Saturday, November 14, 2020

What I've Been Reading Lately

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the benefits of working with an agent - or, for those of us without agents - times we've wondered if an agent would be helpful or why we choose not to have one. 

I don’t have an agent, I’ve never wanted an agent, I don’t need an agent for what I do, which is to independently publish my own books. As I’ve said before in this space, if I was offered a movie deal or a big contract by a traditional publishing house, THEN I might seek out an agent. The other SFF’ers have written useful tips and thoughts on the topic this week so I refer you to their posts!

Which leaves me with blank space. Hmmm.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about some fun books I read recently, none of which are scifi romance or fantasy or paranormal. Yes, true confession, I read a LOT of other genres!

I was tempted to try Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze because it has a “Groundhog Day” element of the same day repeating itself over and over as the heroine tries to fix her life. I enjoy that trope a lot and so even though I’m not much of a contemporary romance reader, I decided to try this one. I very much enjoyed the book and off I went to explore her backlist for more romances. Of the ones I tried, I loved Jack and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating, which was terrific and fun. I wasn’t quite as excited by Twice in a Blue Moon. I had a very hard time setting aside what had happened to the two main characters in the past and accepting their HEA together. Up to that point I pretty much was enjoying the book though. I think my favorite was The Honey Don’t List, mostly because of its glimpses behind the scenes of a totally fictional (wink wink) reality TV show were so much fun and I did totally buy into the HEA for everyone here. Fortunately for me, I have more of this author’s books yet to read. I do love a big backlist!

I kept seeing people rave on twitter about Spoiler Alert by Olivia Dade and I decided to try it, based on the intriguing hook which reads in part: “…set in the world of fanfiction, in which a devoted fan goes on an unexpected date with her celebrity crush, who’s secretly posting fanfiction of his own.” Wow, five stars for this one, loved it. The heroine was wonderful, the situation was fraught but highly enjoyable and I read it in one sitting, then re-read it. Now I’m working my way through her backlist, which is sadly a short one so far. I just read Teach Me and 40-Love, both of which were excellent.

Mixed in on my recent reading list were some post-apocalyptic and dystopian scifi novels and one thriller, none of which excited me enough to recommend them here. One book I basically DNF’ed although I did skim to the end because I was mildly interested in why the villain was doing what they did. Life is too short for me to keep reading a book which has lost my interest. But I always figure that’s my personal experience with the book and it may be much more someone else’s cup of tea.

To finish this post on a positive note, a big shout out to Kris Michaels and her romantic suspense series Kings of Guardian and the related Guardian Defenders. I positively devour those books and have been on a re-reading binge of some of my favorites to hold me over until the next one, Promises, releases on December first. I think the story I enjoy the most is Jewel, about one of the sisters in the sprawling extended family of security experts. I love the heroine’s quirky character, the way she has to think things through, and of course the deadly and smart man assigned to keep her safe. Lycos was actually the first one I ever read in either series, about a deadly assassin suddenly saddled with a woman and her son to safeguard, in a remote mountain site and remains high on my list of favorites to re-read. I’m probably going to try her Hope City series, about police detectives, although that’s really outside my normal reading parameters. I’m not much for crime stories even with romance but we’ll see.

I’m eagerly awaiting Under A Winter Sky: A Midwinter Anthology, which releases next week and has a new story from our fellow SFF member Jeffe Kennedy. I’m a HUUUGE Jeffe fan and I'm sure the other stories in the collection will be fun reads as well..

I also have no less than three Regency Christmas anthologies lined up on the kindle, waiting for a cozy evening when I’m just in the right mood to immerse myself…

Happy reading to you – I’d better get back to working on my own next book!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Eta and Agents

Like the sea after a storm. Except in no way does our sea look like this. Not yet. It may take a few days.

We were in Eta's path Wednesday. Eta came in as a category one hurricane and deteriorated to a tropical storm pretty quickly, but it made for one heck of an exciting day. Rain. So much rain. Wind, of course. Driving the rain against the south side of the house until Eta moved on past us. Then the wind shifted around to the west. 

The exciting part - and I mean exciting in that 'let's not do this ever again' kind of way - was every cell phone in the house blaring alarms for the copious tornado watches we had. 

Tornado warnings are first and go up for conditions that favor the formation of tornadoes. Tornado watches are second. They're the ones that alert out via emergency notification systems. When there's a watch, there's rotation in the clouds. That doesn't always mean a tornado on the ground, but it certainly means you turn on the news and watch the track of the cell that's been marked. If it heads your way, you take shelter.

Once the tornado watches and warnings stopped coming in, flood watches took over blowing up our phones. All night long. We're up high enough that we don't need to worry about the two resident gators in the backyard pond coming to dinner. 

What we had to worry about was that big south wind blowing all that water against the house. 

This morning, my bedroom floor is wrecked. Someone with very little foresight put laminate flooring in this house before we bought it. It's a kind that swells up and delaminates the instant it gets wet. This is Florida. EVERYTHING gets wet. And in this case, the storm found a way to drive water into hairline cracks in the masonry and ruin the floor. 

Hooray, insurance adjusters are in my future. 

We're lucky. We have only minor annoyance damage. At least one person was killed during the storm when the water rose enough in his house that it touched a live electrical wire. The person was electrocuted. I'll be filing that under things I never thought about happening with a hurricane/tropical storm. It never occurred to me. 

I know I was supposed to write about agents. So here's my advice: Do you want to be traditionally published? Get an agent. Just know that traditional publishing is slow. A great agent today may turn out to be the wrong agent tomorrow. Ask me how I know. On the plus side, an agent gets your work directly in front of an editor who would otherwise use your MS as a door stop. Do you want to write fast and run your own business? An agent probably isn't in your best interest. Indie publishing is something you do at your own pace. You have control of everything. The cons to going it on your own are that you go at your own pace and you control everything. If you're deadline driven, get an agent. If you're self motivated, consider skipping the agent and building your empire in your own image.

No matter which way you go, remember: There are no 'right' answers, only right for you answers. Also, back up your work.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Questions to ask a potential Agent AND yourself!

Literary Agents: someone who represents writers and their works to publishing houses….and film agents/producers, and audiobook companies, and foreign rights publishers, and often edit, and and and

If you’re debating the need for an agent I suggest Rory Gilmore-ing the crap out of it. Pro Con list time! That’s what I did, no surprise, and I landed firmly on traditional publishing which meant: I needed an agent. 

But, how do you select which agents you’d want to work with? How do you know if the ones you pick would be a benefit to your career? 

Truth: You Don’t. 

Situations arise that alter plans. You, nor your agent, can control the opinions of publishers. You, nor your agent, can control the market. There are so many variables that shift around you, choosing a book agent is really a leap of faith—but don’t despair! There’re also some grounded aspects at your fingertips.

Some agent aspects that shouldn’t change with the winds of publishing are: what genres they represent, what have they sold recently, what do some of their current authors think of working with said agent, what’s their reputation—if you can gather that. It’s leg work that absolutely should be done before you pursue them. But, being prepared for the call is also a huge part.

The call is basically you interviewing the agent. So, that means you’d better be prepared with a list of questions for them. And yes, there’s plenty of lists of Questions to ask an Agent before Signing out there, but I believe you should also be asking yourself questions alongside them…and be open with your agent about your thoughts.

Questions for the agent in Red. 

Questions for yourself in Blue.

What did you like about my book?

What do I like about my book?

What work do you see that needs to be done before going out on submission?

Are you an editorial agent?

Do I want to work with an agent on editing my book?

Do you sign authors for one book, or for their career?

Does your agency use a contract?

Are there others at your agency that I would be working with?

What does your submission process look like?

What happens if this book doesn’t sell?

What would I want to do with this book if it doesn’t sell?

What project do I really want to work on next?

Would you support me writing in a different genre?

How many authors do you represent and what genres do they write?

How do you usually communicate with your authors?

Do I want to brainstorm with an agent, or would I prefer to come to them with ready-formed ideas?

As always, there’s no wrong answers to these. But they’re important to ask and think about because once you’re in an agent-author relationship, and working with an agent is a business relationship, you’ll come across all of these situations and more.

I’ve been through this process and would love to answer questions if you have any! Drop them here, or you can find me on Insta and ask there! Otherwise, may the words be with you!

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Indies & Agents

Working with an agent: Would you? Could you? Should you?

As an Indie, I don't work with an agent currently, mostly because there's no need. There's no publisher, studio, or third-party corporation who is trying to buy the rights to my work or to whom I am trying to sell my rights--be it in the US markets or International.

The moment a business of any ilk wants to buy any segment of my rights, that's when I'd look for an agent, or at the very least, an IP lawyer. A business is always out for its best interests, which usually aren't my best interests. I suffer no delusion of being able to outsmart an entire legal department for whom IP contracts are old hat, thus getting an agent who is well experienced (and/or whose agency is) would behoove me.

Would an agent take me on? Possibly, if I already have an offer from a large publisher. Depends on whether there is money to be made--now and in the future--that is worth their time. Would an agent take me on with just the catalog I have and no offers on the table? Oh, gosh no. I have nothing for them to sell.

What if you're that one-in-a-billion unicorn Indie author who is approached by a publisher that wants to buy your already published works to which you still own all rights? Congrats! YES, get an agent before you sign anything. Reputable publishers will not balk at you asking them to hold that thought for two weeks while you secure an agent. When querying agents at that point, be sure to put "Query: Have Offer From [Publisher Name]" in the subject line.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

Should You Sign With an Agent?

Our topic at the SFF Seven this week concerns the benefits of working with an agent - or, for those of us without agents - times we've wondered if an agent would be helpful or why we choose not to have one. 

I do have an agent, Sarah Younger of Nancy Yost Literary Agency. She's the third agent who's represented me - and I can personally vouch that having a bad agent really is worse than having none at all. But, I do believe having a good agent can be hugely beneficial - depending on what kind of writing career you want to have. 

What are the benefits of working with an agent? Here are three - along with their associated caveats.

Selling to big traditional publishing houses. 

By this, I mean the bigger houses that don't take unsolicited submissions. A good agent has connections - positive relationships - with editors who depend on agents to bring them books that fit what they love and can buy. This means that agents who send submissions to tons of editors in the hopes of something sticking to the wall, are not good agents. Agents who only manage to sell to houses that take unsolicited submissions aren't bringing much to the table either. This also means that if you are happy sticking to self-publishing, you don't need an agent.

Contract negotiation

See above. If you're selling to traditional publishing, an agent can be critical in negotiating the best deal and securing your rights. They're savvy to the grabs publishers can try to sneak past unwary authors. An agent who doesn't argue with contract language may not be doing their job. Also, a good agent will be solidly on the author's team, fighting for the author. Be wary of agents who prioritize preserving their relationship with the editor over championing the author. Unless the author is behaving badly, the agent should always put them first.

Career planning

A good agent can help strategize which projects a writer should choose to work on next. Again, they're going to come at this from the angle of selling to traditional publishing. Now, if you're the sort of writer who wants to work on exactly what you want to work on, with no input and without consideration for the current market - which some people are and that's a legitimate choice - then you won't want this from an agent. An agent can still sell your work in this scenario, but they'll be the sort who say "give me the next thing you write and we'll see." Both of these models work, but knowing which will work for you is key.

Having an agent can be beneficial to an author, but it's not a career-maker or breaker. Knowing what you want from an agent - or IF you want an agent - is most important. 

Friday, November 6, 2020

Space Constraints

 Yes, hello? This is Marcella, phoning in her blog post because she spent the entire day - and I do mean the ENTIRE day - in the ER with an ill parent. Who is going to be just fine, btw. But the day's allotment of brain cells have been consumed and all that's left is the siren song of sleep.

So here. Photo. Just to prove that I do occasionally take pictures of something other than cats. 

As for book length - listen. If you self pub, do you as far as word counts/book length go. Readers will let you know right quick if they feel you're messing with expectation. 

If you're aiming for a traditional house, check their guidelines for length requirements and stick to them. 

During my second ever RWA conference, I pitched a book to an editor. She asked the word count. I gave it. 120k words. She said, "I can't publish that!" Turns out, bookstore shelf space is designed with mass market paperbacks in mind. A 100k word book in mass market is about an inch thick. X number of those books can fit cover out on the shelf. Anything more than that and a book store is going to have to stock fewer of your books or give up shelf space. You can guess how that math is going to go. Granted. This conversation took place before self publishing was a thing. Yes. I am that old. Hush. 

Trad print houses still have to worry about things like printed book footprint. 

E-pubs and self-pubs can monkey around a little with length. Pixels have pretty tiny footprints. Feetprints? They're small.

Yeah. I'm going to bed.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Book Length = Word Count Genre Guide

An end stack of six books and over each one is the text for the genre guide word count ranges given in the post.

That heady moment when you pick up a new book and leaf through the pages—maybe even stick your nose into them—checking out the back, cover and…the page count. 

I know I’m not the only bookworm that does that. And before, as an oblivious bookworm, I never gave much thought to how long a book was beyond noting if it was too short—especially if I was holding a fantasy. 

And there it is: your book's genre dictates its length

Why is that? Maybe it’s a little bit chicken or the egg, but readers have expectations of how long a book is depending on what type they’ve picked up and the publishing industry—including agents—have word count expectations depending on what genre is being handed to them. 

Wait…word count?! We were talking about book length—as in number of pages—right? 

Readers look at book length in number of pages, but that’s not a standardized metric. Font, letter size, page size, they all factor in, so publishing looks at a manuscript in word count

Word Count: estimated at 250 words per page

It’s fun math. You can pick up any book in your nightstand stack, peek at the last page, and multiply that by 250 (I’m reading a copy of GOOD OMENS which clocks in at 474…so that means it was a 118,500 word manuscript). I did an entire spreadsheet of books in varying genres when I was writing my first book to get the average for my genre. 

Though let me tell you, there are easier ways to find the industry standards. Jeffe did a great post on Sunday listing generalized lengths to differentiate short story, novelette, novella, and novel. As for the differences in genres, let me help you by sharing my genre guide!

YA (not SFF) 50,000 to 80,000 words

Cozy Mystery 70,000 to 85,000 words 

Horror/Mystery/Thriller/Suspense 70,000 to 90,000 words 

YA Sci-fi Fantasy 70,000 to 100,000 words 

Mainstream Romance 70,000 to 100,000 words 

Historical Fiction 100,000 to 120,000 words 

Sci-fi Fantasy 100,000 to 120,000 words

Yes, there are always exceptions. But there’s also always a reason for the rule. While discussing a fantasy book with my agent she mentioned that any word count over 120,000 bumps up into the next price level for binding (putting the physical book together). A good reason! 

As you’re writing, or NaNoing, keep in mind reader attention spans and publishing expectations—even if you’re planning the self-pub route. When in doubt, 80,000 to 90,000 words is a good range to shoot for!Even Writer's Digest recommends 80,000 to 89,999 as the golden zone. 

So...where does your book land?

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Size doesn’t matter when you’re talking books

Today, I’m not looking at votes counted or pundits projecting. I’m offline, mostly, and it feels amazing. Social media can make an anxiety-churning thing like this election even worse, at least for me. So I’m not really here, you don’t see me. :)

This week on SFF Seven we’re talking about how long a book ought to be. If you’re curious, Jeffe Kennedy posted some word counts on Sunday, and I would refer you to her post. It’s all the info you could possibly want, and I don’t have a lot to add.

Oh, except maybe one thing: if you’re looking to preserve your debut, never-been-published status, please know that size does not matter. You publish a thing, anywhere, and you are no longer a proper debut. I co-wrote a short story years before I sold my first book, and on a lark my co-writer submitted it to Harlequin, who bought it. It was fun, at the time, to see my name on something. I submitted a couple of short stories to anthologies after that because writing short stories is a blast and really kept my “I can do this” confidence up. Fast forward to when I actually wrote a for-real, full-length book and sold it, and I submitted that book to a “best first book” contest. Because it was my first book, right. Those short stories had required an entirely different skill set, or so I thought. Well, the folks running the contest sent me a note telling me I wasn’t eligible and they were refunding my entry fee. Eep. I felt like I’d been caught cheating or something, which had never been my intention. Still feels dirty, years later. 

At any rate, don’t do that to yourself. You can ruin something nice — like your debut moment — by writing anything, even the tiniest short story that no one even buys. 

So be kind to you: stay off social media when it makes you feel even lonelier... and keep the guilty pleasure writing projects to yourself.