All of us at DGLM wish you, our loyal blog readers, the happiest of holidays. We're stepping away from the office till the new year and the blog until January 10th, so it's going to be quiet around here until then. But we have some exciting things in store when we return, and I think it's safe to say that 2011 is going to be our best year of blogging yet. Thanks so much for all your comments, questions and support, and we'll see you again in the new year!
Since most of us are pretty much doing everything we can to check out early before the holidays begin, I thought it would be fun and easy to share this piece from the Seattle Times literary page that lists the top 10 books taken out from The Seattle Library in 2010. It's a chance to see what Americans, at least in Seattle, are really reading. There aren't any big surprises on the list, but I am personally happy to see the #1 book, The Help, is a first novel. Very incredible in this market that a first time author can find the kind of success that Kathryn Stockett has found with this book. It's also interesting to see the kind of nonfiction that makes the list. Smart, thought-provoking titles, Outliers and Food Rules, books that allow the reader see every day things in a unique and different way. And I'll be picking up a copy of I Stink to read to my kids over the break. I'm curious to know more about this book that made the list alongside all of these adult titles. I hope you'll find something from this list or elsewhere to read over the holidays, and take the time to relax and enjoy family, friends, and a good book. We'll look forward to sharing a lot more publishing-related news and views in the New Year!
What can I say? With four days left until Christmas, my brain is admittedly floating somewhere near the ledge of the ninth floor window next to my desk. However! Before I escape to the land of fried desserts and chocolates more commonly known as my home, I wanted to pass along this great interview with Kody Keplinger. Her debut novel The Duff, is a contemporary young adult work that has received strong reviews since its release in September. But what is more notable about Keplinger’s career is that The Duff came out when she was only eighteen, an accomplishment that admittedly doesn’t happen too often. I guess the first thing that came to mind as I read this was the influence something like age can have on one’s writing. Certainly, being eighteen puts Keplinger in a unique position to write about common issues surrounding high school students. Which led me to wonder about the ways in which a person’s writing evolves over the years. Could you imagine yourselves being published, or completing a full novel for that matter, at age eighteen? Do you think your current work-in-progress would have the same feel had you written it during your teen years? Certainly I’m inclined to say no to the latter question, but I’m curious as to the nuances and evolutions you have found in your own writing styles and methods as time has passed. What do you feel is the same, different, etc?
So my parting gift to you this Christmas is the renewed mantra to continue writing, revising, and querying. It’s all an ongoing process that takes practice and dedication…but you already knew that. Wishing everyone a relaxing and productive holiday break, and I look forward to seeing your material in the New Year!
Saw this notice in the Times today. To quote: “Train of Thought, the program that placed literary quotations from the likes of Kafka and Schopenhauer in the unlikely locale of a packed New York City subway car, is being removed, two years after it assumed the mantle of subterranean high culture from Poetry in Motion.”
Like most New Yorkers, I spend the majority of my time on the subway with my headphones on and my face buried in a book or newspaper in a vain attempt to block out the rest of my fellow citizens. But whenever I come up for air, it’s always a small pleasure to see a quote from Shakespeare or Mark Twain sandwiched between ads for Dr. Zizmor’s skin treatments. Not that these literary snippets offer a ton of insight, but just the fact that the MTA would provide booksish distractions always makes me smile.
But I suppose all good things must come to end, and the kicker is that the MTA will be using the Train of Thought space for updates on maintenance and other customer service ads. Considering the glacial rate of improvement on the subway, I’d think some heady words from Proust would do more to keep people in a good mood than chipper service updates that don’t square with reality.
Hence, to all you writerly riders, a modest holiday plea: let the MTA know we want our poetry back! For, to mangle a quote (boy, I really DO need Train of Thought), what profit the subway to gain more ad space and forfeit its soul?
Looking up some contact information in our database, I was reminded of my very favorite thing about it: small notes, devoid of context, that give a strange glimpse into our conversations with editors. The stand out stars of the “notes” section of our contacts are surely that one editor has “three tiny kids” and another (whose name is not one you’d come across often) “is a GUY!” I like to imagine the shock and surprise of the assistant who’d picked up the phone to discover a deep, masculine voice attached to a name he or she had previously assumed belonged to a woman. (I also am not entirely certain that one wasn’t me, back when I was Jane’s assistant an alarmingly high number of years ago.) I also imagine the kindly editor who sat across from one of my colleagues at a lunch meeting and showed off pictures of her miniature children, perhaps posed next to objects of regular stature for comparison purposes. That note has been in there long enough that the tiny kids are probably not so tiny any more.
Most of the notes, though, are actually quite useful—such and such a person is obsessed with dogs or used to be a ballet dancer or absolutely cannot stand misery memoirs. When we submit our projects, we’re working not only on the parameters of a publisher’s and editor's list and our personal interactions with them, but with the company’s collective knowledge of what makes them tick and gets them excited. Excitement is the huge intangible of the publishing process. And when we just happen to have a book about dogs or dance or misery, we know where to go—or where not to.
For authors looking for agents, I suspect the best resources out there are the blogs and websites and Twitter feeds and what have you of the agents themselves. We do suffer sometimes from too many queries quoting our own bios back to us, sending us things that are far off base because they might have a common keyword. I think all the agents who’ve been here a while have at one point or another edited a reference out of our descriptions of ourselves or our lists, because we found it led too many people down the wrong path. But more often than not, these little factoids about us and our interests point people the right way. While we do share queries amongst ourselves and know each other’s taste well, it’s always nice to look at a batch of newly arrived queries and see that several of them are on a subject that we’re already really enthusiastic about—it doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but a book on a subject that usually bores us has to be that much more amazing to even catch our eye. Much as agents train themselves to see the difference between “I like this” and “this is good” (and “I don’t like this” and “this is bad”), we’re still human, and with all the reading at night or on the weekends, it’s a real pleasure to come across the projects that we’d happily buy off the shelves if they had nothing to do with us.
So when you’re querying us, if it’s because an off-hand reference in one of our blog entries made you realize we just might be the right advocate for your book, please do let us know! It always helps us to know why you wanted us to read your work.
It is always so difficult for me to choose what I want to read while away on a real vacation. I have so little time to read for pleasure that picking the perfect titles is incredibly challenging. My family and I are going away for eight days after we close up shop for the holidays and there will be plenty of time for me to go through at least three books.
I thought I’d share with you what I’m taking with me. BUT, if you have any other ideas I would love to hear what they are and why you recommend them:
Mockingjay—the third in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have just finished the second book and cannot read another thing until I finish the trilogy—so this is definitely the first on my list.
The Room by Emma Donoghue. Ever since I first read a description of this novel, I have wanted to read it. And Jim and Lauren in our office loved it. Those are the two very important reasons why I am definitely taking this one along.
The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris. The idea of this book is really intriguing and since we work with so many ghost writers, I know I am going to enjoy this one. Plus, of course, Miriam loved it—which in itself is a great reason for me to take it along.
In between, I am looking forward to reading Playing with Fire, the manuscript from my client Pam Constable—a book about Pakistan which we have very high hopes for—and the manuscript for Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’s new book Pizza and Focaccia in Five Minutes a Day, which was just turned in to the publisher and is bound to become another bestseller for the authors.
I figure that should keep me busy. I’ll also try to fit in some sleeping and eating and, of course, golf.
A very happy and healthy holiday to you all. We will be back in the New Year with some exciting new things to share with you.
Betsy equates the publishing tradition of agent/editor lunches to having someone shit on her face. Now, I’ve had some bad lunches, but… She then goes on to describe agenting as “being a professional sleaze bag.”
I’m not gonna lie. When I first read this, my hackles raised, and I muttered something like, “What a load of [string of expletives].” But that was defensive me talking. (Defensive me has a really dirty mouth). I quickly settled down, but I still don’t really agree with Betsy’s take.
I’m sure there are editors who hate agents and agents who hate editors, and I know there are terrible people in every business. But for the most part, I enjoy my colleagues on both sides of the divide. More importantly, I love being an agent. Which is why I do it!
My take is that if you feel like you’re being a sleazebag, maybe you’re doing something wrong. Or maybe you’re just approaching things in the wrong way. The interests of client and publisher are often very similar: let’s get the best book out there and make the most money. There are differences of agreement, rights to battle over, and money to beg for (the best part!), but in the end, there aren’t two oppositional sides in this business. At least, there certainly shouldn’t be.
Which is all to say, I think it’s possible to agent with dignity and respect. Yes, agents are often the bad guys—we send out the most rejections, we’re pushy on behalf of our authors, and some of us can be aggressive as hell, but it’s being done for the good of authors and in support of books. I can’t find fault with that.
As delightful agent Ginger Clark passionately stated in the comments, Cobb salads are delicious. Still, I wouldn’t be overly concerned if someone was tired of eating them. In terms of an agent cracking a joke that they can figure out what 15% of any number is…okay, I’ve totally used the same joke a ton of times. I thought it was funny! But apparently I was shitting on people’s faces. Oops!
So what do you say? You hate us when we reject you, but sometimes you secretly love us, right? Some of us are super nice and totally respectful. Pinkie swear.
Oddly, I was thinking about the holidays this morning, and my thoughts turned towards home and the traditions my family reenacts year after year. In addition to the usual cookie baking and tree trimming, every Christmas Eve, we pull out a small stack of Christmas picture books to read aloud. When it came time to put the children’s books in the attic to make room for everything else that needed to go on mine and my brother’s bookshelves, the Christmas stories stayed behind.
There’s something about the holidays that is inherently childlike. No other time of year asks one to suspend disbelief so fervently, and most do so without question or reason. While the stories themselves are simple and already well ingrained in my memory, so much that I should hardly have any reason to actually look at the books themselves, I still pull them out every year as chocolate chip cookies bake in the oven. It wouldn’t be Christmas without The Night Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Jolly Christmas Postman, and the books whose titles I can’t remember – especially the story about the mice who want their own little Christmas tree like the big one in the farmhouse and finally get a scrap small enough for their mouse hole after all the animals in the forest have had their piece, too.
I’ll never tire of these books, I know it, and will hopefully always have them to read when Christmas Eve comes around each year. Whether my dad is reading them to me and my brother or I’m reading them aloud to my own children (someday), the magic and wonder of the holiday season will forever be alive in these books. What are the holiday stories that bring you back to your childhood? Which books will never be forgotten and keep the spirit of the season renewing year after year?
This video, by David Kazzie of The Corner blog, while a little on the long side, had my colleagues and me laughing. For all of you hard-working, already-published or aspiring writers out there, it can be difficult when you encounter someone who knows nothing about books or publishing but decides to write a book anyway. And this is how you'll want to react--if you're a bit crass and don't mind a few four-letter words. (Ok, so this is what I might say!) And with so many people mentally checked out of work, you should have a few minutes of fun, too.
I enjoyed reading this piece from The Awl written by five published authors who write candidly (sometimes very candidly—check out Emily Gould's piece) about their experiences with their editors. There's so much great behind-the-scenes information in here about the publishing process—how agents work, how editors acquire books (or sometimes lose out to others), and how different each individual experience is. Even though it's written from different points of view, this piece speaks to how unpredictable the publishing process can be. Each author makes some wise observations about what you can expect, what you might actually get, and how frustrating and/or refreshing that can be depending on where you fall on that curve! The idea that editors are overworked and that your book isn't the only one on their list is something that authors and agents alike sometimes forget to take into consideration, so it's a good point. It also illustrates to me how important perspective is, both in your publishing career and in anything else you do in life.
In this piece, you're getting the scoop from those who have been through it. I hope you all find some good takeaway, or at the least an entertaining read, and ultimately see this a positive take on the publishing process. For me, even as an insider (or maybe because I'm an insider and know many of the players), there's a lot of juicy stuff in here!
One of the assets of a pricey liberal arts education is that you can turn on the literary pretentiousness with the best of them and then tuck down with your popcorn title of choice, feeling confident in the fact that you know the difference between what’s great and what’s the intellectual equivalent of a Twinkie. Aside from the days of suffering through various soporific graduate school seminars, I’ve never really spent much time agonizing over my literary tastes. I pretty much read from every category of fiction and nonfiction and can find value and entertainment in all but the most execrable writings.
Which is why I like this piece by Laura Miller in Salon. Sure, Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and James Patterson* may not be on same artistic level as Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, and Ann Patchett, but as their legions of fans will attest, you can’t put down their books once you’ve started them. You may hate yourself in the morning, but you’ll stay up way past your bedtime to get through every last page—full of clichés, awkward character development, ridiculous plot twists and workmanlike prose though they may be. Thing is, a good story is a good story is a good story. And, there is craft (and sometimes genius) in telling a good story whatever the author’s writing abilities. There is a great deal of bad writing in my life that I am grateful to have read. And, I hope there’s a fair amount of it left in my future. As long as it’s good, of course.
What are your examples of good bad writing/writers?
*Whose work I’ve excoriated for years—‘cause, you know, I’ve got that pretentious lit-major-followed-by-a-career-in-publishing thing to live up to.
In light of my post from last week about spying on others and the books they are reading, I loved reading this article from the New York Times about how romance readers are switching from print to electronic in droves. Just as I had mentioned how the Kindle and iPad complicated my creeping endeavors by removing a visual cover from the equation, it seems that many romance novel fans have made the transition from print to e-reader for exactly that reason—trying to hide Fabio from my prying eyes, are you? Anyway, new information from Bowker suggests that romance is now one of the fastest growing genres in terms of electronic sales, surpassing even general fiction. As numbers grow exponentially, it’s clear that romance is carving out its own place in the e-reader market. And apparently, some of the most sought-after titles are often also the raciest. Cheeky!
Information like this is just another indication of the change that we’re constantly seeing. And for something like romance, a genre that has held its own over the years, it’s nice to see that it too can adapt to the evolving landscape.
First of all, I love the implications of discreetness that come out of this. But I also wonder, for the prospective romance writers out there, do you think something like this might affect or influence the kind of novel you write? Will it change at all how you approach your story?
Well, I’ve been extra good this past week—even (mostly) stayed away from the holiday treats in the DGLM kitchen. So I’m hoping you’ll accept this semi-serious wish list of adult books I’d like to find under the Christmas tree:
ROCK N’ ROLL! Santa, you gave the world a rockin’ gift in 2010 with Keith Richards’ Life—how about tossing me a major rock star bio in 2011? I’m sure some other members of the old guard are ready to tell all. (I’m looking at you, Elton—you, too, Sir Paul.) Okay, if that’s too tall an order, then I’d love to see other nonfiction books on music: bio, analysis, etc. And if there’s a QUALIFIED rock critic out there, I think all those kids looking to build a record collection could use an updated album guide.
NARRATIVE NON-FICTION: Santa, I’ve sung the praises of Nathaniel Philbrick before on this blog, but this time I want to point out how Nat brings historical events to life through the characters involved—whether it’s cabin boy Thomas Nickerson leading us through the whaling disaster of In the Heart of the Sea, or Massasoit greeting the Pilgrims in Mayflower, throughout Nat’s career critics often remark how his books read like novels, and I think it’s due primarily to this character-based approach. So while I’m wide-open in terms of subject matter, I would love to see this character-based, novelistic style, be it history, politics, entertainment, true crime, etc.
FICTION: I want to laugh! Santa, surely there’s a funny novel you can send my way. I also want to see novel characters sober up—so many of the novels I see have main characters indulging in or struggling with alcohol or drugs, and most of the time that has nothing to do with the main story. Finally, if you’re going to send me historical fiction, Santa, please let it be really historical—like, pre-1970? Too often, it feels like the novels I see set in the 70s, 80s, even the 90s are actually contemporary stories stuck in the wrong era—like substance abuse, the historical details don’t really seem necessary to the story, and instead come across as clichéd or anachronistic.
CRIME/MYSTERY/THRILLERS: Being that these are genre books, certain conventions are unavoidable. But Santa, can you please send me something with a new angle? I’m not sure what that angle is, but I know it isn’t a college professor who uncovers a secret global religious conspiracy or new evidence about the Bible.
SPORTS: Well, I do want some kind of sports story—again, preferably a character-based narrative piece. But I’d be just as happy if the Giants win the Super Bowl in January…
Thank you, Santa, for reading this list. I can’t wait to open all these presents in 2011!
Little known fact: I love crotchety old people. One of my goals in life is to survive to an age where I can angrily mutter, “Kids these days!” It’s just the kind of righteous anger that I find endlessly entertaining and endearing.
So imagine my pleasure when reading Jonathan Yardley’s “Best of 2010” list from the Washington Post. Yardley has included only two novels on his list this year which “reflects [his] disenchantment with what passes for American literary fiction these days.” Interestingly, both novels are historical and deal with the impact of the political on the personal. He then recommends three nonfiction books about World War II. So…he has his specific interests.
“Kids these days!” I imagine him muttering to his computer. “With their fakakta ideas about writing about the present! When I was their age…”
It’s a charmingly inane piece that reeks of snobbery and is deeply out of touch. Such a cloistered consideration indicates a man who is very cozy living within his self-proscribed boundaries. Or maybe he has a real argument and I’m just being ageist. Thoughts?
One thing that makes me grumpy in the present is the news that Jersey Shore’s JWoww landed a book deal—the third for a cast member of the show. I thought we all knew that the only book that needed to come out of this show was Snooki’s!
So tell me: is American fiction dead? And what makes you grumpy about the current publishing environment?
great story telling. - Jane
historical fiction. - Miriam
humorous fiction. - Michael
original parenting. - Stacey
horror. - Jim
narrative science. - Jessica
middle-grade fiction. - John
irreverent pop culture. - Lauren
fun women's fiction. - Stephanie
engaging YA fiction. - Rachel S.