Monday, April 30, 2007

Query Faux Pas, Part II

I'm on a roll here, so forgive me.

This was emailed to me:

Dear Ms. Perkins,

I recently sent your agency a query letter and it was returned to me. I was wondering if I had the correct address or not. The one I used is:

16 W. 36th Street
New York, NY 10018

as I saw it in the 2006 Writer's Market, Deluxe Edition. If it has changed can you please E-mail me the correct address.

I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you for your time."

So this author emails me to ask for a snail mail address when it clearly states in the 2006 Writer's Market that I take email queries, which is how she got my email address in the first place.

On top of that, she should have googled me for the new address.

This, of course, is also why you should always use up-to-date guidebooks when you are submitting your work. The 2006 guidebook was compiled in 2005.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Query Faux Pas

Okay, so I've hired yet another assistant to go through the snail mail, because it's just impossible to catch up.

Her first day on the job, she opens a letter from an author who complains that he sent me a query 9 months ago and didn't get a response, and a follow-up letter 5 months later and now. No query enclosed, no SASE, no email address and no phone number, yet he wonders why he doesn't get a response. It's surreal.

Another prospective author sent flowers during the holidays with only a piece of poetry as the card. No name, address or even reference to his work. I thought they were from an author for whom I had just closed a deal, but didn't say anything. I was waiting for him to say, "Did you get the flowers?" because the note was so cryptic. So, in the pile of April snailmail, I got a letter saying that the author was perplexed that I had never even given him the courtesy of thanking him for the flowers, and that he was still waiting for my reaction to his work. At least this indignant author included an email address, so I wrote to him telling him that I had no idea who has sent the flowers, but that I did thank him, and he should send an email query. Nothing yet.

Another author sent his email pitch to every agent's email address he could find. I replied by telling him it was considered bad form to mass email agents. He wrote back and said he considered it bad form to get impersonal form rejection letters from agents.

You just can't win.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

True Accomplishment

I just learned that one of my author's books (an idea that I came up with) has been chosen as a Book of the Month Club alternate, as well as a choice for all their other book clubs. This is awesome, especially for a mass market paperback! It's a real writer's accomplishment. It hardly ever happens to a non super-star or celebrity author any more.

A Day in the Life

(This is actually yesterday, but I was too busy to write it up).

Up at 7:00. Wake son up 10 times. Put on coffee. Check email to make sure no one has imploded since yesterday. Drive son to school. Go to bank to deposit check for broke client. Work-out. Shower.

Start at-desk day at 9:30 a.m. Email lunch to make sure we are on. Read 8 email queries which have come in overnight. Respond to only those that are definite no's.

Read 4 proposals/partials.

First is by existing client. This is the 3rd rewrite. We are trying to get him a bigger advance on a nonfiction Hollywood bio. Send to co-agent and celebs he is writing about. Wait for response.

Read academic proposal referred by a good source. Interesting concept, but needs a lot of work. Email author and tell him I need to sleep on it because something's missing and I don't know how to make it more commercial yet. Call referral and tell her I'll talk to her author tomorrow.

Read synopsis and partials of a quirky mystery series referred by colleague. To my surprise, the guy can write, but he's made his quirkiness too mundane. Call author and tell him to re-invent plot and get back to me.

Read sample text and new outline by client under contract who is having a little trouble being as brilliant as I know she is. Confer with editor and set up editorial phone call between author and editor for the afternoon, after I've laid the ground work.

Go to lunch with colleague. Discuss YA market, academics who write history. How we are both glad we are literary agents who work from home.

Make sure conference call with celeb author for today is set up.

Submit 4 copies of an erotic partial ms.

Get email from editor saying the $2000 fee publisher charged author for indexing his book seems justified. Pull out original contract where publisher is supposed to ask author to index before charging him. Fight fee.

Look up. Realize I have 15 minutes to get ready for dinner and play this evening (King Hedley II by August Wilson - excellent, but long play). Home by midnight.

Get up and do it again.

Friday, April 13, 2007

The YA market

I had lunch today with the head of one of the Children's and YA publishers who told me what they're looking for and what they're buying.

It's almost all chick YA (emphasis on the love story here) and fantasy, but even the fantasy has to have a female lead character. She mentioned TWILIGHT over and over again - a vampire love story that's made the YA list for weeks.

But then she added that they've had their fill of vampire series right now.

They are looking for fairies. Barnes and Nobles has decreed that they are the next YA trend.

She thinks ghosts would work, as well as witches (good witches) and goths.

They love the high school setting, complete with the popular kids versus the nerds.

She also said she thinks it's time for a nerd girl series.

And I closed on another book deal that's been dragging on for three months!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Vonnegut Gone

My son and I spoke about Kurt Vonnegut on the drive to school this morning. At first, I was afraid that I didn't have a Vonnegut story for him (I'm middle-aged, so I've actually met a lot of the authors I admire), but, to my amazement, I had enough to say to get him to promise to read Slaughterhouse Five after the new Terry Prachet (you cannot believe how awesome it is to have a child who likes the same kind of fiction you do - the day he came home from school and said that 1984 was his favorite book, my heart jumped and melted simultaneously).

I read Slaughterhouse Five in high school while learning about science fiction and great American novels. I read it around the same time I read Catch 22 and thought it a much better book about the Vietnam War through the prism of WWII experiences. And when I look back on things, I realize just how influential and ground-breaking Vonnegut was in the 70's. There would be no Hitchhikers Guide without him.

He gave one of my writers a quote in the early 2000's and I used it to sell her novel, but one of the much younger editors at that house said, "Can't she get anybody else? Does anybody read Vonnegut any more?" and I was devastated.

I've always felt that an author who can transcend genre and make his work both literature and commerc1al fiction is a true genius. There are very few. Vonnegut was one of the best.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Freedom Seder

I've been back from Canada for a few days, but immensely busy. I have closed on four of the 14 books I had offers on (which means we have come to an agreement on the contract terms) and am still negotiating the rest. Since we are now knee-deep in the Passover/Easter holidays, quite a few of the editors are out of the office until next week.

And I am too. I actually close my office and go to Church on Good Friday. Since my mother is a minister and has worked on Easter Sunday for most of my life, I have been cooking and serving the leg of lamb for over 2 decades. A few years ago, I realized that it's just impossible to serve dinner for 12 on Sunday and then work full steam ahead on Monday, so I close the office on Easter Monday too, just to give myself a day to catch my breath.

This year, one of my clients invited me and my son to her home for their Seder. My son and I used to share the holidays with another Jewish family when he was much younger, but it's been years since he's been to this kind of religious meal, so I thought it would be good for all of us. She said she didn't follow the traditional readings, but had adapted the Seder to her family.

When I asked what we could bring, she mentioned that she would appreciate it if we would share a story about freedom, but we were not obligated to do so.

What she had done was re-write the Seder service around the theme of freedom, tying the Jewish expulsion from Egypt with slavery and oppression including letters from children about Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Anne Frank. She had about 30 people at the Seder and many of them spoke about their personal experiences with oppression and freedom.

It was quite a inspiring evening, and a terrific sharing experience.