Monday, January 31, 2011

It's Networking, Baby!

Instead of doing a post-conference round-up after my fabulous weekend at the San Diego State Conference, full of the same ol stories and pitfalls to avoid, I wanted to discuss the most important thing I always take away from ANY conference: networking.

Aside from the benefits of critiques, shared interests, support, workshops, and lectures that conferences can offer, one of the MOST important benefits is the potential to network.

As an agent not based in New York, conferences are one of the few times I get to see the editors and fellow agents I know and work with in person. Putting a face and personality to a voice and name is incredibly important; it gives an understanding to the knowledge of likes and dislikes (and is just plain fun!).

But what can networking do for an author?

The same thing it does for me: it makes agents seem human, approachable.

I know this is sort of lame to say, but you'd be incredibly surprised how much farther you can get with a smile than a frown. Case in point: two authors. One I laughed with at a conference. One who says they just attended with me. Guess whose work I'm turning to first? And guess whose work I'm going to give more feedback on?

Networking builds a relationship from which, even if nothing comes out of it, more is likely to be offered. If I connect with you, I'm going to give you as much helpful feedback as I can, even if I don't offer representation. And I'll also be there to answer any questions you have.

So don't burn bridges. One poor agent was read the riot act by an attendee for not being more helpful and offering line edits (yeah, seriously), when in all honesty, the agent said to me, if he'd thanked her for the time she'd given and just asked...she would have given him what he wanted. Now, he's just a blip in her email right before she hits DELETE.

Most authors assume the only benefit of these appointments is the chance to be seen and heard. But really, I remember the people I chat with more than the ones who pitch me; and even if the ones who I chat with don't pitch me THEN - I'll remember who they are, and be MORE than happy to read their work later!

But what other benefits can networking provide?

Debra Driza has an amazing story to share on that one. She calls it procrastinating; I call it brilliant networking. I don't know the full story, but in sum, Debra met an editor at a conference with a fabulous idea. The editor really clicked with Debra, and asked her to send a writing sample, which she did (after checking with her agent, I have to add, which only shows more brilliance on Debra's part). The editor loved her writing, took it and the idea to the acquisition meeting, and voila, book deal was born!

Forging connections with other AUTHORS is also important; I've had my clients meet lovely people at conferences and send them my way. I've also had clients meet a published author who wants to tell her editor all about her new friend's work - and get her an in -- because they clicked so well.

These kinds of strange connections build to publishing deals quite a bit in this business. Once you start networking, via conference, twitter, writing groups and communities, you'll be surprised what opportunities you can find once you start to look.

If you're too nervous to chat with editors and agents at a conference, at least chat on Twitter or blogs. Make yourself comfortable with us.

It'll pay off, and trust me - I love networking with YOU right back!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rocks are Nice but...

Before you freak out about the book industry, consider this:

There are some AMAZING things happening right now. Borders and midlist freak-outs or no, the bottom line is that people are still making money on books. It may not be in the same format as it always was -- and Mary Kole had an excellent post about what that means for agents, if you're interested -- but authors are no less in demand than they once were.

Some of the coolest things going on:

Picture Books Apps (and Apps in general)
Have you SEEN one of these suckers? They are the neatest thing since sliced bread! Not only do they read stories to your children, the children can TOUCH things in the story to make sounds and say words, they can play games and fill in the colors, they can choose alien bodies for cat heads; the possibilities are expanding daily. Parents love them as an alternative to movies and video games for entertainment, and authors love them...because parents are loving them.

Japanese Text-books
I don't think I actually want to try one of these out, but just the thought that people are becoming best-sellers via text blows my mind.

Send-a-story Cards
Just another example of how clever new packaging or ways to read mean MORE sales and income, rather than the death of publishing and authors!

E-pressesI know authors that make over $50,000 a year on ROYALTIES ALONE via e-presses. Not that I'm saying it's the norm; certainly, the majority of these are in romance and they publish four or five titles a year, but still. I know these up-and-coming venues still tend to be looked down upon as one step above self-publishing, but they are definitely a force to be reckoned with.

The YA Market
Not exactly a technological development, but defintiely a sign of hope in publishing. Consistantly, TEENS DON'T LIKE E-BOOKS. This is our future, and the market is booming; all the new genres available are paving the way like a gateway drug into the adult market. Of course, as soon as e-readers become more affordable (and replaceable) for teens, they'll probably start climbing the e-charts too. But they'll still be reading!!

These are just a FEW awesome publishing developments that I can think of right now, but really...that ALONE should tell you...the future isn't bleak...if you embrace it! If you know of anything else I've missed here, please do share below; I'd love to hear of it!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Advice from Along Came Polly

As I start to prepare for the start of my 2011 conferences, I was reminded by the scene below just how...painfully...interesting, many pitch sessions can go.

This is between Ben and Jennifer in ALONG CAME POLLY, when she shows him her idea for her children's picture book:

B: Huh.

J:You hated it.

B:No, I don't. It's just... It's very graphic for a children's book.

You know, like this one: "The Boy with a Nub for an Arm."

J: Well, that one has a moral.

You know, to teach kids they gotta be careful
when they're playing with fireworks.

B: Right. No, and-and I think it's brilliant, by the way. Seriously.

J: Uh-huh.

B: I mean, like, you really convey...the pain and the fear, and I love the little doggy too.

But... And I don't mean this in a bad way.

J: Right.

B: Just what were you thinking?

What I really liked about this scene was how it puts into perspective the whole process. It’s an awkward process for both of us but…it’s only purpose is to help you take your career to the next level. I'm doing the best I can TO help because I DO care about your path as a writer. Even if I don't like an idea or have feedback to give, don't take it the wrong way; take it as my encouragement to try and steer you toward success.

Obviously (hopefully) I'd never be so blunt, even IF presented with "The Boy with a Nub for an Arm," but it can definitely be a struggle sometimes to CONSTRUCTIVELY criticize based on, essentially, an idea alone.

So take advice with a grain of salt – but take it in in the right mind frame to begin with.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

It's QUERY season!

Since apparently it’s query season (no joke – inbox jumped from 99 submissions to 195 in ONE DAY!!!) I thought I’d take a moment to share a few…insights, into what actually annoys me as an agent when wading through the inbox.

So, without further ado…

Top ten query pet-peeves:

1. An email asking about how to submit

Any request for information available on the agency website, including “are you open to submissions?” or “do you accept this kind of material?” is just a waste of my time. I always want to scream back HOW did you find my email, then, if you don’t know how to find the answer to this?!

Avoid unnecessarily emailing agents, period. If your goal is to try and “establish a connection” or be able to write back “per our email conversation,” you’re just shooting yourself in the foot.

2. When I send a response, and get “oh, I already have an agent anyway” back.
Always, always, always (did I say ALWAYS? Yes? WELL AGAIN: ALWAYS!) either notify considering agents or WITHDRAW submissions. YOU should be keeping a log of who you submit to, and even if the agent never requested material, if it’s within his or her response time period (and especially if he or she is the kind who always responds), YOU should have the balls (and pride!) to withdraw your submission if you decide to accept an offer.

3. When I send a response, and get a bitter rant about how stupid I am and how I’m going to lose my job soon anyway and publishing/agent days are numbered and…
Keep your shirt on. Don’t burn bridges, no matter WHAT. Even if the agent IS wrong, even if you DO have another offer, if you don’t have anything nice to say, really, it’s just better not to say anything at all. We are your future colleagues, after all – keep that in mind in all correspondence!

4. Incoherent queries/typos
Spell check, and run your query by a few people. See if they actually understand what you’re saying. I’m not kidding – I get so many queries where I’ve read down two paragraphs and then suddenly realize…wait, what? Even if you have to simplify things to get the point across, do so; save the she loves him but he loves her not her but her who is married to his second removed cousin for the synopsis – “love triangle” or “complicated relationship” does just fine in a query. Even an un-complicated plot can be incoherent in a query if you say it in some high-falutin and unnecessary way.

5. Queries with so much world-building/assumed knowledge I can’t understand the plot
There is nothing more annoying than a bunch of character names I can’t even pronounce in my head. Give them a frikkin nickname, and keep in mind when writing your query that YOU WROTE THIS STORY and I AM SEEING IT FOR THE FIRST TIME.

6. Queries with lots of big paragraphs or tiny font
Short and to the point is best! I understand that you can’t always predict how an email will turn up at the other end, but at least from yours, don’t TRY to make the print tiny just to make it SEEM like a smaller letter. If you have to do that…it’s too long.

7. Clearly cut-and-pasted form letters
If you think you’ve figured out a loophole to that whole personalized letter business with one of those “from looking at your website I thought you’d like…” or “based on your interests, you seem like a good match for…”, you haven’t. It’s better NOT to put any personalizing details in there if they’re vague and washy.

I’m not begrudging you cut-and-pasted letters; not at all. I’m just saying don’t make it OBVIOUS. Take the time to highlight your email and make sure it’s all the same font size and style (and color); it makes a difference.

8. Self-bashing or arrogant statements
Either extreme is annoying, be it “I’m going to sell a MILLION copies!!!!!!!!” to “I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to read my bad writing.” Things like “your humble servant” or “I know your time is very valuable and I thank you for taking a minute to read this letter” make me feel squidgy. Even if you’re trying to be funny, don’t do it; sarcasm doesn’t usually shine through in a query letter.

9. Unwanted attachments
This applies to pictures and fancy backgrounds in your email, too. Contrary to popular belief, we don’t all have fancy, state-of-the-art query readers. If your email makes my computer freeze…no dice.

10. Copyright notices
I have SERIOUSLY gotten emails that state “All rights reserved. No part of this email may be reproduced without prior written consent from Ivalotta Trustissues.” Admittedly, these are far and few between, but even those blasted copyright symbols with the date next to your work annoy me. They tell me: I don’t actually trust you are a professional and moral person, even if that’s not what you’re saying at all.

Monday, January 3, 2011


Dear Agent Adventure Lovers,

This may come as quite old hat to many of you, given I’ve had an auto-response up on my query email about it since November 29, but, in case you haven’t heard:

I am moving to the Bradford Literary Agency!

The change won’t be official until February 22, 2011; however, during the transition process, I am not accepting unsolicited submissions at either location. Don’t worry – I’ll be open to submissions again; I’m just in a really funky legal-limbo-land at the moment, and it’s best for all parties to keep things as simple as possible.

I know there are going to be a million and one questions; I can’t answer them all. But here are a few FAQs:

Why are you leaving?

While I learned a tremendous amount during my nearly 4 years at the Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency, it was time to move on to a new adventure. The Bradford Agency mission statement is one I proudly share and believe in, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to both learn from and grow with one of the most amazing agents ever to hit the literary stage! It was Laura’s expertise in commercial fiction which I was particularly drawn to (and her dry wit, her agency kitten, her peculiar love for dragonflies (j/k) and…on and on), and I’m getting to calm down on my hat-wearing and focus on being Laura’s assistant and (for now) my wonderful existing clients!

What happened to my submission?

Unsolicited: as per the auto-response, queries received prior to November 29, 2010 were reviewed (per the agency's policy, so if you didn't hear back, it was not for me); however, any sent past that date I did not even consider. I am no longer monitoring the nfsubmissions inbox. At all. You will need to either re-submit to an agent at the Dijkstra Agency or to Laura Bradford at the Bradford Agency.

Solicited: I will continue to respond to requests and referrals (this includes conference requests). However, you should use my regular email (Natalie(at), and not nfsubmissions, as I am no longer monitoring that inbox.

When will you be accepting submissions again?

Most likely in a few months (come spring), once all the dust has settled and Laura is ready to give me the green light.

Are you still agenting?

Absolutely; I’m just not expanding my current client list at the moment.

Wait, then why are you still responding to referrals and requests?

Because although I personally am not taking on new clients, both Laura Bradford and the ladies at the Dijkstra Agency are. Trust me, it’ll be a heartbreak to part with something I love, but I’ll be ok knowing I’ll be passing it on into very, very good hands! In essence, I’ll still be considering these projects like I normally would – except that instead of offering representation or requesting a full, I’ll be letting someone else take over from there. Who that someone else will be will depend on which agency you address your submission to; despite my personal in-between position, there is no moving across agencies for submissions.

Have I confused you all yet? Hopefully; that way, you’ll be just dying to read the post I come up with to summarize the experience… ;)

Warmest regards,