For our “Now What?” months, we wanted to be sure to get the perspectives of some very elusive publishing types: agents. Who are these mysterious creatures, and what are they looking for in your books? We recently held a chat on Twitter with the awesome folks of New Leaf Literary—Joanna Volpe, Kathleen Ortiz, and Suzie Townsend—about queries, publishing, and their best author advice for 2013:
What are your tips for a great author query?
“Get someone who hasn’t read your manuscript to read your query and give feedback. They should be intrigued and want to read more.” – Suzie (@sztownsend81)
“I love to see a good hook. What makes your story different from others? What makes it awesome? Like, super-awesome? Hook me in and get me to the sample pages. Query goal = accomplished.” – Kathleen (@KOrtizzle)
“In queries, I want to know the main character and the main plotline without anything weighing it down or confusing me. With queries, concise, well-edited, and professional is always best.” – Suzie
Queries were cleared out by 8:00 pm, 12/16/2012
Total Queries in the Inbox: 209
Manuscripts I Requested: 3
YA Sci Fi (something I haven’t seen yet!)
Adult Women’s Fiction
In my queries, there was a lot of YA and a lot of really long manuscripts.
The thing about long word counts is that manuscripts a little over 100k words don’t necessarily scare me. Manuscripts that are 150k, 170k, or over 200k, those do scare me. I know there are some great manuscripts that are that long, but for every great one there are hundreds that need a lot of work.
If you have a really long manuscript, make sure you check your pacing. Go scene by scene. Get into each one late, get out early. Make sure each scene moves the plot forwardin some way. Check the dialogue and cut any repetitions.
Then have a beta reader go through your manuscript with the same things in mind.
Then, if you still have a long manuscript go ahead and query. But maybe, and don’t quote me on this, leave your word count out.
We talk a lot about how some senses contribute to the writing process. The music playlists we listen to as we power through revisions, the pinboards we gaze at to visually inspire our WIPs, the chocolate we savor to help us deal with bad news, even the way our fingers feel tapping the keys (and the way our backs feel after slouching in a desk chair for hours while drafting). But there’s one sense that I feel like gets neglected in discussions of the writing process, and that’s smell.
Smell can be an important and influential part of the writing process. I’ve started incorporating scents into mine, and I swear it’s not related to neglecting laundry so I have more time to write. (I’m a freak who likes doing laundry, actually.) When I sit down to work on the first draft of my WIP, I use the smells of specific candles to get me into the atmosphere of the story. My current favorite? A cedarwood and rosewood blend that I think smells like a barrier island in summer, hot pine needles and driftwood and the Atlantic. Whether the candle objectively does or not smell like that is besides the point; when I burn it while I write, it connects me emotionally to the place I’m traveling on the page.
My current favorite candle.
Not every story is told in a place that smells like flowers, though. I’m not suggesting you make your desk area smell like sulfur if you’re writing about hell. But I do suggest CB I Hate Perfume, which has some fantastically unique scents, like In the Library, a “warm blend of English novel, Russian & Moroccan leather bindings, worn cloth, and a hint of wood polish,” or Walking in Air, which was inspired by Balanchine’s The Nutcracker. (Uh, I think I need At the Beach 1966. I love the smell of Coppertone. Happiness in a bottle.)
Bath and Body Works also has a line of candles out now that includes French baguette and macaron blends, to which I say: I WANT. It’s enough to make me think that the next project I work on needs to involve French bakers, so I can make my writing space smell like bread and cookies all the time.
And then there’s good old Demeter Fragrance Library, which has the normal (almond; mulled cider), the cool (paperback; New Zealand), and the just plain weird (earthworm; dregs, as in the bottom of a wine barrel; and turpentine).
Obviously, you don’t need a delightful or weird potpourri to write. But sometimes a little ritual, like lighting a candle or spritzing a room spray, can help you get into the mood of your story. Or it can help you unwind and let the words flow.
So, have I convinced you to get into aromatherapy for writers?
Literary Agent, Kathleen Ortiz
Jo’s away gallivanting across Europe (ok, so she’s going to meetings, attending a conference and promoting her clients…), so she asked me to guest blog in her place! I wanted to shake things up again and blog about something that’s not easily found online. So after some Googling and not finding too many posts on the topic, I decided a post on foreign rights would be fun. ☺
Disclaimer: this is a basic, informative post on foreign rights. Think of it like a blog post on ‘how to be an agent’. There’s so much that goes into it, one can’t ever write one post on how it works exactly. So if you have questions or have heard of other steps involved, feel free to post in the comments below!
So let’s start from the beginning: who decides who controls foreign rights for your book? It’s a combination of your offering publisher, your agent, and you, the author.
When an agent receives an offer from a publisher, it’s typically for world translation. This means the publisher keeps the rights to sell your book to other territories for publication in another language.
The three basic foreign rights are North American (rights to publish in North America + North American territories), World English (rights to publish worldwide in the English language, including selling to the UK, Australia and New Zealand), and Translation (rights to publish in non-English languages).
If your agent has a strong subrights person in-house, they’ll more than likely try to keep translation and sell just North American rights to the U.S. publisher. If the U.S. publisher has a sister-company in the UK, they’ll try to keep World English rights so if the sister-company buys the rights, they can work together to promote your title better worldwide.
What’s the difference between your U.S. publisher selling your foreign rights and your agent selling it? Boils down to two main points:
- You make more from the sale if your agent sells them. Typically if a publisher keeps them, the cut can be anywhere from 50/50 and up. So if the publisher makes a sale, you’re getting a percentage of the actual foreign advance, plus it goes straight toward your domestic advance to help you earn out. If your agent keeps foreign rights and sells them, then he/she takes the agreed upon, AAR-approved, commission and you get the rest.
- Publishers have thousands of titles on their list. Imprints have hundreds. While they certainly want to make money on all of them, the reality is that they have time to focus on only a handful of titles at a time. If they have five awesome dystopian novels, they can’t really pitch all five the same way. One of them has to be the lead title. With an agency, the chances of your book competing with another author’s in the same agency is slim, and the list is much, much smaller than a publisher’s, giving you the opportunity to stand out when being pitched to foreign publishers.
So your agent has sold your book in the US for North American rights – now what? Let’s pretend you’re with New Leaf.
First you get a fun e-mail from me which explains the process….and gives you a link for you to file for your tax exemption.
Several territories will deduct up to ~30% of your income if you don’t have proof you’re paying taxes on your income here in the U.S. So the IRS has this form you fill out and then they’ll send you tax certificates within….eh…..4 weeks – 5 months (true story). So I always have our clients apply ASAP, because without this, several territories won’t pay you after a deal is made. (Some territories don’t have a tax treaty with the US and automatically withhold a % — this is where having an accountant who is familiar with publishing comes in handy….that’s an entirely different blog post.)
So once I’ve informed you, I get started on my end. I get information from the agent who made the deal so I can put together a little pitch packet based on territories who are looking for a project like the one just sold. And the pitches are sometimes different for some territories. There are some genres, topics and themes that simply don’t work in certain territories. And if I were to try to pitch everything to every territory, they would assume I didn’t know their current market and lose faith in my professional knowledge of the industry.
So I have my pitch and I’m ready to contact my co-agents and scouts.
Co-agents are literary agents in each territory whom we have a business relationship with. We work with about 19 co-agents who represent about 35 territories. Our co-agents are fantastic. They know the ins and outs of what their publishers want, and they also work hard to be the best advocates for our titles overseas.
Scouts are people who work for a specific publisher in each territory. They get to know their publishers’ specific tastes and keep an eye on the current sales so they know when the perfect match pops up. When that happens, they alert their publisher who alerts me or the co-agent, and if it’s a right fit, an offer is made. Scouts are essential to the foreign rights process.
So I send my pitch to scouts and agents, based on whether or not the project is a match for them, and from here on out, it’s all about updating them with any blurbs, reviews, deals, etc that pop up. Every bit of information helps them to get a sale. At the same time, I’m updating our rights guide – a catalogue with information on all of our agency’s titles and rights sales, blurbs, etc.
This handy catalogue is shared with our co-agents and scouts a couple of times a year, specifically before the major book fairs: Bologna Book Fair (March), The London Book Fair (April), Book Expo America (June) and Frankfurt Book Fair (October). Additionally, foreign publishers come to the states between these fairs to meet with agents and publishers face-to-face, so the rights guide has to be updated at all times and always ready to share.
Once an offer comes in, I coordinate with the co-agent to see if it will go to auction. I also update the scouts who have a client in that territory to ensure they’re not currently considering the title or if they’re interested enough to make an offer. Once we have a final offer, I counter offer (always!) and then once we have the final, final offer, I contact the client and ask if I may accept on their behalf! Then I send a fun YouTube congratulations video if it’s their first foreign sale. (Note from Sooz: she really does this. It is amazing.)
After following up with contracts (did I mention each territory has a different format?) and sending out the tax exemption certificates (see why I have them apply so early?), it’s all about the follow up: payment, sending out the final manuscript for translation, asking about foreign promotion and marketing, covers, pub dates, receiving final copies, keeping up with sales and royalties and marketing, ensuring all publishers are updated on bestseller lists worldwide and sales and marketing, etc.
And I do this for every, single agency title in every, single territory sold and not sold. And at any point within this process, another new sale comes along, and the process starts all over for them, too!
Kathleen Ortiz is Director of Subsidiary Rights and a Literary Agent at New Leaf Literary & Media, Inc. She is an agent member of the Association of Authors’ Representatives and New Work Women in Communication. She has an intimate client list of authors, and loves nothing more than reading a good book while drinking an eggnog latte. For a partial list of her foreign sales, you can visit her Publishers Marketplace page.
Last names are complicated. They tie us to lots of things: our families. Our pasts. Or, if you’re me, The Lion King and an Ottoman grand vizier from the 17th century.
I know what you’re thinking: that sounds cool. If my last name made people think of Mufasa, I’d OWN it. So why exactly did I choose to publish under a different last name? Why would anyone want a made-up name on the cover of their debut novel?
From The Lucky 13s Blog
Reason #1: The Google Problem
Lots of us share names with other people. But some of us share names with prominent historical figures or celebrities. Imagine your name is Michael Phelps. You will never, ever, be the first hit on a search engine, which means all of your adoring fans will have to work a little harder to find your website. Also, imagine how many people will show up to your book signing and be disappointed because you’re not THAT Michael Phelps.
Reason #2: Writing Doesn’t Pay the Bills (for the majority of us, at least)
Let’s face it: most writers can’t quit their day jobs after landing that first book deal. Still, writing is a career, which for most of us, means juggling two jobs. When I found out that I was going to be published, I was planning on becoming a high school teacher. For now, I’m fortunate enough to live at home and focus on my writing career, but someday I may want to teach again. If you want to keep your writing career and your day job separate, or even if you’re uncomfortable with your co-workers/students reading your books, a pen name might be an option for you.
Reason #3: Privacy/Anonymity
If you’re like me, you imagine holding your book for the first time and shouting, “HELLYEAH! I WROTE THIS!” to anyone who’ll listen. But not all writers seek that personal fulfillment. Some really do want the anonymity that a pseudonym affords.
For me, reasons #1 and #2 lead me and my agent to the decision that publishing under a different last name would be better for my career. I’m 100% happy with that decision, even though I get funny looks from friends and family. Some of them have even said: “If it’s not your real name, it’s kind of like you didn’t really write the book.” Derp.
What I’d like to say to them is this: I’m fulfilling my lifelong dream of being an author. Big Bird’s name could be on the cover of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL and I’d still be the happiest person in the world seeing it on a shelf for the first time.
Can you match these famous authors to their pen names?
A. Richard Bachmann
B. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson
C. Eric Arthur Blair
D. Lemony Snicket
E. Esther Pauline Friedman
1. George Orwell
2. Ann Landers
3. Lewis Carroll
4. Stephen King
5. Daniel Handler
(A. 4, B. 3, C. 1, D. 5, E. 2)
Kara Taylor is the author of PREP SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL, coming Spring 2013 from St. Martin’s Press. Someday, she hopes to own her own bakery. She is represented by Suzie Townsend of New Leaf Literary and Media. Taylor is not her real last name.