Thursday, November 29, 2007

Good Pitches, Bad Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends has done a heroic ninth round of pitch critiques. For anyone who is depressed that your query isn't perfect, this round has proof of just how hard it is to write a good pitch. Jessica critiqued a pitch by a published author today and pointed out a number of problems with it. She also pointed out several new problems in this round of pitches and said she really liked one of them. So it's worth your time to check out her blog post if you're working on your pitch.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Some More Good Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends has valiantly completed an eighth round of pitch critiques. She points out several good pitches in this group, so click on through to check out what a good pitch looks like.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Q & A #4: How Many Sales?

Q: Do you know how many sales an agent should be making each year if they are legitimate?

A: Actually, no, but I can give you an idea of what a reasonable number is. I checked out the AAR site to see what they require for membership. To become a member of AAR, the agent needs to have worked full-time as an agent for two years, agree to follow the AAR's Canon of Ethics, and sell ten projects in eighteen months.

Basically, they believe a reputable agent who has been in business for two years or more should be selling at least one project approximately every two months. Most agents who are actively building their client list say are taking on about three or four clients a year (though those just starting out probably take on more). Hopefully most of those clients produce a new book each year, and hopefully the agent can sell a high percentage of those books as well as the books of their new clients. The longer the agent has been in business, the easier this standard should be to meet.

However, a few, rare legitimate agents only have a couple best-selling authors on their client list and only sell a couple books each year. The number of books sold per year is a good question to research or ask (especially of a non-AAR agent), but it's not the "all or nothing" question to determine how good an agent is.

If you want to double-check if your prospective agent is an AAR member (since lists like AgentQuery are sometimes wrong about this), you can check the AAR membership database here.

Hope this helped.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Number of Writers and Editors in the U.S.A.

Here are some interesting statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to their May 2006 statistics:
  • There are 59,530 editors in the United States working at newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers. Their annual mean wage is $52,580. There are 15,380 editors in New York alone, and they are paid an annual mean wage of $67,020.
  • There are 45,330 technical writers in the United States, and they have an annual mean wage of $60,850.
  • There are 53,060 reporters and correspondents in the United States, and they have an annual mean wage of $41,900. Of those, 39,650 are employed by newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers and have an annual mean wage of $38,620.
  • There are 43,260 writers and authors (excluding technical writers and public relations specialists) in the United States, and they have an annual mean wage of $58,080. Of those, 8,220 are employed by newspaper, periodical, book, and directory publishers and have an annual mean wage of $47,140.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What Rejection Numbers are Good?

Miss Snark wrote a post on her blog that inlcuded the following quote:

You got 3 [requests to see the manuscript] from 40 queries. That's not bad....That's actually pretty good.

I keep hearing people complain about only getting five or eight requests for partials (with subsequent rejections). Of course, they never said how many query letters they've sent out. In any case, I began to wonder just what numbers were considered "pretty good." Now I know. Three of forty works out to 1 out of every 13 agents requesting a full manuscript.

Pressure to Sell

Miss Snark wrote an interesting post about the pressure on authors to sell more of each subsequent book that is released. I recommend you read all of the post, but to quote the best of it:

Publishers demand that writers sell increasing quantities of subsequent books they publish. Book one can sell five thousand copies, book two six thousand but by book five you've got to sell forty thousand. If you don't, the publisher doesn't renew the contract. .... Why do this you ask? ....The reason is that if you've got ten authors selling 40,000 books each year, you've got a full list and no way for someone new to break in. ...It's harder [for them] to publish the novelist they're all looking for: the breakout book that is going to sell a zillion copies.

....Add up all the cost for printing, editorial time, design time, and a percentage of the fixed cost like heats light and water and voila and voila: what it costs to make a book happen. That cost is almost same if you sell 3000 books or 30000 books. ....The REVENUE is significantly higher for 30,000 books than for 3,000 so publishers with the roughly the same costs would really rather sell more than less.'ll see a lot more smaller publishers picking up big names and happily publishing 40,000 copies till the cows come home.

Query Letters--Level of Detail

Here's another good quote from Miss Snark from a post on her blog:

Detail is the devil in query letters. You can't go into much, but broad generalizations are boring. You have to find one or two compelling details that really entice a reader. Try not to panic though. Even if your query letter truly sux (9 out of 10 do), if your pages are good, you're still in the game.

Character-driven stories

Some writer friends of mine once started a discussion on what, exactly, magazines were asking for when they said they wanted character-driven stories. I've been slowly reading through Miss Snark's old posts and came across a post by her that has a good explaination.

I think the thing that's missing in most of the novels I reject is that the characters don't seem to grow or change enough. I read a lot of mystery and thriller submissions and it's like dead bodies are leaves on the ground: no impact. Even in cozies, there has to be some sense that this isn't quite normal and will mean something to the characters.

So, no I don't think there has to be social relevance. I think there has to be emotional resonance. How that is achieved can vary, but I think that's the key.

Have a fun Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Some Good Pitches at Bookends

We're back to talking about pitches critiques at Bookends. Jessica Faust liked several of the pitches. If you want to see what a good pitch looks like, follow the link and read the post.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Word Count

I've been reading a number of cozy mysteries lately and began to wonder if mysteries and certain types of romance novels had a lower word count than I'd given in my answer to Q&A #1. Jessica Faust at Bookends must have read my mind because she answered the question of word counts in today's post before I even had a chance to research the topic.

Her post includes this information:

Most novels are roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Anything I don’t mention here should be within that range, give or take 5,000 words. And by the way, when I think word count I think 250 words per double-spaced page with one-inch margins. That’s the way most publishers look at word count. ...

Cozy mysteries: 70,000 to 90,000 words. Usually on the short end of that.

Category romance: Anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 (note this is Harlequin/Silhouette only)

Fantasy: Can run longer, up to 120,000 words

If your novel falls outside of these ranges, either too long or too short, you're less likely to get an agent or editor interested in the book.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Manuscript Format Mistakes

Jessica Faust at Bookends answered a question about Bound Submissions. She basically said that it's okay to send your manuscript bound like a finished book, but the agent and editor will be unconsciously thinking of it like it is a finished product and like no more revisions are possible. If there are some revisions needed, they'll be less likely to take on the person with the bound submission than one who submitted a manuscript. Furthermore, Jessica said:

I would also suggest you avoid putting your acknowledgments and dedication in your manuscript. Not only is this the signal of a newbie, but it also says that you are discounting any work your future agent and editor might have to do for you.

I had wondered when an author sent in the acknowledgments and such since those pages are never mentioned on "how to format your manuscript" websites and books. I had supposed I'd do that after I had a contract signed with a publisher, so it's nice to know I (probably) guessed correctly.

It's been a busy week, so I've been taking the easy way to get blog posts up. I promise I'll write something that doesn't mention Jessica Faust someday soon. ;)

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Pitches at Bookends, Round Six

Jessica Faust at Bookends is still slowly but surely critiquing her way through the submitted pitches. A lot of the mistakes are the same as in previous rounds, but her critiques are still very worth reading. Today's quote from the critiques is:

A lot going on here and very confusing. I think this is the hardest thing about complicated plots, it’s hard to tell what’s important and what’s not. Even I have that trouble when pitching to editors. It can also be a sign that maybe the book itself is confusing or not tight enough. You need to ask yourself what’s the point? What’s the conflict? ....what is the real journey? What is the real issue for [the heroine]?

As in, if your book is complex, figure out what the overall problem your hero(ine) needs to solve is and focus on that rather than talk about all the problems she faces.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Handling Interviews

Jessica Faust at Bookends posted today about how interviews can go wrong. From my own experience, I agree that the worst problem is quotes taken out of context. Sometimes this is done deliberately by the reporter to slant the article a certain way, but other times the out-of-context quote makes you look bad even though that wasn't the reporter's specific intent. Another problem I noticed at some interviews is that the reporter only wrote down "reminder words" when talking with me and then essentially made up quotes based on what he remembered based on this information. To combat this problem, I started having reporters send me their questions over e-mail so they would have a written copy of my responses. That helps a lot, but won't work in every situation.

In the comments section of Jessica's interview post, Jenny said:

Back when I was promoting my books in the media someone taught me a helpful technique that really improves interviews: do the interview but bring along a page of basic information that includes a couple well-written paragraphs that say whatever it is that you would like to see in print. Give it to the journalist at the end of the interview.

Journalists are busy and love to have their work done for them. When I used that technique quite a few hour long interviews resulted in a newspaper article that contained nothing but the text of the paragraphs I'd supplied to the interviewer.

Jenny's advice sounds pretty good to me. Most of the people reading this blog probably don't have to deal with this problem very often, but it's something to keep in mind on that day when you are asked for an interview!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Pitches at Bookends - Focus on the Conflict

Jessica Faust has now completed the fifth round of pitch critiques. The main problem in the pitches this time seemed to be that the pitches were focused on the things leading up to the conflict instead of starting with the conflict.

In the comments section, Karen Duvall said:

[This] is not a pitch, but filling in the blanks will help you focus on the important details when you're ready to create your pitch. The following was created by the great late Gary Provost, writing instructor master:

Once upon a time, something happened to someone, and he decided that he would pursue a goal. So he devised a plan of action, and even though there were forces trying to stop him, he moved forward because there was a lot at stake. And just as things seemed as bad as they could get, he learned an important lesson, and when offered the prize he had sought so strenuously, he had to decide whether or not to take it, and in making that decision he satisfied a need that had been created by something in his past.

Friday, November 9, 2007

How Much Does It Pay?

For those who are interested in about how much to expect as an advance for your book or how much it's likely to pay out over time, here are two useful links:

Author Survey
Show Me the Money!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Pitches at Bookends - Movie Comparisons

Jessica Faust at Bookends has completed her fourth round of pitch critiques. As usual, I highly recommend reading her whole post, but I thought I'd quote her comments about solely pitching your book as a certain movie or book meets another movie or book. Frankly, I can never figure out this type of pitch even if I have read the books or watched the movie. Jessica explains why this method doesn't work and how to make it work:

I’ve never read a Bourne book, and since I’m not much of a movie watcher (note to everyone submitting to me) I’ve never seen either of these movies. So basically, this is lost on me. However, even if I had seen these movies I still need more. This is a tagline, but not a pitch. To give you an example of how to pitch by comparing your book, here’s the tagline I wrote for Karen MacInerney’s Howling at the Moon: Tales of an Urban Werewolf: "Charlaine Harris meets Mary Janice Davidson in this series featuring Sophie Garou, a twenty-eight-year-old whose life is just about perfect—except for one minor detail . . . she's also a werewolf." ...this is enough of a tagline to grab the editor’s attention and actually give her some of the book’s details. You now know how it’s like the two books I’m comparing it to.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Thoughts on Exclusives

As I'm sure most of you already know, some agents wouldn't look at a partial or full manuscript unless you guarantee that they will be the only one reading it. Keep in mind that you can and should put a time limit of about three weeks on that exclusivity if you chose to give it.

Agent Miss Snark wrote a blog entry about I want you alllll to myself.

Agent Jessica Faust at Bookends wrote on Handling Exclusive Requests, Reasons to Hate Exclusives, Exclusives: Time's Up, Why Offer Exclusives?, and More on Exclusives.

Agent Kristin Nelson at PubRants wrote on Exclusively Yours.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

More Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends did another six pitch critiques today. Again, I recommend following the link to read her post. While her critiques are good, there's very little for me to quote this time that will make sense out of context. Maybe:

What’s the real conflict here? When does the story really get going? Does it start moving at the Breaking of the World or the pact with the Ethereans? Is it about Ellusia or about her father? I think you need to clarify exactly who the protagonist is and what the conflict is.

Monday, November 5, 2007

When Small Publishers Go Bankrupt

Jessica Faust over at Bookends wrote about what to do if your book publisher goes bankrupt in The Fall of a Publisher. It's excellent advice. I suggest you read the whole thing, but here's a except of the most important information:

The first thing you need to do is, if you are under contract, officially terminate the agreement. Demand that rights be reverted in a letter sent by you, your lawyer, or your agent via certified mail. Then you need to wait. Yes, I’m afraid you’ll need to wait and see how things play out a little. No publisher is going to want to touch a book that might get them into legal entanglements, so changing a title or a few character names is risky business for you, for the publisher, and for your career.

In the comments section of the post, Chumplet wrote:

Many of the reputable small presses are adding a clause in the contract that states if there is a bankruptcy or if the publisher ceases operations, the rights immediately return to the author. I'm sure there's still a bit of waltzing involved before the author is free of the contract, but it's a start.

Going through this is not a happy thought to contemplate, but now authors have some good advice on how to handle the situation professionally.

Friday, November 2, 2007

News on E-Books

Kimberly Maul reported in an article on The Book Standard that Hachette Book Group USA is the first publisher to officially adopt the .epub format. The other big publishing houses may follow suit. To quote from the article:

"...the new .epub standard...simplifies the creation of digital content, benefiting publishers and consumers alike," said David Young, chairman and CEO of Hachette Book Group USA. "Not only will it enable us to create more digital files more efficiently, it will allow us to provide consumers with more types of digital books than in the past."

Things may be looking up for e-books.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Pitches at Bookends

Jessica Faust at Bookends did the next six pitch critiques today. Again, I found her critiques very helpful and easy to understand. Most of the critiques in this round had the same problem: they weren't focused on the right part of the story.

To quote a few things she said (which are better understood in context, so go read her post):

We need to get to the conflict in the plot.

Is the book really about the fact that they make plans to meet each other each year? Or is it about what happens each year?

Also, she explained why stating the theme of the story rather than specific things that occur in the story doesn't work:

This is exactly what I mean when I warn against describing your book by using themes. Few readers care what the theme of a book is. We don’t buy a book based on themes. We buy because we’re looking for a riveting plot and engaging characters.

Again, thanks for doing these critiques, Jessica!