Monday, November 30, 2009

Christmas the online way

I almost did it.
I almost bought book 6 of the 39 Clues series at a mall book store the other day for nearly $13.
Full price.
Then I stopped myself.
Wait, I said.
Wait for Cyber Monday.
The wait paid off.
Today, I ordered the same book online for $6.50, about half the price, and book 7 for $8.76.
I love Cyber Monday.
And even more than that, I love online Christmas shopping.
I first became familiar with online Christmas shopping when my oldest children were four months old and 22 months old. My infant daughter was allergic to milk protein and had an intolerance for soy.
She could drink only breast milk and she refused to take it from a bottle.
I don't mind nursing in public, but nursing in a crowded mall at Christmas time while trying to entertain a toddler was just no fun. So, one day, I put my son down for a nap and my daughter in her vibrating infant seat and started clicking.
I couldn't believe it.
In about an hour's time, I was done.
Not only had I finished my shopping, but I was easily able to comparison shop, and most online retailers offered free shipping. I saved a bunch of money. I knew then and there that I would never fight the Christmas throngs at a mall again.
That doesn't make me a Scrooge.
I know that the whole mall-battle thing is part of the holiday tradition.
I still enjoy wandering its halls on a weekday evening (never on a weekend) during the holiday season, checking the displays and the quirky novelty items that retailers somehow convince us everyone needs (How about a hand deodorizer? Or maybe a fancy set of nose hair tweezers? That will impress your significant other.).
Sometimes, I pick up a few stocking-stuffers, or wander into a book store and spend way too much money (I'm addicted to book stores). Or maybe I'll just have a slice of pizza in the food court and buy a Far Side calendar for my husband from a kiosk.
But I don't have to buy anything.
I feel no pressure.
And I don't have to stand in line for a register.
I can just leave if I want to.
I can take the twins on a Monday afternoon, let them ride the carousel or the train (with the money I saved online), let them play in the kids' play area, then slather their little hands with sanitizer and buy them some ice cream (with some more of the money I saved online).
Or I can take the older kids to the temporary game store (You know. The one they set up for Christmas with all the cool stuff you usually see only in catalogs.) and let them peruse the aisles as long as they want.
Maybe I'll take them to Hallmark, where they'll wistfully examine all the Webkinz and press the buttons on all the silly little talking ornaments that cost a fortune. We can even wave to Santa and pass by the line that snakes down past the customer service desk, knowing they'll get a chance to chat with him at an upcoming Cub Scout pack meeting.
Better yet, thanks to Cyber Monday and to this whole online shopping craze, I can stay home if I want to.
I can tickle my twins, play board games with my older kids, or settle on the sofa with my husband after they've all fallen asleep, watching A Christmas Story for the zillionth time and sipping on juice glasses half full of Baily's.
All this, while my friends, neighbors and relatives are at the mall.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Like your agent

An author-friend signed with a big agency.
His agent sold his novel within two months.
To an indie press.
Now, this particular independent publisher has an excellent reputation. His novel might have ended up there eventually. But he will never know, and his is the story I tell most often when writers ask me for advice in searching for an agent.
From what I understand, this agent submitted the manuscript to several large houses at once. And the author's novel was rejected by all of them.
His agent immediately argued that the same scenario would play out if they continued to submit to larger imprints. Why waste time? The author had misgivings. But his agent persuaded him that the indie presses were the best option, even though the novel was well-received by the big publishing houses.
It just was not what those particular editors were searching for.
He finally agreed.
Then along came novel number two.
The agent submitted the manuscript to only one publisher: the same independent press that published the first book. The author was thrilled because he has developed a good relationship with the folks at the indie press.
All is well.
But is it?
Was his agent really looking out for his best interests as a career novelist?
Or did he quickly realize that selling this novel would be hard work, and did he "sell him out" for the sake of a quick commission?
My own agent has been submitting my novel for four months. He is moving slowly, submitting only to editors he knows and respects. He has kept me informed, telling who has passed and why; who still has the manuscript; and who he will submit to next.
At the very least, I am confident that wherever my manuscript eventually lands, he will have found the best fit. I know that because I trust my agent and because, well, I like the guy.
That's important.
You have to like and trust your agent.
So often, writers start the query process with the biggest agencies, believing that bigger is better. But people are people no matter where you go. The big agencies have great agents and lousy agents. The small agencies, or the loners, might take a great personal interest in their clients, or they might take on too much and "sell out" a few for a quick buck.
My point is this:
Lots of books and Web sites explain the mechanics of finding an agent.
But there are two things many will not tell you.
First, educate yourself. Know how the submission process should work and then talk to your potential agent about how he/she does things. If something doesn't feel right or if she/he is too vague, trust your instincts.
Move on.
Second, sign with someone you like.
Why would you put your career in the hands of someone who rubs you the wrong way?
Your agent is your connection to the publishing world, your representative with the people who might buy your book. Your choice in agent is reflective of you and your work. Your agent doesn't have to become your best buddy, but don't selective a representative whose personality hasn't even impressed you.
Sure there's more:
Choose an agent who represents your genre, find someone who is well-established the literary world, who has continually represents the same clients (If all the agent's other clients ditch him/her after the first book and find someone else, that's not a good sign.)
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
There's all that.
But there is so much to be said for intuition.
Go with your gut.