Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I've neglected the Weekly Weeder for some time but am thrilled to be posting a terrific interview this week with Lucinda Blumenfeld an agent in her own right, who also happens to be a dynamo outside publicist and marketing pro.  I've worked with her on three campaigns thus far and have been really impressed. I thought talking to her about the real skinny on publicity would be helpful to readers.

EW: You define your company as a “hybrid:” you’re an agent, but you also handle marketing and publicity for authors you don’t represent. What is your background, objective, and why should someone work with you?

LB: As devoted as publishers are to the books they acquire, the industry, in the last few years, has seen fewer acquisitions of debuts and “mid-list” (not quite bestselling) titles. Publishers are still gambling on the rare blockbuster bestseller: which means the books with the most commercial, often those written by celebrities and not writers, are given the most investment in the ramp up to publication day. This means debuts and mid-list titles naturally fall to the wayside, and this can be hard to swallow; challenging, even, for those authors paid a substantial advance and naturally expecting that “the love would be there” come launch time. I’ve worked with in-house teams very dedicated to their books, and with in-house publicists particularly good in approaching radio and television connections for appropriately “big” (i.e. controversial, political or celebrity) books. These publicists turn to proprietary media lists, which they figure, if these outlets worked for one book, they should theoretically work for the next book in a similar category. But this is a paint-by-numbers approach. There’s rarely time – I can vouch for this, having lived it within the Publicity Department at HarperCollins – to craft any kind of promotional strategy, and certainly nothing too creative, social, or multi-media, when finished books have just hit your desk. There’s negligible bandwidth to listen to an author’s specific ideas, to manage those expectations, or even to leverage an author’s particular connections, possibly the best resource authors have to promote themselves.

What’s missing here? Well, the valuable resource of time, but also, education early on. Here are some of the questions authors are prone to ask, and typical publisher responses they hear.

“Does publicity translate to sales?” Not always.
“Am I going to get the Today Show, the New York Times, and NPR?” Unlikely.
“Then, what is feasible?” Well, it’s sort of wait-and-see.
“How do I increase visibility?” Start a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Here’s a template to guide you through it.
“Do pre-orders help? Special sales?” Sure.
“How are you handling these?” We’re not. You are.

My role in the process of a book’s publication was designed to answer these questions for authors, as well as do the legwork obtaining media and publicity exposure.  As someone with a variety of publishing experience – I worked at HarperCollins in Publicity, then Scholastic in Online Marketing Partnerships, and later became an agent with a boutique firm, which is why my company is truly a hybrid – I saw that publishing was changing fast, and that my diverse experience might actually help to navigate authors (and editors, and agents) across the digital divide from traditional publishing into new media.

It’s just a reality in today’s publishing world that authors are going to bear a whole lot of the load in promoting their own books. And that means getting educated, and getting real: if you’re a debut novelist, chances are NPR and “Good Morning America” are not happening for you; but People and USA Today could. If someone’s tenaciously devoted to making your goals happen.

The period between the first pitch meeting for a given book and the moment it lands on your in-house publicist’s desk as a galley is a long one, and in that time, publicists are slammed with other campaigns. The unfortunate result is that your book is mailed to a template list of often unreasonable or incongruous prospects. Really, the education, the strategy, and the marketing outreach has to happen far earlier: I recommend to authors 6-8 months in advance of publication. Having discussed both the challenges and advantages of the book from a media standpoint, we collaboratively devise the strategy. I’m tough and candid with authors, as I would be as an agent: here’s what’s realistically obtainable for you and here’s what’s ideal. I’ll pursue both. Here’s why your book is relevant and current, and here are the audiences it’s speaking to: mass, niche, domestically, globally, hardcover readers, e-book readers. It’s creativity more than anything that authors need right now. I’ll ask you, and then we’ll answer together: how does your spiritual/inspirational book translate to a business audience? How does your YA “cross over” to an adult reader Even for historical or literary fiction, we’re going to come up with a message or a story we’re getting out there, both online and offline. My approach is not singularly social media: it’s really a custom marketing campaign.

But a word on social media: while hesitant at first, the authors I’ve worked with who are naturally industrious, fierce and curious, have found a second calling in it. Connecting on social platforms is just another opportunity for fan engagement. Who doesn’t want to meet their fans, and hear from readers valuable feedback? You'll not only develop meaningful “virtual” relationships, which sell your books. You’ll also be far more informed in writing your next book, being knowledgeable about what themes in your writing have most resonated. Once authors get the knack for using social media, or crafting opinion pieces they’d never imagined they could write, and often for online sites they never thought could be as important attention-wise as they actually turn out to be, authors see immediate gratification. Rather than waiting interminably on a chance TV spot, my authors feel more gratified in seeing a Google Alert pop up for them every day, or a splurge of talk on Twitter around one of their recent posts, and perhaps there’s even a new and active follower on their blog who’s rallying friends to post and read – a fangelist as I call it. My authors feel visible, and that the book they spent two years writing – well someone on Goodreads, and another on Amazon, and several more on Huffington Post, and now the LA Times is calling you for an interview… All these people think it matters. And my authors and I can watch the momentum in real-time.

The most popular books appear to depend primarily on “WOM,” or word-of-mouth: how to capture it remains elusive to most working in the industry. (I’ll talk about some of my theories on WOM on my forthcoming blog at WOM is the oldest tradition in an even older tradition: readers still talk about books. With online, we’re only talking about them more loudly, and to a far larger universe than our mothers and close friends.

I don’t call the WOM phenomenon publicity: I call it straight up marketing.

EW: Does this mean publicity in today’s marketplace is irrelevant?

LB: I’d offend a lot of friends and people I admire if I said that, Elisabeth. I don’t think I’d be in business, at least in this evolving stage of publishing, if I didn’t offer traditional publicity services and contacts. But I try to work in a more “all hands on deck” way. Once the preliminary education, strategy, and social grounding are there (for blogs, this is most often quantified as traffic growth), I’m positioned to compliment the efforts of in-house publicist, editor, agent. I know how tough it really is within the walls of corporate publishing, so I’m genuinely looking to align interests and create group energy. The more minds, the more faith in the project, the better. We can divvy up the work in a time-efficient way: the in-house publicist utilizing their strong relationships with television and radio producers, while I pursue online magazines, popular sites, and influential blogs. It’s as important these days to develop relationships in print as it is with editorial managers of online content. If you’re unable to get the cover review in The Times Book Review, you can find exposure through an op-ed or trend piece, primarily for nonfiction, in which an author can either write the essay or be sourced as an expert within the body of the article. (And bonus: you can always claim that nice “has written for the New York Times” mention as part of your permanent portfolio.)

This may sound ironic, but I try to move the author’s focus away from the book’s publication, the notion that your book’s release is the most important, life-defining moment of your career.  Do you just want to write books or do you want to have influence and engage a much wider conversation that could outlive your book and yet always anchors back to it? I work with a majority of women’s interest writers, so I’m not asking authors to role play at politician, scientist or a hard news pundit, but do be brave enough to inspire controversy. A provocative opinion on a well-exposed site has the power to inform modern culture, thought, and maybe even language. A small, but not insignificant example: during our marketing campaign for the book Formerly Hot, which unexpectedly hit the extended bestseller’s list, The Times called “formerly hot” one of its trending terms for the year of 2010.

EW: You worked on the marketing/PR team for Gretchen Rubin of the massively popular book, The Happiness Project. Can you satisfy all of agent curiosity and give us the ingredients for the secret sauce to bestsellerdom? And what can authors learn and emulate from her example?

LB: Gretchen is a wunderkind, and though she invested heavily and early in the promotion of her book, Gretchen’s success was largely due to her own investment: the time she took, daily, to connect with fans at the grassroots level.  “Grassroots” is a word I use a lot in my business—it demonstrates that organic buzz which inspires WOM – encompassing both the potential of engaging fans online as well as offline. Gretchen created “super fans,” those fangelist readers of her blog who, so excited about the book’s release, would physically activate her message in their own local communities. Whether you have a minimal or exponential blog readership, an author needs to know their blog readers, and everything about them that they’re willing to comfortably give away (hey, Facebook does it and no one’s complaining!) If readers feel they belong to a greater message that self-empowers them, a “movement” even, you’re engaging what I think of as cause marketing. I try to keep cause marketing at the heart of all relevant book campaigns.

Another note on fan engagement: as you blog, keep your readers foremost in mind.  It’s fairly transparent if you have a blog what your audience is looking for, or most interested in: just take the time to look. If you dispel theories into the blogosphere that are based on personal whims and fancies, you risk alienating important relationships. “Come down from the ivory tower,” I tell my authors affectionately.

In summary, what you can do as an author: 1) grow your “subscriber” list. 2) Know your audience. And if they’re predominantly bloggers, please take a moment to read their blogs or books, too? 3) Write for readers, not your mother. I think most agents agree this applies for books, too.

 In summary, what you can do as an author: 1) grow your “subscriber” list. 2) Know your audience. And if they’re predominantly bloggers, please take a moment to read their blogs or books, too? 3) Write for readers, not yourself or your mother. I think most agents agree this applies for books, too.

EW: Can you tell us some of your proudest moments or greatest successes since the launch of your company?

LB: Excellent, I can finally talk about my authors!

I was tremendously happy when I recently saw a three ideal women’s media outlets – Huffington Post, The Frisky, and People Magazine – coincide at the very moment of publication for a women’s fiction novel I worked on.  I credit the author here, too, because she already had the following, and paid attention to her audience, per Gretchen’s model. Surprisingly, of those three outlets, the least known of the three brought the author the most eyeballs and conversation. This was her post on “The Frisky,” a pop culture oriented, young women’s relationship/love site that happens to get a lot of traffic and engagement online. The particular advantage of this placement was that it reached a demo of women who were not the author’s primary readership, thereby expanding audience and potentially breeding new fans and readers.

Another rewarding moment was launching, alongside a terrifically industrious and passionate middle-grade/YA author, an interactive site: one so sophisticated in groundwork and concept that my former company had taken about 7 years to pull the same thing off! (I’m not positing that the site was on equal technical par, but we were able – with three pairs of eyes: an author, a marketer, and a web developer – to emulate all the interactive, data capture, and entertainment/game elements required, all branded around the book without off-putting its audience with too much push-to-buy. It’s a site I’ll always take pride in seeing as it lives on, and with hope, it will be the foothold as the author expands her recognition in the continuation of her series.

Here’s a last unconventional example. Special sales, when they work, can be either complimentary or crucial to a book’s success. Without a publisher’s vested effort or creativity in pitching these outlets, I’ve incorporated special sales possibilities into my book campaigns. Just as I want authors and publishers to think beyond book reviews, I want us all to think beyond readings. Most publishers will tell you a reading at B&N just ain’t happening. So where can authors sell and read from their books, or at least, toast to the celebratory moment of publication? I’ve booked events that you’d never think had anything to do with publishing, and in some instances, no apparent connection to the book at all. This is really more training in partnerships than in publishing. If there's no author precedent for events, which there often isn’t, I still press on for the open door, asking and listening to recent branding initiatives they're proud of, asking about their revenue model, their audience, even their partners. There's usually a way to submit an author into the running. I’ve booked 5 authors for events in the past year where they’ve sold their books, and not a single event has disappointed, (compared to all those ill-attended readings I remember cheerleading dismayed authors through back in corporate publishing!) The best of scenarios I've found, was an event sponsor which not only bought 200 pre-orders of my author's book, but chipped in 10% of sales for the evening to a charity of her choice. I remember she was most excited that they comp-ed her the dress.

Whether you can engage an outside company partner in your book’s campaign or not, I encourage authors to learn how to promote without too much self-promoting – because there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked when you think about it! – and to ask yourself when it comes time to promote, who are your target audiences large and small, and how can you attract them through your writing or blogging. For all of us in publishing, let’s see the value in partnerships.

Lucinda has worked as a literary agent, an online marketing associate at Scholastic, and began her publishing career in “boot camp” within the Publicity department at HarperCollins. Recent projects include nonfiction bestseller The Happiness Project, women’s nonfiction title My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young, leadership debut Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, and novel The One That I Want. Lucinda Blumenfeld can be reached for more information at and followed on Twitter @lucindaliterary. Her website, launches this month.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Art of the Two-Book Deal

Authors these days are so savvy. Before I even submit a book on their behalf, they often ask me if I think it will be a two book deal.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, unless you actually have a second book written and are clearly submitting two books--say a short story collection and a novel, or a series, or if it’s genre fiction.

That said, once in a while, there are exceptions, as in the case of Meg Mitchell Moore and  her two book deal with Reagan Arthur Books/Little Brown.

We sent Meg’s debut, The Arrivals out in early September of 2008 and a few days later, Reagan emailed to say that she really liked the book. I actually dug up her exact email because she quotes one of my favorite lines from the novel and I knew, she got the book.

“Hi there - I really like this!  That line about baby knuckles really got me. But the whole thing is great. I'm going to get reads.  My bberry cut off your letter - do you know what she wants to do next?  (Early to think along these lines, I realize, just curious.)”

So, while Reagan wasn’t offering a two-book deal, she was entertaining it.   And while Meg hadn’t specifically asked me about two-book deals before the process started, I had asked her what she was writing next, so I knew she had a book in the pipeline, if only in her head  I asked her to put it to paper and emailed it to Reagan the next day. A few days later we accepted a pre-emptive two book offer. 

EW: Meg, what was going through your mind when I mentioned that RAB was thinking about a two book deal?

MM: First, I was shocked. Then: excited. Next came relief, then (months later) terror. I understand how difficult it is to sell one book, so I was not expecting to sell two at once. That was the shock part. Next, it was very exciting to think that someone liked the first book enough to sign up to publish another one. The relief came in when I realized I could write this book (unlike the first) without having to worry about going through the submission process again, and that the publication of my second book is not tied to the sales of my first book. That allowed me to focus purely on the writing. The terror has been intermittent throughout. If I let myself think about the fact that I had sold the book on a single paragraph I could really feel myself starting to freak out. I tried not to think that way too much during the process. When those fears crept in I had you to talk me down. Thank you!  I remember when we first got the offer you said this offer was "a real vote of confidence from Reagan Arthur Books." That has stuck with me. 

EW: You've mentioned in the past that author friends of yours have balked at the idea. What is the reasoning?

 MM: Yes, I  have heard more than one author say, “I would never take a two-book deal!” This is sometimes followed by an admonition: “And you shouldn’t either.” The reasons behind these statements go something like this: What if you turn out a bad book because you’re writing it under pressure? Alternatively, what if your first book goes the way of The Help and you’ve already sold your second book for less than a gazillion dollars? And don’t you feel guilty about taking money for something you haven’t yet produced?

 EW From your lips to God’s ears, let The Arrivals be the next The Help!

MM: Ha. Yeah, me and every other debut author in the world. I certainly see the point of the statements above. But. Most first novels do not become The Help. My advance will be paid out over the course of the two books; I didn’t take money for work I didn’t produce. And the pressure? There were days when I felt it, I’ll be honest, but for the most part it I think that pressure made for a better book. I worked as a journalist for a long time. I don’t miss deadlines. If somebody asks me to write a 1,000 word magazine article by next Tuesday and I say yes, I’m gong to do it. If somebody asks me to write a 90,000 word novel by next January, and that person is going to sign my paycheck, I’m going to do that too, and I’m going to do it as well as I possibly can.

EW: Was writing a book that you were contracted to write hard to do?

MM:  At times it was tortuous. I don’t think it was harder because of the two-book deal, but because the plot is more complex and at times I felt like I’d gotten myself into a pickle. But knowing this book had a publication date and knowing that I had an agent and an editor who already had a stake in it made me work harder, ask for help when I needed it, keep my eye on the prize. Without the two-book deal, I think I would likely not have a second book completed just as my first is coming out. I can see how a debut novelist could become paralyzed by a first novel’s success or its failure and be unable to work on a new project for a while. I understand now that authors get stretched in many different directions as publication day nears. There are plenty of distractions. But I want The Arrivals to be a springboard to a career as a novelist, not the beginning and end of one, and I’m grateful to have a built-in second chance, whichever way things go.

Thanks, Meg!  The Arrivals pubs today! To read more about it and Meg, go to

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Meeting with Publishers

Often times (and mostly with a non-fiction) once I’ve submitted a proposal to publishers, if there’s interest, I bring the author around for meetings. It’s a great way for authors and publishers to get a sense of one another, especially if after said meetings, more than one house offers.  And if the author is particularly charming and “telegenic” it’s a chance to get the publicity folks more excited as well.

I really enjoy these meetings. So much of this job is spent communicating over the phone and via email, that it’s a nice change of pace to meet editor colleagues on their turf, as well as spend time with the crucial people in the business--the marketing and publicity folks.  That said, I am merely the middlewoman in these operations, there to pay for taxis, keep my author’s blood sugar and energy on target with a steady stream of coffee and chocolate. If there’s a lull in conversation or an important point isn’t made, I am there to interject, but for the most part, I am along for the ride. The author, on the other hand, has much more to contend with.

I asked Sarah Sentilles, a scholar of religion, an award-winning speaker and the author of three books:  Taught By American, A Church of Her Own and the upcoming Breaking Up With God to talk to me a bit about her experiences in these meetings.  In my opinion, she is the ideal author for these affairs. She is funny and whip smart.  And yet….it seems like our meetings always end up being a comedy of errors.

EW: What’s it like meeting with publishing houses?

SS: It’s nerve-wracking! To me, it feels like being on a date. A date on which you’re not sure exactly who likes whom, or who is trying to impress whom. I find it nearly impossible to figure out what editors are thinking about my book during these meetings.

EW: But presumably, your agent is there to guide you and debrief you afterwards, right?

SS: Eh, Right? Every time we’ve tried to guess post-meeting what an editor thinks about my book, we’ve have been wrong. The editors we’re convinced love my work usually pass, and the editors we’re convinced hate my book usually make the best offers. Remember when we thought we’d had a horrible meeting with an editor and we were tempted to call him to tell him not to waste our time again? Good thing we didn’t because he ended up making an amazing offer. Lesson learned. Be patient because you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.

EW: Right-o, That was pretty funny. We walked out of the meeting and were bitching to each other on the street that he could have just made all our lives easier and cancelled, and a few hours later, he called to tell me how much he enjoyed meeting you and was going to be putting together a formal offer.

 SS: I still remember the very first meeting I ever had with a publisher. I was wearing a suit, which in and of itself is painful to think about! The editor’s office was really warm, and I was starting to sweat, so I took off my suit jacket. I talked with the editor for a few minutes, and then I looked down and realized I was still wearing a suit jacket—but it was one that didn’t belong to me! I had met you at your office before we went to meet with publishers, and I’d hung my jacket on the hook on the back of your door. You must have had a jacket hanging there, too, and I somehow managed to put on my jacket and your jacket, which is how I ended up wearing not one but two suit jackets to my first meeting at a publishing house in New York City.

EW: You must have been really nervous, not to notice that you put on two jackets. Laughing out loud.

SS: When I’m nervous I have what I call “the inappropriate disease.” I find myself saying things that I know deep down I should not be saying, but I can’t help it. This often happens to me at airports. Once I was dropping my sister off at the airport, and I was waiting with her while she checked in. She had an enormous black bag, and the ticket agent asked her, “How much do you think that bag weighs?” And, without thinking, I said, “How much does a dead body weigh?” This was after 9/11. I’m lucky I’m not still in jail.

EW: Well, at least you didn’t say something inappropriate like that in one of those meetings….

SS: Yes, I did. Remember our meeting with one of the biggest publishing houses we met with? It was a huge meeting—the two of us and maybe a dozen people around a table—and they were asking me all kinds of questions I didn’t know how to answer. This was for A Church of Her Own, about women in the ministry, which at the time was titled Collared Women. I think because of the title, we started talking about clerical collars and why priests wear them. I am not a fan of clerical collars, and not just because they make dressing in a remotely fashionable way impossible. One of the editors at the meeting asked, “If you were ordained, would you wear a clerical collar?” And for some reason, I said. “No, because if I wore a clerical collar I would look like a porn star.” No one laughed except for me and you. They didn’t buy my book. But I knew then that I had the right agent.

EW: I am glad you thought I was the right agent. I felt like I hadn’t prepared you for all those people. One of the things I sometimes forget, especially with someone like you who is so quick and articulate, is that you get nervous too!

But, the silver lining (we always need a silver lining in this business) is that we knew we had to change the title.

SS: That was the first sign that maybe that book didn’t have the right title. The second sign was that whenever I sent anyone an email with “Collared Women” in the subject line the email ended up in the “trash” or “spam” folder because to the computer it looked like porn. That book and porn seemed to want to be together. After I told my yoga class I was writing a book about sexism, they referred to it as “my sex book.”

EW: But knowing you have to change a title and actually coming up with a new one are two very different beasts.

SS: I had trouble with that title the whole time I was writing the book. When the book was called Collared Women, my editor Andrea Schulz and I worked for months—well after the book was completed—to try to find a subtitle, with my husband Eric throwing in a few suggestions here and there to make me laugh when I started freaking out. He suggested subtitles like “An Oprah Book Club Selection,” and “Shake Your Money Maker,” and “And the Horse You Rode In On.” Eventually we realized that the word “women” in the title created a problem for the subtitle because we couldn't use “women” again—but we didn't know what other word to use. We thought maybe we needed a new title. And again Eric suggested some titles to make me laugh. My favorite was “Who Put the Semen in Seminary?”

Eventually Andrea ended up creating a whole new title—A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit. And that was that. It was hard to get used to a new title when the book had a different title throughout the entire writing process, but now I see why Andrea chose that title, and I think it is the right one.

EW: Your latest book, Breaking Up With God, as the title suggests, is your un-conversion memoir. The title is brilliant.  At what point in the writing process did you come to it?

SS: Breaking Up with God: A Love Story, had its title from the beginning, and it was almost like a revelation, like the title was wiser about what story the book was going to tell than I was. I think the book knew what it wanted to be before I did.

To read more about Sarah, go to:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Is a Good Title for a Blog about Titles?

I’ve been thinking a lot about titles, and specifically how and why a title changes over the course of the book’s evolution. Of the books I am representing that are publishing this year, only two came in to me with the same title it is being published as. (That is The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan, Dutton, 2011) and Breaking Up With God: A Love Story by Sarah Sentilles (HarperOne) Both great titles!

So, do agents and editors improve titles? I asked my authors to email me their title stories and I wanted to share them with you here. Curious what you all think:

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt) fiction
Mothers and Daughters was originally Mercy Train. At the time, the novel opened and closed with Violet (orphan train) but editor (Helen)/publisher wanted to make it broader in appeal, hence starting with the modern day story of Sam, and changing the title to Mothers and Daughters. Although I didn't love the title change, I didn't hate it, and I was game for anything to give the book a wider audience. I still don't love the title, but they were right and I'm glad it was changed.—Rae Meadows

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (Gallery) debut fiction
“First, the book was called SIMMER. We shopped it around as SIMMER, and that was okay, although one editor did mention that she thought SIMMER "sounded too much like erotica." Along the way, we considered other titles -- A WATCHED POT was one memorable misfire -- and when Gallery Books bought it, it was still SIMMER, with the knowledge that it was probably going to have to change.

When my editor finally said, Look, we are really going to need a new title for this, I brainstormed about 30, and gave them the list. The list covered everything from HONEY FROM AN ONION (still one of my personal favorites, which no one else liked) to THE NORMAL BOOK (which is an important part of the story, but a little generic for the book itself.) And the Gallery folks had a meeting, and the one they liked best was THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER. I like it because it gives you a sense of what to expect -- it's about a woman and her relationship with her parents, and the kitchen is an important part of her story. SIMMER didn't do that.—Jael McHenry

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (Plume 2011)
 The Violets of March was first The Waters of March, but the sales team at Plume felt that it was a little too somber for booksellers to get excited about. So, we began our search for a new title. It was hard for me to part with “Waters,” but I soon got excited about a new idea. I suggested “Violets” after being inspired by these gorgeous little wood violets that cropped up in my garden unannounced (a guy I’d hired to do some weeding for me pointed them out) and I immediately began to imagine them symbolizing redemption and reconciliation in the novel. The next day, on an afternoon jog, I spotted some more wood violets growing along the roadside and had a gut feeling that the title had to be The Violets of March. I shared with you and Denise, and it stuck!—Sarah Jio

The Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky (Poppy/Little Brown) Young Adult
Before The Time-Traveling Fashionista, which now seems like the PERFECT title, I believe we were going to call it Louise Lambert's Vintage Fashionistery.. Which in retrospect seems like a tongue twister to say the least. Thank God I was open to change!
--Bianca Turetsky

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore (Regan Arthur Books, 2011) debut fiction
Mine was WHAT YOU'RE MISSING. (Lame.) I think Leslie (outside reader) suggested we think about something different and we started brainstorming around the idea of a full house, crowded house, full nest, etc. My husband claims that he came up with THE ARRIVALS but I'm really not convinced of that...  :>-  We submitted it to publishers as The Arrivals --Meg Mitchell Moore

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch (Putnam) fiction
Mine was The Memory of Us. (Blech.) It changed because while everyone really liked it, I secretly really didn’t. I’d tacked it onto my proposal because, well, I needed to include a title, and that was what I came up with in the five minute period of thinking about it and pressing “send.” But I very much was in love with another title that I thought would be quickly mocked and discarded, so I kept mum. Only after a glass of wine with you and Marysue (editor) did I blurt out my fantasy title. Turned out she loved it too. If I had never said anything, I’m guessing The Memory of Us would have stuck. It would have been fine, but generic, I suppose.—Allison Winn Scotch

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer (Delacorte) Young Adult Fiction
The Lonely Ones became The Only Ones.  Not that different on first examination, but the editors (Michelle and Rebecca) really didn't want The Lonely Ones because they thought it sounded too quiet and sad, and preteens and young teens (the main audience) don't care much for quiet and sad. I loved The Lonely Ones so I tried to stick to my guns and turned down any number of title suggestions (The Day, The Ones They Left Behind, Place of Fear, and a ton of others that didn't grab me.)

Finally, they said, "how about The Only Ones?" The more I thought about it, the more I saw that it worked, perhaps even better than the original. They pointed out that it sounded more hopeful and made the characters sound more special (rather than sad) and I had to agree. Took me a while to get used to it, but I love it now.—Aaron Starmer

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valerie Young (Crown Business)

My self-published book is “How to Feel as Bright as Everyone Thinks You Are" which was how we submitted it to publishers. With Crown we went originally with the Confidence Project which I agreed to but proved problematic for me b/c suddenly the expectation was that I take a body of work that was never intended to be a project and turn it into one – here an example of a title driving the content vs. the other way around.—Valerie Young

Did the titles get better? Have any good title stories to share?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


With so much doom and gloom about the state of publishing these days, I am even more excited to share a really inspiring story with you.  It’s not mine to tell, but super agent Julie Barer’s.  If you don’t know Julie, you really should. If I didn’t already adore her, I would probably be too envious of her client list (Josh Ferris, Kathleen Kent, Lauren Grodstein, Helen Simonson to name a few) to be her friend, but she is one of the good ones in publishing. She’s a dynamo agent, a voracious fiction reader and a wonderfully helpful and supportive colleague.

Over a recent agent dinner of wine and plates of charcuterie and cheese at her house, Julie shared the story behind her most recent best seller, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The following is a must read for any author, agent or editor who is trying to overcome a less than stellar track record, for Paula McLain’s first two books, while wonderfully well reviewed, did not sell particularly well.

EW: Tell me how you and Paula McLain first found one another?

JB: Paula came to me five years ago through an editor who had worked with her before on her memoir, Like Family. She was looking for a new agent and I fell in love with her writing immediately. Paula is a poet, and I think that’s reflected in everything she writes- her novels are so lyrical they almost read like songs to me.

EW: And then you sold her fist novel, A Ticket To Ride?  What was that about?

JB: A Ticket to Ride is a gorgeous coming of age novel set in the early seventies. It’s the story of an insecure, motherless teenager named Jamie who falls under the dangerous spell of her sophisticated older cousin Fawn, and the desperate lengths she goes to win her approval. For me, it was an incredibly perceptive novel about that painful time of early adolescence when in some ways another girl’s approval is more powerful than any boy’s. Paula was able to really tap into that insecurity and lack of confidence that so many young girls feel, and how vulnerable that can make you.

EW: Tell me a bit about the conversation you had when she returned with a second "quiet" novel?

JB: Paula gave me two chapters from a new novel she was working on about three or four months after the publication of A Ticket to Ride. It was clear at that point that despite being a wonderful book and getting great reviews, the sales figures were going to be modest. So I was already in a frame of mind where I knew we would need to think very carefully about what to sell next. The new pages she sent me were beautiful – my mother used to use the phrase “she could wear a paper bag and look pretty” – well Paula could write about a paper bag and it would be gorgeous, but that didn’t make it saleable. We had a very frank conversation about how challenging selling a second novel can be, especially when the sales of the first book were lower than what we and the publisher had hoped for. I told her I loved her writing in these new pages, but the story wasn’t blowing me away, and I had concerns that the voice and tone felt too similar to the book that had preceded it. Even if I could sell this new book, I was worried that it would have a hard time getting attention from reviewers, and that bookstores would stock fewer copies because the last book hadn’t sold significantly. More than anything, I wanted the world to read Paula’s work, not to have it buried.

EW: What did you tell her to encourage her to go back to the drawing board?

JB: I hope I told her I had complete faith in her, because I did (and still do). I think I told her that she was not just a beautiful writer, she was a great storyteller, and that she just had to think a little more about what kind of story she wanted to tell.

EW: So, am I right in that she went back to the drawing board and came back with what is now The Paris Wife?

Yes, she came back with the most extraordinary pages about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, and the years they lived in Paris before he was famous. I didn’t know a thing about Hadley, but I had recently read the novel Hemingway wrote while he was married to her (The Sun Also Rises) and it seemed like kismet.

EW: Did you know you had a winner before you went out with it?

JB: It feels like tempting fate to say so, but I kind of did- it’s just a funny feeling you get in your gut, kind of like when you start to develop a crush on someone you’ve just met. I was so excited to send it out I could hardly sleep the night before.

EW: Did her modest sales concern you?

JB: To be honest, they didn’t. I was completely head over heels in love with the story and the writing, and especially the narrator, Hadley Richardson. I couldn’t imagine someone not feeling the same way. But I think it made a significant difference that I knew the book had strong commercial potential – I could see it reaching a broad audience, and appealing to both men and women of different ages. Historical novels were gaining traction in the marketplace, and other books written about famous authors had performed well, so I felt confident there was a framework already in place for how the book would be published. I was hoping that marketability would help overcome anyone’s concerns about the track record for her previous books.

EW: What happened after you went out with it?

JB: There’s no way that every single editor you send a book to is going to love it as much as you do, but it was incredibly validating to come to work the Monday after we had sent it out and have so many editors echoing my own feelings about the writing, the story, and the characters. They were as passionate about the book as I was, and it was everything I had always wanted for the book, and for Paula. We had a very exciting auction, and found a fantastic home for the novel – it’s the happy ending I always hope for.

EW: And now you have another happy ending. The Paris Wife has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for the last 5 weeks.  

JB: I don’t want to imply that this process was easy for either of us, especially Paula- walking away from a book at any stage is one of the hardest and bravest things I think an author can do. And I don’t want to suggest that writers should think first and foremost about whether their story is “commercial” or “marketable”. That said when I love a writer’s work, I want everyone to read it, I don’t want it to be published to radio silence and remaindered after a year. I think it’s important to be realistic about the kind of story you’re writing, and who you envision your audience to be, and what your hopes and expectations for the book’s publication will be as well. I see it as my responsibility to help guide my authors in all aspects of their career, including what they choose to write and how they envision their long term careers. But I’m also blessed with clients who want me involved in that way, who listen to the advice I have to offer, and who at the end of the day follow their heart and write what they are passionate about. Paula’s fascination and adoration of Hadley and Hemingway came across on every page that I read- if she hadn’t been that invested in them, I could never have been.

EW: Thank you, Julie!  To read more about Paula McLain and The Paris Wife go to and to find out more about what Ms Barer is up to, check out her agency website  I am also going to be getting her on Twitter VERY soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vintage Clothes and Chianti

I am blessed to work with wonderful writers and editors, but it isn’t every day that the agent, writer and editor discover a mutual love and admiration for one another that transcends the work relationship. This post is a love letter to the author/agent/editor team behind The Time Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky, a completely delightful young adult novel about a girl who discovers she can time-travel by wearing vintage dresses from different eras.  The book is being published by the immensely talented and very funny Cindy Eagan, editor-in-chief of Poppy/Little Brown, in two weeks.

The other night, Bianca, Cindy and I met for a drink at Fred’s at Barney’s and started reminiscing about the road to publication.  Over a bottle of buttery chardonnay,  I asked Bianca to remind me how we first met. It’s both a really fun New York story and one that I think highlights how books can travel down many different paths toward publication.

Bianca: I first met you, E through our mutual friend Mike Mezzo (who we still owe a drink by the way!) I remember he promised he was going to give you my card, and then I never heard from you, so I assumed you weren’t interested and I started reluctantly querying other agents. When I finally got your call a few weeks/months?! later (I think you had lost my card?) and you asked me to send you the manuscript I felt like I had won the lottery, I was so surprised and happy. 

Elisabeth: I almost threw your card away!  And then I lost it. Eek. But as I was unpacking Weed Literary’s new headquarters in the summer of 2007 (yes, it was my apartment back then) I found it and thought, well, now that I am on my own, I need some clients, so I should call this person. Kidding!

Bianca: We had our first meeting at a French restaurant by your apt on the UES, and I felt so Carrie Bradshaw telling everyone I was having drinks with my agent! I remember I wore this black vintage Mary Qaunt’esque dress from the 60’s, after trying on several other options, because I wanted to project some sort of vintagey image. I was so excited because you were talking like, “once we sell the book” as though it was really going to happen, that after wards I walked all the way from the 70's to Grand Central calling everyone I knew. It was the first night that I truly felt like a “real” writer.  

 Elisabeth: I fell in love with the idea immediately!  I mean, what's more fun than vintage clothes and time travel? It's such a smart book too because it teaches girls a little history, or to steal Cindy's great comp, it's Quantam Leap for girls.   So, Cindy, what’s your first memory of the book?

Cindy: I was introduced to The Time-Traveling Fashionista by you, Elisabeth, on our first fantastic lunch date together.  The idea sounded dreamy and distinctive: a young teenage girl who loves vintage fashion and falls back in time via a gorgeous gown.  You sent me the manuscript soon after and I was taken with how imaginative Louise, the main character, was.  I remember being in junior high and wishing I too was living an adventurous life in romantic, faraway places. 

Elisabeth: But let’s be honest, it was the first time the three of us met that was the most memorable, no?

Cindy: Indeed.  I had sent you some editorial notes to pass along to Bianca for her consideration and then you set up a meeting for all of us to discuss. 

Bianca: I remember that when Elisabeth and I were compiling our list of editors to submit to, you thought she was The One who would be a perfect fit for the book, so I was really nervous to make a good first impression.

Cindy: I thought we were going to get together at some dive bar down in the Village, but then the address I had scribbled down brought me to the steps of the beautiful Palazzo Chupi, where Bianca works as artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s assistant. 

Bianca: Cindy wanted to meet during the afternoon, and I still had (have) a day job working with the artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel. I remember the dress I wore to this meeting too! (this kind of odd blue and orange harajuku looking mini I bought in the east village the week before. not sure on the logic behind that choice:)   I thought I could sneak out and meet you both at the White Horse Tavern and then run back to work. When I told Julian, he decided that we needed to have the meeting in his house, and he would be my assistant for the afternoon.

Cindy: He was so enthusiastic about her bringing The Time-Traveling Fashionista to life. 

Bianca: It was really great, he went and brought you guys up from the lobby, poured everyone a glass of red wine, and talked about how much he loved my book and what a talented writer I was even though I don’t think he had read more than the first page at that time. I felt really special, it was one of my favorite New York memories ever. Would Cindy have bought the book if we didn’t ply her with expensive Chianti and given her a studio tour? Hopefully, but we’ll never know!

Cindy: I had done my senior thesis on Jean-Michel Basquiat and remember reading many “Artforum” articles about Julian Schnabel in my college library basement, so getting a studio tour was phenomenal!  But I would have pursued this special first novel no matter what.  I was excited to meet Bianca because her story had swept me away.  She’s a lot like Louise: classic, nostalgic, sweet, talented, an old soul.  With the best laugh.  I feel lucky you brought us all together, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth: It was such a great New York moment! I have never wanted to be a smoker more than when Julian offered me a cigarette. 

Cindy: It was a truly memorable introduction and we continue to keep the good times a’comin’.  My favorite thing about our author/editor/agent team is when we get together, usually over drinks dates.  The conversation begins with The Time-Traveling Fashionista and work, which is always creatively inspiring, but then it goes off into the most hilarious places.  What’s going on in our lives, what sort of embarrassing things have we been up to, etc. 

Bianca: My favorite thing about you, E is that you didn't laugh when I handed you a 100 page manuscript utterly convinced it was a finished book. (I had never written anything more than a short story, so 100 pages seemed like A LOT to me!) That you took the time to revise the book, line by line, with me over an entire year, and didn’t just tell me to give you a call when I was finished. That despite the fact that every single publishing house rejected the book before we found a home at Poppy, I always hung up the phone laughing and feeling hopeful that the book would find its way eventually. That our meetings generally last late into the night and involve copious amounts of wine, and never ever feel like “work”. And last, but certainly not least, that you know the name of a good astrologist!

Elisabeth: Hey, my motto in this business is that it only takes one. And the fact that we found THE ONE in Cindy makes this whole experience all the better.

Bianca: I know!  I completely trust Cindy and look forward to getting her notes and revisions.  Every suggestion of hers that I’ve incorporated (which is 99% of her comments) has made the story better and taken T-TF to a whole other level that I could never have imagined on my own.  And yet, aside from being a genius editor, and a pretty big deal in the publishing world, she’s also become a great friend, and doesn’t think I’m weird when I suggest we organize a sleepover with 80’s beauty treatments (and even offers to supply the Queen Helene face masks!)  She’s perhaps the funniest lady I know, and the sign of a good meeting with her the night before is waking up with a stomachache from laughing so much and a headache from one glass chard too many. 

Cindy:  I love how funny, insightful, and caring both you and Bianca are.  You are dear friends and I’m so proud to be publishing The Time-Traveling Fashionista together.  And hopefully many more novels to come.

Check out the cover to Bianca's book here!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Art of the Nudge

Yesterday, I got a note from an author, whose first book being published this year, along with her next novel. 

"Hi E! Know it may be a while before you can get to this, but I think it's in good shape for reading.  Enjoy!"

How nice and laid back is she?

Anyway, this got me thinking about how much of this business is not just about reading, but getting other people to read. People want me to read their queries, clients need me to read their next works and I want and need editors to read my submissions, other authors to read the bound mss and offer endorsements, and reviewers and to read galleys and write about them…and so on and so forth. There is never enough time in the day for any of us to get to all the reading and certainly not in the timely manner that you want to.  But I do think there are ways all of us can help our cause.  Let’s call it nudging with style. Because there is an art to it and if you aren’t careful, you can seriously fuck it up. 

Case in point. A writer was in touch with me a few weeks ago asking me to read his novel. Back story, he had turned me down years ago, when I wanted to represent him and acknowledged that he always regretted it. I was excited to read it and kindly responded in turn that I probably would have gone with the other agent then too (I was about 25) and asked him to please send it along and I would take a look.  He told me he was only sending the novel to me and would be thrilled if we could work together. He sent me the over 100,000 word novel on a Thursday.  On Monday, he asked if I had read it.  Now, warning bells went off in my head about this guy, so I read the first three chapters then and there at my desk, and was happy to discover that the novel, despite it's many merits, was not the best fit for my list, and thusly passed on it.  

Thank god I did. A few days later he accidentally sent me an email that was meant for someone else, trashing me and making fun of my blog and thus proving my warning bell instincts right.  After realizing his mistake, he apologized and acknowledged that he had been too pushy with me but that he was getting pressure from another agent about it. Er, another agent? WELL IF HE HAD JUST SAID RIGHT OFF THE BAT that it was with me and another agent that wanted to rep it, but he really regretted that he hadn't chosen me and would I be willing to take a quick look, I would have started reading the novel the minute it landed in my inbox and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have been so quick to want to not like it.

Likewise, when I send a novel out on submission, it's all I can do but sit by the phone, refresh my in box and, um, write blog posts because I am so totally myopically focused on hearing something (anything!) back from my editors (who mind you also have 10 other things to read at that moment).  And, when I do have interest—and I am talking about real solid interest, ala  “I love this! I am getting other in house reads!” “Don’t take a pre-empt without us talking!" I call all the editors and let them know they might want to read it sooner rather than later. What I don't do is call them and force them to read it just because I am freaking out all by myself.  Editors know that the "have you read?" or the fake "I have interest" means you have no interest and I don't want that sort of reputation. They are super busy and I am not going to make them work on my time frame just because or my own ego or angst.

Now back to my lovely client who sent in her novel with a very casual note.  I am not sure she was trying to throw a psychological fast one on me, but if she was, she is even more brilliant than I already thought, because, by acknowledging that I might not get to this right away, she was saying, “I know how busy you are!” and honestly, it made me want to drop everything else and start reading her book immediately.

So maybe the art of the nudge is just good old-fashioned manners and common sense. Be upfront about what you are doing—if you are submitting to agents and are unsure about protocol, just tell them it’s with others and if you want your over-worked representative to read your book, tell her not to. :)

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Pitch Perfect

There seems to be a lot of chatter out there on how to write a cover letter.  How long should a letter be? Do you include comp titles? What if you have no "platform"?  And of course, every agent out there seems to have different submission guidelines which makes this whole process all the more labor intensive. 

Last year, I received the following query.  I'm sharing it here because I think it's pretty damn good. In fact, it was so good, I used 90% of it as my pitch letter to editors and ended up selling the book in (agent brag!) record time at auction last week.  So, here it is:

Dear Ms. Weed,

The work of your client Lynne Griffin reflects themes and sensibilities similar to mine. I'm writing to ask if you would like to take a look at my contemporary women's novel, The Underside of Joy.

To Ella Beene, happiness means living in the Northern California river town of Elbow with her husband, Joe, and his two young children. For three years, Ella has been the only mother the kids have known. But when Joe drowns off the coast, his ex-wife shows up at his funeral, intent on reclaiming the children. Ella must fight to prove they should remain with her while she struggles to save the family's market. With wit and determination, she delves beneath the surface of her marriage, finally asking the questions she most fears, the answers jeopardizing everything and everyone she most loves.

The Underside of Joy is not a fairy tale version of step-motherhood pitting good against evil, but an exploration of a complex relationship between two women who both consider themselves to be the "real" mother. Their conflict uncovers a map of scars -- both physical and emotional -- to the families' deeply buried tragedies, including Italian internment camps during WWII and postpartum depression and psychosis.

I'm an advertising copywriter and brand consultant. I also work as the senior editor and writer for a newly launched eldercare website, But writing fiction is my passion. I was accepted to the Squaw Valley Writers Conference in 2006, and attended, by invitation, Elle Newmark's Lake Como Writers Conference in 2009 with author Janet Fitch. I was granted a residency at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in 2004 and recently served as a judge for the San Diego Book Awards short story competition. 

The first chapter of The Underside of Joy is pasted into this email. The completed manuscript runs about 82,000 words. Would you like to see it? Thanks so much for your time and consideration.

Warm regards,

Seré Prince Halverson

With Seré's letter as example, here are the top 5 things I think a writer should convey in his or her cover letter:

1. Personalize--By mentioning another client's work, in this case Lynne Griffin, the writer shows that she's done her research on the agent she's submitting to.

2.  Think jacket copy--This first paragraph sounds like it belongs on the back of the book.  And guess what? There's a real chance it might end up there! Seriously. Seré is thinking of the book and how it would sell to readers, which is kind of empowering for a writer when you think about it.

3.  Discuss themes--In the second paragraph, Seré lets me know what, beyond the plot, the book is about. In this case, it touches on several themes--motherhood, depression and family secrets.

4. Tell me about yourself--The author doesn't have an MFA or stories published in journals, but what she does have is a passion for writing, which she tells me, but also shows through her attendance several conferences, applying for a residency, and being actively involved in the writing community.

5 Be nice!--Seré is polite and professional and sounds like someone I want to work with.  I am a nice person and I prefer working with nice people and I know this sounds weird, but from experience reading letters like this over the last 12 years, I can spot people that are going to be really difficult. There, I said it.  My favorite was one last week where the author pitched me and asked that I be in touch with what books I'd worked on in the past and why I would be a good fit for her. Obviously in that case, I didn't need my sixth sense to find the delete button, but you get what I am saying... (you can and should ask those questions once you have an interested agent and are deciding if it's a good fit. More on that later.)

Oh, and for those of you who are frustrated with all the different submission guidelines out there, I want to point out that my guidelines don't ask for the first chapter but Seré sent it anyway, and I am so glad that she did. From the first paragraph, I knew she could write, and I requested the entire thing and read it immediately.  So I am going to add one more rule of thumb here:

6. Don't get bogged down in all of these rules and guidelines. You know your book best and how best to make it shine. I suspect Seré knew that if I read a bit of her work, I'd be hooked, and she was right.
With that, here's the first page of The Underside of Joy:

I recently read a study that claimed happy people aren’t made. They’re born. Happiness, the report pointed out, is all about genetics -- a cheerful gene passed merrily, merrily down from one smiling generation to the next. I know enough about life to understand the old adage that one person can’t make you happy, or that money can’t buy happiness. But I’m not buying this theory that your bliss can only be as deep as your gene pool.
For three years, I did back flips in the deep end of happiness.
The joy was palpable and often loud. Other times it softened -- Zach’s milky breath on my neck, or Annie’s hair entwined in my fingers as I braided it, or Joe humming some old Crowded House song in the shower while I brushed my teeth. The steam on the mirror blurred my vision, misted my reflection, like a soft-focus photograph smoothing out my wrinkles, but even those didn’t bother me. You can’t have crow’s feet if you don’t smile, and I smiled a lot.
             I also know now, years later, something else: The most genuine happiness cannot be so pure, so deep, or so blind.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Chatting with Sarah Jio and What it Takes to Be a Productive Writer

Today I am chatting with Sarah Jio, debut author of The Violets of March (Plume, April, 2011).  Sarah never ceases to amaze me or her editor. She is the mother of three young boys (Colby is three weeks old) a journalist, a blogger, a cook, has already written her second book (now under contract with her publisher) and is working on her third one.   Yes, she makes the rest of us look bad. So I wanted to talk to her about how she does it all, and if life in the magazine trenches helped train her for this busy schedule or if she was just born that way.

Q: You come from the magazine world, which is how you and I met (Thank you, Allison Winn Scotch for the introduction!)  Do you think your background as a magazine writer helped your fiction writing? And how?

A: Yes, absolutely. I think writing for magazines these past 11 years has definitely prepared me for fiction. You have to be enormously creative--and quick--to do well in the magazine world (which is so competitive these days), and I’ve made it my business to keep churning out good ideas and creative copy at a rapid pace (for instance, I write 5-7 blog posts a day for, so I have to be quick, or else I’d be writing all day and into the night!). I also think it’s helpful to have my head in the news every day, following trends and current events for the articles I write. This also helps feed fiction ideas—everything from character quirks to plot.

But after reporting for magazines for so long, I have to say it felt like a vocational vacation to transition from strict reporting of facts to writing novels, which is basically making stuff up entirely. When writing THE VIOLETS OF MARCH, I absolutely luxuriated in the fact that I could let my story go wherever my mind wanted to take it. That was very freeing and fun for me, and made the process feel more like a hobby than work. I think this is ultimately why I tend to write so fast (that is, why I write first drafts so fast--there is always an editing process, as you know!). I just find the whole process of putting a novel together so enjoyable and satisfying and I can’t wait to get the concept to the page. There are grueling parts, too, yes, but 80 percent of the time I love it.

Q: A lot of authors ask me to help them break into magazines. To me it seems so hard, especially now. What advice would you give book authors trying to break into the mag world?

A: I get several emails a week from people who want to break into the magazine world. Some are stay-at-home moms who dream about writing articles while their kiddos nap (been there, done that, um, like today!); others are new college grads who want to become freelance writers. I always try to offer a few encouraging words, but the truth is that it’s very hard to break into magazines these days--hard, but not impossible. I had the advantage of starting out with a degree in journalism, but when I set out to freelance for major magazines straight out of college, I had little more than some good ideas and determination. What worked for me, and I think can work for book authors, too, is just to reach out to editors with excellent, well-thought-out story ideas. Speaking to book authors specifically, there really are many opportunities in major women’s magazines for first-person or essay-type pieces. Think about what unique experience/advice you can offer and craft an un-turndownable pitch that will hook a magazine editor. Also, it may sound minor, but having a terrific headline and subhead for your pitch can really help sell your idea. I’ve sold stories based entirely on the concept of a great headline (true story!).

Q: You manage to write for magazines, keep a blog, raise three boys  and write books at record speed. 
I often joke that most of the authors I work with have superwomen capes in their closets, but you take the cake in your ability to manage it all. (And if you've read Tina Fey's piece in the NYer, I do not mean this as an insult. I am truly in awe!)

I have a 4 year old, a 2 year old and an infant, a more than full-time load of magazine work and then my novels, so yes, it’s a wild and busy life. I have no magic skills or superwoman powers, unfortunately. Oh how I wish. My secret to getting it all done probably boils down to a crazy work ethic (AKA, no life), and my motto to get my butt in my chair and write whenever I have a bit of time away from the kids (which frequently boils down to naptime and nighttime). I’ve also trained myself to write in fragmented bits, which as many writers know, isn’t easy. But, I’d rather hammer out a few pages here and there—as annoying as it is to start and stop—than get nothing done. I also happen to have an amazing husband who is very hands-on with the boys, and I tend to do a lot of my fiction work on the weekends when he’s here to be on boy patrol. I can also say that I watch very little TV (except my guilty pleasure: The Bachelor), see my friends less often than I’d like, and frequently work late into the night, which is the only time when the house is truly peaceful (then again, now that we have a newborn, that’s not entirely true!)

Q: You have been very busy these last few months, doing an amazing job laying the ground work for The Violets of March, contacting bloggers, getting into magazines, and getting advance endorsements from authors such as Jodi Picoult and Beth Hoffman.) How did you do it?

A: It helps that I love what I do so much that this all hardly feels like work—truly! Just as I loved writing VIOLETS, I’ve found that I’ve really gotten a kick out of the pre-press marketing and publicity work. It’s been fun reaching out to my magazine contacts as well as book bloggers and so exciting seeing early reviews and buzz building for VIOLETS. As for advance praise, I (shyly) approached some authors who I admired about reading my book and was fortunate to get some incredible endorsements from Claire Cook, Beth Hoffman, Sarah Pekkanen, and Kelly O’Connor McNees. I approached Jodi Picoult, too, and nearly passed out with joy when she emailed me back to say that she’d like to read VIOLETS. You guessed it--I marched myself down to the UPS store that day and expedited an ARC to her. I held my breath for about a month, and then she emailed to say she’d finished the book in time for our first printing and included her beautiful blurb. I called my editor (after calling you, Elisabeth!) right away to read the blurb to her over the phone. I loved hearing the excitement in her voice. It was such a memorable moment for me! If I’m ever fortunate enough to be an established author in the years ahead, I hope to be as generous to an up-and-coming author as Jodi Picoult was to me. 

Q: I don't see any signs of you slowing you think having an infant will change things? Seriously, how do you do it?

A: An infant in the house is chaos, but I’ve been through this process twice before and know that things do calm down (at least, this is what I tell myself!), so I’m confident that I’ll return to my normally productive place soon--and I have to! THE VIOLETS OF MARCH comes out in late April, my second book (already written) needs to be edited and turned into my editor this spring, and I’m eager to jump back into my third novel, which is already in progress, as soon as possible (those characters are absolutely haunting me!). I’m excited for the challenge of the year ahead. I may not get a lot of sleep, but I know I’ll love the journey. And I have a great new Nespresso espresso machine to keep me caffeinated. That helps too.

Thank you, Sarah! To read more about Sarah and The Violets of March (and watch her awesome book trailer, go to

Next I'll be posting a great query letter and the reasons it worked. Very excited that the publishing world agreed and that we sold it yesterday. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

What Do Agents Do All Day?

What do Agents Do all Day?

My hope was to talk today about submitting fiction to agents but I am going to put it off a week because I want to use an example of a great cover letter—something that came to me, via the slush last year—that I am in the process of selling this week. Yippee! The letter was pitch perfect—so good that I basically used it for my submission letter to editors.  Fingers crossed that I can tell you all about it very soon.

So instead, in true navel-gazing form that is that of a blogger, I am going to answer the question, “What do agents do all day?” I know, fascinating stuff. But I get asked this a lot. People outside of the publishing world usually proceed to offer their own answer: “So do you like just read at your desk all day?” Um. NO.  No one in the biz does. And I think we are a little bit like proud, harried (insane) new mothers who brag about how little sleep they get. We sort of thrive on the fact that we have no lives because reading is done at night and on the weekends.  Yes dear authors, we are working really hard!

However, when I am asked this at conferences and the like, my go-to answer, with a giant, enthusiastic smile plastered on my face because I fear public speaking in a certifiable way, is something like this: “Every day is different!  One day you are selling a book! One day you are falling in love with something you discover in the slush pile! Or you are going out to lunch with your favorite editor!” But, my dear friends, I fear that may be the movie version  of my life. It's the one in which I am also  have clean hair, great clothes and my unscruffed high heels (because I am not wearing converse in this movie montage) also happen to be resting on my beautifully organized  Philipe Stark desk, adorned with white peonies and a piping hot skim latte…but I digress.

I decided to answer that question honestly, and picked last Wednesday to document what exactly I did with those hours that I wasn’t  reading: (Yes, did I tell you this was going to be a naval gazer)

 8:45 am-I got to the office early so I could finish a published book in peace and quiet. (It was We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver and it is probably the toughest book I've read. A week later and I am still thinking about it.)

9:30-11:00 Answered emails (mostly author questions—I am always telling my authors to feel free to remind me of things that need following up on. I have no ego about admitting that I need help in this department. There is simply so much every day stuff to keep track of, and it's too much for me to do it alone. 

11-12 Galley mailing-I wrote a letter and sent galleys for a great memoir called Paris, Baby!, pubbing in June to my magazine contacts. (Yes a publisher’s publicist should be doing this but when you know people, it absolutely does not hurt to send along as well. )

12-1   Ate a sad lunch at my desk and read Twitter feeds.

1-2 Got the best call of the day!  A book of mine was optioned for film!  This was a particularly exciting call because it renewed my faith in Hollywood. I had met with a producer months ago as he was inquiring about rights for another book I repped. Those rights had already been optioned so I told him about this book instead. He spent the next two months getting a writer, a director and their agency on board, and optioned the book with a great plan. 

2-3 Galley mailing for a memoir called Breaking Up With God, for blurb requests. Everyone hates this but for some reason, it needs to be done.

3-4 Crafted an editorial letter to an author who is at work on her fourth novel

4pm Grabbed a coffee and gabbed with my office mates about absolutely nothing work related.

4:30-6  Read slush/passed on projects with the help of my colleague, Stephanie/decided on what I wanted and needed to read that night/paid bills and paid some authors royalty checks which means a book earned out woo hoo!

Okay, so basically, I did NONE of the things that I said I usually do when asked at a conference. Obviously there are days when you are falling in love with a new voice, selling a book at auction (I wouldn’t be in biz without those days) taking an author to meetings etc but more often than not, you are just staying on top of things, being a squeaky wheel for your author and frankly, making sure everyone else is doing their job. No, it's no glamourous, but I love it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Power of Perseverance: An Interview with Jael McHenry

I am delighted to be talking with Jael McHenry about her road to publication. It was a longer-than-average road -- she went through two agents and three novels before she came to me and we sold The Kitchen Daughter, which is publishing this April. And we didn't even sell her book on the first try -- so, I thought it fitting to talk with the her about the power of perseverance, asking the right questions and, in her words, being "discouraged productively".

 So how did you find your way to me?

It's kind of a long story, but I'll try to make it short: I wrote a book and got an agent and it didn't sell; then I wrote another book and got another agent and it didn't sell. Both of these near-misses were disappointing, obviously, but also really good learning experiences. And my "debut novel" isn't even the third book I wrote -- there was another one before that, which you read, but didn't love enough to represent. But you, and other agents, liked it enough to say that you were interested in seeing whatever I wrote next -- which was The Kitchen Daughter. And that's where things went crazy in a good way, and I got to choose from a pool of interested agents, and you were my favorite. Obviously.

I'm glad you brought this up because I recently watched my sister in law go through her own "beauty contest" in choosing an agent (I wasn't one of them.  I don't rep family.)  Obviously it was a great position to be in, but I didn't envy her having to make the decision. Can you talk a bit more about that?   How did you know? (And truly, I am not asking for you to compliment me specifically) I really want to know what tools you used to decide. 

I know agents hate the beauty contest with a passion, but as a writer, it really is a blessing. I’d done my research in advance so I knew what everyone’s particular strengths were, and I knew I’d be happy working with any of the agents who offered. (There’s no excuse for not doing this research these days – it’s so easy now, compared to the old days of the hard copy Writers Market.) But talking to each agent about my long-term plans and their vision of the book took it to a whole new level. I had some questions ready – who do you think this book will appeal to? What kind of changes do you think it needs before we go out on submission? Have you sold books like this before? – and you were really great about taking the time with me to make sure I had what I needed to make my decision. Plus, you put me in touch with some of your other authors (thanks, Allison and Therese!) and they absolutely raved about you. At the end of it all you and I just talked about the book, and I could really tell how enthusiastic you were about it, and we just meshed. We wanted the same things for the book, we saw it in the same way. And that’s huge.

And then we took it out on submission and it didn’t sell!  I for one felt like a giant loser.

It didn’t sell! That was so frustrating. I was on a complete writer high from getting the multiple offers of rep and having all these conversations – that all happened within a week of sending out the manuscript, it was incredibly fast – and I was thinking “Now I get to be the overnight success! This’ll be a great story!” And there was lots of interest, but everyone had trouble with one aspect of the book or another, and after the fog cleared, no one loved it enough. And we looked at it again, looked at it harder, and I dug back into revisions. Then when we were finally ready to take it back out again, we got a pre-empt from Lauren McKenna at Gallery – and the week before, Gallery hadn’t even existed. So in a way, the timing turned out to be perfect. And it helped me put all the earlier setbacks in perspective.

You must have been discouraged, though, along the way, right?

Oh gosh yes. During that stage and all the other stages. Rejections hurt. Laboring over a manuscript for months or years, writing and rewriting, and in the beginning you have all these hopes, and you watch the doors close one at a time -- that hurts. But every experience is a learning experience, and looking back, if my first book had sold I don’t know what I would have done. I was completely unprepared to be published. And it turns out that learning how to deal with rejection in the query and manuscript stage is a HUGE help even once you’ve gotten an agent and sold the book. Even after the book sells, it's not like you're never going to hear a negative word again. You need to know how to deal with that. There might be bad reviews. There might be disappointing sales figures. And there are other books after the first one, hopefully. You need to learn how to be discouraged productively, if that makes sense.

Can you talk more about that? Being "discouraged productively"?

You can choose how you address a setback. When I sent my first queries out to agents and got rejections back, my first reaction was always, "Well, this person didn't like it... man, no one's ever going to like it. I'll never get published." And that's not productive. I was making newbie mistakes. I was sending to agents who only represent category romance, and my book wasn't a romance. It wasn't about the quality of the query or the book itself at all, it was just a lousy mismatch. The reason I say "discouraged productively" instead of "optimistic" or "confident" is that you have to learn from mistakes like that. Or sometimes it's not even a mistake, it's just something that requires more work when you thought the work was done -- another round of edits, maybe -- and you can't just sail through and ignore that kind of thing. You should be optimistic, but you should also listen. The right reaction to a rejected query isn't necessarily "I'm a failure and I'll never get published," but it's also not "Obviously that agent is a chucklehead who doesn't appreciate my genius." It's information. You look for patterns. You learn from the mistake or setback or whatever it is, and figure out where it fits in the big picture, and whether or not you should adjust your approach. That’s what we did when The Kitchen Daughter didn’t sell right away. We didn’t say, “Those editors are chuckleheads.” We said, “Are we getting a clear message about what needs to change in this manuscript for the book to really catch fire?” And the book is so, so much better now. I am in love with this book.

Your book is coming out in less than three months.   I feel for authors during these months between having their mss accepted and having them published. There should be an unwritten rule that you can throw yourself a book party when the galleys hit or something. How are you coping with this weird waiting period?

Well, you know me. I’m quietly freaking out. But I’m trying to freak out productively! After so many months where there’s nothing the author can really do – between the sale and the first set of edits, and after the last response to copy edits goes in – it’s kind of nice when things start to ramp up. I’m getting my website built out, putting more content on my blog, biting my nails while we wait for reviews, working with my publicity team to get ready for the launch. And one of the big reasons I’m glad it took me so long to get published is that I absolutely adore social media, especially Twitter. So I’m talking to other authors, and still learning, and of course working on the next book when I’ve got time. But basically, I'm fluttery and excited and nervous, and April 12 can’t come soon enough!

Thanks so much Jael!  The Kitchen Daughter is coming out from Gallery Books in April. To pre-order, go to

Next week I am going to be listing my Top Ten To Do list for querying and submitting fiction to agents.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why is it so hard to get an agent's attention?

Why is it so hard to get an agent to even read my work?  And what can be done about it?

The other week I passed on three chapters of a novel, not because I didn't like them, but because I simply didn't have the time to read them. They had been sent to me by an author I'd considered in the past and who I remembered as talented. However, after requesting them, I realized I was simply overwhelmed with work--authors under contract who were ramping up their book publication, clients whose novels I had to read and edit etc. (Not to mention I was moving and had a sinus infection--yes, one's personal life does come into play.)  I could and possibly should have waited until I had more time, but in that moment, simply crossing something off the list was a means to my own sanity, and I very honestly told the writer that after looking at my work load, I didn't have the time to give it the attention it deserved.  She wrote me back the following:

"Thank you for your quick response and for your candor.  While I entirely understand how busy you must be and how that affects your decisions, it's a source of constant frustration to many of the good writers I know that so many agents are in your position.  It means there's a real bottleneck when it comes to having work seriously considered, and I think that's a main driving force behind so many people looking to alternative publishing routes.  At some point, I think this may work out for everyone, but at the moment it's chaotic, confusing and, in some instances, flat out discouraging.  Writers can't get work out there unless they're established and sometimes not even then.  The biggest loser in all this is readers who miss the opportunity to find a broader range of significant voices, which basically means the whole society."

She has a point.  What's a writer to do? This question has stayed with me and I think I have, if not the answer, one suggestion. * I am too busy right now, and I while I have pockets where I am not, for the most part, I am not taking on a lot of new clients.  But, not so long ago I did have the time and I would have jumped at the chance to consider this author's work. In 2002, I was working as a junior agent at an established agency, where I was supported by wonderful, seasoned agents, who not only gave me the chance to take on my own clients, but supported me every step of the way, making introductions to the right editors, offering second reads, and generally encouraging my list. So, my answer to writers who are feeling this bottleneck effect is to cast a wider net when submitting to agents.  A lot of the authors I work with now signed with me when I had three sales under my belt, and they are still with me, working on their 3 or 4th book (a special shout out to Lynne Griffin and Allison Winn Scotch who both chose lil old me over more established agents when I was working at Kneerim & Williams.) So, taking into consideration my own experience as an agent just starting out, I would read the Who We Are sections on agency websites and start submitting to younger agents at those shops. When you get a bite, don't be shy if you have reservations about their small list of sales about asking how the agency works. Is it collegial?  Do they have mentors, etc?

Anyone out there have a similar experience?  Or other advice for writers frustrated with this whole process?

* I have to give credit where credit is due. I sat on an agent panel with the lovely Zoe Pagnamenta, who originally offered this suggestion up when a frustrated author asked her a similar question.