Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Two Years & Discriminating Tastes

Winner! WINNER!!! Aimee St. Claire please email me at christie(at)christie-craig (.) com.

AmPRIZE FOR TODAY. I will be giving away either a copy of The Everything Guide To Writing Romance, or a $10 certificate to Amazon.com. So make sure you leave a comment. P.S. The Pitching video didn't download right, so to see a better version go to http://writewithus.net/.

Gosh, two years? Two years we’ve been at it here at Killer Fiction. It’s kind of scary when I think about all the things I’ve told you guys. You know about my fears, my phobias, my body hang-ups—even my obsession with my bras. You know about my husband’s flaws and his good characteristics. You’ve heard about the story of my daughter giving birth. You even know about my son’s tattoo. Gosh, darn, you’ve even heard about my fling with the elephant. I’m sure you pretty much figured out that I’m a few fries short of a Happy Meal.

But that’s okay, because I’m a writer, and hey, I like my Happy Meal way of life. Who needs all those fries anyway? I don’t think there’s a day that goes by that I don’t think how darn lucky I am that my publishing dreams have come true. Oh, sure I’m still busy trying to improve, trying to become a household name, but for the most part, I’m living my dream. It didn’t happen overnight. And for all those of you out there trying to reach your own dreams, be it to be a writer, or to be the best baker of zucchini chocolate chip cookies, I’m here to tell you to never give up: Dreams do come true.

Today I’d like to introduce you to my guest blogger, someone who helped me make my dreams come true, my agent: Kim Lionetti. Now, our relationship hasn’t always been easy. (I’m talking about from her perspective, not mine. Honestly, can you imagine having ME for a client?) Whenever I call and say, “Hey, I have this idea and need you to. . .” I swear I hear her moaning. Not that she’s not up for whatever I toss her way. Anyone who has allowed me to hog tie her, blindfold her, put a gun to her head, handcuff her to a chair, put her in the shower, and take pictures of her, well the woman has gotta have some guts. And it shows that she’s just crazy enough to be my agent.

Oh, make sure you peek at the videos that Faye Hughes and I produced that ran with our workshops: The Great Agent Hunt and Pitching Without Striking Out. Staring Kim. (It will explain the whole hog tying and gun stuff.) Then read Kim’s blog about an agent’s discriminating tastes along with some tips for querying and pitching to her. Oh, and a special thanks to the other two starring in the Pitching video, my editor Chris Keeslar and the fabulous writer Terry McLaughlin.

The Great Agent Hunt:

How To Make The Perfect Pitch (Without Striking Out):

Take it away Kim:

Kim Lionetti is a literary agent with Bookends (http://www.bookends-inc.com) representing romance, young adult, mystery, pop culture and pop science. She began her career at Berkley Publishing — a division of Penguin — working as an editor for over eight years. Kim is currently catching up on queries, so she has closed submissions until October 1st. Feel free to send her a query in October as she’s still taking on new clients -- especially those with strong, unique voices like Christie Craig’s. To learn more about Kim and BookEnds visit http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/, http://www.facebook.com/kim.bookends and http://twitter.com/BookendsKim.


I think pretty much everyone is picky about something. Could be books, cars, movies, clothes, food, or tattoos. We all have our quirks. Well, I’m here to confess that I’m an agent, and yes…I’m about as picky as they come. My husband might say I’m critical…I prefer to say I have discriminating taste. 

I was born with some of those tastes, others were learned in my adolescent years of discovering what I thought was the bees’ knees and what I wouldn’t be caught dead with, but A LOT of them were developed over fifteen years of working in the publishing industry and reading thousands of submissions. I challenge you to spend day-in and day-out being bombarded by anything and not get jaded. Lucky for me, I’m being bombarded by books. Doesn’t get any better than that for an avid, life-long reader. Still, it probably explains why I can be so darn critical – ahem – I mean discriminating.

I’m sure you’ve heard it before, but it really is a valuable truth of publishing. When agents and editors – me included – are reading their queries and submissions, we’re looking for a reason to reject – not a reason to buy/offer. This isn’t because we’re a bunch of mean, ol’ nasty Simon Cowells (although Christie would probably tell you I have my days – don’t believe her). It’s just the nature of the business brought on by the sheer volume of writers who want to be published.

So when you’re writing your query, polishing your book and preparing your pitch, remember to tailor it toward the most discriminating of readers. THAT’S your audience. With that, I’m going to leave you with the list of things that immediately turn me off in a query/manuscript/pitch and turn on that huge, bright red stoplight in my picky brain. If you think any of them need explanation, please just post a comment, as I’ll be around all day to respond. And let met know what sets off your stoplight at the bookstores!

• Pitching a screenplay, short story collection, children’s picture book, science fiction or academic book to me -- you clearly didn’t do your homework
• Using a gimmicky query letter. “This package will self-destruct in 10 seconds if you don’t read my first page!”
• Beginning your manuscript with 5 pages of backstory
• Telling me this book was 10 years in the making
• Addressing your query letter to all of the BookEnds agents and/or all of the agents you can think of
• Pitching 2 or more books at once
• Introducing your plot as something that’s never ever been done before
• Memorizing and then reciting your pitch to me like it’s something you studied for the SATs
• Stating in your e-mail that you want to write cozies, science fiction and self-help nonfiction
• Opening your first chapter with pages and pages of interior monologue
• Presenting yourself as “the next Dan Brown”, “the next Nora Roberts” or “the next Stephen King.”
• Including your expected advance and print run in your query letter
• Mailing your manuscript in a greasy, used pizza box (Don’t laugh. It happened. Well, okay, you can still laugh.)


Anonymous said...


A used pizza box? Okay, that one should win first prize in the "What the hell were they thinking?" contest. LOL.

Great post!


ps: Did you read the manuscript that arrived in the pizza box?

Kim Lionetti said...

Hi Faye!

This was back in my editorial assistant days. So the submission was actually addressed to my boss. I can't say how much he read of it, but I can tell you that I got it off of my desk and onto his as quickly as possible.

Keri Ford said...

Oh, gross, used pizza box? The smell!

Not that I've got anything to pitch at the moment, but anything you're craving to read right now? I've been on a contemporary kick here lately (btw, Christie, fav part of GOTCHA-the naked/towel fight scene w/his mother).

Kim Lionetti said...

Hi there Keri!

That's tough, because I'm so overwhelmed with submissions right now. But I just recently started accepting young adult submissions, so I'd love to find a fantastic new voice for that market!

Christie Craig said...


You promised not to tell everyone about my pizza box delivery!!!

I know you didn't tell them it was me, but you know they're going to guess it.

Thanks girl for guest blogging.


CrystalGB said...

Great post. I bet it was interesting receiving the manuscript in a pizza box.

Dawn Maria said...

Great Post Kim! It's a treat to hear your voice in a blog, since I'm so used to Jessica's on the Bookends blog.

I hope you get to catch up with everything during your query break. It will give those pizza box folks plenty of time to come up with a fresh angle to vex you!

DebraLSchubert said...

Kim, Thanks so much for doing this, and to Christie for posting the videos. My cats were starting to worry about my obnoxious cackling as I watched.

It's always great to hear agent's takes on things. You and Jessica are the bomb and I'd love to work with your agency. (Jessica's got a partial of mine on a cozy mystery. I'm sure she's breathlessly reading it as we speak. You might want to check on her...)

Seriously, thanks for guest blogging and for being such a good sport in the videos! Will you be moving to Hollywood anytime soon?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Chris and Kim.

I'm new to the writing/publishing world, or at least the trying to get published aspects. I've received some rejections with the reason being stated: Won't sell in today's tight market.

I've always heard you should "write the story of your heart" but lately I've been on agents blogs where they say you have to write something marketable escpecially in this economy. That's confusing to me.

I know we're supposed to write toward an audience, but if we lose the passion for what we're writing by trying to force it, won't that come across on the page?

Haven't you ever had a book come to you that was powerfully and well-written (from an emotional perspective, you could tell it was from the author's heart) but you KNEW it would be a hard sell?

What do you do in that situation? Take it on and hope you can mold it into something sellable, thereby possibly altering what set it apart to begin with, or reject it without looking back?

Confused, dejected and disgruntled

Tes Hilaire said...

Dear Kim,

When you're taking on a new client, how important is it for you to know that the potential client can reproduce the same level/quality of work in a reasonable amount of time? In other words, if an agent were faced with two excellent submissions, but could only choose one, would the authors' track records(as a potential measuring stick for future production) be a factor to the agent? And if so, is it okay to let the agent know in the credentials/author bio section of the query letter that you have additional manuscripts than the one you are pitching? Or should that be left for the agent to ask if they are truly interested.

Thank you!


P.S. Christie, the pizza box does seem like something you might do ;) It was great meeting you and Faye again at RWA09!

Anonymous said...

Great post.
I think this part hit me the most, "remember to tailor it toward the most discriminating of readers." It's true, thanks for the reminder!

I can't believe the used pizza box thing...Holy Moly.

Thanks for the post.

JennDorough said...

Great blog. Too funny, I must admit though, I saw Kim's tweet and followed her over here. It's my first time here and now I'm very curious about not only your fling with the elephant but the tattoo also. Thanks for the laughs. :)

Kim Lionetti said...

DebraLSchubert --

Not planning to move to Hollywood anytime soon. Much easier to hide from paparazzi in NJ!

Edie Ramer said...

Christie, the writing workshops are brilliant!

Kim, I don't usually order pizzas, but you've made me realize it's a good thing mss. don't fit in Chinese take-out containers.

Bookmobiler said...

If Christie really did send you that pizza box (she's not above borrowing a good idea to include in her next book,) the real story probably went this way.

Thinking to bribe her way into being considered, she decide to send you a Pizza Supreme with extra anchovies along with her submission.
All would have been well, but writers are starving by definition and she decided to have just one piece. We can guess where things went from there.
Since she'd already attached the postage she sent the empty box anyway.

Heather Webber said...

I followed Kim here from Facebook, and I want to know about the elephant and the tattoos, too. Esp. since my son (18) just got his fourth (have mercy!).

And LOL on the pizza box!

Kim Lionetti said...

Dear Confused, Disgruntled and Dejected --

"Haven't you ever had a book come to you that was powerfully and well-written (from an emotional perspective, you could tell it was from the author's heart) but you KNEW it would be a hard sell?"

To be perfectly honest, I care less about how the writing affected the author's heart than how it's affecting mine when I'm reading it. It's in my best interest to find books that are going to move a reading audience.

The ability to write a book is admirable. Even if you've sat down and poured your heart out on the page just for yourself, that's truly a talent. But it doesn't necessarily mean that you should seek publication.

Writing to an audience and writing with passion aren't mutually exclusive of one another. If you're interested in making a career of your writing, then you need to keep your reader in mind while you're writing, but that doesn't necessarily have to box you in.

I've taken on plenty of projects I knew were going to be uphill battles. The story I included in this blog article comes to mind: http://bookendslitagency.blogspot.com/2009/02/devils-advocate.html. As I said then, I feel every author I take on is a risk. But I want to work with them because even if what they're writing isn't "trendy" right now, I know that there's always a market for a really satisfying read.

Kim Lionetti said...

Hi Tes --

Your prolificness isn't a huge factor when you're submitting. It's really just all about the writing.

But if you do say that it took 10 years to write the book, that would definitely give me pause.

I don't care so much about what else you've written until I've read what you submitted and am eager to read more.

CheekyGirl said...

Great post. The pizza box submission is hilarious and does "think outside the box!" LOL!

Christie Craig said...

Here's the link to the tatoo blog


M. said...

I'm still dewy-eyed and starry-faced (or was that the other way around?) so I didn't realize how many wrong ways there were to do things - though I'd like to think I would have known all on my own that pizza boxes aren't really postal material. (Perhaps that sender wanted brownie points for recycling efforts?).

I haven't quite worked up the nerve to pitch yet but am about to throw myself into the submission fray. Very daunting.

Ellis Reiner said...

Those vids were great! I esp liked the live action one. :-D

My question isn't so much about querying, but about after you have an agent.

My agent sent off my mystery MS recently through our second wave of editors and after getting rejected again, we stepped back to address some consistent negative feedback. I've finished rewrites and sent it on to my agent, but am sensing he doesn't have the same enthusiasm for the project as he once did.

Does that happen so early in the game? We've only sent it off to about ten editors. Surely there's more than that in the world.

Every time I ask him if he's read the revisions (via email) he ignores the question and emails back as per some other project I'm working on or something, like he didn't see my question.

From an agent's perspective, what do I do? I don't want to give up on this project. Not yet. But I'm sensing he might. I'm happy to keep writing the other two books I'm working on, but if he's going to do this with them, too, what's the point?

Kim Lionetti said...

Ellis -- I think you should just ask your agent straight-up if there's a reason he doesn't want to keep submitting that first project.

To be honest, from your response it sounds like even if he's lost enthusiasm for that project, he hasn't lost enthusiasm for your work in general. He's eager to see the next project. That should be encouraging.

I can't really answer for him. Perhaps he's covered all of the larger houses and is hesitant to launch your first book at a smaller house when he thinks you could be launched in a bigger way with your next project.

A frank discussion may ease your concerns.

Ellis Reiner said...

Thanks Kim. I'll try to work up my courage and pin him down. And BTW, the words of encouragement hit the spot.

Rachelle said...

Great post Kim and Christie! Thanks for the opportunity to chat with a top notch agent.

Two questions:

First one was inspired by Ellis' "courage" comment above: Wouldn't an agent just tell you that they wanted to move on to another project and give you the reasons if you kept asking over and over if they've read the rewrite? It seems unfair that Ellis should have to be "straight-up" when his agent won't be. It's hard enough for us, as writers, to feel confident, much less be brash with a person we feel holds our career in their hands.

Question two: Kim, you're accepting YAs now? Awesome! Are you looking more for mainstream or paranormal premises? October, huh? Just enough time for me to wrap this puppy up and revise. ;-P

Linda Thomas-Sundstrom said...

Wow - and Whoa! I'm wondering HOW you gals got Kim and Prince Chris to remain straight-faced when confronted with a pitch about rows of peas ?? Huh?? This cracks me up. Huge congrats on putting this video together, and for sharing.
What a hoot!


Kim Lionetti said...

Hi Rachelle:

Ideally, an agent would just let you know what he/she is thinking, but communication misfires happen in every industry. We're human too. Just as Ellis is a bit worried that this means his agent lost enthusiasm, maybe his agent is scared that Ellis will lose enthusiasm for his representation if he tells him he thinks it's time to move on to a new project. Maybe he's overwhelmed and doesn't see that there's a disconnect. Who knows? Personally, I think the agent and author are equally responsible for keeping the lines of communication open.

And yes, I'm accepting mainstream and paranormal YA. I'll keep an eye out for you in October!

chey said...

Great post! Used pizza box?

Virginia said...

I can't believe that someone would send in a manuscript in a pizza box. I'm not sure I would have read it. Thats pretty bad. I not a writer but I would know better then to do that. Was it a joke?

RK said...

Hi Christie,

Congrats on two years of Killer Fiction! Love the blog, esp. your Tuesday posts. Here's to many more years of laughing with you!


p.s. Just finished Gotcha! And have to admit I was wondering if the Pizza box incident had something to do with you...:)
Thanks for sharing your insights Kim.

Donna Marie Rogers said...

A used, greasy pizza box? Man, you have to wonder what the heck they were thnking...LOL

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I once had my manuscript returned from an agent, and she had obviously been using it as a coaster for her coffee cup. The stains were a good 5 pages deep. *grin* She said she loved the book and held onto it because she was on the fence, but I couldn't help wondering if it had just become her favorite place to set her cup. *grin*

Christie, you already know how much I love your books (starting Gotcha! tonight!). I sure hope I get to see your workshop one of these days.

Happy Anniversary, Killer Fiction! The videos were hilarious! You have an incredible agent & editor. :-)

Jane said...

Have you ever really come across a plot that's never been done before?

Rachelle said...

OOh! I second Jane's question above! And I'll quantify it by asking if you have any clients that have written something really unique that stands out?

BTW, thanks for answering me earlier. I'll be querying in October (with hopefully the afore mentioned plot that's never been done--;P).

Kim Lionetti said...

Jane --

No. Just executed differently.

Rachelle --

Obviously, I think all of my clients' works stand out. Most often, though, I think it has more to do with their voice than anything else.

Pam said...

The pizza box certainly caught my attention too as did the expected advance. I was always under the impression that you don't talk money until after you have the job and I wouldn't expect publishing to be any different. I could see those being turn-offs.

Wow - I can't even think of what else to say after that. I've often thought if I write the book I've been planning on writing, I wouldn't even know how to go about getting it published but I have to say those aren't ideas I'd considered. I suppose that's a good thing...

melacan at hotmail dot com

terrio said...

Congrats on two years, ladies!

I'm not to the submission phase yet, but I'm feeling better that I would never do any of these things on your list. I know it's been said already, but you really do have to wonder what people are thinking?

Thanks for the great blog.

Janel said...

I just found your blog from Susan's post at West of Mars. I love it! I plan on settling down to read your archives tonight. Good job and congrats on 2 years!!

Anonymous said...

I've followed Kim over from Twitter and loved your posts. LOL for Happy Meals and pizza boxes!

Kim, I am curious about pitching 2 or more books. I'm in the middle of completing a trilogy. In my head, I think it would be right to pitch the first book and merely mention the completed trilogy. How would you expect/prefer a trilogy to be pitched? Thanks!

Congrats on 2 years!


Aimee St. Claire said...

Hello Ms. Lionetti, :)

Thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. :)

Do you feel that an unpubbed author has the ability to obtain an agent - or should they focus their goals elsewhere? What factors would an agent take into consideration when choosing an unpubbed author?

:) Aimee

donnas said...

Thanks for posting, very interesting. And I loved that list. Seriously. It was the best thing I read today.

Bunny B said...

LOL! A used pizza box?! I'm sure the manuscript got all greasy and sticky to read!

Kelly Moran said...

oh my, you guys. i'm lmao. awesome post. i'm in wisrwa with you. following you now.

Kim Lionetti said...

Hi Aimee --

Certainly unpubbed authors can obtain agents. The majority of my clients were unpubbed before we started working together.

The biggest factor is the book itself. Beyond that I just like to have a conversation to make sure the author and I have the same vision for their career.

Kim Lionetti said...

Rachel -

Your instincts are right on. It's best to pitch the first book and just mention that you have plans to continue the series.

Sandy Elzie said...


I'm sooo impressed with the blog. I laughed, but I can well imagine that you have seen it all, heard it all and could write a bood yourself on how the masses react.

Since I'm looking for an agent to represent me (I've had two published so far) I'll be in contact with you. I think it would be fun to work with someone who has a sense of humor.

Thanks for taking your valuable time to give to all the writers.

Sandy Elzie