Friday, June 5, 2015

In Publishing, patience is not just a virtue, it’s good business.

Image by Saritza Hernandez (c) 2015
In publishing, the hurry-up-and-wait method of getting to publication can be frustrating and defeatist to a new author or to a new agent advocating for her clients who have little to no patience. As an author, you’re racing to the finish line of this manuscript decathlon you’ve poured your heart and soul into then rush your beta readers and critique partners to provide you with the feedback needed to make this book even better. You rush to make a list of editors and agents to query then… you wait. You sit on your hands itching to check in with those publishing individuals whose emails you reached out to just the day before wishing and hoping they’ll respond with that coveted offer of publication or representation you’ve been dying to receive since you began your authorial career six months prior.

It doesn’t work that way.

It can’t work that way.

It shouldn’t work that way.

Image by Saritza Hernandez (c) 2015
My grandmother used to say that a job rushed is a half-assed job and she was not one to do anything by half measures. I found myself rescrubbing the kitchen sink as a child because I’d “half-assed” the work.

It takes months (sometimes years) to have quality work published and even longer to establish yourself in the industry (either as an author, agent, editor, marketer, publisher). If you rush to get that book out, you may be sending out half-assed work and the impression you make will be of someone who’s quick at cranking out half of her potential.

I’d rather work with those who put in their full potential and allow me to do the same in our publishing partnership.

When a publisher tells me they can produce the book in six months but would rather have twelve to eighteen months so they can produce the print, audio, digital versions and get it out to reviewers with enough time to build a buzz, I’m ecstatic.

When a publisher says they can do all of that in nine months because they have a proven system (and prove that system to me) I’m thrilled beyond measure.

When a publisher says they can crank a book out in three months from contract date because they’re “just a digital-only press,” I cringe and add them to my “Do Not Submit To” list. Oh yes, I have one of those lists.

I don’t half-ass things for my clients, so why would I allow others (or them) to do the same?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Does your work stand out?

Image by Saritza Hernandez
Have you watched Pitch Perfect 2? We ended up seeing it twice this past weekend and while I love the songs and found myself singing along (especially in that scene with Rebel Wilson and Adam DeVine) the scenes that struck a chord with me the most were with Keegan-Michael Key who plays Becca's b
oss, an award-winning music producer.

The first time we see his character on screen he's calling a staff meeting and asks everyone to give ideas. To just shout out anything that comes to mind and no one says or thinks of anything productive to say. As he walks away, he tells them they have one minute to wow him.

"My time is like a toddler in a tiara, people: short and precious." – Keegan Michael Key


I thought about how many times I think the same thing when going through pitch appointments or going through the query inbox. Your query needs to grab my attention quickly and hook me.

In one of my workshops: "It's All in the Hook" I talk about how important it is to perfect your elevator pitch. When you're at a conference or workshop, you have a few minutes to grab an agent's attention. Before your butt hits the seat, you need to be pitching your book to me.

Image from FreeDigitalPhotos.net
But your book has to stand out too. What sets your work apart? Why should I pick your book over the hundreds of other books that come through our virtual doors daily?

If you've followed #tenqueries you'll see many of the queries passed on are those whose premise is similar or identical to the countless others received by the agent. What sets your post-apocalyptic young adult thriller apart from the many we'll receive thanks to Mad Max: Fury Road?

"You're an intern. They're all interns. You're talented. They're all talented. So what makes you special, you know?" – Keegan Michael Key
How does your work stand out?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

My son doesn’t know he’s autistic

Wearing blue for #LIUB
Last night while my husband was changing the lightbulb outside to the blue one he’d purchased for Light It Up Blue today, David asked what we were doing.

“We’re lighting it up blue for you tomorrow,” his father told him while wielding the ladder back inside. “You like it?”

“Why for me?”

“Because you’re autistic.”

“I know I’m artistic but what does that have to do with the blue light?”

It hit me then that we’d never actually called David autistic to his face. We’d never sat him down and explained what it means to be on the spectrum and while his entire life has revolved around being autistic to us, he’d never seen it as anything but his own life.

I wasn’t a fan of labels when he was diagnosed. I just didn’t like thinking of people as anything but people and denounced it when he was little. We always spoke of autism with hushed tones in our house not because we’re ashamed of it (quite the contrary if you know us at all) but because I didn’t want people identifying him by a condition instead of his name. I wanted him to just be David, my oldest son, not David my autistic son.

As he got older though, I realized that labels, when self-appointed or used to self-identify could be positive and should be encouraged. When my youngest came out, he wasn’t my gay son but… he was. When my daughter started dating a girl, she wasn’t lesbian, she self-identified as bisexual. But I never thought of David self-identifying as autistic even though, I’d started using the label when talking about my kids to anyone (and everyone as I’m just too damn proud of them not to talk about them to anyone who’ll listen) except that he didn’t self-identify as autistic because he doesn’t know he has autism.

For nearly 19 years, he’s lived his life in a special needs classroom, with kids just like him. He’s referred to kids outside of his classroom as “normals” but not because he thinks of himself as abnormal but because that’s what his classmates call them and he tends to follow the crowd. I realized yesterday that while we have worked hard to bring awareness to everyone he comes in contact with about autism, we didn’t make HIM aware of it.

15 years of school, 3 years old to 18 years old
We didn’t raise him differently than his siblings though he had some modalities in place to help him learn some of the tasks that came naturally to the others. We didn’t emphasize his difference any more than allowing him to work through his tics in public by not drawing attention to him so he could return to the group on his own terms. He didn’t have many meltdowns because we looked for ways to avoid them and we diffused the situation when we saw one coming. He didn’t feel isolated because,  as a child, we always encouraged him to play with others and we encouraged other children to invite him to play without forcing him to participate. We let him go to his room when the parties at home were too loud or the social interaction was too much for him. We participated in his classroom activities like we did in those of his siblings’ and while we knew he was different, it wasn’t until he became an adult that we started treating him differently.

You see, as an adult with Autism Spectrum Disorder, we have to prepare him for a world that’s not as insular as his life has been while in school. He has to work. He has to learn to drive. He has to prepare himself for self-sufficiency and he has to know that others will call him autistic to identify his needs as much as to identify him. I just hadn’t thought he didn’t already know but why would he? He’s David. Just David. Autistic. Artistic. Awesome!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Hungry, hungry authors

Image Courtesy: WikiCommons
I'm in historic Charleston, South Carolina attending the PubSense Summit and, as always, I spent a good part of my afternoon yesterday, sitting quietly taking it all in. People-watching. You can learn so much about where people are, where they're going, what they hope to accomplish just from sitting quietly and absorbing your surrounds. The hotel has a Starbucks in the lobby so after picking up my grande soy Oprah Chai Tea latte and an egg and cheese sandwich, I went upstairs to the mezzanine and sat down to enjoy my vittles. It was my only moment of anonymity and I cherished it as much as I cherished my Starbucks semi-healthy meal. I watched people move from one panel to another, talking about their projects, what they were working on next and talking to the panelists who had just finished their session. It was a great way to get to know the people in attendance and sort of prepare myself for the panel I would be on shortly.

Image Courtesy: WikiCommons
Authors come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life but what they all share is a love and passion for their writing. I noticed that the ones who were most successful in carrying conversations, were the ones who directed the passion they have on their work to the industry as a whole. The ones whose eyes light up at the mention of something new or changing in the industry. The hungry ones. They didn't just look for other authors to talk to, they approached panelists from the industry and sought out information about the landscape and waters they were currently navigating. They approached the panelists with questions about the industry rather than about how they were going to succeed in said industry. These are the hungry authors. The ones who don't wait for someone to come feed them but who go out and forage for their best eats. They are the voracious readers of books about everything from the genre they're writing in to industry newsletters.

Sitting there for just a few minutes, eating my semi-edible egg and cheese sandwich, I saw them all and was excited to see them in the audience during my panel. They were hopefully fed by some of the information we provided but I wasn't worried about them, I knew they'd eat their fill while in attendance.

Monday, February 23, 2015

A typical day or why agents drink

I know that I have to get better about my time management (evidenced by the fact that I’m writing this blog post instead of continuing to check off items in my daily to-do list) but I think it's important to note that a day in the life of a literary agent is long and sometimes difficult to manage. I've made posts about "my day in the life" before but it doesn't hurt to reiterate, right?

On a typical day, my work hours are 14-16 hours long and consist of so much “brain work” that I often need a nap around 4 PM. (Much like a toddler or a Golden Girl.) So, what do these 14-6 hours consist of, you ask?

Email:
3-4 hours are usually spent replying to, composing and forwarding emails
  • emails from clients (sounding a lot like “are we there yet”)
  • emails to clients (royalty summaries, editorial letters, marketing/promo ideas, what are you working on next)
  • emails about clients (buzz-building)
  • emails to editors (proposals, negotiations, general “how-do-you-do” stuff)
  • emails from editors (replies to proposals, negotiations, editorial letters, invitation to local bars to drown our sorrows)
  • emails about editors (who’s looking for what, moving to another line, out on maternity/paternity leave, where the editors are meeting for a drink to our drown our sorrows)
  • emails to staff (pub crawl?)
  • emails from staff (raising glasses)
  • emails about puppies, cats (we generally tweet about our staff cause they’re awesome and we like to talk about ourselves)
Word/Excel/PowerPoint Documents:
 3-4 hours are usually spent drafting, editing and formatting office documents
  • documents from clients (proposals must be read, and re-read, and made to bleed)
  • documents to clients (said proposals covered in notes and the blood of a thousand dashed hopes)
  • documents about clients (press releases don’t write themselves and royalty statements don’t correct themselves either)
  • documents from editors (cover proposals for books on spec are a particular joy)
  • documents to editors (proposals don’t write themselves)
  • documents about editors (updating lists daily sometimes)
  • documents to staff (begging for document writers)
  • documents from staff (reminding us that interns should be allowed bathroom breaks)
  • documents about staff (gotta let the whole world know we’re awesome and we like to talk about ourselves)
Contract/Negotiations:
 2-3 hours can be spent on one contract and negotiations per day
  • read contract
  • make contract bleed
  • write email outlining negotiation points (see email section above)
  • compare contract offers
  • prepare offers for a client
  • research market to make sure contract terms are not outdated
  • review previous contracts when trying to determine out-of-print dates
  • go over the contract(s) with the client
  • curse, bang head on desk, play videos of cute cats or dogs on youtube when a negotiation gets difficult
Social Media/Website Interaction
 2-3 hours can be spent updating agency website and social media sites per day
  • come across a cover reveal your client forgot to tell you about while reading newsfeed looking for insightful information to post on FB page
  • upload said cover to agency FB page, website and agent blog
  • reply to tweets, FB comments and tumblr notes
  • schedule posts for social media to appear while you’re sleeping for two hours
  • like, comment and friend client social media sites
  • add reviews and books to “my-clients” bookshelf on goodreads
  • pin links to client books on agent’s pinterest page
  • post a funny moment on tumblr to keep your sanity after reading inane comments on social media
  • watch a baby giggling youtube video to remind yourself that you’re still human
Telephone/Skype/IM:
2-3 hours per day can be spent talking with people
  • IM chats with clients
  • phone calls with clients, editors, staff
  • skype/google hangout/gotomeeting conferences with staff, editors, clients, sub rights editors, translators, marketing teams
Reading (and drinking):
3-4 hours are spent staring at a screen or book
  • reading manuscripts, proposals, synopses
  • reading proposals by junior agents, interns, etc.
  • reading digital ARC (hopefully before release day to catch any typos)
  • reading queries (while drinking heavily)

And at some point, we spend time with our family so they can remember what we look like, shower, eat and step outside to get some Vitamin D if we’re not popping multi-vitamins with No-Doze and gallons of coffee. So when your agent takes a few days longer to reply than you expected approach emailing them with caution and offer up a pot of coffee in reverence.