared toward producing the artistically best possible book. Much of the time, the editor is actually editing for marketability, suggesting additions and cutting lines in order to emphasize the major selling points of the book. With a nonfiction book, this may entail suggesting moving chapters, adding explanations, footnotes, and appendices, and/or adding or removing examples. My memoir’s editorial memo asked me to write a preface to my book, explaining for readers unfamiliar with Philip K. Dick’s work just why his writings are literarily important.

For a novel, editors may ask for more radical changes: deletions of entire characters or plot lines, or a change in the running order. I once had an editing client who was asked to make a family smaller, bring a dead character back to life, and change the moral — a revision that more or less required the writing of an entirely new book. And every time an editor writes such a memo, somewhere in heaven, a writing angel gets a charley horse.

However, the fiction market has changed in one significant respect with regard to editorial instructions within the last fifteen years: in the past, editors would generally buy the novel in question first, before asking for radical revisions. Now, it is extremely common for editors to REJECT books that they would have bought with an eye to revision twenty years ago, merely telling the agents what they would have liked to see work out differently in the book. The book continues to be shopped around by the agent, and if it does not sell, the onus is then upon the author to select WHICH set of advice to take and how to implement it before submitting the book again. Basically, this arrangement allows editors most of the advantages of the editorial memo, without having to ante up an advance that might, if not allow the author to quit her day job, at least take enough time off to revise her book.

I shall spare you a description of what happens to a writing angel every time an editor indulges in such a rejection.

The result, though, is that now, editorial memos for purchased fiction tend to be a lot less scary than they were in days of yore. We’ve all heard the writers’ conference horror stories, I think, about authors being asked to change a character “in order to give the book more mainstream appeal”; Philip once had an editor change a starship captain from black to white with a single sweep of a pen. Don’t you wish you had a nickel for every time an author was told to remove a character that was too feminist, too openly gay, or too interested in politics?

The changes put forth in the editorial memo are, of course, only suggestions: most publishing contracts actually allow the writer quite a bit of leeway in implementing them. From the point of view of the first-time author, however, they are suggestions made by an extremely powerful authority figure: the publisher is really not expecting much opposition. Like having approval rights over the title or the book jacket design, the author’s consent is more or less assumed.

And it’s not as though the publisher and author go through an endless round of suggestion-revision-suggestion-revision to work out conceptual differences of opinion: that, too, is more or less a thing of the past. Contractually, it’s actually rather rare for a book to go through more than one revision after a publisher buys it. Usually, the contract specifies that the author must deliver a book by date X; the publisher must submit requested changes (via the editorial memo) by date Y, usually 60 or 90 days after date X, and the author must deliver a manuscript revised accordingly by date Z, usually 60 or 90 days after that. If there is squabbling over changes, it almost always occurs immediately after the editorial memo is delivered to the author.

Since I have already received my editorial memo, I am relatively confident that the pages on my dining room table hold no truly terrible surprises for me. I already know that they contain enough second-hand smoke to make my cats’ whiskers curl, but, hey, that’s a small price to pay to maintain a publishing tradition. I can always wear a gas mask while I’m revising.

May your editorial memos be positive and plentiful, my friends, and your revise-and-resubmit suggestions be few. And in the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The vital importance of documentation

Hello, dear readers —

Well, my gag is still pretty firmly in place, but I have figured out a way to derive a universal publishing lesson for you from the turmoil of the last few days: document, document, document.

Those of you who read this blog loyally will no doubt remember my extensive lecture (see posting of August 22) on the vital importance of documentation for memoirists. Because anyone mentioned in a memoir (and those who are insulted when they are NOT mentioned, or not mentioned enough: more common than you might think) could conceivably make, if not actual legal trouble for you and your publisher, then at least a few sleepless nights, YOU NEED TO KNOW WHO TOLD YOU WHAT AND WHEN. Trusting to your undoubtedly excellent memory is not enough — you should be able to produce a list.

For a memoirist, this can be very difficult. Who took good notes as an 8-year-old? However, you can cover yourself by documenting how and where you tried to verify those long-ago memories by speaking to the living in the present day.

You will be pleased to know that I did everything right in this respect. I was trained as an academic, where practically every statement requires an extensive documentary footnote, and keeping track of my own research is second nature. Also, I have an unusually good memory — not photographic, but nearly so. One of the first readers of my manuscript, declining to believe that I could in fact remember the color of curtains in a room where I was once at the age of ten, decided to quiz me on a book I mentioned in the memoir. To be specific, I discussed the impact of the relatively short treatment of Katherine Wright, sister of Orville and Wilbur, received in a history of flight I’d read once in the third grade. Unable to stump me on the facts, he challenged my claim to remember the typeface in which the book was printed. So he checked.

I was right, as it turns out.

However, this level of detailed memory is unusual, to say the least, and frankly, I don’t think it should be required for a memoirist to be credible. All the more reason to document whatever you can.

Curious about what could have gone wrong with my book (as opposed to what IS going wrong, which has little to do with the book’s actual credibility, but instead with who owns an individual’s own memories), I chatted with my marvelous agent about the topic. “What if,” I asked her, “I hadn’t done everything right? What if I hadn’t documented so heavily that my writing friends laughed at me?”

Now, I’m a pretty hardy soul, but I must admit that her answer, dear readers, chilled me a little. “The publisher would have dropped your book,” she told me, “the second that anyone from the Dick estate questioned it.”

This, incidentally, was said about a book that the publisher claims to LOVE, one where the editor gushes to anyone who will listen about the writing. (She mentioned modestly.) It has a target audience so obvious — Philip K. Dick’s literally millions of fans worldwide — that the publisher’s sense of risk is exceptionally low in publishing it. Yet even with all that going for it, they would have dropped the book in a heartbeat if I hadn’t been able to counter a series of unfounded charges with good documentation.

If learning this does not turn you into a super-documenter, nothing I can say will.

I have to say, this unspoken requirement strikes me as unfair to writers in general, and memoirists in particular. Surely, we all have the right to write about our perceptions of our own lives — which is, after all, more or less the definition of a memoir. Why, then, would publishers be so jumpy?

Because, I am now learning through experience, a suit for slander does not have to have any actual basis in fact to be frightening to a publisher. I REALLY have evidence of this: in the United States, it is legally impossible to slander or libel a dead person, and the primary character in my memoir, other than me, has been dead since 1982. AND I don’t say anything particularly nasty about him. However, those facts tend to fall out of the discussions at senior editorial meetings. It is not the content of the charges made by the complaining party that strikes fear into editorial hearts, but the financial status of the complainers. Translation: deep pockets equal major threat, shallow pockets equal minor threat, regardless of the actual basis for the suit.

I like to call this phenomenon censorship by checkbook.

In my case, what makes this censorship by checkbook particularly frustrating is that the scary money in question is, as I understand it, entirely derived from the proceeds from the books, short stories, and movie rights of a writer who was deeply, profoundly opposed to censorship of any kind. Even to those who know Philip K. Dick’s work only through the movies made from it, his name is synonymous with a distrust of corporate entities, governments, and any other powerful force that tries to silence individual thought and creativity in the name of its own prurient interest.

On my good days, the irony of HIS posthumous checkbook being used to try to silence any writer, much less me, amuses me considerably. It is, in fact, precisely the kind of thing that would have happened in a Philip K. Dick novel.

So that is why, dear readers, in case you have been wondering, the legal issues surrounding my memoir continue to irk me, and I continue not being allowed to discuss them here with much specificity. Deep, deep pockets: in effect, Philip’s fans are unwittingly bankrolling my chagrin, and that’s definitely unfair to everyone concerned. I try to keep a sense of humor about it all, but it’s hard.

Regardless of what happens to my book, PLEASE learn from my experience to document your research conversations impeccably. And not just your research conversations: keep those e-mails from kith and kin where they tell you that they are hugely supportive of your project, because they may claim later that they did not even know about it; keep the ones where they praise you and your work, because they may later say that they always hated it. Keep the ones where they tell you that you are telling an important story, because they may change their minds about that, and while you’re at it, keep the ones where they tell you in secret the stories they don’t want the rest of the family to know they told you.

Not that I have any personal experience that would dictate that these are good ideas, of course.

If you cannot get the relevant kith and kin to put these thoughts in writing, send an e-mail or letter (with a carbon for your files, of course) confirming what you were told verbally. Send follow-up questions in writing, and be sure to keep thanking them on paper for helping you so kindly. The day may come when being a little bit compulsive in your record-keeping may save your bacon as a writer.

And, as usual, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S.: Many, many thanks to those of you who took the time to weigh in on the Philip fansites about the censorship issues around my book; if you haven’t had a chance to yet, check out the very interesting discussion at I assure you, everyone concerned has been taking those postings very, very seriously; I’m really looking forward to the day when I can be explicit about that.