Breakfast at Tiffany’s Lunch at Saks! (Day at Avon, part three)
Congrats to Leigh, yesterday’s winner! Please email me with your snail mail address, and to choose your extra book.
I had the great pleasure of having lunch at Saks with Avon editors Tessa Woodward and Esi Sogah. Tessa and Esi are good people to know. Not just because they’re fun, smart, sassy women, but because they read ALL the queries that come to Avon. That’s right – ALL the queries. They take turns – one week, Tessa will read them, and the next week, it will be Esi’s turn. Most of the questions people gave me beforehand had to do with queries and submissions, and Tessa and Esi were happy to dish. Here’s a primer on how NOT to query Avon:
Don’t describe your book in vague terms. (“It’s a thrilling story of love and adventure!”) Be specific about what sets your plot apart and makes your characters unique.
Don’t spend five paragraphs talking about yourself and one paragraph describing your book.
If you get a form letter rejection, don’t write back and accuse them of not reading your query. They read every query. Every. Query.
If you get rejected, don’t write back and tell them they clearly have no taste in books.
Don’t resubmit the same query the next week. They do talk amongst themselves, and they do remember.
Don’t resend the same query addressed to a different editor. As I said, in any given week, they all go to one person.
If you’re asked to submit a partial, don’t obsess about fonts, font size, margins. So long as it’s professional-looking and legible, they don’t really care whether you use Courier 12 or TNR 14 or whathaveyou.
If, after submitting, you discover a tiny typo on page 34 of your partial – don’t write the editor a letter to ‘correct’ it. A few typos aren’t going to make or break your submission. A query riddled with typos doesn’t sit well with them, but if you misspell “the” as “teh” once, it’s no big deal.
If your submission isn’t accepted, don’t give up. Esi said there was an author who submitted two or three manuscripts – she liked the writing, but the projects just weren’t right for Avon. When she needed to fill a spot in an anthology, however, she remembered that writer and gave her a call.
I also asked about trends in romance. Esi said paranormal doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. She said that in historicals, there seems to be a trend toward more heroes and heroines who are “commoners” rather than the ubiquitous lords and ladies. That will be welcome news to several of you, I think!
Lastly, I asked them, “What makes a submission really stand out?”
Their oh-so-specific answer?
“If it’s good.”
So there you go. Write a good book. Then write a good query. Don’t act like a paranoid fruitcake. Hope that helps! *wink*
Oh, and then we talked titles. Evidently, an author has about as much chance of choosing her book’s title as I have of fitting into Audrey Hepburn’s capris. The editors have meetings to bandy around title possibilities. Tessa and Esi’s latest favorite? The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell. Because who wouldn’t be intrigued by that title? A secret passion – yum!
So leave me a comment – your favorite title, perhaps? Or maybe you have another question about submissions I didn’t answer – chances are we might have covered it, and I’ve forgotten to write it here. One commenter will win a copy of The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell, a stylish Avon baseball cap, and – in honor of my 5th Avenue luncheon – a copy of This Little Piggy Went To Prada.
Tomorrow I’ll talk about my conversation with Carolyn Pittis, the marketing brains behind the FanLit competition. She wanted my feedback about the contest, and I want yours!
You know I’m relieved to hear that they’re looking for more commoners. I like commoners. I have a really, really hard time writing lords.
But less seriously, I was thinking of sending them this query letter:
“I was born on June 2, 1989. My mother wrapped me in a pink blanket. I had three pacifiers before I finally teethed. But even then, I knew I wanted to write. I would bite out little stories on the rubber in Morse code. My first short short–written at the age of four months–was published in the New Yorker. I’ve been working up to book-length fiction.
I’m also enclosing a picture of my dog. I really like my dog. Do you have a dog?
I hope you will consider my 400,000 word masterpiece, A THRILLING TALE OF LOVE AND ADVENTURE. The title’s a bit of a misnomer, because it’s really a tale of love and tedium.
You won’t read this query, so I’ll just resend it next week to someone with better taste.”
Sass, CM. Avon will love that sass.
My favorite title is “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice.” It’s a romance that doesn’t become a romance until the second book, “The Monstrous Regiment of Women.” Also a fabulous title.
Hmm, I wonder if commoner takes in the west again?
Great blogs, Tessa. It is so generous of you to allow us to share in your experience at Avon.
I think one of my favorite titles of all time is November of the Heart. It just conveys what the story is going to be about before you even open the cover.
I remember being terribly intrigued about the title “Surrender the Pink” and then I found out what it really meant. But hey, I don’t think most people knew. It’s always stuck with me. Gee, it’s great they’re writing about commoners in Edwardian,Regency,Victorian England, but I hope that doesn’t mean they’re closed off to the lords and whatnots. They are still so much fun to write about. But it’s wonderful that my door has been opened a bit more in my favorite periods.
Don’t be a paranoid fruitcake
Ah HA! I knew there was a secret!! =)
Seriously, thanks for the great insight. Also very interesting that queries may go to the same reader, regardless of the addressed-to editor.
This really is great of you to share. Taking the mystery out of something sure makes it seem easier to handle. This is great.
I know most people around here write historical but did they happen to mention anything about contemp?
My favorite title recently is And Then He Kissed Her. It fit the simple yet elegant story and its sweetness perfectly.
Great info, Tessa! And CM, you crack me up.
I’m with Terrio – I loved And Then He Kissed Her as a title. It’s all anticipation, which makes it perfect for a LLG book becuase she’s so darn good at the sexual tension. Sadly, the next book in the series is getting one of those totally generic Avon titles.
Yay for more commoners in historicals – that’s great news. And a little surprising – you always hear that Dukes sell better. But I guess if we’re all excited about commoners, there must be a market for it.
Some of my favorite titles:
The Secret Life of Bees
Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil
I just saw a note on another loop about “why don’t they want historicals about commoners?” So, this is interesting bit of information.
So, what did you eat at Saks?
Honestly, I rarely even read titles. I look at the cover and read the back and if i like it, i buy it. I can barely even remember titles of books I like, even books I own, I can’t remember the titles. But I do have to say The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell does sound great!
I always did wonder if they read them all and who actually read them. Its nice to know!
I’ll comment more later – trying to get kids ready for preschool!
Terry – Avon still doesn’t do Westerns, if that’s what you’re asking.
LLG’s ATHKH was one of Esi’s examples of a book that features “commoners” – man oh man did I love that book! – but Bev, I’m sure the lords we love aren’t going anywhere!
ATHKH is a book featuring commoners? But the hero’s a Viscount. It’s a gratuitous lordship, admittedly, but a lordship nonetheless. This is an odd standard.
Oh yeah – I forgot that Harry’s a viscount. I think she meant the “girl-bachelor” idea. But then, there are often heroines that come from humbler beginnings. Hmmm. Maybe future heroes in the series come from other ranks of society.
I freely admit I am a Regency-aholic. I will pick up any book that includes the words Duke, Marquis, Viscount, Earl or Lord in the title. I loved Loretta Chase’s title “Lord Perfect” because you just knew he wouldn’t be!
If I send in my query letter on pink stationery (scented, of course) a la Elle Woods, would I be viewed more favorably by the Avon editors? ; )
I wuld bite out little stories on the rubber in Morse code.
I’m rolling, CM.
And favorite titles? Even though if what you say is true it will get axed, I’m going to say Goddess of the Hunt. It’s got the hands down coolest acronym.
For recently pubbed stuff, I like The Raven Prince since I’m such a Poe fan.
I know I’ve heard Surrender the Pink before, but can’t remember what it means. Dish, Bev.
You know CM, I took your query seriously for about a line and a half. Tsk, tsk, leading me on like that.
Yay! I won 😉
CM- you are so funny with that query.
My favorite titles… my all time favorite is a poem ‘Where Water Comes Together With Other Water’ by Raymond Carver.
Romance: I like ‘How To’ titles. ‘How to Marry a Marquess’. ‘How to Seduce a Duke’.
‘How to Cath an Heiress’. They sound fun to me, and give an idea of the plot.
‘Goddess of the Hunt’ is a great title as well! Nice double entendre.
My favorite title (boy, does this reflect what I read): Dating Dead Men
And oh, please, let me win the book and give me a break from reading endless renditions of “There’s A Nightmare in My Closet” to the boys. I tried to win them over to “Never let the Cat fix your lunch”. . . but it was a no-go. Perhaps the pigs will have better luck!
Tessa! Thanks for those awesome pointers. Loved your query, CM.
For myself, I was leaning toward a chain mail approach with my query:
If you don’t accept my query you will have 10 years of never ending bad luck and all your hair and teeth will fall out before your 50th birthday. *g*
I have a little naughty in me, see?
My favorite catchy title?
–start shameless self plug–
Lord Andrew’s Match
–end shameless self plug–
have a nice day everyone!
Chain mail queries? That’s hilarious.
Love the chain mail approach. (Though I admit I thought you meant chainmale when I read it and thought it would be something about a knight coming to take them on in a joust) Just don’t forget to add stuff like “your computer will get a terrible virus, your dog will run away and you will get an itch that no cream in the world will cure”.
I’ll try to do some more replies now!
Liese asked what I ate at Saks. I had a lovely frutti di mare salad with calamari and shrimp. Yum!
Aprilsmom – you’re kidding about the scented pink paper, right? Tell me you’re kidding.
Lenora – Aw, shucks. GOTH is your favorite title? I must admit, I love it myself. But I can learn to live with whatever they call it, if it gets published! Slap Fabio on the cover and call it “Regency Manhunt” – I don’t care.
Leigh – I’m pretty sure you meant “How to Catch an Heiress,” right? But “How to Cath an Heiress” sounds like something Mr. Dare would do at the hospital where he works. 🙂
Cindy – let me know how that chain mail thing works for you!
And Erica – I know, it sounds so easy doesn’t it – “don’t be a paranoid fruitcake?” Easier said than done. I have my paranoid fruitcake moments regularly. That’s what CPs are there for – to calm you down.
Hmmm, titles. I really liked ATHKH too. If only LLG would have agreed my suggestion for her next book: Duke, Where’s My Carriage?
TSPOSB is an eyecatching title, but I also like titles that are simple, but effective, like Hope Tarr’s Vanquished
Tessa, all this query letter info is great! I’m going to have to print out your blogs for this week and create a little notebook of tips.
I’ll go with Pleasure for Pleasure . I also like The Unbearable Lightness of Being anything poetic like that.
Sooo no sample pages in the query, right?
The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a GREAT title. Sigh.
As is Duke, Where’s My Carriage.
You ladies crack me up. This is way more fun than revisions.
OMG, Manda!! Duke, Where’s My Carriage is the best title evah!
The Slightest Provocation is another fab title, IMO.
Back to queries – honestly, I don’t know whether they want sample pages with the query. There must be guidelines somewhere, right? I do know that if I were querying them right now, I’d do it by e-mail. And I hope no one’s disappointed that it’s not Carrie Feron really answering her queries – you WANT Tessa and Esi reading your query. They’re the ones actively looking for new authors.
Actually, I’ve queried a half-dozen agents, all by email. Honestly, I’d just rather work with someone who prefers email. It bodes well for open communication. Now if all of those agents reject me, I’ll start licking the stamps for SASE’s, of course!
Maybe I should send in a video tape/query of me lounging around the pool and telling Tessa and Esi what a wonderful book I’ve written. Better?
No paranoid fruitcakes? Aw, nuts! (Blow a razzberry!)
Okay, I posted this question on the wrong blog but here it is again (I think it was the original question i had before you left for NYC). Did Esi and Tessa say how much writing credits weighed when they read the queries?
You know what, Bev – I’m sorry, but I didn’t ask that question in exactly those words. I did get the feeling that both of them are very open to new authors. Esi just bought a new author who didn’t even have an agent, for example. They’re both starting their careers as editors, so my guess is they’re not likely to dismiss a writer simply because she’s at the beginning of her career. If that makes sense.
I think someone else (Gillian?) asked, what do they mean if you’re pitching and they say, “What else have you written?” Does it mean, “Wow! I love the sound of this, and I hope you have a 12-book series outlined!” or does it mean, “I like you, but I’m really not feeling the Paleolithic time travel romantic comedy. Do you have something else in a different subgenre?”
It could mean either, depending.
Where does that leave us? Reading body language cues, I suppose – or just flat-out asking for clarification.
I’m having a chuckle over the Duke, Where’s My Carriage? title. That sounds like a real hoot.
Tessa, just wanted to say thanks for all you’ve written so far.
I have this picture of you typing like mad while the kids are hanging on your ankles and deciding they’d like to pound on those keys, too…
My seven year old just breezes by me and says “Exercise is good for you, you know.”
Yes, me and my spreading posterior know…
Thanks Eve, for the response. Yes, I guess with them starting their careers, they would love to find the next so and so. Which means is that you have to have a kick butt query.
You know I would never be able to choose just one…
Sin and Sensibility
The Rules of Seduction
top them though.
*snort* Duke, Where’s My Carriage? That totally cracks me up.
Personally, I’m glad to know that the lovely publishing folks would take over the titling of my work, since it’s nearly impossible for me to pick even a working title. I lucked out this time with The Accidental Duchess, but every other WIP of mine has sadly gone untitled. It’s a relief to know that any book I’m fortunate enough to sell won’t be saddled with whatever lame title I manage to invent!
I love a title that has a good rhythm to it, like How to Marry a Marquis, or The Viscount Who Loved Me. I also get a kick out of so many historical romance titles being based on modern movie or song titles – it gets to be like a game to see if I can make the connection.
But I think my all-time greatest attention-grabbing title was Ninja Soccer Moms. I mean, really, how can that possibly not intrigue you? 🙂
CM, will you write all my future query letters for me? Pretty please!
Regency Manhunt has a certain ring to it… What about The Hellion, the Wish and the Wardrobe? 😉
I like Promise Me Always, especially since it ties into the final lines of the book, but I’d be okay with changing it. (Regency Manhunt II?)
I think I’ve come up with a good system for naming, though, so that if people know the first book, they’ll be able to tell the order of the series: Promise Me Always, Always and Forever, Forever Yours… Yes, I have way too much time on my hands!