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5 Reasons I Love Working with Agents

The word on the street about editor-agent relationships is muddled at best and negative at worst. But I don’t give that much thought when I am in the trenches with an agent reviewing a proposal and negotiating an author’s contract. I decide how my relationships with agents are going to be—and I like working with agents. 



16 Things Your Editor May Be Doing When You Call

If you wondered what your editor is doing like right when you call or send an email, most likely he or she is not working on your manuscript. There is a small chance that time and chance may line things up just right for you to call as they are editing your manuscript or reading your proposal, but most likely not. So if you catch a hint that they don't have a clue about what you're wanting to know, for a split second, that's true. But they'll quickly catch up.

When an author calls or emails me, my mind is usually on something entirely different. I am what most people call a "real" editor. Just kidding. No, seriously, I edit and acquire books for publication. So when I am not doing acquisitions, I am editing. And when I am not editing, I am doing acquisitions. I edit approximately ten to fifteen projects during a four-month season (Winter, Spring, and Fall). Then I am developing about twenty to thirty acquisitions prospects at any given time--I work for a small-to-med-size house (about 50-70 titles published per year). Not to mention, traveling just a bit to writers conferences and author events. And the meetings! OK, I won't even go there.

So when you call or email, most likely
  1. I am editing another author's book.
  2. I am editing another author's back cover copy.
  3. I am doing some online super-sleuthing for new authors.
  4. I just got off a long conference call with another author or an agent.
  5. I am responding to a long emailed list of contract revisions from an agent or another author.
  6. I am writing an edit letter to another author.
  7. I am preparing proposals for an upcoming acquisitions meeting.
  8. I am preparing a monthly activity report.
  9. I am on my way to a meeting.
  10. I am just getting back from a meeting and I am trying to figure out where I left off in my work.
  11. I am taking action on the action steps from a meeting I just attended.
  12. I am honing my telepathy skills when I have no idea what another author is talking about in the book I am editing.
  13. I am trying to decode a cryptic request from someone who just stopped by my desk and asked me to do something for them.
  14. I am making a desperate attempt to create a to-do list so I don't forget anything that has to do with the thirty to fifty projects I have in the pipeline.
  15. I am conceptualizing a best seller (yes, it pays to speak positively).
  16. I am shutting down my computer and on my way home for the evening.
None of these are wimpy tasks; they are all quite cerebral and take lots of focus. So sometimes, I am even a little startled when the phone rings, "Like what the heck is that thing ringing for!" LOL! I am sure you can relate when it comes to your field.

Sometimes I wonder if authors think that they are the only author their editor is working with at the time. Do you? That would be ideal, let me tell you. But since it's not reality, I hope you can extend some grace to us when we have to play a bit of catch up with you, we let the call roll over to voice mail, or we don't respond to your emails right away. We will get back with you as soon as we know we can give you the attention and focus you need. Truly, your success is our success, and you matter.

So, what are you doing when we call you?



6 Things Writers Should Not Say to Editors or Agents at Writers Conferences

In light of my going to a couple conferences this month, I figured I would put into writing a few things I hope writers will not say to the editors and agents (or maybe just to me) they schedule one-on-ones with. This may be selfish. It may not be. It may actually help someone more than it saves me from having to smile and say my favorite noncommittal word, "Interesting!" Yes, I am being way more tongue-and-cheek here than I would ever be in person, so don't be scared to come talk to me. :) But this space, this blogspot, is kind of like my home, where you have entered in on me being myself and where you get to be... well, whoever you want to be, I guess.

But here are some things I've heard from writers in the past that I hope to not hear at this year's round of conferences. Although, some of them make for great stories.

1. "This is my first draft, but I just wanted to see what you thought."

Huh? No. Do not bring your first draft to a conference. This could be your one shot. Have you seen the movie 8 Mile, or maybe you've just heard the song by Eminem. If not, go listen to it now and then think again about bringing your rough draft to a conference. Now, if your main reason is to attend a conference for a learning experience, that's a whole other story. But still do not show your first draft to an editor. You can consider counseling with an editor, asking questions about the industry, maybe share your idea, but please do not ask us to read your first draft. We are not attending the conference to review manuscripts or to do any conceptualization or development. We are looking for ideas to publish. Well, at least that's why I want to do one-on-ones.

2. "Before I tell you about my manuscript, I just want you to read the first few pages. No, no, just read..."

Umm... Excuse me? Yes, this has happened to me. The writer practically put their one index finger to my lips as I began to talk and said, "Shhh... Just read this. I know it's going to blow you away." Do I really need to say what's wrong with this? Let's just say this writer is not publishing with me.

3. "I know this isn't the kind of book you are looking for, but I just wanted to talk to you anyway."

Yeah, about that. No. I really need to use the little bit of time I have away from the office (on office time by the way) maximizing on meetings that may have some kind of ROI for me and the company. What happens in these meetings is that, fifteen minutes after the author's spiel, I still end up telling them that this is not the kind of project I am looking for, but perhaps XYZ publisher or agent will be better suited for you.

4. "I have never heard or known of a book like mine. It is so unique."

Really. This seems like a good thing, but it's not. If there are no other books in the market like yours, there may be a reason for that--the market (i.e., readers) does not want a book like yours. So saying this is not a selling point. Perhaps you could show how your book is similar to other books along the same lines (same genre or category) and then you could show how your book is different. Saying that you know of no other book like yours in the market says several things: 1) you don't read much, 2) you don't understand the book market, 3) you don't know the job editors have to do to sell book ideas to their sales and marketing team who sell books to distributors based on comparison, 4) you did not do your research.

5. "I don't have a proposal, but I just wanted to see what you thought about this idea."

Great, but not during the one-on-one. Meet me at a meal. I could be off here, but during one-on-ones I expect to meet with authors who are ready to be published. If you are still just learning and seeing if the author's life is right for you, let's talk over a meal.

6. "You guys publish the weird stuff, right?"

Cute. But no. Try not to say anything about the publisher you are meeting with that could be taken negatively. In this case my thoughts were on my defense, not the author's pitch: We publish verifiable genres and recognized BISAC categories--at least in our minds. So that is a little off-putting to say our stuff is weird, but then again maybe you're also saying your stuff is weird and that we should all get along because we're all weird. I guess that's OK. But come to me showing me that you understand what we are publishing and perhaps what we publish sets us apart from what other publishers are doing in our same market. That would be nicer to hear. I don't want to be working for weirdos (although sometimes I question if I am or not, but only I get to say that).

While I may have been taken aback by many more surprising statements during these wonderful editor-writer encounters, these are the ones that come to mind right now. Maybe more will come later. While I am probably the nicest editor you'll meet at a conference (I will still enjoy our meeting as if you have done nothing wrong even if you come to me with any of the intros listed above), I do think it shows an author's thoughtfulness and seriousness about their career when they take these one-on-one meetings and use them for what they are for--to get a publishing deal. If you are not ready to be published or you've found an editor or agent you'd like to just network with but don't have a manuscript ready, you should plan to share a meal with them--sit at their table. Please sit at my table. I love to have a full table. I am there to be exploited and to have indigestion for those three or four days. I love this business, the readers, the authors, and the whole bit that much. And then if I do request your manuscript, please, please send it to me. If you have problems hitting "send," read this.

That is all. Thank you.

What are some interesting things you've heard people say at writers' conferences?


Book Proposal Checklist

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Book Proposal Checklist

Before you hit "send" on that query or proposal to that agent, editor, or publisher, you'll want to make sure you've dotted all your Is and crossed all your Ts. Here's a list that could help you get one step closer to your publishing dreams.

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What Happens to Writers After the Writers' Conference? 7 Things That Should NOT Happen


What Happens to Writers After the Writers' Conference? 7 Things That Should NOT Happen

You finally meet with the editor or agent, and to your surprise, after thinking their favorite word is no, they say they like your concept and would love to see more of it. “Here’s my card,” they say. “Please email me a full proposal.” The words you had practiced to combat any objections are caught in your throat and all you can say is, “Oh! Oh, that’s great. OK! Yes? Really? OK! Thank you!”

Yes, they want you to send them your manuscript (or proposal). But you know what some writers do? OK, wait. This requires a list.



VIDEO: Editor Karen Thomas Talks About the Publishing Process

In a November 2008 interview, Karen R. Thomas, executive editor of Grand Central Publishing at Hachette Book Group, talks about the publishing process with New York Times best-selling author Mary B. Morrison of Making the List. The show has since been discontinued, but this interview includes timeless insights on editing, working with authors, author expectations, top three reasons a manuscript is rejected, best advice for aspiring authors, and the true heart of a good editor. I love this!

Are there any questions from the audience?


10 Ways to Make Rejection Work for You


10 Ways to Make Rejection Work for You

Many times we overcome the fear of rejection and walk right in with our ideas, but what we don’t get rid of is the residue of rejection on the way out—the bitterness or low self-worth that is left over from the rejection. Handling rejection properly is the difference between being jaded, cynical, apathetic, and desperate and being confident, present, and amazingly successful. Here are ten ways I think you can filter out the negative residue of rejection and find yourself coming out on top.



Editors Are People Too

Just sitting here thinking over what was asked of me during our scheduling meeting this morning, and I must admit to having some butterflies. I am pitching two books I found at a writers’ conference earlier this year at our next acquisitions meeting. Being a developmental editor (not an acquisitions editor), this is my first time in seven years accompanying one of my book ideas to an acquisitions meeting. In the past, I’ve come up with ideas and prepared proposals, reviewed and approved or denied submissions, and redeveloped backlist titles that were taken in by the managing editor or editorial director. But now it’s time for me to go deeper and take my ideas in myself, and I am excited about the prospects.

The interesting thing I’ve noticed is that writers get the impression that editors are emotional bricks—cold and lacking empathy toward a writer’s journey to publication. I remember writers approaching me with much trepidation—some even cried—at my last writers’ conference. Let me assure you that editors are people—not evil book cyborgs. We actually know first-hand what a querying writer goes through—on some level.

In a few weeks, I will be taking some ideas to a team of people who usually say no. Not because that’s their favorite word, but because there are so many variables and combinations of variables to ensuring a successful book. I am going to this meeting knowing this. Then not only that, but also what if my pitch is missing some important element, how will they view me as an editor? Will they think I don’t have my ear to the ground of what’s hot and what’s not in the industry? Will they wonder what the heck have I been doing with my time? Will they question if I am a value to the team or just taking up space? And yet even more, will they tell me so to my face? See, editors face rejection and have insecurities too.

You must understand me a bit more here: I have confidence in my position and who I am within my company. I feel that I can anticipate some of the negative responses and even their constructive feedback and actually prepare in advance for those things. I think that is a key to a good pitch—preparing, yes, but then preparing for objections and offering ways to overcome them.

I know that I’ll be nervous, but I know that I will do a great job. I will do my homework, and I will be solid.

When I receive pitches from writers, it is this confidence and this level of preparation that hooks me. I am human just like they are. I know they may be nervous. I know they may think no is my favorite word. But it’s not.

Side note: I actually try to avoid the word no a lot of the time, because giving some level of hope through redirection helps boost confidence, I think. I am sensitive to that. It’s one of the many great lessons I learned while I was in banking.

What I also know is that writers have every opportunity to beef up their knowledge about the industry, building a platform, the publishers/agents to whom they submit ideas, and how to make their work great. The same goes for me as I go into pitch my ideas before a room full of exec VPs, sales and marketing folk, editorial directors, and department heads. Oh, and by the way, this will be my second time selling the ideas, and if they like the ideas in this next round, I’ll have to sell them many more times.

Now that I think about it, my pitching process is scarier than a writer’s. No, I know it’s all perspective.

But let me just say this to the writers: once you’ve sold an editor or even an agent on your book, we have to then go and sell it a million more times, facing rejection and judgment just like you do. Hence, the reason for us wanting so badly for you to do your best on what you bring to us.

What makes you most nervous about pitching a book idea?



Basic Word Processing Tips for Writers Submitting to Publishers

There are so many sad things I see when I receive manuscripts from acquired authors or those that come through our unsolicited manuscript pool. Many of these things I just think people know on a common everyday level, but apparently not. And you know what? That’s OK. There are so many things that I should just know, but I don’t. But since I do know a few things that may help writers with repeated word processing issues, I will share them. Hopefully they help not only the writer but also the poor editor that is stuck fixing or weeding through these common missteps.

Most of my advice will come from my experience with Microsoft Word (2003 and 2007), which is the standard format that most publishers, editors, and agents prefer to receive manuscripts. There will also be some that may be exclusive to style based on my experience with the Chicago Manual of Style (CMS) 15th edition. Again, another book publishing staple that writers should become familiar with. So check it out and leave any additional things I may have missed in the comments.

Put only one space after a period.
I know, you were taught to do two spaces in your high school typing/keyboarding class, but in word processing programs like Microsoft Word there’s a little flex space after period so there is no need to be redundant. However, I was informed on Twitter this afternoon by @EditorMark that the 6th edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association is going back to two spaces after a period, but since that only refers to psychological journals, textbooks, and such and has little to do with the mass media books, I just closed my ears and said, "La, la, la, la, la..." All I can think about is the search-and-replace nightmare that would be!

Do not use colors, huge fonts, or clip art to accentuate book or chapter titles.
We’re going to standardize it anyway when (or if) it comes in house. We have paragraph styles that we apply to a manuscript in Word, so that it can be easily typeset and placed in an Adobe InDesign template by the interior design team. The other thing is that editors read for content, not how cute or creative a manuscript looks. You can’t trick us with your pretty designs. Our judgment of beauty goes far beyond skin deep.

Do not include photos, graphics, or non-Word tables in your manuscript file.
Attach them as separate files (.jpg, .gif, in high resolution). Just place a note in your file where a photo or graphic should be placed using the image's file name for reference. Keeping these embedded in the file can, at times, make the file too large to save and e-mail.

Remove hyperlinks.
This also adds to the bulk of a file, and really there’s nothing that it is useful for when you are not doing an e-book. Now, I don’t mean that you can’t include links to Web sites in your book, just don’t leave the hyperlink active (when it’s blue and underlined and when clicked takes you to the Web site indicated). Here’s how to deactivate it using Word 2003 (Word 2007 has a similar method, if I’m not mistaken):

  1. Place your cursor in the midst of the text for the hyperlink.
  2. Then right click with your mouse. A pop-up menu box will appear.
  3. At the very bottom of the menu box is the selection “Hyperlink.” Roll your mouse over that and another drop-down menu will appear.
  4. Click “Remove Hyperlink,” and the hyperlink will be deactivated.

Use the right kind of dash.
Word has keyboard shortcuts for making em dashes (CMS: 6.87–6.94) and en dashes (CMS 6.83–6.86). Then there are hyphens (CMS 7.82–7.90). I guess I should also make a distinction between the three so that you can know what I mean.

  1. Em dashes—used many times in the same way commas, parenthesis, or a colon may be used. Often I see the double hyphen (--) used in the place of an em dash, which is cool (I know what you meant). But if you want to know how to get what you want, try holding down ALT + CTRL + the minus sign on the number keypad.* Works like a charm.
  2. When typing numbers in series such as 256 to 345, en dashes can be used in place of the word to. An en dash is a bit longer than the hyphen and is used to connect numbers. To get an en dash, try holding down CTRL + the minus sign from the number keypad.* Result: 256–345.
  3. Hyphens are used mostly in hyphenated compound words: “decision-making.” I’m sure you know how to type a hyphen. This is listed here because the hyphen is often used incorrectly in place of an em dash (-- vs. —) or an en dash (- vs. –).
*If you have a laptop without a number keypad, the "Symbols" function should have an em dash or en dash you can insert directly into the text. (I've done this mostly with Word 2007 on my laptop. It's not as easy as the keyborad shortcut, but it works.)
Avoid using bold, italics, underline, and sometimes all caps on one word or phrase.
We get the point (no, really, we do): you’re EMPHASIZING something. But just italics will do. The way you phrase something can also help to carry the weight of what you’re trying to say. Take time with the points you want to emphasize in your manuscript. Finding contextual and literary ways to increase the weight of what you’re saying may help it hit home with the reader more and give them something to take away from your work for a lifetime. Just like a mom trying to talk a four-year-old out of a tantrum, I say: "Use your words." (And I am a mom of a four-year-old, so...)

Use page breaks between chapters instead of hard returns.
Again this seems elementary, but maybe because of a lack of knowledge people still do this. Using hard returns to separate chapters makes it hard to keep the divisions between chapters and other elements constant. If you delete a line, all of a sudden the beginning of chapter 3 is on the same page as the end of chapter 2. This isn’t such a big deal as it is an unnecessary frustration for the writer (and editor, once it gets that far).

“Help” tutorials for Word should help direct you on how to do this. In Word 2003, I go to the top default toolbar and click on “Insert,” then “Break.” A menu will pop up, asking what kind of break you need “Page Break,” “Column Break,” or “Text Wrapping Break.” By default “Page Break” is already selected, so all I do is click “OK” and my page is broken to the new page. (You can also use keyboard shortcut CTRL + ENTER to get a page break.)

That’s what I have for right now. To many, this post may seem totally obvious, but just know that you are the exception to what I see every day. And for you who may not have known about the little things above, I hope they help and make your writing life easier. They sure will help me if you do them.