Monday, December 14, 2009

What the ...?

I've been "read", considered, then turned down at Sourcebooks, then read (by two editors, because they thought it was worthy) through the Friday Pitch at Allen &Unwin.

I'm writing a P&P [Pride and Prejudice] sequel about the adventures of Lydia and George Wickham -I have [read?] several 'sequel' including the most famous, Jean Rhys' The Wide Sargossa Sea (Mrs Rochester), and believe there is a market for these from readers who while enjoying the original classic also would like to read more of their favourite (or not-so-favourite) heroes.

I have always enjoyed Cornwell's Sharpe and the Flashman series by Macdonald, and am trying to slot into that exotic-adventure genre, but with a more feminine, romantic touch. Sourcebooks in the US were quite interested first in my single title, then in a series of stand-alone Lydia adventures, but when the GFC but backed away [? not sure what is meant here].

My latest Lydia adventure 'A Skulk of Vixens' I think has considerable merit, but it seems to be a chicken and egg dilemma - if you don't have an agent, you don't have as much of a chance, etc. etc.

I have inserted my queries in square brackets and unbolded them because, frankly, if you sent me a query letter like that I wouldn't read any further. I know you weren't asking about query letters but I have to say it, because I was so distracted by the bits I didn't understand that I almost blanked out the actual content of the letter. And this could be a problem for you when you're submitting things to agents and publishers. Also, I changed your spelling of 'favorite' to 'favourite' because American spelling makes my eyes bleed.

I've never understood the whole 'sequel' biz but that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and its brethren are doing well, so what do I know? I'm also not really sure what your question is - are you asking whether or not you should be looking for an agent? Are you asking me if your genre is the sort of things agents like? It's getting towards the end of the year and I'm really not capable of reading between the lines. I'm not even capable of remembering my clients' names, although I'm sure some of them will read this blog and remind me. See, look ... I got distracted again. Okay, back to you.

Write what you want to write. Make it the best it can be. Then send it to agents and/or publishers but check the submission guidelines first: if the agent/publisher only publishes military books, you will not have any success sending them your story. Alternatively, explore e-book publishers in the US or publish it yourself, in part or whole. Start a blog, post some parts of the novel, network your blog and see what responses you get. Sounds like a lot of work? Yeah, but the authors who are going to do well in the future are the ones who can do this stuff. Start now.

Niche books

I have a collation of (probably mostly new) entertaining wordplays/puns/neologisms. How would I go about finding an appropriate publisher to approach besides trying to find similar books in a bookstore?

Bad news: you'll have to look in a bookshop. And good luck finding other books like that unless they're written by folks who are already famous, or published in the US, where the market is big enough to accommodate quirky little tomes.

So hot right now

I mostly write fantasy / romance / adventure mixtures. I would describe some as mainly romance, but it's definitely not erotica. I have just read a review of what's hot in the market, and it seems to be nothing BUT erotica. I have read a few samples and frankly, I felt they often debased love, women, etc. I don't consider physical injury of the beloved by the "lover" to be a part of romance, for example. Should I just accept that I am an old-fashioned nerd and crawl back under my rock, or is there light at the end of the tunnel?

'I don't consider physical injury of the beloved by the "lover" to be a part of romance, for example' - then please don't read any of the Twilight books because you've just described the central tenet of all four of them.

Okay! Off my hobby horse now. Let's talk about you instead. You're not an old-fashioned nerd - I don't really believe that all the romance/erotica stories out there involve injuries. I am fairly sure Stephanie Laurens, for example, doesn't write romance stories that are violent or debase the female characters. I guess it depends exactly what 'market' you're talking about - it sounds like you are writing for a defined slice of the romance readership and within that slice you're concerned that the tide has turned towards sadomasochistic sex rather than romance - or, even, erotic sex. Perhaps it has. I'm not a specialist on the romance market. But trends are trends and they change. Write the romance and sex the way you want to write it - I can guarantee you will not be the only person in the world who wants romance and sex to read that way. Women are the majority of romance (and book) readers and they're a diverse bunch.

I could launch into a general discussion of why the culture may be skewing towards sexualised violence towards women and why women may actually want to read about it or watch it, but I'm fairly sure I'm meant to be blogging about books, not sex, regardless of how much fun the latter topic may be ...

Publishers and their closed doors

Noting that Penguin Australia was accepting unsolicited manuscripts for its Aussie Chomps series (books of 10,000 to 12,000 words, for readers 8-12), I began to write one some months ago. I set a deadline of February 21, 2010, and have 7800 words so far and the story fully realised in my mind.

Being paranoid, I sometimes check Penguin's website to see if they're still taking unsolicited stuff. Oh, calamity! Tonight I found out they had stopped, instead of saying they were NOW taking it, it now says, "As of the 11th December, 2009 the Books for Children and Young Adults department will NOT accept unsolicited manuscripts. This is likely to be reviewed at the end of February, 2010."

What happened? Had they been flooded with unsolicited manuscripts to the extent that they wished to stop taking them? Had they decided the series wasn't profitable or in demand and so no new stuff was needed?

I'm heartbroken having spent a lot of time and energy on crafting something just for them. I take it the solution now is on completion of the book to look for an agent. I'm keen on reading your opinion of what happened to make them change their minds and whether I still have a shot, any kind of shot.

Don't panic. Breathe. Repeat if necessary. Because here's what you just did: you overreacted. You say that you're 'heartbroken' but that's a fairly strong reaction to something that might or might not have been the real situation. And you just expended valuable energy that could have been better utilised in your writing.

Penguin will open their doors again, they just periodically close the submissions for their children's list. No doubt it's because they're overwhelmed and just need to catch up. It would be drawing a long bow to say that they'd decided to stop publishing the series - Chomps have been around for a while. However, even if they did cease to publish the series, that's nothing you can control.

The moral of the story is to not plan on anything being set in publishing world - Penguin didn't say they'd have submissions open indefinitely, you just presumed that that was the case. In this way publishing world is no different to non-publishing world. Nothing is for sure. Everything changes. That's life.

So I say again: Don't panic. Breathe. Repeat if necessary.

Monday, December 7, 2009

E-books into print books

I have one e-book published, and the editor spent a lot of time making suggestions, many of which were incorporated in the final manuscript. I feel an obligation towards her, as well as gratitude for taking me on board. Sales are very small: I gather it is mainly to do with self-promotion, and I seriously don't have spare time (I often don't even have time to write, hence am very frustrated!). I also don't have much expertise in this area, and even with the internet it takes a long time to research.

The other manuscripts I have floating around out there being 'considered' by other publishers/agents are ... just floating. The e-book I consider to be their equal or better, according to one's personal taste. Would it be really rude to send it out for consideration as a print publication, on the grounds that it has been a finalist for an e-book award, despite poor sales? (If perchance it was successful, I think the e-publisher should get some of the profits, whatever they turned out to be.) I'm sorry if this sounds like a weird question, I'm just trying to think laterally, but would hate to hurt anyone professionally or personally.

There are a few issues to consider here.

First is the fact that you no longer have e-book rights to sell along with your print book rights, and this may be a dealbreaker for some publishers (even if a lot of them aren't quite sure what to do with e-book rights yet). Some, not all. Just so you know.

Second, the question of 'gratitude'. It's nice to be grateful. Some of my authors make decisions out of gratitude and I always ask them to not do this, because publishing companies aren't charities. They don't publish your book because they feel sorry for you. They publish your book because they like it and think they can make money out of it - not necessarily in that order. While it's good to not burn bridges, don't let gratitude overly colour your business decisions. So, no, it wouldn't be rude. The e-book publisher is not offering you print publication. Why should you then not seek it out separately? And the e-book publisher will make money from the e-book sales that would probably increase if you have a print publication too.

Third, e-book sales will be small for most e-book titles for a while until everyone gets the hang of digital publishing. Don't worry about it, just do your best with the time you have for promotion/marketing, learn what you can when you can and that's all you can do. Writers very rarely have the luxury of just writing. Most of them have other jobs, children, husbands or wives, other family members to care for, friends, pets and sometimes farms. You do what you can. Don't give yourself guilt when it's not necessary. That's what major religions are for.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Submitting picture books

I have just finished a picture book aimed at 4 to 10 year olds and am now seeking publication.

I know you have said previously that it is incredibly difficult to find a publisher/ agent for a children's picture book but I wondered if you feel it's better to approach a publisher directly or go via an agent. If you believe the latter is better, could you please recommend some agents to approach? I have an illustrator attached to the project (albeit not a well-known one) so is it best to send the manuscript with or without the accompanying pictures? And finally what can I do to make the manuscript stand out from the rest of the slush pile?

I'm curious about your picture book for 4 to 10 year olds, as that's not an age range any publisher would recognise ... Picture books are typically for children aged one to about five or six. There is a huge difference between the stories a four-year-old likes and those that appeal to ten-year-olds, so I'm not sure how you will have bridged that gap in your own story.

As to the submission question: submit to anyone you can. If publishers are accepting submissions, go for it. If there are agents looking for picture books, submit to them too. Unfortunately I can't recommend any, as it says in my little 'About Me' thingy on the right-hand side.

Send the manuscript with a couple of illustrations but not the whole lot - mainly because it's expensive for you to keep reproducing colour illustrations. Also take care not to send in anything unless it's been requested - that's a waste of your time and money.

To make your manuscript stand out, you only have to do one thing: make sure it's excellent. There are no visual tricks that agents and publishers respond to. We work our way through the pile and what always stands out is talent. The other thing that always stands out is rudeness in a letter, so maybe avoid that ...


Do you think the role of the literary agent is set to change in a major way? I was reading Mike Shatzkin’s blog article about literary agents and the changing world of trade publishing:

He explores some really interesting issues about new business models and the digital revolution, and offered some views on how literary agents will need to respond to this ‘brave new world’.

Do you see big changes ahead for agents – in particular as the way authors earn their money (click per view, profit splits, self-publishing, etc) shifts? And on the flip side, what does it all mean in terms of what an author might expect from their agent – and in turn, their publisher?

Yes, I think the role of the agent will change, the same way I think the role of the author and the publisher will change. I think everything is going to change - most importantly, the way we tell stories is changing and will change, and that will affect everything else. We just don't know exactly how, which makes it hard for me to predict how my own job will change. The frustrating thing for me, at the moment, is that the Australian publishing industry is mostly lagging on the digital front. There's the odd publisher who's on top of it but the rest are way, way, way behind the US. I am trying to force some change now, when I do new deals. I ask questions about e-books, I try to get e-book publication dates. But digital publishing is still not being treated as important by any save that handful I mentioned. My biggest fear is that the sticking-head-in-sand-ness of it all is going to mean the demise of the Australian publishing industry just as much as the PIR changes would have.

So what's my changing role? Right now, it's to try to effect the change that is already under way overseas. In the future, yes, quite possibly, it's advising authors on self-publishing in the digital realm - but under the current agenting rules I'm not allowed to take commission for that, so it's not really worth my while to do it. Profit-sharing models aren't being taken up in the US and they're not even a glimmer in anyone's eyes at the moment. And, frankly, I'm so exhausted at this point of the year - after a year that has felt like a constant banging of my head against brick walls - that the prospect of keeping on top of all this change makes me want to revert to the job I'm actually qualified for, which involved five years of university study that I have not, to date, used. In order for me to properly be on top of these changes I need to hire someone to do the job I do now, so that I can spend time managing change. But there's no money for that. And that will be the challenge for Australian agencies in particular - we simply don't have the same income as UK and US agencies so we actually can't spare the time. I guess we will have to, though. I know we will have to. I just wonder when we will sleep.