Friday, April 26, 2013

You’ve got an offer of representation. Now what? — a post from Molly

One of the most thrilling parts of my job is offering representation to authors whose work knocks my socks off. I get to share my delight at finding a fantastic project, and I get to make someone really, really happy. There’s nothing quite like that kind of rush.

When I offer rep, I always ask the author to tell the other agents considering her manuscript that she’s got an offer, and to let me know within a week or so if she’s decided to work with me. After all the effort and time an author puts into her project, she owes it to herself to make a considered decision, and if other agents are reviewing her full manuscript, they deserve not to have their reading time wasted. I hope I’ve made my case for why I’m the right person to represent her and her work, I make myself available to answer questions, and then I wait while she gets responses from the other agents to whom she’s submitted. Then I complete a variety of superstitious tasks that I’m not sharing here. Trade secret, sorry.

It’s nerve-wracking to wait for the author’s response, but it’s necessary. Marry in haste, repent at leisure, the proverb goes — so I want my clients to give my offer a good deal of thought, weigh their other options, and choose me with the same enthusiasm with which I’ve chosen them.

If you’re offered representation, do tell the other agents who are reading your work. They may be almost finished reading it; who knows? They might be about to call you too. My agent colleagues all have a story like this one: They’re reading something they like. They Google the author. They find that last week, the author blogged all about her brand new agent. And the author hadn’t withdrawn the project from submission, let alone given anyone else a chance to make an offer. Wouldn’t it be better to kick off a publishing career with a clean bill of karma?

I know some authors have “dream agents” (an idea I’m not keen on, because you don’t necessarily know who the best agent for your work would be until you speak with her). But even if your dream agent offers you representation, hear out any others who are interested in you—even if you turn them down, you’ll get some different perspectives on your work. And you’ll already be building a reputation as a professional.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Friday, April 19, 2013

My Editorial Notes Shorthand--a post by Gemma

This has been a fun week for us, with Jenny Bent over in the UK with me and Molly, all attending the London Book Fair. We have been meeting with foreign publishers, film agents, and some domestic editors and catching up with our co-agents. It’s been a whirlwind, especially so soon after the Bologna Book Fair, but nothing beats the atmosphere and excitement about the industry you take away from a good fair.

However, now I’m back, and about to head into the editorial cave with a client’s manuscript. I’ve been editing a lot recently to get books ready for the fairs, and I’ve been explaining my shorthand terms to my newer clients. I thought these might be helpful to share, as they show familiar things I see in lots of manuscripts, and would be things for all writers to keep an eye out for. 

Obviously there are the basics – show don’t tell, overuse of adverbs, repeated words, and sentence structures – but I have a few less obvious shorthands. 

Less Is More  - It is always better to give the reader one distinguishing and special detail about something and someone than to bombard them with so many images that they lose all of them. It’s like giving someone directions. You start by saying, ‘turn right at the traffic lights, then cross over, then take a left...’ and then you’ve lost them! (Although they continue to nod like they are listening!) Overload someone and everything is forgotten. For example: 

She had bright blue eyes that sparkled when I looked at her and shoulder length red hair that had to come out of a bottle. It was so vivid and the red tint around her hair line must have meant she probably dyed it recently. She twisted a strand around her fingers and I noticed a deep white scar on her knuckle. I made a mental note to ask her about it when I got the courage to hold her hand. Her purple nails clashed with her deep blue stripy hoodie, something she seemed to realize suddenly. She stuffed her hands into the pockets of her jeans and tapped her Converse in a slow beat on the gold stars set into the tiled floor. 

To me, this is crowded, and the nicest line about the POV character actually reacting to a description (wanting to be brave enough to hold her hand) is buried in everything else and gets lost. Some writers have a beautiful style with lyrical descriptions, but it’s about finding a balance between keeping your reader engaged and maintaining that style.

Similes – I’m sure everyone knows what a simile is, but just in case, it’s a line that compares two similar things using ‘as,’ ‘like,’ and ‘than.’ So it’s as easy as ABC to look for similes in your manuscript using ‘find’ to highlight the above words. You would make this agent as proud as a peacock and as happy as a clam if you tried to minimize your use of similes like I try to reduce the amount of Diet Coke I drink in a day.  

It’s as clear as crystal to avoid the clich├ęd similes, but it’s easy to think if you have come up with an inventive simile that you can just use that – and the other twelve you love on that page.  Yes, some similes are fantastic – my client Mo O’Hara’s eight-year-old daughter came up with a great one the other day, ‘as light as air on a diet.’ Remember with similes, when used sparingly, they work really well. When over used they stand out and pull the reader from the story. 

Where’s the noise? – During action scenes, it’s easy to get caught up writing movement and dialogue and forget the noise. What I mean about this, is when explosions are going on and your main character is running away, you need to remember to show this to the reader. Have the main character shouting their dialogue in broken sentences. They would be panting if running, and always when you are stressed, you don’t bother with niceties in dialogue or even finish what you are saying.

Where’s the noise is about external noise – what do the explosions sound like, or the footsteps of the chasing pack? If they are animals, are they breathing heavily, growling, drooling, etc.? Is the earth shaking, is glass falling from windows? Look around the main character and see what else is affected by the action they have created. 

Where’s the noise is also about internal noise - did the explosion hurt the main character’s ears, so they hear a ringing, and only get disjointed half phrases from their friends/enemies? Does the main character’s throat hurt from all the shouting? Obviously if they are running, they would be out of breath. Would they even be able to talk? Use gestures to show they can’t hear each other. 

I always suggest that people read their work aloud, and I think with a noisy scene, you should try and do it with the TV blaring in the background. Can the reader hear the noise? 

Spin on – If like me, you remember VHS, this term will make sense! It’s where a scene is dragging and I just want to fast forward to the next plot point or exciting bit. Mostly this means everything can be cut and that there is a problem with pace. 

So that is a little window into some of my editing shorthand. If they’re helpful, I might share some more in the future. Please pop any questions in the comments.

Friday, April 12, 2013

How I Found My Agent-A Guest Post by Beverly Willett

As part of a continuing series on our blog, HOW I FOUND MY AGENT, here is a guest post by Beverly Willett on the process of choosing an agent.  I'm privileged to represent Beverly and very touched and moved by what she has to say.  You can find out more about her at her website: And Beverly, ACK, I'm still so sorry about messing up your name! -- Jenny


            If you’ve ever eaten at a restaurant with me, you know how long it takes for me to order.  No sooner than I’ve finally made my choice when your selection suddenly sounds more appetizing.  “I’ll have what she’s having” was my trademark long before it became fashionable. 
I’m not like this about every decision, I swear.  But bookstores do confound (and bankrupt) me.  And two years ago when three agents offered me representation I found myself in a pickle. 
One emailed me after reading an article I’d written.  The other two – including Jenny – I’d cold-queried.  All three had amazing track records.  When we met, I felt at ease with all of them and sensed that each also had the one essential quality that I would never bargain away – integrity. 
I know how lucky I was to be facing such a dilemma.  My round of querying, however, was preceded by a decade of writing classes, folders of rejections and drawers full of not-yet-ready drafts penned at mid-life while reinventing myself from lawyer to stay-at-home mom to a word that literally got stuck on my tongue often before I could say it aloud – writer.  I was also going through the divorce from hell while raising two kids.  (And I don’t have a signed book deal – yet.) 
Jenny and I met for the first time at Connecticut Muffin.  I loved her boots; she loved mine.  She was smart, she was beautiful, and she’d read my manuscript two or more times already, and knew it.  The wind tore through my umbrella during my mile and a half walk to meet her that day.  I arrived late, drenched and, consequently, disheveled.  Either the universe was conspiring to keep us apart, I recall thinking as I struggled against the wind, or we were meant to be.    
Afterwards, I went back to wavering.  Because when you’ve been rejected by the father of your own children and the once man of your dreams, it can make tying yourself down to anyone ever again – scary.  Even an agent.  Plus, I knew rejection first-hand and couldn’t imagine rejecting anyone else. 
Time began to feel like it was running out, even though none of the agents pushed me.  One of the notes I’d written to myself and pinned to my bulletin board during my divorce said “check your gut” and so I did. And it said “Jenny.”  Just as I was about to tell her, she called me “Barbara” and every bit of my self-esteem came crashing down.  All my life people have occasionally thought I looked like a Barbara – and called me that.  For Jenny, it was the “BA” at the beginning of the email address I was using then (my middle name is Ann), that understandably kept throwing her.  Still, I was too raw back then to let such a little thing gracefully slide.
Jenny returned my tears with such compassion though that I thought, even now, she’s the one.  And suddenly I felt exactly what I needed to – safe.  
That was two years and many trees ago.  There was of course more to it than that.  Other writers and the publisher who’d dropped Jenny’s name to me all spoke highly of her.  Her editing is crisp and precise.  She’s honest and straightforward and she knows just how to hold that quivering ego in a loving, yet firm, way.  Thankfully she has the distance I sometimes lack, while knowing my work and my story as well as I know them myself. I’m at work on a memoir and for some, my story can be hard to digest.  But Jenny gets it.  She’s brave like me and isn’t afraid of controversy either.
I thought of Jenny during the Oscars this year, with all the thanks dealt out by those who have already achieved the outward earmarks of success.  I wondered if their speeches would have been the same if they’d still been struggling.  Oscar-less and awaiting public validation. 
While no writer or agent can predict the future, I hope Jenny and I will eventually have a long successful career in books together.  No matter what, though, she has the full measure of my gratitude which comes directly from my heart. 
A final note to other writers:  A mentor of mine, Susan Shapiro, once told me that she’d encountered many writers who found success precisely when they were about to finally give up.  That advice still keeps me going whenever I’m ready to do just that.  I think it’s equally true when searching for the right agent.  Press on – and in the meantime keep writing (I’ve found all that paying your dues stuff to be accurate, too) – and when the right agent eventually comes along, somehow you’ll know it. 



Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Deal announcement: Subsidiary Rights Sales

Congratulations to the following Bent Agency clients on their recent subsidiary rights sales:

Spanish translation rights to Yangsze Choo's THE GHOST BRIDE to Editorial Hidra in Spain.

Audio rights to Shannon Greenland's KILLER INSTINCT and Untitled Sequel to Bob Podrasky at AudioGo, at auction.

German translation rights to Lynsay Sands' UNDER A VAMPIRE MOON, LADY IS A VAMP, and THE COUNTESS to Lyx.

Dutch translation rights to Lynsay Sands' IMMORTAL EVER AFTER to Audax.

Russian translation rights to Kathryn Caskie's A SIN IN WHITE to Family Leisure Club.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Query in box, what will you bring me today? post from Susan

It's been awhile since I posted about the kinds of projects I'm looking for right now, so without further ado, here's what I'd love to see in my query in-box.

In general, I’m looking for projects that skew literary, though not at the expense of great plotting – I want something complex and exciting to happen to the characters.

Contemporary, middle grade or YA
I’m a sucker for mother-daughter stories.
If a book makes me laugh, that’s a very good thing. 
I’m looking for a great mystery or thriller.  Give me a lot of creepy atmosphere; hold back on the bloody or gross.
Multiple view-points are hard to pull off, but so rich when they do work.
I’m probably not looking for a straight-up romance, but am not opposed if there are other elements to the story.

Historical fiction, for middle grade or YA
One of my favorite kinds of historical fiction has the main fictional character meeting up with a famous historical figure -- someone who spends time in the company of perhaps Nicholas Tesla, or Cleopatra, or Susan B Anthony, or Marco Polo (or about a thousand others...)
Another kind of historical fiction I enjoy is a retelling from the point of view of a famous (fictional) secondary character, think Dr Watson, as opposed to Sherlock.
Periods I’m interested in: the medieval period, India under British Colonial rule, World War I & II, the Jazz age, Berlin between the wars, Japanese and Chinese history, America in the 1960s and 1970s, Venice.

Fantasy, for middle grade or YA
Strong, unique characters are always important to me, and especially so in fantasy.
I’m a fan of fairy tale retellings, especially ones that use a lesser known tale, and that makes use of the darker threads in these stories.  Some favorite fairy tales are Tam Lin, the Twelve Dancing Princesses, the Six Swans, Beauty and the Beast, and Goose Girl. 
This is true across the board, but especially in fantasy, I'm really looking for original ideas.

Non-fiction, picture book, middle grade or YA.
Some subjects I’m interested in:
Women and girls in history or more recently. 
History of the labor movement in 20th century USA. 
History of K-12 education in US.
Picture book biographies, especially of artists.
The Black Plague and/or plagues in history.
Plant hunters, in history or now.
This is a small sample, and in general, I’d like to see topics and people that haven’t been covered (or covered much) before.

I think it's always helpful to know what I’ve been reading lately:
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness is excellent science-fiction.  I’m fascinated by the central idea, which feels very original, and the way it’s developed. 

33 Minutes by Todd Hasak-Lowey is a heart-breaking, true and very funny book about the way old friendships can change, and break, in middle school.

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope is an older book, published in 1974.  If you love historical fiction and haven’t read this re-telling of the Tam Lin story set in northern England during the reign of Queen Mary I, get yourself a copy quickly!  It’s delicious.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Young Adult/Middle-Grade Internship -- Applications Closed

What an incredible response to our call for a YA/MG intern! We're now closed to applications, since we have over fifty enthusiastic candidates and it'll take us a few days to sift through them. 

If you missed the application window, watch this space: we do look for interns a couple of times a year. And if you applied, thank you: we'll be in touch with you over the next week.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Molly Has Reopened to Queries

My query hiatus is over and I'm ready to review submissions. Thanks for your patience! 

If you sent me a query between March 12-31, please send it again. Queries received during the hiatus period cannot be read.

Do remember to review our submission guidelines before you send me—or any of the TBA agents—your query.