Book Buzz | Daniel Tammer & Different Ways of Knowing, an Illustrated DIY Manual

Every weekday, Publisher’s Marketplace emails the latest publishing deals in print, digital, audio and foreign sales (over 200 deals/week). Here are some of my favs -- not necessarily the biggest names or the buzziest deal… but the ones that piqued my interest for one reason or another.

Last week, deals slowed down significantly because of BEA. But there were some gems in there....

A WORLD OF WORDS by Daniel Tammet
Agent: Andrew Lownie at Andrew Lownie Literary Agency
Editor: Tracy Behar at Little, Brown
Description: An exploration of language and what it can teach us about our minds and lives.

Daniel Tammet is also the author of Thinking in Numbers (a nice complement to A World of Words) and the memoir Born on a Blue Day, a memoir about his life with high-functioning autism and savant syndrome.

My youngest brother Chris is autistic but we didn’t know that until he was three or so. Before then and before he could talk, he could identify letters. Point to one, and he’d name it for you. We thought he was a genius, and in a way, he is. I always cringe when I tell people my brother is autistic and they’ll say something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry.” Don’t be sorry. Chris is happy, loved, and intelligent in a way that’s no less valid just because it’s not measured on our typical IQ scale.  Excited to see how Tammet builds out the canon of “neurodiversity”. We still have a lot to learn.

THE BORDER OF PARADISE by Esme Weijun Wang
Agent: Amy WIlliams at The Williams Company  
Editor: Chris Heiser at the Unnamed Press 
Description: The inheritance of madness in an iconoclastic family - the scions of a piano manufacturing fortune - set in mid-twentieth century Brooklyn, Taiwan, and Northern California.

I love a multi-generational saga, and upon research, found that I identified with Esme’s long and winding path to publication.

As she writes in her announcement post:

The book was molting and metamorphosing over and over again. What had once taken place in contemporary Northern California was now beginning in World War II-era New York. Characters disappeared and new ones came in their place. Plotlines wilted on the vine. I wrote vastly different endings, and then went back to write vastly different beginnings. By the time I finished my first draft, which clocked in at 300+ pages, three years had passed, and the Nowaks had become real enough for me to dream about at night.

I hear ya, girl!

PRETTIER SMARTER BETTER by Yumi Sakugawa
Agent: Laurie Abkemeier at DeFiore and Company
Editor: B.J. Berti and Courtney Littler at St. Martin's
Description: Illustrated advice for streamlining and improving your home life, looking and feeling better, and creating fun and artsy DIY projects that can brighten your living space.

Yumi's cute and quirky illustrations are all the more winning because they have heart. Does "improving your home life" have a lot of heart? Not always. So, excited to see what Yumi does here. 

 

Friday Photos | Post- #BEA15 Edition

me and my amazing editor Chelsey at the HarperCollins BEA party.

me and my amazing editor Chelsey at the HarperCollins BEA party.

This week was huge. For the first time, I felt like an AUTHOR. 

I've never been too particular about calling myself a writer. You don't have to be published or work for money. If you say you're a writer, you're a writer. 

But this week, something happened. The book --  thus far, my somewhat private writing that I shared with a few key people (my agent, editor, close friends, my boyfriend) -- went public. Really public, at BEA. Now people have books in their possession. They will read them. They will think thoughts and I won't be there to say, oh I meant this and not that. The work now stands on its own. 

I've already written about my signing and how I was totally blown away by the turnout. This post is about everything else -- the pics on my phone, the events after Javits closed, the thoughts still on my mind.

First, events. I had been to BEA two years before (as a reader not an author), so I understand the floor. It's really not that different as an author as opposed to a reader. You see what books are coming down the pike. You wait on lines to get books or posters signed. You see celebrity authors (or, perhaps a celebrity cat as I did one year). I'm never going to be a book buyer so that whole wheeling-and-dealing side of BEA will never be part of my experience. 

But what was new... the parties! 

On Wednesday night, I went to an event with about 40 book bloggers. They got a head start with a presentation that looked like this... 

As one blogger said to me, "If HarperCollins treats its authors as well as it treats its bloggers, then you're in good hands." 

Then after two hours, the bloggers moved to another room where they mingled with... the Authors. At first, it had tinges of a meat market, like I was being paraded into a room for others to size me up. But that was before I met anyone (and because my mind tends towards skewing things in strange ways). Everyone was so nice! So many READERS. Many bloggers read one book/day. Others have been doing this for years, creating communities of thousands.

I got to talk about my book, my writing process... all that. But for me, the best part was connecting with these uber-readers, the evangelists, the ones who hyperventilate at the thought of meeting their favorite author. They make you love books even more. 

Here are some pics from early in the night, before the room got packed ...  

And then the next night... another party. While the blogger party was intimate and a little networky (not in a bad way!), the HarperCollins BEA party was celebratory and familiar. It was held at a gorgeous 2-floor space in Tribeca with a roof deck overlooking the Hudson River. 

Photo May 28, 7 28 43 PM.jpg

Who was in attendance? Any author who was involved with BEA, plus their editors, agents, publicists, and marketing teams. Both HarperCollins and Harlequin were there (the former owns the latter). I'd say there were 400-500 people there. 

And that night was a little strange because again I was put in that Author camp. Sure, one of many many authors (most with many more books under their belt), but still. People went out of their way to make sure I was entertained. I had a separate check-in area. People introduced me as "Jessica Tom, the author", which made me chuckle the first couple times I heard it. The event seemed to say: HarperCollins couldn't publish books without authors. Thank you. And that was cool, to be a seed that helps grow this massive industry. 

I got to meet the many people who make the book what it is: sales, marketing, pr and the editorial team. I got to meet Meg Cabot (who, rather charmingly, was still wearing her BEA badge though everyone else had long taken them off. ("I learned it from an old-time author. Make sure people know who you are!" Which is ironic because... she's Meg Cabot.) 

I also did this fun promo video for Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee's historic much-anticipated book. All authors were asked to answer one of three questions. I answered the prompt, "The Book That Changed My Life." I answered The Secret History by Donna Tartt. If you haven't read it, it's juicy yet literary, sexy and suspenseful. It made me want to be a writer. 

Because I'm a dweeb, I matched my dress to my cover art. This is a vintage Bill Blass...

Because I'm a dweeb, I matched my dress to my cover art. This is a vintage Bill Blass...

... with Amrita Singh earrings and Jil Sander shoes (not that you can see them).

... with Amrita Singh earrings and Jil Sander shoes (not that you can see them).

Photo May 27, 7 57 39 AM.jpg

All in all, this was the most eventful week of my writing career. Getting an agent, signing a contract... those were big and amazing, too. But they were all leading up to this moment: a physical book, a community of readers, the ability to say "I'm the author, Jessica Tom." 

I'm not quite used to that yet... but I hope to get there soon.

NB: These books are galleys for press, bloggers, etc and are in somewhat limited supply. Even my parents don't have one. If you want, you can pre-order yours here and get it at your door on October 27.

And, here's my BEA post about my first signing. Seventy people came! 

 

 

My first signing at BookExpo America #BEA15

This isn't the cutest photo of me at BEA. But it is the most representative (smiling as wide as my mouth allows). My very first book signing was by far the coolest thing I've done with Food Whore (not that sitting in front of laptop for years of my life is much competition). Here's how it went down and some quick thoughts (still processing the coolness of it all). 

First, what is BEA? It's a trade show for industry professionals: booksellers, librarians, editors, agents, sales/marketing teams, reading app entrepreneurs, literary tote bag designers... you get it.

 

It's pretty amazing to be in the company of thousands of other book lovers. How often do you see billboards and giant banners for books?  

BEA interior

I got there an hour and a half before my 3pm signing so I could walk the floor, visit the booths, and -- let's get real -- cool off because I was sweating like crazy from the walk from Penn Station to Javits Center. I should have taken more photos, but I did catch this: tea settings at the Chinese booths. One can only do business over tea! 

 

 

 

 

I also scoped out my autographing area. Here's the sign that announced my session. The excitement builds...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is what the lines looked like one hour before my signing session. The photo on the left is of the low-numbered tables (1-5). And the photo on the right is of the high-number tables (10-15). I was Table 14. 

So, I was expecting...15 or so people over 30 minutes. And I was totally fine with that! I had a camera tripod so I could take photos with people, a mailing list sign-up sheet, and of course the tats. I was going to take my time. There were a lot of big-name authors signing the same time as me, so I was happy to just enjoy the experience and meet a handful of readers.

Long lines for established authors.

Long lines for established authors.

What I was expecting. (Not being pessimistic... just looking at the facts!) 

What I was expecting. (Not being pessimistic... just looking at the facts!) 

Fifteen minutes before showtime, my publicist and I went to the green room to relax. I wasn't nervous and I didn't really think through what I was going to say or write. I thought I'd just wing it the few times it happened. 

Then we went through the "backstage" area, where everyone's galleys had been organized. 

I thought I'd take a moment to get settled in ... get out my water bottle, my Sharpies. Fan out the tats. 

But instead, WHEN I OPENED THE CURTAIN, I saw this...

Photo May 27, 3 05 05 PM.jpg

HUMANS! WAITING! For ME! Seventy people, to be exact. More people than could fit in the allotted 30 minutes, so we ended up moving over a table and going 15 minutes overtime. Thanks to my agent, Stefanie, who took these photos of me smiling like an idiot.

This woman researched my book and marked me in her day's schedule. 

This woman researched my book and marked me in her day's schedule. 

That auburn-haired woman to my right? That's Carol Alt! 

That auburn-haired woman to my right? That's Carol Alt! 

I signed galleys for booksellers, bloggers, agents. I signed for a library benefit auction and a hospital library. I signed for a woman who said, "don't make it out to me because my husband is a foodie and he will get jealous." 

People were drawn by the title. I met a woman who said this was the first thing she was going to read on the drive home (as long as you're not driving, I said). Twitter pals who I had never met IRL came.

One woman said the tats reminded her of the time her parents paid to remove her tattoo -- 10x more than what the tattoo cost (I hope that isn't real, she said). Other people told me that I should definitely make the tat official.

@yolandashoshana said my book was her top book haul acquisition...

This signing exceeded my expectations by leaps and bounds and I'm SO grateful for all the people who stopped by. Can't wait to sign to do more events and maybe sign a book for you. ;) 

P.S. If you like, join my mailing list so you can get news about signings, appearances, etc. 


Book Buzz | Andi Dorman's Memoir, on Trainwrecks, Tiki Drinks

from Rogge & Smith's first book,  Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You

from Rogge & Smith's first book, Do One Thing Every Day that Scares You

Every weekday, Publisher’s Marketplace emails the latest publishing deals in print, digital, audio and foreign sales (over 200 deals/week). Here are some of my favs -- not necessarily the biggest names or the buzziest deal… but the ones that piqued my interest for one reason or another.

DO ONE THING EVERY DAY THAT CENTERS YOU by Robie Rogge and Dian Smith
Editor: Amanda Englander at Potter Style
Description: A year's worth of prompts for practicing mindfulness, gratitude, and intention-setting.

You know, I’m all for doing things that scare you. That’s how I was able to write/sell a book that may have turned out to be nothing, a waste of five years. But the older I get, the more I value the time-out. Rogge and Smith started with a book about doing things that scare you. Their second book will be about centering you. And their last will be about inspiring you. Sounds like the ideal trio of action and reflection.  

TRAINWRECK by Sady Doyle
Agent: Melissa Flashman at Trident Media Group  
Editor: Taylor Sperry at Melville House
Description: A feminist anatomy of the women we hate, mock, fear, and try like hell not to be--from Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Bronte to Billie Holiday and Britney Spears--and an exploration of what it means to be a trainwreck now that any public form of self-expression can be the one that ends you.

Whoa. It’s the last line that really get to me: “any public form of self-expression can be the one that ends you”. I’ve been thinking about this more and more lately. The truth is that I’m a little scared of releasing my book into the world. Sure, it’s fiction, but it’s also an expression of myself, my values, my motivations. My former writing professor Amy Bloom once told us that your personality will shine in your writing no matter what. So better to just accept that rather than try to be someone else. I admit that I rubberneck when I see a trainwreck (though I prefer the French term which translates to “curiosity congestion”). But I also think of the woman herself -- can we blame her for cracking under the spotlight? Self-expression in a public arena will always invite public scrutiny. But in an age of anonymous trolling and snark over sincerity, is it fair that public scrutiny can take on a vicious life of its own?

IT'S NOT OKAY by Andi Dorman
Agent: Kirsten Neuhaus at Foundry Literary + Media
Editor: Abby Zidle at Gallery
Description: By the tenth and most recent Bachelorette, a tongue-in-cheek girl's guide to break ups, revealing never-before-told stories of her dramatic dismissal of Juan Pablo "It's OK" Galavis, her romance as the Bachelorette with Josh Murray, and what really happened after the cameras stopped rolling.

Speaking of women who put themselves out there… Andi! Yes, I’m a feminist. And, yes, I watch the Bachelor/ette. Andi was by far the smartest bachelorette -- both professionally (she’s a litigator) and emotionally (immediately shutting down Juan Pablo for his shocking narcissism among many other reasons). This actually isn’t the first book by a Bachelor/ette, but it’ll be the first I read. (Also kind of curious about Chris Harrison’s new novel, The Perfect Letter.)

TIKI COCKTAILS by Lynn Calvo & James Fraioli
Agent: Andrea Hurst at Andrea Hurst Literary Management
Editor: James Jayo at Sterling
Description: Tiki-style mixology secrets from Lynn's Hula Hut in Montauk, NY

And, finally, since it's officially summer... I'm so ready to put away the brown and red drinks and bring out the pink and green. Kinda scared by this drink though.
 

Book Buzz | Pan Sauces, Famous Salads, and a Pizza-Loving Lobster

Every weekday, Publisher’s Marketplace emails the latest publishing deals in print, digital, audio and foreign sales (over 200 deals/week). Here are some of my favs -- not necessarily the biggest names or the buzziest deal… but the ones that piqued my interest for one reason or another.

Chopped Chicken Salad at Freds / via  In Search of the Next Meal

Chopped Chicken Salad at Freds / via In Search of the Next Meal

FREDS AT BARNEYS NEW YORK COOKBOOK by Mark Strausman
Agent: Jennifer Cohen
Editor: Gretchen Young for Grand Central Life & Style, with Karen Murgolo editing
Description: The first cookbook from this powerhouse restaurant, offering classic recipes and cooking secrets, paired with anecdotes learned along the way.

I love love love department store restaurants. From the chopped salad at Freds to a vegetable plate at Dover Street Market to a bento box at Takashimaya (sadly closed) to an omelette at Ikram -- department store restaurants always have straight-forward, healthy(ish) lunches. And -- let’s get real -- sometimes you can’t afford the dress at Barneys, but getting one of their famous salads can satisfy the craving.

MASTERING PAN SAUCES by Susan Volland
Agent: Alison Fargis of Stonesong
Editor: Maria Guarnaschelli of Norton
Description: Featuring 100 contemporary and classic pan sauce recipes from the author of Mastering Sauces: The Home Cook's Guide to New Techniques for Fresh Flavors and editor and lead recipe tester of Modernist Cuisine at Home.

So Volland’s first book was a general sauce book. And her new book is about pan sauces. What is a pan sauce? It’s basically like gravy, thickened with butter (or not) instead of flour. Both start by deglazing the pan post meat-cooking with or without aromatics. I’m intrigued by this single subject and can definitely see how something so simple can lend itself to many variations (protein, deglazing liquid, aromatics, thickening agent, etc).

LORENZO THE PIZZA-LOVING LOBSTER by Claire London
Editor: Charlie Ilgunas at Little Bee Books
Description: A lobster discovers and falls in love with pizza, and tries to recreate it with his sea turtle friend, with unexpected results.

The other day I walked past an old movie poster for SpongeBob: A Sponge out of Water. Spongebob was, for some reason, really buff. This made me laugh. And if the idea of a pizza-loving lobster doesn’t make you laugh, then I don’t know about you.

CICI RENO KNOWS IT ALL by Kristina Springer
Agent: Andrea Somberg at Harvey Klinger
Editor: Brett Duquette at Sterling Children's
Description: The first book in The Yoga Girls series, in which a pre-teen yoga enthusiast helps her best friend get a crush's attention by impersonating her on Twitter, but before long the favor turns into a social media love triangle.

Ah, is this sort of stuff the new Babysitter's Club? I'm digging how literature is integrating social media into its narratives (I'm thinking of Read Bottom Upa love story told in emails and texts, and Unfriendeda horror movie via a terrorizing social media account). A couple years ago, these probably would have been written off as novelty pieces, but now social media is so ingrained in our day-to-day, of course art can arise from its nuances. I'm kind of waiting for a novel to be told in real-time through social media -- almost like you're a character and you're engaging with the story. 

Does anyone know if this exists already?

Book Buzz || Surreal fiction, Iranian food memoir, Christoph Niemann's poetry collection

Every weekday, Publisher’s Marketplace emails the latest publishing deals in print, digital, audio and foreign sales (over 200 deals/week). Here are some of my favs -- not necessarily the biggest names or the buzziest deal… but the ones that piqued my interest for one reason or another.

THE FIRST BOOK OF CALAMITY LEEK by Paula Lichtarowicz
Agent: Clare Alexander at Aitken Alexander
Editor: Amy Einhorn and Caroline Bleeke at Flatiron Books
Description: Pitched in the vein of Karen Russell, about sixteen girls in a walled Garden, raised by a disgraced stage star on a diet of show tunes and twisted creation myths, and what happens when one girl starts asking questions about the world beyond the Wall of Safekeeping.

This sounds so goofy and strange and I'm a fan of women who write in this loopy style (Karen Russell, Katherine Dunn). The book is already available in the UK if you wanna grab an early look. (And, while we’re on this topic, just found out about Unstuck, a literary journal showcasing stories with “elements of the fantastic, the futuristic, the surreal, and the strange”.)

INSANE SILENCE by Sarah Barthel
Agent: Steven Chudney from The Chudney Agency
Editor: Martin Biro at Kensington
Description: A young bride-to-be who spies her fiancée murder a servant girl, and pretends to be insane and mute in order to escape the marriage and find safety in a sanitarium; while there, she gains the trust of a fellow patient -- Mary Todd Lincoln.

Whoa, what? Interesting how Lincoln has spawned his own genre of successful fan fiction. Here’s a crash course on MTD’s mental unwinding -- even before her husband’s assassination.   

DECANTING A MURDER by Nadine Nettmann
Agent: Danielle Burby at Hannigan Salky Getzler
Editor: Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink
Description: The first in a new cozy series about a sommelier-in-training who discovers a dead body at a vineyard; when she finds out that her best friend is the prime suspect, she sets out to use her amateur sleuthing skills and knowledge of wine to clear her best friend's name; chapters are paired with wine recommendations to set the mood.

A wine cozy! With wine pairings! That’s the thing about food-related cozies -- you don’t want to get up and make a pie while you’re reading a mystery. But pouring a glass of wine? That’s totally doable.

from  @abstractsunday , Christoph Niemann's Instagram

from @abstractsunday, Christoph Niemann's Instagram

ONE MINUTE TILL BEDTIME by Kenn Nesbitt with illustrations by Christoph Niemann
Agent: Jill Corcoran of Jill Corcoran Literary Agency for Nesbitt, and Liz Darhansoff at Darhansoff & Verrill for Niemann
Editor: Susan Rich for Little, Brown Children's
Description: An anthology of 150 original 60-second poems from a large collection of talent, including Dennis Lee, Lemony Snicket, Sharon Creech, Douglas Florian, J. Patrick Lewis, Jack Prelutsky, Jane Yolen, Judith Viorst, Lee Bennet Hopkins, Marilyn Singer, Nancy Willard, Naomi Shihab Nye, Pat Mora, Nikki Grimes, Sonya Sones, X.J. Kennedy, Mary Ann Hoberman and many others.

Man, short poems, by diverse authors, illustrated by an extremely versatile artist. A kid’s book, sure, but whatever. Never too old for good poems and art.

FINISHING SCHOOL: The Happy Ending to that Writing Project You Can't Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton
Agent: Linda Loewenthal at David Black Literary Agency
Editor: Joanna Ng at Tarcher
Description: A guide to completing that manuscript or project you just can't seem to finish, addressing the psychological underpinnings of writer's block and how to combat them, and including guidance on how to develop a support system to create accountability. 

Right. Learning how to write a nice sentence is totally different from writing a novel. For me, writing a novel is as much about stamina, discipline, and organization as it is about lyricism and storytelling. Vision only goes so far and I’m a big fan of books and how-tos that help you treat writing like a job rather than a mystical process. (For more, I wrote a little bit about my get-er-done systems on Medium here.)      

THE TEMPORARY BRIDE by Jennifer Klinec
Agent: Eve White
Editor: Deb Futter at Twelve
Description: A young woman who abandons her corporate London job to start a cooking school in her kitchen and travels in search of ancient recipes; her quest leads her to Iran to learn the secrets of the Persian kitchen…but also leads her to forbidden love in one of the most complex and fascinating nations with harsh laws and customs.

Another book that's available in English-speaking countries not the US, where it's widely lauded. Forbidden love + food + a peek into a normally closed-door culture. Sold. 

FRIDAY LINKS | 5.1.15 #BEA15 Edition

BEA Power Readers' Day in 2013

BEA Power Readers' Day in 2013

In 26 days -- Wednesday May 27th, 3pm -- I’m doing my very first book signing at BookExpo America… the largest book industry event in the US and one of the most important book conferences in the world. WHOA. If you're around, come to Table 14 for a galley, an autograph, and a special goodie! 

I’ve been to BEA twice -- both as a reader, not an author. The first time I went on Power Readers’ Day, which was basically like the industry days, but open to the public. The second year Power Readers’ Day was replaced with BookCon, the book industry’s version of ComicCon (it’s produced by the same people). The latter is an event studded with both Hollywood and book-world stars (this year will have Mindy Kaling, John Green, Julianne Moore, Rainbow Rowell, Aziz Ansari, Candace Bushnell, Elin Hilderbrand). Last year was insane -- like, get-me-out-of-here insane. I was not alone in that sentiment and the organizers are said to have made some changes this year. I guess we’ll see!

Anyway, I will be there on a quieter, more industry-y day, and that makes me pretty happy. As a debut author, there’s no way I could compete with the shiny names. Ostensibly, I’ll be able to chat with people, get to know them, sign their books, take pics. I’m really looking forward to it.

I’ve also done a flurry of research to psych myself up. Here’s what’s buzzing about #BEA15.

First, what is BEA? It’s a trade show for book sellers, agents, editors, book PR and marketing people, librarians, press, film producers, book manufacturing/distribution professionals, book bloggers… anyone who is interested in seeing what’s coming up in the world of books. This year, it’s at Javits Center, NYC’s spot for massive conferences where the world converges over cars, design, books, whatever.

The book blogger community is already super-tight, enthusiastic, and supportive, but this really comes out in the months before BEA. 

Ashley at NoseGraze wrote this tutorial on rocking BEA. Tips: Research, organize, prioritize.

Hannah at the Irish Banana made this hilarious story in gifs about the emotional phases of BEA.

Krista at Krista’s Dust Jacket is doing a 5-part series on getting prepared.  

The BookExpo America GoodReads group is amazingly active and comprehensive. I’ve been checking in everyday. The members are super quick to jump on any announcements from BEA or individual authors. These BEA 2014 recap posts really got me in the mood (This one from QuillCafe shows authors with Quillbert, a stuffed hedgehog. John at Bookish Antics highlighted “the amazing frenzy” of jumping from event to event.)

If you'll be at BEA on Wednesday 5/27, I'd love to meet you! I'll me at Table 14. If you're using the BEA show planner, you can add me to your schedule here. And if you're a book blogger and can't make it, you can request a galley here

Happy weekend! 

How to Write a Query Letter for your Novel

First, there are so many great posts on this, including this, this, and this.

But if you’re like me… you want to see variety. Just like there’s no such thing as a college essay that’ll guarantee you admission, there’s no such thing as a sure thing query letter. The best thing you can do is research and read what has worked for one person in one moment in time.  

One important caveat as you send your baby into the world: much of your acceptance is outside your control... The agent has a full plate and isn’t taking new clients. She just took on a very similar author and doesn’t want to be redundant. He’s changing careers and handing his authors off. Or perhaps… the manuscript is great but it’s just not the right fit. You don’t want an agent who’s only lukewarm on your work.

That being said, there are some things that -- in my estimation -- are best practices and give you the best possible chance of succeeding.  

But first, numbers. Since I started writing seriously six years ago, here are my stats:

  • 2 literary agents who have represented me (a YA agent and an adult fiction agent)
  • 7 offers of representation
  • 30 full manuscript requests
  • 110+ queries sent

That means that I have a 6.3% acceptance rate. That might seem low, and it is low. But that’s the reality and just means that you have to work harder, smarter, and have the stomach for a lot of waiting and rejection.

Okay. Here’s the query letter that got me five offers of representation in 2014.

Some things to keep in mind:

  • At the time, the book was called DON’T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU EAT

  • The main character Tia was 18, not 22 as she is now. I was pitching it as a new adult title, but now it’s a full adult title.

  • Stevie is now named Elliott

Here’s the email in full, but then we’ll unpack it:  

Hi AGENT NAME,

I'm writing to you about my new adult novel, DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU EAT, the story of an 18-year old girl who secretly writes the New York Times restaurant review.

I'm excited about the emergence of new adult as a category, and would love to work with a versatile agent like you. [SOMETHING PERSONAL DEPENDING ON AGENT]

Tia Monroe is no ordinary foodie…so why is she stuck in coat check? Tia is going to NYU for one reason: to intern for her longtime idol, food world visionary, Helen Lansky. But things don't work out as planned and now Tia is stuck in a closet, instead of a kitchen!

But the restaurant offers more than Tia expects, including one guest with a devastating, career-ending secret: Michael Saltz, the New York Times restaurant critic. Michael can no longer taste, and now he wants Tia to be his food-savvy accomplice. Tia can eat at any restaurant, order the most expensive dishes, and shop for whatever clothes catch her eye. All she needs to do is write his reviews, and after a few months, he promises to get her a job co-authoring a cookbook with Helen Lansky.  

But there's a catch. Tia must keep her life with Michael Saltz absolutely secret. She must lie to her parents, who saved every last penny so she could study with Helen at NYU…to her high school sweetheart, Stevie, who has supported her love of food every step of the way...and especially to Pascal Fox, the hotshot chef who takes a suspicious liking to Tia, particularly when it's about time for his new restaurant to be reviewed.

It's hard enough being an 18-year old, but Tia's life gets even more complicated with last-minute 4-star lunches, fresh truffles on the house, and designer clothing delivered to her dorm room lobby. And with Michael Saltz taking all the credit for her wittier, sharper, more evocative reviews, is he really giving her the chance of a lifetime…or holding her back from pursuing her own dream? The whole world reads Tia's tasty reviews, but no one knows what's rotting underneath.

I graduated Yale University in 2006 with a degree in English and a Certificate in Fiction Writing. At Yale, I was the restaurant critic and food columnist for the Yale Daily News Magazine. I've published four children’s books for the doll series, Lei Lei, sold exclusively at FAO Schwarz. I'm currently the Community Director at HowAboutWe, an experience-driven web company that helps people fall in love and stay in love. I also blog at www.jessicatom.com.

I'd love for you to give the manuscript a read! The first two chapters are pasted below and the complete 88,000-word manuscript is available upon your request.

Thanks so much and looking forward to hearing from you.

All best,

Jess
[PHONE NUMBER]
[WEBSITE]

Okay, ready? Let’s dissect this.

THE INTRO

Hi AGENT NAME,

I'm writing to you about my new adult novel, DON'T BELIEVE EVERYTHING YOU EAT, the story of an 18-year old girl who secretly writes the New York Times restaurant review.

I'm excited about the emergence of new adult as a category, and would love to work with a versatile agent like you. [SOMETHING PERSONAL DEPENDING ON AGENT]

  • MAKE SURE YOU SPELL THE AGENT’S NAME RIGHT. If you follow literary agents on Twitter, you’ll see this is a common gripe. If you can’t spell a person’s name right (or get it wrong altogether because of a sloppy mail merge), it sets a bad tone. Why should they pay attention to you if you didn’t pay attention to them?

  • Start with the one-line hook. Only one line. Cut out all flab.

  • Use the second paragraph as the “this is why I think you’re great/ why we could be a good fit”. Research the agent online. Publisher’s Marketplace is a great resource and you can drop astute industry knowledge, like “congrats on the XYZ deal! I’m excited to read it”.

THE SUMMARY

Tia Monroe is no ordinary foodie…so why is she stuck in coat check? Tia is going to NYU for one reason: to intern for her longtime idol, food world visionary, Helen Lansky. But things don't work out as planned and now Tia is stuck in a closet, instead of a kitchen!

But the restaurant offers more than Tia expects, including one guest with a devastating, career-ending secret: Michael Saltz, the New York Times restaurant critic. Michael can no longer taste, and now he wants Tia to be his food-savvy accomplice. Tia can eat at any restaurant, order the most expensive dishes, and shop for whatever clothes catch her eye. All she needs to do is write his reviews, and after a few months, he promises to get her a job co-authoring a cookbook with Helen Lansky.  

But there's a catch. Tia must keep her life with Michael Saltz absolutely secret. She must lie to her parents, who saved every last penny so she could study with Helen at NYU…to her high school sweetheart, Stevie, who has supported her love of food every step of the way...and especially to Pascal Fox, the hotshot chef who takes a suspicious liking to Tia, particularly when it's about time for his new restaurant to be reviewed.

It's hard enough being an 18-year old, but Tia's life gets even more complicated with last-minute 4-star lunches, fresh truffles on the house, and designer clothing delivered to her dorm room lobby. And with Michael Saltz taking all the credit for her wittier, sharper, more evocative reviews, is he really giving her the chance of a lifetime…or holding her back from pursuing her own dream? The whole world reads Tia's tasty reviews, but no one knows what's rotting underneath.

  • Make it snappy. Looking back on this, I think it was a little long. If I were to do it again, I’d tighten it by about 30% and wouldn’t include any names besides Tia Monroe and Michael Saltz. Think of a back cover blurb. You don’t need to get into every storyline,  just the juiciness of the matter -- which in my case is food, fashion, deceit and disguises.

THE BIO

I graduated Yale University in 2006 with a degree in English and a Certificate in Fiction Writing. At Yale, I was the restaurant critic and food columnist for the Yale Daily News Magazine. I've published four children’s books for the doll series, Lei Lei, sold exclusively at FAO Schwarz. I'm currently the Community Director at HowAboutWe, an experience-driven web company that helps people fall in love and stay in love. I also blog at www.jessicatom.com.

  • Include your writing credentials and anything else that bolsters your authority in writing this book. (My position at HowAboutWe is a bit of a stretch here… but at the time, I thought that my working at a dating site made me an “expert” on love).

  • Don’t try to overinflate yourself. Think of it this way: if you’re hiring someone (a manager, assistant, babysitter, lawyer, etc), it’s a big turn-off if the person makes themselves out to be the best thing on Earth. Be real, be you. And at the end of the day, unlike non-fiction, fiction depends more on your writing than your platform. So toot your horn at its appropriate sound level, and don’t sweat it too much.

THE CLOSING

I'd love for you to give the manuscript a read! The first two chapters are pasted below and the complete 88,000-word manuscript is available upon your request.

Thanks so much and looking forward to hearing from you.

All best,

Jess
[PHONE NUMBER]
[WEBSITE]

  • FOLLOW THE AGENT’S SUBMISSION DIRECTIONS. If they want two chapters pasted in the email, do that. If they want 50 pages, do that. If they want no pages, do that. Pay attention to their specs -- they’re there for a reason and you would be doing yourself and your work a great disservice if you didn’t respect that.

  • Include the total word count and mention that the manuscript is finished. For a debut novel, the manuscript has to be finished. I think it’s worth mentioning that the novel is complete, so the agent doesn’t have to worry about loving something that ends up being incomplete (and therefore, frustratingly unacceptable).

  • End with your phone number and website. I’ve never received a phone call right after a query… but to me I think it subtly signals that you are a real, reachable person who would love to take the conversation further than their sure-to-be-slammed inbox.

I’m not saying this is a magical formula. But it worked for me...and maybe will work for you, too.

Book Buzz || My main character Tia is named after...Tia Mowry, Eat in My Kitchen, Arzak

Every weekday, Publisher’s Marketplace emails the latest deals in print, digital, audio and foreign sales (over 200 deals/week). Here are some of my favs -- not necessarily the biggest names or the buzziest deal… but the ones that piqued my interest for one reason or another.

EAT IN MY KITCHEN by Meike Peters
Editor: Holly La Due at Prestel
Description: Featuring 100 seasonal recipes, like mountain buns with coriander and aniseed, Maltese pasta with lemon zest and ricotta, and rhubarb crumble cake, and showcases Meike's unique style of cooking that combines delicious comfort food with a Mediterranean palate of flavors.

Reason enough to be excited for this book. Meike’s blog post about the PM announcement was adorable and infectious in its enthusiasm.

An exciting email from New York changed my life! Holly La Due from Prestel/ Verlagsgruppe Random House asked me if I’d be interested in writing a cookbook filled with my recipes, stories and photographs. I had to read this email twice before I ran to my boyfriend who was still in bed, it was 7 in the morning, I put the laptop on his chest and made him read the email to me again. I screamed and laughed out loud hysterically!

No doubt this will be a stunning cookbook with unexpected, must-try recipes.

WHOLE NEW YOU by Tia Mowry
Agent: Katherine Latshaw at Folio Literary Management
Editor: Nina Shield at Ballantine
Description: Featuring the anti-inflammatory whole foods diet that helped her recover from endometriosis and chronic migraines along with tasty, accessible recipes, easy pantry switches, and mini-cleanses from foods that could be irritating your body.

Children of the 90s... aren’t you glad that Tia is still doing her thing (fun fact: my main character Tia Monroe was in fact inspired by Tia Mowry… why? I don’t know. I just connected with the name). Also, it's been great to see endometriosis making it into the mainstream with the help of some celebrity stories. Another food-related example: Padma Lakshmi co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America (and gave a talk about her medical journey at Cherry Bombe Jubilee). 

THE SECRETS OF ARZAK by Juan Mari Arzak
Agent: Jonah Straus at Straus Literary
Editor: Anne Dolamore at Grub Street
Description: Grandfather of New Basque cuisine and chef-owner of Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastián, which in 1989 was the first in Spain to be awarded three Michelin stars and is currently ranked number 8 in the world by 50 Best … an essential work on his traditions, techniques and philosophy.

DYK that the Basque region is home to the highest concentration of Michelin stars? Also add a culture of tapas and tapear, “going from bar to bar for drinks and tapas”, and you have something of a high-”low” food mecca. Thus far, I’ve only been able to experience Arzak through blogs (these from The Chic Brulee and Shelly in Real Life are great). This'll be a coffee table stunner, for sure.