Monday, March 28, 2011


All right, let's keep this short and simple:

Congratulations to
Lo When she touched it, a genie popped out
jennykellerford No. It's because I'm burning, I'm burning, I'm burning for you.
Michelle Merrill "Oh, forget the freakin' nuts," Gena shrieked. "Where's my unicorn pack? It's time to finish what I came here to do."

Email me with your treasure of preference to claim your prize!

And now, for your reading pleasure, the complete saga of Gena the Unicorn Hunter (edited just a tad for reading ease; deleted sentences don't mean your entry wasn't included, just that they didn't follow the main story):

It all started off so simply.
But Gena had learned never to take simple at face value – like the time she set her bra on fire. Luckily, she'd carried her unicorn preparedness pack in her backpack. Problem was, that unicorn was too quick for Gena. But she wouldn't have that problem this time. A shaker of salt, a lime, and a knife was all she needed.
She slipped the backpack over one shoulder and forged ahead, pushing aside palm leaves as she headed toward the island's interior, staggering under the weight of her weapons.
She reached behind her into her backpack, feeling around for the items, thinking this situation might be better handled with a shovel. It seemed her best option at knocking the unicorn out—and knocking the unicorn out was the only way she'd ever get the unicorn to drink the margarita. Margaritas are, after all, unicorn kryptonite.
But she'd lost her shovel the last time she decided to wander away from the safety of her home. Fortunately, the pack also contained an iron frying pan and everyone knew an iron frying pan was as good as a broadsword.
She reached for it, not noticing that her hand strayed too close to the magic lamp in her side pocket. When she touched it, a genie popped out .
She was far too distracted to notice right away. Two weeks had passed since the unicorn coalition's vicious overthrow of the centaur dynasty, two weeks of mass chaos and unspeakable bloodshed. Those two weeks took a beating on her. She hadn't slept in days and really wanted to be able to walk around without weapons.
Right as she thought that, a lion confronted her and Genie spoke.
"Don't tell me you forgot your unicorn preparedness kit again."
A rather depressed sort, Jim the Genie generally spent most of his time craving chocolate and listening to soap operas while in his lamp. He thought Gena was ridiculous.
"Your warm lamp melted my frozen maragarita," she told him, annoyed at his criticism.
It was useless. Unfrozen margaritas would have no effect on the particular species of turquoise unicorn she was hunting. "I never forget my unicorn preparedness kit." She reveled the kit, showing it to the genie. "Why are you asking me about the unicorn preparedness kit, genie, when clearly there's a vicious lion in front of me, ready to gobble me right up?"
Jim rolled his eyes. "So what do you want me to do about it?"
"Um, obviously? I want you to distract him by braiding his mane into cornrows," Gena replied. "You suck as a genie. Save me and refreeze my margarita."
Jim laughed. "You don't have any wishes left!"
Gena exasperated, "Do I have to do everything around here?" She belted out her biggest "ROOOOOOOOOOOOOAR" at the lion.
She grabbed her shovel, slammed it into Jim's head, stole the lamp and ran.
But she didn't get far before the lamp stopped her in her tracks, freezing every muscle in her body. The lamp pulled itself from her grip, the cold metal vibrated hot and hit the ground with an unearthly sound. The lion was coming at her, and the unicorn was getting away.
Why coudln't the damn genie help for once?
She suddenly shrunk down to the size of a caterpillar and slithered into the lamp's opening. Now-tiny Gena quickly turned away with cheeks flaming when she saw what was inside the lamp --the genie was taking a bath.
Jim the genie turned to her, loofah sponge in hand. "Since it seems so easy to you, we'll see how good of a genie you can be!"
She noticed a small rubber duck floating in the water near him and noticed its eye glimmering. Inside the lamp, the air smelled musty. Exotic colored throw pillows dotted the floor. A purple parrot squacked in a gilded cage while a tiny black and white television blared old soap operas. A tea kettle whistled on a small 1950's white stove.
At least she could think for a minute within the safety of the lamp. Or, she could have if Huey the neighborhood bully hadn't found it at that moment.
Snatching up the lamp he shook it like a polaroid picture. Huey kept shaking the lamp, making the water splash out of the tub.
Gena slapped her hands over her eyes, not wanting to see anymore of the genie than she had too.
The rubber ducky sluiced over the side of the tub and began to grow in size. "QUACK," the duck said. "Quack, Quack QUACK!"
"What the heck is it saying?" Gena cried, her feet stumbling backwards as the thing grew to the size of Big Bird. "I don't speak duck!"
And then it died.
Gena grabbed a pink pillow tassel and yanked, unraveling it into a long rope. She bungee-jumped out the opening of the lamp, yelling, "COW-a-BUNGAAAAAA!!!" But there was a problem not even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles could handle, a small problem--she was still the size she'd been in the lamp, exactly 2.5 inches.
Jim yanked the pink rope, pulling her back up into the lamp. "We're trading places. I've had it with being stuck in a lamp. You'll have my power, but you can't use it until someone else rubs the lamp."
As she peered through the glass lamp, she saw a fire-breathing unicorn step through the bushes and aim his horn squarely at Jim. Her eyes flicked around the soft, plushy interior as she searched for a weapon.
Crap. Nothing but velvet.
She looked outside. Instead of running, Jim scratched the unicorn's belly. It let out a high-pitched purr the way turquoise unicorns do.
Gena jumped on the unicorn's back, holding on to its mane, and leaped into the mysterious Pond of Normal Size.
"I'm normal-sized again!" she yelled, which only made the unicorn angry, because as everyone knows, Unicorns, turquoise or otherwise, can't swim.
Just as she thought it would trample her, a muscular pair of arms grabbed her and pulled her to safety. The lack of golden bracelets told her, these arms did not belong to Jim or Hugh.
Huey held tighter on his new precious find sans genie inside. "Gena, what are you doing?" He asked.
"Tryin' to rid the world of this freakin' unicorn," Gena said. "I always did hate turquoise."
The unicorn whinnied, insulted by the turquoise comment.
"Gena, wake up," her mother screamed from a very faraway place, "you'll be late for school. Today's the class trip to the Unicorn Museum, isn't it?"
"Don't listen to her," chattered a nut-weilding squirrel as it jumped onto Gena's shoulder. "It's a trick!"
Gina blinked in confusion as her eyes flicked from the squirrel to the nut. "Hmm?" she wondered to her self. "Squirrel? Nut? Squirrel? Nut?"
"No more freakin' unicorns in my life!" Gena kicked and flailed like a toddler. "I'm into fighting dragons now."
She was so distracted, she completely missed seeing the lion take off Hugh's head with one mighty swipe of his paw.
But where was her pillow? She scrambled toward her bed, but the squirrel reached the pillow first.
"Damn pillow-stealing squirrels," she said. What did they DO with all those pillows they stole? Now Gena was utterly confused. Unicorns were extinct because they'd missed the ark, right? So how could she go to a Unicorn Museum, or fight a unicorn?
Gena glanced at the mural on her bedroom wall and watched in horror as the genie, the lion, and the unicorn advanced on each other.
"Squirrel, help me," Gena squeaked out. "Throw your nuts at the genie. He's allergic!"
The squirrel sat up on it's haunches and replied "Lady do you know how long it takes to gather nuts? Get your own." The squirrel squeaked out what sounded like some expletives then spit a nut from its mouth. And the nut pinged around a bit like a pin ball before coming to a rest just barely touching the dragon's tail.
"Oh, forget the freakin' nuts," Gena shrieked. "Where's my unicorn pack? It's time to finish what I came here to do."
But before she could get her wits together and find her pack, the dragon roasted the nut with its fiery breath, then turned to face Gena.
"Here you go." The dragon handed her the nut. "I know you like your nuts toasted."
Gena resisted the urge to kiss the dragon with her fist. She had better things to do with her time - like break up the possibly apocalyptic fight between the lion, the unicorn and the squirrel. She took a deep breath, summoning every ounce of her courage...
"Thank you," Gena said. She winked and blew the dragon a kiss - which promptly turned him into a large, shrewish woman wearing a dress made entirely of flowers and what appeared to be a bedpan on her head.
"My God!" Gena cried, eyeing the bedpan. "How did you know the one thing I feared more than turquoise unicorns or selfish squirrels was PUBLIC BATHROOMS?"
Gena snatched the bedpan off the odd woman's head, stuffing it into her backpack to use the second she found an ounce of privacy.
"Gee, I wish I had an ounce of privacy," Gena said, "'cause I really have to go."
The genie appeared, waving his arms like a lunatic. A droplet appeared in Gena's hands. "What's this?" Gena poked it.
The genie, still naked from his bath, smiled. "An ounce of privacy, of course. Personally, I would've requested a gallon at least."
But really, what were the chances of privacy when a fight with a lion, a really annoying turquoise unicorn, and stupid squirrel spun her head in circles. Or is it her head?
Her stomach flipped over, signaling to her body that all is not right with the world, she may need the bedpan for something other than pee...
Like protecting the orphans from the naked raving genie! Luckily, Gena's psychic tummy senses alerted her to their danger. With bedpan in hand, she ran off to their rescue!
Little did she know that she would literally run into, and trip and fall over the short, stout and pimple-face Prince Littlehorn and his traveling minstrels. Overcome with joy at finding the love of his life, Prince Littlehorn dropped to his knees, grasped Gena's hand and burst into a rousing rendition of I've Been Working My Way Back to You Babe.
Gena preferred the classic "I Got You, Babe," by Sonny and Cher. She was unimpressed by Prince Littlehorn and his less than manly name.
He did, however, look rather sexy in tights. But only if he shed the golden wok worn as an armor. Unfortunately, his hot pink underwear, which could be plainly seen through the tights, spoiled the look.
Gena decided she'd rather pick the naked genie over Littlehorn any day, not that she'd tell him that.
"I've got to go, I need some privacy," she said, tearing her hand from his.
"But I've got a burning love inside!" he cried.
She too had a burning in her chest, which she found out later was only heartburn.
He groveled before her. She bit her lip, paused, and whopped him on the head with the bedpan. Then she searched his pockets for Tums and magical golden birch leaves. Either her heartburn or her troubled relationship with the Birch King was going to change, and now.
Digging deeply into Prince Littlehorn's right breast pocket, Gena discovered the charm she'd been seeking. This charm would rid the entire world of turquoise unicorns, if she but said the correct incantation.
While the Phoenix (who had suddenly appeared) continued to swoop over her head, she tried to remember the incantation.
"Squirrel's acorn scorn unicorns undone begone from under the sun, you dig?" Gena grabbed the tail of the Phoenix but it only burned her hand, and when ran to douse it in dirty Genie bathwater, it left a turquoise mark in the shape of a unicorn horn on her palm.
Just then the dragon flew in.
UGH! She was close, but pronounced dreveritum as derviratum. The turquoise unicorns where gone, but they had not disappeared.
Now they were fuschia!
Gena closed her eyes tightly, repeating the words. When she opened her eyes, the dragon was fuchsia too. This just wouldn't do.
The dragon snorted, and his hot breath curled her hair. Gena turned to the magic mirror on the wall and decided that curls really did suit her after all.
Then turning back to the fuchsia dragon, she told him to settle down quietly while she told him a story.
"Kiss the prince or I will roast you on a spit," snarled the dragon.
Gena didn't know whether to be afraid or disgusted by the rotting, chunks of flesh stuck between the dragon's teeth.
"Why don't you kiss him?" Gena asked. "Frankly he doesn't really do it for me."
The dragon turned an even darker shade of fuchsia. His eyes shifted from side to side; his forehead sweated. "I don't want to kiss the prince-- what makes you think that?"
"Because you are blushing," laughed Gena. "I think you're in love with the prince."
“No. It's because I'm burning, I'm burning, I'm burning for you.”
"Fine," Gena said lightly. "I will kiss him." And she did.
The Prince disappeared in a puff of glittery pink smoke, leaving behind another mythical creature~~one that was far more disturbing than the turquoise unicorn.
Gena coughed (she'd inhaled a good deal of glitter), then bellowed the most appropriate thing she could think of for a girl in her situation.
For what before Gena did suddenly appear? A pink glittering Santa and eight tiny hot pink reindeer!
Gena then knew that magical genius she thought she possessed was not going to save her tonight. She climbed in the sleigh, threw some more glitter in her hair, and said "What the hell, I'm probably dreaming all this anyway."
Without warning or even so much as a battle cry, a flying Night Mare dove into sight. The reigndeer bucked wildly and the sleigh took too sharp a turn. Suddenly, Gena was flying.
"If only I had an in-flight margarita," she thought. "With all these goings-on, a girl could really use a drink."
Suddenly with a giant POOF the famous and fabulous FABIO appeared in a flight attendant uniform with Midori margaritas and bowed while handing her a sugar rimmed glass full of the elixir.
One of the hot pink reindeer sneered, "I wouldn't drink that if I were you."
Right then, Fabio got hit by a wild Canadian goose right across the cheek and flew out of the sleigh.
It was then that Gena remembered why she really needed the margarita-to vanquish the now fuschia unicorns!
Midori margaritas happen to be particularly effective against fuschia, which she realized Fabio must have known on a subconscious level. She vowed to some day return the favor, but first she had to land the sleigh pulled by the hot pink reindeer and find the evasive unicorns.
Tugging on the reins, she pulled left towards the Bahamas. The Bahamian skies were always pink this time of year. They'd disappear against it, like their very own invisibility cloak. Beating the suns fall would be the trick, but if they timed it right, they would glide in unseen to where she already knew the unicorns waited, amongst the lurking shadows of a turquoise sea.

Can I just say that Gena is kind of awesome? ;)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Create Your Own Adventure Contest

It's that moment you've been waiting for!

To re-iterate and clear up the rules:

To enter the contest, post a comment continuing the story. It can go in any direction you wish - no preparation necessary. You MUST, however, continue on from the previous poster. Minimum entry length is one sentence; maximum length is three sentences.

For example:

My post: I love dogs.
Entrant: This is what I thought as I walked down the path.
Your post: And then a magical LEOPLURIDON jumped out!
Next Entrant: He showed me the way to Magic Mountain.

Obviously, I'm going for fun here, so have FUN with your post. I will randomly select THREE winners from those who post before Friday, March 25th at Midnight PST.

The winners will be announced on Monday, March 28th.

Each winner will have a choice of:
Treasure 1: Hidden Gems - query and first twenty page critique
Treasure 2: Sustenence for Future Quests - $5 Starbucks card and a brainstorm via chat session on whatever you like for 30min
Treasure 3: Gold - $15 Amazon gift card

Sentence is below; GO!

It all started off so simply.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Create Your Own Adventure - Contest!

That's right - YOU will be leading this adventure! In thanks for all of my awesome blog readers, I'm letting you run the course of this contest!

The rules are simple: I'll be posting a sentence on Thursday, March 24. To enter the contest, post a comment continuing the story. It can go in any direction you wish - no preparation necessary. You MUST, however, continue on from the previous poster.

For example:

My post: I love dogs.

Entrant: This is what I thought as I walked down the path.

Your post: And then a magical LEOPLURIDON jumped out!

Next Entrant: He showed me the way to Magic Mountain.

Obviously, I'm going for fun here, so have FUN with your post. I will randomly select THREE winners from those who post before Friday, March 25th at Midnight PST.

The winners will be announced on Monday, March 28th.

Each winner will have a choice of:

Treasure 1: Hidden Gems - query and first twenty page critique

Treasure 2: Sustenence for Future Quests - $5 Starbucks card and a brainstorm via chat session on whatever you like for 30min

Treasure 3: Gold - $15 Amazon gift card

THANK YOU everyone for making my blog ramblings not quite so silly by reading along - and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's Up with Dystopian?

I came to realize over the course of reading a few queries recently that a plot I would normally say “eh” to suddenly piqued my interested if it was set in some sort of post-apocalyptic world. So of course I want to blog about it.

I read a fascinating book for a review once called ENCHANTED HUNTERS by Maria Tatar, which explores the assumptions and power behind childhood reading. Tatar’s take on it has resonated with me ever since, and may shed some illumination on why dystopian might be such a captivating and lasting trend:

The authors of children’s books stockpile arsenals of beauty and horror to construct “peak experiences” – memorable moments that offer up the exquisite, the terrifying, and everything in between…. Children’s literature traffics in sensory bliss and horror, offering a secure place for children to go and face down the twin seductions of good and evil.

It offers a safe place, in sum, to explore the horrors of what might be.

Now, more than ever, as technology surmounts higher and higher peaks, it’s hard to imagine that anything can come next. And if it doesn’t, dystopian novels are there to show us that life will go on even if the WORST happens.

Just as bed-time stories used to serve to scare children into going to sleep, these tales of dystopia serve to scare us into why we SHOULD care about the today, and why we SHOULD be cautious about the tomorrow.

Translate that into a teenager’s life, which is tumultuous enough, and I think it shows why YA is leading this trend: forget powers and long-lost vampire heritage. If the world ends, YOU could be a hero just by being able to survive. It’s the ultimate geek-out escape; a way to feel powerful in the imagination by being YOURSELF.

Just my two cents into the popularity of this genre. What do you think?

Monday, March 14, 2011

What an author can do with SWAG

We interrupt our normal weekly post to GUSH about SWAG!

That's right. SWAG, as in "stuff we all get": freebies.

I decided to gush about it today mainly because I just recieved some swag tid-bits from my clients, Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo, for their YA debut, SIRENZ (Flux, June 2011).

These ladies are kind of awesome. Just LOOK at what they put together:


____Book tie-in keychain!---->

Ignoring for a moment my obvious obsession with cats, these are some SUPER fun and SUPER cute ways to promote your book.

A lot of authors don't realize the fun potentials in creating swag, but there are actually quite a lot. Common promotional methods include pens with the author and book name on it, bookmarks, and tote bags with the book cover or some other book tie-in. You know, the kinds of things EVERYONE has a million of but will STILL pick up just because they're free.

These more common items are effective enough, but the best swag items are creative. Take this item I picked up at an RWA conference:

At the time I picked it up I wasn't engaged, but a few months later when I was, you bet this went back on the door - and has stayed there - quite proudly and permanently. It's fun either way though, engaged, single, or otherwise, and that's what makes it good swag: it will be picked up....and USED. And USED=REMINDER of you and your book!

Make sure and clear whatever you want to do with your publisher; there are certain things they may not want you to do, depending on how they plan on promoting the book (i.e., if they are branding you as a fun, sexy author, and you want to make a dark, goth keychain, probably not going to be so thrilled about it, and you may have to change/lighten up your image).

But seriously...have FUN with your promotion; it will totally pay off.

Monday, March 7, 2011

YA vs. Adult: what's so different, anyway?

One of my biggest pet peeves about submissions is reading queries from authors who are clearly trend-chasers.

Currently, the biggest offender: adult writers who call their novels YA.

Copyright 2013 stockimages

To start, let me quote Flux, the YA imprint of Lywellyn’s tagline: “Where young adult is a point of view, not a reading level.”

Obviously, I can’t speak on the actual definition from Flux, but for the purposes of the blog post: Just what does this mean?

Well, first, it means that AGE is not the determining factor of a YA.

Case in point:

Below are two passages. Both characters speaking are 17 years old:

I’m sitting in Grandma Meagram’s room, doing the New York Times crossword puzzle with her. It’s a bright cool April morning and I can see red tulips whipping in the wind in the garden. Mama is down there planting something small and white over by the forsythia. Her hat is almost blowing off and she keeps clapping her hand to her head and finally takes the hat off and set her work basket on it.

I haven’t seen Henry in almost two months; the next date on the List is three weeks away. We are approaching the time when I don’t see him for more than two years. I used to be so casual about Henry, when I was little; seeing Henry…


It was easy enough to sneak out of school. I knew that from experience. This time, all I had to do was wait until Mrs. Higgins had led everyone onto the outdoor track and then slip behind the bleachers and walk down to the other opening in the chain-link fence.
Sneaking back in, though…that would be a bitch. But I’d just have to deal with that when I got back. Like always.I shivered in the cool morning breeze. It was 7:00 a.m., or a little past, on the first day in May, and it wasn’t nearly warm enough to be out walking around in the stupid thin T-shirt and short shorts they made us wear for gym.

In case you didn’t guess, the first passage is adult, from The Time Traveler’s Wife, and the second is YA, from The Ghost and the Goth*. Clearly, the age of these characters did NOT determine if these were adult or YA books (though as a general rule, no, there aren’t any adult POVs in YA). Neither did the tense, or the point of view.

And that means: you CAN’T just find and replace all mentions of “twenty-three” with “seventeen” and slap YA on the cover page of your manuscript.

What determines YA is VOICE.
There a sophistication and maturity in adult books, no matter the age of the character, that shines through in the voice. To try and break down some elements of what this sophistication and maturity consists of:

1. The language (or word choice) is different.

2. The descriptive nature of the narrative is told in a different way.

Take how Clare tells us about the springtime: “It’s a bright cool April morning and I can see red tulips whipping in the wind in the garden.” Lovely. Gives us a wonderful sense of the world and a clear picture of this day. WE can feel it without her having to tell us how it feels to her; the I is barely present.

Now look at how Alona describes it: “I shivered in the cool morning breeze. It was 7:00 a.m., or a little past, on the first day in May, and it wasn’t nearly warm enough to be out walking around in the stupid thin T-shirt and short shorts they made us wear for gym.” This also gives us a very clear image of what this morning is like, but we experience it THROUGH HER eyes. We are COMPLETELY focused on HER world, HER experiences, how SHE is letting us see this.

In other words:

3. YA voices are very ego-centric.

Ok, ok, I’ll admit; these are definitely fine lines to walk on. More commercial genres of adult have voices that can sound very close to YA. Take Janet Evanovich; her writing is as sarcastic and “I” centered as any teen novel. What sets these apart are the mature situations -- not to say that YA books don’t, or can’t, deal with mature situations, but HOW the characters confront them is very different.

For example:

Mom starts on beer number six. It’s the one I call the Talking Beer….That’s why we’re here at the cemetery, after all. To mourn another lost boyfriend. To add another name to the Men Who Ditched Leona Fitch list.
“I thought he was going to be the one,” she continues. “He was so thoughtful.”
She’s right. Kyle was thoughtful. He gave me a brown bobble-head dog the first time Mom brought him home to meet me. And he earned bonus points for the fact that—in the six weeks he dated Mom—I never once caught him staring at my rolls of fat or my massive chest.

–Blue Plate Special* (YA)

This is sarcastic, but it’s also painful. A tough situation sparks sarcasm, but also injury to the teen soul. Stephanie Plum wouldn’t be so bitter about her mom’s drinking; it doesn’t have to affect her anymore. The character here, on the other hand, completely internalizes this situation, and when prompted to think of a moment of thoughtfulness in relation to her mother’s boyfriends, relates it back to herself to understand, for us to understand.

We are only capable of feeling her pain through her view of the world, no matter what the situation, or how sarcastic her voice.

I suppose you can think of it like a maturity thing; not that all adults are mature, but rather, YA voice vs. adult voice is certainly going to be less self-assured, less reflective of the world/life, less put into perspective. An adult may not have thought, above, that her mother's boyfriend was thoughtful because he wasn't caught staring at her fat rolls, but rather because he was kind to her mother, remembered her mother's birthday once when no one else did.

This is part of the reason YA novels can be so much more drama-tastic and angsty; the reader experiences the young adult perspective (ego-centric and not quite "worldly" just yet).

4. YA novels are experienced more than watched

What I mean by this is that YA voice is directly relatable; the reader feels like he or she is in the character's shoes. An adult novel, on the other hand, is enjoyed like one enjoys a movie - just as swept up and emotional as YA, but more in the style of watching the characters playing out the scenes, rather than feeling that emotional tug as if YOU are the character, playing out the scene. A virtual reality game (YA) vs. watching a movie (adult).

It's part of the reason, I think, that first person is so popular in YA; it's more directly relatable, and offers less distance to a reader. It allows the reader to directly put him or herself in the character's shoes more easily.

It makes sense, in terms of demographic; don't quote me on this, but 47% of 18-24 year olds read YA, whereas only 25% of 25 and up do. Maybe this is because the younger readers can remember and tap into the young adult emotions more readily, and so more easily put on the YA voice helmet and step into the YA characters' shoes?

(sometimes) 5. Sentence structure is different

YA tends to be shorter, snapier, less complex; less of my favorite little ; and more .

In all of this, I'm not trying to say that there is only ONE YA voice; there are a myriad of voices, just as there are people. But, the voices have elements of what I mentioned above; voice is defined by experience, by perspective, and so how COULD a YA voice EVER sound like an adult? It wouldn't be true, or realistic, to the age group.

I know my examples probably aren’t the most brilliant, but hopefully it at least clears up a few things on YA vs. adult – and why ADULT authors can’t just “become” YA.

And for reference: here is some further reading, on MG vs. YA
Is it MG or YA? on
The Difference between MG and YA by Laura Backes, Children's Book Insider

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Killing the Messenger

AKA: When Authors Leave Agents

I've already spoken on the blog about making sure an agent is the right fit for you before jumping into a relationship. But even all the caution in the world can't predict if you'll ever *gasp!* have to think about leaving your agent.

I wish I could say I've never been dumped.

But I can't.

It happened almost a year ago, with one of the very first clients I signed. We had a FANTASTIC relationship (I thought). I loved his work, he loved my notes, we went on sale...and...the book didn't sell. We went through rounds and rounds of revisions, but always the same thing. It had flaws, which I HAD understood going in, but I loved the book enough to give it a shot because I loved his style enough to want to do more. So, the plan of attack turned into "let's take what we've learned from all of these editors and use the feedback to make the NEXT book AMAZING."

And so the next book began. And...I didn't like it. There were many of the same problems as the first, and I was starting to recognize that the author really may not be capable of bringing it to the next level. Still, I gave him my notes on what I thought needed to be done to make it something I could take to market, because I STILL loved his voice, STILL was willing to try and dig until that gem I'd sensed in there actually shone. But he was beyond insulted by that point; we'd worked so much on the first book that he hadn't even felt it was HIS work anymore, and so my coming back and telling him I didn't like something that WAS entirely his was devestating.

Why am I sharing this story with you? Because it is at THIS point: unsold project(s), dead-end manucript(s), a rejected manuscript - that many authors feel they need to make THE DECISION: stay -- or move on?

Here are some things to consider if you're considering leaving your agent:

-Do NOT do it just because things aren't going your way

-Do NOT do it just because things aren't happening FAST enough, or how you WANT it

-List out your reasons for leaving, and honestly ask yourself if they sound selfish and whiney, or whether or not your agent LEGITIMATELY is doing a bad job

-If you're upset with editorial feedback, think about the feedback given: is it sound and backed by reason? (As an agent, I consider it my job to be honest. I won't take the chicken way out and pitch a manuscript I know is sub-par just so editors will say it for me. It's my career on the line every time I make a submission; and I'm not going to risk it just to try and make you happy.)

-Have you or the agent lost enthusiasm for the work/relationship - which you feel can't be overcome with a heart-to-heart discussion on direction and next steps?

-Do you not trust the agent's advice? Do you not respect the agent? (To which I say: WHY did you sign with him or her in the first place?!)

-What is your history with the agent? Have you been successful? Has the AGENT been successful? (Keeping in mind, of course, the new vs. established agent stats - a new agent with no sales isn't necessarily a bad sign. A new agent who isn't networking, has no sales within a year, particularly if not backed by a big and/or established agency, or an agent who is sort, might be worth thinking twice about, however).

-Think of the reasons YOU signed with this agent in the first place. Have things really changed, or are you just frustrated?

-Have you tried discussing your concerns with your agent first? (My former client did end up emailing me a few months later to apoloize and see if we could start anew; we both agreed everything could have been sorted out with COMMUNICATION. However, that doesn't mean we're working together again; the trust was broken. You don't want to leave a good thing that's just shadowed with frustration and miscommunication.)

-Are you basing your judgement on rumor, or fact? I.E.: did you suddenly read a raging post on a writer forum and get freaked out, or did you find out from Preditors and Editors your agent is on the no-no list?

-Have you read through your Agency Agreement to understand what leaving will REALLY mean? (I'm not saying this should deter you; just be prepared. Are you able to sever ties now (some agencies require an initial agreement term)? Is there a "re-capture" clause, during which time, if your work sells, the agency will still commission? Are there any stipulations about what the agency will continue to represent post-termination?)

Regardless of what your decision becomes, I will say that the best way to do this is over the phone. This particular former client, on advice from a writer friend of his, decided to email and cc every person in my office to part ways with me, bad-mouthing me but hoping that one of my colleagues would want to take him on instead.

Bad. Idea.

If you MUST email to break the news (and even after you do so, official termination will require a letter) then do so in a professional, rational, calm mannor. Never in a rage. Never insulting. You do NOT want to put yourself on ANY agent's black list; no matter if your agent truly is the worst person in the world, take the high road out. Even if you're dumping them now, they'll still potentially be your colleague later once you sell a book. And once you do leave, keep in mind, again, that anything you say WILL reflect back on you - as always, sometimes it really is better to say nothing if you can't say anything nice at all.

A further word of caution: if you're considering leaving because you think you can cut corners with the whole finding-an-agent process the next time around, think again. Just because so-and-so liked your work doesn't mean anything to me (especially if it's for the book you're trying to find new representation for; if it's already been shopped around, I really don't want to touch that).

If you have published works, yes, it will be easier to find a new agent than if you don't - I just caution you to read my post on things to consider before jumping into another relationship.

However, agents get emails all the time from clients who were previously represented. And guess what? Doesn't change a darn thing about your submission - in fact, it makes me wonder...are YOU difficult to work with?

It's not a black mark on your record to part with an agent. It is, however, if you decide to bad-mouth them. Agents know and respect each other. We understand that relationships don't work out; styles just don't mesh sometimes. That doesn't mean we're going to jump in with a "whee!" if you're coming into things as an agent-hater. I definitely don't have time for anyone high-maintenance on my list.

And for the love of God, do NOT decide to go behind your agent's back and try and find a replacement before you've severed ties.

Most of all, though: remember that this is going to hurt us too. It’s crushing to lose a client, even if we know it really is for the best.