We’ve mentioned a few times that one important aspect of the business of writing is understanding your category. Of course, writers aren’t the only ones who need to keep abreast of the trends and fluxes in the marketplace. As agents, it’s important that we have a good sense of what’s out there—what’s working, what’s not, what might be coming down the pipeline, and who’s publishing what books and why. We’d love to be familiar with every book that an author or editor might mention to us, but with the phone calls to make, e-mails to answer, submissions to send out, contracts to vet, and towering piles to read, it sometimes feels like trying to keep up with the market is a Sisyphean task.
Still, we here at DGLM take a good stab at it through regular book club meetings. Sometimes, like a traditional book club, we all read the same book and come back to talk about it. On other occasions, we all read different books that have something in common: recent bestsellers, forthcoming books with a lot of buzz, paranormal romance, etc. After we’ve all read our selections, we convene to pitch the books to the group, talk about where we thought they succeeded and failed, report on how well they’re doing, and ultimately, try to assess whether we would have recognized them for the saleable projects they turned out to be if they’d shown up in the slush piles. Hopefully the answer is yes, but sometimes we have to admit that we’d have missed out on a great opportunity.
For our most recent book club, we all read Diane Setterfield’s The Thirteenth Tale. It inspired a lively discussion of what we liked and didn’t about this particular book, but it also lead us into a conversation about the trend toward the co-opting of classics for new material. Setterfield isn’t the only one mining our literary heritage to great success, and we only need to look at the scores of
Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, book club turns out to be great exposure to a market that we didn’t know we’d love. Thanks to Jim’s suggestion of paranormal romance for one of our book clubs, I’m now a big fan of a category I hadn’t read before.
On the best occasions, book club books are passed around after the meeting, with everyone jumping to read something that got a glowing report from one of our colleagues. They can be a great source of recommendations for reading for pleasure, which we try to do as often as we can—though, as most people in publishing can probably attest—not nearly as often as we’d like.
Sadly, the books we read are sometimes universally disappointing, and, snarky bunch that we are, book club becomes a time for sharing the honest truth about the dreadful material we’ve slogged through. For one book club before my time, I’m told that everyone so hated their books that many couldn’t even bring themselves to finish them
One of the most entertaining book clubs we’ve had in my time here was when we were charged with coming up with a book published in the last ten years that had left a lasting impact. We then drew out of a hat to read someone else’s choice and were reminded just how subjective the reading process can be. Not ones to sugarcoat our literary opinions, the book club reports were as funny as they were harsh, and no one’s favorite was left completely unscathed. It was a valuable experience both because we expanded our literary horizons and because we got a better sense of each other as readers—which is helpful in knowing just who to pass along a manuscript to if we think it’s got potential but just don’t love it.
Book club expands our understanding of the market and helps us to keep abreast of what’s out there. It forces us to really think about our selection process and challenges us to evaluate whether or not we’re likely to miss out on something that can really work.
Also, it’s just plain entertaining, and after a long day of phone calls, emails, submissions, contracts and reading piles, it’s nice to sit down to some good honest literary critique, with a healthy side of snark.