Agent Laura Bradford did Q&A from #AskAgent – Transcript

#askagent with Laura Bradford – 05/26/11

Hello! For everyone that might have missed the #askagent that went live on Twitter just a few moments ago, I thought I’d recap the Q&A for you. I do it for myself and thought that others might appreciate it, since sometimes it’s hard to follow a twitter conversation. Hope it helps.

NOTE: I didn’t not change any of the questions or answers.

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Q: Is 108K too long for a Historical Mystery?

A: That’s long but it might NEED to be that long…I don’t know. If u can hit closer to 100k, it might appeal more, tho

Q: How much weight do you give to blogs, online pub credits, etc when evaluating a new author?

A: In fiction, I don’t weigh it at all, rly Unless you are a total lunatic online or have 10 zillion blog followers.

Q: Is it ok to resubmit to, past queried and full request, agents if a major rewrite was done. ms changed from MG to YA.

A: You can ask (unless the agent has stated they aren’t open to it). We can always say no

Q: when agent replied to my query asking for full ms, already have 3 fulls out. does agent want to know that?

A: It won’t hurt to tell them that. It might make us read it faster if we are feeling competitive, in all honesty

Q: Query letters: Should a writer compare manuscript to published titles (agent clients & not)? Or best to omit? I read this n “The First Five Pages” just ystrdy, & it said yes. As long as you know for a fact they compare.

A: It can be helpful to illustrate the market for the ms in that way. Just don’t rip on pubbed books

Q: Any advice for writers who have just signed with an agent?

A: Make sure you communicate well with your new agent. Don’t be an unprofessional wingnut

Q: Is term New Adult accepted by most agents now? Or should I avoid using it in a query?

A: Not a ton of pubs are taking on “new adult”. If you label your work that way, it might be limiting

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Leis Pederson, Berkley Heat Editor – The Editor Life

This is a continuation of my notes from our recent RWASD chapter meeting. As you can probably see, I am a copious note-taker.

Editor

THE EDITOR LIFE

These questions were related more to Leis as an editor than to submission/query questions.

When reading a book, who would you rather be the heroine or her best friend?

Greatly depends on the book. Haven’t you ever read a book where you thought, “Wow, her best friend is really more fun than she is?”

What are your favorite and least favorite things about being an editor?

Her favorite part is the fact that she gets paid to read.

Her least favorite thing is when she likes a book and wants to buy it and isn’t able to for a number of reasons, such as a) someone
else bought it b) the rest of the committee doesn’t agree c) someone else just bought something similar, etc. It makes her very cranky.

What’s your opinion of romances written in the first or third person?

Depends on the book and the writer. If a book is done well, either works. It depends on the Voice and POV changes.

Someone from the crowd said: I heard that readers like to see the development of the romance from both the hero’s and the
heroine’s perspective. Leis agreed, but again, it all depends on the book and if it’s done well.

Which do you read first, the sample chapters or the synopsis?

The sample first. If what she reads intrigues her enough, then she’ll read through the synopsis. And she’ll usually read the entire
thing, unless it’s awful.

What’s a typical day for you?

She works in an office, so considers it a normal office job. She doesn’t do her reading or editing at the office; that happens at home.
A typical office day for Leis consists of filing, emailing, calls, meetings, etc. She sits at her computer all day long.

What was your path to where you are now at Berkley?

She was enrolled in the NYU Publishing program where she had to intern at a publishing house as part of her graduation requirement. She ended up interning under Cindy Hwang and the “rest is history.”

Who is your favorite among all your authors?

She adores all her authors with equal love and affection and could not choose one over the other.

With your psychology background, how much does it come into play while you’re reading a manuscript?

Not that much, unless it has some sort of psychological element to it. She has been known to call out a couple of inconsistencies or red flags in a couple of novels, but not much.

What is the ratio of what you review to what you actually acquire?

Off the top of her head, she supposes that if she sees 100 manuscripts, she will acquire only 2 of them.

Do you acquire Inspirationals?

No – she does not personally acquire Inspirational romance novels, however there are some books that Penguin has put out that fall into that category. It depends on the acquiring editor. There is no line at Penguin that’s slated for Inspirationals at this time.

Next time – I’ll have my notes from her on the Publishing Industry. IMHO, those were really interesting. Stay tuned . . .

Publishing

Submission Notes from Leis Pederson – Berkley Heat Editor

I was lucky enough to attend the morning session of my RWASD’s monthly meeting. Our speaker was editor Leis Pederson of Berkley Books – a division of Penguin.

Her topic was “What Not to Do in a Book Proposal,” however much to our delight, instead of speaking to us lecture-style, she gave a brief introduction of herself and of Berkley Books and then opened the floor up to questions. Later that afternoon, she also took a few pitches.

What follows is a hodge podge of questions that the membership asked and I did my best to take notes on the answers. I was able to lump them into different groups, but my first blog on this will mostly be what people find the most interesting . . .QUERIES & SUBMISSIONS.

NOTE: I was handwriting notes, and did the best that I could to take them accurately. Please do your own research before submitting to her or to any editor or agent.

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 Berkley Books

  • They print around 700 titles a year
  • Leis personally edits 20 authors currently in romance (all genres) and womens’ fiction.

Overall Submission Mistakes

  • Sloppy proposals – the manuscript needs to be clean. Have it edited for punctuation, grammar
  • “Spell check is your friend”
  • Know the gender of the person you are submitting to, no “Dear Sir or Madam.”
  • Do your research on the editor that your submitting to, “Know the line.” Don’t submit mystery to a womens’ fiction only editor

 NOTE: all cases are individual, “It depends,” was a common response from Leis.

 Question: What happens after a book is acquired?

When she finds a book that she wants to publish, she sends it through to others for a second or multiple reads. Basically they buy by committee, the board (not sure who it consists of) makes a decision on if they want to publish the book or not. Once they receive the green light . . .

  1. Offer for acquisition
  2. Schedule when the book will come out (usually within a year or sooner) – This date can move forward or backward depending on other authors deadlines (if they are met or not).
  3. Edits – sometimes there are many, sometimes not. But there is a back and forth process where the editor redlines things and sends it to the author, etc.
  4. Copy Editor – who checks for grammar, punctuation, word choices, etc.
  5. Type setter – checks for typos and sets how the book will look in print.
  6. Production, Cover, Copy – These typically happen simultaneously

 QUERIES

 Question: When querying you, how long do you want the synopsis to be?

2 to 7 pages. If she wants more, she will request it.

Question: What do you want in the synopsis?

  • A general sense of where the story is going
  • What are the major plot points
  • Where does the romance go – how does it develop
  • You can give away the ending
  • Give enough detail but don’t give too much. She has received a synopsis where it said something like, “On page 2 the hero takes a bath.”

 Question: Which do you prefer Electronic or Hard Copy?

  • Electronic, definitely. Save the baby trees. Hard copy goes in the slush pile to be read at a later date.
  • Send the requested synopsis and sample chapters as an attachment, NOT embedded in the email.

 Question: On books you pass on, do you provide feedback? And do you accept resubmissions?

If she reads a book and thinks that it can be fixed, then she’ll make some revision recommendations and will ask for it to be returned. Sometimes she’ll make notes as to why it didn’t work for her, but that’s NOT the same thing as asking to see it back. Always ask before resubmitting.

Question: Do you ever buy on less than a full manuscript from a debut author? What about established authors?

For debut authors, she never buys on less than a full manuscript because she needs to know that the author can finish the entire book and that it’s as strong as the first 3 chapters.

For established authors, especially from her own line, then sometimes all that’s needed is a proposal/synopsis.

More to come on Leis Pederson and her thoughts on the industry, her life as an editor, etc. Stay tuned.

Pitching Notes from editor Debs Werksman of Sourcebooks

NOTE: I have a chaptermate – Linda Wisdom who publishes with Sourcebooks. They are phenomenal, a house that really works for the authors that they bring on and the largest independent women-owned publishing company.

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Deb Werksman

From Deb Werksman of Sourcebooks (Sourcebooks.com)

Here’s what I’d like to see in the [in-person] pitches:

1)       First, tell me what the book is (example: single title light paranormal romance OR historical fiction set in Civil War Texas OR commercial women’s fiction)

2)    Give me a hook that I can sell the book with in 2-3 sentences  (example: A light paranormal romance series; each one has a witch sister as a heroine, and a preternatural hero who’s the perfect foil for her witchy powers. Fun, funny, sexy and a refreshingly entertaining cast of secondary characters.)

3) Give me a very short plot summary (Example: Our feisty witch heroine and hunky shapeshifter hero can’t seem to
get it together, in spite of their red hot mutual attraction. Then his pack leader does something terrible, and expects him to pay the price. No way is our witch going to let anyone mess with her soon-to-be boyfriend, even if he does shed on the furniture!)

4) Tell me about any previous publishing history and your future career arc.

5) Ask me questions!

Story and Image Boards

Blank Calendar

I first learned about plotting a book using a Story Board at my local chapter’s Boot Camp. I loved the concept and used it (for the most part) on my first manuscript.

With my second manuscript, simply because I no longer have an office or even I space that I can pretend belongs to just me, I have a virtual Story or Image Board.

If you use MS Word for your word processor, you can use a template for a simple calendar as your Story Board. It has more than the 20 squares that are recommended for a 20 Chapter book with 15 to 20 pages per chapter. But have you seen the length of chapters in some of Dan Brown’s books? They are sometimes only a few paragraphs long, so the length of the chapter is not really important, it’s the scene(s) that you place in that little box that make a difference.

If you find that your box keeps expanding because you’re placing a lot of text in there, then your missing the point. You just want the gist of the scene, not everything about the scene.

Example: Using the movie Clueless for demonstration purposes – don’t hate =)

  • Instead of: Cher wants to hook her new friend Tai up with Elton at the Valley Party
  • Use: Tai/Elton meet at Valley Party

Here are some links to places that explain StoryBoarding better than me:

The next extension of a Story Board – it’s wild and crazy cousin is an Image Board. Whether it’s physical (hanging on the wall of your office) or digital (I have mine easily accessible when writing), this is the “fun part” of story boarding; at least for me.

My Hero

My Heroine

For my Image Board, there are a few celebrities males in Hollywood that I . . .um, admire. And a fair share of actresses/models that I wouldn’t mind being for a day. Having images of them (since they are soooo easy to find), my descriptions of the characters come alive so much easier. I even took the liberty (via Photoshop) to change the eye color of my celebrity to match my hero. *geek fun* The only hard time I have is that I sometimes insert myself into the romance that I’m writing instead of the heroine. Bad . . .but fun.

Other pictures to have on your Image Board:

  • Scenery/location pictures – of where the characters meet/collide
  • Colors, images from costume books or magazines
  • Foods that they eat – faves
  • Pets, kids, relatives
  • Villain
  • Things that your characters love/hate

Those are just some ideas to start. Hope you have fun Story and Image Boarding!

CRITIQUES Part 2: What do to when you receive a critique

In general, I usually try to be in a quiet place with no distractions. Read through it during your normal writing time if at all
possible. I don’t suggest reading through critiques or contest results just before combing your kid’s hair. Just saying. Have a glass of wine or hot chamomile tea to calm you.

When reading any feedback, remember – you sent your story idea out to the world for feedback. You DID NOT send out your first-born child for criticism. It can sometimes be hard for people to send out their work and not feel attacked as a person rather than seeing the comments for what they are: that person’s opinion.

Contest Feedback: The first thing I would do is find out a little bit about the judge. Most contest score sheets have information about the judge on the front, such as if they are published, PRO, or unpubbed. All three types of judges will grade things differently, you will have to put your own weight on the value of each category’s critique.

If it’s an unpubbed/PRO judge, I have found that they leave really great notes and questions for me to think about. Published authors usually leave a goldmine worth of comments if not more than one “Ah-ha” moments.

Tips to remember: 

  • Don’t take the comments personally, you paid for these critiques
  • Don’t get angry or defensive, the remarks that they make are that writer’s opinion
  • Write a thank you note to the judges
  • Whether you agree or disagree with the comments, don’t start revising right away. Take a few days to think about the
    comments.

Writing Buddy Critiques: In this case, they are typically your friends, if not close acquaintances versus the complete strangers from a contest. They want to see you succeed and thus their comments will be supportive and constructive. It’s nice that you don’t need any mental preparation when reading through these critiques. If you have writing buddies that are published, those are the ones to really pay attention to and hope that you can glean knowledge from their experience. Just remember that published authors work on deadlines, so you might not receive comments back from them as quickly as you would from others.

Keep in mind:

  • If there are sections of your manuscript where your writing buddies have all placed remarks –  then it would be a good idea to revise that section.
  • Know your buddies strengths – if one critiquer is better at punctuation vs pacing, keep that in mind when deciding what to revise
  • Same with all feedback, take a few days before revising, let the comments sink in and see which ones you really want to
    revise to.

Paid critique from a published author or an editor or agent – their comments are worth their weight in gold. These critiques will give you extremely valuable advice and criticism . . . that you may or may not want to hear.

The nice thing is that since you’ve paid for the critique as part of a chapter or charity fundraiser, they will make sure that you “get your money’s worth.” I would prep for reading through these critiques the same way you would for a contest, mentally calm, with an open mind, and possibly wine, chocolates, or both.

  •  More thoughts: 
    Write a thank you note to the critique – if it’s an agent or editor that liked your work, you are just giving them another reason to like you.
  • Change what you want – If you disagree with a critiquer’s comments, that’s perfectly fine. If they are suggesting a change that you don’t want to do, or think would change the story line or characters too much, then don’t do it. But think closely about what the comment says before completely ignoring it. Is it really about changing an entire character arc or is it something more basic like “this scene doesn’t fit here, cut or move it.”
  • Don’t change everything – This falls in line with the advice above. Say you receive 3 critiques and they all have marks in different areas and nothing is conclusive and more than anything, you end up feeling confused and disoriented. Instead of revising to all their comments, see if you can find another couple of people to send it to. See if their redlines fall in line with any of the ones you’ve received before and then you can find the relevant patterns.

Just a friendly reminder that critiques are supposed to help you on the road to publication. They are not meant to belittle you, chastise you, or get you to quit writing. If you EVER find that one of your critique partners makes you feel this way, well then, refrain from smacking them (I’ll do that for you) and just find a new partner. There are tons out there. Although writing is a solitary career, writing friends are in abundance.

How I handle the madness

I wrote this blog post originally as a submission to Scott Eagan for his Guest Blog Opportunity, however I won’t know (for a while a least) if my post got chosen. In the meantime, I thought that I’d post it here anyway, just in case you might find my tips useful.

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I’m not complaining about my lot in life. But finding time to write, network, edit, and research can be really tough with 3 kids (2 with special needs), a husband, and elderly live-in aunt, 3 pets (2 also with special needs) plus a full time career as the marketing manager for a major ntional brand.

With this in mind, I remember the worst piece of advice I ever received: “You have to give up everything: family, friends, and career in order to be a serious writer.”

Uh, I don’t think so. I might give up a few extraneous items, but am not giving up my family or friends, and definitely not my day-job. I wouldn’t even give up the few writing organizations that I belong to because that’s where I get the motivation and knowledge that I need to move forward on the road to publication.

In order to find time for all that I have to do, I have to multi-task and schedule. Here’s how I manage the madness:

  • Lists: I try to create a short REALISTIC list of activities that I need to get done the next day, whether it’s family, work, or writing-related.
  • Prioritize: In each subhead, prioritize what needs to be done right now/today
  • Time Manage: Set a timer. If you know that you only have 20 minutes for social networking, then when that timer goes up, move on to research, editing, or writing. Chances are, you’ll be more focused on the task at hand knowing you only have a limited time to do it.
  • Ask for Help: If you have a daunting research project, ask for help from writing buddies. If you belong to a writer’s group with a loop- post the question there. You’ll be surprised at how many people will respond with relevant links and info.
  • Forgive yourself: It’s ok to let some things slip, such as having a messy living room for one more day so that you can finish your manuscript in time for a contest deadline.
  • Give up extraneous activities: This is the most difficult for me because I am a compulsive volunteer-er. I had to post a sign on my laptop to remind me not to volunteer for anything else.

It’s definitely not easy, but I have found that by keeping these concepts in mind I am a happier, more productive writer. And I realize that my non-writing life may delay my path to publication, I’m still ON the path, and that’s the important thing.