Glimpses from this weekend's conference

A pitch session: 
An obesity expert: "I think much of the problem has to do with fast food and Starbucks! Those frappuccinos...!"
Me: *Looks at desk, which has two empty Starbucks cups, two used coffee mugs, and a Chipotle bag*

When on a Starbucks run:
Our driver: A lot of men carry guns here. Concealed weapons are perfectly legal.
Me: What about for kids? Can kids carry them?
Him: No, you have to be eighteen.
Me: Do you still have duels?

On a panel:
Moderator: Here's a question I don't understand, but you guys might. This writer wants to know about L-G-B-Q...?
An agent: Oh yeah! LGBT. That stands for--
Moderator: In YA fiction? Does this go back to the appropriateness question?
Me, annoyed: Look. I'm from a blue state--
An agent (quietly): Watch it...
Me: I mean, um, er, a lot of high school kids now are out--
An agent: It doesn't have to be the main issue of the book
Me: Like in life, it just kind of is. Some kids are gay, but it doesn't define them entirely.
Audience: Long pause.
Moderator: Okay, next question...

A pitch session:
Me: I like your ladybug pin!
Her: I'm...not wearing a pin.
Me: (Gently nudges the "pin" with a pen) Oh! It's real!
Her: They're supposed to be good luck, aren't they?
Me: Well, this one's extra lucky. How'd it get in here?! (We were in a mile-long windowless complex.)

A special event, in which agents comment immediately on pitches read aloud: 
Announcer: "...My 75,000-word romance novel, [title with horrible pun]..."
Agent on the panel: That's what she said!

At the airport bar:
Waiter: We make margaritas in any flavor you can think of.
Me: Okra?
Me: Barbecue sauce?
Waiter: I guess, but--
Me: Blackberry it is.

In good news: the ladybug lived (it was taken outside and gently left on a blade of grass), the romance novelist changed her title, no one got shot, and I'm still able to fit into my clothes, despite the local deliciousness.

On Agents and the Making Fun of Queries

So. I spoke with a number of writers this weekend who fully expect that agents are, at all times, making fun of the bulk of the queries that come in.

First of all: yes, our offices can sometimes get somewhat silly. Put enough overcaffeinated, underslept creative types in one place and you will end up with an amusing work environment. (And, in case you were wondering, no, we do not drink at work. At least, I never have. I did hear about one office where there is whiskey in many desk drawers--and this used to be typical in the 1960s, when publishing was something nice young women did between an all-women's college and marriage. I once had a trying phone call, though, and got off the phone and said, "Why can't we work in the Mad Men office? I want a drink! Not to drink, just to look at!" My boss: "What do you want?" Me: "Gin." Her: "I'll get you some gin. Just to look at.")

But most of our amusement isn't "Look at this query" based. In fact, I think that only happens once every few weeks or so. And even then, it's more like the humor of my intern's piece, below.

But I know a lot of writers left disheartened, and at the airport, we talked about how that isn't the norm, and how, were those our queries, we would have felt pretty awful about the whole thing.

So. Rest assured. We're not usually like that. We take our power to determine writers' fate seriously.

What It's Like to Work For GK

A post by the aforementioned delightful intern.

Intern's very special interpretation of a straightforward assignment

So I asked one of my interns to write a blog post about what it's like to work here.

This morning she tells me to check my inbox. I find a file called "[Intern]'s very special interpretation of a straightforward assignment."

It's a cartoon. It's hilarious. I was laughing so hard, my boss came in and said, "Girls! What in the world are you giggling about like that?"

As soon as the images are ready, I'll post.

Check your email!

If you signed up to be part of the new GK project (see post below, the one about rolodexes), I've sent an invite.

Queries,, Potatoes and Michael Pollan

This question refers to this post:

"One's patience wears a bit thin against 100 degree temperatures with 100 percent humidity"--does this mean we should check the New York weather before sending our query?


That's an interesting thought.

But I'm not sure how well you can guess what's going on in each agent's head/office. Most offices are air-conditioned and comfortably heated. Some agents like heat. Some like cold. Some drink more tea/hot chocolate/coffee during the colder months, and those are all dopamine-boosters.

I don't know what to tell you. The microclimates--the "I just found a great query! How exciting! Can't wait to see what else there is today!" or the "I just broke up with my boyfriend and all romance queries are getting a form reject today" feelings--are probably more of a worry and, of course, not predicted by

Incidentally--this is one of those books I can't stop talking about--did you know that the ancient Andean potato farmers found microclimates so small that certain varieties of potatoes could grow beautifully in one spot but wither four feet away? And that they dealt with uncertainty by cultivating thousands of varieties, a direct opposite of our "This Burbank Russet is the most robust so we will mass-produce it" approach?

I'm simply loving The Botany of Desire. I mean, you know I am, when I go from weather to potatoes.

Darn. Now I want one for lunch.

Judgmental Bookseller Ostrich!

Not sure who at Housing Works Bookstore (if I had a GK Seal of Approval, they'd get one) came up with this, but...they're amusing.

Here are some more judgmental bookseller ostriches.

And you can make your own here.

Rolodex time!

Incidentally, a fifteen-year-old told me recently that she doesn't know what a rolodex is. Sigh.

Please comment below with your email address and the name you've been using here. (Naturally, I will not publish these posts.)

I'm working on a new project and, when it's ready, want you, faithful readers, to be the first to receive invites.
Stories you don't remember still affect you.

“I don’t remember the books I read," Mr Collins says.”All I associate [with books I have loved] is an atmosphere and a stray image or two, like memories of trips I took as a child.”

“It’s there,” Professor Wolf says to James Collins when he cogitates on whether time spent reading all those books had not been a waste after all. “You are the sum of it all...“I totally believe that you are a different person for having read that book. I say that as a neuroscientist and an old literature major.”

Amusing Fake Product of the Day

"Does your Kindle leave you feeling like there’s something missing from your reading experience?

Have you been avoiding e-books because they just don’t smell right?

If you’ve been hesitant to jump on the e-book bandwagon, you’re not alone. Book lovers everywhere have resisted digital books because they still don’t compare to the experience of reading a good old fashioned paper book.

But all of that is changing thanks to Smell of Books™, a revolutionary new aerosol e-book enhancer.

Now you can finally enjoy reading e-books without giving up the smell you love so much. With Smell of Books™ you can have the best of both worlds, the convenience of an e-book and the smell of your favorite paper book."

I guess it was only a matter of time. :)
For those of you who are concerned about the information in the last post, two things:

  1. There will always be exceptions. 
  2. You will always be more successful writing what you love than writing to follow a trend. 

I called it a little too early.

Last August, I mentioned the pendulum swing from paranormal back to contemporary YA--at that point, I'd had it with various creature paranormal romances (then again, one's patience wears a bit thin against 100 degree temperatures with 100 percent humidity) and was ready to pounce on, and delight in, any mention of contemporary works as the Next Big Thing.

The real world is interesting too, you know.

It didn't happen as quickly as I'd hoped, but I saw new, more sophisticated takes on paranormal--so everything was fine.

But now I'm hearing this again--first from an agent, and now from two editors, in the last week. One editor said her sales reps have officially said "No more paranormal!"; another put it more gently--"I'd love some good contemporary works."

Another mini-trend: one agent said "Middle Grade is hard right now"; an editor also told me, "We're backing off of YA, and would like more MG."

So, no conclusions there, yet, but I'll keep you updated.

Pie charts, quiche, and ridiculously large bars of chocolate

I believe I've made more pie charts in the last 36 hours than I have, well, ever--including all of that time in math classes, with protractors and compasses.

Why the pie, you ask? (And bar graphs, too?)*

Well. I'm about to attend a conference, and in order to prepare for the class I'm teaching, I'm making...wait for it...

A Power Point presentation. With pie charts.

Yeah. It's going to be just like those Geico commercials. Minus (hopefully) the disco ball.

I prefer to think of it like a silent film. With a lot more cartoons. One features aliens. They're kind of cute.

Never mind that I've never used Power Point in my life. And that I didn't know my laptop came with a remote until, like, three years into my owning it.

But what goes well with pie charts? Pie, of course. In this case, a savory one.

Here's my ridiculously simple quiche recipe. I brought some to a friend of mine, and he liked it. And he's an editor so, well, you know he has good taste.**

Note that the bouillon really makes the dish. You could probably make it with Herb-Ox brand, but I rather like the Knorr.

You will need:

1 ready-made pie crust. I believe I used Pillsbury. Make sure it is not sweet.
1 box frozen chopped spinach. Yes, you could use real, but you know this is the right amount.
1 to 1-1/2 cup(s) grated cheddar
1 cube Knorr veggie bouillon (very important)
4 eggs
Splash of milk, half and half, or cream

Step one: prepare pie crust according to directions. This usually means poking it a few times with a fork, and sticking it in the oven at 400 for about ten minutes.

While the oven is preheating and you're preparing the crust, cook the spinach on the stove with the bouillon. Add water slowly: 1/2 cup at first. Keep in mind that you really just need enough to 1) cook the spinach, and 2) dissolve the bouillon. And you don't want to have any extra water when it goes into the quiche. Stir. Break the cube into little pieces if it doesn't dissolve easily.

Crack four eggs into a bowl, add the splash of milk/half and half/cream, and whisk. Or stir with a fork.

When you've taken the crust out of the oven, add a layer of cheddar cheese to the bottom. This will form a protective barrier between the crust and things that might make it soggy.

Then spread the spinach evenly over the cheese, and pour the eggs over.

Turn the oven down to 350 (no need to wait for it to cool), and bake for 30-45 minutes--until you can tap the quiche gently and it doesn't wiggle.

When you take it out of the oven, sprinkle remaining cheese on top for decorative and delicious purposes.

Wait for the cheese to melt (and the quiche to cool a bit), then serve.

This is not my quiche. This is a stolen quiche. But isn't it delicious-looking?
* Incidentally, to go with the bar graphs, I received the largest bar of chocolate I have ever seen in the mail yesterday. It's, like, five pounds and 72 percent cocoa. "Now you know you won't run out!" my friend said. Um...true.

**Actually, I've found that many editors have excellent taste in fancy food, organic food, locally grown and specially handled food--but a lot of them don't eat that way very often. A few have admitted to vending machine-based diets.
How difficult is it to find an internship? Should I consider contacting local small publishing houses?

To give you an idea--I've received 285 internship applications since early 2010. I extended seven offers, and got six interns.

Most of the applicants disqualify themselves immediately--dreadful writing, entitled attitudes, the general sense that they would complain if I asked them to, you know, do some work. (Our ad specifically mentions that there won't be a lot of xeroxing and coffee-fetching--it's pretty plush as these things go--so if even reading is too much to ask...)

Yes, you should consider local internships--I don't only count brand-name work (ie, "I interned for the New Yorker!"); working on your town's local paper, or setting up your own literary magazine, or being otherwise involved in a literary project is (for me) enough. I'm mostly concerned with whether it appears that you have a long-standing interest in the written word, and are willing to do something about it.

Many of our interns, in fact, don't have stereotypically impressive resumes--what they do have is the ability to brilliantly analyze manuscripts--to know what's working and what isn't, and why--to quickly locate the work that needs immediate attention--and to keep up with trends in the genres we represent.

Most are young women in their twenties. Most are from places other than New York but are here for school. The vast majority of them have far exceeded my expectations--and are pleasant to have around, too.

I look for well-written cover letters that prove research ("I loved [book that agency repped]" is always a good one) and give a sense of your own personal voice and style. (One of my favorite opening sentences: "My name is __________, and I am a bibliophile.") I generally meet about ten applicants for each round, and then narrow that down to one or two after asking them to read a sample manuscript  and respond to it.

I have a particularly pleasant, bright intern at the moment. I'll ask her to do a guest post.

"Cheese" cake!

It's a bit less crumbly-looking in person. 

And I'm going to frost the round part, where the rind would be, in a deep orange. 

Happy Super Bowl, everyone! 
I'm actually pretty excited about the Super Bowl this year.

Why's that, you ask? Because I'm making a cheese hat cake.

I'm thinking yellow cake cut into a wedge, and then I'll go at it with a melon baller.

And now for something completely different...

...and probably with far fewer capers--I'm going to a "collection visit" in the home of some Upper East Siders who've accumulated so much art, an open house is considered a museum event.

I'm bringing a friend who looks so much like Lady Gaga, we went around dressed as Ms. Gaga and her entourage--and signed a number of autographs for confused tourists--for her birthday. Tonight, she's wearing a long dress and monocle. I'm wearing vintage wool houndstooth.

They'll either kick us out before I can show a membership card (won in a lottery) or comment on how nice it is that young people like art. (Um, we have eyes, too.)

We shall see. If I'm to suddenly go missing, assume I'm wandering around Sutton Place, disoriented by the vast accumulation of pretty things. And snow.

It is in print that our words will live on.

“Tired of that tangle of chargers, one for each digital thingy? Sick of those plugs that fit the sockets in San Diego but not in Sydney or Surrey? In dread of the ‘beep’ that tells you your screen is about to go blank?

“Well, say goodbye to recharging misery! Welcome to Print, to the book with pages you can turn, to the newspaper you can fold – to a world of reading pleasure that never shuts down. Put your book on a shelf. Toss your newspaper in a drawer. Take them out a week later. Take them out 100 years later. There they are, ready to be read. You won’t believe print’s download speed. There is no download speed! Print is always ‘on’!

See the full (rather smart and amusing) article here.

Here's a check-in that worked:

Dear [Agent],

I sent you a query letter (see below). Last week two agents requested to see the manuscript of [Title of manuscript]. I’m letting you know out of professional courtesy, but honestly because out of all the agents I have researched I wish we could “click” and work together.* I value the tone of your website and your [specific feature of company/website]. And of course, your professional representation.

I have a full book proposal, synopsis, and finished manuscript.

Best wishes,


Good job. Gold star. 

I should note a few things: 

  1. This was this author's best and only option for getting our attention--this had been sitting in the company's query inbox for awhile, and no one had responded yet.
  2. Having two requests isn't, in the grand scheme of things, amazingly impressive--that said, because this is sweetly written (and her query was on the fence, hence its not getting a response yet), it tipped me over into the "Yes, I'll take a look" category.

* Note: You don't have to say this--and don't, if it isn't true! But if it is true, go for it--then we're sure that, if we go ahead and read this quickly and like it, we have a good chance of securing you as our client.

GK's lesson of the day: don't idealize!

And by this, I mean don’t idealize either agents or your competition.

I received a phone call last night about my Getting Revenge on Lauren Wood post.  " 'I remembered my D.A.R.E. instructor's words and refused it, all while lecturing him on just how bad it is for a developing brain'--Really?!” she said.

“Really,” I said. “People send manuscripts like that.”

She didn’t seem convinced.

Listen. If you’re pretending that your competition is doing brilliant things—writing amazing works that should be adopted into the literary canons, composing perfect pitch letters with 100 percent success rates, exploring new and exciting literary terrain that would blow the mind of even the most jaded New York reader, all on a daily basis—while you’re just, you know, human—you’re wrong.

I don’t want to say bad things about the members of the slush pile.

But (perhaps, as my friend likes to say, I had a big bowl of snark for breakfast) here are some things your competition did this week. Yes. Really:
  • Calling me by a name similar to mine, but decidedly not mine. Four times. Twice, I wrote back signing my own name. No hint taken.
  • Offering double the commission, since surely my decision not to represent him was a financial one. Then writing the next day to say, "Sorry, that offer is off the table." Uh-huh. 
  • Using "U" in the place of "you." Within an argument about her professionalism.
  • Writing to say that he'd like to know where I am with his manuscript, because he has "a lot more coming down the pike." I write back, reject it (I'd already decided to do so), and emphasize that there are a lot of agents out there who could be a better fit. Has he seen the Jeff Herman? Yeah. Lots of agents there. Who are not me. His response: Great! I'll send you the new one as soon as it's ready! "Don't worry," he adds, "I'll keep trying you!" Trying indeed.
  • One writer met me at a party in June, and just emailed today. I told her she was writing in a genre we don't generally represent. "Oh, but I just need some pointers about the publishing process," she said then, already grating. "I'll send it as soon as I'm ready!" Today she writes, apologizing for not sending her work sooner--I know you were excited to see this, she says; I'm sorry to keep you waiting! To her credit, I knew who she was immediately. And I'm really bad with faces and names.
  • One writer mistook my form rejection for a revise-and-resubmit. I'm still not quite sure how that happened--and yes, the confusion seems genuine. And now I get to write a really awkward email. 
Also, agents? Well. I know many, and though they’re often very smart, capable, interesting, creative people—people I’d trust ruling the world, and believe you me, I have a hard time trusting anyone in that role—they're also often rather (to me, charmingly) quirky.

I can’t repeat it enough: we’re human. Granted, we’re humans with a seemingly supernatural power over what people read next.

But we also spend evenings acting like total dorks. At least, I do.

Now, I'm going to admit this, because I think the world would be a better place if dentists admitted to going to bed (on occasion) without brushing, math teachers were frank about freaking out while learning the unit circle, prima ballerinas confessed to clumsiness, and astronauts spoke about fears of heights, aliens, black holes and/or supernovae.

So. What did I do last night?

Well. I made some cous cous, with pretty much everything I found in the kitchen. (I’m catsitting for a friend, so the ingredients were strange, varied and delicious. I have an unnatural fondness for capers; at least a few tablespoons—okay, about a quarter cup—went in.) I went to Starbucks to use their free internet, sending off a truly weird story to my writing group. I had a glass of Two Buck Chuck chardonnay, left over from a guest, which isn’t so bad if you add ice cubes (yes…I did) and serve it very, very cold—cold enough that your taste buds are numbed and then relieved to return to room temperature. Then I watched a certain reality television show involving a supposedly reformed suitor--all two hours of it. (For any fellow fans—my goodness, Michelle seems totally nuts.)

Sometimes, when your taste in one area means a lot, it's a bit of a relief to have decidedly terrible taste in another, even if it's just television and just one show. (Okay, I like Castle, too--and not just because of Nathan Fillion.)

And then I took advantage of something rare in New York: a floor above nobody.

See, we spend so much time in the city trying to take up less space: there’s very little for us on rush hour trains, particularly in Manhattan; things are built smaller (this Upper East Side one-bedroom is probably about 350 square feet), and—no matter where we go—there are always, always, always people within ten feet of us, even if it’s through walls and (particularly) floors. If you live above someone, you know it may annoy them if you run, jump, move furniture, drop things, do cartwheels, or let the tea kettle go too long after eleven. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, and it rarely is, but it's always in the back of your mind: someone may hear every single step. Weird, right?

Knowing that this borrowed apartment—which comes with two kitties, one tuxedo-printed and one charcoal grey and fluffy and rather like a powder puff—is above a financial institution that closes at six, rather than, say, people—I spent a good portion of my evening blasting my ipod and jumping around. Mostly because I could.

And I do mean that literally, the jumping. I won’t tell you what I’m listening to—my taste in music is even worse than my taste in television, if that tells you anything—but I assure you, I looked like a total dork. I know, because there’s a big mirror on the wall. And yes, I sang along.

I don’t think you need much more evidence than this: some agents are just nice girls (er, women--er, people) looking to fall in love with manuscripts. And, in the meantime, they watch cheesy television and listen to bad music and eat whatever’s available in the kitchen (What’s that? Dried cranberries?! Yum! Maybe those'll go…) and drink ridiculously bad wine.

I'm sure some agents spend their evenings with box seats at the opera, tasting menus and floors that are part of luxury buildings and therefore designed to silently withstand the dropping of anvils. But not all.

So, don’t think of (all of) us as rulers of the universe. Think of us as humans who happen to have a particular fondness for fabulous work (and, yes, the power to help bring it into book form).

No need to be intimidated.

Just learn as much as you can, and then do your best.