Monday, December 19, 2005

Am I Scrooge?

Am I Scrooge? My fiancĂ© is starting to get a bit worried, reading my posts of the past few days. Well, here’s some news to warm your heart: Tonight, The 700 Club, will be running a story on Andrew Bateson, the young boy featured in Mark Patinkin’s book, UP AND RUNNING. The link to read about the segment is here: http://www.cbn.com/700club/features/Amazing/Andrew_Bateson121905.asp. If you aren’t sure where you can watch The 700 Club, the link to find your local station is here: http://www.cbn.com/700club/ShowInfo/Schedule/localtvlistings.asp. Now, yes, I do know this is all tied into CBN and Pat Robertson and, no, I’m not a fan of the guy, so please don’t go off on me for promoting him here. But I am a fan of Mark Patinkin and Andrew Bateson and do believe that this should be a segment worth watching. I hope you will, and I hope you’ll buy the book, too. Hey, it would make a great Xmas gift!

Z

Sunday, December 18, 2005

The word you're looking for is _farkakt._

As much as anyone, I think publishing is a desperately inefficient system, most probably because it is often not nearly a profitable-enough system wherein publishers can invest in the kind of training and systems required to make it more efficient. After all, I’d like to think that it’s inefficiency that causes two divisions of a major publisher to constantly commit breaches of contract on issues like cover copy approval and cover consultation, and not arrogance (“What are they gonna do? Sue?”) or incompetence. Or that causes the subsidiary rights department of a major toy/publishing company to note in its records that the royalty statement wasn’t received from the Spanish publisher, but then not go ask the Spanish publisher where it is.

As a good friend of mine, another literary agent who has withdrawn from the business, once said, “the problem with publishing is that it’s not really scalable.” You can’t really mass-produce anything in publishing. I can invent the Mach 3 Razor once and sell the same design for ten years. But you can’t do that in publishing. Every single book is its own product. Every single book requires its own special treatment. Gilette can spend a billion dollars designing one razor, then sell it year, after year. Publishing creates hundreds (thousands?) of new products every month and each one needs its own marketing and promotion. Not an easy task.

Publishing, it occurs to me, is like teaching schoolchildren, and it’s about as defective as the educational system. Every book has its own special needs, its own parent(s), its own success or failure. Sure you can put thirty kids in the same room and try to teach them the same thing. Or you can put publish thirty books in the same month and try to get the same performance out of each one. You will succeed in neither case. The closest the publishing industry has come is genre romance and genre westerns, but in a country of 260 million, we’re talking about net sales of perhaps 10,000 books per month in certain romance or western slots. This is not “mass” publishing. It’s micro-publishing. I suspect if you took a class of Harvard MBA students and asked them to evaluate the trade publishing industry, they’d say it’s a terrible idea. The economies of scale suck. The overhead is too high. The royalty structure too generous. Academic and professional publishing are a little better. Authors get paid royalties on net income; schools use the same textbooks year after year, thus ensuring continuing sales, if not expanding markets. But the razor business it ain’t.

According to Publishers Marketplace, Random House CEO Peter Olson, in his year-end letter, said, “our lowest-ever overall return percentage rate.” (Spokesman Stuart Applebaum says they aren’t ready to announce the returns number, but says “We're beyond the Holy Grail of under 30 percent.”) Wow! That means that only thirty of every one hundred books shipped was returned to the publisher. If you were selling cars and thirty of every one hundred was sent back, how quickly would you go out of business? If you were selling coats and thirty of every one hundred came back, would you still do business with that designer? And yet that the fact that only thirty of every one hundred books is being returned to Random House is being trumpeted as a success on the order of finding the Holy Grail. Does that make sense?

My grandfather, a drygoods peddler who started working around the age of fifteen and stopped, well, the day he died, had a word for a business like publishing: farkakt.


At a mystery writers' conference, I asked a room of over more than one-hundred people how many had bought a mystery in the last month. Only a handful of people raised their hands. If mystery writers aren't buying mystery books, how can they hope to find someone to publish their own?

As we go into the final stretch of gift buying for Xmas and Hanukkah, I have two words for authors hoping to get published: Buy Books! Because if authors themselves aren't buying books, who do they think is?

Z

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I read it online. It MUST be true!

Often I worry if authors are not their own worst enemies. By standing around on virtual street corners chanting, “Our way or no way!” are they hurting their chances of finding success in the publishing world? By filling up websites with rumors or even the experiences of one or two authors and putting labels on agents, are they helping or hurting? If one agent who keeps calling me gets her way, some of these websites are going to get sued sooner or later. She's convinced they are engaged in restraint of trade, libel or slander, which could make for an interesting lawsuit if it ever comes about.

One of these sites that posts "recommendatons" and “warnings” about agents actually has me listed twice, which I've found very confusing. Now, the creator of this site and I have had some interesting conversations over the years and he regularly reads and comments on the another site where I answer questions. On his site, there are two postings about me. If you look under the letter “A,” you’ll find this:

“Andrew Zack: $ a literary agent (Literary, Adult) with The Zack Company. Editor's note: Mr. Zack gives excellent advice in discussions on the Internet. He's well worth listening to.” [emphasis his]

If you look under the letter “Z,” you’ll find this:

Zack Company, The (formerly The Andrew Zack Literary Agency): $ Optional fees. Not recommended. a literary agency.”

Confusing, no?

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t want you to think I’m anti-author or anti-editor. I’m not. Heck, I’m not even anti-websites-that-publish-information-about-agents. But you have got to get that information right! There should be a solid journalistic approach to this research. And I don’t mean journalism the way CBS News reported on George Bush’s days in the Air National Guard. I mean solid, fact-checked journalism that is objective. The editor in question is personally opposed to any circumstance, even an optional service, where the author pays the agent beyond commission on a sale, so he labels me “not recommended.” That’s not objective, that’s subjective. But he likes what I have to say on another site, so he says I’m “well worth listening to.” Gee, why do I suddenly feel confused? Am I recommended or am I not? Could I be recommended as worth listening to, but then not recommended as an agent? Besides me, how many other agents are being praised and criticized simultaneously?

And let’s not even get started on the bulletin boards themselves. Didn’t these authors go to high school? Did they miss the 7th Heaven episode on the evils of rumors? Do they not understand that someone posting anonymously on a website about Mary Sue being a slut may not be the best resource? I hear she did three guys in one night! She must have the clap for sure!

For every agent, you will certainly find at least one author who thinks poorly of him or her. For every guy there’s a woman who thinks he’s a jerk. For every woman, there’s a guy who thinks she’s a witch. That’s life. Form your own judgments, please. Do your own due diligence. Look at what agents have to say for themselves, read their agency agreements, and if you really want to know what they are like as an agent, look at who they represent. In this day and age, it's not that hard to locate an author. Many writers' organizations publish directories of their members and list their agents. How hard would it really be to find someone actually represented by the agent you're researching?


Then again, you might not even have to ask. There's little that holds an author to agent. If an agent isn't doing a good job, or isn't acting in a completely kosher manner, it's easy enough to say good-bye. So the very fact that an author whose work you admire is represented by an agent can probably be taken as a vote of confidence, I feel.

They say you can judge a man by the company he keeps. Can't you also just an agent by the authors he keeps? Just a thought....

Z

Friday, December 16, 2005

Here’s what I want you to get yourself for the holidays

Several years ago, I picked up the latest hardcover by an author whose first several books I had acquired and/or edited. I was surprised to find out that he was still thanking me in the acknowledgments, even though I’d had nothing to do with that book, or any of his prior two or three before that. I called him up to say how nice that was and he said, “Hey, you taught me how to write a thriller.” And that’s probably true. In fact, the reality is that I made him throw out the first one hundred pages of his first novel and then gave him a page or two on what should actually happen in those first hundred pages. Subsequently, I took him through three or four drafts of each of the next four or five books. Now I love this guy. He’s great. But that’s not editing. That’s taking an author by the nose and pulling until he finds his way to a finished manuscript. And even after all those drafts, I would still extensively line-edit his work.

Should I have been doing that? Or should I have been spending my time looking for authors who needed less work? In today’s publishing environment, I can say that the answer would certainly be, No, you should not be doing that and, Yes, you should be looking for projects that can get out the door and into the sales pipeline faster.

And, as an agent, that has to be my approach also. In my year-end email to my clients, I just wrote this:

One of the very real frustrations of the last year has been current clients submitting material that’s just not ready to be shown. Whether it’s because the material needs rewriting or simply reformatting, I can’t emphasize how much it slows down the process when something comes in not ready to go out immediately. Every client receives manuscript preparation guidelines when they sign on with my firm. I believe nearly every client is writing in Microsoft Word. I cannot emphasize strongly enough that following those guidelines and using the spelling- and grammar-checking functions in your software will vastly speed up the process of getting your manuscripts or proposals out to publishers. Imagine my frustration when I open up a file on my computer and Microsoft Word flags several misspellings. How can that be? Or imagine my reaction when I open up a file and find the wrong margins, words in italics instead of underlined, or formatting that clearly does not follow THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE?

Some authors seem to believe that typos and formatting don’t really matter. After all, they will get fixed during the editorial process, they seem to think. But in reality, those typos and style errors lead agents and editors to believe that representing or publishing a book will be more work. If I know how to spell- or grammar-check a file, then surely any author should also, right? If I know to look up the right way to punctuate or format something in CHICAGO, then an author should also, right?

I am attaching a PDF file with the standard MS preparation tips, so that you can have a copy handy. I also strongly recommend that every author ask for a copy of THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE this Xmas or Hanukkah and give it a read. It’s highly educational and an invaluable resource for any writer.

And that goes for all of you out there. Read THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE. Read THE ELEMENTS OF STYLE. Don’t just buy them and leave them on your shelf. Use the software you have and use it correctly. Every time I see an author using spaces instead of tabs or tabs instead of centering commands, I think, This author is a computer illiterate who will forever torment me with manuscripts and proposals that will need reformatting. That does not make me want to represent them.

In the end, it is the substance that matters, but presentation counts. They say you only get one chance to make a first impression. Putting together a sharp manuscript or proposal is definitely a good start.

Z

A different kind of spiritual experience...

As Christmas and Hanukkah approach, I’m pleased to share with you a guest blog that reminds us that there are other forms of spirituality. Shawn Rost-Howen, author of the novel MEDICINE MAN (currently on submission), has always impressed me with her writing. This blog is no exception....

Z
___________________________________

There is a road I like to drive. It’s a smooth road, well maintained, with properly banked curves and not traveled much. I’m a car enthusiast and this road, located in the buffer zone between the army base and the rural town I live near, is the perfect place to test car and driver.

Once, I would have sought such a place on horseback, but these days my purple Ford Mustang is a good replacement—not quite the same exhilaration, or challenge, but in its own way just as therapeutic. The thrill of driving around the curves at past the posted limit to zoom up the hills and glide down the other side is hard to match. Recently, as I sped through my favorite low water crossing, a huge black looking bird flew out of the scrub on the edge of the road right in front of the car.

I hit the clutch and brake at the same time and locked my hands on the wheel—the Mustang skidded sideways—I was sure I’d hit the bird. Muttering under my breath and cursing out loud about dumb vultures, (there are a lot of those critters out there, what other huge bird could it have been?)—I got out of the car and walked to the front to see how much damage was done to the car—and hoped I wouldn’t have to finish the bird.

A loud screech followed by a flash of wings greeted me from the scrub next to the road. A huge golden eagle flew over the road so close that I ducked, thinking it intended to attack me. From my place squatting on the road I watched as it zoomed upward and then floated on the air streams.

"Well, Brother Eagle, perhaps it is a day to drive slow," I said to the bird now circling above me.

Back in the car I drove in a low gear watching Brother Eagle, male just seemed right about this majestic bird. At a T intersection that I normally turned right on, the bird flew left. I went left. Pigeons followed roadways—did eagles? I wished I’d brought my camera—memories would have to do.

The terrain in the area is rough, semi-desert, covered in low growing cedar, mesquite, and live oak—rocks and boulders cover the ground with clumps of buffalo grass filling in the gaps. The land itself is a study in scrub-covered buttes and low hills. The land looks inviting to hike, it’s not, rattlesnakes and scorpions like it here and I’m not a big fan of tarantulas either. But, when Brother Eagle winged his way up one of the low hills, I pulled over.

With the scrub and grass winter-dead I spotted a deer trail leading to the hill and up it. Grabbing my water bottle and my notebook and pens (what writer doesn’t have these everywhere—the note books and pens anyway—the water is a must in this area, even in winter) I made my way across the ground—it was too chilly for snakes and such. I hoped.

About two thirds the way up the hill several rocks sat in the trail itself, the deer path went around it on both sides. The rocks made a good seat. I sat there and watched the eagle until it flew off—too far away to see any longer. I rested on the rocks, taking in the cool breeze and pondering Brother Eagle’s visit.


The Ancestors would have thought him a sign, a messenger—they would have considered it an honor to have such a bird come to them. I scribbled thoughts in my notebook. What did he want to tell me? I was working on book three in a series about a Native American man who travels to the past. Maybe Brother Eagle simply wanted to be included in the tale. What would he say to my main character—two-thousand years in the past, to save the future?

A slight movement caught my attention and I turned to look at the path I’d just struggled up. If I could have become one with the rock I sat on, I would have.

Standing on the trail, a cougar stared back at me. Most people’s first instinct is to run—not a good idea. Cougar, as do all cats, likes to chase and play—I didn’t want to be Cougar’s toy. I sat and stared at Cougar. Cougar stared back.


Eye contact doesn’t matter as long as you don’t move. My nose itched. Something crawled up my pants leg. The fingers holding my pen began to cramp. The rock that moments before made a comfortable seat now grew sharp edges making me want to shift positions.

The wind blew. Grit got in my eyes. I blinked, then forced my eyes to stay open. Even domestic kittens will bat at your eyes if you blink at them.


How ironic that I lived with a Bobcat and an Ocelot and here I was about to become a cougar’s breakfast. I could see the headlines, Indian Woman Who Works with Non-Domestic Cat Rescue Eaten by Cougar.

Cougar sat down.

Great. We were going to play the waiting game. How long would the big cat sit there and wait for me to move? My house cats will sit for hours waiting on Mr. Mouse to come out of the pantry—and now I needed to take a leak.

Brother Eagle chose that moment to return—he dove out of the sky and almost hit me. I tumbled off my rock perch and curled into a ball, clasping my hands to the back of my neck— waiting for the burn of cougar teeth and claws.

Cougar mewed.

I peered at the big cat from under my elbow.

Cougar purred.

What in the world?

I slowly unwound from my fetal ball.

Cougar stood within touching distance. Her mouth opened and she yawned as if bored with me and the entire game. She turned her long thick tail to me and wandered back down the trail.

Such an encounter is not taken lightly. I’m still evaluating the meaning of it—one thing is for certain, it came at a time of great change for me and I needed direction—reassurances, things I came away from the meeting with. Unlike the main character in my currently available novel, MEDICINE MAN, I don’t doubt the reality of the experience or the spiritual guidance of the ancestors.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Yes, you too can be an Editor!

“Your book has the wrong cover on Amazon? There are no copies at your local Barnes & Noble? Let me send an email to Sales about that.” Editors know little about the sales process (as an editor at the Berkley Publishing Group, I was instructed to never quote a number in a conversation with Sales unless I had that number on a piece of paper given to me by Sales). Editors know little, if anything, about production. When I was an editorial assistant, a set of galleys came back looking like hell. I told my boss that it was a driver issue with the laser printer they'd run the galleys from. He looked at me like I was nuts (though after two and a half years running my college yearbook, I probably knew more about electronic type and production than he did after ten years in the book business), then went to see the production manager and was told exactly what I told him. As an assistant at a very major publishing house, I happened to hear one side of a long conversation take place between a very senior editor and a party representing a major photographer. The editor was working on a book about a subject that had been photographed by the photographer. Somehow, a bunch of this photographer’s pictures had appeared in the book without her permission. Now, this is Publishing 101. You do not publish an award-winning, world-famous photographer’s pictures without permission. You do not publish my grandmother’s pictures of me in the bathtub without her permission. Yet, I swear to G-d this very senior editor was on the phone professing ignorance of that rule. A negotiation tactic to cover a blunder the author made? Perhaps. But how does the very senior editor let the book get printed without getting the permissions from the author? Was he covering up a blunder he, the editor, who didn’t usually do illustrated books, genuinely and stupidly made? Perhaps. Either way, it doesn’t look too good for the editor or publisher, does it?

Folks, editors are not these gods of the written word authors make them out to be. Nor are they the sticklers for detail that you think they are. They are not experts at grammar, punctuation, and style. They may not have been literature or English majors. They have likely received little or no “training” as editors. They are not required to take a course at NYU in editing, or to have attended a publishing course at Columbia. When I started in this business, we were required to take a typing test. Four years of college, over $100,000 of my dad’s money spent, and my ability to get a job at Random House depended on how many words a minute I could type...on a typewriter! Yes, in 1988, it all came down to words per minute on an IBM Selectric. Of course, I hadn’t typed on a typewriter since 1985, but that’s my fault, right? The HR woman actually said, “That’s the problem with you kids today. You’ve all been spoiled. Well, here in the real world, we still use typewriters.”

Here’s a dirty secret: Want to become an editor at a major publishing house? Get a job as an assistant for $21,000-$30,000 a year (good luck living in NYC on that salary, by the way) and keep your nose clean for as many years as it takes to get promoted very slowly up the ladder. Voila! You’re an editor. Doesn’t matter if you have a BA or a BS or a Masters. Doesn’t matter if you sold computers for five years or cars for that matter. Interview well, convince them you can do the job, you’re in. After all, you’re just a glorified secretary.

If your boss is kind, you in fact may get a lesson or two in how to edit. I got one from one of my two bosses at Warner Books once. It might have taken twenty or even thirty minutes. Otherwise, what I knew I learned from (a) being a yearbook editor or working on other publications in college; (b) reading editorial letters and looking at edited manuscripts from my bosses or other editors; (c) reading THE CHICAGO MANUAL OF STYLE and other books about style, punctuation, and production; (d) editing books my bosses didn’t want to edit. My sincere sympathies to Kevin Randall, a/k/a Cat Branigan, author of the WINGS OVER ‘NAM series, and Simon Hawke, author of the WIZARD OF 4TH STREET series. Also the real authors behind Donald N. Norman (yes, they were two guys named Donald ‘n Norman), authors of THUNDER STATION, for these were the first books I edited as a twenty-three-year-old assistant for Warner Books. To Jay Leno, all I can say is you’re a lucky bastard I was an anal-retentive assistant while clearing the permissions for all of the photos used in that first HEADLINES book. The guy who had the job before me had filled his drawer will copies of every piece of paper ever to cross his desk, so scared was he of screwing up or losing something. I can’t imagine what he’d have done trying to track down all those newspapers and photographers in the years before the Internet!

The editorial assistant willing to put in the years might ultimately be rewarded, but just barely. One editor I know, a very bright young woman, actually got herself promoted to Editor after about four years, I think. (For the record, I went from assistant to Editor in twenty-eight months, though I did move from Simon & Schuster [five months], to Warner Books [fourteen months], to Donald I. Fine [eight months], to the Berkley Publishing Group to do it.) The only problem for this bright young editor was that even though she was now an Editor, she was still acting as the assistant to an Executive Editor. Whereas, while some Editors do not have assistants, many do. (For those not in the know, the promotion track is usually Editorial Assistant, Assistant Editor, Associate Editor, Editor, Senior Editor, Executive Editor.) Can you imagine how humiliating it must be finally to get that big promotion, only to be told that you will still be doing the work of an Editorial Assistant for someone else? Lord knows it’s frustrating enough being an Editorial Assistant or Assistant Editor and have a boss yelling at you to get off the phone because she needs you to photocopy something. Now imagine being an Editor regularly acquiring hardcover and paperback titles and being in the position. Now imagine being an author acquired by that editor! Oy.

In today’s publishing world, an editor’s greatest strength may be the ability to tell an editor-in-chief what he or she wants to hear. There are editors who are clock-punchers. In at nine and gone by five. Their only goal throughout the day is to avoid headaches. They do not argue with their bosses on behalf of authors. They do not invest personally in their books. They do not send out manuscripts for quotes. They do the minimum required to get a book out the door.

Now why is that? Because when books fail (and most do; according to the CFO of one major publisher, the vast majority of books they publish do not earn out their advances), the editor-in-chief is going to be a lot more likely to scrutinize that thorn in her side than the guy who has always been a “company man.” And because books fail more often than not, is it really worth all the aggravation and heartache of arguing and fighting in the office to make them work? Or, given the shelf-life of a paperback book, is it really worth giving up evenings and weekends with your wife and kids to edit four drafts of a novel? Or would it be easier to just look for those books that require very little work in order to be published?

Ponder that one over dinner with the family.

Z

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Yes, and for January, too

At the start of December, I posted that I would be closed to new queries and submissions for the month of December. Now that we are half way through December, I can see that I will have to continue that closure through January also.

I will, of course, post here and on my site when I am once again open to new queries.

Z

It may be time for a serious reality check

I’ve been rather quiet here of late, as I’ve been working on a number of editorial chores as well as continuing to answer questions over in the Ask the Agent topic on the Absolute Write site.

Recently, I posed the question there as to whether or not there is any chance that a “reading fee” or “application fee” might be considered valid by the majority of the author community. The reaction there has been strongly negative, with one writer in particular stating stridently that any kind of reading fee is wrong, that any circumstance in which the money flows from the author to the agent is wrong, and that anyone who charges any kind of fee beyond commission must be a “bad agent.” It’s been fascinating, in part, because it’s like a compressed or condensed version of something I see all the time on websites and bulletin boards frequented by authors and it boils down to this: (best read out loud in a very self-righteous tone) “We, the authors of the world, believe that agents and publishers should do business the way we say they should, dammit, and if you don’t, we will label you a bad agent, or worse a scammer, or a bad publisher, and we will rise up and scream (or more likely post or blog) in our many voices until you do business the way we want you to do business.”

ZZZZzzzzzzzz. Oh, sorry, I dozed off while the authors were ranting.

This, folks, reminds me of my female friends who like to rant and rave about what jerks men are and why don’t men treat women the way women want to be treated. Well, some men will, but that’s mostly to get la--, I mean lucky, but at the end of the day, it seems most women still feel like they’ve just been screwed.

Of course, then there’s the men, complaining that women are such pains in the ass and that their expectations are so high and how the hell did their expectations get so high and, what, do they think all men are made out of money?

You know, this metaphor works better than I first expected.

The problem I see with the author "community" is that the expectations most authors have of agents and editors are simply not in line with reality...and it may be time for a serious reality check. Sure, there are a handful of very successful, very flush agents, and a handful of very successful, well-staffed editors who are incredibly efficient in their reading (or simply have no lives, which may be true more often than not), but they are the exception, not the rule.

The inefficiencies in publishing are matched only by the desire by publishers to interact as little as possible with authors and agents. Editors want the authors to be there when they call, but would really prefer it if the authors didn’t have to call them. After all, the publisher paid good money to “buy” their book (try to explain the difference between a sale of rights and a license of rights to an editor and you will quickly be told “That’s a question for Contracts”) and is investing a great deal of effort into publishing it. But now it’s the publisher’s book and job to get it out there, not the author’s. Just be there to answer the copyeditor’s queries and read the proofs within three days of receipt (“Oh, the contract says five? Well, Production needs it faster than that, so skip your kid’s bar mitzvah and get it back to us by Monday, okay?”) Or be ready to drop everything and go on that radio show that airs at 4 a.m. (“You do realize, don’t you, that most authors don’t ever get asked to go on the radio. This is a big deal.”)


In other words, be ready to wait, wait, wait, then hurry up, dammit!

With that thought, you'll have to wait until tomorrow for part two of this scintillating post.

Z

Thursday, December 01, 2005

The November Scorecard

Well, it’s the start of December, so you know what that means...it’s time for the November scorecard.

During the month of November, I received 107 query letters and declined fifty-nine.  I received twenty-five requested sample chapters and declined twenty-six.  I requested six more.  I also received one requested proposal and asked to see three more.  I received one manuscript that I’d requested.

During the month of November, I offered representation to one author.

Currently, I have fourteen outstanding requests for sample chapters, proposals, or full manuscripts.  Please note that if I don’t hear from you within ninety days of requesting more material, I discard your original query.  Since I respond to everything, one way or another, provided an SASE was included, if you are sure you included an SASE and have not heard from me, and you queried me prior to November 15th, you should probably query me again in February 2006 (no new queries in December, please).  Either your query or my response was probably lost in the mail.

I currently have approximately 121 sample chapters, proposals, and full manuscripts to review.  Of that 121, about a dozen or so are full manuscripts that I’ve requested or are by current clients.  Additionally, I have no less than five projects by current clients pending final review prior to being submitted.  Needless to say, my plate is quite full, and hence the reason I’ve closed for new queries during the month of December.  Looking at this, I realize that I may have to extend that closing to January, so please do check back here for more information prior to querying me.

Thank you.

Z

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Closing to new submissions for December 2005


My sincere thanks on behalf of myself and my fiancé, Nadene, to all who have expressed their congratulations on our recent engagement and our completion of El Tour de Tucson. Our wedding will be in San Diego and the planning is already underway. If anyone knows a great photographer out there, please let me know!

On a business note, I’ll be posting the November scorecard in the next couple of days, but one thing that’s clear is that I’ve got quite a number of full manuscripts here that need my attention. Therefore, I am closing to new submissions for the month of December.

Now, what does this mean? First and foremost, it means that I will not be requesting any new sample chapters or proposals (well, if J.K. Rowling calls with her next ms, I might request it) this month. I will be focusing on what’s here and trying to get more of that read.

Please do not send in any new query letters. This month will be about reading and responding to current submissions, already on-hand. Opening and reading query letters is so time-consuming that I am taking a month off. Given that most of publishing closes from Christmas to New Year’s, this should have minimal impact. Further, my office will be closed from December 21st through January 2nd, for the holidays.

Yes, the sample chapter offer related to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society is still open. I made that offer in good faith and will continue to honor it. If you aren’t familiar with the details, please read my earlier posts on this blog. If you have already sent in a sample chapter as a part of this offer, please know that I have been working through such sample chapters and writing specific responses to them. Part of the reason I’m closing to new submissions in December is to give me the time to review these sample chapters.

Yes, if I’ve already requested a sample chapter, proposal, or full manuscript from you, you should send it in. With luck, this decision to halt my requests for new material for a month will result in a faster turnaround time for anything requested and sent recently.

Many thanks.

Z

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The El Tour de Tucson update

Phew! Are my legs tired.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you know that I have been training for months to ride El Tour de Tucson, a 109.3-mile-long endurance cycling event. I trained with Team in Training and raised funds on behalf of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (over $4,000 so far from this event). I also served as a mentor and social captain for my team, helping new riders learn road skills and also helping them to reach out to their friends and contacts to raise funds. It has been an incredibly rewarding experience, both physically and emotionally. Not to mention that it helped cement my relationship with my future wife. Yes, that’s right, after riding 109.3 miles (the .3 is very important, I’m told), I asked my girlfriend, Nadene, to marry me. And she actually said yes. It must have been the dehydration and exhaustion, though the ring is still on her finger, even though she’s rested up and rehydrated, so I guess she’s sticking with her original decision. ;)

To everyone who made a contribution to the fundraising effort, either directly or through my sample-chapter offer, I want to say thank you and express my sincere appreciation for your support. This training season and ride merely reinforced my belief in what a great cause finding a cure for blood-related cancers is, and I met so many people that are battling these diseases or have battled them, that I feel very humble complaining about my sore legs. As my favorite TNT t-shirt says, “If you think riding a hundred miles on your bike his hard…try chemotherapy.”

At one point, faced with the hardest, steepest hill of the ride, Nadene was chatting with a cyclist from the Long Island team, who mentioned he’d never had such bad cramps as he was feeling that day. Nadene, who had been inspired by thoughts of the folks in whose honor she was riding, asked this Long Island teammate in whose honor he was riding. He said, “Myself. I have leukemia.” He then yelled “Chemo sucks!” and attacked this steep hill. And Nadene said, “Well, now I’m doing this hill in honor of you,” and started to attack the hill also.

Waiting at the top of the hill, I knew nothing of this conversation, but I asked a couple of women who were there cheering folks on to start cheering for Nadene. They immediately started yelling, “Go Nadene! C’mon, Nadene.” I could not have been more proud watching my future wife climb that hill.

I spent the whole ride talking about how a bike ride is a metaphor for a relationship, with up-hills and down-hills, potholes and flats. Little did she know I was laying the groundwork for a marriage proposal.

As we approach Thanksgiving this week, I know that I have a great deal for which to be thankful, and that the next year will bring us great joy as we build our life together. I truly wish that everyone reading this has a great Thanksgiving and has as much happiness in their future.

Z

Monday, November 21, 2005

Remembering what it means to be "thankful"

Dear Reader:

I’m pleased to share with you a guest blog from my client Ron Winter, author of
Masters of the Art, which will soon be shipping from Presidio Press.

Perhaps I’m just emotional from a long weekend (more on that later), but I was genuinely moved by this and am reminded that this Thanksgiving I have a lot to be grateful for and that there are those who are far less fortunate than I am. Though I’m currently out of town, I’m planning to make a blood donation when I return to New York, and hopefully to also register to be a bone marrow donor. Won’t you do the same, in celebration of all we have to be thankful for?

Z
____________________________

Although I frequently lecture and write about the Vietnam War, and my book Masters of the Art is based on my service there, I don’t have a repository of dates locked in my mind that steadily surfaces like a mental file folder reminding me of long ago battles and death.

But on Thanksgiving Day every year I make it a point to stop for a moment and remember one day, and one comrade. On Thanksgiving Day in 1968 I volunteered to fly gunner as helicopters from my squadron, HMM-161, delivered hot turkey dinners to our Marine infantry in outposts and firebases all over northern I Corps. There was little action to speak of that day, and I was not involved in any firefights, so none of the flights were classified as combat missions. Just a long, long day delivering canisters of meat, potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce and even cases of beer, to give the grunts a brief respite from the war.

I held no animosity about spending my entire day in a series of flights under leaden monsoon season skies. I knew what the grunts faced every day of that war and anything we could do to give them even the slightest break was fine by me. But after a day of seeing and smelling all that food, I was truly ready for a meal of my own by the time we returned to the air strip at Quang Tri. But a Thanksgiving dinner was not to be, at least not one prepared in a mess hall.

There had been a dinner. But it was consumed in its entirety by the troops who stayed back on the base that day. Little more than crumbs were left for those who had been flying. I returned to my hooch more than a little dejected, ready to curse out any and all who crossed my path and not at all looking forward to a meal of C-rations.

Enter a new guy, Billy Bazemore, only recently arrived from the states, who like me was a helicopter electrician, and like me was a volunteer helicopter machine gunner. New guys had little to no status in Vietnam, and usually deferred to the veterans on virtually all matters. But seeing the look on my face prompted Billy to question its origin, and then to offer a solution.

Reaching triumphantly under his cot, Billy dragged out a box that had arrived in the mail from home, containing a canned turkey, potatoes, carrots, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. To add to my amazement, I also had received a package, bearing a Sara Lee chocolate cake that had survived the voyage from The World intact.

Billy could have kept his stash secret. He could have squirreled it away and hoarded it for himself. But he has a Marine and believed in the Marine code of sharing the contents of food packages from home. We spread the food out on boxes and proceeded to divvy it up among several other crewmen who also had returned to Quang Tri to discover there would be no dinner for them that day.

In short order, the dismal grayness of a monsoon day was forgotten, and probably for the first time in my life I truly understood the meaning of Thanksgiving.

Billy Bazemore’s life ended a few short months later, in a vicious firefight with the North Vietnamese. I can find the exact date if I want, but I would rather celebrate his life than his death. So this Thanksgiving, as our troops are once again fighting what suddenly is becoming yet another “unpopular” war, I will remember where they are and what they are enduring for those of us back home who will be warm, and secure and well fed because of their sacrifices.

And although I won’t share it with my family and friends because it is just too personal and private, I will find a moment to remember Thanksgiving Day, 1968, Quang Tri, Vietnam, and I’ll raise my glass to toast Billy Bazemore, a new guy who taught a lesson in Marine brotherhood to a veteran.

Ron Winter

Monday, November 14, 2005

How Will Jordan Deal With The Defilers?

Dear Reader:

Starting today, I’m pleased to present one of my clients as a guest blogger. It’s my hope that in the coming months a number of my clients will be writing posts for this page. I think it helps readers better get to know my list and my clients. I hope you enjoy reading these posts.

Best wishes,
Z
________________________________

Once again a nation finds itself the target of terrorists hiding behind Islam. Last Wednesday, November 9, 2005 individuals affiliated with an Iraq-based mutation of Al Qaeda struck three Amman, Jordan locations. At one of these, the Radisson SAS Hotel, as guests reveled at an Arab wedding reception, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive belt.

Among the many dead were the fathers of both the bride and groom. Shaken, tears in his eyes, the groom Ashraf Akhras pleaded, “This is not Islam.”

Ashraf’s poignant words will hopefully tip decent, moderate Muslims against supporting—even philosophically—militant Islamic extremists. Certainly the government of Jordan appears incensed and ready to deal with those who defiled a Muslim wedding celebration. But when Jordanian authorities locate the surviving planners and financiers, what should be done?

There is a precedent...

In 1972, after the massacre of eleven Israeli Olympic athletes by Black September terrorists, Golda Meir’s Israeli Government anguished over a response. A tough woman, Golda decided such wanton brutality toward Israelis, coupled with defiling the Olympic ethos (nations setting aside political differences for athletic competition), deserved extraordinary action: Operation Wrath of God.

In not less than three nonfiction books, The Hit Team, Vengeance, and One Day in September, as well as the forthcoming Steven Spielberg film Munich, Israeli Wrath of God operatives track down and kill Black September gunmen and planners of the Olympic Massacre. Inherent in the story is the moral conflict created by suspending normal due process of law to mete out summary justice.

No less compelling, despite the incredible efforts of the Israelis, one of the Black September terrorists—Jamal Al-Gashey—did elude them.

My novel, The Lost Assassin, picks up this gripping tale three decades later as Mossad agent Esther Harel (whose Israeli athlete father died during the Munich massacre) uncovers evidence of Jamal Al-Gashey hiding in Los Angeles. As she hunts Al-Gashey in America, runs afoul of Russian Mafiya in Hollywood, and digs at the nagging secret of the Los Angeles Police officer aiding her, Esther Harel grapples with her ultimate quandary. Ordered only to locate Al-Gashey, she wonders if she is successful will she be able to resist her desire for personal revenge?

As for what Jordan will do when confronting their defilers—long trials offering a pulpit for Al Qaeda rhetoric, or swift summary justice—I tend to expect the latter.

Brent Ferguson

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Are you the weakest link?

I was chatting with my dad the other day about a contract negotiation I’m in and it reminded me of something that I’ve been meaning to write about for a while: the weakest link. No, not the television show (is that even still on?), but authors.

Yes, authors. In contract negotiations, the weakest link is always the author, because no matter how hard I negotiate, if the publisher plays hardball, I’ve only seen one case where the author refused to cave. So ask yourself, how desperate are you to have your book published? How needy? Because I often wonder what it is that makes authors so weak in their contract negotiations. They agree to clauses that clearly are not in their best interest and, like any business where supply outweighs demand, this weakness empowers publishers to try for even more.

For example, one big science fiction and fantasy publisher’s contract states that the publisher has the right to change the author’s manuscript, without the author’s permission. Granted, the language is more complex and there’s something in there about not changing the meaning in a “material” way, but the end result is that the publisher can substantially edit the author’s work and the author will have no say.

Now, this publisher is not completely alone in this attempt to give itself free reign with authors’ words, but the language is among the worst I’ve seen. And it’s clauses like this that lead me to ask in every deal for the following language: “Author shall have approval over the copyedited manuscript. Publisher shall provide Author with a copy of the copyedited manuscript and Author shall have not less than ten (10) business days from Author’s receipt to review and approve the manuscript. Following Author’s approval, no changes shall be made to the text of the manuscript, other than to correct spelling or grammatical errors, or to make the work conform to house style, without Author’s written approval.”

It is my feeling that no author should sign a contract that does not provide this approval. In fact, what I do not understand is why this language is not a part of every publisher’s starting contract. Why do I, as an agent, have to ask for it? There was a time when publishers treated authors with respect and a gratitude for having them on their list. This is now only reserved for ubersellers. For all others, publishers seem to feel that they are doing the author a favor in publishing their book. You’d be surprised how often I meet significant resistance to the language I’ve quoted above.

What often amuses me, though, is that publishers don’t realize that they are encouraging authors and agents to leave them. After all, if the book does work, the author can easily say, “You didn’t believe in me. You made me feel like you were doing me a favor in publishing this book. Now it’s a success. Why shouldn’t I go somewhere where they clearly want me and don’t think they are doing me a favor?” And, after they bullied the agent and author into taking a deal the first time around that wasn’t very favorable to the author, why should they be surprised that the agent and author want to stick it to them? Every time a publisher tries to bully me, I think to myself, “Wow, they must be awfully sure I will never get one of their big authors as a client. That I will never have a best-selling author they want me to sell to them.” Otherwise, isn’t such a tactic painfully shortsighted? An editor once asked me why I didn’t show him a book I’d just sold. I said, “Oh, I just didn’t think it was your kind of thing.” But what I was thinking was “You’ve turned down most of what I’ve sent you and the one you did buy you didn’t publish well, after your contracts department made my life a living hell during negotiations. I’ll only come to you when I’ve explored every other option out there.”

I started out this post by saying the weakest link in any contract negotiation is the author, but I could go on and say that’s true of the entire process. Every time the author buys into the idea that the publisher is doing the author a favor in publishing his or her book, the author reduces the chances of success. You have to be willing to stand up and be a part of the process.

Yet being the squeaky wheel doesn’t always work either. I had an author once who would write his editor and me long letters that ranted and raved about what an incredible writer he was, that he was so much better than Stephen King and Dean Koontz and if only the publisher would wake up and realize that and do something to promote and market his books, he’d be a best-seller. Not surprising to me, once his contract was completed, the publisher cut him loose. After all, you can be a huge, screaming pain in the ass if you are making a publisher a ton of money, but if you aren’t, then being a huge screaming pain in the ass asking, “Why aren’t you making me a ton of money?!!!!!” is unlikely to be a successful approach.

You really have to be a smooth operator. You can’t just rant and rave at your editor. You need to recruit them to your side, to be your champion in-house. Here’s a story I heard from a friend in the business about Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code. Apparently, long before he was a success, he came to town and went to meetings with the editors he knew. He met this one woman who worked for a company that had acquired rights in one of his books. He so charmed her and was so friendly that when he left, she felt motivated to work harder to make his book a success, which actually became a reality for this particular edition.

It is so easy to get angry and frustrated when you know someone is doing something half-assed but the truth is that you need to expect that and work to ensure that it doesn’t matter. Plan ahead. In fact, plan far ahead, and try to anticipate that someone in the system isn’t going to do what you want him or her to do. Attempt to negotiate intermediate deadlines, even with your editor, e.g., “If I deliver five chapters, can you read them next week?” But keep in mind that publishers and editors are overly pessimistic when it comes to managing expectations. They pretty much want you to expect the worst, which will make their lives somewhat easier when the book doesn’t sell, and all the more easier if it does. But this can be self-fulfilling prophecy. They expect the worst and convince you to expect the worst. In that condition, why should anyone expect a book to sell? And why should anyone sell a book to an editor who has such low expectations of the book?

I have often said, “You are worse off being published poorly, than not being published at all.” The publisher who acts as though it is doing you a favor in publishing your book is not, in fact, doing you a favor at all. You might want to consider authors like Dan Brown or John Grisham, who took one or even four books to become successful. Maybe you should politely thank that publisher for its $5,000 offer, but say that you are not comfortable with the terms of the contract, but you will be happy to speak with them again, perhaps on your next book, or the one after that, or at the point where you have achieved a level of success that makes them more willing to negotiate an author-friendly contract. As an agent, I might not be happy to lose that commission, but I’ll respect you a hell of a lot for having the self-respect and confidence to walk away.

So, having read this, ask yourself, are you the weakest link?

Z

How to Make a Best-seller

People frequently ask me what “makes” a best-seller and my response, universally, is that if I knew that, I’d have only best-sellers. No one knows what it takes to make a best-seller. I noticed that Derailed is coming out as a movie, and clearly there are high hopes about this. I remember that Warner published an excerpt in Publishers Weekly before the book came out. Such excerpts do not come cheap. I don’t recall that it was a huge best-seller in the way that The Da Vinci Code is, but the reviews were phenomenal. Go read them at Amazon.com. Will the movie be huge? Not sure. The ad campaign is certainly big in New York, but I can’t speak for the rest of the country. Will people flock to see it? Again, who knows?

But this is what I do know about “making” best-sellers:

  1. Get as many people in-house to read it and hope they love it. If they do, your odds improve immensely. If you are an author, you might go so far as to ask your editor who else in-house has read the book, what the reaction has been, and what else can be done to build buzz inside the publishing house.

  2. Get as many booksellers as possible to read it in galley or ARC form. If they love it, your odds are outstanding that it will sell. If you succeed here, you almost don’t need #1.

  3. Positive reviews don’t sell books, but negative reviews can kill it. The old adage, When in doubt, don’t, applies. If readers are looking for a book—in particular online—and the reviews aren’t great, they’ll look for another book. For Pete’s sake, get early copies to a few friends and ask them to post reviews on Amazon and bn.com as soon as they can.

  4. Advertising books doesn’t particularly work, unless such advertisements are so great that they completely permeate the public consciousness. How many times have you seen an ad for a book and then gone and purchased it? I see ads for books on the subway, but forget them as soon as I get off the train. I see them before the movie, but forget them during the previews. Unless the ads are literally everywhere you turn, they will never be effective. And very, very few books get that kind of ad campaign. As an author, don’t try and negotiate for advertising. Try and get a commitment to do Advanced Reader’s Copies in the thousands. The Da Vinci Code had, I was told, at least 50,000 ARCs in print. That was more books in print than any prior edition of the author’s, I was told. You’re chances of hitting this number? Pretty much nil, but do what you can.

  5. Advanced quotes do help, provided the author giving the quote isn’t a “house” author. If I’m a bookseller and I get an ARC with great blurbs or quotes—“The best book I ever read!” says Clive Cussler—that’s going to be of interest to me, unless the book is coming from Clive Cussler’s publisher, in which case I discount it as a favor Mr. Cussler did his editor. But you need those quotes early. If you, as the author, deliver the book late, you are creating problems with the schedule (a fact many, many authors don’t seem to understand!). If your editor then sits on it even longer, those problems get compounded. Every delay by you or your editor makes it less likely your book will be a success. In an ideal world, you would deliver on time and your editor would read the manuscript quickly. He would then line-edit it, send it back to you for review, and ask that you incorporate those changes into your manuscript, so that you deliver a clean version. This clean version could then be either (a) photocopied and sent out for quotes or (b) turned into a bound manuscript (including reformatting the pages and type to make it look like an ARC) and sent out for quotes.
An editor then has to be aggressive about getting those quotes. Follow-ups need to be sent, particularly to the best-selling authors who are likely getting a number of requests for quotes. The goal is to get those quotes in time to put them on the actual Advanced Reader’s Copy that go out to booksellers. That helps ensure the booksellers will read it, hopefully order the final book in greater quantities, and then hand-sell it to their customers. Granted, in this day of the big chain store, that’s less important that it once was (when was the last time someone in a chain store hand-sold you a book?), but there are still enough independents around to matter.

Beyond this, what can you do? Well, email is a powerful tool. In a recent article for The Writer magazine, I said you need to start building a giant email list a year in advance of publication. Set yourself up as an Amazon or bn.com affiliate, the put a link in every email you send out from the day your book is listed, so that readers can click and buy. Beg your friends to email their friends. Beg everyone to buy a copy quickly, because the pace of sales is as important as the number of sales. Ask your friends to blog about the book and give them the link to buy it. If your friends travel on public transportation, ask them to read your book while riding the subway, plane, train or bus (and for Pete’s sake, if you commute, carry your own book proudly in public). Give a copy to the president of your company. People may come into his office and see what he’s reading, and be inspired to buy a copy. Heck, mail a copy to the President of the United States. One photo of him reading your book might be worth a thousand sales!

You can put your book cover on a t-shirt for very little money. On coffee cups for even less. Have you ever seen someone not take a free coffee cup? You could go around with a bound copy of your manuscript and a free coffee cup and see local bookstore managers. Even if the cup just sits on a counter somewhere, it’s advertising your book. And every time you or someone else wears that t-shirt, they are promoting your book. And how often do you see books on a t-shirt? It’s a conversation piece. I think people will remember it more than, say, a newspaper ad.

What makes a best-seller? A lot of people deciding your book is one they want to read. Figure out how to make that happen...and please let me know.

Z

Friday, November 11, 2005

Remembering Our Veterans

With Veterans’ Day upon us, I can’t help but point you toward several very good books.

Over the years, I’ve had a variety of clients, but none has impressed me with their courage and conviction as those who’ve served in combat. Two whose books you can buy today are:

Robert Gormly, author of Combat Swimmer: Memoir of a Navy SEAL

I think Publishers Weekly said it best: “Gormly is no knight without fear and reproach in the mold of Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan. He is a warrior for the working day, not always right and not always wise. But in a harsh world, it will comfort many to know that men with Gormly's spirit, character and patriotism wear this country's uniform.”

Bob served about twenty-nine years in the navy, did two tours in Vietnam, the second after he was wounded, had some run-ins with the “rogue warrior” Richard Marcinko, whom he replaced as commander of SEAL Team 6, and undoubtedly did some stuff we may never hear about. But the stuff we can hear about is pretty exciting and compelling, including action in Grenada that makes that island seem far less the push-over than most Americans think, and facing off with the Italian military while trying to capture the Achille Lauro hijackers.

C.X. Moreau, author of Distant Valor and Promise of Glory


There are few books I’ve worked on that I enjoyed as much as Distant Valor, both because the author is simply an outstanding individual and a good friend with whom I can sit and talk politics and what’s right and wrong for hours. Though this is a novel, it’s a novel in the way that All Quiet on the Western Front is a novel. Or The Things They Carried. This is a novel of the US Marines in Beirut, of duty served in a hostile land, with no end in sight. As our troops continue in Iraq, this book may have even greater relevance now.

Promise of Glory is a very different kind of novel. It’s set during the Civil War and should appeal strongly to any fans of the Shara books. It tells of a time when technology didn’t play a role and death was far more up-close and personal.






Though not a “veteran” himself, Patrick O’Donnell has certainly been there and done that himself. A year ago, Pat was in Iraq sleeping in bombed-out houses and humping a pack with a top US Army unit, before connecting with a unit of marines and going into Fallujah at the tip of the spear. That he made it out alive still amazes me.

Pat is the author of three books, all focusing on veterans:


Beyond Valor: World War II's Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat

Into the Rising Sun: In Their Own Words, World War II's Pacific Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat

Operatives, Spies, and Saboteurs : The Unknown Story of the Men and Women of World War II's OSS

Each of these books has the ability to take the reader into combat, and tells you in the veterans’ own words what it was like to be there, struggling on the beachhead at Normandy, or crawling through the sands of Iwo Jima, or behind enemy lines as an OSS spy. It’s no surprise that Pat has been a frequent guest on History Channel programs. He’s truly an expert in these matters.

Pat is currently working on a book about his experiences in Iraq. Look for it in 2006.


Also in the works, and soon to be in stores, is Ron Winter’s memoir, Masters of the Art: A Fighting Marine’s Memoir of Vietnam. Look for it around Christmas.

My deepest respect and admiration to all of these authors, who have done so much for their country. On this day, we thank you and honor you, and we hope that your brothers-in-arms currently serving will soon be home and back with their loved ones.

Z




Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Extending the TNT Donation/Sample Chapter Offer

I have some news I hope will be good news for some authors. I’ve decided to extend my offer to read an unsolicited sample chapter (up to twenty-five pages), along with a five-page (double-spaced) synopsis. Please be sure to visit my website for formatting guidelines and please be sure to include a #10 (preferably self-sealing) envelope for a response. Please don’t include a larger envelope, as I will be unable to return any materials that I’m not interested in representing. I will send along my response in the #10 envelope.

But wait! There’s a catch.

As you might recall, I don’t normally accept unsolicited sample chapters. Normally authors query me, then I only request sample chapters on those queries that seemed promising. If you would like to send me an unsolicited sample chapter, you must include the receipt (no checks; do this online, please) from a $75 donation to one of my Team in Training teammates who has not yet hit his or her fundraising goal.

The following teammates could use your assistance:

Now, I don’t care to whom you give, but I do want all of my teammates to hit their number. The goal for each is $4,200 minimum. If they have exceeded that number, please move onto the next person. Or visit all of the pages and give to the person whose story connects the most with you. In the end, all of the funds go to a great cause, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, and seventy-five cents of every dollar goes to finding a cure, patient services, and education. All donations are 100% tax deductible.

The deadline for this extended offer is January 10th, which will allow you to make a donation in the 2006 tax year, if you prefer. If you find that they have ALL hit their $4,200 minimums (a very happy day), please feel free to visit my page at
www.active.com/donate/tntnyc/tntnycAZackTucson, to make a donation. No more checks in the mail, please. This needs to be done online using a credit card. Just send along a copy of the receipt.

Thanks for everyone’s support. It’s going to be a great ride!

Z

Monday, November 07, 2005

The beauty of River Road


As the countdown to ride day approaches, I wanted to share a link with you:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=wpg4iym.8eo3g3wq&x=0&y=-1ewjif

The pictures in this album were taken by my teammate Kathleen yesterday during our ride on River Road. For those of you who don’t know, when you get over the George Washington Bridge, you can go left and follow the road around to the entrance to a park on the other side. Yesterday, there was some huge movie being filmed down by the Hudson River. A series of rolling hills leads you to a short but steep climb out of the park. This entire ride is known as River Road and is routinely cringed at when people talk about riding it. But looking the pictures, you can’t really cringe. Here we were, only a river’s width away from the West Side Highway and a half-mile or so from the George Washington Bridge, and it feels as isolated as any country road (the fog helps!). (Okay, there’s a couple of Brooklyn Bridge shots in there, but that’s because Kathleen lives in Brooklyn.) We did River Road at the start of a 70-ish-mile long ride that turned out to be the best ride of the season, I think.

This was our last long ride before November 19th. Our bikes go on the trucks on Friday.

This team has just been phenomenal and as a team mentor, I couldn’t be prouder of the way they’ve pulled together to help each other on rides and also socially. When the team found out that one of the coaches wasn’t budgeted to travel with us, they immediately started thinking of ways to get the money to send him. He’s doing a marathon that weekend, instead, but will be riding with us in spirit for sure.

The other way this team has pulled together is with fundraising. Whether it was by going to a happy hour where the tips or profits went to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, or sharing funds raised after your minimum was met, this team has really become tight. You can see even in the photos that a lot of lasting friendships have been formed.

This other slideshow is from a couple of weeks ago:

http://www.kodakgallery.com/I.jsp?c=wpg4iym.2yz8ysmi&x=1&y=4vii2o

This was a similar ride and while the scenery isn’t as pretty, you can actually see what folks look like. These were taken at the Runcible Spoon, a coffee shop in Nyack. This place is a phenomenon. On a typical nice weekend, I bet they see well over a thousand cyclists. They have bike racks on both sides of the street in front and on a good weekend, I bet there’s well over $100K in bikes parked there. Crazy, huh? 51 miles round trip from my apt. It’s longer a longer trip than to the Starbucks on my corner, but the hot chocolate and blueberry muffins are worth it, and there’s no guilt in all those carbs when you are climbing the hills on 9W to get home!

My thanks again to everyone who has supported me in my efforts with TNT.

Z

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Are you KIDDING me?!

Every day, I get query letters. Some days I get one or two. Some days I get twenty. There doesn’t seem any rhyme or reason. But I have to say, I’m frequently entertained. Take this excerpt:

“A mysterious, talking hedgehog bites him and sends [him] into his own past where he begins to de-age in time to right a wrong and save more than just a life....”

Okay, who’s smoking something here? The author or his character? I mean, REALLY? Is he kidding me? “A mysterious, talking hedgehog?!” What is this? A video game? Is the guy playing Sonic the Hedgehog too much? Does Sonic talk? I don’t even know.

But this gets better. The author goes on to describe his work as a “fast-paced, post-modern blend of classic detective fiction, tantalising [sic] science fiction and Christian fantasy.” Duck Harry Potter! The competition is gunning for you.

Okay, I’m not mean. Really, I’m not. Just ask my girlfriend (but not when she’s riding her bike eighty miles this weekend, because somewhere in there she’s going to blame me that she’s out there doing that!). But give me a break, okay? Could an anthropomorphic fantasy work? Sure. There are several. And I loved Robert Rabbit. But does this sound as if it works? Maybe the talking hedgehog is really a Jesus figure? After all, Jesus had a beard, right?

When you are writing your query letter, please hand it to a couple of complete strangers. If they guffaw while reading it, chances are I will too, right before I pass. And if you describe it as a blend of several genres, please keep in mind that blending several genres rarely garners you more readers. You don’t get both the detective fans and the science fiction fans. You only get that small percentage of one or the other that likes the mix of the two. For example, I can blend vodka and prune juice, but this won’t get me all vodka drinkers and all prune juice drinkers. It will only get me the constipated vodka drinkers. See the point? Blending or combining genres generally cuts your potential readership, so don’t do it. Especially don’t do in your first novel, please.

On a different, yet connected note, since I did mention Jesus, I saw a bumper sticker a while back that said “Get your religion out of my government” or words to that effect, and I’d like to afford myself of my First Amendment rights to offer a few thoughts:

I think we can all agree that we are supposed to have a separation of Church and State in this country. It is in the Constitution, right? So will someone please explain to me why this is constantly coming up? Seriously. I mean, I have no problem with “In G-d We Trust” on my money. I think most folks believe in and trust G-d. And even if you don’t, you’d trust him if you did, right? It doesn’t hurt anyone to have that on the money. Nor in the Pledge of Allegiance. I mean, is anyone trying to raise an atheist? Isn’t belief or disbelief in G-d something we all have to come to on our own, some way?

Jesus, on the other hand, is a different story. Some believe he was the son of G-d. Others do not. I am fully prepared to respect both opinions. Personally, I like Lenny Bruce’s version of events. He could have been a doctor, a lawyer, whatever. But noooooooooo, he had to be the Messiah. Well, we all know the rest of that joke. But, hey, my best friend is seriously Catholic. He reads the Bible regularly and I bet I could bring him to some bars and make some money playing “name that Scripture verse” with him. But do I need or want people making decisions for our country based on their beliefs in Jesus? No. No more than I want the new Parliament in Iraq to make decisions based on Muslim religious law.

Hey, wasn’t that ironic? On the one side, we have our government pushing for a completely secular Iraqi constitution, with no nods to Shari`a, yet back here in the United States we’re arguing over Supreme Court nominees because the religious right (sorry, but I don’t quite think it deserves the capital Rs) wants to know that whomever is nominated believes the same Bible stories they do.

I’m sorry, but I believe in Darwin. I do not believe in creationism (again, not going to use a cap here) and I think “intelligent design” is nothing but creationism in a pretty new suit or dress. Are there inexplicable elements to our world? Sure. I like to say that I believe in the Big Bang...but I just don’t know who lit the fuse. See? Plenty of room for G-d in there, right? But I work in literature and spent an entire week discussing the many different authors of the Bible in college. And let’s be serious, I work in a business where we edit all day. We cut, we add, we piece things together. Can anyone seriously believe that the King James Bible is perfect? That we should follow what is written in there verbatim? At best, the original Bible was part history lesson, part allegorical stories designed to teach and influence behavior, and part political document designed to put out the “official version” of events. Remember, history is written by those who win wars and elections. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the Bible-thumpers in the Republican Party are so good at spin! They have a long history of it.

But when it comes to schools, there’s a desperate need to teach actual science. If we want our country to be competitive, we shouldn’t be teaching “intelligent design,” or as I like to call it, “stupidity.” We should be teaching science like geology, so we can go find some oil someplace, and chemistry, so that we can create some alternate fuels, and physics, so we can figure out how to generate energy from all that hot air in Washington.

Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Bill Maher, but I really am tired of all the religious debate in our politics. For Pete’s sake, please click and order yourself a copy of Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood, by Kristin Luker. I read this book in 1987 or so, and I still bring it up as the best book on the history of the debate that I have ever read. Now, please, don’t go nuts on me and ask me if I’m pro-choice or pro-life. I’m pro-birth control. Yes, that’s right. I’m in favor of responsibly using birth control so that abortions don’t need to happen. Sure, abstinence is great, but let’s be honest, sex is addictive. So odds aren’t very good that some teen having sex is going to stop. Did you? But enough on that. The bottom line here is that we have a Constitutional separation of Church and State and I, for one, am in favor of enforcing that clearly and reasonably. A born-again president? Fine. What he does at home and on his own time is fine. But when he is making decisions that affect the entire country or the entire world, his religious beliefs have no place. And the same goes for every elected official in our government.

Z

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The October "Scorecard" and What I Do All Day

Well, here it is November 2, so my sample chapter offer with regard to fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society has ended. If you did not have it in the mail by today, I’m sorry you missed out. But I may make this offer again in the future, so keep on reading the posts here!

I’m pleased to report that this offer really saved my bacon when it came to fundraising for this event. With a minimum of $3,150.00 to raise, I’m amazed to report that $1,510 came from this offer! As of today, I have raised nearly $4,000.00 to help find a cure for blood-related cancers and to support the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Thank you!

And for those of you interested in how training is going, we’ll be headed on our last big pre-event ride this weekend: eighty miles to Rockland Lake State Park and back. Sunday should be a great day for a ride. Temps at seventy degrees. Tucson, on the other hand, could be a bit warm when we get there. Temps are in the eighties there still. Perhaps it will cool off a bit in the next couple of weeks...I hope!

Now, since it’s November, it must be time for the October “Scorecard.” In October, I received 134 query letters and rejected ninety-two. I received twenty-five requested sample chapters or chapters through my LLS offer. I rejected thirty-five. I requested twelve more, as well as two proposals. I received two requested full manuscripts and requested four more. I offered representation to one client.

I currently have 116 submissions on hand. That includes sample chapters, proposals, and full manuscripts. I want to remind everyone that, provided you include an SASE, I respond to all query letters one way or another, and all submissions. So, if you queried me and never heard back, it is likely your query never reached me or my response never reached you. Query me again.

A lot of folks ask me what I do all day as an agent. They think I read, which certainly isn’t the case. So I’d like to give a sample of some correspondence with a publisher I recently had regarding a new deal for a first novel. This is from a very senior person at one publishing house:

I'm completely tied up with work at the moment. Had you not attempted to rewrite our entire contract, we could have had this whole thing done long since. Looking at all of your changes and demands, things that are not part of any contract we have with any agent or author, I find myself wondering whether we can come to any contract agreement at all.

We are not rewriting our entire contract for you or anyone. If you want to choose five points that are really important to you we can discuss those, and see if we can reach an accommodation. If not, then I'm sorry to say that we won't have a deal. And much as I would like to work with XXXXX and publish XXXXXX, I will, with regrets, have to pass not only on this book but on any other projects in the future.


Now, in my own defense, I did not rewrite the contract. Rather, I reviewed it and forwarded my requests for changes so that the contract would include such “radical” items as:

  1. Author’s approval over the copyedited manuscript.

  2. Language that required the Publisher to defend the Author in a lawsuit, rather than the other way around.

  3. Consultation by the Author on the cover design.

  4. Approval over any abridged or condensed versions of the Author’s book.

  5. Approval over publication of the Work by another publisher under a license.

  6. A reservation of any rights not specifically included to the Author.

  7. The right by the Author to make changes in proofs or galleys, provided the Author is willing to pay for changes beyond ten percent of the cost of typesetting.

  8. A requirement that the Publisher register the copyright in the Author’s name within ninety days of publication.

  9. A clause outlining what happens if someone infringes the Author’s copyright.

  10. A requirement that the Publisher read the delivered manuscript within thirty days of receipt and, if the delivered manuscript is not acceptable, that the Author shall have thirty days to revise, based upon written notes to be provided by the Publisher.

  11. A First Proceeds clause.

  12. Language outlining the definition of “Manufacturing Cost.”

  13. Language ensuring that the Author does not receive reduced royalties on sales to accounts that are within normal wholesale or retail channels, regardless of discount. Any author should get their full royalty on a sale to B&N, I feel, regardless of the discount granted.

  14. Language defining what shall be included on a royalty statement or provided upon written request.

  15. Language limiting the reserve for returns.

  16. A default clause, outlining what happens if the Publisher defaults in sending royalty statements on time.

  17. A limitation on the out-of-print clause.

  18. Defining the option terms.

  19. Various other language changes designed to make the contract more fair, rather than sided toward the Publisher.
My response to their response:

Thank you for your email. I know the feeling. Running an agency on my own, I have even less support than you do when it comes to contracts and the workload in general. So you have my sympathies with that regard.

With regard to the contract for XXXXXX, as I mentioned to XXXXX, I am hoping that this is but the first of many deals I will do with XXXXXXXX over the years. After all, XXXXXX called me several months ago to tell me how much she loved another project of mine that I'm hoping you'll eventually offer on. And I still hope we can do business on XXXXXX, since I think he would fit in particularly well with your list. And in light of these hopes, I would like to negotiate a boilerplate that will work not only on this deal, but on future deals as well. I'd like to make the investment in the effort now, so that we don't have to negotiate the boilerplate five points at a time over the next five deals. This is the approach I take with all publishers: Let's hammer out a working, general boilerplate now, rather than argue book-by-book. And it has worked well for me and for the houses with which I have done business.

I think if you carefully review the changes I've requested, you will find that they are straightforward and in keeping with industry standards. In fact, much of the language I've inserted comes directly from the Authors' Guild Model Book Contract or the boilerplates used by the other major ... publishers. I therefore respectfully request that you review my requested changes and respond, letting me know which ones are acceptable, which you have a compromise position for, and which you find deal-breakers. I will then run all that by my client and see where that takes us.


I guess we’ll see what this person says when I hear back. It’s been two days now. Though, I should probably not hold my breath, since this particularly person had the manuscript for more than one year before making an offer.

So, if you ever wonder what an agent might do all day, perhaps this will help you to understand better.

Z