Sunday, May 20, 2007

So Hot Right Now

It's actually rather cool here, but the title of the post relates to an article I wrote for Romance Writers of Australia. I interviewed authors Niki Burnham, Tina Ferraro, Juli Heaton and Allison Rushby on what YA fiction is. Agent Michael Bourret and Flux editor Andrew Karre gave me some insider info on what's selling right now.

Go have a look at the RWAus site.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Agent Matchmaking Part II – with Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency

We're told "dream" agents don't exist (though nightmare agents are out there, apparently). So I won't say Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency is a dream agent. But with her track record, you'd be pretty darn lucky to have her representing your work. Nephele's clients include Gemma Halliday and Shannon K. Butcher. She generously gave her time to answer questions about her modus operandi.

1. Tell us about the first project you sold.

The first project I sold was a two-book deal for a paranormal romance series by author Nalini Singh, to Berkley Sensation, an imprint of the Penguin Group. It ended up selling in an auction, which was rather exciting, and also a little crazy since, obviously, I had never orchestrated one before. I ended getting up very early that morning, because of the time difference with New York, and drinking a lot of coffee. Nalini was living in Japan at the time (she currently lives in New Zealand), which made it that much stranger, going back and forth with the difference offers. God bless e-mail. It was a heady feeling, though, when we finally hammered out the deal. The books are both available now: SLAVE TO SENSATION and VISIONS OF HEAT.

2. What types of books do you represent?

I represent a pretty wide range of books, though I do stick to fiction. Currently, I'm representing commercial literary fiction, women's fiction, romance, young adult, and sf/f.

3. Are you actively seeking new clients?

Yes! I've been an agent for about two and a half years now, and currently have around fifteen clients, so there's definitely room for more. Submissions guidelines are available at our web site: The Knight Agency.

4. What kinds of projects are editors begging to see right now?

It's an ever-changing market, and I try to encourage my clients to write the book they want to write, and not worry so much about what editors are looking for specifically. By the time you write the book, the editors will be looking for something else. Concentrate on honing your craft, and writing something with a very strong, unique voice and a solid sense of place. But, that said, urban fantasy is big still, in romance, YA, and straight up fantasy. Children's editors are always looking for books with good male protagonists that appeal to both the reluctant boy readers and the die-hard girl readers. Literary historical novels, of the sort that include actual historical figures along with fictional ones (think THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL by Philippa Gregory) are still doing well.

5. On average, how many new clients do you take on each year?

This really varies. When I was starting out, and had lots of time, I made much more headway with my submissions and took on clients more quickly--maybe 6 or 7 a year. Now, I'm probably in the range of 2 to 4 a year, as I'm spending more time actually working for my existing clients and less time reading submissions.

6. What’s your average response time for queries, partials and fulls?

I don't see too much in the way of queries, as we have someone screening them for the entire agency, but we generally get back to people within a week or two. On partials, I aim for within a month, but that varies depending on how busy I am with existing clients. Full manuscripts, again, I'm far more behind than I would like. I aim for within 3-4 months, but I'm cleaning up things that are older than that this week. I do tend to read submissions in waves; when things are a bit calmer, I take a couple of days and read through manuscript after manuscript to get back up to date.

7. Do you provide your clients with editorial feedback?

Definitely. I think it's important, since I'm the last set of eyes to go over everything before the manuscript goes to an editor. When we're shopping a project, I will give fairly detailed notes, particularly regarding any plot holes or inconsistencies in character development, and I'll proofread. We'll go back and forth until I think the manuscript is ready to go out. But I also try to read all of my clients' manuscripts before they get turned in on deadline, assuming there's time before they're due to the editors.

8. What hurts a writer’s chances of getting an agent?

A lot of time, sad to say, it's attitude. Sloppy queries, not following guidelines, being rude. I can't tell you how many e-mails I get saying, "I know that you don't take such and such, but if you would just read this…" They're so busy telling me they know better, that they forget that they shouldn't want an agent who doesn't represent the kind of book they write.

But on a more general level, I see a lot of partials or even full manuscripts for great ideas where the work just isn't quite there yet--it needs another couple of rewrites. And sometimes, if I am really interested in the concept, I'll ask to see it again after those rewrites, but more often, I'll just reject with a note stating it's not sufficiently polished. If those writers just move on to the next agent and don't rethink their work, they're going to stay stuck at that plateau.

9. How does it feel to be on your side of the table during a conference pitch?

Honestly, I hate conference pitches. I understand the appeal, and I do love meeting writers, but ultimately, the pitch tells me little more than what the story is about, and how nervous the writer is to be sitting there. I still need to see something written to get an idea of the person's talent. I'd rather they raffle off a half dozen critiques with me instead, and then set up some sort of round robin Q&A, where a group of writers each get a few minutes to ask me about the agency and my working style. It would be more practical and more useful in the long run.

10. With the rest of your Knight Agency colleagues based in Georgia, what are the advantages of working in your own branch in L.A.?

Actually, the biggest advantage to being alone in L.A. is that I don't have any distractions. I'm a chatter box, and if I were in the office with the rest of the gang, I have a feeling I'd get a lot less accomplished. Practically speaking, I do get the chance to meet producers and other film industry people living in Los Angeles, which makes it easy to set up meetings and to share our projects with people who might be interested in the film or television rights. The film industry is very different from the publishing industry--much slower moving, and far more about who you know and catching the right person at the right time--so that access is great.

Thanks so much for your time, Nephele!

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Agent Matchmaking – with Nathan Bransford of Curtis Brown Ltd.

(I'm sorry about the broken links! I'm trying to fix 'em.)

The search for a literary agent who’s right for you starts here. Meet San Francisco-based Nathan Bransford of the well-respected Curtis Brown Ltd literary agency. His clients include Rebecca S. Ramsay and Brad Geagley. He’s professional, smart, gracious, responds to queries promptly, knows the market, and he just might be your perfect agent match. (Just don’t accidentally send him private emails that were meant for your sister.)

1. What was the first project you sold and to which publishing house?

The very first book deal I handled was a reprint deal for four of John Preston's books, which I sold to Cleis Press. Preston was a pioneer in gay fiction. Curtis Brown had represented him until his untimely death, and continues to represent his works on behalf of his estate. Young agents are often given the responsibility of handling reprint deals, and this is the first one that came my way.

2. Please list the types of projects you specialize in.

I am a bit of a generalist, and I'm interested in a wide variety of genres, including literary fiction, commercial fiction (including mysteries, suspense, science fiction and historical fiction), narrative nonfiction, sports, politics, current events, pop culture and, if that's not broad enough, I also include a caveat for anything else I happen to like.

3. On average, how many new clients do you take on each year?

I'm a young agent and am actively building my list, but I am also very selective about who I take on, so this complex formula results in two or three new clients a year.

4. What's your average response time for queries, partials and fulls?

I almost always respond to queries within a day, sometimes quicker. Partials usually take me a week or two, and fulls can take between two and three weeks.

5. Tell us about the wackiest query you've ever received? If you haven't been lucky enough to get such a query, how about the best query ever?

I have definitely my share of wacky queries, although I'd hate to make fun of an aspiring writer so I'll dodge that question and go for the "best" one instead. The best one I received was from an LA Times bestselling writer, and let's just say when I saw "LA Times bestseller" in the subject line I was extremely excited. I was even more excited when I opened up the email and saw that his work was right up my alley.

6. Are you in favor of lower advances/higher royalties?

This depends a great deal on the particular project and publisher, so I don't know that I have a standard opinion on this one.

7. How often do you keep in touch with your clients?

It depends on the needs of the clients. I'm always available when my clients need to reach me, but how often I speak with them depends on whether there are submissions or negotiations underway, or if things are quiet.

8. Have you ever taken on an author whose work you adore, even though you know there's no market for their book...yet?

No, I only take on clients with projects I think I can sell.

9. You have a soft spot for clients who...

Are as professional as they are talented. Luckily all of my clients fit this description.

10. You shriek when authors...

I shriek when aspiring authors don't take the time to research the agents they are querying. There is a wealth of information online, and you would be very surprised at the number of authors who don't take the time to Google the agents they are querying and personalize their query letters.

11. I don't have time to........, but I'll roll up my sleeves and do it if.....

I don't have time to read all of the manuscripts on my desk and in my inbox, but I'll roll up my sleeves and do it if I work a few twelve-plus hour days.

Thank you for your time, Nathan!

If Nathan sounds like a good (professional) match for you, please head to his MySpace profile for details on how to query him. I recommend reading his witty, insightful blog first, which you’ll find here.

Okay, I'm at a complete loss. Blogger wins again. Try these:

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Email Scream-mail

It's official - I should be banned from using email. Or at the very least give every email I compose a quadruple check before hitting that benign yet evil 'send' button.

I used to laugh at the PC platform and its "Are you sure you want to--?" alert messages. Not anymore. If it's going to stop me from sending personal emails meant for my sister to other people (ie. an agent I once queried), then maybe I should have some kind of warning installed on Yahoo mail. Like, "Are you sure you want to send that snarky email?" or "You know, you come across like a real loser in that message. Are you sure you want to send it?"

Please humor me and tell me I'm not the only one who stuffs up royally in cyberspace.