Post-Rejection Pots de Creme

Every once in awhile--though it's always with great trepidation--I check out what people are saying about me on various sites for writers' experiences with agents.

Yeah, it's probably not such a great idea--but knowing that gossip about me is out there, just a few clicks away--it's just too tempting.

One writer on one site said she wanted to nominate me "sweet agent of the year."

Very pleased, I posted this to my Facebook status.

"Maybe it was a pun on all the dessert recipes you talk about," a Mr. Colin P. Hill quipped.

Well--yes. Quite possibly.

Also, I've noticed that a number of blogs are writing about techniques for dealing with rejection, and that,as a writer, you will inevitably be rejected--at least a few times, even if your books go on to become international bestsellers.

That's all well and good, but my Gatekeeper-endorsed technique involves egg yolks, blenders, and much more immediate gratification.

Post-Rejection Pots De Creme

Image from this low-carb pots de creme recipe.

Now, keep in mind that Gatekeeper is 1) lazy as can be in the kitchen, 2) not usually a fan of cooking with crazy culinary technology* and 3) addicted to chocolate, like any reasonable human being. Theobromine = reliable happiness.

And everyone always seems to assume I slaved for hours over these things. Try fifteen minutes plus fridge time. (If you want something even easier, try this.)

Note that this could probably also be made with bitter baking chocolate and Stevia, Splenda, or packets of Equal you steal from Starbucks.

You will need:

Six pots de creme pots, footed dessert dishes, ramekins, small bowls, chocolate bowls**, pretty little mugs, teacups (cute presentation, if you serve with the saucer), pretty glass cups, or tupperwares. You could also hollow out half-oranges (just make sure to slice the bottom so they'll sit upright in the fridge) and grate zest on top. I thought about adding Dixie cups to the list, but they might melt under pressure. And get wax in your chocolate. 

You'll also need a blender, and:

3/4 pound semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips--I like Ghirardelli.
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/16 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups heavy cream. Note that
Trader Joe's soy creamer also, amazingly, works.
6 egg yolks

Put in blender: chocolate + vanilla + salt.

Put the cream over medium heat (could probably also nuke, but be careful) until it just begins to boil. Pour over chocolate & etc. in blender. Blend until very smooth. Add egg yolks. Blend again. (This
does have to be two steps--or the egg yolks will cook and look scrambled. Ew.)

Pour into containers of your choosing. Fridge those for four hours, and you will have an easy, creamy, fancy-seeming, dinner party-worthy, very, very chocolate-y dessert. Satisfying even for the "I must have dark chocolate at all times" chocolate-lovers.

This was adapted for ease and ingredient-findability from They suggest chocolate in slab form that you cut into tiny chunks yourself. Ha! Ha! I mean, I'm good with a knife and all (especially serrated ones) but--really? Really Gourmet Sleuth? Yeah. Not gonna happen.

* However, I do have a heatproof silicone spatula, and it is one of my favorite inventions ever. I use it to stir-fry. I mean, how cool is that? You can scrape liquid/sauce off the bottom of a frying pan over high heat and not end up with a flat spatula and a rubber-scented dinner. You can also use it to spread a very thin layer of oil over the entire pan, thus using less. Seriously: if someone who works in the arts says it's worth the money--it is. Try finding one on Ebay.  

** Temper chocolate, let it cool a little, spray a balloon with non-stick spray and dip the bottom part into the chocolate in a bowl shape. Then set them on cookie sheets lined with waxed paper and put 'em in the fridge.  Note that the chocolate must not be too hot, and you really should not use water balloons, which are designed to pop easily. I  managed to get chocolate all over my cousin's ceiling, behind her display plates, in the light fixtures, behind the fridge, under the get the idea. Don't do that. Once the chocolate is solidified, pop the balloons and peel them out. Lots of work, but they turn out very pretty, especially when filled with pots de creme. See below.

More BEA shots

This ginormous typewriter is from the Abrams BEA booth. If anyone was going to have one--well, it makes sense for this press. They have beautiful books, a beautiful, skylit office, and parties with--yes--beautiful cheeses. 

I didn't check if it did anything--that is, if it had sound effects or interactive features--but it may have. This was taken during the final, 4:40, "everyone's packing up and giving everything away for free" rush, so I didn't have much time to ask questions or play with giant keys. 

I seem to remember seeing this last year, too--but that was before I thought camera phones, and smart phones in general, were a good thing.

Can you imagine the interns lifting trying to lift this up and tie it up on top of a cab to get it back to the office? Surely there's a better way, but I imagine that'd look something like this:

A Curable Romantic A Curable Romantic by Joseph Skibell

First line: "I fell in love with Emma Eckstein the moment I saw her from the fourth gallery of the Carl Theater, and this was also the night I met Sigmund Freud."

This is one of the ARCs I picked up at BEA. I can't wait to read more...

No blackouts yet...
They've predicted thunderstorms--great ones that shake the city, flood the streets, and interrupt work with booms and flashes. I'm delighted, and not just because I love the image--which I applied recently to a genius editor--of minds working so powerfully that lightning strikes the building (it's aliiiiiiiive!). I'm from California, where humidity is something that exists mainly in refrigerator veggie bins--and, as a result, such storms are relatively rare--and, therefore, very exciting. Now, when I know a storm's coming, I run up to a tall hill in Brooklyn, where I can see the flashes over Manhattan, feel the wind pick up--and hear the rain roll in. (And, no, I don't sit under tall trees or power lines, and am indoors by the time it really hits.)

I'm sure you've been hearing a lot about BEA--that great meeting of book minds. What they don't tell you is that the Javits Center is a good twenty minute walk from the nearest subway. The center is mind-blowingly enormous and mostly windowless--and I can't help but have visions of the power going out, and thousands of book people rushing about with iPads, our digital reading lighting our way.

If that happens, assuming 3G service is intact, you'll be the first to know.

YPG on a Boat--BEA Party #1

You wouldn't know from looking that it's so toxic. The Hudson (near Manhattan, at least--probably not so much up north) is rumored to dissolve people upon entry, turn the birds that survive green, and have as many shoes as DSW--most of them cement. (Of course, I learned all of this after taking advantage of Downtown Boathouse's free kayak-on-the-Hudson program. Amazingly, I survived.)

Last night, YPG (Young Publishing Group) rented a portion of the Frying Pan, a docked boat that was once underwater. It still has a number of its original trappings--guests can wander through its gear and former boiler rooms, check out the captain's lair, and pound on a piano whose keys have seen too many sodas. Downstairs, in what looks like it used to hold a number of hammocks (I could be totally making this up--but it's a round room with two windows), there's a central bar with a tiny European waitress. The number one boat drink: Corona buckets. Eww. G&t for me.

And it was docked--secured well to another barge--but, my goodness, did it sway. My group of 5-7 agents all felt ill, or at least dizzy, at first--I'd made the very bad decision to wear tall shoes made of cork ("At least, if you fall in, the cork will float," one of the male agents helpfully suggested), and the stairs were rickety at best. I'm surprised there weren't more wipe-outs--there were definitely a lot of scared-looking young women in very impractical shoes.

So, picture it, if you will: forty or fifty publishing people, trying to drink and stand up straight, while seeking editors and agents with overlapping interests as the Hudson lapped (well, splashed) below.

Amazingly, it was a rather pleasant experience. The weather was gorgeous--and the company, pleasant. After the requisite Titanic jokes, the conversation was zippy and clever.

There was also some good gossip. Apparently a new work, called Room, is all set to be the biggest thing since sliced Lovely Bones bread. (Snarky fought off other BEA-ers for an ARC.) And, as you may have heard from Suzie Townsend's blog, You is also poised to be pretty darned amazing. (Or annoying: it does have a cover filled entirely with praise.)

More news as I receive it. Over and out.

On Formatting

I know a lot of you worry about this--even knowing, as you do, that we're evaluating your words and not your drop caps, serifs and spacing.

In the age of the Kindle, many of us simply hit Forward--and the Kindle does all the formatting for us.

But--and I think this is standard for most of us who also read manuscripts on computers--we develop a pattern.

I always go (and yes, I'm a PC person):

CTRL-A (select all)
CTRL-D (font), then click Times New Roman, 12 point
CTRL-2 (double-spaced)

And then I go to the top and make the zoom 150 percent so the letters are big. I occasionally lean back in my chair and use the wireless mouse like a scrolling remote.

So, even if you send your work to me in silly Courier 10 point with single-spacing and zoomed to 25 percent, I'll read it as I prefer to see it.

The only things that annoy me: .docx files (Kindle won't take them--it's not your fault, though, which I know--and it certainly doesn't count against anyone), .pdf files (Pretty Darn Frustrating), and files with extensions my email and I can't recognize. Does any of this matter? Not really. Just don't include pictures of how you envision your cover--and we're good.
It's always a strange moment when you get the editor-approved draft of a work and know that the acknowledgments are buried within its pages. It's heart-pounding: there's always the fear (though almost always unfounded) that your name, as agent, won't appear--and then the rush of delight and relief and warmth and "I love my job"-ness that follow. Forget Sephora: I am glowing.

So, a shout-out my client (you know who you are) who called me "phenomeliscious" in her acknowledgments: thank you. I aspire to no other adjectives.
Just devoured--devoured, I tell you--a manuscript that I started this afternoon. Already done. I'm not usually so fast, but something--something leapt out about this one. I think I freaked out the writer a little: an hour after she sent it, I sent her a note to tell her I liked what I'd read so far. Hmm. Perhaps I should play harder-to-get. What, me? Gatekeeper? Reading the whole thing in one day? Why, never. I'm so busy with important events. Like Young Publishing Group parties on boats. Like tomorrow. (Happily, the boat, the Frying Pan, is docked--and, they promise, doesn't sway too much.) Yesss.

If only they had The Rules for courting manuscripts.

GoodReads New York Literary Pub Crawl

Gatekeeper is attending the GoodReads New York Literary Pub Crawl. Free (excepting drinks) and open to the public. Come along!

Goodreads proudly announces its first New York City Lit Pub Crawl!

Join us as we channel our inner John Cheever and Dorothy Parker with a night of fun in SoHo, Nolita and the East Village.

Start your night right at Housing Works. Grab a bite to eat, have a beer and enjoy readings by 
Colson WhiteheadEmily St. John Mandel andAmy King. After that, we will travel to Botanica and Tom and Jerry's before finishing the night at KGB Bar.

Along the way, toast great American writers. Be prepared to honor your favorites. Perhaps a glass of rye whiskey for Salinger, a champagne cocktail in memory of Parker, a mint julip for Faulkner, a boilermaker for Bukowski, or a splash of Wild Turkey for London.

We will provide a cheat sheet to help you on your writerly way.


Snarky and GK: are the rumors true?!

I'm at Snarky's bachelor pad, sipping champagne (he just got an offer on an amazing new project) and realized: several of you may (now that I think of it, for good reason) think we're dating. Nope: cute as he is, we're just good friends. Sorry, Mom. :)

Thirteen Reasons Why

I'm finally reading Thirteen Reasons Why--started it on the subway this morning.  There were unhappy babies, women yelling at men on cell phones, and a kid kicking me--and I couldn't be distracted. I'm only about 70 pages in, but--wow. This takes a dark strain of teenage thought and takes it a step further--in this case, what if a high school girl kills herself--and leaves audio tapes, maps, explanations for the people who affected her decision? The male author does an amazing job of getting inside a young woman's head--and analyzing a life just as a young woman would.

The website is also pretty amazing.

I'm seriously considering ditching a coffee date and a Literary Death Match to stay home and read. If I go, I may just light up the Bowery Poetry Club with my phone--using it as a light to read more.

So, yes. Market-tested, Gatekeeper approved. Just like Kix.

Did you read it? Love it? Hate it? Throw it across the room? Buy it for your kids? 

New poll to the right.

An Edge-of-Gatekeeper's-seat manuscript

I know I've got a good YA manuscript when it starts to make me uncomfortable--that whole age is uncomfortable, and if I start to get nervous--nervous like I would be, were I to walk down a junior high hallway now (never mind that I'm still the same height as most of the kids), it means the world is vivid, well-drawn, compelling and worth following. And then the sensory stuff starts. YA Protagonist finds her hair was messy while facing a rival; my hand goes to mine, searches for tangles. Protagonist gets hungry, I think (more) about Buffalo mozzarella. Protagonist smiles at a cute boy and her ears flush; mine get warm. Cute boy admits to liking Protagonist--and I grin like an idiot.

And protagonist slowly edges into paranormal territory--but it's page 36 and something better happen by page 60--and my nerves are a wreck. It's like watching television. It's like yelling at the televised soon-to-be-victim, usually a slight girl running up the stairs where a murderer waits, No! Hurry! Get out! Call 911! THERE'S A KILLER IN YOUR COAT CLOSET!

Except...I have faith that something will happen, and at just the right time.

Time for a lunch break to collect myself (Trader Joe's cheesy green chile tamales--highly recommended), and then--we'll see. Aw, who am I kidding? Manuscript is coming with me, on the Kindle.


And yes, just in case you're wondering, Gatekeeper has a *slight* obsession with cheese. The buffalo mozzarella came up because I kept seeing the word "buffalo"; the green tamales--well, I really like them (and not just because they're portable and fit easily into a purse) and eat them often.

But the main thing is that, one time, I came back from a book event, and my boss asked me how it was. My response? "The cheese was excellent!" Now, well, it's a running office joke.

Topics in today's query pile:

  • Bear poaching (1)
  • Schizophrenia (3 mentions)
  • The recession/the Great Depression (3)
  • Water buffalo (1, a herd mentioned)
  • Murderous politicians (2.5)
  • Wheaties (1)
  • Danish countryside (1)
  • "Fiction novel" (3)
  • "Fictional stories" (1)
  • "Nothing like Twilight" (3)
    • As if the writer sincerely believed it was a bad thing and it would hurt his/her chances: (1)
  • Harry Potter (2)
  • Agoraphobia
  • CIA (4)

Total Yes responses: 11. 

Historical fiction: 1
Pet memoir: 1
Travel memoir: 2
YA/Sci Fi: 1
YA/Paranormal: 2
Straight YA: 2
Literary fiction: 1
Commercial fiction: 1
Also, "Fiction: Other" is throwing off my data-collection survey at right. What are you all writing? :)

Query keywords

After a very quick search of certain keywords in my query pile, I have a new set of data for you.

Now, not all of these are exactly what they seem--since it would take a long time to read each one and be sure, keep in mind that some "vampire" hits refer to notes thrown into non-vampire queries--things like, "So, I know it's impossible to sell anything but YA about vampires, but here's my adult nonfiction query..."

If you submitted a request that was  more labor-intensive, that's why it isn't here.

Also note that this data is only for queries in the body of the email; attachments are not searched.

So, for now:

Mentions of the following:

Harry Potter: 73 (13 were just "J.K. Rowling" without mention of title)

Twilight: 111

Eat, Pray, Love: 104

Vampire: 118. Would recommend that you subtract about 15 from this number for aforementioned reasons.

Werewolf: 35. I imagine most people do not use this much except when referring to the moon-inspired beasties.

Angel: hundreds. Seriously hundreds. But keep in mind that one often uses the word "angel" or "angelic" without directly referring to their own work. Some even have the name of Angel, and it pops up, too.

Demon: 113. Subtract a few (probably 10) for writers simply referring to something non-paranormal as "demonic."

Dragon: 98, though a number of these referred to dragon statutes and other dragon objects that were within the story and mattered but did not refer to living, fire-breathing dragons.

Synchronicity--in slush, blogging, e-mail and Snarky

Just as I was posting that last bit about Snarky, I received a note from him:

Hey, someone's life just got turned upside down in my query pile. First one today...

(This refers to this post, paragraph three.)

And then, a moment later:

I also just had someone compare her life dancing salsa to EPL.

And it made me wonder--I know a number of agents. And I have a very full, searchable database for queries. Synchronicity is frequent--one week, we received three stories of 10-year-old girls in 1940s Florida; we also, once, received two manuscripts set in 1800s Ireland--within an hour of each other (and this was back when we got real mail! Thanks, Fed Ex!).

If you could know any easily searchable, quantifiable statistic about the queries we receive--what would you want to know? Anything search term-able and not ethically questionable is a possibility.

I'm meeting with some agents tonight--and, if there are any easily pitch-able suggestions, will see if I can bribe any (with cookies, books, sugar, caffeine, drinks) to search their inboxes and take part as well.

Send me your ideas ASAP--happy hour's at 6:30 GST.1

1 Gatekeeper Standard Time--EST but cooler.)

On Snarky Agent Man

On a less formal note - the identity of "snarky agent man" is killing me. Whoever he is, he's great and I'm glad he stepped in on your blog post about acknowledgments. His response was informational but also very, very amusing.

Glad you think so. Not to worry--though he's very busy at the moment (and probably reading this on his iPhone while dashing off somewhere terribly important), I've started a "bug Snarky for a guest blog" campaign. (And, just so you know, he's equally amusing in person.)

When it works, you'll be the first to know. :)

While we're on the topic of Elizabeth Gilbert...

...please, please, please don't ever compare your work to Eat, Pray, Love.

Really. For your sake and mine: it just isn't wise.

They always say to avoid clichés in your writing. This is true: you should. I've had more "And [protagonist's] world is turned upside down" lines in queries than I'd care to count (probably only about ten, this week, but that's still enough that it's an unwise subject for a drinking game).

But this is probably the largest query cliché. I've seen books on dogs, kids, pain, loss, misery, joy, cooking, and marriage compared to E, P, L. In fact, it seems the go-to "I need something to fill out my Comparative Books section!" book.

To give you an idea, I did a quick search and we have 148 queries in our database that have just this comparison.

If you've got a book that's a memoir of going on a trip to get over your divorce/break-up...okay, fine, go for it. But there are many others. Suzanne Finnamore's Split is excellent; Perfection, though I didn't like the book much, will be a good comparison, in that it shows you were aware of this work when it was a big deal last summer.  There are so many works out there. If you stick only to Oprah's choices and "live under a rock and still hear about it" bestsellers, we'll worry that you aren't well-read.

And--since reading works in your genre is a major part of being a good writer (if you don't, it's like subsisting on cheesy-poofs and expecting to win Olympic marathons), that will worry us.

Branch out, writers. Branch out and read more.

On Elizabeth Gilbert, technical difficulties, and negotiating with your muse.

I'm known for having technical difficulties. Sometimes they involve shoes, while running onto the subway (I slipped and my stack of books went flying; as the entire car stared, I smiled and did a half curtsy: "I meant to do that--naturally"); sometimes they involve Kindles (mine seems not to catch every manuscript I send it) and sometimes--when it has to do with sneaking an ipod with a video/audio recording feature into a reading by, say, Elizabeth Gilbert--the technical difficulty is me. That is, I can't leave it alone. I have to look at it--Hey, is this thing on? Is it still on? Are you sure...?--each time I touch the mike resulting in a dreadful, "So, with Eat, Pray"--SCREEEEEEEEEEECCCCCCCHHHH--"I meditated..."--SCREEECH SHUFFLE SHUFFLE SCREEE....

But she had some excellent advice that I can't help but share with you, in paraphrased form, weeks later: write your ideas when you have them.

Ideas, she said, seem to hover around us waiting for someone who is open to them--a writer, a songwriter, video game designer, anyone. If we don't pounce on them right that moment, expand on them on the page, the life of them fades. We can have napkins with keywords ("turbulence," "single malt scotch," "stain," "lawsuit") that later won't inflate into real-life, real paragraph, scenes. Instead, they become thin lines--all because we waited for a convenient moment to write them down.

Now, New Yorkers are, on the whole, accepting people. I can whip out a Moleskin and start jotting things down on the subway and, so long as I'm not setting the paper on fire with my quick scribbles, no one will look twice.

But if you're in a less accepting area of the country, I recommend the following: get out your phone, send a text to yourself (or save it in its drafts folder), and then say something like, "Sorry, that couldn't wait. So, cupcakes?"

After all, for whatever reason, it's far more acceptable to interrupt a conversation to Tweet what you eat than to capture an idea that may be your next big project. Go figs.

Elizabeth Gilbert described one of her friend's negotiations with his muse. He was a famous songwriter (she didn't mention his name) and was hit with the bars of a song he couldn't get out of his head. Trouble was, he was on the freeway. With no paper. No pen. No recording device. And finally he looked up at the clouds and yelled, "Hey! You! If you want to be a song, you have to come back later! Can't you see I'm busy??"

E-Gil's described the same thing--being in the middle of something, and having to negotiate with her muse. "Don't go to Barbara Kingsolver's house," she begged the idea.

What do you do when you're hit with an idea in a public place? Do you excuse yourself, dash home to your computer? Rush to the ladies' with your notebook? Do you keep your laptop in your car for such purposes? Or is your muse on a 9-to-5 (or kids' bedtime-to-your-bedtime) schedule?

This is Calliope, the muse the you're likely dealing with. 
Can you imagine negotiating with this woman? No, neither can I. 
This is, perhaps, the most important thing you'll learn all day:

That's right: MTV's Daria is coming to DVD.

And then things started to blow up: how my friend getting an agent (on her first try) helped me write a darker novel

Gatekeeper's note: as my friend told me this story, it was all I could do to not grip my teacup and start thinking of how I would have felt in this situation. We've all had a friend succeed in a way that makes us wonder how we'll ever speak with them comfortably again--and it's all the worse when it seems their luck comes without our hard work and preparation. Here's how one writer transformed her friend's unlikely success--and the inherent unfairness of the publishing process--into a darker, more successful world for her characters. 

By: A friend of Gatekeeper

It wasn’t that her book was bad—the plot of my friend’s first novel was, actually, pretty great. But it was rough—extremely rough. She’d started it as a sort of, “Hey, I think I’ll write a novel!” project—a casual hobby—while I’d been writing short pieces professionally for years. (I even had an agent until my manuscripts didn’t sell, and he subsequently dropped me. I’ve been looking for a new one for a few months now.) She needed help with what I thought of as the beginner stuff—editing and character building and submitting—and I was happy to share what I’d learned.

Most first books need work, and I’d be embarrassed to read my first book now. Hers was filled with errors, and though I started making line edits, I gave up at about page 30. There were just too many. She wanted to send it out immediately, and though I cringed at the thought of sending it in that condition, I just didn’t feel like it was my place to discourage her.

And then she got an agent. On her first freaking try.

I wanted to be happy for her. But when I heard…well, I flipped out.

I started bawling. And not those tiny, silent tears, but big, fat, sobbing-so-hard-I-could-barely-see-through-my-eyes tears. My partner tried to console me, but I wasn’t even able to form words. Well, words that weren’t four letters long, anyway.

And that’s when I started to blow stuff up.

In my book, I mean. I started to blow stuff up in my book. There were bloody fights and my underage protagonist was drinking. Heavily.

I’d been playing it safe. My normal tone is wholesome (frankly, I was a little disturbed by The Hunger Games). But an agent had seen my newest project and told me—several times—that I needed to go darker. Edgier. Angrier. I knew she was right—but I needed that extra push.

And watching my friend get an agent so easily—well, it pissed me off enough that I could be that writer.

After I’d dried my eyes, I opened my computer and began to write. Unfortunately for the characters in my novel, I’d entered into full-on fury mode and the fates of everyone were suddenly up in the air. People were being blown away and beaten to a pulp. It was a serious change from where the book had started out.

I write about five pages a day, sometimes with my cats curled up beside me. My partner leaves me to my writing time, happy to get a little peace and quiet (when I’m not writing, I tend to get a little chatty).

I’m now about fifty pages from the end, and have added about a dozen scenes depicting some serious, but necessary, acts of violence to my manuscript. I should be finished with my first draft by the end of May and I still need to go back and make the first fifty pages match the rest. It’s easy to see the difference between the “before my friend got an agent” writing—and after.

I’m not completely over the fact that she got something I want so badly, and it’s still a little difficult to see her. The last time we met up, I even had to have another friend tell me exactly what to say if she brought up the agent stuff—that way I didn’t end up saying something along the lines of “How the hell did this happen!? And why didn’t it happen to me!?”

But the experience, frustrating as it was, has made me a better writer. If nothing else, I can tell the “go darker” agent that I’ve followed her advice. It’s opened up new worlds in my writing—some violent, some bloody, some explosive, all dark—that, before this, I would never would have thought possible.

So what’s next? I’ll go back to the agents (“go darker” agent first), back to the Jeff Herman, back to submitting, back to writing while I wait for rejections and requests. I’ll give it a few days, wish my friend congratulations—and actually mean it.

And if my friend gets a three-book deal, a six-figure advance, an auction?

Well, my characters had better watch out.

And today's "bad idea for your query's first line" award goes to:

"I'm not sure if we're a good match or not."

On Acknowledgments

Gatekeeper's note: I swear on a stack of manuscripts that this is not intended for any of my clients. You are all gracious, lovely, well-researched human beings, and know all of this already.

Rather, this is a more detailed look at a part of the publishing process most of us only dream about. With that in mind...


Oh, snap. So you've got your book deal, you're about to send in the final draft, and you've been thinking about this moment for years. (Just the way ten-year-olds of the theatrical persuasion stand in front of mirrors with a play crown and gold toy and practice thanking the Academy.) But--uh-oh. You've written a 300 pages (I know you're too bright to have included acknowledgments with your proposal/partial/full--really, really you are), but this suddenly seems darned stressful. Whom do you thank? How much space do you have? Do you have to thank everyone? (No.) Should you thank your agent? (You'd better.) What about your preschool teacher who handed you your first piece of lined paper? The second-grade teacher that taught you cursive? Well....

You get about three pages. Sorry, that's the absolute max. It costs money to print extra pages in your book, you know.

Here, the obvious contenders:
  • Your agent (duh)
  • Your editor (also duh)
A note: if, for some reason, you hate both of them, you'll just end up looking bad if you don't thank them. Anyone who reads your book (especially if they're in publishing) is very likely to check out the acknowledgments to see which of their colleagues has contributed to a work. (Really! It's fun. And a great getting-in-touch excuse: "I was reading and loving _____ and saw it was yours! That's awesome! Let's have lunch.") And you don't want anyone in the industry to think you ungrateful or ungracious. Or oblivious. 

If you seriously spend your days wishing they'd burst into flames just so you can rush-order a drop-delivery of gasoline, well, then you could just include them in a big long list of people to thank. Would anyone realize that some of the other names are about as significant as your newspaper delivery boy who always takes out your plants/windows/small pets and the woman who sold you a pen ten years ago? No. No one will know but you. And those who know you well enough to ask, but they probably won't.

Some not-so-obvious contenders:
  • Writing teachers/professors/coaches 
  • Anyone who read a draft before the final one
  • Anyone who helped you find your agent
  • Anyone who helped you significantly in your submissions process
A not-so-obvious contender who no one will tell you about, but you're expected to know:
  • The agent's assistant. After all, except in very rare cases, were it not for him/her, the agent would never have seen your work. Whether they chatted with you on the phone, sent you long emails about how much they love your work, etc., is irrelevant. When I was an assistant, the vast majority of authors were very grateful and put kind words in their acknowledgments. But there was one writer (who I helped more than usual) who didn't. I'm still a bit displeased about that. 
  • Ditto with assistants at the publishing house. Really, thanking anyone who works in the industry is just going to make you look gracious. 
  • If you love your cover, and know the name of the designer, you can thank him/her by name.
  • Consider, basically, anyone whose name you learn throughout the process. 
Now, as for what to say. Yes, you can go with the whole list thing. This makes sense if the list is really, really long. (Careful, though. You'll look a bit ridonkulous if you have 300 names.) But personal comments mean, of course, the most.

I read one of my very favorite acknowledgments this morning, which made me think of all of this:
"Not only does [the editor] have the patience of Mother Teresa, but she can keep more balls in the air than any juggler I know, and never drops a single one. She personifies grace under pressure. If [she] weren't an editor, she'd make a great emergency room doctor, or head of state."

Sweet. Who wouldn't love to be called Mother Teresa, a skilled juggler, supremely competent, and worthy of massive world power all at once? Wowza.

And, again, to my lovely clients reading this: no, this is not a hint. I promise. Pinkie swear with a chocolate butter cookie on top. Or if, for some strange reason, you dislike chocolate (I don't think any of my clients are so silly), a ridiculously difficult, very pretty, rolled-up, candy-striped Martha cookie. That'll keep you busy for the next few hours.

Questions? Responses? Discuss.

"Adding a dragon won't help."

Check out my (agent) friend Roseanne on (agent) Colleen Lindsay's blog!

And yes, she does discuss dragons.
Now that it's almost considered helping the little guy to shop at a brick and mortar store (what is the world coming to?) I'm somewhat less embarrassed to admit that I am a shameless user of the B&N store pick-up program.

Find the book you're looking for, click on its cover, click Find in a Store, type in your zip, search, click Pick Me Up, fill out a form and get a text when it's ready. It'll be waiting behind the counter in an hour.

The Strand has the same--but it takes a few days. For "I want that book NOW" situations, B&N works well.
One of the other agents on my panel this morning says that she gets back to all writers within three weeks--at which point, I believe, the other agent and I froze, mouths open. Three weeks? Really? Most agents take three months!

"Do you ever get a ridiculous pile of manuscripts, like 80, in your inbox?" I'd asked her--the way one makes pleasant, upbeat small talk--before the panel.

"I don't request very many," she said. I wasn't sure if it was a "You mean you do?" or a "You don't know not to?" or an "I'm just picky" or a "My email can hold a total of one megabyte" or an "I never counted" response.

Oh well.

She was carrying a Strand bag--most people carrying Strand bags are nice--so I will assume it was an "I'm just picky."

And yes, they do literally have 18 miles of books, if one measures each shelf. 

Here she comes to save the day...!

...well, not really. Have you ever tried to save the day in heels? Yeah...good luck with that.

I'm off to one of the best indie conferences in the NY area--I can't help but have a soft spot in my Gatekeeper heart for them as, two years ago, they were my first conference gig--to speak on an early-morning (9 am on a Saturday--and 45 mins travel time! Geez! Don't they know we're writers?!) "What it's like to work with an agent" panel. Last year, there was a panelist who said, "There's no point in having an agent, no point in traditional publishers--they don't want your work anyway/just want to steal all your money/are only interested in celebrity books," so we got a lot of follow-up questions in our panel. Today, we're top of the bill, first thing after the bagels and welcome, so I'm hoping we can set them on a good path for the rest of the day.

Here's my Saturday:

6:37 am: wake up in a panic: is that my special alarm or my normal alarm, which would mean the panel's already started?! Yikes!

7:30 am: hop on subway, hope for the best.

9:00 am: agent panel

10:00-10:30: chat with writers post-panel

10:45-2:30: frantically shop for birthday present (see below) or, at the very least, easiest-sangria-in-the-world recipe (red wine + orange juice + sugar/simple syrup if you have it + very fizzy seltzer + slices of pretty fruit + clear glass carafe that can survive a subway ride). I do hope I'll have enough time/presence of mind, so that I don't end up slicing  fruit on the subway. That would be awkward.

3:30: birthday party #1 in Prospect Park--a picnic for my new friend from Prague

6:00: cocktail reception at the indie conference.

6:30/7: birthday #2, for the same friend who had us making the fancy wedding invite envelopes with liners (see several posts down). Do I have a present yet? Why, no. I kept waiting to see if inspiration would strike and I'd know just what to get her. Here's hopin.'

Happy Saturday, everyone!