I think the URL says it all:


Need a pep talk? Here ya go.

Do you ever get to that point in your caffeine cycle (just after lunch, just before the next cup of tea kicks in), or that point in your negotiations with your family ("Being a writer is a real job, Ma!") or--perhaps--that point in your writing process, when you're just about to begin a new project and can't think of anything? Where you just feel, well, tired, discouraged, and in need of a six pound bag of gummi bears? 

A pep talk will help. Where's that pep talk, you ask? Surely GK doesn't mean your friends (who may  have been giving them to you weekly/daily/hourly for years), or your cat? Nope, there's a whole other on-demand, surprisingly fun, really pleasant pep talk at your disposal: How to Become A Famous Writer Before You're Dead.

My mom (never one in need of convincing as far as the writing life is concerned) handed me a copy last summer, and I spent hours reading it in our backyard hammock. It was a perfect escape into a world where writing is fun, exciting, creative, dynamic, totally possible, and really, really clever. 

And recently, needing something to read, and having grown disenchanted with my current new picks, I plucked this pretty aqua tome from my shelves. It's fun to read, even the second time. It's helpful. It's inspiring. It's (currently) $6.98 on Amazon, probably less at your local used bookstore. 

It's so good, I'll probably offer it as a prize next time I have a contest. You know, after I get it together with the financing the writing life questions, finish two online interviews, read the gazillion manuscripts in my inbox, and finish up the contract for Swordfish Shirt Man. 

So, if I were you, I'd order it now. 

Romance, Women's Fiction, or Chick Lit?

Dear Mighty AG, What's the difference between Contemporary Romance and Women's Fiction?

I think this question is best answered with a quiz. Are we working with stereotypes here? Yes, absolutely. Your work may not fall into any of these categories. But, in an effort to "inform and/or entertain" (which is exactly what many imprints are now looking for), here you go:


Let's say your book was written/published by someone else, you read it, and really liked it. Would you share this work with your mother?

A) Yes. Absolutely. But, then again, Mom's got three tattoos and a motorcycle.
B) Yes, but only to help her write her own novel.
C) Yes. She's a great shopping buddy, and would appreciate the details.
D) Not sure. The writing is excellent and "justifies" the steamy bits, though.
E) Of course! I think a lot of mothers would like it and consider it good reading for their daughters.

What would be most fitting on the cover of your work?

A) A shirtless hunk/scantily clad woman.
B) A shoe, stemmed beverage, purse, lipstick, or car.
C) A vase of flowers, a boat, a set table, a room, a forest, an ocean, a watercolor.
D) A text-only cover, but with exciting fonts.

What's your protagonist up to in the first scene?

A) Some ridiculous errand for her boss/supervisor/job.
B) She's in bed with her love interest.
C) She's hanging out with her mother/sister/a friend.
D) Bungee jumping, surfing, traveling.

Is your work:

A) Highbrow
B) Middlebrow
C) Mid- to Lowbrow
D) Overplucked brow

Would a reviewer describe your work as "steamy"?

A) I sure hope so!
B) Perhaps, but they'd emphasize other elements, too.
C) No.

Would euphemisms like "her mound" appear anywhere in your work?

A) Yes, but they're tasteful.
B) Yes, but they're more explicit.
C) Yes, but the characters make fun of them over drinks.
D) Only if it refers to a literal mountain, which the protagonist is climbing.

Now, let's analyze. 

First, let's note that there is a fair amount of overlap. There's women's fiction with a romantic element (though a lot of it does involve romance to some degree), sophisticated romance, and--well, that whole other beguiling beast, chick lit.

I think of chick lit as a lighter subset of women's fiction, which usually involves more in the way of handbags, beauty treatments, shopping, and stemmed drinks. I would consider Sex and the City chick lit, not romance, for example--even though there are steamy sections--simply because the emphasis is on friendships and analyzing these encounters, rather than the mere having of them.

That said, a lot of women (and female agents) are put off by the term "chick lit"--so, unless they use the term themselves, I would advise you to stick with "women's fiction."

First question: this depends, obviously, on your mother. I, for one, would not share romance novels with my mother (not that I read them that often, but when I do). Women's fiction, however, is just fine. Literary fiction is more than fine. So if you answered A or B, I have no idea. If you answered C, you're edging toward chick lit. D & E imply women's fiction.

Let's talk covers. A implies romance. B looks like chick lit. C & D are women's fiction. D may be just plain literary fiction.

First scene: A sounds like chick lit or women's fiction. B, romance. C & D, women's fiction.

Brows: A & B are women's fiction. C is romance. D is chick lit.

Steam: A is romance. B & C are women's fiction.

Euphemisms: amusing as they are, they aren't often used seriously in women's fiction. A could be women's fiction. B is romance. C is chick lit, and D is women's fiction.
GK just accepted an offer on a fabulously quirky, read-sections-to-friends-over-drinks hilarious nonfiction book for teens. It's got a wonderful message, and has the potential to make thousands of kids feel better about themselves.

In case any of you remember Swordfish Shirt Guy (he sent me a shirt with a grinning cartoon swordfish that says, "The swordfish: the ocean's ULTIMATE DUELER!"), it's him. YA nonfiction isn't doing especially well right now, but I loved the project so much, I had to take it on--and I'm so pleased that it's going to a good home.

I'M A CHILDREN'S BOOK AUTHOR! he yelled so loudly that I had to take the phone from my ear. I DON'T KNOW YOU BUT I LOVE YOU! I'M SO STOKED!!!!

It sounds like he's sending me something. I sure hope it isn't a surfing, singing telegram--but it could be.

Further proof that NYC is weird

This is Rosita the Muppet from Sesame Street at the always-fabulous (this day, super-fabulous) NYC Greenmarket.
Photo from the Your Railroad Gate blog. 
So let's say the worst case (in my mind) scenario occurs, and the process of getting a book published has been streamlined down to e-mailing your book to Amazon, signing and faxing a boilerplate agreement (same for everyone, probably with terms about as bad as those attached to selling books on their site--and with no wiggle room) and collecting the tiny percentage they think is fair (probably deposited into your account quarterly). This would mean no agents, no editors, no publishing houses, and probably no bookstores. Print on demand will probably also become obsolete, since everyone will have an e-reader of some sort--the way many people have an ipod (even if they don't use it) now.

As Michelle of the AGGGHHHHH blog pointed out, "success" (or financial success, or number of copies sold) would depend on popularity versus (define it as you will) merit.

Now, let's explore this. From a purely theoretical standpoint, releasing all books into the world is sort of egalitarian: each book has an equal shot of making it big (assuming Amazon doesn't pick favorites); however, each book's average chance is much diminished, since there is so much to wade through.

If the book popularity contests were run similarly to, say, those of Senior Class President (though books can't promise vacation days and free candy at recess), I think we'd have quite a lot to worry about.

Readers tend to be those who question these dynamics in society at large--I think many of us want someone sorting through the seemingly limitless reading possibilities for us, first--want books chosen based on pre-approved criteria--and don't trust the masses to make these determinations for us. In this scary hypothetical, as I've mentioned, new voices--probably reviewers--would have to emerge to help us.

That said, is it really fair to continue as we have been--to put the future of literature in the hands of the few (the agents and editors) who are, largely, educated in a particular way (liberal arts or ivy league schools), with particular tastes (middle to high brow), with particular socioeconomic backgrounds (usually upper middle class), particular upbringings (usually in or near major cities), particular political leanings (you can imagine) and, within that, totally subjective, but limited subjective, tastes?

So I put the question to you, readers: what seems more fair? And, since we're existing in a world of business, where "fair" doesn't always happen--what seems most likely?

Don't want to comment? Vote with a click at right.
Also, should any of you be interested in a fabulous Mad Men blog...http://madmenunbuttoned.com/

Speak of the (e-book) devil...

So, you know how, a few days ago, I was chatting with a few other agents about how we should really agitate to get writers more than 25 percent royalty on e-books?

Apparently the Wylie agency agrees, but has taken it a step further: they've declared themselves an e-book publisher AND agency, and--oh yeah--they only do business with Amazon. Holy "try to make everyone else in the universe obsolete" move, Batman!

A lot of people are upset: bookstores that are not Amazon, publishers that are not Wylie/"Odyssey Books"--seriously?! Odysseus resisted sirens AND Calypso, but Odyssey Books has given in to the dark side in a move even a cyclops would find myopic.

Random House has officially refused to do business with them.

I'm sure the AAR is FLIPPING OUT, and/or drinking heavily. Perhaps that's why they haven't commented yet.

Writers who think publishing should be "e-mail file to Amazon, collect check"--well, this is one big step closer.

GK predicts something will stop the Odyssey. Boat trouble?

So let's say Wylie's idea of consolidating everything catches on, and eventually getting published really does just mean sending your manuscript to Amazon.

What would we have then? Oh yes: hundreds and hundreds of thousands of books a year--and no good method of sorting through them, or having any idea of what to read next.

We're used to a model by which agents and publishers narrow that field, because they're the ones who become materially invested. But when it becomes possible for anyone to publish--and if, unlike with hard copy self-publishing, e-self publishing makes publisher brands irrelevant--we're still going to need tastemakers.

Who will they be? Likely candidates: book reviewers for well-known publications. Bloggers with large fan bases. Even--if you start building online readership now--you.

I mentioned to my boss a few ways we could make our office more like Don Draper's. She offered gin; I may just take her up on that.

Should anyone care to join me, I'm having a g+t at 5 EST.

I found this clever.

I received this in my submissions e-mail today:

Dear Gatekeeper,
I was delighted to get your request for a full of my manuscript, [TITLE]. As per your request, I've copied the query letter into the body of this email. And I've attached the manuscript and the synopsis to the email in the MS word format. I look forward to hearing from you.

[Author name]

Sorry, couldn't resist plagiarizing your blog advice. It was better than, "Thanks, here's the manuscript." Oh, and thanks for the pie chart. That is useful.

Also: to those of you kind enough to offer to be interviewed for a piece on supporting the writing lifestyle--questions are coming soon. This week has been wonderful, but very busy.
Never fear, readers: though this year's industry parties almost never involve shrimp or soft cheeses, we're still managing to have a good time.

Last night, the publisher threw a huge party for our author, whose delightful upmarket women's fiction (seriously--I felt like standing up and cheering while reading it) just came out in gorgeous hardcover.

And the party--since the book's very smart plot hinges on a makeover--was held in a really amazing salon in Nolita (which is basically Soho with a different name--it is, like Soho, seemingly populated mostly by bankers and models). So, the entire party smelled yummy. We drank sparkling white wines while chatting with excited book fans. Our worlds are very small and interconnected; I had strange connections with two people there (one because she was in the Broadway touring company of 101 Dalmatians, and a friend of mine was one of the stage nannies for the kids). She invited me to join her "forgotten classics" book group. I'm pleased as punch.

I also met writing hopefuls, the author's amazing friends, and so many people who fell in love with the book.

The salon did a wonderful job of combining new, sparkling facilities while keeping the original details. A new sculpted ceiling gave way to the original (though polished) tin designs; voluptuous lampshades sat on delicate lamps; a left-handed chaise (my favorite sort of reading furniture) sat next to a table of scented soy candles, cubes of organic soap, and delicious-smelling lotions. Yum.

The editor was very happy. The author was very happy. Everyone was smiling and so pleased to come together for a night to celebrate a great book. Kudos, team. Kudos.

Ruling the (Publishing) World, One Pint at a Time

Last night, over pints of a beer called (I kid you not) Showers of Flowers (a delicious dark wheat), eight agents met to discuss the business, our places in it, and various summer calamities (hacked websites, bosses stuck in Africa, authors getting bad highlights before book tours).

One major topic of discussion: e-book royalties. All of the agents in attendance were under thirty, and seeing as e-books are going to be a large part of our (and our clients') future earnings--we're rather concerned. E-books cost very little to produce, yet the standard royalty rate isn't much more than that of hardcovers. Also, traditional publishers currently assume they get e-book rights with hard copy rights, even though they offer a royalty rate that sucks compared to e-only publishers. (Granted, there are numerous drawbacks to e-only publishers, but those will fix themselves over time.)

We'd like an escalating rate, regardless--after all, once the e-book production has paid for itself, and since the publisher has an infinite supply at no cost to them--why should the author only get 25 percent? Yes, that will probably, eventually, prove to be a low-water mark--but we'd like that to change sooner rather than later.

Imagine if you signed a contract with that rate today--thus locking in that rate for that book forever--and then, the next day, hear that the standard has changed! I'd probably throw a Kindle out the window. (Making sure not to hit any birds, butterflies*, or other urban wildlife, of course.)

In addition, many backlist books--and even frontlist books--are selling in electronic form without proper records. This is much easier to do with electronic books, as you can imagine, since it's not easy to make cases of inventoried books disappear. I don't know about you, but to me, this sounds like voting machines without paper trails: that is, not an especially confidence-inspiring idea. (Apologies to Diebold fans.)

Do we think the big publishers are purposely stealing thousands of dollars from authors on purpose? No. As a rule, publishers are not evil. Do we think there's revenue due to authors that isn't getting to them? Most likely.

The bottom line: Are we happy? No. Are we going to do something about it? We'll try.

See, if everyone at the table asked all of their agent friends to join a sort of young agents' group--not a group for collusion, mind you, but for lobbying--well, we'd have 100 young agents, perhaps more. Would the AAR listen to us then? Probably. That'd be great. Would publishers? As soon as the recession abates, we think so, and we're going to hit the ground running.

So. We'll see. I very much enjoy feeling like I'm part of a group that can, with our shared brainpower, make a difference for authors.

If anyone inspires confidence, these other young agents do. As I've said before, I'd be completely comfortable with them running the world.

And maybe they will some day.

Last night's beer spot: Jimmy's 43

* On the topic of butterflies: yes, we've had gorgeous ones flap in the office window. We gently put them back into the open city air.

"She lives for weird"--Sloane Crosley on her double life as book publicist and humor writer

You know how they always tell writers to stay as far away from publishing as humanly possible? No one ever offers a good reason--in fact, the best reason I know (that it gives your internal editor the equivalent of steroids while keeping your writerly sense on a starvation diet) is rarely elaborated upon.

There's a delightful (yes, there I go again) piece on Sloane Crosley, of I Was Told There'd Be Cake, in New York Magazine--she discusses her beginnings in publishing (she's now a full-time deputy director of publicity for Vintage/Anchor books) and the quirks of her life (temporal-spatial deficit disorder, hipster clowns, ponies). And it would seem she's doing quite well on both fronts--the New York Observer called her "The most popular publicist in New York" (though, in the same article, it mentions that Candace Bushnell once told her to get out of publishing, because she'd never be able to afford nice things like yachts).

When Cake came out, we couldn't, it seemed, escape her--but that was all right; she's pleasant, perky, and was very nice to me when I told her that my office had listened to her talk on NPR about her experiences at a literary agency. She was reading from her piece, "The Ursula Cookie" in Cake--she had a terror of a boss (I do have a few theories about who it might have been) and, in the end, in a desperate offering for peace, she makes a misguided cookie shaped like her boss, "Ursula."

But perhaps what I find most charming, in addition to her ability to make the strange and quirky cohesive, is that in interviews, she's always quite happy to talk about how she somehow managed to make the successful writer/day job in publishing thing work.

"It's incredibly intimidating," she says, "but I feel like you have to be intimidated by some things to function. You know it's over if you're no longer starstruck. When I was [an assistant] at HarperCollins, Russell Banks called, and it was as if [he were] the Easter Bunny."

Quite the opposite of the usual Publishing steamrollers your soul refrain--and, I think, more accurate.

I haven't read How Did You Get This Number, but if it's like her first work, it's probably unabashedly unusual, laugh-on-the-subway funny, cringeworthy, and gives you the sort of, "No! Don't do that...!" feeling one gets while watching Curb Your Enthusiasm.

But, somehow, it's always far less satisfying to yell at books than characters on television.

Now, some of you have offered yourselves up for the fictitious (really, there's no practical way to do such a thing) "Be an agent for a month" experiment; others have done the blog-comment equivalent of running, screaming, in the other direction. Why your strong reactions? I'm curious. New poll to the right. Comments, as always, more than welcome.

Experiencing writer's block? Make a music video!

Here's what Jackson Pearce, author of the very awesome Sisters Red (a modern interpretation of Little Red Riding Hood, in which two sisters go after wolves with hatchets), did: make a music video!

Many thanks to the Ramblings of a Drifting Mind blog, where I found this.

And no, you don't need to post videos of yourself dancing around your apartment to be a successful writer. Not at all. Gatekeeper, for one, never would. This is just one of many ways to promote a book and author. If you're looking for more, check out Get Known Before the Book Deal. I haven't personally read it, but many of my industry friends like it.

Recession Rejections: and other things that make Gatekeeper want to hide under her desk

My pie chart--the one about work rejected, and why, in the Life of Pie post at right--is, I realize, something that needs updating: it was made in times when publishing parties were plentiful, and often involved shrimp--when it was much easier to sell serious nonfiction, and when there was just far less worry within the editorial ranks.

I'll be spending the next few months compiling new data--and, when that's ready, we can compare and contrast rejections in flush times versus reasons for rejections in the age of feared layoffs.

The market has changed--it is always changing, in that strange way that tastes and fashions and trends and zeitgeists change--but I don't think it's simply because of money. Time has passed. The world goes on. Have a lot of nonfiction imprints gone slightly more upbeat, pop, entertainment-versus-information oriented? Yes. I had lunch with an editor recently who says her imprint is doing just that. But many serious topics can be treated in this matter--if the author is having fun while writing, so too can the reader while reading. Escapism--just as it was necessary during the 1930s--is quite popular now. No one wants to read something that will make them feel even worse.

That said, I do think that most "I can't take this on because of the economy" rejections are--unless they're elaborated upon--generally cop-outs. One either loves a work or doesn't. Does one fall in love more easily, more often in flush times? Yes. Are edit-staffers busier now than before, since there are fewer of them and more projects per? Yes. Does one get editorial/agency backing more easily when, it seems, everyone is buying books rather than using their local, now-underfunded library? Yes. But unless someone says, "I can't take this because sales in this genre are down" or "My editorial board wasn't convinced we can afford to do this"--well, I tend to believe it's an easy way out.

After all, does one say to a date, "I would have fallen in love with you, if only the restaurant had had incandescent amber bulbs versus garish florescent?" One would hope not. You never know with those NYC males: I just heard about one who sends form letters, post-dates.

(Incidentally, I was walking with a friend recently, and we saw a statue of a man on horseback, the horse charging into war. "That used to be the model for New York masculinity," I sighed. "Now it's getting manicures with clear polish instead of beige.")

That said, were there not easy ways out, worst-case scenario communications protocol, epistolary trapdoors--we'd never request anything again. I mean, we would, but it'd be with great trepidation.

Now, you must understand that, if we were to directly address, face head-on, the enormous discomfort that comes with finding just what to say, and pinpointing what isn't working--we'd be overwhelmed, perhaps (in some cases) hide under our desks. I am small and fit under a desk easily.

For those who use form letters, formula letters, and utilize phrasing from earlier rejections--they're great awkwardness abaters. Can't think of what to say to the memoir writer who's experienced terrible things? Cut and paste! Can't pinpoint what isn't working? Xerox and stuff that SASE! Don't want to tell someone the awful truth--that we don't think their work will do well, but really, is it our place to say so?--Canned Responses to the rescue! It's an issue of time, of course, too--but the idea of deciding whether or not to say certain phrases--deciding whether it'd be better or worse for the author to know exactly what we're thinking--is far more stressful than trying to keep on top of our incoming avalanches.

Again, I'd love to try an experiment: Dear Writer, You have won the Be An Agent For a Month contest! Come to the office. We'll ply you with pounds of slush. Your job? Get back to everyone in a timely fashion! Don't let anything good slip through your fingers! Don't take on anything bad! Be gracious to everyone! You have 100 manuscripts for today! GO!

Please reply to this message with a copy of your query, synopsis/proposal, manuscript/sample chapters, and proof that you're human.

Though a lot of agents are too afraid to ask for it--thinking that it implies that they don't know how to sort all of the 100s of submissions they receive each month--most will appreciate it if you include your query with your submission, whether electronic or hard copy.

That said, it's always best to include a little note, too.

So, let's say you've attached your synopsis and manuscript, partial or proposal--and pasted the query in the body of the email.

Just above that, you have an excellent opportunity to make yourself seem human. (Not that we assume you're manuscript robots, but we do like to feel we're corresponding with a real, live person. After all, isn't the whole pleasure of correspondence picturing the other person reading what we've written? And yes, GK is having a week of real letters--I discovered a box of vintage Fun With Dick and Jane cards and am writing in them with a fountain pen.)

Here are the three types I receive:

1. No note. Just query. Snooooooooze. I'm always a little disappointed.

2. OMIGAWSH YOU TOTALLY MADE MY DAY THIS IS THE BEST THING EVER THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!! Okay. This is charming in small doses, but you're going to make me want to drink a gallon of coffee before I even consider opening your files. I want to keep up, after all.

3. I was delighted to get your request for a full of my manuscript, TITLE OF MANUSCRIPT. As per your request, I've copied the query letter into the body of this email. And I've attached the manuscript and the synopsis to the email in the MS word format. I look forward to hearing from you. 

And...perfect. I also like words like "delighted" and "wonderful"--so either this author did her research, or she has a similar sensibility. She's going to the top of my reading pile.

Let Gatekeeper Eat Cake.

I'm speaking with the author of a hilarious Marie Antoinette book tomorrow--which is, incidentally, Bastille Day.
Are you wittly, writerly and willing? Then you should volunteer to be interviewed (anonymously, if you like) for an upcoming post about financing the writing lifestyle. Either leave an anonymous comment with a way to get hold of you, or drop me a line at AgencyGatekeeper@gmail.com.

To contribute with a click, see poll at right.

Charles and Emma

I have a work on submission with editors that involves a very pleasing, smart romance between a young man of religion and a clever, disbelieving (and yes, of legal age) teenager--who maintains her cynicism throughout their relationship.

One of the editors wrote back to say that this is just perfectly timed; she's just read Charles and Emma.

Not knowing what this was, I picked up a copy. It's adorable. It's a biography of a relationship that reads like a tiny (though told in summary) novel. Emma reads Jane Austen novels and her friends assure her that her match with Charles Darwin will be just like something out of them (though, of course, it wasn't); Charles has her read novels to him in the evenings by the fire, and says that "A novel, according to [his] taste, does not come into the first class unless it contains some person whom one can thoroughly love, and if it be a pretty woman, all the better."

Both characters are quite lovable. Emma never expected marriage, and stays single until 30--quite unusual at that time. And this occupies the rather narrow shelf of YA nonfiction--biography. But it's enjoyable for adults, too--especially those who like love stories. Highly recommended.

Referring to the post below:

"Mobs with torches" I thought all publicity was good publicity? :)

I like my writers unsinged, thank you.

Pseudonymus Bosch

So, let's say--perhaps because you're writing racy work and don't want your kids to read it, perhaps because you're positing a new theory that will likely lead to mobs with torches--or perhaps, simply, because it seems like a writerly thing to do--you are considering adopting a pen name.

There's an excellent chapter on this in How to Become A Famous Writer Before You're Dead, by Ariel Gore (whose own name, she said, went from purposely androgynous to as girlie as Jennifer after Disney released The Little Mermaid): she reminds the reader that it's poor form to change your pen name mid-career, that they're a very permanent choice, and that if you really want to impress the people at your high school reunion, it's much easier if the book is in your name.

That said, let's say you have a really good reason to use one, and you've chosen something your friends and family (or, if you're hiding your work from them, a trusted, perhaps online, confidant) think will withstand all of the changes of your career--even if, someday, you decide to switch genres, tones, approaches, and/or subject matter. (Pen names for romance novelists could be quite different than pen names for writers of serious political theory, for example.)

Let's say your work is--not to flatter yourself--positioned to be explosive, and no one can know this is you. Or even if you just want to be known by your pen name by everyone in the business. How do you query?

Well. I've received a number of e-queries (with e-mail addresses that match, of course) signed with pseudonyms. That's just fine--you don't have to give me your real name before I've expressed interest--so long as you mention that this is a pen name.

I'm going to be a little freaked out, though, if I send you an Author-Agent Agreement and it comes back with a different name on it.

So, no. You can't have an agent who doesn't know your real name, address, social security number (so that we can pay you and send you your 1099) and, well, identity. Sorry. Unless, perhaps, if you offer to not get paid. But that'd still be weird and perhaps legally questionable, unless you donate the proceeds to charity or something.

If you were any of the people in this painting, you'd want a pseudonym, too.
The Temptation of Saint Anthony by Hieronymus Bosch 

In queries, if you're especially concerned, no worries. Just mention it's a pen name. After the agent has seen your partial and/or likes it and/or has expressed interest, remind them that you mentioned it was a pen name and that your real name is _________. Or, I guess, if you're really super worried you'll get death threats from your work, tell them it's a pen name but don't tell your agent until they've signed you. They'll think you're a little weird and paranoid, but it won't (hopefully) change their decision.

The editor, most likely, also needs to know who you are--though I could see how it would be possible to have a special arrangement, to be discussed once they're interested in the work.

Still, you can't sign contracts with your pseudonym, and we can't pay you unless you sign your W-9. Good luck doing that (as Ariel Gore called herself awhile) as Crystal Harmony.

Another matter: copyright. At some point, the editor will ask your agent if you want the copyright in your name or in your pseudonym's. Unless you really don't care about people finding out who you are, I'd suggest the latter. There are a number of options for filling out your copyright form here. ("________ writing as _______," versus "_______, pseudonym.")

Note, too, that you can still get sued. You've created the character of the writer, which is still a legal entity. If no one finds out who you are then, yes, your scathing family memoir is somewhat more protected, as they can't claim that you're making them look bad.

Otherwise, though--the real life character that is the author of your books is just as liable as anyone real.

How do we know you're lying? Wellll.....

So, Colin brought up an interesting point--if it's rude to mention which other agents are interested in your work (and it is--though I'd say it's worth feigning ignorance of this point if it's a superstar agent), then how do agents know you're telling the truth in your Hi, I received another offer, and the agent asked I be in touch by next week note?

We can never be 100 percent sure, of course, but we can make a guess for ourselves. Do we reject authors based on guesses? No. But it does add to our overall impression--and if we thought you sketchy before, and then get this sense--well, it won't help your chances. Here are some things we'll consider:

  1. Timing. We know how the business works better than you do. Sorry, but it's true. We know how long it takes us. And this doesn't necessarily mean that every manuscript will take the same amount of time. If you've got something truly amazing and exciting, we'll believe you if you say you get an offer within two days of sending your work. If your work is solid but not exciting, it'll take longer. If your work is, to us, so far off the mark that we can't imagine anyone wanting it--well, we're going to say no anyway, so I suppose it doesn't matter. But we won't believe you. There are also bizarre timing issues--most offers are likely either very soon (within the week of the manuscript's sending) or a few weeks out (like four to eight). For whatever reason, we don't see or extend many offers in that intermediate period. 
  2. Professionalism. There are certain tones that lying authors adopt: they're usually somewhat angry, somewhat "Heh heh, I'll get you!" and somewhat "The business isn't fair, so I'm going to MAKE it fair." An experienced agent can smell that a mile away. We're excellent tone detectors--it's important to the business. Perhaps that's why so many of us are female. (Study after study suggests women recognize many more vocal tones than men do; this may translate to written tone as well. But that's GK pretending the world works like literature.) 
  3. The market. If, for example, you're sending around serious, the-world-is-ending nonfiction right now--that is, unless you have a super crazy solid platform, and perhaps even then--we're not going to believe you if you get an offer in two days. A hot YA/women's fiction/thriller? Much more likely. 
  4. Your claims. Ditto on number of agents you say are interested. World-is-ending nonfic just won't get as many offers. Fiction may. I've seen a number of YA writers get 3-4 offers this summer. Incidentally, I said no to all of them. 
  5. Your patience and timeline. The standard time between the "I have an offer!" notice and needing to get back is one week. If the writer wants an answer immediately, or doesn't care if we go well beyond that, it implies that the other agent doesn't exist. Real agents need to know soon so they can get on with their work lives and plan ahead. 
  6. Negotiating after we say no. This happened to us recently: a writer sent us a proposal that was well-written, a good idea--but needed so much work that we ended up passing after she told us she had an offer. "But what if I _______? Or _______? Or ______? Really, I'm willing to work more!" Uh...okay. We like people willing to work. But if the "other agent" is willing to take this as-is (we asked, and he/she was), and the author's also happy with it (she was), then we can't help but conclude that either 1) the other agent doesn't exist, 2) the other agent is just someone who decided to become an agent one day and has no other connection to the business, and/or 3) we were very, very convincing when we said it didn't work and didn't offer much in the way of suggestion. We knew the other agent though it perfect, so why would we bother? 
  7. Connections. I know I keep saying it, but The publishing world is insanely small. Snarky and I went swimming the other day, and he happened to mention a dating book--but remembered only two words of the title. "Oh, was it ________?" I asked. "I saw that." It was. And now our friend represents it. So, you can imagine what would happen if we go to drinks with friends and mention a title. If everyone saw it and said no, we're not going to believe you when you say you have three Yeses. 
But what's the point of lying about your level of interest? Well. Human nature--so they say--is to want things that other people want. Saying another agent wants your work may--if we believe you, and your work is on the edge of "Maybe, possibly, good idea, but not sure, let me think about it"--it could tip us into, "Hmm, yes, I could see this as a book" territory--after all, my colleagues can see it--I'll try to, too!

It's also the opposite--if too many people want it, and I don't love it, I'm going to say that the more interested agent should have it--simply because it is, in my mind, irresponsible to rep works one doesn't genuinely care for--it'll come through when you deal with editors. And if you, the agent for the book, don't love it--why should they?

Moral of the story? Don't lie. There are many more tiny tip-offs that can't even be put into words--but just come with years of watching manuscripts go by. Believe me when I say that we know the agent decision process better than you do--and it's far too complicated for anyone but an insider to get such a lie just right. Even then, I think the world is small enough that it's entirely possible they'll be caught.
To clarify: the revision-sending I'm referring to in the post below is pre-rejection.That is, let's say you send a manuscript, and a few weeks later, you come up with a great idea/make a huge change, and you haven't heard yet from that agent.

Just realized that might have been unclear.

Revisions of the other sort--post-rejection, unsolicited revision-sending--is almost always frowned upon; however, if you've developed a rapport with that agent and they've said it's so wonderful and they love it except for this one fixable thing--well, then it's worth sending them an email to say, "Hey! I think you were right. I've made that change--would you like to see a new version?"
So, I'm sitting at the bar of the Cornelia Street Cafe, sipping a lovely iced tea, waiting for an editor for an editor-agent lunch. It's--as it has been for weeks--incredibly hot out; a thick red curtain of crushed velvet surrounds the front door and keeps--we hope--A/C in and heat out.

It's just before the editor is due to show up. I'm always early; I hate being the one to walk in with, "Is it her? Is it HER?" face--I hear a gasp--several terrifying thumps--and an enormous crash.

Turns out an entire case of bottles went down the stairs--something that smells vaguely like balsamic vinegar. Huge pieces of glass everywhere.

Always a fortuitous beginning.

"Here's my revision, will you read it?": How to Submit A New Draft

Is this a good idea? Strictly, no: I've had writers submit three, four, FIVE revisions before I'd even had a chance to comment on the first--and then, I'm always stuck with extra emails floating around. Sometimes it's not even clear which revision goes with which query which goes with which author--and I have to go on a hunt. It leaves me terrified that I could reject something twice, that interns will spend time reading something twice, that I'll never know which version is which. It's a mess. 

Worse, I often can't see a significant change in the new drafts. A typo, for example, is not reason enough to resubmit: keep in mind that you're asking an agent to read your work again, and if we're going to do so, we want to feel like you've made changes large enough to change our decision.

That said, I think every writer gets one revision--IF they go about it correctly. 

Here's a real revision note, accompanied by the revised manuscript, that not only left me better-than-annoyed--but pleased and intrigued.

If you're going to do this, always reply to the most recent email we've sent, something that has the full trail of our correspondence, so we'll know immediately who you are. If you can't find such an email, consider including your query, cut-and-pasted into your email, with the synopsis and manuscript attached. 


Dear Ms. Gatekeeper,

In the few weeks since I’ve sent you this manuscript, another agent suggested some specific revisions to the manuscript ([1/2 line summary of those here]). 

Sweet! GK's ears perked up at this: another agent liked this enough to not only not form-reject, not only prove they read the whole thing, but also offer substantial suggestions? This means they must have liked it enough to think it has serious potential. 

In the past few days, another agent 

Two agents? Doubly good. 

Note that she doesn't say whether they rejected the work or asked for a revision. Very bright on her part. This not only avoids the "_____ rejected it, _______ rejected it, _______ rejected it, _______ and _____ and _____ rejected it--but I think YOU'LL love this!" vibe, but also makes me wonder about other agents on her radar. Now I'm intrigued: are there two other agents who want to see the new version, too? Probably more. Nifty! I better get on this. 

gave me the same feedback, which confirmed for me the need to make this change. I was wondering if you would be willing to consider the revision instead of the original. If not, I completely understand. 

It's always good to acknowledge that we're busy. I know, it may seem like sucking up, but to us, it's not--the moment you say "I know you're busy," that irritated "I'm too busy for this!" feeling evaporates. 

I know you have a queue and you’ve already downloaded what I sent before. 

Proves she knows who I am and has been following what's happened so far. This makes her more respectable: she's paying attention. 

I’m still thrilled that you’ll be taking a look.

Good. She knows enough to be able to tell me apart from the other agent(s) still considering this. This also (I mean, I suppose it's vague enough that she could have lied and said this to everyone) proves she's done some amount of research. We don't want to feel like we're just receiving the work because our business cards have the word "agent" on them. Of course you want us to like your work, but we want you to like us and want to work with us, too. 

I’ve attached the revision in case you were willing to consider it, but obviously, feel free to disregard. 

Again, nice.

Thanks for your time and consideration. (And I promise not to do this again).

The latter, parenthesized part is, perhaps, the best thing about this letter--excepting the mention of two other agents. That said, not every writer can say they have specific feedback from two agents. 

Also note that the tone is upbeat, not annoyed; that the writer obviously feels hopeful and excited about her work--rather than stressed, depressed, and/or angry at the system.

So, take note, writers. The basic (from this letter) formula for a "Here's my revision, will you read it?" note is:

Dear [Agent],
  • A good reason for the revision. An agents' comments are the best; however, you could also say something about a writing professor/published author/critique partner having given you an idea/some criticism. Always frame in the positive, ie, I came up with this brilliant new idea! versus My manuscript had problems, but now it's better. 
  • Acknowledgment of agent's busyness. 
  • Polite and confident request to disregard the old version and check out the new one instead.
  • Acknowledgment that the agent may have looked at the old version already.
  • Expression of excitement at the possibility of working with the agent.
  • A note that you've attached the revision.
  • A thank-you and a promise not to do this again.

Lady Jane's (Summer) Salon

The view from the gorgeous, glassed-in, ivy-covered room: who needs a backyard when you can have a glass room under the trees with plush chairs and air conditioning? 

You know what goes really well with a summer event where women gather to read and listen to romantic scenes set far from our humid city and steaming streets? Champagne--rather, free, publisher-sponsored champagne. One of the readers is getting married, and Avon sent along the corked means for a proper toast. After the second reader at this well-attended, well-appreciated event, we heard a pop--and the announcement--and shuffled in from our glass-roomed perch. 

Romance novels aren't, usually, my thing--I prefer (and I know this is splitting well-styled hairs) women's fiction with a romantic element--but the setting was so pretty (note the Victorian-inspired furniture--some reupholstered with cheetah print; exposed brick, lovely lamps--and, indoors, chandeliers and delicate drinks), and the attendees so nice (I came home with a number of reading recommendations), I can't help but think well of the genre. I heard of the event via Leanna Renee Hieber, award-winning novelist, who complimented my costume at the Steampunk World's Faire and, after we made our introductions, invited me to a steampunk drag show. (Yes, there are photos. I will find them.) 

Also, Word Books, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is having a party to celebrate the opening of their Romance section. Now, for an indie bookstore to not only be surviving but to have the means to dedicate a portion of their brick and mortar to this often unappreciated genre, well--this is very good news for all of us. 

There's something about the weather that makes these works--and also, in my case, period pieces on Netflix's Watch Instantly--especially appealing. I'm very much enjoying The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and also rather lurved The Way We Live Now.  

What are your favorite summer reading, romance, and/or Watch Instantly finds?
Lobster-hued Gatekeeper here, reporting for duty after a long day at the beach--totally worth it, though; the waves were great--and then rushing up the hill to see five sets of fireworks (most at a distance, some close enough to make me worry about our neighborhood catching fire).

When I was a kid in California, it was considered perfectly normal and wholesome--so much so that Boy Scout troops would set up temporary stands--to buy explosives to set off feet from your kids. In fact, most parties involved (in addition to the requisite flag cake with strawberries and blueberries) parents purchasing very large boxes of them, all with names like The Hurricane and in kits called things like Extreme Limit--and we'd gather in the street and hand small children foot-long sticks that would spew green or red sparks in all directions. I especially liked ground flowers, which involved lighting a tiny fuse and then running out of its fiery, color-changing path.

It seems kind of crazy, now, doesn't it? I can't imagine anyone still being allowed to do such things--they'd invite lawsuits, parents would say, and are far too fun.

That said, the park was filled with kids waving glowing, multicolored light sabers, and there were some fireworks (likely, uh, imported) set off from, I believe, our local grocery store's roof. The kids were psyched. The parents (those not complaining about property values, and giving their kids their twenty-seventh dose of hand sanitizer for the day) were delighted. And it felt so nice to have an entire neighborhood come out to hang out together--even though, as good New Yorkers, we very often avoid even eye contact in daily life.

And so, sunburn crispy and still full from picnic food, GK is back in the office, trying to make headway. Our submissions account? Whoa. Don't even ask. I've got two works out to editors, and those, of course, take precedence over reading new queries and manuscripts.

A beach read just came via PaperBack Swap (it's a foodie romance), as did a membership card to The New Museum, which I won through a bizarre online raffle. (Free tickets! All year! Plus invites to all their opening parties! I'm so excited.)

So, it's a good week. What did you do to celebrate our nation's birthday?