A New Contest: win a query or one-page critique from Snarky!

You remember, of course, Snarky--better known as Snarky Agent Man--the one who threatens to rip doors off cabs, looks very nice in button-down shirts (that said, GK thinks most men look nice in button-down shirts), and tears poorly-behaved, ill-intended writers down to size while also being incredibly amusing.

Well. He's been very busy wielding considerable power over the publishing world, making deals, and generally being a literary man about town. You can read up on his earlier adventures here, here, and (perhaps most amusingly) here.

Now, we were sipping cocktails the other night--Snarky had been making eyes at the waitress; I'd been staring at his drink. We'd been talking about this blog.

"Don't you ever think about putting ice in that, at least?" I asked. I mean, it's been really hot here (another heatwave), and to GK, whiskey always seems like drinking fire--and unpalatable fire, at that. Maker's, at least, comes with a pretty wax top that is, like the little round, waxed cheeses, fun to play with--but that's the only appeal I see.

"Your blog is all sweetness and light," he said, with a small twitch of displeasure.

I went back to my gin and tonic--and yes, gin with essence of rose and cucumber; I'm a girl like that--and considered. Yes. Snarky has been very busy, but I had to find a way to bring him back.

Please consider this not an ad, but an illustration. This stuff is pretty darn delicious. Certainly better than Maker's. Yuck. 

So, though I can't disclose my persuasive methods (okay, bribery), Snarky has agreed to judge a contest and offer a critique to the winner. And, though I can't (really can't) tell you who Snarky is, he's a very bright agent in NYC. And he's my friend. If you like, I'll read his response before you do--so I can tell him to shut up if he gets too mean.

Deadline is THIS FRIDAY at midnight. Snarky will announce the winner next Monday, September 6.

Here you go:

As part of his court-mandated anger-and-swearing management program, Snarky Agent Man is looking for a new way to notify authors he is passing on their project (his current way is "Your manuscript drives me to drink"). He needs help coming up with a letter that fits his personality but doesn't have as many curse words in it as some previous drafts.


To enter, create either a general rejection letter that Snarky can use for every project, or write one that he would have written to reject Twilight (and we know he would have). The person who submits the best letter for Snarky's judgment wins EITHER a query letter critique or a first page critique.


If you retweet or otherwise link to this contest, you may have TWO entries, provided you include the link (to your link) with your entry.


All entries are due THIS FRIDAY at midnight, EST (or SST--Snarky Standard Time). 


Please post your entry as a comment. If you'd like to remain anonymous to other viewers, you may post anonymously and CC your entry to AgencyGatekeeper@gmail.com (with a way to identify you).

May the best rejector win--and the odds be always in your favor.

All best,

GK

Exclusives seem, to GK, nearly exclusively unwise.

I had a drink with Snarky this weekend, and some of his snarkiness has rubbed off on me.

So, if you'll forgive me:

Please, please, please don't tell me, after I've had your manuscript a month, that you've given me an exclusive (without telling me) and that, because I haven't gotten back to you yet, I'm putting your writing career on hold. I didn't ask for an exclusive (if anything, I advise against granting them, even if they're asked for), so don't say that you'd really appreciate an answer, you know, ahead of schedule, because you've given me said exclusive.

Here are some reasons exclusives are unwise, even if an agent asks for one:

  • You'll never have the ability to put yourself in the very best position an unagented writer can hope for: having one offer and several agents who haven't gotten back to you yet. In that case, you can tell the other agents of said offer, ask for an answer within a week, and sit back and see if any of the agent you thought were out of your reach call you up with a plan for your manuscript.
  • You'll never get to hear different agents' ideas for your work. Often one agent will come up with something you never thought of--and even if you don't end up going with him/her, this is often valuable advice.
  • You'll go with an agent based on what has been written about them, versus what they say. Unless you're using the Jeff Herman and Google and know someone who knows the agent, you're not getting anywhere close to a complete picture. How will you know what it's like to work with that agent?
  • You'll never get a chance to ask questions on your end--your relationship, therefore, is one of imbalanced power. Could you ask these questions (How do you see my work? Where will you send it? What is your editing process like? How often can I expect to hear from you? What's your Author-Agent Agreement like?) anyway--and should you? Yes. But most writers don't. You'll feel better about your working relationship long-term 
  • If you tell an agent they have an exclusive--especially if they didn't ask for one--that agent will either 1) take their sweet time getting back to you because there's no worry of another agent taking the work away, or 2) feel guilty and want to get you an answer as quickly as possible--which, sometimes, means saying No the moment anything goes awry in the manuscript, rather than taking time to think about if it could work. 
  • Many exclusives assume that if, at the end of the exclusive period, that agent offers representation--that you'll automatically accept. Worse, if you sent out your work without intending to offer an exclusive to anyone, but an agent asks--it's like applying to college normally, and then having one college say that, actually, they'd rather you apply Early Decision. Good planning? GK thinks not. 
Any questions? Good. Don't grant exclusives, even if they pressure you--unless the agent that asks for one is your top-choice agent. You can always say, "I'm sorry, but my work is already with other agents." Or, if you're worried, "I'm sorry, but my work is already with other agents--that said, I'm excited about your agency and look forward to hearing from you." Something like that. 

Okay? Okay. Back to this bag of Sour Patch Kids that was helpfully left on my desk this morning. 

GK's obsessed-about zucchini muffins

Yes. GK's been obsessing. Not only has there been a strange proliferation of cupcake graffiti (yes, graffiti that is made up of cute drawings of cupcakes) in NYC, but there have been so many instances lately of "I'm hungry and have no time!" or "I need to bring something to a party and have no time!" that I've been eating these solidly. They freeze well, travel without losing their shape, and two make for a good snack. From start to finish it can take, once you're used to the recipe, only 30 minutes--20 of those baking (as compared to an hour for a loaf).

I'm taking off for the weekend, but I'll leave you with this recipe, which has kept me busy (and fed) for weeks: Note that I've guessed on many of the ingredients (too lazy/hurried to measure perfectly) and there was no problem. Next week I'll be switching over to pumpkin muffins.

Also note that you can use all-purpose flour, butter/regular cooking oil/whatever you have, and table sugar--and you'll be just fine. But these taste the same (really!) whether you use these or the healthier versions, so you may as well cram in more nutrients. And, yes, this is adapted from this recipe.

Yield: 12 average-sized muffins

Bake time: 20 minutes

Preheat oven to 325.

Dry ingredients:
1-1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Wet ingredients:
2 eggs or equivalent of a wet egg substitute
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Turbinado sugar ("sugar in the raw") and/or Splenda
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup grated zucchini--more if batter is too dry.

Combine dry ingredients, then wet ingredients + zucchini, then wet and dry batters. If the combination of the two is too dry, add additional zucchini in small (two tablespoons or so at a time) increments.

Bake in well-greased muffin pan for 20 minutes. When they're cool, cut around them with a table knife and gently pry them out. 
Meet the Obsessed Mockingjay Fans Who Turned Up for the Book’s Midnight Release.

I resent the opening line--what, magazines, you think you're doing so much better than books? You really want to tell everyone who reads that they're on a sinking ship?--but the rest of the article is nifty.

Be sure to check out this girl in her flaming dress.

Contemporary vs. Paranormal YA, trends, mojitos, and surfing

We--the agents, frugal bunch that we are--found a bar that offers $3 margaritas (blended or over ice) and mojitos (mmm, minty). In a city where $14 + tip is not unusual for blended/muddled/fancy drinks, this is an excellent deal. So. Picture, if you will, five young agents around a round table. Three in the booth, two in chairs. The walls are painted white with vintage ads; a giant Coca Cola sign--it must be five feet tall and eight feet wide, at least, of steel and red neon lights--stretches over the wall behind the bar.

And the subject, in this vintage-inspired setting? Bringing YA up to the real present--out of the vampire/werewolf/angel/demon-infested, paranormal worlds--and getting a fair advance. Contemporary YA. "Contemps."

See, we think this is the direction Young Adult is going. Are editors tired of magical creatures? Yes, a little. Will such creatures continue to sell for many years? Probably, though I don't think this subgenre will dominate the market in the same way it has the past few years.

Sorry, but no trends, no matter how awesome, last forever.

The problem is that the sales departments--and this is often true; sales departments are (according to some, simply behind; according to others--don't hit me; I like the Midwest--"Midwesterners, not New Yorkers, so they aren't up on these things") not usually on the same page as edit-staffers. Their motives are slightly different: sales teams want books that are safe, proven investments that will make lots of money; edit-staffers want amazing books that happen to make lots of money. Do they care how a book does? Yes, of course; sometimes editors are fired if they consistently buy books that lose money. But they care more about each work's content. And they know when an as-yet-unproven subgenre will do really well. 

This wave of contemporary YA hasn't been proven to sales departments yet. Demons have. 

So. What does this mean for you?

If you're writing paranormal, unless the economy magically picks up, you know, right now, you're probably going to have your best shot at getting representation and a good advance now. Does this mean you should send out something that isn't ready? No. Good sense always trumps trends.

If you're writing "contemps"--contemporary YA works that are in the "real" world (though, of course, teens' worlds often blur the line between what is real and what feels real), well, congrats! You are, I believe, writing the new big thing. Editors will love that you're new and fresh. Agents will know the editors that are looking for your work. But your advance will not have a very good chance of being, you know, ginormous just yet. 

Does this mean you should wait? No. Yes, GK will probably update you on this trend, perhaps with line graphs, and perhaps send out a furious, YES! Right now! Send your contemporary YA out RIGHT NOW! post from her mobile phone. But you always want to err on the side of being at the beginning of a trend, if possible. And it's likely that, by the time your book comes out, the trend will be in full swing. 

And you must always remember that, the moment you earn out your advance (that is, the moment the publishing company breaks even after paying you that sum), you become a good investment. The sales team will like you even if you don't have any demons. And you can still make just as much; it's just that it'll come as royalties, not advance. 

It's like surfing (and Swordfish Shirt Guy could back me up on this): timing is everything. It's always better to be too early--you (your book) are in the path of the wave, which will come up and meet you (probably by publication). You'll have plenty of time to gauge where that is and adjust accordingly. Slightly too late, and the wave will crash on you, you'll get pushed underwater and rolled to shore, with decidedly uncool seaweed and sand in your hair. And, if you miss the wave entirely, you'll have to wait for the next one, which may be awhile--but at least you (and your sales record) didn't get pummeled.

One of my favorite things about ocean, wave-based sports is that you can really feel what's happening in the water, even if (like me) you can't see very well without, you know, glasses or contacts or corrective lenses that do not agree with salt water. You can feel a wave coming. You can feel the water pull back from the shore, and the force with which you can be sucked into a wave about to crash. 

So picture us, five young agents with mojitos, margaritas, and surfboards. Even if it's suddenly sweater weather in NYC, we're in the water and feeling a contemporary wave coming. It's just a gentle tug of the water now. But it's enough that we've all noticed it, and are planning accordingly. 
I had drinks with lady agents last night (and, should you wonder if all agents do is talk about badly behaved writers--we also talk about badly behaved agents--and what we're going to ask for in terms of future e-book royalties--and whether the AAR or Authors Guild gets more done--and how we can team up with our friends across the pond and make better standards for e-book royalties worldwide, and perhaps share recipes for scones), and woke up this morning with a solution to a manuscript I've been loving but not sure what to do with for weeks.

There's something to be said for hanging out with brilliant, creative people. Somehow, said brilliance usually rubs off. Perhaps this is why one is always so productive at writing retreats: brain wifi--and the little lunch baskets that they leave, after tip-toeing up (so as to not bring you back from your novel's world), on the doorstep of your writing cottage.
Apparently Suzanne Collins used to write for Clarissa Explains It All.

I've just had a conversation with a very savvy reader, blogger, Nook owner, Brooklynite.

"Of COURSE you can download books illegally," she said. "You get the e-pub format which works for all readers. It's invitation-only, so--though it's total [expletive]--they say it's close to legal and hasn't been caught yet."

"Do we WANT to be the music industry?" I snapped. "We knew this would happen. Do we HAVE to put everything in digital format, just because it's cool?" Of course we have to. That's just me being a Luddite.

But I didn't think it would happen so soon. All those assurances Kindle and Amazon and Nook gave us about the files being secure--well, they did their job, I guess. They convinced us we were safe until it was too late to give up the format.

"Books use finite resources," she said.

"So do these," I said, holding up a plugged-in Kindle (not mine) in a leather case.

"Whatever," she said. "That's the perception."

How strange that some will find it more moral to download books illegally--in the name of being green.

I'd just read a particularly interesting passage in Green Metropolis: Why Living Smaller, Living Closer, and Driving Less are the Keys to Sustainability, which described a "going green" catalog for a company like Home Depot. Paintbrushes with plastic handles were touted as being green alternatives to wood; paintbrushes with wood handles were called green for not being plastic.

"I've just been to California," I said, dangerously close to rant mode, my recent nomming* of a delicious zucchini muffin--I'm obsessed with zucchini muffins, as of late--making me over-bold. "And let me tell you. Every region of this country has a different version of being 'green' "--here I made enormous air quotes--and I'd already told her about the Californians who drive everywhere but freak if you use a plastic grocery bag though, somehow, using a gazillion Ziplocs is okay--"which, really, means not trying very hard."

But do we all use the concept of green to suit our purposes? Absolutely. I was on a panel recently--in Florida, I believe--in which one of the agents said something about paper manuscripts being good, easier on the eyes. I hate receiving entire manuscripts in the mail.

"Send it electronically! It's greener!" I gasped, picturing the attendees all sending hundreds of pounds of unsolicited mail. "I'll put it on my Kindle, and--"

"Kindles use electricity," the agent said. Yes, this is true.

"I like to believe all of our electricity will soon be solar-powered," I blurted. The Floridians nodded. "Excellent answer," said the moderator. Yes. Solar power. Sure.

"Doesn't think before she speaks" Gatekeeper: 1

Unsolicited hard-copy manuscript: 0

_____________________
* Apparently "nom," from http://icanhascheezburger.com/, has entered the cultural lexicon as a verb. Amusingly, if you Google "lexicon," the fifth hit is The Harry Potter Lexicon, and the sixth is Twilight Lexicon.


The official stamp: heck yes. And her hand is, as rumored, injured. I thanked her for coming and told her that I hope it heals soon. She's very warm and gracious.
Our rules sheet (click for a larger version). You'll note that it says nothing about video. Oh, Borders. You should have had your contracts department look at this.
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Photos are, officially, permitted (see the rules sheet, above). GK was able to step on tippy-toes to get this shot.

See? Doesn't she look nice? She is nice. You can see her hand brace in the picture, and it seemed that the stamp was pretty large and difficult to use--but we all got our stamped copies without any trouble, and the line moved incredibly quickly. Good job, Borders!
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The file is (probably--afraid to check) safe. They just "respectfully requested" we delete any footage. Moral dilemma to follow...
Just got caught taking video. D'oh. Secret agent fail.

The crowd, patiently waiting. Six minutes to go!
GK's resisting the urge to conduct an impromptu survey of the assembled fans: Team Peeta? Team Gale? Team Gale in the houuuuuuusssssssseeeee!
Crowd count: probably closer to 350, 400 now. Most attendees are women in their twenties, wearing cardigans and brightly-colored, big leather purses. Some read in line. We're wrapped around the music section. GK's currently blogging from a shelf of Bluegrass CDs.

GK Mobile Check-in

GK here--T-minus 40 minutes till Suzanne Collins. Approximately 200 fans so far. Very low 3G signal. Over and out.
And yes--GK is totally taking a half-day tomorrow to go see Suzanne Collins at the Columbus Circle Borders at 1:00.

Only one personalized book per person, or you know I'd be getting one to offer as a prize here. (Am I going to try to drag along my intern--who's not a HG fan--to try to get a second copy? Yes siree.) I called to ask about the rules, and questioned the stamp thing. Signing would be cooler. "She hurt her hand," the man on the other end said, like, "Didn't you KNOW?!" Turns out they've designed a special stamp, just for her tour.

And I'll be working on that "iPod as secret agent recorder device" thing, too. I may have to post whatever comes of that, even if it's half screeches.

After sending out my partial, I have a revision that everyone says is better. Help!

I have a partial out with the original version. My only partial and its the first 50 pages. My CP's agree this opening is stronger and [fits better within the genre].

[Here, the author of this email has included a snippet of her new version which is, yes, stronger than the first one. What do you do if you don't have an agent to look at this for you and let you know? Well...]

Since I have changed my opening do I send the new version out to the agent who has my partial? How does that look? Like I am an idiot who queried too soon? A loon? Don't answer that one.

Okay, here's what you do. You get ONE of these per agent per submission, so use it wisely.

Write a brief note saying that, at the suggestion of your critique partners (you MUST give a reason, or it will look silly--other good possible reasons: some famous writer/non-famous but published writer/an agent/an editor gave you an idea) you've changed the beginning of the work. Apologize (though not too much) for the inconvenience, but mention that, if they haven't seen the original version, a new version is available. Since it's having to do with the beginning (and I like this segment you've attached--it's confidence-inspiring), paste the little snippet below the note. Say, again, how much you appreciate your time and that, either way, you look forward to hearing from them.

Here's what you don't do: don't go on for pages about how sorry you are, don't go into great detail about the changes, don't ask them if it makes you sound like a loon (GK's mail is more amusing than theirs--some older agents may not appreciate the humor), don't ask them WHY they haven't gotten back to the first version yet--but, hey, I guess that's good, right?--don't,  you know, just send it--and then send another version--and another version--and another...

We know you're human, and we know that written pieces are always in flux. I've never, ever, ever come even close to sending something out to editors that's the same as it was when it came into the office. We're part of the process.

We like it when writers are happy to revise.

So, are you in an ideal situation? No. Will it be okay? Yes.

Okiedokie (roasted) artichokie?*


* Full disclosure: GK has not tried this recipe. But it sure looks good. And there was a bit of a disaster making Earl Grey vodka drinks for book group: the simple syrup seized in the cold vodka/half and half/lemon juice mixture, making a clumpy mess--but one that would have, if I'd had more time, made excellent sugar sculptures. (It all ended up okay, though: I just added sugar, and served the remaining strained mixture in a tiny teapot.) 

However, in a much earlier (mini-GK!) life, I have grown artichokes. They are delightful. And an excellent excuse for mayonnaise. 
After a long day of bashing electronics (see below), you may enjoy making your own Earl Grey vodka. Then mix that with the recipe here.

Haven't tried either, but they look fantastic.

The Day GK Told Her Kindle To Go Play in the Microwave

So. I often jokingly threaten technological devices (it amuses me), but today my Kindle-destructive fantasies were detailed enough to include how I'd explain to my boss that I'd "accidentally" dropped the Kindle onto the tracks and let a speeding B train crush it/put it in the path of a Central Park carriage/handed it to an especially feisty squirrel/spilled my coffee into its few tiny, unsealed parts/found the one puddle left in summer-steamed Manhattan--and dropped it in/left it in with my laundry--but hey, it's clean!/dropped it in the crack between the elevator car and the elevator shaft/decided that if it was going to freeze, it might as well live in the freezer and/or told it to go play in the microwave.

Why all the violence, GK?

Well. This is the second time it's made a manuscript I'd been editing--this one for days and days, with at least thirty notes that I could never remember, with notes that I promised my client TODAY, and today promises (like all days) to be quite busy without the added task of re-reading and re-assembling line-edit suggestions--DISAPPEAR. Note that there are still 27 pages of other manuscripts, safe and sound that, for all I care, can go POOF into the Kindle universe. (Yes, GK's breaking out the all-caps. You can tell this is bad.) But NO. It had to eat the ONE MANUSCRIPT I need today.

And "the Kindle ate my homework"--it just sounds, well...

Incidentally, though it's supposed to cycle through about twenty images of famous writers and/or birds, my Kindle seems stuck on a picture of Ralph Ellison, looking far too amused--in fact, I can't help but imagine that he's laughing at me for trusting the Kindle to not turn days of work into Invisible Manuscript.

Breathe, GK.

So. It's okay. Much to my relief, I found the work again. Should this ever happen to you--if your work and notes seemingly disappear--I was able to find it again by beginning to type an unusual word in the manuscript and going to Search or Find or whatever it is. After it froze a few moments, I tried it again, and it worked--magically reappeared in the list.

But: GRRRR.

If you had a frustrating device (such as, say, a Kindle) that you could replace for free, what would you do to it? Here's some inspiration (though the soundtrack, fair warning, is not kid or office appropriate):

An update for readers and writers of women's fiction: Love in Mid Air just gets better and better. I received a lovely present from home--a book, a Heath bar, and a package of those nifty post-it flags (the plastic ones that actually stay, and--even better--have translucent tips, so I can stick them over text and still read it) and I'm quite certain that the book will have a rainbow of them by the time I'm done.

There's something deeply gratifying about not only discovering a brilliant line and/or passage, but marking it with a bright color so that it's easy to find again. My copy is a library book, but I fully intend to get myself a copy before it's due, and transfer the little flags over.

What do I love so much about the work? Well. One of my favorite things in a book is to think, while reading, "Why, yes! You're so right! This is absolutely an element of the human condition that I've vaguely noticed before, but you've articulated it perfectly! Bravo!" (Or, in this case, brava!) And Ms. Wright does this very well--her observations are generally about women, how they interact with and think about men, and relationships--which makes this, in my mind, ideal women's fiction.

And there were some lines where I found myself flipping back to her author photo and thinking, "Wow! You wrote that! Good for you!" (While trying not to make rude, but amusing, assumptions about her life.)

If I were ever able to interview her, I'd like to discuss how she got herself to a place where she could write on these subjects and make it sound natural, effortless--most of us would require months of pep talks and practice to even get such bold and vulnerable sentences onto a piece of paper--let alone one that would be sent to an editor to be nationally published with a real name attached.

Here's a lovely passage. The (married) protagonist is speaking with a man she met on a flight at the beginning of the book--for the first time after leaving the airport. He's sort of an imaginary figure while her husband refuses to go to counseling (except for counseling with the local pastor, who happens to be his best friend) and refuses to admit anything's wrong: after all, they have a beautiful house, a lovely daughter, their health--but they don't talk anymore. This mystery plane man has just called our protagonist as she watches her daughter at her first softball practice, and has told her that he had to find the gallery that displays her pottery, then call, then pretend he was collecting her work, in order to get her number.
His voice sounds different than I remember and there is something unreal about the situation. . .I have never thought before about the science of a ringing phone, but now I am entranced with the miracle of our connection--the idea of satellites above us in the dark of space, releasing signals, wavelengths of impulses bouncing from one solid thing to another, so that the sounds leave his mouth and travel immeasurable distances before they reverberate within my ear. The coach releases the ball and Tory [her daughter] swings, the effort nearly pulling her off her feet.
Okay, it sounds a little silly out of context--and I'm prejudiced, as I care about the characters and can no longer see them objectively--and, actually, some of the cleverest writing occurs in the steamy scenes--which I will not, for reasons of propriety and fear of blushing at work, type here. But they're pretty awesome.

If you're expecting highbrow, extraordinarily literary work that will give you new words for Scrabble and snooty parties, this is not that book. It is, instead, one of those works that has a brilliance that builds on itself--it's not so much line-by-line brilliant, but chapter-by-chapter and situation-by-situation brilliant. And, no, I don't think the average man would like this.

So. Convinced? The book's currently $7.86 used on BN.com,  $8.17 on Amazon (or $10.99 for Kindle edition, but the cover is so pretty, I'd advise against that), $11.99 at the Strand, $15.95 from Powell's, and probably $23.99 (cover price) at your local indie bookstore. And, if all else fails, you can sell it again on Amazon.

Have you read it? Did you love it, like it, hate it, throw it across the room/out the window/into the nearest bonfire? Inquiring GK minds want to know.

Ray Bradbury tells Kindle to go to Hell; GK reacts with glee.

If you haven't seen the Brittany the Book Slayer blog, you should take a look. It's written by a magazine writer/editor by day and YA writer by night. (Who also happens to be awesome in real life. And throw great parties. And have really cute cats.)

Given that my Kindle decided to reboot itself several times yesterday--then freeze--then freeze while rebooting--I was especially delighted to see this piece on the Book Slayer blog about Ray Bradbury (of Fahrenheit 451 fame)'s feelings on the device:

When the soon-to-be-90-year-old author was asked on three separate occasions (oh, to have those luxury problems!) to allow his works to be published on electronic reading devices, he's told each of them to go to hell.
And then, from this article, Bradbury is quoted saying:
"I said to Yahoo, 'Prick up your ears and go to hell.' "
Is anyone else deeply amused by the idea of a famous author refusing the technology we're all feeling such pressure to accept?

It's like everyone's trying to convince us that we can either:

  1. Embrace Kindle/Sony Reader/claim we're waiting for a new model or the price to come down, or 
  2. We're horrible, horrible Luddites who will, in a few years, be considered little better than out-of-touch illiterates. It'd be the lit scene equivalent of going back to high school this year wearing Hammer pants, a fanny pack, a Champion sweatshirt, and the Rachel haircut from Friends.
I don't know about you, but I can't think of Ray Bradbury as an out-of-touch illiterate. 

Generally, I don't gossip about the Kindle (probably because of aforementioned pressures). And, don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great things about e-readers (when they're not freezing/rebooting/freezing while rebooting).

It's the pressure to update or else that bothers me, and it seems to be everywhere. Even though I have very mixed feelings, I generally tend toward saying that the Kindle is fine--and I guess it is--and then end up quoted in articles that say I'm the "good" or "realistic" or "forward-thinking" agent and another agent who doesn't like the device is "unrealistic" and/or "has [their] head in the sand." (Perhaps the sand from the Kindle ad that supposedly proves it's so comfy to read Kindle in bright light. I took mine to the beach, sure, but whatevs.) I just can't say I endorse such "Kindle or die" opinions. 

Doesn't it bother anyone that the Kindle world is one in which all books exist in an all-fonts-become-Caecilia, all-covers-become-pea-soup-gray, all-images-look-like-Kindle-screen savers, supposedly-world-of-the-inevitable-future-and-we-should-be-happy-about-it world? Do we really want to homogenize our books?

We'd be pretty freaked out if B&N decided all books they sell were to be black and green with a B&N logo, say.

I've yet to purchase a published book (that is, non-manuscript book) on my Kindle. It's a lifesaver in terms of toting around a gazillion manuscripts. But a real, published book just wouldn't be the same. 

Am I running out of space on my bookshelves? Totally. Am I about to consider drastic measures, like making my own with a few L-brackets, some rubber cement, and a copy of Ceci n'est pas un livre? Abso-bloomin'-lutely. GK likes power tools. 


(A more in-depth how-to here. And yes, in both stacks, the bottom "shelf" is a book.)

But: I don't care how much space they take up. I want them to take up space and weigh down my bag. Books can be my wallpaper, if it comes to that. If I buy a digital file, I don't feel like I'm buying anything, well, real. GK likes her purchases to adhere to the laws of mass. And just reading the book the first time is only part of the experience. Having it nearby, for my gaze to fall on (perhaps serendipitously: Why yes, GK! There's a lesson in that book for you today!) is a good part of the fun. 

And yes, they smell good, too.

Fly the Friendly (Open) Skies!

Turn to page 38 of your onboard magazine for a list of the non-alcoholic beverages and snacks available. Should you want to celebrate this news with champagne, GK Airlines only accepts credit (yes, those little machines that break half the time in mid-air--unless, of course, you're on Virgin America, the airline that looks like a purple-hued club at all hours), gummi bears, and winning contest entries. (There will, btw, be more contests soon.)

Two sky-related items of interest (three, if you count the fact that GK landed safely at JFK):

1) This book is awesome: 

Yes, I've been lusting after it ever since I saw the pretty cover (and that is, according to O Magazine's summer reading issue, quite okay: we're to give ourselves permission to judge books by their covers--and, apparently, to spend $70 on items like reed diffusers. GK reads O for the book recommendations--which are good--and laughs at the "frugal" shopping suggestions).

Love in Mid Air is fun, romantic, sensitive, and an excellent example of women's fiction. It's also totally addictive. Who stayed up far too late just to read more? That's right, GK did. (All typos are henceforth to be attributed to GK's dedicated reading.)

Note that, according to this quiz, it fits well into the women's fiction genre: I'd share it with my mother (who does not have tattoos or ride a motorcycle); the book opens with the protagonist traveling; it's middlebrow, somewhat steamy (but with other excellent elements), and its cover, though it doesn't sport an ocean,  watercolor, or interior domestic scene, is pretty close. And I've yet to see any unfortunate euphemisms.

On to item two.

2) If you haven't been paying attention to Open Sky, you should get on that. 

Basically--you know that little thing called Merchandising Rights? (This was one of the many items debated in that awful contract I mentioned a few weeks ago.) These rights have to do with your ability as an author to create non-book products based on your book. Generally, agents prefer that their authors keep them--but it's worth asking, should you be interested in Open Sky and other, similar opportunities.

Here's a great example from this article (the whole article is excellent) about how it would work:

David Hale Smith, a Texas literary agent, was about the only one who hadn't morphed roles since Naples [a former book agent, now Open Sky representative] last saw him. After they sat down at a table near that escalator, Smith immediately handed her [Naples] a copy of a client's newest novel: "So Cold the River" by Michael Koryta. Smith mentioned that it's set in an old hotel in central Indiana known for its Pluto Water, believed to have healthful effects.

Naples lit up: "If (Koryta) was on OpenSky, the novel could be tied to a promotion of the hotel. He could have a button on his site for readers to buy the book and the water." (OpenSky would find a supplier to bottle and ship it.) She described other commercial possibilities: a sneak-peak download of a chapter of his next book, a "webinar" with him discussing his stories.

Now, you're probably thinking: Bottled water?! Who the heck would buy that?

Well. Yes. Bottled water is, according to the documentary Tapped, pretty darn scary.

But that's just the beginning. Readers, we've been arguing for years (especially when dealing with the idea of digital versus printed books) like a multi-sensory experience.

Services are also possible--but, as the author quips, it's hard to imagine Jane Austen selling matchmaking assistance. Had Open Sky been around then, Ms. Austen would likely have considered the idea for a very interesting millisecond.

For authors with an established platform, this could be an amazing way to expand their earning power.

What do you think? And what products would you design (with Open Sky's help) for your book?

The kind, versus professional, reply

So, I know I told all of you to go for simplicity (see this post, and then this one): thank us, tell us you've attached the requested, and end with a pleasantry, like "I look forward to hearing from you."

Well, we agents have to find this balance--simplicity, professionalism, or what we're actually thinking?--for ourselves as well.

See, I received a "Here's my manuscript" note this morning that had me grinning. Truly grinning.

Now, if I were to be 100 percent professional, I'd wait until I was back in New York to say anything. Vacation time and work time = separate. (Not true in the least, but it's usually wise to give that impression.)

Then, if I was going to respond, theoretically, I should wait a day or so--not, you know, an hour. Me? Check email while watching Julia Child make bouillabaisse? 'Course not.

So, forget the first two.

Then there's the matter of how much humanness is allowed: do I do the standard agent "I got this" ("Thank you, [name of writer]")? Do I thank her? Do I tell her that I'm sending it to my Kindle right away and that OMG I'm probably going to run out to the hammock and read this on a deck in the middle of the redwoods while eating Barefoot Contessa's peach-berry cobbler? (I found it--the cobber, not the manuscript--good, but not great. But that might be because I let it sit in the fridge for two days before eating it.)

Do I tell her that I immediately IMed a friend on GChat with a grin? :-D

I was eating the most delicious Moroccan food in San Francisco last night, at a place in the Mission (oh BART, how strange you are, compared to the subway!) and a friend was telling me her experiences using The Rules--picking and choosing, of course; I think all concerned parties would implode if it were followed to the letter. I found myself crunching into pita chips, disconcerted at how applicable some of those things are, when it comes to our correspondence with authors.

It's always difficult to know just how much we can say--without risking putting ourselves in very awkward territory, should things not work out.

For this reason, most agents prefer form letters and formal correspondence. It reduces awkwardness.

Just know that, next time you get a, "Thank you, [your name]" confirmation, the agent might be watching cooking shows, snacking on cobbler, hanging out with an awesome cat, and considering a spin in a recycled-parachute hammock. Because, you know. That's what I'm up to.

GK interrupts her vacay to bring you this important message.

A Scholastic Exclusive! message from Scholastic, Suzanne Collins, and the Hunger Games Official Page on Facebook (and GK happens to agree--I'd be quite upset if I read spoilers, especially from this work):

Dear Readers,

I can’t tell you how excited I am for the release of
Mockingjay on August 24th, and how grateful I am for all the anticipation that’s been expressed in advance of the release date. One of the most important things to me is that everyone in the world is going to be able to experience the final book of The Hunger Games all at the same time, and be able to discover what happens in the book without hearing about it elsewhere first. Word will certainly travel fast, but I urge you – before or immediately after August 24th – to please respect the other Hunger Games fans worldwide and avoid sharing any spoilers, so that the conclusion of Katniss’s story can unfold for each reader the way it was meant to unfold.

I am eagerly looking forward to August 24th and the entrance of
Mockingjay in the world. Then (and only then) let the conversations begin!

Sincerely,

Suzanne Collins

On Following GK

You know that moment in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (yes, the musical--GK spent many years as a musical theatre geek), one of the young women says something like, "Can't find the picnic? Follow me"--and one of the brothers, newly polite, replies, "To the ends of the earth"?

I loved that moment.

(Incidentally, I think all of those brothers would be Team Gale).

Well. Want to follow GK?

For anonymity's sake, I'm not going to load the Followers gadget. But you can click on the silver bar up at the top--on the left, there's a Follow link.

Yes siree.

Protein or carbs? Gale or Peeta?

One of Tahereh's commentators posited the theory that one's preference for Gale or Peeta has to do with one's preference for carbs or meat.

Well, I like Gale--and I'm a vegetarian. A bad one (I do like my gummis and marshmallows; also, were I left in an arena with a bow and arrow, I'd learn to use it, and quickly--I'm already pretty good with a crossbow), but a carb-loving vegetarian, nonetheless.

I have other theories about those who prefer one to the other. Gale is exciting; Peeta is reliable. Gale has survival instincts for a uncivilized world; Peeta has skills for a world in which there are stores, markets, commerce. Peeta probably has good credit; Gale probably is all barter. Today, Gale would live in the country, perhaps in a house he built himself, and wear jeans and flannel; Peeta would live in the city, work in an office, wear white, pressed, button-up shirts--and perhaps get his nails done (with clear polish, of course).

Okay, maybe not the nails, but...you know what I mean.

In earlier eras (say, Gold Rush), Gale would be a frontiersman; Peeta would be a merchant. Gale's rough around the edges, Peeta is not. Peeta probably wears green Speed Stick from the eighties, or those Axe products, trying to be hardcore; Gale wears Old Spice. (Does anyone else LOVE that new ad? "Does your man make you a gourmet cake in a kitchen he built himself?" Hee hee hee...)

What else? What would they both be doing if they were in, say, Ancient Egypt? What about as cave people? Or in medieval Italy?

On Submitting Work to GK

Subject line:  Are editors still walking on broken glass to meet with you? * 


Dear AG,
Though you don't know me, I hope you are still liking me. I also hope that will not change as a result of this email.


I am nearing completion of the final draft and rewrite of my novel. The (terrifying) process of querying looms before me, and I have steeled myself to start come September. As I enjoy reading your blog and the advice you dispense there, I would like to send you a query letter. However, my novel, although I describe it as being coming-of-age, is not YA. Would I then automatically be part of the 33% that are not the right fit for you? If not, how would I find you, and find your submission guidelines?


Thanks and regards,
[Name]


PS: Do believe me,--I claim that I did my best to work in a comma-dash. Oh.


*
Not at all! I'm on a YA kick--but I'm also open to all sorts of fiction--and a lot of nonfiction, too.

Here's what I'm more likely to like:
Women's fiction, literary fiction, upmarket chick lit, coming of age novels, novels that are literary but with elements of surrealism and/or magical realism, thrillers with female protagonists and/or a lot of dark humor and/or a literary feel.


Here's what I'm less likely to like:
Thrillers that involve a lot of blood and gore (just for kicks), fantasy, sci fi (unless it's very literary)


Here's what I won't like:
Novels that are a series of bad/sad/horrific/violent events where nothing good ever happens (GK is somewhat squeamish unless the writing is truly excellent--though, for example, Fight Club suited me just fine), and novels involving aliens. So, the worst fit for me would be a sad story about aliens that kill each other in real original ways.**

*


Here's how you submit your work to GK:
See the upper-right hand corner? That's an email address that will forward to the appropriate account.

Please include your query in the body of the email, and--if it's fiction--the first ten pages, also in the body of the email.

___________________________
* This refers to this post, in which GK meets an editor for lunch--just after a case of vinegar goes down the stairs.

** This refers to the How Not to Communicate With Agents--A Game! post.

GK Interviewed by Hilarious Tahereh

According to the fabulously talented, incredibly amusing Tahereh at stiryourtea.blogspot.com--an interview with me will be posted this evening. It contains vital information about queries, rejections, and gummi bears.

Seriously. You don't want to miss this.

Pie charts: they're a little weird.

So a reporter called me today, looking for information for a piece (I can't tell you the specifics, but) on query letters--a very clever angle. We got to talking about whether or not she'd include the link to this blog--which is where she found me--in the piece.

"Well, we should mention something," she said. "Otherwise, they'll be reading this and think you're sitting at home and making pie charts for yourself...which could seem a little weird."

I laughed--it was one of those interviews where it felt like chatting with a friend, rather than putting words down that will become a matter of public (or Google) record.

"Yes," I said, not mentioning the poster boards and giant, smelly markers--the evenings before conferences that I spent in the living room, my roommate looking on as I tried to use a box of cereal as a straight edge--or the big, side table tabletop I use to make the circle that holds the pie.

"Yeah--that could sound pretty weird," I said.

What if agents could look for writers while writers look for agents?

Mighty AG,
Do you hate me yet? Am I becoming a cyber stalker? You opened the window where you actually answer all the crazy notions in me wee noggin. I feel like Corey Haim in Lucas sometimes....(don't say if you've never seen that movie, I am dating myself here.)

Do you believe it's feasible, in the age of computers and cool things like the internets, for agents to go to a place where they could peruse authors and their work as opposed to only waiting for queries to come to them? 


Like [URL of site like this that exists]?

Strangely, I've thought a lot about this. Wouldn't it be cool if there were writers posting things on sites, and then agents could browse by genre? Then authors would, theoretically, only get Yeses--and they could do this in addition to the old-fashioned, query-sending method. They also wouldn't have to worry about not hearing about an agent that would be perfect for them.

But GK believes (can you tell I love writing about myself in pseudonymous third person?) there's something to be said for the human element of it. It's chemistry, after all, and though I suppose one could find chemistry while browsing manuscripts, sorted by objective criteria, online--wouldn't it be so much better to meet eyes with one across a crowded slushy (like the piles, not like December) room? I would think so.

I'm not sure. Frankly, I have so many submissions directed at me, it's already hard to keep up. But is the idea appealing? Yes. Yes it is. But where would it end? Suddenly I'd be in the middle of, say, dinner--and I'd start thinking, "Oh gosh! What if someone just posted something brilliant? What if another agent gets to it first?! Oh  noes!"

So, that could totally interrupt my social life.

GK prediction: there will eventually be one mega-site that's really, really easy to use. Agents can secretly rank works, and the computerized system (like e-manuscript-harmony?) will adjust to find things that each agent is more likely to like. Perhaps there'll be drag-and-drop or one-click requesting, with a form request email that we specify. Then there will be a flurry of articles in places like Writer's Digest about using a two-pronged system and how to negotiate between agents on one and agents on another.

Do I think it's a component of the future of the submissions process? Yes. Do I think it's going to replace writing to agents directly? No.

The "boilerplate" that has GK steamed, OR: WTF, contract?

We've all heard horror stories of houses sending "boilerplate" (they aren't) contracts to unagented writers that ruin careers--or make them an uphill battle. Before today, I'd seen some that are not ideal, but not that shocking.

You should always read everything in every document before signing it--especially when it has to do with the future of your career--and the vast majority of those documents are up for discussion, whether they're your Author-Agent Agreement (one would hope you'd feel comfortable enough discussing these things with your future agent), your book contract--even your rental agreement.

Because they know I'm curious--and/or because they are unagented writers who have the general sense something is wrong but can't pinpoint it--people sometimes send me contracts, or clauses, to look at. I kind of like them, in a geeky way. (I also always offer to look at friends' leases before they sign them, but that might just be part of the requisite NYC real estate obsession.)

But today I saw a book contract that I promptly annotated with "WTF"--twice. Other notes included an exclamation point that is 1.4 inches tall, two "whoa"s--and a lot of crossings-out.

So, yes. They're not an urban legend. They do exist.

And, quite thankfully, that writer will--perhaps partially as a result of my rather impolite annotations--be just fine.

Jane Austen's Fight Club