New website header design, and a guest post!

Ooh, notice anything different about the blog? My beautiful and talented sister Sophie (hi, sis!) designed a brand new header, inspired by The Oathbreaker’s Shadow. She’s also involved in a really cool project that I’m pretty sure makes me unique amongst authors – although that’s not quite confirmed 🙂 – and I’m looking forward to telling you all about it soon. Hint hint, it has to do with the blog header and also my parent’s business in Ottawa, Canada – Canadian Rug Traders.

Also today, I’m featured on Laura Lam’s blog writing a guest post. I wrote about balancing my double life as an author and editor and how it can be both challenging and rewarding!

Interview with my agent: Juliet Mushens of PFD

I’m lucky to be blessed with the smartest, most tenacious and definitely best-dressed agent in the biz… the wonderful Juliet Mushens. She is the newest agent at PFD, one of the oldest literary agencies in London, and she reps a really eclectic and fun list (head over to the PFD website to find out more). Juliet has done a few interviews lately about being an agent, so I thought I’d ask a few different questions for my interview. Hope you enjoy!

One thing I’m always curious about is how you match a shiny new manuscript to the right editor at a publishing house. What’s your process? How do you get to know an editor’s taste?

Everyone knows roughly what editors are looking for: be it crime, women’s fiction, reading group fiction or YA. But above and beyond that there are so many permutations so I think it’s key to meet as many editors as possible. It’s just like with agents – everyone knows the rough genres I’m looking for but above and beyond that I have a passion for books with unreliable narrators, UST, and more than a smattering of black humour. It’s when you meet an editor and find out their favourite books, books they’ve commissioned recently, books they wish they had commissioned, that you get the best sense of where it should go. I knew when Lauren Buckland at RHCB said she had a passion for epic fantasy that she would be a good bet for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow.

What are some of the recent trends in YA literature/submissions you’ve seen?

I get sent a lot of dystopian fiction, and a lot of urban fantasy. It comes in waves: I used to get lots and lots of vampire novels, but that seems to have died down now.

Can you describe a typical day in the life of Juliet Mushens: Literary Agent? 

Each day is totally different! I normally check my emails as soon as I wake up and deal with any urgent ones on my blackberry on my way into work. Once I’m in (and have a coffee) I spend a fair amount of time going through my emails and dealing with authors and editors. These can be things as simple as ‘when will my money come through?’ or as complex as ‘the legal read has flagged up ninety-seven problems with the manuscript and the book needs to go to print next week’. Sometimes my authors are stuck with a tricky plot point and want to talk it through; sometimes my ghost-writers just want to talk to an actual person. I normally have at least one manuscript open in the background of my computer and I try and dip in and out of edits as well, sometimes for a prospective client I’m meeting, or for one of my contracted authors. Some books can go through several drafts before they go out to a publisher, or a publisher can request changes before considering the manuscript again, or an author has delivered and I need to go through it and make my comments too. During the day my phone rings a lot. I hate getting phone-calls from people who have submitted: it puts me on the spot and it’s a real no-no for me. But I spend sometimes long periods of the day on the phone to authors, or editors, discussing various queries. I will normally also be working on at least one contract which requires complete quiet, so it can be difficult to get those done in the office! And then there’s the hours I set aside to make calls to publishers before submitting, chasing up foreign rights submissions, chasing up publicity or marketing queries. Oh, and trying to actually read new manuscripts! (Edited to add: Check out Laura Lam’s interview with Juliet for an even more in-depth ‘Day in the Life’)

One for all those aspiring authors out there… what makes a query letter stand out for you? 

I think it’s my marketing background that makes me a sucker for a good or clever blurb. Cover letters should be like going into a bookshop and turning the book over – why would I read it? Make it simple and intriguing. Don’t tell me ‘and then… and then… and then…’ tell me that it’s shot through with black humour, rogues with hearts of gold, and a terrifying villain who’ll give me nightmares. That’ll make me read it quicker.

Another one for the newbies – what are a few different ways to meet an agent other than just cold-querying, and when is it definitely NOT okay to pitch an agent? 

Workshops and conferences are great ways to meet agents and I’ll have my ‘agent-brain’ on so be much more approachable. I also don’t mind the occasional twitter-pitch if it’s smart and savvy. Things I hate: trapping me in a corner at a room, cold-calling me, trying to pitch at me at London Book Fair… etc. Just be nice, and normal, and friendly and I’m sure we’ll get on.

Any last words of wisdom or advice? 

Agents are people too – sometimes we seem like terrifying gate-keepers to a publishing deal but all we’re looking for is that new book which makes us stay up all night. That’s what keeps us working hard!

Guest post from Laura Lam: The Maze of Publication

Thanks very much to Laura Lam for today’s guest post, highlighting how there’s never just one straight road to publication. Laura is also represented by my agent Juliet Mushens from PFD and her debut YA fantasy novel Pantomime is going to be published by Strange Chemistry in 2013.

You can find her on Twitter here: @LR_Lam
and on her blog: 
Laura Lam

The Maze of Publication

When I was first learning about the path to publication, it seemed like there was one agreed route. First, you write the book. Then, you get an agent. Maybe you edit with the agent. Then, the agent sells it to a publishing house. You edit, edit, edit, and then the book is on the shelf and hopefully sells a million copies. But over the past year I realised there are different ways to get published. And I ended up taking a different fork in the road.

I subbed to Angry Robot’s Open Door Month in March 2011. I nearly didn’t sub, but a few friends encouraged me, and so off it went. To my delight and surprise, it rose through the slush. I remember pinching myself and thinking: this isn’t how it works. I don’t have an agent. I haven’t written 10 books and then subbed the 11th one. I haven’t rewritten this book five times. I just put through a book I really loved and hoped they’d love it, too.

That’s not to say that iteration of that book was perfect. It wasn’t, but through the process of the Open Door, I met some online critique partners who were invaluable. Anne Lyle gets a special shout-out for mentioning in one sentence just what I needed to change.

Angry Robot passed me over to their new YA imprint, Strange Chemistry, and my original reader/now editor technically rejected me. I had a revise & resubmit, and so I threw myself into revising my manuscript. I gutted it, re-arranged it, and added at least 30,000 words of new material. I’m really grateful for that second chance—that I wasn’t just written off for not being quite there yet.

I had queried a bit when I found out I was going to editorial, but my query letter wasn’t perfect (probably because the book still wasn’t). Querying the second time around was very different. My query letter was damn good, if I do say so myself, and saying that I had a publisher interested didn’t harm my chances.

I sent the manuscript to my potential editor of Strange Chemistry while I waited, and 3 days later she emailed me saying it was going to acquisitions. Highest of highs! The next day, I had a few rejections on my full manuscript from agents. Lowest of lows! Any kind of rejection is hard, whether it’s a suggestion to do radical changes or the vague “I liked it but didn’t quite love it enough.” In some cases, I think that second reason is harder. You just want to wail “why didn’t you love it/meee!” like a petulant toddler.

With one of the agents, we had a slightly more informal relationship, and so when he rejected me as a near miss (“Why didn’t you love meee!”), I cheekily asked if he had any agents in mind who might be a good fit. He gave me a few names, and one them was Juliet Mushens of PFD. My book ticked a lot of her boxes, and she read it overnight and offered the next day (“She loved meee! Yaay!”).

I had a publishing deal almost in hand before I nabbed the fabulous Juliet. Two days later, I had an offer from the publisher, and so far everything is going well. But I’m also not the only person who goes about publishing almost backwards. Anne Lyle pitched her book at a convention, Adam Christopher sort of got a deal via Twitter and found his agent that way as well, Scott Lynch and John Scalzi put up some writing online and attracted the attention of publishers. People are self-publishing to great success. That’s not to say the traditional agent->publisher route is bad in any way—it’s not, and it’s how any future deals I have will go! Publishing is changing and that means there are more avenues for getting your work noticed that before, which is exciting and wonderful.

For those of you interested in the Angry Robot and Strange Chemistry Open Door Month, today is actually the LAST day to enter this time around, but keep an eye out on their websites for future entries.