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

Some very, very practical information, or, you WERE planning on attending the PNWA conference this summer, right?

Hello, readers –

I feel as though my blogs have been waxing a bit theoretical lately, so I thought I should concentrate on some very, very practical information for awhile. In fact, it’s hard for me to imagine information more practical than today’s, at least for those of you who are planning to attend this summer’s PNWA conference: it’s information that will help you decide how to rank your agent choices on the conference application.

And you thought I didn’t love you.

It can be quite hard to tell the agents apart, based just upon their write-ups, can it not? Some agents choose to share a little, some share a lot; there seems to be no standard for an agent blurb in a conference brochure. A lot of them are quite vague, and others merely list the agents’ best-known clients. Usually, the titles included were sold quite some time ago, so you can’t always be sure that the agent still represents that kind of work.

In case you were curious, the agents don’t list old sales in blurbs and agent guides to be misleading: they are trying to use titles that a prospective client might be able to find in a bookstore. Because the fact is, if an agent sold a book within the last year and a half, it almost certainly is not in bookstores yet for you to find.

For those of you who were shocked my last statement, let me fill you in on why: unless a press is trying to coincide with a specific event (such as a presidential election) or capitalize on a major catastrophe (such as Hurricane Katrina), the MINIMUM time between a book’s sale and its release is generally a year. Often, it’s longer. And you have only to talk to virtually any agented author to learn that the length of time between signing with an agent and the first sale is frequently as long or longer than production time after the sale.

So, realistically, the books you are seeing on the shelf today are probably much more representative of what any given agent was interested in three or four years ago than today. A lot can happen in a person’s life in three years, and even more in the publishing industry. (Three years ago, for instance, memoirs were not primarily regarded as potential lawsuit traps — thank you, James Frey — but as rich sources of highly reader-grabbing material.)

Sometimes, too, we misread the specialties listed in the blurb, rushing to read through all of them before making ranking decisions, or do not know that a particular agent does not want to see certain kinds of work at all. Yes, it seems a little nasty when an agent says he won’t even consider certain genres, but once you’ve been at it awhile, you’ll come to recognize that those who are upfront about their dislikes are giving you a gift: you know not to waste your time, or theirs, if you write work they do not like.

At the risk of sounding jaded (and who wouldn’t, after a decade of attending writers’ conferences all over the country?), it’s been my experience that in reading these blurbs, it’s a good idea to remember that these people sell things for a living. Sometimes, an agent who sounds warm and friendly on paper turns out in real life to be…well, let’s be charitable, shall we, and say unwelcoming?

Sometimes, the opposite is true, where a hostile-sounding blurb conceals a warm and wonderful agent. And often, it’s hard to tell whether an agent sounds eager to find new talent because she genuinely is, or because that’s her standard line, or because she’s brand-new to the publishing world and hungry for sales.

Again, how can you tell who is a good bet for you?

For all of these reasons, it’s often quite a jolt when you get to the conference, appointment card in hand, and hear your assigned agent speak at the agents’ forum: you catch yourself thinking, if only I knew all this a few months ago, when I made my agent choices. So you scramble around, trying to switch your appointment with others’. The best way to avoid this situation, of course, is to do advance research on the agents who will be attending.

It also makes possible a very graceful opening line for your meeting: “You represent so-and-so, don’t you? I just love his/her work!” Trust me, there isn’t an agent in the world who doesn’t like to hear that. A word to the wise, though: if you use that opener, you had better be familiar with any book you mention. Because a significant proportion of the time, the agent so accosted will want to talk about it. Go figure.

So doing your homework about agents is smart conference preparation. Sometimes, however, finding out which writers they represent can be hard work. Agents often seem amazingly unaware of this, or even incredulous when writers point it out: it’s a relatively small industry, so everyone within it knows who represents whom. But if you, like pretty much every aspiring writer who did not go to school with someone in the industry, don’t know the affiliations, how are you to find out?

More to the point, how do you find out what the agent in question is selling NOW, rather than a couple of years ago?

I’m going to tell you how I handle it, personally: I check industry publications to see not only who and what the agent represents, but also what books the agent has sold recently. As in this year and last, the stuff that isn’t on the shelves yet. While all of that information is a matter of public record, not everyone has access to it easily.

But I do. And I’m going to share it with you, so you can make informed decisions, as well as gaining some insight on how to read agents’ blurbs productively. Please note, though: this is information based upon publishing databases, so it may not be entirely up-to-date or totally accurate. Also, it will reflect only those clients for whom these agents have actually sold books, rather than their entire client lists, which may not give a truly representative (so to speak) picture.

Please note, too, that I am presenting these agents in alphabetical order, not ranked in any sort of hierarchy of excellence or interest, and over enough days’ blogs to justify the length of time it took to track the information down. (Seriously – I hadn’t gone through this process in a couple of years, and time had whitewashed my sense of how time-consuming the research is.) And since I have spent so much space today explaining why I think this is a good idea in the first place, I’m only going to go over one agent today, Stephen Barbara of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, tops in the alphabetical list. Here’s his official blurb, gleaned from elsewhere on this very website:

”Stephen Barbara (Agent) is an agent and contracts director at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Prior to this, he worked as a junior agent at the Fifi Oscard Agency, an editorial assistant at Regan Books, and an intern at the Kaplan Agency. He is interested in literary fiction, YA and middle grade novels, narrative non-fiction, historical and topical non-fiction, and a variety of commercial fiction genres.”

Okay, this is a good one for starters, because our good Mr. Barbara has given the savvy reader quite a bit of information in this blurb that might not be apparent to the less experienced eye, and his solo sales record is recent enough that searching the bookstores for his clients might not have been too helpful. So what can we learn here?

First, he works at an immense and prestigious literary agency, one very well known for genre fiction (it would make sense to ask him in a meeting who ELSE at his agency might be interested in your work), but he has not worked there very long (if my information is correct, he switched over within the last 6 months). This is probably a good sign: going from being a junior agent at one big agency to being an agent at another probably means that he didn’t bring a whole lot of clients with him. Translation: he needs a list.

Second, he is relatively new to agenting: if he were more advanced in his career, he probably would not have listed his editorial assistant or intern jobs. (Although actually, having an in at Regan Books is a definite asset.) Now, I can feel some of you turning off, wanting to hold out for a bigger-name agent, but think about it: who is more likely to sign a new writer, a hungry new agent or the head of an agency?

Long-time attendees of the PNWA conference may have already pitched to the boss in this case: Don Maass has honored our conference many times. And he is a BUSY man. He used to be president of AAR , the agents’ professional association, and he goes around the country, giving seminars on how to write better novels. He has written several books on same. It’s just my gut feeling, of course, but I suspect that such a busy agent doesn’t have a whole lot of spare time to lavish on previously unpublished writers at this point in his career. But an agent new to his agency might.

Aspiring writers, please be aware of this: a relatively junior agent at a major agency can be a very good bet for a first-time author. The agency will provide connections that a smaller agency might not, yet unlike the big-name agents, a relative newcomer may well have both more time and greater inclination to push a new discovery. (Remember, with a big-time agent, you may well end up being her 105th client, and thus perhaps a rather low priority.)

What else can we learn from this blurb? Well, the agent has told us what kind of discovery he hopes to make at PNWA: literary fiction, YA and middle grade novels, narrative NF, historical and topical NF, and commercial fiction. Not a lot of big surprises here — the Maass agency is known for commercial fiction; in fact, in the past, they’ve signed the winner of the PNWA mainstream novel category. Mssr. Maass has been telling conference-goers for years that he would like the agency to handle more literary fiction, and Mssr. Barbara has a solid track record in sales for the middle grade market.

How do I know that? Because I looked at his recent sales, that’s how. In the past two years, I was able to find three of his sales, which incidentally confirm our sense that he switched agencies recently:

In March, 2006, as an agent at the Maass agency, he made an impressive three-book deal with Margaret K. McElderry Books for middle grade author P.J. Bracegirdle’s THE JOY OF SPOOKING, “in which a girl must save her beloved hometown, Spooking, from being turned into an amusement park by a villain.”

His previous two sales (both in July, 2005) are listed under the aegis of the Fifi Oscard Agency. The first is a set of two middle grade books (with QUITE the impressive advance, I notice), Lisa Graff’s THE THING ABOUT GEORGIE, (“a young boy learns to overcome his small stature and his fears of being a not-so-big brother”) and BERNETTA WALLFLOWER: THE PROS AND CONS “about a 12-year-old girl in the summer after she gets kicked out of private school for running a cheating ring — the only problem being it isn’t true”). Oh, and in case you were wondering how his connections at Regan Books might help his clients, these works were sold to a subsidiary of HarperCollins; Regan Books is also a subsidiary of HarperCollins.

So I would estimate, based upon what we see here, that if you write for middle grade readers, this would be a GREAT agent appointment for you to have. Sign up for an appointment with him, pronto.

The other listing seems on its face as if it couldn’t be more dissimilar, a history/politics NF book by a retired Marine, defense analyst, and former professor, about the future of the draft and military service. This clearly fits under the rubric of historical and topical non-fiction, so we know that Mssr. Barbara already has some connections in that direction.

You may have noticed that the blurb mentioned a few other types of work Mr. Barbara is seeking; I was not able to find a history of sales in those other areas. (As I said, though, my databases aren’t infallible.) But, as I said, the Maass agency does have a very good track record in commercial fiction. My suggestion would be that if you write literary fiction, narrative NF, or genre fiction, you should go to the agency website and take a look at their overall client list, to see if your work would fit into their areas of demonstrated interest.

One more piece of advice: if you intend to list Mr. Barbara as one of your top agent picks for the conference (or plan to accost him after the agents’ forum or in the hallway), do bring a copy of the first 5 pages of your book. If memory serves, agents from the Maass agency routinely ask pitchers and queriers for a writing sample, and it’s best to be prepared, right?

Whew! That was a lot of information, wasn’t it? But I would urge you, if you do decide that Mssr. Barbara is going to be one of your top picks, to do additional research for yourself before the conference. The more you know before you walk into your appointment with an agent, the better you can refine your pitch for his ears.

If doing this level of background research on an agent with whom you may be having a 15-minute meeting three months from now seems nutty to you, let me remind you again that the publishing world actually isn’t terribly big. Agents and editors are used to the writers soliciting them knowing who they are; keep an ear out at the agents’ forum at the conference, and you may notice an edge to their voices when they speak of writers who have not done their homework. Think of being familiar with their recent sales as a gesture of respect to their professional acumen, a way you can step most gracefully into their world, to present your book as effectively as you can.

More info on agents scheduled to attend the conference follows over the day to come. Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini

A major milestone!

Hello, readers –

Guess what? This is my hundredth posting as the PNWA’s resident writer on writing! Honestly, the landmark snuck up on me. To celebrate, I am going to delay my planned discussion on how to fix a Frankenstein manuscript and devote my post to a good, old-fashioned stream-of-consciousness blog on keeping sane while marketing one’s writing.

I also added a byline today, just to see how it looks – and to reiterate my personal commitment to passing along to you as many hints, shortcuts, and for-heaven’s-sake-don’t-go-theres as I can to help PNWA members and other aspiring writers on their long, hard climb to publication.

One hundred posts — who knew I had so much advice to give? In case you’re interested, that’s 454 pages of writing in standard format, 12-point Times New Roman. (Those of you who have been paying attention for the last month should be able to make the word count calculation easily: 113,500 words, about three times the length of my master’s thesis.) Thanks to all of you whose excellent questions, concerns, and attention have made this space what it is today: bulky, crammed to the gills with information on how to navigate the difficult waters of the current writers’ market — as well as stories designed to help readers appreciate the publishing world’s delightful absurdities.

While you’re trying to break into the business, it is often difficult to see the industry as anything but a Manhattan-sized rejection machine, a cold, heartless behemoth that eats writers’ egos whole. After years of trying to please the people who run it, agents and editors may begin to seem like vengeful spiders, determined to pounce upon any promising market prospect and drag it into their webs. Form rejection letters start to read like personal insults, and those agents you meet at conferences remind you of that snooty popular kid in high school, the one you had a heart-stopping secret crush upon who never asked you to dance.

Come on, admit it: when an agent or an editor at a conference agrees to listen to your three-minute pitch, don’t you get that same little stomach flutter you got when your 7th-grade crush smiled at you in class?

When you show the fruit of your labors and the work of your soul to someone who can whisk it away to publication, naturally it is going to stir up raw, primal emotions – and honestly, I don’t think that most of the experts giving advice to aspiring writers acknowledge that enough. While we’re trying to find an agent and get our first book sold, almost all writers feel like the wallflower at the junior high school dance. We stand there in our dressed-up best, waiting to be noticed, and it seems like everybody else is dancing. We want to ask someone to dance with us, but the fear of rejection can be crippling. So we introduce ourselves unobtrusively and hope for the best.

When I was in junior high school, our dances featured a sadistic phenomenon known as the snowball. In other, less scrupulously venomous environments, I’m told, a snowball is where a single couple begins the dance by dancing together, then each partner picks someone else, forming two couples, then those couples break up and pick new partners, and so on until everyone in the room is dancing. How nice that sounds; how inclusive.

Not so at the Robert Louis Stevenson Intermediate School. (No, I’m not making that up. Stevenson once spent a year guzzling wine in my Napa Valley home town, rendering him an ideal role model, the town elders decided, for impressionable youngsters.) At R.L.S., the snowball placed partnering decisions in the hands of third parties – all you had to do to force two people to dance a slow dance together was write both of their names on a piece of paper and drop it into a box. Anonymously. At snowball time, the pairs were read out, and the selected couples would be herded into the center of the cafeterium (an unappealing architectural attempt to combine the functions of eating room, assembly room, and gym into a single structure) to cling together in public view for the duration of an interminable song.

The kindness of junior high schoolers to one another being legendary, you can probably guess what happened: almost invariably, couples were constructed for purely comic value. Girls who got their growth spurts early were partnered up with boys who hadn’t grown since the second grade; couples who had broken up amid screaming fights three weeks earlier were summarily brought back together; arch rivals for class president were made to hug to music. But every now and again, some well-meaning soul placed in the box the names of two people who honestly had crushes on each other, but were too shy to act upon them.

And that, for those of you who have not yet gone through it, is what the moments leading up to a conference-assigned 10-minute pitch session with an agent or editor you’ve never met before feel like. (Thought I’d just gone off on a tangent of reminiscence there, didn’t you? I really was illustrating a point.) If you have been paired up thoughtfully and well, there is the potential for a real professional romance to blossom in those intense few minutes. But if you find yourself sitting across from someone who does not handle your genre (despite having listed in the conference guide that she is eager to represent all kinds of fiction), you are sort of stuck there for the duration of the dance. Neither of you wants to be in the situation, but politeness dictates that you will both just live through the slow minutes as they tick by.

I know, I know: it makes you feel hopeless, but actually, as I have been trying to show over the course of my hundred blogs, there are things you can do to empower yourself. For instance, you can research the agents and editors who will be at a conference over and above the brief blurb in the conference brochure, to find someone who actually does have a strong track record of representing your kind of writing. You could do research on the web, or in a bookstore, to find out who and what the agents represent, or go to events like the seminar the PNWA is offering at its February 15th meeting, where you can hear about the strengths and preferences of the attending agents, and make your choices accordingly.

Once you get to the conference, you can listen attentively to the agents and editors at the podium, to try to get a sense whether you actually like the person to whom you have been assigned. (Having spent two years with an agent I did not like and who did not like me before I signed with my current agent – who is a doll and a peach and represents me with the fierceness of a tigress defending her cub – I cannot recommend enough signing with someone with whom you feel a sympathetic resonance.) If not – or if the agent announces she’s no longer looking for your kind of book – find out if you can switch appointments. If not formally, then informally – ask other conference attendees whom they are seeing, in case they are willing to trade with you.

The wonderful people who run the agent/editor desk at the PNWA conference will probably not appreciate my asking this, but why on earth should you limit yourself to only your assigned appointments? If there is an agent or an editor you desperately want to see, hang out near the check-in desk in case there are cancellations. Buttonhole your dream agent in the hallway and ask if you can give a pitch – or if he will squeeze in an appointment for you. They’re there to find undiscovered talent; assume that they want to hear about your project, if it’s in their line.

And if you find yourself in a conversation with an agent or editor who you realize would never be a good fit, don’t be afraid to stop the conversation, thank him for his time, and walk away. Trust me, in a conference situation, where pitches fly at agents and editors constantly, they will appreciate your candor. Alternatively, you could use the time to ask, “So, what other agents/editors here at the conference do you think will appreciate my work? What about other people at your agency?”

I have, in the throes of appointments that were a bad idea in the first place, been known to start pitching the work of people in my writing group, if they seem like better fits than I. Why not? The agent and I are both there, we already have the time booked – and honestly, isn’t it’s something you would like your friends to do for you? The agents and editors are always surprised, but invariably gracious, and on a couple of occasions have eventually signed the writers to whom I’ve introduced them. (On one particularly memorable occasion, I dragged a friend of mine up to his dream agent during a conference banquet, introduced them over the pasta bar, and jokingly told them that neither could eat until she let him go through his pitch. They complied. He hadn’t been able to get an appointment with her.)

My point is, you need not be passive in the face of the highly competitive, often intimidating process of trying to get your work published. If you are having trouble getting positive responses to your queries, find out why from someone who has been successful at it; if your manuscript keeps being sent back to you with form rejections, see if there’s anything you can do to improve your presentation. Ask questions of those who’ve been there; writers tend to be awfully nice people, glad to help one another out. And once you have achieved some success, don’t hesitate to pass your knowledge along to others. All of this will genuinely help you keep your chin up throughout the long, hard process of bringing your work to publication.

You can also, as I have been trying to help my readers do over the course of the last six months, learn to appreciate the absurdities of the business, for they are abundant, and in laughter there is power. For instance:

Like many publishing professionals, I read Publishers Lunch, the online daily (or nearly) update about what’s going on in the world of books. Yesterday, I found the world’s best job listing there:


Inside Metaphysical Sales Associate [Full Time]

Llewellyn Worldwide (Woodbury, MN)


Raises a great many perplexing philosophical questions, doesn’t it? Does the company also employ an Outside Metaphysical Sales Associate, who deals only in cold, hard facts? (For those of you who don’t know, Llewellyn is an alternative spirituality publisher; if you’ve ever picked up a book on shamanism, skrying, or channeling, chances are good that they published it.) Is Inside Metaphysical the name of a series of books, or does it refer to a sales methodology? What is it about inside metaphysical selling that makes it impossible to do effectively on a part-time basis? And to what specific locale does inside refer? People’s heads? Their souls? The Llewellyn building?

Not only does having a laugh about the industry render it less intimidating, but it also provides an important reminder that agencies and publishing houses are not monolithic entities: they are staffed by people, and those people have individual preferences and foibles. Whether you are querying an agent, soliciting a publisher, or trying to impress the Inside Metaphysical Sales Associate with your great interior beauty, there is a human being opening that envelope.

Your task when querying is not to wow an entire industry, but to charm a person.

Realizing that can only help you market your work. Aspiring writers seldom seem to think about this, but take some time to wonder: if I had to sell this book to an editor who gets 500 hundred submissions for every one he accepts, or if I had to sell this book to competing departments within a publishing house, each with its own pet project, how would I do it? What would I say about this book, if I could only get two sentences heard at an editorial meeting? How is this book important enough, or fresh enough, or brilliant enough that it is different from everything else on the market?

Now, once you have come up with tentative answers to those questions: are all of these selling points in your query letter? Does your synopsis demonstrate them abundantly?

And so forth. The more you can place yourself in the Manolos of a senior editor at a major publishing house, the better your chances of figuring out, not how to write a book from scratch that will sweep her off those size 10 feet, but how to pitch the work you already feel strongly about to her. And the more you can learn about how the publishing industry works, the better you can picture what will appeal to its denizens.

I’m still learning, myself. But what I know so far, I am happy to keep passing along to you.

Keep up the good work!

– Anne Mini