“Being beautiful is not enough…”
The business weekend came and went, and a few great things emerged from it. For one, our first book deal of Lit Fest: Cara Lopez Lee signed a contract with Ghost Road Press to publish her memoir, They Only Eat Their Husbands. Yay, Cara! We may also have other connections to report, but they are in earlier stages, so we’ll have to practice our restraint.
The crew who packed the house at the Tattered Cover LoDo for our Business Weekend
So, the business weekend kicked off with the Agents/Editors reception on Friday, and then Saturday was all about expert panel talks and one-on-one meetings at the beloved Tattered Cover LoDo. We kicked things off with three agents (Nicole Steen from Elyse Cheney Inc., Kate Testerman from kt literary, and Jeff Kleinman from Folio Literary Management) and two editors from independent presses (Matt Davis from Ghost Road Press and Derek Lawrence from Fulcrum Books). I’ll summarize their take on the state of publishing like this:
- Everyone’s confused, including the top of the top. Everyone’s watching to see what happens with e-books, Kindle, blogs, and Twitter. Publishing companies were mentioned disparagingly as not knowing their something from their something.
- It’s always been difficult to publish books, but now it’s even more difficult.
- You can set yourself apart by doing your homework (coming to events like these, taking your writing more seriously than you can imagine) and having a good deal of luck.
- Being beautiful is not enough: you can have super-literary, gorgeous sentences, but the narrative urgency is what gets noticed. At least with the most vocal of this crew.
- Think of literary agents as professional readers, and take their advice in that context. None of them has, just because of his or her station, supernatural abilities. They have opinions, proclivities, and very full lives.
- On that note, here’s your tough task: A lot of agents and editors sideline the reading of queries and first chapters to the early, distracted part of their day (Kleinman’s watching The Today Show while thumbing through them, for example) or late into the night. If it doesn’t absolutely capture the imagination right off the bat, it’s not likely to get read beyond the first paragraph. Of the agents there, one cites 200 queries/manuscripts per week that he’s thumbing through that way.
- And yet. And yet! There’s something to be learned from rejection. If you send your work out to ten agents and all ten send form rejections or don’t even respond (if you don’t hear in 8-12 weeks, your answer is ‘no’), it’s likely you have more work to do on your query letter. If you get, however, a few personal responses, it’s worth sending out to 10 more. If you get multiple requests for the manuscript and then no responses, it means your query letter’s probably great, but the writing lacks urgency or that special something. Kleinman recommends treating it like a game. It truly isn’t personal, and once you jump into this wholeheartedly, you’ll realize that.
- No one’s buying novels or no one’s buying memoirs or both.
- You can defy the odds. This last one I’m adding just to end on an up note.
Please, feel free, reader (and I mean that literally), to add or subtract from the list. Up next, a report from the “Breaking and Entering” panel, where we discussed love, luck, and attending Seders as a means of networking.