Tag Archives: Acquisitions

An Epic Morning at Starbucks: Author Phillip Margulies’s Agent Story

Posted by January 14th, 2014

phillip Margulies 1Every traditionally published author has a story about how they found their literary agent. My favorites of these are always the more serendipitous ones, the ones that show not just a writer’s tenacity in their search, but also have a cinematic quality to them–a bit of a “meet-cute.” Below, Historical Fiction author Phillip Margulies, whose debut novel BELLE CORA came out from Doubleday last week, tells us how he met his agent, Dorian Karchmar of William Morris, at his local Starbucks. It wasn’t just good timing, however–read on to see how Phillip impressed Dorian even before she read his work, and how that fateful meeting helped him to realize one of his longest-held dreams.

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For unpublished writers the true tale I’m about to relate qualifies as a story of survival.  Whether it is an inspiration or a warning, I’m not sure.

I have been writing fiction since the age of 11;  that is, since 1963, half a century ago. Empires fell, presidential administrations went by in a blur, the quill in my hand became a typewriter and then a laptop, while I sat there in my Time Machine writing.  I had no other ambition, no other serious employment.  By 2005, when I began BELLE CORA, I had written eight previous novels and numerous short stories and poems, all unpublished; also some unproduced plays.  Editors praised my work.  They wished me luck “finding the right publisher.”

My wife, Maxine Rosaler, has a writer friend who is regularly published—they’re from the same town and have stayed friends despite their highly divergent destinies. The friend’s husband had recently asked my wife: “Why does Phil bother?” Like, Phil’s in his fifties, can’t he take a hint?  Earlier, when I was merely in my forties, another friend had told her: “At this stage of his life he’ll never get published.” My wife decided not to pass on either of these remarks, which is unusual for her, but sometimes in a fight when I accused her of saying everything she could say to hurt me, she’d say, “No, I don’t.  There are things I could say that I don’t say.”  Which was, wow, really infuriating. Continue reading

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Meet Writer Jamie Wyman

Posted by February 25th, 2013

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

jamie_wyman_author_sm1“I love that moment when lightning strikes and an idea just gels into perfection.” –Jamie Wyman

Jamie Wyman is a fantasy and horror writer from Phoenix who’s been with Book Country since the very beginning. Two weeks ago, she broke the news that her debut urban fantasy Technical Difficulties, which she workshopped on the site, was picked up by Entangled Publishing. We got in touch with Jamie to congratulate her and find out how she’s been doing since the announcement. (I highly recommend Jamie’s post about the book deal to all aspiring authors; it’s both heart-warming and informative.)

Jamie is known by many names. Here, she asked we call her “The Omnipotent Despot to All Things Peachy.”

Nevena: Congratulations on the acquisition, Jamie! What has your life been like since the big news became public?

Jamie: Thanks! Life has been mostly normal but with a lot more squeeing. There have been a few surreal moments, including my first piece of “fan mail.” Another editor who read the book on submission didn’t get it to her acquisitions board in time, but she emailed me to let me know how much she enjoyed the book. That made my morning! And I’ve been talking with publicists. Seriously? I have publicists. Totally surreal.

Nevena: It does sound surreal. Congrats again. Now, tell us more aboutTechnical Difficulties. What transformations has it gone through since the first draft? Did you have to kill any “darlings”?

JamieTechnical Difficulties is an urban fantasy following Catherine Sharp, an IT professional with a personal debt to the Greek Goddess of Discord, Eris. When Cat discovers that her soul is a chip in Eris’s poker game, she has to turn the tables on four trickster gods who are vying for her soul.

There have been more than ten revision passes on it at this point, eight of which I did before querying agents. The opening scene and the structure at the end are the only major changes from the rough draft, and those were based on feedback from my agent—the stellar Jennie Goloboy at Red Sofa Literary agency. She and my beta readers gave me spectacular critiques.

And yes, I had to kill darlings, but the book is better this way.

Nevena: What do you wish you’d been told about getting acquired and working with an editor?

Jamie: “No, seriously, Jamie. When I say you need patience, I’m talking epic amounts.” Patience does not come naturally to me. The past four years of working toward publication have helped with that, but sometimes it’s still not enough.

Nevena: Well, your efforts have paid off! What draws you to the urban fantasy genre? What cliché would you most like to see erased from it?

Jamie: If fantasy is all about escapism, urban fantasy is a staycation. It takes these old fairy tales and plunks them down into the middle of reality. This leads to all sorts of questions. How do wizards interact with technology? What happens when a satyr lands in Las Vegas with a trickster god? It’s such a fertile playground!

As to clichés, I think the one that bothers me the most is the “rape as initiation” trope. Male leads jump through all sorts of hoops to earn their stripes in the supernatural world, but it seems that women are—more often than not—tested with rape.  It’s ubiquitous and most times not integral to the plot.

Nevena: This is one cliché I’d like to see banished from the genre as well! Tell me, when did you start writing?

Jamie: I’ve been telling stories since I was in single digits. My grandma used to record me telling them. Later I filled notebooks with short stories, scripts, poetry…a lot of them terrible. I didn’t write my first novel, though, until 2008. It was crap. I got better, though.

Nevena: What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Jamie: I love that moment when lightning strikes and an idea just gels into perfection. Sometimes this comes in the brainstorming/plotting/pre-visualization part. Sometimes during drafting. Other times editing. Usually it’s in the shower.

Nevena: Why did you join Book Country? How has it helped you grow as a writer?

Jamie: I needed someone to look at my work with a craft perspective. When Colleen put out the call for betas when Book Country launched, I couldn’t volunteer fast enough.

Book Country helped me learn to trust my voice and my instincts. Many times the comments on the site would confirm what I thought was wrong (or right) with a piece. While it helped me develop a thicker skin, it also taught me how to take a compliment. Seriously, you don’t think about that, but I’m a very self-deprecating person. That’s what my whole sense of humor is based on. So when I started getting positive feedback, I had to learn to accept it rather than bat it away with the negative.

Nevena: Sounds awesome. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

Jamie: What writer Neil Gaiman said once on an episode of Arthur: “Don’t judge your story; you’ve just started writing it. Trust your story. Tell it because you’re the only one who can.”

Nevena: What’s next? When will your novel “hit the shelves”?

JamieTechnical Difficulties will hit a digital device near you. (It’s early stages, so the release date hasn’t been set yet.) I’ve also just learned that one of my short stories will be appearing in an anthology later this year. But I can’t give details about that project yet. Stay tuned!

Nevena: So secretive! Get us the details when you are at liberty to say more. Is there anything else you want the community to know about you?

Jamie: I’m still not sure what the hell I’m doing. I make this up as I go along.

Connect with Jamie on Book Country, and catch up with news about her upcoming novel at her blog. Follow her on Twitter @beegirlblue

Image © Eric Fiallos

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Countdown to Kerry Schafer’s BETWEEN

Posted by January 18th, 2013

Join us to celebrate Book Country betafish and Penguin author Kerry Schafer and the release of her first book!

kerry_and_betweenBack in January of 2012, we announced the spectacular news that Book Country member and original beta user Kerry Schafer had been offered a two-book deal with Penguin’s science fiction and fantasy imprint Ace. Kerry’s debut novel, the urban fantasy BETWEEN, was workshopped on Book Country, where it captured the attention of Berkley editorial director Susan Allison. To get the full scoop about Kerry’s path to publication, click here for the USA Today story.

Now, finally, the book hits the shelves in only 11 days—on January 29th!

My colleague Colleen and I got our own copies of BETWEEN in the mail yesterday (and yes, we did do a happy dance), and today we wanted to take a moment to celebrate Kerry’s success and her book’s release.

CONGRATULATIONS, KERRY!

We’ll be hosting a Twitter chat with Kerry soon to talk about her book and her unusual pathway to publication, and we’ll be giving away copies to five lucky readers!  Follow our announcements on Twitter @BookCountry for more details.

UPDATE: The Twitter chat will be on Tuesday, February 5 at 9 PM EST. Join us!

BETWEEN tells the story of the intrepid ER doctor-turned-dreamshifter Vivian Maylor. Shuttled into a world between dream and reality, she has to guard the doorways separating the two. If she fails, all hell will break loose and magical creatures–deadly dragons–will spill into the physical world. (And I think it’s only fitting that there is a random penguin following Vivian from one reality to the other.)

If haunting, well-written prose and a smart, strong female lead are your cup of tea, then you’ll love BETWEEN.

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Vivian Maylor can’t sleep. Maybe it’s because she just broke up with her boyfriend and moved to a new town, or it could be the stress of her new job at the hospital. But perhaps it’s because her dreams have started to bleed through into her waking hours.

All of her life Vivian has rejected her mother’s insane ramblings about Dreamworlds for concrete science and fact, until an emergency room patient ranting about dragons spontaneously combusts before her eyes—forcing Viv to consider the idea that her visions of mythical beasts might be real.

And when a chance encounter leads her to a man she knows only from her dreams, Vivian finds herself falling into a world that seems strange and familiar all at once—a world where the line between dream and reality is hard to determine, and hard to control…

You can keep up with Kerry and her progress with the second in the Books of the Between, WAKEWORLD, at her website: http://www.kerryschafer.com. Kerry Schafer is represented by Deidre Knight of The Knight Agency.

Photo courtesy of the author

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GEEKOMANCY Revealed!

Posted by May 2nd, 2012

Book Country user Mike Underwood shares the cover for his forthcoming urban fantasy novel.

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Back in March, we were ecstatic when one of our long-time super-users,Michael R. Underwood, sold his debut book GEEKOMANCY and its sequel to editor Adam Wilson at Pocket Books. GEEKOMANCY – an urban fantasy that Mike describes as “Clerks meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer” – was first workshopped on Book Country, and instantly became a community favorite. It’s now scheduled to come out on July 10, 2012! You can pre-order the book here.

We’ve been keeping up with Michael’s progress and are happy to be able to share his amazing book cover:

 

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The cover is a stunning drawing of GEEKOMANCY’s main character, Ree Reyes, a “barista-and-comicshop slave.” It does a great job of capturing the quirky charm of Michael’s heroine. The novel follows her adventures in an urban version of Alice’s Wonderland, as Reyes helps a scruffy-looking guy named Eastwood investigate a string of mysterious teen suicides.

Congratulations to Michael on his success!

We wish him luck with putting the finishing touches on his book and planning out the sequel. To keep up with Michael and the publication of GEEKOMANCY, follow him on Twitter @MikeRUnderwood or read about his writing joys and travails on his blog, Geek Theory. Michael is represented by Sara Megibow of Nelson Literary Agency.

* Cover art by Trish Cramblet, Design by Min Choi

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Book Packaging: Another Way to Get Published

Posted by March 22nd, 2012

Book Country Twitter Chat (March 15, 2012)

Learn about the ins and outs of book packaging from experts of Stonesong agency, Ellen Scordato, Alison Fargis, and Judith Linden.

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What is book packaging?! It has nothing to do with literally packaging a physical book. It is an alternative way to get published, also known as book development. Book packagers may be enigmatic figures to laymen, but any industry insider will tell you that they play a fundamental role in the book world!

As one of our guests Alison Fargis told us, the book packager is like an independent film producer, in charge of doing everything that has to do with putting a book together — working with writers and publishers on a project management level, offering comprehensive editorial, design, and production work, as well as marketing and PR. Book packagers help publishers execute difficult or crash projects. Or they come up with their own idea for a book and hire writers who bring the concept to life.

How does this pertain to YOU? Well, the book packaging industry employs a ton of freelance writers and publishing professionals. It is a great way to break into the biz and get writing credits. Our special guests to tell us more are the ladies of Stonesong, a NYC-based literary, publishing, and book development agency — Ellen Scordato (@EScordato), Alison Fargis ( @AlisonFargis), and Judith Linden ( @JudyLinden1) — mostly package non-fiction.

Ellen Scordato is a book packager who handles production, design and custom publishing, and has a quarter century of in-depth publishing experience. She used to be a managing editor who loved production and midwifing great ideas, and it is the passion for project management that got her into book packaging.

Alison Fargishas 17 years of packaging and book development experience. She often puts on a literary agent hat, representing clients such as bestselling author of The Sisters Grimm, Michael Buckley. In 2002, Alison and Ellen co-founded Stonesong.

Judith Linden joined Ellen and Alison at Stonesong in 2004 as Executive VP, Literary Agent, and Director of Digital and Print Media. Prior to joining Stonesong, Judith spent nearly 20 years as an executive editor and book developer at two major publishing houses.

Together, they have produced many bestselling titles, including The Daring Book for GirlsDating the Undead, and Smart Words. With 75 years of combined editorial and packaging experience, they are a treasure trove of pub insight! Here’s a taste:

@JudyLinden1: Basically we [book packagers] are agents plus. We follow a project from inception to final form. For PETFINDER [a book about adopting shelter dogs], we found the org, wrote proposal, sold it, edited every word, managed photos, delivered ms to pub.

@EScordato: We don’t have writers on staff. We compose teams specifically for each project, depending on the expertise needed.Suppose we a book on culinary history or a craft book. We might look for writers who have blogs on the subject, or teach on it.

@AlisonFargis: We also look for writers for the crash projects publishers send our way.

@JudyLinden1: [Biggest subjects in non-fiction book packaging right now] cooking, design, lifestyle, diet, relationships, pop psychology, pop culture, fashion, parenting among others.

@EScordato: Yes! We certainly are [considering every delivery medium]. Very active in developing ebooks.

@AlisonFargis: I keep resumes for years. I may not have a gig for u right now but if the right project comes along I will call.

If you missed the chat or want to refresh your memory, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document HERE. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all of our chat participants!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats are taking a short hiatus, but typically occur every other Thursday. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Dates, topics, and special guests are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look! And follow us on Twitter @Book_Country.

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Meet Writer Kerry Schafer

Posted by January 24th, 2012

Book Country Member Spotlight Q&A

kerry_schafer_for_webWho exactly is Kerry Schafer? The new Penguin author and “old” Book Country member let’s us get to know the real Kerry.

There’s been a lot of buzz in the industrythe past couple of weeks about our very own Book Country member Kerry Schaferbeing offered (and accepting!) a two-book deal from Ace Books. But while it’s a wonderful, amazing success (both for Kerry and for Book Country, where she was discovered!), I want to know more about KERRY!

There are articles swimming around the internet about the book deal, how it happened, what the book’s about, etc. but no one has taken the time just yet to really talk to the woman behind the words about life, writing, reading–the fun non-businessy stuff!

Naturally, that means I’m going to.

That said, please welcome Kerry Schafer, an original Book Country “betafish” from northeastern Washington State, to our Book Country Member Spotlight!

DP: Let’s start from the beginning: How and why did you start writing?

KS: I grew up loving books. My mom read to me from the time I was a toddler, and I had my favorite books memorized and would insist on “reading” them to people long before I could read. I’m sure it all started there, although when I started writing it wasn’t stories – mostly poetry for years.

DP: The two books you have posted on the site, DEAD BEFORE DYING(paranormal mystery) and BETWEEN(urban fantasy) are very different in tone and genre. What appeals to you about each of these projects? What similarities do you see in the two, if any?

KS: Both books started with a concept that captured my interest. For BETWEEN, the whole idea of alternate realities was the trigger that led to developing the worlds in the book. And DEAD BEFORE DYING started with a Twitter joke about a geriatric vampire. Somebody dared me to write it, and I wrote the original first chapter just for fun and then got hooked.

Both books share an element of the strange and bizarre showing up in the real world, and this is my favorite place to write. Maybe because things are regularly happening in my job that make me and my co-workers look at each other and say, “You can’t make this stuff up.”

DP: Working in the field of mental health, you must get a great deal of insight into the human condition and motivation. How do you use your professional experience when crafting your characters?

KS: One of my favorite ways to get a grip on a new character is to find a defining life event for them. We all have these moments, the things that change everything – a death, a tragedy, a humiliation. That one event tends to color everything else about how your see your own life story. So how the character reacts to that event goes a long way to defining who they are as a human being. It’s also very helpful to have talked with folks who are dealing with things like PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, etc. – if I want to write something like that into a story I can make it accurate and real.

DP: Every writer struggles with at least one aspect of his or her work. What has been the hardest obstacle for you personally? How did you (or are you trying to) overcome it?

KS: For me, the biggest thing is plot. I like to pants novels. There is a certain wildness and thrill of discovery in that. In fact, most of the rough drafts of novels I’ve done – including BETWEEN and DEAD BEFORE DYING – were written during Nanowrimo.  My plotting consisted of pulling an old vinyl album off the shelf, closing my eyes, pointing to a song, and using that as a chapter title. Not the best way to construct a tight and coherent plot, although it was a lot of fun. So I’ve revised repeatedly and adopted some methods of plotting that work for me. Last year I went to a James Scott Bell seminar, which was amazing and really helped me. I also use his book REVISION AND SELF EDITING, which includes some great advice on plot and structure.

DP: Now that you have an agent and a book deal (ok, I’m going to ask ONE book deal related question), you’ve begun interacting on a deeper level with such publishing professionals. What has surprised you the most about the experience? Or is it pretty much what you expected?

KS: Well, as an “aspiring writer” I always felt a little bit like I was standing outside the locked door to the inner sanctum. Inside, all of the agents and editors and other publishing people were having a party from which I was excluded. And then overnight I suddenly had email addresses and phone numbers for a number of these people, who were actually just working very hard at their jobs and not partying at all. I always knew they were just human beings like the rest of us, but it’s nice to have this confirmed. It’s been really fun to see what goes on behind the scenes before an announcement of a deal, or a publicity release.

DP: You don’t have any favorite books or writers listed in your profile–*gasp!*–why not? Have there been any particular works that have impacted you as a writer, or that you read again and again?

KS: Um, yeah. I’ve never been much for “favorites.” I read and love books widely across a lot of genres. I suppose if I was listing the books that have impacted me the most deeply, I’d have to say The “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, C.S. Lewis’ “Narnia” books, Madeleine L’Engle’s “Wrinkle in Time” trilogy. These are all well-worn books I have on my shelf. Also LITTLE WOMEN, which I half memorized as a teenager, and the “Anne of Green Gables” and “Emily of New Moon” books by Lucy Maude Montgomery. Guy Gavriel Kay’s “Fionovar Tapestry” trilogy,  and Stephen R. R. Donaldson’s MIRROR OF HER DREAMS and A MAN RIDES THROUGH probably also have influenced my own writing a lot. And then there’s Robertson Davies, Martha Grimes, Jonathan Kellerman, Elizabeth Peters… you see my problem with the favorites thing.

DP: You have teenage kids, a busy, often on-call career, two blogs, and you write regularly. How do you make time for it all? Do you have a specific writing schedule you stick to, etc.?

KS: That is the million dollar question, and one I’m always finding new answers for. Since the book deal came through I’m looking at all of my commitments and shuffling everything around, trying to figure out how to make even more time for writing. I’ve been working on a self study RN refresher course and haven’t had time to look at it in the last couple of weeks. Basically, I just don’t have much of a life outside of the things mentioned. I watch very little TV, I don’t go out much. I spend time on Twitter, but I never see it as time wasted – I’ve learned so much there and met so many amazing and wonderful people. Making a schedule is hard because my work schedule is so erratic – I seldom have the same days off two weeks in a row, and I may or may not have writing time when I’m working call shifts. I try to make schedules when I’m feeling overwhelmed but I’m not so good at following them. Mostly I just slog away at writing whenever I have time. Lately I’ve been trying to get 500 words in before I go to work in the morning. If I can get away for lunch, I might manage another 500 then. More at night if I can stay awake. And on my days off I try to make up the difference.

DP: I hear that you’re from Canada (and share my love of hockey, naturally!). Are there any Canadian authors you love that us U.S.-born (or other-born!) folk might not know? Expand our horizons!

KS: Hmmm. I think everybody knows Margaret Atwood and Michael Ondaatje and Charles DeLint. Guy Gavriel Kay seems to be lesser known here than in Canada – he’s an amazing fantasy writer. Margaret Laurence wrote some pretty cool literary type stuff. Oh, I know – Robertson Davies. I love his books and most people here don’t seem to know about him. Also, one of my favorite poets was a Canadian – Earl Birney.

DP: You call yourself a “denizen of alternate realities.” What do you mean by that exactly?

KS: You had to ask. I really do often feel that I’ve wandered into strange little bubbles of reality. Once you start watching for the absurd, you find it everywhere. Things like a Craigslist.org item from somebody in the Midwest looking for a “friendly female giraffe” to live in their barn. You meet three people in the same week with a name like Aberforth when you’ve never met a person with that name in your life before. Something you KNOW was true yesterday suddenly isn’t and nobody else seems to know what you’re talking about when you question this. I’m fascinated by these things, and it seems entirely natural to take it one step further in my writing and create intersections between worlds.

DP: As always, for our final question, let’s talk about something other than writing. We’d love to hear a random fun fact about you!

KS: I used to play the tuba in band. It’s a wonderful instrument, often slighted. Also difficult to manage when walking up stairs onto a stage while wearing a floor-length skirt.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Schafer

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The Elusive Author-Agent Relationship

Posted by January 19th, 2012

Author Laura Griffin and agent Kevan Lyon discuss how to build and maintain a strong author-agent relationship.

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteAlmost all writers who have publication aspirations have, at some point, queried an agent (or are planning to!). And sadly, a large number of those queries don’t get offers of representation. So when an interest agent reaches out, it’s not surprising that writers get excited and anxious to move forward. But it’s important to remember that just because you have an offer at represensentation, doesn’t mean he or she is the right agent for you. You have to be compatible with your agent on several levels and be willing to work through the bumpy patches.

What exactly are these “levels,” you ask? Just check out our January 12th, 2012 Twitter chat with author and agent team Laura Griffin(@Laura_Griff) and Kevan Lyon(@KevanLyon) to find out! They’ve been working together for five years and twelve books and have one of the strongest author-agent relationships I’ve seen. They also have some great tips regarding the best questions to ask a potential agent.

But first, a little backstory on our special guests…

Laura Griffin is a New York Times bestselling romantic suspense author. Since her first book published in 2007, Laura has been busy writing and developing her popular Tracers series, the fifth novel of which, TWISTED, comes out on April 17th. (Mark your calendars!)

Kevan Lyon is a founding partner of the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. With a main focus on women’s fiction, romance, and young adult, she reps a number of clients and spends muchtime nurturing her relationship with each one of them. her background in book sales and distribution doesn’t hurt either!

Here’s a little preview of what our participants had to say on the topic:

@Laura_Griff: It is a bit like a marriage! Because it’s a partnership and you both have to be striving toward the same goal.

@KevanLyon: You want to try to get a feel for how they communicate, how often, how quickly. Their submission process, should you expect to hear from them during that process, how much information they share, etc.

@ColleenLindsay: Some writers are self-confident; some need a lot of handholding. An agent has to decide how comfortable they are with that.

@KevanLyon: When you recv an offer of representation make sure you are ready wi questions — make sure it feels right to you.

@Laura_Griff: Twitter and FB are great resources for [writers looking for the right agent]. Talk to other writers and hear what they think of diff agencies & publishers.

@allison_pang: Agent needs to be able to you give you the hard news as well as easy.

@KevanLyon: [The biggest mistake an author-agent can make is] not communicating honestly. I always want to hear from an author 1st if something is bothering them.

@Laura_Griff: Ask the agent what they like about your work. See if they seem sincerely excited. That’s important.

We’ve also posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles. Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up. Thanks to all who participated in this helpful chat!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

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What Makes a Mystery So “Cozy”?

Posted by November 23rd, 2011

Book Country Twitter Chat (November 17, 2011)

Delve into the cozy mystery subgenre–what it is, what’s expected, how to write it–with editor Faith Black and author Gayle Trent

 twitter_newbird_boxed_blueonwhiteFor some, cozy mysteries are quite the enigma. They’ve gotten more and more popular over the past several years, wrangling readers of all kinds, but many still think: but what is a cozy mystery exactly? How is it different from a general mystery? What makes it so “cozy”? Don’t most books inspire that curl-up-with-a-good-book feeling of warmth and wonder? Hmmm….curious…


The Book Country Genre Map defines cozies as “a subgenre of mystery set in a small town or village. Cozies are characterized by their lack of explicit sex and violence. The protagonist is usually a likable female sleuth who is often viewed as an annoyance by the local police. Well-known cozy writers include Donna Andrews and M.C. Beaton.”

But there’s much more to it, which is why we brought in the experts–Faith Black (@FaithBlackGirl) and Gayle Trent (@GayleTrent)–to tell us how it really is.

Editor Faith Black acquires mysteries for Berkley’s Prime Crime imprint (and much more, of course). Her vast experience in genre fiction and love of cozies is clear after even a brief chat with this awesome lady!

Gayle Trentis the bestselling author of Murder Takes the Cake, the first novel in her Daphne Martin Cake Decorating series, currently with Gallery Books. She also writes fun embroidery cozies for Berkley Books under the name Amanda Lee–The Quick and the Thread is the first in the series.

Take a look at these helpful excerpts from our chat:

 

@GayleTrent: I define cozy mystery as Desperate Housewives meets Mayberry RFD. Everyone knows everyone, but someone has a deep, dark secret!

@FaithBlackGirl: The protags [in cozies] tend to be mostly female but I would actually love to read more cozies with male protagonists.

@peachereader: We like the hobby cozy because it gives us one more thing we can relate to. Hence reading a cozy is always like coming home.

@GayleTrent: When you’ve absolutely GOT to tell someone what weird,  hilarious thing someone just did, you put it in a book with a secondary character.

@FaithBlackGirl: Some [police procedural] knowledge is definitely useful but you don’t need to go all CSI. More Miss Marple, less David Caruso.

@Chumplet: The feeling of familiary in the setting and characters make cozy mysteries easy to love.

If you missed the chat or want to remind yourself, we’ve posted the entire transcript as a PDF document here. The PDF will open in your browser and you’ll be able to save it to your computer if you like. You can also get to know your fellow genre fiction lovers by clicking directly on their Twitter handles.

Please note that the chat appears from newest to oldest tweets, so start at the bottom and work your way up.

Thanks to all who made this chat such a great success!

REMEMBER: Book Country Twitter chats occur every other Thursday night from 9-10 pm EST. Just use the hashtag #bookcountry to participate or follow along. Topics are announced in advance in the Book Country Discussion forums, so be sure to take a look!

 

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What Mystery Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 8th, 2011

Mysteries can be a mystery! NAL and Berkley editorial give us an inside look at the mystery market: what works and what they’re looking for. 

 book and glasses - special credit reqIn this second installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want,” we’re shifting the focus from romance novels to mystery novels, an intriguing and timeless genre with a number of popular subgenres. With so many different kinds of mysteries on the shelves, it can be confusing to figure out what exactly it is you’re writing and if it’s what a particular publishing house is looking to acquire.
We’ve once again turned to the experts, the mystery editors at New American Library (NAL) and Berkley Books, to give a quick lesson about the mystery genre as a whole, what’s hot right now, and what they’re looking for:

When it comes to writing a mystery that fits into the current market, first get back to the basics to make sure you’re book is categorized correctly. It’s easy to confuse a mystery component of a novel with a mystery novel itself. A “mystery” refers to novels whose plot revolves around a crime, typically a murder, and the search to figure out who committed it.  The protagonist is generally a sleuth, either professional or amateur, who engages in a hunt for the culprit by investigating and following various clues and reasoning processes.  After weeding out other potential suspects, the story usually ends with the apprehension of, or at least understanding of, who the killer is and what motivated them to commit the crime.

While mysteries often have other elements included in the story, the protagonist of a mystery is primarily concerned with the solving of the crime. For instance, the main character might have a love interest, so there could be a romantic subplot, but as long as it is secondary to the crime itself, you are still writing a mystery, and not a different type of book, like a romance.

Mysteries are related to, but different from thrillers, in that a thriller also tends to begin with some sort of crime.  However, in a thriller the reader usually learns quite quickly who has committed the crime and the driving force of the plot is not to figure out who-done-it, but to see if the hero can prevent the antagonist from getting away with the crime and striking again. Now, of course, there are all types of mysteries, so you’ll see that the genre has all sorts of subcategories.  This is because people shop for mysteries by the settings and time periods they find most interesting. The most popular subgenres change with time, and the best way to keep track of what the current ones are is to read the bestseller lists and see what kinds of mysteries are most popular.

Right now, some of the most successful genres are the following, and we editors are always looking for more fresh and exciting stories in the same vein:

Cozy mysteries
A descendent of  the novels written by Agatha Christie, this is a mystery where the sleuth, who is often female, is an amateur detective (meaning they aren’t a professional PI, police detective, cop, FBI agent, or any of the other various licensed professionals who might legitimately be solving a crime).  There is little to no violence on the page in the cozy mystery.  The setting tends to be small towns and the characters often know one another.  Usually there are subplots involving romances and friendships, with various relationship and career issues. In a cozy, the balance between character and storyline, the characters and the relationships between them, are often as important as the puzzle of the plot. We are especially eager to see more Cozy mysteries on submission.

There are also a number of variations within the cozy subcategory:

  • The culinary cozy, where the amateur sleuth is involved in the world of cooking and/or the setting is connected with food.  Think of New York Times bestselling author Diane Mott Davidson, whose Goldy Schulz series has been running for decades now;
  • The crafty cozy, where the amateur sleuth is part of some hobby within the crafting world (like knitting or quilting) and the members of the world help to solve the crime.  Authors like Maggie Sefton,Earlene Fowler, and Betty Hechtman are all people who are using a fiber hook in their mysteries and making the most of it;
  • The paranormal cozy, where the sleuth often has some sort of paranormal ability and/or investigates strange happenings connected with the paranormal world.  New York Timesbestselling author Victoria Laurie and national bestselling authorSofie Kelly are two authors among many who have made the light paranormal mystery their own;
  • The chic-lit cozy, where the sleuth is often involved in more glamorous pursuits like fashion, jewelry, accessories. Ellen Byerrum and Elaine Viets have been crafting fun chic-lit mysteries for decades.

Historical mysteries Here the setting is an intriguing historical time period, the sleuth may or may not be modeled after a specific, well-known historical personage, and historical events often serve as a springboard for the mystery explored.  Variations include:

  • Historical mysteries where the sleuth is based on a recognizable or famous historical personage, like Abigail Adams, Dorothy Parker, or is a minor character connected with a more famous historical character, like the maid to Sir Author Conan Doyle.  New York Times bestselling author Laurie King writes a “Mary Russell series” centering the fictional wife of Sherlock Holmes, and more recently J.J. Murphy has put Dorothy Parker at the center of mysteries and the Round Table;
  • Mysteries set in a particular time period, like the Regency era or early Colonial America, whose protagonist is in some way a stock character typical of the era.  Victoria Thompson’s gaslight mystery series, set in turn-of-the century New York with a midwife protagonist is just such a series.

Traditional mysteries
Unlike cozies, in the traditional mystery the puzzle of the plot and the setting become as important as, if not more important than, the relationships between the various characters in the story.  Often the characters in these mysteries are well developed with deep backstories and complex personalities—yet still they play second fiddle to the solving of the crime. But because the characters are so vivid, the crimes also tend to be complicated, complex, and fueled by surprising motivations.  Some of the mysteries in this category may use language that is quite literary in nature, so the style of the language becomes a distinguishing feature of the book.  Authors you may have read include Nancy Pickard, with her wonderful “Kansas” series, or Louise Penny, with her long running “Chief Inspector Gamach” series. Other mysteries in this area may high suspense and semi-realistic chase scenes, so they may at times feel like thrillers.

Scandinavian mysteries
These are mysteries that have come to the fore in recent years.  Set in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, or Finland, they often have a traditional PI investigating a crime that is indicative of things gone amiss in the society at large.  The detective in the Scandinavian mysteries can exhibit a modern, world-weary attitude and be overcome by feeling of ineffectualness and despair.  The setting becomes all important as the ice and cold of the physical world becomes metaphoric for the conditions the detective seeks to surmount.  These books have dominated the New York Timesbestseller lists lately and well known authors include Stieg Larsson,Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbo.

Hard-boiled mysteries
Of course, not all mysteries can be doing well commercially all the time.  The hard-boiled, or “noir,” mystery is a type that has long existed but is not enjoying as much popularity at the moment.  These are mysteries in which the sleuth is usually a professional PI (and often a tough, quiet sort of guy) and the setting is gritty and realistic.  There are varying degrees of violence and the crimes are often explicitly described on the page.  Guys like Mickey Spillane were some of the commercial founders of this category.
However, even if a certain category is not popular now, it will no doubt, have its day eventually.  Twenty years ago American readers weren’t generally reading Scandinavian mysteries, and now they dominate the bestseller lists.  The only thing you can really count on is change.

So, study the market, pay attention to what’s on the bestseller lists, and read the books that people are talking about the most. Not so you can mimic them, but so you can meld your own interest with what the market supports.  Some worry that this is being “overly commercial,” but editors would argue it’s a way to be relevant to the current reading world.  If you don’t pay attention to what mystery fans want to read, you may have to accept that you’ve spent your time and energy working on a project for an audience of one (or maybe two or three!). If you want reach a bigger fan base, you need to stay in touch with what readers are responding to.  That is what we editors will also respond to.

  
Next up in our “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” series:  Science fiction and fantasy!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

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What Romance Editors (and Readers) Want

Posted by November 1st, 2011

Writing a romance novel? The NAL editorial team gives us a tutorial on the romance market: today’s hottest subgenres and what they’re looking forHere’s what the romance editors want:

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When I was in romance editorial, it astounded me how many submissions I received that had nothing to do with what I was actually looking to acquire, or even that fell outside of the genres in which my imprint specialized. Sometimes the manuscripts hooked me despite this fact, and I fell in love with the writing or the story or the potential I saw for the story. But there was nothing I could do; if it didn’t fit for our list or the market, my hands were tied.
As an author, even after doing all your homework–researching the market, reviewing an imprint’s recent publications, checking Publishers Marketplace for an editor’s acquisition history–it can still be difficult to figure out if what you’re submitting will give the editor what he or she wants. Particularly when it comes to such a robust and diverse genre as the romance market.

With this challenge in mind, Book Country asked the romance team at New American Library (NAL) to share a little bit about their experience with submissions and what specifically they hope to find among the pile:

Most editors at NAL find that when we’re looking for new talent, the biggest problem with the submissions we receive is not that they’re badly written (because many of them are very well done) but rather that the books are not the kind of stories that readers are looking for.  The romance reader is very particular in her tastes and preferences, and trends tend to dominate the market.  If you want to attract a big readership among romance fans, it’s crucial you know what kind of story they are looking for in the current market.
To help you figure out how to do that, the editors at NAL want to offer you some friendly advice about writing romance and positioning your book:

First, make sure you’re writing a romance novel and not a women’s fiction novel! Romance novels have as their central focus the relationship between the hero and heroine of the story.  Their developing romantic relationship forms the backbone of the book’s plot. Most often this involves a man and a women meeting and having a powerful attraction; however, there’s an obstacle getting in the way of their relationship. Frequently, each character has an internal conflict that she or he must overcome. The end goal is for this couple to reach their HEA, or happily ever after, together (with realistic complications along the way). In other words, they meet, they have a conflict, and they must react and develop in response to it before the book can reach a satisfying conclusion.  These conventions are common to romance novels across the board and can act as a helpful rule of thumb to guide you according to what readers will expect to see in your romance novel.

You also need to remember that most romance readers buy according to subgenre, based on themes, settings, or time periods.  The most popular subgenres in romance change over time, and the best way to identify what’s most popular in the romance market at a given time is to watch the bestseller lists. Our job as editors is not only to follow the trends but anticipate them, while your job is to write a great book people want to love.

Right now, some of the most popular genres in romance (and the ones our editors are most excited about) are:

Vampire romances
This means a love story where at least one of the main characters is a vampire, with supernatural powers and an immortal lifespan. The setting can vary. J. R Ward‘s “Black Dagger Brotherhood” series was at the forefront of the vampire trend from the start and remains a beloved favorite among paranormal romance readers.

Regency-set historical romances
While settings for historicals can vary, England is the most popular setting. Regencies are romances that are set during the Regency period in England, which strictly speaking was from 1811 to 1820.  Historical romance readers will expect these novels to be historically appropriate, meaning that the characters should act according to what was expected in society at that time. Some of Penguin’s bestselling Regency romance authors include Jo Beverley and Jillian Hunter.

Scottish-set historicals
Ever since the release of Braveheart, we have seen a high demand for romances set in Scotland.  The most popular time period is definitely medieval, but the Jacobean era (1603-1625) works as well for this subgenre. Bertrice Small’s “Border Chronicle” series is a fabulous example of the historic Scotland setting.

Shapeshifter romances
These are paranormal romances in which at least one of the central characters to the romance can shift shape into another form.  Shapeshifting characters might be dragons, werewolves, falcons, coyotes, the list goes on… To name two examples from NAL’s popular shapeshifter romances, we publish Michele Bardsley’s “Broken Heart” novels and Deborah Cooke’s “Dragonfire” novels to great acclaim.

Paranormal romances
Paranormal romances are ones in which the love story features a character with otherworldly abilities (in addition to but not excluding being a vampire or shapeshifter).  There are witch romances, fallen angel romances, mermaid romances, demon romances, among many others.  Sylvia Day’s “Renegade Angels” series and Regan Hasting’s “Awakening” novels will give you a great idea of the fallen angel and witch trends, respectively.

What we call “gentle fiction”
Gentle fiction is a subcategory of contemporary romance, which means a romance set in the present day. These are love stories set in a small town setting with lots of quaint charm and heartwarming emotional elements. The heartwarming sense of town life and the gentle tone of the emotions really set this subgenre apart from other mainstream contemporary romance. They are the most popular kind of contemporary romance at this time, and have no paranormal elements. One visit to JoAnn Ross’s “Shelter Bay” series and you won’t want to leave this wonderful town!

Western romances
Heroes from the Wild West hold much appeal, whether it’s a contemporary cowboy romance or a historical western. There’s just something readers love about a charming cowboy!  One bestselling example from NAL’s list is Catherine Anderson, who writes both contemporary and historical Westerns.

Romantic suspense
Romantic suspense has a fast-paced storyline with lots of action because the romance between hero and heroine takes place in the face of some kind of danger that threatens one or both of their lives. The suspenseful nature of the plot is almost as important as the romance, and there is usually a mystery to solve. These novels are usually contemporary settings and are always real world stories.Shannon K. Butcher’s “Edge” novels and Christina Dodd‘s “Bella Terra Deception” series give a great example of the kind of high-octane action and edge-of-your seat suspense readers look for in this genre.

Urban fantasy
While not technically romance, Urban Fantasy novels often involve a strong love story that appeals to romance fans. Whereas the third person point of view is common in the other romance genres, urban fantasy often takes a first person point of view. And the mystery that’s driving the plot and the action is almost as important to the novel as the romance itself.  The characters in these novels are very tough, and the stories may contain violence.  Lee Roland’s Viper Moon thrills with a captivating voice and a complex urban fantasy series world.

As you can see, there are many subgenres currently driving the market from the editors’ perspective, so make sure your novel fits into one of them. Or if you are trying your hand at something different, remember to keep your story within the conventions of a romance novel in the first place and understand that your story really has to be something special if it colors outside the lines. Editors love to find fresh new authors with budding talent, so give them something they can work with!

Romance is not the only genre where editors have specific interests though…

Our next installment of “Giving Readers (and Editors) What They Want” will focus on the mystery genre. 

Stay tuned!

Image: Michelle Meiklejohn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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