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May 04, 2013; Previously Sort of Dying Asks:

Hi Stacey. I'm doing the weird thing again where I'm posting anonymously to your blog, even though I know you in real life, and I could just contact you in a more ordinary way. But whatever - I'm a fan of your blog and I have a question. So - that story I was all angsty about editing came out and I got contacted by an agent. I have a phone call scheduled with her next week. Do you have any tips for me? I'm guessing she's going to want to know if I have a book she can sell. Right now I don't, but I do have a few scattered chapters and an overriding idea that would tie it all together. When I say the pitch/plan out loud, it sounds feasible to me and also not totally bad. It also isn't written, which could be a problem, but it is based on the thing that I published that she liked. I was thinking I'd try to sell her on that idea, tell her it isn't ready to see yet (100% true) and then write like crazy. Or is that not how this works? How does this work? What questions should I ask her and what will she probably ask me? And what does a person expect out of an agent? I don't really have any idea how this stuff goes and I want to sound like I do, at least a little bit.

Stacey answers:

Hi Sort of. (Just to clue-in other readers, after Sort of's last post, she wrote me an email on the side unmasking herself. Since I figure I know or have met many people who write in, I wasn't surprised--but I was pleased.) That's great about the agent! I want to read the story and will try to remember where it is, because you told me. Oh, I found it. Oh, it's wonderful! Except I think I can't read the last paragraph. Fuck. Okay, I'll deal with that later. Great story! I'm not surprised the agent liked it. The real question now is do you like the agent?

The deal with agents is this: they are people who make their living helping writers find publishers. They need writers. You may think she's auditioning you but really, you need to be auditioning her: do you like her? Does she have your best interest at heart? Does she agree with your values about art and writing and selling, and do you even know what those values are? (Like, do you want to be read by the masses taking the train to work or are you more of an artiste who lives to be true to her vision, accessible or not, or somewhere in between, or what). Will she be a good reader of your work and does that matter to you? (It's nice, but you also might have other readers you trust).

Agents make money when a transaction occurs, and since you don't have a finished book, you don't have anything to sell right now anyway, so the best thing that can happen is that you like her, you check in with her, you talk to her about your plans, and she encourages you. She can try to sell a novel with three chapters and an outline, but for a first book that's less likely. It does happen though. Ask her about that. Ask her what her game plan would be for you--try to sell a novel? Try to place stories in magazines first, then sell a novel? Could she get you freelance gigs, if you want them? What percentage does she take? What other authors does she represent? Ask her how she sees you and how she might situate you in terms of other writers. If she says you are the next Jodi Picoult, maybe you don't wanna be her client, though honestly I have not read Jodi Picoult and she's probably awesome.

Since the center of the publishing industry is in New York, she should either be in New York or talk to you about how she handles living elsewhere. A good agent will not make you sign a contract with her until she is actually selling your book--she isn't worried about you leaving her because she's good. It's a voluntary relationship, in other words.

Overall, I think you should think about what you want from an agent and see if she's up for it. I LOVE the idea of you banging out your book based on the story as fast as you can--maybe this lady will give you a deadline, or encouragement, or editorial feedback (though I wouldn't necessarily trust this to be good until you have evidence that it is); it would be nice if she just generally clued you in to the realities of the marketplace in helpful and encouraging ways. She could be a sort of mentor, ideally. Ideally, you could ask her what you should be asking agents and she'll tell you. Have her explain foreign rights to you vs. English language rights. Then just think about it. You don't have to go with her or not until you have a finished thing. Remember, she needs you. You are the gas in her engine. I mean, she's basically going to suck up 20% of your income, so make sure it's worth it. And also, Sort of, ask her if she'll take 17%. It never hurts to negotiate and it will be interesting to see what she does BECAUSE it's going to be her job to negotiate with publishers on your behalf. If she freaks out, she may not be the right person. She's not the only agent on the planet, and if she wants you, others will too. Rock on!

Apr 17, 2013; Tom Asks:

Kosher chocolate mousse--rock on!

Stacey answers:

Well, pie is all kosher as long as it doesn't have meat in it. This torte sounds amazing. It's from The New National Council of Jewish Women (Salt Lake City Chapter) Cook Book, which looks to be from the 1950's. It's not a real book but a bound collection of recipes from the members. This one is by Janet Rosen, who is probably related to me because how many Jews could there be in Salt Lake City in 1952?

CHOCOLATE ICE BOX TORTE

Line bottom of 9" spring form with macaroons; the sides with lady fingers. Cream well 1/2 c. butter and 1-1/4 c. powdered sugar. Melt and add 1/2 lb. sweet chocolate. Blend all thoroughly. Add 1/2 t. almond extract, 3 yolks of eggs, well beaten, 1 c. toasted and chopped almonds. Beat 3 whites of eggs until stiff and fold into chocolate mixture. Lastly fold in 1 c. whipped cream. Let set several hours.

Later: looking at this recipe again, I think it has great potential to be a low-carb stevia dessert. If I actually make it and it works, I'll post it.

Apr 17, 2013; Tom Asks:

HI, Do you have a recipe for chocolate mousse pie?

Stacey answers:

Uh, no, not in my head. I could look in my Grandmother's Hadassah cookbook though...

Apr 15, 2013; Tom Asks:

I'm surprised your deal isn't buy one get one free. Or is that next week's deal?

Stacey answers:

That screaming deal is coming soon. You're just going to have to watch the site and wait for it.

Apr 12, 2013; Mr. Mingo Asks:

Stacey, What's your deal?

Stacey answers:

This week my deal is buy one get one half off.

Apr 04, 2013; Tom Asks:

I am nearing the completion of the first draft of my first novel. I have spent over a year on this project and before I begin the next step of editing and rewriting I would appreciate any advice you may have to offer. One specific question I have concerns using an editor. Is it a good idea to hire an editor to review the work and suggest changes at this stage or should I do at least one edit and rewrite on my own before paying a professional to look it over?

Stacey answers:

I think you should do one rewrite on your own. Before you do, let the novel sit for a while, a couple of months at least. This allows time for something to change or evolve inside you, or maybe it just lets you to forget enough of what you wrote to give you a fresh eye when you read it again. After that, outside help might save you time, but it's important to find an editor you click with in a narrative sense. Hiring someone is fine, and there are a lot of great editors out there, but you might be surprised how helpful a reading by a sympatico friend or relative can be. Though if they're not helpful, it can suck big time. Congratulations on finishing your draft!

Mar 21, 2013; Tom Asks:

I agree, Carson McCullers would probably not be such a great mom in the traditional sense, but her kid would be sitting pretty to write an interesting memoir. So, and here comes the obvious follow-up question, if Denis Johnson and Carson McCullers had a kid, who would it be?

Stacey answers:

Well, that's an unlikely pairing. But I can't resist a challenge. Maybe Joy Williams?

Mar 16, 2013; Jello Bunny Asks:

Have you ever loved or admired en episodic narrative television program?

Stacey answers:

I have loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Wonder Falls (which is only available on video I believe); I liked Sex and the City but felt guilty about it. I also really liked The Wire but became what may have been clinically depressed from watching season four so still haven't watched season five.

If I could ever steal someone's HBO Go, I'm sure I'd find a lot more shows to love and admire. I might even marry one.

Mar 14, 2013; Lorax Asks:

What kind of pie is best to eat on Pi day?

Stacey answers:

Lemon cream.

Mar 14, 2013; Tom Asks:

Do you really dream that Denis Johnson is your father? I dream that Carson McCullers is my mother.

Stacey answers:

He had a father-figure role in a dream but was not my literal father. I think it's the same though I love that Carson McCullers was your mother-mother. Such a great dream mother! Not a good life-mother though, I'd have to say.

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