Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Expensive covers

by Stacey

We've talked a lot on our blog about covers, but I haven't weighed in yet, and it's always a topic that people seem to have strong opinions about. A book of mine whose cover changed no fewer than half a dozen times throughout its development, just changed again after it went to print when they learned that one of the images didn't print well! I was also able to catch glimpses of the photo shoots for a couple of my books recently, from Matt Bites and editor Justin Schwartz.

So I thought this recent piece from PW was timely and pretty interesting to learn a bit about how much thought and discussion takes place before the shoot to get it just right. There are so many people to please, and so many subjective thoughts on what makes a cover work, or not work. This particular piece focuses on a YA series, and they emphasize just how important the cover is for this market, and perhaps the most interesting piece is at the end when they disclose how much money they spend on a shoot like this. Given slashed budgets and limited resources, it's amazing to me that publishers are willing to spend so much on the jacket. Of course, this is for an established series so they pretty much know it's going to make money.

I'd love to hear what our readers think about this. Is it worth it to spend up to $25,000 on the making of a jacket?

When close is too close

by Miriam

Having started out in publishing working for a brilliant and somewhat deranged literary agent (no, not Jane, it was her partner at the time, Jay Acton) and in an era of delightful scandals (editors sleeping with their married bosses and creating corporate maelstroms, the multi-martini lunches, the temper tantrums that involved office furniture being launched at unsuspecting assistants, etc.) in our always interesting business, I’m drawn to stories of agents/publishers behaving badly. So it was with a touch of voyeurism and a dash of nostalgia that I read this piece about former ├╝ber-agent Harriet Wasserman and the implosion of her career.

The thing that struck me most about the piece, however, was Wasserman’s more than questionable judgment in her relationship with Saul Bellow. We often say on this blog that we strive for longterm relationships with our clients and we’ve even revealed that we consider many of our clients friends. However, the kind of inappropriate closeness between Wasserman and Bellow is, if nothing else, a cautionary tale. Ultimately, authors come to us for our professional services. They need our objectivity and our pragmatism much more than the occasional hand-holding and sympathetic ear we also offer. I’ve seen countless situations where a sort of “transference” takes place between a client and an agent and the expectations (on both sides) cease to be professional and start becoming tinged with the personal and emotional. That doesn’t do anyone any good.

So, is this to say that agents and their clients shouldn’t be friends? Of course not. The creative and financial collaboration between these two parties are often enriched by a professional friendship. But, I think neither party is well served to cross the line and treat the other as you would your best buddy. Your agent is not the person to unload all of your neuroses on just because they’re obligated to take your call and you should start looking for a new agent in Publisher’s Marketplace if your agent begins to unload his marital problems when you call to ask about your royalty statements.

Have any of you had inappropriate dealings with agents or other publishing folks (no need to name names, people)?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Reading is fundamental

by Chasya

I spent a lot of my youth at the Brooklyn Public Library—every Friday afternoon, in fact. The thrill of going to the library with my mom and picking out as many books as I wanted (for free!) was one of the highlights of my week. I’d walk around with my little brother and doggedly search the shelves, working to build up enough books to earn my free RIF book with the Berenstain Bear sticker on the inside cover.  Today is Library Advocacy Day, which will replace National Library Legislative Day this year because of the terrible state many of our libraries our in. With budget cuts being issued nationwide, many of our beloved libraries have been or are in danger of being shut down.

So today, in honor of our libraries and librarians, I welcome you all to share some of your fond library memories. If you’d like to find ways to help, you can visit the ALA website.

Unsold

by Jim
Last week I admitted to having a case of blogger’s block and asked for suggestions for future topics. Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions! Two people wanted to know what happens when we don’t sell a book. And how can I avoid jumping on a topic as upbeat and positive as that?!

So…yes, sometimes agents sign on books and then cannot sell them—usually because the editors who review those submissions are bad and wrong. It’s true! So what happens then? Well…it depends.

Option 1: We recommend to a client that they revise their manuscript according to some specific feedback that we received during the submission process. Sometimes editors offer very constructive feedback. And doors can occasionally be left open by the editor for resubmission should the author rework. There’s nothing wrong with pausing a submission and taking stock of what changes need to be made. As much as we work with clients editorially, sometimes it takes another eye to see a different kind of potential in a manuscript.

Option 2: We recommend that a client table the current project and work on something new. Some books flat out don’t sell. Maybe they’re good novels but not good first novels. Maybe they’re in a genre that’s just glutted in the marketplace. Maybe editors are blind to the genius that we agents have clearly seen in the project and just need the time to recover their sight before we take a project back out at a later date. These things happen. And there’s no shame there. We’re looking to build long term relationships with our clients, and we sign folks on because we believe not just in their project but in them. I’ve had clients who didn’t get a sale until their second or third novel. That’s far from ideal! But it happens sometimes. And in the best agent/client relationships, there is a level of trust and mutual respect—if that is there and two people continue to have faith in each other, you just keep working until you get it right.

Option 3: The least happy of all options. Here’s the thing: the agent/client relationship is a really close one . It depends on a deep level of confidence being felt on both sides. If that confidence is shaken, it can be best to part ways. And that can happen on either side. A client might want to find a new agent to offer a different perspective. Or an agent might be concerned that their vision for how to break the author out has become too murky. You don’t always get it right on the first go, and that’s really unfortunate, but sometimes it just is.

In short, if a book doesn’t sell, you just keep evaluating and asking questions. Why didn’t it sell? Is it the content? Is it the market? Is it the timing? The important thing is that you learn from the experience and you go forward, still chasing publication, still fighting to be heard. This business can require nerves of steel, but the potential reward is great.

Monday, June 28, 2010

What to title your book

by Jane

The question of what to title a book is often an interesting one, and it is also critically important. If the title doesn’t work, the book might not sell, especially if that book is an impulse buy, discovered by a reader browsing in a bookstore—either virtual or bricks and mortar.

A book’s title should do many things:

It should be appropriate for books in its category. You should not, for instance, make the title of a novel sound like a cookbook .

The title should be as descriptive of the book as possible. Yes, I know, so many people cite What Color is Your Parachute? or Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance neither of which described their respective books and both of which were massive bestsellers—but these were extremely unusual cases. Titles, as a rule, should not mislead consumers; they should attract and inform them.

A title should also be “catchy.” Examples include The Tipping Point, Outliers, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, People Like Us, and Napoleon’s Buttons. It should invite the consumer to pick up the book.

Titles should be original; try not to choose a title that has been used by others as this can be confusing, especially in cataloging books. By the same token, you also shouldn’t try to copy successful titles in a way that might deceive the book buyer.

The title should be something that you and your publisher mutually agree on; it is very rare that a publisher will demand that the author accept a title they don’t like. On the other hand, I have learned over the years to carefully listen to the publisher’s ideas—after all it is in their best interests (too) to sell as many books as possible. In fact, often publishers will “try out” different titles on the book buyers at the major accounts—these are important and knowledgeable people and if they feel they are part of the decision making process when it comes to selecting a title, they often are more supportive of the book when it comes to ordering and even displays.

I ran across this recent blog entry about selecting a title and hope you will find it informative and useful. It is written by a book salesman—who seems to care a lot and certain knows his subject

Of course, if you have any additional thoughts on the topic of title selection, I would very much like to hear what you have to say.

Are we too nice?

by Jim

At a writer’s conference a few years back, one of the organizers implored me to, “Keep it happy. No one pays to hear they won’t make it.” Which led to some questions on my part:

First, why single me out? Do I look like such a downer that you have to tell me not to be a schmuck?

More importantly: is it fair to tell publishing pros to keep it peppy so as not to scare off potential paying guests to your next writers conference?

MOST importantly: is it really right to be upbeat all the time?

Listen, I’ve told people time and again that they’re only going to make it if they keep trying. I just wrote a very positive entry for another blog about how determined you have to be to make it in this business. I do believe that wholeheartedly. But sometimes the numbers sneak into the back of my mind, and I think about how many people will never make it. At the risk of discouraging people who haven’t yet reached their fullest potential, are we encouraging people who will never succeed? Is that fair?

Or do the doubts of every writer do enough of the discouraging on their own?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Is it right to encourage everyone? Should we be more brutal than we are?

Friday, June 25, 2010

On nepotism

by Lauren

Trolling the internet for a blog topic, I stumbled across this Gawker piece by Richard Lawson on why one shouldn't hate Simon Rich just because nepotism probably accounts at least somewhat for his success (and recent book-to-film deal).  I'll admit that I had missed this deal announcement, but I probably would've at least scoffed had I first seen it out of this context.

Lawson sums up my (and perhaps the average person's) gut reaction to such things thusly:
But still, in a country where so many doors are closed to so many people, that a twentysomething born into a life of ease can just saunter in and get exactly what he wants on the first try seems to fly in the face of our noble belief in the meritocracy.*
But he also goes on to say that sometimes, we really ought to just suck it up and put all that aside.  As he points out, why bother to wish that other people struggle because we do?  Is it a belief in merit or just envy?  Sometimes geniuinely talented people get an easy in, not because it's the only way they can succeed, but because it's not sensible to reject the easy in on principle.

The piece is well argued, and I think a good reminder not to fall into the trap of begrudging someone success.  In publishing, I think it's especially easy to get caught up in looking for someone to blame.  There's celebrity memoirs; a publishing system full of gatekeepers; bottom line thinking; all the people taking the supposedly (but actually not at all) "easy" way out by writing something trendy or very commercial; and yes, too, the well connected.  But even if the system is imperfect and quality isn't always the deciding factor, where does bitterness get you? 

It's natural to be annoyed, but don't let that drive you.  Sometimes we can all use the reminder to breathe deep and worry not about everybody else, but instead about how to achieve our goals independent of whether anyone else achieves theirs. 

via The Awl


*I learned from the comments to that Gawker post that the term "meritocracy" was coined (satirically) by Toby Young's father, which seems delightfully a propos.

To Kill a Classic

by Rachel

I read To Kill A Mockingbird twice as a high school student—once as an eleventh-grader in Australia, and then again the following year as a senior in the States. I was going to take an American literature course in college which examined the story further, but decided against it; I worried re-reading and overanalyzing the text would ruin the book for me. After reading it a couple of times and liking it, I’m thinking of taking it on once again this summer—as a reader this time, not as an overly analytical student.

Part of my decision to read To Kill A Mockingbird again comes from wanting to prove Allen Barra wrong, after reading his Wall Street Journal article. In this piece, Barra tells his readers that it’s time to “stop pretending that 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is some kind of timeless classic that ranks with the great works of American literature.” He believes there’s no ambiguity in the text of the book; that its “bloodless liberal humanism” is dated, and declares Flannery O’Conner’s writing a far worthier subject for high-school readers.

Allen Barra may complain of the book lacking ambiguity, but I’ve got to admit how much I enjoyed this book—twice. Combining controversial and eye-opening themes of injustice, courage and innocence, with Harper Lee’s simple and elegant narrative style, I think To Kill A Mockingbird is an incredibly relevant piece of literature that I hope will continue to be read in schools for years to come.

Do you think To Kill A Mockingbird is worthy of praise? Or, do you think it’s time to give students something else to read? If you agree with Allen Barra’s thoughts on the book, what do you think should be next on the curriculum for high school kids to read?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Meta-vampires

by Michael

I'm not sure what it is with all the great publishing-related comics lately, but there have been some really great ones. Today, Dinosaur Comics had me cracking up.




If you work in publishing, or even just follow it, you've got to laugh at vampires. I mean, they're EVERYWHERE. You can't get away from them. This comic does a brilliant job of skewering that, but also teaches a great writing lesson at the same time.

There's an issue I've been seeing more and more often: the novel that reads like an outline. I'm not sure it's an epidemic, but it seems to be a growing problem, at least in the submissions I'm seeing. The novels, instead of being active, engrossing and exciting, are instead passive, overly descriptive and not engaging. It comes back a bit to the old saw, "show, don't tell," but it bears repeating. Make sure the action of your novel happens on the page, not in the protagonist's memories. If it's important enough for the reader to know, let us experience it.

So when you're editing your work, think back to this comic. Are you writing an engaging narrative, or are you just describing the experience of reading it?

Newsstand cows

by Jessica
Although this is not directly connected to book publishing, how about this McChrystal flap?

Obviously, there are grave issues at stake here—people’s lives, and the prosecution of a very long, costly war—but at risk of sounding flip, this whole debacle seems to demonstrate that perhaps old media is not so toothless as its many eulogizers have proclaimed. Rolling Stone magazine is culturally relevant in way it hasn’t been for a good long while, and finds itself in the position of not simply breaking news but making news, as US foreign policy is reshaped in response to tales told out of school.

Once upon a time, however, readers would have had to go out and purchase an actual magazine from a newsstand to hear one of McChrystal’s advisers call Joe Biden “Bite-me.” That the full article is (now) but a click away, available for free on-line, must be both good and bad news for Rolling Stone, who apparently delayed posting the piece, perhaps in hopes that their refusal to give away the milk for free might prompt readers to buy a few cows. Of course, with so much of the buzz online, the delay was ill-advised, as their site missed out on some considerable traffic.

I’m curious to get your take, not so much on the General’s ouster (though that is fascinating) but whether you think that the instant access that most people had to the article—as well as the furious on-line discussion that ensued--amplified its effects? Or would this story have played out similarly in the slower days of old media?

Despite the fact that this is unfolding in the world of magazine, and not book publishing, I suspect that my book industry colleagues are taking note; there are certain parallels to the on-going e-book debates. As you probably know, some publishers advocate delaying their publication of a less expensive e-book edition so it will not undercut sales of a front-list hardcover. There are others who believe that making content freely available on-line is the best way to build an audience, and that simply drawing traffic is crucial. I'm not sure that the lessons from the Rolling Stone incident are yet manifest, or can be applied directly to books, but again, I'm interested to know what you think.

P.S. Last week, Publishing Perspectives put out the heads up that Project Gutenberg has made a number of public domain classics available in a variety of e-reading formats for free. Fun!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rejection inspiration

by Stacey

I always like to see success stories, and I know our readers do too. This one really serves as an unusual and inspiring path to publication. Years of rejection, professionally from her writing, and then personally from her husband, led Laura Munson to an essay in the New York Times that landed her a book deal with Amy Einhorn's successful imprint (publisher of The Help) within 48 hours. That is definitely my idea of rejection inspiration!

Relevant much?

by Miriam

Amidst the usual panicky, hyperbolic, and sometimes comical publishing headlines to be found throughout the blogosphere—“Is Fiction Culturally Irrelevant?” “Holly Golightly Is a Call Girl…” (for reals?); “Are Publishers More Worried about eReaders Than Readers?”—the one that caught my eye yesterday was “Where Have All the Mailers Gone?” In this piece, Lee Siegel essentially argues that fiction has no contemporary giants who push the artistic envelope, no rabblerousers who shine their penlights on dark and murky social issues, no literary prodigies able to hold their own against ascendant nonfiction writers who are telling true tales in stylish and entertaining ways (what fiction writers used to do during their glorious heyday).

Ridiculous!

This is the kind of piece that makes me think someone’s more interested in being provocative than making sense (and, really, the piece itself is somewhat incoherent). I love reading Michael Lewis’ work and thoroughly enjoy the political narratives that pass for nonfiction these days (Game Change comes readily to mind) as well as all the Gladwellian theory-of-everything books and the edge-of-your-seat adventures that routinely dot the bestseller lists. But c’mon! What about Dave Eggers? Jonathan Franzen? Jhumpa Lahiri? Joshua Ferris? Junot Diaz? What about Stieg Larsson and Alexander McCall Smith? Is Mr. Siegel really saying that to be “culturally relevant” you have to live your life in the press and stir up more controversy because of your public bouts of immaturity than your writings? (As far as I’m concerned, Norman Mailer’s art was all too often obscured by his life.)

In an age when reality is too much with us, today’s great fiction writers allow us to escape the oppressiveness of the literal while putting our life and times into digestible and often brilliantly entertaining context. What’s more culturally relevant than that?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sizing up the competition

by Jessica

 
“Know your market” is surely one of the Publishing world’s commandments—the “Though shalt” omitted but implied. When I go to conferences, when I read query letters, when I speak to writers about their books, I am always keen to get to the comparison titles, and understand from the author where she sees her book fitting in to the present marketplace. (FYI: Comparison titles, “comp titles” for short, are the books you come up with in answer to the question: “Readers of what books/writers might enjoy your work?”) I encounter such a wide variety of responses to what I believe is a softball of a question that I thought I’d pass on a few thoughts.

 
  • When looking for comp titles, choose successful books. Pointing out books similar to yours that had low or disappointing sales is the best argument against your project. Most houses will interpret the cluster of bad sales as a commentary on the weakness of the category/subject matter.
  • But not so monumentally successful that their track record is sui generis. For example, EAT PRAY LOVE is so often used as a comp that it has become meaningless.
  • Be cognizant of the delayed publishing timeline. I run into many writers who, after studying the competition, tell me that their own writing is at least as good as (insert name of published author here) and if that (name of book sold) surely their own can too. Unfortunately, such reasoning seldom works. Bear in mind that what is being published today was likely acquired the better part of two years ago, and the lackluster reception/performance of the titles in question may be the very reason that your book (or query letter) is rejected. For example, memoir is now an exceedingly difficult category, thanks in part to the sheer quantity of memoirs that have been published. Booksellers are being very, very, choosy about what they buy. So a cursory survey of recently published personal narratives is not necessarily going to tell you what publishers are buying now, and in fact, may reveal why your book faces an uphill battle. For this, you need a subscription to Publishers Marketplace. Remember, most books do not earn back their advances, or sell in any significant numbers, so the odds are stacked against you from the get-go.
  • I thought that name sounded familiar.  Pay particular attention to who the author is. Even in narrative (as opposed to prescriptive non-fiction, where the emphasis is on the writing as much as the information) platform is all. All things being equal, a publishing house is far more likely to take on a book from someone with an established public profile than an unknown author. In some cases, understanding the author’s marketing abilities helps explain why a particular book was bought.
  • Think twice when there’s no competition at all. Every so often, I hear a pitch in which an author is absolutely correct when she tells me that there is no book like hers out there. This may be a terrific opportunity, the oft-looked for “hole” in the market. But it also may be because publishers are convinced that a particular subject won’t work. An editor I know recently bought a book on dealing with bedbugs, a widespread and awful scourge about which no book had been published. It may be that the book will go on to sell thousands upon thousands of copies to the itchy and unhappy victims of bedbug infestations, or it might be that this is info that people can get from the internet, or via their exterminator—I suppose we’ll wait and see.
  • Too close for comfort? In surveying the competition, be mindful that a book need not be exactly like yours to constitute competition. Despite the fact that you have your own distinct take on doing business in China or parenting oppositional children, baking vegan cupcakes or greening the work-place, houses with similar books under contract or on their backlists see little reason to cannibalize their own lists. If you are wading into a crowded marketplace, then it is incumbent on you to: actually read the competition; make certain that your book is both different and better; communicate that difference; and bear in mind that most consumers rarely but multiple titles on a single subject. (Note, this applies almost exclusively to nonfiction).

Fictionalizing Anne Frank

by Chasya

A few weeks ago I asked you all about your thoughts on books that reinvent some of your favorite characters, like Shakespeare’s Juliet. So when I read in the Guardian about a recent dispute centered around Sharon Dogar's book Annexed, a novel that fictionalizes Anne Frank and, as the article put it, “should probably bear the subtitle of Peter van Pel’s Imaginary Diary,” I thought I would bring this to a blog vote as well.

Meg Rosoff makes the point that Anne Frank’s trust has every right to be upset (and says that is, in effect, what they’re supposed to do). She points out, however, that writers should be allowed to write whatever they like so long as they do it well, though she herself doesn’t approve of what Dogar is doing. I, too, feel uncomfortable with the notion of Frank being used this way. As someone who’s read and enjoyed one or two Philippa Gregory novels though, I wonder if this reaction is due more to who the fictional character is based on.

So now I turn to you for your opinion: Has Dogar done something wrong, or does she have the right to use Anne Frank’s history and make it her own?

Monday, June 21, 2010

Source of inspiration

by Jim

We talk all the time about how important it is to use social media to connect with readers. And it IS. But sometimes it’s crazy hard to come up with something to say. I’m fully aware of this. So aware of it, in fact, that I have virtually nothing to say RIGHT NOW.

I’ve been staring at this blank screen as my inbox gets more and more full, and coming up with something to post today becomes a more and more imposing task.

Now, I could give a pretty full breakdown of last week’s episodes of So You Think You Can Dance (Team Billy!) or catch you up with what’s going on with the World Cup (haha…France), but that doesn’t really jibe with the subject matter of our blog.

So instead, let’s talk about something else: writers’ block. Or…bloggers’ block, I suppose. Where do you turn when your mind is just a blank? And is it the same as when you get blocked while writing a book? Different? Better? Worse?

And also, just in case in comes up again that somewhere down the road I have NOTHING to say (which is pretty rare but does happen!), are there any specific requests our readers have for content they’d like to see from me (or us)?

Lastly, is turning it over to the readers to help identify material/content totally lame or totally acceptable?

P.S. I guest blogged in greater detail over at What Women Write today. Check it out!

An author's responsibility

by Jane

The other day I came upon this piece about bestselling author M.J. Rose and it made me realize that there are still many authors who don’t take the bull by the horns and accept responsibility for the process of publishing their books especially in the area of promotion and marketing.

So often I hear clients say that the publisher is postponing publication of their books yet again, and I wonder why they don’t realize that publishers won’t put a book into a final publishing schedule until the final manuscript has been accepted. When the author is late with either his initial delivery or returning his edits, of course his book’s publication is going to be affected.

Then, there’s the author who hates the cover art for his or her book but then doesn’t suggest an alternative. This is part of the authors’ responsibility and it’s why we insist that there be language in the contract offering them consultation on the cover, and while it can be challenging it can also be fun. Ditto for the title. So many authors hate the titles their publishers like; they object, but they don’t come up with any alternate suggestions, and as a result, they are often truly unhappy with their work’s title.

Finally, of course, comes the promotion and publicity and it is here, as M.J. Rose so correctly says, where the author really needs to take full responsibility. No longer are most publishers willing to foot the bill for extensive publicity campaigns for two reasons: 1) they don’t have the money in many cases and 2) most of the methods that were once effective in publicizing a book are no longer working. Today, it is the author’s “job” to promote and sell his or her book—by using social media like Facebook and Twitter, by blogging, by calling on independent bookstores themselves and by doing this every day, especially for the initial six weeks after their book’s publication.

No more can or should an author complain about his or her publisher. This is counterproductive. Instead, the author should take charge in every way possible to get his or her book out into the marketplace and reach a wide reading audience. Only when that has been done effectively can the author become a writer again.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this so let me know.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Pre-published

by Michael

When I was at an SCBWI conference recently, I said something that the entire audience (only about 800 people) thought was hilarious. I first asked how many of the people in attendance were unpublished. A vast majority raised their hands. I looked at them very seriously and said, “Enjoy it. This is a very special time in your career.” That’s when they laughed.

But I meant it, and I mean it. The time before you’re published is the most important part of an author’s career. My thinking about this started in a conversation with an author of mine. (I won’t reveal her name, but she can out herself in the comments if she likes.) When I asked her if she had any advice for the conference goers, she said it was to enjoy the years spent before publication. In the ten years it took her to get her first book published, she said said she never realized how free she was. She meant creatively free. Before publication, when she sat down to write, she could do whatever she wanted. There were no expectations about what she’d write, no deadlines to write to, and no promotional commitments to take her away from her creative time. So she wrote, and revised, and developed her craft on her own, at conferences and with other writers. She’s done very well for herself in her career, and she wouldn’t give any of it up, but she felt that she lost a little something when she became a published writer, and she wished that other authors would stop and enjoy the process.

It’s not easy advice to follow, I know. For anyone with the goal of being published, it’s hard to imagine that life before publication holds anything special. There’s all the butt-in-chair hours spent writing and revising, the query letters to agents, the conferences, the workshops, the critique groups, the rejections, the hopes and hopes dashed. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart. But getting published isn’t the end of much of that, and there are added pressures once you’ve achieved your first goal. Once you’ve successfully sold and published your first book, the question of your second book is right around the corner. The process of selling that book is different, but may be just as agonizing. Often, you’ll be expected to write an outline and sample pages, instead of a whole book. Great, right? You don’t have to write the whole thing! Not so fast — is that how you started your first novel? Many authors don’t approach writing their first book in that way, and they enjoy the time they spent figuring things out on the page; the characters that they didn’t know existed until they started writing, the plot twist they couldn’t have imagined when they began. I had a very successful author ask me yesterday if she could just write the whole book again — she missed the freedom she experience she had writing her first book, which just flowed out of her and took shape as she wrote it. While it sounds fantastic creatively, it doesn’t make as much sense practically. We’d like to have a good idea from her publisher if they’re interested in the book before she goes through all of that work!

Then there’s the pressure to promote and sell your book. The hours spent online social networking, the time spent at conferences and workshops presenting, and if you’re lucky enough to be very successful, the tours, appearances, video chats, book club appearances, media, stock signings (I have an author flying several hours, for only a day, to sign 5,000 books), and whatever else the publisher throws at you. As the author above said to me, when you’re an author, sometimes it’s hard to find time to be a writer.

I know, I know. At this point you’re thinking, “Can these published writers just stop whining? They have the life they always wanted!” It’s true that in many ways they’ve achieved their goals, and I can assure you that none of the authors I’m referencing here are whiners in the least. In fact, they’re unbelievably hard workers who take their jobs quite seriously. But they were all pre-published (as SCBWI is fond of saying) at some point, and I know that they all wish they’d enjoyed that time period more. They wish they’d relished the time when being an author meant only writing. So for those of you who aren’t published yet, remember to enjoy this part of the journey, too.

A shelf of firsts

by Rachel
Reading Ralph Gardner Jr’s Wall Street Journal article on first editions brought back a memory of when I was younger. I remember my Grandfather’s office being crowded by shelves of antiques, souvenirs from abroad, and of course – books! There was a particular bookshelf filled with random books on world history, genealogy, and sports (in fact, there were too many books on cricket for my liking. No one really needs to know so much about that sport, do they?). In a smaller bookcase in the corner of the room, there was a shelf dedicated to first editions. And of course, because my Grandfather treasured these books, they were kept on the highest shelf where grandchildren were unable to reach!

I don’t own any first editions, but because of my Grandfather’s love of them, I’m always interested to know the titles people own, and whether or not they went out of their way to find them, or if the books were simply passed down through the years.

So, if you’re big on first editions, care to share what titles you own and how you acquired them? If not, do you have a first edition title you’d pay a high price for?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The definition of insanity

by Lauren

Reading Miriam's post the other day, I was totally delighted by all the great/bad books.  I'm not sure I can make a top five list, because I'm incredibly contrary and like to overthink lists before I commit to them, but Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and the collected works of Charles Dickens (sorry, Jim!) and John Steinbeck (sorry, Rachel!) would at least be in my top 25.

The thing that struck me most, though, was several of you mentioned reading these books multiple times.  I particularly loved that Kerry went back to a book she hated the first time, which I can't even imagine. I just can't do it, myself.  With very few exceptions (the odd children's book I don't remember well; Gatsby once to try to understand a reference to it that still makes no sense), the only books I re-read are manuscripts I'm editing.  Even when I love the books, I find re-reading has none of the enjoyment for me that reading for the first time does.  I find it near impossible to focus, knowing what's coming next.  (It's probably for the best that I never became a copyeditor, for that and other reasons.)

The idea doesn't bother me: On the one hand, there are so many books to read, it seems a waste to read one of them multiple times.  On the other hand, you're never going to read them all anyway, so what's the harm?  I just can't actually do it in practice.

Anyone else? Re-readers, tell me, why? Do you easily read every word, have no objection to skimming, or struggle with the impulse? And is there a certain kind of book you find re-readable when others aren't? A thriller doesn't sound like much fun the second time. Enlighten me below!

Summer reads

by Jessica

I’m just back from a glorious, albeit brief, not-quite-summer vacation, so have very few substantive publishing insights to share. I was, however, fortunate enough to head out with a few good books tucked into my suitcase. First, The Imperfectionists, which is an arresting and impressive debut novel from former foreign correspondent and editor Tom Rachman. Set at an international English language newspaper based in Rome, something like a second rate International Herald Tribune, each chapter tells the story of a staffer (plus one avid, eccentric reader) ranging from a would-be stringer to a bitter copyeditor to the paper’s miserable CFO. Although these are essentially linked short stories, together they tell a larger tale about this paper in particular and the newspaper business in general (both sliding into oblivion), and the bittersweet, utterly recognizable lives of the men and women who labor on its behalf. The Imperfectionists has garnered terrific reviews—perhaps in part because the people who review books are very often journalists who delight in reading about themselves. But whatever the case, the clever, unorthodox, non-linear structure was refreshing, and for me, a good omen.

There is a fear that the book world is becoming homogeneous; I often hear people complain that the books “out there” are somehow cut from the same cloth. While I hardly think that present publishing climate is some Panglossian best of all possible worlds, I’m still struck by the sheer variety of the books I encounter, personally and professionally.

Indeed, two other new books that vacationed with me—both Book Expo handouts—were also unusually shaped. Neither Antonya Nelson’s Bound—a character driven novel of two disintegrating families, nor The Midnight Choir, by Gene Kerrigan a terrific, gritty Dublin crime novel that weaves together the stories of assorted police and criminals in the now bygone era of the Celtic Tiger, were quite so short-fiction-ish as The Imperfectionists, but each work was expansive and sprawling enough to push the boundaries of the conventional novel.

I also read an ARC for The Thousand by Kevin Guilfoile, a smart but preposterous thriller in the DaVinci Code vein that Knopf is publishing. The premise, that the world is run by warring cults of Pythagoreans (who are involved in more than just geometry), hits all the right notes—arcane ancient knowledge, secret cabals of powerful elites, plus a dose of speculative fiction—but it’s not my cup of tea. I must lack the conspiracy theory gene. I can’t bring myself to believe that any society, secret or otherwise, is so remarkably organized.

I would however, like to know what you’re reading, or planning to read, on vacation. Like Chasya and Stacey, who recently posted on the subject of summers reads, I welcome recommendations.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Paranormal lives on

by Stacey
I'm going to finally meet a client of mine whose YA paranormal trilogy I recently sold to Harper. This recent piece about the ongoing and continued appeal of paranormal is worth reading  if you have an interest in this category, and even if you don't. Many prominent editors and publishers are quoted and share their insight on why so many of these books are thriving, how broad the parameters are for what will work, and it goes on to discuss how these authors and their editors are making an impact online by connecting with their fans. I am confident and hopeful that the interest in paranormal will continue so that more readers will enjoy these escapist, entertaining, and often well executed stories, many of which come from our own DGLM! If you have favorites that you think we'd enjoy, please share and we will check them out.

Reading can be not fun

by Miriam

Reading this fun piece about books that have been “described, whether by critics or the authors themselves, as the Ulyssi of their respective cultures” made me remember how much I loathed James Joyce’s masterpiece when we spent what seemed like five years studying it in a graduate school seminar. Maybe it was our professor’s vaguely fascist insistence that this was a masterwork surpassing all others, or my exhaustion at the tautological discussions of the gorgonzola theme in the book, but this class may have influenced my decision to forgo getting a Ph.D. and venture into the publishing business instead.

We’ve all come across books that other people consider the most, the best, the greatest and that we found unreadable. Here are my top five what-are-people-thinking-when-they-rave-about-them-or-force-you-to-study-them-in-school books (the list is, of course, subject to change):

The Iliad
The Scarlet Letter
Moby Dick
Ulysses
The Catcher in the Rye


What are yours?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I usually say no to bookclubs

by Michael

With all the reading I have to do for work, I’ve turned down a few requests to join book clubs. Plus, in my spare time, I want to be sure I’m reading the things I really want to read, not a book chosen by committee. But if I were going to join a bookclub, I’d love to be in this one. I can dream, can’t I?

And you thought you had problems....

by Chasya

I do love dissecting a good book, and even more so, it’s characters. Which is why this piece by the Wall Street Journal had me at hello. Turns out I’m not the only person who diagnoses fictional characters using the DSM-IV, the bible of psychiatric diagnosis (I also tend to do this to historical figures, just FYI). Turns out, this is a very good teaching tool for psychiatric residents, too. Various universities are now picking apart the neuroses and ticks of your favorite fictional characters. Turns out Twilight’s broody vamp Edward may have a serious case of arrested development, and your favorite Winnie the Pooh characters suffer from everything from generalized anxiety disorder to dysthymia.

I mean, what was up with that Don Quixote? Hearing voices? Believing he’s a knight? Fighting windmills he thinks are actually giants? Clearly delusional disorder, right? As a reader, I find this added layer in character dissection just an interesting topic for discussion. What about you? Any literary characters you would diagnose?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Big boxes and buzz

by Jim

I was out for dinner with a friend and her sister recently, and I mentioned that I had finally read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

“Oh, I’ve been meaning to read that,” said friend’s sister. “I keep seeing it at WalMart.”

“I know! It’s everywhere!” I replied, at this point still enjoying the conversation.

“Well, I just don’t buy books until they’re in the WalMart,” she commented. “Once they’re there, I just know they’re good.”

After briefly choking on my tongue, I asked her to explain. Her theory, which in fairness does make some sense, was that WalMart only carries the most popular books, so once they’re there, they’ve essentially been pre-screened by the public. And okay, that makes a good degree of sense. But in a market where so much great new fiction doesn’t really have a chance to break out, it made me worried about how people choose what to read.

Have we created a system in which only books pre-ordained to bestsellerdom even have a chance? Is there such a thing as a word of mouth bestseller anymore?

It reminds me of when Jonathan Franzen turned down the Oprah book club back in 2001 and made comments alluding to his own discomfort that we trust so few people to tell us what to read and are so willing to jump on board with whatever they point us to. For me, so much of the thrill is in finding something unexpected or something no one else has talked to me about so I can go in with no expectations.

That brings me back to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo which I loved more than most folks I know who have read or tried to read it and which does seem like an honest to goodness word of mouth bestseller. It did get a huge push from its publisher, but as folks have dived in and the rest of the trilogy came out, it has expanded hugely. So the chance for books to break out is there, but…I’m still concerned about the nature of big box retail and its effect on book buying habits.

What about you guys? Do you prefer books you know other people love, or would you rather uncover an unexpected gem? And how do you decide what to read?

I won’t pretend I’m uninfluenced by buzz. I just bought Justin Cronin’s doorstop The Passage this weekend because I’ve heard so many great things. But then I started something else…

The importance of reading your contract

by Jane

Over the past months, we have spoken of the many reasons an author needs an agent, and this week, once again one of them became crystal clear.

On Thursday, June 10th, The Authors Guild sent out an alert to its membership that former Bloomberg Press authors should not sign a letter they had received from John Wiley & Sons which is actually a contract amendment that The Authors Guild maintains will make their contracts with their publisher less favorable to them in numerous ways, which Wiley disputed.

Clearly, if an author didn’t read the letter carefully and understand what it was and what effect it would ultimately have if signed, he or she would most likely have been giving up something unintentionally.

This has happened time and again recently with publishers sending authors letters trying to add electronic royalty rates or alter those that are currently in their contracts. In an age of enormous change in our business, I know this kind of thing will only continue to happen.

Which is why it is all the more important for the author to have his or her agent carefully review all of this correspondence and analyze its effect before the documents/letters are signed and sent back to publishers. Even many lawyers often don’t pick up the nuances of publishing contracts and amendments—another reason having a literary agent is necessary.

I would love to hear your thoughts on these contractual shenanigans and whether you think you have been duped in the past.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The book stays in the picture

by Lauren

There was some great debate in the comments when I tackled foreign rights, so let's move on to another sub right.  It seems like this is the perfect week to talk about film, since Variety just did a piece on the current state of book-to-film, complete with quotes from Jane!  (I always enjoy the Variety lingo--only in LA would we be referred to as a "Gotham-based" agency.  Clearly Batman was rights director before me. )

So we've already talked about foreign, which takes up the most time and generates the most deals, but film and television is the big one on a per deal basis in terms of money. On the one hand, a big film means big money for the author (though as Jane points out, not as big as it used to be).  That said, the percentage of books that ever reach the screen is tiny. Of those that don't, a slightly larger percentage will have the rights bought but will never be made. Another slightly larger bunch will be optioned--meaning a studio or production company has the right to try to get the funding to outright buy the rights to the material. Options, however, usually lapse before any significant progress is made.

I've heard it said that the ideal situation for the author is for the option producer to get enough traction to keep optioning and eventually buy the rights, but never make the movie.  Though I don't know how many authors would really want to lose the upside—significantly inflated booksales—to get rid of the downside—a corrupted version of the story they wrote making it into the world.

A literary affair to remember

by Rachel

Ever wondered what would happen if your two favorite authors hooked-up and penned a book together?

Well, I have, and so has Caroline Hagood, who gives us a rundown on her top 5 literary hook-ups in her article on Huffington Post.

I don’t know about you guys, but pairing Franz Kafka with Chuck Palahniuk sounds like a mind-bending literary experience. Maybe a Stephen King and Dostoevsky combination could work wonders too. But why stop with fiction? How about Julia Child and Albert Camus hooking up – they’d create a delicious and absurd little cookbook together that I’d definitely want to read.

Fancy any literary hook-ups yourself?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

They did name it Kindle

by Michael

As you may have learned from a previous post, a few of us at DGLM are fans of xkcd. This comic that ran the other day really tickled my funny bone.



But it also made me wonder: in this age of digital media, what will be the equivalent of book burning or record smashing (I guess this one has been CD smashing for a while)? How will outraged preachers and parents show their disapproval?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Publishing myths uncovered

by Stacey

I came across this recent piece by former editor Erin Brown about the top 10 publishing myths that I wanted to share. She talks about a number of very interesting topics that are worth thinking about at any number of points in your publishing career. There's advice that's applicable to published authors about the market and what kind of support they are likely to get (or not get) from their publisher. And there is a lot of good advice for unpublished authors about the process, and especially from a personal perspective, about agents (yes, you need an agent and bigger is not necessarily better! See cute illustration).

I feel like most of them are just discussion starters, like #4, Publishers take care of all your marketing and publicity. I tell all of my clients that the reality is that if we are able to find a publisher for their work, that publisher will do very little to market and promote their book. It has less to do with lack of interest or enthusiasm, but rather that they have limited resources, including staffs that have been cut but are still responsible for the same number of books to market and promote. Plus more and more the books that work (certainly on the nonfiction side) have author platforms that enable books to practically sell themselves.

I also tell clients that if they are able to hire an outside, freelance publicist from their advance or other savings (this can be expensive, but can also be well worth the investment) that they should consider it seriously and discuss it with their editor and agent to see if it makes sense for that particular book. If you do hire a publicist to help launch a book, they work for you and have your interests in mind, and can work with the publisher's publicity department to coordinate efforts and avoid duplication (important!). I can't tell you how many authors I've had who have had bad experiences with their well-meaning but overworked in-house publicists.

Take a look and let us know if you agree or disagree with her ideas, and either way, I think they bring up some interesting food for thought.

Technical difficulties

by Lauren

Hello there, blog readers!  I've recently been alerted to a couple technological snafus related to our blog.   Fortunately, you guys have been super helpful in the past, so I'm coming back for more.  In the eternal tech conundrum, it's near impossible to troubleshoot a problem you can't replicate, so naturally both these things don't appear to be an issue on our end (and we haven't changed any settings recently, related or otherwise).

First DGLM client Joelle Anthony let us know that sometime in April or so, she stopped being able to comment on our blog.  Here's what she says:

"Just so you know, what happens is I click comment, the window opens, I type my comment, I choose my name and URL (I’ve also tried anonymous) and then when I hit post, instead of word verification coming up like it used to, everything just disappears and I’m back reading the comments that are already there."

She can comment on blogs where comments are formatted like this: http://anthonysundaysoup.blogspot.com/ but not on blogs where comments are formatted like ours: http://ramblingsofadevotedbookworm.blogspot.com/.


And second we heard via Facebook from reader Mark Janousek that lately our blog entries don't show up in his Facebook news feed.  I suspect Facebook's the culprit here, with their constant setting switches and such, but I don't see a way to change those settings. 


I still get the blog feed on my Facebook and have no problem commenting on our blog.

So for both questions: a) does anyone know why that happens?, b) does it happen to anyone else?, c) has anyone narrowed down the circumstances under which it happens to a narrower set?, and/or d) does anyone know what settings I need to tweak?


If you can't comment, please feel free to email me at labramo@dystel.com with any answers to the above!

Thanks in advance, guys, and thanks especially to Joelle and Mark for giving us the heads up!

From Vlad to RPatts

by Miriam

Around these parts, everyone knows that my love of vampires long precedes the Twilight phenomenon. Robert Pattinson was probably still in diapers when I was falling in love with Anne Rice’s Lestat and I remember then-starting-out agents at DGLM rolling their eyes at me when I suggested that they fill their lists with vampire books. One who took me seriously was Jim McCarthy and he’s got the delightful and talented Richelle Mead and her Vampire Academy series, among others, to show for it.

Thing is, it made sense for people to be skeptical. Before Stephenie Meyer re-energized the vampire tale with her sparkly bloodsuckers, this was a tired literary standby. As Meg Cabot reminds us vampires have been around longer even than Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, and, throughout the ages, they have preyed on our imaginations precisely because they traffic in the two most powerful human preoccupations: sex and death.

I’ve been hearing a lot about The Passage, Justin Cronin’s contribution to vampire lit (the description of which makes me think of a cross between 28 Days Later and The Road), including Stephen King’s over-the-top praise of the novel. It’s expected to be one of the summer’s blockbusters. We publishing people are forever trying to predict trends (a fool’s game in the best of times), and we at DGLM often ask ourselves whether the vampire mania is subsiding or getting ready for yet another resurgence. Is it too late to be signing up yet another vampire novel? Or am I right in thinking that this genre will, ahem, never die?
What do you all think?

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The perfect summer list?

by Chasya
Last week on the blog, Stacey touched on children’s summer reads which got me thinking: what exactly makes something a good summer read? I mean, I’m no stranger to parking myself on the beach with a good book. Last year while reading a manuscript I managed to burn myself so badly I had trouble sitting for a week. Suffice it to say I’ll be back on the beach a lot this year (albeit with a lot more sunscreen and maybe an enormous umbrella for protection—weekend weather permitting) and enjoying holidays with some tome or another. In the past all sorts of things made it into my pile: literary fiction; thrillers; chick-lit; light mysteries; the most touted and well-publicized book of the month; a less obscure book a friend just happened to own and love. There was no rhyme or reason for why something made it into my summer reading pile.

So this year I decided to do some more research to determine what I should be reading. What qualifies as a “good summer read?” Is it the breezy, fast-paced thriller that you can consume in one sitting or the literary epic you don’t have time for all year and finally—finally—get the chance to pick it up on your staycation or on Independence Day weekend?

Well, I did do some research, and suffice it to say that it seems like everyone and their grandmother has submitted their lists for the summer. Salon’s got it’s “nail biting summer reads” made up of riveting thrillersHere NPR lists 15 summer picks of a decidedly more highbrow variety. The Los Angeles Times has got its exhausting and varied 60 Titles for 92 Days list, comprised of new releases. Nina Sankovitch has got her list of six which include both thrillers and epics on HuffPo. According to her, good summer books “tell great stories about unique characters; evoke vernal landscapes of abundant, lush growth or of hot and dusty cobblestones, or of languid humidity; and end with a bang.”

I could go on and on but I’ll stop here. In short, I discovered rather quickly that I’m on a fool’s errand (it’s not the first time, and I doubt it will be the last). When it all comes down to it, it’s what you want to read the most and what will keep your eyes glued to the page for hours that will really lead you to your ultimate summer list. As for me, I love my breezy effortless reads as much as I love hunkering down to those endless and enthralling books that can keep you from getting out of bed for days. I’ve started Kathryn Stockett’s much touted and much lauded novel The Help, which I can already tell fits these criteria and is going to keep me busy for a little while.

So now that I’ve scoured reading lists galore, tell me what’s on yours! I’m also open to suggestions, because there’s no better way to build your reading list than by word-of-mouth!

Reading bad authors

by Chasya

Moby Lives poses an interesting question in their delightfully titled post “When Your Favorite Writer is a Dirtball.” The quandary is pretty self-explanatory: whether to read books by your favorite authors even thought they have unsavory personal views and habits. I, for one, am in the camp that believes that if we limit ourselves this way there would be nothing to read, particularly when it comes to a lot of less contemporary work, written when it was perfectly acceptable—nay expected—to have sexist, racist and homophobic views. William Faulkner, for instance, was a sexist alcoholic, but that doesn’t make The Sound and the Fury any less brilliant in my humble opinion.

Do you agree or disagree, readers? Should we also perhaps be looking at this on a case by case basis?

Monday, June 07, 2010

Signing in the Waldenbooks

by Jim

We’ve spent a lot of time lately talking about how important internet promotion is and how social media is changing the face of book marketing. Lots of folks are ready to embrace the shift. Others are more reticent. But in this delightful YouTube clip, author Parnell Hall shows just how flawed some of the more traditional means of publicity are and why some folks should be thankful they aren’t sent on book tours.

Changes can be positive

by Jane
This last week, there was yet another major upheaval in the book publishing business. Jon Karp, formerly founder and Publisher of Twelve, a division of Grand Central Publishing, was named Vice-President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster. Many will shake their heads and say this is just another instance of a major publishing layoff (Jon replaces David Rosenthal who had been Simon & Schuster’s Publisher for the last 13 years).

I don’t agree. Jon Karp has proven himself to be a publisher of great vision and he is a solid communicator, something our business desperately needs. In my opinion, he also has superb taste. For many months, if not longer, the word on the street has been that “little Simon” as the company is known, was not doing well. Sales were down and there has been an exodus of valuable and talented editors. Hopefully, this change will result in a turnaround.

Indeed, many of my colleagues have been wringing their hands of late at the number of recent changes at the executive level of the major publishers, and it is true that some truly wonderful people have lost their jobs. My hope though is that this restructuring will lead those companies doing it in new, positive and profitable directions. If that happens, we will all benefit--authors, agents and publishers alike. So, though change can be nervous making, my hope is that all of these moves will bring positive results to our beloved world of book publishing.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Kicking ass and taking names

by Lauren

This weekend I went away for Memorial Day to a beautiful riverside cabin in the woods upstate. At one point, sitting by the riverbank in the sunshine, I looked up from my book to take note that all five of us were reading when we could’ve been doing anything we wanted. (We’d all packed more than one book even though we were limited to one duffel bag each—just in case.) It warmed my heart, I tell you. There was also much discussion of what we were reading—particularly of the third book in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, which one person had brought along and another had already read.

People who’ve read these particular books tend to invoke the heroine’s enviable toughness. I’m often struck by conversations about a heroine so badass that it makes the book worth reading, because it’s not something I can really recall experiencing. I like to think I’m pro-woman (at the very least because I am one, and I’m pretty pro-me) and have a good handle on which ladies supposedly kick ass, but I don’t have that gut reaction of identification or aspiration or whatever it is that so many women (and men) I know do to a tough heroine and the book in which she lives. Of those incredible female characters I can identify off the top of my head, they’re really supplied by my childhood reading: Laura Ingalls; Pippi Longstocking; Jo March, up until the regrettable point that she ditches Laurie for the old German at which point I pretend the book is over so that I can still love it; etc. When I think of my favorite characters from non-children’s books, they’re really all men. As are a large percentage of my favorite authors.

I’m not 100% sure it matters—a great book is a great book, and a great character is a great character—but I still feel like I must be missing something. So this summer, I’m challenging myself to focus my personal reading on amazing women.

Here’s where you come in: since my natural reading proclivities have been steering me the wrong way, I’m going to need a list. I’ll stick Larsson on there, but I’m feeling the overwhelming buzz kick up my contrarian nature, and I’m just not ready to tackle the girl or her dragon tattoo quite yet. So below, let me know your favorite female characters, your favorite female authors, and why (without spoilers), and I’ll give as many as I can a shot. Then I’ll let you know how I fare when the summer is through!

A personal history of reading

by Rachel
A couple of posts ago I mentioned not being able to finish reading Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, despite desperately wanting to. It always seems like such a shame to begin reading a book and then put it aside mid-way. So, I was quite happy to read Sonya Chung’s article on The Millions which details her personal history of reading: books she has read, books she should have read, books she read but felt she shouldn’t have, books she tried to love but just couldn’t read anymore, and so on.

I thought it was a good idea to analyze my own reading and would like to share with you my number one choices for each of Sonya’s categories (please don’t judge!):

The Number One Book I Did Not Finish But Very Much Want To Try Again
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

The Number One Book That I’ve Already Tried More Than Once But Couldn’t Engage With, I Don’t Know Why
The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Number One Book That I Found Mostly Painful and Likely Will Not Revisit
Rabbit at Rest by John Updike

The Number One Book I Shlogged Through and Almost Abandoned, But Kept On; No Pay-off, I Felt, In the End
Museum of Innocence by Orham Pamuk

The Number One Book I Struggled Through, Maybe Put Down For a While, But Finished and Am Very Glad I Did
Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

Now that my taste in reading has been analyzed, care to share your list?

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Authors behaving badly

by Jessica
Abandon all high-mindedness all ye who enter here.

This week the Daily Beast has a gallery of literary feuds, which is as appalling as it is entertaining. How did I miss that Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead at a 2004 Poets & Writers event in retaliation for a bad review? That the always pugnacious Norman Mailer head-butted Gore Vidal in the green room of the Dick Cavett show may not be too surprising, but whenever events allow us to spy that (sometimes significant) gulf between an artist and his or her creation, I cannot help but marvel: how is it that the same people who possess such extraordinary insight into human behavior can acquit themselves so poorly? On one hand, given that most of these featured feuds took place before digital media existed to fan the flames, I suppose it’s reassuring to see that people were petty and peevish even before they had recourse to blogs or tweets.

Interestingly, there are those who complain that the current literary landscape has become too genteel and booster-ish, that punches are pulled for fear of censure. (Dale Peck, apparently, missed this memo. So too Paul Berman). In a 2006 article in the NYT Book Review, columnist Rachel Donadio wrote about the literary feud as an endangered species “To some, the paucity of feuds is connected to the larger state of literary culture. ‘It’s not because we no longer have feuds,’ said Fran Lebowitz, the writer. ‘It’s because we no longer have literature.’ "  This strikes me as somewhat dire—I’m not convinced that there is clear and direct relationship between literary merit and public sniping. What do you think?

Have you any favorite literary feuds?

For the forgetful

by Michael

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time keeping track of all the books I've read. I'm pretty sure I'll never again be able to recall everything I read in high school and college, and as I read more and more submissions, books just slip from my brain. We do a book club here at work, and I'm often surprised when I read the coverage I did—I'd say I forget about a good third of the books.

But now there's an app to help me remember! The BookLover app lets you keep track of the books you've read, what you're currently reading, and what you want to read. It's really simple, but seems pretty helpful. If anything is keeping me from buying the app, it's that "currently reading" section. I'm afraid every book I start but don't finish will live there forever, quickly eclipsing the books I've finished!

Do you need help remembering the books you need to read? Or are you all elephants?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Summer reading for kids

by Stacey
Now that unofficial summer has begun, I find myself thinking about all the things I want to do that I don't have time for this summer, including lots of summer reading for the whole family. Because my oldest daughter is starting kindergarten in September, I thought it would be fun to check out this summary from about.com for a varied assortment of summer reading lists for kids.  It's a very eclectic collection of lists, and titles, and I'm hoping to be able to track down at least a few new books for us all to enjoy this summer, before it's too late and we're talking about back to school!

The right match....

by Miriam

One of the myriad things we do around here is come up with book ideas. Then, we try to match those ideas with the appropriate writers, help them develop the concept, and hopefully sell the resulting proposal to a publisher for big buckaroos.

“Well, duh!” you might be thinking right about now. “That’s what you agent types are supposed to do.”

And, yes…well, yes. But creating this perfect match between idea and writer is harder than you might think. It can be immensely frustrating to come up with an idea that could be the next Tipping Point only to come up empty in terms of who will be the next Malcolm Gladwell. When we look to our client list to create a match, we often fail. The client in mind might have the right credentials but is probably working on his/her own book and won’t be available until that is delivered. He or she might also just have no interest in the subject we’re so excited about. The other approach is to go out and find journalists, professors, bloggers, etc., and pitch the idea to them in the hopes that it sparks their interest. And, of course, they have to be available – not represented by another agent or busy with another book project.

This type of matchmaking is time consuming and often fruitless but when it works, it’s immensely gratifying. There’s nothing better than seeing your brain child go out into the world and make good.

Right now, for instance, I’m looking for someone who can write lucidly and anecdotally about mathematics and philosophy to do a book on “guesswork”. Any takers?

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Retelling stories

by Chasya

One of the many galleys being distributed at BEA this year was the much-hyped Juliet by Anne Fortier, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. I was skeptical. Really, I thought, how many times have we seen this done? I mean, I can’t go anywhere without staring at Amanda Seyfried’s face on either a poster or trailer for the film Letters to Juliet. Jim alluded to this in his post about knock-off queries, and I also can’t but help but wonder, can’t writers and artists think of something original for a change? (Harsh, I know.)

And then I stumbled on Cory Doctorow’s list of Pulitzer-winning works that came into existence by doing something similar—riffing off of something that already existed.  I always knew that Rent, which is on the list, was a retelling of La Boheme (and for someone who’s not crazy about musicals, I’m crazy about Rent) but I didn’t really know there were so many others in this category that received the illustrious Pulitzer Prize.

Doctorow categorizes these award-winners as fanfic, and, as he says, provides the list “as a service to writers who believe that fanfic is ‘immoral, illegal, plagiarism, cheating, for people who are too stupid/lazy/unimaginative to write stories of their own.’”

Though I’ve never felt terribly offended by fan fiction, I’m no longer feeling the cynicism that tickled the back of my brain when I first read about Fortier’s new book.

What about you, readers? For you skeptics, has this article affected you? Are you willing to give these reboots another chance?

To BEA or not to BEA

by Jane
So, as we've already mentioned, last week was Book Expo, and it took place mid-week for the first time in its history (I believe) and was shortened from three and a half to two days of exhibits with an additional meeting day. The question this raises for me is how relevant is BEA anymore; is it necessary and will it continue?

Historically this annual meeting was known as the American Books Sellers Association (ABA) meeting. It began in the basement of the Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., and was held annually—initially over Memorial Day Weekend. The convention’s purpose was for book publishers to present their fall publishing lists to bookstore owners who would actually place their orders on the floor. Those in attendance from the publishing companies were mainly sales people with some executives making an appearance now and then; editors weren’t included.

Over the years, the ABA convention grew larger and larger. More and more publishers added more and more staff and they began to build larger and larger exhibits. The ABA outgrew the Shoreham and was moved to a convention center in Washington and then began traveling to a different city in different parts of the country each year.

The convention has been held everywhere in the continental U.S. from Chicago, to Los Angeles and Anaheim, to San Francisco, Las Vegas, New Orleans and even Miami (I remember that ABA well—for many reasons, it was a disaster). And each year it grew, with publishers spending more and more money on their exhibits, and having hugely lavish parties to entertain booksellers, authors and agents.

Slowly but surely foreign publishers began to participate and the ABA became a rights fair as well, sort of a mini-Frankfurt (before the London Book Fair grew as large as it now is).

Then as the chains became all powerful and publishers took orders on fall books from these huge accounts before the ABA (or at least outside of the convention), that reason for the meeting became irrelevant. Smaller accounts also started to order less at the meeting and more in other ways and at other times.

Publishers began to realize that the enormous sums of money spent on exhibits, on parties and on travel could not be justified. Displays began to get smaller; some publishers skipped years coming and eventually the exhibit was sold to an organization that became Book Expo. Now, it is a truncated and less interesting event.

My question is what really happens at BEA nowadays? Sure, it is wonderful to see old friends, but the individual exhibits are so small now that one can’t even find the fall books one is looking for. Last week I saw very little activity at the parts of the convention occupied by foreign publishers and the exhibits were downsized from two floors to one in the Javits Center. Very little actual business in terms of the initial book ordering is done anymore and with the other rights fairs around the world, those sold at BEA for the most part are also insignificant.

As I wandered around the floor last week at BEA 2010, I honestly thought to myself that the money still being spent by publishers on this meeting could be much better allocated toward finding new and effective ways to sell books in an age when our business is changing enormously and very quickly.

I would love to know what those of you who have participated in BEA in the past think about all of this.