Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Agent Story--PART 3

So I'm on the phone, holding my breath, and Agent 2 says, "I got a job offer as an editor."

"...Oh." Yeah. I knew what was coming, but I was still gripping to a tiny bit of hope. Maybe he was about to say, but I said, screw you, bitches, I'm staying with hannah!

But no. He said he'd decided to take the job and he was really excited. But he was quick to say, "I'm not leaving you all alone. We've had a lot of meetings here, and we decided the best fit for you would probably be Suzie Townsend--"

"Oh, I know Suzie."

"You do?"

I guess it made some sense that he was surprised, since at that point, Suzie was fairly new. But I'm a ho on the internet, as you know, and I already knew Lisa Desrochers and knew Suzie was her agent. But because Lisa was the only one of her clients I knew about, my mind jumped to paranormal romance and I went WHAT ARE YOU THINKING in my head because, lovely though it may be, paranormal romance is pretty much the furthest thing from what I do. Except for the magic gay fish book. But whatever.

But when Agent 2 said, "So, can Suzie call you?" I said "Absolutely." Because what harm could it do? If it didn't seem like we'd mesh well, I could always query other people.

And then I congratulated him, and I hung up and cried my eyes out.

And then Suzie called.

Suzie is lovely on the phone, guys. Like, she's lovely in all capacities, but I feel pretty lucky that my first introduction to her was on the phone, where I could actually hear how excited she was and how much she liked my work. She thought this was going to be a great thing for both of us. I thought she was a little delusional, but at least she sounded like she liked my stuff.

I realize this part of the story makes me sound like a total bitch. But imagine you've been dating this guy for six months, and you're crazy about him, and he dumps you out of nowhere. If someone new comes along, no matter if she's super super hot and awesome and sweet, are you really going to believe her when she tells you she's your one and only true love?

Well...maybe you just need to give it a few weeks.

So I did.

And I can't really remember what happened. We started working on different stuff and re-evaluating where my career was going. I dove into Invincible Summer revisions, and her love of MG encouraged me to try my hand at it. We went on sub together and sold together. But even before that, weeks and weeks before that, I was smitten.

I think it was her ed letters.

God, nothing gets me going like a good ed letter.

So Agent 1 promised me revisions and rarely gave them. Agent 2 barely revised at all. Suzie, as some of you know, gets out her scissors and cuts your ideas into pieces and puts them back together the way they were supposed to be, you idiot.

I'd never had an agent who'd done that before. I wasn't sure I wanted it. I wasn't even sure I needed it. But the first letter Suzie sent me, on a project I'd finished years before (remember the manuscript that got me Agent 1 and didn't sell? that one) hit me in a way no critique had. You know how usually you have to get defensive first, then deal with that, then open yourself back up, before you can really see the points a critter gives you? Suzie's invented some kind of crazy magic formula that completely bypasses your defensive zone and hits you straight in the OHHHHHH part of your brain. The second she suggests something that's going to make the manuscript better, it's like I can already see that improved version of the manuscript in my head. Like I can envision all the words I'll need to change or add or take out to get there.

Writing with Suzie is different from writing without Suzie. And I never would have known that, or suspected that I was missing anything.

I'm a better writer now. I'm a different writer now. If I'd stayed with Agent 1, I'd probably still be stalled at the gate. If Agent 2 hadn't left, I'm sure I'd still be wildly happy and would probably have met a lot of success as the two of us continued together, but I would have ended up a very different writer.

But I'm with Suzie.

And I really, really like the kind of writer that's making me.

--

So there you have it. The complete and total agent story.

In some ways traditional, in some ways not.

I'll take questions, as always, and thanks for following along.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A Brief Interruption

I know you guys want Part 3, but we need to do this first.

One year ago today...



Though it had been spotted in the wild before...




BREAK was officially unleashed upon the world.



I celebrated in the usual ways...





Since then, BREAK has received reviews like THIS:

Hannah Moskowitz delivers a passionate debut about one boy struggle to make his world sane by being insane. It's a story that I'll never forget!
A Must Read!


And like THIS...

I thought this book was absolutely boring and stupid. I am not trying to be overly harsh, but I found that I was bored throughout most of the book.


And I've received so many emails that made me do this.



So I would like to offer up a big slice of



to all the lovely ladies (and men--I know you're there somewhere) of Simon Pulse who believed in a crazy book like BREAK.

And to all of you--



Who have read BREAK, especially if you reviewed it, especially if you told a friend about it.

Thank you so much. It has been an amazing year.

Happy birthday, BREAK.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Agent Story--PART 2

So I left Agent #1 in May of 2009. I'd been wanting to split for a few months, but I had a book on submission with her and I wanted to wait and see how that turned out. But the emails slowed, then stopped, and no matter how many times I emailed and called, I got no response. I realized I had nothing to gain my staying. I terminated the contract on my way out the door to a restaurant. I felt great.

Immediately after the split, even before I queried again, I did two things.

First, I emailed the editors who, as far as I know, still had the book on sub. I pretty much groveled, asking if they knew the status of the manuscript. Most of them answered, and they were all very nice. They'd all passed, but my agent hadn't told me. So that was that.

Second, I emailed my Simon Pulse editor, who had asked for a manuscript of mine nearly six months earlier. My agent didn't think it was ready, and said we weren't going to do anything with it until I edited according to some notes she had. I asked about these notes every few weeks. They never materialized.

So as soon as we split, I emailed my editor, told her what was up, and asked her if she wanted to see the manuscript. She did. And I got to work finding another agent.

I seriously thought I'd have no problem drumming up another agent. I'd worked with an gent for over a year! I knew the drill! I had a book coming out in three months! Who wouldn't want to work with me?

It took about three weeks for that to get sucked out of me. When May passed, and then June, and then July with no new agent, I was terrified.

This was a busy summer for me. I was planning for BREAK's release, which was stressful but not time-consuming, since by that point the book's all done and completely out of your hands. I was getting ready to go to college in the fall and taking two summer classes. And I was querying essentially non-stop.

I decided to query INVINCIBLE SUMMER because it was my favorite, and really it was either that, a manuscript I didn't like as much, or the manuscript I loved that had been subbed all over the place my Agent #1, which I didn't think would make it a very attractive commodity to agents. In either late July or early August, I got one of the weirdest emails ever. Something like...

Hey Hannah. I finished reading INVINCIBLE SUMMER. Great job!

Great job? What the fuck does that mean?

I puzzled over that for a minute, then I wrote back thanking him and asking if he'd like to schedule a phone call. He said absolutely, and that's when I relaxed. Significantly.

I ended up with one other offer from an absolutely brilliant agent, but I went with the one who originally offered (hereafter Agent #2) because his vision of INVINCIBLE SUMMER meshed more closely with mine (meaning, he didn't make me do any edits. More on this later!

About a week after we signed, I got an email from my SP editor telling me she was halfway through INVINCIBLE SUMMER and loving it. Agent #2 stepped up to the plate, drummed up a mini-auction, and we ended up selling INVINCIBLE SUMMER back to my SP editor in a two-book deal. This was the week before BREAK came out.

(In case anyone's confused re. why SP didn't automatically get IS--IS was not my option book. SP had already turned that one down. Just clarifying.)

I was wildly, deliriously happy with Agent #2, and I have nothing but good memories from working with him. He didn't edit my manuscripts, but at that point, I didn't think I wanted that, since I'd gone through so much hell waiting for edits from Agent #1. He answered all my emails in a heartbeat and had a great sense of humor. I found out later that he way more clients than I ever would have guessed. I felt like I was his only one, and I never had any communication issues at all. I was in heaven.

He had great big ideas for my career as a whole, and he worked hard on subsidiary rights and encouraged me to branch out beyond YA. He's the reason I wrote an adult book. He's not the reason the adult book was a big big mess that didn't sell.

So...we're on sub with the big mess of an adult book, and he emails me and says, "Need to talk to you. Can I call?"

This is January of 2010. I'd just spent my first night in my new house. I thought this was big news. You know, one of The Calls.

I was completely jittery when he called and said, "So. I have news."

I said, "I love news."

And he said, "You won't love this news."

To be continued...

Friday, August 20, 2010

The Agent Story--PART 1

Okay. So I've had a lot of people ask me how the hell I managed to be nineteen and on my third agent. This is actually a topic I've been fairly quiet about, but I think it's helpful for me to be honest because my story is actually, in my opinion, a very good example of the kinds of problems and decisions you might have to make with regards to agents.

So. Here's what happened. I will not be naming every name, because the purpose of this post isn't to call out anyone but to take you through the thought process in choosing an agent, leaving an agent, and dealing with losing an agent.

This is a very long story, so I'm going to divide it into three posts.

PART ONE

I queried four different manuscripts for a total of a year before I got my first offer, which turned into four by the end of that week. It felt as if something had fallen from the sky and landed on my head. Something awesome.

I was sixteen and still fairly new in the online writing community (though not new to writing)

I talked to three of the four agents on the phone. I asked the fourth (actually, the first to offer) if she'd like to talk, and she said she didn't think there was any reason to do a phone call. The first phone call went well. The second went VERY well, and I was pretty sure that unless something unprecedented happened, I would be going with her. The third phone call was fine, but we didn't click, so I confidently went with #2.

Factors in my decision:

--My friend was with her and loved her.
--We clicked on the phone. She was talkative, gregarious, and completely enthusiastic about my work.
--She offered on another manuscript, while all the others offered on BREAK. I liked the other one more and liked the possibility of going out with that one first. We ended up going out with BREAK anyway, and the one she offered on never sold, so there you go.

Things didn't work out.

I feel like an idiot now, thinking about the stuff I let happen before the split. But my logic was really clear: I thought it was normal.

I thought it was normal that my agent didn't do a lot of contract negotiations or ask me for my input.

I thought it was normal that I had to send five to ten emails on a subject, spread out over a period of months, before I would get a response. I thought being on sub meant months of silence followed by, after extensive nagging, an email with every rejection she'd collected but not mentioned.

I thought it was normal that she'd promise edits on my manuscript and never send them.

I want to make two things very clear:

1. This was a legitimate agent. She did not charge any fees or do anything unethical. She didn't steal anyone's work or money. She successfully sold my first novel. She came from a well-known agency. She had many sales before mine and some after. Many of her authors have gone on to be very successful.

I was not cheated, victimized, or taken advantage of.

I just made a mistake.

Which leads me to point two:

2. I was not an idiot. I was young and naive, yes, but I was not in a bubble. I was an active member on AW and knew a fair amount of writers. The Musers existed even before I signed with this agent, and they were with me through this whole process. So the reason I thought this was okay wasn't because of a lack of information.

Really, it was the opposite.

Because this happens to so many people.

I know so many people who have signed with agents--agents that other people I respect have and love--and the relationship did not work for them. Many of them had the same problems I did: lack of responsiveness. There's a reason that I mentioned to both agent 2 and agent 3 that I was paranoid about them dropping off the face of the earth. It happens.

It happens more often than you'd think.

And people don't leave because they are so grateful to have an agent, because getting an agent is hard. And because everyone around them seems so fucking chipper, that they think the problem might be them. They have a great agent. They have the same agent as a celebrity or a friend of theirs or they have the agent that everyone's talking about over on AW. They do not have a bad agent. They wouldn't be that stupid.

No one wants to be the guy who leaves his agent.

When I was applying to college, one of my favorite teachers said to my class, a group of stressed out, hyped up, first semester seniors, "You know, you don't have to get it right the first time. Plenty of people transfer. It's okay."

And we smiled and nodded and uh-hmmed and in our heads we're all going, "Not me, no way, transferring is for other people."

I was the fucking queen of transferring is for other people. I applied Early Decision to the school I knew, absolutely knew, I was going to go to.

I left after a semester.

I am so, so happy that I did.

I left my first agent after 15 months. And I so, so wish I had done it sooner.

Which is why I want to run around spreading the gospel now.

I know what it's like to be happy with my agent. (Hey Suzie!) At the time, I didn't. I didn't know if it could get better.

If you're asking yourself if it can, it can.

Do not stay in a relationship that makes you unhappy. If you have an issue that you have broached that cannot be solved, it might be time to leave. If you two cannot see eye-to-eye on something important, it might be time to leave.

If you think it might be time to leave, it is almost definitely time to leave.

Obviously I appreciate the value of agents. Scroll down a post if you don't believe me. But all those things that I mentioned down there? I only realized they were true when I got with an agent who worked for me.

You need and deserve an agent who works for you.

And just because an agent is great does NOT mean she works for you.

The next post will go over what happened after I left Agent 1 and how I connected with Agent 2. I'll take any questions in the comments, as always, and please feel free to email me if you have any questions you don't want all over the internet (she says as she sprays her problems all over the internet).

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Reasons You Want an Agent (That You Haven't Heard a Million Times Before)

Later this week, I'll be telling the story of how I came to be with the lovely Suzie Townsend, because my agent-story is a little different from the ones you usually see (though by no means unique...for better or for worse). But first I wanted to address the question you probably hear a lot from people who aren't in the industry.

Your agent gets 15% of your money? What does s/he even DO?

And we all spout the list of reasons we've learned a thousand times over.

I've been thinking lately about the things my agent does for me that aren't the ones you usually see listed. We all know at least the skeleton of what an agent does for her clients. She makes contacts with publishers, she edits her clients' work, she reads, adjusts, and manages contracts.

But now I'll make a confession: I was once the kind of person who insisted that agents were a waste of money.

This was years ago, way before I'd had any kind of success, and before I found AbsoluteWrite, where this idea was promptly shaken out of my head with all the great reasons I've mentioned above. But it wasn't until I had an agent--and, really, it wasn't until I had my first good agent (more later this week...) that I began to understand all the other reasons that every writer with her eyes on a career, no matter if she's sold no books or sixty books, should strongly, strongly consider looking for an agent.

So. Here are some reasons you might not have thought about.

--YOUR BOOK GETS AN ADVOCATE BEFORE IT IS SUCCESSFUL. When you get an agent, in all likelihood, your book hasn't made anybody any money. It's used up a lot of time, made your husband exasperated with you, cost you a raise at work, eaten up your homework time, and otherwise left a giant crater in your pre-novel existence. But you inexplicably love it and want to spend more time with it, and while you try to stay realistic, you drift off to sleep secretly dreaming about high school students dissecting it in English class.

And now guess what? Someone else is dreaming about it too.

Your agent is your first fan. Later, your editor will have to make a leap of faith and buy a book that might not be successful, but your agent has to do it first, and she has to do it in a different way.

An editor who picks up a manuscript knows that the agent have screened and read and sparkled it. An agent knows none of this. An agent who falls in love with your book doesn't know if she's the first or the twentieth agent to have that response. And she loves it anyway. And if she offers, she's willing to make that leap of faith and cross her fingers that she won't be the only one.

She believes in your book when you previously might have been the only one doing so.

--YOU LEARN TO COLLABORATE WITH INDUSTRY PROFESSIONALS BEFORE YOU HAVE A BOOK DEAL. I've had an agent who didn't edit and agent who edits a book to pieces (hey Suzie!) and an agent who fell somewhere in-between. It's not hard for me to decide which method I like best. (hey Suzie!)

I believe that the best agents are the agents who make the book the best fucking thing it can be before they let it out into the world. Because not only is this best for the book, it's best for the author. Especially if we're talking debut novel.

Because even if your agent lets the thing go out unscathed, an editor isn't going to do the same. Somewhere along the line, something you love is going to get cut and something you don't love is going to be suggested, and you're going to need to learn what to accept and what to fight. You're going to need to figure out how you approach directions and revisions handed to you in a completely new way. Do you outline? Because your editor might want you to. Do you like firm direction or open-ended questions? (I like it firm. You heard me.) Your editor might do it the opposite way.

You will need to learn to cope. Learn early with your agent.

--YOUR CRAZY WRITING PROCESS? LEGITIMIZED. I had so many people telling me that I was approaching writing the "wrong" way. Real writers don't watch TV while they write! Real writers spend time on their first drafts! Real writers have to cut words, not add! Real writers like sausage on their pizza, not pepperoni, you punkass bitch!

Yeah. Well now everyone can shut the fuck up, because you have an agent. Which brings me to...

--OTHER WRITERS WILL TAKE YOU MORE SERIOUSLY. This point obviously sucks, but it's worth noting. Way too many published and agented writers assume that everyone who isn't must be bad. I guess they were born published or something, I don't know.

Anyway, get an agent, put it in your twitter profile or your AW signature, and suddenly people will start to notice you. It's kind of gross, but while you're getting pissed about, you should be getting ready to use it to your advantage. Because getting noticed is important. You want to know as many fucking people as you can. Period. So a corollary would be:

--NETWORKING. Get an agent, and you become instant casual friends with that agent's colleagues, her other clients, the clients of the colleagues, etc. It's nice to have more tables to sit with at lunch, and this opens doors to getting to know even more writers through friends of your friends. You'll probably meet some people you absolutely adore. You'll almost definitely make connections with people you don't adore that will still end up helping you later. Every writer needs someone to blurb her books.

I know I'm revealing my ugly side in this post, but I'm not saying anything you guys don't already know, and you know it. You will meet amazing people. You will also meet people who will help you. If you're lucky, these will be the same people. They're not always. Know how to talk to everyone.

And do it. Talk to everyone. And getting an agent opens up those doors.

--YOU DO NOT WANT TO TALK ABOUT MONEY WITH YOUR EDITOR. Switching gears here. After your agent sells your book, you start your other most important relationship: the one with your editor. If you are as lucky as I am, your editor will be absolutely amazing, you will send her random ridiculous emails, and you will be just as close with her as you are with your agent.

But there will still be conversations that happen between you and your agent and not between you and your editor, and conversations that happen between your agent and your editor and not between you and your editor. These are conversations about money and marketing and the nitty gritty.

If you don't have an agent, and you're trying to negotiate a book deal yourself, or negotiate your books' placement in the catalogue or in a bookstore, you're going to hear a hell of a lot more than you want to about where your book sits on a publisher's list and how much money it's worth to the imprint and how it compares to the season's lead title and all of that crap.

You don't want to know that.

You and your editor have a job to do together. Make the best book that you can. That means you need to talk character motivations and scene placement. You do not need to talk co-op and royalty percentages. Leave it to someone else. Don't dirty up your relationship. Don't give any resentment a chance to take root.

--SOMETIMES YOU WILL FEEL CONFUSED AND STUPID. Then your editor will send you an email telling you about a second printing or a review or a stage in the publishing process, and you will smile and say "Awesome!" while your head is saying, "I don't know if this is awesome because I have no idea what the fuck this means."

You are not stupid. You are new. It's okay to be embarrassed. Your editor knows the answer to this question. You can ask her if you want.

So does your agent.

Ask her.

--SOMEONE WILL (HOPEFULLY) STAY WITH YOU ACROSS BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS. If your editor passes on your option book and you need to shop it to other publishers, or you write in a genre that your editor doesn't do, you're going to feel scared and alone shopping that around if your editor is your only close contact in the publishing world.

Enter agent. When Suzie and I went out with ZOMBIE TAG, the middle grade publishing world was completely new and unfamiliar for me. These were editors' whose names I didn't know, some with imprints I'd never given much thought. I didn't have the connections. Suzie did. She was making them while I was home snuggled up with Simon Pulse.

Because...

--THIS IS A LONG-TERM RELATIONSHIP. And things in publishing change. Quickly. People come and go, switch houses, switch sides of the writing/agenting/publishing table, take time off, have babies, change genres. Your agent is meant to be your longest relationship in publishing.

I know a lot of people have had experiences that have them laughing at this right now. And trust me. I've been there. Assuming Suzie doesn't go anywhere, ZOMBIE TAG will be my first book release when I'll still be with the agent who sold the damn thing.

But it's something to keep in mind. An agent signs you for your career. There is more security in having an agent than there is in any other relationship in publishing.

And this will segue nicely into my post about how it all happened with me, huh?

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

I'm Lame but At Least It's Tuesday

There ARE real posts coming at some point. I promise. I even have ideas for them (okay, ideas for one). But I'm in Orlando until Friday, so for now, have a teaser! It's from Invincible Summer. It's the scene I read at the Muser reading last week!


“No love without a little innocence,” Noah says, completely still.

“I thought you were asleep. You’re so creepy.”

He shrugs. “So how was your lovely innocent night?”

“I kissed her.”

“What a man.” But he says it warmly. “How was it?”

My first thought is to relate it to soft serve ice cream, but I can already hear Noah laughing at that. “It was nice.”

“God. God, really, it was nice?” He sounds so earnest that I think for a minute that he’s making fun of me. He props himself up on an elbow. “God, I fucking miss when kisses were nice. I’m so jealous of people young enough to still have nice kisses.”

“Wait, kissing isn’t nice anymore?”

“No. It’s foreplay. Trust me, you get old enough, and everything is foreplay. Kissing is foreplay. Talking is foreplay. Holding hands is foreplay. I swear to God, Chase, I think at this point, sex would be foreplay.”

This would probably be a good time to ask if he and Melinda have really slept together, but I can’t make myself say the words. So I just say, “That doesn’t even make sense.”

“Sex is a to-do list where nothing gets crossed out.”

I find the passage Noah quoted in my Camus book. “No love without a little innocence. Where was the innocence? Empires were tumbling down; nations and men were tearing at one another’s throats; our hands were soiled. Originally innocent without knowing it, we were now guilty without meaning to be: the mystery was increasing our knowledge. This is why, O mockery, we were concerned with morality. Weak and disabled, I was dreaming of virtue!”

Noah looks at me and coughs, his eyebrows up in his bangs.

“What?” I say.

With a straight face, he recites, “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”

“Come on. It’s foreplay? Seriously?”

“You’re too young.” He flops backwards. “You wouldn’t understand. You are a fetus in a world of Camus and spermicidal lubricant.”

“And you’re an asshole.”

“I’m just cynical. And you have no idea how far that’s going to take me.”

“Neither do you.”

“Au contraire, little brother. I know exactly how this college game works. I will arrive, the dark horse in a band of mushy-hearted freshman. College will pee itself in terror of my disenfranchised soul.”

I roll my eyes. “Beautiful.“

“Look. Listen to my words of wisdom. College’s only role these days, for a upper-middle class kind going in for a fucking liberal arts degree, is very simple. Do you know what that is?”

“A diploma. A good job. Yay.”

“No. College exists only because it thrives on the hopes and dreams of the young and innocent. College is a hungry zombie here to eat your brains. It wants to remind you that your naivety is impermanent and someday, English major or no, you’ll wear a suit and hate the feeling of sand between your toes.”

It’s not going to happen to me.

Noah continues, in a low mutter, “Like that’s not already forced into our heads every single fucking minute of every winter.”

“So you’re, like, essentially already educated, just because you’re an asshole?”

“Because I’ve resigned myself to my fate, yeah. I’ve pre-colleged myself. I’m rocking the institution, entering it already all disillusioned and shit. I’m going to single-handedly change the world of higher education.”

I clear my throat. “I may not have been sure about what really did interest me, but I was absolutely sure about what didn’t.”

“Go to sleep. Asshole.”