Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Sara(h)s: My Nemeses!

I’m in an upbeat mood today, so I’m going to reveal an inside story: Agents have nemeses. And I mean that by the strictest definition. I bear no actual enmity or ill will to my nemeses, but I do consider them an agent – pun intended – of my downfall!

Nemeses are those agents that always seem to get the projects I want. Granted, nearly every agent out there represents something I’ve wanted and lost, never got the chance to consider, or didn’t even know I wanted until I saw the announcement. But there are an elite few who keep cropping up. Namely, the Sara(h)s!

For clarity’s sake, I repeat, these agents are awesome agents and probably awesome people (I haven’t met them all), but the number of times I’ve lost something to a Sara or Sarah… it feels innumerable.

Why am I telling you this? Because there are always going to be people whose successes you envy. That crit partner who seems to get it without even trying. That author whose debut did sell for six-figures. The point is that another’s achievements do not negate your own. Be happy for them! They’re probably cool, and anyway, a rising tide carries all boats. Do your thing.



Amazon’s Best-Seller Ranking System: The Myth and The Magnificent

Bemoaning Amazon is not really my thing. Enough rants & raves about the corporate giant already exist. So, if you’re itching to leave a comment about Amazon’s business model, practices, processes, or place in the market you are out of luck.

I’m here to simply educate Authors and aspiring authors about the Amazon bestseller ranking system, and the misinformation and assumptions that prevail about its actual meaning.

I don’t want to burst anyone’s bubble, here. My goal here is not to de-wind your proverbial sales, but rather explain why a high Amazon bestseller ranking does not necessarily equate to mammoth sales figures.

Amazon’s rankings are hourly, rather than weekly or cumulative.  New York Times Best-Sellers, for example, are determined via weekly sales data from various booksellers. The idea being that it’s a more rounded average of what consumers are buying.  An hourly ranking may not be inaccurate, but it can be misleading at times.  Let’s say you write an awesome memoir, Amazon’s hourly ranking means that if someone bought your memoir twice in one hour, and Cheryl Strayed’s WILD once in that same hour, your memoir earns a higher-ranking. Does that mean your memoir is out-selling Ms. Strayed’s? Probably not.

Additionally, the categories and sub-categories can be misleading. There are categories than can get really specific. For example, Non-fiction, Memoir, Travel, Asia, Russia is it’s own category, so you’re Russian travel memoir may be ranked # 1, but it’s only against other Russian Travel Memoirs sold within the hour.

Am I saying you shouldn’t be proud? NOT AT ALL. Your book is published and ranked on a best-seller list. That is magnificentand by all means share it with everyone. What I am saying is that you should practice realistic expectations when it comes to how a “best-selling” title translates to actual sales.

Amazon is so non-transparent about actual sales figures the rank amounts to an arbitrary number; there’s no measurable context or value associated with it.




Hard Truths: Why being unpublished is better than being poorly published

Aspiring is a tough infinitive. It’s one of those painful words like “Almost” or “Nearly.” You’ve probably got the Google Reader set to success stories, and your friends and crit partners insist you’ll get there.

So you go through this excruciating process: [see this publishing process in Gif’s]

But what happens if you never got an agent? or you got one but the book didn’t sell?!?

Wait, a minute. That’s not right. I have an agent. This is the part where my book sells, right?

Yes and No. Agents don’t have a measured ratio that magically predicts your success. Some say the average agent success rate is 50%, some say it’s 85-90%. I’ve seen as little as 30% noted. The point is, even the best agents don’t have a 100% success rate (NOTE: 100% agent, if you are out there, please be my yoda.)

So, Dear Unsold Author, when PUBLISHER X approaches you and/or your agent, you jump at the chance. I can see why. You don’t know much – okay, anything – about PUBLISHER X and there’s not a lot of information available, but they are joyfully full of promises and they want to publish your book.


 Publishers believe in their promises, vision, and ability. Rarely, does a malicious criminal mastermind lurk behind a curtain intent on taking your hard earned royalties. But even the best intentions, in the hands of an entity that cannot execute them, don’t make the experience or outcome more bearable when promises go unfulfilled and communication breaks down.

Now, it’s important that you understand two things:

1.) I’m not talking about mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. If your editor forgot to send that blurb request on Monday… it’s not a reason to run screaming into the hills.

2.) Does this mean you shouldn’t give small presses a shot? No, not at all. I’m a fan of the small press. Houses like Other Press, Angry Robot, and Merit Press are doing wonderful things. Does this mean avoid start-ups? No. I was a start-up agent once… but I was never a bad agent. It’s about learning the difference.

So how do you know if you’re dealing with a bad publisher? Alarmingly, you may not. Hopefully your agent will guide you, and there are questions to protect yourself.

First, I can’t stress enough the importance of talking to others about their experiences.

Talk to the authors you know are already working with this publisher. Are they happy? Why or why not? How are their books doing? Would they keep working with that publisher? You check-out YELP before taking your in-laws to dinner, and this is way more important than your in-laws.

What are the advances like on average? Are you getting one? And if you’re not how good are these folks going to be at selling your book? Are the royalties competitive? Will your editor be freelance or fulltime (a.k.a. do you really have a champion there?). Who is handling foreign rights? Sub-rights? Publicity? Marketing? What’s their business model? What are the digital and print distribution plans? What’s an average print run? Marketing Strategy? What industry contacts do they plan to send review copies to? Will they be paying to advertise? Ask them to name some books they’ve released. How are they selling? They probably won’t tell you, but do your homework. Action will always speak louder than words.

All I am really saying is: An announcement on Publishers Marketplace, does not a publisher make.  

But, having any publisher is better than having none?

Nope. Dip that thought in some wrong sauce and take a big ole bite.

Here’s a few things that can go wrong. (Bearing in mind that ALL of them can go wrong and you wind up in a bath robe face down on the kitchen floor crying into the grout because the tile feels cool and you’re too upset to get to the sofa).

1.)    Publisher promises you that your book will be in digital and paperback and they’re getting a major distributor. But you’ve not asked the right questions and you soon discover that “paperback” means print on demand and the cover is designed by createspace. No hate to POD or Createspace, they do a great job! But this means you’re paying the publisher to have your book self-published. Granted, I’ve heard of some legit houses using KDP successfully, thanks to genius editors, publicists, and rights managers –> all firmly in the plus side when considering the legitimacy of a house.

2.)    You could hate your cover. Like hide-your-book-from-people HATE your cover.

3.)    You could wind up without a publicist, without a sub-rights manager, with out a marketing plan. There’s no budget for advertising or promotion and because your advance was twelve dollars you certainly can’t pay for it.

4.)    No one reviews it because the Publisher doesn’t have the network to get people talking about it. You’ve been promoting and promoting and promoting to no avail.

5.)    Or you’ve been promoting it gangbusters, and all your fans rush to the intertubes to discover the list price is outrageous. Your readers are upset that they have to pay so much for the book. You just keep apologizing.

6.)    Publisher won’t negotiate. They require all your rights: film, television, Graphic novel, video game, first born, and merchandising.  You lose enormous chunks on the license of rights.

7.)    Publisher goes bankrupt. So your novel technically belongs to the creditors at this point? It depends on how the contract is worded. It’s likely assigned to successors and assigns.

And you want to know the worst part about this disaster?  The Publisher Still Owns Your Book. You can’t just change your mind. Generous houses might let you petition release. And even then, though grateful,  you’ve paid to not be published. And you know what? It will have been worth it.

Because signing with a disreputable publisher can hurt your career. Even more than being a debut author? Yes. You know how my Dad was always like “Victoria Elise Marini!! get over here. You spent WHAT on those shoes?  The only thing worse than bad credit is no credit?” **

This is not like that. Bad is worse than none. Why? Because when that novel comes out from a shady place and sells badly (it will) it’s going to be extremely difficult to sell it again and in some extreme cases, future prospects will be wary.

I had some glorious witty wrap-up planned, but my eyes hurt.



** I have stellar credit. Thanks Dad! Love you!

Totally Digging These Books

Every once in a while  (often) I don’t have legitimate advice to give, at least none that you can’t already get from agents far more wise than I. I think “what to blog about that’s useful?” I work on tome-sized posts about three-dimensional characters, what makes a bad agent vs. a good agent (coming soon), how to reign in your characters when they start running away from (with?) you. Craft and business aside, what shall I talk about, I wonder. 

How about books I’ve really enjoyed/loved. Research – knowing what a prospective agent loves and/or has  represented – is the most important step, I think, for an aspiring writer to find the right agent. So, it’s at least semi-useful for me to talk about the books I’ve been totally digging recently. 

Making the list, y’all, in no particular order:

NOBODY BUT US by Kristin Halbrook

January 29th 2013

Harper Teen


The Copy 

They’re young. They’re in love. They’re on the run.

Zoe wants to save Will as much as Will wants to save Zoe. When Will turns eighteen, they decide to run away together. But they never expected their escape to be so fraught with danger….

When the whole world is after you, sometimes it seems like you can’t run fast enough.

Nobody But Us, told in alternating perspectives from Will and Zoe, is an unflinching novel, in turns heartbreaking and hopeful, about survival, choices, and love…and how having love doesn’t always mean that you get a happy ending. Described as “beautiful, heartbreaking, and exhilarating” by Kody Keplinger, author of The DUFF, Nobody But Us will prove irresistible to fans of Nina Lacour, Jenny Han, and Sara Zarr. – (image and copy owned and courtesy of HarperTeen, y’all)

My Thoughts: I thank the Galley Gods that I got the chance to get an early review copy.  This is a wonderful debut for Kristin. Bonnie and Clyde-ish, with that careening sense of inevitable disaster, it’s literally the perfect blend of contemporary and suspense. I’m a huge fan of literary YA  that, while contemporary, still feels tense and nerve-wracking. Without serial killers or stalkers (not that there’s anything wrong with a good serial killer or stalker villain) this was enthralling and intense and I want one of my own. 

THIS IS NOT A TEST by Courtney Summers

June 19th 2012

St. Martin’s Griffin
The Copy:
It’s the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won’t stop pounding on the doors. One bite is all it takes to kill a person and bring them back as a monstrous version of their former self. To Sloane Price, that doesn’t sound so bad. Six months ago, her world collapsed and since then, she’s failed to find a reason to keep going. Now seems like the perfect time to give up. As Sloane eagerly waits for the barricades to fall, she’s forced to witness the apocalypse through the eyes of five people who actually wantto live. But as the days crawl by, the motivations for survival change in startling ways and soon the group’s fate is determined less and less by what’s happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life—and death—inside. When everything is gone, what do you hold on to? (image and copy owned and courtesy of St. Martin’s Griffin).
My Thoughts: Oh Courtney, you wild literary devil. So this is one of the books that rocks the commercial hook, paces like a bat out of hell, and also follows this incredibly stunning character arc that  just twisted my big, softie heart. The hook got me interested, but it was the voice and the gritty emotional core of the novel, that kept me rooted. 
KEPT IN THE DARK by Penny Hancock
August 28th, 2012
The Copy: When her neighbor’s fifteen-year-old nephew goes missing, Sonia is the last person that anyone would suspect. At forty-three, she is a strikingly attractive wife and mother. And like the River House, her lovely home overlooking the Thames, Sonia’s life is a picture of perfection and normalcy—until she meets Jez. From the moment he shows up on Sonia’s doorstep, the gorgeous teenage boy awakens a torrent of memories that threaten to reveal a terrifying truth. Drawn to Jez by a compulsion that she scarcely understands, Sonia takes him captive—prepared to sacrifice everything to keep him. (image and copy owned and courtesy of Plume)
My Thoughts: Polarizing, as so many psychological thrillers are, this books seems to be casting people on sides of a great divide: those who love this and those who most certainly do NOT. I side with the former. This is straight-up, all-out creepy. At times, it grossed me out. Freaked me out. Gave me a stomach ache. I can understand why not everyone would feel as enamored as I. It’s not an easy book, but it’s visceral, gripping, and utterly unique. Bravo, I say.  


Working on a  long, complex post about building three dimensional characters got me thinking about other impossibly difficult writer tasks. Namely, the synopsis.

I hate synopses. I’ve always hated them because they demand the kind of prioritizing skills that I just don’t have. Everyone is important! Every plot point is major! How am supposed to just leave out that whole section?!?! Alas, the ability to write a synopsis is a worthy skill. My client Karen Akins wrote her own synopsis because she’s so good at it and then she got a two book deal (granted, the book is awesome so that might have had more to do with it… but the synopsis didn’t hurt).

Karen should really be the one giving you advice on this, but she’s busy writing her next novel so I’m here as a proxy.

Question number one is always “How long should my synopsis be?” The Answer is “as long as it needs to be.” I know it’s frustrating. Some people say 1 page, 3 pages, 5 pages and so on. But for anyone reading your synopsis length isn’t nearly as important as content.

Does that mean you can write a novella? No.   The goal of a synopsis is to summarize the overall trajectory of the novel and to not be boring while doing it.

First, imagine you have to write the jacket copy for your own book (but with a synopsis you include the ending). Copy is always brief, succinct, and engaging. It will cover major plot points, characters and that all important “hook.”

Beyond that, your synopsis needs to include major climaxes, conflicts and relationships between characters.  As you’re writing, try to demonstrate the emotional and physical obstacles between your characters and their goals.

The synopsis needs to be equal parts plot and character, and where I most run into trouble is transitions. How do you move from one point to the next without going all and then this happened and then she goes here and this happens (DO NOT DO THIS EVER).

The key is to recognize whether the transition is important (remember when you were writing that novel and you realized that you don’t have to document every literal step your protagonist makes?) and smooth over gaps with your own paraphrasing.

Try to engage with the storytelling  the same way you did when you wrote your query letter. Not only must a synopsis provide us with an account of your novel, but we also need to get a sense of the energy and spirit as well.

I know, I know, I still haven’t told you how you’re supposed to do all that. Sadly, I don’t quite now. It’s a matter of organization, priority, and time.

And a lot of research!

– V


I am looking forward to Autumn. It’s my favorite season and this summer has not necessarily been a kind or easy one. Among my favorite Autumnal accoutrement: ankle boots cider sweaters pumpkins leafy smells twilight chestnut brown. mustard yellow. navy. … Continue reading

Where have I been all your life (or, since the winter)

It seems I’m back. Where I have been? That’s a long story. The short answer is: been busy.
The long answer is the same, but perhaps  deeper and truer.

I’ve been avoiding the intertubes. For the most part because I can’t share the good news or the hope-to-be-good news until all systems are “Go.”  And I’m certainly not going to tell everyone about my many suffered miseries because they’re few and (truly) harmless. No one likes a Negative Nancy.

So that left me with what felt like two topics: food and my cats. There’s only so much one can say about the glory of the doughnut or the cuteness of the “M”  on Neville’s forehead.

There was and is more to say, of course. Querying, Inspiration, Books I love, Books I didn’t love, but the past 6 months have used up so much of my energy it seemed blogging or tweeting about anything even remotely “not priority” was impossible; like win-the-lottery impossible.

To metaphor it: If my brain is a giant computer… it has been churning that damn hourglass over and over again. (or, for you mac users, the dreaded pinwheel of loading!)

But rejoice (I am)! My mental CPU has stopped over-heating. I’m back, and attempting to be more consistent.

If there’s anything you want to talk about, hit me up! I’d love help on choosing a topic.