Friday, February 23, 2007

Breaking Into Anthologies

I've been reading lots of anthologies of non-fiction essays, including Twentysomething Essays, Death by Pad Thai, and Expat. Some of the essays are by established writers and some are from unknowns, but they're all great to read. Do you think you need to be agented to find these kinds of opportunities? How do other writers do it? Do they have an unpublished essay lying around or do they get asked to write one specifically for the anthology?

Funny, I just bought The Bitch In the House, so your question was timely. That said, I don't have the slightest idea. So...I turned to my fabulous and wise agent, who had this to say.

"A lot of times, the 'editor' of the anthology will send out a mass email, asking authors, usually published as it helps the chances for the book to be sold, for a commitment, a paragraph idea for how they would spin the anthology’s topic, and a bio. So, it certainly helps to be published in that topic and to be enmeshed in that world of writers.

I often have editors come to me and ask me if I have any authors who might be right for a story on X…and then I forward it on…but it’s not something I commission. It’s little money but a great way to build your platform.

I guess if the author is unpublished, a way to throw her hat in the ring would be to contact the editor of a previous anthology, via a fan letter (for example, Sally Wofford Girand has now worked on two) and get her name on editor's radar."

Oh, my agent, she's so brilliant!

Anyone out there ever contributed to an anthology? If so, how did it happen?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Cool News of the Week and Switching Out Agents

Big news!! Redbook, which has a circulation of nearly three million and up to about nine million eyeballs (meaning, that's how many people actually read the magazine each month), just selected The Department of Lost and Found as its May Book Club Pick of the Month!!!!!! I am beside myself with excitement. They'll print an excerpt of the book in the magazine and conduct a Q/A with me on their website. This is such a thrill and an honor, and my whole team at Harper is elated. So I had to share! Okay, down to business:

Question of the day: Allison, is it OK to look for an agent while you're already under contract? Or should you fire Agent A first, and then look for Agent B?

Ooh, juicy question. And, depending on whom you ask, one with more than one answer.

Most agents, including Miss Snark, will tell you that you're obligated to let Agent A know that you're movin' on before setting out on a hunt for Agent B. Fair play, and all of that. Not to mention that you do run into the problem that Agent B might know Agent A, and might know that you're repped by Agent A, in which case, you'll be looking for Agent C, D, or E.

That said, it's terrifying to leave a sure thing for an unknown, so I do think that a lot of repped writers very quietly begin their agent hunt before giving notice. Now. I'm not entirely sure how you word this in your query letter, and perhaps some wise readers can suggest how they would go about this. Or if you should go about this at all. In my case, Agent A and I mutually decided to part ways, so I never had an overlap. But if she had dragged out the situation much longer, it's entirely possible that I might have jumped on the agent go-around before being officially released.

The bottom line is that this is a really sticky situation. So out this person out. What would you do?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

My Agent, The Marketer

Got this question in reference to my post yesterday...wanted to clarify: What do you mean by create a marketing campaign for it? Do you have to work with your agent to create a special campaign for the book when you go to a publisher?

No, you don't have to create a special campaign, but an agent's job extends beyond just calling up editors and saying, "Hey, I'm sending this manuscript over to you for review." Or I should say, a good agent's job.

Much like you craft and finesse the perfect pitch letter to land an agent, so too will an agent craft a letter/pitch about your book to send to editors. (Even if this is an email or something more casual.) The agent will look for a way to set your book apart from all of the riff-raff that the editor is also receiving - she'll hone the hook of the book, find good comparisons (for example, as mentioned last week, my agent pitched my book as a Good Grief meets The True and Outstanding Adventures of the Hunt Sisters) and sell the book to the editor. Not literally, though she might well do that too, but more figuratively - she'll make your book sound so tempting that the editor would rather receive the manuscript than a dozen chocolate cupcakes.

I really think this is a critical difference between an adequate agent and a great one: the great ones know how to get editors salivating, and part of any good sell is the packaging and marketing. So, in essence, great agents are also stellar marketers. That's what I meant by that comment.

Make sense? Those of you who are agented, do you agree?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

From Agent To Sale?

I just got an agent for my novel. Hurrah! I wanted to see if you knew what my odds were of now making a sale to a publishing house. I searched online but couldn't find anything concrete.

First of all, congrats on landing an agent! Hurrah, indeed.

Second of all, you couldn't find any reliable stats because there aren't any. And even if there were, these stats would have no bearing on whether or not your book would sell. (Sorry!) There are two reasons that a book sells: if it's good or if it meets a particular house's need at the time (or some combination of the two). And if your book isn't one of the above, then it doesn't matter if 99% of all agented books sell, yours won't.

Ok, now. I didn't at ALL mean that yours isn't good! I was simply pointing out that statistics are entirely unhelpful when it comes to situations like this. If your book is kick-ass and timely, then it probably has a better than 50% chance of selling...this is just a safe stat that I'm pulling out of my head. Unfortunately, however, getting an agent isn't a slam-dunk on the way to a book deal. And how do I know? (Lest you think I'm just being overdramatic.) Because my first (agented) book DIDN'T SELL! Came veeeeeeeery close, but alas, nada.

Here's the thing though: there's really not a whole hell of a lot you can do right now about the situation. You wrote what you (and your agent) consider to be a great book. That's ALL you can do. Now, it's up to your agent to pinpoint the best editors and put together the best marketing campaign for it, and then, let that baby fly. Here's to hoping that an editor catches it!

Good luck!

Monday, February 19, 2007

By George, I Think I've Got It! (My Heroine, That Is)

Hey fellow bloggers -

If you're a regular blogger and reach the mommy-demo (Manic Mom, I'm talking to you!), check out my friend,
Melanie Hauser's blog. She's doing a give-away to correspond with her newest book release, Super Mom Saves the World, and along with a free book, you'll get a free Swiffer! What's not to love?

Okay, so how did you guys do this week with your WIPs? Here's where I came out:

First of all, I am completely and totally overwhelmingly busy, so let me offer that caveat first. :) Promotional stuff for TDLF is taking up a lot more time than I imagined, which isn't a bad thing because, after all, it means that there IS promotional stuff happening, but it also eats into my writing time. Which is why, er, I suppose that I should have listened to the gajillions of people who told me to write my second book as soon as my first one sold...rather than waiting until three months before it's released. Oops.

BUT. Some very good things happened. This is what I'm currently doing: I have 40k words already written. But I've changed some fundamental parts of the plot and characteristics in my heroine, such that a decent part of these 40k words need to be overhauled. So right now, I'm making my way through these pages - I got up to page 30 this week, and my goal (remember I talked about how important it is to set concrete goals) is to have revised ALL 150 or so pages that I've written by the end of March, when I head to Mexico for vacation. (Yahoo!) I actually think I'll finish this MUCH earlier, but you never know, so this is a reasonable, attainable goal. (Which is another critical factor in finding success - setting realistic goal rather than "I'm going to lose 20 pounds in a month" goals.)

More important than the actual 30 pages of revisions is the fact that I finally started to get a real feel for my heroine - get inside of her head and fully understand what motivates her, why she is how she is, and how this will affect her trajectory for the rest of her journey in the book. How, you might ask, did I write 150 pages without fully getting her? Well, I sort of equate it to the difference between being a good actor - someone who can cry on cue but never quite convince the audience that she's actually mourning - and a great actor - someone who full inhabits the role to the point where you really believe that she's experiencing the life of the character she's playing (hello, Kate Winslet!). And this is what I was doing with my heroine: I was writing her in such a way that she was believable, but fully inhabitable. And that's because I didn't inhabit her myself. But now, we've clicked, and I'm thinking about her and her story and where it will go nearly all the time. It even woke me up last night, and that's saying a lot from a seriously sleep-deprived me.

Okay, so that's where I'm at. How about you? Did I make any sense? Can you tell when someone is smiling for the camera and smiling because she really believes the reasons behind her smile? (Figuratively speaking.)