Time after time

Hello, readers –

Happy Walt Whitman’s birthday, everybody!

I’ve just been out having a lovely confab with my friend Suzanne Brahm, a wonderful YA writer who signed recently with a great agent and is just on the point of having her work sent out to editors. Well done, Suzanne!

Our talk got me thinking about all of the delays inherent in the publishing game, and how little control the writer has over the timing of her own work being seen. As is the case for most newly-agented writers in the current market, Suzanne spent months revising her (already very good) book to her agent’s specifications before the agent was ready to send it out. I went through the same type of delay with the book proposal for my memoir, A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK (and no, it has not been released yet; here again, the timing is beyond the author’s control). When you’re in the midst of it, those periods of pre-submission preparation seem endless.

I hate to be the one to tell you this, but you will be a substantially happier human being in the long run if you just accept that this process is going to take one heck of a long time, even after you find the perfect agent.

I’m speaking from experience here – yes, even me, whose memoir was snapped up by a publisher after only a month on the market. Not to frighten those of you who have been paying attention, but does anyone happen to remember my Novel Project, first mentioned in the blog of February 23rd? In case you don’t recall, that was the day I spent frantically scrabbling together the requisite perfect copies of my novel, THE BUDDHA IN THE HOT TUB, to send in a box the size of a Labrador retriever to my agent. The Lab has been sitting in a corner of my agent’s office ever since, occasionally thumping its tail impatiently, waiting to be taken out for a walk. My agent is sending the individual copies to editors this week.

Brace yourself: this is not an usually long lag time between a manuscript’s leaving the author’s printer and the agent’s passing it along to editors.

Okay, take a deep breath and let that sink in, because most aspiring writers assume, wrongly, that the only lengthy part of the road to publication is the seemingly interminable search for the right agent. If you’re in it for the long haul, though, it’s important to be prepared for the waits AFTER signing: the revisions, the time to convince editors to read the book, the time for editors to get around to reading it.

And then, once it is finally sold, there is typically at least a year between contract signing and release, often more. Knowing that is important, not merely for the sake of pacing yourself (hey, worrying takes energy), but so you do not make immediate plans for spending the advance: under most publishing contracts, the author does NOT get the entire advance all at once. Usually, the payments are broken into thirds: one-third upon signing, one-third upon manuscript delivery, and one-third upon publication.

Why, you may be wondering, am I making such a point of telling you all this just as we are heading into writers’ conference season, when you will be talking to agents and editors? To try to scare away the fainthearted? To diss agents? To convince you to start buying five-year calendars to track your writing career?

Not at all. I want you to be aware of all this before you sit down and have a conversation with an agent about your work, so your expectations about what that agent can and cannot do for you are realistic. Too many writers look at agents and editors with dollar signs in their eyes, which can blind them to the fact that there is a great deal more than money at stake here. You will be committing irreplaceable time to these people if they pick up your book, years of it, and they to you.

Being aware that you will be committing time, as well as talent and pages of text, to any agent or editor with whom you sign is useful, as will prompt you to listen differently to what they have to say. If the agent you ranked as your first choice for an appointment strikes you, when he speaks at the agents’ forum at the conference, as someone with whom you could not happily have conversations several times per month over the next few years, run, don’t walk, to try to switch your appointment to someone you like.

I’m serious about this.

The best way to avoid having to switch at the last minute, of course, is to find out as much as possible about the scheduled attendees BEFORE you make your appointments. If you want to know more about the agents coming to the conference, check out my archived blogs for April 26 – May 12; for the editors, May 18 – 26.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Pig in a poke

Hello, readers —

Remember last week, when I was going on about pigs in pokes, and the undesirability of buying them? I mentioned that I had no idea what a poke was. Well, I opened my work e-mail over the weekend, and fabulous and intrepid reader Janet had TOLD ALL:

“A poke is early type of paper bag–something to hold candy, peas and other types of loose foodstuffs. It is essentially a square piece of paper folded into a cone. The bottom point is folded up so that the candy or dried beans won’t fall out. The sheets of paper came in different sizes 4″, 8″ and 10″. Apparently, the shopkeep could figure out costs per weight this way.”

Have you ever seen a clearer description of anything? But wait, Janet did even more research on the subject:

“The pig in a poke is a great image as you would really have to stuff the pig into poke pretty hard. Be pretty tight. General stores used these for years until a girl in New England invented the type of squared paper bag with a floor some time after the Civil War. As for the poke, I’m told that in Germany you can still get food this way.”

Janet, please find me at the conference, if you will be attending: I want to buy you a drink, or at least a cup of coffee, because now, I have the pleasing image in my head of all of those American agents and editors who travel every year to the Frankfurt Book Fair, buying pigs in pokes from street vendors. After hearing them spout the truism for so many years, that image makes me absurdly happy.

While I am praising wonderful readers, Arleen, who has apparently TAKEN classes with Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick (who will be offering Pathways to the Novel on the Sunday following the conference), was kind enough to send in the class’ website. Not only that, but she provided a link to more info about co-teacher Jack Remick Add to this her rave review of the class she took, and I think I can safely say that this constitutes a recommendation.

Do remember, the Sunday classes fill up fast, so if you are interested in taking one, please sign up soon. Also, don’t forget that registering for the summer conference BEFORE June 6th (better known as a week from today) will give you a $50 discount on the cost of attending! If you have not yet picked your top choices for agent and editor meetings, check out my blogs about the scheduled attendees, April 26 — May 12 for the agents and May 18 — 26 for the editors.

And, while I’m at it: if you have not already put the first 50 pp. of your work into standard format, so it is ready to send out to any agents or editors at the conference who might conceivably ask to see it, check out my post of February 19. If you do not already know why this is an EXCELLENT idea, consider my recommendation of the previous sentence multiplied a thousandfold. (Not adhering to standard manuscript format — which is DIFFERENT from book format — has cost a lot of good writers a fair reading from agency screeners.)

My, that was a lot of housekeeping, wasn’t it? I actually do have a topic for today: what materials should you bring with you to the conference — and, more importantly, to your agent and editor meetings?

At minimum, of course, you’re going to want a trusty, comfortable pen and notebook with a backing hard enough to write upon, to take good notes, and a shoulder bag sturdy enough to hold all of the handouts you will accumulate and books you will buy at the conference. I always like to include a few sheets of blank printer paper in my bag, so I can draw a diagram of the agents’ forum, and another of the editors’, to keep track of who was sitting where and note a few physical characteristics, along with their expressed preferences in books.

Why do I do this? Well, these fora are typically scheduled at the very beginning of the first day of the conference, a very, very long day. By the time people are wandering into their appointments at the end of the second day, dehydrated from convention hall air and overwhelmed with masses of professional information, I’ve found that they’re often too tired to recall WHICH editor had struck them the day before as someone with whom to try to finagle a last-minute appointment. Being able to whip out the diagrams has jogged many a memory, including mine.

I always, always, ALWAYS bring bottled water to conferences — even to ones like PNWA, where the organizers tend to be very good about keeping water available. When you’re wedged into the middle of a row of eager note-takers in a classroom, it’s not always the easiest thing in the world to make your way to the table with the water on it, nor to step over people with a full glass in your hand. A screw-top bottle in your bag can save both spillage and inconvenience for your neighbors.

If I seem to be harping on the dehydration theme, there’s a good reason: every indoor conference I have ever attended has dried out my contact lenses, and personally, I prefer to meet people when my lenses are not opaque with grime. I’m wacky that way. If your eyes dry out easily, consider wearing your glasses instead.

Even if you have perfect vision, there’s a good reason to keep on sippin’. If you are even VAGUELY prone to nerves — and who isn’t, in preparing to pitch? — being dehydrated can add substantially to your sense of being slightly off-kilter. You want to be at your best. Both conferences and hotels, like airports, see a lot of foot traffic, so the week leading up to the conference is NOT the time to skip the vitamins. I go one step further: at the conference, I dump packets of Emergen-C into my water bottle, to keep my immune system strong.

If this seems like frou-frou advice, buttonhole me at the conference, and I’ll regale you with stories about nervous pitchers who have passed out in front of agents. Trust me, this is a time to be VERY good to yourself. If I had my way, the hallways would be lined with massage chairs, to reduce people’s stress.

You will also want to bring some easily transferable pieces of paper with your contact information printed on it — why, come to think of it, a business card would be perfect for that! Seriously, it is VERY worth your while to have some inexpensive business cards made, or to print some up at home, for two excellent reasons. First, unless you make a point of sitting by yourself in a corner for the entire conference, you are probably going to meet other writers that you like — maybe even some with whom you would like to exchange chapters, start a writers’ group, or just keep in contact to remind yourself that we’re all in this together. The easier you make it for them to contact you, the more likely they are to remain in contact.

It’s just that simple.

Second, it’s always a good idea to be able to hand your contact info to an agent or editor who expresses interest in your work. They don’t often ask for it, but if they do — in a situation, say, where an editor from a major press who is not allowed to pick up an unagented book REALLY wants to hook you up with an agent — it’s best to be prepared.

I shall no doubt return to this topic between now and the conference, but let me start the chant now: avoid the extremely common mistake of walking into ANY writers’ gathering thinking that the only people it is important for you to meet are the bigwigs: the agents, the editors, the keynote speakers. Obviously, if you can swig a one-on-one with Ann Rule, go for it — I once spent several hours stranded in a small airport with her, and she is an absolutely delightful conversationalist. But don’t let star-watching distract you from interacting with the less well-known writers teaching the classes, who are there to help YOU, or the writer sitting next to you in class.

I have met some of the best writers I know by the simple dint of turning to the person rummaging through the packaged teas on the coffee table and saying, “So, what do you write?” Believe me, it’s worth doing. Someday, some of your fellow conference attendees are going to be bigwigs themselves, and don’t you want to be able to say that you knew them when?

And even if this were not true (but it is), writing is an isolating business — for every hour that even the most commercially successful writer spends interacting with others in the business, she spends hundreds alone, typing away. The more friends you can make who will understand your emotional ups and downs as you work through scenes in a novel, or query agents, or gnaw your fingernails down to the knuckle, waiting for an editor to decide whether to buy your book, the better.

Even the most charmed writer, the one with both the best writing and the best pure, dumb luck, has days of depression. Not all of us are lucky enough to live and work with people who appreciate the necessity of revising a sentence for the sixth time. Writers’ conferences are the ideal places to find friends to support you, the ones you call when your nearest and dearest think you are insane for sinking your heart and soul into a book that may not see print for a decade.

So stuff some business cards into your conference bag (if you file a Schedule C to claim your writing as a business, the cost of having the cards made is usually tax-deductible — and no, you don’t have to make money as a writer in every year you file a Schedule C for it. Talk to a tax advisor experienced in working with artists.), along with a folder containing several copies of your synopsis AND five copies of the first five pages of your book, as a writing sample.

Why? Well, not all agents do this, but many, when they are seriously taken with a pitch, will ask to see a few pages on the spot, to see if the writing is good enough to justify the serious time commitment of reading the whole book.

They don’t like, you see, to buy a pig in a poke.

Having these pages ready to whip out at a moment’s notice will make you look substantially more professional than if you blush and murmur something about printing it out, or simply hand the agent your entire manuscript. Don’t bother to bring your entire book with you to the conference, UNLESS you are a finalist in one of the major categories. You will never, ever, EVER miss an opportunity by offering to mail it instead, and in fact, agents almost universally prefer it. This is true, even if they insist that they want to read it on the airplane home.

Why the exception for the contest finalists? Well, agents tend to be pretty competitive people. Literally the only reason that an agent would ask for the whole thing right away is if he is afraid that another agent at the conference will sign you before he’s had a chance to read it — and I can tell you from experience that the category winners and placers at the PNWA do get mobbed by agents. (In case you didn’t know, one of the main prizes that the first-place winners receive, in addition to the nifty gold pin, is a breakfast meeting with ALL of the agents and editors. Awfully easy to chat about your work over fruit cup, I always find.) So I have known agents to read a chapter or two of the winners’ work in their hotel rooms.

Otherwise, don’t hurt your back lugging the manuscript box around; the sample will do just as well. From the writer’s POV, the sole purpose of the writing sample is to get the agent to ask you to send the rest of the book, so make sure that these pages are impeccably written, totally free of errors, and in standard format. (Again: if this is news to you, rush into the archives immediately, and take a gander at my post for February 19th.) If you feel that an excerpt from the end of the book showcases your work better, use that, but if you can at all manage it, choose the first five pages of the book as your sample — it just exudes confidence in your work.

More conference preparation tips follow, of course. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Editors, Part VII: The end of the line

Hello, readers –

Hey, guess what I just noticed? The April issue of Northwest Ink (always so full of useful information) contains blurbs for all of the agents and editors scheduled to attend the conference, including the ones I lambasted for not having blurbs. That’ll teach me to let my mail pile up. Interestingly, though, not all of the blurbs here are the same as those on the PNWA website…it’s a mystery.

This is, thank goodness, the last of my series on the editors coming to the conference. No disrespect to the fine agents and editors I have been researching, but I am very anxious to move on to talking about practical matters that may help you pitch to them. (If you are looking for information on the attending agents, check out my posts from April 26 to May 17. And for those of you who have been asking, the agent from the agency that represents me is Lauren Abramo of Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. Not that I think you all should mob her or anything, but in my experience, the lovely people at DGLM are kind, respectful of good writing, and have a sense of humor. Considering that I’m sort of their poster child for difficulties on the road to publication = not EVERY memoirist gets repeated lawsuit threats, just a lucky few — I think I would know by now if they didn’t have all of these fine qualities. )

Also, of course, I want you to have information in hand to make your agent and editor choices before June 6th. If your registration form is postmarked by then, you get $50 off the conference fee! How great is that? It’s also $100 cheaper, no matter when you register, if you are or become a member of the PNWA. (Annual membership is $65; do the math.)

Enough about commerce! On to the editor du jour, Paul Taunton of Random House. Here’s his blurb from the PNWA site:

”Paul Taunton (Editor) has been on the editorial staff at the Random House Publishing Group since 2003, working mainly on the Ballantine list. Prior to that he worked in the Random House sales department for several years serving independent booksellers. Categories of particular interest include narrative nonfiction, suspense, crime, literary fiction, and journalism.”

Okay, that’s straightforward enough: he’s relatively new to editing, but he might have some interesting things to tell us about the connection between the creative and sales sides of a major publisher. But hark! Did I hear warning bells going off in the heads of my readers who have been following this series? I think I did.

Yup, Random House does not accept unagented submissions. Hoo, boy, do they ever not accept ‘em. I even found a flat corporate statement on the web about it: “However, due to the overwhelming number of submissions received each week, as of March 1, 2000, the Random House General Submissions Board prohibits our Editorial Department from accepting unsolicited manuscripts.” One sees this kind of language a lot in the publishing industry, especially in defending such policies: it’s not our fault, the giant conglomerate whimpers; we had to take this stand because of all of those nasty writers out there who want to get their books published. Eew.

You may accept or reject this logic, as you see fit. Either way, it would be prudent to walk into a meeting with Mr. Taunton NOT expecting him to pick up your work. Go into a meeting eager to learn anything he is willing to teach you, however, and you shall not be disappointed.
Seriously, try to keep an open mind. Really, he has not been an editor long enough to have had anything to do with setting up Random House’s policy toward the unagented, so it isn’t fair to blame him for it.

As with all of the editors, listen to what he has to say at the editors’ forum. If he does wow you there, go ahead and try to pitch to him. If he likes your pitch in the group meeting (editors from publishing houses that deal exclusively with agented writers tend not to be very eager to hear pitches outside these meetings, so I would avoid trying to pitch to Mr. Taunton in the hallway), go ahead and ask him to recommend a few agents he thinks would be good matches for your book. I’m sure he knows tons.

If you are too shy for that, but think your book would be a good fit for him, be as charming as you can in the meeting, then try sending a query to Laura Dail of Laura Dail Literary Agency. Mr. Taunton just bought a debut novel from her, Heather Benedict Terrell’s THE CHRYSALIS, “a suspense story that features an attorney on the cusp of making partner, who defends a major New York auction house against the claim that one of its clients’ paintings had been stolen by the Nazis.” The good impression you make now might well pay off later.

So much for the editors. I’m quite glad that Mr. Taunton came last in the alphabetical list, because writing about him reminds me to reiterate the not-so-subtle lesson I hope has come across in this series: when you are scanning the editors available for pitch meetings at a conference, do not automatically assume that the editor from the biggest-name house would be the best choice for your pitch. If your goal is to get your work published — and for most of us out there pounding on our keyboards, it is, right? — being able to speak directly about your book to a major decision-maker at a smaller house may well get you farther along in the process than speaking to someone whose buying power is constrained by the immense entity for which he works. Do your homework, and choose with care.

Incidentally, if you do decide to list the editors from smaller houses as your first choices, you will usually be more likely to get the appointments you want. Despite the no-unagented-books policies of most of the majors, the editors from the big-name houses almost invariably are the most requested. Which, for conference attendees new to the game, makes perfect sense: it’s natural to believe that the largest house would have the most power to help an aspiring writer; in a perfect world, they would. It’s also natural to want to go with the house that publishes your favorite author. Obviously, most people are going to pick the name they know.

But you’re too wily for that, right?

I had promised to do a quick run-down on the people offering seminars on the Sunday following the conference, but frankly, I’ve been rushing pretty hard to finish this series before Memorial Day weekend (and before the early registration deadline), and the prospect of conducting serious research on ANOTHER six people makes me weak at the knees.

I have, however, dug up enough information to give you a running start on conducting your own research. Some of the scheduled presenters have their own websites, so I will direct you to those. That way, they can promote themselves in their own words. (Since these seminars are being given by professional speakers outside of the conference proper, and I have personally taken classes with none of them, I really do think that it is more appropriate for them to do their own promotion than for me to use this space for it.) Here are the basics:

Creating Your World and the World of Magic with Mercedes Lackey and Larry Dixon: Heavy hitters in the fantasy world! My gut feeling is that this one is going to fill up fast. If you’re not familiar with their work, Ms. Lackey’s website will give you a taste of what fantasy books she writes, sometimes with writer/illustrator Mr. Dixon. If the subject is fantasy, I suspect these two know whereat they speak. Ms. Lackey is an IMMENSELY prolific writer: from 1987 on, her SLOWEST year appears to be 2 books published. IfMs. Lackey’s complete list and Mr. Dixon’sdon’t convince you that they know the SF biz, nothing will.

No More Rejections with Alice Orr: Ms. Orr is the author of No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing a Manuscript that Sells, published by Writers Digest Books, so is it unreasonable to expect that the seminar will cover the same material? I did a little background checking, to see what her areas of specialty were (since this is an industry that runs on specialization, and different genres have very different standards), but most of the info I found came from her website, so start there. Ms. Orr has been both an editor (mystery and women’s fiction) and an agent (at her own agency, which no longer exists), but long enough ago that I could not pull up sales or acquisitions on the standard databases, to see with whom she has worked. If you want to try to dig for more specifics, she writes articles with tips for writers for Romantic Times

How to Write an Irresistible Non-Fiction Book Proposal with Rita Rosenkrantz: this is a name you should recognize! She is an NF agent coming to the conference, and as such, someone I have already written about at some length. See my May 12th posting in the archives to see whom she represents. A very well-respected name in NF.

Pathways to the Novel with Robert J. Ray and Jack Remick: No website that I could find, but here’s a nice interview with Mr. Ray: http://www.slowreads.com/InterviewsRay.htm He is quite well known, both in the UW community and as the creator of Matt Murdock, an Orange County PI. Mr. Ray has written quite a lot about writing, too: THE WEEKEND NOVELIST, THE WEEKEND NOVELIST WRITES A MYSTERY, THE WEEKEND NOVELIST REWRITES THE NOVEL…seeing a trend here? I’ve heard on the grapevine that the nickname for one of Mr. Ray’s past classes was, “Shut up and write your book,” so I’m guessing that this is going to be a pretty no-nonsense approach.

Surveillance and Counter-Surveillance with Agent Sheila Stevens: no web presence on this one at all, so is it possible that when Ms. Stevens refers to herself as an agent, she might not mean what, say, Jandy Nelson means by it? As in the kind of agent with a badge? Sorry – you’re going to have to find out the skinny on this one for yourself. Surveil a little.

Traditionally, the Sunday classes fill up fast, as space is limited. So if you are planning on attending one, do try to register soon.

If you are intending to attend both the conference and a Sunday seminar, a word to the wise: you might want to bring a tape recorder, so you need not rely entirely upon your memory and/or written notes to recall all of the amazing things you learned throughout this action-packed weekend. Ask first, of course, to make sure that the seminar leader is willing to allow you to record the proceedings.

Why? Well, conferences tend to be pretty exhausting events. Not just due to the stress of pitching appointments or the often-arid air-conditioned rooms (which make it hard to keep hydrated), but because you will be exposed to so much information so fast. Especially if you are new to either the publishing process or the conference scene, the combination can easily leave you feeling wiped out. Please, for your own sake, pace yourself, and don’t underestimate how much energy it will take to work up the nerve to pitch your book to a total stranger with the power to change your entire life forever.

I hear all of you conference veterans yelling, “AMEN!”

And above all, when you register for the conference, be proud of yourself for committing to the important professional step of saying, “Yes! I am ready to pitch my work to an agent!” It honestly does take courage to take action to achieve your dreams, both to sit down with a publishing professional and talk about your work and to take your writing seriously enough to come to a conference and learn how to promote your work properly.

As I have said many times before, the more you learn about how the industry works, the less intimidating it will be. (More frustrating, perhaps, but certainly less intimidating.) Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Editors, Part VI: Love…exciting and new…

Hello, readers –

Ask and ye shall receive! I sent a fervent prayer in the general direction of the sky yesterday, in the hope that the last editor scheduled to attend the PNWA conference would produce a bio for us by the end of the week – and lo and behold, when I opened my e-mail this morning, there it was. This, courtesy of the fabulous Brenda Stav, who does so much thankless good work for the PNWA throughout the year that we really all should get together and heap her with leis and thank-yous at the conference.

In case you are tuning in mid-series, and can’t imagine what I am gibbering about, my fair fingers have been flying like the wind for weeks now, trying to dig up and pass along information about the agents and editors scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference – and thus available for appointments with YOU. (If you are looking for information on the attending agents, check out my posts from April 26 to May 17. May 18 on is the series on editors.) I had promised myself to try to finish up before Memorial Day weekend, not only because I know a lot of you will be grabbing precious writing time then, but also because there is a SIGNIFICANT discount for conference attendees who register prior to June 6th.

And if you are having trouble working up the nerve to pitch to a real, live agent or editor, fear not: I shall be giving a free (Free! Free!) class on June 24th, courtesy of the PNWA, on prepping yourself for exactly such a situation. Not to mention the fact that I and some intrepid souls who have successfully fought in pitching wars past (translation: we all have agents) will be manning a Practice Your Pitch booth at the conference, to help you iron out any last-minute problems or justifiable jitters.

And you thought I didn’t love you.

Speaking of love, on to the editor du jour, Raelene Gorlinsky, Publisher at Ellora’s Cave AND Managing Editor of Sensual Romance Reviews. Her blurb should be going up on the PNWA site any second now, but here’s an advance copy:

”I don’t remember a time when I couldn’t read and didn’t have a book in my
hands. I was a shy child, so books were my best friends and provided all the
excitement and emotion I could want. Romances, fantasies, and cozy mysteries
have been my preferred reading since I was a teenager. My favorites these
days are paranormal and futuristic romances with a high sensuality level.
I’ve got over 3000 books in my home-there are no more walls available to put
bookshelves against. Even my “hobbies” involve books-I collect antique
dictionaries, illustrated children’s fantasy books, fantasy art books, and
fancy bookmarks.

”I spent twenty-five years in the information communication profession, as
technical writer, editor and manager. I started editing part time for
Ellora’s Cave because it was an interesting variation from my day job in a
computer department. It’s a lot more fun to work on ‘He caressed her body
with his eyes’ than ‘Key in the serial number and press Enter.’ In January
2004 I moved to Ohio to take on the job of Managing Editor at Ellora’s Cave,
allowing me to use my organizational, managerial, and editorial skills on a
wide variety of projects. My position is now Publisher, and I supervise
fifteen editors, deal with over 200 authors, manage our digital releases,
still edit several authors of my own, and am enjoying this job more than any
other in my life.”

I have to say, I find this blurb refreshing – yes, it says what she likes to read, but it also provides something one almost never sees in this sort of context, insight into what the editor in question might be like as a person. This isn’t just a blurb – it’s the kind of confidence that a new acquaintance might reveal over a daiquiri. In an industry that is getting increasingly cold and businesslike, I can only applaud her openness. And, apart from gleaning that she MIGHT have had a FEW friends who thought she was insane to give up her computer job to do this (which makes me approve of her even more, frankly), this blurb tells me that this is a habitually enthusiastic person — also increasingly rare in the industry.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it: to walk into your meeting with her having prepared a fabulous sensual detail or two in your pitch that will make Ms. Gorlinsky chortle with joy. If your heroine ever has silk against her skin, or rolls about with a paramour in a blackberry patch, or has herself covered in a piquant combination of confectioner’s sugar, dark chocolate, and paprika so someone could lick it off, FIND A WAY TO WORK IT INTO YOUR PITCH.

Seriously, looking over Ms. Gorlinsky’s publishing record, I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if one of her group pitch meetings were raided by the vice squad. If you are not sure that your pitch is torrid enough, try this experiment: over lunch with a coworker in a crowded public place, try giving the pitch. If your coworker does not either blush, glance over his/her shoulder to see if anyone else is listening, or think that s/he is being propositioned, you might want to think about ways to spice your pitch up a little.

For those of you new to pitching, this may sound like a joke, but actually, it isn’t: like a synopsis, a good pitch should be representative of the style of the writing in the book. I’m not suggesting that you show up for your pitch meeting garbed only in a corset and Saran Wrap™, of course (although it would be an interesting approach), but if the book you are pitching is intended to titillate, at least one solid detail in your pitch should, too. If you are pitching horror, some tidbit in your pitch should nag spookily in the hearer’s head later that night. If you are pitching comedy, go for a laugh.

And so forth. You would not BELIEVE how often I have heard good comedy writers give the impression that their books were turgid, good novelists convey that their books were boring, and good mystery writers convince hearers that the solution to their plots could not be more obvious. It just breaks my heart. This is a performance, people! Show that you understand not only how to write, but how to entertain as well.

Okay, now that I’ve guaranteed Ms. Gorlinsky some pitches to remember, I dug up a bit more information about her reading preferences. This, from Sensual Romance reviews, gives a few more specifics about her tastes in books. Check out especially the middle of the second paragraph:

”My life revolves around reading (800 books in my TBR mountain), writing (book reviews for fun; technical writing as a profession), and ‘rithmatic (how many more years until my teenage son graduates?!?). When not busy with all that, I am owned by three Pembroke Welsh Corgis who require not only feeding and walking and adoration, but also must be shuttled to obedience classes and tracking practice and dog shows. I collect Barbie dolls, old dictionaries, Corgi paraphernalia, and the books of my favorite authors.

”My reading tastes cover romance, light mystery, and fantasy books. I definitely prefer contemporary settings, although I read a few historicals — and future-set fantasies. I love paranormal romances (vampires! werewolves!), romantic suspense, romantic comedy, and romantica/light erotica. I prefer mature, experienced heroines; usually don’t care for tortured heroes or very ‘dark’ books; can’t stand baby books; and am burned out on time travels. The only series books I read regularly are SIMs, Blazes, and some Temptations. I make exceptions if a favorite author writes a book for another line. My favorite publisher is Ellora’s Cave.”

Now we’re cooking with gas! I love it when agents and editors tell writers directly what they hate; it saves us SO much time. But heavens, what IS it about this year’s PNWA conference that has attracted so many agents and editors enamored of vampires? Should I wear my garlic necklace?

And what IS romantica, you ask? On another website (her web presence really is substantial), Ms. Gorlinsky is kind enough to tell us:

”Romantica is a term to describe a genre that combines hardcore erotica and romance. The sex scenes in romantica are very graphic, detailed, and plentiful, including graphic language, but entwined is a romantic, loving relationship that will reach a level of monogamous commitment by the end of the book. Romantica is perfect for the reader who enjoys extremely hot, graphic sex and fantasy-type situations, but who also finds satisfaction in traditional romance and wants to see characters fall in love.”

There you are, you see: these books are about, as the little old ladies in my tiny hometown would say, having your wedding cake and eating it, too. (If you’re from a small town, I’m sure you’ve seen them, the charming old women who snicker behind their purses at weddings, hissing at one another, “Can you BELIEVE she’s wearing white?” but still who like enough the bride enough to buy her a fondue pot as a wedding present.)

If you are thinking about pitching to Ms. Gorlinsky, you would do well to read the entire article from which this description is excerpted, because it is full of very useful definitions. She delineates between sensual romance, romantica, erotica, and pornography in a very businesslike manner, for those of us who were curious. (As a mainstream novelist who reads a lot of literary fiction, I had not known, for instance, that a ménage à trois could not fit into the first two categories. Really? I wonder what an editor of chick lit would make of that restriction.)

If you want more tips on what Ms. Gorlinsky likes, I think you can do no better than to read her book reviews on Sensual Romance Reviews, http://sr.thebestreviews.com Ideally, if you can find a review of a book that you also read and liked, you will be able to pick up many clues to Ms. G’s tastes. I also found a fairly up-to-date rundown on her upcoming series and publishing trends.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t wait to see what Ms. Gorlinsky has to say for herself at the editors’ forum. I really, really want Ms. Gorlinsky to show up at the conference in a majestic hat and boa, trailing clouds of My Sin wherever she goes, don’t you? In my mind, she has attained the majestic proportions of Elinor Glyn, the novelist/screenwriter who discovered Valentino – and taught him that it was far sexier if he kissed women inside their sensitive palms or the insides of the wrist, rather than on the comparatively tough back of the hand. Ms. Glyn’s 1907 blockbuster THREE WEEKS was considered so scandalous that reviewers suggested that only married people should read it – although the actual writing, by the standards Ms. Gorlinsky lists in her article, and despite a quite steamy episode involving candles, a tiger pelt, and an older woman stalking a callow young Englishman as though she were going to pounce upon him and eat him, might not even rise to the level of sensual romance.

If you have ever written a sex scene, pause every so often in your merrymaking and lift a glass to Elinor Glyn: she charmed open a whole lot of doors for novelists who came after her. And take a second sip in honor of Henry Miller and D.H. Lawrence, while you’re at it. Heck, go ahead and toast Aphra Behn, the first woman known to have written a play in English and been PAID for it, whose 1688 story THE FAIR JILT enlightened the English-speaking world about possible other uses for the confessional.

One final note: when you are making your editor meeting ranking choices, please be careful about confusing Raelene Gorlinsky with Liz Gorinsky of Tor. Yes, I know, it seems like a silly piece of advice, since they publish such different work, but people make silly mistakes when they’re in a hurry.

Tomorrow, the last of the editors, and perhaps a word or two about the good folks teaching the Sunday seminars. Phew! In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Editors, Part V: Fantasy and FANTASY

Hello, readers –

Welcome back to my series on the editors who are scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference. Why am I running through them, you ask? Well, every conference attendee is booked for one appointment with an agent and one with an editor. I suppose one could talk about matters of peripheral interest at these appointments, but most aspiring writers choose to use the time to pitch their work!

Obviously, then, it is in your best interests, dear friends, to ask to see the agent and editor whose preferences most closely match your writing. Most of the attendees have already posted bio blurbs elsewhere on this website (you can find the link on the PNWA homepage), but not all have, and one of my great rules of thumb is that you can never have too much information about people you are trying to impress. Thus, this series. (If you are looking for information on the attending agents, check out my posts from April 26 to May 17.)

I’m trying to get through the rest of the editors this week, because there is a SUBSTANTIAL financial incentive for all of you to register for the conference prior to June 6: it’s $50 cheaper if you register early. I’m just saying.

The sharper-eyed among you may already have noticed that I have skipped Raelene Gorlinsky of Ellora’s Cave in this alphabetical series. I do intend to write about her, but she does not have a blurb up yet. I have it on pretty good authority that her blurb and picture might well be going up on the website this week, so I have been holding off until we had her own words in hand. Rest assured, though, I am not ignoring her many very valid claims on your attention.

So, coming within a few days: an authoritative definition of romantica!

On to the editor du jour, Liz Scheier of Penguin. Right away, I hear alarm bells ringing in the heads of those who have been following this series: Penguin! That’s one of the Pearson Group, isn’t it? That’s a gigantic publisher, so does that mean that they don’t accept unagented work?

See? You really are learning how to think like an industry insider. Make sure to ask Ms. Scheier this question point-blank at the editors’ forum. (Or, if you’re shy about poking someone to whom you may be making a pitch, bribe the person sitting next to you, the one whose nametag indicates that she writes NF or Romance, to do it for you.)

Ms. Scheier edits for Penguin’s New American Library (NAL), including the well-known Roc imprint. While NAL publishes lots and lots of paperbacks, Roc prints SF and Fantasy in hardcover, trade paper, and paperback. (Why is this important? The author’s royalty, expressed as a percentage of the cover price, varies widely by format. The harder the cover, the higher the percentage — and no, the author does not get to pick.)

Heavens, I was getting so carried away with Roc that I forgot to reproduce Ms. Scheier’s blurb from elsewhere on the website:

”Liz Scheier (Editor) spent four years at the Bantam Dell Publishing Group, and left in early 2004 to join the New American Library, a division of the Penguin Group USA. She acquires mainly science fiction, fantasy, and horror for the Roc imprint, but is also interested in biography, humor, popular culture, and works of GLBT interest. She is a graduate of Bryn Mawr College, where she studied English literature and thereby rendered herself blissfully unemployable in any other field.”

A nice, straightforward blurb: I like it. Checking her recent sales to see how heavily she buys in her other areas of interest, I had a bit of a surprise: Ms. Scheier has been busy as a beaver of late buying an even broader array of books than she has indicated here – not only for Roc, but for NAL proper. Because I love you people, I have broken these acquisitions down by category:

Fiction: SF/Fantasy: Diana Pharaoh Francis’s THE CIPHER, “a series set on and around the strange island of Crosspointe, center of commerce and conspiracies.” (Roc, acquired 2005); Faith Hunter’s BLOODRING, “a dark urban fantasy.” (Roc, in a quite spendy three-book deal, 2005); Author of HAMMERED, Elizabeth Bear’s BLOOD & IRON, WHISKEY & WATER, “a contemporary fantasy about the ages-old war between the realms of Faerie and the human mages of the Promethean Society, told from the point of view of the pawns who will be instrumental in deciding the fate of both worlds.” (Roc, acquired 2005); Janine Cross’s MEMOIRS OF A DRAGONMASTER, “a trilogy of dark and erotic fantasy novels.” (Roc, acquired 2004); Chris Bunch’s fantasy trilogy THE STORM OF WINGS, “comprising Dragonmaster, Knighthood of the Dragon, and The Last Battle, originally published by Orbit/Time Warner UK.” (Roc, acquired 2004); Susan Wright’s TO SERVE AND SUBMIT, an erotic fantasy. (Roc, acquired 2004; there are fantasies and there are fantasies, right?); Marianne de Pierres’ NYLON ANGEL, “a sci-fi (sic) novel of a future Australia and the adventures of Parrish Plessis, bodyguard and all-round survivalist.” (Roc, in a two-book deal, acquired 2004); Rachel Caine’s next three books in the Weather Warden series (Roc, acquired 2004); E.E. Knight’s next three untitled Vampire Earth books (Roc, acquired 2004); Lou Anders’ anthology FUTURESHOCKS, “collecting science fiction and sci-horror stories dealing with fears arising out of social, biological or technological change, with include stories by Kevin J. Anderson, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Mike Resnick and Harry Turtledove, and others.” (Roc, acquired 2004)

Fiction: Women’s /Romance (which, please note, was not on her current interest list, but hey, she bought one of these books as recently as last March, so I’m including it): Lucy Finn’s debut paranormal romance, I DREAM OF DIAPER GENIE (NAL. Acquired 2006); USA Today bestseller Savannah Russe’s next three books in the DARKWING CHRONICLES, “an ALIAS meets BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER thriller/suspense series featuring a vampire recruited by the US government to become a spy.” (NAL, acquired 2006).

Fiction: Mystery (also not on her preference list): Jay Caselberg’s next two untitled Jack Stein mysteries, “featuring a psychic investigator.” (Roc, acquired 2004)

Fiction: YA (again, not on her preference list): Rachel Caine’s GLASS HOUSES, the first novel in a three-book vampire series (NAL, acquired 2005)

NF: Humor: PIRATTITUDE! FROM AHOY TO ZANZIBAR, YOUR PERSONAL GUIDE TO ALL THINGS PIRATE, a humorous book by the inventors of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, sharing their tips on how to work pirate patter into your day-to-day conversation; descriptions of what pirattitude is and how to tell if you’ve got it; and observations of who has pirattitude and who doesn’t.” (Avast, already! NAL, acquired 2004)

All right, campers, notice any patterns? Let’s start first with what isn’t here: biography, pop culture, or (unless I am misreading the descriptions) anything with a GLBT bent. In fact, she doesn’t seem to buy much NF at all, which makes me wonder why she has listed so many NF categories – and not all ones that are hot right now. (A good question for someone to ask her at the editors’ forum, maybe?) If I were planning to pitch NF at the conference, I would try to get an appointment with her, but I’m not sure that she would be my first choice.

On to fiction. Frankly, the only horror I’m seeing here is vampire-oriented fantasy, which raises the rather interesting question of whether she would even consider any non-bloodsucking flavor of horror. The fact that she (or someone in her office) has listed SERVE AND SUBMIT as SF/Fantasy makes me wonder, too, what criteria are being used to categorize the books – or if the editor was doing a little genre-blurring here.

Because my eyebrows were raised a little by this list, and because Ms. Scheier’s transplant from Bantam was fairly recent, I did some checking from farther in her acquisitional past. Take a gander at her last year of sales at Bantam:

Fiction: Chick lit (not a peep about which on her preference list, you will note): Donna Kauffman’s SLEEPING WITH BEAUTY and NOT-SO-SNOW WHITE, “two more fun, sassy chick lit novels, taking a new twist on your average fairy tale.” (Bantam Dell, acquired 2003); Donna Kauffman’s THE CINDERELLA RULES, “a sexy new contemporary novel.” (Bantam, two-book deal, acquired 2002.)

Fiction: mainstream (ditto): “Susan Miller’s untitled story of a Jamaican woman who leaves her beloved daughter in her mother’s care and comes to America in search of a better life, caring for the children of a wealthy Chicago-area family, who must rebuild her life after her six-year-old daughter is killed.” (Bantam Dell, acquired 2003); Sean Murphy’s THE FINISHED MAN (along with one other untitled novel), “a witty satire about a down on his luck (sic) writer in LA, determined to discover the truth about his successful hack writer friend’s new novel that is inexplicably getting great reviews.” (Bantam, acquired 2003; this is presumably not to be confused with all of those non-witty satires out there.)

Almost doesn’t sound like the same editor as the earlier list, does it? Her track history takes an abrupt swerve after she moves to NAL: she apparently used to do women’s and chick lit, which may explain why her SF/Fantasy preferences seem a tad romance-like. As I have pointed out before, the preferences of the publishing house or agency necessarily trump those of the individual editor or agent who works there, but this is quite a strong switch. It makes me wonder if she would still be open, say, to women’s or chick lit, if someone happened to pitch it to her. Or whether she really wanted to be doing Fantasy all along, but Bantam did not want her to go in that direction. Either is possible.

My strongest recommendation, based upon all this evidence: if you write SF, fantasy, or vampire books with a fair amount of pretty flesh in them, this would probably be a GREAT editor meeting for you to have. If your tastes in SF/Fantasy run in other directions, particularly dark ones, head for Liz Gorinsky (she of the genuinely interesting photo next to her conference blurb). If you can manage to score spaces in both of their pitch meetings, great, but looking at their respective track records, I suspect that they define their chosen genres rather differently.

It just goes to show you (again!) that similar words in different editors’ blurbs do not always translate into their liking similar books. Keep reminding yourself: they are all individuals, with personal tastes and quirks. Listening carefully at the editors’ forum can be invaluable for discovering what those works are.

Oh, and one other thing about Ms. Scheier: she has bought a LOT of books in the last three years from Lucienne Diver at Spectrum Literary. So if you absolutely fall in love with what Ms. Scheier says on the editors’ panel, you might want to consider shooting a query off to Ms. Diver seconds after the conference concludes.

On an unrelated note, I had mentioned in yesterday’s post that there are not a whole lot of good books out there geared toward helping writers pitch books, rather than screenplays. Ever-helpful loyal reader Toddie wrote in to point out that Arielle Eckstut (THAT’s a name that should sound pretty familiar by now) and David Henry Sterry’s PUTTING YOUR PASSION INTO PRINT does in fact deal with this issue, “including a sampling of three (pitches) on pp. 88-89.” She reports that the book is primarily geared toward NF.

Thanks for the tip, Toddie! If any of you out there know of good resources for writers anxious to learn how to pitch, please do let me know.

A couple more days, and I think we shall have the editors polished off. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Editors, Part IV, in which it once again becomes ASTONISHINGLY clear why it’s important to do some background checking before you make your agent and editor selections

Hello, readers –

Pardon my Dickensian title, but today, I am going to be writing about an editor with such a specific specialty — AND from a house that accepts unagented work, no less — that the idea that any of you out there who write in her area might NOT be aware of her preferences prior to making your conference choices…well, let’s just say that it’s not a prospect I like very much. And WHY would someone registering for the conference NOT know what this particular editor buys? Say it with me now: because she did not post a blurb on the PNWA site.

In case you’re tuning in late to find me apoplectic, welcome to my ongoing series on the editors who are scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference. I have been gleaning as much information as I can on them, so you may make your appointment choices wisely. If you are looking for the scoop on the agents who will be attending, check out my EXTENSIVE series on them, April 26 through May 17.

Okay, back to my jumping up and down. If you have already registered for the conference online (which is easy to do! On this very website!), you may have noticed the name of Carrie Obry in the editors’ column. Being a thoughtful, observant kind of person, you might perhaps have wondered (a) what publishing house currently employs her and (b) what kind of books she is empowered to acquire. Little things like that. If you have been following this series on editors, you might also have – because you are so clever – wondered IF she is empowered to acquire unagented work.

If you did indeed wonder these things, my bright-as-buttons friends, and that wonder made you hesitate about selecting her as an appointment choice, congratulations! You are thinking like a publishing professional. One of the great rules of the industry: never buy a pig in a poke.
I’m not entirely sure what a poke is, in its natural state, but in this context, it means don’t do business with people whose credentials you don’t know.

That’s really what made Random House look bad in the eyes of the industry in the A MILLION LITTLE PIECES debacle, you know — not that they might have knowingly perpetuated a fraud upon the reading public (which happens too frequently to stir much comment, and besides, didn’t the book sell considerably better AFTER the scandal broke?), but that they did not do the requisite checking to see, say, how long Mssr. Frey had actually been in jail. And, since the book had originally been pitched as fiction, the industry expectation would have been that they would ask at least a FEW questions before the book hit the shelves at Borders.

A corollary of the great rule is that specialization saves busy people time. Remember yesterday’s post, where I told the story of the editor who scoffed when I suggested that there were writers out there who would hold off on submitting their work to agents on the strength of an editor’s conference request to see the first chapter? His attitude was far from unusual: few annoyances are as deeply resented within the industry as having one’s time wasted. So the idea that any reasonable person would sit immobile for three to six months while someone he had barely met did or didn’t get around to reading his submission, without taking prudent further steps to promote the work, was absurd, within his worldview. This is an industry where it does pay to be proactive.

In that spirit, then, I tracked down some facts on Carrie Obry, who (and it may surprise you to hear this, after the preceding diatribe) should probably be your top-ranked editor if you write NF on alternative health, healing, or New Age-oriented self-help. Because, you see, not only is Ms. Obry an editor at St. Paul-based Llewellyn, near the top of the heap of New Age publishing houses, but she was hired in 2003 SPECIFICALLY to expand Llewellyn’s offerings in these areas.

So: yoga, anyone? (And no jokes, please, from those of you familiar with Llewellyn’s line of tarot and divination books: no, I don’t think Ms. Obry expected us to find out where she worked through skrying or passing a pendulum over Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers.)

Oh, and did I forget to mention that Llewellyn not only accepts, but encourages submissions from unagented writers? Bless them, Whomever, because they make their submission guidelines so very easy for prospective authors to find.

If you are unfamiliar with Llewellyn’s traditional strengths (they produce a very beautifully-packaged astrological calendar series every year, for example), check out their website and see whom they are publishing these days. Fair warning: because they primarily produce esoterica, a LOT of their authors seem to write under pseudonyms. If you are in the greater Seattle area, it’s even easier to get a sense of their offerings: East/West Books on 65th and Roosevelt usually is stuffed to the brim with their titles.

I am harping on Llewellyn a little, because in the past, I have met quite a few authors at the PNWA conference who habitually preface their pitches with, “I know you’re not going to believe that this is a true story, but…” or “Most mainstream publishers are really hostile to channeled work, but…” If you have ever uttered these phrases, or ones like them, in connection to your writing, Llewellyn might be an excellent fit for you. The house’s motto, “new worlds of mind and spirit,” seems to be genuinely reflective of their acquisition philosophy: they are open to innovative approaches, and they are not overly fettered by a sense of normalcy.

Llewellyn describes its offerings in Ms. Obry’s area as books that “will encourage you to take a healthy degree of responsibility for your wellness by giving you the tools to understand it — holistically.” Traditionally, the house’s preference has been for books that are very straightforwardly hands-on; be the book about how to hold a séance or how to have tantric sex, they like clear how-to writing on esoteric subjects.

If you are curious about what this translates into in terms of sentence and paragraph structure, Ms. Obry wrote a column on sound healing some years ago for New Worlds, Llewellyn’s magazine/catalog. In it, Ms. Obry was kind enough to define true health, à la Llewellyn:

”True health involves the whole you — mind, body and spirit. These days, I hope no one will refute that, but we workaday folks, as involved as we are with mundane demands, can easily forget to incorporate patterns that support holistic health into our daily lives. Rarely would we hesitate to see a doctor and take medication if we had strep throat, but what do we usually do if we feel disengaged, anxious, stressed, overworked or over-stimulated? Don’t accept the popular message that these unpleasant states are endemic to our busy and disconnected consumer age. Empowering yourself by nourishing your mental health will have a positive impact on your wellbeing — and you will have fun while doing it.”

If you are planning to pitch a self-help or health book that is not very New Age in philosophy, do not be too quick to dismiss Llewellyn as a possible publisher; Ms. Obry sounds as though she might be open to a very non-woo woo book on incorporating healthful practices into everyday life. It is probably worth trying to finagle a seat at one of her group pitch meetings, if you could fit your book into that mold. However, as the meeting rosters of editors who do not post pitches tend to fill up more slowly than those who do, you might want to rank another editor first, if your work is easily accessible to a more mainstream audience – and then rush to the appointments table as soon as they open, to see if you can slip into one of Ms. Obry’s groups.

I have a very serious caveat to append to this advice, however. Since we do not have information from Ms. Obry herself, and since the information I was able to find on her editorial habits was a couple of years old, it is in fact possible that her preferences have changed in the interim. It is even theoretically possible that she no longer works at Llewellyn. The logic above may – and I dread to say this, but it is not inconceivable – may not be a trustworthy guide.

I’m just being honest here.

How can you find out for sure? The same way that you would with an agent who did not provide a conference blurb: go to the editors’ forum at the conference and listen carefully to what Ms. Obry says she is looking to acquire. There is no way that you could conceivably get more up-to-the-minute preference information than that.

You see, I have been hanging around the publishing industry long enough that I don’t like the idea of any of you buying a pig in a poke.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

P.S. to the loyal reader who wrote in asking for recommendations for books on pitching: since verbal pitches (as opposed to written ones) are actually not the primary medium by which writers gain the attention of agents and editors, there is surprisingly little out there specifically designed to help writers prepare for this daunting process. I shall do some investigation, however. In the meantime, the practice of verbal pitching by the author is borrowed wholesale from the motion picture industry, where screenwriters give verbal pitches all the time. Check out the screenwriting section of a well-stocked bookstore, and see if you can find a book with a good how-to chapter for fledgling screenwriters.

That being said, don’t forget to mark your calendar for June 24, my class on how to prepare yourself for a pitch meeting!

Editors, Part III: Boys and their toys

Hello, readers –

I’m going to begin on a personal note today: thanks to all of you who have been writing in to congratulate me about my memoir’s coming out, but no matter what Amazon is saying about the book, it has NOT been released. Not even a little bit.

To the best of my knowledge, the review copies haven’t even gone out yet, so I’m not sure why Amazon is saying otherwise (as, I’m told, are some bookstores). I’ve asked my publisher to look into this, but to be perfectly honest, I have absolutely no idea when the book is coming out. Really. I wouldn’t kid about such a thing.

And if it surprises you that the author might not be kept in the loop about that sort of information — welcome to the publishing industry, baby. The author is often the last to know about major decisions about her own book. I did not even see the book cover prototype before it was posted online — which I discovered by accident — featuring a title that I had thought was still the subject of spirited debate. Not only have I been left out of the loop, I’m not even sure that the loop has ever visited my time zone.

When it does come out, trust me, my readers will be the first to know. Or at any rate, the first to know after I know it myself.

Okay, that off my chest, we can get back to business. Welcome to the third installment of my series on the editors scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference. (If you are looking for information about the attending agents, in order to make your ranking choices wisely, please see my postings for April 26 to May 17.)

I’ve heard a little grumbling out there after last week’s posts, where I broke the news that since most of the major publishing houses have firm policies specifically precluding the possibility of acquiring unagented work, it is highly unlikely that even an editor who ADORES your conference pitch will attempt to pick up your book directly. It does happen, from time to time, with editors from smaller houses with less draconian policies, but generally speaking, the best an editor from a major house can do for a conference attendee is provide a sterling recommendation to an agent to handle your book.

It is very, very easy to lose sight of this fact at a conference, especially when you’ve just heard a fabulous speech at the editors’ forum by an editor who seems perfect for your work. Once they start waxing philosophical, editors tend to sound very much as though they are at the conference SOLELY to acquire books, but history tends to show otherwise. If you find yourself starting to doubt this when you hear them speak at the forum, shoot your paw in the air immediately and ask point-blank how many of them acquire unagented work.

Then listen to the dull, unconscious moan that rises from the crowd after the answer.

At conferences past, both locally and elsewhere, I have seen the responses to this question clear an editor’s appointment schedule faster than an earthquake sends people scurrying under the nearest table. But, as I said last week, there are a number of very solid reasons to go ahead and make a pitch to an editor from a major house. Just do not go into the meeting expecting to be discovered, and you can get a great deal out of it.

”Wait just a second,” I hear the more conference-experienced of you out there murmuring. “I’ve been at editorial appointments where an editor from a major house asked for my first chapter. In fact, I’ve been to appointments where the editor asked everyone at the table to send him something. If the majors don’t take unagented work, why would he do that?”

An excellent question, and one with a very, very simple answer — or rather, with one nice public answer and one less nice private one. The public answer is that conscientious conference organizers like the PNWA’s generally extract a promise from attending editors that they will be open to having SOME writers send them submissions. This is why — and we’ve all seen this happen — sometimes editors will just ask everyone at the meeting table to send the first chapter. Some editorial assistant will read it, and the promise will have been fulfilled.

Don’t be surprised, though, if the promise takes months to be fulfilled, or if you do not hear back from the editor at all — because, you see, the major houses are simply not set up to receive submissions from unagented writers. Thus, without the well-regulated pattern of nagging, “Have you read it yet?” calls a good agent provides, conference submissions tend to fall through the cracks.

It is completely legitimate to ask an editor at a conference what kind of turn-around time to expect, but don’t be floored if it is expressed in months, rather than weeks. A couple of years ago, right after I won the PNWA Zola award for best NF book, I was in a group pitch meeting with an editor from St. Martin’s. As I have both friends and clients who have published through St. Martin’s, I was aware of their policy about unagented work (con), so I asked the editor what kind of turn-around time my tableful of colleagues should expect from him.

”Three to six months,” he answered, straight-faced.

Readers, I couldn’t help it: I started to laugh, with rather annoyed the gentleman. He was probably just being honest. We subsequently had a rather interesting little conversation (which I’m not sure mollified him much) about how conference-going writers often hang their hopes on the implied editorial promise to read their submissions, and thus (unwisely, I think) don’t continue sending out queries while they are waiting to hear back from the editor who seemed so nice at the conference. The editor professed not to be aware that writers did this: “It’s a business,” he scoffed. “They should know better than to spend that much time on a single prospect.”

You will forgive me, I hope, if I heard this as a pretty explicit directive not to bother to send him anything at all.

So why, I hear you wondering, would an editor at a major house bother to have an assistant read conference-gleaned submissions in the first place? For one very simple reason: because your book may be the next DA VINCI CODE, that’s why. Nobody wants to be the editor who had the chance to buy the rights to a blockbuster for a couple of thousand dollars and blew it. No, everybody wants to be the editor who recognized the embryonic talent and directed it to an agent with the implicit understanding that no other editor would see the work and bid it up before he acquires it himself.

Hey, I’m just the messenger here.

Again: think about what else you can get out of your editorial appointment, and walk in determined to make such a good impression that you will be laying the groundwork for a possible future discussion, years from now, about your work.

On to our editor du jour, David Moldawer, who works at Riverhead, a division of Penguin. Mighty big publishing house, Putnam, with policies, I believe, similar to others of its size. Here’s what Mr. Moldower had to say about himself in the blurb he gave to the PNWA:

” David Moldawer (Editor) is an editorial assistant at Riverhead Books, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA). David is looking to acquire nonfiction books on pop culture, science, technology, the internet, and psychology. Secondarily, he is seeking smart, funny fiction targeted at a younger male demographic.

” Prior to Riverhead, David worked at W. W. Norton & Company and Arcade Publishing.”

Okay, those of you who have been following the whole series, let’s see how well you have been paying attention. Mr. Moldawer has told you something VERY important in this blurb, but you would have had to be pretty familiar with the preferences of the agents coming to the conference to notice it. Any guesses?

One of the major patterns yours truly noticed in this year’s crop of agents is that an unusually high percentage of them were explicitly looking for books aimed at young men. This is surprising, because young men (and men in general) are not the biggest buyers of books in North America, outside of certain genres. So when I see an editor express an interest in them as his ONLY fiction preference, I begin to suspect that he may, let’s say, be open to back-room at the conference collaborations with those agents who share his preferences. I would suspect, perhaps wrongly, that he might have remotely considered the possibility of hooking up authors of these kinds of works with those agents on an informal basis. If I were being very conspiracy-minded, I might draw the conclusion that he has already talked to these agents about it.

So here is how I read the tealeaves on this one: if you write for men under 50, and your work is even vaguely humorous: find a way to score a seat in one of Mr. Moldawer’s group
pitch sessions. Otherwise…yes, it’s a chance to practice your pitch, but you might want to make an appointment elsewhere.

If you are unsure if your writing would interest Mr. Moldawer, check out his rather hefty web presence, starting with his personal website. Here’s what he says about himself there:

“David Moldawer is a writer, playwright, and videographer living in New York City. A Manhattan native, he graduated from Amherst College with a B.A. in Theater in 2000, and has been writing and making videos ever since. His plays have won teeny little awards and notices here and there, and his story, Scotty Buys a Pair of Scrubs, was published in the Portland Review…David works in editorial at a prestigious publishing imprint, and lives with his girlfriend and their dog.”

He sounds like an interesting guy, doesn’t he? He’s a short story writer in his own right (so he should have known better than to introduce characters with so little character development: what KIND of dog? Who IS this girlfriend, and is she in the videos?), whose personal tastes in fiction run to SF – he regularly writes reviews of new SF releases. But please, SF writers, don’t get your hopes up: I could not find one scintilla of evidence that Mr. Moldower is in a position to acquire SF books, alas. (Riverhead’s list focuses on literary fiction, narrative NF, memoirs – none of which are noted for being the reading preference of those sporting Y chromosomes, I might point out. They also publish spiritual texts — seriously, the Dalai Lama is one of their authors.) This confirmed my gut feeling on the subject: in one of his many personal blurbs floating around in the ether, Mr. Moldower reports that he “unleashes his inner geek writing reviews of the latest scifi (sic) books.” (As those of you fond of the genre already know, insiders have never called it sci fi, however spelled: amongst the cognoscenti, it is always SF or not abbreviated at all.) But then, he is quite young (he’s only been out of college for 6 years), and junior editors move around a lot: he might well end up editing SF some day.

If I were going to spend half an hour of my life, sitting around with an editor from a major publishing house who is not going to buy my work and listening to other people’s pitches, I have to say, Mr. Moldower sounds as though he would be a good choice for a table companion. I’m always a big fan of publishing professionals who have the personal guts to keep writing and sending out their own work, so they know what the process feels like from both sides. And Riverhead, from all I hear, is a good place to be a first-time author – although their reputation for that rests in their literary fiction, which he is apparently not seeking.

So would I pitch Mr. Moldower a literary novel, memoir, narrative NF, or spirituality book, since he did not specify that he is looking for these strengths of his imprint? Personally, I would not schedule an appointment in advance to do so, for as I said above, I think he’s coming here looking for something else. However, if I liked him at the editors’ forum, and if some spaces in his group pitch sessions opened up (possibly after some of his scheduled appointment-holders ask whether his house takes unagented work?), I might make the effort.

More editors to follow tomorrow – I really do want to finish up this week, so I can move on to discussing other conference matters, like how to construct a pitch. And for those of you who haven’t yet done so, mark your calendars now: on June 24, I shall be teaching a Writing Connections class on getting through your pitch without fainting or screaming. If you live within driving distance of Seattle, I would love to see you there!

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The Editors, Part II: The rara avis

Hello, readers –

Welcome to Day Two of my series on the editors who will be attending the PNWA conference, to help you pick your appointments wisely. (If you missed my series on the attending agents, check out my archived blogs from April 26 to May 17.) Forgive me if I’m a trifle terse today — developments with my memoir stole away virtually ALL of my writing time today, I’m afraid. (Sorry not to be able to be more specific — my posts of March 30 and April 18 explain at some length the legal reasons I cannot — but I suspect that very soon, I shall be able to fill my readers in on every gory detail. Stay tuned.)

Even in my terseness, I do want to address the issue of what you should and should not expect from an editorial meeting at a conference. Those new to the game often walk into these meetings hoping that if an editor falls in love with their book, they can bypass the agent-finding stage entirely and go directly to a publication contract. A net savings of years!

However, as I explained yesterday, these days, this dynamic is really only at all likely with an editor from a small publishing house. Most of the major publishing houses have ironclad rules against picking up unagented books, so even if you make the best pitch since Columbus convinced Ferdinand and Isabella that there was gold in the New World, the absolute most it is reasonable to hope for here is the editor’s offering to introduce you to a good agent.

Don’t sneer at this — the right introduction could save you years on the road to publication; editors seldom make these recommendations unless they have already decided to buy the book. Another good possible outcome — the editor says, “Hmm, that sounds like an intriguing project. When you find an agent, have her send me the manuscript.” Again, such offers are generally not made lightly, so thank the editor profusely and pocket her business card for future use.

Otherwise, the rewards of these appointments tend to be rather intangible.

So what SHOULD you expect to get out of your meeting with an editor? A chance to make a personal connection with a publishing professional who might be able to help you down the line, a chance to practice and polish your pitch, and an opportunity to conduct yourself like the professional writer you are, networking with and supporting other writers. Anything else is gravy, but if you walk in with a positive attitude, you can always gain at least these three things from any editorial meeting at a conference.

If the editor is a conscientious one (and not too tired from hearing 50 pitches an hour all weekend), you can also expect to get some feedback on your pitch. Listen carefully: editors hear hundreds of pitches per week, so they are pretty fair barometers of what the industry is thinking at the moment. If there is a bestseller out there that your book resembles, the editor will often mention it; if books like yours are out of fashion, he will often mention that, too. Take notes on what the editor says about your project, as well as what he says about others’, and use this information to make your work sound more market-appealing.

Others, did I say? Well, yes: at PNWA, editorial appointments are almost always group affairs, 5-15 eager writers all sitting around a round table, pitching one at a time. It really is in your interests not to be competitive in this situation (see explanation above about the agenting preferences of the major houses, and yesterday’s about the value of being conspicuously charming in these meetings), so listen politely and attentively. Show a little community spirit toward your fellow writers — laugh at their jokes, and make appreciative noises when they mention an intriguing plot point. To coin a phrase, do unto them as you would have them do unto you. If you embrace the meeting as a great opportunity to meet other writers and hear about their work, I guarantee that you will get more out of the experience than if you avoid interaction, merely nervously waiting for your turn to pitch your own work.

More on conference strategy follows, but for now, let’s move on to the editor du jour, Liz Gorinsky of Tor. Here is her blurb from elsewhere on this very site:

”Liz Gorinsky (Editor) is an Assistant Editor at Tor Books, where she edits a list that includes acclaimed fantasy authors Dave Duncan, Cherie Priest, and Jeff VanderMeer. She also assists editors Ellen Datlow, Jim Frenkel, and Patrick and Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

”Liz is primarily interested in acquiring books in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror genres. She tends to prefer works that are dark, weird, literary, or genre-bending, have feminist or GBLT interest, or are some combination of the above; but has been known to surprise herself. As an avid fan of theatre and comic books, she is also open to looking at fantastical works in either of those mediums.

”Liz came to Tor after studying English, psychology, and computer science at Columbia College in New York City, but she is much more likely to draw on skills learned during a three year stint as president of the Columbia University Science Fiction Society. She currently lives in Brooklyn with three roommates.”

I’m not quite sure the purpose of telling us about her roommates, except perhaps to remind conference attendees that NYC rents are legendarily high, and assistant editors do not typically make a whole lot of money. It is worth recalling: when you are sitting in front of a person who has the power to make or break your book, it is easy to think of her as all-powerful, but in point of fact, it’s not a very lucrative job. Most editors honestly do go into it because they love books, believe it or not.

Because Ms. Gorinsky is an assistant editor — and thus, as she tells us, often edits work acquired by other editors, I am not completely comfortable relying upon the standard industry databases as an indicator of her interests. Since Tor operates mostly in paperback, which has a higher turnover than hardback, your safest bet is probably to go to a well-stocked bookstore with a solid SF/Fantasy section and look up the authors she lists above. To widen your search, do be aware that Tor also publishes a very broad array of SF and fantasy: in fact, Tor has won the Locus Award for Best Publisher for the past 15 years running. To make your search a little easier, here are some of the writers currently publishing under the Tor imprint, in alpha order:

Roger MacBride Allen, Kevin J. Anderson, Catherine Asaro, Steven Barnes, Lisa Barnett, TA Barron, Greg Bear, Joanne Bertin, John Betancourt, Terry Bisson, Margaret Wander Bonnano, Ben Bova, Richard Bowes, Steven Brust, Pat Cadigan, Ramsey Campbell, Orson Scott Card, Jonathan Carroll, Raphael Carter, Jeffrey A. Carver, Jack L. Chalker, Stephen Chambers, Suzy McKee Charnas, Bryan Cholfin, Hal Clement, Brenda Clough, David B. Coe, Storm Constantine, Greg Costikyan, Kathryn Cramer, Tony Daniel, Jack Dann, Ellen Datlow, Pamela Dean, Keith RA DeCandido, Charles de Lint, Carole Nelson Douglas, Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, David Drake, Diane Duane, Rosemary Edghill, Brad Ferguson, Robert L. Forward, Gregory Frost, Lisa Goldstein, Terry Goodkind, Kathleen Ann Goonan, Steven Gould & Laura J. Mixon, Terence M. Green, Jack C. Haldeman II, Thomas Harlan, David G. Hartwell, Elizabeth Haydon, Kij Johnson, Janet Kagen, David Keck, James Patrick Kelly, Elizabeth Kerner, Katharine Kerr, Donald Kingsbury, Nancy Kress, Ellen Kushner, Mercedes Lackey, Geoffrey A. Landis, Warren Lapine, Justin Leiber, Paul Levinson, Shariann Lewitt, David Lubar, Brian Lumley, Michael Marano, Marc Matz, Paul McAuley, Anne McCaffrey, Wil McCarthy, Terry McGarry, Maureen McHugh, Donna McMahon, Sean McMullen, Beth Meacham, Melisa C. Michaels, Karen Michalson, Sasha Miller, Pat Murphy, Linda Nagata, Yvonne Navarro, Sharan Newman, Andre Norton, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Patrick O’Leary, Rebecca Ore, Clifford Pickover, Frederik Pohl, Jerry Pournelle, Christopher Priest, Michael Reaves, Kit Reed, Katya Reimann, Mike Resnick, Madeleine E. Robins, Spider Robinson, Michaela Roessner, Joel Rosenberg, Rudy Rucker, Fred Saberhagen, Robert J. Sawyer, Frank Schaefer, Melissa Scott, Robert Sheckley, Charles Sheffield, Brian Francis Slattery, Joan Slonczewksi, Sherwood Smith, Stephanie Smith, SP Somtow, Norman Spinrad, John E. Stith, Diann Thornley, Dave Trowbridge, Joan D. Vinge, Jo Walton, Lawrence Watt-Evans, Peter Watts, Robert Weinberg, Martha Wells, Jack Whyte, Walter Jon Williams, F. Paul Wilson, Terri Windling, John Wright, Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, and Jane Yolen.

Seem a trifle extreme that I listed them all? I was trying to make a point about editors in general, and Tor in particular. SF/Fantasy covers a LOT of different kinds of prose, just as any general category does; there are authors on this list who really don’t have anything in common except their chosen genre and the fact that their work is published by Tor.

Out of this impressive list, Ms. Gorinsky has chosen to tell you about only three: Dave Duncan, Cherie Priest, and Jeff VanderMeer. If this is your area, and you have your heart set on wowing Ms. G, I have a suggestion: figure out what makes these three writers’ work stand out in the larger list. How is it different from that of other Tor authors? Once you’ve figured that out, look at your own book: does it share qualities with those of Mr. Duncan, Ms. Priest, or Mr. VanderMeer? If so, can you work those qualities into the first couple of lines of your pitch?

That may sound like a whole lot of work between now and the conference, but if you write in Ms. Gorinsky’s chosen areas, it’s well worth doing. Why? Because — wait for it — TOR ACCEPTS UNAGENTED MANUSCRIPTS. This means, realistically, that Ms. Gorinsky is one of the only editors attending the conference who could actually acquire a book directly from an author she met there.

Let’s all pause for a moment to let those delicious little facts seep into our craniums.

Why, then, did I preface her write-up with an explanation of why editors almost never pick up books at conferences? So you would properly value your opportunity to pitch to Ms. Gorinsky, my friends. In the conference world, an editor at a good publishing house who is willing to read unagented work is as rare as a Bengal tiger: yes, they still do turn up occasionally in the wild, but it’s getting harder and harder to spot them.

And because it’s best to be prepared well in advance of when you walk into a meeting with any publishing professional, here is the link to Tor’s submission guidelines.

Have a great weekend, everybody. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

The Editors, Part I

Hello, readers —

Today, I am switching gears, moving from the agents who are scheduled to be at this summer’s PNWA conference to the editors. (If you missed any or all of my posts on the agents, check out the archived blogs for April 26 to May 17.) Typically, all conference attendees are scheduled for one appointment with an agent and one with an editor, but all too often, aspiring writers make their preference choices for these appointments blindly, or based solely upon the blurbs that the agents and editors provide. My hope, in showing you how much other information is out there about these people, is to help my readers get in the habit of researching publishing industry professionals before meeting with or querying them. The more you know about them, the more likely you are to find a good fit for you.

Why is a good fit so important? I’ve said it before, and I shall say it again: there is no such thing as a universally good agent or editor, one who will be the perfect choice for every single marketable book on the planet.

Why? Well, I grew up in a winemaking family, so a food and wine metaphor strikes me as most apt. If you ate a delicately-flavored fish with a very heavy red wine, such as a Cabernet Franc, the fish would not appear to its best advantage: the taste of the wine would overwhelm it. Conversely, if you drank a light Sauvignon Blanc with a powerfully-flavored meat dish, such as a cassoulet or a juicy steak, the taste of the wine would be overpowered by the food. However, if you paired the fish with the Sauvignon Blanc, and the Cabernet Franc with the steak, the result would be two distinctly different combinations of partners of equal strength and complementary qualities. You would enjoy your meal more, because all of the aromas and flavors would be shown off to their full advantage.

See where I’m going with this?

As a writer, you want your book to be paired with the agent and editor best suited to bringing out your work’s many excellent qualities. Yet much of the time, writers become so intimidated by the array of choices or frustrated by the long road to signing with an agent that they will snatch at an agent or editor simply because s/he IS an agent or editor. The result, often, is like an exquisite white fish in beurre blanc absolutely drowned by a tannin-rich red wine: they just don’t merge well enough to produce an enjoyable experience for anyone concerned. And, since the writer is typically the person with the least power in the situation, it’s usually the writer who suffers.

However, hooking up with the right agent — instead of just any agent — and with the right editor — ditto — can make a book shine, and this is as true whether we’re talking about work intended for the rarified palate of the literary fiction reader or the meat-and-potatoes tastes of the mainstream reader or the exotic taste buds of the SF/Fantasy reader. An agent who does not understand a book can rarely sell it, no matter how marketable the concept is, and an editor who really wants a different kind of book than you want to write will push you toward a compromise volume that satisfies neither.

This is why I am so adamant that knowing merely the general genre preferences of an agent or editor is not enough: the prudent writer needs to learn what SPECIFIC kinds of prose appeal to them — and, in an industry as subject to fashion as publishing, what KINDS of prose appeal to them right now, as opposed to a decade ago. To that end, I have been passing along information about individual sales for the various agents. And now, insofar as I am able, I am going to share information about individual acquisitions that the editors have made recently, so you may judge for yourself who of these people is the right fit for you.

As usual, bear in mind that I have gleaned this information from the standard industry databases and resources, which are not always completely accurate or up-to-date. I am not making recommendations here, merely passing along data. And, also as usual, I’m going to start with what the editors say about themselves, if they have posted blurbs.

Alphabetically, the first editor scheduled to appear at PNWA is Colin Fox of Warner. Here’s what he has to say for himself, in the post elsewhere on this fine website:

“Colin Fox (Editor) has worked at Warner Books for nearly six years, editing both fiction and nonfiction. His list of novelists includes such folks as the Pacific Northwest’s very own Robert Dugoni, along with David Baldacci, Brian Haig and Donald E. Westlake. On the nonfiction side, Colin has edited Billy Crystal, Lou Dobbs, Tucker Carlson, Henry Louis Gates, the family of Terri Schiavo, comedian David Cross and country star Gretchen Wilson. His primary areas of interest include commercial fiction, politics, current events, gambling, narrative nonfiction, pop culture, sports, business and humor.”

Hmm. He works with some pretty heavy hitters, but he’s trying not to be intimidating (“such folks” is a nice down-to-earth touch). I’m not sure that the NF list tells us much about how he would work with a writer new to the biz, as presumably “such folks” were pretty well-established as celebrities before he worked with them. Also, current event books are almost invariably written by well-established journalists, pundits, or political players, another kind of celebrity.

Let’s take a gander at what he’s acquired in the last three years, to see what he’s looking for in non-celebrity books, as well as what flavors of commercial fiction he favors:

Fiction: “Co-author of THE CYANIDE CANARY Robert Dugoni’s debut legal thriller A MATTER OF JUSTICE, billed as ‘in the tradition of Scott Turow and Brad Meltzer.'” (Acquired 2005, in a 2-book deal; if this deal sounds familiar, it was because it also appeared on the sale list of agent Meg Ruley.); Donald Westlake’s next three books (acquired 2003).

NF: Politics/Current Events: “Parents of Terri Schiavo Mary Schindler and Robert Schindler and siblings Suzanne Schindler Vitadamo and Bobby Schindler’s untitled memoir, promising to ‘share their love and sorrow, joy and pain, and some shocking revelations as they honor Terri’s life, mourn her death, and finally tell the whole story.'” (Acquired 2005 by Jamie Raab at Warner, but Colin Fox was the actual editor.)

NF: Gambling: THE PROFESSOR, THE BANKER AND THE SUICIDE KING author Michael Craig’s THE FULL TILT POKER STRATEGY GUIDE: Tournament Edition, “a comprehensive tournament strategy guide, featuring tips from the site’s high-profile pros (including Howard Lederer, Chris Ferguson, Erik Seidel, Andy Bloch, Mike Matusow, and Ted Forrest) on all of the varieties of tournament poker.” (Acquired 2006, for buckets of money, as I suppose is appropriate for a gambling book.); Card Player magazine columnist Matt Lessinger’s THE BOOK OF BLUFFS: 66 Poker Bluffs and Why They Worked, “a detailed look at the fine art of bluffing your opponents out of monster pots.” (Acquired 2004)

NF: Sports: Head writer of The Huddle.com David Dorey’s FANTASY FOOTBALL: THE NEXT LEVEL, “going beyond the stats and projections to offer the underlying tools, principles, and strategies for creating an optimal fantasy team year in and year out.” (Acquired 2006: please note that this book was sold to him by an agent who is scheduled to come to the conference, Byrd Leavell.)

NF: Humor: “Star of Fox’s Arrested Development and HBO’s Mr. Show David Cross’s first book, a collection of essays and stories.” (Acquired 2005); Comedian Billy Crystal’s 700 SUNDAYS, “based on his Broadway play of the same name, a poignant and personal portrayal of his youth.” (Acquired 2005, again by Jamie Raab, but Colin Fox was the actual editor.)

NF: Religion/Spirituality (which, please note, was not on his general interest list): LA Times Rome bureau chief Tracy Wilkinson’s “untitled book about the chief exorcist for the Diocese of Rome, Father Gabriele Amorth, and the new generation of exorcists who are following him, along with tracing the history of exorcism from its roots in the early days of Christianity to its current revival.” (Acquired 2005)

NF: Memoir (which, please note, was not on his general interest list): Country music singer Gretchen Wilson’s GRETCHEN WILSON: I’ll Tell You What a Redneck Woman Is, co-written by Allen Rucker, “telling her rags to riches story and offering a roadmap to living the fun, independent and empowering life of a Redneck Woman.” (Acquired May, 2006 — for publication this coming November! Lightning speed that makes the 1-year sprint to get the Schiavo book out for the first anniversary of her death look like a casual mosey…)

Don’t be surprised that this list is not longer — editors, even at major houses, simply do not acquire very many books in any given year. Thus the tough market. However, since Mr. Fox is listed on several sales here as the editor, with someone else doing the actual acquisition, it is possible that I’ve missed some books. However, I couldn’t find any narrative NF or business books at all, and his main sports seem to be couch- or chair-based.

Also, don’t be too put off by the fact that most of these books are written either by celebrities or people with tremendous, already-visible-at-the-time-of-acquisition platforms. Two of these books — the fantasy football book and Robert Dugoni’s thriller — were sold by agents coming to this summer’s conference, Byrd Leavell and Meg Ruley, respectively. Which opens up the very real possibility of a backstage-at-the-conference deal (which happens more than you might think). If Mr. Fox hears a pitch in an appointment that he really likes, he might well give one of these agents a heads-up about the author and the project.

Which, in case you don’t know, is usually what editors at the major houses do anyway, when they find a project at a conference; in Mr. Fox’s case, we simply have a better idea of which agents he might pick. Given Warner’s list in general and Mr. Fox’s list in particular, I would be astonished if he directly acquired any book at any conference, rather than referring a book he liked to an agent.

Why? Most of the major publishing houses have firm policies against acquiring unagented books, although some editors have been known to find ways around such rules. For this reason, you are far, far more likely to have your work picked up by an editor from a small press at any literary conference than an editor from a large one.

And yet there are a couple of very good reasons that you might want to try to get an appointment with an editor like Mr. Fox from a major house. First, as I said, if he falls in love with your project, he may well help you find an agent to sell it to him. Books discovered at conferences have in the past been sold in this way, over drinks while the conference festivities are still roaring away. You might get lucky.

Second, and infinitely more likely, you may well end up working with one of these editors one day, and it is a real advantage if, when your agent is drawing up a list of editors to whom to send your book, you can say, “Oh, I know her — we met at the PNWA conference two years ago.” This has happened twice to me in the last two years, in fact, and in both cases, the fact that they could put a face with the name proved helpful. Also, having spoken with these editors in the past, I had some idea of what they might be like if we did indeed work together.

This leads me to a piece of advice I have literally never seen in another other forum devoted to writers: think of your conference meetings as a chance to impress agents and editors with your personality, as well as your work. Or at least. as a time when it is extremely important not to make a bad impression. Negative first impressions, I have found, linger FAR longer than positive ones, and you certainly don’t want to be the writer who is remembered for having lost her temper and thrown a glass of water at someone in a group meeting. Be as charming as you can without being smarmy.

If you meet an editor from a major house at the conference who strikes you as someone you might want to work with down the road (as in, after you land an agent), go ahead and send her an effusive thank-you note after the conference. Couldn’t hurt, and such graciousness is so uncommon that the editor may well remember your name later on, when your agent slides your manuscript across her desk.

And, as always, remember that you want to walk out of the conference with as many invitations to send your first chapter or proposal as you possibly can. It’s usually easier to finagle an extra editorial meeting than an extra agent one, so keep checking in with the appointment table at the conference; since the editorial meetings are done in groups, there is often a spare chair to be had at the last minute. Yes, that editor from the major house with the agented-work-only policy probably won’t pick up your book, but there’s always the off chance that he’ll refer to you a terrific agent. Not to mention being a great opportunity to practice your pitch, and hear what other people are writing.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

PS: Jot it on your calendar now: on June 24th, I am going to be leading a seminar for PNWA members on how to polish your pitches before the conference. Details follow.

Very Practical Advice, Part XIII: The end of the line

Hello, readers —

Finally, here is the last installment of my series on the agents scheduled to attend this year’s PNWA conference! If you are joining us late, and are interested in seeing my take on who represents what and why among the scheduled attendees, feel free to check out these posts in the archives on this site: the series has run from April 26 to today, May 17. Phew!

The final agent on our list is Joe Veltre of Artists Literary Group, and I have to say, apart from not having posted a blurb about himself on the PNWA website (and the fact that the name of his agency really ought to have an apostrophe in it, because the first word is possessive), he seems at first glance to be the kind of agent I like to see at conferences. He has broad interests, and a solid track record of taking chances on previously unpublished writers. He has a strong sales record — how strong, you ask? Well, he was able to start his own agency a couple of years ago. (If you are interested in the hows and whys of his setting up Artists Literary, here is are links to articles about him and it.) His sales are from across the publishing industry (rather than concentrating on just a few houses, as some agents do), and he has a history of taking positive steps to help aspiring writers. He has even written a series of articles for RomanceTimes.com, intended to enlighten those who would enter the industry.

Since he didn’t post a blurb on the PNWA’s website, I lifted one from elsewhere. Here’s what it says about him on Publishers Marketplace — or at least part of it; I weeded out the information that is primarily about the agency, was not relevant for our purposes, or could apply to any agency in the biz. The guy’s gotten around:

“Joe Veltre is the founder of Artists Literary Group… Veltre began his career at St. Martin’s Press, where he was a Senior Editor, overseeing several imprints, including the Dead Letter/Minotaur Mass Market Mystery program. At St. Martin’s, he acquired books across a wide range of genres, including literary and commercial fiction, thrillers, mysteries, narrative non-fiction, sports books, and pop culture. He then worked as a Senior Editor at HarperCollins, where he acquired and edited high quality non-fiction, working with business writers, journalists, and academics. From there, he went to Miramax, serving dual roles as Director of Development for Miramax Films and Editor-at-Large for Miramax Books. Immediately prior to founding ALG, Veltre served as a Literary Agent and the Foreign and Film Rights Director for Carlisle & Company, a boutique literary agency in New York. There he worked with a wide range of commercial and literary authors, built strong relationships with publishers overseas, and film and television producers, studios, and agents. Veltre’s depth of experience working with major publishers and film companies is the perfect combination for working with authors as their literary agent.

“As the head of ALG, Joe regularly speaks at conferences around the country on topics vital to both aspiring and experienced authors. He is constantly looking for new authors, focusing on a wide range of subjects, including: commercial fiction & non-fiction, literary fiction, thrillers, women’s fiction, mysteries, narrative & political non-fiction, academic and historical non-fiction, romance, suspense, business & how-to non-fiction, and young adult books. He works closely with artists on their literary needs, including: academics, historians, journalists, novelists, filmmakers, sports figures, photographers, doctors, interior designers, TV personalities, business consultants, and military personnel.

“Veltre graduated from Emory University and also attended the University of Alabama’s Graduate English Program, where he taught literature and writing.”

Okay, here’s a quiz to see who has been paying attention all along: who out there recognizes the code term in the last paragraph? And what does it mean? Hint: remember a month or so ago, when I was talking about author bios?

Pencils down, everybody: the code term is “attended,” as opposed to “graduated from.” Mr. Veltre is, I gather, a grad school dropout, which is actually QUITE common in the publishing industry. Especially amongst editors, who are often former English grad students who did not finish their dissertations — thus the nicknames ABD (all but dissertation) and professor manqué. (It is also quite customary for people who DID complete all of the requirements for a Ph.D., such as yours truly, to twit such people about it.) I don’t know at what point our friend Mr. V. left his program, though, or why.

I bring this up, however, not for twitting reasons, but because Mr. Veltre mentions in his blurb working with academics, which is rather unusual for an ABD; it is far more common for those who have fled academia screaming to be more than a touch hostile to your garden variety Ph.D. holder. For this reason, if you are an academic or writing for the academic market, I would recommend sounding him out a little before you pitch. You might, for instance, want to stand up and ask him a few pointed questions during the agents’ forum. If he is indeed someone savvy about academia who LIKES to work with academics, leap over people, if you have to, to give him your pitch. However, before you go to the trouble, let’s go through his recent sales to see if he is still working with academics on a regular basis.

Since Mr. Veltre lists SO many interests, a savvy writer’s first instinct should be to double-check that he sells consistently in all of those areas — that’s a pretty hefty array of contacts to maintain for someone who occasionally likes to pause in his networking long enough to sleep and eat. So here’s what I found for the last three years, broken down by category, in more or less the order he’s listed them himself. As usual, do bear in mind that the standard industry databases are not invariably infallible, and the dates listed are for the initial sale to the publishing house, not date of publication. Please note, too, that Mr. Veltre’s sojourn with Carlisle & Company ended in mid-2004 (mysteriously, he also lists a sale with Inkwell Management in that year), so sales prior to mid-2004 may reflect those agencies’ policies and preferences, rather than his own.

Fiction: PUG HILL author Alison Pace’s THROUGH THICK AND THIN, “about two estranged sisters — one a single, Manhattan workaholic, the other a newly suburban stay-at-home mom — brought back together as they embark on a mutual weight-loss quest that will either finally break them or bond them forever.” (Berkley, sold 2006); LITTLE and THE HIAWATHA author David Treuer’s THE TRANSLATION OF DR. APELLES, “in which a lonely translator discovers a manuscript written in a ‘dead’ language that only he understands and unravels a story leading to his own first true love.” (Graywolf, sold 2005); U Va. Poe/Faulkner fellow and NYT journalist Taylor Antrim’s debut THE HEADMASTER RITUAL, “focusing on the political machinations inside a prestigious prep school as experienced by a first-year history teacher.” (Houghton Mifflin, sold 2005); Robyn Harding’s first novel THE JOURNAL OF MORTIFYING MOMENTS, “about a young woman living two lives–independent and successful in her advertising career, an insecure wreck with her boyfriend–who writes down her worst moments with men over the years to see where she is going wrong, with those ‘moments’ serving as a structure for the book, as she strives to reconcile the two sides of her persona.”(Ballantine, in a 2-book deal, sold 2003; just once, wouldn’t you like to see a female protagonist who is good at BOTH her job and her relationships, or perhaps bad at her job and good at her relationships? Just for variety.)

Fiction: Thriller: Crown editor Jason Pinter’s debut THE MARK, “about a young reporter who becomes a fugitive after being accused of killing a cop, and who must team with a headstrong female law student to uncover a story that could shatter a city.” (Mira, in a three-book deal, sold 2006); Nick Stone’s MR. CLARINET, “set predominantly in the voodoo landscape of Haiti, an ex-cop turned P.I. travels to investigate the strange disappearance of a wealthy family’s missing son.” (William Morrow in the US, Penguin in the UK, for an amount of money I have heard nebulously described as hefty, sold 2005); Sarah Langan’s first novel, THE KEEPER, “in the vein of CARRIE, about two sisters – one who wreaks vengeance upon the small town that wronged her and the other sister who must find a way to stop her.” (William Morrow, at auction, sold 2005)

Fiction: Women’s/Romance (again, the official databases lump both categories together): “21-year-old former fashion model Amanda Kerlin’s SECRETS OF THE MODEL DORM, a year in the life of a young, aspiring model living in a small apartment rented by a modeling agency exclusively to its new clients, as she navigates close quarters among competitive strangers, fueled by alcohol, drugs and obsessive dieting habits.” (Atria, sold 2006; imagine being a former anything at 21.); Jennifer van der Kwast’s first novel POUNDING THE PAVEMENT, “in which a smart, cynical young woman fights to survive in the New York film world, as she looks for work and love, while trying to stay one step ahead of her wicked boss.” (Broadway, at auction, sold 2004, when Mr. Veltre was still at Carlisle and Co.); Grad student Lauren Willig’s THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE PINK CARNATION, “in which a young American grad student travels to London to research the famous Napoleonic spy the Scarlet Pimpernel, where she finds an even more alluring historical story…. and a ‘hero’ of her own.” (Dutton, in a 2-book deal, in 2004, while in the employ of Carlisle & Co.; one wonders if the reason she sours on the Scarlet Pimpernel is that she discovered in her research that he was a fictional character, not a real person — and that he was NOT a Napoleonic spy, but rather an English aristocrat, and thus on the OPPOSITE side from Napoleon, as well as being active years PRIOR to Napoleon’s coming to power, rather than during his reign. The protagonist couldn’t have been a very GOOD grad student without having discovered THIS much while still on THIS side of the pond, no?)

Fiction: Suspense: Journalist Bob Morris’ BAHAMARAMA, “about a guy who just left prison after serving two years on trumped on charges and wants to see his girlfriend, currently overseeing a magazine fashion shoot in the Bahamas, but he arrives to find her kidnapped and has to try and rescue her.” (Minotaur/St. Martin’s, in a three-book deal, sold 2003; he probably means “trumped-up.”)

Fiction: SF/Fantasy (which, please note, was not one of his listed areas of interest): Talia Gryphon’s SHADOW THERAPY, “the first of a series about a paranormal psychologist and sexy blonde, who is drawn into the case of a ‘Fangxiety’ ridden vampire who hopes to save his soul through therapy and, of course, her body.” (Ace, in a three-book deal, sold 2005)

Fiction: I have no idea how to categorize it (Chick lit? Paranormal romance?): Valerie Stivers’ debut BLOOD IS THE NEW BLACK, “about a young woman at a glossy fashion magazine who discovers that the reigning tastemakers have a thirst for blood, pitched as THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA & MEAN GIRLS meets BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.” (Three Rivers Press, at auction, sold 2006)

NF: Narrative: Journalist Shana Alexander’s VERY MUCH A LADY, “looking at the dark truth behind the killing of Scarsdale Diet Doctor Herman Tarnower, the high drama of a sensational trial, and the fate of Jean Harris, a complex woman doomed by love and her own desire.” (Pocket, sold 2004)

NF: Political: Jennifer Abrahamson’s SWEET RELIEF, “about Marla Ruzicka, the 28-year-old American relief worker and founder of CIVIC (Campaign for Innocent Victims of Conflict) killed in Iraq by a suicide bomber in April — after having collaborated on the first part of the manuscript.” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, following the sale of the film rights to Paramount, sold 2005; this is technically listed as a biography.)

NF: Business: Consultant and seminar leader Andy Wibbels’ EASY BAKE BLOGS, “a ‘business blogging cookbook’ on how to leverage blogs to build and market your business.” (Portfolio, sold 2005); NY Jets head coach Herman Edwards with Shelly Smith’s YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME, “the life lessons he lives by and uses to motivate others throughout his successful career.” (McGraw-Hill, sold 2004, with Inkwell Management)

NF: General: Ted Steinberg’s AMERICAN GREEN: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn, “a historical and muckraking look at the lawn industry, a billion dollar subculture, including the disastrous environmental effects and the humorous lengths to which people will go to have the perfect lawn.” (Norton, sold 2005)

NF: Pop Culture (which, please note, was not one of his listed areas of interest): British photographer Alison Jackson’s DOUBLE TAKE, “an Americanized version of her successful UK book presenting satiric photographs of dead ringer look alikes of public figures in odd, compromising, and humorous scenarios, including look-alikes of President Bush, Colin Powell, Martha Stewart, Jennifer Lopez, Madonna, and Michael Jackson.” (Crown, sold 2004 when Mr. Veltre was still at Carlisle and Co.); Julia Bourland’s TWIGS: The Go Girl’s Guide to Nesting, “a lively guide for smart, young women on decorating their first homes or ‘nests,’ be it a studio apartment or suburban home, featuring tips on making your ‘nest’ both a spiritual dwelling and an enjoyable place to entertain.” (Perigee, sold 2004, when Mr. Veltre was still at Carlisle and Co.; whew — aren’t you glad they went to the trouble of defining ‘nest’for us? We might NEVER have figured it out.)

NF: Memoir (which, please note, was not one of his listed areas of interest): Veteran producer Ed Feldman with Tom Barton’s TELL ME HOW YOU LOVE THE PICTURE: A Hollywood Life, “a revealing and humorous memoir by a producer who has worked with everyone from Elizabeth Taylor to Harrison Ford and Glenn Close, on such films as ‘Save the Tiger,’ ‘Witness,’ and ‘The Jungle Book,’ ‘The Truman Show.'” (St. Martin’s, sold 2005); Blogger and photographer Stephanie Klein’s STRAIGHT UP AND DIRTY: The Life of a Young New York Divorcee, “a humorous tell-all tracing the author’s return to single life as a “firm, fashionable, and let’s face it — fetching” twenty-something, plus a memoir based on the author’s childhood experience at Fat Camp.” (Regan Books, for scads of money, sold 2005); Matthew Polly’s AMERICAN SHAOLIN, “a memoir from the first American — a 90 pound weakling at that — to study kung fu with monks at the original Shaolin temple in China, in a two-year martial arts odyssey that includes grueling days of training, a forbidden romance with a local woman, and ultimately a challenge match against a rival kung fu master with the Temple’s honor at stake.” (Gotham, sold 2005); T.J. Waters’s CLASS 11: Inside the Largest Spy Class in CIA History, “about how he was moved to action by 9/11, leaving the business world to join the CIA, becoming the eldest member of one of the Agency’s most diverse training programs at 37 (joining a pro athlete, a 9/11 widow, a chef, a single mom, and Navy Seals, among other trainees), providing an insider’s look at what it takes to become an elite agent in the revamped CIA.” (Dutton, at auction, sold 2005); First Gulf War veteran Buzz Williams’ memoir SPARE PARTS, “following his 28-day transition from a student on a college campus to a warrior in Kuwait, providing an inside look into the preparations and experiences of the hundreds of thousands of reservists who fought in the conflict-and who increasingly represent a core part of our military force strategy.” (Gotham, sold 2003); Journalist Malcolm MacPherson’s ROBERTS RIDGE, “the true story of US Navy SEALs who, seeking to bring home a wounded soldier, get caught in a ferocious battle with Qaeda forces trying to hold their position atop an Afghanistan mountain, told through the perspective of three young warriors, of whom only one survives.” (Bantam Dell, sold 2003; I believe he means al Qaeda and Afghani.)

YA: Brian Tacang (writing as Simon P. Binaohan), BULLY BE GONE: The Misadventures of Millicent Madding, the first in a series “about a young inventor who belongs to the Wunderkind – her school’s most ‘talented’ kids — who look to Millicent’s latest invention for help defending themselves against bullies, which leads to an even bigger disaster which only Millicent can mend.” (HarperCollins Children’s, sold 2003)

No, I cannot tell you why Mr. Veltre (or whoever inputs his sales into the standard industry databases for him) is so fond of putting things in quotation marks that are not in fact quotes. However, I’m inclined to forgive him — did you happen to notice how many first-time authors there were on this list? I may greet this guy at the airport with a fruit basket, on general principle… note, too, the number of vampire titles, those of you who write about bloodsucking creeps.

I do have some reservations, though, based on this list. In answer to our earlier question, I could not find any academic sales at all for the last three years — which, once again, reminds us that it is ALWAYS a good idea to check any agent’s stated representation categories against his recent sales. Nor could I turn up any historical NF, literary fiction, or mysteries. The only How-to book I found under his name was sold in 2001, and the only YA book I found was not particularly recent.

This does not mean that you should not pitch works in these categories to Mr. Veltre, of course — but you might want to do it in the hallway or after the agents’ forum, rather than expending your precious single agent appointment on someone who may or may not be interested in your area. Since he did not provide the PNWA with a blurb, it is probably best to err on the side of caution.

As I have said before, when in doubt, go to the agents’ forum and listen carefully. If you like what you hear from Mr. Veltre, introduce yourself and ask if you can pitch to him. In the past, the agents who did not post blurbs tended not to have all of their appointments filled, so it is always worth checking with the appointment desk about an agent who wows you at the forum.

What do I make of the fact that after so many successful memoir sales, Mr. Veltre is no longer listing memoir as an interest? Simple: it’s the worst period in my lifetime to be trying to sell a memoir, for a million little reasons. If I were looking to find an agent for a memoir at the moment, I would seriously consider sticking the book in a drawer for a year, until the publishing industry has stopped panicking about a few isolated incidents of fraud. If you do want to go ahead with a memoir now, be prepared for questions about whether you have signed releases from every living person you mention.

Oh, and speaking of embattled memoirs, in case you’ve been curious: to the best of my knowledge, my memoir (A FAMILY DARKLY: LOVE, LOSS, AND THE FINAL PASSIONS OF PHILIP K. DICK) was NOT released last week, contrary to Amazon’s assertions. That fine emporium’s website is now saying that the book will ship in 1 to 3 months — let’s hope that they’re right about that. My publisher has not yet given me a specific release date, for a whole slew of very complex and very boring legal reasons. (If you want to learn about the memoir’s blood-curdling saga on its road to publication, please see my posts of March 20 and April 18.) I shall keep you updated, though.

Tomorrow, on to the editors! Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part XII: Hide and Seek

Hello, readers —

Only three agents left in my ongoing series on agents scheduled to attend the upcoming PNWA conference, to help you make your meeting choices. Kudos to our good webmaster Andrew, who has now made it possible for those of you who have not been following the whole series for the past few weeks to check them out in the archives. Thanks, Andrew!

Today, I’m stepping out of alphabetical order a little, because two of the three remaining agents are very, very difficult to track down. The third was gloriously easy — sales pouring out of the standard databases as though I’d just stuck a nickel in the right slot machine — and hey, I’m only human. As a reward, #3 gets a blog all to himself.

Perhaps it isn’t fair to lump the other two together — one has a blurb posted on the PNWA website, and one does not; one has a listing in the standard agency guides, and the other does not. What they do seem to have in common is not posting their sales on the standard industry databases; neither apparently has a website. So really, I have had to rely almost exclusively upon their own promotional statements (where they exist) and a whole lot of web surfing to find out anything about them. Which, as you may have noticed, does not put me in the best of moods.

Speaking of which: I notice that there are a few more agent blurbs now up on the PNWA’s website, including more pictures, as well as blurbs for Farley Chase and Byrd Leavell. Check them out, if only so you can recognize them by sight at the conference.

The first agent for today, and the one who took the time to post a blurb on the site, is Ann Tobias of A Literary Agency for Children’s Books (how, oh HOW do they come up with these names?). Here’s that blurb:

“Ann Tobias (Agent) is both a children’s book editor and literary agent. She heads A Literary Agency for Children’s Books, which was established in 1988 in Washington, D.C., and is now located in New York City. As an agent, she represents authors and artists of books for children of all ages –from infancy through adolescence — picture books, mid level novels, young adult fiction, and selected nonfiction and poetry.

“Ann is also the Executive Editor of Handprint Books, a start-up children’s book publishing company in the Park Slope neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Handprint Books specializes in picture books but has begun adding novels for the mid-level reader to its list as well.”

As I said, I wasn’t able to pull up any sales for her or her agency on the standard industry databases, and in doing some research, I found out why: she is listed in the standard agency guides as preferring not to share information about specific sales. Hmm. Makes it a trifle hard for prospective clients to figure out what she likes to represent, doesn’t it?

(Since I have been going on regular diatribes for several weeks now about how much more useful SPECIFIC preference information is than general category information, I will spare you the repetition of it here. Suffice it to say that EVERY marketing category contains a broad range of possible books.)

So: if you write for the children’s or YA markets, I would suggest that you try to pitch to Ms. Tobias at the conference. I wish I could narrow it down more than that, but without either a stronger indication from the lady herself or a list of recent sales, I’m afraid I cannot.


Let me share what I was able to find out. She does seem to sell pretty consistently in her chosen field: 12 last year and 23 in 2002, and with her editorial connections, that makes abundant sense: Ms. Tobias used to be a children’s editor for Harper & Row (THAT’S how long ago it was!) and Scholastic. She has also freelance-edited for William Morrow and Dial. The good editorial connections cut both ways, however: she has said in past agency guides that she obtains most of her clients through recommendations from editors.

She has also apparently submitted the same piece of advice to The Guide to Literary Agents for years on end, advice so unusual that it bears repeating here:

“Read at least 200 children’s books in the age group and genre in which you hope to be published. Follow this by reading another 100 children’s books in other age groups and genres so you will have a feel for the field as a whole.”

It’s probably good advice, although I would suspect that as an expectation, it is a standard that would rule out from authorship any parent who had a child under the age of 6. Even if you read to your kids like a fiend, when would a working parent have time to read that many books?

Her overall point is well-taken, though: it does behoove an author to know her target market. And evidently, Ms. Tobias does commit very heavily to those writers she does sign: I found an interview on the web where she stated that she does submissions to only one editor at a time, rather than a mass submission, and lets each editor have it exclusively for 2 months. (Which, interestingly enough, is the length of time her agency guide listing says to expect as a response time for queries. This is not an agency for impatient souls, I’m guessing.) She also indicates that she does quite a bit of editorial work on her clients’ books before sending them out.

Actually, that web interview was rather interesting; if you are planning to pitch a children’s book at the conference, you might want to check it out.
Two statements she made there struck me as yielding useful information about how to pitch to her:

In response to a question about what impresses her in a new manuscript: “Everything else –plot, characterization, setting, pacing, language — emanates from the theme. So, one of my first questions when I get a manuscript is, ‘What does this author want kids to think about?’ If an author can extend a kid’s thinking without preaching, then I’m interested in that manuscript.”
Later in the interview, she returned to this notion: “I’m talking about writing that does what it sets out to do. If the theme is strong and the writing makes it all work, then that is what I’m looking for.”

I find these very telling statements, even though they sound general at first blush: good writing alone is not enough for her to pick up a book, nor is a good story, necessarily. I would guess that she prefers a children’s book that has a moral over one that does not. And all of the charming Roald Dahl-ish embellishment in the world may not help win her over to a book without a point.

So if I were planning to pitch to Ms. Tobias, I would practice and practice my pitch until I sounded like the reincarnation of Aesop. The FIRST words out of my mouth at the meeting would be a one-sentence statement of theme, followed by another sentence explaining what a child could learn from the book. THEN I would start to talk about characters and plot.

I would also guess that she has a strong preference for books that read well out loud, based upon another statement in that interview: “I’m looking for writing that is honest, where the author has paid attention to the language and the rhythm. I’m not talking about poetry, but internal rhythm that good prose has. I’m looking for writing that moves me, writing that makes me think, that shows me something funny even.”

Rhythm and surprise are crucial to reading out loud, so it might be a good idea to test-drive your work on some children (public libraries and elementary schools usually LOVE it when authors want to read their work to kids) between now and the conference. That way, you can nonchalantly work in an anecdote during your meeting about how the kids gasped this part of the plot or cheered that character. (It’s not a bad idea in general to see how your target market responds to your work; the prospect of pitching to Ms. Tobias will just give you additional incentive.)

And that is absolutely everything I was able to dig up on her.

Which brings me to our next agent, Alice Volpe of the Northwest Literary Agency. She has not posted a blurb on the PNWA site, so I went looking for information on her. As nearly as I can tell, NW Literary is not listed in any of the standard agency guides, nor does it apparently have a website. It also evidently does not routinely list its sales on the standard industry databases, and its clients are not, I gather, given to boasting about their connection with the agency in interviews.

In short, I’ve known employees of the NSA who were more forthcoming with information. How secret could anything any reputable agency does POSSIBLY be?

And it IS a reputable agency, very much so; that’s the strange thing. I’ve met Alice Volpe at several conferences (where, come to think of it, she had seldom posted blurbs), and I have found her charming, gracious, knowledgeable, and funny. My impression of her is that she is not the type of agent who exaggerates what she can do for a client (as some do, you know): she seems to shoot from the hip, and she represents some quite successful authors. I genuinely like this person.

So it was really, really bugging me that I couldn’t find a blurb for her; I wouldn’t care, if I didn’t think she might be a good agent for some of you out there. Since I remember having heard Ms. Volpe speak before, I went rifling through my notes from past conferences, to see if I had jotted down any preferences she may have expressed in passing back then. As I do not write (and seldom edit) much genre work, my notes on her are sketchy, I’m afraid, apart from this cryptic notation from 2003: “She likes fiction that keeps her awake.”

Sorry. Apparently, she didn’t mention WHAT keeps her from drifting off.

Eventually, I did find blurb she had posted for another conference, one where she was a speaker. To give credit where credit is due, this blurb was borrowed — for a good cause! — from the Write on the River conference, so do think of the fine people who put up that website with kindness:

“Alice Volpe has worked in book publishing for the last 30 years. She began her career ‘on the inside’ of the industry in New York, working at Macmillan, Harcourt Brace, and Time-Life, as well as in Tokyo, Japan for Time Life Books, Kodansha International, Harper, Britannica and Grolier.

“She has held the positions of book publicist, staff writer, editor and publisher, and opened Northwest Literary Agency (Northwestlit@aol.com) in the 1980′s to help bridge the chasm between lone author and remote, corporate publisher. Her clients include J.A. Jance, Carola Dunn, Judith Smith-Levin, J. Carson Black, Lee Lofland, Jeffrey Layton and many others.”

There, that didn’t threaten national security, did it?

If you are a big fan of any of the writers listed above, but would like more information before you commit to ranking Ms. Volpe high on your meeting choice list, I have a humble suggestion. As you may have noticed, Ms. Volpe as listed an e-mail address in the blurb above. An enterprising writer COULD conceivably use that address to ask for a list of what the agency is looking for in a book at the moment. Heck, you could invite her to chat over coffee at the conference.

If, like most writers, you are too shy (or fearful of offending someone who might be interested down the line in representing you) to do any such thing, I can only repeat some advice that I gave earlier in the series: go to the agents’ forum on the first full day of the conference and listen very, very carefully to what Ms. Volpe says she wants pitched to her. And if you answer her description, dash on up to the dais after the forum is over (or speak to her after she gives a class, if she gives one), and ask if you can give her your elevator speech (which is the 30-second version of your pitch; don’t worry, I’ll write about it before conference time).

I know that this may seem rude to some of you, inconsiderate of other writers at the conference, or just plain pushy. I’m not going to lie to you — if you accost an agent outside of your scheduled meeting time, other writers will probably glare at you, and if you do it too far into the conference, the agent may be too tired to hear your pitch. Naturally, you should observe some basic rules of etiquette, such as not cornering an agent in the bathroom (I’ve seen it happen) and allowing them to eat their dinners unmolested.

However, if you are serious about using the PNWA conference — or any literary conference, for that matter — in order to find yourself an agent, being too polite may cost you vital opportunities. You really do want to walk out of the conference with permission to send SEVERAL agents your work, not just one. Hanging all of your hopes upon your single agent appointment elevates it emotionally from a nice conversation at a conference to the most mind-bogglingly stressful fifteen minutes of your life.

The moral (to make Ms. Tobias happy): do you really want to put all of your eggs in one basket?

It is perfectly acceptable to introduce yourself to someone standing in a hallway at a conference, even if that someone happens to be an agent. Even if that somebody happens to be the agent of your dreams, the one whose approval would make you faint dead away. Again, be polite, and try not to catch somebody who is obviously dashing into a meeting or the bathroom, but do not be afraid to introduce yourself. The agents really are at the conference in order to meet writers.

In my opinion, it is even more important to take advantage of this kind of hallway pitching opportunity with agents who make it hard to find out about them through the standard impersonal means. An agent who has neither a blurb nor a website should expect to be mobbed after the agents’ forum, I think, because until that agent expresses a firm opinion (in SOME forum, somewhere) about what kind of book she would like to represent, it is simply not reasonable to expect conference attendees to guess. It’s my considered opinion that many of the agents and editors who reserve expressions of their likes and dislikes for conferences actually enjoy the rush of popularity after they have finally vouchsafed an opinion.

But hey, ask me again a few weeks from now, when I haven’t just expended a couple of fruitless hours in trying to track down who and what a couple of recalcitrant agents represent. My mood will probably be more generous then.

The last agent tomorrow, then on to the editors! Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part XI, in which it becomes apparent why it’s vital to check agents’ sales histories

Hello, readers —

Welcome back to my continuing series on the agents who are scheduled to attend this summer’s PNWA conference. Even if you are not planning to attend (heaven forbid! Had I mentioned that someone from the agency that represents yours truly will be there?)?), I hope that this series is being helpful to you, not in only familiarizing you with some agents you might conceivably want to query, but also in teaching you to look beyond the one-paragraph blurbs in selecting an agent. The more information you have about these people, the more likely you are to connect with the right agent.

One of the trends that I hope has been becoming apparent throughout this series is that blurbs are not infallible indicators of which agent is best for you. Blurbs are, after all, primarily PR for a business. They not always accurate reflections of sales preferences and practices — indeed, as we have seen, sometimes there are significant differences from the actual sales record, and in other instances, the agents change their minds over time about what they want to represent. So gleaning up-to-date information on their preferences is very important.

(And no, I don’t know why more agents don’t realize that it is in their best interests to be as honest, current, and specific about their preferences as possible. It’s one of the eternal mysteries, like the origin of evil and why you can never find your car keys when you’re in a hurry.)

As we get closer to conference time, I am going to write a post or two about how to listen to agents and editors when they speak from the dias, what is and isn’t a useful question to stand up and ask during a forum, and so forth. (And in case you are prone to last-minute jitters, some successful veterans of the querying wars and I are going to be at the conference, available to help you practice your pitch before you walk into your meetings; more news on that later.) The more of you who make good connections with agents and editors at the conference, the better, I say.

The next agent on our alphabetical hit parade is Susan Ann Protter of, you guessed it, the Susan Ann Protter Agency. (How DO they come up with these names?) Here’s her blurb from elsewhere on the PNWA site:

“Susan Ann Protter (Agent), a native New Yorker, has worked in the publishing industry for three decades. After a brief stint as a French teacher, she began her career at Harper & Row (now HarperCollins) as associate director of subsidiary rights. In 1970 she left and became a consultant to Addison-Wesley requiring her to commute weekly to Massachusetts. In the course of these trips she met several authors who were at a loss as to how to proceed with their manuscripts. She advised them that although she had never been an editor she knew many people who were and would be happy to introduce them. And so her literary agency was born.”

Anne interrupting here for a moment. I’m going to alter the next paragraph of her blurb a little, in order to insert publishing houses and dates for the sales she lists here. It will save repetition later on. (Please note that these dates are publication dates, not initial sale dates for the book in question, as most of them were not on the standard deals databases, and sometimes, I was not able to track down the original hardback edition of the book.)

“Over the years she has handled a variety of books including the best sellers GETTING ORGANZIED (Warner, 1991) and THE ORGANIZED EXECUTIVE (Warner, 2001) by Stephanie Winston, THE HOUSE OF GOD BY Samuel Shem (Putnam, 1984) and THE PLANTATION BY George McNeill (Bantam, 1977) as well as the works of mystery writer Lydia Adamson: the Alice Nestleton series beginning with A CAT IN THE MANGER, the Dr. Nightingale series and the new Lucy Wayles series (There are many in these series, mostly published in the 1990s). She is the agent for FURY ON EARTH: The Biography of Wilhelm Reich, WALDHEIM: The Missing Years by Robert Edwin Herzstein (Paragon; 1989) and INSIDE THE MIRAGE: America’s Fragile Partnership with Saudi Arabia by Thomas W. Lippman (Westview, 2004). She also handles parenting and self-help books such as the classic THE TEENAGE BODY BOOK by Kathy McCoy, PhD and Charles Wibbelsman, MD (updated edition, Perigree, 1992). TWENTY TEACHABLE VIRTUES by Jerry L. Wyckoff and Barbara C. Unell (paperback from Perigree, 1995), THE REAL VIATMIN AND MINERAL BOOK by Shari Lieberman, PhD and Nancy Bruning (Avery 3rd edition, 2003), STOPPING SCOLIOSIS by Nancy Schommer (Doubleday, 1987) and SEW FAST SEW EASY: All You Need to Know When You Learn to Sew by Elissa K. Meyrich (paperback from St. Martin’s/Griffin, 2002). And she presently represents a number of prominent award winning science fiction writers and editors such as Ian R. MacLeod, John G. Cramer, Patrick O’Leary, Rudy Rucker, Kathryn Cramer and David G. Hartwell.

“She is a member of the Association of Authors Representatives where she serves on the program committee. She is also an agent member of the Author’s Guild. Her agency deals with all publishers and maintains an office in Manhattan.”

This is undoubtedly an agent with a long and distinguished sales history, but I added the dates above to make a point: almost every agent will list sales in her blurb, but not all of them list their most recent sales. Sometimes, agents and editors will not update their blurbs for years on end (which may be the case here: Stephanie Winston, Samuel Shem, and Elissa Meyrich each have another book out since the ones listed.) It is always, always worth your while to check out not only the books the agent lists as having sold in the past, but what the agent has been selling in the last few years.

Why? In addition to tracking the agent’s current interests, looking up recent sales will also give you a clearer picture of what the agent’s connections are these days: junior editors come and go at publishing houses very frequently, so being able to sell a book five years ago will not necessarily mean the connections to sell a similar book to the same publishing house now. It is reasonable to expect that someone with a career as long as Ms. Protter’s would have long-standing connections with senior editors and publishers, however.

Here are the sales I was able to turn up for her for the last four years. (As always, bear in mind that not all agents or editors post all of their sales on the standard industry databases, and that those databases are not always 100% accurate.) It’s an interesting list:

Fiction: SF/Fantasy: David Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer, editors, YEAR’S BEST FANTASY 6, “including fantasy fiction by Neil Gaiman, Garth Nix, Connie Willis, Gene Wolfe, Bruce Sterling and others.” (Tachyon Publications, sold 2006.); Rudy Rucker’s SF novel (Tor, sold 2003; Mr. Rucker’s NF: Science: LIFEBOX: THE SEASHELL AND THE SOUL, Four Walls Eight Windows, sold 2004, was apparently handled by a different agent.)

NF: Politics: “Former Middle East bureau chief for the Washington Post Thomas Lippman’s BEYOND THE MIRAGE: The American Experience in Saudi Arabia, examing the 60-year marriage of convenience between Saudi Arabia and the United States.” (Westview Press, sold 2003)

I couldn’t find any more, but as the standard agents’ guide lists her as representing 40 clients, I assume that she hasn’t been posting her sales regularly. (It does give me pause, however, that there are so many pre-2000 sales listed in her PNWA blurb.) That agents’ guide also told me that she does not represent westerns, romance, children’s, or YA.

But if you write SF or fantasy, she sounds like she would be a good choice. If memory serves, David Hartwell is — or was; as I said, people move around — an editor at Tor, and she has sold at least one book there fairly recently, so I would assume that Ms. Protter has connections there. (A cautionary note to those writing in these genres, however: she has specified in agents’ guides in the past that she is not interested in reping Star Wars or Star Trek™  based work.)

On to the next agent on our list, Rita Rosenkranz of, you guessed it, the Rita Rosenkranz Agency. Here is her blurb from the PNWA site; in the interests of fair presentation, I have added the dates for the titles she lists here:

“A former editor with major New York houses, Rita Rosenkranz (Agent) founded Rita Rosenkranz Literary Agency in 1990. Her adult non-fiction list stretches from the decorative–FLOWERS, WHITE HOUSE STYLE: More Than 125 Arrangements by the Former White House Chief Floral Decorator by Dottie Temple and Stan Finegold (Simon & Schuster, published 2002) to the dark–SAVING BEAUTY FROM THE BEAST: How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship by Vicki Crompton and Ellen Zelda Kessner (Little, Brown; Books for a Better Life Award, 2003). Other titles include FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad by Betty DeRamus (Atria Books, essence.com bestseller, came out in paperback in 2005); OLIVE TREES AND HONEY: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World by Gil Marks (Wiley, 2005 James Beard Award winner); BRANDED CUSTOMER SERVICE by Janelle Barlow and Paul Stewart (Berrett-Koehler, to be published this summer), BUSINESS CLASS: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work by Jacqueline Whitmore (St. Martin’s Press, published 2005).

“She represents health, history, parenting, music, how-to, popular science, business, biography, popular reference, cooking, spirituality, and general interest titles. Rita works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets. She looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or less-known subjects presented commercially.”

Before I move on to Ms. Rosenkranz’s recent sales, allow me to pause and define the all-important concept of freshness for readers new to it. In the publishing world, a fresh concept is NOT an original one, as reason might dictate; a fresh concept is, as Ms. Rosenkranz is honest enough to tell us here, an unusual spin on a well-traveled subject. (The industry jargon for completely original book concepts is, I kid you not, “weird.”)

So if you are pitching a book that you believe to be fresh, here’s a good rule of thumb: find a couple of well-known books (or, even better, movies) in the area, and see if you can create a one-line descriptor of your book playing on that theme. As in: “It’s THE DA VINCI CODE set in China!” or “It’s A MILLION LITTLE PIECES meets Anita Hill!” This is what is known as a Hollywood hook, and it’s a great way to introduce a NF book project in a way that makes it sound fresh AND commercially viable.

On to Ms. Rosenkranz’ recent sales. She has a very strong adult NF list:

NF: History: “Pulitzer finalist and Deems Taylor award winner Betty DeRamus’s FORBIDDEN FRUIT: Loves Stories from the Underground Railroad, a collection of real-life stories about slaves, masters and slaves, and slaves and free blacks, using previously untapped sources including unpublished memoirs, family reunion publications and interviews with elders.” (Atria, sold 2003; she found elders old enough to remember the Underground Railroad in 2003?!?)

NF: Parenting: Lisa Chavis’ SHOULD I MEDICATE MY CHILD, “a guide for parents on how to handle common childhood illnesses and injuries – including specific over-the-counter medications/products and when to contact a medical professional.” (Perigee, sold 2002)

NF: How-to: Dr. Larina Kase and Harrison Monarth’s SPEAK UP!: From Scared Speechless to Spectacular Speaker, “which will help the reader overcome fear of public speaking, and to speak with confidence in all situations.” (McGraw-Hill, sold 2006; this was technically categorized as reference.); Christina Katz’s WRITER MAMA, “showing how moms can launch a successful and productive writing career while taking care of the kids.” (Writer’s Digest Books, sold 2005; also officially categorized as reference.); Wayfinding consultants Jan R. Carpman, Ph.D. and Myron Grant’s DIRECTIONAL SENSE: Learning to Competently Find Your Way Around, “explaining how to read maps, follow signs, ask directions, and recognize landmarks, so that everyone, including the directionally challenged, can find their way from here to there.” (M. Evans, sold 2004; again, categorized as reference.)

NF: Science: Kitty Ferguson’s A SECRET MUSIC, “which traces the legacy of the ancient philosopher and shaman Pythagoras and his followers, explaining how ideas whose origins are shrouded in myth can have had such an enduring impact on human thought and modern science.” (Walker, sold 2005)

NF: Business: Executive etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore’s MILLION DOLLAR MANNERS: An executive’s guide to turning contacts into contracts,
“a guide to using courtesy and good manners to stand out from the pack and flourish professionally.” (St. Martin’s, at auction, sold 2004)

NF: Reference: Jeremy Smith’s AMERICAN-BRITISH BRITISH-AMERICAN DICTIONARY, “a comprehensive (and humorous) translation dictionary.” (Carroll & Graf, sold 2005; this is, I suspect, an excellent example of a book that is fresh rather than weird; I believe we’ve all seen similar concepts before.)

NF: Cooking: “Founding editor of Kosher Gourmet magazine as well as chef, rabbi, historian and expert in the field of Jewish cookery Gil Marks’s A TREASURY OF JEWISH VEGETARIAN RECIPES FROM AROUND THE WORLD.” (Wiley, sold 2003); “Chief of communications at the FBI Pat Solley’s LIFE IN A BOWL OF SOUP, a cookbook with 100 recipes from around the world, with a look at the legends, science and history of soup through the ages, inspired by the author’s website www.soupsong.com.” (Three Rivers Press, sold 2003; again, this book could probably safely be described as fresh.)

NF: Spirituality: “Writer, scholar, and Andrew Weil website expert Lynne Bundesen’s WOMAN’S GUIDE TO THE BIBLE.” (Jossey-Bass, sold 2005)

NF: General: “2001 Writer’s Digest National Self-Published Book Award for non-fiction Carolyn Michael’s ENCHANTED COMPANIONS: Stories of Dolls in Our Lives, a collection of men and women’s memories of their dolls, expressed in their own words and accompanied by photos.” (Andrews McMeel, sold 2002)

I didn’t find any health, music, or biography, but I did find several recent sales in categories not on her list:

NF: Gift: Artist Margot Datz’s SURVIVAL GUIDE FOR THE LANDLOCKED MERMAID, “an illustrated gift book offering humor and wisdom.” (Beyond Words, sold 2006)

NF: Sports: Darrin Gee’s ONE SHOT AT A TIME: Seven Principles for Transforming Your Golf Game and Your Life, “a golf instruction book, based on the author’s Seven Principles of Golf, these same principles also serve as the teaching philosophy for his nationally recognized golf school, The Spirit of Golf Academy, based on the Big Island of Hawaii.” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, sold 2005)

NF: Pop Culture: Mad Magazine contributor Arie Kaplan’s PICTURE STORIES, “a collection of profiles of comic book and graphic novel pioneers, as well as their contemporary counterparts.” (Chicago Review Press, sold 2005)

What are we to make of Ms. Rosenkranz’s selling so many books lately outside of her stated areas of interest? Well, I would guess that she is quite serious about being open to fresh takes on familiar topics (although I think that golf book sounds rather like a lot of other golf books, but hey, I don’t play the game). I seldom suggest pitching to any agent outside her stated areas of interest, but if you have a marketable NF concept with a twist, she might be a good choice for you.

I could not track down a website for Ms. Rosenkranz (nor for Ms. Protter), but I notice from her blurbs in the standard agents’ guides that she “stresses strong editorial development and refinement before submitting to publishers, and brainstorms ideas with authors.” Translation: if you sign with her, expect to spend some serious time incorporating her feedback. As in months. (See my earlier set of advice about making sure you find an agent whose critique style matches yours.)

Another gem of wisdom gleaned from a guide: she reports that she is seeking authors “who are well paired with their subject, either for professional or personal reasons.” Translation: she is going to ask you right away what your platform is. So MAKE SURE you give some thought BEFORE you enter your meeting with her about why you are the best person in the known universe to write this particular book.

In fact, before you even consider pitching your NF book to ANY agent, you should have such a pat answer prepared for the platform question that you automatically blurt it out when anyone refers even remotely to your work. The guy who sits next to you on the bus should hear your platform 27 times between now and the conference. I am serious about this: find your selling points and get them down cold.

Happy Mother’s Day, everybody, and keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part X: It’s like pulling teeth

Hello, readers —

Boy, this is a long series, isn’t it? Of the 19 agents scheduled to attend the PNWA summer conference, we’ve gone through 12. Hurrah! And, after today, we will have gone through 14, so I hope to finish up with the agent round-up sometime next week. That way, you can rush right over to the online registration on this very website and make your choices!

Unless you want to wait until I go through the editors immediately thereafter — and, if I can find enough info on them, the fine folks who are teaching the Sunday seminars. (If any of you have ever taken a class with any of these teachers before, please take a moment e-mail me a review. I’ll be happy to preserve anonymity, if requested.)

The first agent du jour is Maura Kye-Casella of the Denise Marcil Agency. Here is her blurb, lifted from not far from here on the PNWA site:

“Maura Kye-Casella (Agent) has been working at The Denise Marcil Literary Agency, Inc. since 2001. The Denise Marcil Agency was founded by Ms. Marcil in 1977 and represents a wide variety of fiction and non-fiction. Titles range from award-winning crime novels to best-selling women’s fiction to parenting and business titles. With regards to fiction, Maura is looking for submissions in commercial and literary fiction (including chick-lit, thrillers, paranormals, women’s fiction and multicultural novels) and in non-fiction she is actively seeking memoirs, pop culture, adventure, cookbooks and food related writings, lifestyle, humor, parenting and self-help titles.

“Maura’s recent books include LOST IN THE AMAZON (W Publishing) by Stephen & Marlo Carter Kirkpatrick, DARN GOOD ADVICE Babies/Parenting (Barrons) by Jan Faull and ONCE UPON A WEDDING NIGHT (Avon/HarperCollins) by Sophie Jordan.”

To Ms. Kye-Casella’s credit, the titles listed are all quite recent sales: LOST IN THE AMAZON was sold in 2004; Jan Faull published two books in Barron’s Educational Series DARN GOOD ADVICE in 2005, and ONCE UPON A WEDDING NIGHT was published in 2006. In one of the standard agents guides, I found a bit more info on what Ms. Kye-Casella likes: “well-written novels with an edgy voice, quirky characters, and/or unique plots and settings.” (THAT narrows it down, doesn’t it?) “I’m particularly interested in representing books that would appeal to 20- and 30-year-olds.”

Okay, that’s a rather broad brief, but we can work with it.

The agency’s website provides more information about the kind of books they like to represent, a focus specific enough that it bears reproducing here: in fiction, they want to be relevant. They call for “thrillers, suspense novels, and women’s contemporary fiction books that reflect the lives, challenges, loves and family issues facing today’s women — from twenty-something’s (sic) to retirees.” In one of the agents’ guides, they add that they are especially looking for “Latina and African-American fiction and chick lit.” They are explicit that they do not represent SF or children’s books.

In NF, the agency’s website is also very pointed: they want to help people, so I would consider working that angle into a pitch. “We are currently seeking self-help and popular reference books, including parenting, business, spirituality, and biographies. We are looking for authors with national platforms such as national seminars, columns, television and radio shows.” They specifically state that they do not represent political NF (and in one of the guides, they say that they also do not represent science books, although they have in the past).

Did something in that list make a light bulb suddenly appear above your head? ALWAYS pay attention when an agent mentions platform: it means that you should be very, very sure that your pitch includes a strong statement about why you are the best person in the history of the world to write this particular book.

It is worth noting that in both fiction and NF, Ms. Kye-Casella’s stated tastes are considerably broader than those of the agency. That is not usually a problem — individual agents often have connections that the agency’s principals do not — but do bear in mind that agencies, like publishing houses, do gain reputations for bringing certain types of books to editors. As a result, it may well be harder for an agent to sell her first book in an area new to the agency than her second.

I’m just saying.

Let’s take a gander at what Ms. Kye-Casella has sold recently, to see if this theory bears out. The usual disclaimers about the thoroughness of the standard industry databases aside, something struck me as I was pulling up these titles: Ms. Kye-Casella’s e-mail address was listed as the contact on most of Ms. Marcil’s recent sales, so it was a trifle difficult to tell what she had been helping sell and what she had sold on her own. (She also might just have been the person who posted the sales on that particular database; it looked as though the agency actually might not report all of their sales to the primary industry sources.) Her name appeared in all of the following listings:

NF: Memoir: Wildlife photographer Stephen Kirkpatrick and Marlo Kirkpatrick’s LOST: A Photographer’s Daring Expedition into the Amazon Jungles and His Dramatic Battle for Survival, “recounting the true-life account of Stephen’s five-man expedition. Lost for twelve harrowing days in the remote jungles of the Peruvian Amazon, battling poisonous reptiles, torrential rains, hunger, brutal heat and an unforgiving landscape in a desperate attempt to find their way back to civilization.” (W Publishing Group, sold 2004)

NF: Parenting: Authors of THE BABY BOOK, Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears, and their sons, Dr. Jim Sears and Dr. Bob Sears’ THE BABY SLEEP BOOK, “promoting a new method of getting babies to sleep, matching the solution to the individual baby.” (Little, Brown, $$$,$$$, sold 2003); “Dr. William Sears’s weight and fitness guide to help parents fight the children’s obesity epidemic.” (NAL, $$$,$$$, sold 2002)

NF: Science: Dr. Gail Browning’s EMERGENETICS, “outlining her unique brain profiling program, which analyzes both the thinking styles and behavior of the individual based on her original studies and the latest scientific information about the brain.” (Harper, sold 2003)

NF: Business: “Former Chief People Officer of PepsiCo Worldwide Michael Feiner’s THE FEINER POINTS OF LEADERSHIP, outlining his leadership laws for managing relationships with subordinates, bosses and peers.” (Warner Business, sold 2002)

Fiction: Thriller: Peter Spiegelman’s BLACK MAPS, “in which continuing character P.I. John March seeks a truly evil, blackmailing Wall Street banker and the truth about a 20-year-old money-laundering scheme.” (Knopf, in a $$$,$$$ two-book deal, sold 2002)

What are we to make of this list, especially the fact that much of it is not very recent, and that it’s a trifle odd that an agency that lists itself as 50-50 fiction and NF would post so few fiction sales? Well, I think we must conclude that the Marcil Agency is a trifle lax about reporting its deals to the industry’s standard tracking clearinghouses. Which means that, even after scouring the databases and the usual agents’ guides, I can’t tell you too much more.

I’m sure that this agency IS selling books, though, including quite a bit of fiction. If you want to do more research on Ms. Kye-Casella, I would urge you to check out the agency’s website, listed above. (See why I think it is SO important for them to have websites? Generally speaking, I prefer to judge an agency — or indeed, any institution — by its actions, rather than just what it says about itself, but at minimum, in order to make distinctions between agencies, we writers need at least to be able to compare their PR.)

Try not to hold the difficulty in obtaining information too much against this agency, which is a fine one, I’m told. Given the literally millions of aspiring writers out there, there are surprisingly few who do in-depth research on the agents they query; as you may have yourself noticed, providing writers with specific information about their internal workings and desires is not exactly industry standard practice. It is indeed hard to get this information, across the board.

Which would bug me substantially less if agents and editors didn’t tend to walk into conferences and open their mail assuming that everyone who approaches them is familiar with their work. I kid you not, in the Herman guide, the Denise Marcil Agency’s listing actually includes the sentence, “Do your homework to assure that I represent your type of book.”

The next agent on the alphabetical list is Jandy Nelson of the NYC- and Palo Alto-based Manus & Associates. I’m not seeing a blurb for her on the PNWA website, so I would urge you to go to their website and check her and the agency out.

The interests she lists on the website are narrative NF, “innovative self-help,” memoir, and health, in the NF realm; as one of the standard guides puts it, “her list also reflects her passion for serious health and sophisticated self-help books for women.” Her stated interests in fiction are literary, multicultural fiction, and women’s. (Another thing to know: the principal of the agency, Jillian Manus, used to develop projects at Warner Bros. and Universal, so this would be a good agency for projects with film potential.)

Ms. Nelson is an agent I have met at conferences past, and in the interests of full disclosure, I should also add that she read the first three chapters of a novel of mine some years ago and declined with thanks. In fact, she (or, one presumes, two ms screeners at Manus & Co) read it twice. Kind of a funny story: Ms. Nelson had asked to see the chapters, then I heard nothing for a couple of months. Adhering to the rule of waiting twice the stated turn-around time, then asking, I sent a polite little letter, asking if they had received my manuscript. Seems they had misplaced it, but could I send the chapters again? A few weeks later, back came the chapters in my SASE: no, thank you. So I went on my merry way. Then, eleven months later, I received a second package, again in a SASE of mine, containing an identical rejection letter to the first. Apparently, they had been doing some housekeeping. And I STILL like Jandy Nelson, which should tell you something about her inherent charm.

Losing manuscripts is far from uncommon, incidentally; the larger the agency, the more likely it is to happen. That doesn’t make it any less painful when it happens to you — as anyone who has known the agony of the “Should I call today, since they haven’t gotten back to me in four months? Tomorrow? Never?” wait can tell you. This is yet another reason to make sure every page of your submission has your name in the slug line: lest some pages go astray. After this incident, I also began taking the extra precaution of enclosing with my requested materials a stamped, self-addressed postcard, bearing the name of the agency and two options from which the recipients could choose: “Yes, the manuscript arrived intact on ____” or “No, all that arrived here was this postcard.” Everyone got a laugh, and I received confirmation that my submission was indeed where it should be, at least at first.

Ms. Nelson’s tastes are genuinely eclectic, a good match for the West Coast publishers to whom she primarily sells. Here are the sales I was able to dig up for her within the last few years; as usual, bear in mind that the standard industry databases I used to collect this information are not always 100% accurate. Because part of the point of my going through all of these is to help my readers learn what to look for in a list, here’s a pop quiz: what is most striking about this list of books?

NF: Memoir: Andrew Pham’s EAVES OF HEAVEN, “the sequel to CATFISH AND MANDALA, about the author’s father, Thong Van Pham, and the reversals of fortune his family suffered during the Japanese occupation of Vietnam, the French colonial era, and finally the Vietnam War before they began a new life in America.” (Farrar, Straus, sold 2004; CATFISH AND MANDALA, published by Picador in 2000, won the Kiryama Book Prize); Terry Tarnoff’s THE BONE MAN OF BENARES, “an exuberant memoir of Tarnoff’s raucous and hilarious adventures in Africa, Asia, and Indonesia in the 70s.” (St. Martin’s, sold 2003); “Mineko Iwasaki’s life story (she is the geisha who was the source for much of Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha, and recently filed suit against Golden–and is the first geisha in over 300-hundred-year-old tradition to tell her story).” (Pocket, $$$,$$$, for world rights exclusive of Japan, interestingly enough, sold 2001); Al Martinez, I’LL BE DAMNED IF I’LL DIE IN OAKLAND (Thomas Dunne, published 2003).

NF: Health: MENOPAUSE: THE NEW OPTIONS, edited by Mary Tagliaferri, Debu Tripathy and Isaac Cohen, “a compendium that gathers together the leading experts on menopause and complementary health care to create a complete resource on alternative, complementary and conventional approaches to menopause in light of the WHI study that revealed the deleterious effects of hormone replacement therapy.” (Avery/Penguin, sold 2003); Nancy London, HOT FLASHES, WARM BOTTLES: FIRST-TIME MOMS OVER 40 (10 Speed, published 2001)

NF: Religion/Spirituality: LILY DALE author Christine Wicker’s new book, “which explores the inner-workings of a mega-church community.” (Harper San Francisco, $$$,$$$, sold 2005); Christine Wicker’s NOT IN KANSAS ANY MORE: Inside the Hidden World of America’s Magical Community, looking at witchcraft, voodoo, wizardry, and more.” (Harper San Francisco, $$$,$$$, sold 2003)

NF: Pets? Nature? — Journalist Mira Tweti’s BIRDS OF A DIFFERENT FEATHER: The Sometimes Funny, Always Fascinating, and Often Catastrophic Collision of Parrots And People, “an exposé of the world of parrots that reveals surprising scientific findings on parrot intelligence and behavior, the burgeoning global crisis of the illegal parrot trade and its dire consequences, the widespread emergence of bird clubs across the nation and the eccentric members of this hidden subculture among many other parrot fascinations.” (Viking, $$$,$$$, sold 2003; the phrase “an exposé of the world of parrots” tickles me no end.)

Fiction: Ronlyn Domingue’s debut THE MERCY OF THIN AIR, “a puzzle of a novel that pieces together two love stories that parallel and collide over two different periods in history in New Orleans, all narrated by a woman who while in the throes of a love affair dies in an accident and gets caught in The Between — a realm between life and the beyond.” (Atria, $$$,$$$, sold 2004); “Author of the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and Lambda Award winning THE WORLD OF NORMAL BOYS K.M. Soehnlein’s YOU CAN SAY YOU KNEW ME WHEN, about a son’s determination to uncover a mystery buried in his intolerant father’s past in order to find a connection with him after his death.” (Kensington, sold 2003); Tom Dolby’s debut novel THE TROUBLE BOY, “about a young gay screenwriter who traverses the worlds of New York nightlife, film, and public relations, and is caught in the middle of an accident that rockets through the tabloids, forcing him to make some tough moral choices.” (Kensington, sold 2002); Laurie Lynn Drummond’s UNDER CONTROL: STORIES ABOUT WOMEN, GUNS, AND FAMILY, “a collection of stories and one novella that explores the lives of women police officers based on the author’s many years on the force in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.” (HarperCollins, sold 2002; Harper Perennial reissued a short story collection called ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN AND WILL BE USED AGAINST YOU in 2004, which I assume is the same book, but I could be wrong about that.)

Pencils down, everyone: what did you pick as the dominant eyebrow-raiser? There are actually a few possibilities here. Three of her stated interest categories (Narrative NF, Self-Help, and Women’s Fiction) don’t appear here, so points to you if you noticed that. Points, too, if you noticed that Ms. Nelson’s memoir tastes aren’t particularly domestic; these are some pretty exotic locales for memoirs. But you get the most points of all if you noticed either that I went back 4 years for this list, instead of my usual 3, and that the vast majority of books listed are from 2003 and before. This would make me suspect a leave of absence, especially since the one listed 2005 sale was in October, or at any rate, extremely selective client acquisition.

However, as we learned from Ms. Kye-Casella’s list above, agencies do not always post all of their sales in the usual databases. A quick trip to Ms. Nelson’s blurb on the Manus website would be the prudent next step, to scope for newer sales. The clients listed there: Andrew Pham, Al Martinez, K.M. Soehnlein, Lisa Huang Fleishman (author of DREAM OF THE WALLED CITY, Washington Square Press, published 2001; Vintage released a paperback of her THE LINOLEUM ROOM in 2005, but I have not been able to find a deal listing for it), Laurie Drummond, Terry Tarnoff, Mineko Iwasaki, Katy Robinson (A SINGLE SQUARE PICTURE, Berkley Trade, published 2002), Christine Wicker, Mira Tweti, Nancy London… in short, essentially the same group of names as the sales list revealed.

There are a couple of ways to interpret this: I choose the upbeat one, and vote for Ms. Nelson’s now being enthusiastic for updating her list with a bunch of new clients. She definitely has an eye for the unusual, so she would be among my top picks for memoir (the more exotic the better!), literary fiction, and health books aimed at women.

Again, as with Ms. Kye-Casella, I would urge you to do your own research on Ms. Nelson and her agency. Get thee to a bookstore and read a few paragraphs here and there of her clients’ works, to glean an idea of what kind of prose she likes. And again, shake your head in wonder that in an industry where writers are expected to be familiar enough with prospective agents’ work to target the right ones, it’s not made easy to find out who represents what. Wouldn’t it be in everyone’s interests, including the agents’, to be as open with this information as possible?

Just my humble opinion, of course, more of which follows tomorrow. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part IX: A day that should have been great

To readers who have come to this page looking for my former write-up on agent Jeff Kleinman: a year and 17 days after I originally posted a rather flattering overview of his work here, Mr. Kleinman contacted me to ask that I remove it. Naturally, I immediately honored his request, and I shall stop recommending him.

He said that something in it was inaccurate, but he did not specify what. Since 100% of the information contained in it came either from credible sources already available on the internet or in the standard agency guides, Mr. Kleinman’s own conference handouts, and things he had said publicly at conferences, I can only recommend that you contact him directly to verify ANYTHING you may have learned about him, here or elsewhere.

I am sorry if either the initial post or the removal of it causes anyone chagrin. What remains is what it left of the post after all references to him were removed.

Hello, readers —

A moment of silence, everyone: this is the day that my memoir is being released, according to Amazon. Hypothetically.

I can neither confirm nor deny this rumor, believe it or not: of all of the many, many aspects of the publication process over which the author has little or no control, the release date is perhaps the most shrouded in mystery. I have no idea why it should be kept a secret from me, when the marketing department is willing to speculate about it to such fly-by-night outfits as Amazon and Barnes & Noble; perhaps it has something to do with national security. My loose lips have never sunk any ships, to the best of my knowledge, but I guess you can never be sure.

By the way, are you given to toddling off to Amazon or Powell’s when you’re in the market for a book? Did you know that if you link through the PNWA website, the PNWA gets 10% of the sale? So you can donate indirectly to this fine organization by doing something you were planning to do anyway. How great is that?


…Which, I suppose, is understandable, and a good reminder to all of us that this is a business where manners really do count. So make sure to tell your mother on Sunday: she was right; you really should be polite to everybody.

I’ll let you know whether I have a book out as soon as I know for sure myself. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part VIII: Another group endeavor

Hello, readers —

Sorry to have skipped yesterday’s post; my sweet kitty passed away yesterday, and I wanted to spend her last few hours with her. A writer’s cat enjoys such an adversarial relationship with a writer’s computer — it’s the other pet, the one that sucks up all of that time and attention! — that a hiatus last night seemed appropriate.

All right, back to the grindstone: I have another double header for you today. The next agent on my alphabetical list, Kelly Harms, hails from the same agency as Meg Ruley, the Jane Rotrosen Agency, so it makes sense to tackle ’em together.

It particularly makes sense, because for the life of me, I have not been able to find a website for the Jane Rotrosen Agency. (Readers, if any of you manage to dig it up, please send me the link, and I’ll let everyone know.) It seems odd, in this day and age, that any agency wouldn’t have at least an embryonic website, but I suppose my thinking on the subject is largely colored by where I live. Even non-computer people know something about the web in the PNW, much as we pick up a certain amount of airplane jargon by regional osmosis.

By contrast, neither my agency nor my publishing house — neither of them small concerns — evidently employs an in-house computer expert. Nor is that at all unusual in NYC-based publishing: it is still to a remarkable extent a paper-based industry. Which is rather problematic sometimes, when one is trying to send documents back and forth across the country.

Still, industry computer phobia aside, it does make it significantly harder for a writer to learn about what an agency wants when it does not have a website — and, more to the point at the moment, it makes it infinitely more difficult for me to know what to suggest to you as the best means of approach. And in the case of this agency, that’s a pretty serious problem: according to the guide in my hand (which admittedly isn’t the most recent one), the Rotrosen Agency generally obtains its clients through referrals (as in, recommendations from a previously published writer of their acquaintance), rather than through queries.

Okay, I have the most recent agents guide in front of me now, and the entry looks remarkably similar. Except that they’re now accepting queries. However, their turn-around time info still apparently presumes that the people who solicit them have been referred. So I don’t know what to think. Go ahead and query ’em.

I’m not going to try to second-guess their internal policies (well, not much), but I do think it is absolutely safe to derive this much from the agency’s past history: if you have ANY interest whatsoever in this agency, MAKE SURE to talk to one of these agents at the conference, to ask if they’d be willing to accept synopsis from you if you sent it. Then write PNWA — REQUESTED MATERIALS in immense letters on the outside of the envelope, just to be sure.

You can’t be too careful in dealing with the exclusive.

Okay, let’s see what Kelly Harms has told us in her blurb (and no, I don’t know why so few of these agents seem to have proofread their blurbs before submitting them):

“Kelly Harms (Agent) is seeking all types of commercial fiction especially for the women’s market. She is new to the agent game, came from editorial but so far have authors writing mystery, suspense, romanitic suspense and women’s fiction, and one very sexy gang of vampires. She’d really like to have more thrillers and character driven mysteries and really smart, but not quite ‘literary’ women’s fiction is her favorite.”

Please, somebody, stand up at the agents’ forum this summer and ask what “really smart, but not quite ‘literary’ women’s fiction” is. (Beyond manuscripts devoid of semicolons, that is.)

Ms. Harms is being a bit modest here: she used to be an editor at Avon, recently enough that most of the sales that turn up for her in the standard industry databases are for books she acquired in that capacity, rather than as an agent. As in she seems to have switched teams in the middle of last year. So I shall break down the sales accordingly (do remember, please, that I only search for sales within the last three years, and the databases are not infallible.)

As an agent, she seems to have worked pretty closely with Andrea Cirillo (also of the Rotrosen Agency), so it might be worth your while to do some research on Ms. Cirillo’s tastes as well. Both of the sales I found were in the women’s/romance categories: Jennifer Estep’s KARMA GIRL, “the humorous adventures of an intrepid Lois Lane-style reporter whose forte is unmasking — and sometimes disrobing — America’s most illustrious superheroes” (Berkley, in a two-book deal, sold 2006); “Monica McCarty’s dark Scottish trilogy set around one real-life clan and their struggles with the English, battles for revenge, and epic seductions.” (Ballantine, sold 2005)

As an editor, Ms. Harms appears to have concentrated pretty exclusively on women’s fiction and romance as well, as befits an editor at Avon: Margo Maguire’s ISABEL’S CHOICE, “a medieval romance set in the beautiful Scottish highlands” (Avon, acquired 2005); “USA Today bestselling author and two-time Rita finalist Julianne MacLean’s next three historical romances” (Avon, acquired 2004; apparently, Ms. Harms had acquired books of Ms. MacLean’s in the past); Stephanie Lessing’s first novel SHE’S GOT ISSUES, “a humorous and occasionally over-the-top take on chick lit featuring a sweet and ditzy Manhattan 20-something with a sharp eye for fashion, who’s determined to work her way up from assistant to the assistant to…someone at Issues Magazine and one day become shoe editor; and she’ll have to do so while enduring the endless barrage of abuse hurled at her by her style-challenged boss and a deliciously evil array of female co-workers.” (Avon, acquired 2004)

So if any of you have been writing about heroes in kilts or shoes, I’d say Ms. Harms would be a terrific bet for you.

All right, let’s move on to Ms. Ruley’s blurb:

“Meg Ruley (Agent) joined the Jane Rotrosen Agency in 1981. The agency represents authors of commercial fiction, many of whom hail from the Pacific Northwest. She loves carrying heavy manuscripts in and out of Manhattan and hopes you will send her yours.”

Hmm. The agency’s listing in the most recent guide says it takes them two months to turn a REQUESTED ms. around; that’s a whole lot of toting in and out of Manhattan.

I have seen clearer indications of preferences, too. But then, a certain lack of accessibility perhaps should not surprise us, given the agency’s previously expressed preference for dealing only with referred authors and Ms. Ruley’s heavy-hitting client list, but let’s keep an open mind while we try to track down her authors who live in the glorious PNW. (Really, DO keep an open mind: it is not unheard-of for agents to come to conferences seeking authors for OTHER agents at their agencies. Do not automatically rule out agents from big agencies who seem to have a full complement of authors already signed.)

As you may see from what she’s been selling recently, I wasn’t kidding about the heavy client list. Because I am exceptionally devoted to my readers, I have even classified the sales by genre, so as to generate a list of preferences for Ms. Ruley. Don’t say I never did anything for you.

Fiction: Thriller: Michele Martinez’s COVER-UP, “in which the New York City federal prosecutor Melanie Vargas investigates the serial murders of the patients of a prominent Park Avenue plastic surgeon.” (William Morrow, in a $$$ two-book deal, sold 2005); “Co-author of THE CYANIDE CANARY Robert Dugoni’s debut legal thriller A MATTER OF JUSTICE, billed as “‘in the tradition of Scott Turow and Brad Meltzer,'” and FALSE JUSTICE. (Warner, sold 2005); Michele Martinez’s debut thriller MOST WANTED, “‘the first in a series featuring Melanie Vargas, in a wild race against the clock to solve a brutal Park Avenue murder while dealing with her own romantic and cultural complications.'” (William Morrow, sold 2003; someone should get Ms. Martinez a map of NYC — she’s evidently been stuck on Park Avenue for years now.)

Fiction: Mystery: Kaitlyn Dunnett’s KILT DEAD, “featuring a professional Scottish dancer who returns to her roots following a career-ending injury only to find herself suspected of murder.” (Kensington, in a three-book deal, sold 2005; the agency sure likes those kilts); Nancy Martin’s A CRAZY LITTLE THING CALLED DEATH and a second untitled Blackbird mystery (NAL, sold 2005); two novels from New York Times bestselling author Tess Gerritsen, to the same editor as bought her last (Ballantine, sold 2004).

Fiction: Women’s/Romance (hey, the databases lump them together): Nancy Thayer’s HOT FLASH HOLIDAYS, “a new novel of menopause, mayhem, and mistletoe.” (Ballantine, $$$, sold 2005); Eloquent in its simple adherence to facts: “NYT bestseller and Rita winner Jo Beverley’s three more historical romances,” (NAL, $$$,$$$, sold 2004); Nancy Thayer’s THE HOT FLASH CLUB, “about the friendship among four mature women with different life styles and problems who meet, eat, and scheme, and a second untitled novel.” (Ballentine, sold 2003)

Fiction: General: Amy Wallen’s debut novel MOON PIES & MOVIE STARS, “which follows a Texas woman on her madcap Winnebago road trip in search of her runaway daughter,” and a second untitled novel. (Viking Penguin, sold 2005); “Rob Dalby of Tupelo, Mississippi’s WALTZING AT THE PIGGLY-WIGGLY, a southern charmer featuring a quirky” (what were the odds?) “Mississippi town, a second chance romance, inexplicable weather phenomena, and ballroom dancing in the most unlikely places.” (Crown, sold 2005)

YA: Six books by bestselling YA author Lurlene McDaniel, to the same editors as bought her last. (Delacorte Books for Young Readers, sold 2003; please note, however, that most of the online agents guides say the Rotrosen Agency does NOT rep YA.)

NF: Memoir: Ellen Currey-Wilson’s OUTSIDE THE BOX, “a humorous and poignant memoir about what happens when a boob-tube-junkie mom vows to raise her son TV-free, with insights on parenting in a media-crazed world (and how hard it is to buck the trend).” (Algonquin, sold 2006)

NF: Diet: “Mother-daughter team Jackie Scott and Diane Scott’s THE CALORIE QUEENS, from women whose combined weight loss on their program is 300 pounds, presenting their formula for calorie consumption — delicious but healthy recipes and down-home advice, tested extensively at their Lexington, KY church group.” (Warner’s Center Street, sold 2005)

NF: Humor: Rosemary Atkins’ AROUND THE CORNER FUDGE IS MADE, “a compilation of dirty childhood ditties usually learned on the playground or in the back of the bus.” (Chamberlain Bros., sold 2005)

I don’t know how many of these authors live in the PNW; the only regional trend I see here is Southern. But the fact is, this is an agency with a track record of selling genre books quite well. (If you wish to investigate further, other listed clients include Susan Andersen, Rhys Bowen, Jennifer Crusie, Alisa Kwitney, Patricia Lewin, Julia Spencer-Fleming, and Susan Wiggs.)

Tomorrow, out of the Highlands and on to a brand-new agency. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part VI, in which I discover I am a poor chick lit heroine

Hello, readers —

Have you been finding my series on how to read an agent’s blurb in a conference guide useful? I hope so, because it’s going to be a rather lengthy series, even if I rush through it: there are a LOT of agents coming to PNWA, 19 by my count.

In fact, the conference is known for high agent volume. At many smaller writers’ conferences, there are only one or two agents in attendance — and only a few writers are lucky enough to be able to get appointments with them. At PNWA, by contrast, there are always scads of agents and editors — and every attendee is guaranteed two appointments, usually one with an agent and one with an editor. Not to mention the relative ease of buttonholing the bigwigs in conference hallways.

If it sounds as though I’m pushing my own organization’s conference… well, I am, but not just because they are gracious enough to host my blog. I have been attending writers’ conferences all over the country for well over a decade, and I think PNWA’s is the most serious about helping writers make connections with agents and editors. (My favorite of the small, one-agent conferences, in case you’re wondering, is the Flathead River Writers’ Conference in Montana, a real gem.) The marketing and craft classes offered at PNWA are consistently strong enough, year after year, for writing “PNWA conference” on the outside of your query letters to agents who speak there (you know to do that, right, after you’ve seen an agent speak at a conference?) to make an actual difference in how a query letter gets read by agency screeners.

And that is not, as they say, something at which to sneeze.

Oh, and for those of you who have been following this series: both Lauren Abramo and Jennifer Cayea have now posted blurbs on the PNWA website. Hurrah! Please go and take a gander at them, to get a better idea of what they are coming to THIS conference seeking. (Ms. Cayea says, among other things, that she is very eagerly looking for a baseball book. Get writing that book proposal, all of you swingers!) I feel more comfortable about this, because it’s always better if people can tell you what they want in their own words.

On to the next agent (and back to the alphabetical list), Catherine Fowler of the Mill Valley-based Redwood Agency. Here is her blurb, lifted from elsewhere on this very website:

“Catherine Fowler (Agent) has more than 20 years of experience in book and Internet publishing having held senior positions for such prestigious companies as Random House, Simon & Schuster, Doubleday, Excite and WebMD. With Redwood Agency, Fowler is focusing on the core of her expertise and her passion: the development of high-quality projects, working with talented writers and editors, and negotiating contracts. Areas of interest include health, food and cooking, popular culture, women’s interests, narrative nonfiction, nature, parenting, aging, general reference, relationships, popular psychology, non-fiction “chick lit”, business, humor, lifestyle, cultural technology, quirky projects, memoir and the occasional novel.”

How’s that for a no-nonsense, straightforward blurb? (Although can anyone can tell me to a reasonable degree of certainty what NF chick lit is? Memoirs written by well-shod, bleached-blonde young professional women with man woes? Self-help books on how to coordinate your boyfriend du jour with your Prada handbag?) It tells us so directly who she is and what she wants (and kudos to Ms. Fowler for that!) that I have only two comments to make upon this blurb. (Okay, I have more, but I’ll save the rest until after I’ve gone through her client list.)

First, “the occasional novel.” I would take this very literally indeed, and consider very carefully about pitching fiction to Ms. Fowler, unless I were also planning on pitching an NF book in the same meeting. Yes, yes, there is always the possibility that a truly stellar pitch might wow her into falling in love with a novel at PNWA, but pitching is a high-stress activity: if you are new to it, it might be wise to stick to agents who are actively looking for your type of book.

Because, according to the standard industry databases, Ms. Fowler really isn’t kidding about the occasionally part. I found only one novel sale in the last three years, Sandra Kring’s debut novel UNDER THE TITTY MOON, “a tender, humorous story told through the innocent and wise voice of a simple-minded boy and portraying the complexity of life, death, war, prejudice, and family ties in a small-town family nearly torn apart by WWII.” (Delacorte, in a two-book deal, sold 2003)

Incidentally, as you may not be altogether astonished to hear, the title of this novel was changed: it was released as CARRY ME HOME. Hey, we writers have to pick our battles.

Second, if you are interested in pitching to Ms. Fowler, I suspect that it would be VERY prudent to check out her work at Excite and WebMD, at least enough to be able to conduct a reasonably well-informed conversation about it. Aside from the fact that it is always flattering when new acquaintances are already familiar with your work (you didn’t think I was going to all the trouble of listing agents’ recent sales just for the FUN of it, did you?), Internet publishing is a new enough facet of the publishing industry that writers’ conferences don’t tend to see a whole lot of experts on it. If you have any ambitions in that direction, Ms. Fowler might be a great connection for you to make.

I’m looking over the other sales Ms. Fowler has made in the last three years, and I have to say, she is apparently GENUINELY SERIOUS about liking quirky projects. Note, too, the recurring college theme:

NF: Health: Stella Mora-Henry, R.N. with Ann Convery’s THE EXPERT’S GUIDE TO LONG TERM CARE, “a comprehensive guide filled with personal stories to help caregivers make compassionate, informed decisions and tackle the toughest long-term care issues.” (William Morrow, sold 2004; I would have categorized this under Aging, but hey, I’m not the person who organizes the industry databases. Thank goodness.); Erika B. Hilliard, MSW, RSW’s SHY AND SUCCESSFUL: A Comprehensive Guide to Managing Shyness and Social Anxiety, “for consumer and therapists about shyness and social anxiety, as the author challenges the stigmatization of social anxiety and shyness in our culture and offers compassionate, alternative views.” (Marlowe & Company, sold 2004)

NF: Food and Cooking: Marcel and Shannon Biro’s THE KITCHENS OF BIRO COOKBOOK, “a companion cookbook by the stars of the upcoming national PBS restaurant reality and cooking series The Kitchens of Biro.” (Gibbs Smith, sold 2004); Restaurateur Sondra Bernstein’s THE GIRL & THE FIG COOKBOOK, “wine country-inspired French recipes and more from her restaurants, two of Sonoma County’s favorites.” (Simon & Schuster, sold 2003)

NF: Pop Culture: Whitney Shroyer, Letitia Walker, and Michael Traister’s THE SECRET LIVES OF SOCK MONKEYS: Daily Life at the Red Heel Monkey Shelter, “capturing an actual society of sock monkeys, including dioramic photos filled with humor and a bit of social commentary.” (Chamberlain Bros., 2005; I suspect that this MAY also have fallen under the category “quirky projects.”); Susan Marg’s LAS VEGAS WEDDINGS: History, Gossip, a touch of Elvis, and even a Chapel Guide, “a pop culture book about the creation, rise, myth and lore of Las Vegas weddings.” (William Morrow, sold 2003; this is another I strongly suspect of quirkiness.)

Another quirky project, this one technically categorized as NF: Other (hey, I told you, I don’t make up these categories!): Natasha Kogan’s THE DARING FEMALE GUIDE TO ECSTATIC LIVING, “a self-help book with an attitude that dares women to get as much as possible out of every aspect of their lives, with fun, inspirational, and practical dares, and filled with personal stories.”(Hyperion, sold 2004)

NF: Parenting: BLINDSIDED BY A DIAPER, edited by Dana Bedford Hilmer, “an anthology of original essays from notable writers, including Susan Cheever, Greg Behrendt, and Molly Jong-Fast, about the ups and downs and chaos in a couple’s relationship after baby arrives, and how to keep the partnership on track with a new little bundle of joy in the house.” (Three Rivers Press, sold 2006); Andy Steiner’s SPILLED MILK: Breastfeeding Adventures and Advice from Less-Than-Perfect Moms, “for and about ordinary mothers and their breastfeeding experiences, offering advice and solace from a variety of sources, with a sense of humor.” (Rodale, sold 2003)

NF: Reference: Natasha Kogan and Avi Spivak’s Students Helping Students six-book series, including Fishing for a Major, Have No Career Fear, Surviving Your Freshman Year, and Getting through College Without Going Broke, “all guides written and edited by college students and recent grads and full of advice on how to survive and succeed in college and beyond.” (Perigee, sold 2004)

NF: Advice/Relationships: “Seminar leader and personal growth coach Jane Straus’s THE TRUTH PARADIGM: A Bold New Approach for Living an Inspired and Truthful Life, a self-help title exposes the spiritual & emotional suffering triggered by deception and offers techniques to embrace truth as a guiding principle.” (Jossey-Bass, sold 2004); Susan Fee’s MY ROOMMATE IS DRIVING ME CRAZY! Surviving the College Roommate from Hell, “a practical guide to solving the most challenging roommate conflicts and situations.” (Adams Media, sold 2004; I wonder if this guide would have told me how to deal with my college roommate, who stopped going to classes altogether — they interfered with her ability to be totally nocturnal — and held all-night colloquia in our room. She also, bless her heart, cherished a large rat named Anton who ran around free and ultimately ate her concert-quality violin.)

NF: Business/Investing/Finance: Ron Burley’s UNSCREWED: The Consumer Guide to Getting Your Way, “tools for consumers frustrated by customer disservice to fight back and win against unscrupulous, incompetent and faceless companies.” (Ten Speed Press, sold 2005); Frances McGuckin’s previously published Canadian bestseller (125,000 copies! Self-published! In Canada!) BUSINESS FOR BEGINNERS: A Simple Step-by-Step Guide to Starting a Small Business and Big Ideas for Growing a Small Business. (Sourcebooks, in a two-book deal, sold 2004)

Kind of a fun list, isn’t it? I suspect, based upon it, that this might not be the best agent to pitch ultra-serious work — but an unusual or humorous spin on a familiar NF topic might find a home at this agency.

Another thing to note from this list: quite a few of these sales were to West Coast presses, indicating that Ms. Fowler probably has good connections out here. And since West Coast and East Coast publishing houses are known for having rather different tastes (because I love you, my readers, I shall spare you the tale of the months my agent and I expended in trying to get a NYC-based publisher to comprehend the concept of synergy, part of the basic LA vocabulary), if your book might appeal more to folks in this time zone, a West Coast-based agent might make a WHOLE lot of sense for you.

But — and this is a serious but, because I went through the databases in high hopes of learning something here — where is the NF chick lit? Am I never to learn what this elusive term means? Or where Barnes & Noble would place it within its bookstores?

This is not an altogether frivolous objection. You might have noticed, though, that a fair number of the areas listed in the blurb do not seem to have corresponding sales (Narrative, Nature, Pop Psych, NF Chick Lit, Humor, Lifestyle, Cultural Technology, and Memoir, to be precise; I think it’s safe to assume that THE DARING FEMALE GUIDE TO ECSTATIC LIVING would fall under “Women’s Interests.”) It is possible that there are Internet publishing titles in these areas that I missed, of course, but still, that’s quite a few categories.

What are we to make of this? Well, if Ms. Fowler is a good agent (and her past sales record indicates that she has been a VERY good one, especially in 2004), it probably means that she already has working relationships established with editors who are looking for these sorts of books. In other words, she has leads in these areas. (If she were not an agent with a solid sales record, I would suspect that these categories were gleaned from a quick perusal of the weekly bestseller lists, as all of these — except NF chick lit — are frequently represented there. But that would be a most uncharitable interpretation.)

Well, whatever NF chick lit is, I suspect its protagonists seldom sit up until midnight, typing away at their blogs. (Although their authors may.) I guess I am just not cut out for the chick lit life. In retrospect, finishing the dissertation was probably a mistake, in terms of developing my heroine chops to their fullest potential; graduate students are not known for their accessorizing prowess. If only I had thought ahead. But who knew non-fiction people would be expected to lead fictional lives?

And so, resigning myself to a lifetime of non-chick litiness, I bid you good night. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very Practical Advice, Part V: Boy Books and Lad Lit

Hello, readers —

Welcome back to my ongoing series on how to decide which agents to rank highest on your PNWA summer conference form. I’ve had to skip around a little (see yesterday’s post for why), but I’m trying to plow my way through the EXTENSIVE list as quickly as possible, so you may submit your choices soon. Those appointments have a way of filling up fast.

All right, on to the third of the skipped agents in my alphabetical list, Farley Chase. Since he and Byrd Leavell hail from the same agency, Waxman Literary, I am going to defy alphabetical order (and length restrictions) and cover them both today. Both have a strong track record of representing books aimed at men (which is a polite way of saying that their client lists seem to be awfully darned heavy on Y chromosomes), so it makes even more sense to present them together.

Again, the standard disclaimers, even more important in the case of agents who do not have blurbs up on the PNWA website: my information on these people comes from the authors’ grapevine and the standard industry databases; you can, and should, do further research yourself on any agent who truly interests YOU. In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably add up front: the books I will be talking about today are not my proverbial cup o’ tea, for the most part, so I am not as familiar with this area of publishing as I am with others. To avoid misrepresenting some of these projects, I am going to be quoting directly from their books’ marketing blurbs, whenever possible.

Here is Farley Chase’s blurb from the Waxman website. It’s a pearl of its kind, because it includes both a quote from the man himself and the standard blurb information, apparently compiled by somebody else:

“‘I’ve had the privilege of working in several facets of the publishing world, with a variety of talented colleagues. With some I fostered my passion for good writing and smart stories well told. And from others I gained an invaluable business perspective on the world of books. Most importantly, I’ve learned that these are not mutually exclusive propositions and as an agent I’m able to unify these points of view, working closely with writers to realize their aspirations without losing sight of what’s viable or realistic. I take pride in a deliberate and detailed editorial approach and a proactive attitude toward developing new ideas with our writers.’

“Farley Chase has worked in publishing for nine years. After an internship with Minnesota’s non-profit Graywolf Press, he worked for several years at the New Yorker magazine. He has worked at The New Press, Talk magazine and later became an associate editor at Miramax Books where he worked with Martin Amis and B&N Discovery authors Mark Ross and Lily Burana, among others. He has been an agent for three years, first with Goldfarb & Associates and now The Waxman Literary Agency. In addition to representing his own clients, he manages the foreign rights for the agency. He is a graduate of Macalester College.”

What can one say about this two-part blurb, other than that Macalester is a good school? Actually, his personal statement is quite illuminating: note especially, “working closely with writers to realize their aspirations without losing sight of what’s viable or realistic.” This is industry-speak for saying that he recognizes that there are a whole lot of wonderfully-written books out there that are not particularly commercially viable. (And he should know: those books are sort of Graywolf’s specialty.) It’s a nice way of saying that he is willing to nudge good writers into writing work that would be easier to sell.

Which would make him, in theory, a good pitching choice for all of us out there who have been dismissed with, “Well, the writing is great, but I can’t sell the idea.” Mr. Chase seems to indicate that he would like to continue the conversation AFTER that statement.

We would have to check his sales record, though, to see how this philosophy plays out in practice — because this kind of statement can also be industry-speak for being eager to work with well-known non-writers to turn their ideas into books. It just goes to show you: you need to do your homework on agents you wish to approach, not just rely upon what they say about themselves on their websites and in agents guides.

In his blurb, Mr. Chase has given a major hint as to how he likes to work with his clients: “I take pride in a deliberate and detailed editorial approach and a proactive attitude toward developing new ideas with our writers.” Translation: he is an agent who expects his clients to rewrite their work based upon his input BEFORE he sends it out to the market. This can be tremendous, for a writer who is open to it, but can be terrible for writers who resent outside tinkering.

Think carefully about which kind of writer you are BEFORE you have a conversation with any agent. You will be FAR happier in the long run if you find an agent whose editing tastes correspond with yours.

Checking the last few years of Mr. Chase’s sales, I’m kind of surprised he has TIME to edit his clients’ work, or that “is looking for the previously unpublished. He seems to work with a lot of journalists and celebrities, so maybe it’s their prose he helps to mold into marketability. Here are some representative samples, grouped by type of book:

NF: Sports: Golf instructor Jim Hardy’s THE PLANE TRUTH FOR GOLFERS MASTER CLASS (McGraw-Hill, sold 2006); John Andrisani’s THE MICHELLE WIE WAY: An Analysis of the Power Swing Technique of Michelle Wie, a close look at what PGA Champ and NBC analyst Johnny Miller says is “one of the top five best golf swings of all time,” (Center Street, sold 2005); Noah Liberman’s THE FLAT STICK: “The History, Romance, and Heartbreak of the Putter, — a humorous, anecdotal and illustration-rich look at an implement — just a fancified cudgel — that has bedeviled, mystified, and charmed golfers at every level since the beginning of the game” (My, aren’t we poetic? Harper, sold 2005); Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt and ESPN The Magazine deputy editor Glen Waggoner’s A WHOLE NEW BALLGAME: How America’s Pastime Lost Its Way — And How It Can Head Home Again, “a candid look at the changes baseball has undergone in the past thirty years, from free agency to the ’94 strike, the home run race to the steroid scandal” (Harper, sold 2005); “Former senior editor at Golf magazine John Andrisani’s HEAVEN CAN WAIT: Jack Nicholson, Jack Nicklaus, Jack Welch and 22 other Golf Nuts Remember Their First Trip to Augusta, a collection of first-person narratives by professional golfers, celebrities, politicians, businesspeople, and others about playing America’s most fabled golf course for the first time.” (Thunder’s Mouth, 2004)

NF: Health (but really sports): TRUE FITNESS: A Customized, Scientific Approach, No Matter Your Starting Level, by five-time Olympic gold medalist Dr. Eric Heiden, Dr. Max Testa, and DeAnne Musolf (Harper — by auction, but then, not all of us have gold medals hanging around our necks — sold 2006).

NF: Business (but really sports): WSJ contributor and St. Paul Pioneer Press editorial writer Mark Yost’s profile of the National Football League, “chronicling the remarkable history and business decisions that have made the NFL the most successful organization in the sports industry” (unless, of course, you count the Olympics; Dearborn, sold 2005).

NF: pop culture: Tom Reynold’s I HATE MYSELF AND WANT TO DIE: The 52 Most Depressing Songs You’ve Ever Heard (Hyperion, sold 2005).

NF: cooking: Photographer Melanie Dunea’s MY LAST SUPPER, “a collection of portraits of fifty world class chefs – including Eric Ripert, Mario Batali, and Marcus Samuelsson – with descriptions and recipes for the meal they would have if they could have only one more.” (Bloomsbury, at another auction, sold 2006).

NF: history: BBC journalist Nick Hacking’s BOUND BY DECEPTION: Spying Between the United States and Israel Since the End of the Cold War, “tracking the statesmanship and spycraft practiced by two supposed allies when their strategic interests conflict, showing disquieting machinations from both countries that have had a profound impact on world events.” (William Morrow, sold 2004).

NF: biography (but sounds a lot like the last): Gary Ecelbarger’s third book BLACK JACK LOGAN: An Extraordinary Life in Peace and War, “a biography of the seven-term Senator, victorious and popular General, and later a Vice-Presidential candidate, a transfixing public figure transformed by the events of the Civil War who later went on to found Memorial Day.” (Lyons Press, sold 2004)

NF: memoir: “Thirteen-year Cornell student Rob Shuck’s THE UNDERGRADUATE, written with GQ journalist Mickey Rapkin, exploring this real life Van Wilder’s strong belief that if college is supposed to be the best time of your life, then the rest of your life should be more like college.” (Broadway, another auction, 2005); “Esquire and Vanity Fair humor columnist Brian Frazer’s HYPERCHONDRIAC, a humorous account of a lifetime filled with pop-psych treatments, prescription medications, self-help programs, and oddball remedies (Atria, sold 2005); US ambassador to the UN’s Agencies for Food and Agriculture Tony Hall’s CHANGING THE FACE OF HUNGER: One Man’s Story of How Liberals, Conservatives, Democrats, Republicans and People of Faith are Joining Forces to Help the Hungry, the Poor and the Oppressed (try saying THAT title three times fast; W Publishing, sold 2005); Joe Sutter’s AIR BORN: How My Team of “Incredibles” Built the 747 and Other Adventures From a Life in Aviation, “a memoir from the ‘father’ of Boeing’s famed 747 aircraft.” (Smithsonian, sold 2005)

Fiction (and I found only two of these in the past three years, people): Roger Alan Skipper’s debut TEAR DOWN THE MOUNTAIN, “linked short stories featuring a young couple in fictional Union County, West Virginia and their powerful but conflicting determination to both escape Appalachia and to stay” (Soft Skull, 2-book deal, sold 2005; since short story collections are almost invariably collections of already-published stories, this is probably a writer he met through magazine work); Milton Burton’s first novel NEVER LOOK BACK, “in which a Texas man looking to exact a revenge that’s substantially more than financial finds his plans changed due to an oil strike, leaving him with a slew of unanticipated temptations to consider” (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s, sold 2004).

The moral of all this? A blurb that seems to imply willingness to work with little books may not actually be aimed at the writers of little books, but designed to reassure writers of big books. And, of course, if an agent has an impressive track record of selling books on sports, golf, sports, war, sports, frat boys, and sports, a wise writer might not want to pitch him, say, a sensitive coming-of-age novel about a young girl. But if you write on his subjects (or might at some future date, or are interested in the coffee table book market), he would be a great connection for you.

On to Byrd Leavell, also of Waxman Literary. Here’s his blurb from the agency’s website, also a two-parter:

“‘Early in my career I started to realize that a certain segment of the population, guys between the ages of 16 and 40, were being routinely dismissed by editors with the phrase “they don’t buy books.” It had become a self-sustaining cycle, but the readers were still there. It soon became clear that in this group of underserved readers lay an opportunity, one that could be tapped by utilizing the potential of an extremely talented and unapologetic group of writers who were plugged into this audience through the Internet, and had already established huge followings.

“‘As an agent these are the situations I live for — working with authors on books that attempt to reach undiscovered audiences. And it doesn’t matter whether that book is about cleaning up dead bodies, drinking seven nights a week, or church camp. It’s all about taking a great idea and then working together to turn it into something that people want to read – twice. I love writing that makes an impact and the work I represent covers a broad spectrum, from nimble, intelligent literary fiction like Euny Hong’s My Blue Blood, to Tucker Max’s blistering I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, and Erik Barmack and Max Handelman’s genre-defining Why Fantasy Football Matters.’

“A graduate of the University of Virginia, Byrd Leavell began his career at Carlisle & Company and then served as an agent at InkWell Management and Venture Literary. His clients include The Modern Drunkard, Tucker Max, and The Phat Phree. A fan of writing that makes an impression, he specializes in books that attempt to push the publishing envelope to reach new audiences.”

I find this blurb admirably straightforward: he wants guy stories amusingly told, plain and simple. How I wish that all agents were so up front about their desires! But how does this philosophy play out in his sales record? He has given us a few examples of his taste above, but let’s see if we can get a general impression of what he wants from what he’s sold recently:

NF: Sports: (Oh, my God, here comes more golf. Brace yourselves.) Curt Sampson’s GOLF DADS: Profiles of Fathers, Their Children and the Game that Binds them, “a series of 10 stories about the unique bond forged between fathers and children around the game of golf, including high profile athletes such as Nicklaus, Hogan, Singh, Trevino, and Sorenstam, as well as stories of lesser known golfers, such as in his recent “Back to the Mariposas” piece in Sports Illustrated about the son of a renowned lepidopterist” (Houghton Mifflin, sold 2006; a lepidopterist, in case you were wondering, studies moths and butterflies); Founder and head writer of The Huddle.com David Dorey’s FANTASY FOOTBALL: THE NEXT LEVEL, “going beyond the stats and projections to offer the underlying tools, principles, and strategies for creating an optimal fantasy team year in and year out” (Warner, at auction, for a whole lot of money, 2006); Sporting News columnist and CNBC commentator Erik Barmack and Fox Sports veteran Max Handelman’s TAKING A KNEE: Why Fantasy Football Matters and Our Lives Do Not, “a guide to the personalities, flawed strategies, tired excuses, excessive trash-talking, and compulsive behavior that goes along with managing a fantasy football team.” (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, at auction, 2004)

NF: Memoir: Tucker Max’s THE TUCKER MAX STORIES, “the true adventures of a man who built a following by indulging every whim, sleeping with more women than is safe or reasonable, and generally just acting like the drunkest person that ever lived.” (Kensington, 2004).

NF: Advice/Relationships: Reality show casting producer Brenda Della Casa’s CINDERELLA WAS A LIAR, “a hip, informative dating guide for women, in which she dispels the fairy tale myth and offers realistic advice for getting and keeping a prince.” (McGraw-Hill, 2005; PLEASE tell me it does not offer advice on hooking Tucker Max…)

NF: Reference: Co-founder of blog boingboing.net and editor-and-chief of Make magazine Mark Frauenfelder’s RULE THE WEB, “providing powerful and little-known tips, tricks, and workarounds the Internet offers.” (St. Martin’s, at auction, 2006)

NF: General/Other: Dax Devlon-Ross’s OUTSIDE THE BOX, “a collection of profiles of unique and inspiring African-Americans whose career choices go beyond the stereotypical molds associated with black America.” (Hyperion, 2004)

NF: Humor: Bob Powers’s HAPPY CRUELTY DAY, “a collection of 365 mini-short stories from his web site girlsarepretty.com, each full of dark and humorous guidance for how every day is to be celebrated.” (Thomas Dunne Books, 2005)

NF: Pop culture: Humor website ThePhatPhree.com’s LOOK AT MY STRIPED SHIRT! And Other Confessions of the Desperate, Lonely, Obnoxious, and Stupid, “biting social satire that ridicules people who make life less fun.” (Doubleday, another auction, 2005)

NF: Narrative: Gil Reavill’s AFTERMATH: Cleaning Up After CSI Goes Home,
a foray into the new field of bio-recovery (dial 877-TRAGEDY), in which the author will glove up, strap on a Tyvek suit, and work side-by-side with Aftermath technicians as he takes his readers on the journey of a crime writer who thought he could handle anything being confronted with the worst of everything.” (Gotham, 2005)

NF: Parenting (caught you by surprise, didn’t it?): Simon Rose and Steve Caplin’s DAD STUFF, “an illustrated guide to putting the fun back into being a father, full of useful explanations such as how to cope with the question — are we there yet?— and how to invent bedtime stories to lull your children to sleep.” (Broadway, 2004)

NF: Cooking: Frank Rich’s THE MODERN DRUNKARD: The Definitive Guide to Drinking in the New Century, containing such informative articles as “Drink Your Way to Fitness” and “How to Ace an Intervention” by the founder of Modern Drunkard Magazine (Riverhead, at auction, 2004, and no, I don’t know why this was categorized as cooking, rather than humor).

Fiction: Matt Marinovich’s first novel STRANGE SKIES, “about one man’s attempt to circumvent his life’s trajectory and the baby his wife is demanding they have by pretending he has cancer, which works brilliantly until he runs into a bald young boy and his mother in an airport bar” (Harper Perennial, 2006); I can’t resist including the description of Euny Hong’s MY BLUE BLOOD (Simon & Schuster, 2005): “the story of a descendent of Korean aristocracy living in NYC who, drowning in debt, tries her hand at courtesan-ship in the service of a Russian Madame and finds herself caught between a fiery classical violinist whose company she is paid to keep and a stuttering philosophy student who woos her with his intellectualism even as he repulses her with his plebian ways” (in other words, a slice-of-life novel);
Ryan Gattis’ KUNG FU HIGH SCHOOL, “the cinematically vivid story of a high school where students must fight daily to survive, told in the voice of a fifteen-year-old girl who, along with her martial arts master cousin, must avenge her brother’s assassination and somehow escape a brutal gang war for control of the campus” (Harcourt, 2004); Erik Barmack’s THE VIRGIN, “about a man who lies his way onto a shocking reality-television show.” (St. Martin’s, 2004)

If you don’t see a trend here, I can only suggest that you go back and read that list again.

If you write for men 16-40 (or, to be precise, THIS type of man aged 16-40; I know a lot of men in that age group who read, and even write, literary fiction, but we’re talking mass market here), Mr. Leavell is your man (and you are probably his); if not, well, you might be better off with another agent choice. And obviously, if you have any insight into sports (particularly golf) whatsoever, you should latch yourself onto these fine representatives of the Waxman Agency the moment you spot them at the conference and cling for dear life.

Isn’t it fascinating, though, to see so many titles represented by a single agency all at once? Really allows you to see the overarching patterns in a way that is almost impossible otherwise. (Although I have to say, if I had preferences this strong and specific, I would have gone out of my way to let conference-goers know about them in advance.) When agencies say that they specialize in certain areas, they usually are not kidding: pay attention to these trends, and address your queries to only those agents who represent YOUR kind of writing.

Trust me, you’ll be a happier camper — and a less often rejected one — if you do. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

Very practical advice, Part IV: Hooray for my readers

Hello, readers —

Everyone, please give a round of applause to eagle-eyed super-readers Toddie and Dave, who each informed me independently that I had, to put it politely, made an error in compiling my agent list. Turns out that the list of agents (and editors, for that matter) from which one can choose when registering for the summer conference online does NOT entirely correspond to the website’s page of posted blurbs. The website discrepancy would be a less serious faux pas, I think, if the conference registration form listed the agencies from which these blurb-free additional agents hail, but it does not. Makes them a bit harder to find, even for the web-savvy, eh?

So by sticking to only the blurbed agents, as Toddie and Dave were quick enough to catch, I had skipped no fewer than THREE agents in my alphabetical list so far. I’m going to address a couple of those left-out agents today, and then integrate the rest into subsequent posts, as the tyranny of the alphabet dictates.

I should have caught this myself, because for the last couple of weeks, I had been wondering why my agency wasn’t sending anyone this year. They generally do. Had I gone registration form-searching, I would have seen: actually, they ARE sending an agent this year.

Which brings me to the first of the skipped agents, Lauren Abramo, who hails from my very own Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (where I am represented by — since some of you have been asking — the perpetually fabulous Stacey Glick). Regular PNWA conference attendees may recognize the agency — both Stacey and the firm’s principal, Jane Dystel, have graced our conference in recent years.

I have not met Lauren personally, but I have nothing but good to say about D&G in general and Stacey in particular — especially impressive praise, when you consider that the agency has stuck with me through what has surely been one of the most trying memoir-publication processes in human history. Not every author enjoys that kind of support; I have been very, very lucky.

Okay, now that I’ve gotten that little rant out of my system, let me add: no single agency, however marvelous, is going to be a good fit for every writer. And as I’ve been explaining for the past few posts, every agent has individual tastes and style. You need to figure out who might be simpatico with you and your book.

That being said, and since there’s no blurb for Lauren Abramo on the PNWA site, I am going to quote her blurb from the agency’s website verbatim:

“Lauren E. Abramo joined DGLM after earning an M.A. in Irish Studies at the National University of Ireland, Galway. Prior to attending NUIG, she completed a B.A. in English at New York University.

“With two particularly impractical degrees under her belt, Lauren sought work in publishing, and DGLM has turned out to be a great fit. She is an avid reader of fiction, especially anything literary, smart and fun, as well as non-fiction designed to make you think or laugh – particularly history, politics, current affairs and philosophy. She also enjoys books on science, though she cannot claim she always understands them.

“Born in New York City and raised not far outside it, she now lives in Brooklyn.”

Okay, back to me again. I’m reluctant to dissect this one too much, since I’ve already done so much cheerleading for the agency above, but allow me to say: while a lot of agents say that they are in the market for funny writing, it has been my experience that everyone at D&G honestly has a sense of humor. So if you write humorous work, MAKE SURE YOUR PITCH TO HER IS FUNNY.

Ms. Abramo is relatively new to the agency (as in within the last year), and is, I’m told, actively seeking new clients. So far this year, according to the standard industry databases, she has sold 3 NF books (2 reference, 1 pop culture) and one novel:

To Adams Media, a NF: Reference book by founder and executive director of Animals 101 Michelle River, DO DOGS HAVE BELLY BUTTONS?, a trivia guide to man’s best friend.

To Simon Spotlight Entertainment, Post Road literary magazine co-founder Jaime Clarke’s anthology SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL: Contemporary Writers on the Films of John Hughes. (I’m going to take a wild stab in the dark, and guess that this one is the pop culture sale.)

Another NF: Reference book, Founder and president of PrepMatters Ned Johnson and Emily Warner Eskelsen’s THE SAT FIX: WHAT PARENTS NEED TO KNOW ABOUT TEENS AND TESTS, an SAT resource guide for parents, sold to Palgrave.

And the novel, which sounds really cool: Lorraine Lopez’ FERMINA’S GIFT, “about four sisters who are each promised a ‘gift’ by their enigmatic Hopi caretaker and how they struggle with the responsibilities these ‘gifts’ entail, as well as the conflicts of sisterhood, love, marriage, and motherhood,” purchased by Warner/Solana.

I have met many, many aspiring writers at conferences who routinely avoid agents relatively new to the game in favor of the bigger wigs, but I think this is generally a mistake. The bigwigs might, at best, pick up one or two client at any given conference; they often pick up none at all, as their dance cards are already full. The lesser-known agents, on the other hand, are often “building their lists,” as the industry jargon has it, and thus might be open to a broader array of pitches. This in turn means that your chances of getting your work read and accepted are better.

Remember, too, that a new agent in a small agency and a new agent at a big, prestigious agency like D & G might easily have very different sets of connections. Just because an agent is new to the game doesn’t mean that she can’t help you; in fact, that is how agents BECOME big, usually, by discovering a great new author and riding together to the top.

I have a lot of territory to cover today, so on to the next skipped agent, Jennifer Cayea of Nicholas Ellison. Ms. Cayea is one of two agents at Nicholas Ellison, a subsidiary of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates; NE represents such bestselling authors as Christopher Moore and Olivia Goldsmith. Here is her blurb, borrowed from the NE website:

“Jennifer is building a select list of emerging authors of fiction and non-fiction. Prior to joining Nicholas Ellison, Inc. as an agent and director of foreign rights, Jennifer had a distinguished record as an editor at Random House, in the audio and large print division where she demonstrated a keen editorial eye and was known to be very aggressive in acquiring books. Her negotiation skills combined with her unique publishing background enable her to achieve the best possible results for the authors.”

Okay, this is a GREAT blurb for dissection, because it contains a lot of industry jargon. “Building a select list of emerging authors,” translated into English as she is spoke in these here United States, means that she is either a relatively new agent who has not yet built a client list, that she is just returning from an extended leave of absence, and/or is currently very open to representing previously unpublished authors on general principle (which is relatively rare). Let’s take a look at what she’s sold lately to try to figure out which is the most likely possibility:

December, 2004, Debut Fiction to William Morrow: Author K.L. Cook’s first novel THE GIRL FROM CHARNELLE, “following the family of a 16-year old girl after she is abandoned by her mother and her oldest sister, left to care for her father and three brothers while the family tries to regain its balance.” This book had some pretty hefty back-jacket candy, blurbs from the likes of Richard Russo, so I imagine this was a pretty sweet deal.

February, 2004, a pop culture book to Gotham, in a great big deal: “Legendary sound engineer Geoff Emerick and veteran music journalist Howard Massey’s HERE, THERE, AND EVERYWHERE: A Legacy of Sound, Music, and The Beatles, with a foreword by Elvis Costello, from the man in charge of the recording of such seminal albums as ‘Revolver,’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’ and ‘Abbey Road,’ with stories of the groundbreaking recording techniques he pioneered to give them their unique sound and his post-Beatles days (including working Paul McCartney & Wings).”

(And, no, I don’t know why the publishing industry’s databases are so very full of typos, considering that much of the input is written by EDITORS. Go figure.)

These are great deals, but I can’t find anything she’s sold since, other than the world Spanish rights to Father Albert Cutie’s REAL LIFE, REAL LOVE: 7 Paths to a Strong & Lasting Relationship. Perhaps we’ll find more information on her webpage, which does include a list of her clients. Other than the three listed above, this list includes THE LOVE DIET by Mabel Iam (Rayo/HarperCollins); a short story collection by the aforementioned K.L. Cook, LAST CALL (University of Nebraska Press); BURN, PICTURE ME ROLLIN’, and EXPLICIT CONTENT by Black Artemis (NAL); DIVAS DON’T YIELD and OSHUN’S ARRANGEMENT by Sofia Quintero (Random House); THE SISTA HOOD: On a Mission by E-Fierce (Atria Young Adult Books); TAKE BACK YOUR POWER: How to Reclaim It, Keep It, and Use It to Get What You Deserve and YOU GO, GIRL! How to Raise Powerful Women by Yasmin Davidds (Atria Books); THE CHALUPA RULES by Mario Bàsquez (Plume); ASCENDING TO POWER: How I Achieved the American Dream by Rosario Marin (Atria Books).

Most of these books were sold prior to 2000. I would assume from this that she is VERY serious about building up a new list — which may make her a very good audience for a terrific pitch right about now. As anyone who habitually reads agents guides can tell you, being actually EAGER to work with the previously unpublished is not a very common trait, and it should be cherished wherever it crops up.

I do wish that her blurb gave more information about her specific interests — “fiction and non-fiction” covers quite a bit of territory, doesn’t it? Since her listed books are not very recent, I’m not sure what to advise you about what kind of work to pitch to her, other than to refer you to the lists above.

Please don’t hold this against her, though, because interest ambiguity is far from rare in the industry. In fact, preference vagueness is extraordinarily common in agents’ public statements about what they represent — as, again, anyone who has spent much time reading agents guides can tell you. It’s one of the best reasons to go to literary conferences: there, agents and editors will usually be far more explicit about their interests than they ever are in guides.

You may have noticed this phenomenon yourself, in trying to figure out whom to query. Many, many agencies will list themselves as accepting practically every genre under the sun, out of fear of missing out on that one bestseller in a category that they usually don’t represent. I think being vague about their tastes makes the aspiring author’s job considerably more difficult, as it is hard to second-guess the tastes of someone you don’t know personally. But it is accepted industry practice, and one of the reasons that it’s a good idea to perform as much background research as possible on agents you may be meeting at a conference.

But for instructive purposes, I am rather glad that Ms. Cayea’s blurb is so vague, simply because it IS so common. What does one do, when faced with this type of generality, since we at the PNWA have to make our agent choices so far in advance?

My advice is multi-part. If the list above strikes your fancy, sign up for a meeting with her. If not, attend the agents’ forum at the conference, and wait to see what she — or any other vaguely-blurbed agent — SAYS she is looking to represent at the moment. Then, if she seems like a good fit for you, run up after the forum is over and ask if you can give her your pitch, either on the spot or by arranging an informal appointment later in the conference.

Never underestimate the power of the spontaneous pitch.

And, as always, if any particular agent intrigues you, do some internet research. It can be very, very helpful not only in figuring out which agent to query, but also in figuring out what is and isn’t important to you in an agent — now, before you are in a room with several of them.

Before I signed with an agent, I found ranking my choices for conference appointments very annoying — not just because I didn’t always have access to much information about the agents in question (although often it was that, too), but also because I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted in an agent. To be absolutely honest, as the veteran of two bad agent-client relationships, my primary criterion was that the agent was interested in my work; until I had offers from several agents simultaneously (not a very common luxury; I had won a contest), I had not seriously considered that I SHOULD have selection criteria of my own.

But I did, and you should, too. Not every agent is going to represent your work well; that’s just a fact. So why not sit down — preferably BEFORE you make your agent choices for the conference — and come up with a list of qualities you would like to discover in your agent? (Hint: it is helpful if you seek a bit more specificity than “a person who will sell my books.” Do you want someone that you feel comfortable picking up the phone and asking questions at the drop of a hat, or someone who has a more formal relationship with her clients? Do you want an agent who will leave you alone to work on your writing, or would you be happier if you received regular updates about what is going on with your circulating work? Etc.)

I guarantee that it will help make the selection process easier — and help you appreciate what an embarrassment of riches we have coming to the conference. Truly. Imagine, having access to so many disparate agents that we writers can narrow down our choices in order to find the best fit. Really, it’s a great thing, even if the necessity of making ranked choices is a stressful prospect.

Thanks again to Toddie and Dave for the heads-up about the skipped agents. In gratitude, here’s a tidbit that I know that Toddie will like, as we’ve been privately discussing the case of Kaavya Viswanathan, the Harvard sophomore who’s been under heat lately due to charges of plagiarism regarding her chick lit novel. (There are blogs and blogs out there now devoted to comparing her book to those of Megan McCafferty, Salman Rushdie, Meg Cabot, and Sophie Kinsella. If you want to avoid the feeding frenzy and look at a straightforward textual comparison between her work and Kinsella’s,. For other, more gleeful comparisons, check out the Harvard Crimson article.

The latest news, hot off the industry grapevine: this afternoon, Little, Brown announced that they “will not be publishing a revised edition of How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life by Kaavya Viswanathan, nor will we publish the second book under contract.”

Ouch. So much for that immense advance — although one wonders if the Crime would have bothered to break the story if her advance hadn’t been so, well, large. And, correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t the mother of all chick lit books, BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, primarily a rehash of the plot of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE? I’m not defending Ms. Viswanathan (although I do hope that she sits right down and writes a book about all of this; it would be interesting to hear her perspective on being a 17-year-old who got away with such a thing for a couple of years), but if we’re going to be jumping on paraphrasing the ideas of others without credit, by all means, let’s be consistent about it.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini