Thursday, May 29, 2008


It's the annual book trade show. This year it's in LA, which is nice for me because I get to visit my brother's family - but difficult because there's so much to do and so much traffic, and no one lives in downtown LA, where the convention is held.

Today I took pitches as part of the Writer's Digest Writer's Conference. Although I have more than enough to read, I am always curious to see what is out there. And there was one author who looked up the kind of books I have sold, and came specifically to see me. I know I will take on that book, so it's already a win-win situation for me.

My two other agents were also to attend, but one of them got so sick we insisted she stay home. So our intern, who is just learning the ropes, took pitches in her stead. I think it was an inspiring learning experience for him.

We also sat in on the agent panel at the conference, where I learned that the best-seller YOU'LL NEVER NANNY IN THIS TOWN AGAIN was a self-published book that sold in auction to a major house.

I also learned that the crossover market between young adult and adult fiction (which would be characters in college) was recently tried by a number of publishers and failed dismally. So the publishing belief that college students have no time to read books besides those in their assigned reading list appears to be true.

The trade show officially opens on Friday, where I will walk the floor and try to share the trends I see (which will be based on books that were bought 6 months to a year ago, before the recession).

Monday, May 19, 2008

Some Answers for Beginners

Writer's Digest asked me to answer some questions for an upcoming article, but I missed the deadline (it was less than a week and I just had too much to do for you), so I'm posting my answers here. But do look for the articles when they run (and let me know when they do).


Q. Do you review queries where a writer wants you to take on their self-published book?
If yes, what are you hoping/looking for?
If not, you can be candid about why not.

We get many queries for self-published books. I have taken on a few. I have one I'm selling right now, but they are never easy to sell.

Q. Is there a "magic number" - number of sales you need to see before you will consider the book?

No. I've had books with fabulous quotes or sales of over 10,000 that haven't resold. It's depends on the market.

Q. Have you ever taken on a self-pub book before? Were you successful in finding a traditional publisher? How did that work?

I have a self-published cook book that I am selling now. I read about it in an article about self-published titles. I have not sold it yet.

I have found it really hard to place self-published bocks, both fiction and nonfiction, but I know other agents who thrive on this practice.


Dennis Lehane once said that the sign of an amateur writer is that they start a story with the cliché of the protagonist waking up from a dream, then staring out the window, then staring in the mirror, then finally leaving the apartment on page 4.

Q. What do you hate seeing in chapter 1? What are your pet peeves

This can be anything:
It can be something the protagonist does
It can be some aspect of writing or storytelling
It can be that the chapter is too long, too short or too unfocused

What will immediately turn you off in chapter 1?

It's not so much the first chapter, as book length. More than half the queries are rejected because the books are too long or too short.

A publishable novel today needs to be about 80,000 words - 120,000 if it is epic fantasy. Anything longer, and/or shorter is unsellable in today's market. When I write to new authors and inform them of this they argue with me citing Jonathan Livingston Segal or some tome by Stephen King, both of which were products of the 70's. Today's market cannot support first novels that are less than 300 pages (who wants to pay $24.95 for a 180 page book?) or much over 350 pages.

Of course, with the faster paced movies we are watching, books really have to start off with a rush. Dean Koontz wrote in the classic, but out-of-print Writer's Digest book, How to Write Best-Selling fiction, that your novel should open with your main character in terrible trouble and then be in even more grave danger within 5 pages. This always works.

So your novel has to grab me by the first page, which is why we can reject you on one page.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Buy Stamps

Run out to your local Post Office and buy a bunch of Forever stamps for your queries. It goes up a penny on Monday.

But always buy Forever stamps, because of rising fuel costs.

The 42 cent stamp is still a bargin.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

My Reading Schedule

I read 800 pages last week (stayed up until 1:00 a.m. two week nights) and I still have more than 15 partials and full ms. that I should have read weeks ago.

There is just no way to really catch up with my reading.

When I was a younger agent with fewer clients, I used to take Friday as a reading day, and I would read for about 4 or 5 hours, but I haven't been able to do that for the past 5 years. All my reading is done nights and weekends.

I had hoped that by getting more agents and interns, I would be able to catch up, but what that means is that I now have even more to read, because they need my input on a lot of their projects.

Life also always gets in the way. We have a death in the extended family early this week, and I am out of the office all day Friday. Saturday night I have a family function and Sunday is Mother's Day, so I know I'll probably fall even further behind this week.

And Book Expo America looms at the end of the month, taking me out of the office for two weeks (I'm visiting San Francisco after, but seeing clients and publishers too).