Shark Infested Waters

Welp.

How was your week?

I have nothing to add about the election that hasn’t already been said. I am still grieving Hillary’s loss and it’s clouding my ability to fully process his win, but I’m getting there.

The last time a president won by the skin of the electoral college, I was 16 years old. I was used to feeling helpless about the world around me. I was politically aware as a teenager and I tried to be politically active in my 20s. I marched in a few protests against the Iraq War, donated to causes I believed in, and was outspoken among friends and family. And maybe that is being politically active, but it’s the activism of a young white woman who would never be truly effected by any failed efforts.

To many, this isn’t the New World Order. It’s been reality for quite a while. This isn’t comforting, but it is sobering. To me, it’s Kafkaesque. It’s a world I knew existed, but refused to believe could gain power and become legitimized. I’m more connected to other perspectives and worldviews than I’ve been in the past. Social media is a large part of this, but it’s also my own maturity and ability to interpret what I couldn’t see before. And I still feel so naive. There is so much I still need to learn and understand. This blog post is not going to be the thing that does that. It’s my bare minimum of moving forward and becoming a member of society again. I have clients to represent and work to do, but first, a few things.

1) Hi. I’m Sarah. I’m an introvert with sporadic bouts of depression and anxiety. Everyone grieves differently, but people like me often need to grieve alone – and silently. You may notice that a lot of people you follow on Twitter or Facebook have announced they’re “taking a social media break.” I’m one of those people. I promise, it’s not to cut ourselves off from reality or ignore those effected most. The word “introvert” became kind of trendy in the last couple years, and I’ve even had people ask me if “it’s really true” that we need to “recharge.” Yes, it is. And that’s just after a night of socializing with friends. What I think is less understood is that introverts don’t only need to recharge after a night out. Coupled with depression and anxiety, my own mind is sometimes beyond the restorative power of taking a yoga class or having a glass of wine. Sometimes I need to cut myself off so that the noise in my head doesn’t multiply any more than it will on its own.

2) I am an optimist. My first instinct is to give people the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes they don’t deserve it and I end up disappointed. But, this is who I am and I like this part of my personality. Despite where we’re heading, I’m holding onto two things:

  • She won the popular vote. Even with low voter turnout, she won the popular vote. The majority of Americans did not sign up for his ideology. There is hope in this knowledge, and I am clinging to it.
  • The calls/texts I’ve received and made in the last week have reminded me of the good around me. Whether it’s in depth conversations about what happened, or just a random heart-emoji to say “I’m thinking about you,” I’ve felt incredibly lucky to have people in my life who are smart, engaged, and care.

3) Since I always try to relate my blog posts to writing and publishing… let me say this: Before Tuesday, my biggest mental occupation was that a few writers were disappointed in a comment I made about #ownvoices. (Remember when I said I have anxiety? Sometimes things like that keep me up at night too.) On Wednesday, I thought of how I had planned to elaborate after the election, but I became too numb to think. Then I thought, MY GOD WHAT DOES IT EVEN MATTER NOW ANYWAY!? But, it does matter. Maybe not on a grand scale, but here’s what #ownvoices means to me:

  • I made a comment that some Pitch Wars entries were using a loose definition of #ownvoices. This is because my own definition of #ownvoices has always been limited to societal marginalization. i.e. Other than stigmas and internal struggles, how does society treat you? Do you get paid less? Are you subject to discrimination in a way that puts your livelihood at stake? Are you more likely to be the target of violence?  In some of the Pitch Wars entries, it wasn’t always clear the main character was marginalized at all, even if the author pointed out how they, themselves, were. That’s because we live in a society where white is the default. Straight is the default. Able-bodied is the default. Status quo is the default. If a character isn’t that, but it’s not specified on the page, that default wins.
  • I’m usually vocal about wanting to see more #ownvoices queries in my inbox. My agent bio on the Bradford Lit website explicitly states I want to see books that challenge the status quo. I mean this now more than ever. The authors and projects on my list do this – sometimes in obvious ways, and sometimes in very subtle ways. I am proud of the list I have so far, and am SO ready to grow it from here. We can write and create and help sway the conversation through art. As small as I can feel, I do have a voice, and I’m in a position to raise other voices. Sometimes it might feel pointless, but I am going to take advantage of what I can.

4) I’ve dealt with feelings the same way since I was 14 years old – listening to a lot of Ani DiFranco. Whether it’s my crush not liking me back, my parents not understanding me, not knowing what I want to do with my life, or feeling like the world as I know it is about to become very, very scary – music and art and words have been there for me. I can’t offer any final words of inspiration because I truly don’t know what will happen. I still haven’t fully processed everything myself. But, I’ll leave you with Ani for now and hope we can continue this conversation another time when things look a little clearer.

I’ve had a lack of information
I’ve had a little revelation
I’m climbing up on the railing
Trying not to look down
I’m going to do my best swan dive
Into shark infested waters
I’m going to pull out my tampon
And start splashing around
‘Cause I don’t care if they eat me alive
I’ve got better things to do than survive

The Trope Police

Hello, friends! How’s the writing going?

Every so often on Twitter I offer some Query Trends, which are multiple instances of oddly specific things I see in my queries. Lately I’ve been thinking of trends on a larger scale. Not just genre trends, which come and go and come back again seemingly at random, but rather writing trends that I officially see as cliche.

So, what am I seeing that I’d love to see go away (or, at the very least, become severely lessened)?

 

Teenage girls who are super into photography.

Putting aside that the majority of “photography” is being done on iPhones with Snapchat and Instagram filters, let’s talk about this very impractical and expensive hobby that every teenage girl (and some boys!), regardless of background or economic status, seem to have. And not just a vague interest in photography – a full-on I will buy this sophisticated camera with various lenses and walk around with them all the time obsession. I see this in YA most often, but I also see it in Adult fiction with teen characters and, more recently, in the TV show Casual and the movie, Boyhood.

I’ll repeat how expensive of a hobby this is. It’s really expensive. These characters aren’t settling for point-and-shoot digital cameras. They have some serious equipment and in a lot of cases, these are characters specified as decidedly not rich. How are they paying for all of this?

Expenses aside, this hobby often feels forced. Has the “wannabe writer” cliche played out so photography was next “artsy” career path in line? It feels only mildly realistic and for as many teens legitimately interested in technique, I would guess that far more take selfies with friends at parties and call it a day.

We get it; your main character sees the world through a unique lens. But unless they’re Veronica Mars, and photography also comes in handy in their secret side job, consider that you’re possibly using a cliche for no real reason.

 

Powerful women as a technicality (or gimmick).

Regardless of what happens in November, I hope Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will help make a trope I hate finally go awayand that is the Female Character Falling Ass Backwards Into Power. My literal examples are all TV-related:

  • Veep, Male president resigns, female VP rises
  • Commander In Chief, Male president dies, female VP rises
  • Battlestar Gallactica, Everyone in the line of succession dies, female Sec. of Education becomes president (and is amazing, of course, but still)

Seriously, did no one think a woman could just, ya know, get elected? All by herself. Can’t we have even a fictional world where the people chose a woman voluntarily and not because a male option was dead? (But I digress…)

In not-so-literal examples, some trends I’ve noticed in submissions are:

  • Female athlete who learned everything from her dad, who may or may not be the coach of her team too.
  • Battle of the Sexes science fairs or class president elections.
  • Propelled into the plot because of a missing father.
  • Propelled into the plot because her father is the doctor/detective/scientist directly involved in the story.

In each of these stories, the girl is in the shadow of a more powerful man, and then – and only then – can she find her inner strength. It takes an “anything you can do, I can do better” approach to feminism that feels outdated.

I’d love to see a female athlete who trains with her Olympic medal winning mother. Or a lawyer (or future lawyer) who was inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg. Where’s my teenage Leslie Knope? Where’s my Katniss as an adult? Give me someone who isn’t just propelled into the plot, but drives the plot.

 

The “wild” best friend.

If Writer-Sarah may admit something up front – I’ve totally written the wild best friend story. Most of us who grew up to become writers probably had the wild best friend. I actually love the wild best friend. From Rayanne Graff in My So-Called Life to Lila in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. The complexities of friendship, in general, are always interesting to me. That said…

I’ve been noticing two different types, in published books and in even more manuscripts, usually dependent on gender:

  • Girls/Women: The friend who lives without fear of consequence. She says what she’s thinking, she flirts, she’s reckless, and she’s probably a little damaged. She pushes the main character to live life to the fullest and go beyond her comfort zone.
  • Boys/Men: The horndog. The slacker. He makes sexist comments, he gets high, he thinks the main character just needs to relax. He’s the id to the main character’s ego.

Both are cautionary tales. Both serve as windows and mirrors for the main character.

So if I love these types of stories so much, why am I sick of them?

Because they’re all starting to sound the same. In YA, it’s the best friend pulling the main character into a plot, teaching them things about life. In Adult, it’s the best friend who remains so in-name-only even though it’s obvious the main character outgrew them. They become a symbol for The Road Not Taken as opposed to being actual people.

Why else am I sick of these friends?

Because I am SO ready for the “wild best friend” to be our main character! They are clearly the more interesting friend. They deserve more than teaching the main character a valuable lesson, or making the main character feel better about their “boring” life. They deserve to have their own story told.

***

I’ve said before (here) that it’s OK if you’re not completely original. Premises are always going to sound similar; it’s how you interpret them and make them your own that counts. So, sure, a few tropes might slip in and no one will care if the rest of the book is amazing and unique. Cliches aren’t the worst thing in the world, but for a debut author they can be the difference between an offer and a rejection.

 

(OK, if the only thing holding me back in a manuscript is an overused character trope, I’ll probably opt for having a conversation with the author or asking for an R&R.)

 

Keep writing, friends! When your photography-loving main character goes to search for her missing photojournalist dad and takes her wild best friend with her, remember we’re still rooting for you! But maybe just tone it down a bit.🙂

2015: A Year in Queries

It’s that time of year again… when writers see the end-of-year stats from agents and feel overwhelmed. I’m sure this post will be no different, though I will try to reassure you up front that these numbers are not as scary as they seem!

 

As always, keep in mind the following stats are from unsolicited queries only – a.k.a. “the slush pile.” Any requests made at conferences, from contests, referrals, or previous R&Rs were not part of the tally. So, without further ado, My Year in Queries!

 

January: Total: 439; Requests: 6

February: Total: 383; Requests: 5

March: Total: 383; Requests: 5

April: Total: 349; Requests: 4

May: Total: 287; Requests: 3

June: Total: 256; Requests: 6

July: Total: 282; Requests: 3

August: Total: 300; Requests: 9 (Woo!)

September: Total: 294; Requests: 3

October: Total: 298; Requests: 6

November: Total: 396; Requests: 2

December: Total (as of 12/28): 188; Requests: 3

 

Total Queries in 2015: 3,855

Total Requests from Queries: 55

Most Requested Genre: YA contemporary (28 out of 55)

Genres I Wish I Saw More: Literary MG and Upmarket/Contemporary Adult Fiction

Total New Clients from Queries: 6

Total New Clients in 2015: 7 – Lilly Barels (YA, query); Tracey Neithercot (YA, query); Dalanie Beach (YA, conference); Jackie Jacobi (YA, query); Evan James Roskos (MG/YA, query); Jan Saenz (Adult/WF, query); Miranda Suri (Adult/UF, query)

 

I’m especially proud of how many new clients I signed this year for a couple reasons:

  1. I signed more new clients this year than I have in any other year, and nearly doubled my client list, which was one of my goals for 2015. Hooray!
  2. 2015 was a bit of a year for me, both personally and professionally. Not that it was all bad. Some of it was incredibly, unbelievably wonderful. It was just a lot. So, it makes me happy that despite capital-L Life happening all over this year, I still found some amazing new talent to work with, and I cannot wait to bring their projects into 2016!

 

Some things to keep in mind, lest that Total Queries number is ringing in your head:

  • That total includes all the queries I receive in genres I don’t represent. In 2016, I’m going to be better about including that number as part of my stats, as I imagine it will make the total appear far less threatening.
  • I ask for R&Rs a lot. (Revise & Resubmit) That means I’m not signing quite as many clients at the fastest rate, but I am actively working with authors with the intention of offering representation. If I ask for an R&R, it means I really, really want to offer representation, but I need more confidence in the writing before I commit. My goal isn’t to make writers wait around for me, and if they sign with someone else instead of revising, that sucks for me. My hope, however, is that those 2015 R&Rs will turn into revisions I *love* and those authors will become 2016 clients!
  • Every query I receive gets tallied in these stats. Including, unfortunately, the few I delete without reading. I read and respond to 99.9% of my queries, but sometimes queries are so off base that there are simply no words. These include:
    • Mass queries. If I’m obviously BCC’d, or one of 100 agents CC’d on a query, I’m not going to bother responding.
    • Pre-queries. These are the email equivalents of someone asking, “Can I ask you a question?” The query itself IS a question, so just ask!
    • Queries sent as attachment. No, complete stranger, I will not open that unsolicited attachment or click on that weird link.
    • Queries addressed to someone else. Copy & paste fails happen, but I will assume you did not mean to query me, sorry.
    • The “Is This a Query?” Query. If you’re querying a self-published novel, make sure you’re including sales figures and what you hope an agent will add to your writing career. Do not just email agents a publicity sheet about your self-published novel. If a book has a cover and blurbs, I assume it’s already published and that your “query” is marketing spam.
  • Even if I represent the genre, the query looks great, and the project has potential, I simply can’t take on everything. I keep my list small so I can devote my time equally to all of my clients who need it. This means I have to pass on very good projects and hope they land with other amazing agents instead. Do not take it personally if you get a rejection. It’s always a business decision based on our time and expertise and skill set, and is rarely because your book is “bad.” Agents want you to succeed even if we, personally, can’t be the ones to take on your projects.

 

If you received a form rejection, personalized rejection, or any sort of response from me on your query, it means you did everything right! Be proud of that, and even though agents can’t always send individual Thank You notes, consider this a huge THANK YOU for following guidelines and making the submissions process run smoothly! We appreciate you.

 

Now go enjoy your holidays, take a break from the book world for a bit, and we’ll see you in 2016!!

 happy-new-year-champagne[1]

Agents, Schmagents, and Pink Flags

Hi there.

I’m not sure if you saw the #SchmagentRedFlags hashtag on Twitter this week, but if you’re a writer who is agented or querying agents, you should check it out. For those unfamiliar with the term, a “schmagent” is short-hand for agents who are not very legit or respected in the industry. I wrote about them a while back in this post: Shady Business.

The hashtag shared some good insights and tips to new writers. But then I got involved in a conversation that made me pause. An agent – a legit, respected agent (not a schmagent) – said if an agency hasn’t done a deal with every Big 5 publisher, they aren’t legit. I agreed and disagreed with this, but it didn’t sit right with me and I couldn’t figure out why. Twitter was not going to be the right venue for me to say things without thinking first, so I left it alone.

My initial response was that some agencies are just super small and niche, but I kept circling back to new agents (which are not the same as schmagents, as you’ll see in my older post linked above!). So, I conceded her point and let it go because I did agree with her. Mostly, anyway. But I kept thinking about it after. Do agents need to have an established boilerplate with every Big 5 publisher in order to be considered legit? The more I thought about it, the more it seemed outdated to me.

It is 100% an advantage for an agent to have established relationships with as many bona fide publishers as possible, especially the Big 5 (Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, HarperCollins, and Simon & Schuster). If you’re a writer who gets an offer of representation, you should ask that agent who they have established relationships with and where they’ve sold projects similar to yours. If they don’t mention the major players at all, that might be a problem.

But, not every agency is the same, nor are the needs of all writers the same. Such as:

A 10-year-old agency specializes in only children’s literature. They’re known for several award-winning books and a few bestselling authors through publishers like Scholastic, Candlewick, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and have had success with a few imprints at Big 5 publishers. But, for whatever reason, they have never sold a book to Hachette. Maybe they got close, but never got an offer from them. Maybe they went with another publisher during an auction. In any case, after 10 years, they still don’t have a boilerplate with one of the Big 5. Are they considered a schmagent? I would hope not, and I would hope that a children’s book writer getting an offer from an agent with that agency would jump on the opportunity.

A similarly hypothetical agency could be one that’s been around for about 5 years and focuses on romance, and maybe some erotica and NA too. In only a short period of time, they’ve established important relationships with places like Harlequin and Kensington and are known for a few successful series within those genres. They might also find they work with mostly digital publishers these days because that’s where the market has shifted. Therefore, they might not really have had a need to sell to all 5 major publishers. A good agent follows the market they’re trying to sell to. They keep up with industry trends. Agents need to be open and adaptable, and if certain genres aren’t as big in print anymore, we need to adjust accordingly.

One last example I was thinking about are the quiet literary novels. Not Franzen or the big splashy Great American Novelist literary novels. I mean the ones that get critical acclaim and are brilliantly written, but the average reader probably hasn’t heard of them, nor do they care. You see these novels with places like Graywolf Press, Melville House, National Book Award committee discussions, and, well, these novels, basically. There are a few dedicated and amazing imprints with Big 5 publishers who still seek quiet literary fiction. They publish it well and put marketing dollars behind them, but an agent can’t rely on a few imprints to sell a book and then call it a day if that handful of editors pass on it. Sometimes books like this are a labor of love, and writers should want an agent who knows how to effectively sell their work even if it isn’t a 6-figure deal with Penguin Random House every single time.

So, those were my larger-than-Twitter thoughts about this and I’d be curious what others think in the comments. Mostly, I just think the industry has changed dramatically in the last 10 years, and the fact that we say The Big Five instead of the The Big Six should be evidence that agents can and should diversify their submission lists and establish new relationships in the industry.

Like I said before, a relationship with the major players is still a key component to being a good agent. But maybe it’s not everything after all. Maybe it’s not a red flag so much as a pink flag. Maybe in another five years we’ll have The Big Four, and even if we end up with The Big Three it won’t mean publishing is dying or dead or any other nonsense like that. It just means everyone involved needs to look outside the “model” and realize it might not exist anymore, so what’s next?

There is No Feminist Agenda; Only Zuul

You may have heard the news this week that the much-talked about Ghostbusters reboot finally has its all-female cast. I love this cast. Love, love, love this cast!

Of course, there are differing opinions about this movie.

Since the Internet is full of terrible people, I’ve seen some Men’s Rights Activists’ tweets about how this movie is going to dismantle the sanctity of their childhood memories and why do feminists have to ruin society all the time?

Since the Internet is also full of wonderful people, I’ve seen several supportive tweets already hailing the movie as a feminist achievement and waving the Girl Power flag proudly. This is where I needed to pause.

I will admit, I do not like reboots in general. They usually mean that instead of producing an original screenplay, Hollywood opted to dip into the same well because it’s easier money. But! If they were going to do this at all, I’m happy they went with an all-female cast. I’ll end up seeing it because it’ll probably be good, but it won’t be Ghostbusters. You can’t recreate that no matter how good the new cast is. So why not just make a new comedy about women fighting paranormal elements? Men In Black meets Ghostbusters, but with women. You’re welcome, Hollywood.

Anyway.

Hating this movie because it stars women makes you an asshole, and I have no time for that nonsense. Praising the movie as “feminist” feels misguided though. It reminded me of the issues I had with Bridesmaids being hailed as the best movie ever even though it was just a regular comedy (I elaborated on that here: Never A Bride.) It’s great that Hollywood green-lit an all-female reboot, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking this counts as feminism.

Asking women to fill the shoes of beloved, iconic figures stacks the odds against them right from the start. If the all-female reboot is successful, it will be a huge step forward. My fear, however, is that it will create a surge in remakes, not necessarily new roles created for women. And, again, let’s not fool ourselves. We shouldn’t have to accept sloppy seconds as an “achievement” in feminism. Much like the recent remake of Annie being designated Black Annie, “Female Ghostbusters” doesn’t exactly make me feel like an equal, let alone someone’s first choice. It’s a lazy approach to diversity. Give me a character that wasn’t established by a man first.

As always, everything relates to writing, which is why the Ghostbusters talk has made me think a lot about my own slush pile. Many queries I receive begin with lines like, “Because you’re seeking strong female characters…,” which I think is great. I also love a good re-imagining of a classic or fairy-tale, but I end up rejecting 99% of the ones I receive. That’s because their “strong female character” isn’t really as dynamic or three-dimensional as they think they are, and their “re-imagining” is just a retelling.

[Digression: When agents and editors say “strong female character,” we mean strongly written. If she also happens to literally kick ass, that’s cool, as long as there’s more to her than that.]

Like a Hollywood reboot (a good one, anyway), re-tellings should be more than simply rearranging scenes in the same story we already know. There should be a reason this story needs to retold for a modern audience. Why are you writing it? What’s your approach? What makes it unique and relevant?

Gender-swapping is fun and can add a different perspective to a familiar story, but I see too many “re-imaginings” that rely on gender-swapping as its only twist. This holds very little appeal to me. The most common I see are Beauty and the Beast, but the female character is the beast; or a typical paranormal romance set-up, but the girl is the vampire who gets a shy boy to love her. Nothing about the stories themselves have been updated or changed. I need more than that to impress me. And I definitely need more than that to convince me the novel is somehow feminist just because it’s not not feminist.

And don’t get me wrong. I love a good gender-swap. Just make sure that’s not all you’re relying on. Feminism is not using the Find & Replace feature and changing Jim to Jane. It’s about creating roles for women, making us in control of our own narratives, and acknowledging that women’s stories have just as much merit as a man’s.

2014: A Year in Queries

Hello, everyone!

It’s that special time of year again where I look back on my year in queries and share the terrifying results with you. Last year I had to give you my stats in two sections because of my mid-year hiatus in between agencies: here and here. 2014 was my first full year at Bradford Literary Agency (woo!), and here’s what it looked like from the query side of things.*
*As always, the following stats are from unsolicited queries only, meaning the ones that came through my regular query inbox (“the slush pile”). Any requests from conferences, contests, or referrals from people I know were not part of the tally.
January
Total: 323
Requests: 4
Genres Requested: Adult literary; Adult urban fantasy; YA contemporary (2)

February
Total: 256
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: Adult literary; Adult magical realism; YA contemporary

March
Total: 245
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: Adult literary; Adult urban fantasy; YA contemporary

April
Total:263
Requests: 5
Genres Requested: Adult literary; YA contemporary (2); YA mystery; YA sci-fi

May
Total: 271
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: Adult mystery; YA contemporary; YA thriller

June
Total: 263
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: Adult magical realism; YA sci-fi (2)

July

Total: 284
Requests: 10
Genres Requested: Adult sci-fi (2); Adult mystery; Adult short story collection; YA contemporary; YA sci-fi (2); MG fantasy; YA urban fantasy; YA magical realism
August
Total: 241
Requests: 4
Genres Requested: Adult literary (2); Adult sci-fi; YA urban fantasy
September
Total: 247
Requests: 4
Genres Requested: Adult literary; (2); YA contemporary (2)
October
Total: 324
Requests: 7
Genres Requested: Adult  magical realism; Adult sci-fi; YA contemporary (2); YA urban fantasy; YA sci-fi (2)
November
Total: 283
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: MG fantasy; YA horror; YA contemporary
December
Total: 289
Requests: 3
Genres Requested: Adult women’s fiction; MG fantasy; YA contemporary

Total Queries Received in 2014: 3,289

Total Manuscript Requests from Queries: 52

Request Rate from Queries: 1.6% (approx.)  


Most Requested Genres: YA contemporary, Adult literary, Sci-fi (both adult & YA)

Least Requested Genres (of those I rep): MG (but when requested, usually involved fantasy elements), YA mystery/thriller

Total Offers of Rep from Queries: Two


Total Offers of Rep Overall: Five
Total New Clients in 2014: Three
1) Anthony Jones, adult sci-fi/noir: R&R from 2013 query, received revision and offered rep in 2014
2) Marissa Marangoni, YA literary/contemporary, from 2014 query
3) Kelly Calabrese, YA thriller/horror, met at a 2014 conference
While these stats may seem daunting to new writers currently querying or thinking about querying agents, keep in mind the following things:
  • I receive a LOT of queries for genres I do not represent. If I had to guess, I’d say at least 40% of my slush pile consists of queries from people who don’t actually care what I represent, as long as I represent them. This is not a good way to go about finding an agent. You want an agent who is excited about your book, but who also has the right editorial eye for your genre and experience selling it.
  • More often than not, I ask for an R&R (revise & resubmit) when I’m interested in something. Good writing can’t exist without revision, yet revising is a separate skill not every writer can master. Since I’m an editorial agent, I need to know my future-clients can take notes, make them their own, and revise. There were about a dozen times this year when an author whose manuscript I requested received an offer of representation. In some cases, that manuscript just wasn’t for me. Other times, though, I saw the potential in the manuscript, but it needed too much work for me to make a counter-offer. In other circumstances, I’d ask for an R&R, but if they have an offer on the table already, then I have to pass. 
  • I read and respond to every query I receive, with the exception of the following:
    • Mass queries – queries addressed to more than 1 agent (it’s also very obvious when we’re all BCC’d)
    • Pre-queries – emails that ask whether they can query, which is a waste of time for everyone involved. The answer is always yes, just query. 
    • Queries sent as attachment. 
    • Queries addressed to someone else 
    • The Maybe-Query. (If you self-published the book you’re querying, make sure the agent knows you’re seeking representation and not just spamming them with a promotional email.)
The above-mentioned list are only fraction of the queries I receive, but they do contribute to just how many queries I end up with by the end of the year. The majority of writers who query me are informed and professional. I can’t request everything, even if they query is well-written, but I always appreciate the writers getting it right. I know a form rejection doesn’t convey that, and I wish I had time to personalize each response – or at least give a secret high-five to the writers whose queries were awesome, but just not my thing. So I’ll just say here, “thanks, writers!”
One of my 2015 goals is to double my client list (!). So I hope you’re all ready to send me more great queries – or send me those R&Rs I requested in 2014 – and help me reach that goal. 
See you in the new year, writers! 

The Cool Table

If you read this blog, then you probably also follow me on Twitter. I’m a huge fan of Twitter. I encourage every writer, editor, agent, and wannabe intern I meet to join and embrace it. It’s where the publishing community hangs out – our collective water cooler – so obviously if you want to be part of that world, that’s where you need to be. (Note: This is not the first time I’ve had thoughts about social media on this blog.)

As much as I advocate for Twitter, I’ve noticed a growing trend that goes against everything I love about social media for writers. New writers, particularly the ones who joined Twitter specifically to meet people and learn about the industry, are accidentally falling in with a bad crowd. This “bad crowd” often has good intentions, but they’re who I refer to as The Cool Kids.

Transition.

When I was in high school, my BFF-at-the-time and I used to call the popular kids “Air Quotes” because every time we’d mock their “cool” status, we’d put air quotes around the word “cool.”

The “Cool” Kids in the online book world are a little different, but can still be just as misguided and destructive. These Cool Kids, as stated above, usually mean well, but sometimes end up doing more harm than good to new writers who become convinced they need to be a Cool Kid too. (Ironically, the Cool Kid syndrome is most prevalent in YA writers, who often try to defy social hierarchies.)

Hint: You don’t need to know a secret handshake or be part of “in” crowd in order to succeed in publishing. Watch out for these “Cool” people who may lead you to believe otherwise:

Cool Kid: The Blogger
Why They’re Dangerous: No credentials are needed to start a blog.

Not all bloggers write reviews, and not all blogger-reviewers write smart reviews. The danger of The Blogger comes from those who simply call themselves bloggers without putting in the work or building an audience. Yet, to writers just starting out, it’s hard to tell the difference, and can get outdated or incorrect information. The Blogger ends up being in a position of power for writers who want to learn about the industry from people they assume are experts.

I have a blog (obviously), as do many agents and writers, but I do not consider myself a blogger. The type of blogger I’m talking about isn’t just someone who writes blog posts. I’m talking about the ones who spell their title with a capital B. The Blogger who holds pitch contests every two months just to get hits, and posts query advice despite not being agented or published. These are also the Bloggers who feel slighted when they get rejected from NetGalley.

At BEA a few years ago I was in line for the bathroom with a few of these Bloggers. They complained loudly about how they were rejected by the publisher for a coveted galley and couldn’t believe they had to wait in line with a bunch of commoners. One turned to me even though she didn’t know who I was or that I worked in publishing. “My blog has 500 followers. It’s not like I’m just some random person!” she told me. I shrugged and left to find a different bathroom.

Here’s the truth of modern society: Everyone is online. Being a blogger in the publishing/writing world may have been impressive 10 years ago, but today it’s practically expected. Being online doesn’t entitle anyone to anything anymore, and it doesn’t necessarily mean The Blogger has industry knowledge or connections.

What does entitle bloggers to things now? Having a good blog. Having a large, loyal, and consistent readership, and being well-known among the literary community. Publicists know that bloggers aren’t going to have the same reach as the New York Times, and they take that into account, but they still need to believe the blog is a respected voice in the industry.

Here are some non-agent/editor, capital-B Bloggers and blog-like sites I particularly enjoy:

Jane Friedman
The Rumpus
The Millions
Bookslut
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
Stacked
Book Riot
YA Interrobang
YA Highway
The Daily Dahlia

Cool Kid: The Twitter Darling
Why They’re Dangerous: They’re your best friend… until they’re not.

Raise your hand if you have ever been personally victimized by The Twitter Darling.

The Twitter Darling knows everything and everyone. They may not be bestselling authors, or even well-known outside of the Twitter and blogging community, but they have made themselves Very Important People To Know. The Twitter Darling tweets approximately 100 times a day and will RT and promote the shit out of you because that’s what supportive BFFs do.

Twitter Darlings keep up with industry news and trends. They are Bloggers-with-a-capital-B who never get rejected from NetGalley. They are close friends with a few industry folks and get invited to publishing parties. They have the power to invite you to sit at the “Cool” Table, and if you’re already cool, they will convince themselves it’s because of their influence and acceptance of you.

If you’re friends with the Twitter Darling, congratulations, but remember to stay true to yourself. Because the thing about Twitter Darlings? They have the power to kick you out of the “Cool” Table. Reasons might include: Not being agented, not having a book deal, not being published by what they consider the “right” house, not acknowledging the Twitter Darling’s greatness, and not wearing pink on Wednesdays.

They can be wonderful allies and friends, but they can also create unnecessary pressure to be just as “Cool” as they are.

An important thing to keep in mind about being “Cool” is that agents and editors Do. Not. Care. We want to work with good writers and people who act like professionals online and offline. If you’re “in with the in-crowd,” that’s fine too, and it may even be beneficial to your career. Just remember there is no standard of “Cool,” and you should never, ever let yourself feel “less than” for not measuring up to a false deal.

Cool Kid: The Fanboy/Fangirl
Why They’re Dangerous: Their contagious enthusiasm may end up being your downfall. 

The Fanboy/Fangirl is usually on the periphery of the book world – aspiring authors, recent grads working as booksellers or interns, bloggers, etc. We like them and support them. Until they cross boundaries.

A “fanbase” is not something I expected to have working in publishing, and it’s also something that makes me super uncomfortable. My authors are the one who deserve fans. My job title is “literary agent” the way others are “teacher” or “accountant.” Yet, an increasingly disturbing thing I’ve noticed is that some writers equate my job title with being a celebrity. This is not healthy or helpful.

I’m happy so many people seem to find my tweets and blog posts amusing, helpful, or interesting, but the Fanboy/Fangirl takes this appreciation to a whole other level. I’ve had “fans” come up to me at book events and conferences to say they love me. Not “I like your Twitter account” or “I really loved your client’s book,” but rather “OMG I love you!” Um.

Think, for a minute, how you would react if a stranger came up to you and declared their devotion. Police might get involved. Or at least a very cautious, slowly backing away. I’ve seen agent-friends ambushed in similar fashions.

I don’t respond to everyone who tweets at me. I do, however, recognize names and have developed friendly relationships with writers who have reached out to me online. Most times it’s because our personalities mesh or we have the same sense of humor, and that comes in handy if they also happen to write in a genre I represent. What never works, though, is pretending you already know me, being argumentative for the sake of attention, or responding to Every. Single. Tweet.

What’s dangerous is that otherwise sane writers have asked me if they should care more about “agent gossip” or be more familiar with editors online even if they’ve never spoken to them before. They somehow get convinced that the super enthusiastic Fanboy/Fangirl is the one doing it right simply because they’re doing it the loudest.

(An aspiring author and blogger who respects industry folk without Fangirling over them is Charlee Vale, who wrote this necessary post expanding on this concept.)

Cool Kid: The Debut Author 
Why They’re Dangerous: Their “inspiring” Twitter feed could make other writers have nervous breakdowns.

This is a tricky one because the real “danger” of The Debut Author lies in how you handle them. I love debut authors. I buy their books, support them, and have quite literally devoted my career to creating more of them. The Debut Author doesn’t always know the damage they do, and I’d wager that 99.9% of them don’t mean to cause any damage at all.

Twitter is a great community for writers as long as everything shared is taken with a grain of salt. Comparisons are inevitably made, and in the age of social media, broadcasting why your news is the best news can cause other writers to question their own accomplishments, or lack thereof. You should be 100% proud of your achievements, which is why I’m not telling The Debut Author to stop tweeting their Agent Success Stories, Deal Announcements, Film Options, or anything else positive and amazing.

What I am asking is for other writers to stop drawing comparisons. Celebrate your friends’ good news without secretly resenting them. Step away from social media and clear your head and remember that the only thing you need to focus on is what’s right for you and your career. Your agent loves you just as much as The Debut Author’s agent loves them. Your “dream editor” is out there too.

No one’s timeline is going to be the same, and success doesn’t come in one size. Your modest debut may not compare to The Debut Author’s 6-figure multi-book deal, but you have more than one book in you, and a writer’s “breakout” novel is rarely their debut. So, relax, be happy, and get offline if you need to.

(By the way, agent Carly Watters had an excellent post on this topic. Bookmark it for your own sanity!)

All of these Cool Kids have one thing in common, and that’s their ability to make writers feel less than what they are. Don’t let them convince you there’s one way to do things, and be aware that most of these Cool Kids aren’t intentionally causing harm. Embrace social media, but remember to be yourself, stay sane, and be open to new online friends who are supportive and understanding. If they start to make you feel like you should sit at a different table, then go sit somewhere else and leave them behind.