Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Jenny and I are doing the Writer's Digest Pitch Slam today, which is a one-day writer's conference right before BEA. I've done it three times before.

Why do I do it when I don't have the time to read the queries that come in on their own?

I think it's really important for new writers to meet and listen to agents, to hone their pitching skills, to ask us questions about the business and their books, and to de-mystify the world of agentinig.

I've been doing this for so long and I can't represent everybody out there, but I can take three minutes at a time to share what I've learned over the years.

I rarely take on something that's pitched to me this way, but often I'll get a letter saying someone met with me years ago and now they know they have something that's right for me. And every now and then, they're right.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Memorial Day Weekend

Knowing that Book Expo America (BEA) is fast-approching, I took the weekend off from reading for work and cleaned closets, bought plants and went to the pool. But I had finished the published book I was reading on Thursday and momentarily panicked. I didn't know what I was going to read.

Since I read 200 manuscripts a year, I only get to read 12 published books a year. I horde them and usually know what I'm reading months in advance, because I only allow myself to read on the subway back and forth to lunches, on vacations and waiting in doctor's offices if I've already read the current issue of the New Yorker on the office table.

To my amazement, I had riped through YOU SUCK by Christopher Moore (I loved BLOOD SUCKING FIENDS). And then I remembered I had the new Stephen King sitting unread on a book shelf and I was very happy. Summer just doesn't get more perfect than being kicked off by a new King to read.

The next few posts will be BEA-related, but since I am working Wednesday through Saturday into the night (parties), I have no idea what time of day I'll be posting.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

An Agent's Bad Day

I didn't post last week because I had a terrible day last Thursday, that reverberated throughout Friday and part of this week.

I was expecting a phone call from one of my favorite editors some time on Thursday to tell me that he had gotten one of my authors some extra money I had asked for. He had told me that he was having a company-wide meeting that day, but thought it would be something minor about a recent consolidation.

The phone rang at 9:40, which is really early for an editor, but I had an early lunch on Wall Street, so I was glad to have this part of the day starting off.

I was shocked when he told me they were closing his company, and two others, and that he was being terminated.

We had 7 books together. I love his taste. I immediately made some calls to see if I could set up some interviews for him to get a job at another company.

And then I thought about what these 7 cancelled or orphaned books meant to my clients.

Some of these books had taken me more than 2 years to sell. This editor was someone who really got my eclectic list. Publishing the books at his company without him to champion them would mean they would die on the vine.

I also had another book that an editor had nurtured through the editorial process turned down that day (he really expected his bosses to give him the go ahead - he was a very senior editor - but they turned him down).

So now I had 8 more books to sell in addition to the 23 already on my plate.

And just in case you don't know this, it's almost impossible to get an offer in July and August because anyone who makes decisions about money is on vacation.

It does look like I've been able to successfully publish two of the books. Another looks very promising.

We're also hoping that the editor who bought these books will land on his feet soon, so he can take these titles with him.

I've had worse days on a financial level. I've had big six figure books blow up in my face, but this was a really bad day because these deals were instances where the right author had found the right editor.

I believe in the books and I believe in my ability to sell them again and again, but it would be nice to live in a publishing universe where books stay sold.

I'm not sharing this story with you to scare you. Publishing is a fairly stable business and closing companies is rare, although it obviously does happen.

But let's hope that when one door closes, another opens.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Time and Numbers

I was talking to a friend who recently became a single mother (less than one year) and she confessed that she felt overwhelmed by the new responsibility to do everything by herself and her two teenagers. I told her it gets a little easier with time, but that the nature of being a single mother is to feel that there is always too much to do and that you're never really sure you're doing any of it well enough, because you're measuring yourself against an antiquated model from the 50's based on a two-person household.

She told me I was just more organized than she was, and I assured her I wasn't. Then I went on in the course of the conversation to say that I take a five minute shower every day except on the weekend, that I work out for half an hour five days a week, that I stop working every day exactly at 6:00 when I begin cooking and call my mother while I cook, and realized that she's right. The only way I can manage this business and single motherhood is to be on that treadmill at all times. I am always clocking myself, and I'm always running numbers through my head.

I thought it was the nature of the agent business, and part of that may be true, but I think it's also my personality.

And that's why I know how many query letters we get in a month (between 2000 and 3000), how many hours it takes for me to read a 300 page manuscript (6), how many major New York publishers there are (7) and how many sales it takes to make the New York Times best-seller list (55,000 in the winter, 65,000-70,000 in the summer).

Publishers have become obsessed with numbers too. The major New York publishers are not really interested in any kind of book - hard cover, trade or mass market - that they can't come up with a real good solid reason for 25,000 people buying. And that's why it's so hard to sell a first novel now.

But that's a another post, which I promise I'll write shortly.

This post is about my time and numbers.

A few years ago, I realized that I could only handle having 20 books on submission at a time. Every time I've sent out more than that, I've been overwhelmed.

Right now, I have 23 books on submission - 13 fiction and 10 nonfiction. Even when I've read something and it's ready to go out, I have to wait until I sell something to move it onto the active list.

Some of my existing clients can't understand that once I've read something and said it's ready for submission, that it could be up until a month until I actually send it out. Part of that reason is that for certain books there are only a handful of editors who read those kind of books. It I have one 300 page vampire novel on submission, I have to wait until I've sold it until I offer another, because I do not want the editor to choose between my two clients.