Toddler Amazon

"Kindle is a business for Amazon, and it is also a mission. We never expected it to be easy!"

--Amazon's letter to consumers

Um, puke.

What mission is this? Bankrupting other booksellers? Pricing that erodes the value of books, that can only be matched by corporations able to take a loss?

The irony of it all: in addition to wanting a cookie NOW, toddler Amazon (TA) is displeased that the cookie companies (Macmillan) "hold a monopoly" on the product, and dare decide the conditions under which it will be sold.

No cookies till you eat your broccoli, TA?

Boo-hoo!

Macmillan isn't proposing anything that would lessen Amazon's profits--the opposite, actually. They just want the ability to set the price on some ebooks--not all, some--as high as $14.99.

Would Amazon, if it affected their profits, complain that authors "hold a monopoly" on their work? Probably: it's not that different from what they're saying now. After all, Macmillan holds the work of author + agent + editor + publishing staff. *Shouldn't* they own their years of work and considerable investments of faith, talent, capital, love and time?

And for Amazon to ask consumers to (informally) boycott Macmillan's work in protest!

Gatekeeper has lost her appetite.

For the next five minutes, at least. After all, there *might* be some dark chocolate with tonka bean just out of arm's reach...

Hmm. Yes. Over and out. :)

Have your Twilight--and eat it, too

You know what makes for a rockin' Friday night? Candy.

We made a quick (and necessary, I assure you) trip to Dylan's Candy Bar, a three-story candy emporium wih clear-plastic stairs filled with sugary goodness. In additon to bathtubs filled with gumballs, three-foot lollipops, plush Hershey kisses bigger than four average breadboxes, and a selection of candy-print jammies, I spotted these.

TWILIGHT conversation hearts. Sweet.

(But not as sweet as my bag of white-chocolate-covered "polar" gummi bears. Sounds gross, but seriously--magically delicious.)
Rather enjoying A Great And Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray. It's "read 200 pages in an afternoon, eat dinner, then read some more" good.
An explanation, now that it seems things are up and running (sweet! But it was so hard--had to disable javascript on the phone's browser, among other things--you'd think such blogging was illegal or, at the very least, frowned upon): I'm catsitting for the cutest rotund feline ever, and was too lazy to bring the laptop.
Gatekeeper here, on a phone-of-moderate-intelligence, kickin' it in an apartment without a computer
(I know, *gasp*) bringing you breaking publishing news.

You know I love you when I type paragraphs on keys the size of apple seeds.


As many of you have probably heard, Publishers Marketplace released a special notice this evening.

Amazon, as you know, has been insisting on selling all of their Kindle ebooks for $9.99 (*cough* doing everything but stating a desire to bring down publishing single-handedly *cough cough*), a practice that would eventually train consumers to believe that this is the value of books--electronic, paper, and otherwise--something which is unsustainable for a number of reasons.

Well, Macmillan decided to fight back. (Hurrah! I'm totally going to send a fat fruit basket on Monday. Nothing says "stick it to the Amazon man" like a de-prickled pineapple.) And what does Amazon do?

Not just refuse to sell any of their products, but make them disappear. Remember what happened to Kindle edtions of Orwell's books last summer? Yeah. That. Flash...and gone.

Now, right when I heard this, I immediately forwarded the email to friends and colleagues. Who promptly freaked out. I talked them down. Those of you who know Snarky Agent Man, he was one of those calls. About to go into a performance (cultured snark that he is), I only had a moment to make my case for my reaction: glee.

Check it: if other publishers follow suit, Amazon has one of two choices: have no books from major publishers to sell (oh, snappity! What's that? No $9.99? Oh wait--nothing's $9.99 WHEN THERE'S NOTHING TO SELL). OR Amazon could apologize profusely and HOPE publishers agree to do business with them.

Really painted yourself into a corner this time, didn't you, Bezos?

*

Amazon has begun to seem like a spoiled toddler in the grocery store.

"Mommy/Macmillan, I want a cookie!"

Mommy/Macmillan: only if the cookie company is compensated fairly.

"But I want it NOW!"

Don't give in, M/M. Don't give in.
Gatekeeper via phone-of-moderate-intelligence. Testing, testing...
Many thanks to Josh, who shared this with me.

This funny little video is (in addition to being amusing) a good example of why you need an agent you can really speak to--there are some elements of fiction-writing that defy description, and if you find someone with not only the ability to know what needs to be fixed, but how--and how to communicate that to you--you're well on your way to an excellent working relationship.

As you can imagine, you won't find that with everyone.

Enjoy. :)

On a sad, related note, JD Salinger died yesterday. One more ghost on the bookshelves.

I'm convinced the writers are invoked when we read their works. I recently watched The Way We Live Now on Netflix, got all excited and told my roommate about it, did some research on Trollope, reserved his book from the library--and, not hours later, got an email from the very-awesome Center for Fiction that they're offering a collection of Trollope seminars. Coincidence? I think not. 
I'm a Cowardly Lion, but knowing that others are messing up even worse than me gives me courage.


Listen. Realistically, if any of the mistakes below had been written brilliantly, warmly, and/or even just especially vividly, I would have instantly forgiven them.

It should be noted that most of our incoming mail doesn't "sound" like it's coming from humans, but from copy-paste machines.

But I do think writers get scared and, like retreating snails, huddle within their shells and never show us anything interesting. You've heard it before: In your writing, go for the jugular

Get fierce, you. I know many of you are polite members of society. Well, in your writing, you don't have to be. Get out there and do something you only wish you had the bravery to do in real life.

It's scary to come out, to splatter your sentences, your heart, across the page--and only then bring it back in. But it's scarier to not get your book published--isn't it?

New query (and general writing) tip: when you feel that you've written wildly and then reined yourself back in (versus when you've written politely and then added wildness)--then, and only then, do you know you have a good draft.

This is your competition: edition 3,478 (or so)

You know how I always say that the scary-scary odds--You're more likely to get hit by lightning/sing in a Broadway play than get published--are somewhat misleading? Well, they're skewed by--you guessed it!--those who don't do research.

Today, in our query pile of 32 emails: 

One author asking to be excepted from the submissions process. Couldn't we just Google him instead?

Two JFK conspiracy books.

One author who CCs--yes, that's the one where we see all of them--all of the agents, and simply addresses the thing, "Dear agent." At least capitalize "Agent"!

One Eat, Pray, Love knockoff that insists nothing like this has ever, ever been written before. If you're a writer and haven't heard of a book that Britney Spears has (she was blurbed in the UK edition)...well...

One, "Dear Agent, can I get a do-over?" with regard to a query sent last week.

....and my favorite:

One email to our Submissions account--it's Submissions@--asking if we accept e-mail submissions.
Just began Paper Towns by John Green.

So far, a big fan.
It must be noted, with sweet appreciation, that several of you were shocked by the behavior of fellow writers--and you must know that the examples below are hardly unusual: writers are in  a very difficult situation, having just spent so much time (perhaps years) on a work, and--how terribly frustrating if no one will even read it! I'm sure the rules for querying seem unclear; every agent wants something slightly different, and there must seem to be requirements that are both arbitrary and unfair. So, I do understand where that anger is coming from.

That said, if every writer were kinder--if the average kindness-o-meter were of a warmer, less-chilly temperature--we agents could be nicer, too.

I've mentioned before that, when we fear for preserving the civility of inboxes, we are reluctant to include details that are footholds for the angry. ("You say my dialog is weak? I say it's better than The Da Vinci Code! Who are you to tell me...?!") This benefits, as a whole, no one--I doubt even the writers feel better about themselves after composing such things--upsets agents (we are, though many forget it, human too--and I certainly want to write more, but fear angry correspondence), and--it makes the climate much less friendly, much more guarded, with regard to our openness.

So, yes. Be a union, writers: don't let the few ruin it for all of you. Get together (online, if you must), have a tea party discussing decorum and correspondence, and--well--decide to be nice.

How Not to Communicate With Agents--a game!


Here's a re-post of a phone call we received about a year ago--and a "spot the errors" game.

There are twelve things wrong with the phone call--see if you can spot them all! Comment with your guesses.

We've received more than our usual due of crazy callers this week, and rather than type up transcripts of that misery, I'll repost my favorite. And yes, this really did happen. The moment I hung up, I jotted down every sentence I remembered.

At my company--as is not uncommon with small agencies--generally whoever's closest will answer the phone. This results in the occasional Angry Writer telling me (an agent) that I'm not qualified to answer their question about whether we represent books about aliens on skateboards with guns and how it relates to their own personal alien abduction. Am I eagerly waiting for their queries? You betcha!

Tips/answers to follow.
*



Her: "Hi, I'm _____________ from ____, Kansas. I need a literary agent! That's you! Are you taking new clients? You probably aren't. You probably can't help me. I already published my book. It's a murder mystery. My friends say it's the best thing they've ever read. You can trust 'em, they read a lot. Anyway, they say I should turn this into a movie. I really wanna take a bite outta that. See, it's a great book. People die in real original ways. I sent off packets to a buncha agents. Publish America took it! Real easy. Now it's a book. I want it to be a movie. I found you in LMP" [clearly pleased with self for using the term as if familiar with it] "and now I need an agent. You probably only get movie deals for people you publish, huh? People who--wait, what do you do, anyway? You send things to publishing agencies?"

Me: Houses. Publishing houses.

Her: "Yeah, publishing agencies. So, can you take on my book?"

Me: It's not quite right for us. See, we don't do mysteries...

Her: 
"Well, you're probably not qualified to tell me, but what agents are right? See, I've got my LMP..."

*

Found the twelve mistakes? Comment with those you've spotted...
From The Onion:

Frantic Steve Jobs Stays Up All Night Designing Apple Tablet
All of you Twitter-ers will be thrilled: for the first time in my life, I used Twitter for news about--what else?--the Apple Tablet. I typed in "Tablet," concluded that the announcement hasn't come out yet, and minimized the window. Twenty minutes later, and--5,681 new tweets!

Goodness. I can't help but picture a Central Park crammed with very loud cartoon birds.

But it's scary and interesting, this Twitter-as-news.

But--before you say anything, (I'm looking at you, Ms. @totallythebomb.com), I'm a much better Twurker (Twitter Lurker) than contributor. For now.
My cousin, who is just-now seventeen, is my go-to guide for what her friends like. I think it's adorable that they've chosen, instead of the usual teen driving-around-and-looking-for-stuff-to-do thing, that they prefer chatting at Starbucks over lattes. (It'll stunt your growth! I want to yelp, but I won't, because I'm Cool Cousin Gatekeeper.)

Anyway, I love taking her to Barnes and Noble (not my favorite place to buy books, but there's one everywhere, and we're just browsing, anyway) to see what she likes, what she thinks her friends will like, the authors she thinks are up-and-coming.

Meg Cabot is more than up-and-coming; she's arrived. (She also has a most amusing, spunky blog.) My cousin suggested All-American Girl, which I was enjoying a great deal. I didn't read the cover; I simply jumped in. (I hate knowing what will happen before it does. I should note that, when reading manuscripts, I read the query and then dive in--the synopsis is only there if I find myself reading lots but seeing nothing happen--and wondering what will, and when.)

Anyway, so it was amusing enough that I didn't mind that it was typical girl fare: younger-sister woes (she loves her popular sister's boyfriend who is, like she is, "of artistic temperament"), typical parental punishment, and good descriptions of life in DC. I get to page 100 or so, fully amused, and then--what's this?--is she--oh goodness!--she's going to--no, she wouldn't!--but, yes, she is!--look out!--get away from there! He has a gun!--I can't look!--OMG! She just saved the life of the president!


Yes. I talk to protagonists the way some people yell at televisions. (Speaking of, I'm trying to think of a particularly clever black-and-gold, perhaps football-shaped, treat for Super Bowl. Any suggestions?)

But this presents an interesting question. Page 100 seems rather late for the promised plot to kick in. If most manuscripts I read did that, I'd probably find myself rifling through the synopsis: Does anything happen? Okay, well, when? And then I'd be evil and skip ahead. Or perhaps go CTRL-F and search for words that pertain to the promised plot. (Before you think me truly awful: many agents would, if a manuscript didn't hold their attention, simply send the work back--perhaps noting that more needs to happen sooner.)

But--as we saw with The Help--readability trumps all.

Cabot's excellent in terms of readability. I found myself getting to page 225 in one evening. That sure says something. Especially when there's an episode of Desperate Housewives just begging to be watched on Hulu.

But not every writer--not even every publishable writer--can manage to entertain with small plot potatoes for 100 pages.

So: survey time!

Comment anonymously, if you like.

On what page does your plot--the part that would be promised on your book jacket--kick in?

Squee! Squeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

A writer just offered to introduce me (online) to one of my favorite YA authors, like, ever. Heart! Pounding!

I was never one for holding signs and screaming for, say, 'N Sync or Hanson or whoever my friends were swooning over.

But this author? Oh. Wow. Yes. I would stand in Times Square for (now-defunct) TRL if she were on it. I'd wait in line for tickets, perhaps for hours in the cold. I'd chat with other line-sitters: Didn't you love [that book]? OMG that book rocks my socks. Did you hear that she...?

This is beyond exciting.
I know I've mentioned, several times, several of my favorite podcasts: today, I practically begged one of our authors to try to get herself on KQED's The Writer's Block (this week, lovely poet Kristen Tracy--and I'm not usually a fan of poetry--but listening to these poems made doing laundry, my least favorite chore, significantly less painful), and this morning, my commute was marked by a pleased smile at listening to the most recent New York Times Book Review Podcast (both are also available free in the iTunes store).

But if you're a hardcore "must read it and not hear it" type--or if you don't own an ipod or want to put on your laptop speakers while, say, cooking--you may as well just go to the search page for Motoko Rich (this link will auto-update). She must simply live, breathe, eat books--I can't believe how much she writes, and so quickly!--and, well...what a nourishing life that must be. Vitamin B? Plenty of books. Stress-relieving, too.
Am I a little delighted to see Kathryn Stockett, a first-time writer, unseat Dan Brown with The Help?

Are you kidding? I'm thrilled! Were I in a swivel chair, I would spin it around a few times--whee!--for emphasis.

This is proof that word-of-mouth, readability and reader lurve can trump anyone.

Go to, new writers. Go to.

A Note on (Relative) Anonymity

Some of you know who I am, from my early, innocent days: Read my blog! This blog talks about books! Ask me questions! Here, have a pie chart! (Or this one--on YA!)

It began as a quick way to post data--I didn't want to buy a domain, didn't want to mess with HTML, didn't want to do much more than post images and have them, very quickly, visible to all.

But then, of course, it grew.

For aforementioned reasons--most of them having to do with writers not always being nice--I've gone a bit underground. Granted, a bit. I'm aware that, if you have certain pieces of information, it's quite possible to figure out who and where and what I am.

But. It would be wonderful if you'd keep my identity a secret, if you know it. Make it a bit of work for the new readers.

However, if you ever need anything--if you have questions about publishing, need an agent's opinion for something, if you have a book and think I'd be a good fit--you are always welcome to email me at AgencyGatekeeper@gmail.com.

I like writers, I like readers, and will always respect your privacy and not post anything without your express permission. Do know I'll be happy to hear from you, and will respond, as soon I can, kindly.

On Responses to Query Responses

I noted, last week, that sometimes we don't open the responses to our responses in the query pile--mostly because some of them are, well, rude.

In the past week, we received 13 replies to rejections.

5 were kind.
5 were neutral.
3 were, quite simply, rude.

6 were professional.
4 had obvious, objective errors.
1 pitched another book. Not recommended. If you're going to submit another work, it's best to do so separately--otherwise, we will associate your new work with the fact that we just said No to you.

Here's the best:

Thanks so much for your prompt reply and for your advice! I went out and bought the book you recommended.

Best of luck to you too!

Here's one in the middle:

thank you. i'll check them out

Here's one that is not advised. The writer has spliced his comments in with my email:

Me: You write well,
Him: Not well enough, apparently.
Me: I'm afraid that this is not quite right for us.
Him: It's "not quite right" for 304 other agents either...

304?! Wow. Don't I feel special. I wonder how many got this response. 

Also, when an agent takes the time to mention that you write well, it's generally considered, well, kind. I understand the frustration, but will I ever look favorably on another query from this guy? Probably not. 
Allow Gatekeeper and Pandora to make you a mix tape.

A few months ago, I was defrosting in the Starbucks near Columbus Circle, sipping a peppermint mocha and reading a stack of pretty YA novels. To my left, a couple on a first date. The guy tells the girl a story of a guy who killed himself after a bad first date. A pause. "I'm socially adept, I promise," he says.

To my right, a man dancing. At first I think he's waiting for a beverage, but then I realize he's in his own world. He's squeaking on the wet tile, muttering the names of artists of all types. Then--with such relish I can almost hear him now--he busts a move and says, "Fats! Waller!"

I went home and downloaded "There's Honey on the Moon Tonight," which is really rather excellent.

But, for free: go to Pandora. Click Create New Station. Type in "Fats Waller."

Sweet beats.

So. Here's proof that Gatekeeper can, even without loving certain books, want to read them to the very end. This happens, sometimes, with manuscripts too--even if I know they won't work, I just want to keep reading.

This is Possessions by Nancy Holder, and its readability score is very good (A-). Writing is a B+, concept originality B, follow-through (exploration of said concept), B+, characters A, relationships between characters, A-. Overall awesomeness, B+.

I started this last night, got to page 250, slept, and finished it on the subway this morning. It's about a haunted girls' boarding school. Some parts are kind of ridiculous (50,000 dollars for a single Halloween party? Seriously? And it didn't even sound all that cool) but the relationship between the protagonist and Julie, the best friend she is trying to save, is quite good. There's a moment when she tells Julie her suspicions of Queen Bee (though I do hate it when young female characters adopt mother-age terminology) evildoing, and Julie tells her that it's a pathetic attempt at trying to retain her friendship--like something out of a bad movie.

Again, nothing really to sink one's teeth into--after all, it's a story of ghosties, not vampires--and parts felt a bit thin.

But it's good fun.

The wind is currently howling and we just heard a ghost-like story in the office. I'm clutching my coffee tightly. Mmm. Coffee and ghosties and queries. Cozy.
Does anyone happen to know how to add the "become a follower" button without displaying said followers?

For purposes of privacy and anonymity, Gatekeeper is reluctant to post such things.

That, and I'd like to you to all imagine that there are 10,000 loyal followers/readers each day. :)
Many thanks to Shannon at Book Dreaming for the kind mention!
I really hope your high school friend doesn't have a high school sense of humor. I'd have been so tempted to translate 'your father smells of elderberries' into Urdu for you. No? Oh, maybe that's just me then.

Well, I haven't heard back--so maybe she did!

Oh dear.

E-Readers

Here are links to the newest ones announced (officially or unofficially). Publisher's Marketplace did a big piece, which Agent Rachelle Gardner analyzes brilliantly, but--for those of you without a PM membership--I'll include links to the products mentioned.

I'm most excited about the Copia--in addition to having the best website (in my opinion), they seem to have done the best job using the device to create a social reading experience. See http://www.thecopia.com/index.html.

Also announced: a Samsung with a pen (finally! Annotation!), the Entourage Edge (a two-screened device--one for reading, one for web browsing), the Skiff (large, thin, touch-screened), an Audiovox device (promises easy synchronization and books through BN.com), and the Alex (a number of social media features, plus a dual screen like the Nook's).

Unfortunately, it's proving difficult to find out whether it's possible (as is possible with the Kindle) to simply attach a manuscript as a file and e-mail it wirelessly to any of these devices--which is 99 percent of how I'd use one of these devices. (Me, I like paper books.) Does anyone know?
I suggested this to a writer recently--a lovely writer who has become a lovely correspondent. She just wrote to say that this was most helpful. Yes, I was joking about the beverage. But rest is absolutely sincere.

Print it out. You *must* print it out. Then make yourself a glass/carafe/pitcher/bucket of your favorite drink, position yourself over a surface that is not white carpet, and have at it, big red sharpie in hand.
New poll! So that I'll know whether to start saying things like, "Dude, you must go see _______ read at McNally Jackson!"--if it will be useful--let me know if you're locals.

Poll at right. :)
When you like a full and are actively considering signing a new author, do you:

A) Always garner the opinion of a colleague

B) Sometimes call the author right away to make an offer

C) Play a few rounds of mini-golf and make a trip to the cigar bar to think about it while pretending to own the world for a while

D) Other

If A), does getting another opinion usually take longer than your own read (and do they read the full MS)? How much time does that tend to add to the process and do you, in turn, do a lot of reading for your colleagues?




Depends.

First, C, though usually not involving cigars. If I put it down and keep thinking about it, then I know I really like it and didn't just get caught up in it.

I almost always send an email like, "I really enjoyed this--I'm getting second reads." That way, if a Sneaky-McSneak Caffeinated Other Agent wants it (I just saw someone get an offer within two days of querying!) the writer knows I'm interested and have half-tossed a hat into the ring. So, yes. I specialize in fedoras cut in half. Though I prefer the newsboy cap.

A can take anywhere from a day to months--everyone maintains very long queues, and I can bug all I like, but that won't necessarily hurry the process. Sometimes they read the full thing, sometimes just enough to get a sense of it. And yes, of course--I read for other people, too.


This is the mosaic for the 23rd St stop on the R/W trains--hats! 
Gatekeeper is feeling a bit genius-like.

We got a wonderful memoir in from an author who spent part of her childhood in Pakistan. I can't say more, but--wow. It's awesome.

I text my high school friend, "Hey, how do you say 'I so enjoyed reading this' in Urdu?"

A moment later, a speedy, caffeinated cross-country text: apparently it's Aap ki kitaab bahot khoob hai.

Me: Dear [Author]...
Hi! I was just wondering if there is any particular reason why an agent requests a partial ms or a full ms. Does it have anything to do with how much they enjoyed the sample or does it simply depend on the amount of work they have on their plate? Is it any more promising if a full ms is requested, or does it not make much difference? Also, if the agent does really like the ms, but thinks it could do with some tweaking, would it be simply rejected or would the agent give them the opportunity to do the tweaking and to then re-submit? Thanks for answering so many questions! You're amazing. I don't know how you find the time! :)

1. Partial v. full. I can only speak for myself. When we were accepting mostly paper submissions, I wanted partials, so that the submissions didn't grow and eventually take up a good portion of the office. If we were ridiculously interested, we'd ask for more than that. I think a lot of agents still use this system. (Full=more interest.) Now that we do most submissions electronically, it makes more sense to just ask for the full thing at once--I'd hate to be loving a story, get to page 50, and then have to wait to read the rest. 

2. Reject v. tweaking. It depends on how much we like it. If we love it but there are some edits that are necessary, we'll send those along. If we just aren't connecting with a story, we'll reject it (perhaps with suggestions, if any come to mind). It's mostly about whether we have a connection to the work or not. I've certainly sent substantial edits. 
Do you get a lot of the [responses like] "Dear Agent, Boy will you be sorry when MY BOOK becomes the #1 worldwide bestest ever seller and you can't walk three feet in NYC City without seeing an advertisement for the movie version starring Morton Downey Jr. and Harrison George"?


Yes. But most such responses are neither so specific nor so well-written.

Do agents ever attain a stage in their career where past sales alone generate enough more than enough income to sustain them indefinitely and they could, say, play golf four days a week and still come out ahead?



Oh yes. I imagine Mr. Regal, the agent for Audrey Niffeneger, can play as much golf as he likes this year.

I've actually never been golfing, but--like with many of the trappings of the people who own the world--I'm intrigued. So, yes. Someday I will have to give myself a field trip consisting of golf (I mean, really--who wouldn't want the freedom to go somewhere pretty, hit a ball with a big stick as hard as you can, and then tear after it in a souped-up golf cart?--I have driven one, and through a forest no less--not to worry, I didn't kill any endangered flora or fauna--and it was awesome), Hendrick's gin on a sailboat, and then dinner at a cigar bar/club with wooden mallards.

Think I could write that off as a business expense?
If you've gotten a nice personal rejection with feedback, is it bad form thank the agent (without asking about/contesting/arguing/groveling, etc.) for their kindness?

Goodness! It's only gracious. Especially since it's unusual, from most agents, to get anything other than a form. They took time to really think about your work. But you needn't get fancy.

Something like this is just fine:

Dear [Agent],


Thank you so much for your time and thoughtful response. 


Best wishes to you [for 2010/for the holidays/insert something nice here].


All best,
[You]

For the last bit, I've gotten wishes of warm tea (very nice--and personalized), the next bestseller on my desk (very nice too, though informal--not always advised), and "a pleasant and prosperous year" (good and multipurpose).

Do know that some agents, for fear of receiving unkind notes (especially from rejected queries--there's always the ever-popular Clearly you didn't even read my letter), probably make it a policy not to open those obviously from someone just rejected--the liklihood of their being gracious is rather low. (Do I smell a pie chart in the oven? Well...)

From this week, for example:

I was hoping that if you rejected the work, you would at least provide some kind of feedback. Even the smallest amount, would have been greatly appreciated.

Thanks.

The thing is, I had provided feedback--I'd commented on the concept, which was fabulous, and mentioned several lines I'd liked. You can bet that, if he queries again, I will be something less than ecstatic.

Most agents, I think, are reluctant to--but do--open emails from those freshly rejected.

Don't be offended if you don't receive a reply--it's pretty standard not to and, for that reason, you don't have to worry about taking up our time. Just know that your email was read and received, and we do appreciate your appreciation.
I just saw the most wonderful, brilliant, insightful editorial letter. Editor, I want to write, you are a genius. 
In my critique group many of my fellow writers all have author websites, but they are unpublished. I feel that unless I have an agent or a book to promote that its really in poor taste. Like, "Look at me, I am a writer, I wrote stuff but you can't buy it because I am unpublished." LOL. Do you really look at unpublished authors websites?


Sometimes. One of our clients did something rather clever--she mentioned in her query that the first three chapters could be found online, and then directed us to the link. I loved it from the very first page, asked for the full, and the rest is history.

In general, I don't bother to look, unless I'm seriously undecided about a query--or if it promises some sort of content that would help my decision. I suppose it's nice that you've thought about it, though--especially if the site is a nice, professional-looking one. You'll need one eventually; it shows forethought, I suppose, to have one now.
Just curious - does happen very often that you regret accepting representation of an author? Does it take a lot of due diligence to determine if you're a good fit for each other?


No. It's my personal policy to never, ever, ever accept anyone unless I am absolutely, positively sure that I'm head-over-heels in love with their work. Since I'm a young agent, I have to be especially careful: I'm still in the process of creating my "brand"; if I send out work anything short of spectacular, it could make an editor (who sees and dislikes it) take the following submission from me less seriously.

I've been known, if there is any doubt--and even if there isn't--to set something down (after reading the full manuscript) for a few days to think about it. If I forget about it quickly, and/or if my excitement about the piece diminishes after a few days, I know it's not quite right for me. It's easy to fall in love with something with a sense of immediacy--but ensuring that the feeling lasts takes some time, and is worth some waiting.

I haven't yet had the situation of "I have to get back to another agent by tomorrow, what do you think?!"--but I imagine I could know pretty quickly if something were right for me or not.

I reject works without any objective flaws all the time. All agents do. But--just as with writing, and anything that requires some aesthetic sense--one is naturally an expert on the areas (ie, I don't like alien books, therefore I'm very unlikely to be an expert on them or know what a book needs) that come naturally.
I'm bugged, in the very best sense--not the "Here, have this plant that keeps emitting strange electronic beeps and looks suspiciously like a hidden, wireless mike" bugged (not to worry, I kill all houseplants and would quickly notice); quite thankfully it has nothing to do with the six-legged kind, prominent in the city that they are; and--most of all--it does not have to do with the annoying sort that relate to (in my mind) 1) screaming children kicking my airplane seat, 2) broken library systems that call in patrons when books are not ready, and/or 3) lines at Trader Joe's that extend around the store. (Who knew its wine store was a club? There was practically a velvet rope, last time I tried to enter the Manhattan location, and there was certainly a Hawaiian-print bouncer.)

No, this is the productive kind of bug--the, "Write this, right now" bug-as-verb.

I do hope you have several friends willing to do the same for you, even if you disagree.

In my case, my disagreement is hearty: I'm flattered, but will not, as my roommate, agent friend, correspondent, reader and professional correspondent suggest, consider writing a guide to modern etiquette anytime soon. (And, for those of you who expect me to eat my words, I assure I've just had a very satisfying carbalicious lunch, washed down with a diet book manuscript, and am no longer hungry.)

But. One point of etiquette that has come up and that is relevant to a meeting I have this week: one of the most important skills you can gain for your social life as a writer--especially as a writer who would like to stay on good terms and/or in touch with an agent--is to accept rejection gracefully.

How best does one do this? Well. Keep in mind that the subject is uncomfortable not only for you, but for the agent(s) involved. The moment we sense you'll ask for more--or bring it up again--we put up immediate anti-awkwardness force fields. If we sense you'll contest our details, we'll send a rejection that doesn't give any jumping-off points. (Really, a code word must be invented that means "I am a nice author and you can tell me anything you like about my work without fear of tantrums/retribution/karma/anger/further emails on the topic.")

Consider a rejection the same way you would an invitation that you did not receive. Let's say a friend has thrown a party and invited several people you know--but not you. Perhaps there is a matter of space, finances (perhaps it's a sit-down dinner), or other factors that make the number of invites finite. Truly, you'll never know all of the factors involved. Maybe there's someone in town--someone you threw a pie at at the last party, or who you do not get along with, and the hostess wished to avoid that awkwardness (and the cleaning of crust from the carpet). Maybe it's a special-interest society meeting--one that is too embarrassing to bring up. (A support group, say--you wouldn't go around asking people, "So, have you ever________? Okay, come join our group"--but would, instead, invite those you know to be in this category.)

You could run yourself in circles wondering why your friends got invited and you didn't.

But would you ask the hostess? Most likely, no. What good would it do? You'd feel awkward. She'd feel awkward. And the awkwardness would lead to fewer invitations in the future.

Try as I might, I did not find anything in the Emily Post about this, though I did find very amusing note-formulas for the rescinding of invitations. (More to come.) I do wish Ms. Post addressed more of the issues of etiquette in messy situations--her book seems mostly to address what to say and do when everything goes perfectly.

So. Let's say you are rejected by an agent but have reason to be in touch with them in the future. What's the best thing to do?

As harsh as it is: it's probably best to wait and see if they bring it up. They may ask how you're doing with the book they saw--which is an invitation to say, "Oh, yes, it's doing marvelously"--and if it's doing terribly, put it as delicately/optimistically as you possibly can while still being truthful--but not an invitation to ask, "So, why did you reject it?"

They may ask you about the subject matter: "Oh, Author, I have always been curious about the lions you mentioned. Will you tell me more about your safari?" which is, you guessed it, an invitation to discuss lions, maybe tigers, maybe bears--but no rejections.

Any further questions, if you need to ask them to proceed, should be asked over email--not over the phone, and certainly not in person--especially if you're at a restaurant, have just ordered, and it will be a long time before the bill. You must realize that, with all indelicate questions, it's somewhat impolite to ask in a situation that requires an immediate response. It's only fair to give one time to think.

By the same token, if you've submitted your work to someone--and if you know them socially, to some degree--it's best to let them bring it up. Don't pester them with, "Have you read it? Have you read it? Huh huh huh?"--tempting as that may be. Send it to them, assume it got to them, and then wait for their response. I've just sent a piece to a friend of mine. It's probably taking it a bit far--then again, he's doing a favor for me--but I fully plan to avoid all mention of books, writing, and editing with him until he happens to get back to me. I'll also not do that thing--so typical of our generation of chat-ers--"Hi! How are you?"--and then wait for a response. Were I him, I would know that that meant, "Hi, how are you? Have you read it yet? Do you like it? Do you think I'm going to be a big famous writer with an international book tour someday? Do you? Do you really? Oh good."

So, in sum: don't talk about it. Let all of this business chat be over email. If you meet them socially, stick to lighter topics. Keep your spirits up--much more attractive in writers and people in general. Be hopeful, never defeated. And always remember that there is no last chance. There are always more agents out there who will look at your work.

But an ongoing connection is invaluable. Whatever small advice you might have gotten by asking for it is not worth jeopardizing that agent's sense of comfort with you.

In other news, I've had Blossom Dearie's "I Won't Dance" in my head since breakfast:


For heaven rest us, I'm not asbestos...



Indeed, you're not. You're lovely. Be kind and gracious, and agents will think so, too.
The DIY Book Tour: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/books/review/Elliott-t.html.

Most amusing. And practical.
I love reading books of diet rules while eating lunches that break all of them.
This looks seriously awesome.

I can't wait to read it. This sounds "call up Strand Books and beg to be first on the waiting list" good.



Here's an interview with NPR. From NPR.org:

Author Ethan Watters thinks that America is "homogenizing the way the world goes mad." In Crazy Like Us: The Globalization of the American Psyche, he describes how American definitions and treatments of mental illness have spread to other cultures around the world.

"[McDonald's] golden arches do not represent our most troubling impact on other cultures," Watters writes. "Rather, it is how we are flattening the landscape of the human psyche itself. We are engaged in the grand project of Americanizing the world's understanding of the human mind."

Watters talks with NPR's Rebecca Roberts about the cultural diversity of mental illness — and how that diversity is quickly disappearing.


And from Strandbooks.com:

From movies to fast food, the American culture is a dominant force both home and abroad, but these tangible products are not the only things exchanged overseas. Recently, a different kind of globalization has taken place: the spread of the dangerous American psyche. America has been the world leader in generating new mental health treatments and definitions for mental illness and health. But we are not only changing the way the world talks about andtreats mental illnesses. We are changing the mental illnesses themselves, and they have been spreading around the globe at a dizzying rate as if they were contagious diseases. Ethan Watters' Crazy Like Us documents this new pandemic.
I did not realize at ALL that you might read 10 pages and love it, but reject it for having a 'meh' query. I'm learning a lot of useful things here :)

No no no! I meant the opposite. I mean that it scares me, because had I only seen the query, I probably would have said no--but since I've seen the sample, I'll ask for more. Query-schmery. The query is there to get someone to read the work. Once I'm into the work, the query is forgotten.
Snarky Agent Man wins my life.

Check out this reconfigured Mac that looks like a steampunk machine.


Another lovely story I learned yesterday: so, back in the 1960s, publishing was the sort of job a young woman (just graduated from one of the seven sisters, NYU or Sarah Lawrence) would take up as a way to pay her rent before making a good marriage--that is, it wasn't taken particularly seriously. There are stories about young 1960s women storing liquor in their filing cabinets (lore passed down to a friend working there now) and about how all of the editors were men.

One of these women happened to be working in an office where a women's fiction manuscript came through.

"Hey, you--read this--you're a woman; you'll get it," one of the male editors said, handing it to her.

She read it, took it on--and it turned out to be an international bestseller.

And that once-young woman is now one of the most powerful women in publishing.

Now--perhaps because of women's fiction, perhaps because of the cultural changes between then and now, perhaps because women (as primary consumers of the home) became the primary book-buyers (70-someodd percent of book purchases), the ratio has flipped: publishing is female-dominated, and while some genres (true crime, for example) are still largely male-populated, most imprints just have their one, token male.

It's a small, small publishing world. How small, you ask....?

You know how I'm always saying that you shouldn't lie about having an offer because publishing is a very small world and we'll likely find out (and distrust you forever and never ever sign you)?

Here's an example of how small the publishing world is. I was out to drinks with several agent friends last night. A few delicious hefeweizens (with orange slices--yum) later, I say, "Oh! I went to lunch with an editor who--"

And before I even finish my sentence, my friend leaps in with, "Was it _______________?"

It was. I wasn't about to say as much, as I felt like I'd be betraying a confidence. But that she could guess based on context--and a pretty broad context; most NYC women, not just NYC editors, regularly discuss the subject (dating in NYC) that had been mentioned just before--kind of blew my mind.

So, yes. That's how small and interconnected our world is. Keep that in mind.

Book Race, Continued

In second place: Haroun and the sea of stories. 

Days of Little Texas: still "in transit."

Book Race

The NYPL just sent a note saying Sirena is waiting for me. However, they've said this before, and I've made special trips, only to hear, "Yeah, um, so those actually mean 24 hours after they're sent."

Okay. Twenty-four hours it is. In the meantime, let's see if anything else comes in....

Also, I'll have you know that I'm going out and getting a special set of post-its just for purposes of annotating. I'm a post-it/annotation freak. Just FYI.

How to Annoy the Gatekeeper, Part II

NYC Literary Agents:

Sorry for the mass email but this trip was last minute.

I will be in New York tomorrow and am looking for a literary agent for the attached proposal. If you have interest and time to meet please email me.


Uggh. Right. We're just sitting here, waiting for a proposal to come in so we can shove everything else--including the clients we already have onboard--aside, on the off chance that you (who we didn't know existed until thirty seconds ago) want to meet with us. Tomorrow.

Note that I have 181 queries waiting for me, and I didn't get this in time.

Somewhat amusingly, the first lines are: Every few decades a book is published that forever changes the lives of its readers. [Name of work] is such a book. 

Woman Married To Fat, Emotionally Distant Vampire Escapes Into 'Twilight' Novels

http://www.theonion.com/content/news/woman_married_to_fat_emotionally?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

"Sara Pastor can't even remember the last time her husband battled a wolf for her affection."

Contest Results--all based on NYPL

Okay! So, I've entered the top ten into my holds--one can only place holds on ten items at a time--and whichever makes it to my branch of the library first wins! To give you some idea, Beautiful Creatures is coming in last at 69 of 77 holds; Sirena and Days of Little Texas are 1 of 1. We shall see...the NYPL is a mysterious beast. Haroun and the sea of stories is "in transit," but one never quite knows what that means. Sometimes the books seem to arrive via lightning-speed bike messenger, sometimes by literary snail.

So. Whichever one gets in first will be the first I look at. Assuming I don't put it down partway through (which I'll note, if it happens), it wins. If I do put it down, on to the next one, and we'll go from there.

A Service I'd Love

Let's call it bookfinder.org or longlostbook.com. It employs a hundred or so well-read book geniuses. Have a book you loved years ago but can't remember the title? Send an email with a description of what you remember. These all go to a central email account, where the geniuses (who I suppose can work from home) will look at requests and answer as they come in.

Yes. I'd like that very much.

How to Annoy the Gatekeeper

I shall be in New York tomorrow Tuesday, January 12, and will stop by the agency to leave it [a newsletter we don't want] in person.

If you could alert your receptionist not to put it in the slush pile, that would be good!


Problems:

1. Hand-delivery. Most agents hate it.

2. Assuming you're allowed to stop by--and not asking. Would you stop by a doctor's office without an appointment? No. And you pay doctors for their time. We don't get paid per meeting. So, even less polite.

3. Assuming we have a receptionist, or someone who just sits there waiting for visitors. No. Giant, corporate agencies have them. Boutique agencies do not. When we have guests, they're invited, and we take care of them ourselves. Which I like. Who doesn't like having a literary friend over for tea (and sometimes cheese and fruit and chocolate)? I mean, really. I wouldn't outsource that to anyone. :)

4. Assuming that because you ask, you'll get special treatment.

One thing that should be clarified: a lot of authors get rather prickly when we mention "slush." To us, slush simply means all incoming manuscripts that are not connected to people we know personally. I guess the slushiest slush is unsolicited.

Once an author (who was not someone we knew personally--we eventually took her on, though) got really mad because, she said, she "accidentally ended up in the slush and [Gatekeeper] had to fish her out again." No. Not a mistake. You are automatically slush. This doesn't mean that you're auto-rejected if we dislike your font. It just means that you have to get in line with everyone else, and you have just as good a chance as anyone. It's all about your writing, in this case, and not your connections. Which, really, is just fine. Contrary to popular opinion, we won't give a huge edge to people just because we know them. It doesn't matter if you're our best friend of ten years. Will an editor buy a book just because I add to the pitch, "and this writer is my BFF, like, OMG forever, I love her"? No. I saw a comment in Poets & Writers once where a writer wrote in saying that the only reason she was rejected was because she didn't have a personal connection to an agent--and that this was the only way to get published.

Not so. Not even close.

Whew. As you can see, Gatekeeper's crashing from party-planning caffeine high to it's-almost-lunch grumbly.
I love planning parties. It's ridiculous: I can do things like go out to swords/karate class, get mouthy with rude guys on the subway, get tough with the electric company (no estimated bills! Come look at my meter tomorrow!)--and then come home to my pretty little apartment (just got some pink faux-silk curtains which rock my indoor socks) and think about pretty things, like dinner parties. I'm obsessed with plates, candle holders (the glass ones from Crate & Barrel that hold tea lights and look like inside-out candlesticks--just bought myself a fleet), and new things that puff when you put them in the oven (like new, flaky spinach mini-pies I learned over New Year's weekend).

So. Gwen gave me a lovely idea: book party planning.

Assuming you had an unlimited budget, what would you put together for your dream book party?

For example: for The Secret Garden (assuming it was coming out now and we just knew it'd do brilliantly): I'd rent out a manor house, hang candles in globes from all the trees, and give guests keys (perhaps mailed with invites) to go on a hunt in an ivy-covered wall with many doors. Once inside, they'd find a bowl of sparkling champagne, ten or twenty swings (but ones that wouldn't break and/or kill anyone), and animatronic flowers made of silk that'd reach up from the soil on cue, and sway. One appetizer would be "dirt" (you know that stuff made with chocolate pudding and mushed oreos?), except made with the finest chocolates and creams. The party would be held an hour before twilight, so the candles would come on just as the sun sinks. An entire outdoor set of "rooms" would be set up--walls of white damask fabric stretched over wooden frames, white fabric couches. There'd be heat lamps, of course. But when it got entirely too cold, there'd be an indoor, torch-lit hunt for secret passageways. An actor, who'd be Colin, would cry out--and whoever found him first would get a great prize. Then, since it was a big manor in the middle of nowhere, everyone would be allowed to stay the night in their own rooms, with--of course--maid service. Since  no one would have any worries about when to go where, we'd serve an enormous, late, candle-lit dinner. (I love the idea of dining at 10pm.) Dinner would, of course, include cheese dipped in cheese. The party would be just large enough to include everyone in the acknowledgments, plus family and friends. (Obviously we'd need a very large dinner table.) In the morning, tea service in the garden, with crumpets and scones, before we take carriages back to the train station.

Okay--your turn!

50 of the World's Best Food Blogs

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/real_food/article5561425.ece

Rather enjoyable.

Gatekeeper's Wish List for Magical Powers

As several of you know, this is my birthday weekend, and after many festivities and spoiledness (last night I had--get this--cubes of cheese dipped in cheese fondue. I'm normally so polite--and began the evening with chatter about how I really do wish Emily Post had a new, internet-age edition, but--*drools*), I've decided to The Secret-it up and ask for/envision magical powers for my birthday. Here's an itemized list:

  1. Psychic reading glasses. I'd like the best queries and manuscripts to shimmer--not evil-Edward shimmer, but sort of glow, in the inbox. Am I a little intuitive with these things? Yes. Am I downright psychic enough to know where each great submission is before I even open it? No. Imagine how much time that'd save!
  2. Omnipresence. What's that? Oh, yes, that's me reading you slush. And yours, and yours too. Don't want to share? Okay. No problem, cause I'm so special, I don't even need a Jeff Herman listing. I'm just everywhere. Research-shmesearch. All query roads would lead to me. And my inbox. And the fleet of interns I'd have to hire to help point me to the best ones ASAP. But with the aforementioned shimmering, it'll be all good. 
  3. Glamors. You know what'd really help out with powers 1 & 2? Knowing for sure that, once I've received and identified the best submissions, all the authors will want me. Like, right now. Other agents? Meh. Not so special. Nor so magical. 
  4. More hours per day. After all, there's no way I can read everything in the world (150,000 books released every year!), keep up with all of my fun reading and work reading and industry reading and people meeting and out-and-about-ness that make one a good, well-rounded person and agent, with just 24 hours per day. I'd like to specify that these be daylight, or at least daylit, hours. Thank you.
  5. Synchronicity. What's that? Drop your book on the subway? I'll pick it up for you. Oh! Look at that! That's my client. Flip to the acknowledgments. Yes, that's me! See, I have a pre-printed card. (On pretty paper, no less.) Oh, what now? You're an editor actively looking for just the sort of book I just took on yesterday? Sweet!
  6. Points Tipping in my Favor. So now that I've sold once-shimmering manuscript, what now? As the release date nears, there just happens to be a feature in the NY Times about the subject. And the LA Times. And all over Technorati's Top 100. And then, suddenly, they all know the book is on the way. And they add a note about how easy it is to find. A quick search in the Google Trends shows you topic in the top six. And, more than that, there's collective human subconscious feeling that it's time for this book. Amazon pre-orders are insane. Already the author's getting letters: I haven't read it yet, but I know your book will change my life
So, according to The Secret, I just have to visualize these now, right? I'll let you know how that goes. :) 

The Agenting Caffeine Cycle

Morning Coffee (plus hot chocolate). Read normal (my own, addressed to me) office email.

Coffee kicks in--more office mail, all the tedious small things, putting out fires (perhaps with coffee).

Coffee REALLY kicks in--queries! Quick bursts of attention! Wheeeeeeeee!

Lunch. Women's fiction goes well with lunch.

Afternoon Tea--mellow agent mood--manuscript reading, all genres.

Late afternoon: Coffee! More queries!!!!!! Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Just before leaving: choose manuscripts to Kindle (yes, new verb), load them, and out and off to book events!

Just to reiterate...

...Yes, I have seen manuscripts get a form-reject after they were discussed at length. Yes. Really.

Hint of the Day

Do not call your attached manuscript "[name of manuscript] rough draft.doc." This does not inspire confidence.

Thank you muchly.

Agent Benevolence Exists--Oh Yes, Yes it Does

So today, I got a manuscript that made me giggle. Aloud. Several times. And not just because I've had so much coffee-with-hot-cocoa-mix that I find everything pleasing. (Dopamine + Theobromine = Warm+Fuzzy Gatekeeper.) The manuscript is downright amusing. Not quite my style, but great fun.

So I email an author I've been on good terms with ever since she sent me her work and, though it wasn't right for me, we got along--mostly because she is, as they say, awesomesauce. Her work is a similar "feel" to the giggle-inducing one of today and, knowing how much of this is by "feel" (and how unsearchable "feel" is), I asked her about someone she'd mentioned who'd rather liked her work--hoping, of course, for a suggestion that I can pass on to today's amusing author.

Today's author, of course, has no idea.

We'll see how this goes.

But this another example of "you never know when someone is actively working behind the literary scenes on your behalf."

It's true: you simply don't. For all you know, even that form-reject came from someone who argued stridently in your favor, perhaps even risked professional reputation to do so.

Perhaps this is why you are all so interested in what our office is like: what occurs behind those Green Glass Doors? (They're not green, nor are they glass or plural--but I just heard this word-puzzle from Snarky Agent Man and can't help but use it.) I can only speak for the few offices (four) I've worked in that review and reject submissions. But no one is ever outright unkind; much of the time, they're rather generous with time and attention. And I saw many a form-reject go to authors who got a great deal of discussion in-office. Is this the best way to handle things? Not necessarily. I disagreed with some of the form-rejecting.

But it does mean that the response you get is, most commonly, the minimum--that is, there's often more discussion and thought than goes into the response itself. So, take heart, authors. We are cocoa-ed and fuzzy this time of year. And we like you, too.

Supersititions and Trying to Love

So it's true: I have a superstitious nature. This goes oddly with my vivid and catastrophic imagination, but for the moment, just pretend they go as well together as Nutella and big spoons (yes, eaten out of the jar) or mayonnaise (love the stuff) and toasted whole grain bread, fresh from the bread machine.

I'm reading a manuscript whose author I've liked since the very first line of her query. It could have been disastrous: she made the choice of giving one impression (an unflattering one--or at least one that would fit into a query cliché that most often leads to rejection) but turned it around in the second paragraph. Sort of like giving one an extreme close-up, then backing up so that we can see the context is far from what we expected. It's a big risk; I imagine at least one agent read the first paragraph and tossed it. It came with formatting (which I'll forgive, of course--a pretty peach background on the email, once I clicked the "Display Images Below" link) and a picture (often not advised). She's remarkably young and, through the correspondence of technical difficulties (several attachments later, I couldn't open the file--I was about to get out a Microsoft Word manual but she figured it out), I've learned that she's a rather pleasant human being.

The work is somewhere between Women's and Literary fiction; more the former than the latter, though the sentences are quite beautiful--and witty, and funny. Oh my. Is that a faint blush, or is the hot cocoa (a gift from an author) steam warming my cheeks?

In other words, I want to love this. I really, really, really want to love this. I want to email my boss (who's out and about, but is, as ever, Blackberry-connected) and tell her I love this book I want it right now. Or something like that. Something a bit less grabby.

But, out of superstition, I've avoided the following:
  • Emailing the author to tell her I like what I've read so far before I read the whole thing. I did this before and it usually ends badly--and awkwardly, as you can imagine.
  • Munching while reading. I have a big habit of doing so--I especially like organic ("push tail to open!") Annie's Mac-n-Cheese with Women's Fiction over lunch--and the keyboard has survived so far. But this is for works where the sentences are light and flow into each other to make sense, rather than works like this one, where each sentence is a little meaning-gem. Noticing I was only giving 80 percent of my attention to the words, I was munching anyway (today, a salad with everything, including chopped apples and sharp cheese) and the manuscript offered up a rather visceral and unappetizing image. The sort that stays with you for a few hours a day. Salad = repackaged. Cocoa is fine, as one can sip unconsciously and quietly. No crunching involved.
  • Posting this until after I've read the whole thing. If nothing else, it'll make me finish the work by the end of the day. It's 2:15 now; I'm 32 pages in. We'll see what I can do. (And yes. We really do, often, know these thing so soon.)   

I'm totally psyched about your book recommendations. Keep 'em coming!
New Year's Resolution: write more real letters.

You Choose My Reading--a contest

Okay. I started a sort of blog-column before, which was my thoughts on work available to the general public. This way, you get a sense of one agent's process--and I get to read something I wouldn't have, normally, and think critically about it. (Can you tell I miss Lit classes? Oh, yes, sometimes I do.)

But I need suggestions.

What are some works you'd like to see analyzed this way? And what, from your reading of the blog, do you think I'd enjoy?

Please limit your suggestions to (in order of preference) YA, Women's, and/or Literary Fiction. I suppose if there's a great work of Sci Fi out there, that'd be fine too, but I think most of you are writing in the above three genres, so they'd be the most helpful.

Please comment with the name of the work, its author, a line of summary, and (if applicable) something you'd wondered specifically about the work (ie, "Is it just me or is the writing terrible?").

Then, as you see comments build, you are welcome to say, "I second ______," or "I hated ____, don't bother" or "Instead of _____, try _____, and look for _____."

Books in paperback are much preferred; books I can get from the library are best of all. I'll choose based on the following factors:

  1. Your votes
  2. Book availability (library, paperback v hardcover, etc.) 
  3. Plot (if it looks like something I'd be interested in.) 

Your prize, if I choose the work you nominate? My copy of Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, mailed to you. It's a paperback in fine condition. So, please include your e-mail address, or a method of contacting you. If you've chosen an alias, send a mailing address and your alias to AgencyGatekeeper@gmail.com. It's fine if you'd like to stay anonymous by choosing an e-mail address that doesn't have your name in it.

Author Meanness, Encoded

We'd discussed, in the comments of some recent posts, the fact that it'd make it easier for author and agent alike if there could be a code for, "It's okay, give me feedback--I won't cause trouble/get mad/tell you you're wrong or evil."

Here are two examples in today's queries.

This one made me feel like the author could, in fact, be trusted with feedback:

Warm regards and best wishes for a happy new year.

Simple, but I got the feeling, reading this, that the author was human--and a kind human, at that.

This did not inspire confidence:

I recently found out that you accept new writers. So finally I get a person without any bias.

Erm...no. I have a bias against writers with anti-agent bias. This writer clearly has been angered by agents in the past. Red alert: no feedback here.

Queries versus samples, e-submissions versus paper

Today, in fifty queries, there were three (thankfully with samples attached) that were far weaker than the actual work. Nothing was objectively wrong with them, mind you, but they were--well--boring. The writers sounded bored with their work, and stodgy, scared, formal. But then--who can blame them?

And then all three works--the actual works--were probably in the top ten percent, writing-wise.

So that's three B- queries with three A or A- samples.

In one case, I finally said (with a note about how I only mentioned it to try to be helpful--and that there was nothing objectively wrong with her pitch) that the sentences in the query simply weren't as vivid as those in the actual work.

And that's the thing--there's nothing objectively wrong. It's just that all of the things beyond that that I look for--the things that get me excited about a piece--the things that are subjectively so right--just weren't present.

We'll see how that goes--if she'll write back at all; if she'll be angry when she does so.

But this is frustrating. There's clearly a disconnect between writing-writing and query writing.

Why in the world don't some agents want sample pages if they're asking for e-queries anyway? I understand not wanting manuscripts in hard copy--we have a finite amount of space, and no one likes standing in line at the post office to say, "Hi, this is over 13oz, and it's not dangerous, unless you count its ability to make one want to set themselves on fire." (That seldom happens--the fire or the desire to set fire. The biggest flame I've seen in the office belonged to a scented candle.)

If nothing else, I hope the transition to e-submissions allows authors to submit samples more of the time--to change the standards of the submission process.

Most agents are on an e-system, yes? What has your experience with this been? Is it a hassle (files that won't open, emails lost)? A convenience (faster response time)? About the same?

Extracurricular Reading

"Okay, just curious...how many books (minus manuscripts) do you read in a week? Month? Year? I feel that I'm a relentless and fast reader, but I hardly think I could keep up with you...Another quick question - what's your digital versus hardcopy ratio?"

Easy question first: right now, it's all hard copy. There's an office Kindle for me to use, but I think my boss would be somewhat annoyed if I were to use it (and her account) to order books. (Especially when I feel like reading, say, the Stephanie Plum novels. Finger Lickin' Fifteen would not impress.)

More difficult question: the thing is, I almost never read just one book at a time. My tastes are so varied, and sometimes, as palate-cleanser, I just need to switch from fiction to hardcore nonfiction to cookbooks. (And yes, this makes for a very heavy bag.) So it's difficult to count, and my schedules vary. I'd say 3-4 books a week, or the equivalent, would not be abnormal. But keep in mind that here in NYC, we have ample, built-in reading time: the subway. And I'm certainly not afraid to put down books if I'm not enjoying them.

I also have the annoying (to others) tendency of sometimes not reading the last chapter or so of books. Why? Because, well, I don't want them to end. So I put it off until they're absolutely, no-you-can't-renew due.

Right now, I'm reading the following. This is much heavier on women's fiction than usual--however, as I noted previously, such works feel, to me, like hot cocoa. And it's the perfect time of year for cocoa.

The Queen's Soprano by Carol Dines (historical fiction YA based on a real-life 17-year-old who escapes her plotting mother to sing for Queen Christina in 17th-century Rome--I'd give it a B+).

Mergers & Acquisitions: An Insider's Guide to the Purchase and Sale of Middle Market Business Interests by Dennis J. Roberts (I'm reading it because I've been nursing, lately, a curiosity about business school--and when, at a family dinner, a relative brought up the psychology of the business deal, and mentioned that this book has an entire chapter on the subject--well, I couldn't help myself.)

Love The One You're With by Emily Giffin (a woman, happily married to her best friend's brother, runs into an ex who was nothing but trouble--and who still seems to have power over her. Started very strong, and the sentences are great, but I just can't stomach the unhealthiness of the whole thing and am about to toss it back in the return bin after 71 pages. B.)

The Adultery Club by Tess Stimson, Bantam UK (Finally, a trashy novel done brilliantly! Why are the British so good at brilliant trash? I'm not sure. But this made a 6-hour plane ride fly--heh--by. A-, the minus being for the undeniable trashiness; the  A for superb writing.)

The Gastronomical Me by MFK Fisher (I gave this to several people over holiday break, and am re-reading it now--I just adore the essay "My First Oyster" and that we can, in it, watch her transform from sheltered schoolgirl to passionate foodie. Brilliant writing and descriptions, plus a great sense of the time. A+)

The Shadow Children by Margaret Peterson Haddix, YA (in a society where the government threatens all parents who dare have more than two children with death, a child is raised in hiding--and discovers that, in the new and wealthy development across the street, another "shadow child"--a third child--has an "in" with an underground network of them. So far, quite good. A-.)

And, of course:

In Cheap We Trust: The Story of a Misunderstood American Virtue

and

Her Fearful Symmetry, which I just finished tonight and--wow. Will elaborate on that "wow" soon.

New Books, New Year

I'm totally psyched, because I got home to find two very different, very interesting books waiting for me: my copy of The American Frugal Housewife is already here--and packaged so wonderfully carefully--and Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. 

How I avoided reading either of them until now...who knows. :)

A Matter of Great Importance

"Ohhhh but that means [someone who wrote in about tea] don't read your blog. If they did... they'd know you weren't really into tea and were more of a coffee girl :)"

Actually, that isn't so. You can safely assume that if it's before lunch, after lunch, before going out...I'm drinking tea. I'm one of those beverage people, who always seems to be sipping something. 

But I do adore coffee, especially if it's particularly strong; still, I think of it as a special occasion beverage. It doesn't work very well if you drink it all the time.

I love loading up the French press with as many grounds as I can fit and then foaming milk and spooning it carefully over the opaque brew, a dusting of cinnamon to top off. 

And here's how hardcore I am (oh, I wish)--this was my #1 college beverage:

Coffee Toddies:

Ingredients:

1 pound coarse-ground espresso
1 bottle vanilla syrup (Torani or otherwise--you can also use simple syrup and vanilla) 
1 plastic pitcher
1 ugly pillow case
1 mini fridge
Enormous quantities of sugar

Step one: place entire pound of coffee, coarse ground, into pillow case, and tie it up like a gargantuan tea bag. 

Step two: place aforementioned gargantuan bag of coffee in the pitcher. Fill with water. 

Step three: put pitcher in fridge overnight. 

Step four: remove pillowcase; squeeze with all your might. 

Step five: pour resultant brew over ice. Add vanilla syrup and ridiculous quantities of sugar (to taste). 

Step six: bask in your sudden energy and go do something crazy, like sprint to the train station. 

Step seven: good times. 
I'm really rather liking Her Fearful Symmetry.

And after a lovely Cheesecake Factory lunch and stroll through Crate & Barrel (I love that I can list these things and, just about wherever you are, you'll know exactly the experience I had) I went to the Arlington, VA B&N with my cousin, an elementary school teacher, and raided the YA section.

I snuck out a huge list--amazing how much easier this is with a cell phone with a keyboard than a pen and paper--of works to get from the NY Public Library (NYPL). Will post soon and, as I read them, comment.
"How often do you come across fabulous queries accompanied by terrible pages?"

Pretty often. Not as often as the opposite, but there are certainly times when I seriously wonder if the query and the manuscript were written by the same person. 

Also, there's the annoying factor of matching up queries with manuscripts when they come in. I always tell authors to please hit Reply to the email I send, so that I'll have query and manuscript in one place. Do they do so? Not very often at all. 

But that'd be an interesting thing to look at: when I have a query and a manuscript from each author, which is usually stronger? Am I getting a lot of A+ queries with C+ manuscripts? Or vice versa? 

Yes. Worth investigating. Next time I have a clear inbox and desk. (Ha! Ha!) Okay, probably sooner. After all, agents have to do things to keep themselves sane, too. 
"It seems if you make a suggestion or give more than a short, polite, rejection, many authors take that as an invitation to ask for a free critique, or advice, or to send them a personal fix-it guide. Or worse yet, they retaliate and tell you how you don't know what you're talking about."

Exactly. I've gotten a little better, over the years, at guessing who will cause trouble and who will be appreciative. 

But sometimes you just can't tell. It's times like these that you wish authors had given a better sense of themselves through their emails. This is why the bare minimum of politeness is not always best. Just an extra word or two can make a difference. Be polite, but be human. 

The Perfect Check-in



Dear ___________,

I hope your holiday was filled with mistletoe, gourmet tea and all other types of deliciousness to prepare you for 2010. I just wanted to check in on my manuscript, ____________.

Please let me know if you need me to resend it.

Thanks so much and Happy New Year!

[Author name]

[Author email]

* * *

A+. Friendly, warm, thoughtful.

Think of it this way--you're checking in with an agent who may, in just a few short weeks, be your agent, your friend and confidant. You'll feel rather silly if they take you on and your previous correspondence was somewhat terse.

Also, if you start treating us now like we're a friend and correspondent, it'll show us that you'd fit well into that role.

Happy 2010, everyone!
Further proof that query writing is a separate skill from novel writing: got a letter this morning that made me go, "Well, meh"--at best. There were 2-3 good lines, though, so I clicked on the attached sample pages. Rather brilliant. Not for me, but very witty.

I tend to think that, even if they're not requested--and unless the agent says something like, "All emails with attachments will be automatically deleted"--which seems unlikely, unless they're Advanced Gmailin'--attaching the first ten pages can only help.

But then I get into a strange moral argument: should I tell the author, "So, um, you write very well" (which I did) "but your query just doesn't work"? And where would we go from there? I can't edit it for her; I can't even articulate why it isn't working, other than that there are a lot of "I feel"s and "she feel"s and "they feel"s. Lots of feeling. Needs more thinking. But not the "I think" kind, the this is the way things are kind. And fewer filler words. That too. But saying "This is bad, fix it" is about as helpful on a query as someone saying it on a manuscript. "Hi, Author. Your work is bad. Fix it."  Um, yeah. Not winning niceness points or helpfulness points.

Another situation for which I wish there were an Emily Post Guide to Rejecting Authors.

Weigh in, authors. If you were me, what would you say, and how would you say it?