Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Discuss: Why An Agent Passes On A Book/Why This Writer Passes On A Book

Dear Literary Loves,
Well, I did my civic duty yesterday and reported for jury duty.  The panel I was assigned to waited and waited and waited.  Finally, a clerk of court arrives to tell us the defendant's case we were being assigned to has accepted a plea and we are free to go for the day; however, we must all call in each night this week to see if we are needed on another jury for the next day's wild events at the courthouse.  This explains why I'm back so early to my blog; I was sure I would get placed on a case that at least went the course of a week.  So while waiting as a potential juror I began reading a literary agent's blog about why she passes on a manuscript.  This proved interesting as I compared it to why I pass on a book or become highly disappointed in a book that I bought, but did not live up to its premise.  Here is a list of the literary agent's reasons for passing on a potential manuscript:

Agent Passes On A Manuscript Because:
1)  The writing was not all that great and the premise did not electrify her.  (This proved interesting to me in that I think what great writing is depends on who you ask; it is quite subjective).
2)  The agent likes the manuscript, but didn't fall in love with it or could not represent it to a publishing house with a passion.  (Another interesting reason since I would think it would be how passionate the author is about the work and not necessarily his/her agent.  I have met some agents who honestly, I think if Brad Pitt walked into their office, plopped himself down in front of their desk, and offered to write his memoir, would simply assign him a ghost writer and only get worked up because of the dollar signs he/she sees along with the concept, major celebrity).
3)  According to one agent 90% of stories start in the wrong place.  In other words, they take too long to get to the action or meat of the story.  (I don't quite know about this because some of the authors the agent champions bored me so badly in the first five pages there is no way I could take the next five pages much less the whole book).
4)  The book does not fit the genre that was pitched to the agent.  (Hmmm, I've seen works that could be classified in two genres and I guess it would be quite regrettable if you pitched a book as thriller and it was romantic fantasy.  Wait, does this really happen? Evidently).  I would like to say though that I have never been in any English class in which we actually classified books according to genre; however, now that I think about it, that would be an entertaining class to teach now that I've seen what it is like to be a new writer thrown to the wolves of the traditional publishing world.

Why This Writer Passes On A Book Or Is Disappointed In A Book:
1)  Vulgarity.  Honestly folks, I have not been spending the usual amounts of discretionary spending money on books lately.  One reason is I absolutely am not able to get past the prolific use of vulgarity.  It just brings me down and it might be totally the nature of the character or writer, but alas, this is not something I am ever going to recommend.  Ever. End of story.
2)  I am not able to relate to what you are writing about or your main character.  If I can't find some common ground with the main character or the writer is a highly conservative arrogant person, I am not going to bite.  Ever.  And no, getting me mad and upset will not make me buy your book.  Okay?
3)  The main character is too snarky.  Truly, this just happened to me over the weekend.  I bought a book by an author I had admired.  This was like her seventh book to be published.  She has become a successful author, but my how the voice in her books has changed.  I liked her better when she had lost her job, been evicted from her apartment, and her car just died on the expressway. Now, she is ranting and raving and talking about driving this big car or that SUV.  I was like, really dear?  Who died and appointed you Queen?!
4)  I just will not buy thriller or horror books.  I know, I know; there are some really good thriller writers.  Karin Slaughter is a good example and she lives here in Atlanta, but honestly, I did read one of her books and it scared the heebee jeebees out of me and I was reading it in the middle of the day and not while home alone on a dark rainy night.  To each their own though.
5)  The author or main character makes fun of southerners.  Now if you really want to see me flying around on a broom with my hair on fire, just try insulting southerners or slighting them in any fashion.  I will ban you from my library and any other libraries upon which I have influence.  Are We Clear?!
6)  The author's agent was rude to me as a new writer.  This is serious folks.  No lie.  Over the weekend I picked up a memoir that normally I would be interested in, but I knew who the author's literary agent is.  And she had been quite dismissive and unprofessional to me so I didn't buy the book.  Impression matters people; take note!
7)  The author has been a sour puss to me as a new writer.  Honest to goodness, swear on my cat Romeo's life, this happened recently as well.  I had a small publishing company that was ready to publish my memoir.  I was so thrilled that you would have thought I had won the 600 million Powerball lottery.  While I was filling out the publisher's author information form I noticed they wanted me to attempt to get some endorsements for the book by other authors in or near my genre.  No problem!  I looked up my top three authors, sent them a polite query, and it must have been a full moon the previous night.  My absolute, very favorite author sent back a snarky email saying she didn't do endorsements for books by small publishers!  And then she had the audacity to suggest that parts of my memoir could not possibly be true!  I gasped loudly and wondered who took a whizz in her cornflakes this morning?!  I was so utterly repulsed that I promptly took every book I had that she had written and donated them to a used bookstore.  Seriously! The other two authors did not even bother to respond to my query.  When did it become okay to be such an ass to one of your fellow sisters in writing my dear?  I never buy any of her books and if I see one displayed, I promptly put another writer's work in front of her book.  Touche, my dear, Touche.

Until Next Time Literary Loves!  Carry On!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Why Barnes and Noble Needs An Overhaul/Makeover

Dear Literary Loves,
Well loves, if you are not in the publishing trenches on a day to day basis like I am, you may not have heard that storm clouds are on the horizon for retailer Barnes & Noble.  The CEO has resigned and numerous vice presidents, editors, etc. are leaving it appears.  Does this shock me?  No.  I was shocked when Borders died a slow death and all the stores in my area disappeared.  That was a great bookstore and they always had someone to help you no matter the time of day.  I was shocked when all the Blockbuster stores also died a slow death and all the stores in my area disappeared five years ago.  Barnes & Noble needs to upgrade, reboot, and bring in new blood.  Here's why I have been dissatisfied with my nearest and dearest local bookstore in recent days:

1)  This is a bookstore not a university library folks.  Honestly, the last time I attempted to go buy books at my local Barnes & Noble, I couldn't believe the number of students (elementary to college age) that were congregating there.  And they are not quiet about it either.  I wanted to peruse several books before I purchased them, but, alas, I could not find an available chair in which to seat myself.  Why?  Because we have teenagers and college students setting up camp there on a daily basis in order to study or have a group study.  No one that I saw was buying books.  They were just there with their backpacks, smart phones, ipods, etc. just doing their thing.  I'm thinking to myself, what the hell happened to the school library or the university library folks?!  As far as I know, they still exist and that's where I did my studying.  You can't walk around with coffee, but hey, you can't have everything!  Where are paying customers supposed to go?  To the kiddie department? I don't think so.

2)  Barnes and Noble should have each store designed such that you absolutely cannot utilize a cell phone while in the store.  I'm serious!  It's absolutely mind-boggling how many people just casually answer their phone in a book store and carry on with their nearest and dearest while the rest of us are trying to shop.  Please!  Let it go to voice mail!  Talk about not being able to concentrate; one guy in the store was conducting a job interview on his smart phone while seated in the magazine section of a Barnes and Noble store.  Really?!  Have we lost our minds?! 

3)  Okay, I am not jumping up and down about the e-book revolution either and it is eating in to profits at Barnes and Noble, of this I am sure.  I was trained as an English teacher so I'm old school in the fact that I like and prefer the feel of a book in my hand.  I like turning the actual pages, reading the synopsis on the back of a book, feeling better about the economy when I see how much the Canadians are having to pay for the same book, and yes, I like the paper smell of a freshly printed book.  I have to say that I don't own a tablet or Nook.  Honestly, reading on one of those gives me a major tension headache.  And take note Barnes and Noble marketing departments, I don't want to be accosted by a sales person trying to sell me a Nook each time I walk in the store for crying out loud!

4)  I'm not sure that Barnes and Noble really needs a massive section of the store devoted to compact discs either.  I'm probably the only one left of my generation that still utilizes those and likes them.  I think the wave of the future is going to be downloading music onto devices folks so that portion of each store needs to be minimized.  And guess what that means?!  More space!  So here's what you do with the additional space:  Build a speaking platform with a stage and theater seating.  Bear with me now, I can tell you are rolling your eyes at this point.  Have authors attend meet and greets at your local Barnes & Noble.  Allow authors to discuss their books, talk about the craft of writing, and even conduct a few seminars on what it's like to be an author and how to go about it!  Lord knows I could have used one of those seminars before I started attempting to get published, but it never totally bothers me if I have to learn the hard way too.  Just as long as I get there eventually.

5)  I understand the need for journals and diary books.  Trust me, you could never have made it through one of my literature courses without having about ten of those wonderful objects, but hey, what about address books?  I swear I spent a half hour trying to locate an address book at Barnes and Noble only to find one that was the size of a pack of cigarettes with barely any room for writing a name much less address, phone, email, fax, Web site, etc. etc.  Come on now!  Spruce this section of the store up a bit more!  And hey, if you want people to like writing, why not have available the feathered pens of yesterday?!  Seriously, if you want people to adore the craft, give them intriguing gizmos!  Harry Potter had a wand; I vote for long, feather pens!  And where in heaven's name are the stickers?!  I realize I am no longer five years of age, but hey!  Some of us like to properly mail a letter the old fashioned way and have it look presentable when it arrives! 

 7)  Finally, could we at least have enough staff in each Barnes and Noble store to accomodate those of us that are not there to socialize, but to actually find a book or research a medical problem?  I realize overhead is expensive, but it is worth it so people do not walk around appearing like space cadets.  Mind you, I have helped a few lost souls roaming Barnes and Noble stores.  And is it too much to ask for Barnes and Noble employees to know how to renew my Barnes and Noble membership card?  Honestly, last month I went to my local store, walked up to the counter, presented my membership card along with the renewal fee, and the clerk said she had no idea how to complete that transaction!  Excuse me?  She then proceeded to tell me that she only knew how to open new membership accounts and had not been trained how to renew a customer's membership card.  I was flabbergasted, shocked, ticked off, and finally, I just gave up and called the corporate headquarters.  The gentleman I spoke with there was absolutely speechless.  He apologized profusely and said he had never heard of such.  Fortunately, after my verbal ranting and raving, my membership card was renewed and I received fifty dollars in store coupons in the mail the very next week.  That's customer service folks, so take NOTES!

Until next time book lovers and PLEASE NOTE THAT I HAVE BEEN ASSIGNED JURY DUTY THE WEEK OF JULY 22ND AND I WILL BE OFFLINE WHILE DOING MY CIVIC DUTY NEXT WEEK!  Not to fear though, I'll be back in a jiffy!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Why This Generation Xer Is NOT Buying Books

Dear Literary Loves,
Well, my brother always says I write my best when I write unfiltered so here goes.  I just want acquisition editors, publicists, literary agents, and sales departments to know why your profits are down and tomorrow is not looking good either.  Here's the thing:  You are not publishing quality material.  This Generation Xer buys the most books from the memoir genre and I haven't bought half of the number I would normally purchase.  I don't purchase celebrity memoirs because those folks make too much money anyway.  I read recently (because it's in my latest book proposal) that female Generation Xers buy the most books of the entire reading population.  And obviously we are not happy with the selection on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.  Profits are down, sales figures are down from where they were this time last year, and God save Barnes & Noble from bankruptcy or having to sell the whole kit n'kaboodle because really folks, it's not their fault.  And here is why I am not buying any books currently on the market in the memoir genre:

1)  I'm tired of dating memoirs; if I want a really good romance I will go find the Harlequin section. Otherwise, I could care less about the Generation Y's dating exploits.  I'm over the thirty days of dating and the writing about your adventures of online dating.  This is trendy stuff folks. 

2)  If I see another weight loss memoir I may drive myself straight to Burger King and order an extra large combo meal.  Didn't you know that deprivation is the root of all evil?  Well, I am here to tell you that every now and again, you should reward yourself.  Food is not the enemy.  It's a matter of self-control; calories in versus calories out or at least that's what I learned in high school health class.

3)  I am so not interested in kitchen meltdowns or foodie memoirs.  I picked up one to peruse at Barnes & Noble hoping for the best and could not get through the first five pages.  Didn't your literary agent tell you that it's all about the first ten pages?  You've got to grab me from the beginning! And frankly, I think some of you should just order your Thanksgiving meals from The Honey Baked Ham store for crying out loud.  Stop stressing about it.  The holidays will be much happier, trust me on this.

4)  I actually get ticked off when I see a memoir about someone from Boston or New York that moves from the big city to the country only to discover:  it's not a bed of roses!  You can't find a Bloomingdale's?!  You've got to get your hands dirty?!  You can't wear your five inch heels without sinking in the mud...........well, damn, go cry a river in someone else's yard not mine.  I grew up on a farm.  Some of you could use a decade on a farm just to get over your pretentious selves.  People might like you more too.  Bloom Where You Are Planted!

5)  Publishing houses who display memoirs from 2006 as the best memoir yet.  Could you join us in 2013 folks?  We're waiting, but we are not patient so get with the program or get out of the business. Are you really so certain that you're publishing what we Generation Xers care about?  Let's be real now?!

6)  Publishing houses with rude editorial departments.  I'm serious.  As a new author I have had it up to my almost detached retinas with no responses to emails; it's just rude people.  And if you think I am going to help your bottom line when you've been treating new writers/debut authors like dirt, think twice.  I review memoirs, I have writer friends, book clubs are right up my alley, and hell, I'm a former English teacher!  I've seen enough rude, juvenile behavior to last me nine lifetimes!  And courtesy doesn't cost a dime does it?!  Imagine that!

What Do I Rcommend For This Crisis:  GO DO YOUR HOMEWORK!  Find a new author like myself with a darn good yarn and an eccentric family, look for stories that are quality not vulgarity, find manuscripts that grab you from the first ten pages, and for heaven's sake, if you work in publishing, be a publishing mentor, not a jerk. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Oh Literary Agent, Oh Literary Agent, Where Art Thou?

So my question is:  Is there a perfect literary agent for every author?  This has become a vexing question for me recently.  I've spoken with a lot of writers and authors recently.  Some of the writers who have definitely queried more literary agents than me are throwing in the towel and going straight to self-publishing.  I thought about that, but my memoir experiences are just too pressing for our current times for me to just take the easy way out and hire a  vanity publisher.  Plus, I've gotten good feedback from some really high profile editors so I know I have something that hooks people.  If you actually met my family in person you would definitely be enthralled.  One author who has published six books contacted me recently.  He has been through three agents in his career.  "Did you have a meaningful relationship with any of the agents?", I asked.  "No", he said, "it's all basically about the bottom line for an agent".  Joy.  There's inspiration for a potential debut author. 
A writer just today informed our writing community that she had queried an agent over eleven months ago.  The agent asked for the full manuscript.  The writer sent it promptly.  After four months passed the writer sent the agent an email regarding an update..........the agent said she had had health problems and was still reading.  So the writer waited another four months and asked for an update once again.  No response.  Then right out of the blue, eleven months after the writer sent the full manuscript, the agent sent a one paragraph rejection.  Obviously, she was furious.  I was speechless. 
This morning I was browsing blogs where literary agents had commented on the memoir genre.  I   found one agent who is obsessed with memoir, so much so that she reads most of them when they are first published.  She will accept memoir queries, but I later learned that she will not take on a memoir if other literary agents have seen it.  Wait?  What?  I'm expecting the whole world to see the memoir sooner or later so I decided against querying this agent.  For heaven's sakes, when did this whole querying process become a spy mission for crying out loud?  I never approached the process as a Navy Seal Team Six mission.
Next, I located a blog post about an agent lamenting the fact that she could not find fresh, slice of life memoirs.  Okay. She says she does not care what the memoir subject matter is, the voice and humor must draw her in or she rejects the manuscript.  "Voice" in writing is a very subjective thing.  Let me tell you that what draws this literary agent's eye and what draws my eye in terms of memoir writing are polar opposites.  I compared her top five memoir list to mine and we do not have any shared likes.  Scratch that agent off the query list as well.  This literary agent exploration has been stressful and exhausting.  My husband is ready to be my agent.  He says he can take the book and run with it seeing as how I have already made connections with potential editors.  There is an agent out there that comes from my neck of the woods, recognizes the significance of my memoir experience, and how I uniquely write about that experience right??!  Well, where are you?  Please be in touch soon dear agent because I'm not getting any younger.  Also, I have jury duty coming up soon so please, please be in touch so I'm not stewing over the lack of quality literary agents while I am waiting to discover if I am being selected as a potential jury member.  Literary agent, literary agent, where art thou?!!!