Friday, April 22, 2011

Dramatis Personae - Josh Getzler Part Two

Tell us the story of how you first came across T.K Roxborogh. Give we fans a reminder of why this trilogy is something special.
OK, so here’s the Tania-specific part of my responses, and I have a feeling that most of the folks reading this will already agree with me about how special a writer Tania is, and how marvelous Banquo’s Son and Blood Lines are. But it’s nice to tell the story and make Tania blush…

I first heard of TK Roxborogh from her former editor, the redoubtable Vicki Marsdon, now of HarperCollins. Vicki was the editor of another of my then-clients, and emailed me that she might have another author for me to try, whom she thought would be up my alley. I then, as happens, got crazy-busy (stop smirking, Tania!), and it took a prod or two to get me to start. But once I did, I couldn’t stop.

I simply thought that Banquo’s Son was fantastic—it incorporated so many elements I love: Adventure, history, Shakespeare, epic storyline, True Love (or is it!), chivalry…really everything. And it was a trilogy, and I loved it and took it on. We’ve been trying to sell it in the US, and are encountering an interesting phenomenon: Banquo’s Son is truly a crossover book. It appeals to women and men, young and old. My wife’s 62 year-old assistant loved it, and so did my 13 year-old niece. I have had SIX interns cry during the last fifty pages of Banquo’s Son, and they are all in their twenties. But we’ve come up against a desire to pigeonhole books into categories, when sometimes that simply isn’t the way to go. Now I understand the need to do so: publishers’ sales forces and (generally) editorial staffs in the US are divided into children’s vs adult books, and it’s efficient that way—book buyers are divided in the same way, and order books accordingly.

So it’s been frustrating, maddening at times. But through it, Tania has been steadfast in moving ahead and satisfying her ever-growing legion of fans. Blood Lines, written at an incredibly intense pace, reflected the urgency of the story, hurtling toward what is going to be a stunning conclusion in Birthright. All the elements are here—and the writing is evocative and the story MOVES!

I’m terribly proud to represent Tania Roxborogh. We exchange emails (at odd times of day and night, given both time differences and odd sleeping habits on both our parts), and have heard much in the way of triumph, tragedy, delight and adversity over the past several years. We are friends and business associates, and I look forward to delivering her (hopefully huge!) advance check IN PERSON to New Zealand—once US publishers wake up and join Team Flea!

Thanks Josh. Not blushing, it's just warm in Dunedin for once *grin* And, New Zealand is the best country in the world to visit so I look forward to your visit and the cheque enormously.

Go here to read Josh's latest post about the waiting game in publishing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Macbeth in the 21st Century - dramatis personae

I want to introduce you to some key people involved in the journey of this wonderful story coming into the light. Many people ask about my agent, my editor, publisher, the babes etc and my some of writery friends suggested I get some guest posts happening so I've begun to send interview questions to key peeps.

During the next few weeks I shall be posting their responses to my questions.

Because I asked him first and he so willingly responded, here is part one of a two part interview with my literary agent, Josh Getzler.

Josh, in a former life, was the owner of a minor league NY baseball team (which impressed my hubby no end - and my mother who was a coach of said sport for many years. I'm particularly good as a batter and as short-stop by the way). But, back to Josh who now works for Russell & Volkening, Inc., one of the oldest literary agencies in America.

He's a busy man. Do go read his introduction of himself here This post is hot off the press and another blog I have added to my select group of must-reads!

To the interview:
What is meant by the job description ‘agent’?
Let me answer the first four questions as one, just for narrative simplicity. A literary agent is many different things (and different agents prioritize the roles differently). An agent reads (many, many) queries from writers looking to get published, and decides which ones he or she thinks have the quality of writing, uniqueness of plot (and best adherence to a formula), and marketability to be a successfully published book. Then he (I'm not going to use he or she from here on out, simply for simplicity's sake) takes the manuscript (if fiction) or proposal (if nonfiction) and works with the author to get it into the best shape for submission to publishing houses.

When it's ready, he uses his knowledge of publishers and editors to set up a submissions list; writes up an enthusiastic, persuasive pitch letter, lets the editors know by email or phone that he has a project he thinks would be good for them, and sends (at this point via email) the project out to the publishers for their evaluation.

At that point, his job shifts from first editor to business manager. When a publisher expresses interest in the manuscript, the agent notifies the other publishers that he has interest in the book, and tries to set up an "endgame" which is either an offer by the first interested editor or a competitive situation where a number of editors go head-to-head in an auction for the book. Then the agent negotiated the contract, using whatever leverage he has (which is often very little, unless there is a competitive situation) to get the best terms for the author.

Once a writer signs a contract with a publisher, the agent's job is to manage both the flow of information and money between the publisher and writer, and to advise the writer on next steps. The agent's first priority is always the writer's well-being and career, and every comment or suggestion he makes to his client is designed to further propel the author to greater heights. When the author is ready to submit book 2 to the editor, the agent (most of the time) reads the manuscript first and serves as first reader/editor once again, and then works with the editor to make the next publication even better than the first.

All through this process, the agent is serving as well as a sounding board, advisor, psychiatrist, cheerleader, voice of reason, parent, child, a business partner to the author. And it's one of the agent's most important roles. The agent has taken the author's baby and been entrusted with sending it out into the world. That is a tremendous responsibility, and one we take very seriously. Frequently, part of that process (as Tania well knows) is sending it out to publishers...and waiting...and waiting...and having people inexplicably saying that they don't want to publish the author's book. As much as the process I discussed above is the job of the agent, it's also the happy, fun part of the job. Much more of it is answering calls and emails from frustrated and apprehensive authors wondering why their book hasn't been taken. And to my mind, the way an agent handles that role is every bit as important, if not more so, than managing smooth, successful submissions.

What is in it for you? Why do you do what you do?
On a purely business level, what I get is 15% of what my authors get. But that’s facile and mercenary. And while many people might think that, well, that’s what agents are [here, his email contains a smiley face], the truth is way more complicated than that. So many agents are either former editors, or literature majors who stumbled onto the Sell Side of the business instead of becoming editors, that the truth is really the same for agents and editors. We want to find good books and shepherd them out to the market so that they will be read by as many people as possible. There is little more special than opening an unsolicited query, reading the first page, and realizing that magic is happening. It’s what we’re there for. And every editor I’ve spoken to feels the same way. It’s an unusual business in that respect, in that it bridges art and commerce.

Another reason I do what I do is that I love books, and I love talking about them with other people who like talking about them. I like the social aspects—the lunches, the get-togethers, the conferences—and the getting up early in the morning to meet manuscripts. I like line editing and having the intense satisfaction of seeing a final draft turn out exactly the way it should.

There seems to be so many editors even within the same houses so how do you decide who you should submit your client’s work to.

That’s where the social aspect comes in (and in fact what gives agents some intangible value). A serious part of my job is to read everything I can in the press and blogosphere about the different publishers, imprints, and editors, so that I know when I am submitting which editor at which house is most likely to bite on the project. That’s vital because in most circumstances there aren’t second chances—once an editor passes on a book, you can’t go back to that publisher with that book (the editors talk!). Also, it’s why I like working with other agents in the office, rather than by myself (also because I think I’d lose my mind if I weren’t talking to people all day!). We compare notes, have databases, look through the Publishers Lunch deal lists, and get a sense of the market. But really the best way for me to learn is by meeting people. That way I can find out that the mystery editor who does dog books also likes Western adventures, or the historical thriller editor has a thing for rugby. Every little bit helps.

Thanks, Josh, for these insights into your world.

In the next post, he answers more specific questions about the Banquo's Son Trilogy.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Couldn't have said it better myself - warning: a long post

We writers are readers and, I think, more respectful of writers who are also readers of writers: we understand how hard it is to actually get from an idea to an in-your-hand book. We get how laborious it is to actually take an idea and see it through to a place where you (the reader) hold our words in your hand.

Peter Wells wrote an insightful and 'on it' post and this particularly grabbed my attention:
Because books do take time. Even the fastest written books take about three to eight weeks to actually just physically write. And authors who manage this feat usually have years behind them in preparation, pre-thought - a kind of stopped up energy which, once released, fleets away like a hare.

Most books usually take two to three years, a fact which astonishes most people. This is why authors are generally not rich people. It takes so long and the financial results are so poor that - if you were being paid by the hour - it would be cents rather than dollars.

But that is what you put up with in order to have the intense pleasure of a work which involves long consecutive thought.

It is like going on a journey - a long and exciting exhausting journey to an unknown destination.

Go here to read the entire post.

My first book, an eductional book for English teachers made to teach drama, was published in 1995. It was relatively easy process apart from the checking the proofs stage because I already had all the material. The plays that were published not long after also weren't so hard and my first novel, well, in comparison to the world these days, not so difficult: I was on maternity leave, I was pretty good as a writer and I had a willing publisher.

Now, the writing/publishing world is so difficult. Yeah, maybe it's because my kids are teenagers. Maybe it's because I'm getting older. But, I think it is because the standard of NZ writing has shot into the stratosphere and everyone has high expectations (as they should).

People (kids mostly) still contact me about If I Could Tell You. Just yesterday I received a lovely email from a writery friend about Third Degree. Today, one of my students said: can we just do what we did yesterday? I'm loving this book. 'This book' was Third Degree. She, along with her class mates don't find learning particularly easy. Yet I am in a different headspace to where I was with both these stories. It is harder. When I wrote my first novel, I had to send via post my manuscript. I used the telephone to communicate.

With Third Degree, I could communicate via email but there were no other online distractions like FaceBook or the expectation to keep up an online presence - a phrase never heard of then.

When I first started 'being an author' I was meeting the needs of my teaching collegues and my students: short, punchy novels for (boys in particular) who hated reading, plays for my girls (in a male dominated world back then); grammar texts that related to the people who sat in front of me in my classroom day in and out.

Back then, it seems to me, it was easier. If you had a good idea and could communicate this idea in a way that others could use easily, it was a publishable and marketable idea.

Oh how the world has changed. For me personally, the distractions of the internet seriously erode my writing time. Three years ago I was told that I needed to have an 'online presence' to make my work go viral. The only way this story is going to go viral is if someone with enough power takes it to Hollywood IMHO

My target audience is fickle. The movie. The movie. The movie. THAT'S what drives them.

I teach English to teenagers (and I think I do an okay job). I have two of my own (hugs and kisses at them). I KNOW this audience and all its changing faces because I dive amongst them; as a director, I get to go into their changing rooms and hear their conversations. I don't judge but I do listen.

Despite 'being old' (I'm going to be 46 this Sept), I am a Peter Pan type who loves life, literature and the longing that goes with both. (If any of my Y12 students read this please note my use of the 'power of three').

Yet, ironically, it has taken me an hour to write this post because I have also continued to 'advance the washing' (the phrase in our family which means get the clothes washed, dried and folded), fed the cats and tidy up from last night's 'can we have take always? - that was me btw.

I getting PM from people all over the world and a lot from ex-students - who say they love reading my blog [Go Roxy - you the man] was a recent message. I did send back an email reminding said ex-student that I am actually a woman and she sent back a email reminding me that English is an evolving language (what I often say) and she was being metaphorical and btw she's got a Phd and I haven't so there.

When I read that, I have to say I laughed so hard that I could not drink my tea (Charlotte, when I get to Europe, I am so taking you to dinner! And you're bloddy well paying.)

If you've got this far then I congratulate you. I am at once excited and daunted by my responsiblities, the expectations and the stigma associated with being a 'real writer' for that is what I am.

kia kaha

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Another award and fun times

Just popping in to say I am delighted to announce that Bloodlines has been awarded a Storylines Notable Book in the Young Adult Fiction 2011. Tres Cool. In the same week, Bloodlines also turned up on the best sellers list.

Awards and best seller titles are interesting labels for writers. But, for many years, New Zealand has been producing the most amazing crop of brilliant books for children so that some excellent titles are left off various lists.

This weekend past I have been privileged to participate in a hui for NZ writers and Illustrators which then went on to be part of the Margaret Mahy Day and the Spinning Gold Conference. Sounds complicated but it was the result of dedicated authors and illustrators and members of the community creating a fantastic conference.