Friday, December 12, 2014

Decoding Pub-Speak: Agented Submissions Only?

Have you written a book? If you’re like most people, you will probably testify that it was a long and grueling process. But eventually you reach the end, and rejoice. And then you seek to show off your work to publishers, and quickly realize that the writing was the easy part.


Back in the 1990s, American publishers fired hundreds of editors and readers. They figured out that they could get those same services for free through literary agents, because agents only send them material that’s already pre-screened and edited. Agented authors don’t need as much coaching and hand-holding, and the reps themselves don’t get a salary or a desk or a pension.

Friday, November 28, 2014

The Value of Writers' Conferences

Most of the time, I really enjoy my job. But some days I don’t.

Three times this month, I’ve called my clients to give them big news: Their book was accepted by a publisher. Their reaction? Bill let out a big sigh of relief. Jessie squealed. Brenda was essentially speechless in disbelief. In every case, they thanked me for my hard work and persistence. This is the part I love.

About a dozen times now, my clients and I have parted company; about half were at my initiative, half at theirs. In every case I was disappointed, either at my own failure or at their unreasonable expectations. That’s the part I hate. But life goes on, and future glories await. Such as my three deals for November.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Defense of Traditional Publishing

Gutenberg's press

Quick question: How many industries can you think of, that could put out a better product if they only removed all experienced professionals from their design and manufacturing process?

Much has been said in recent years, about the changing nature of the publishing business. Today, aspiring authors have so many options: No more gatekeepers, no more agents, no more editors, no one to tell you what you can and can’t do. No one to tell you that you’re not good enough. Only a naïve amateur, stuck in the past, would ever choose a traditional publishing model. Power to the people, baby!

Perhaps what we need here, is a bit of perspective. This is what “publishing” used to mean:

Thursday, June 19, 2014

What NOT to say to an editor or agent

According to one source, about 80 percent of all Americans say they want to write a book. Among that number, most will never write the first word. From among those who do, most either never finish, or don’t know where to turn when they do.

It’s only a tiny subset of those aspiring authors, who will ever get around to pitching their work to an agent or publisher. Are you one of those brave souls? If so, you’ll need to know what to say and – very importantly – what NOT to say. Whether you’re sending a query by email, or conversing over coffee at a writers’ conference, here are a few things that probably won’t help your case:

Thursday, June 12, 2014


The book business is changing. If you have a pulse and possess the skill to read this sentence, you’re probably not surprised to hear that. But the one part that amuses me more than anything, is the vocabulary. Words that meant one thing for a century or more, now mean something very different. Or at least, in the mind of some.

This new nomenclature seems to be driven by self-proclaimed experts who truly believe they have figured out the new order of the publishing world. They have no use for an agent or a proofreader, no interest in real education, and they see a demon behind the door of every traditional publisher who won’t give away the store. But what true credentials do they have, such that anyone should look to them for such important advice? Hard to say.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Ask An Agent. Ask Anything!

No, not that kind of agent

If you had five minutes to sit down with an experienced literary agent and ask anything, what would you ask?  I recently posed this question to my writer friends on Facebook, and the questions came in quickly. Here’s the first batch:

What is your biggest draw when it comes to signing someone?

I think every aspiring author asks this question sooner or later, in one way or another, and they’re hoping to divine the ONE secret thing that will make them rich and famous. And I always disappoint, because I don’t believe that such a singular “secret of the ages” really exists. But when pressed, I generally narrow it down to four things:

1-      Your story (the information on the pages).
2-      Your writing (your skill and style).
3-      Your professionalism (how do you present yourself?)
4-      My gut. I just get a feel for a story and a person.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Guest Post: Ten Risks You Run if You Don’t Proofread Your Manuscript

From my friend Kathy Ide, the Editor of Editors. She has instructed and inspired thousands of aspiring writers over the course of her long career. The following is an excerpt from her recently released Proofreading Secrets of Best-Selling Authors.

Have you seen the plaques and T-shirts that say this?:

Let’s Eat Grandma.
Let’s Eat, Grandma. 
Commas Save Lives.

I love that! It shows how one tiny bit of punctuation can change the entire meaning and tone of a sentence.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Alas, I fear that I’m being out-maneuvered by a certain famous literary agent with a blog. He seems to be CHIPping away at my market share. Apparently I should be posting here more often, so…here goes nothing.

As a writer, I know well the struggles of submitting work to agents and editors. Every agency and publisher has a prescribed process for submissions, and sometimes you’ll get ambitious and send off a dozen queries at a time. How do you follow all of the guidelines, without driving yourself crazy?

Early on, I decided that I would make it ridiculously simple to submit a query. I created a form that asks you to fill in the blanks for ten questions: Name, title, genre, synopsis, target audience, moral or spiritual lesson (if any), word count, manuscript status (is it complete?) brief bio, and source (where did you find me?) Keep it to one page, single-spaced. Make it easy for me, and perhaps you’ll be rewarded with an offer of representation. How hard can it be?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Taxes Won't Solve This Problem

I can remember, as a high school student in the 1970s, observing the advent of personal computers. The Apple, the IBM, the Commodore 64, the Radio Shack TRS-80. The Internet, in its earliest stages, remained the province of government officials and university professors.

Oh, how I longed to possess one of these space-age miracle machines. I begged my parents to help me buy one. (I already had a part-time job, and could contribute to the cause.) But what did I want it for? I didn’t know, exactly. In fact, I didn’t have a clue. I only knew that I wanted to join that exclusive club of the sophisticated and privileged.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Institutionalized Racism in Publishing?

Just this morning, I came across an interesting post from one of my friends on Facebook. My friend, who (like me) happens to be black, posted links to articles from yesterday’s New York Times: here and here.

Long story short: There aren’t enough books out there for black kids. Most children’s books feature white kids from the suburbs, not colored kids from the ’hood. Who will be their heroes? Who will be their role models? Surely Encyclopedia Brown or Charlie Bucket (my favorites, in my wonder years) will never do.

Who is to blame for this institutionalized racism? And what might be a way forward? Curiously these articles are fuzzy on both counts, but one described the situation as “apartheid.” Which (at least for me) implies forced segregation at the hand of the white man.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

All Hail the Agents

Much has been written in recent years, about the evolving role of literary agents. Some would say that the brave new world of self-publishing has made them obsolete. Others insist that they’re just a den of dinosaurs, struggling to stay relevant and steal fees from unsuspecting authors, in a world that has passed them by. No doubt the current environment brings new challenges for the business, but I daresay that the reports of our demise are quite premature.

First, as to the rise of self-pub: Surely we’ve all heard the success stories of self-published books that went on to greatness; The Shack and Fifty Shades come immediately to mind. But why do you suppose it is that these stories garner so much ink in the popular media? The answer, of course, is that they’re so rare. For every gonzo hit that you hear about, there are tens of thousands that barely left the gate.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Details Matter. Period.

Last week I wandered into an online discussion group, where I was intrigued by the question,

“I just found out that I’m supposed to use one space after a period instead of two. After typing one way for so many years, it seems silly to change. Do you think it’s important to follow this rule?”

A little background: The double-space convention was a product of the old days of manual typesetting (I will spare you the boring details). And with old-style typewriters that made all characters the same width, a double-space was deemed necessary to distinguish the end of a sentence. But now that almost all of us compose on computers that can make those adjustments automatically, the single-space is sufficient. Confused? Me too.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What To Expect When You're Expecting (An Agent)

Good news! You sent off your book proposal to a literary agent, and he liked it. Better news! A few days later, despite your doubts, the agency contract arrives in your mailbox. You open the envelope, and lay out the document on your dining room table. And there it is, staring at you, taunting you, begging for your signature.

Now what? Should you sign it? Most first-time authors won’t have a clue. Before you face that momentous decision, here are some of the standard provisions you’ll find in most agency contracts. Let's strip away the legalese, and get down to it:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Why Won't They Tell Me?

Every time I speak at a writers’ conference, and every time I foolishly wander into an Internet chat room, I can expect to hear certain questions from aspiring authors. Sooner or later, in one form or another, one question always seems to come up:

Why won’t agents and editors tell me why they rejected my book? Or worse, why won’t they answer at all? 

As a writer, I certainly feel their pain; how can I ever hope to improve, if no one will tell me what needs improving? But after three years as agent, it’s easy to see the other side. 

First, it’s not my job. I know that sounds unbelievably cold and callous, but it’s true. I’m here to identify promising writers, offer their works to prospective publishers, and then negotiate the deal. Every minute I spend away from those functions, causes me to shirk my contractual obligations to existing clients. 

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Book Review: Boy Meets Girl; Will They Get Out Alive?

So, what’s wrong with our world today? There are many answers to this important question, of course, but let me posit a scenario: Children grow up without godly values. Because their parents have a lousy marriage. Because they started out with a directionless courtship. The consequences are huge, and far-reaching.

In his new book Dating Like Airplanes, Caleb Breakey doesn’t preach. He shares his own struggles in pursuit of (now-wife) Brittney; his mistakes, joys, and hard-learned lessons. True love is about giving, not taking. Waiting, not rushing. Self-examination, and seeking advice from those who have gone before.