Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Tripod of Publishing: Establishing Priorities

Before I went to college, I was told there were three things I could have: sleep, a social life, and grades. Pick two.

In publishing, there are also three things: best home, best advance, best editor. Pick one.

As an agent, my goal is to get you all three. But usually, there are trade-offs.

For a nonfiction author, a small advance can be devastating if it’s not enough to cover the cost of writing the book. Having the wrong home can hinder support from the publishing house when it comes to marketing and PR. And having the wrong editor can deadpan the project in the water when neither can agree on edits or a direction for the book.

As an author, it’s important to establish your priorities before you sign with an agent, because each agent is going to have a different view on which of the three trumps the others.

Personally, I believe in finding the perfect editor for the project – within the right house. Advance is bottom on my list (which doesn’t mean I won’t fight tooth and nail to get what I can!). Because I work primarily with debut authors, getting them established is priority – and to get them established, they will need the devotion of their editor, and the right house, to push their book.

A small advance isn’t going to hurt your career. You’ll just see royalties faster. If the advance is small, ask what they’ll do for marketing, because low sales will hurt your career (or at least make it difficult to sell your next project).

But don’t get me started on the low numbers debate – with the expanding success many small (and big) presses have with e-book sales, I believe in royalty statements, but most publishers use BookScan and…well, check out this to read more on that!

More established agents who rely primarily on commission may see advance as top priority. And they can afford to do this, because they work with established clients. For these clients, they have a built-in platform or fan base to work from, and do not need as much PR to sell the same amount of books as a debut author – and so the advance trumps all other concerns.

As for the right house? Well, two reasons this is important: two, they’ll have a history marketing this type of book, which means they can do it well, and first, they’ll still want to publish it even if your editor leaves (and hopefully there will be someone else there who will actually be happy to take over the project).

In the end, it comes down to what you’re comfortable with. Never publish quickly – publish well. But publishing well doesn’t mean having all three factors.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

WINNERS of the Horrendously Hilarious Query Contest!

Truth be told, judging of this contest felt a lot like playing Apples to Apples -- you know, like when the word is "classic" and someone throws in "banana hammock." ALL of these entries were worthy of winning, but those "banana hammocks" hit up my funny bone in just the right way!

So, without further ado, I give you: the WINNERS!!

Please contact natalie@dijkstraagency.com to claim your prize (requested items should be included).

First Place: Anne

Dear Lady Agent with nice hair,

Do you believe in magic? Well I hope you do. In my debut-yet-sure-to-be-bestselling fiction novel, I deal with the very real issues of magic. MAGIC MARKER is a story of not one but twelve classic colors forced to share one yellow box. They were picked to live in this space and see what happens when things stop being semi-permanent and start getting real. The issues in this book are ones that adults can relate to on a daily basis. Like what to do when that last marker just doesn’t fit because the second one in the box decided to stack itself vertically instead of linearly. Or the seven stages of grieving when one looses their cap and begins the slow and painful process of drying out. My debut-yet-sure-to-be-bestselling fiction novel is going to be the next Harry Potter, for adults. I know you must be drooling all over your face at the chance to rep such a mind bending literary instant classic. (like classic colors…GET IT?!?) So why wait? Call now. I will have representatives waiting to take your call 24 hours a day.

I have been a daycare worker for one year and I feel my extensive knowledge of coloring utensils makes me the prime candidate to write this thirteen book series. Why thirteen you ask? I’m not sure yet because I have only written my acknowledgments at this point. BUT I will be sure to let you know when that time comes. MAGIC MARKER is incomplete at approx -300,000 words in the genre of romantic suspense space opera with a mysterious twist.
Thank for being my future agent. I will be mailing my submissions to your home address asap--Possibly daily.

Your best friend forever and ever and ever and ever and ever,

Anna Banana. (Pen name)

Second Place: Brigid Gorry-Hines

Hi there Natalie Fisher!

I know you don't represent sci-fi but I think you'll make an exception for MY PAL SCRUFFY: AN INSPIRATIONAL STORY OF A GIRL AND HER DOG. It's the first book in an 6-book series. Books 1-5 are ready and I'll be done with number 6 in a few weeks. The first book is about 200,000 words long and it's written entirely in verse!

The two awesome main characters are Stella and her friendly talking dog, Scruffy. One day, while Stella is in the bathroom, Scruffy gets kidnapped by aliens. Because of this, Stella must make an epic journey across the desert––battling giant beavers, flying elephants, and invisible ninjas along the way. She also meets the mysterious but undeniably sexy zombie Fredward, and they fall in love at first sight. Unfortunately, Fredward is attracted to Stella's brain because it smells extra delicious. This problem is solved because Fredward catches on fire when he steps into the sunlight. Anyway, the question is, can Stella find Scruffy before it's too late?!?! Well I'll tell ya now … She does! And they live happily ever after, only it turns out that Scruffy is really Stella's brother in disguise. And he's a robot.

My goal is for this book to be read everywhere in the universe––not only a bestseller in the US but translated into languages I didn't even know existed. When a movie comes out I hope to play the part of Stella. I'm also an actress!

So, I only have the first draft write now but I can edit it if you find any mistakes in it. (I've attached the entire thing in a Word document!) 

My mom says it's the best book she's ever read. And she's a real picky reader too. So you'll love it! And if you don't, I'll eat my hat! I don't even own a hat, but if you don't like it I'll buy a hat. And eat it. LOL.

I can't wait to work with you! Your awesome! And did I mention you're really pretty too? :)

Brigid <3 <3 <3

Third Place: Meagan Spooner

Dear Mr. Ficher,

Hello Dear! Have you ever wondered what it would be like to try and concentrate on high school, first boyfriends, drugs, and rock and roll while your arms and legs are falling off? I would like to seek a publishing for my 182,426 word young adult fiction Novel titled "LOVE IN THE TIME OF DECOMPOSITION." I believe that it will appeal to a huge audience, including the special young fans of Harry Potter and Twilight, but also real people who read other books that have done well, like The DaVinci Code and that one with the tattoo of a dragon. I AM ONLY INTERSTED IN AN AGENT WHO WILL GET ME A BIG ADVANCE AND A MAJOR MOVIE DEAL, because these days no one reads books until they get reprinted with the movie-version covers.

Meet Swann, a very special sixteen year-old girl who's fragile beauty touches the Hearts of everyone who meets her. But she has no idea, she just wants to get through high school so she can leave her small town because she knows she was meant for Greatness. Little does she know, but her whole school is infested with zombies! But the thing is, zombies are people too. And no, they don't have their faces rotting off or anything, they're still sexy and everything. Well, they look a bit grey under fluorescent lights, but who doesn't? When Swann starts to fall hopelessly, eternally, epically in love with Raven, the ringleader of the Zombies, she must make the ultimate choice--life, or undeath? It all comes down to one thing: will foundation make her look less gray when she's in the Cafeteria?

I went to high school so I know exactly what Swann is going through, and I have the experience to back up my writing. I also knew from a young age that I was destined for great things, and to be so special in a mundane world is a burden no girl should have to bear alone. Like me. Like Swann. It is my delicate hope that all girls who read this will be able to tell if they are one of the special ones, or if they really are just meant for crappy day jobs like everyone else.

I already have numerous offers from other agents but I won’t share their names, only say that they are really excited about this book. You have seven days to respond to this amazing opportunity before I will move on to an agent who actually checks his mail. The novel is nearly complete, with a full outline and the whole first chapter written. It only waits for your guidance and beautiful touch to finish and polish to a shine. DON'T MISS OUT! 

Please find enclosed my hand-printed chapter. I hope you like fuschia it is my favorite too.



PS: I hope it's okay to hand-deliver it to your home address. I just really don't trust the post office. I love your mailbox!

Check out these hilarious highlights:

Sally Potter, HP's lost sister vs V'mrt's son – Lily Kaufman

You are fortunate enough to be in the beging of the alphabet – Julie Lindsay

Ms. Fairy Freak’s 12,000 word picture book about Harry Porker

Gnomes have been victimized for centuries…. [Fairies] changed my color to pink Comic Sans. –Magolla

My name is LUCAS GEORGE. I have capitalized it to make it easier for you to remember, as I will do for all the important parts of this letter….I have done this as a service to you. – Ray

I saw that you represent children’s books and since my main character has a child, I figured you would be the perfect agent for my manuscript. – thegreatpbjbattle

Jenn’s tragic love story about Aaron the playboy slug and Gwyn the sea urchin.

:) ‘s story OF THE CONTEST!

(Please note: If this email came directly to your inbox, you are in my top twenty agents. If you were CCed, you are in my top 100 agents. If you were BCCed, I only want you to see the amazing best seller you will miss out on for being such a peon.)… There was one time that I left my window open and when I came home my computer hadn’t gone to sleep. I KNOW THAT WAS WHEN THE WHORE STOLE MY BOOK – Lorelie Long

I really hope you buy my book soon, because I have a sweet bulldog who’s face is getting two saggy and I need to have a facelift done on her. – Jocelyn Rish

This book will appeal to people, including men and women, - Amy W

I picked you because I think you are a real agent, maybe…. I own a pet rock, have 11 cats and the furniture in my house loves my writing. - Dawn Embers


I do not believe in computers and will not start emailing just for your benefit. – Gabriela Lessa

There is also a cute boy named Jackson (I couldn't think of a combination of Edward and Jacob that didn't sound weird, but I could manage it given time) that is a werelieger – Tangynt

HELP, MY SOCK PUPPET STOLE MY IDENTITY (based on a true story) – Aislinn


Please request pages and you too can be stung by the purple fuzzy bumblebee of happiness. – Philangelus

When I was 15 my right hand was cut off in an accident with a combine harvester, so writing and drawing has always been a challenge for me. Also, there is something spilled on pages 148-196. It looks like blood, but I promise you it’s not. – Kate Larkindale


I don’t have any writing credits except this book which was a super-hit on Publish the Americas. I sold fourteen copies! Also I have a cat in my neighborhood so obviously I am a writer. – Julie Butcher-Fedynich

I'd love to tell you more about it, but you're a newer agent, so it wouldn't be wise for me to share a high concept story with you without the promise of representation. I've been doing my research. – Katrina Lantz


After all, if that 1-shot wonder Stephanie Meyers can do it with sparkling vampires (don’t get me started on THAT!) and J.K Rowling has those stupid Wizards that fly on BROOMSTICKS, than I can do it with vampire kittens. Oh and did I tell u, the kittens have UNICORN horns! – Jasouders

P.S.-In my pictures, which do u think is better: my L or R side? I need 2know 4 my author photo – Christina

To simply pass on this gift-wrapped piece of loveliness being offered to you here today would in fact be an absolute travesty on your part – the sort of mistake you might never live down – a blunder that would undoubtedly mark you forever with the letter “F.” 

“F” for fool. 
- Steve Novak

The owner of the ranch’s daughter’s sister’s cousin’s boyfriend stakes him and in a huge twist, he dies. – Horserider

I am ten years old and another girl at my school who is only eight is having a book published and, like, I’m really super jealous, because she is younger than me and I have been writing since way back when I was five. Life is so unfair! – Anonymous

Joanie Sunflower…found the perfect literary agent to represent her! Could life have been more perfect?
When suddenly! The agent she so carefully selected sent her a form rejection. OMG…. 
Little did Joanie know that she would run into that same agent later that night at the grocery store! …Joanie was furious at her bad luck, but at the same time, intrigued. She didn't know that her would-be agent was quite so... alluring.

Joanie finds herself caught between her resolve and her feelings. How can the agent who crushed her dreams be so kind, so gentle? How can she find the courage to tell him who she really is? COULD THIS BE LOVE?!

… He's Just Not That Into Your Query is a 250,000-word romance manuscript – Rebecca

“Yo Diggity, Barry Biddy Gets Crackalackin’,” was given benevolently to me by The Super Best Friends (Jesus, Buddha, Moses, Joseph Smith, Krishna, Lao Tzu, Muhammad, and Sea Man) – Sara Baker

So anyway, Natalie falls in love with this guy Fischer, but what she doesn't know until later is that Fisch is a ZOMBIE!!!!!! I bet you didn't see that coming. – madameduck

my name is confidential due to some ambiguous reasons – Anonymous

Oops, wait. Am I allowed to say bitch in a query? – Jennifer Fischetto

Gotta go! I only hit the nurse hard enough to steal her laptop for a few minutes! More nurses are coming, and they're bringing a shot. Time for a nap! – Anonymous

The finctional novel is the story of SPOT, a fifteen-year old kitty princess who falls into a fishbowl in the middle of a revolution. – Jessie

It's a psycho thriller with a twist of lime. Not the lime in Margaritas although one would be good right now. More of a lime-life. – Anonymous

Want to read my memoire thingy, The Barefoot Years? It’s off the hook. 
The story is about me. And being barefoot…for like…a long time. Years, even.

Please let a me know soon ‘cause I need the money from my book deal to pay for bunion surgery.
 - Marsha Sigman

What is beter than Gone With the Wind? My book. – Deborah

What's That in Mommy's Hand is a fiction picture…if you have ever had your six year old daughter walk in on you at a "private" moment you will realize just how important a book like this will be for parents of children like Sally. – Morgan Ives

Please contact me between 9:00 a.m. and 9:17 a.m. EDT on even-numbered days, or between 10:42 p.m. and 10:48 p.m. on odd-numbered days (unless there's an new moon, half moon, or full moon - then you need to add 23 minutes to odd times or subtract 4 hours and 53 minutes from even times). I only check my email on February 29th, so phone is best. – Cheryl

Especially since I channeled about 98% of what is in the book, so I can guarantee that it is the MOST accurate information available on the market. – Chersti Nieveen

So there's this sweet love to with this guy, and this girl has a family, and they are all from this other world. They are otherworldly! – Ivy Hawthorn

Thank you everyone for entering; this was so much fun!!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

In Bad Taste: Horrendously Hilarious Query Contest CLOSED!

It's finally here! The Horrendously Hilarious Query Contest!

Post your query into the comments section below. Remember, it canNOT be longer than 500 words.

I will accept all entries time-stamped after 8am EST/5am PST on Monday, September 13th, until I reach either 75 entries OR Friday, September 17th 12pm EST.

Clients are welcome to post, and may remain anonymous, but MUST specify if she or he is a client (so these entries don't count in the 75!).

You are MORE than welcome to continue to post even after 75 entries have been reached (in fact, I encourage it!)

Winners will be announced and posted on Monday, September 20th; you must check back to see if you are a winner. Instructions on how to collect your fabulous prizes will also be announced then.

So get ready...set...and may the WORST query win!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Common Manuscript Mistakes, and How to Avoid Them

Quite frequently I’m asked to share what the most common themes I see in the slush are. I don’t really have an answer for that. It comes in waves; ghosts, werewolves, princesses, distressed teens dealing with peg-legs and missing dogs.

What I can talk about, however, are the most common mistakes I see with manuscripts.

Most of the time, I feel like this when I read a query and turn to pages:

CC by SA 3.0 at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SadCat1.jpg

Why? Top three reasons:

1. Poor pacing
2. Not connecting to voice
3. Plot not stand-out enough

In my opinion, there is a way to avoid all three: they’re called beta readers. Just kidding. That’s a copout; you should never rely on your beta to make your manuscript publishable and/or readable – which is step one on how to avoid these mistakes.

Other tips:

1. Avoiding horrible pace

Cut your prologue, dream sequence, and first chapter. Second, take a look at your synopsis. A lot of the time, the synopsis highlights the heart of the story, and will pinpoint exactly what the important details you should have – and what you shouldn’t have – are. Too much back-story upfront really drags pace, and too many tiny, unimportant, menial things like sports games, day-to-day activities, talking to mom/sister/great-aunt also really slow pace. You don’t need to tell me when your character goes pee or brushes her teeth. In other words, don’t summarize events; realize them in the plot.

The best way to improve pacing is to go back and snip snip snip from your finished manuscript; ask yourself: why is this scene really here? Does it actually serve a purpose to the plot?

Here’s a great site on pacing

2. Creating a likeable voice

This is the hardest one. Voice is impossible to fix. It’s the most subjective aspect of the book.
However, a few pointers from voices I haven’t liked: make a character snarky, not rude. Make your character believable and relatable (there’s a reason so many characters have no boyfriends and no lives and are so poor – the majority of us are like that too). If your character has un-likeable aspects, make sure there are still flaws, too. Sarcasm is great; whining is not. Think cheeky and feisty rather than arrogant and violent. Inner strength should shine through the voice, even if not in the action.

Personally, I gravitate toward more open and sarcastic voices, voices I can relate to in real life. Think of your audience – what kind of narrator would they relate to?

Voice is the aspect of the novel that lets the reader forget about the writer. In other words, it's what makes characters real. Your character should have a perspective, a unique way of thinking about and looking at things based on where he/she is from and the experiences he/she have had. Figure out that background and what that would mean for your voice.

3. Avoiding the “done” plot

RIGHT when you get your sni (shiney new idea), THINK about it. A lot. Write down the idea; see exactly how far this spark takes you. The reality is, there are a LOT of books out there, and having a “twist” alone isn’t going to make your book stand out. Adding a supernatural element is NOT enough to turn your teen love story into a sellable book, nor is changing up an existing supernatural creature or mashing two themes like death and divorce together.

Hopefully, you are reading in your genre – that is the BEST way to know if your sni is too close to what’s already been done. Make me go, “oh wow” when I read your query letter – and do not fall into the trap of the “done” plotLINE. A fabulous idea that follows the same structure as every other book out there – such as, teenaged girl discovers powers at 16, meets mysterious boy, has to save the world, or perhaps London debutante who hates the idea of marriage suddenly meets her match – is still a no for me. Avoid lighter, chick-lit plots; they often fall flat!