17 May, 2013
If you’re a writer and you have not been living under a rock, you’ve undoubtedly heard about the infamous query letter. This is the vehicle by which you will approach prospective agents and publishers.It is all-important because it will determine whether the recipient–someone you are trying to impress and engage–will respond to you and consider your work.
Here are 5 steps that will present you and your work in a professional manner:
Step 1: Check the agency of publisher website for guidelines and follow them precisely.
–Your letter may either be sent by snail mail or email, depending on the preferences of the recipient. Always check the submission guidelines of a particular agent or publisher you are approaching them and follow them exactly. If the requirement is to send a query letter by post with a self-addressed stamped envelope, do so. If the company only accepts email, do not send snail mail. If you’re asked not to include attachments to an email, don’t. Do not imagine that you are the exception to the rules. Do not expect the recipient to return materials to you.
Step 2: Craft a letter that showcases your strengths as a writer and potential client or author.
You’re a writer. So write a great letter. You would be amazed at how many terrible letters we receive. Take the time to develop a thoughtful and succinct letter. Here is what you need to cover: Who are you and what is your book? Why are you writing it or what inspired you to write it? What makes you uniquely qualified to write on this subject or this particular story? Is your book particularly timely, and if so, why? What is your hope and goal? Who do you think is your potential reader? Do you have a way of reaching the potential market for the book (newsletter, speaking engagements, social media presence, etc.). Try to keep your letter to a page of page and a half in legible type.
Step 3: Choose an appropriate salutation and closing.
If you do not know the person to whom you are addressing the letter, do not try to be overly familiar. Nor do you need to be ridiculously formal. Avoid a generic salutation such as “Dear Literary Agent,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Always address the letter to a specific person. (Never send out a mass email to a group of publishing professionals.) Make sure you know the gender of the person you’re writing to, and use an appropriate greeting. To close, thank the person for his or her time and consideration, and sign it “Sincerely” followed by your full name.
Step 4: Formatting the letter.
Choose a pleasing font and type size. If you are sending a printed letter, use a nice quality stock in a standard letter size. Letters in odd sizes or inappropriate stationary do not look professional. Even if you are sending an email, you can format it to simulate a letter.
Step 5: Sending the letter.
Be sure to use the right postage, and if an SASE is requested, include it with current postage affixed. (Use a “Forever” stamp that will not go out of date.)
Follow Up: Do not call the person to find out whether he or she received your letter or email. If you have not heard anything after a month, you can send one follow up note. If you still do not receive a response, move on. A publishing professional who wants to know more about you and your work will usually reach out to you. When we don’t, it is because we are very busy and receive volumes of queries.
If you are rejected, try to “listen” to what the agent or publisher is telling you. Does it have merit? Perhaps you can use the feedback to improve your presentation of your work. Don’t take it personally.
Last night, I had the pleasure of attending the Mystery Writers of America’s annual Edgar Allen Poe Awards at the invitation of Quirk Books, publisher of one of the one of the nominees in the “best paperback original” original category. Turns out the amiable author Ben Winters dresses up really nice in a tux, and so does his publishing team (at left)!
Ben’s THE LAST POLICEMAN, which has been characterized by one blogger as “apolocalypse noir” features a young detective who has the misfortune of trying to solve his first case in a world gone badly wrong. With an asteroid set to collide with the earth in six months, everything in Hank Palace’s world is breaking down. And yet Palace doggedly persists in trying to do the right thing.
It’s a great premise for the first in a trilogy of novels that blend the best of mystery with elements of science fiction and just plain old great storytelling that characterizes the best of these genres. The increasingly chaotic and dark world Winters’ has created is compelling and his protagonist Hank Palace becomes the moral center.
When THE LAST POLICEMAN was announced as the winner, I have to confess I shrieked. But the photo below was taken minutes before, in a calmer moment.
Thanks to Ben’s brilliant editor, Jason Rekulak, his energetic and visionary publishing team at Quirk. It was a night to remember.
And Quirk will the sequel to THE LAST POLICEMAN, COUNTDOWN CITY this summer, so there’s much to look forward to.
24 April, 2013
Writers are understandably concerned when asked to trim their manuscript by a considerable degree. Yet the experience of cutting your manuscript with the help of an experienced editor need not be a painful one. An editor has the advantage of being a neutral outsider, not caught up in the countless whirling threads that consume an author.
As an example, I recall an edit that turned out to be rewarding for both author and editor. At a later point in his career, John Jakes wrote a 900-page novel that no publishing house wanted to touch. I was currently serving as an in-house book doctor for Dutton/New American Library publisher, Elaine Koster. She bought the Jakes book, and then she turned right around and told me: Cut it down to 600 pages. I followed orders.When I read the manuscript, which centers on the early days of cinema, both in New York state and the beginning era in Hollywood, I was hoping for large pieces to cut. When an entire third of a novel needs to be pared away, that means eliminating a character and/or subplot line. Luckily, he had written an extended foray into World War I that, while effective unto itself, clearly had little to do with the rest of the novel. With this large piece, plus 10 percent cut through close line-by-line pruning, the way to 300 pages was clear.
John Jakes was very receptive to the work. In fact, he wrote that it was the best editing he’d ever had. The book went on to be very successful for the house, and we kept on publishing him for a satisfying run of books after that.
Visit www.johnpaine.com for more blog posts (“Building a Book”)
10 April, 2013
Last night, April 9, Elaine Neil Orr launched A Different Sun (Berkley/Penguin), a novel about a young missionary woman who leaves her parent’s plantation to accompany her missionary husband to Africa, at a wonderful independent bookstore in Raleigh, Quail Ridge Books. Orr, who was born in Nigeria, where much of the novel takes place, was inspired by an actual diary of a young missionary woman.
Library Journal applauded Orr’s debut:
“Lush, evocative, breathtaking in its descriptions, and deeply spiritual in its themes of love, forgiveness, and transformation, this extraordinary novel shines with light and depth. Reminiscent of Barbara Kingsolver’s magnum opus, The Poisonwood Bible, with elements of Joseph Conrad and Louise Erdrich, Orr’s stunning debut is starkly beautiful and true to life.”
Orr is also the author of a breathtaking memoir of growing up in Nigeria, The Gods of Noonday (University Press of Virginia).
For more about Elaine Neil Orr, go to www.elaineneilorr.net.
8 April, 2013
Last night, I had a great time celebrating with author, Lauren Kelly, a certified nutritionist who is also affiliated with the Bar Method in Montclair, N.J. Lauren’s friends through her a launch party to celebrate her first book, THE EVERYTHING WHEAT-FREE COOKBOOK (F&W Media). We got to sample her delicious Thai chicken skewers with peanut sauce, pulled-pork, risotto with mushrooms and so much more. The crowning glory was the cake, which matched the book jacket! And in keeping with the healthy motif, Skinny Girl cocktails were served including a refreshing white sangria redolent of oranges.
Last night, my colleague, agent Jacqueline (Jacquie) Flynn and I met up with our subagents in Beijing (for Mainland China) and Taipei (for Taiwan) at the illustrious Algonquin Hotel. Jackie Huang and Whitney Hsu, met as friends while taking a degree in publishing at Oxford University in England. They work for what may be the premiere agency in their respective territories as part of London-based Andrew Nurnberg Associates International and are pioneers in terms of helping to bring English language works into translation in their countries so that they can be read by millions. Our agency has been working with them since they set up shop ten years ago, and we have marveled at their keen intelligence, knowledge of both their marketplaces and ours, and their passion for books.
So how does this work? Essentially, they are partners with our agency in representing our authors in this part of Asia. They help us to select which titles they feel have potential in China and Taiwan (two distinct markets). We can send them a proposal or manuscript and ask them for their opinion. Or we can wait to have a finished manuscript or even published book for them to evaluate. Over the years, they have brought many of our business and parenting titles, for example, to leading publishers in China. Currently, they tell us, there is strong interest in science as well. In fiction, there is growth in YA and middle grade novels, which parallels our experience here. And there is burgeoning interest in romance, but of a sweeter and cleaner variety.
Over drinks and tea, we gossiped, pitched, exchanged ideas and experiences. At one point, Jackie became so animated that she knocked over a glass of white wine, but this did not seem to faze the Algonquin bar staff the least bit. I find it extraordinary to know that four women from four corners of the globe, can connect and partner through common interests. And part of what makes it work is understanding, too, how our lives are similar and so very different, in our attitudes and practices. When I mentioned a desire to visit Taiwan, Whitney responded earnestly that if I come, she will share her wonderful city with me. And so, it seemed, these women are not just my colleagues, but my dear and courageous friends.
27 March, 2013
I was honored earlier this week when Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, former Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel and author of the moving memoir, OUT OF THE DEPTHS, spoke to President Obama at Yad Vashem. Today, Rabbi Lau is mentioned prominently in a front-page article in The New York Times about the life and death of Rabbi Hershel Schacter, who was the first Jewish chaplain to enter Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, an hour after General George Patton’s Third Army liberated the camp. The article relates the story of a little boy named Lulek who was hiding behind a mound of corpses as Rabbi Schacter entered. Here is an en excerpt of that encounter:
“With tears streaming down his face, Rabbi Schachter picked the boy up. ‘What’s your name, my child,’ he asked in Yiddish. ‘Lulek,’ the child replied. ‘How old are you?’ the rabbi asked. ‘What difference does it make?’ Lulek, who was 7, said. ‘I’m older than you, anyway.’ ‘Why do you think you are older?’ Rabbi Schacter asked, smiling. ‘Because you cry and laugh like a child,’ Lulek replied. ‘I haven’t laughed in a long time, and I don’t even cry anymore. So which one of us is older?’
That little boy would be come Chief Rabbi of Israel. His memoir is one of the most moving and beautifully written Holocaust accounts I have ever read. It traces Lulek’s subsequent emigration to Israel, his education as a rabbi, and his encounters with some of the most important world leaders of our time, including Pope John Paul II, Nelson Mandela, Fidel Castro, Bill Clinton, and the Dalai Lama.
6 March, 2013
Once upon a time, when I was an editor at Ballantine Books, Random House, I arrived at my favorite “neighborhood” restaurant to meet with a literary agent for lunch. I coveted the corner booth, which was quieter, more comfortable and afforded some privacy. The maitre d’ became very agitated. “Oh,” he said, “I’m afraid I can’t seat you there today, Ms. Delbourgo. You see, Sonny Mehta is coming today and he thinks it’s his table.” Needless to say, I demurred and was seated elsewhere. After all, Sonny Mehta was the head of Random House’s jewel-in-the-crown, Knopf, and a presence in publishing. Absolutely no contest in the game of musical chairs.
Even then (some fifteen years ago), lunch had become a tame affair. No more two-martini, three hour lunches. No, publishing was already becoming a “business.” And yet, editors, agents and authors continue to get together almost daily for lunch. Not only is it immensely enjoyable (people in this industry are so smart and dedicated, so it is a pleasure to meet with them), but it is also tremendously productive. Even with all of the myriad ways that we connect 24/7, there is a camaraderie and a sharing of information that goes well beyond what can be gleaned from an email or an editor’s job description.
Case in point, my lunch last week with Marcia Markland at Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press. Although we have both been in the business for more than three decades, our paths have never actually crossed in person. I knew that Marcia is one of the top editors for mysteries, and recently I’d sent her a mystery for consideration which she promptly turned down. At the same time, she suggested we get together. She arrived at lunch with a huge bag of books, many of her favorite ones that she’d edited. As she went through them, I learned so much about her and what she loved. I didn’t know, for example, that she publishes Scandinavian mysteries and has sources there who help her to identify the best ones, even though she doesn’t read a word of any Scandinavian language. Or that she loves cats and just happened to be reading a novel I’d sent the house that was narrated by a cat; I’d sent it to another editor who had passed it on to Marcia, who was clearly a perfect reader for it. I found out that she was Julia Cameron’s fiction editor (who knew?) and that she was passionate about women’s issues.
Through the course of lunch, not only did we sample a delicious variety of Indian delights, but so, too, we got to know one another in a way that simply cannot happen just on the phone or through emails and submissions. Not only do I now feel that I’ll be better able to target future submissions to Marcia, but I also felt that I’d met a kindred spirit and friend. It is precisely those kinds of relationships that make this business so unique but also allows me to do a great job for my clients.
Today, I’m lunching with a favorite editor, Sara Carder of Tarcher/Penguin. Sara and I have published nine books together, including Nancy Dreyfus’ brilliantTalk to Me Like I’m Someone You Love and Victoria Moran’s inspiring Main Street Vegan. There’s a level of shared interest and trust. I can’t wait to meet her at Le Singe Vert, a French bistro in Chelsea, not only because they serve excellent pommes frites, but because I know that we’ll be scheming about how to make an upcoming book I’ve sold her, The New Soft War on Women, succeed, refining the ideas we have for two other authors we share for what their next projects should be, and just generally catching up on what’s happening on the personal fronts of our lives. I’ll also press her on what’s happening within the house: What about the upcoming Penguin Random House merger? What new marketing strategies are working? How is the publisher adapting to the decline of print sales? It’s answers to questions like these that help me to provide clients with a true “inside” perspective on what’s happening in the industry, minute by minute.
It will be too early to raise a glass of wine to toast ventures old and new, but that will be the spirit in which we’ll drink our delicious New York City water, two colleagues and friends meeting new challenges, still in love with what they do.
31 January, 2013
Yes, be shameless, authors! Your editor and agent can be your best allies.
For some bizarre reason, some writers believe that an agent and even sometimes an editor is someone to be feared. Especially when it comes to agents, writers reason that only a “tough” agent can get them a good deal and advocate effectively for them. That may be true for some (we agents come in all stripes), but my experience has shown that one can get much more from editors with honey, and the same is true for what my authors can get from me. A writer who is pleasant, professional, respectful, truly listens, and maybe is even fun and delightful is often the one we work hardest for. We hate to let them down! An author who is a bully or peevish or a whiner may occasionally manage to get his or her way, but in the long run, will wear down the good will of those who are nurturing and promulgating a writing career.
As an agent, I reserve my toughness or proverbial big stick for those situations that truly require it. Indeed, because I try to be gracious more often than not, when I do need to put real pressure on anyone in a publishing house, it will be more effective precisely because I am not crying wolf all the time. From a client, I appreciate frankness, so if an author is unhappy or concerned about something, by all means, they should speak up and not be afraid to alienate me. I am here for them (hopefully). But at the end of the day, at least as an independent agent, if it becomes a trial to represent a chronically unhappy author, chances are the relationship will be terminated by me or the client. One of the beautiful things about owning your agency is that you can walk away, choosing instead to play with those who play nicely with you.
Here are a few tips:
*Choose an agent with whom you feel a rapport, someone who you feel intuitively understands and appreciates your work. Factor in, too, whether you feel a personal connection and can communicate clearly and easily.
*Trust your agent to try to match you with the best editor out there. Even then, sometimes things go awry, and you may find you have a hard time getting along with your editor. In that instance, ask your agent for help in finding the right approach for working with your editor.
*Always treat the assistants/interns at the agency and publishing house with utter respect. Thank them for helping you. Often, the assistant can solve your problem or answer your question, and the agent or editor will be forever grateful that you are freeing them up to do their most important job in advocating for your work.
*Similarly, take the time to get to know everyone you interact with at the agency and/or publishing house, from the publicity office to the special sales department. And thank them when they do something nice or good for you.
*Stay positive. Remember that this is a shared journey, and while you are the driver, we all want you to arrive at your destination!
26 January, 2013
As announced in Publishers Weekly, we are thrilled that our fabulous client Jennifer Lynn Alvarez inked a 4-book deal for a new middle-grade series this week with Rosemary Brosnan and Karen Chaplin at HarperCollins Childrens’. Deals: Week of January 21, 2013.
In Alvarez’s richly imagined world of THE WINGED HERDS OF ANOK the skies are ruled by herds of winged horses, called pegasi. Every hundred years the balance of power is threatened when a black foal, prophesied to either unite or conquer the five herds, is born. No pegasus—not even the foal—knows which he has come to accomplish. Though this century’s black colt, Star, is born malformed and unable to fly, the over-stallions of the five herds plan to execute him on his first birthday. Because his over-sized wings drag on the ground, Star suffers a constant ache between his shoulder blades, and he must travel by hoof like a common horse. His greatest wish is to be a regular flying foal like his friends, but death and destruction seem to follow his every step. With the future of the herds in the balance, and more importantly the lives of his best friends, the black foal rockets toward his inescapable destiny.
Look for the first title in late 2014!