Hilarious--but very much not recommended to the male viewer.

To give you an idea, this is a fake ad for Twilight and a new feminine product called Vampax.

Suzanne Collins is listed in the 2010 TIME 100!


"Like Katniss, [Suzanne]'s a natural, lighting from thriller to bodice ripper to fantasy in the space of a few chapters, churning out a powerful, innovative oeuvre without making a big deal about it...She's a literary fusioneer, that rare writer who is all things to all readers. Today's would-be revolutionaries should be so lucky."
I just got back from a fabulous editor lunch. The editor in question is, like me, young, book-obsessed, food-obsessed--and she's really, really nice. We met a few weeks ago at the party with the pink silk curtains and exposed bulbs, and hit it off immediately.

She actually told me that, whenever she gets an agented submission--doesn't matter who sent it--she'll read the whole thing and write back detailed comments. I nearly dropped my fork into my soy nuggets. She does what?! Editors are even more time-strapped than agents!

"Yeah," she said, "whenever my boyfriend is watching TV, I'm reading. It works out really well."


So, take heart, writers--having your work on submission may be (as Ms. Totallythebomb.com put it once) like submitting your work to agents, but on steroids--a little stressful for everyone--but there are nice editors out there who can't wait to see your work.

And this works for her, too. Now, because I so want to work with her, I'd probably favor her if two editors wanted the same book and had made similar offers.

The moment I met her, an almost-ready manuscript kept popping into my head. I can't wait to send it.

A picture of the restaurant she chose. It's one of my favorites--I used to go and order a ton of appetizers (like yucca fries and sesame puffs), plus their taro milk bubble tea. When you walk in, there are clear display cases with pretty, edible things, like star anise and slices of dried oranges. The front area is a sun-flooded kitchen--you can sit around bamboo benches while the chefs make smoothies in front of you. Yummm.
Today's lessons from the Gatekeeper:

  • Blasting Bad Romance in your iPod just before an editor lunch is not a good idea. You'll end up thinking in gibberish: Ooh manuscript, ooh la la-ah...
  • Caffeine is a drug.
  • Be nice to everyone. You never know when a person you introduced yourself to more than a year ago will meet a promising writer and send them your way.
  • Say yes to all conference offers, so long as they are not expensive.
  • Cheetah print, contrary to Living Oprah's opinion, does not go with everything.
  • Ballet flats + rain = squish.
  • Be careful who you rant about Amazon with. (Oops!)
  • Ask questions. So long as you don't sound like you're interrogating them, people will like you--they like to talk about themselves. See How to Win Friends and Influence People. In NYC we have the three standard: where you're from, what you do, where you live now. Then branch off from those.
  • If people say things they shouldn't, smile, nod, and move on to something else. 
  • Emergen-C, Emergen-C, Emergen-C.
  • It is possible to fall up stairs. 
It's been an enormously busy, very gratifying, really ridiculously awesome week in Gatekeeperland.

More posts soon.

On passing manuscripts to other agents

As inspired by a comment from the lovely Lindsay, I'll take a moment to address something: We don't expect that every writer will know from our listings which agent within our company is not only a good possibility, but the best possibility.

After all, writers don't hang out with us, chat with us over the coffee machines and while watching the electric teapot. They don't (usually) hear about our lives, pets, husbands, boyfriends, weekend reads, hobbies. Is a writer likely to know that I'm (as I was a few weeks ago) so sick of shoe-glorifying women's fiction that I'd rather see a manuscript about a woman who kills people with stilettos? I should hope not.

I'm over it, by the way. Just this week I passed a piece of excellent women's fiction within the agency, and that writer is getting an offer today.

But, now that I think about it, the story does have a death indirectly related to shoes. Hmm...

Is it great if you know, and address your queries accordingly? Totally. I'll admit to giving preference to those who have sought me out personally.

But if you're not sure--especially if you address the query to the president of the company--it's likely your work will end up in a sort of "to be sorted" pile. Is this slush? Technically. Is it read and passed on to the right person? Why, yes--it is. We're able to put our preferences aside and recognize quality--especially if we think, "Hey, _______ would love this!"

Basically, if we like your work, we like you and want you to do well--even if it's not with us. We like our colleagues and want them to find work they love. So, it works out for everyone.

As far as passing manuscripts to our agent friends--those outside our companies--this does happen occasionally. If something really does have merit but just isn't right for anyone in-house, yes, we'll refer. But this gets thornier--we don't want to look foolish, to writer and other agent alike, if the agent recipient is like, "What?! She uses a stiletto as a weapon?! That's ridiculous!"

So, in those cases, we are a bit more careful.

Highheels, Obsession

"A. Skywalker" wins the Pitch Pride and Prejudice, Get Zombies contest!

Analysis of the winning post coming soon.

Skywalker, send me an email with your info, okay?
Gatekeeper's geekiness has gone to a whole new level: blathering on about how the NYC postal service once delivered real mail six times a day twice in one weekend.

But really--doesn't that sound nice? Notes instead of texts? Calls on curly-corded phones, the sound clear and pre-digital?

Yes. That, plus espresso soda, please.
So, having just returned from a whirlwind family weekend--one that allowed no work whatsoever--and having just gotten to the point in Living Oprah where I'm seriously considering setting the book down and reading no further--I bring you a Gatekeeper Endorsement:

Manhattan Special Espresso Soda.

For the remainder of today, this is officially the best product IN THE WORLD. Comes in regular and diet. 

And yes, they really have been making it in Brooklyn since 1895
I'm reading Living Oprah, and it's making me wish I could be cool enough to have a whole list of products/brands/services/practices to endorse. They'd be much less expensive, of course, and much more urban-practical (one of the suggestions followed is to get a fireplace/pit delivered--um, sure Oprah--I'll just saunter up the (many flights of) stairs with that next time I have a Steinway delivered).

In the meantime, I'll just say that I'm a huge fan of Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution (five episodes of which are available free on Hulu).

But it makes it much more difficult to do the watch-and-munch thing, as is usually so cozy--during this show, watching him critique peoples' food, it's somewhat uncomfortable.
Correspondence hint: there's honesty, and then there's TMI.

Naturally, if I had a TMI button (it'd be like the Staples "That was easy!" button but would say something like, "No! Stop! Don't say any--...! Oh dear. But you did anyway") it'd be going off several times a day, when I check my email. I'm amazed and impressed by the bravery of people willing to disclose such personal information in the pursuit of an agent for their memoirs. That's one thing. Usually those writers are pretty good at keeping things on a need-to-know basis, even if the information is sometimes cringeworthy.

Another thing is telling us that you're being savvy and hoping exactly what will happen. A writer told me today that another agent is interested in her work. Okay, cool. I totally agree with doing that, even if it's just a quick line to those who only have your query. But then: "I am naturally hoping this interest will make it likely that you will want to see the novel described below which is more genre."

Okay. But that's implicit. That's like going on a date and saying, "Guess what? I have internal organs! They're bloody and squishy."

Okay, of course, it's not that bad. But, instead, simply say something like, "An agent extended an offer of representation, and I just wanted to check in with you and see if you'd like to take a look at [name of work]. I look forward to hearing from you."
There are few things more satisfying than finding a work you love and knowing exactly what needs to be done to take it from excellent to extraordinary. I've had just this experience this week, and am simply delighted to see the work shaping up, the author so smart and efficient--she just gets what I mean when I suggest the edits, and with each one, something beautiful and interesting emerges. I can liken the process only to those incredible moments in art class when, looking at your subject and looking at your work in progress, something clicks--and you can see the subject on the paper, coming into being.
Last year, according to several literary agents, a senior Amazon executive asked for suggestions about whom Amazon might hire as an acquisitions editor. Its Encore program has begun to publish books by self-published authors whose work attracts good reviews on Amazon.com. And in January it offered authors who sold electronic rights directly to Amazon a royalty of seventy per cent, provided they agreed to prices of between $2.99 and $9.99. The offer, one irate publisher said, was meant “to pit authors against publishers.”

Read more: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2010/04/26/100426fa_fact_auletta?currentPage=all
The manuscript? The one I mentioned earlier, and love?

It is now, officially, mine.

I spent a few hours last week helping a friend assemble her wedding invites--or, more specifically, her wedding invite envelopes. They were beautiful--the liners (our job: roll over them with a glue stick, shimmy them into an envelope exactly their width, sealing them 1/8th inch from glue seal at top; press out air bubbles with the spine of a book, fold down flap without creating any wrinkles) were stripes of shiny gold and water lily green, and the envelopes, adorably shaped, had pretty return addresses already printed on them. And--best of all--there were silver wax seals, with pretty little flowered vines, to press on each when it was done.

While gluing, maneuvering, sealing, pressing, folding, I had plenty of time to think of stationary in general. I certainly miss real letters, and still send many.

What would yours look like, if you could have any stationary--paper, envelopes, liners, print, seals? What sort of desk would you use, what sort of chair? And--perhaps most importantly--what sort of pen (calligraphy, dip/feather, a Pilot, a Bic) would you choose?

Jean-Honoré Fragonard - The Love Letter (Le Billet Doux)
I'm a huge proponent of the Metro North, a set of rail lines between Grand Central and points up to three hours from the city. These trains can take you hiking (one "station" is literally twenty feet of wooden planks in the shape of bleachers, and lets one off at the foot of the trail), up through Connecticut (fancy, not-so-fancy, darn scary, and rural) and--in last night's case--Westchester.

My friend picked me up at the station--it's easy to see how such trains and meeting people at them worked before cell phones; they're remarkably reliable--and we wound through her hilly, Tudor-style neighborhood. When I opened the car door, I breathed deep. "It smells like the country," I said, eyeing the tall grass in the driveway, the little, white, steep-roofed outbuilding that is the garage.

"Um, no," my friend said. "That'd be the suburbs."

I know some of you like to have city-versus-suburbs arguments with me, and I'll give you one point: the suburbs do smell better.

The kitchen is large and filled with windows and plants; the living room, needlepoint and porcelain figurines. The built-in cabinets are unusual shapes and sizes; the floors are dark, shiny, well-aged wood; the light switches haven't been replaced--they're one tiny circular button above another, and they turn on the chandeliers that came with each room. The house is exactly a hundred years old, built in 1910, and its street is hilly and lined with 100-year-old oaks. Each historic house has a good-sized plot, and many of the yards have rather large play structures and swing sets.

I woke up at 5 am this morning, hearing nothing but the house shifting and one light-voiced bird--at home, there'd likely be cars, trucks, people--and started typing out ideas for the pitch letter to a work I haven't officially said yes to yet. A few weeks ago, I went to a party for agents and editors, and as I met a number of them, hearing what they wanted to read and buy--this work just kept coming up in my mind as a fit. It's set in a location rather more like my friend's house--trees, plants, space--but mountains, not hills.

I think it's a good sign if it's the first thing I thought of this morning, or almost-morning.

The revision came back this week and it. Is. Amazing. If I lose it--there are, of course, other agents interested--I'll feel like I've endured a swift, sock-footed kick to the chest. Yes.

We get attached, too.
I always wonder where phrases come from. One can go the "I'll make up a story about it and it's probably funnier than the real origin" route, or--well, there is research.

Today, a manuscript featured the phrase "Three sheets to the wind"--as in, the writer would be.

Now, I had a pretty good idea of what she meant, but--while thinking this would be an interesting name for a linens company--I found this site: http://www.phrases.org.uk/

And, yup--it's searchable.

Geek fun for the day.
To clarify, I am not a hater of all introductions.

I am, however, a proponent of making sure that--if you have one--it is necessary and well-done.

Speaking of introductions...

Just to prove that all rules/pieces of advice are made to be broken/disobeyed, I picked up Hex Hall yesterday. It is, without a doubt, "read 200+ pages in a day and only stop because it's midnight and sleep is good before a day of reading manuscripts" friggin' awesome.

And its prologue/intro is excellent. 

In fact, the whole book is highly recommended.

You know how a number of YA works have either the protag or her love interest be a new student? And then she and Mr. Love Interest get paired together as lab partners, study buddies, something like that and realize they like each other? Well, in this version, she gets paired with Mr. Lurve because he refused to beat up on her when the magic defense/PE teacher (who hates protag because of something she doesn't know about her father), and they get stuck cataloging magical items. Um--way more interesting.

And there are more and more layers as we go. How in the world there will be any sort of resolution in the remaining 100 pages, I've no idea. 

Good thing it's a series!

According to the author's blog, Hex Hall Book II (currently working-titled Hex and the City) has been turned in to the editor, will be out March 2011. 
The office was deeply in need of a sugar rush. When the intern came back with a giant bag of gummi candy--which I opened with sword class techniques, using the letter opener--I will confess we acted out one of the manuscripts we're seriously considering...with gummi bears.

It was all very complimentary, I assure you. We like the piece and will probably say yes.

My boss looked at us like we were crazy.

"If only writers knew," my intern said.

Well...now they do.

Wild, Free-Range Gatekeeper--reading after hours

A confession: sometimes I keep reading manuscripts (not in the office, mind you; I'm too busy) even after I know they're not quite right for me. Why? Because I enjoy them.

But I always wonder what the appropriate thing is, when describing this situation to a writer. Is it more painful to let a writer know it was close? Is it hope-inspiring--or more frustrating--that the work was appreciated and, then, rejected?

Dear Ms. [Emily] Post,
How does one explain that--though it was an improper fit, and a rejection forthcoming--a manuscript was top on the Kindle, and thoroughly enjoyed, until it was finished?

Thank you, 

Now, how is it a work can be so enjoyable and still not quite right? That's a discussion for another day.

You know a client's good when...

...you check your phone's email during a night out for drinks, and read a sentence so funny, from an updated proposal, that you have to share it with your friends--who laugh loudly enough to scare the Upper East Siders.

Yup. Mr. Swordfish strikes again.

Prologues, introductions, and other things that are often best cut

Many of you know that I'm likely, in my reading, to skip over long italicized sections of text. To my mind, they're often the same as text within parentheses--text that the writer poured onto the page but, on some subconscious level, knew to be of lesser importance than the other text--and punctuated accordingly.

I've developed a new habit: skipping introductions and going straight to chapter one.

Before you argue that much of the story won't make sense, or that I'm a rude, mean, evil agent--hear me out. I've read at least twenty fiction introductions/prologues in the past week. I can think of only two I'd have left in. The others were mere impediments--the real writing started on page one of the first chapter. Nothing of great importance--that I wouldn't figure out later, anyway--happened before.

Keep in mind that, even if it's italicized, within parentheses, or within a prologue, your first lines are the first things agents see.

I sometimes like to joke that in medias res really means "get your work published by putting your good stuff first." I'm joking--a little. We won't notice if you have a brilliant page 57 or 107 if pages 1-7 don't rock our socks. Do whatever you have to do, but put your strongest writing first.

If you have an introduction or prologue, ask your critique partners/workshop members/friendly neighborhood readers if they think your work would still make sense without it. Make a new Word document and try it out, see if you can get comfy with the idea.

A lot of our writing is there for the benefit of the writer, not the reader--many of these beginnings were more like notes ("I'm going to write this, and then this, and then this--and I'll actually start in a minute, when I get to...") No. Like those travel writing books often say: start in the middle.

Check out this sample postcard--the strike-through is the unnecessary, though postcard-abbreviated introduction:

Dear Mom and Dad,
Camp is awful. I hate the food. Who thought amorphous meat was the way to build strong bones and muscles? The crafts are lame. What does one do with a lanyard, anyway, when one's (supposedly) too young to even drive--and therefore have keys? (Hint. Hint.) I guess swimming in the lake is nice though. The waves are lapping on the sand and everyone has carried a lantern from the campfire, now embers, to tents that glow and buzz and attract every flying creature in the forest night. The air smells like burnt marshmallows and...

See what I mean? Cut away, writers. Cut away.
With regard to E-Gil (as I started calling her when my texting fingers got tired), well, there is much to say--all of it complimentary.

More soon.
As some of you may already know, I was on jury duty for part of last week and today. Happily, the case was settled just before lunch time, and now I am back in the office, plugging away.

So, just a quick count of queries today:

Queries in inbox: 63. A small number for a Monday.

Fiction: 8

YA/Paranormal: 1
YA/Historical: 1
Straight YA: 2
Literary Thriller: 1
Women's fiction: 3

Self-Help: 2
Memoir: 2

Lunch: Brown rice (I loves me some short-grain), veggies and chickpeas with--couldn't help myself--cream sauce. Which may or may not consist largely of mayo and squeeze-tube garlic.

Tea: Irish Breakfast, milk, stevia.

Water glass: half-full.

Reading (physical book): Alyson Noel, Evermore 
Kindle: book: sample of Living Oprah. May just  purchase.
Kindle: manuscript: a YA paranormal romance.
Gatekeeper is anxiously awaiting the arrival of Elizabeth Gilbert, who is speaking, today, at NYC's Center for Fiction. The crowd, predictably, is mostly female.

We shall see...

--from Gatekeeper Mobile

How to Write a Nicholas Sparks Movie


I officially have no opinion about this. Yes. No comments. None at all.

Gatekeeper gets Punk'd

So I sent a very nice writer back for revision. We had a phone meeting a few days ago to discuss the finer points, and then I get this email today:

So I've begun going through the manuscript again and made a few changes I thought you should know about. First of all, I've turned [character] into a Vampire. Only he's a vampire that drinks urine, not blood. I thought that might be a good twist on the whole Twillight thing, sell a few more copies that way.

I assure you, Gatekeeper was making very unkind expressions at the computer, trying to think of the politest way to say NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!--accompanied by a shrieking run down the hallway, and perhaps a .mp4 of frightened editorial noises.

Quite thankfully, the next line was:

Okay, I'm totally kidding. Couldn't resist.

Man oh man.
Just a reminder that the Pitch Pride and Prejudice, Get Zombies contest ends today at midnight!

Gatekeeper's pitch will be up, in its comments, shortly.
Party. Was. Awesome.

Now, before I elaborate, picture this: floor-to-ceiling (and yes, it was a very high ceiling, at least 25 feet) pink silk curtains; clear bulbs with exposed filaments, gleaming gold; 30-foot bar; windows covered with branches as the night glowed bright blue through them; charcoal gray interior with tiny tables made of shiny, petrified-looking wood, each topped with a white candle. But no one was sitting: packing 100 publishing folk into the bar made for a loud space, standing-room-only. One had to lean over cardiganed shoulders to be heard, tilt head up with ear out to hear. One ended up balancing tiny bag (or Kindle-sized, in my case), beverage (Leffe in its stemmed glass) and door prize--water balloons and tiny rocket kits. It was, after all, a party for those in children's publishing.

The average age was mid-twenties, and the most common drink either beer or gin and tonic. Few braved the house red. Whereas perhaps one in ten in NYC wear glasses, here, it was about one in three. Many wore dresses with bright-colored cardigans; flats were common, as were simple updos. Most of the attendees were female--there were, perhaps, ten token men.

But to be surrounded by so many interesting people--hailing from locations like Puerto Rico, Georgia, Kansas City--people who were hired in boom times (in the earliest 2000s) and who managed to move up even now--people who were sweet, kind, interested.

Of course there is a business motive, and this cushions the feeling of standing in a loud room of a hundred people, many of them unknown--there were moments when beverage, Snarky and I stood for a few moments, quiet, listening to literary roar. Then inevitably someone would be within five or ten feet and not speaking to anyone. We'd look at each other, smile, shake hands, and learn where the other grew up, where they live now, the food they like, the drinks they like, the books, manuscripts, authors, genres they're most excited about.

I ended the evening with seven annotated business cards--and a few notes from those who were moving houses and didn't have new cards yet--but, of course, there are formulas for the emails. This is how we juggle so many contacts: make notes on the back of each. Of course tiny bag did not contain a pen, but there were many willing to lend them. To turn and scribble notes after the final "It was so nice meeting you" is, occasionally, awkward--but much less so than having a purse full of cards with no clue who does or wants what.

One big thing I noticed was that a great number of young editors are interested in sci-fi, the genre once relegated to niche houses. At least four lit up when I so much as mentioned "a sci-fi element." This surprised and delighted. And, quite happily, I met several interested in the works I have coming up--so much so that I sent a note to a writer in revision today, asking how she's doing, how the manuscript is coming--and that I've just met a number of editors who'd like to see it. This is is always good news for everyone involved.

So, yes. We went home feeling happy, lucky, literary and pleased--and hopeful, as we always are after such events, for the future of brilliant books.
One thing you get to do as an agent--but don't get to do, generally, as a writer--is meet the people who said no to the manuscripts you send them. Tonight, at a bash thrown by some agent friends, with a guest list that looks to be approximately 100, I'll meet several editors who were, until this evening, kind rejection letters--people in email form.

But, despite the relative grace of most eds, it's difficult to think of just how to say, "Hello! Nice to finally meet you. I sent you ________, which you said was almost-but-not-quite, but passed it to your colleague. That was nice of you!  It was eventually bought by ________. Hey! What's that iPad-screen-blue beverage? A drink called The Agency Model--30 percent gin? Hmm, clever..."

(To the best of my knowledge, there is no such drink, but it would be an excellent invention. What would be blue? At the very least, it wouldn't be the moldy-pea-soup-gray of the Kindle screen--less appetizing still.)

But, major caveat: Gatekeeper is exhausted. After two straight weekends of travel, plus a heavy manuscript (and, admittedly, Netflix) load, I couldn't even bring myself to wear heels. Not even the little ones with satin ruching. I am a fool for anything ruched.

So, here's the plan, in addition to the biggest coffee EVER (and thoughtfully well-timed--party starts at six; coffee, therefore, at five): I should note that Snarky and I are known for our random through-busy-NYC-streets sprints. (This one is so spontaneous, in fact, I'm sure he's reading about it on his iPhone now.) Frankly, it feels like a flash mob of two. When was the last time you ran instead of walked? When you were a kid, right? Well, that's just how it feels. Not to worry, we don't trip puppies or old ladies.

Now Gatekeeper will burst into song:

People stop and staaaaare--they don't boooother meeee.
(There is no place in NYC that I would rather beeeee.)
Let the sidewaaaaalk go byyyyyyeeeeee
I wooon't caaaaaaare if IIIIIIIIII
Can be here, on the streeeeeeeet...where Snarky and IIIIII spriiiiiiint.

See? Those years of voice lessons weren't for nothing.
Before you do anything else--even if you're in the office; it's just as good without sound--watch the video my agent friends Jo and Suzie made in their office. It's hilarious. It's at Suzie's blog, Confessions of a Wandering Heart.

Toddler Amazon Finds HBG, Penguin Unfair

For those who haven't read my earlier posts on Amazon acting like a bratty toddler (see here and here), a summary to get you up to this point: Amazon wants to sell all ebooks at its price, $9.99. Worried that this would devalue all books in the long-term, a number of publishers resisted. Macmillan was first, and discovered that, as a result, Macmillan titles were no longer available. Amazon eventually restored them, with a long, pouty note that read like Poor little Amazon! Big bad Macmillan has a monopoly!

So now it's expanded: Poor little Amazon! We agreed with HBG/Hachette and Penguin but we've decided THEY'RE JUST NOT FAIR! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I WANT MY BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKS...

That is,  though HBG and Penguin both came to agreements with Amazon to use a different pricing model, where the publisher sets the price and Amazon receives a percentage--keep in mind that this could be just as profitable, if not more so, for Amazon--suddenly HBG's ebooks aren't available, and some of Penguin's  have disappeared. 

"If we can get a two day extension from Hachette to continue selling their ebooks under the prior terms"--that is, these companies can either sell on Amazon's $9.99 terms or not at all--"we can have the Hachette ebooks promptly back for sale today. If not, then they will be back on April 3," Amazon said.

They also blamed technical difficulties which, somehow, no other online bookstore has had. 

Get your stories straight, Toddler Amazon. You'll need these skills when you have to lie in the future--as you inevitably will--and actually care about not getting caught.