Friday, July 25, 2008

Chuck Interviews Lilly

Chuck Sambuchino, editor of the GUIDE TO LITERARY AGENTS, interviewed me for their blog. Read the interview here:

In relevant news, I schooled Chuck at pool at the Writers League of Texas Conference in Austin last month. Funny thing, he "edited" that out of the interview!


Thursday, July 24, 2008

What Book Editors Really Want

Mediabistro featured Jeff Rivera's article "What Do Book Editors Really Want?", which interviews a wide range of industry professionals about this pressing question, including our own Stefanie!

What Do Book Editors Really Want?
Put a stop to rejections with these pointers from the pros

By Jeff Rivera – July 21, 2008

Book editors receive thousands of submissions each week, yet just a small percentage of them make the cut. If you've been on the sending end of submissions, then you've probably experienced the heartbreak and disappointment caused by an editor's rejection of your book proposal. What did I do wrong? I spent years writing and rewriting this manuscript. What more do they want from me?
Before having my first novel published by Grand Central Publishing, I wondered the same things. I wished that someone could have created a telepathic device I could install in editors' brains to download exactly what it was that they were looking for in a book proposal.
What are editors currently acquiring? What is consistently selling? And what do they wish writers would stop sending them?
I spoke with 20 editors, publishers and agents who know what today's marketplace looks like. They represent just about every major publishing house in the United States and because they work in the field, they were willing to share exactly what they're looking for and what they wish aspiring authors would send them.
Despite popular belief, editors do not want to reject your manuscript. Each day they hope is the day they will acquire a great project that they can champion through the publishing process. "They are not conspiring against writers in general," Michael Mejias of Writers House Literary Agency says. "They want it to be fantastic. Not good. Not great -- fantastic."

Novelty is key
Although tastes differ from editor to editor, whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction, there are certain points on which most editors agree. They may seem like common sense, but time and time again, editors say they're not seeing them from writers.
"A vividly written page-turner with characters who are interesting, dynamic individuals -- not clichés," is sought by Selina McLemore, editor at Grand Central Publishing. "Something fresh," adds Sam Rodriguez, an associate publisher at Thomas Nelson. She seeks, "new material that will engage the reader in a way that will captivate not only their minds but also the heart." "There are what, maybe 67 plots that are being recycled over and over again?" says literary agent Paul Cirone from the Friedrich Literary Agency. "If you can find a fresh and original way of saying something, that is what everybody is looking for."
Any time someone says their story has never been done before, they should think about that statement. Chances are, with the thousands of manuscripts and proposals that editors read every year, that yes, they have seen it before.
In fact, editors want to have seen it before. That is how they compare titles when presenting your book at their weekly meetings. And that is how they help determine how large of an advance you will be offered.
But what are you doing to tell your story, whether fiction or non-fiction that turns the subject upside down and makes it fresh and original? "You only get one shot to impress an editor, [so] make that shot count," says Adriana Dominguez, former executive editor at HarperCollins Children's. "An original idea, something that shows an awareness of the market always stands out."

Play up your platform
In my discussions with editors and agents, the term platform kept popping up, especially regarding non-fiction work. It is as much of a request as a great fresh concept. As the economy changes and financial belts tighten, publishers are interested in instant hits and all but guaranteed blockbusters. An author with a strong platform or established fan base is one way editors can ensure sales and success.
But what does the word platform actually mean in the minds of those who acquire books? "A constant platform is necessary," says Celebra publisher Raymond Garcia. "One that the author can communicate to potential book buyers and more specifically his book buyers. I do not want to call them fans at this point, but his community."
This doesn't mean you need to be a celebrity in order to sell a book, though it doesn't hurt. But being a leader or an authority in your field is extremely important. According to Garcia, a platform can be defined as a blog with a built-in audience, a regular TV or radio show, a speaking circuit, or any other type of fan base that has been created with significant numbers.
In your proposal, show an editor that you have a guaranteed audience likely to buy the book. This doesn't just mean finding statistics of potential buyers, but showing proof of a significant fan base.

Send proposals complete with marketing hooks
While quality of work and writing talent is vital, the second-most important element editors want from aspiring authors is proof of a book's saleability. In other words: provide marketing hooks.
Before I sold my first novel, the publishers told my agent they wanted to buy my book, but they asked, "How do we sell this?" My agent and I then put together a marketing plan and sent it to the publisher, helping to seal the deal.
A book has, "to have its marketing and publicity hooks. It's got to be timely. It's got to be or magical in a way," says Rene Alegria, publisher at Rayo, HarperCollins' Spanish imprint.
"Nowadays, writers are funding their own tours and promotional plans," says former executive editor Adriana Dominguez. "That is very attractive to an editor. Think to yourself, 'How can I make the editor's life easier?'"
Touchstone/Fireside editor Sulay Hernandez adds, "I love when authors give comparison titles, because we have to do that in order to sell the book at editorial, sales and marketing meetings. We have to know within the company how to market and sell the book. I love when someone shows that they have done their homework."

Which genres are selling?
This is the magic question. Although what is hot today may not be hot tomorrow, there are a few genres that consistently pique editors' interests.
Nonfiction, celebrity-driven books and anything to do with women's fiction sell constantly, according to multiple agents and editors.
"The danger in that is that writers start to believe that if they just write anything in genre X they'll automatically be able to sell their work, and that's not the case," warns Grand Central Publishing's Selina McLemore. "At the end of the day everything comes back to the strength of the writing."
"Nonfiction is outselling fiction these days, and the reason is that nonfiction is easier to market than novels," says Cirone. You have more of a hook for TV or print articles, more ways to publicize the book since it's about something tangible. It's much harder to go on [The Daily Show] and talk about the plot of a novel."
Jeanette Perez of HarperPerennial leans towards innovative fiction. "Some of the types of books I'm looking for, such as literature from other cultures, stems from the fact that they are underrepresented [in the U.S.]. For the HarperPerennial paperback imprint, we've had some good success with offbeat nonfiction, such as a collection of six-word memoirs. Another editor here found that idea online and ran with it. It ended up being a New York Times bestseller. I think we'd like to find more nonfiction books that would appeal to a similar audience."
Perez points out her interest in acquiring material that entices female readers. "I also adore working on literary fiction and upmarket women's fiction since I enjoy reading them, but also it seems that reading group participation continues to grow and their members tend to love these types of books."
Dominguez sees promise in the booming Latino book market. "Newly arrived immigrant parents tend to like them because they enable them to read books to their children in Spanish, the language they generally feel most comfortable in, while allowing their children to read them in English if they so choose, and to use them as a learning tool to pick up the new language. US-born Latinos tend to like them for usually the opposite reason; they want to recapture their family's tongue and want their children to do so as well. These parents are often able to jump from one language to another easily, and want their children to be able to do as well. Non-Latinos represent a growing market for these titles, as many of them want to raise bilingual children to add to their skill set in an increasingly competitive market and the new global economy. These readers tend to purchase titles with little text that they can use as fun, language-learning tools for their children."
"I'm always on the look-out for nonfiction areas like parenting and how-to if you have a special expertise," says Stefanie Von Borstel from Full Circle Literary. "We've had success with journalists or academics that work in a particular field who are able to identify a need in the market and bring their expertise to trade books."

Journalists need apply
A recurring theme from talking with editors and even agents in the industry is how being a journalist can be an asset in landing a deal. Journalists are well-received, and in some cases, sought-after by editors. The discipline it takes to be a journalist, the credibility, and the potential platform they bring are all elements that make journalists attractive to an acquisition executive.
"I'm definitely interested in acquiring books by journalists," says Vanessa Mobley, senior editor at Penguin. "I am interested in learning something new in a book. What always grabs me is when someone says to me, 'Here is this writer, here is a journalist who spent three, five, seven years reporting this story, and he or she has a new way to look at this subject.'"
"Journalists tend to be really tuned into the zeitgeist and what readers are looking for," says HarperPerennial's Perez. "Once they have a good idea, I feel like they can really run with it. Also, they tend to be very active in the media community, which really helps when it comes to publicizing their books. With the competitive book market, I'm always extremely grateful when an author can bring a lot of new contacts to the table and actively promote themselves along with our traditional marketing outreach."
Cirone finds that journalists "tend to have a true instinct for getting to the heart of a story. They also tend to have more access than your average layperson."
"I believe journalists in many instances have some of the most interesting materials simply because they have 'lived the stories'," says Rodriguez.

What not to send
With all those rejections each year, what is it exactly that is turning editors off?
Sulay Hernandez had formatting no-no's. "No colored paper and single-spaced manuscripts, no 'Dear Editor' cover letters. They must be personalized. I hate when someone submits something and they say, "No one has ever thought of this idea, because there is no such thing as that."
Adriana Dominguez says she abhors stereotypical representations of Latinos. "Just adding a Latino name to a character, a sombrero, or tortillas, does not make your manuscript more appealing to the Latino market. Those types of manuscripts immediately go into the rejection pile."
David Patterson from Holt Publishing acknowledges being, "skeptical about an overuse of certain huge titles as comparison titles. Like Malcolm Gladwell or Freakonomics. Do not use those buzz words carelessly, otherwise it hurts your credibility."
Agent Caren Johnson from Johnson Literary advises against forced familiarity and overshooting. "The first thing that will turn me off is if a writer is trying to be too chummy or if they promise, 'If you take me on, I will be your New York Times bestseller.'"
Genre-wise, anthologies prove tough to sell. "Even when I have the best, biggest name writers, to me [anthologies] are even harder to sell than short stories."
Brief, succinct queries entice agent Stefanie Von Borstel from Full Circle Literary. "I prefer short queries that focus on the pitch of the book and author highlights that will help me position your book. I have to admit I'm a bit turned off by lengthy queries and cover letters that include the history of your writing inspiration and pet names -- I suggest just two to three paragraphs that will spark my attention, and then let the writing speak for itself! Agents receive hundreds of submissions a month, and we need to be able to spot the value of the project immediately. The writer is the best person to make their project spark from the start!"

Jeff Rivera is the award-winning author of Forever My Lady (Warner/Grand Central).
Please see for more information about his work.

Isabel Does it Again: Food & Wine

FOOD & WINE has just released its "BEST OF THE BEST" collection, Vol.11, and we're proud to announce that our own Isabel Cruz is among the elite chefs in that collection of best cookbooks from the past year!

Isabel joins Bobby Flay, Jamie Oliver, Giada and more in this enticing collection, which includes over 100 recipes chosen by the editors of FOOD & WINE. The book boasts easy-to-make recipes and inside tips from the nation's hottest chefs.

To learn more, please visit:

Isabel's Cantina is still in stores everywhere.


To The Rescue of YA Writers!

Hot off the press! "Wild Ink: How to Write Fiction for Young Adults" by author Victoria Hanley is now available.

Victoria and I met when we hosted a YA panel for the Pikes Peak Writers Conference last year, which resulted in the interview you'll find on pages 107-110. Included is my no-fail list of mistakes authors can avoid making on submission!

Our fabulous YA author Amy Koumis, whose page-turning high school novel SPYGLASS is being prepared for submission is interviewed on Page 120.

You can never learn enough about writing the perfect novel, so I hope you'll check it out!


Monday, July 14, 2008

Guest Blogger: Penny Warner on Publication


by Penny Warner

I never planned to be a writer. I wanted to be a detective like Nancy Drew. But now that I’ve had over 50 books published—including THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK—I can’t imagine doing anything else.

If you’re a writer, you’re well aware there’s something festering inside you that must come out on paper—and it’s not just your grocery list, as well written as it might be. At least, that’s what it’s like for me. So after giving up a promising career in sleuthing to become a mother, I began to write.

My first works were non-fiction, based on topics of interest to me at the time. Since I’d just given birth to my first child, I was hungry for anything that had to do with babies—what to feed them, how to play with them, what to do with them all day long. After checking the bookshelves and finding little more than Dr. Spock’s tips on diapering and drooling, I realized there was a gap in the market that need filling. So with my background in Early Childhood Education and Special Ed, and my “vast” experience with my new baby, I realized I was practically an expert in this wide-open field of parenting.

With dreams of quickly typing up my first book, choosing a prestigious agent who would get me an advance large enough to pay for a summer home near Disneyland, and watching my publisher get me on Oprah (or at least Jerry Springer), I wrote a proposal. I figured, why write the whole book in case it doesn’t actually sell.

Without an agent, that first proposal for a book called HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS saw every publisher from Acme to Zero. I rapidly collected enough rejection slips to paper my “summer home.” Just about the time I’d given up hope of selling the book, I got a phone call from a local publisher interested in buying it. After doing a joyous happy dance, accompanied by more visions of glamorous pub parties, multi-city book tours, and carpal tunnel from signing so many autographs, reality quickly set it. The advance would barely pay for the cost of my paper. My name would be in a size two font. And my request for a sizeable publicity budget would become the publishing house joke.

Still, I had my first book. Published. By a real publisher. With my name on it (in a size two font.) Meanwhile, I’d learned a lot about the publishing business in the process. I learned that I needed an agent to help me find the right publisher for the book. I needed an agent to get me the best possible contract (I was so grateful to be published, I would have paid the publisher!) Most of all, I needed an agent to help me plan and manage my career (otherwise I’d still be writing SON OF HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS, BRIDE OF HEALTHY SNACKS FOR KIDS, and so on.).

So after 30 years in this business, I still love it. There’s nothing like the high you get when your agent says, “I sold your book!” Likewise, there’s nothing like seeing your “baby” in print for the first time. But I consider myself a working author. I still don’t have a summer home. Not even a yacht. But my advances and royalties, while not even close to Stephen King’s, have paid for my kids' orthodonture, their college education, and a new patio for my husband. (According to my agent, 80% of advances are under 20K. I’ve also heard that most writers make less than $4,000 a year!)

Since my first advance was so low, I’m grateful for whatever amount my agent can get me above that. And I know how the business works—it’s slower than watching ink dry—so I try not to call my agent every day “just to check in.” I spend that time working on my next book while waiting for that exciting phone call.

I also know I’m going to have to rewrite that proposal several times to make it perfect, find a “platform” (whatever that means), and create a realistic marketing plan that doesn’t use up my entire advance. And I know that when my book is published, my editor isn’t going to fly me to New York for lunch, rent billboard space announcing my latest title, or get me on The View, let alone Jerry Springer.

But like I said, I’d rather do this than anything else—solve crimes, host parties, play with kids. I can do all that and more—on paper. And with my last advance, I finally bought myself a roadster.

Penny Warner is the author of THE OFFICIAL NANCY DREW HANDBOOK (Quirk Books, November, 2007), and the upcoming ROCK-A-BYE BABY: 200 WAYS TO HELP BABY SLEEP BETTER (Chronicle Books, Sept 2008,) LADIES’ NIGHT: 75 FUN PARTIES FOR WOMEN (Adams Media, November 2008), PEEK-A-BOO BABY: 400 GAMES TO PLAY WITH YOUR BABY (Chronicle Books, 2009), and BABY’S FAVORITE RHYMES TO SIGN (Three Rivers/Random House, 2010)—all thanks to my incredible agents at Full Circle Literary.

Reach Penny at

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