Wednesday, November 30, 2005
My sincere thanks on behalf of myself and my fiancé, Nadene, to all who have expressed their congratulations on our recent engagement and our completion of El Tour de Tucson. Our wedding will be in San Diego and the planning is already underway. If anyone knows a great photographer out there, please let me know!
On a business note, I’ll be posting the November scorecard in the next couple of days, but one thing that’s clear is that I’ve got quite a number of full manuscripts here that need my attention. Therefore, I am closing to new submissions for the month of December.
Now, what does this mean? First and foremost, it means that I will not be requesting any new sample chapters or proposals (well, if J.K. Rowling calls with her next ms, I might request it) this month. I will be focusing on what’s here and trying to get more of that read.
Please do not send in any new query letters. This month will be about reading and responding to current submissions, already on-hand. Opening and reading query letters is so time-consuming that I am taking a month off. Given that most of publishing closes from Christmas to New Year’s, this should have minimal impact. Further, my office will be closed from December 21st through January 2nd, for the holidays.
Yes, the sample chapter offer related to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is still open. I made that offer in good faith and will continue to honor it. If you aren’t familiar with the details, please read my earlier posts on this blog. If you have already sent in a sample chapter as a part of this offer, please know that I have been working through such sample chapters and writing specific responses to them. Part of the reason I’m closing to new submissions in December is to give me the time to review these sample chapters.
Yes, if I’ve already requested a sample chapter, proposal, or full manuscript from you, you should send it in. With luck, this decision to halt my requests for new material for a month will result in a faster turnaround time for anything requested and sent recently.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I have been training for months to ride El Tour de Tucson, a 109.3-mile-long endurance cycling event. I trained with Team in Training and raised funds on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (over $4,000 so far from this event). I also served as a mentor and social captain for my team, helping new riders learn road skills and also helping them to reach out to their friends and contacts to raise funds. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, both physically and emotionally. Not to mention that it helped cement my relationship with my future wife. Yes, that’s right, after riding 109.3 miles (the .3 is very important, I’m told), I asked my girlfriend, Nadene, to marry me. And she actually said yes. It must have been the dehydration and exhaustion, though the ring is still on her finger, even though she’s rested up and rehydrated, so I guess she’s sticking with her original decision. ;)
To everyone who made a contribution to the fundraising effort, either directly or through my sample-chapter offer, I want to say thank you and express my sincere appreciation for your support. This training season and ride merely reinforced my belief in what a great cause finding a cure for blood-related cancers is, and I met so many people that are battling these diseases or have battled them, that I feel very humble complaining about my sore legs. As my favorite TNT t-shirt says, “If you think riding a hundred miles on your bike his hard…try chemotherapy.”
At one point, faced with the hardest, steepest hill of the ride, Nadene was chatting with a cyclist from the Long Island team, who mentioned he’d never had such bad cramps as he was feeling that day. Nadene, who had been inspired by thoughts of the folks in whose honor she was riding, asked this Long Island teammate in whose honor he was riding. He said, “Myself. I have leukemia.” He then yelled “Chemo sucks!” and attacked this steep hill. And Nadene said, “Well, now I’m doing this hill in honor of you,” and started to attack the hill also.
Waiting at the top of the hill, I knew nothing of this conversation, but I asked a couple of women who were there cheering folks on to start cheering for Nadene. They immediately started yelling, “Go Nadene! C’mon, Nadene.” I could not have been more proud watching my future wife climb that hill.
I spent the whole ride talking about how a bike ride is a metaphor for a relationship, with up-hills and down-hills, potholes and flats. Little did she know I was laying the groundwork for a marriage proposal.
As we approach Thanksgiving this week, I know that I have a great deal for which to be thankful, and that the next year will bring us great joy as we build our life together. I truly wish that everyone reading this has a great Thanksgiving and has as much happiness in their future.
Monday, November 21, 2005
I’m pleased to share with you a guest blog from my client Ron Winter, author of Masters of the Art, which will soon be shipping from Presidio Press.
Perhaps I’m just emotional from a long weekend (more on that later), but I was genuinely moved by this and am reminded that this Thanksgiving I have a lot to be grateful for and that there are those who are far less fortunate than I am. Though I’m currently out of town, I’m planning to make a blood donation when I return to New York, and hopefully to also register to be a bone marrow donor. Won’t you do the same, in celebration of all we have to be thankful for?
Although I frequently lecture and write about the Vietnam War, and my book Masters of the Art is based on my service there, I don’t have a repository of dates locked in my mind that steadily surfaces like a mental file folder reminding me of long ago battles and death.
But on Thanksgiving Day every year I make it a point to stop for a moment and remember one day, and one comrade. On Thanksgiving Day in 1968 I volunteered to fly gunner as helicopters from my squadron, HMM-161, delivered hot turkey dinners to our Marine infantry in outposts and firebases all over northern I Corps. There was little action to speak of that day, and I was not involved in any firefights, so none of the flights were classified as combat missions. Just a long, long day delivering canisters of meat, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and even cases of beer, to give the grunts a brief respite from the war.
I held no animosity about spending my entire day in a series of flights under leaden monsoon season skies. I knew what the grunts faced every day of that war and anything we could do to give them even the slightest break was fine by me. But after a day of seeing and smelling all that food, I was truly ready for a meal of my own by the time we returned to the air strip at Quang Tri. But a Thanksgiving dinner was not to be, at least not one prepared in a mess hall.
There had been a dinner. But it was consumed in its entirety by the troops who stayed back on the base that day. Little more than crumbs were left for those who had been flying. I returned to my hooch more than a little dejected, ready to curse out any and all who crossed my path and not at all looking forward to a meal of C-rations.
Enter a new guy, Billy Bazemore, only recently arrived from the states, who like me was a helicopter electrician, and like me was a volunteer helicopter machine gunner. New guys had little to no status in Vietnam, and usually deferred to the veterans on virtually all matters. But seeing the look on my face prompted Billy to question its origin, and then to offer a solution.
Reaching triumphantly under his cot, Billy dragged out a box that had arrived in the mail from home, containing a canned turkey, potatoes, carrots, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. To add to my amazement, I also had received a package, bearing a Sara Lee chocolate cake that had survived the voyage from The World intact.
Billy could have kept his stash secret. He could have squirreled it away and hoarded it for himself. But he has a Marine and believed in the Marine code of sharing the contents of food packages from home. We spread the food out on boxes and proceeded to divvy it up among several other crewmen who also had returned to Quang Tri to discover there would be no dinner for them that day.
In short order, the dismal grayness of a monsoon day was forgotten, and probably for the first time in my life I truly understood the meaning of Thanksgiving.
Billy Bazemore’s life ended a few short months later, in a vicious firefight with the North Vietnamese. I can find the exact date if I want, but I would rather celebrate his life than his death. So this Thanksgiving, as our troops are once again fighting what suddenly is becoming yet another “unpopular” war, I will remember where they are and what they are enduring for those of us back home who will be warm, and secure and well fed because of their sacrifices.
And although I won’t share it with my family and friends because it is just too personal and private, I will find a moment to remember Thanksgiving Day, 1968, Quang Tri, Vietnam, and I’ll raise my glass to toast Billy Bazemore, a new guy who taught a lesson in Marine brotherhood to a veteran.
Monday, November 14, 2005
Starting today, I’m pleased to present one of my clients as a guest blogger. It’s my hope that in the coming months a number of my clients will be writing posts for this page. I think it helps readers better get to know my list and my clients. I hope you enjoy reading these posts.
Once again a nation finds itself the target of terrorists hiding behind Islam. Last Wednesday, November 9, 2005 individuals affiliated with an Iraq-based mutation of Al Qaeda struck three Amman, Jordan locations. At one of these, the Radisson SAS Hotel, as guests reveled at an Arab wedding reception, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt.
Among the many dead were the fathers of both the bride and groom. Shaken, tears in his eyes, the groom Ashraf Akhras pleaded, “This is not Islam.”
Ashraf’s poignant words will hopefully tip decent, moderate Muslims against supporting—even philosophically—militant Islamic extremists. Certainly the government of Jordan appears incensed and ready to deal with those who defiled a Muslim wedding celebration. But when Jordanian authorities locate the surviving planners and financiers, what should be done?
There is a precedent...
In 1972, after the massacre of eleven Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September terrorists, Golda Meir’s Israeli Government anguished over a response. A tough woman, Golda decided such wanton brutality toward Israelis, coupled with defiling the Olympic ethos (nations setting aside political differences for athletic competition), deserved extraordinary action: Operation Wrath of God.
In not less than three nonfiction books, The Hit Team, Vengeance, and One Day in September, as well as the forthcoming Steven Spielberg film Munich, Israeli Wrath of God operatives track down and kill Black September gunmen and planners of the Olympic Massacre. Inherent in the story is the moral conflict created by suspending normal due process of law to mete out summary justice.
No less compelling, despite the incredible efforts of the Israelis, one of the Black September terrorists—Jamal Al-Gashey—did elude them.
My novel, The Lost Assassin, picks up this gripping tale three decades later as Mossad agent Esther Harel (whose Israeli athlete father died during the Munich massacre) uncovers evidence of Jamal Al-Gashey hiding in Los Angeles. As she hunts Al-Gashey in America, runs afoul of Russian Mafiya in Hollywood, and digs at the nagging secret of the Los Angeles Police officer aiding her, Esther Harel grapples with her ultimate quandary. Ordered only to locate Al-Gashey, she wonders if she is successful will she be able to resist her desire for personal revenge?
As for what Jordan will do when confronting their defilers—long trials offering a pulpit for Al Qaeda rhetoric, or swift summary justice—I tend to expect the latter.
Sunday, November 13, 2005
Yes, authors. In contract negotiations, the weakest link is always the author, because no matter how hard I negotiate, if the publisher plays hardball, I’ve only seen one case where the author refused to cave. So ask yourself, how desperate are you to have your book published? How needy? Because I often wonder what it is that makes authors so weak in their contract negotiations. They agree to clauses that clearly are not in their best interest and, like any business where supply outweighs demand, this weakness empowers publishers to try for even more.
For example, one big science fiction and fantasy publisher’s contract states that the publisher has the right to change the author’s manuscript, without the author’s permission. Granted, the language is more complex and there’s something in there about not changing the meaning in a “material” way, but the end result is that the publisher can substantially edit the author’s work and the author will have no say.
Now, this publisher is not completely alone in this attempt to give itself free reign with authors’ words, but the language is among the worst I’ve seen. And it’s clauses like this that lead me to ask in every deal for the following language: “Author shall have approval over the copyedited manuscript. Publisher shall provide Author with a copy of the copyedited manuscript and Author shall have not less than ten (10) business days from Author’s receipt to review and approve the manuscript. Following Author’s approval, no changes shall be made to the text of the manuscript, other than to correct spelling or grammatical errors, or to make the work conform to house style, without Author’s written approval.”
It is my feeling that no author should sign a contract that does not provide this approval. In fact, what I do not understand is why this language is not a part of every publisher’s starting contract. Why do I, as an agent, have to ask for it? There was a time when publishers treated authors with respect and a gratitude for having them on their list. This is now only reserved for ubersellers. For all others, publishers seem to feel that they are doing the author a favor in publishing their book. You’d be surprised how often I meet significant resistance to the language I’ve quoted above.
What often amuses me, though, is that publishers don’t realize that they are encouraging authors and agents to leave them. After all, if the book does work, the author can easily say, “You didn’t believe in me. You made me feel like you were doing me a favor in publishing this book. Now it’s a success. Why shouldn’t I go somewhere where they clearly want me and don’t think they are doing me a favor?” And, after they bullied the agent and author into taking a deal the first time around that wasn’t very favorable to the author, why should they be surprised that the agent and author want to stick it to them? Every time a publisher tries to bully me, I think to myself, “Wow, they must be awfully sure I will never get one of their big authors as a client. That I will never have a best-selling author they want me to sell to them.” Otherwise, isn’t such a tactic painfully shortsighted? An editor once asked me why I didn’t show him a book I’d just sold. I said, “Oh, I just didn’t think it was your kind of thing.” But what I was thinking was “You’ve turned down most of what I’ve sent you and the one you did buy you didn’t publish well, after your contracts department made my life a living hell during negotiations. I’ll only come to you when I’ve explored every other option out there.”
I started out this post by saying the weakest link in any contract negotiation is the author, but I could go on and say that’s true of the entire process. Every time the author buys into the idea that the publisher is doing the author a favor in publishing his or her book, the author reduces the chances of success. You have to be willing to stand up and be a part of the process.
Yet being the squeaky wheel doesn’t always work either. I had an author once who would write his editor and me long letters that ranted and raved about what an incredible writer he was, that he was so much better than Stephen King and Dean Koontz and if only the publisher would wake up and realize that and do something to promote and market his books, he’d be a best-seller. Not surprising to me, once his contract was completed, the publisher cut him loose. After all, you can be a huge, screaming pain in the ass if you are making a publisher a ton of money, but if you aren’t, then being a huge screaming pain in the ass asking, “Why aren’t you making me a ton of money?!!!!!” is unlikely to be a successful approach.
You really have to be a smooth operator. You can’t just rant and rave at your editor. You need to recruit them to your side, to be your champion in-house. Here’s a story I heard from a friend in the business about Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. Apparently, long before he was a success, he came to town and went to meetings with the editors he knew. He met this one woman who worked for a company that had acquired rights in one of his books. He so charmed her and was so friendly that when he left, she felt motivated to work harder to make his book a success, which actually became a reality for this particular edition.
It is so easy to get angry and frustrated when you know someone is doing something half-assed but the truth is that you need to expect that and work to ensure that it doesn’t matter. Plan ahead. In fact, plan far ahead, and try to anticipate that someone in the system isn’t going to do what you want him or her to do. Attempt to negotiate intermediate deadlines, even with your editor, e.g., “If I deliver five chapters, can you read them next week?” But keep in mind that publishers and editors are overly pessimistic when it comes to managing expectations. They pretty much want you to expect the worst, which will make their lives somewhat easier when the book doesn’t sell, and all the more easier if it does. But this can be self-fulfilling prophecy. They expect the worst and convince you to expect the worst. In that condition, why should anyone expect a book to sell? And why should anyone sell a book to an editor who has such low expectations of the book?
I have often said, “You are worse off being published poorly, than not being published at all.” The publisher who acts as though it is doing you a favor in publishing your book is not, in fact, doing you a favor at all. You might want to consider authors like Dan Brown or John Grisham, who took one or even four books to become successful. Maybe you should politely thank that publisher for its $5,000 offer, but say that you are not comfortable with the terms of the contract, but you will be happy to speak with them again, perhaps on your next book, or the one after that, or at the point where you have achieved a level of success that makes them more willing to negotiate an author-friendly contract. As an agent, I might not be happy to lose that commission, but I’ll respect you a hell of a lot for having the self-respect and confidence to walk away.
So, having read this, ask yourself, are you the weakest link?
But this is what I do know about “making” best-sellers:
- Get as many people in-house to read it and hope they love it. If they do, your odds improve immensely. If you are an author, you might go so far as to ask your editor who else in-house has read the book, what the reaction has been, and what else can be done to build buzz inside the publishing house.
- Get as many booksellers as possible to read it in galley or ARC form. If they love it, your odds are outstanding that it will sell. If you succeed here, you almost don’t need #1.
- Positive reviews don’t sell books, but negative reviews can kill it. The old adage, When in doubt, don’t, applies. If readers are looking for a book—in particular online—and the reviews aren’t great, they’ll look for another book. For Pete’s sake, get early copies to a few friends and ask them to post reviews on Amazon and bn.com as soon as they can.
- Advertising books doesn’t particularly work, unless such advertisements are so great that they completely permeate the public consciousness. How many times have you seen an ad for a book and then gone and purchased it? I see ads for books on the subway, but forget them as soon as I get off the train. I see them before the movie, but forget them during the previews. Unless the ads are literally everywhere you turn, they will never be effective. And very, very few books get that kind of ad campaign. As an author, don’t try and negotiate for advertising. Try and get a commitment to do Advanced Reader’s Copies in the thousands. The Da Vinci Code had, I was told, at least 50,000 ARCs in print. That was more books in print than any prior edition of the author’s, I was told. You’re chances of hitting this number? Pretty much nil, but do what you can.
- Advanced quotes do help, provided the author giving the quote isn’t a “house” author. If I’m a bookseller and I get an ARC with great blurbs or quotes—“The best book I ever read!” says Clive Cussler—that’s going to be of interest to me, unless the book is coming from Clive Cussler’s publisher, in which case I discount it as a favor Mr. Cussler did his editor. But you need those quotes early. If you, as the author, deliver the book late, you are creating problems with the schedule (a fact many, many authors don’t seem to understand!). If your editor then sits on it even longer, those problems get compounded. Every delay by you or your editor makes it less likely your book will be a success. In an ideal world, you would deliver on time and your editor would read the manuscript quickly. He would then line-edit it, send it back to you for review, and ask that you incorporate those changes into your manuscript, so that you deliver a clean version. This clean version could then be either (a) photocopied and sent out for quotes or (b) turned into a bound manuscript (including reformatting the pages and type to make it look like an ARC) and sent out for quotes.
Beyond this, what can you do? Well, email is a powerful tool. In a recent article for The Writer magazine, I said you need to start building a giant email list a year in advance of publication. Set yourself up as an Amazon or bn.com affiliate, the put a link in every email you send out from the day your book is listed, so that readers can click and buy. Beg your friends to email their friends. Beg everyone to buy a copy quickly, because the pace of sales is as important as the number of sales. Ask your friends to blog about the book and give them the link to buy it. If your friends travel on public transportation, ask them to read your book while riding the subway, plane, train or bus (and for Pete’s sake, if you commute, carry your own book proudly in public). Give a copy to the president of your company. People may come into his office and see what he’s reading, and be inspired to buy a copy. Heck, mail a copy to the President of the United States. One photo of him reading your book might be worth a thousand sales!
You can put your book cover on a t-shirt for very little money. On coffee cups for even less. Have you ever seen someone not take a free coffee cup? You could go around with a bound copy of your manuscript and a free coffee cup and see local bookstore managers. Even if the cup just sits on a counter somewhere, it’s advertising your book. And every time you or someone else wears that t-shirt, they are promoting your book. And how often do you see books on a t-shirt? It’s a conversation piece. I think people will remember it more than, say, a newspaper ad.
What makes a best-seller? A lot of people deciding your book is one they want to read. Figure out how to make that happen...and please let me know.
Friday, November 11, 2005
Over the years, I’ve had a variety of clients, but none has impressed me with their courage and conviction as those who’ve served in combat. Two whose books you can buy today are:
Robert Gormly, author of Combat Swimmer: Memoir of a Navy SEAL
I think Publishers Weekly said it best: “Gormly is no knight without fear and reproach in the mold of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. He is a warrior for the working day, not always right and not always wise. But in a harsh world, it will comfort many to know that men with Gormly's spirit, character and patriotism wear this country's uniform.”
Bob served about twenty-nine years in the navy, did two tours in Vietnam, the second after he was wounded, had some run-ins with the “rogue warrior” Richard Marcinko, whom he replaced as commander of SEAL Team 6, and undoubtedly did some stuff we may never hear about. But the stuff we can hear about is pretty exciting and compelling, including action in Grenada that makes that island seem far less the push-over than most Americans think, and facing off with the Italian military while trying to capture the Achille Lauro hijackers.
C.X. Moreau, author of Distant Valor and Promise of Glory
There are few books I’ve worked on that I enjoyed as much as Distant Valor, both because the author is simply an outstanding individual and a good friend with whom I can sit and talk politics and what’s right and wrong for hours. Though this is a novel, it’s a novel in the way that All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel. Or The Things They Carried. This is a novel of the US Marines in Beirut, of duty served in a hostile land, with no end in sight. As our troops continue in Iraq, this book may have even greater relevance now.
Promise of Glory is a very different kind of novel. It’s set during the Civil War and should appeal strongly to any fans of the Shara books. It tells of a time when technology didn’t play a role and death was far more up-close and personal.
Though not a “veteran” himself, Patrick O’Donnell has certainly been there and done that himself. A year ago, Pat was in Iraq sleeping in bombed-out houses and humping a pack with a top US Army unit, before connecting with a unit of marines and going into Fallujah at the tip of the spear. That he made it out alive still amazes me.
Pat is the author of three books, all focusing on veterans:
Beyond Valor: World War II's Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat
Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat
Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs : The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of World War II's OSS
Each of these books has the ability to take the reader into combat, and tells you in the veterans’ own words what it was like to be there, struggling on the beachhead at Normandy, or crawling through the sands of Iwo Jima, or behind enemy lines as an OSS spy. It’s no surprise that Pat has been a frequent guest on History Channel programs. He’s truly an expert in these matters.
Pat is currently working on a book about his experiences in Iraq. Look for it in 2006.
Also in the works, and soon to be in stores, is Ron Winter’s memoir, Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine’s Memoir of Vietnam. Look for it around Christmas.
My deepest respect and admiration to all of these authors, who have done so much for their country. On this day, we thank you and honor you, and we hope that your brothers-in-arms currently serving will soon be home and back with their loved ones.
Wednesday, November 09, 2005
But wait! There’s a catch.
As you might recall, I don’t normally accept unsolicited sample chapters. Normally authors query me, then I only request sample chapters on those queries that seemed promising. If you would like to send me an unsolicited sample chapter, you must include the receipt (no checks; do this online, please) from a $75 donation to one of my Team in Training teammates who has not yet hit his or her fundraising goal.
The following teammates could use your assistance:
- Caprio, Jennifer
- Imrisek, Natalie
- Kudlacik, Alison
- Levison, Adam
- Merzon, Antonia
- Stasa, Nadette
- Wade, Michael
The deadline for this extended offer is January 10th, which will allow you to make a donation in the 2006 tax year, if you prefer. If you find that they have ALL hit their $4,200 minimums (a very happy day), please feel free to visit my page at www.active.com/donate/tntnyc/tntnycAZackTucson, to make a donation. No more checks in the mail, please. This needs to be done online using a credit card. Just send along a copy of the receipt.
Thanks for everyone’s support. It’s going to be a great ride!
Monday, November 07, 2005
As the countdown to ride day approaches, I wanted to share a link with you:
The pictures in this album were taken by my teammate Kathleen yesterday during our ride on River Road. For those of you who don’t know, when you get over the George Washington Bridge, you can go left and follow the road around to the entrance to a park on the other side. Yesterday, there was some huge movie being filmed down by the Hudson River. A series of rolling hills leads you to a short but steep climb out of the park. This entire ride is known as River Road and is routinely cringed at when people talk about riding it. But looking the pictures, you can’t really cringe. Here we were, only a river’s width away from the West Side Highway and a half-mile or so from the George Washington Bridge, and it feels as isolated as any country road (the fog helps!). (Okay, there’s a couple of Brooklyn Bridge shots in there, but that’s because Kathleen lives in Brooklyn.) We did River Road at the start of a 70-ish-mile long ride that turned out to be the best ride of the season, I think.
This was our last long ride before November 19th. Our bikes go on the trucks on Friday.
This team has just been phenomenal and as a team mentor, I couldn’t be prouder of the way they’ve pulled together to help each other on rides and also socially. When the team found out that one of the coaches wasn’t budgeted to travel with us, they immediately started thinking of ways to get the money to send him. He’s doing a marathon that weekend, instead, but will be riding with us in spirit for sure.
The other way this team has pulled together is with fundraising. Whether it was by going to a happy hour where the tips or profits went to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or sharing funds raised after your minimum was met, this team has really become tight. You can see even in the photos that a lot of lasting friendships have been formed.
This other slideshow is from a couple of weeks ago:
This was a similar ride and while the scenery isn’t as pretty, you can actually see what folks look like. These were taken at the Runcible Spoon, a coffee shop in Nyack. This place is a phenomenon. On a typical nice weekend, I bet they see well over a thousand cyclists. They have bike racks on both sides of the street in front and on a good weekend, I bet there’s well over $100K in bikes parked there. Crazy, huh? 51 miles round trip from my apt. It’s longer a longer trip than to the Starbucks on my corner, but the hot chocolate and blueberry muffins are worth it, and there’s no guilt in all those carbs when you are climbing the hills on 9W to get home!
My thanks again to everyone who has supported me in my efforts with TNT.
Thursday, November 03, 2005
“A mysterious, talking hedgehog bites him and sends [him] into his own past where he begins to de-age in time to right a wrong and save more than just a life....”
Okay, who’s smoking something here? The author or his character? I mean, REALLY? Is he kidding me? “A mysterious, talking hedgehog?!” What is this? A video game? Is the guy playing Sonic the Hedgehog too much? Does Sonic talk? I don’t even know.
But this gets better. The author goes on to describe his work as a “fast-paced, post-modern blend of classic detective fiction, tantalising [sic] science fiction and Christian fantasy.” Duck Harry Potter! The competition is gunning for you.
Okay, I’m not mean. Really, I’m not. Just ask my girlfriend (but not when she’s riding her bike eighty miles this weekend, because somewhere in there she’s going to blame me that she’s out there doing that!). But give me a break, okay? Could an anthropomorphic fantasy work? Sure. There are several. And I loved Robert Rabbit. But does this sound as if it works? Maybe the talking hedgehog is really a Jesus figure? After all, Jesus had a beard, right?
When you are writing your query letter, please hand it to a couple of complete strangers. If they guffaw while reading it, chances are I will too, right before I pass. And if you describe it as a blend of several genres, please keep in mind that blending several genres rarely garners you more readers. You don’t get both the detective fans and the science fiction fans. You only get that small percentage of one or the other that likes the mix of the two. For example, I can blend vodka and prune juice, but this won’t get me all vodka drinkers and all prune juice drinkers. It will only get me the constipated vodka drinkers. See the point? Blending or combining genres generally cuts your potential readership, so don’t do it. Especially don’t do in your first novel, please.
On a different, yet connected note, since I did mention Jesus, I saw a bumper sticker a while back that said “Get your religion out of my government” or words to that effect, and I’d like to afford myself of my First Amendment rights to offer a few thoughts:
I think we can all agree that we are supposed to have a separation of Church and State in this country. It is in the Constitution, right? So will someone please explain to me why this is constantly coming up? Seriously. I mean, I have no problem with “In G-d We Trust” on my money. I think most folks believe in and trust G-d. And even if you don’t, you’d trust him if you did, right? It doesn’t hurt anyone to have that on the money. Nor in the Pledge of Allegiance. I mean, is anyone trying to raise an atheist? Isn’t belief or disbelief in G-d something we all have to come to on our own, some way?
Jesus, on the other hand, is a different story. Some believe he was the son of G-d. Others do not. I am fully prepared to respect both opinions. Personally, I like Lenny Bruce’s version of events. He could have been a doctor, a lawyer, whatever. But noooooooooo, he had to be the Messiah. Well, we all know the rest of that joke. But, hey, my best friend is seriously Catholic. He reads the Bible regularly and I bet I could bring him to some bars and make some money playing “name that Scripture verse” with him. But do I need or want people making decisions for our country based on their beliefs in Jesus? No. No more than I want the new Parliament in Iraq to make decisions based on Muslim religious law.
Hey, wasn’t that ironic? On the one side, we have our government pushing for a completely secular Iraqi constitution, with no nods to Shari`a, yet back here in the United States we’re arguing over Supreme Court nominees because the religious right (sorry, but I don’t quite think it deserves the capital Rs) wants to know that whomever is nominated believes the same Bible stories they do.
I’m sorry, but I believe in Darwin. I do not believe in creationism (again, not going to use a cap here) and I think “intelligent design” is nothing but creationism in a pretty new suit or dress. Are there inexplicable elements to our world? Sure. I like to say that I believe in the Big Bang...but I just don’t know who lit the fuse. See? Plenty of room for G-d in there, right? But I work in literature and spent an entire week discussing the many different authors of the Bible in college. And let’s be serious, I work in a business where we edit all day. We cut, we add, we piece things together. Can anyone seriously believe that the King James Bible is perfect? That we should follow what is written in there verbatim? At best, the original Bible was part history lesson, part allegorical stories designed to teach and influence behavior, and part political document designed to put out the “official version” of events. Remember, history is written by those who win wars and elections. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible-thumpers in the Republican Party are so good at spin! They have a long history of it.
But when it comes to schools, there’s a desperate need to teach actual science. If we want our country to be competitive, we shouldn’t be teaching “intelligent design,” or as I like to call it, “stupidity.” We should be teaching science like geology, so we can go find some oil someplace, and chemistry, so that we can create some alternate fuels, and physics, so we can figure out how to generate energy from all that hot air in Washington.
Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Bill Maher, but I really am tired of all the religious debate in our politics. For Pete’s sake, please click and order yourself a copy of Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, by Kristin Luker. I read this book in 1987 or so, and I still bring it up as the best book on the history of the debate that I have ever read. Now, please, don’t go nuts on me and ask me if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. I’m pro-birth control. Yes, that’s right. I’m in favor of responsibly using birth control so that abortions don’t need to happen. Sure, abstinence is great, but let’s be honest, sex is addictive. So odds aren’t very good that some teen having sex is going to stop. Did you? But enough on that. The bottom line here is that we have a Constitutional separation of Church and State and I, for one, am in favor of enforcing that clearly and reasonably. A born-again president? Fine. What he does at home and on his own time is fine. But when he is making decisions that affect the entire country or the entire world, his religious beliefs have no place. And the same goes for every elected official in our government.
Wednesday, November 02, 2005
I’m pleased to report that this offer really saved my bacon when it came to fundraising for this event. With a minimum of $3,150.00 to raise, I’m amazed to report that $1,510 came from this offer! As of today, I have raised nearly $4,000.00 to help find a cure for blood-related cancers and to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thank you!
And for those of you interested in how training is going, we’ll be headed on our last big pre-event ride this weekend: eighty miles to Rockland Lake State Park and back. Sunday should be a great day for a ride. Temps at seventy degrees. Tucson, on the other hand, could be a bit warm when we get there. Temps are in the eighties there still. Perhaps it will cool off a bit in the next couple of weeks...I hope!
Now, since it’s November, it must be time for the October “Scorecard.” In October, I received 134 query letters and rejected ninety-two. I received twenty-five requested sample chapters or chapters through my LLS offer. I rejected thirty-five. I requested twelve more, as well as two proposals. I received two requested full manuscripts and requested four more. I offered representation to one client.
I currently have 116 submissions on hand. That includes sample chapters, proposals, and full manuscripts. I want to remind everyone that, provided you include an SASE, I respond to all query letters one way or another, and all submissions. So, if you queried me and never heard back, it is likely your query never reached me or my response never reached you. Query me again.
A lot of folks ask me what I do all day as an agent. They think I read, which certainly isn’t the case. So I’d like to give a sample of some correspondence with a publisher I recently had regarding a new deal for a first novel. This is from a very senior person at one publishing house:
I'm completely tied up with work at the moment. Had you not attempted to rewrite our entire contract, we could have had this whole thing done long since. Looking at all of your changes and demands, things that are not part of any contract we have with any agent or author, I find myself wondering whether we can come to any contract agreement at all.
We are not rewriting our entire contract for you or anyone. If you want to choose five points that are really important to you we can discuss those, and see if we can reach an accommodation. If not, then I'm sorry to say that we won't have a deal. And much as I would like to work with XXXXX and publish XXXXXX, I will, with regrets, have to pass not only on this book but on any other projects in the future.
Now, in my own defense, I did not rewrite the contract. Rather, I reviewed it and forwarded my requests for changes so that the contract would include such “radical” items as:
- Author’s approval over the copyedited manuscript.
- Language that required the Publisher to defend the Author in a lawsuit, rather than the other way around.
- Consultation by the Author on the cover design.
- Approval over any abridged or condensed versions of the Author’s book.
- Approval over publication of the Work by another publisher under a license.
- A reservation of any rights not specifically included to the Author.
- The right by the Author to make changes in proofs or galleys, provided the Author is willing to pay for changes beyond ten percent of the cost of typesetting.
- A requirement that the Publisher register the copyright in the Author’s name within ninety days of publication.
- A clause outlining what happens if someone infringes the Author’s copyright.
- A requirement that the Publisher read the delivered manuscript within thirty days of receipt and, if the delivered manuscript is not acceptable, that the Author shall have thirty days to revise, based upon written notes to be provided by the Publisher.
- A First Proceeds clause.
- Language outlining the definition of “Manufacturing Cost.”
- Language ensuring that the Author does not receive reduced royalties on sales to accounts that are within normal wholesale or retail channels, regardless of discount. Any author should get their full royalty on a sale to B&N, I feel, regardless of the discount granted.
- Language defining what shall be included on a royalty statement or provided upon written request.
- Language limiting the reserve for returns.
- A default clause, outlining what happens if the Publisher defaults in sending royalty statements on time.
- A limitation on the out-of-print clause.
- Defining the option terms.
- Various other language changes designed to make the contract more fair, rather than sided toward the Publisher.
Thank you for your email. I know the feeling. Running an agency on my own, I have even less support than you do when it comes to contracts and the workload in general. So you have my sympathies with that regard.
With regard to the contract for XXXXXX, as I mentioned to XXXXX, I am hoping that this is but the first of many deals I will do with XXXXXXXX over the years. After all, XXXXXX called me several months ago to tell me how much she loved another project of mine that I'm hoping you'll eventually offer on. And I still hope we can do business on XXXXXX, since I think he would fit in particularly well with your list. And in light of these hopes, I would like to negotiate a boilerplate that will work not only on this deal, but on future deals as well. I'd like to make the investment in the effort now, so that we don't have to negotiate the boilerplate five points at a time over the next five deals. This is the approach I take with all publishers: Let's hammer out a working, general boilerplate now, rather than argue book-by-book. And it has worked well for me and for the houses with which I have done business.
I think if you carefully review the changes I've requested, you will find that they are straightforward and in keeping with industry standards. In fact, much of the language I've inserted comes directly from the Authors' Guild Model Book Contract or the boilerplates used by the other major ... publishers. I therefore respectfully request that you review my requested changes and respond, letting me know which ones are acceptable, which you have a compromise position for, and which you find deal-breakers. I will then run all that by my client and see where that takes us.
I guess we’ll see what this person says when I hear back. It’s been two days now. Though, I should probably not hold my breath, since this particularly person had the manuscript for more than one year before making an offer.
So, if you ever wonder what an agent might do all day, perhaps this will help you to understand better.