Tag Archives: WNBA-NYC

Feedback from a Literary Agent: A Tale of Two Stories

Glinda the Good Witch

Glinda the Good Witch

This was one of those weeks where I got to make someone’s dream come true and put a “perma-grin” on their face for a few days. But I’m afraid I also dashed some hopes. Perhaps that’s the case every week, as I go through queries, and for some I request a deeper peek and for others I just decline. But the fact that as an agent I have that “power” is never so in my face as when I hear pitches at a conference, or like last night, when I gave feedback on authors’ query letters at the WNBA-NYC Query Roulette.

 

Holy Picture Book, Batman!

Holy Picture Book, Batman!

First, the wish-granting story

I offered representation to a wonderful children’s book author earlier  this week! Not only does this guy clearly have talent, but we seem to share the same quirky sensibility and sense of humor, and he has done the things he needs to do to hone his craft. It’s not always about degrees and letters after your name, but let me tell you that going for that MFA has the potential to really kick your writing up a notch and have you stretch in ways perhaps you didn’t know you could. I may have to get me one of them myself. (See my post about writers educating themselves.) I can tell already my new client and I are going to be a dynamic duo. And I can’t wait to share his work with editors!


url-2Then there’s the hope dashing story

I hate that I am sometimes the person across the table that says something to an author about their manuscript that will make their lip quiver, their eyes brim with tears, and have them take a deep breath just to hold it together. And then that author may or may not have been heard crying in the bathroom. Oh my. That is not the power I want to have.

Unfortunately though, because I have a commitment to making dreams come true, I also am committed to telling the truth to authors. Especially authors who seek me out specifically to get feedback about their work. If I don’t think your work is strong, it’s my duty to tell you. If I think your query letter needs work (a lot of work), it’s my obligation to point out where. If I share what a tough market it is for what you write (memoir, picture books, a particular subject, etc…), I’m doing my job if I tell you the truth.

Your job as an author is to take it. Take the feedback, input, critical commentary, and use it. Use it to make your work better, or build a stronger platform, or perfect a pitch. Use it to put aside your current project and write your next manuscript. Or use it to help you decide that perhaps writing isn’t for you. Or to decide that writing is for you, but getting published really isn’t so important. But your job is to use it.

Of course though, telling the truth to authors doesn’t make my job easy.

How do you handle hearing the truth about your work?

 

 

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Writers, Publishing Professionals, and Other Humans: How to Get the Job Done

Last night I attended an event at Wix Lounge, hosted by the New York chapter of the Women’s National Book Association, The Making of a Young Adult Bestseller: From Acquisition to Reader. The panel was stellar, including Susan Katz (President and Publisher, HarperCollins Children’s Books), Joy Peskin (Editorial Director, Farrar Straus & Giroux Books for Young Readers), literary agent Jenny Bent (The Bent Agency), Marisa Russell (Publicity Manager, Penguin Young Readers Group), and the inimitable YA/MG author Hannah Moskowitz, all moderated by rock star librarian and blogger, Betsy Bird (I’m a total fangirl; I can’t help gushing!).

So, just to set the record straight, they did not answer the how-to question or hand out an algorithmic rulebook for writing a blockbuster YA bestseller. What there was though, was some smart and interesting discussion,  appropriate for both publishing professionals as well as writers. And as with most WNBA-NYC events, it was a great opportunity to meet other people in the industry, engage in intelligent discourse about books, and of course eat cheese and crackers. (So that’s called networking, by the way…)

Now I learned a couple of things about the publishing process, I was entertained, and I made some nice contacts. All good. But for me, the takeaway lesson was about something that anyone, trying to achieve anything, might do well to think about. After the panel, I introduced myself to Jenny Bent and we spoke a bit about agenting. She couldn’t have been kinder and more encouraging to me, still a newish agent. But one thing in particular about our conversation has stuck with me. She said, “People who persevere, succeed.” (That’s how I remember it, anyway…) But yes! Yes! Yes! Thank you for reminding me of that, Jenny! It seems so obvious, doesn’t it? I mean, if you quit something then what are your chances of succeeding at it? That’s right: zero. She also told me that having self-doubt may never stop, that she still has self-doubt, but that it shouldn’t actually influence my actions. Holy moly. Jenny Bent still experiences self-doubt?! Ok. I’ll get over myself. I guess I’m in good company!

Then, later in the evening (yes, we were up to the cocktails and yummy food part) Hannah Moskowitz said the most brilliant thing. (Yes you did, Hannah!) We were talking about publishing, ebooks, getting/keeping an agent, the submission process, etc…Now this is what I think she said, not necessarily what she actually said. It was something like, “If your manuscript isn’t selling, write another one.” Write another one! Now please people, pay close attention here. Hannah is 21 years old. She’s copped to writing about 15-20 novels in her life. She’s had 6 accepted for publication so far. There are 4 in bookstores already and another 2 in the tubes. Did you hear me?! SIX NOVELS. 21 YEARS OLD. Is Hannah a prodigy? Perhaps. But what she also is is tenacious, indefatigable, incredibly upbeat, and a poster girl for the word persevere. (Not that this is relevant, but she has nice teeth, too.)

Ok. So takeaway for the evening: keep at it. If you’re a writer, keep writing. Write another manuscript. And then another. And then after that, another. If you’re trying to get into publishing, keep trying. Try something new. Try something old. But keep trying. When you stop trying your chances for success will drop off considerably.

Do you give up?

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The Blabbermouth report on my BEA2012 Day #1

So this is about getting to BEA:

  • Woke up at ungodly hour to make 6am train in to Manhattan. Yes, 6am train.
  • Forgot to pack water and snacks.
  • Might have gotten on train to get to the city or might have been mysteriously transported to Penn Station; no recollection of which.
  • Walked uphill at a 60 degree angle for 3 Manhattan blocks to get to Javitz Center.
  • Saw about 30 NYPD in full riot gear in a blocking formation on 31st street, next to Javits; must have been protecting VERY hot galleys
  • Got badge and found my WNBA-NYC friend Roz on the front of the Author Breakfast line. Cut her.
  • Made myself comfy at the more expensive table seating and slurped the weak coffee they served. Asked for something gluten free to eat instead of the bagels and muffins offered and was served a beautiful fruit plate. Thanks BEA! You’re ok!

Here’s what I remember about the Author Breakfast itself:

This is not the actual plate of fruit…

  • Junot Diaz has an endearing verbal tic… he keeps checking in with the audience with a muttered “yeah?” at the end of his sentences. He also said something sublime while talking about his new book, This is How You Lose Her: “There is no greater human vocation than love.” I love that.
  • Barbara Kingsolver, whom I love so much that yes, I want to marry her, was a delightful speaker who was talking about the craft of writing and said something like, “You can look into a human brain by many methods but you can’t look out of it. That’s our job.” Or maybe it was “That’s where we come in.” Or something like that. She talked about climate change, Angry Birds and host Stephen Colbert’s penis.
  • Norwegian author Joe Nesbo said that the best part of reading his own books translated into English was that there are long words in it that he didn’t know existed and he looks at them and says, “I wrote that!”
  • Of course, Stephen Colbert, who was the emcee and also talked about his penis, was hysterically funny!

After the breakfast I wandered around the convention floor like the deer in the headlights that I knew I’d be, before going to the panel on Science Fiction and Mainstream – Crossing Over, and then the one on The Ongoing Evolution of YA fiction. At the first panel I noticed there were more skinny jeans, piercings, tattoos, and steampunky boots and hats. Nice. At the second, the panel was awesome with the stand-out panelist (for me) being Melissa Marr.

I refused to fight for ARCs of anything today and I refused to stand in line for them. My day ended on an awesome/sweet/serendipitous note when I asked for a second copy of Trevor, a novella, by James Lecesne for my client Bill Konigsberg, who I knew would like it. Turns out James is a Bill fan, so he signed the book “Bill Konigsberg, You’re my hero!” Reading the book on the train ride home, I saw that James even mentioned Bill as one of the authors who writes elegantly and often about LGBT teens. Cool, right?!

I walked uphill back to Penn Station, lugging two totes of books. I had 4 minutes to catch my train. I seemed to have purchased a mixed drink on the train platform. I felt so Madmen. BEA 2012 Day One done.

Click here to watch live streaming of BEA stuff: http://cdn.livestream.com/events/bea/channelthin.html

Got questions? Ask me!

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