The agents and editors scheduled to attend PNWA this year

All right, enough prologue-ing about how and why the blurbs provided by conferences about their invited agents and editors tend to be woefully insufficient. On to figuring out what we can learn from them, as well as from other sources.

For those of you who were not yet reading this blog last spring, what I like to do is go through the scheduled attendees one by one, finding out as much information about their professional activities as I can. Then I read their posted blurbs in light of this information, to try to gain as much insight as possible into what kind of books they might be interested in picking up this summer. Then I compress it all here into a pithy little post, for your referencing pleasure.

Why? To make it easier for readers who are planning to attend the PNWA conference to pick which agents and editors would be the best fit for their books – and rank them accordingly. (The PNWA, like many conferences, tries to match attendees with their preferred targets as often as possible, so their registration form will ask you to list your appointment choices in order of desire.)

But since this information is undoubtedly useful for anyone thinking about querying these people, it should make for interesting reading for those of you not planning to attend as well.

I will be presenting these agents and editors in alphabetical order, just so you know, not ranked in any sort of hierarchy of excellence or interest, and over enough days’ blogs to justify the length of time it took to track the information down. (The research is seriously time-consuming, enough so that at the end of last year’s binge, I swore I would never do it again. However, readers really loved it last year, so…)

Please note, though: what I will be presenting here is my impression of these people’s book preferences, based upon information available from various publishing industry resources and what I have heard on the quite extensive publishing grapevine. This is not intended to be an authoritative overview, nor the last word on these people. In fact, I would actively encourage you to do your own additional research on any agent or editor you are considering approaching.

Please be aware, too, that the sales and acquisition info I’ll be passing along here is from the standard publishing databases, which are not always entirely up-to-date or totally accurate. Not all agents routinely report their sales to Publishers Marketplace, for instance.

Kindly remember as well that any list of sales will reflect only those clients for whom these agents have actually sold books, rather than their entire client lists, which may not give a truly representative (so to speak) picture.

All of this is beyond my control, I tell you. Stop poking me with that sharp stick.

One last thing: as I mentioned yesterday, I shall not be covering every agent and editor scheduled to attend PNWA, just the ones who did not attend last year. You may find my last year’s write-ups on the returnees in the clearly-marked category at right.

Do be aware that even including these, we may not end up with a complete list of the ultimate attendees. It is far from uncommon for agents and editors (particularly editors) to bow out of conference commitments at the last minute. Happens all the time, in fact, and I’ve literally never heard of a conference’s refunding a registrant’s money because the agent of his dreams cancelled his trip.

Yes, it’s unfair. It is also entirely beyond my control, so please do not ask me to predict possible switches or complain to me if this happens at PNWA this year – or any other year, for that matter. (Contrary to popular belief, I have absolutely no pull at the PNWA – my almost year-long tenure as their website’s Resident Writer earned me precisely diddly-squat plus the opportunity to teach my how to pitch class again this year.)

Okay, all of those disclaimers out of the way, let’s see what we can learn from our first glance at this year’s crop of agents and editors.

Fewer repeats than I had anticipated: of the agents who came last year, the returnees are (in alphabetical order) Jennifer Cayea, Catherine Fowler, Michelle Grajkowski, Kate McKean, Rita Rosenkranz, and Alice Volpe, all of whom I profiled last year.

What, if anything, can we read into the fact that they plan to return? Well, there are two likely explanations. First, they could have been impressed with the quality of the talent they found at last year’s conference, and are eager to tap that pool of talent again. Or – and this happens more often than writers tend to think – they could have a brother, sister, boyfriend, girlfriend, child, college roommate, etc., who lives in the greater Seattle area, and want to use the conference as an excuse to make a tax-deductible visit.

Is this the right place to deny any knowledge of that pervasive local rumor about the VERY influential agent who used to come to PNWA every year because his mistress danced with the Pacific Northwest Ballet? If such a person existed, and if he stopped making the trip west after they broke up, I know nothing about it.

Assuming that all of the returnees are on the up-and-up, however, it would be very useful to know if any of them actually signed any writers they met at PNWA last year, as it would give a rather solid sense of how serious they are about picking up clients at conferences. Someone might want to ask them that at the agents’ forum, in fact.

Please don’t depend upon me to ask this question during the forum – I shall not be in the room. I go to the conference to run the Pitch Practicing Palace, which will ONLY be operating on Thursday, the first day of the conference, this year. (I.e., not on either of the days when attendees would be pitching.)

I know, I know: it was not my decision. (See my earlier comment about my not having any pull at the PNWA.)

Some of the agencies that send representatives every year are sending someone again, just different people; in a way, this is actually better for the writers who attend every year, since it prevents the rather awkward problem of pitching the same book to the same agent or editor twice. Loretta Barrett Books is sending Nick Mullendore this year, instead of Loretta Barrett; Folio is sending Scott Hoffman, instead of last year’s {name removed at agent’s request; for explanation, please see post of May 10, 2006, when I originally wrote about him}, and Dystel & Goderich Literary Management (DGLM, the agency that represents me) is sending Jim McCarthy, instead of Lauren Abramo. And Elizabeth Wales, although she skipped last year, has been a regular feature at PNWA for years.

It’s worth paying attention when an agency commits to sending a representative year after year: it speaks well of the conference, or at any rate of the agency’s perception of the conference. It implies that the recidivist agencies believe that the conference, or at least its ambient writing community, prepares its writers well for entering the professional sphere.

Or, if you’re cynical, it implies a grateful recognition of the conference location’s ability to attract such affection-generating relatives, friends, and lovers for agents to visit. Either way, these people are coming out from New York (for the most part), and you will be able to pitch to them.

Sometimes, though, agencies will send representatives to a particular conference year after year because they have a specific interest in that region of the country – and if that’s the case, any of you who write novels set in the Pacific Northwest will DEFINITELY want to pitch to them. So it well worth asking agents from these repeatedly-sending agencies whether the agency picked up any new clients at this conference last year, or within the last couple of years, and why.

(See comment above about the probability of my being in the room to ask that question for you.)

My point is, agents seldom show up at a conference randomly. Good agents want to attend conferences where they will meet good writers, and repeat attendance is the primary way that agencies show where they think their representatives are most likely to attain that end.

So think about what we have learned just from glancing over the list of attending agents: of the 17 scheduled, 10 either attended the conference last year, have in the past, or work for agencies that have sent agents here before. That implies a certain industry faith in the level of writing talent PNWA attracts.

And that, my friends, is why I broke my last year’s vow not to profile its attending agents and editors again. It’s a well-respected conference.

Okay, so there’s a sentimental reason I do it, too: I landed MY agent at PNWA. With a pitch. So I know from the very best possible authority that it is possible to pull off.

Details on individual agents follow, of course. In the meantime, keep up the good work!

Picking the right conference for you, part II: walking in with your eyes open

Yesterday, I began wading into the weird and wonderful world of literary conferences, letting you in on some guidelines for figuring out which conference is right for you and your book. The timing on this is not entirely coincidental: early registration for the PNWA conference this coming July is now open, and there is a nifty benefit associated with signing up quickly: an extra appointment with an agent to pitch your work.

So while last year, I waited until the end of April to start reviewing the sales records of the agents and acquisition records of the editors planning to attend PNWA, this year, I am getting to it early, to help you make your choices about whom to request. Quite a few of last year’s agents and editors are returning this year, so if you are looking to get the skinny on them right away, please see the brand-new category at right — named, with startling originality. Agents/Editors Who Attend PNWA.

In the interests of full disclosure, there is a reason that I annually single out the PNWA conference for my august attention: not only is it one of the larger ones, and noted for its many great pitching opportunities, but I will also be there, along with the Pitch Practicing Palace staff, to help attendees refine their pitches, target the best agents and editors for their work, and generally calm everyone down.

Yes, I just got word today that it is going to happen again this year – many thanks to all of you who contacted the PNWA to say that you wanted the PPP to offer its services again this year. (Fair warning, though: we may only be open for the first afternoon of the conference – i.e., the Thursday – instead of all three days, as we were last year. We’re still working out the details, though.)

So I confess it: I would love to see as many of my readers attend PNWA as possible, so I can meet you. Is that selfish of me?

Before I get down to agent and editor specifics, though, I am spending a few days going over how to pick a conference, as well as general criteria for selecting the agents and editors for your appointments. (For those of you new to the conference circuit, most big conferences will ask you to rank your preferences, so they can try to give you appointments with the agents and editors you want.)

Hint: the conference closest to you geographically may not be the best fit for the book you are promoting. Nor, hard as it may be to believe, the conference regionally closest to ME.

So back to the brass tacks of selection. When you are browsing a conference’s literature or website to see whether you want to register for it, it is not only important to determine whether you are likely to have the level of agent/editor contact you want, as I discussed yesterday – you will also need to take some time to figure out whether the agents and editors scheduled to attend are ones with whom you would WANT to have contact.

In other words, how likely is the array of agents and editors available at any given conference to pick up your book?

Contrary to an astonishingly pervasive belief amongst aspiring writers, not every agent or editor is the right fit for every book. Agents and editors specialize, and furthermore, they have personal preferences as well. The more you know about their areas of representation and interests, the more precise a match you can find for your work.

Long-time readers of this blog, chant along with me now: the industry is not monolithic; no single agent or editor’s opinion represents the entire publishing world. So, logically, it matters very much that you pitch to not just any agent, but one who is predisposed to like books like yours.

Before you even consider signing up for a conference, go through its list of attending agents and editors and ascertain that there is at least one of each who represents books in your category. Ideally, at a big conference, you would like to find more than one, especially if your category is a broad one. Agents do occasionally switch specialties, and believe me, the last thing you want to hear when you’re sitting in a pitch meeting is, “Oh, I don’t represent that kind of book anymore; actually, I’m not sure if anyone here at the conference does.”

Or, still more common, “Yes, I represent YA,” — or romance, SF/fantasy, horror, mysteries, etc., depending on the agent — “but that’s not my age group /I only represent romantica/I don’t do werewolf stories/I’ve given up cozy mysteries…”

Doing a little background research on the agents and editors before you select them, even if that research is limited to reading the blurbs that conference brochures and websites routinely provide, can help minimize the possibility of this kind of unpleasant pitching outcome. And if you pick a conference that features more than one representative of your chosen area of endeavor, if one turns out to have switched specialties, you will have other options.

Checking the agents’ and editors’ areas of specialization may sound self-evident, but at every literary conference I have ever attended (and I’ve been attending them since I was in junior high school; a side effect of growing up amongst writers), I have met at least one good writer on the verge of tears because s/he realized only after s/he got there that there was no one there interested in her work – and thus s/he has just spent a significant amount of money and possibly traveled hundreds if not thousands of miles in order NOT to be able to pitch.

It’s sad to see, really it is.

There are good criteria for choosing which conferences to attend, and poor criteria. When asked, the overwhelming majority of conference attendees report selecting based upon factors that ultimately have little to do with the quality of the pitching experience: how close the conference is to home, who the keynote speaker is, snazziness of brochure, having relatives with whom to stay in Houston, never having been to Maui before.

While all of these are worth considering, if you are trying to find an agent or a publisher for your book, they are not vital considerations. (If you are not planning to pitch work, feel free to rely upon these factors.) What is vital is the array of attending agents and editors and the probability of your work being picked up by one of them.

In selecting amongst conferences, make this your mantra: since an agent who does not represent your kind of work is most assuredly not going to respond positively to your pitch, no matter how good it is, it will not serve your interests to pitch to him. If a conference does not have at least one agent whose DEMONSTRATED (not just stated) interests coincide with your work, choose another conference for pitching your book.

Tomorrow, a little more theory, then we launch into how to read those abstruse little agent and editor blurbs. (It’s not you – they really do tend to sound identical.) In the meantime, keep up the good work!

PS: Longtime reader and good writer Kris Swartz has an entry, “Fries, Lies, and Alibis” – good title, Kris — in the Borders/gather.com First Chapters Writing Competition. Winners are determined by reader reviews, so why not take a moment to hop on over to her entry and offer a fellow writer a bit of support? Her entry will be posted there through the end of this month.

Making it easy to help you, part V: why attention to etiquette is becoming a better and better idea

This is my penultimate post on industry etiquette, at least for the nonce, and while I have been trying to keep this upbeat, I feel it would be remiss not to address some of the faux pas that are less inadvertent. Before I conclude this series, I want to spend a day dealing with some…well, one hates to use a term like dishonesty.

Let’s just say that these examples are frowned upon in the industry, and leave it at that.

I have mentioned the possibility of using an introduction from an established client as a stepping-stone to getting an agent’s attention. Generally speaking, there are two ways in which established writers make such an introduction without excessive trouble to themselves: either they can grant you permission to use their names in your query letter (as in the sterling beginning, “Your client Rufus Rudyard recommended that I contact you about my book…”), or they can forward your work to their agents themselves, with suitable commentary about how terrific you are.

Either way, the results are potentially very good for you. Such a recommendation usually means that the agent will actually see the query letter, rather than just a screener. At minimum, the query will be taken more seriously.

As we have seen, it seldom pays to assume that an offer of help automatically translates to the latter. Authors tend to have reservations about forwarding work themselves, for very good reasons: it’s a lot of responsibility, assuring an agent that the forwarded writer is the next great find; if the agent is slow or hostile in response, the referring author feels he’s let the writer down; if the writer turns out to be hard to work with, unprofessional, or just not very talented, the author’s credibility with his agent may be compromised. Oh, and by introducing his agent to another writer, the author is bringing into the agency someone with whom he will have to compete for the agent’s usually already stretched-thin time.

Given all of those disincentives, it’s not a great surprise that most authors are more than a little reluctant to go this route, is it?

The other, infinitely more common approach is to say, “Sure – this is my agent’s name; go ahead and say that that I recommended you to him.” While this may not at first blush seem like much of a favor, bear in mind that all of the disincentives above still apply – this route is merely less work for the author – so it is still a piece of assistance well worth your gratitude.

Because such recommendations are so valuable, over-eager aspiring writers occasionally fudge just a little in their use, implying more of a recommendation than the author in question was actually offering. The most famous form of this, of course, is the query that begins, “Saul Bellow said my work is the best thing he’s read for the last five years.”

A recommendation that would be considerably more impressive if Mssr. Bellow had been alive for more of those five years than he actually was, no?

Sometimes, though, recommendation blurring of reality is unintentional — the aspiring writer merely misunderstood how much of a leg up the author was actually offering:

Misguided approach 3: Rachel meets Rapunzel, a writer she has admired for years, at a book signing. Rachel, being a polite writer, approaches Rapunzel with respect: she arrives at the reading well-versed in Rapunzel’s work, including her latest novel, LIFE AFTER HAIR; she asks intelligent questions during the reading; she brings a book to have Rapunzel sign, and buys another for her mother, and she gushes at Rapunzel long enough after the signing that the author spontaneously asks her what she writes.

So far, so good, right?

In fact, they hit it off so well that Rapunzel invites her to e-mail with questions, and after a reasonable exchange, the author tells Rachel that she may use the valuable Rapunzel name as a reference in approaching her agent, Rafaela.

Rachel is thrilled – and promptly sends her entire manuscript off to Rafaela, saying that Rapunzel had told her to send it. She is astonished to see her manuscript returned within a week with a form letter rejection.

What did Rachel do wrong?

She misunderstood, quite innocently, what Rapunzel was offering her: the opportunity to use her as a reference in a query letter, period. If she had pursued this route, Rafaela probably would have asked to see the manuscript. By sending her manuscript before Rafaela asked for it, however, Rachel just sent an unsolicited submission. As such, it may not even have been read.

Here again, we see that asking follow-up questions could have saved the writer a lot of grief. But it’s hard to hold Rachel very responsible for the outcome: she simply did not know enough about how agencies worked to realize how much unsolicited submissions are despised. Not all referral mistakes are this innocent, however.

Misguided approach 4: Samuel met agented writer Samantha at a writers’ conference a few years ago. They have been cordial ever since whenever they met, and occasionally e-mail about their respective publishing progress. Having heard so much about Samantha’s agent, Sydney, Samuel feels as though he knows her.

One rainy Monday morning, Samantha is startled to see an e-mail from Sydney in her in-box. (At work: since she has only sold a couple of mid-list books, Samantha still can’t afford to quit her secretarial job.) “Can you tell me something about this writer you recommended?” Sydney writes. “I’ve been thinking about getting into representing this kind of book, but his bio was really sketchy. Can you fill me in?”

Huh? Samantha thought.

A few days later, Samuel receives his manuscript and a form-letter rejection with an angry scrawl in the margins. “Our client didn’t recommend you,” it reads.

What did Samuel do wrong? Without seeing his query, it’s a trifle hard to tell, precisely, but we can certainly make some educated guesses.

At best, Samuel fudged his initial query, turning an acquaintance into a recommendation. Perhaps, if asked, he would respond that since Samantha had spoken so often and so glowingly of Sydney, he thought she was making a recommendation. But regardless of why he did it, or if he intended to misleading, he’s blown his chance with Sydney (and his friendship with Samantha) forever: evidently, it didn’t occur to him that the agent might check.

Word to the wise: they do. Habitually. If you harbor even the slightest doubt about whether an agented author is offering a recommendation – and you should, unless the author has actually produced the words, “Tell my agent I sent you” — ASK.

Rather than wasting our energies upon trying to figure out what Samuel could have been thinking, let’s look at another version of the misused recommendation. This one is hard to read as anything but manipulative, but at least the exemplar in this instance is cautious about the possibility of the agent’s checking up on her:

Misguided approach 5: Tanya met agented author Tremaine through networking; he’s the friend of a friend. Because she seemed to be nice and was complimentary about his work, Tremaine was happy to answer a few of Tanya’s questions via e-mail. Lately, however, he’s been deliberately slowing his responses, because she’s starting to e-mail him every day.

Clearly, he thinks, Tanya is thinking of this as a friendship, rather than what it actually is, an author being nice to a reader.

One sunny Tuesday, Tremaine sees yet another e-mail from Tanya in his inbox. Sighing, he leaves it to answer another day. On Friday, he opens it, and is startled to find a cheerful missive from Tanya, telling him she has already sent a query to his agent, Trevor — using Tremaine’s name as a reference. Would Tremaine mind following up with Trevor, to confirm the recommendation and try to speed up the process?

Tanya’s put Tremaine in a tough situation here, hasn’t she? On one level, she has used his name without his permission, and he would be well within his rights to pick up the phone and tell Trevor that she used his name without his permission, killing her submission’s chances.

On the other hand, doing so would make him look bad in the eyes of his agent: if he confesses to having been used, the next time Tremaine actually does want to recommend an aspiring writer, he will have to pass the manuscript along to Trevor personally, to avoid the possibility of another misappropriation of his name.

Which, as we have seen, will be a whole lot of work for him.

Again, it was Tanya’s responsibility to ASK Tremaine for permission to use his name, not tell him about it afterward. And while it is possible that she DID ask, but Tremaine overlooked her question because of the sheer volume of her e-mails, it is never legitimate to assume that silence equals consent.

A good rule of thumb in any context, actually.

What happened to Tremaine happens to famous writers ALL the time, incidentally: unfortunately, there are plenty of aspiring writers out there who have mistaken professional kindness to a fan for the beginning of a lifetime friendship. And friends help one another, right?

Before you use a recommender’s name, make ABSOLUTELY sure that you have the recommender’s permission to do so; you may make an honest mistake, but because some unscrupulous folks have used this leg-up technique on purpose, the knee-jerk assumption on the agent’s end is almost certainly going to be that there was no misunderstanding at all. Just misappropriation.

It’s just not worth the risk.

A graceful way to confirm: if you are meeting in person, ask the recommender to write the agent’s name on a handy piece of paper for you. Then ask, “And it’s really okay for me to say that you sent me?” If said in a pleased, wondering tone, this will be perceived as a compliment — “Wow — YOU’re willing to recommend me?” — rather than doubting the author’s word.

Via e-mail, it’s even easier: if the language of the offer has been at all ambiguous, e-mail the recommender, saying that you are going to contact the agent. But make sure, unlike Tanya, you do it BEFORE you, well, contact the agent in question.

The overarching moral of all of the examples from the last few days: it is ALWAYS better to ask a follow-up question or two than to assume that someone intends to help you more than his words have stated specifically. If the recommender is indeed offering to help, the question is merely considerate; if not, it’s far better you know about it before you act, right?

And regardless of the outcome: remember to express gratitude for the help you did get. As well as, of course, keeping up the good work!

Any platform will do

I had to laugh today, when I was reading the publishing news. I’d been telling editing clients and blog readers alike for years than when brainstorming about their qualifications to write particular books, they should not be afraid to bring in resume points that have little to do with the topic at hand.

I love it when I am proved right.

One’s collected selling points as a writer are known in the biz as one’s platform, and the higher it is, the better, generally speaking. Usually, though, writers limit themselves to their expertise only as it relates to the book at hand, as though platform were synonymous with credibility: one’s 25 years as a marriage counselor, for instance, would obviously add credibility to one’s self-help book for couples experiencing problems sharing the medicine cabinet.

Don’t sneeze at unrelated qualifications, however, if they are interesting. My doctorate has absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of my memoir – but you’d better believe that it was part of my platform for marketing it.

Why? For the same reason that any skilled lawyer would establish my credentials if I were called as a witness to a crime: my Ph.D. would certainly not make me a better observer of a hit-and-run accident, but it would tend to make the jury believe that I was a reasonable human being.

A platform, I have been known to say over and over again like a mantra, is like a pitch for oneself, rather than one’s book: whereas a pitch makes it plain to people in the industry why the book is marketable and to whom, the platform demonstrates why a reader – or, more to the point, people in the media – might be interested in interviewing the author.

So while your extensive background as a supermodel might not be relevant to your credibility if you are writing the definitive book on weevils, for instance, it would most assuredly mean that you would be a welcome guest on TV shows. Perhaps not to talk about weevils, but hey, any publicity you can garner is bound to be good for your book, right?

Case in point, as reported today on Publishers Marketplace:

“Jenna Bush’s ANA’S STORY: A Journey of Hope, based on her experiences working with UNICEF in Central America, focusing on a seventeen-year-old single mother who was orphaned at a young age and is living with HIV, with photographs by Mia Baxter, to Kate Jackson at Harper Children’s, for publication in fall 2007 (Harper says they’ll print about 500,000 copies), by Robert Barnett at Williams & Connolly (world). Her proceeds will go to UNICEF, where she is working as an intern.”

I find this listing a miracle of platform-raising, both for what it says and what it doesn’t say. Plenty of people write books based upon time living and working abroad, and a YA book of this sort is certainly a good idea. However, this is an unheard-of run for such a volume, so we must look elsewhere for an explanation of what made the publisher decide that this particular YA book is so very valuable: the author is, of course, the President’s daughter, presumably following in the well-worn footsteps of Amy Carter, the author of a YA book herself.

Amy Carter, however, was not summarily ejected from any major Latin American country for hardcore partying at any point in her long and colorful career, unlike Ms. Bush and her sister. (How much carousing would one have to do to be declared undesirable in Rio, one wonders?) Ms. Carter did occasionally turn up chained to South African embassies next to Abbie Hoffman during the bad old days of apartheid, though, if memory serves.

It just goes to show you: when you’re building a platform, any kind of fame is a selling point.

So keep those credentials flowing, and keep up the good work!