Friday, February 26, 2010

Ready for DGLM Slush Week?

Thanks to everyone who sent us slush week queries!  We tried to be as random as possible, while still spreading it out across categories as best we could.  (On occasion a query was reviewed by someone other than the addressee when it helped us to cover more ground.)

Check back Monday morning for the first of the week's responses!

You in six words

by Rachel

Ever wanted to evaluate your life in six words? Well, according to this Huffington Post entry, it’s all the rage now. If you skip over to Smith Magazine, you’ll see where the Six-Word Memoir all began, as well as some unique, some funny, and some very disturbing/eyebrow-raising entries.

Care to share your six-word memoir?

Capturing the present

by Lauren

Since reading this Guardian article from earlier this month featuring Julian Gough's criticism of fellow Irish novelists, I've been feeling torn. On the one hand, I do get his point that contemporary Irish novelists tend to be backward-looking, that "reading award-winning Irish literary fiction, you wouldn't know television had been invented." Yet, as a book lover with a Masters in Irish Studies and an on-the-record Colum McCann fanatic, I want to have a strong argument against Gough's claim. While I don't have an exhaustive knowledge of Irish lit by any means, I have studied it and have even worked in an Irish bookstore, where Irish content is generally separate from similar sections, so that Irish fiction gets a separate set of bookcases from fiction, and so on. I feel I should be able to call to mind some great literature that feels present rather than past. Gough doesn't necessarily assert that they aren't writing good novels, merely that they aren't reflecting contemporary culture. Now, no doubt novels set in the past still often reflect the ethos of the time in which they're written, but it does seem unusual for a culture not to directly document the contemporary world in novel form.

So help me out, folks! I'd love to be able to leap to the defense of the subjects of my academic study, even if only in my own head where Gough's objections are lingering.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Entering the Fray

by Jessica

I didn’t actually make it to the O’Reilly Tools of Change Conference, which took place here in New York earlier this week, but between assorted bloggers, tweets and handy You Tube posts, plus the actual eyewitness reports of colleagues and friends, I was something of a virtual attendee. No doubt actual conference-goers will say that I missed the frisson of excitement coursing through the event (so many smart people assembled to discuss the publishing’s digital future must mean that there is money to be made!), but I feel I’ve gained reasonable insight into the discussion, and if you are so inclined, said insight can be yours as well. For a handy overview have a look at this PW article.

You might then check out social media guru Chris Brogan discussing on-line audience building for authors, or Ariana Huffington, delivering a keynote address entitled “Publishing is Dead, Long Live Publishing.” She makes a good, albeit not entirely new, point that the digital space allows readers a heretofore-unimaginable degree of engagement with the written word. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, readers are now able to join the conversation, to participate in the greater cultural discourse in a direct, visible and sometimes influential way. All to the good, I say, though I must admit that for all the reading I do online, I rarely comment on articles, even those that move me to paroxysms of delight or fits of fury. (Theoretically, these fits should no longer happen, as my on-line reading choices should, as studies indicate, lead me into an echo chamber of like-minded thinkers. I must be following the wrong links, because I still find plenty to infuriate.)

And while I know this question is necessarily self-selecting for its respondents, I wonder how often you weigh in on your favorite sites? Where? I’ve no shortage of opinions, but somehow, aside from this blog, I’ve not developed the habit of expressing them in any google-able format. I suppose I’m a reader/lurker, but in keeping with the exhortations of the Tools of Change cheerleaders, I plan to make a more concerted effort to enter the fray.

Divine innovation

by Michael

Don’t you love how hindsight is 20-20? This very interesting article from the Boston Phoenix discusses how e-Bible publishers are on the cutting edge of e-books. And, as they point out, it makes sense: the material is in the public domain, is insanely popular, and its organization lends itself well to the format. In hindsight, it’s pretty obvious that e-Bibles would be huge!

Not being religious myself, I’d never checked one out, but I’ll be downloading at least one now. I’m curious to see what innovations and developments might work well for new titles. Any of you have an e-Bible to recommend?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Historical fiction

by Stacey

I came across this list of favorite historical novels compiled by Seattle Times readers , and thought I'd share it for those of you who enjoy a good piece of historical fiction, or for those of you who write in this category. I tend to do better with contemporary novels, but this is a varied and eclectic list that looks like a lot of fun, and I'm reading The Help now for our next DGLM book club, so I'm looking forward to weighing in on that book's amazing commercial success and positive reader response. If you have any favorites (this batch focuses only on those set in the U.S.) that are note on the list, please share.

Matchmaker, matchmaker…

by Miriam

Okay, Valentine’s Day is in the rear view mirror by now, but Lauren passed on this delightful piece about literary matches made in hell, and I thought I’d share.

Makes me wonder what other couples a good matchmaker could bring together: Scarlett O’Hara and Mr. Big? You know he’d get her a great big ring and she’d never go hungry again eating at trendy places in Manhattan. Raskolnikov and Bella from Twilight? She likes those brooding, tortured types and would probably hang around until he gets out of his Siberian prison….

Any others you can think of?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Why I signed up....

by Jim

Story time! In January 2008, I received a query for a historical romance novel from an author who was friends with one of my clients and critique partners with another client of the agency. I do represent romance novels and have expressed that I’m open to historicals, but it’s not a subgenre I work in often. That aside, the author, Darcy Burke, had crafted an excellent query, and it didn’t hurt that she had references. So I requested and read her novel Glorious.

The novel was quite strong, but I decided to pass. For a real peek behind the curtain, here’s the letter I sent Darcy passing on the project:

Dear Darcy,

Thanks much for the opportunity to consider Glorious, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m going to be passing at this time.

This was a tough one for me. You’re obviously a talented writer, and this could very well be a marketable manuscript. That said, historical romance is a category that I really don’t know. When I venture into new genres for the first time, it has to be with a book that I’m completely blown away by. Without that driving passion, my inexperience in the category prevents me from being the best possible agent for the project. Though I did very much enjoy this read, I’m not ultimately convinced enough in my own ability to place this successfully in order to offer you representation.

Sorry not to have better news on this one. I do hope you’ll keep me in mind in the future.

All best,


Happily, Darcy did keep me in mind. Over the next year or two, she worked on a new novel, still historical romance, called The Earl's Obsession, and she queried me anew on December 21 of last year. I requested it the day before we closed for the holidays and read it over Christmas in Colorado.

The Earl's Obsession did exactly what it needed to do for me. It introduced me to two incredible lead characters—the arrogant Earl of Saxton, Jasper, and the orphaned seamstress Olivia—who registered so fully and naturally that I couldn’t help rooting for them, even as they often provided their own biggest obstacles. They were flawed, passionate, obstinate people, matched in the strength of their convictions, if not the convictions themselves.

But then Darcy did herself one better: rather than just give me characters that felt fresh and new, she conquered the greatest challenge of genre writing: making the outcome of the plot unpredictable while also managing to satisfy the reader. It might come as a surprise in a romance novel if the two romantic leads don’t end up together, but it wouldn’t be a happy surprise. On the flip side, if you’re slogging through 300 pages just waiting for the inevitable, you’ll be bored silly. Darcy kept me on my toes with enough flips, twists, and turns to keep me fully engaged all the way, while also knowing that I was in the most confident of hands.

I offered to represent Darcy the day we got back from the holidays. Happily, she said yes! Right now, she’s working on some light editorial feedback that I sent her way, and we’ll be taking the project out to editors shortly. Fingers will remain tightly crossed.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I only sign on people who were referred. Sure, Darcy knows one of my clients. Still, if I didn’t love her novel, it wouldn’t be to either of our advantage for me to offer to sign her on. Most of my clients did come straight from the slush pile. What I think this particular story illustrates, though, is that if an agent leaves a door open to resubmit in the future, they mean it. Trust me: I’m not asking everyone to send me more material. Just because the fit isn’t right yet doesn’t mean it won’t be.

I’m excited to share Darcy’s work with editors in the near future and hope to have that happiest of endings to report soon. In the meantime, you can get Darcy’s reaction to getting an agent and lots of insight into her writing process and background over at Romance Writers on the Journey.

Titling 101

by Chasya

You know how I love a good bad title—the more hilariously bad, the better. In fact, occasionally I come up with some myself and mutter them aloud much to the dismay of my officemates. And I was positively inspired by our own DGLM bad title contest. But alas, not everyone is like me. It was when I stumbled upon this little primer from The Rumpus’s Eric Puchner that I realized some more helpful, more constructive individuals aim to steer authors away from unfortunate titling. Among the types to avoid: The Faux Poetic but Authentically Meaningless (“Hunt the Mist Slowly”) and The Lofty Abstraction (“The Lonely Shackles of Mortality”).

Authors, do you find the list helpful? And in the spirit of being constructive, what others would you add?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Elmore Leonard tells you how to write

by Jim

I’d never seen Elmore Leonard’s list of ten writing rules before today. If it so happens that you haven’t either, I direct you to the Gotham Writers’ Workshop’s website. I came across the list via Mark Sarvas’s blog The Elegant Variation where he derides Leonard’s advice as “unhinged dipshitery.” I disagree. Now, of course we all know that rules are made to be broken, but there’s an awful lot of good sense here. And beyond that, Leonard’s a far better writer than Sarvas (in my opinion!). And #1: “Never open a book with weather?” That’s just great advice.

Leonard’s real point is that anything that can be cut should be cut. No one wants to see writing just for writing’s sake. So cut out the flibber-flabber and send us a novel that’s tight!

And, of course, take these things with a grain of salt. And look again to the advice of the other authors that Stacey pointed out on Friday. No one knows how you work, so there are no perfect answers, but it’s always good to take a look at the advice of others, especially those you respect, and sort out the good from the bad for yourself. But do take EVERY piece of Margaret Atwood’s advice because she’s delightful and would never lead you astray.

Where we find ideas

by Jane

One of the things I truly love about being an agent is finding new ideas in unexpected places.

Years ago for example, I took my daughter to Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires for her birthday. I decided to do an hour-long individual session on overcoming stress; when the instructor and I began talking, however, it became clear that she had a book in her and what began as a self-help session for me ended with a book deal for her.

Then there was the visit last summer to the eye doctor where the receptionist was doing a blog and pitched his idea for a book to me.

And, just last week, I visited a comedy club in New York as a guest of columnist, client and friend, Cindy Adams, and the featured comedienne is now coming to our office to discuss a possible book.

I really love the serendipity of these situations. Who knows where I will find my next client or book idea? It could come from anywhere.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tweeting sentences

by Rachel

I’m one of those readers who underlines everything in my books. I can’t help it. I see a great sentence and I have to make a note of it. So, I was happy to find this Vulture post by Sam Anderson which explains his new project of tweeting his favorite lines from books. Also, I’m a library member, and not being able to underline favorite sentences in books is starting to drive me mad, so perhaps putting down that highlighter and finding a new place to log all my favorite sentences is the way to go.

Just out of curiosity--because I love finding or hearing about unique and interesting sentences in books--do you have a favorite sentence from a book you’ve read?

Advice from authors who made it

by Stacey

It's interesting to me, although perhaps not surprising, that my entries keep skewing to the children's market. Not intentional, but just what keeps catching my eye. I recently saw this piece that I thought offered some good take-away advice for aspiring authors, not only those those writing for children. I think that anytime you get a collection of published (and in this case bestselling) authors in the same room, it's worth listening to what they have to say. One thing that's worth mentioning is that none of these writers set out to become bestselling children's book authors, and I think most of us (see all of our posts at DGLM about how we got to where we are) take a number of different paths before finding the one that's really right.

Thinking about the way to maintain and extend a successful career once it's been established is an interesting conversation that continued the discussion. The ability to be flexible in terms of category and ride the market waves is one important comment that's worth paying attention to, and the TOWEL acronym created by Marilyn Singer is comprised of a clever checklist of reminders to stay the course (Talent, Optimism, Widespread Interests, Endurance, and Luck).

I'd be curious to hear from our readers what they feel are the mantras that they keep coming back to in order to stay focused and motivated during the inevitable ups and downs of a writing life.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Leader Orders an Arrest

by Jessica

A week or two ago Rachel posted on censorship, which is always a hot-button issue, even among citizens of a country who generally agree that freedom of speech is a good thing, and are pleased to exercise it, in tones both civil and hysterical, as often as we can. Yet despite how absorbing questions relating to censorship and the first amendment can be, it can be eye-opening to look beyond our own borders, where limits on civil society (or even shrieking, rabid, partisan society) are far more onerous. And dangerous.

Earlier this month at the Cairo International Book fair, Egyptian security officials confiscated a novel entitled The Leader Cuts His Hair, and arrested its publisher on the grounds that the books insults Libyan leader Muammar Qadhafi. The novel, written by the Egyptian novelist Idris Ali, looks at social conditions in Libya in the late seventies, a period during which Ali was living in Libya. Egypt has long outlawed books that cast aspersions at its own President, Hosni Mubarak, now in his 28th year in office, but I’m surprised that Qadhafi is afforded the same treatment. The Egyptian Writers Union protested the incident, calling it an embarrassment and a stain on the nation. Indeed, this is hardly the sort of behavior that will win the Cairo Book Fair—now the largest in the Arab world—the kind of international status that it quite deservedly seeks. Which is too bad, since the fair, which throws open its doors to thousands of publishing professionals and millions of Cairenes, is an experience to behold. Whole families make a day trip of the fair, and when not browsing the miles of bookstalls in search of bargains (take note, Strand Bookstore, home of “18 miles of books”), they picnic on the grounds. Between the ice-cream vendors and balloon sellers and the impromptu soccer matches are people of all stripes, laden with books. It’s a far cry from the trade oriented fairs at Frankfurt or London, but it’s a clear demonstration that the culture of the book is thriving—despite, as recent events again demonstrate, some very serious obstacles.


by Michael

It probably comes as no surprise to hear that I’m a bit of a gadget nerd, especially when it comes to mobile tech. It’s bad enough that I should probably go to early-adopters-anonymous. I was in line for the iPhone 3G and would have been for the original but I was on a trip to Italy. And despite its shortcomings, I’m pretty jazzed about the iPad.

I also used to be a big magazine reader—huge. I think I’ve subscribed to just about everything at one point or another: from my Nintendo Power days as a kid, through my Entertainment Weekly, Rolling Stone, and Movieline period, through the New Yorker and Wired more recently. I do still get Wired, but for someone who used to subscribe to 5 or 6 magazines at once, my consumption has definitely gravitated online.

So I was pretty excited when I saw this video, which combines the shininess of mobile tech with the glossiness of magazines. With active content and ads, and with fantastic design and layouts, I could see myself sitting with this for extended periods of time. And I wouldn’t mind paying a fee for it, either. When the content is interesting and delivered beautifully, I’m happy to pay.

This got me thinking about books, of course, and how this kind of approach might affect them. I’d love to see this kind of format used for a new sort of Choose Your Own Adventure, with clickable links that take you to different strands of the story. Or it could even be used for something nonlinear, a more experimental approach to story. There could be wacky children’s books, where turning the page requires some task--finding Waldo, maybe? How-to books could include video or short animations. I think the possibilities are pretty darn exciting.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Publishing with dinosaurs and stick figures

by Lauren

Short weeks always feel so busy, so rather than try to grapple with the news of the day, how about some comic strips?

Dinosaur Comics and xkcd are, for my money, two of the best web comics out there--and conveniently, both sometimes talk about books/publishing, so I can offer you relevant joy right here on our blog!  (If you enjoy what you see here, head over to their websites or buy their books!!)


I'm always on the lookout for something new, so if there are any web comics you're enjoying, let us know in the comments!

Literary ghosts

by Miriam

The subject of ghostwriting seems to be in the air right now. The recent New York Times profile of James Patterson pulled back the curtains on something that was a fairly open secret within the industry: Of the 620 books (give or take) that Mr. Patterson publishes every year, most are collaborations in the loosest term of the word. As Andrew Crofts points out in his rather passionate defense of the practice, if it’s not the oldest profession, ghostwriting has certainly been around since writing utensils began to be used to make literature instead of just grocery lists.

Two new films, Roman Polanski’s The Ghost and L’Autre Dumas, starring the great Gerard Depardieu, deal with the notion of authorship and literary collaborations and I’m intrigued by what they have to say. For agents, a good ghostwriter is a huge asset to one’s client list. Generally excellent writers themselves, they are able to put their egos aside and use their skills as literary entrepreneurs. They are usually able to multitask, are very organized and meet deadlines without the sturm und drang that can drive editors (and sometimes agents) to the nearest bar. And their services can command very nice money.

So, why do we still feel a little disappointed when we find out that a favorite author had more than just transcribing help? Do you?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Don't quit your day job

by Chasya

The Millions has a good article that delves into the myth of the rags-to-riches career novelist. It’s a well-known, albeit depressing, reality in the publishing industry that most authors don’t have the luxury of writing full-time and supporting themselves through their work. But authors--don’t worry, you’re not alone! As the article points out, and as we can’t stress enough, as much as we’re obsessed with the J.K. Rowling-esque stories of writers who came from nothing and succeeded to become the most famous (and wealthy) authors of our day, this is the exception--not the rule. And, as it turns out, keeping your day job can benefit most of us. Among the perks? Well, being in the everyday world and gleaning from your everyday experiences. And, er, eating. Yes, that’s important! Because as much as we all have that curmudgeonly chain-smoking, black coffee drinking stereotype of an author in our minds, it’s important for even the most obsessive writer to keep up their strength.

The writers' conference

by Jane

Over the years, I have attended many writers' conferences, and no matter where or when they are, I have found them valuable--some more than others. I’ve always encouraged our agents to take advantage of the many invitations we receive to participate at these events and attend at least a couple of them every year.

So, it was with great pleasure that I agreed to attend The Geneva Writers’ Conference the weekend of February 4th through 7th. As the name implies, this conference is held in Geneva, Switzerland, every two years. Run by Susan M. Tiberghien and her incredible staff, all members of The Geneva Writers’Group, this conference attracts an incredibly eclectic and interesting group of participants from all over the world.

This year’s attendees included people from a number of countries in Asia and Africa; people from South America, Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe, including France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and the Scandinavian countries. Many were American ex-pats, people who were working for the United Nations and other international government organizations. For a large contingent, English was a second language.

The instructors, of which I was one, taught, gave lectures and held question and answer sessions. Many of us had read various writing samples prior to journeying to the conference and gave our feedback to those who had written them during several critique sessions.

In the end--and I find this is always true at these events--I believe we all learned things from each other.

The best writers' conferences are those at which writers come together to learn about their craft. Usually attended by published authors, sometimes bestselling published authors, editors, publishers and agents, these meetings can prove very valuable to prospective authors. Topics include developing book ideas, how to sell your work, how to write proposals, fiction writing skills, dealing with agents and publishers, and much more. For the most part these conferences can be very, very valuable.

I have found some of my most successful authors directly or indirectly at writers’ conferences and I know a number of our other staff members have as well. It is fertile ground for discovery.

Considering all of the incredibly interesting writers I met last weekend, it is my hope and expectation that I will again find that single idea and/or manuscript that I will be able to help turn into a book. Equally as important is that I have discovered new colleagues and friends.

If you are thinking about attending one of these conferences, I suggest you check with others who have previously gone. I encourage you to find one that is within your means and that covers topics you are interested in. As I mentioned, these conferences can provide a wealth of knowledge and contacts.

If you have already been a participant, I hope your experience has been as satisfying and valuable as mine have been. I wouldn’t miss the opportunity of taking part in a good conference for the world.

Beta reader basics, a guest post

by Jim

For something a little different today, we have a guest blog post from my wonderful and talented client Jennifer Schubert whose hugely exciting thriller, BROKEN, is out on submission right now!

Jenn contacted me last week about whether we wanted to post on our thoughts on authors critiquing each other’s work. But ours is such an outsider’s perspective on this. My take is that feedback is always wonderful if you can take it in constructively. I’ve never been in the position of taking it since I don’t write, and when I offer it, it’s from a sales perspective. So I thought it made more sense for the expert herself to offer up some bon mots. And happily, Jenn provided us with the below!

Why a beta reader?

Every writer needs feedback. We crave it, for one. That’s what writing is about, the exhibition of the soul, the desire to tell a story and to be judged by it. Every piece of work should be run through a filter, preferably an impartial one, to show where we’re going wrong. Because we are going wrong somewhere. No one is perfect. Everything can stand improvement.

One of the best learning tools is to switch sides and be a beta reader. I’ve learned as much about writing by critiquing others’ works as I have by writing myself. It’s much easier to see the flaws in other people’s work than our own.

How to give a crit without breaking a heart

I’ve been privileged to do a lot of beta reading in my writing journey. I’m a believer in the “sandwich” technique: single out a good thing first, then tackle some of the problem areas, and close with another good thing. Not everyone agrees with this approach, but I’ve found people respond better if criticism is softened with praise, and there’s always something to praise. (An English teacher of mine used to tell people, a bit desperately, “You have lovely handwriting.”)

How to take a crit without throwing a fit

The reaction to a critique ranges widely, but generally falls into two categories. The first group meets a critique, no matter how gentle, with defensiveness. Their reaction is to argue. You, the beta reader, just didn’t understand what the writer was trying to say. Sure, you say, but if you have to explain it to me, it wasn’t very well-written, was it?

The second group says “thank you” and buckles down to edits. A few hours, days, or weeks later, you get the material back and it’s better. You suggest more changes, more tweaks. They go back to work. Maybe the end result isn’t perfect, but they’re willing to work hard to make it as good as it can be.

Like many of us, I started out in the first, or thin-skinned, group. I was fortunate to have a mentor who talked me out of that. Because I wanted to be a writer so badly, I toughened up. Of course hearing that your work isn’t letter-perfect is hard, but the critiquer’s job is to help. Maybe they’re paying it forward. Maybe they believe in you, believe in your work, and want to help make it better.

My question for you is: which group are you in? Are you thin-skinned, or are you tough enough to take a critique designed to help make your writing better? And are you critiquing for others? If so, what are you learning from it?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Three-Minute Fiction

by Rachel

I remember in college, when my creative writing professors would give the class a photograph or a newspaper clipping and ask us to write a story from it, my eyes would glaze over and I’d quickly write a B-grade short story the night before my assignment was due. But, little did I know that this was not a spur-of-the-moment task professors gave out to pass time throughout the semester, but an exercise to stimulate creativity! Photographs, newspaper clippings, even (dare I say it) weird Twitter posts can create new and exciting stories in an author’s mind.

So, having said this, and actually believing this might kill the winter writer’s block for myself and others, I’m going to do exactly what I hated doing in my college creative writing classes, and participate in the Three-Minute Fiction contest, held by NPR. 600 words, one photograph, and 15 days to procrastinate!

Browsing the aisles

by Lauren

Some recent posts on the future of bookstores made me consider my attachment to strolling the aisles, even though I do plenty of book buying online these days. I try to wholeheartedly embrace the digital future and am not inherently afraid of large corporations (I hope Blogger-owner Google will flag that statement for future proof they should give me one of the plum jobs after they take over the world). But if Amazon puts Barnes & Noble out of business--that one will hit right where it hurts.

I'm a Barnes & Noble girl, having worked there for 3 1/2 years in college. Every day I witnessed firsthand that people at large corporate bookstores do care about, know about, and enjoy books. It's been years since I worked at the store on 8th St and 6th Ave, but my coworkers were nearly all readers who cared about what they did. There was a reason they worked there instead of the GAP and most that I'm in touch with 7 years later still work in book retail and are passionate about what they do.

I've also had the pleasure of working for an independent, Dubray Books on Shop Street in Galway, Ireland. Dubray is a small chain (though even a large chain in Ireland is only so big), owned by a family from Bray all the way over on the opposite coast from Galway. As a consequence, the Galway store is the only one not on the Dublin side of the country, a whole 3 hours away. My boss was the store manager, who ran the place with the dedication and pride of an owner. And he was as passionate about books as my managers at B&N had been. An American who'd learned the trade at Borders, he certainly significantly preferred essentially running his own shop, but there was no way he'd only learned to love storytelling once he had no corporate oversight.

It’s true that you’ll always have some duds--I did work with a woman at B&N who was totally unfazed when I showed her the three shelves of Hemingway books she'd told a customer we didn't have because she couldn't spell it and didn't know who he was--but I also worked with people who could find you any book in the children's section without a database or could recommend you a romance novel for your mother based on sketchily remembered details of the cover of the last one she read. I firmly believe that if you can't find a book lover in a bookstore, you must not be looking very hard.

Wherever the smart money might be in the debate on the future, I can’t help but be optimistic that bookstores are here to stay and desperately hope that if they do fall by the wayside, it won’t be in my lifetime. However, I’ve met people who work for Amazon and, and I can say with confidence that if we do end up solely in their hands, we’ll still be dealing with people who care about, know about, and enjoy books. My problem with Amazon and its online brethren displacing bookstores is not that they’re not passionate about books but that we don't meet them so they can share that with us. Some of the joy of sharing great books with strangers would disappear if brick and mortar stores disappear, and that does feel like a genuine loss to me. I can't guess at the future, but I do hope that the e-book and the bookstore can happily co-exist for a long time to come.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bad Reviews

by Jessica

Despite the fact that fewer people are looking to traditional venues to guide their book selections (something Jane addressed earlier this week), it seems to me that a negative review still has significant capacity to do damage. I’m speaking in particular of Adam Haslett’s Union Atlantic, a widely anticipated debut novel from the author of the much praised collection You Are Not a Stranger Here. The subhead in Michiko Kakutani’s February 7th New York Times review reads “A Lumpy, Disappointing Book.” Ouch. Although this does not accurately capture the whole of the review--the same sentence continues “at times, gripping and keenly observed”—I imagine that the folks over at Nan Talese/Doubleday were less than delighted. I read the book as an ARC over the summer and I admired, but did not love, the novel. The comparative coldness of its main characters (here criticized by Kakutani), however, seemed to capture something of the zeitgeist, the culture of corporate malfeasance and unabashed greed that precipitated the recent collapse of the financial industry.

So now my question is, to what degree do bad reviews affect your reading/buying decisions? Do you pay attention to damning print reviews from heavy hitters like New York Times or the New Yorker? Every so often, a spectacularly awful one piques my curiosity. Jane’s post and the subsequent reader responses seem to indicate that reviews, especially old-school print reviews, don’t hold the power people in publishing think that they do. And yet. Reviews are part of building word of mouth; sooner or later, someone, somewhere, needs to know about a book in order to read it and comment. A write up like the one Haslett got can quiet the potential “mouths” (actual or virtual) upon which we increasingly rely.   

 What say you? Does a lukewarm-to-scathing write up give you pause?  If you need help finding some examples of either, check out, a blog devoted to wound-licking in the wake of bad reviews

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The big picture

by Stacey

Pondering blog ideas while observing the blizzard of 2010 outside my window, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a little bit about authors and their commitment to social networking, and in particular building and maintaining a loyal audience that continues to grow long before and after a book's publication date.

For nonfiction and fiction authors alike, the importance of connecting with your audience is crucial at every stage of an author's career. At the beginning, it's about finding your readers -- identifying who they are and where they hang out online; then it's about building and growing that fan base, but also about maintaining fans' interest and keeping them coming back for more. It's not helpful to put up a website or blog, or start a Facebook page or Twitter account, and only keep them active right before and right after publication. It's about building a long term relationship, and it has to become a part of your daily routine. Seriously, none of this is new information, but it bears repeating because the results are clear and in many cases quantifiable. A recent example worth noting is my client, Shreve Stockton, whose book the Daily Coyote stems from her popular blog. An author who is intimately connected to her fans has the ability to stay close to his or her audience, and as a fringe benefit can even sometimes generate national publicity (and not necessarily directly book related, but that's the point) months after a book's publication.

There are a lot of resources available for anyone's use on the web, and a long term commitment to building your name, creating ongoing content that is fresh and engaging, and creatively thinking of new ways to connect with readers are some of the ways to ensure a successful career that has longevity. Books have become only a part of the bigger picture of an author's platform, and staying focused on these efforts will pay off in the long run in expected and sometimes unexpected ways. If you have any stories that illustrate this point, please share.

Memoirs of scorned wives

by Miriam

Tina Brown is someone whose successes and failures as a journalist, magazine publisher, book author and media pundit have made her a sometimes controversial celebrity. Personally, I always find her new ventures and her ability to reinvent herself fascinating (she’s the Madonna of the publishing biz) and I usually get a kick out of her insights on current events.

This week, I’ve been thinking of how annoying Jenny Sanford’s new book and the attendant media blitz surrounding it are. After dealing with her public humiliation with dignity and elegance at first, she’s now flogging a book that makes her sound self-righteous, vindictive and petty. Given what a jerk her ex-husband was, it’s no small feat to write a tell-all that makes you seem almost as unsympathetic. But, as Tina says in this NPR piece, that seems to be the trend among the “he-done-me-wrong” memoirists:

"The men they're married to are utter snakes and worms, but these women — they do buy into this stuff, and then they are so humorless about it at the end. Jenny Sanford's book is such a pious document. At some point, I really wish one of these women would begin their book and say, 'I am writing this book out of sweet revenge; my husband was a total worm, and this is payback time.' It would be a little more honest."

Instead, Brown complains, political spouses often retreat to platitudes: 'You know, 'I'm doing this for the children,' " or some such. "It is all nonsense. It is about one of two things: money or revenge. Very often both."

When the Sanford story broke, we here at DGLM discussed the inevitable book deal and the consensus was that this was not a book we were interested in reading (or repping). Are we missing something? What do you think?

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Twitter haiku

by Chasya

The Guardian is pushing a new trend: delivering bad news via haiku on Twitter. It was only a matter of time before this limited syllable form of poetry and word limited form of social media converged, no? The haikus may be bleak, but the comments are delightful! Most posted in proper syllabic form, of course.

Endangered book ads?

by Jessica

As the week begins, I am feeling decidedly under the weather; last night, I was flipping through magazines in a somewhat desultory fashion, rereading the same sentences again and again, watching paragraphs swim before my eyes, and otherwise making little actual headway. The time I failed to spend reading, however, I devoted to looking at pictures. Namely, book ads. Which are, along with the New Yorker’s weird assortment of sterling silver pet pins/pendants (who, I ask, buys the “European Beret?”), of particular interest. Book ads—whether placed in publication local or national—have long been a staple of publishers’ promotional arsenal, but I’m curious to get your take: has an ad ever driven, or even heavily influenced, your decision to buy a book?

I’m not sure that I can point to a time when an ad alone propelled me to the bookstore (or the library) though February’s Harper’s boasts a full page ad for 36 Arguments for the Existence of God that may well do the trick. I was pleased to spot a New Yorker ad for Simon Mawer’s superb The Glass Room, and I hope that it will drive other readers toward this very smart novel. But it’s difficult to measure the impact of traditional advertising—no click-throughs, no totting up eye-balls or page views. Which is why I’d love to hear your opinion. Do you pay attention to print book ads? Where do they have most impact? Do they influence your choice? And if not, what does?

Publishers, as you probably realize, do not run ads for every book they publish. Advertising and marketing dollars are carefully allocated, with big names generally commanding the biggest budgets (and sometimes the budgets, period) and usually, ads are given to books that are: 1) lead titles 2) already working 3) or have garnered such astonishing reviews that it makes sense to pay to shout it from the rooftops. Publishers rarely count on ads to get the ball rolling, but rather to build or maintain existing momentum. So perhaps an ad alone would not motivate a sale, but a good review, and interview on NPR, capped off by an effective ad in a favorite magazine (one that quotes the other review you might have missed) these might create some sort of tipping point.

Not everyone agrees with this hypothetical; indeed, there are plenty of people who think ads are essentially useless (or worse yet, expensive ways of appeasing agents and big-name authors). Whatever the reason, publishers have certainly cut back. The NYTBR is still the sine qua non, but even there, the costs of a full page ads has fallen precipitously.

When, for better or for worse, publishers decide that the traditional ad model doesn’t work (too much money for too little gain) it has unintended ripple effects across the publishing ecosystem. Falling ad revenue shuttered both the Washington Post Book World and the LA Times Book Review, which in turn means fewer influential places to be reviewed. There are, of course, many book-related sites online, but so far, none have quite the reach that publishers are hoping for.

I’m curious to know how you weigh in.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Real love

by Jim

In one of those ideas so simple that you can’t figure out why no one else thought of it sooner, publisher HCI is launching a real life romance series. Actual love stories will be turned into romance novels—it’s sort of the book version of reality TV.

There’s something kind of fantastic about the idea of reading romance novels where what happens between the covers not only CAN happen but already did.

Or am I wrong? Will the real life couple out there ruin the fantasy of it all? I personally think it could be a super idea.

The importance of the book review

by Jane

Last week I was having lunch with the associate publisher of a major publishing house who was a bit late because he had to deal with the following situation: One of his authors had sent him a draft of a letter her husband, a lawyer, was going to send to Amazon threatening a lawsuit if they didn’t take down a negative Publisher’s Weekly review of her book.

My lunch companion managed to stop this from happening, at least for the time being. But it got me to thinking that in this age of blogging (and the internet in general), how important are reviews from the traditional consumer and trade outlets? I went online and found many, many websites and blogs that are set up specifically to “review” and recommend certain categories of books.

There is no doubt in my mind that book reviews do influence what people buy. But it seems to me that more and more readers want to know what their peers think, rather than reading the opinion of a bestselling author or an academic who might be considered more “qualified” to review a certain title.

I really believe consumers are relying less and less on the traditional review outlets, trade magazines like Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist and Kirkus (if it survives) and major market newspapers, many of which have closed their book sections--and are going to those blogs and websites established solely to review books.

I would love to know if you agree.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Beast Books

by Lauren

Galleycat reports on the launch of Beast Books from Tina Brown’s Daily Beast, with books that will be longer than articles but shorter than most nonfiction books. One of the common publishing rejections (from us to authors and from editors to us) is: “It’s fascinating, but it's more of a magazine article.” Often, though, the truth is more that the idea falls in between: it requires greater explication than magazine space allows, but there’s not enough to it to support a book. This model could make for a good home for such ideas. It’s an interesting concept, and I’ll be paying attention to how well it works--particularly since my level of personal commitment to well crafted nonfiction on subjects I don’t find naturally interesting is often longer than an article, but shorter than a book.

Censorship shmensorship

by Rachel

An article in the Guardian caught my attention this week regarding the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and the banning of certain books. Alice Walker, John Updike and even Pablo Neruda are some of the authors whose books are banned from entering correctional facilities. Texan prison officials say that restrictions on reading material are for the good of everyone.

This got me thinking. The only reason I first picked up a copy of Lolita was because I’d heard it had once been banned. And this is precisely why I grabbed a copy of Madame Bovary when I was in the seventh grade and read it over a weekend. If you’re going to ban a book, there’s a good chance people will want to read it and will read it. Humans are inquisitive! Tell us something is bad or immoral, and we’ll need proof of that. So, we’ll stay up all night (I will, at least) reading banned or formerly banned books, trying to understand why a story has been censored.

I’m not sure I agree with books being banned anywhere. Some people might argue that certain books should be banned in prisons to avoid disrupting an inmate’s rehabilitation, but I’m not a fan of censoring ideas of any kind, whether people think it’s for the greater good or not.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Slush Week is coming!

by Chasya

One of the most frequent questions we get here at DGLM from unpublished authors is about what makes a query work. What catches our attention? What turns us off? What are some common faux-pas? What should an author absolutely never do? How does one create that needle-in-the-haystack submission that will surely be plucked out of the groaning piles of slush? You get the picture.

We try to answer as best we can on our website, our blog, at conferences, pitch sessions, etc.... When one of our readers (thanks,Wanda B. Ontheshelves!) mentioned that she would love to read some of our slush, we thought that this could be a really great opportunity for writers to see what goes into the query process on the other end. So, during the week of March 1st, we will be dissecting and critiquing queries right here on the blog.

Here are the rules for people who want to take the chance that their query is one of the ones we post. Send us your query to with the subject line SLUSH WEEK SUBMISSION anytime between now and February 12th.  By submitting a query with that subject line, you're agreeing to let us post that query, minus your name and contact info, on the blog.  Please note that these queries will not be considered submissions to DGLM, so if you were planning to query us in general, you still should. We’ll pick nine queries at random from the emails we receive (others won't receive a response, but if it proves popular, perhaps we'll give you another chance at a later date!) and each will be paired with one our nine staff members. During Slush Week, each agent's daily post will be one of the letters along with the agent's comments.  We’ll let you know what about the letter speaks to us, what we think works, what we feel doesn’t and how these can be improved if they need to be.

Our hope is that our readers will not only have a chance to see samples of other queries, but also gain some insight into a part of the process that they wouldn’t otherwise see.

So rev up your keyboards, get creative, and send us your submissions!

Publishing love

by Jessica

As Valentine's Day approaches and retailers redecorate in shades of crimson and Pepto Bismol, I thought it fitting to look at book publishing and the language of love. As an author I know pointed out, romance--not the genre, but as metaphor--seems to govern the acquisition process. When editors pass on a project they say they “just didn’t fall in love,” or admit they were “not sufficiently passionate,” or (and this is something that I myself have been known to say) “admired but did not adore” the work in question. What’s this all about? In what ways is landing a book contract like falling in love?

I’d say two things; first, that to some degree, the metaphor is not wholly disingenuous. Publishing is driven, to a surprising degree, by gut feeling and genuine enthusiasm, and in order to pitch a project to colleagues, collect second reads (so that others will also fall in love), parry the inevitable skepticism of the sales and marketing team, and otherwise assert that this book should occupy one of the finite slots that each imprint is allocated, editors do need to be engaged. Publishing love, does not, however, exist in a vacuum, nor is it blind.

In order to summon--and sustain--the abovementioned passion, an editor must believe that a project fits in with the mandate of the house. A commercial house best known for its big name thrillers is probably not going to open its heart to a literary stream-of-consciousness narrative, no matter how brilliant. Past performance also plays a role. An editors’ capacity to love is distinctly dampened by the whiff of failure. So if your book falls into a category that has proved disappointing for the imprint (their last two travel memoirs tanked) or across the industry (for example general parenting titles), or is perceived as difficult to sell, romance may be elusive. And of course, if you are a published author, your own track record, unceremoniously retrieved from Bookscan, is taken into consideration. Downward trending numbers can cool the most ardent infatuation. Finally, published or not, who you are plays no small role in the courting ritual. Famous, well-connected, possessed of a national media platform? You grow more loveable by the minute. I don’t wish to sound cynical, because, in truth, I’m not. I don’t regard the contemporary publishing landscape as an intellectual wasteland dominated by celebrities--on the contrary, I’m haunted by all the excellent books I may never read. I also meet with editors and publishers of formidable taste and professional conviction. But for some odd reason, book publishing (again like love) is something we tend to romanticize, wish to see as “pure,” impervious from calculation, profit-motive, self-interest. Which, of course, it’s not. But however you prefer to think about love, the book industry is not best perceived through rose-colored glasses.

To profile or page?

by Michael

I’ve been waiting for the chance to sing the praises of one of my must-read blogs, The Book Publicity Blog, and I found yesterday’s post really helpful. Yen discusses the pros and cons of Facebook profiles and fan pages, helping authors (and publicists) figure out which is more beneficial, as well as pointing out that it really needs to be the author behind the profile—not a publicist or assistant. Though as she points out, the publisher can certainly help in some ways!

And if you want to learn more about book publicity, I suggest reading as much of the blog as you can. In a world where authors have to act as their own publicists in so many ways, I think this site should be on every author’s blogroll.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Influential YA authors

by Stacey

Although I represent a wide range of adult authors and books, my research and posts lately have steered more toward the children's markets because of my personal experiences, and also because a number of my adult authors are working on projects for the young adult and middle grade markets. I appreciate that this category has grown exponentially in recent years, and that there seems to be room for a real mix of creative elements. I came across this list on Omnivoracious, a blog run by Amazon book editors, and it breaks down the ten most influential YA authors of the last decade, the ones who it's suggested most current authors are trying to emulate in some way. There are also a bunch of other authors listed at the end who might have made the list under different circumstances. If you are interested in this genre, either reading or writing, it's a good introduction to what's out there (although the list is in no way comprehensive), and what's worked in the market over the last decade. It's worth noting that even though this audience skews to a female readership, half the authors are men, and many of the books appeal to both sexes. I've liked a lot of these books, some of which have really broken new ground, and look forward to seeing what this growing market has in store for the next decade, when my own kids will be old enough to enjoy these books. Happy reading, and let us know if there are authors you feel would be a worthy addition to their list.

Authors as rock stars

by Miriam

The publishing business is weird. That’s a given for those of us who toil within its ranks. It’s also unpredictable, quixotic, and often baffling. One of the things that never ceases to amaze me is the phenomenon of serious author turned “rock star.” Joshua Ferris, according to Jason Pinter, is the latest Jay McInerney, J.D. Salinger, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Lord Byron, etc., and no disrespect to Mr. Ferris, whose first book I thoroughly enjoyed and strongly recommended, but what is it about him that people find so, well, sexy? And, should that be a reason to rush out and buy his sophomore novel?

Over the years, I’ve come across many very attractive authors, many not so attractive but highly charismatic authors, and some who, attractive or not, were so shy or self-conscious or socially inept that it made perfect sense to me that they’d chosen to become writers – traditionally a solitary and vaguely misanthropic pursuit. Except, of course, nowadays even the most retiring of authors has to glam it up for the cameras, both physically and personality-wise in order to get attention for his or her work. We at DGLM have always been aware that this is a reality of the media-driven age we live in but still cringe at the thought of having to advise authors to “maximize their assets” by working with a p.r. coach on finding ways to become more telegenic, for instance. Personally, I prefer my writers to be reclusive, eccentric and odd-looking and more interested in crafting beautiful sentences than looking beautiful on Oprah, but in the tabloid era that type seems to be a dying breed.

Does an author’s looks or celebrity status influence your decision to buy his/her books?

Congratulations, Robert Kent!

by Lauren
Thanks to all who competed and voted in DGLM's first competition!  Robert Kent (of fame, naturally) is the winner of our contest and this pretty blue DGLM water bottle!

Robert's winning entry in the hilariously bad titles contest was ATLAS HUGGED: A Guide to Encouraging Charity in Your Community

Congratulations also to runners up Scott Martelle's TWEET JESUS: Bible Passages for the Twitter Age and D. Antone's WHAT WAS THE NAME OF THAT BOOK? Everything Known and Forgotten about Alzheimer's Disease.  Your prize is the (dubious) glory of knowing you made us laugh!

Robert, write to me at to send your mailing address and claim your prize!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Happy Oscar Nomination Day!

by Chasya

A recent Examiner article links to a note from J.D Salinger elucidating why the author never exploited the valuable film rights to Catcher in the Rye. Among the many reasons, he said: “ for me the weight of the book is in the narrator’s voice…” Thinking that Holden could never be accurately represented onscreen, he opted not to have the book adapted.

After this morning’s Oscar announcements, in which four of the ten nominations for best picture are going to films that were adapted from books, I got to wondering. Of the four, I’ve only seen Up in the Air, a book I would say certainly relies heavily on the narrator’s voice. And that movie was pretty great. It’s often said that films taken from books don’t come close to the greatness of the original. I would have to say I disagree. I think that they’re very different vehicles that serve the same purpose–to tell a story.

No matter how that’s done, so long as it’s done well, there needn’t be this sort of black and white debate. Do film adaptations always trump books? Do books always trump the film adaptation? I don’t think we necessarily need to choose.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, February 01, 2010

Promote yourself

by Jim

Since Jane already noted the high stakes, high drama standoff between Amazon and Macmillan, and Rachel already discussed the death of J.D. Salinger (anyone else think he’s totally overrated?), I wasn’t quite sure what to blog about today. Then I found this pretty fascinating article from the Denver Post about the author’s role in publicizing their own work.

Tama Kieves might be a little hyperbolic with regard to her readers (“They thank God for me and I thank God for them,”) but she makes a number of solid points about the need for authors to take on a distinct amount of the burden of publicizing their book.

Though Kieves is prepared to “walk across the desert for this book,” most people don’t have the time, energy, or financial backing to be able to make PR a full time job. That said, self-promotion is a big part of the business. And though the tone of a lot of publicity discussions is increasingly negative (my publisher didn’t send me on tour, I don’t understand why Oprah hasn’t called, etc.), I think it’s actually a really exciting time to be published.

Social networking sites make spreading the word about your work cheaper and easier than ever. And for those authors who are on the shyer end, you don’t even need to actually speak to anyone to get the job done! Sure, publicity budgets may be decreasing, and your publisher might not set you up in a fancy hotel before your Today show appearance, but there is a rabid group of readers out there almost asking to be directed towards new work.

What was Jeff Bezos thinking, or John Sargent is my hero

by Jane

Amazon’s recent move to remove the “buy” buttons for nearly all of Macmillan’s books including bestsellers, top releases, and Kindle editions was in my opinion incredibly short-sighted and could in the end really hurt the retailer. And now it seems it has backfired.

This move occurred during the same week that Steve Jobs and Apple launched the iPad which could compete head to head with the Kindle. Apple has met with at least five of the six major publishing giants with regard to pricing (of the Big Six, only Random House’s logo was missing from the iPad announcement, though they’re said to be in discussion with Apple). In this model, publishers will be able to set their own prices for books and pay a commission to Amazon, as opposed to the Kindle model where Amazon sets the price.

Now, John Sargent’s strategy has succeeded and Amazon has acknowledged that “ultimately, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan's terms.” At the time of posting, they have not reinstated the “buy” buttons, but Amazon and Macmillan are in discussion. Certainly, the other publishers will follow suit here, which in my opinion is as it should be.

Hopefully, a lesson has been learned here. Amazon should not be bullying publishers. Rather we should all be working together in this electronic age to keep the publishing industry alive and healthy. There are too many people predicting the death of book publishing these days. We all need to work together to make sure this is far from the truth.

If you subscribe to Publishers Lunch Deluxe, you can see the whole story as it developed here.