Tag Archives | literary agent

Macaron Day (Or, Jour du Macaron)

So, last Friday, March 20 was Macaron Day worldwide. Macarons

What is Macaron Day?  It was started by the venerable Parisian baker Pierre Herme (his name has an accent mark, but I can never figure out how to do those) in 2006, and the way it works is simple: you drop into a bakery, donate money to charity, et voila, you receive a macaron in return.  This year was the first year that my fair city of Portland, Oregon, has participated in Macaron Day, and let me tell you it was a raging success!

But first, perhaps you are wondering why I am writing about macarons on my writing blog? Simple. My next novel, the one that is currently being readied for submission with my agent, is about macarons.  Or more to the point, a macaron baker.

Here's a brief synopsis:

 All Madeleine Miller wants is for her new Portland business, the Bonne Chance Bakery, to be a success. But things get off to a slow start when her husband Will runs off with an employee and starts his own rival bakery, leaving Mad in the lurch. Luckily she has the help of the bakery's accountant, Jack, and his precocious daughter Daisie. Portland foodies love the bakery's French macarons, but alas, their passion doesn't quite add up to financial success.

And then one day, world-famous entrepreneur slash actor Richard Bishop appears at the bakery and becomes smitten with Mad's macarons—and her. His offer to franchise the bakery concept feels like selling out, and Madeleine isn't interested. But then she learns of the shady financial dealings her ex-husband used to fund the bakery—and she's forced to accept his help. Soon she's catapulted into a world of luxury and excitement in Los Angeles as she supervises the opening of a second Bonne Chance in Hollywood.

But in her efforts to save the bakery, will she lose herself? Set in Portland, Los Angeles, and Paris, the novel illuminates the crazy path romance sometimes leads us on—and the circuitous route that will lead the way home. With its themes of identity, self-determination and following your dreams, The Bonne Chance Bakery is a feel-good novel with a serious message at its core.

(That description is taken straight from my query letter, by the way.  The very same query letter that got me a read of the full manuscript and a signed contract within one week.)

So, as you can see, attending Macaron Day was a must.  Luckily, my biz partner Debbie and I had scheduled a morning to do some planning on the workshop we held last weekend, and so we folded Macaron Day into it.  Our first stop was Nuvrei bakery, where rumor had it that they were giving out "starter kits."  And oh my God, what fabulous starter kits they were!  The most adorable tote bags imprinted with pink macarons.  I was so excited.  I needed one of those tote bags.  After all, I'd just finished a book about macarons!

We stood in line for probably ten minutes as person after person walked past us carrying the totes.  Yes–there were long lines for macarons!  The day for these luscious, pillowy pastel cookies has definitely come!  I got more and more excited as we neared the front of the line.  And then watched as the person in front of me got the last tote bag.

Wah wah wah.

Oh well.  I recovered.  A bite of a salted caramel macaron revived me.  After we sat downstairs and did some planning, we drove across the river to Farina Bakery, which is very special to me.  Laura Farina let me shadow her last year, back when she was still baking macarons in a commercial kitchen, so I could see how macarons are baked.  Now she has her very own place, complete with apron murals.  And she is pretty much acknowledged to be the premier macaron baker in town.  (One headline announcing the opening of her bakery read, "Portland's macaron queen gets her own palace.")

There, at Laura's place, were more people standing in lines with their cute little macaron-imprinted tote bags.   Only one sob escaped my lips as I gazed at the tote bags.  Debbie and I nabbed a whole passel of macarons in a rainbow of colors for our workshop the next day.  And I got to chat with Laura, who is probably the most cheerful, positive person I've ever met.  (Must be the macarons.)

I was going to write about how I discovered macarons and how I got the idea for the novel in the first place, but I'm already pushing 800 words here so I think I'll save that for another post.  

In the meantime, go get yourself a macaron (as they get more and more popular, they are more readily available.  Or, you can always mail order some here.)

Clearly, I've been writing about macarons.  What are you writing about?  Leave a comment!

I found the image of macarons on the Google.

8

How I Got My Agent

FotoliaTimeForMiraclesFor starters, in case you missed the news, I am now officially represented by Erin Niumata at Folio Lit. Woot woot!  Best news ever.  It happened fast.  She was the only agent I sent the query to, and it was one week from sending her the query to the phone call offering representation.

A freaking miracle.

And that's what I want to write about today–the process I went through to make this miracle happen.

But first.  Let's contrast this magical occurrence in 2013 with my process in 2011 and 2012 when I was submitting Emma Jean's Bad Behavior.  I sent that novel to 60 agents.  Yes, 60.  I was determined–or maybe just deluded.  But I loved my cranky Emma Jean and I thought others would, too.  Some did–but more of them, at least in the publishing world, were overwhelmed and taken aback by her.  The constant refrain that I heard was, "we're afraid she's unrelatable."  (I actually think she was a character ahead of her time by a year or two.  Because after the book got picked up by a small press, the movie Bad Teacher and the TV show Bad Judge both came out.)

So I've now experienced both sides of the submitting process–immediate gratification and the long, painful sending out of emails, many of which never got a response, most of which got rejections, albeit encouraging ones.   (If you are in the middle of doing that, you have my sympathy.)  Because of both these experiences, I know the process well.  And I've come up with a few hints and tips. Here's how I did it :

1.  I finished the book.  If you are writing a novel or a memoir, you need to have the manuscript finished before you can start submitting. (Non-fiction books are a different beast, and are sold with proposals.)  Not only do you need to finish your book, you need to make it as good as you possibly can–this is likely going to mean more than a couple drafts.  I wrote two drafts of The Bonne Chance Bakery, as the next novel is tentatively called.

2. I let others read it.  Find either a critique group (which will often read your drafts in progress) or beta readers (who are readers you trust, not necessarily writers though they can be, who will read the whole thing at once) and get their reaction.  You can find critique groups or partners and beta readers through local writer's groups.  Okay–true confessions, I fell down on this step a bit.  Several writers had read the first few chapters, but that was all.  If I'd been following  my own advice I would have sent it out to beta readers before I submitted it.  And, I had some lined up.  But something told me to go ahead and send the query, so I did.

3. I wrote the best f*%@ing query ever.  I will admit, I'm a good query writer.  You should develop this skill, too, as it will open doors for you.  There's tons of advice online for writing queries, and if you have a specific agent in mind, her website may well tell you what she is looking for (mine did). Follow that advice to the letter.  If you can't find it, here's a basic template:

–Tell why you are submitting to that agent (see #4)

–Devote a 2-3 paragraphs to your story, with a great hook

–Wrap up with your bio

This should all fit onto one page in letter format if you were printing it out.

4.  I researched agents.  Please don't skip this step.  I learned about Erin through the Women's Fiction Writer's Association and Twitter, and then I haunted her agency page and Googled her.  I decided she was the perfect agent for me.  (Luckily, she agreed.)  But I knew that she repped a lot of women's fiction writers and further, that she was specifically looking for more.  And, I knew she had just opened up for submissions.  If I hadn't done my research, I wouldn't have known all of this.  If I had submitted during a period when she wasn't reading, my email would have been ignored.  If I had sent a query through the regular mail, it would have been thrown out–Folio only accepts email submissions.  YOU MUST FIND THIS STUFF OUT.  Find yourself a good agent listing site, choose some likely candidates, and then cross reference to their websites to be certain you have current info. And then follow the guidelines on the website!

5.  I got personal recommendations.  Not this time around, but last time I did.  And let me tell you, if you can write something like "Famous Author Recommended Me" in the subject line, your query is going to go to the top of the pile.  A variation on this theme is to attend conferences and meet with agents there.

6. I braced myself for rejection.  Okay, so it didn't happen.  What did happen is that Erin read my query (itself a minor miracle–she usually sends them right on to her readers) and immediately requested the full manuscript.  And then, um, in a week she was offering me representation.  But don't take this as the usual way things happen!  Like I said, I was ready for rejection (remember, I sent Emma jean out to over 60 agents).  When you do get rejected, scream and yell and sob for a couple minutes and then take a deep breath and hit reply and ask that agent if they can think of any other agents who might be interested. (This advice only works if you've gotten a positive rejection.  If its a form letter, don't try it.)  You might not hear from them–but then again you could.  And if you do, put their name in the subject line when you query (See #5.)

7. I've been basking….Let me tell you, after all the years I've been in this busy, to hear the words, "I am calling to offer you representation by Folio Literary," was one of the best moments of my life. I've told everybody–friends, family, strangers, grocery store checkers.  This is the greatest thing ever!

8.  What happens next?  I signed the agency contract, and last week Erin had an editorial meeting with the two other readers she had assigned the manuscript to.  She is at this very moment writing up an editorial letter.  When I receive that, its time for me to focus on rewriting.  And then Erin will begin submitting it to publishers.  Woot woot! I promise to keep you posted!

Any questions about the process?  Leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer them.

19

Do You Need to Recover Your Writing Equilibrium?

NEWS FLASH! Okay, when I started writing this I knew that good things were afoot–but now I can make the announcement: Erin Niumata of Folio Lit has agreed to represent me!  She will be repping my novel, The Bonne Chance Bakery, and future works as well.  I will write about the process (which has happened fast–like in a week) in a future post.  So now the following will make sense: Scale_gram_kilo_239552_l

I'm buzzing with excitement over new developments in my life, so much so that it is hard to come back down to earth.  But there are words to be written and work to be done.  What to do? How to move forward on the page after a big event has happened in your life?  Read on.

2015 has been a great year for me.  We're only one month in, and things are happening! And, I'm aware that not everyone is so fortunate.  I've had downer winters, believe me.  And if I had read about someone leaping about with happiness during one of those downer times, I probably would have wretched.  So forgive me if that is where you find yourself–my aim is to inspire, not depress.

But here's the thing–either great excitement or great discouragement often has the same result: you feel disconnected from your writing, unable to work.  And yeah, it feels way, way better when you're wandering around with your head in the clouds because good things are happening but it can be just as distracting.  (It is funny how often the good and the bad result in the same feeling inside. Excitement and nervousness, for instance–pretty much the same feeling in your stomach and chest. Remember that the next time you're really nervous about something.)

What you need to do is root yourself back in your life.  What do I mean by this?  Often when I'm reading a manuscript, I get the feeling that the characters are floating in the air.  They talk and move about but I have no idea where they are.  There's an easy fix for this–drop in a hint or two about the physical location to keep the reader grounded.  And so that's what I need to do–come down from the air where I'm floating and reconnect with my life!

Some suggestions (for me and you):

1.  Give into it.  I'm a great believer in celebrating–and wallowing.  Whether your news is good or bad, you likely don't feel like writing.  So, don't.  I know, shocking.  I never say that.  But in this case, trying to write while you are excited or devastated is fruitless.  You'll just stare at the computer screen.

2.  Get away from it.  This week, I've given up.  I'm not writing–instead, I'm working on cleaning my desk off and packing up my office to move it downstairs, a long-delayed project.  It is really, really hard for me to step away from the computer, but allowing myself time to do something else feels good.

3.  Do something for someone else.  At times like this we I tend to be totally focused on me, me, me.  After you have celebrated or wallowed, try focusing outward and see what happens.  Give a homeless person a Starbucks card, or offer to walk your neighbor's dog.  

4.  Indulge in some self care.  And now we get to the polar opposite of #3.  What can I say?  I like contradictions.  In truth, we think of self care as selfish, but it really isn't.  And if you are in a time of great or bad things happening, you're in a time of stress. I've been writing about self care this week, so I won't repeat myself here.  Besides, you know what you like.  (For me lately, its a massage.)

5.  Write your way back into it.  I know, I know.  The issue at hand is that you're too distracted to write. But you can, and maybe should, journal.  Pouring your heart out on the page can sometimes be the most helpful thing of all–and it just might lead you back to your beloved WIP.

Okay, that's all I've got.  What is your favorite way to come back to earth?  Leave a comment!

Image by Pontuse.

8

Book Review: Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents

Cache_240_240_0_0_80_16777215_jh-guide-2015-frontSo, there's this thing called the internet.  And we use it for nearly all our research into anything these days.  This is especially true for research on topics that have to be current, such as, well, agent and editor listings.  When you have a story or novel to submit, you hit the interwebs to find a spot for it, right?

Believe it or not, back in the old days, writers had to rely on books for such research.  Like real, physical books.  And most of the time when you were doing research the books you needed to reference were huge and unwieldy tomes housed in the library.  There were also books published by Writer's Digest and others, extensive, expensive listings of publishing contacts that were out of date by the time you bought them.  Overall, it was a royal pain. So, thank God for the internet.  When I was submitting Emma Jean to a gazillion publishers I used internet agent listing sites extensively.  

(Alas, I'm having a hard time finding any current ones I can link to.  There used to be an amazing one that listed everyone, compiled by a guy with a serious case of sour grapes, who posted every single rejection letter he ever got, and the agent contact info, too.  It was a fantastic resource–but also bordered on libelous at times.  I suspect he got shut down.  Anybody remember this site or have a link for it? NEWS FLASH–I found it!  Here's the link to part one, of seven.  Check it out.  The guy is relentless.)

Anyway, I digress.  I hadn't paid much attention to agent listings lately (this will change soon, as I'm finishing the rewrite of my second novel–agents, I'm looking at you, yes, you, soon) and had assumed that the big guidebooks were a thing of the past.  But, oh how wrong I was.  Because towards the end of last year I was offered the chance to review Jeff Herman's Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents.   And, having my own agent search in mind as well as the needs of my loyal readers, I said yes.

I have to say, the book is pretty great.  The bulk of it is a directory of publishers, literary agents and independent editors.  Since I'm most interested in agents at this point, that's what I focused on perusing.  And what I like about the listings is that besides the basic info about email and address, they also include a Q and A interview the agent has filled out, which really gives you more insight into them.  

And that's not all–there are numerous essays throughout the book.  These are written mainly by Herman and his wife Deborah.  Some, like the one on digital marketing, are useless.  But others, like the chapter on how agents work and how to find one are quite good.  (I'll be talking more about that chapter in a future post, because as I was writing this up it occurred to me that a How to Find an Agent post would be an excellent idea.)

There's also info on writing book proposals and query letters, definitions of publishing terms, insider tips, and so on.  It's quite the comprehensive book.  And it's got a price tag to match–$29.99 (a bit less on Amazon).   

So, the question is whether or not I would recommend this book.  And the answer is….yes, if.  What I mean by that is yes, if you are a newbie to the writing and publishing world.  (Though do bear in mind that Herman approaches these worlds with a very particular mindset.)  There's a ton of information here that will give you a good grounding in the industry.  If you have more experience in these worlds, check it out from the library.  Because it is fun to leaf through and read and of course, the directory part seems to be quite extensive.  (But also remember that the publishing industry is notoriously fluid.  You'd do well to double check any information in the book with a look at the internet.)

Do you have an agent?  Did you use a directory to find one?

(For the record, I received a copy of the book in order to write this post, but no other compensation.) 

5

How to Submit Your Work to Publishers (A Review of the Process)

Magazines_volume_perspektive_227795_lSo, this blog has been around for awhile, like seven years, and because of that I've amassed a lot of posts (over a thousand of them) which is something the Google loves and thus I get some traffic through here. Because I get traffic, I also get people pitching ideas to me for the blog.  These are for ads, for posts, and sometimes for links.  

I also get tons of requests for guest posts.  Most of these are thinly disguised ads or link bait and the articles are so poorly written I won't run them.  Not only that, they are completely off topic!  They'll be on real estate or automotive stuff or raising children.  Clearly, these people have not read this blog, they are just working off a list somewhere.

(Do let me be clear that I love running guest posts and if you have an idea for one that is related to writing or creativity, don't be afraid to pitch me. Most posts that I accept are from readers who know the topics I cover here well.)

And then, a few days ago, I got a lovely, long submission from a writer who was an expert in a classic literary figure.  This person wanted to come present her lecture at my workshop.  Yeah, that's right–the workshop where eight people sit around a table in the south of France and talk about their writing. Not a lecture hall in sight.  Clearly no research had been done for this request.

All this reminds me of the tried and true guidelines we've read over and over again about submitting your work.  Let's review:

–Do your research and make sure you are submitting to a publication that runs work on your topic.  If you're submitting to a literary agent, read their website and ascertain that they actually represent fiction if you want them to rep your novel, or non-fiction if you're sending a book proposal.

–If you can, take it a step farther and read the publication you're submitting to.  Peruse the blog's archives.  Look through a few issues of the magazine. Read a book repped by the agent you're pitching.  Or at least leaf through it at the bookstore!  This is the biggest problem I see.  I get these requests from people who clearly have never laid eyes on the blog and have no idea what I write about.  

–Do not send out a blanket email without personalization.  I get emails from people who are obviously just working from a list (like the literary expert mentioned above).  I especially love the ones who compliment me on my wonderful blog and then go on to suggest a story about animal care.

If you just follow those three simple guidelines as a starting point, you'll at least get your query read. Oh, and here's one more piece of advice:

–If you have a recommendation from a fellow author, as when querying an agent, put that author's name in the subject line.  As in, "Recommendation From Famous Author."  That will get you read much faster.  Come to think of it, this applies to other submissions, too.  Always write why you are emailing them in the subject line, as in "Guest Post Submission," or "Article Query," or whatever.

And, as mentioned above, the guest posts I accept are often from regular readers.  I don't have a formal policy for accepting or rejecting, just that the post be well-written, vibrant, fun, perfect in every way–kidding!  But I do like to run lively pieces that will be of value to my readers, and I also run author interviews and the occasional cover reveal.  So hit me up.  Just please don't ask me to run a piece about mortgages.

What are your experiences with submitting to publishers and agents?  Please share the good, the bad, and the hilarious!

Photo by mgelinski.

13

Getting an Agent

I've promised to be forthcoming about every aspect of the process of getting my book published, so here goes another post on it. 

Gate_antique_medieval_236650_l

Last week I off-handedly mentioned that I was looking for an agent.  Later, was speaking with my buddy Square-Peg Karen (keep an eye out for a cool collaboration we're working on) and she asked me for clarification about the publishing process. 

"Don't you usually get an agent before you get a publisher?" she asked.

Yes, indeed that is true.  At least when you are dealing with the big New York publishing houses.  Most of those folks won't even talk to you unless you have an agent.  Think of agents as the gate-keepers in an industry that is overwhelmed with authors trying to claw their way through the doors.

Twenty years or so ago, the big New York houses had their super-star authors, and then those on the mid-list, and then the ones they'd take a chance on, the books that might sell only a few copies but whose authors might eventually rise to the top.  Not so much anymore.  Due to the vagaries of the publishing world, the big houses really want a sure thing.

Like there are any sure things.

Enter the small publishing houses.  Once the big boys stopped taking so many risks, they opened the doors for small publishing houses to spring up and assume that role.  Then, with the advent of digital and Print on Demand publishing, it became even easier to start a small press.  And so the small presses of the world fill an important part of the overall publishing world.

And they don't require agents to submit.

The press (I'm getting close to being able to reveal the name) that is publishing my book doesn't offer an advance, but instead a much higher royalty.  The big boys offer an advance but small royalties.  I kinda like this arrangement because it means my earnings are proportionate to my efforts.  Sometimes with the big boys, your book gets lost and then you're stymied.  I've seen this happen to a couple of my good friends.

But back to my agent search.  Last week I corresponded with a lovely agent whose name I'm protecting because I'm not sure he wants to be inundated with submissions.  I had written him to inquire if I needed representation.  He asked me some questions and then got back to me, explaining that I'd already done the hard part, gotten the book accepted.  He further explained that it probably wasn't going to be worth my while or the agent's while to have him negotiate a contract.  And here's a nugget: most agencies have a minimum commission of $2500, which would be on an advance of $18,000.

So I'm abandoning my search for an agent for now.  The plan is to get good sales with this book and then leverage them to get an agent for my next novel.  Unless I decide I like the independent publishing route best, which is a distinct possibility.

I'm in contact with my editor, and once I get a signed contract, I'll be naming names.  Yay!

Do you have experiences, good or bad, with agents?  The publishing world?  Please comment.

Create a successful, inspired writing life: Think about what kind of publishing experience you want.  Do you want to have the control?  Or do you want to give it up to someone else?  We're lucky to live in a time when both options are possible.

Photo by brokenarts.  Plus, Typepad's photo editor is wonky which is why the image has so much room of its own.  And by the way, its an image of a gate.  You know, gate=gatekeeper=agent.  You probably got all that without me explaining it.

12

The Writing Secret that Will Vitalize Your Work (And Help You Get Published)

And the secret is…. Silencio_silence_dedo_904581_l

Conflict.

Also known as tension.

Adding lots and lots of it (probably far more than you imagined you could or should) is what will make your fiction and non-fiction, pop, sizzle, and sell.  It is also what makes a book or a story a page-turner.  (Like the novel, The Improper Life of Bezelia Grove, that I read on the plane on my journey home from Nashville on Monday. Couldn't put that baby down, and completed it before the plane touched down in Portland.)

I know that all writers know this.  But do we know know it, and fully embrace it?  Or do we get lazy and think that enough conflict is enough?

I'm thinking once again about the importance of conflict in writing because of a fabulous lecture I heard last weekend at the Writer's Loft, the certificate writing program I teach at in Nashville.

The lecture was given by my colleague and friend, Linda Busby Parker, and in it she talked about tension in fiction, using short stories to illustrate her points.  Linda referred to three different kinds of tension:

  • Narrative Tension.  This is tension in the story.
  • Emotional Tension.  This would be tension in character
  • Micro Tension.  The tension in every scene.

Doesn't matter if you are writing fiction, a memoir, an article, or a book to promote your business–every kind of writing under the sun can benefit from a heaping dollop of additional tension.  But how to do it?

One of the books that Linda mentioned is the latest by literary agent and author Donald Maass, called The Fire in Fiction.  Maass avows that the key is in the use of micro-tension, saying that with its use, you can fire up dialogue, a passage of description, or narrative–all of which are traditional low-tension traps.

So here's the key to adding in more micro-tension: introduce interior or exterior conflict experienced by the protagonist.  And a kick-ass way to do this is to apply the concept of opposing forces.   Opposing forces can be set up between characters, between action, in narrative summary, and even description.  In her lecture, Linda mentioned hearing this concept expressed by a speaker at a writer's conference in Florida a few years ago.  This writer likened the concept of opposing forces to the structural tension that keeps a suspension bridge aloft.  And this same writer said that once she started applying opposing forces to her stories, they all sold.

So, opposing forces, micro-tension, conflict.  How do you utilize it in your stories and books?  What are some tricks you've used for getting more of it into your work?

*This is the first in a series of posts on things that impressed me at the Writer's Loft.  We had a great orientation weekend, with lots of fabu new students.  Really fun and inspiring.  I'll write more about it tomorrow.

**One way to impose conflict on your work is to be able to envision it properly in the first place.  Sign up for my free Ebook, Jump Start Your Book With A Vision Board to help you do just that.  The form is to the right of this post.

 

Photo by bialduda.

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