Surprise! Not Everyone in Publishing Was an English Major

One of my favorite things to do here on Spine & Page is to lift the curtain on the publishing world, as I know there are many misconceptions (many of which I have held myself at one point or another) about it out there. The misconception that is my favorite to SMASH WITH A HAMMER is that to work in or be good at publishing you have to major in English.

Now, I shall preface by saying that a good many of the lovely people who work in publishing studied English in college. HOWEVER. There is a small but vibrant minority out there of people who work in this glorious industry who did no such thing.

And I am one of them!

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I’d like to share a little bit about my own academic background to show that a) not every publishing person was an English major and b) that’s ok! Agents and editors come to their jobs from different perspectives. Some of those variations are academic. So this post is mostly meant to explain one different perspective (mine) and perhaps be an example to any young aspiring professionals out there for an alternative path to how I wound up doing the book thing. Here’s a little Q&A:

So, you got to college. You liked books. Why not just do the English major?
Well, friend. That is a long story that mostly involves adolescent indecision. However, I knew that though I LOVED books and reading, I didn’t really love the idea of reading literary criticism all day long (which, surprise, is apparently a thing for English majors).

The thing I liked about books was the stories and thinking about them as processes. Also I was a major nerd for history. (Like, I learned how to write basic Egyptian hieroglyphics when I was a kid). So I tumbled into History as my major and found that it actually fit very well.

History. Gotcha. How on earth is that helpful?
Well, in terms of content, it isn’t. Really. At one point, I took a class on pirates. Like, the swashbuckling kind. Seriously.

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However, what a History major does is teach you how to read critically and recognize structure and patterns. It also teaches you how to take ridiculous amounts of information and present them clearly. It gives you research abilities that borderline on terrifying. It also teaches you how to write like a badass. All of these are crucial publishing skills. I found History to be the best way to get them without having to read a Marxist critique of LITTLE WOMEN, or something absurd like that. No offense, guys, but when I saw the stuff my English major friends were reading I was like

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Majoring in history is also nice in this field because I have reading/editorial interests that set me apart a bit from the many English majors who work in publishing, and have a slightly different perspective. For example, I feel that history has taught me to be more concerned with plot and the underlying reasons behind events, or even character decisions, in stories. (Not that English majors aren’t, but my brain was academically wired to think about those questions – of process, cause and effect – first).

I also have a theory that being a History major is what solidified my love of working on mysteries because I NEED TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENED AND WHY.

Also I love historical writing/fiction MORE THAN ENGLISH MAJORS AND I HAVE A DEGREE TO PROVE IT. Jk. Sorta. Love you, guys!

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So they let you into publishing without an English Major Card. How?
Here’s the trick! So, truthfully, this is the big secret to getting into publishing at all. You can major in literally anything and work in publishing. What matters more is your work experience.

So while I was learning about pirates and American deindustrialization other weird stuff from long ago that I nerd out about, I was also interning in a wide variety of book and non-book related places, beefing up my resume. All of my internships involved writing or communications in some form. So when it came to apply for Publishing Job X, I talked about that, and was able to create a narrative out of the mess of weird academic and job experiences I had in school (another History-learned skill!).

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I also hate reading literary criticism and over analyzing things I originally enjoyed reading. What other majors work in publishing?
Again, there is no specific publishing-friendly major. English lends itself well, of course, but so do many others. (Side note: I am personally not a big proponent of studying publishing as a major or in a school setting. That’s a different issue that perhaps I will write about another time). As I said, your experience is really more crucial, but some of the majors that have typically led folks to publishing are: Communications, Mass Media, Journalism, Writing, Comp Lit (sort of English but no), Liberal Studies. Basically, you have to prove that you can write well, read critically, give good feedback, have an amazing attention to detail, and be good with people. So whatever you think will get you there is fine!

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Hopefully this helped you gain a little broader perspective about potential agents, editors, etc! We are all unique and some of us spent good tuition money to learn about pirates in class. Remember that. 😉

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“I Just Sit and Read All Day!” Said No Literary Agent Ever

Working at a literary agency is great. For someone like me whose life is basically run by books, it’s the dream. However, I do get a lot of assumptions about my job, which are basically this: “Don’t you just sit and read all day?”

Sadly, my friends, no.

(I also got this question when working as a bookseller. Even though you can go into any bookstore and see employees doing lots of things other than reading, but people have their ideas…)

Anyway!

There is a lot of reading involved in a literary agent’s job. But, there are a lot of other things involved as well. I wanted to write a bit about them to shed some light on what exactly we do all day. And for those of you waiting for responses on submissions, now instead of picturing the agent just ignoring your email (they are most likely not!), you can picture them wanting to get back to you but doing one of these things instead 😉

Of course, every agent’s approach to work and every agency is different. I am a junior agent at an agency that has been around for a long time, so my responsibilities are different from others. This is just a general idea of what a literary agent COULD be doing, not everyone’s job description.

Here we go:

RESEARCH
I constantly say that working in publishing is basically training to be a detective (mostly because being a detective is my dream job and it sounds exciting). At the agency I work with, there is a lot of history to dig through as we’ve been around a long time. Someone may come calling about an old title we handled and we need to figure out if it’s still in print, if the proprietor (author or their descendants, usually) is around, if the rights are with the author or with the publisher, and what that publisher is today vs. 50 years ago when the book was published. This involves a lot of searching through records, reading old contracts, and doing online research. I have landed in many a Wikipedia-spiral because of these searches, reading lists of things like “50 Forgotten Science Fiction Magazines from the 1950s ” Fun!

Research can also involve things that are more “frontlist” oriented (frontlist meaning for current, active clients), like researching publishers for a project, reading up on potential editors, or reading up on current books being published to be familiar with the market. All of this goes in the agent’s knowledge bank so that when they take on a project, they have a great idea of where it fits in the market and what editor/publisher might be interested in it.

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Actual image of me trying to read a contract from 1934.

EDITORIAL WORK
The nature of publishing these days is that editors expect (and require) much more polished work than maybe ever before. This means that agenting has taken on more of an editorial role, so agents do a LOT of editorial feedback for their  clients. Some agents are more hands on than others, but it’s an essential part of the job no matter what.

Agents typically edit for the “big picture” questions and issues of the manuscript (ex: the pacing is slow in this section, this character needs more development, etc) rather than nitty gritty editorial things like grammar and punctuation. In most cases, they will do the bulk of content editing on the project. It’s totally normal to do several (what seem like endless) rounds of revision with an agent before they say it’s ready to submit. That means a lot of time spent working on editorial feedback as an agent in a day, especially if they have many clients.

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When you’re an agent and 4 clients send in their revisions at once.

MAKING FRIENDS! AKA NETWORKING
Publishing is a relationship-based business. A huge part of an agent’s work life is networking with editors that they may want to submit a project to one day, knowing their interests, and establishing a relationship with them. This can start from something like an industry event (we have mixers – they are just as awkward as they sound, but still great), or from something like Twitter (in which I read an editor’s twitter, develop a professional crush* on them, and then reach out to introduce myself).

*Professional Crush: The feeling of finding a fellow publishing professional whose interests align with yours, has worked on projects you like, seems like they’d be great to work with, and who also seems like an all-around cool person that you want to get to know. (E.g. “I stalked Sally Editor’s #MSWL feed on Twitter and now I have such a professional crush on her.”)

It’s great to meet in person with editors as much as possible. Luckily, most people who work in publishing are downright lovely and totally fun to grab a cup of coffee or lunch with to talk about books and industry happenings. And agents do that a lot to build up their network and keep current on what editors are looking for, hoping one day to play matchmaker to an editor and your project!

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Me in the throes of a Professional Crush.

NEOGTIATING CONTRACTS/HANDLING AGREEMENTS
This is a huge part of an agent’s day, at least an older, smaller agency like the one I work with. If you’re an author and you sell a book to a publisher, you and the publisher will have an agreement to outline the terms of how they are going to publish, how much you’re getting paid, etc. An agent’s job is to get the author the best deal possible. You all probably know that! But you may not know what that process actually looks like – whether it’s a back and forth with an editor/contracts associate, phone calls, redlining of the agreement, getting approval on changes, on and on to eliminate any doubt about what everyone’s responsible for in this arrangment.

Some larger agencies have their own contracts departments that will handle agreements, while in other cases, agents draft their own contracts. Being an agent actually gets you a pretty decent primer in legal language 🙂 Contracts can be a lot of fun (if you’re a nerd and enjoy them like me), but they also take up a lot of time. Agents want to be thorough and make sure everyone is happy!

Another aspect of contracts you might not think about is that there are many different uses for a literary work. There are translation rights, audio rights, film/TV rights, performance rights, the list goes on. If someone wants to use just a selection from a book, they need to approach the rightsholder (often the author) to do so, which requires – you guessed it – a written agreement. As I’m sure you can imagine, written agreements are really the backbone of publishing and ensure that everything runs smoothly by letting everyone know to expect. So, they are definitely a huge part of an agent’s day to day.

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Fun fact: No publishing agreement is valid until all parties respond to the email chain of negotiation with this gif.*

*That is not true.

There are TONS of other things an agent might do in a given day – corresponding with authors, managing social media, exploring new writing opportunities, managing/organizing things like files and sumbmissions, attending conferences and author events, etc. The exciting part about working at a literary agency is that every day can be different! And yes, we do get to read a lot which is also exciting. Hopefully this post gave you just a slightly more in-depth glimpse at what an agent might be up to inbetween manuscripts 🙂

8 Useful Things to Do While Waiting to Hear Back on Your Query

Ah, the waiting game. Truly publishing’s favorite pasttime. For authors, agents, and editors alike, it’s a huge part of the process and unfortunately unavoidable.

Authors just starting to query their work are most likely in for a long wait  before things start to move along. (So sorry about this, guys.) Agents run behind on their queries all the time, and it unfortunately in some cases can take months to get a response, depending on a variety of things. Even then, it’s not guaranteed, but that uncertainty is part of the territory of being a writer, I’m afraid.

That said, for those of you really going after landing an agent, there is good news – while the waiting game can be frustrating for new authors, there are a lot of ways to be productive during the time between when you’ve sent out your queries and when you might hear back from an agent or editor about your submission. In fact, this time can be very useful and just as productive as writing. Here are some things you can/should do during this time, both to put your best foot forward and to keep yourself from going crazy!

  1. Set up a system to keep track of your submissions and manage it. Whether it’s a spreadsheet, list, whatever, make sure you know just who/where has your query and what the details of their submission policy are (i.e.: how much time before this should be considered a pass?) Most agents update where they are with queries via Twitter or a blog, so keep tabs on who is where in their reading pile, if that info is available. For example, I periodically tweet something like “All unsolicited queries through 7/10/16 have been reviwed”, meaning if you haven’t heard from me by then on an unrequested query, it’s a pass. Otherwise, most agency websites will have a general timeframe for you to go by, as most agents are unable to respond to things that aren’t right for them. If agents request your manuscript, you’ll want to keep track of that, too, of course.
  2. Resist the urge to check in. I know this is really hard. But unless otherwise stated in submission guidelines, the only reason you need to follow up on an unsolicited query is if you’ve received an offer of representation. In that case, notify the agent as soon as possible. Otherwise, let it be, and the agent will reach out if they’re interested. Exceptions here might be requested material (such as a full or partial) that the agent has had for a while.
  3. Find your next WIP. Your old WIP is done and out in the world, so what’s your new one? Channel the energy you’re tempted to spend obsessing over the project on sub into a new project. Aside from the time when you’re keeping tabs on that submission (see #1), pretend it doesn’t exist and work on your other ideas. In the event an agent is interested in you, they’ll want to hear about your other projects. In the event you wind up tabling what you’ve submitted, you’ll have your next project lined up. Remember few authors make it on their very first book, even if it feels like your baby. Instead of dwelling, give yourself options and get better as you go.
  4. Write a piece for a blog, website, or news outlet. There are a lot of writers out there trying to get published online. Getting published online is also a completely different animal than querying a book, so be prepared to research. But, if you have the chops or a particular area of expertise, it’s is a great way to spend your “off-time” while your book is on sub. See if your favorite blogs are looking for contributors. If there’s something you’re good at or savvy about, find a site about that and ask if you can do a guest post, even if something as simple as your recipe for lemon bars on a baking blog. It will take a little time to figure out what’s out there, but it could be the start of a great opportunity or connection for you.
  5. Read some current books in your genre/market. If you’re not ready to write something new, try reading. Secret: many authors don’t read enough. It’s great when an author knows their market like the back of their hand, and it shows in the writing. If your primary WIP is out, you probably have some more free time. Use this to catch up on reading, which is a great way to arm yourself with amazing and relevant comp titles for your future use. Pro tip: buy these books from a local bookseller if you’re able, or get them at the library. Make friends as you go and you’ll have some word-of-mouth champions for your book if it gets published, and maybe an in for an author event. But don’t be sleezy about this – you should get to know your booksellers and librarians just because they’re awesome people, tbh.
  6. Work on your platform. Now is a great time to beef up your social media presence. Instead of stressing about submissions, spend a little time each day interacting with fellow authors online, or working on a website or blog. Social media is a huge component of authorship these days, and it can only work to your advantage to join the literary community online, or whatever community might be relevant to your book (ex: historians if you’re writing history, etc). Keep tabs on what relevant agencies and publishers are up to as well. Being savvy is a huge advantage in finding opportunities, and you may come across another agent/editor who could be a match for your WIP (make sure they get put on the spreadsheet if you submit!). Another thing, if you do get published, your online friends can be your greatest cheerleaders. Be sure to return the favor – it’s what makes Twitter, etc, for authors so great.
  7. Attend an event/conference. Obviously, interacting in the real world is great as well. Or so I hear 🙂 Anyway, whatever you’re writing, there’s a group out there for it. If you’re writing kids’ stuff, your local SCBWI chapter is a good place to start (many have yearly conferences). Romance writers should check out RWA. Agents are familiar with these organizations and while being involved with them doesn’t guarantee representation, they are an incredible resource and can make you seem just a little more legit. If these aren’t the right option for you, consider finding a writer’s group in your area, or starting your own. If you live somewhere where these groups don’t meet in person, look into an online chapter.  Remember that the point of these groups is to engage with others and learn, not just to promote yourself. So give back by offering to be a beta reader for others while you’re between projects, or even volunteer at an event yourself. Basically, get involved.
  8. Launch a new non-writing related hobby. Interesting people tell interesting stories, and interesting people usually have a wide range of interests. Sometimes the best thing you can do for your creativity (and sanity, tbh) is step away from the computer screen and do something else, as hard as it may be to do that. I know authors who teach yoga, draw, hike, train show dogs, teach community classes, play music, run, swim, knit, dance – the list goes on. They often turn to these things when the waiting game strikes, and often get great ideas from them for when they’re ready to start writing again. There are a ton of advantages as a writer to broadening your horizons this way (getting fresh air, meeting new people, seeing new places, etc) so don’t guilt yourself into feeling you’re not working hard if you decide to start playing pickup soccer or take a pottery class instead of refreshing your email. It’s all about balance!

There you have it folks! Some tips on keeping your sanity while waiting to hear back. Patience is a virtue 🙂

Let’s Talk About Middle Grade! Content, Voice, Issues, and More

If you’re a middle grade author, you’re in luck! Lots of agents and editors are on the hunt for middle grade in this YA-dominated writing world, myself included. Anytime I get a middle grade query I’m excited to take a peek. It really is a wonderful age to write for, and there’s a reason that we remember all the books we read at that age so fondly.

With that I wanted to talk a bit about this age range, which is an age range not a genre (a mistake I see often), and the common challenges that come along with writing for it. While there is a bit of a higher demand for middle grade projects from agents right now, you still hear many saying that they just aren’t seeing the kinds of projects they want to see. In my opinion MG is one of the toughest areas to nail. If you can do it, agents will be after you. Promise!

P.S. All of the books pictured in this posts are great choices to make yourself a little MG reading list, if you’re looking to read more in this range and learn about writing in it. They are all amazing books that do fantastically different things, so reading a few (or more) would be a great way to see the range of what a MG book can be. Also ask your librarian or bookseller to hook you up!

mg counting   mg mixed   summer serafina

Age Range
So first, let’s talk about what middle grade is. Middle grade is the step between chapter books and YA, for ages roughly 8-12. Within that you’ll have lower middle grade (for the younger end of the spectrum – think things like THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX or FRINDLE) and upper middle grade (more mature, complex books for the older kids – think THE WAR THAT SAVED MY LIFE or HOOT). Of course, there can be some variation, but generally lower means shorter and less complex, suitable for a kid in 2nd – 4th grade. Upper is for older kids as they bridge to YA and allows for more serious subject matter, more sophisticated writing and humor, etc. That’s not to say that lower MG books (or books in lower age ranges) are not sophisticated (because, lord, they can be), so think of the difference as both reading level and emotional accessibility.

A good rule of thumb is to take a look at what age the protagonist of the story is and remember that it’s normal for kids to read about kids who are either their age or a little older than them. The cutoff for a MG protagonist is generally 12 – any older and we’re getting into YA territory. Writing difficulty plays a part as well. If you’re writing middle grade, it’s important to think about how your manuscript fits for readers. The leap from 2nd grade to 5th or 6th grade is pretty big! Which kids do you imagine picking your book off the shelf?

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Content pt. 1 – Stories to Tell

Bearing in mind that MG is not a genre unto itself, remember that you can basically write anything here. I, for example, want to see all kinds of genres in MG – mystery, fantasy, contemporary, historical, and more. MG is an area where agents and editors are loving to see some outside-the-box thinking at the moment. Your story doesn’t have to be about school, doesn’t have to have dragons, doesn’t have to have anything you might think of when you think “kids book.” It certainly can, of course! But there is so much more room for different kinds of stories than ever before. Explore them all!

One note of course is that while there may be adult characters in your story, your story should definitely focus on your children characters and be told from their perspective. For example, don’t write a chapter from mom’s perspective about getting your character ready for school, lamenting about kids misbehaving, etc. If you’re telling a father-daughter story (side note: can someone please tell a father-daughter story), we want the daughter’s perspective, not dad’s. Know your audience!

As long as your story is oriented around your kid characters, one of the beautiful things about MG is that it’s significantly less trend-driven than YA. For example, it’s really really hard to sell a dystopian YA novel right now, because we just had the whole HUNGER GAMES thing. MG doesn’t quite operate this way, with huge trends that rise and fall so dramatically. There are some, and you should definitely know what’s out there, what’s working in the market, what will stand out, etc. But there is much more freedom in this age range. I most commonly hear editors say they will jump at any MG that has a good story and really nails the MG voice. That’s a very broad window to shoot for, and it gives you a lot of opportunity to tell the kind of story you want to tell. That said, you’ve gotta know what kind of stories are flourishing in the market as well as what readers are connecting to.  This involves reading what’s been published. Consider this your official excuse to go read a ton of kids’ books. For *research.*

mg stall   mg circus   mg summer

Content pt. 2 – How Much Is Too Much? 

No matter what kind of story you wind up writing, you want to do it justice, of course. Here is the biggest mistake I see in MG queries that I pass on – underestimating the reader. Kids are so smart and perceptive. They have a wide, complex range of emotions. They can understand a lot more than you think if you just gently guide them to the water. I see many submissions that lack subtlety and depth because the author is afraid that kids won’t get what they’re saying. Show them the story.  Kids will get it. Let them make the leap.

Middle grade books have dealt with all sorts of serious topics – war, death, illness, divorce, friendship, first love, class issues, peer pressure, politics, loss – the list goes on and on. You may worry about whether or not these things are MG-friendly as you’re writing. My rule of thumb is that what is more important is a mindful presentation of these elements rather than the thing itself. Death is a part of life. Violence can be scary. Illness is sad. Sometimes your friends turn out to be not so friendly. Sometimes your parents don’t get along. Kids really do get all this stuff. You can definitely present it to them (if that’s the kind of story you’re writing). Just be mindful of the presentation – don’t be overly detailed, gory, or gruesome. Use common sense and trust your readers to handle the story. They will do so beautifully.

Two exceptions here are sex and swearing. Those typically age a story up into the YA range. If there’s an f-bomb in your book, it’s definitely not MG. Otherwise, though, don’t shy away from the hard stuff, if you’re writing a hard story. (You can also write a fun, light story with none of this, that’s okay, too!). Just remember that all kids deal with hard stuff and fun stuff. It might be nice for them to have a book alongside them to know they’re not alone.

mg moon   mg holes   mg fairyland

 

Voice and Characters
On that note, apply the same logic to your writing and characters. MG writing should not be dumbed down (another sadly common issue I see). Don’t be afraid to use big words! In fact, many published MG books have writing that is just as complex as a YA novel. The only difference is presentation, like I said above.

Here is 100% serious advice, to nail both voice and characters in MG: if you’re writing for kids and have kids in your life, use them as a resource. Talk to them. If you’re basing your writing on what you imagine kids at the MG reading age to think or be, or what you remember from many moons ago, it will not feel genuine, and will likely do this gross but often well-intentioned thing of turning your kid characters into flat, one-dimensional beings that say things like “Gee whiz!” or complain all the time. Seriously! I honestly don’t know exactly how this happens, because I don’t think anyone knows kids like this in real life. But for whatever reason when writing for this age group, many authors struggle to make reality appear on the page.

The reality is that kids are people, which we sometimes forget as adults who generally have to do a lot of things to keep them alive. If in your real life you take care of kids as a parent or otherwise, it might be even harder to separate yourself from that role and see kids as characters with the autonomy and agency that will drive your story forward. But you have to, or the story won’t work! It’s honestly one of the hardest things about working in this age range. However you overcome that obstacle, it’s one of the most important things to get right. (Hint: if you aren’t sure if you have this problem, have a kid read your work.)

Writing for middle grade when you’re an adult involves taking a step outside yourself and seeing the world, a challenge, a relationship, again through the eyes of a child, remembering that “young” is not a personality trait or a worldview. Every kid in your story should have their own. So, talk to some kids in your life. If you don’t have any children in your life to chat with, time to go to your local independent bookseller and pick up that big stack of middle grade books.

mg george   mg liesel   mg witches

I wanted to write this post to address some of the issues I see with new authors who are writing MG, and I hope it helped! Like any writing, MG comes with practice and research – it being for kids doesn’t get you off the hook. I, for one, am very excited for this time in MG – there are many talented folks out there writing it and it’s a great time for it in publishing. I’m looking forward to seeing many fabulous MG queries in my inbox!

So You Got an Offer of Rep…

So you’ve been querying your manuscript for what feels like forever, tirelessly researching agents, proofreading email drafts until your eyes bleed. And then you waited, and waited, and waited. Then maybe you revised, then you waited some more. And then finally! Someone said they want to represent you and your work! This is what you’ve been waiting for! Yay!

Now what?

I’ve been tweeting a few tips on offers of representation recently because I see a lot info out there about how to query, but not how to handle things once you get the thing you’ve been working toward. There are definitely a few do’s and don’t’s for this part of the process, and ways to make the lives of the agents who have your project easier (which could lead to even MORE offers). Spring is a big season for agents to make offers, so you might find yourself there soon enough! Read on for some tips!

OMG AN AGENT OFFERED ME REPRESENTATION…

Yay! Don’t accept right away. While you’re probably very excited to receive an offer, this is the part where you need to put your business cap on and put aside your writerly joy. Play it cool, play it cool 😉 You are talking about the person who is going to represent and guide your career, so you want to make sure it’s the best fit, which might not always be the first person who said yes. Be polite and respectful to the offering agent, tell them you’re excited, whatever, but tell them you will need time to make your decision. If an agent pressures you to decide too quickly, this might be a red flag. Standard turnaround time is 2 weeks or so (3 is probably more ideal), because now you need to close out your pending submissions and give everyone who still has your query a chance to offer as well.

Remember: you set the decision deadline, not the offering agent. Make sure you ask for enough time, or you may have other interested agents pass on your project just because they didn’t have enough time to finish reading! Don’t rush yourself or other agents by trying to figure it out in 5 days. A good agent will be flexible and understand that you need time!

Review your sub list for this project. Ok, now you have your window to deal with your submission list. What agents did you send this project to? If an agent has already passed, assume the pass is final. If they haven’t responded yet, they need to be notified that you received an offer.

Write an email to notify all agents with whom the submission is outstanding. It’s a courtesy (and an advantage for you) to let all the agents who have your project know that you received an offer. Don’t just say nothing or pull your submission without giving them a chance to throw their hat in the ring. Even if you’re madly in love with the agent who offered, you’re doing yourself a disservice by closing out your options prematurely. Plus, in rare cases an agent might withdraw their offer. Rare, but it happens, so you definitely want to keep all your doors open until it’s time to decide.

WRITING THE NOTIFICATION EMAIL

Write and send this email in the same chain of correspondence as your original submission. Please do this! This is one of my biggest pet peeves that maybe other agents don’t care about, but for the sake of this blog I am making a stand. It is very time consuming (and honestly annoying) to go back and find the original query, especially if it was sent months ago and your inbox search is as fussy as mine is.

Change the subject line of the email to say “OFFER OF REPRESENTATION: Title, Age Group/Genre of your project.” This allows everything to be in the same chain while still showing the agent there’s an update. Many agents skim through their inboxes to look for these on a daily basis, so make sure it’s front and center in that subject line to get a faster response.

Make it easy for the agents who still have your project to get back to you.  This is a matter of giving them all the material they need to decide and the time to review it (2 weeks, folks!). Include your original query and synopsis below your email notifying of the offer (hence the advice on notifying in the same chain). If the agent has already requested a full or pages from you, be sure to re-attach them along with a synopsis so they’re right at the agent’s fingertips. This makes it more likely they’ll look at your project right away and get back to you faster, rather than getting distracted before they have a chance to search for the full you sent them 3 months ago. If they ask you for the full once you notify, be sure to send it ASAP so they have more time to read.

Keep the text of the email brief – include a reminder of what the project was, when you submitted it, and the date you need a decision by. This is just nice to refresh the agent’s memory about the history of your submission. Your deadline is the most important part. It saves the agent from having to ask, and also allows you to give yourself time to decide. Set a deadline for interested agents to get back to you that is at least 2 days before you agreed to tell the original offerer your decision. That way you will have some time to review any competing offers of representation and decide what is best for you. Lastly, include your contact info so they can reach out!

SAMPLE “OFFER OF REP” Email:

From: Timmy McWriterman
Sent: Monday, May 02, 2016 3:19 PM
To: Sally McAgent
Subject: OFFER OF REPRESENTATION: WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG, YA Literary Mystery

Dear Sally,

I’m writing to let you know that I have received an offer of representation for my YA literary mystery, WHEN YOU WERE YOUNG, which I submitted to you in October. You asked for the full, which I am re-attaching here, in February. Please find the original query  and synopsis below for your reference.

I am looking to close out all pending submissions by end of business on Monday, May 16. If you are interested in the manuscript, please let me know by then and I’d be thrilled to discuss with you.

I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you again for your consideration!

All best,
Timmy
timmy@writerman.com
555-555-5555

Done! Now wait to hear back and keep track of responses as they come. On to the next phase:

OKAY, NO ONE ELSE OFFERED ON MY PROJECT. WHAT DO I DO?
That’s ok! You still have a choice. You can either go with the original offering agent (assuming you like them/feel they are a good fit) or turn down the offer. Up to you!

or

MULTIPLE AGENTS HAVE OFFERED ON MY PROJECT I AM EXCITED BUT SCARED HALP
Multiple offers are great! If you don’t get multiple, it’s ok, but having them is certainly a nice position to be in. So, here’s what to do next:

Research the agents who have offered again. You definitely did this before submitting because you’re an informed author who wants to put their best foot forward, right? But now you’re going in greater depth. Read their bios, their blogs, their websites. Stalk their Twitter for a while. You want to get a sense of how they present themselves and what kind of personality/agenting style they might have. You also want to research the agency as a whole to see how they fit into the larger publishing world. This will give you some background going into the next phase which is:

Talk to the offering agents by phone. Now is the time to pick up the phone and have a chat with the offering agents. Believe me, you want to do this part – hearing someone’s voice in conversation can give you a way better sense of them than reading their emails. On the call you want to ask about them – their history with their agency, what kind of project they typically deal with, their agenting style (hands on? hands off? editorial heavy?). You also want to ask them about you/your project – meaning, what vision do they have for the project? What publisher might they have in mind for it? Do they expect a revision? What do they think is working/needs work? You should get off the call with a clear sense of their enthusiasm for your work as well as how this person approaches their job. This will give you a better sense of whether or not you will mesh with them. Remember that it’s a professional relationship, but you also probably want an agent that you like as a person.

Note: be wary of agents who offer with the promise that they can sell your book for a million dollars, make it into a bestseller, whatever. No one can promise that. Also be wary of an agent who says your project doesn’t need revision. Most do. You’re better off going with someone who loves your book enough to make it better and fight for it, but will be transparent about the industry with you and help you manage your expectations. 

Talk to their clients. Ask each agent for the names/contact info of one or two clients who can speak to their experience working with them. This might seem invasive but is totally ok and normal! Most clients are happy to talk about their experiences with agents.

OKAY SO I CHOSE MY DREAM AGENT! YAY! ANYTHING ELSE?
Yep! First, let the agent know that you accept their offer, obviously. You’ll probably need to sign an agency agreement with them (perhaps I’ll do a post about these somewhere down the line).

Lastly, let any remaining offering agents know that you’ve decided to go with another agent. You don’t have to go into detail, just drop them a note in that same email chain thanking them for their consideration and time. While you may feel like this is unnecessary now that you have the agent of your dreams, it’s never a bad career move to keep friendly communication open with everyone you deal with. Publishing is a small world, and you never know who you’ll cross paths with again!

After that, it’s onto the next part of your publishing journey. This was just the beginning!

The Written Model: How Instagram is Making Books Prettier

If you peruse the #bookstagram hashtag on Instagram, you’ll be treated to over 3 million recent posts – pictures of books open on tables next to cute little lattes, drop dead gorgeous covers on display, creased spines, monthly book hauls delicately arranged alongside themed props. Books are a new class of model, constantly being photographed and posted and shared and liked.

bookstagram insta
A #bookstagram review by foldedpagesdistillery.

It’s a marketing dream, of course, for people to pose your product beautifully and take pictures of it to share, especially if the sharer has a large following, as many Bookstagrammers do. They are constantly doing these photoshoots – some of them probably better than what a pro photographer could dream up for promo – and with a huge and engaged audience. In addition to #bookstagram there is Booktube, a community of book lovers and vloggers on Youtube who, well, talk about books and show them off. Many of the most beloved, like Sanne Vliegenthart of Books and Quills, Ariel Bissett, Jen Campbell or Jean Menzies are also on Instagram, #bookstagram-ing away. Thousands and I get a solid chunk of their book recommendations from #bookstagram, BookTube, and other social media platforms, where books are put on display.

 

sanne spines
Sanne Vliegenthart discusses book spine design in a Books and Quills video.

Now, these folks usually have very smart and insightful things to say about what’s inside these books, and that is of course the main reason I follow them. They like reading and talking about it, and so do I. But, they also all noticeably have a thing for a well designed book. Like it or not (and I do like it, very much), social media has us judging books by their covers more frequently these days. I will be the first to admit (and proudly so) that I judge a book by its design. An unappealing cover may not make me turn away, but it definitely might prevent me from taking a second look. But I find far fewer unappealing covers around these days.

Before the Internet age, a book cover design would be seen in store, hopefully catching an eye from the shelf. That’s not to say that there weren’t beautifully designed books before iPhones, because of course there were. But now, the pressure to have a book be beautifully designed is greater than ever before. We know the book will be seen in store – but also online, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on Instagram and Twitter. Cover reveals are major social media events. Booktubers make videos about their favorite covers and design features, even as detailed as endpapers and spines. If you want your book featured, and photographed and talked about, it has to look good. Publishers know this, of course – are even taking a stab at the whole #bookstagram thing themselves in addition to traditional marketing. And this is a good thing, because it’s making book design amazing.

cover 1          toledo-jane-eyre    156788f0-8006-0133-0c50-0e76e5725d9d

I would say we’re in something of a golden age of book cover design, and things like Instagram and the “online” book experience are to thank. Reading is perhaps a more social experience now than it has ever been, with the internet to to link book lovers all around the world. And while I can talk about the book and still be happy, there’s nothing like seeing that cover. Even for an ebook, we like to see the cover when we click to the first “page.” But it’s the hard copy where the design comes alive, and the raised bar for book design in the past several years has been a key factor as to why print readers just won’t let go.

The Instagram effect – a desire for your objects to be ‘gram worthy – has spilled into other areas as well. Many of us now like to surround ourselves with cute, well-designed things. Paper, cookware, homegoods. Food presentation is all of a sudden a priority, even just for a homemade smoothie. Maybe you intend to photograph and share, maybe you don’t. But Instagram and other social media has certainly upped our attention to design detail, and amplified the power of a beautiful share-able design, in the book world and beyond.

It’s hard for those of us who love them to think of books as “products,” even though that’s what they are. But that fact – and the demand for these products to be extremely well designed these days – is what is giving us a reading experience that I don’t think has been so visually appealing for a long time. You of course don’t need a pretty cover to enjoy a book. A good story could be written on a napkin. But if you can choose, wouldn’t you rather have something striking to hold? You of course don’t need to post your recent bookstore purchase on instagram. But they’re so pretty, don’t you want to celebrate?

 

prisbookshelf
A book haul post from prisbookshelf.

Sure, the point of a good design is to make a book sell. But more than that, it reflects the love and creativity we all want to see in stories brought to life, and that we are as reading culture demand from those who sell them to us. Not only does this get us prettier books, but it shows everyone watching our videos and liking that Instagram post that stories to us – these published works – are enough a priority to us that we care about their presentation. That we will celebrate a good presentation by buying them to experience it in person and then share it for others to see. This is a good thing, with both a beautiful and important yield. Bookstagram away, folks.

ABC’s of Publishing

As my first real post on this blog (which I intended to happen much sooner but was sidelined by an office move) I thought it would be nice to start with a little primer on words you might hear being tossed around as you get your feet wet in the vast ocean of publishing. So, here you have it, an A to almost-Z of terms to know:

Agency Agreement – When an agent offers you representation and agrees to work with you, they will likely ask you to sign a contract stipulating the terms of your relationship (including their commission rate). Note that a legit agent will never ask you for money upfront just to work with them – they don’t get paid until they’ve sold something for you. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about this agreement. The agent will be happy to answer them and it’s likely someone has asked before.

BEA – Short for Book Expo America. This is a publishing/book convention held annually at which publishers, agents, editors, authors, booksellers, and other industry professionals convene to talk book biz. In recent years, this event has opened to the public and has become much more of a reader-oriented event with signings, panels, etc. Fun! 

Copyright – The part of the U.S. (and international) law that enables you to claim ownership over the work you produce. Modern copyright protection in the U.S. is automatically renewed and typically lasts 70 years after author’s death. A publisher is typically responsible for registering their books with the U.S. copyright office. Those are the basics – the rest is a tangly, sometimes complicated legal web, but definitely something worth being savvy about.

D & A – Short for “Delivery and Acceptance.” This is language you’ll often find in a publishing contact re: an advance. Sometimes an advance payment will be due half on signing and half on D&A – or when the publisher accepts your final manuscript.

Editorial Letter – A letter you might receive from an agent or editor, detailing feedback on your manuscript. To be discussed openly and then used as your map for the revision process!

Frontlist – The “new” titles handled by a publisher or agency. Older titles = backlist.

Genre – Okay, we all know what genre is. Different categories of books – fantasy, romance, horror, etc.  But do you know what genre you’re writing in? Can you name 10 books published in your genre this year? I include this because it’s important to know what works in your genre and doesn’t. We see a lot of queries where people think they’re writing in one genre that they sort of kind of aren’t writing it. Weird, but it happens! Become an expert in your genre so that when you submit and edit, you know what you’re talking about. Also, PSA: YA is NOT a genre.

Hardcover – Hard binding, usually with a dust jacket. Many trade books are published first in this format. Though, some imprints publish paperback or e-originals. If you get to the contract stage, don’t be afraid to ask what format your publisher is planning on using for the debut. For example, they may have hardcover rights but plan to publish mass-market. It’s good info to know!

Imprint – Think of these as the baby publishers within bigger publishers. Example: Balzer and Bray is an imprint of HarperCollins Childrens Books. Imprints often have their own missions/personalities, publishing books re: certain genres, tones, or subjects. Some imprint identities are very defined and others are looser. It’s definitely helpful while writing to get to know the various imprints out there and think about what imprints you might envision your work at.

Jacket Copy –  The text on the jacket/back of the book with the premise and a little teasing that makes you want to buy it. Often this comes from an author’s original query!

K – Publishing/legal shorthand for contract, usually circled. It’s a K because © is already taken by copyright!

List Price – the price at which your book will be listed for sale. Royalties are sometimes based on list price.

MS – short for manuscript and of #MSWL fame. A nitpicky debate we have around the M&O office is whether it is technically correct in a query letter to refer to the work as a book or a manuscript (logic being it’s not a book until it’s published). I will refrain from stating my position but know this causes heated arguments around here! 😉

Option – A publishing contract may include an “option” clause, which essentially allows the publisher first dibs on an author’s next work (sometimes limited by genre, length, etc). The publisher will typically have a set amount of time by which they have to decide whether or not they want to publish that work as well. Agents typically like to avoid option clauses if possible because it allows authors more freedom, but depending on the situation it can be a good thing to have a pre-determined home for your book if the publisher is interested and comes up with a nice offer. So just depends! 

Platform – The position of an author to promote their book and appeal to various markets, especially referring to social media. Can be a big factor for debut authors in publishing these days, like it or not. I wouldn’t say it’s necessary to have a huge platform (especially for fiction writers) but DEFINITELY doesn’t hurt. Plus it can be a great tool to get to know others in the industry and learn from them.  

Query Letter – DIFFERENT FROM A SYNOPSIS. This is the letter you write to an agent that very simply states what your book is about and why they might want to represent it. A good rule of thumb – does at least part of this letter read like what I might find on the back of a book? More query tips here.

Revise & Resubmit – What an agent might ask you for if they liked your project but felt it needed work. Usually will be asked for following an editorial letter or other feedback.

Simultaneous Submission – A submission going to multiple agents at one time. Totally fine unless you’ve promised exclusivity to one.

Term (re: contracts) – In contracts lingo, the amount of time that the contract is valid for. For most U.S. book contracts, this will be for the term of copyright, meaning that until the book enters the public domain or the rights are reverted, the contract is valid.

Unsolicited Queries – AKA “slush.” These are queries sent to agents and publishers without being requested and account for a majority of submissions. Note that many agencies do not respond to unsolicited queries in which they aren’t interested. Not because they are mean and want to ignore writers, but because if they responded to each they would do nothing else! Many agents  (including me and my colleagues at M&O) do respond individually to requested material, however, even if it’s a rejection.

Vanity Publishing – A type of self-publishing in which the author pays for a company to produce copies of their book. Unlike indie publishers and other routes of self-publishing, vanity publishers do not typically offer sales or marketing assistance. For authors looking to break out an indie book, vanity publishers often end up being not the best route. If you do go the self-pub route, it’s crucial to research whether or not your publisher will provide these services, as working with a vanity publisher will leave a lot of the grunt of sales work up to you to make returns on your investments of money and time .

World Building – An editorial term referring to how the setting/atmosphere of the story is created. All stories have world building, but it can be especially crucial in genres like sci-fi and fantasy.

X, Y, Z – Are really hard letters! Publishing as an industry should work on developing some vocab for these…if you have ideas comment with them!

Hope you guys found this little intro/glossary helpful. More posts coming soon!