Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Sara: On foreign rights and book fairs.

My clients always have questions about foreign rights, especially as we get closer to the big book fairs, because my clients are very smart and ask smart questions. I thought I would talk about what goes into preparing for a fair, and how I did so a few years ago as a foreign rights agent, and how I do so now as an agent who still handles rights for her children's books.

Before joining HK in 2006, I was a foreign rights agent at two different agencies, selling UK and translation rights directly for a big group of agency clients. Now, I have my own client list, and also represent the children's list for UK and translation. I attend the Bologna book fair, and like other agents in NY, especially at this pre-fair time of year, I also take many meetings here with co-agents, foreign editors and scouts.

I know that my experience as a foreign rights agent has made me a better agent overall, not only because I have a better understanding of the rights potential for my projects, but because much of what I learned selling books abroad applies to what I do now. What goes into selling a book in Germany is not so different from what goes into selling a book here. For one thing, selling here or there or anywhere requires research, contacts and knowing the market. Before each fair or foreign editor meeting, I prepare with reminders of our last meeting, of what this editor has read from my list, what other editors at their house may have read, what they liked, what they hated, and then I decide on a few books that I will pitch them in those 30 or so minutes. If I am not meeting the editor this time around, I make sure our co-agents have all of this info. Just as I would not send an editor here 25 projects to see what sticks, I do not want to over-pitch- especially at fair time. That editor has a million other meetings; they do not want you to pitch them all of your books. They want you to pitch them what you think they will be interested in.

Much of my book fair prep has stayed the same. I make sure our foreign rights agent has all of the info he needs about my adult titles, and I make sure our kids rights list is up to date: that newly sold projects have been added, that we've updated sales info, review info, film info, and pub dates for projects already on the list, that it reads well and will make foreign editors want to read our books, and that it will help our co-agents sell our books.

At HK, we love it when our co-agents come to town in the weeks before Frankfurt. We get to catch up, and to talk about the books in person, which is incredibly worthwhile. We work with them because they know the market in their country and it is great to hear what is new and different and what has stayed the same, especially in this time of sweeping changes. Of course, we are talking a lot about ebook markets abroad, but also about how adult publishers in France, Germany and other markets are adding YA imprints. We get to find out what books are really working in their markets (in addition to THE HUNGER GAMES), because not all successes here translate to successes there, and what titles from the list they love and what books they think will sell in their market.

From meeting with scouts at fair time we get an overview of what their clients are buying and we hear about the books being talked about as the big fair books.

By meeting one on one with foreign editors and agents we learn what we cannot learn just from what they publish. It is why we have lunches with editors here, and it is why we meet with editors from all over the world. We learn something about them personally, about their market, their publisher, all things that we could not know otherwise. And it is awesome to meet with editors from Spain, France, Germany, Italy, etc. who have bought one of our books and to hear what their publication plans are and how things are going. And to know if the title will change and if they are using the US cover and if not, to see the cover they designed. Agents want to sell books they love so that other people will find them and love them and when they are translated or sold in the UK or Australia it means more people can find them and love them!

Even though fairs are SO much work, before, during and after, they are such an exciting part of our job and I can't wait for March and Bologna!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Lisa: One of the best mistakes I've ever made

A few years ago, I wrote a middle grade novel called It's Raining Cupcakes.

When I was revising the manuscript, I did 97% of what my editor asked me to do. But there was one thing I didn't do. The main character, Isabel, gets to compete in a baking contest, and toward the end of the book, travels to New York City for the contest. My editor suggested maybe I should tell the readers the results of the baking contest. It wasn't a command so much as a suggestion. And I decided I liked leaving it open-ended.

I did have a reason for it. I think sometimes, our society focuses too much on winning and losing. Isabel gets to travel to New York City for the contest, which is a dream come true for her. The contest is really just icing on the cupcake. (See what I did there? Huh? Do you? Pretty clever, right?) So, I left it up to the reader's imagination as to what happened at the baking contest.

It wasn't long after the book came out that I started getting e-mails like this one:

"I loved your book, It's Raining Cupcakes. I love all of the characters in the book and how you kept the story moving along so well. It is hard for me to pick, but I would have to say that Isabel is my favorite character. But I have to say that I was highly disappointed in the ending of the story. I wish you would have told us if Isabel won the baking contest." ~ Grace, 11

Highly disappointed? Noooooo. Oh please, no.

And this one:

"I LOVED It's Raining Cupcakes! But I wonder did Isabel win the baking contest? Are you writing a sequel? I NEED to know!" ~ Victoria, 10

NEED to know? Ack!!!

And so it went. I will spare you more of these sad e-mails, but there are quite a few of them. It didn't take me long to figure out what I didn't know before about this age group (8-12 year olds) - they don't really want things left to their imaginations. In Victoria's words, they NEED to know!

Every time I was asked about a sequel, I thought, should I? Could I?

I wrote a few chapters, we proposed it to my editor, and she came back suggesting a companion novel rather than a sequel. The nice thing about a companion is that the books can stand on their own. It also gives the author a chance to tell a new story about a different character. Sophie, Isabel's best friend, is a fun girl, and my editor suggested maybe I'd want to try writing a book from Sophie's point of view. Because Sophie is close friends with Isabel, of course readers would find out what happened to Isabel at the baking contest.

Guess what? Today is the day I've been waiting for - the day readers can find out about what happened to Isabel at the baking contest!! Yes, the companion novel, Sprinkles and Secrets, is released today!

It's another book about friendship, family and sweet treats. And I am really proud of how it turned out.

I admit, for a few months, I felt like a really bad author. Now, I'm glad I made the mistake I did. How often does that happen?

So, want to write a sequel or companion? Make your readers upset about a loose end, and you may have a shot. Just saying...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marianna: Launch Day - Keepin' It Real

After a long road, the launch day for my debut novel, Frost, is finally here!

With so many writers chronicling their publishing experiences online, I know perfectly well that while the release of my first novel will be exciting, there will also be disappointments. I figure it will make the whole thing easier if I keep my expectations for launch day firmly grounded in reality. Hence, the following plan.


I don’t think I’ll set an alarm, because I’ll probably be woken up early by the buzzer announcing a delivery -- flowers, champagne, that sort of thing. BUT, I am making it very clear to myself that there might not be as many of these deliveries as I’d like/expect. Maybe… ten or twenty throughout the day. Max. Shouldn’t be hoping for more.

After I’m up, I’ll turn on my laptop and go to the NY Times site. Okay, I admit that I’ll be scanning the front page for a headline like, “40-Year-Old Prodigy Releases Great American Novel.” But, you know, let’s be real -- the article will probably not be on the front page! It will probably be in the Books section. If it is, I need to remember not to be disappointed that only people interested in books will come across it.

(Speaking of the NY Times, I’d like to think that Michiko Kakutani’s review of Frost will be in the paper on launch day. Unfortunately, I don’t think her reviews are published on Tuesdays.)

Deciding what to wear on launch day will be tough. I don’t have any actual plans, which means that people must be planning surprise events. But I don’t know what sort of surprise events, so I’ll have to wear something multi-purpose. Also, I don’t want to wear something TOO noticeable, because I’m not sure I’ll be ready for all of the, “Hey! Isn’t that author Marianna Baer?” attention from random people on the street. (This may seem crazy to you, like I’m not sufficiently managing my expectations, but my neighborhood is home to YA celebrities like Gayle Forman, Libba Bray, and Melissa Walker, so people here are used to keeping their eyes peeled for us.)


I’ll probably go to a couple of bookstores, just to make sure that the display table dedicated to my book is there. If it’s not, if there’s only one of those cardboard display things, I’ll be okay with that. I know Frost is my first book, and the dedicated table might not happen right away. While I’m at the bookstores, I’ll probably have to spend a few hours signing stock. Carpal tunnel on launch day isn’t very glamorous, but I’m not at the point where I can get my “to-be-signed” pages early, like John Green. If I have to sign a few hundred copies at my local B&N, so be it.

The rest of the day will probably be spent much like any other -- here at my computer. Of course, I won’t be able to help checking my Amazon ranking, and that’ll be another challenge. “Be patient, Marianna,” I’ll tell myself. “Your sales rank might not reach single digits for a week or so.”

I’m sure my phone will ring pretty much non-stop; the trick there will be remaining realistic about who will call. The president of HarperCollins, sure – that’s a no-brainer. But even though it’s fun to think that the owner of HC’s biggie parent company, Rupert Murdoch, might give me a ring, he probably has other things on his mind.


Luckily, I don’t have to keep my expectations for launch night low. I have great friends. They know this is an important event. I’m absolutely positive that they’ll do something pretty special in my honor. (I wonder if they’d be allowed to rent the lights on the Empire State Building and light them up to spell Frost?)

I hope that this post is helpful to others of you who will be releasing your debut novels soon. We have to stay humble and realistic, and keep in mind that this is a job (albeit one that will make us rich and famous.) At the end of the day, the writing is the most important thing. (Well, the writing and the vintage of the Dom Perignon I’ll undoubtedly be drinking for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.)

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Karen: On Being a Novelist

Before I was published, I didn’t have a clue.

Before I had an agent or any idea of which publishing house would release my debut novel, I didn’t know what it meant to be a novelist. Sure, I knew that it meant writing novels, and wanting to be published—i.e., wanting my writing to be read by more people than my mom and a handful of brave-enough friends—but I didn’t know yet how to write a novel that wasn’t drivel. So I read heaps of books on writing and publishing, like John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist. I still adore his idea that fiction must be a “vivid and continuous dream.”

Now that my debut came out last year, and my second novel comes out today, I can genuinely, totally, absolutely say I have become a novelist. And while I found On Becoming a Novelist useful, to tell you the truth, I could really use On Being a Novelist.

Becoming a novelist is easier than being a novelist. At least, I catch myself thinking that nowadays. Before, my aspiration to be published was a fierce craving, a borderline obsession, a perseverance to climb over the mountain of rejections and make it to the other side. Once you achieve a goal you have worked toward for years, there’s bound to be some surprise, disorientation, and maybe even letdown. I’m pretty sure I had some sort of misty, heavenly vision of what Life as a Novelist would be like—before it actually happened.

Oh, I thought. This is a job. Also, I have to keep writing books. I can’t just sit on my butt—ahem, laurels—and expect praise, riches, and unadulterated happiness. True, I have gotten a tantalizing taste of each of these three things, but I doubt my debut will sneak into the realm of stratospheric popularity when I’m not looking.

I suspect my somewhat frenzied efforts to be published happened because I was rather young for a novelist at the time—I was twenty when I started writing Other, and twenty-three when it hit shelves. Since I reached the ripe old age of twenty-five on September 1, I’ve had some time to mellow, to slow down, to stop and smell the freshly inked pages. Even though there’s always the temptation to race to finish another manuscript, or follow the blurs of passing trends, I realize that being a novelist requires patience and maturity.

After the infatuation of the first sale fades, you had better love writing enough for a long-term relationship. Until death do us part and all that. Not that I would actually want a manuscript pried from my cold dead hands… but you get what I’m saying. I want to keep writing. Stories keep sprouting in my head. And considering my previous metaphor, that sentence sounds disturbingly like pushing up daisies, so I will leave it at that.

Perhaps becoming a novelist and being a novelist are one and the same. The desire to write, the love of reading, the lifelong learning—these haven’t left me. Maybe I had a clue all along.