Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Welcome back! And Just Welcome.

I'm extremely pleased to announce that Owl Goingback, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Crota and three other horror novels, has returned to the firm as a client and I'm currently shopping the outline and chapters for his new novel.

Clients coming and going is a bit the nature of the beast in publishing.  I was sorry when Owl left, because he was one of my first clients and simply a super-nice guy.  Now that he's back, I'm looking forward to helping him write the next chapter in his career!

I'm also happy to welcome Susan Standen to the firm as a client.  Susan has been on the frontlines of the battle against autism for ten years.  She started out as a aide, then a tutor, and is now working toward a Masters in Education.  Her proposed book, about her early years tutoring children with autism, promises to be an emotionally powerful and inspirational work.  I'm currently shopping the proposal.

#

Yesterday I sent out emails to a dozen or so authors to whom I had sent requests for more material and never received it.  Here's our practice:  If we request a sample chapter, proposal, or manuscript from you and don't receive it inside of thirty or so days, we'll usually send you a follow-up email asking if you got our request.  If we don't get a response to that, we toss the original query.  If you get representation elsewhere, no matter what stage you are at with us—even just the query—we'd appreciate your letting us know so that we don't waste any time following up.  You can always use the FAQ form on our website to let us know but, please don't send us a query or anything using that form.  We can't accept email queries.

For those who are just now working on your query letters, allow me to provide some advice:
  1. Put your name, address, phone number, and email address at the top of page 1.
  2. Date your letter.
  3. If you can keep your letter to one page, that's best.
  4. Use a 12-point font.  Bigger is ugly; smaller is too hard to read.
  5. Don't use a lot of bold-face or italics.
  6. The KISS principle applies:  Keep It Simple, Stupid.
Z

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Long-Awaited Submissions Status Update

I promised a while ago to reconcile the folder of what I think I have on-hand with what I actually have on-hand and I've spent the afternoon taking care of this.  There were definitely a few things that seemed to still be on-hand but weren't.  But the authors of those projects should already have received our responses, so it really does no harm to have had them.  It would be much worse the other way, if I didn't know I had something I had.

Okay, now that you're likely confused, here's where we stand:
  • 29 sample chapters on-hand
  • 4 proposals on-hand
  • 7 full manuscripts on-hand, plus waiting on 2 revised manuscripts from current clients that will move to the top of the pile
I have requested and am waiting to receive:
  • 3 sample chapters
  • 1 proposal
  • 4 full manuscripts
For those of you who are keeping score at home and trying to determine where your project may be in the list, here's something that may help.  Every project that comes in gets a number.  We generally read in the order of those numbers, but I should emphasize that manuscripts do not necessary get read in the order of the numbers because they take longer to read.  For example, the oldest sample chapter I have is #471.  The cover letter is dated July 20, 2008.

The oldest manuscript I have is #497 and the cover letter is dated...oh, crap, it's not dated.  For Pete's sake, people, date your letters!  Well, it can't be that old, because the interns ripped through so many manuscripts we were pretty caught up by the end of the summer.

So, if you submitted to me and your cover letter was dated before July 20th, I'd say you should have heard from us by now.  Remember, unless you are an Express Review client, if we pass on your work, you'll just get a form reject on any sample chapter or manuscript.  That said, if I have an intern do a first read on your book and we decide to pass, the intern will usually be assigned to write you a rejection letter that let's you know his or her thoughts.

But right now I have no interns....

Okay, so there you have it.  Combine that with $3.75 and you can get a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

Z


Barter with me?

I keep hearing how bartering is the new thing.  Actually, not so new, as I've been hearing this a long time.  So let me barter a bit here.  I'm looking to swap editorial services--e.g. reading, providing editorial feedback, etc.--for database and web design services.  Specifically, I have a Microsoft Access database that I would like to convert into a FileMaker Pro database.  Then I would like to use that database to run a Dreamweaver website that would need to be built, using a structure similar to my current FrontPage website located at www.zackcompany.com.

Alternatively, if you just have mad database skills but not Dreamweaver, or just Dreamweaver and not the database, we might still be able to work something out.

Drop me a line using the FAQ email form on my website if you are interested.

Thanks.

Z

Monday, September 22, 2008

BT, I'll miss you

It’s a sad day.  My old boss, Brian M. Thomsen, passed away over the weekend.  I have to admit that I haven’t been the best at keeping in touch with Brian.  It had been on my mind for a while to give him a call, but now that opportunity has passed.  It’s my loss, for sure. 

I worked as an editorial assistant to Brian at Warner Books, where he oversaw the Questar science fiction and fantasy imprint, as well as being the primary editor of horror titles there, and the occasional techno-thriller.  Under Brian, I worked with such authors as Greg Bear, CJ Cherryh, Octavia Butler, and more.  I edited my first novels for him, including the Wizard of 4th St series by Simon Hawke and the Wings Over Nam series by Cat Brannigan a/k/a Kevin Randle. 

As a boss, Brian was, to put it mildly, a mess.  He was under orders from his boss to keep his office door closed at all times, lest some Warner big shot bigger than she or some best-selling author walk by and see the train wreck inside.  I used to compare it to one of those antique shops you’d find in the Hudson Valley, you know, the ones where they’ve converted some old Victorian into a completely overstuffed mess?  Now just add giant stacks of books and paper on top of everything and you might get the picture. 

The assistant before me was a mess also and I spent a fair amount of time cleaning up.  Just when I thought I had everything filed and put away, Brian would come out of his office with a green hanging folder six-inches-thick and hand it to me.  It was completely normal to find paperwork that was two-years-old in that folder, which meant it had been sitting on Brian’s desk for two years.  That things did not simply turn to compost on Brian’s desk is strictly because of a lack of water and worms, I’m sure. 

In his own way, Brian was a bit of a publishing genius.  His knowledge of what had been published previously served as both a blessing and a curse.  I could bring up a book and he’d tell me that Zebra had published a novel with a similar plot six years prior and it hadn’t done well, so we should pass.  Yet he happily ripped off TOP GUN with a series called Wings of Gold. 

When I worked with Brian, the office was located at 666 Fifth Avenue, right above the old B. Dalton bookstore.  Brian spent time at almost every lunch hour in that bookstore, looking at what was selling.  He lived and breathed publishing in many ways, and went on to become a published author of many books.  I wish I had been there the day that first book arrived.  I’m sure it was one of his proudest moments. 

To say that Brian was a know-it-all seems an insufficient description.  Though when he moved to Wisconsin to work at TSR, he didn’t know how to drive!  Yet, he knew an awful lot, about publishing and about history.  In many ways, Brian may have missed his calling.  He’d have made a wonderful history professor. 

Beyond working as his assistant, when I became an agent, Brian was kind enough to steer Ed Greenwood my way.  Ed is, of course, the best-selling creator of the Forgotten Realms™ fantasy world, not to mention the author of many novels set in that world, and also of other novels I’ve had the pleasure to represent including, most recently, DARK LORD.  And Brian bought a Civil War novel from me, PROMISE OF GLORY, which has had quite the nice run.  I wish I’d sold Brian more books over the years, but he was a man of quirky tastes, not to mention quirky traits. 

Brian, you will be much missed.  Your huge heart that seems to have failed you physically warmed many a friend’s spirit.  And I know that somewhere in the great bookstore in the sky, you and Julie Schwartz are sitting around thoroughly enjoying yourselves.  You, no doubt, have a very large coffee in hand and Julie, no doubt, has found himself a cute blonde. 

Your friend,
Andy

 

 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Are blogs forever? Should they be?

Here’s an update on my request that information about my site be removed from Wordhustler dot com.  Again, I don’t use .com because I’m not trying to create a link or endorse the site. 

After initially refusing to remove my information and referring me to her attorney, Anne Walls, one of the site’s founders, emailed me today and said they were removing my information.  She asked me to remove my prior comments about the site from my blog.  I explained to her that, like a news article that’s been published, you can’t just delete the blog entries I’ve already posted.  So my thanks to Ms. Walls (and apologies for misspelling her name in prior posts) and the folks at Wordhustler for removing my firm’s information from its site. 

Isn’t it all better when we just play nice? 

But my discussion raised an interesting point:  What is the general feeling about editing blogs?  I’ve noticed a movement on some sites toward leaving in place but striking out prior entries when circumstances have changed.  Perhaps the information was incorrect or is now out-of-date.  Or maybe someone just changed his mind.  Is that right?  I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t on the verge of some Orwellian time when blogs or even news articles can be edited and changed or deleted so easily.  The leader of North Korea is apparently fond of ordering changes in the official history of his country.  I’ve heard Japanese textbooks apparently ignore Japan’s less savory bits of history, like the Rape of Nanking and taking women from their families in Korea and turning them into “comfort women” for the troops.  Iran, of course, would like us to believe the Holocaust never happened. 

Now imagine when the search-and-replace function in software is intelligent enough to tear through entire websites and change information.  Imagine if Iran put hackers to work to delete any and all information about the Holocaust it could find online.  Scary, eh? 

Sure, a blog entry that is offensive (like genuinely offensive, not offensive like “I’m the President of Iran and I’m offended you believe in the Holocaust) should be edited or deleted.  Or one that is legally actionable.  But should an error in reporting be deleted or should it just be struck out and updated?  How about when circumstances change, as they did today, when Ms. Walls agreed to take the information off her site?  Or is what I’m doing here enough? 

Let’s take a poll (no, not an actual “push this button” poll, but just in the comments): 

Should I go back and remove my comments about Wordhustler or is this update thanking them for their cooperation enough?  And if I were to “remove” them, should I delete them entirely, or just strike them out? 

Thanks. 

Z

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

What would you do?

So I finally heard back from Anne Wallis, Founder & Creative Director of Wordhustler dot com.  I don't use the .com because I don't want an active link or to promote this site.  In fact, I just wanted to make sure that everyone knows that I will not be accepting any queries or submissions that reference this site.

I politely requested that this site remove the incomplete, incorrect, or outdated information they have regarding my firm from their site.  Ms. Wallis refused.  I again asked politely and she referred me to her attorney.

Folks, I see so much online complaining about "scam" agents and publishers and what I don't understand is why anyone trusts these sites that are aggregators of information.  I firmly believe half are just ripping off Jeff Herman's book, which I believe is the best resource for authors and the other half are just cruising the Internet, copying and pasting stuff, and putting it up as their own.  I'll say this once:  Other than Jeff's book, which I believe is still compiled via questionnaires sent to the agents and editors themselves, YOU NEED TO LOOK AT THE PRIMARY RESOURCES!  Specifically, the agents' own sites.  Otherwise, you have no idea how recently the "profile" on these aggregator sites was compiled or posted.

And you can't blame me or other agents for wanting their info removed.  It's not just that some of these sites are charging for information that is free.  It's a lot of work to read queries that are completely inappropriate.  It wastes my time and it wastes the time and money of authors who, based on incorrect, incomplete, or outdated information put those queries in the mail to us.

The aggregators want us to "work with" them to update or correct the posting.  Sure, for $150/hour, I'd be happy to do that. My time is money.  Why would I spend it doing their job?  To request an agent to take the time to update someone else's website when he or she did not CHOOSE to be on that website is beyond ridiculous.  It's just plain obnoxious.  So please don't frequent those sites.  Look for primary sites by the agents who interest you.  Maybe eventually the idiots who aggregate will quit.

Z

I really don't want to sound like a jerk, but...

How many different ways can I say this? 

No, wait, first let me say this.  I really don’t want to come across as a jerk.  I really don’t.  But there are a few things clearly stated on my website and yet folks don’t seem to read them, so allow me to reiterate and expand here: 

  1. We do not accept email queries.  None, zip, zero, nada, nichts, zilch.  It doesn’t matter if you live overseas or on the Moon.  Sorry.  That said, let’s say you live in Australia.  Send me a query and include a current email address.  We will respond by email if you live outside of the US.  But only if you live outside of the US.  If you live inside the US, you have to send a self-addressed, stamped envelope.  Otherwise you will never hear from us.  I could go into our careful thinking and explanation for this, but what’s the point?  We don’t take email queries and we don’t respond by email other than to folks outside of the US.
  2. We can’t tell you if we got your materials.  If we ask for a submission from you, then please use Delivery Confirmation from the US Postal Service or get a tracking number from UPS or use a very intelligent carrier pigeon.  But we cannot respond to emails or letters asking us to confirm delivery.  It just takes too long to look it up and respond.  If there was another way, I’d let you know.  How about you put a check for $1 in your submission and when it clears, you’ll know I got your materials?  How’s that for cheap confirmation?  I’m kidding.  Please don’t do that.  I suddenly imagine myself rolling in $1 checks and honestly the effort to drive to the bank and deposit them is too time-consuming to bother with this.  $100 checks, on the other hand....
  3. I’m sorry if we are taking too long, but we do offer Express Review.  For those of you who have not queried us and heard about this service, never mind.  But for those who have queried us and been asked for more material, but haven’t heard back and think we are taking too long, this is why we offer Express Review.
  4. Just because I said on my blog that the interns were gone and it appears there are still some things logged in that I know were rejected does not mean we lost anything.  What it means is that we rejected some things and didn’t log them out.  Hence, it looks like we have more on-hand than we do.  Not like we lost anything.  Please do not resubmit, do not send us a letter or email or carrier pigeon.  We simply cannot confirm whether or not we still have something at this time.  In the near future, we’ll reconcile the log with what we actually have and then we’ll be able to provide a date which will let you determine if we still have your material. 

Thank you! 

Z
(who really, really, doesn’t want to look like a jerk, but it happens)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Perhaps the Listers of Agencies Need Checking...

So I’ve been using Google Alerts to track some things lately, including news about me and my firm and also about some of my clients and their publishers.  Fascinating what comes through and certainly very useful.  If you are a published author, I highly recommend creating several alerts on your name, the name of your book, the combination of them both, etc.  In this day where a good blog review is as valuable as a good review in Publishers Weekly—probably more!—you need to know what people are saying about you and your work. 

That said, what I’ve found is that one website compiler of literary agent information that I’ve asked to have my information deleted from is continuing to post it.  And it’s wrong or outdated or incomplete.  It always is, as no compiler or aggregator is ever going to check my site often to keep track of what I am looking for or how I want materials submitted.  And these sites charge you for this incorrect, outdated, or incomplete information.  Please don’t use them.  There are plenty of free sites with incorrect, outdated, or incomplete information.  Just go to those.  Or, better yet, do your own homework using the web and research directly those literary agents whom interest you.  Visit their sites.  A good site says a lot about an agency.  A bad site says a lot also.  It is up to you to do your due diligence. 

As of now, I routinely reject all submissions that reference these three sites (I am leaving out the .com as I am not trying to create a link or lead for these folks): 

  • firstwriter
  • 1000literaryagents
  • Wordhustler 

In the case of the first site, I requested removal from their site and engaged in a long exchange with the owner of the site, whom I found terribly arrogant and obnoxious.  Not one agent I know approves of a site such as these including information about an agency against the will of the agent(s) involved.  Authors should also be opposed to such listings against the will of the agency. 

In the case of the second site, my requests and emails received a number of colorful responses, including the following: 

“Generally, literary agents are pea-brained, teeny-weeny, anally retentive, third-grade microcephalic morons who can't write or think worth a cat's turd.  They use the equivalents of Cliffs Notes to judge the writings and intellects of others--because their own minds can't encompass anything larger than a short note.  They think they are hot shit on golden platters, though they are cold turds on paper plates.”—Kim Servasso 

In the case of the third site, I received a request that I allow them to work with me to update and revise the listing on their site so that it is more accurate.  This, of course, raises the question, Why would I want to do that?  Why would I spend my time trying to make their site better, when they could just delete my information from their site and I’d be done?  The answer is, I wouldn’t.  I’m still awaiting confirmation as to whether or not my information will be removed. 

Lest you think I’m being selfish or arrogant myself for wanting to be removed from these sites, I assure you that it is not just in my own best interests.  Incorrect, outdated, and incomplete listings on third-party sites lead to dozens and dozens of queries or submissions sent my way that have no interest to me and they get rejected.  Thus all of that time, paper, and postage was wasted.  And, yes, some of that time was mine, in reading something that wasn’t going to be of interest to me, so I’d just rather not be listed. 

I have spent hours and hours writing about what I want in this blog and on my website, all for free.  Then a site like those above comes along and charges you a fee for what is often incorrect, outdated, or incomplete information.  It amuses me that so many writers’ sites scream about bewares and background checks on literary agents, when sites charging for information on agents—including fee-charging agents, I’m sure; I don’t believe you can get to 1000 literary agents without including the fee-chargers— are becoming more and more widespread.  Perhaps there should be a shift in focus to reviewing these sites and calling the agents listed to see what they have to say about their listings.  I’d be happy to take that call. 

Z

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Truth is Out There


Wow.  How apropos is this?  Today, my wife and I took our son for his two-month shots.  Terrifying, I have to say.  All those needles lined up on the tray.  And the needles are long!  I had to hold my son down while the medical assistant jabbed him over and over.  And he didn’t like it.  Fortunately, yesterday he didn’t want to sleep much.  Seriously, all day we kept trying to get him to take a nap and he wouldn’t.  So today he’s sleeping off his injections and Children’s Tylenol pretty hard.  Better than having him awake and unhappy, I guess. 

All of this is so apropos because I just received my first copy, hot off the press, of Paul Offit, MD’s new book, AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS:  BAD SCIENCE, RISKY MEDICINE, AND THE SEARCH FOR THE CURE.  The pre-pub buzz about this book has been pretty huge.  Paul, as regular readers might now, is a lightning rod for those who believe vaccines cause autism.  As he says in the foreword to the book, he’s gotten death threats.  Paul is also the co-inventor of the RotaTech vaccine, has written a book about vaccines for parents, and is the author of VACCINATED, the biography of Maurice Hilleman, who invented quite a few of the vaccines my son has or will receive. 

For me, Paul is something of a dream client.  He’s unbelievably well qualified, handles the press extremely well, and he’s a darn good writer.  That this book will be received as being controversial is not in doubt, yet I think readers will find it incredibly reasonable and balanced.  When you consider that recent studies just published show—once again!—no connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, you have to realize just how important Paul’s book is as a work of medical history, as well as an examination of the current controversy.  Because Paul explains how we ended up in this mess where people believe with every bone in their body that vaccines cause autism.

You can watch Paul discuss his new book here:


I suspect that some day they may come up with some genetic testing that will help show if a child will be autistic or have autism spectrum disorder, just as there is a test now to determine if a child will have Down syndrome.  If that day comes, perhaps it will bring some relief to those parents clearly looking for something—practically anything—to blame for their child’s autism.  In the meantime, though, I believe AUTISM’S FALSE PROPHETS at least offers some clarity for parents trying to better understand what faces them and, ideally, will help them ask serious questions of those who claim to offer a “cure” or “treatment” for their child. 

In the end, Paul’s book does all a good work of nonfiction should:  it engages the reader in a thought-provoking manner; provides powerful and important information; and makes compelling argument.  In the case of this book, the argument would be that we need to stop wasting money on litigation and quackery, but instead spend it on bona fide research to better understand and treat children with autism.  Imagine if we took all of that money spent on B12 shots, chelation, and suing the government and pharmaceutical companies and put it into researching a real treatment or cure.  Where might that lead us? 

Z