Thursday, August 30, 2007

Balloons! Fireworks! Piles of half-packed boxes!

I've never used Flickr before, but I thought today was momentous enough to warrant it. In case the above pictures prove to subtle, this is post no.100 on Stuck-in-a-Book. It was rather a rash decision, to start a blog and enter the book blogging community while in the middle of revision for finals, but it didn't prove too great a distraction. Plus, there were even more people to cheer me along through the exams - and to wish me well, I hope, as I leave home... for now... (hope the parentals don't read that bit). This will be the last blog entry before I go back to Oxford, and you must forgive me if I'm away for a few days, as it might take a while to sort out the internet connection in Regent Street, Oxford.

Today's trip to Bristol was nice - The Carbon Copy's new abode is an enormous house, shared with a fair few others, and very beautiful, if a little dusty - but sadly Our Vicar's Wife and I were unable to locate the Bookbarn on the way back. The lack of any precise knowledge as to its whereabouts, alongside my complete inability to read a map, and OVW's... actually, she can't really be held to blame for any of it. But don't tell her I said so. Anyway, this leaves me with rather more money and rather fewer books than intended.

Have sidelined Deceived With Kindness for now, and reading a 1933 play called The Brontes (give or take an accent). Guess what it's about. Will report back later, but rather anticipate my review being somewhat scathing...

So, cracking open the champagne to 100 posts; here's to 100 more. And then some.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Wednesday Wednesday

Shan't be collecting any awards for my title originality today, but it does exactly what it says on the tin. Though, for many of you, it may be Thursday by the time you read this. If it is indeed Thursday, then you're reading Stuck-in-a-Book on the day that The Carbon Copy leaves home for good, off to Bristol to be a/work in actuary. One of these days I'll discover what sort of noun 'actuary' is, but not any day soon. It beats the first time I heard the word, when I believed it was something to do with morgues.

Sorry that there has been nothing particularly bookish recently, it's largely because I haven't read much of late. Started Angelica Garnett's earlier this week, but haven't got very far, owing to packing and a cold. Does anyone else suff
er this? As soon as the faintest tinge of illness comes near me, my eyes pack in and go on holiday, and merely glancing at the back of a cereal packet gives me a headache. Always seemed a cruel irony that, when I had a day of school with nothing to do, indulging in reading was impossible. Anyway, back to Garnett's book - she is Virginia Woolf's niece (daughter of Vanessa Bell) who married a man who had previously had an affair with her father. Oh, that man was the one who wrote Lady Into Fox, one of my 50 Books... (see the side column). Weren't they a normal bunch. So far, Deceived With Kindness seems like a less scholarly version of Hermione Lee's biography of Virginia Woolf, and I mean that in the very best way for Garnett. Lee's book, while interesting and very, very erudite, was exhaustive in more than one way.

Packing *almost* done, and has been performed with the accompaniment of Dame Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer, or rather Jean and Lionel Hardcastle, in one of my DVDs of As Time Goes By. One of these days I'll devote a
post to this fine series, which seems to be popular among many of my fellow bloggers. I know Elaine over at Random Jottings loves them.

To make up for lack of bookish musings lately, here is a nice picture of some of my many overcrowded bookshelves. Spot the Persephone Books mug. And tomorrow I'm hopefully going to the enormous Book Barn, so look out for Simon's Shopping Basket...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Agent Stories - Sterling Lord

In this week's Publisher's Weekly, acclaimed literary agent Sterling Lord describes his efforts to sell Jack Kerouac's ON THE ROAD. The article is adapted from Lord's forthcoming book, HARD WORK AND GOOD LUCK (Public Affairs, 2008).

Monday, Monday...

Hello again, and apologies for my absence over the weekend - while I'm on that, did you know that someone recognises a man as unsuitable for marriage, in a Nancy Mitford novel, because he uses the term 'weekend'? I think I'm right. And also clearly ineligible. Anyway, this apres-vendredi we had non-stop shindigging and jollities. People gathered from far and wide (mistyped 'fathered from far and wide', which gives an altogether misleading image of the party) to celebrate 25 years of marriage between OVW and OV. We barn danced - being the untalented version of a ceilidh - and had two days of people popping in and out. All very fun, and some literary conversations to boot.

Sadly, though, months spent in the West Country have obviously made me vulnerable to illnesses from the Real World, and I am now beset with an irritating cold. Hope and pray that this will have disappeared by the time I start work next week, as am rather wishing to impress my new employers with the impression that I am quick-witted and competent, not half-dead and bleary-eyed by half past eleven. I tend to be lethargic between 2.00-4.00 as it is (coincidentally, the time at which all my tutorials were scheduled in first year, leading my tutor to comment "Simon's essays are good, but when he has to speak about them, it appears to be a fluke". Thank goodness for morning exams.)

Today I began the packing process, by piling books onto a rug, and realising that I currently have nothing into which to pack them. The thousands of boxes we had when moving to Somerset two years ago appear to have risen to the Box Heaven in the Sky, and The Carbon Copy (who is moving to Bristol on Thursday) has commandeered the only one thus far discovered. And, despite the fact that I have carefully selected nigh on a hundred books to accompany me next year, they have left no discernible space on my bookshelves. Like gas, they fill the space available. That is right, isn't it? If my hazy recollections of drawing atoms is correct, gas fills whatever space it's in, accompanied by little 'whush' lines in pencil.

All in all, it's been rather a hectic time in the Rectory of late, and it is beginning to dawn that I am to enter the World of Work with great imminence (and very little eminence) and that's a leetle bit scary. Hope you'll all be there to hold my hand...

P.s. Apologies for dearth of sketches at the moment... they will be back...

Friday, August 24, 2007

Term of the Week: Net Royalties

One of the first things you should note in your publishing agreement is whether royalties are paid based on the retail price (also called list) or net receipts (also called net price or amount received). Most commercial trade publishers base their royalties on the retail price, and this is generally preferred. However, if a publisher accounts based on net, there's very little you can do to change this, so it's important to understand exactly what net means.

Net is the amount the publisher receives from third parties it sells the book to - such as bookstores, wholesalers, distributors, etc. - and not how much the reading public is actually charged. For trade books, this is usually anywhere from forty to fifty percent less than the list price, which takes into the discounted price publishers offer to these parties. In addition, publishers will usually deduct any applicable taxes and fees.

If you get a contract with net receipts, it's not the end of the world. You first need to make sure that the publisher has a clear definition of the term. Next, ask the publisher what their average discount is to booksellers and wholesalers. From there you should be able to make an accurate estimate of your royalties, and negotiate for an improvement if needed. For example, if the standard discount a publisher offers is fifty percent, than the net receipts royalty for hardcover sales should start at twenty percent (which is basically about ten percent of the list price).

Thursday, August 23, 2007

The Family That Reads Together...

Hope you'll excuse my blatant breaking of copyright today, but I didn't feel like sketching all of the Brady Bunch. I'll be honest, I've never actually seen/heard/read the Brady Bunch, and so can only use them as a proverbial happy-smiley-friendly family, to help illustrate this week's Booking Through Thursday.

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

I was very blessed to grow up in a family which treasured books, and had them all over the place. Oddly enough, given my voracious reading now, and my English degree and whatnot, I actually found learning to read initially quite tricky. That's my memory of it, anyway - having secret reading sessions with Our Vicar's Wife. Secret from The Carbon Copy, you understand (though with my competence for being discreet, this didn't remain secret for long) - being one of twins is brilliant most of the time, but during childhood we were very sensitive to which was making progress faster.

So I can't really single anyone out in the family as encouraging my young reading, though Our Vicar's Wife was wonderful at helping us 'play out' the books, making over the house to be a Famous Five adventure, and so forth. But my transition from teenage-reading to adult-reading (in a strictly innocent sense, of course) was aided by my Aunt Jacq, and by, who come in for their fair share of mention on here.

Some of my book-related memories involve the first time the roles reversed, and I got Our Vicar's Wife excited in books I'd recommended, particularly Richmal Crompton's novels. Convincing Our Vicar to read Pride and Prejudice was another victory - he's not particularly a novel reader, and commented afterwards that he'd 'known the plot already'.

Mostly, I delight in having a literate family who have always encouraged me in reading - though all of them think I spend a little too much on books, they've given in trying to stop me. Sensible folk.

Agent Stories - Edward Necarsulmer IV

A new agent story from Edward Necarsulmer IV, the director of the Children's Department of McIntosh & Otis, Inc.

I thank Jonathan for inviting me to post a guest entry on his rather ethereal blog. Given my position as the director of the Children’s Department of McIntosh & Otis, Inc., I do think I have a unique perspective and story to share. This is, for all intents and purposes, a success story; one that I think is not only is encouraging to the aspiring debut novelist, but also an imperative, if harrowing, reminder for agents and editors alike.

If for no other reason than to annoy Jonathan, I will begin like David Foster Wallace does in his short story, Signifying Nothing.... "Here’s a weird one for ya…”

I met a wonderful young woman by the name of Georgia Bragg at a writer’s conference about two and half years ago. According to the author, she had grappled with the notion of whether to approach me after my talk, but decided against it and opted to write me instead. A letter from her describing her book MATISSE ON THE LOOSE appeared one day in our discovery pile (my assistant agent, Cate, and I prefer the term discovery to slush, as we like to keep the negative energy to a minimum). I was immediately drawn to it after reading the first line, “My parents are like the sun; you can not look directly at them.” This quirky opening, along with The Royal Tenenbaums feeling of family in the pages, immediately prompted me to seek the author out. We agreed to work together, and after some significant revisions we decided it was time to shop the novel around town.

As the submission progressed, it seemed that each rejection became more severe than the last. As some of you may know, there are simply fewer submission options in children’s literature than adult – there are fewer imprints and thus fewer editors. So by the time we got to rejection twenty-three, I had no less faith in the book, but was considerably concerned about the options I had left with regard to submission.

I just want to add a bit more on this point. To take a page from Nathan Bransford’s entry, when asked once at a conference when I’d give up on a book I believe in, I answered simply, “Never.” Of course, there are projects that I might think are the greatest thing this side of A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L’Engle or THE NIGHT SWIMMERS by Betsy Byars that have not sold, but it certainly was not for lack of trying and I have hopes that one day the market will be ripe enough for a sale.

At any rate, enough with the digression….The endgame of this tale of rejection woe is that I had had lunch with the lovely and extraordinarily talented editor of THE SISTERHOOD OF THE TRAVELLING PANTS, Wendy Loggia from Delacorte, an imprint of Random House. Wendy mentioned that she was particularly interested in books for boys with a comedic sensibility and a good strong male voice, so I sent MATISSE ON THE LOOSE along to her. About a month later I came into the office to find my voice mail light blinking, with a message from Wendy thanking me for sending her this “gem” and wondering if the book was still available. We made a deal and the author and editor are hard at work in the editorial phase now. I believe we are looking at a 2009 publication.

The reason I tell this story is not to encourage Hail Mary submissions to as many editors as possible, but rather as a reminder of what an enormous part perseverance and individual editorial subjectivity play in our business today.

It’s easy for us all to become discouraged or question our own judgment about projects we love. My mentor, the legendary children’s agent Marilyn E. Marlow, used to describe her job in some part as, “placing books - you know, you place one at Random House, one at Simon & Schuster, one at FSG.” But the reality is that only a few agents can ever just place books with publishers, even though it’s something we all wish for. So with each and every sale I make comes some type of celebration, be it popping a cork or a big high five to my assistant. Each sale is an enormous victory, and also a reminder of the fact that one editor’s coal is another’s gem.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007


What were you doing on 23rd August 1982?

Before you start flicking through old journals, I'll tell you why that day was rather special. Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife, when they were but Our Curate and Our Curate's Fiancee, got married.

Now they can chalk up 25 years of marriage, and I'm sure you'd like to join me in wishing them a very happy Silver Anniversary, and commend them on their rather wonderful sons... chortle...

Congratulations Mum and Dad!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


One of my first posts on this blog was about twins in literature, and sparked off quite a little frenzy of puzzling. Well, looks like Vintage have had the same idea, though perhaps a little bit differently.

A few other bloggers have mentioned this, but none of them are twins (so far as I know) and thus I have the upper hand on discussing it. Possibly.

In publishing a series of classics, somebody in the Vintage offices had the alarmingly good idea to print these alongside Modern Classics - or, for those who don't like an ovymoron before breakfast, modern books which they anticipat
e will become classics of literature. What a great idea! And hats off to whoever was in charge of cover designs, as they have done rather a brilliant job. Each pairing has a very identifiable 'look', so that they are obviously connected, whilst retaining something intrinsic to the individual novel. As Susan Hill says on her blog, when buying a classic, I'm going to make my purchase decision based on cover - it's not as though Middlemarch were, to use the parlance of football sticker collecting, a rare one.

Here's a confession to make. Out of their ten pairings (Crime, Fantasy, Fear, Lies, Love, Lust, Monsters, Satire, Sin, Youth) there is none for which I have read both the Classic and the Modern. Shocking. What's perhaps even more surprising, for regular readers of my blog, is that I've read a fairly even split of Modern
and Classic.

This is a great marketing plan, but also tackles both ruts which avid readers sometimes fall into - either a diet of solely pre-1950s literature (my own personal menu), or only reading that which hits the shelves this minute, and preferably a few hours before the rest of the world does. Vintage Twins will mean we can all broaden out reading, while making connections within the ongoing canon.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Surely it's a Sport?

It's all been a bit literary round these parts of late, and I've even been lured into the twenty-first century, so it's time to mention something a bit more quotidian and old-fashioned.

I do like Scrabble. When board games are concerned, it's always the simplest which are the best - when you don't have to be rifling through the rulebook every few minutes, or remembering that you can't take contraband substances onto blue squares when travelling back to the moon (points for anyone outside The Clan who recognises that game?) We had a game called Investor once, and each go took about ten minutes of mathematical calculations. Our family isn't adverse to maths (two of 'em have degrees in it) but...

Sometimes we play Scrabble because it's the only board game Our Vicar isn't guaranteed to win. In the dozens of times we've played Trivial Pursuit, for instance, I can remember him only twice not winning. Sometimes Our Vicar's Wife, The Carbon Copy and I team up against him; we still lose.

When playing Scrabble, I tend to go for words which are nice, or form pleasant cubes of words on the board. I become increasingly irascible as the Carbon Copy places 'words' like 'yep', 'hi', 'oh', 'qi', 'mo'... he'll probably try to defend his actions in the comments, but I maintain that Scrabble should be played for the beauty of the language, not to use lots of two-letter-words which would be employed in no other context. The difference between an English student and a Mathematician, I suppose...

Any more aficionados out there?

Personalized rejections

Today alone I've received five responses to standard rejections asking for more specifics. Considering how many queries I get a day (see below post), and considering my clients come first, a "this is not for me" is just going to have to suffice.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Beg Pardon?

Thanks Lynne for bringing The Loudest Sound And Nothing to my attention, and thanks Faber (or should that be Faber and Faber?) for sending me a copy to review, on my request.

You may well know about my recent penchant for short stories - and I couldn't resist reading a collection with such a great cover. Very simple-but-effective, which is the perfect recipe for a short story.

Very difficult to know what to say about Clare Wigfall's collection of stories. What The Loudest Sound And Nothing has made me realise is that, though many collections of short stories contain a lot of variety, they always have some identifiable style or wording or topic which is unmistakably consistent. Not so Ms. Wigfall. She covers so many periods, personas, styles, situations, nationalities and (though I haven't counted) no great imbalane in gender of narrator too. If they do share a common trait, it is the focus upon the unspoken. That's rather a truism of all literature post-1950, but rarely have I read it done without being irritating or merely included for effect. Wigfall's stories allow glimpses into lives, and wherever the image hinges on an untold aspect of these lives, it is the surrounding existence which grabs out attention. Sure, we don't know, say, what it is the barman tells the girl in 'Free'; we don't know what Mr. Turbridge's crime is in 'Night after Night' (though one can perhaps guess); we don't know what's going on in 'Safe', the most enigmatic story of them all. But in each of these cases, and throughout the collection, the portraits are complete enough to leave you satisfied. Not every story has an omission to illuminate the rest - in 'On Pale Green Walls', for example, understanding what's happening, when the narrator doesn't, is the crux.

Whichever way the story is structured, they all involve the reader in a way which I hope Wigfall can bottle and sell to potential writers. Because they're such a varied bunch, each must stand on its own merits - and I found that all but one of them did. Within sentences, Wigfall creates a miniature landscape of narrative, and even stories which last a few pages feel like complete entities. This is how the modern short story should be written.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Reading Groups

I re-read Jenny Hartley's Reading Groups today, which looks very like the picture here, except I couldn't find an illustration without Amazon's chirpy 'Search Inside!' addition. Since the sentiment is admirable, I'll let it stand.

Apparently there is an updated version available, but my 2001 edition is fascinating nonetheless. Hartley (et al, I daresay) sent out questionnaires to reading groups, and this guide is based on the 350 responses they received. If you're like me, this information is enough to make you immediately order a copy of the book - I love book club, I do. Of course the internet equivalents are wonderful, and I think the blogging community can be pushed into this category, but this is nothing to beat a face-to-face reading group. I haven't attended one for a couple of years, since university and moving house separated me from the one I spent a year at in Eckington. The other day, though, I discovered an Oxford book group in its initial stages, sent off an email, and shall be joining them from September - I daresay you'll be hearing about that in due course.

Where was I? Hartley's book, oh yes. As well as basic information about the number, location and gender of book clubs (statistically, apparently, the most common one is a rural, all-female group of 6-10) Reading Groups frequently cites questionnaires on all reading-group-related-topics. We hear why Beryl Bainbridge doesn't find much favour, about Bristol's four continuing book groups which were around in the early nineteenth-century, and the various reasons why men are considered miscreants in the world of collective reading. Hearing about the rituals and practices of all-male book clubs (one group sits in order of seniority, clockwise, and must consume no more and no less than two pints of ale per meeting) I'm not surprised that my gender is looked upon with some suspicion. Shame.

I could cite all the examples, but you should instead pop along to Amazon and pay the £0.01 + p&p required to own one yourself. Well, since you asked, here is another titbit: "One woman rarely reads the assignment but gives great excuses: for Camus's The Plague she read one page only and said she does not like books about rats."

Anyone reading this is self-evidently a peruser of blogs, and most of you will write your own - but what about your 'terrestrial' reading groups? Are you in one, two, twenty? And how do they compare to the blogosphere?

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Honour and Obey

Wonders will never cease; I am Booking Through Thursday on a THURSDAY. True, there are only 35 minutes left on Thursday, this side of the Pond anyway, but the principle stands. A round of applause, if you will.

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

(We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school don’t really count since they’re not optional.)

A fine question. One of the things I like best about finishing my degree (and it is certainly a mixed blessing) is that I can read more than book at once, purely because I don't have deadlines for reading, and it doesn't matter whether it takes me a day or a month to read a book. I like to have a few reads at the same time, but generally not more than one novel. So perhaps a novel, a factual book, a selection of letters, the diaries collection I have The Assassin's Cloak... but if I were reading two novels at the same time, it would be too confusing.

How about you? Less easily confused than me?

Queries Reviewed

I'm stealing a note from Nathan Bransford and have provided below a review of the electronic queries I received over the past twenty-four hours. Nathan does it for the whole week - but I'm just not that patient.

I received 71 total electronic queries. This is definitely more than I usually get, which I think is mostly due to being listed on a new author website. Out of these, I rejected 69 and requested the first thirty pages for two. Eight of these queries were sent directly to my email address, as compared to through my agency website submission form. Six authors responded to my rejection with follow up emails requesting suggestions of where to submit. Finally, five queries have spam blockers that require registration before response.

8 thrillers/suspense

7 science fiction (4 of which were not set on Earth, which I don't handle)

6 fantasy

6 juvenile or YA (which I don't handle)

5 self-help (which I rarely handle)

5 romance (which I don't handle)

5 queries that made no sense whatsoever

5 literary fiction

4 historical fiction

4 mysteries

4 women's fiction

3 poetry collections (which I don't handle)

3 memoirs

2 adventure stories (which I rarely handle)

2 politics

1 business

1 pop culture/humor

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Young Love

You'll forgive me if I start this post with a little bit of trepidation. I've never written a review of a book before with the knowledge that the author would peruse my musings. Takes me back to the first review I had printed in the Oxford Student newspaper, of Ian McEwan's Saturday. As he was busy filling his pockets with money, it probably troubled him little that I found the novel ill-conceived, cliché-ridden and rather dull. Luckily for Angela Young - the first 'Y' in my Book Journal, for those keeping tabs - I didn't find her debut novel Speaking of Love to be guilty of any of these crimes.

In fact, and Stuck-in-a-Book know
s no higher accolade, it's going straight into '50 Books You Must Read But Might Not Have Heard About'. Not something I do lightly, you understand. As Mr. Bennet might say, read on.

Angela Young's novel has similarities with a couple of other modern novels I've mentioned on here - Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, and Margaret Pelling's Work For Four Hands. The main similarity is that one reads investigatively; there is a central mystery to be unfurled, which will help explain why the characters act as they do, respond (or, rather, don't) to each other in the ways they do. Even without all the other reasons to read on, the need to discover how all the pieces fit together is enough to keep anybody hooked.

Speaking of Love is divided into three narrative strands, Iris's Story; Vivie's Story; Matthew's Story. At first I thought this was overkill, and did get a little confused - surely we don't need all three voices? How wrong I was. They are distinct personas, and Young cleverly presents Vivie in the third person, alongside Iris and Matthew in the first person, so little overlap occurs. No character has more than a few pages at any one time, and they always took up the narrative again at exactly the moment I was thinking "Hmm, we haven't heard from Iris/Vivie/Matthew in a while, I hope they're next".

Iris is, appropriately enough, a storyteller - though one who has suffered destructive illness - and is heading towards a storytellers' festival. Vivie, her daughter, hasn't seen her for years, and is suffering her own personal crises. Matthew, Vivie's childhood friend, is also off to the festival, with his father, to hear Iris. As these characters and their relationships are explored, so too are their shared and separate pasts - pieces of the puzzle are continually proferred, though never in such a way as they feel incongruous in the narrative. Nothing in Young's novel is forced, a
nd, given the often stark or emotional subject matter, she does amazingly well to avoid being either saccharine or maudlin. The tagline, as it were, is "Speaking of Love is a novel about what happens when people who love each other don't say so." While true, I hope that doesn't undermine the depth of this novel, the beautiful character portraits and the true humanity which Young has depicted.

Thought I'd give you a little quotation. This makes the novel seem perhaps rather more enigmatic than it is, but it's also a great, tantalising taster of Speaking of Love, which demonstrates the importance of its key themes; storytelling, relationships, the impact of the past.

'If life was a story, Vivie," said her mother, "I could retell it. But it isn't and I can't. I just wish that what happened to me never happened in front of you. I wish that you hadn't had to do what you did and I wish that you hadn't been so very frightened by it all. That's what I wish.'

I don't want to give too much away, but do go and look at the Amazon page for more information, or Angela's blog, or the book's website. Above all, read Speaking of Love.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Signed, Sealed, Delivered...

What do these books have in common?

Give up?

Well, they have all been signed by their authors. A book presents such a complex relationship between the author and reader, which has been documented and investigated and debated by hosts of literary critics over the decades and centuries. This is all made more complicated and fun when the author's own handwriting appears on the title page - how strange to think that the author has held the book before me! Well, not so strange for A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman, and the biography of Judi Dench, for I was present on both those occasions, but for the other three...

When We Were Very Young, I must admit, was not written by Christopher Milne - one of these days I hope to have an AA Milne signature, but alas, not yet - but he has a very close association with the lead character. This copy was sold to me by a man named Peter Guppy, who lived in my old village and did a small business in books, but since he sold it to me for £2, it was really more of a gift. Dorothy Whipple's The Priory was bought at the Bookbarn in Somerset (or Heaven on Earth, as it may be re-labelled), but it was not until I got home that I realised it was signed. Very exciting! EM Delafield's novel set me back the most, but as one of my favourite authors, I found the offer irresistible.

How about you? Any signed copies? It's easy enough to find signed modern novels and biographies, Waterstones seems to stock little else, but what about older authors and treasured novels?

Sunday, August 12, 2007


I finished reading another Persephone Books publication this week - Doreen by Barbara Noble - which Carole very kindly sent me, as a sort of reciprocal gift in BAFAB. Thanks so much Carole! Really good novel, as all of PB's books are, but I shan't say much about it now, as are soon to embark on a group discussion about it, and I don't want to forestall myself. So I haven't started talking about Barbara Noble's book to give a review, this time - Doreen makes an appearance for a subtler reason.

For my birthday last November, a friend of the family (who happens to be a vicar's wife and mother of twins, but is not Our Vicar's Wife) gave me a notebook entitled 'Books I've Read, Books I Want To Read'. Well, this was rather a perfect little gift, I'm sure you'll agree. There are pages for every letter of the alphabet, which invite you to write the author, title, date completed, and compose a comment. I'm afraid I jettisoned the comment section straight away - I need all the space I can get to include all the books I've read, and, since I've kept a record since 2001, there were plenty to include. What I didn't realise is that, from 2001 until last week, I had read nothing by an author whose surname begins with N. I, Q, U, X, Y, and Z are similarly empty, but N is now no longer virgin territory - step forward Barbara Noble. I know for a fact that I've read E Nesbit, if no other N-ers, but Noble is the first to be entered into the book.

And so I'm going to follow the advice of a particularly unpleasant article I read about 'How To Make Money From Your Blog', and present a list. Feel free to send wads of cash in the post afterwards, if it takes your fancy. It interested me, and it might interest you, to see the oldest and most recent entry for each letter of the alphabet. The first book listed is the oldest one under each letter; the second is the most recent, and probably has been mentioned on the blog at some point. If that sounds deadly dull to you, then here's a question to answer instead - do you keep a list of the books you read? If so, where? And in chronological order, or by author?

Jane AUSTEN - Pride and Prejudice
Jane AUSTEN - Lady Susan

Lynne Reid BANKS - The L-Shaped Room
A.S. BYATT - The Matisse Stories

Lewis CARROLL - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Jackie CLUNE - Extreme Motherhood: The Triplet Diaries

E.M. DELAFIELD - The Provincial Lady Goes Further
Monica DICKENS - One Pair of Feet

Mary ESSEX - Tea Is So Intoxicating
George EGERTON - Keynotes

Helen FIELDING - Bridge Jones: Edge of Reason
E.M. FORSTER - A Room With A View

Gillian GILL - Agatha Christie: the Woman & Her Mysteries
Joyce GRENFELL & Katharine MOORE - An Invisible Friendship

Anne HART - Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot
Zoe HELLER - Notes on a Scandal

Tove JANSSON - The Summer Book
Jerome K. JEROME - Three Men In A Boat

Felicity KENDAL - White Cargo
Barbara KINGSOLVER - The Bean Trees

E.V. LUCAS - Mixed Vintage
John LYLY - The Woman in the Moone (sic...)

Christopher MILNE - The Path Through The Trees
Elizabeth MYERS - A Well Full of Leaves

Michael ONDAATJE - Anil's Ghost
Maggie O'FARRELL - The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox

David PELZER - A Child Called 'It'
Margaret PELLING - Work For Four Hands

J.K. ROWLING - Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
J.K. ROWLING - Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Elizabeth D. SHAFER - Exploring Harry Potter
Jan STRUTHER - Mrs. Miniver

Ann THWAITE - A.A. Milne: His Life
Claire TOMALIN - Katherine Mansfield : A Secret Life

VOLTAIRE - Candide

P.G. WODEHOUSE - Quick Service
Leonard WOOLF - Hunting The Highbrow

Friday, August 10, 2007

Booking Through... some day or other...

I do wonder if I'll ever manage to do Booking Through Thursday on an actual Thursday... signs aren't good. But they say that any day can be Thursday, so far as Booking is concerned, and I couldn't resist this week's set topic. Here it is:

Do you have multiple copies of any of your books?
If so, why? Absent-mindedness? You love them that much? First Editions for the shelf, but paperbacks to read?
If not, why not? Not enough space? Not enough money? Too sensible to do something so foolish?

Being a twin, duplicates are a necessary feature of my everyday life. And there, dear reader, I may have found the world's worst excuse for buying too many books. What did I just say?! Too many books! Must wash my mouth out with soap.

It will probably surprise none of you to discover that I do have mutliple copies of some of my books. And not a small number. They fall into three rather specific categories, which are helpfully illustrated by photographs. The first is connected to Persephone Books; as you may remember, I've been a fan of their lovely books for a few years - and, as a complementary collection, I often buy earlier editions of their reprints. Only if they're cheap, mind. I may be book-mad, but I set myself some (very flexible) limits.

Category number two happens to be AA Milne - one of my favourite authors, especially when I was starting to buy books at an Olympic rate. Somehow I've managed to accumulate quite a few duplicates here, usuall
y because I like the covers, or the newer one is cheap, or I want to keep an uncut version of Michael and Mary, or Snow Books print a lovely new edition of one, or... you see, always a reason.

And the final category just happens to be... er... miscellaneous. Books I love.

Miss Hargreaves couldn't just possess one corner of my bookshelf, could she? And I bought a second copy of The Waves because my first fell apart, but I couldn't bring myself to throw away the first. Hostages to Fortune just kinda happened, and I 'needed' a second copy of Portraits because I'd scribbled notes in the other. The Mapp & Lucia series - well, I'd coveted the Folio editions for a while, but decided I couldn't afford them and collected the Black Swan paperbacks, but later found the Folio ones for, erm, not a huge amount of money...

My plea is guilty. Any one else want their crimes to be taken into consideration?

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Foxy Lady

Today I'm going to multi-task, and address a new entry on '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About', while chatting about one of the books I read on holiday. Smooth, no?

UPDATE: a longer and better review has been done by Simon S here!

The first, to become no.13 on the list of books you should read, is Lady Into Fox by David Garnett, published in 1922. Don't really know how renowned this novel is already, but I didn't know anything about Garnett when my piano teacher mentioned Lady Into Fox. This is the lady who recommended Miss Hargreaves, so I was confident that the novel would find favour. The fact that Garnett was Virginia Woolf's nephew-in-law could only be a bonus.

Lady Into Fox - can you guess the plot? Sylvia (clever name) suddenly turns into a fox - the novel follows Mr Tebrick, her husband, as he witnesses Sylvia increasingly lose her human nature, and degenerate into vixenhood. What could be quite an absurd narrative is dealt with cleverly, and the fantasy never takes over. Instead, Garnett delivers a gentle tale with strong and genuine emotions, which becomes an admirable story of pathos.

Sylva (which presumely sounds like the precious metal, and makes referring to the novel audibly rather tricky) was written in 1962 as a response to Lady Into Fox, though I didn't know that when I bought the book. Interestingly, I bought it because I'd just read Garnett's novel. Gosh. Anyway, this novel is actually a French one, by 'Vercors' (Jean Bruller), though of course I have a translation. It acts as 'F
ox Into Lady', if you will, reversing the central conceit of Garnett's work, and making it all a little grittier. Drug abuse is thrown in along the way, but Vercors' novel is mostly interesting as a study of development and psychology - Sylva's progress is intended to resemble that of mankind, but the centuries are condensed into weeks. A few too many ponderous expostulations, but enough charisma in the characterisation to make up for it. Both fun novels, but with thoughtful backgrounds and premises, and it's always interesting to read books in a pair like this. Who'd have thought foxes could be so entertaining?

Question: Exactly what is acceptable when it comes to submissions?

Exactly what is acceptable and what isn't when it comes to submissions? It seems this business is so incredibly subjective there is a different answer from any one you ask.

You're right - it really is subjective, and so it's hard for me to give an accurate answer to this. Does your agent submit exclusively? Is it in a genre that has less options in terms of publishers? Is it children's or adult? Nonfiction or fiction? Is it the summer or fall?

Still, I do think there are some general guidelines that apply regardless. Your agent must have a submission plan. The agent should be willing to discuss the plan with you and get your agreement before proceeding. And your agent should update you on the submission whenever you ask.

I've had projects that have sold in a week, and others that have sold after three years. Sometimes I've submitted to only a few editors initially, while other times I've submitted to over twenty at once. The one constant for each of my submissions is that I had a strategy for sale - and I've shared that plan with my client and we are in agreement.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Pottering About

I must start by saying that there will be spoilers in this post, so anybody who hasn't yet read that Harry and Hermione were really the same person all along.... heehee... ok, that one's a lie, but don't read on if you want to keep everything else secret.

I had intended to talk about some of my other holiday reads, but they will have to wait as Mr. Potter et al get their appraisal first. I suppose the best way for me to sum up my response to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is that it is my least favourite book in the series, and that I loved it. Yes, nothing to approach Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban as my favourite (and also the first one I read), but still a compulsive dash through the hundreds of pages. It felt very strange to come to the end of a eight year journey, knowing that I'd never read new accounts of Harry again - unless
, of course, I learn Chinese and read 'Harry Potter and the Large Funnel', which I believe is in the offing.

Any more specific response? Well, I felt the absence of Hogwarts keenly. In amongst the admirable good/evil battle, and Harry busy discovering himself and his past, I'd always loved the school atmosphere, and the lessons and teachers we were treated to. Couldn't you just imagine Maggie Smith reading the latest book, and thinking "Shan't bank on that film to cover the weekly shop"? The omission of Quidditch I could cope with happily, but McGonagall, Trelawney, Sprout and Flitwick were sadly underused. In their place came endless wandering through fields to rival the first Lord of the Rings film. In fact, the whole Deathly Hallows plot felt rather unnecessary - but perhaps that was only because, like most people, my mind was wholly fixated on "who dies?!" and I didn't allow enough of my attention to be caught by the matters of the book itself, rather than the series.

Oh, the deaths. Rowling cleverly killed off characters of increasing importance, through the last few books. I mean, who cared at all when Cedric died? But Sirius... and then Dumbledore. Must confess, I kept expecting him to come back to life... more on that later. We were similarly eased in with HP7 - Hedwig was sad, as was Mad-Eye, but nothing to whip out the Kleenex for. Dobby, on the other hand... and by the time we got to Fred, I was positively inconsolable. Mostly because the twin thing is a little too close to home.

Onto Albus. What WAS that half-dead/half-alive thing? "Of course it is happening inside
your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" was rather a clever line, but didn't make the whole scene less confusing. Any thoughts?

All in all, a satisfying end to a brilliant series - my thoughts about the books as a whole, and Rowling's ability, were mentioned a while ago - and Harry Potter and t
he Deathly Hallows shouldn't just be remembered for the deaths it contains.

Being away from the blogging world for the Launch Day, I've no idea about the general consensus...???

Question: How long does it all take?

How long should it take from "we'd like to offer you representation" to "we're pitching your proposal"?

The most significant factor affecting the time it takes to pitch a proposal after an offer of representation is made by an agent is the proposal itself. I don't think I've ever signed up a client without having at least a few editorial suggestions. In extreme cases its taken six months or more to get the proposal ready, and at other times it's only taken a few weeks. Sometimes the delay is a result of something out of our control - perhaps you need an interview from someone for the sample chapter but they're out of town for a few months. Other times it's simply because the author has yet to really nail it.

It's a different story if the agent is the cause of the delay - whether by not getting back to you quickly enough with edits or simply not submitting. We're busy people, but truthfully our clients come before anything else we have going on, so an extended delay is really not acceptable. Before reacting too hastily though, make sure to bring up the issue with your agent and get their response. In any situation there can be unforeseen and unusual problems that can cause a delay that might be excusable. And even if there's nothing like that going on, a bit of leeway is fair. But if your agent (or their assistant) can't get back to you within a week or so - even if it's to say I'm still working on getting you an answer - than I think you should be concerned.

Another possibility is that the agent proscribes to the dead summer theory - i.e. not submitting in July and August because lots of editors are on vacation. I personally don't follow this rule and have sold plenty of books in those months, but I know quite a few good agents who do.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Prodigal Returns

I'm back, I'm back!

Oh dear, it has been a long time since I was here, hasn't it? I've been on holiday for a couple of weeks, attending weddings and a Christian camp, and doing some Youth Hostelling with the Carbon Copy up in the Lake District. But now I've returned, and I'm looking forward to getting into the blogosphere again... I do hope you're all still here, and willing to join in a bit of bookish chat.

Let's kick off with a few pictures of where I've been. The Lake District is possibly the most beautiful part of England, and certainly the most beautifully dramatic. The above picture is the view from the first Youth Hostel we stayed at, Windermere YH. The dining room/conservatory looked out over this view - this is why I love youth hostelling; even if the beds aren't comfortable and the facilities are basic, you get to stay in some wonderful houses and stunning locations.

In amongst our wanderings, I went to Blackwell. An Arts & Crafts house designed by Baillie Scott between 1898-1900 (according to the website), it's also an amazing place to be. Go and try the virtual tour on the website, though it's no substitute for visiting the actual place. Coming from the dark, wood-panelled hall into the white drawing-room, radiant with light and overlooking Lake Windermere... well, make sure you visit if you're ever in the area.

Before I transmute into the Cumbrian Tourist Board, I'll stop my ramblings. It should surprise nobody that I managed to read a few books in my time away. To whet your appetite, here's a rather blurry pile of perused tomes. More anon. It is nice to be back...

It's not just me...

Check out what Jennifer Jackson has to say about how to proceed when you receive an offer from an agent.

Question: Commercial vs. literary question?

What's your personal take on the commercial vs. literary question? Some people seem to think the distinction is hard and fast, although they don't necessarily agree on where to draw the line; others see some gray area between the two.

Everyone I know recognizes the gray area between the two, though different names for it are used. The two most common I've heard are "upmarket" or "smart" fiction or nonfiction. I don't really like the "smart" classification, so I use "upmarket."

Question: Designating a category for a novel in an agent query

How important is it to designate a category for a novel in an agent query? If you mention more than one possible category (e.g. "women's/literary"), does it look like you don't know what you're talking about, or does it make the book seem more versatile? Do agents care about the professed category beyond the simple determination of whether or not it's one they represent?

I prefer an author to try to categorize their book to the best of their ability, and I imagine most agents feel the same way. The bottom line is that this saves us time when evaluating queries, especially since many can then be dismissed easily if they are in a category we don't handle. It also allows us more time to then evaluate the queries that are in the categories that we do represent and are actively looking for material.

I don't think there's anything wrong with mentioning more than one category, since the reality is that most books could fit in multiple genres. I wouldn't say it makes the book seem more versatile though, since multiple category classification is commonplace.

I also can honestly say that while numerous categories are of interest to me, their are only a few that really get me excited right now. This could be because I think the market for this category is hot right now, or I just read an article on a similar subject, or in what little spare time I've had I've been reading books in that genre. As a result, I'll look at those queries immediately, as compared to perhaps putting them off until later (i.e. end of the day or end of the week).

Oh, and I also like to hear who you think your work compares favorably to, for the same reasons as above. For example, I'm more inclined to be excited if you say your mystery is comparable to Lehane than Martini.

Term of the Week: Reserve for Returns

You just got your royalty statement, and you look down and see that the publisher has withheld a portion of your royalty payments as a reserve for returns. What does this mean?

Basically, the publisher is holding back what is hopefully a small percentage of your royalties in case any of your books are returned by the booksellers during the next royalty period (and there are always going to be a few books returned). In another weird quirk of publishing, booksellers aren't actually buying books outright from publishers, but instead on consignment on a fully returnable basis.

There's a lot more to this, but the things to remember in negotiating your contract are to try to limit this reserve to a percentage of the gross amount of royalties payable to you, and/or to limit the publisher from holding such reserves for more than a few accounting periods.


A new "Word of the Week" will be posted in the next few days, but in the meantime I wanted to open up the blog to publishing questions.

From now until Friday you can email me with a question at Make sure to put in the subject line "Blog Question". I promise to respond to every question I receive, unless it's too specific to your book and not helpful to other readers, or requires me to call out other agents or editors, or I get deluged with emails.

Clarification on electronic submissions

I will continue to respond to all queries sent via my agency website (this was not a one week special). A few things to remember:
  • If you do not get a response within a few days it's most likely because you did not provide an accurate email address or you have a spam blocker set up that requires registration.
  • My answers will be brief, and I will not respond to follow up emails requesting referrals or more detailed comments.
  • Unless it's a referral, I will not respond to email queries that were not sent via the agency website (i.e. directly to one of my email addresses).