Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Other Side of the Freeway

We drive the stretch of I-15 between Mesquite and Kaysville several times a year, so I'm pretty sure I have the whole thing memorized. I can tell you what it looks like at any given mile marker as well as how far you are from Cedar City, Fillmore, or Nephi. Honey Bear could probably drive it without his glasses in a snowstorm.

But what I've never really thought about is how different everything looks from the other side of the freeway. As we were coming down a hill on one of our more recent drives, I looked around and said, "Oh, my heck, this is THAT hill, the last one you drive over before you get to Beaver!" For whatever reason, that spot had made more of an impression on the southbound trip, but that didn't change the fact that it was THE SAME SPOT.

I've thought a lot about it since that day, and while I haven't come to any earth-shattering conclusions, I thought I'd share it with you. Sometimes, we don't even have to move to gain a fresh perspective; we just have to turn around.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

You Only Get One Debut

This morning, I tweeted, "You only get one debut. Use it wisely." It's short, it's sweet, it's great for Twitter, but when Alina Borger pushed me for a more detailed explanation (oh, wait, I have to explain?), I thought it would be easier to address her question on the blog.

A thread on Absolute Write was what got me ruminating on this topic. A writer published a book with a small--very small--press, but even though she only sold a handful of copies, she didn't regret it. The manuscript was never going to attract the attention of a major publisher, so she didn't see the harm in publishing with a small press now and pursuing her dream of major trade publication later.

But you only get one debut. There have been a few exceptions--Ally Condie comes to mind (though you probably didn't know MATCHED wasn't her first book)--but for the most part, you only get one chance to make a first impression. Stated another way, you can only be a variable when you're actually a variable. If you don't have a sales record, publishers have to rely on a set of complicated formulas--and possibly their tea leaves--to determine how much your book is worth. If you don't have a sales record, a publishing team can go completely crazy--editors drop everything and read your book in twenty minutes, publicists start booking your spot on the Today show--and then the dollars fly. You are the Next Big Thing. Your book is going to outsell Harry Potter and Twilight COMBINED.

But once you have a sales record, it will follow you around for the rest of your career. Publishers no longer have to guess how much your books are worth; your sales figures will tell them.

Now, is it possible for your next book to outperform your previous ones? Of course. (Just ask Suzanne Collins.) But is it probable? Maybe not. So if you want to land a book deal with a major publisher in the future, it might not be in your best interest to accept one with a smaller publisher now.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Interactive Interview with an Agent: Clelia Gore

Today's INTERACTIVE installment of "Interview with an Agent" features Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management. Details on the interactive part are at the bottom, so enjoy Ms. Gore's answers to the usual questions, then meet us down there!

KV: How long have you been agenting, and how did you get into it?

CG: I am a new agent with experience in both the publishing and legal worlds. I used to work as an attorney in New York City and then switched over to publishing by earning my master's degree in Publishing and Writing from Emerson College and working at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Oxford University Press. Being an agent seemed like a natural choice for me, considering my legal skills and literary interests. It also happens to be a lot more fun than being a lawyer:)

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship? 

CG: My goal as an agent is always to bring quality books to children and young adults. I'd like to do so by operating with kindness, respect, and professionalism. I like clients to be communicative, responsive, open to suggestions, patient and optimistic. 

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

CG: As a new agent, I have just acquired my first clients and hopefully will have upcoming works to announce in the very near future. Martin Literary Management previously specialized only in adult non-fiction books, but has represented some young adult non-fiction books, including The Pregnancy Project (Simon and Schuster, 2012), which was also made into a Lifetime movie. 

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

CG: Everything under the children's book umbrella from baby board books to young adult novels. I am interested in both children's fiction and non-fiction. I won't be taking any adult book writers as clients and I am not usually interested in romance novels. Although I like books with fantastical elements, I would say that I usually am drawn more to "fantasy-lite" than hardcore fantasy or sci-fi. 

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

CG: The query letter really is an important piece of writing--you should be putting your best foot forward. Make sure your query is cohesive and coherent. To me, a query letter that is not well written is a pretty good signal that the sample of work below is not going to work for me. I do like to hear a little about the author, but I am most interested in the summarizing pitch. It's also important to write who your audience is--young adult, middle grade, etc.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now? What are you tired of seeing at the moment?

CG: I am open to just about anything, but my favorite genre is middle grade--it's the genre that I first fell in love with as a kid, and that love never left me! I am particularly interested in illustrated middle grade where there is interplay between the text and the illustrations. I also love anything that involves history, across all genres. I love picture book biographies, particularly about less known but very interesting people in history. I would love to see books featuring ethnically diverse characters where their ethnicity is not the focus of the plot. I also like picture books that are a little quirky that have appeal to both kids and adults. Anything with series potential is interesting to me--as a kid (and as an adult too!), I liked to develop a long term relationship with my favorite characters and see them through many adventures. For young adult, I'm looking for voice-driven books and memorable characters. The plot is secondary for me! 

I think there are a number of trends that have played out and currently pose challenges to sell--I would say editors have probably seen many YA books where the protagonist discovers he or she has some sort of magic or supernatural power, and would be less inclined to want to publish those. Also, I am generally wary of rhyming picture books, as I think the modern picture book has evolved from rhyming.  

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

CG: Please send queries to me via email at clelia@martinliterarymanagement.com. You can find my submission instructions regarding particular kinds of books here: martinliterarymanagement.com/submissions.htm

Thank you, Ms. Gore, for these responses. It sounds like you and I have very similar tastes:)

And now for the main event! If you have a question for Ms. Gore, feel free to leave it in the comments below. She'll pop in several times throughout the day and leave her responses in the comments as well. You have until 7:00 p.m. EST (or 4:00 p.m. PST), so don't dilly-dally!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

In Defense of the Romantically Clueless MC

Come back tomorrow afternoon for an INTERACTIVE interview with Clelia Gore of Martin Literary Management. She'll be taking questions from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST!

One of the most consistent pieces of feedback I've gotten on Bonnie is that Karina's totally clueless when it comes to Matthew. It's obvious to readers that he's interested in her, but Karina doesn't pick up on any of his cues. It isn't until her friend finally comes out and says it that Karina realizes Matthew has a thing for her, and according to my critique partners, she should figure this out sooner. Since they did.

But novels, even realistic ones, aren't necessarily realistic. We carefully construct our stories for maximum impact, then sprinkle in a lot of clues and clever foreshadowing. We want our stories to make sense, so we press them into tidy molds and tie up our loose ends.

But real life is rarely so neat.

In high school, I had a friend named Ian. He asked me to Homecoming our junior year (though I ended up going with Honey Bear, but that's another blog post), and we ate lunch together every day our senior year. After we graduated, he asked me out a few times, including once right around Christmas. We were home from school--he was up at Utah State while I was down at BYU--and one afternoon, he called and asked if I wanted to check out this comedy troupe. I said, "Sounds fun! Who else will be there?" and he said, "Me," and I said, "Oh." After one of those long, awkward pauses, I rushed to assure him that I'd love to go, that it would be great to see him, that I was looking forward to it. And I was. The show was funny, and it was nice to catch up afterward. (Even though it was December, we chatted over Frosties for several hours in his car.)

I think that night was the first time it occurred to me that Ian could possibly like me. It was also the last time we ever talked. Honey Bear came home from his mission six months later, and we discovered we still liked each other. Then Ian left on his mission a few months after that, and we didn't keep in touch.

I'm still not sure why I didn't pick up on Ian's cues* sooner. He asked me out multiple times--in fact, he's the only boy other than Honey Bear who asked me out even once, which should have tipped me off--and he went out of his way to show up wherever I happened to be. In hindsight, it seems so obvious, but I didn't see it for the longest time.

So the next time you're tempted to smack a romantically clueless MC, give him or her a break. This whole love thing is tougher than it looks.

*Ian, if you ever stumble across this post, I do apologize for my inanity. And if I completely misrepresented your point-of-view, feel free to set the record straight:)