April 21st, 2009

Agents speak – sometimes off the record

Poets & Writers magazine held a roundtable with four agents. What do they wish they saw more? What leads to an automatic turndown? Some of the best bits came when they were allowed to speak off the record, as Publishers Lunch pointed out.

“Asked to list "some overrated publishers, in your opinion," the agents offer: Little Random ("I think the reputation they built in the era before we came into the industry has gone out the window in the past five years"); Spiegel & Grau ("They just care about the celebrity-type books"); Scribner ("I just can't think of anything of theirs that I've admired in a long time.... I can't figure out why that is because, you know, it's Nan Graham and that shouldn't be the case.); and Riverhead ("the books that have done well for Riverhead lately were under contract already").

“Votes for "underrated" houses include Algonquin ("They know the right amount to pay but they don't overpay. And they do great publicity.") and Norton ("They're an employee-owned company and everybody is invested in what goes on").”

And here’s another interesting exchange, on the record:

What are some of the common mistakes you see in the submission process?
STEINBERG: Don't say, "If you don't like this novel, I have many other I could show you." Don't say, "This will make a great movie, too." Don't do that fake thing where you pretend you know all about the stuff I've agented. It's funny because I think that's a piece of advice that writers always gets—research the agent and talk about the other work they've sold. But it always comes off as very false to me unless you've really read something I've sold. And I don't want you to waste your time reading something of mine just to write a query letter.

STEIN: I would say to go the other way around. Write to agents whose books you're actually in love with.

STEINBERG: But what if those agents pass and you still want an agent?

STEIN: Then you should read more books. [Laughter.]
Read more here.

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Can you help?

This is Bridget. Three things happened to Bridget in February:
1. She got an agent for her young adult novel.
2. She got married.
3. She found out she has Stage Four colon cancer.

I met Bridget a year ago at an Oregon SWCBI event. She had just moved to Portland from Wisconsin, where she was a teen librarian. She is a beautiful person, inside and out. When she found out she had an agent, she was just glowing. A few days later she went to a naturopath for headaches and vision problems. She ended up in the ER – and learned very quickly that she had cancer. Big, bad cancer.

As Bridget says in her blog, “I would like to add in here that I am a super super healthy non-smoking, non-drinking, carcinogen avoiding young vegetarian who wears sunscreen every day. I looked at the list of risk factors for colon cancer and it turn out that I don’t even have one. Not one risk factor. So that was a surprise. Then Barrett and I decided to get married. He proposed on my hospital bed, it was terribly romantic and we were married by the hospital chaplain the first possible moment we could be.”

But now Bridget is dealing with an ugly reality that is all too common in America today. Even when you have insurance, it doesn’t cover everything. Medscape reports, “The cost of treating colorectal cancer has skyrocketed over the past five years and the costs of new agents and regimens have risen 340-fold.”

Here’s how you can help. A group of writers who have been impressed with Bridget’s friendliness and what can only be described as her radiant joy (even now) has banded together to help Bridget with the costs she faces.

One of the activities will be an online auction. If you are an artist, do you have a piece of art you could donate? If you are an author, could you donate a signed copy of your book? Or even a critique of the first 10 or 20 pages of someone’s work in progress? Do you have anything else you could contribute?

If so, please email Jone MacCulloch macrush53@yahoo.com.

If you would like to learn more about Bridget, this is her Web site. You can also friend her on Facebook, which has pictures of her two weddings (one just before she went into surgery, the other when she was released from the hospital. A third one is planned.)

I’m donating some signed books and a critique. I promise if you can give something, you will receive good karma!

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Walking book clubs

A book store owner is trying a new kind of book club – one that walks during meetings. “Unlike many book clubs in which a book is assigned and then everyone comes prepared to analyze it, McFarland said Literary Walking Companions will allow participants to chat about whatever books, authors, plot lines, characters or writing styles they're in the mood to discuss.”

I don’t know - I kind of like all the little nibbles and the wine. Read more here.

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