Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Love/Hate Wednesday



Trust me, I wish things moved faster, too, but most of the time…this industry moves at a snail’s pace. Between waiting for reads, responses, edits, contract, royalties, etc etc…it’s a lot of waiting! But we’re all in this together, and I appreciate immensely when authors are patient. I do everything in my power to expedite all processes, including my own, and an understanding author makes me all that much more motivated!


Cleary copy-and-pasted query letters.

I’m not under the delusion that all query letters are perfectly crafted and tailored just for me. But we get SO many queries that have clearly copy-and-pasted a template and then written in our name because the fonts and sizes don’t match!

My tip: “paste as plain text” before you send out, or change to HTML and back to regular, to get rid of any lingering formatting inconsistencies that’ll make your query stick out as a copy-and-paste send.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Love/Hate Wednesday – Begins!

I’ve become quite horrid at updating my blog, and to try and add some fresh content more often than…once a month, I’m going to start a new bi-weekly column in which I’ll pick one thing I love, and one thing I hate, as an agent, and say why. Should be simple enough. Right?

I’ll also take email or comment requests for love/hate updates – i.e., prologues – love or hate?! So feel free to ask!

Let Love/Hate Wednesday…begin!


This post by Victoria Marini. I think breaking down what we deserve vs. what is coming out of entitlement is important for everyone – writers, agents, and editors included!


The question: How many clients do you have?

This is most often asked during “the call,” as it’s on all sorts of “things to ask a potential agent” lists. But I hate it, because I honestly never know what to say to this question, because I don’t think the answer to the question directly relates to anything you really want to know.

If I say a few, does that mean I have lots of time for you? Or if I say lots, does it prove I’m legit? How many is a lot? If I say 20, is that a few or a lot? If you interpret that as a few, does it mean I’m new, or that I’m selective, or is it a lot, meaning I’m not selective, or – or – why not just ask what you want to know rather than this question?!

I’m very open about my clients; You can view my full client roster here. And I can assure you, if I am offering representation, I’m very excited about your work, and I would not offer if I was not at a place that I have time to dedicate to you and all of my clients.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Copyright Basics: All You Ever Really Didn't Want to Know (and More)

I’m not going to go too in-depth about permissions here, because there are some other quite fabulous posts, like this one, that sum it up beautifully. But I did want to offer a few tips and tricks for permissions that might help save you a headache.

First: The Basics

Q: Who owns copyright in a work? 

ALL creative work, the moment it is created, is protected by copyright law, and the owner (creator) has the following rights:

  1. to reproduce the copyrighted work in copies or phonorecords 
  2. to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work 
  3. to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership, or by rental, lease, or lending 
  4. in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and motion pictures and other audiovisual works, to perform the copyrighted work publicly 
  5. in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly 
  6. in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission. 

The act of publishing does not start copyright protection; the work being created did. The creator can give any and/or all rights in the work to someone else exclusively or non-exclusively, typically through a publishing contract.

A common misconception is that, because the copyright page of a book lists copyright to the author, the author can do whatever he or she wants with the work. Not true; though yes, that page may state the author still owns copyright (only if ALL of the 6 rights above are transferred to another rights holder can the author/creator no longer claim copyright), the author is subject to whatever terms were granted to the publisher exclusively. I.e., the author cannot grant permission for the work to be re-used in another if he or she granted the publisher exclusive rights to reproduce and distribute (#1 & #3).

Permission requests must be made to whoever controls the rights to what you need – i.e., a request to translate would go to whoever controls the rights to #2.

Q: When Do I need to Request Permission?

AFTER a publishing contract is in place (or AFTER you decide to self-publish), if you wish to reprint an excerpt which you didn’t create. In order to request permission you will need to know your publication date, publisher, distribution territory, and print run, which is why you should request only after you have this information.

Q: What Happens if I Don’t?

You will be eaten by the perms monster.

Ok, maybe not. But you are liable for any infringements. If you’re self-published, and Amazon or your distributor finds out there is material in your work used without permission, they can immediately remove the work from sale and/or launch an investigation into the claim, which can lead to legal action and refunding customers. Don’t ever assume people won’t notice your infringements: see here.

If you signed a publishing contract, you could also be in breach of your contract; many contracts contain language that makes the author liable (responsible) for clearing permission for anything that isn’t his or hers – which means that not only can the copyright owner take you to court…so can your publisher.

That said, a large chunk of copyright violations are settled out of court, with the violator paying damages to the copyright owner. Damages can amount to the cost of permission for each book sold, to cost of actual loss due to infringement. The big issue is that when you’re caught…you have very little bargaining room. It is always cheaper to request permission than to have to pay for it later.

Q: Are there resources to help me do this?

Absolutely. Your agent or publisher may have a permission specialist who can assist. Past that, there are freelance permission coordinators who can request and negotiate permissions on your behalf. Here are a few:

The Permissions Company (for a number of years, known as the Perms Dude; can't beat that!)
Adele Hutchinson
Copyright Clearance Center

Q: When can I apply fair use?

Don’t count on your work falling under fair use guidelines if you’re making profit from it; fair use is very hard to justify for commercial works, no matter how much of an excerpt you’re using. Copyright law is intentionally vague on fair use. These are the official guidelines:

Section 107 contains a list of the various purposes for which the reproduction of a particular work may be considered fair, such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Section 107 also sets out four factors to be considered in determining whether or not a particular use is fair.

  1. The purpose and character of the use, including whether such use is of commercial nature or is for nonprofit educational purposes
  2. The nature of the copyrighted work
  3. The amount and substantiality of the portion used in relation to the copyrighted work as a whole
  4. The effect of the use upon the potential market for, or value of, the copyrighted work

That all said…here’s a nifty little comic all about fair use. Rather lengthy, and directed to film, but applicable and helpful all the same. (What, you don’t want to read a COMIC about COPYRIGHT?!)

Ok. Now that we’ve gone through the basics (in which I tried to be as annoyingly indistinct in my assertions as possible…)

…on to: The Tips!

Tip: don’t assume something is in the public domain, just because it was written before 1923!

Key word here is WRITTEN. Copyright law does differentiate between published and non-published works. Works published prior to 1923 are now in the public domain – but there are some tricky situations people commonly overlook, such as posthumously published works, translations of previously published works, and corporately owned works.

  • Translations: if you were using Aristotle’s original Greek text…sure. That could be in the public domain. But unless you’re using a translation that was ALSO published prior to 1923…it’s likely under copyright. 
  • Posthumously published works: Emily Dickinson is a great example; though her works were all created prior to 1923…the majority of them weren’t first published (in actual, unedited form) until AFTER 1923. And so they are still under copyright. Same with Mark Twain’s unpublished works – they were published posthumously…and still under copyright. 
  • Corporately owned, or “work for hire” works: corporately owned works get LONGER copyright protection – 120 years.

The bottom line: don’t assume. Here’s a very nifty chart which outlines copyright duration for published and unpublished, but otherwise…do your research!

Tip: Fees ARE negotiable

It’s impossible to put an estimate here on how much permission will cost. Rights holders’ fees vary depending on what kind of rights you ask for – how many territories (world, North American, US?), formats (print, ebook, audio?), and copies (print run) you need or want. And while many may have standard fees (including the Big 5 publishers), these fees may also vary depending on what you’re requesting. So, you might be able to negotiate by lowering your request to North American instead of World, etc.

The bottom line is: ask. Ask if there’s room to lower the fee.

Tip: Avoid using material that needs to be licensed…period!!

If all of the above hasn’t yet convinced you that that one sentence from HOW TO AVOID HUGE SHIPS really ISN’T all that necessary for the prologue of your book…here’s another: even if you do request and get permission to use it…you have to keep track of the license.

Many rights holders will grant permission for a limited term (number of years) or edition (first edition only) or print run. Which means, at the end of that term…you have to request again. For example, your license might grant you rights for the first printing of your book, up to 10,000 copies, no revised or new editions; if you sell over 10,00 copies, go into another printing, or come out with a new edition of the book…you have to request again.

Tip: So, if you do end up requesting permission, make yourself a nice spreadsheet that tracks the following: 

Max copies allowed, edition restrictions, territories granted, formats granted, subsidiary rights granted, expiration date, copies requested/sent on (yes, they might ask for a copy of the book), misc license terms, and fee paid/paid on/check number.

If you ARE limited to a print run, be sure to check your royalty statements; you’ll need to keep track of when you hit that number!

Finally, these are some of my absolute favorite copyright and permission websites to help navigate the perms world:

**note, I am not an attorney, so nothing in this post, nor comments below, constitutes legal advice!**

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Plot Dot Test: Plot-to-Page method

I saw a post about what I call the “plot dot test” a while back*, and I’ve found it so useful I think it’s worth a highlight.

What you need: a chapter-by-chapter outline (or a finished manuscript). Pen. Paper.

What you do: draw a vertical line across the page. Your first chapter is your first dot – start it right on the line. For each subsequent chapter, place a dot after deciding: is the action here higher, lower, or the same as the previous chapter? Place dot accordingly.

Here’s a recent plot dot I did:

And bear in mind, a traditional story arc should look something like this:

(don't worry, the author revised the above example I was working on - to fabulous results)

It’s not perfect, but if you’re having issues with pacing (too fast, too slow, saggy middle, etc) this can help you pinpoint exactly where that’s happening, and direct where to make changes.

For too fast of a pace: insert some same-level chapters or scenes in between high-stakes chapters. For slow chapters, try re-working your plot to either cut and rewrite, re-arrange, or re-direction. It could take several drafts – and have your critique partners give it a try (this is where a chapter-by-chapter outline is best) to help you out!

*I couldn’t for the life of me find it to hyperlink here, so if you know it, please tell me and I’ll add the link! It used a computer program to graph the line instead of pen and paper.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Guest Post: Childhood as a Construction

My honorary intern just graduated with an M.A. in Children’s Literature (whee!!), and I asked her to share some of her hard-earned knowledge in a post. I find it deliciously discussable. Enjoy!

Childhood as a Construction
By Stephanie Sandler

“Childhood,” as many believe, should be protected and revered. That it is a universal thing. That it is an age of innocence and a time full of life before the cold, harsh world of reality beats all of the happiness out. There’s a general pastoralization of childhood that often occurs when one thinks of an “ideal” childhood. That children should be running about in a field of daisies giggling the day away… or something. Stay away adult influences! Stay away!

Well… I don’t know about you, but that wasn’t my childhood nor any one of my friends’ childhoods. I remember my parents fighting about money, a lot. I remember my siblings and I fighting, a lot. And I remember feeling out of place, a lot. Does that sound more familiar?

That’s because as much as we can hope for an “ideal” childhood for our children, due to, I don’t know, LIFE, it is nearly impossible.

What does this have to do with children’s literature? (For the sake of brevity I’ll limit this discussion to children’s literature in the American canon).

Well, a lot. The thing is that as authors, YOU are the constructors of childhood. You CREATE ideal childhoods. You SHAPE and MOLD the way society looks at, thinks about, and acts with children. Holy moly, you are powerful! YOU are the people who make my academic life rich, full, and thought provoking.

BUT (yeah, you knew this was coming) even if you have the guts to take on childhood in your fiction from a realistic POV you have to be careful. The adult “gatekeepers” (publishers, librarians, school officials, teachers, parents) are really the deciders of not only what children read, but how THEY want children to perceive childhood.

Take, for instance, the book cover controversy over Anne of Green Gables. Due to the boom of self-publishing this tried and true tale of pastoral childhood innocence was besmirched by ::gasp:: a SEXY cover. Outrage swept over parents as they cried “How dare they!?” and “We will boycott the publisher!” (Who, by the way, is Amazon’s CreateSpace and they’ve since taken the cover image down).

Well… “they” were trying to sell an antiquated book to a modern audience. “They” were simply trying to keep up with the times. And “they,” might I add, chose a girl who yes, is on the more attractive side, but still fully covered. Their true tragedy in my opinion was choosing a model who didn’t have red hair – but seriously… since when does Hollywood ever care about the descriptions of characters in a book before casting?

The new cover, compared with the old, showing a decidedly modern Anne

The point is… there’s a lot going on with this whole construction of childhood thing, and it’s good to keep all of it in mind as a writer for children’s literature. The genre exists within a mix of nostalgia and fear. While sex may sell in most industries as well as reflect a more accurate reality for modern children and issues of contemporary childhood… ultimately it’s a tight rope walk. A book cannot be catered solely for children to children – whether that’s reflected in the content of the book or the cover. In order to be successful the book HAS to be appealing to adult sensibilities for and about children. While you may want to write for children, they’re not always the ones buying your books (particularly the youngest crowd).

And, to be fair, as adult writers as much as you may want to try to tap into your inner child while writing… you can’t. Your childhood is gone and you probably weren’t taking copious notes while it was happening. Even if you did, the concerns of your childhood may no longer be consistent with the issues of modern children.

The best you can do is acknowledge what Maurice Sendak suggests, “You cannot write for children. They’re much too complicated. You can only write books that are of interest to them.” And keep their parents in mind.

Friday, May 17, 2013

So Why DID I Want to be an Agent?

I think the one story I’ve never shared is…what made you want to be an agent?

I’ve answered the how I got into agenting; but why did I want to be an agent?

I started writing this post a while ago after Laura Bradford re-sold rights to THE book that made her want to be an agent (plus a sequel! Yeah!). It was a book that inspired her to want to bring good romance to the world.

I wish I had as inspiring of a story; the truth is I was stuck on this post for a long time because…I can’t really think of one shining moment that was IT. I first found out that agents existed when I started writing (and querying) at thirteen; I knew from then on I wanted to be a part of the publishing industry. My Junior year of high school my English teacher asked me what I wanted to do, and I said oh, I have a five year plan: go to college as an English major, move to New York, work as an editorial assistant at a publishing house for a few years to gain contacts, and then be an AGENT!

He was rather skeptical (probably also because, as it turns out, he was in the process of writing a book and trying to get an agent) and though my glorious five year plan (gasp!) didn’t exactly work out THAT way (I went to college as a WRITING major, and interned my way to the agent track), the end result was the same.

I suppose, then, what inspired me to jump into this profession was my love of writing; of wanting to be a part of the magical world of literature.

Today, the inspiring part of my journey is what I love most: making dreams come true.

There’s a great quote by Sterling Lord, from his recent book about his own agent adventures, that says:

"To be effective as a literary agent, you have to constantly hope; you have to generate the optimism to believe that you will make every deal…. Whether a spectacular sale or a client's departure is a triumph or a disaster, you have about 10 minutes to deal with it emotionally. After that, you must move on to other business."  (thanks to Kathleen Rushall for that little gem!)

I am honored to be and love being a driving force within something I’m passionate about, and hopefully, bringing joy, inspiration and optimism to others as well. I will never say it's easy or lacking in challenges, but that wouldn't make it rewarding if it were. I am fascinated by the changing atmosphere of publishing and love combining our modern perceptions and technology with the classic escapism and joy that literature brings.

And I hope to continue doing so for many, many years.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Keep it in your Pants

Or drawer. Or hard drive. Under the mattress at your great aunt Tilly’s house. WHEREVER your old manuscripts are (of course that's what this post is about! What did you think?!), for the love of coffee, if you’re waffling over whether to write something new or raise the dead…KEEP them there.

I’m not saying there’s no possible way they’ll sell, or that they aren’t any good. Timing plays a large factor in when things are picked up in publishing, and sure, the timing on an old manuscript may not have been ideal and now it is (i.e., your NA five years ago vs. NA now). And many authors are seeing success with self publishing novels that don’t get picked up.

But if I have a client who says, “Oh hey, you know, I’m not quite sure what I’ll work on next, and I haven’t done anything new, but I have these short stories I did when I was twelve – want to take a look at those?”

I think: No. No, I really do not.

I will probably say, “Sure.”

I mean, I won’t just discount the possibility that an old dusty manuscript a client wants to send to me just needs some polishing and voila! Again, see the comment on timing above. But how many stories do you hear of where the author touts, “Oh, I had this just sitting around for years, and all of a sudden, I thought, why not, I’ll send this off and see what happens!”

Not many. Because many times these manuscripts are what I would call “starter manuscripts”; the drafts written to hone and perfect your craft. It is highly unlikely a manuscript from five years ago is going to be as good as anything new you could write. Not even speaking just to craft and style; speaking also to marketability and dated references. The audience you were writing to is also aged, and a new one moving in; is that new audience going to like what the old did?

There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind. -C.S. Lewis

So. If you MUST take them out again and want to contemplate sending them off into the big wide world (I know it’s tempting) PLEASE re-read them ALL THE WAY THROUGH FIRST. Then decide what you want to do. Is it REALLY the next best foot forward you can present? REALLY a victim of poor timing/market glutting that should and could be revived, either traditionally or via self-publishing? Or is it a starter manuscript you’re desperately trying to fill a gap of writer’s block with?

The truth is, one of the hardest things a writer has to think about is having tomes of unpublished drafts and works that just…won’t ever go anywhere.  But guess what: it doesn’t make you a bad writer – it makes you a career writer. A writer who writes…just for the love of writing, whether published or not.

And that’s the kind of writer I want to work with.

You can't start the next chapter of your life if you keep re-reading your last one. -Michael McMillan

Friday, March 15, 2013


I saw a Tweet a while back that said something to the effect of: why is it that people are ok with buying a greeting card for $5 but expect a BOOK to be $.99?

It’s a good question. I was reading that as people expect E-BOOKS to be $.99 and, the heart of it, I think, is because they’re digital; they’re not tangible like a physical book and, psychologically, it’s harder to justify a non-tangible item for more money. Which is completely not fair, considering all the time spent on a book, the respect that should be given to the intellectual property of an artist, etc etc I could go on and on.

My question is: will this trend continue?

Cover your ears book lovers – I’m about to blaspheme. 

I think that NO, it will not continue…because as physical books become less and less popular, and electronic books more common, there will be far less of a physical vs. digital mentality for readers to balk at.

(end blasphemy)

Looking at the music industry, for example, when digital music first came on the scene for iPods and even CD burning, everyone wanted to get their songs for free. It was a big battle to end that (and well, no, it’s not really quite over) which involved a total overhaul in how music is accessed. You CAN now go to iTunes and buy a single song, or listen endlessly on Pandora  or even YouTube.

But the music industry didn’t die. We’re not craving any less new music. We’re just accessing it differently.

In that time, CDs have become all but extinct. If I wanted to purchase music, I wouldn’t go buy a physical CD; I’d just go online and buy the song, or the whole album, digital. And if I DID buy a CD, I certainly wouldn’t expect it to cost MORE than the digital album. In other words: as time has passed, I’ve come to accept the cost of electronic music, and its worth, to a point that it’s just about equal in my mind, because digital is much more prevalent in my life.

Of course…there were also those huge campaigns against illegal music downloads, lawsuits, sitting in movies watching a preview that screams at me IF YOU BUY A BURNED DVD YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW AND ARE AN EVIL PERSON AND THE WORLD WILL DIE AHHH!!!

So that probably also played a part in instilling a respect for an artist’s work, equating it to money. The rest is time; time for technology to evolve and make physical music formats irrelevant.

Time is already changing the format of books. E-readers are becoming more affordable, which means they’ll be trickling down to more and more readers, and soon, maybe we’ll have a YouTube of the book world – a new platform to figure out how to use to our advantage.

So all we need is that second part…that campaign…that screams out IF YOU PURCHASE AN EBOOK FOR LESS THAN $1 YOU ARE SLAPPING THE AUTHOR IN THE FACE!!!!!

Or you know. Whatever. Just a suggestion. I certainly don’t want to DISCOURAGE e-book sales (and freebies and discounts are a great way to gain readership).

What do you think?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Professionally Picky

Congratulations! You’ve received an offer of representation!!!

But there are more agents considering. Possibly agents you submitted to at midnight on a Friday after a glass of wine or two and noticed your rejection pile was growing and your submission list thinning and good GOD you need to GET IT OUT THERE MORE AND INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF AN OFFER JUST TO KEEP UP THE HOPE….!

I.E: definitely not dream agent material, but worthy of settling for.

Yeah, yeah; maybe I should have rose-colored glasses on here and say that EVERY agent an author submits to is TOTALLY his/her dream agent but…I know better. And it’s ok; this business is so subjective, just as not every author is right for every agent, not every agent is right for every author. Doesn’t make either party less awesome – just not the best professional fit.

So what do you do when you receive an offer and (as you should) want to be fair and notify any other considering agents to give them a chance…but don’t necessarily WANT to give some of them that chance, or KNOW that even if one of those agents you were being fair to offered, you wouldn’t go with them?

Maybe this is just a problem in MY eyes; I certainly can’t fault an author for wanting ANYONE to read his/her manuscript and fawn all over it, even if s/he doesn’t really intend to go with that agent. But truly, it’s a waste of time; and it really sucks to let an agent possibly fall in love with your manuscript if s/he doesn’t stand a chance.

So what’s the best approach?

Well, honesty. I’m a big girl; I can take it. And no, I won’t hold it against you.

I had to resist saying “WE’re big boys and girls” here just because I can’t speak for every agent, but in my experience honesty is the best policy in this situation. My only caution would be against jumping on the first offer received, due to excitement, or jumping on the best-known agent without weighing the pros and cons of each you submitted to. But you did all that research before you queried, right? RIGHT?

I’m certainly not suggesting that you have to make this decision the second you get an offer. If you’re not sure, you’re not sure. But, if there are one or two agents still considering who you ARE sure wouldn’t win out over the offering agent, it’s definitely ok to pull your material.

It can be as simple as:

I wanted to write and let you know that I received an offer of representation. I’m feeling very good about this offer (and do feel this agent would be the best fit for me), and so I would like to withdraw my submission at this time. I greatly appreciate your time and consideration.

Or more flowery like:

Thank you so much for your consideration of my work; your interest was inspiring to me. I did receive an offer of representation yesterday from an agent (or name the agent) I’m feeling really excited to work with. Given that I know this agent would really be a great fit for me, I’d like to go ahead and withdraw my partial at this time. Again, I greatly appreciate the time you spent with my work and wish you all the best of luck and success.

You can name the agent or not; personally, I’d like to know.

And of course…I definitely hope I’m not going to be seeing an avalanche of copy-pastes in my email of this post or, as an editor recently put it:


I mean, congratulations and I wish you all the best. ;)

Friday, January 4, 2013

Guest Post: Taking the Time to Get it Right

I usually have a dickens of a time coming up with the first post for the new year. Luckily, I'd already written a guest post for Operation Awesome's New Year's Revisions Conference that I am shamelessly going to use to kick off the New Year on my own blog, too:

I’ve written before on why NaNoWriMo isn’t my favorite; it all circles around the impulsiveness that comes from a freshly finished WIP. Definitely, that accomplishment deserves a BIG CONGRATS WITH LOTS OF CONFETTI AND MY AWESOME CAT

'sup girl

But then slow down. Funnel that excitement into your NEXT challenge: revising and polishing until it’s PERFECT.


Read On!

Happy New Year - cheers to an AMAZING 2013!! (You know, since the world didn't end and all...)