Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy holidays and see you in 2011!

by Michael

All of us at DGLM wish you, our loyal blog readers, the happiest of holidays. We're stepping away from the office till the new year and the blog until January 10th, so it's going to be quiet around here until then. But we have some exciting things in store when we return, and I think it's safe to say that 2011 is going to be our best year of blogging yet. Thanks so much for all your comments, questions and support, and we'll see you again in the new year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Holiday library reading

by Stacey

Since most of us are pretty much doing everything we can to check out early before the holidays begin, I thought it would be fun and easy to share this piece from the Seattle Times literary page that lists the top 10 books taken out from The Seattle Library in 2010. It's a chance to see what Americans, at least in Seattle, are really reading. There aren't any big surprises on the list, but I am personally happy to see the #1 book, The Help, is a first novel. Very incredible in this market that a first time author can find the kind of success that Kathryn Stockett has found with this book. It's also interesting to see the kind of nonfiction that makes the list. Smart, thought-provoking titles, Outliers and Food Rules, books that allow the reader see every day things in a unique and different way. And I'll be picking up a copy of I Stink to read to my kids over the break. I'm curious to know more about this book that made the list alongside all of these adult titles. I hope you'll find something from this list or elsewhere to read over the holidays, and take the time to relax and enjoy family, friends, and a good book. We'll look forward to sharing a lot more publishing-related news and views in the New Year!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

As these age things go....

by Stephanie

What can I say? With four days left until Christmas, my brain is admittedly floating somewhere near the ledge of the ninth floor window next to my desk. However! Before I escape to the land of fried desserts and chocolates more commonly known as my home, I wanted to pass along this great interview with Kody Keplinger. Her debut novel The Duff, is a contemporary young adult work that has received strong reviews since its release in September. But what is more notable about Keplinger’s career is that The Duff came out when she was only eighteen, an accomplishment that admittedly doesn’t happen too often. I guess the first thing that came to mind as I read this was the influence something like age can have on one’s writing. Certainly, being eighteen puts Keplinger in a unique position to write about common issues surrounding high school students. Which led me to wonder about the ways in which a person’s writing evolves over the years. Could you imagine yourselves being published, or completing a full novel for that matter, at age eighteen? Do you think your current work-in-progress would have the same feel had you written it during your teen years? Certainly I’m inclined to say no to the latter question, but I’m curious as to the nuances and evolutions you have found in your own writing styles and methods as time has passed. What do you feel is the same, different, etc?

So my parting gift to you this Christmas is the renewed mantra to continue writing, revising, and querying. It’s all an ongoing process that takes practice and dedication…but you already knew that. Wishing everyone a relaxing and productive holiday break, and I look forward to seeing your material in the New Year!

Train of thought echoes in the memory....

by John

Saw this notice in the Times today. To quote: “Train of Thought, the program that placed literary quotations from the likes of Kafka and Schopenhauer in the unlikely locale of a packed New York City subway car, is being removed, two years after it assumed the mantle of subterranean high culture from Poetry in Motion.”

Like most New Yorkers, I spend the majority of my time on the subway with my headphones on and my face buried in a book or newspaper in a vain attempt to block out the rest of my fellow citizens. But whenever I come up for air, it’s always a small pleasure to see a quote from Shakespeare or Mark Twain sandwiched between ads for Dr. Zizmor’s skin treatments. Not that these literary snippets offer a ton of insight, but just the fact that the MTA would provide booksish distractions always makes me smile.

But I suppose all good things must come to end, and the kicker is that the MTA will be using the Train of Thought space for updates on maintenance and other customer service ads. Considering the glacial rate of improvement on the subway, I’d think some heady words from Proust would do more to keep people in a good mood than chipper service updates that don’t square with reality.

Hence, to all you writerly riders, a modest holiday plea: let the MTA know we want our poetry back! For, to mangle a quote (boy, I really DO need Train of Thought), what profit the subway to gain more ad space and forfeit its soul?

Monday, December 20, 2010

Three tiny kids and a guy

by Lauren

Looking up some contact information in our database, I was reminded of my very favorite thing about it: small notes, devoid of context, that give a strange glimpse into our conversations with editors.  The stand out stars of the “notes” section of our contacts are surely that one editor has “three tiny kids” and another (whose name is not one you’d come across often) “is a GUY!”  I like to imagine the shock and surprise of the assistant who’d picked up the phone to discover a deep, masculine voice attached to a name he or she had previously assumed belonged to a woman.  (I also am not entirely certain that one wasn’t me, back when I was Jane’s assistant an alarmingly high number of years ago.)  I also imagine the kindly editor who sat across from one of my colleagues at a lunch meeting and showed off pictures of her miniature children, perhaps posed next to objects of regular stature for comparison purposes.  That note has been in there long enough that the tiny kids are probably not so tiny any more.

Most of the notes, though, are actually quite usefulsuch and such a person is obsessed with dogs or used to be a ballet dancer or absolutely cannot stand misery memoirs. When we submit our projects, we’re working not only on the parameters of a publisher’s and editor's list and our personal interactions with them, but with the company’s collective knowledge of what makes them tick and gets them excited. Excitement is the huge intangible of the publishing process. And when we just happen to have a book about dogs or dance or misery, we know where to goor where not to.

For authors looking for agents, I suspect the best resources out there are the blogs and websites and Twitter feeds and what have you of the agents themselves.  We do suffer sometimes from too many queries quoting our own bios back to us, sending us things that are far off base because they might have a common keyword.  I think all the agents who’ve been here a while have at one point or another edited a reference out of our descriptions of ourselves or our lists, because we found it led too many people down the wrong path.  But more often than not, these little factoids about us and our interests point people the right way.  While we do share queries amongst ourselves and know each other’s taste well, it’s always nice to look at a batch of newly arrived queries and see that several of them are on a subject that we’re already really enthusiastic aboutit doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but a book on a subject that usually bores us has to be that much more amazing to even catch our eye.  Much as agents train themselves to see the difference between “I like this” and “this is good” (and “I don’t like this” and “this is bad”), we’re still human, and with all the reading at night or on the weekends, it’s a real pleasure to come across the projects that we’d happily buy off the shelves if they had nothing to do with us.

So when you’re querying us, if it’s because an off-hand reference in one of our blog entries made you realize we just might be the right advocate for your book, please do let us know!  It always helps us to know why you wanted us to read your work.

What I plan to read on my vacation

by Jane

It is always so difficult for me to choose what I want to read while away on a real vacation. I have so little time to read for pleasure that picking the perfect titles is incredibly challenging. My family and I are going away for eight days after we close up shop for the holidays and there will be plenty of time for me to go through at least three books.

I thought I’d share with you what I’m taking with me. BUT, if you have any other ideas I would love to hear what they are and why you recommend them:

Mockingjaythe third in The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I have just finished the second book and cannot read another thing until I finish the trilogyso this is definitely the first on my list.

The Room by Emma Donoghue. Ever since I first read a description of this novel, I have wanted to read it. And Jim and Lauren in our office loved it. Those are the two very important reasons why I am definitely taking this one along.

The Ghost Writer by Robert Harris. The idea of this book is really intriguing and since we work with so many ghost writers, I know I am going to enjoy this one. Plus, of course, Miriam loved itwhich in itself is a great reason for me to take it along.

In between, I am looking forward to reading Playing with Fire, the manuscript from my client Pam Constablea book about Pakistan which we have very high hopes forand the manuscript for Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François’s new book Pizza and Focaccia in Five Minutes a Day, which was just turned in to the publisher and is bound to become another bestseller for the authors.

I figure that should keep me busy. I’ll also try to fit in some sleeping and eating and, of course, golf.

A very happy and healthy holiday to you all. We will be back in the New Year with some exciting new things to share with you.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Agent eat agent

by Jim

Holy animosity, Batman! In one of the more unexpected blog posts I’ve read lately, agent Betsy Lerner took aim at people she hates: namely, literary agents. Including (it seems) herself!

Betsy equates the publishing tradition of agent/editor lunches to having someone shit on her face. Now, I’ve had some bad lunches, but… She then goes on to describe agenting as “being a professional sleaze bag.”

I’m not gonna lie. When I first read this, my hackles raised, and I muttered something like, “What a load of [string of expletives].” But that was defensive me talking. (Defensive me has a really dirty mouth). I quickly settled down, but I still don’t really agree with Betsy’s take.

I’m sure there are editors who hate agents and agents who hate editors, and I know there are terrible people in every business. But for the most part, I enjoy my colleagues on both sides of the divide. More importantly, I love being an agent. Which is why I do it!

My take is that if you feel like you’re being a sleazebag, maybe you’re doing something wrong. Or maybe you’re just approaching things in the wrong way. The interests of client and publisher are often very similar: let’s get the best book out there and make the most money. There are differences of agreement, rights to battle over, and money to beg for (the best part!), but in the end, there aren’t two oppositional sides in this business. At least, there certainly shouldn’t be.

Which is all to say, I think it’s possible to agent with dignity and respect. Yes, agents are often the bad guyswe send out the most rejections, we’re pushy on behalf of our authors, and some of us can be aggressive as hell, but it’s being done for the good of authors and in support of books. I can’t find fault with that.

As delightful agent Ginger Clark passionately stated in the comments, Cobb salads are delicious. Still, I wouldn’t be overly concerned if someone was tired of eating them. In terms of an agent cracking a joke that they can figure out what 15% of any number is…okay, I’ve totally used the same joke a ton of times. I thought it was funny! But apparently I was shitting on people’s faces. Oops!

So what do you say? You hate us when we reject you, but sometimes you secretly love us, right? Some of us are super nice and totally respectful. Pinkie swear.

And what to my wondering eyes should appear

by Rachel S.

Oddly, I was thinking about the holidays this morning, and my thoughts turned towards home and the traditions my family reenacts year after year. In addition to the usual cookie baking and tree trimming, every Christmas Eve, we pull out a small stack of Christmas picture books to read aloud. When it came time to put the children’s books in the attic to make room for everything else that needed to go on mine and my brother’s bookshelves, the Christmas stories stayed behind.

There’s something about the holidays that is inherently childlike. No other time of year asks one to suspend disbelief so fervently, and most do so without question or reason. While the stories themselves are simple and already well ingrained in my memory, so much that I should hardly have any reason to actually look at the books themselves, I still pull them out every year as chocolate chip cookies bake in the oven. It wouldn’t be Christmas without The Night Before Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, The Jolly Christmas Postman, and the books whose titles I can’t remember – especially the story about the mice who want their own little Christmas tree like the big one in the farmhouse and finally get a scrap small enough for their mouse hole after all the animals in the forest have had their piece, too.

I’ll never tire of these books, I know it, and will hopefully always have them to read when Christmas Eve comes around each year. Whether my dad is reading them to me and my brother or I’m reading them aloud to my own children (someday), the magic and wonder of the holiday season will forever be alive in these books. What are the holiday stories that bring you back to your childhood? Which books will never be forgotten and keep the spirit of the season renewing year after year?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

A little pre-Christmas humor

by Michael

This video, by David Kazzie of The Corner blog, while a little on the long side, had my colleagues and me laughing. For all of you hard-working, already-published or aspiring writers out there, it can be difficult when you encounter someone who knows nothing about books or publishing but decides to write a book anyway. And this is how you'll want to react--if you're a bit crass and don't mind a few four-letter words. (Ok, so this is what I might say!) And with so many people mentally checked out of work, you should have a few minutes of fun, too.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Writers dish about editors

by Stacey

I enjoyed reading this piece from The Awl written by five published authors who write candidly (sometimes very candidlycheck out Emily Gould's piece) about their experiences with their editors. There's so much great behind-the-scenes information in here about the publishing processhow agents work, how editors acquire books (or sometimes lose out to others), and how different each individual experience is. Even though it's written from different points of view, this piece speaks to how unpredictable the publishing process can be. Each author makes some wise observations about what you can expect, what you might actually get, and how frustrating and/or refreshing that can be depending on where you fall on that curve! The idea that editors are overworked and that your book isn't the only one on their list is something that authors and agents alike sometimes forget to take into consideration, so it's a good point. It also illustrates to me how important perspective is, both in your publishing career and in anything else you do in life.

In this piece, you're getting the scoop from those who have been through it. I hope you all find some good takeaway, or at the least an entertaining read, and ultimately see this a positive take on the publishing process. For me, even as an insider (or maybe because I'm an insider and know many of the players), there's a lot of juicy stuff in here!

The good, the bad, and the unputdownable

by Miriam

One of the assets of a pricey liberal arts education is that you can turn on the literary pretentiousness with the best of them and then tuck down with your popcorn title of choice, feeling confident in the fact that you know the difference between what’s great and what’s the intellectual equivalent of a Twinkie. Aside from the days of suffering through various soporific graduate school seminars, I’ve never really spent much time agonizing over my literary tastes. I pretty much read from every category of fiction and nonfiction and can find value and entertainment in all but the most execrable writings.

Which is why I like this piece by Laura Miller in Salon. Sure, Dan Brown, Stieg Larsson and James Patterson* may not be on same artistic level as Jonathan Franzen, Ian McEwan, and Ann Patchett, but as their legions of fans will attest, you can’t put down their books once you’ve started them. You may hate yourself in the morning, but you’ll stay up way past your bedtime to get through every last pagefull of clichés, awkward character development, ridiculous plot twists and workmanlike prose though they may be. Thing is, a good story is a good story is a good story. And, there is craft (and sometimes genius) in telling a good story whatever the author’s writing abilities. There is a great deal of bad writing in my life that I am grateful to have read. And, I hope there’s a fair amount of it left in my future. As long as it’s good, of course.

What are your examples of good bad writing/writers?

*Whose work I’ve excoriated for years‘cause, you know, I’ve got that pretentious lit-major-followed-by-a-career-in-publishing thing to live up to.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Get a room!

by Stephanie

In light of my post from last week about spying on others and the books they are reading, I loved reading this article from the New York Times about how romance readers are switching from print to electronic in droves. Just as I had mentioned how the Kindle and iPad complicated my creeping endeavors by removing a visual cover from the equation, it seems that many romance novel fans have made the transition from print to e-reader for exactly that reasontrying to hide Fabio from my prying eyes, are you? Anyway, new information from Bowker suggests that romance is now one of the fastest growing genres in terms of electronic sales, surpassing even general fiction. As numbers grow exponentially, it’s clear that romance is carving out its own place in the e-reader market. And apparently, some of the most sought-after titles are often also the raciest. Cheeky!

Information like this is just another indication of the change that we’re constantly seeing. And for something like romance, a genre that has held its own over the years, it’s nice to see that it too can adapt to the evolving landscape.

First of all, I love the implications of discreetness that come out of this. But I also wonder, for the prospective romance writers out there, do you think something like this might affect or influence the kind of novel you write? Will it change at all how you approach your story?

All I want for Christmas...Part II

by John

Dear Santa:

Well, I’ve been extra good this past weekeven (mostly) stayed away from the holiday treats in the DGLM kitchen. So I’m hoping you’ll accept this semi-serious wish list of adult books I’d like to find under the Christmas tree:

ROCK N’ ROLL! Santa, you gave the world a rockin’ gift in 2010 with Keith Richards’ Lifehow about tossing me a major rock star bio in 2011? I’m sure some other members of the old guard are ready to tell all. (I’m looking at you, Eltonyou, too, Sir Paul.) Okay, if that’s too tall an order, then I’d love to see other nonfiction books on music: bio, analysis, etc. And if there’s a QUALIFIED rock critic out there, I think all those kids looking to build a record collection could use an updated album guide.

NARRATIVE NON-FICTION: Santa, I’ve sung the praises of Nathaniel Philbrick before on this blog, but this time I want to point out how Nat brings historical events to life through the characters involved—whether it’s cabin boy Thomas Nickerson leading us through the whaling disaster of In the Heart of the Sea, or Massasoit greeting the Pilgrims in Mayflower, throughout Nat’s career critics often remark how his books read like novels, and I think it’s due primarily to this character-based approach. So while I’m wide-open in terms of subject matter, I would love to see this character-based, novelistic style, be it history, politics, entertainment, true crime, etc.

FICTION: I want to laugh! Santa, surely there’s a funny novel you can send my way. I also want to see novel characters sober upso many of the novels I see have main characters indulging in or struggling with alcohol or drugs, and most of the time that has nothing to do with the main story. Finally, if you’re going to send me historical fiction, Santa, please let it be really historicallike, pre-1970? Too often, it feels like the novels I see set in the 70s, 80s, even the 90s are actually contemporary stories stuck in the wrong eralike substance abuse, the historical details don’t really seem necessary to the story, and instead come across as clichéd or anachronistic.

CRIME/MYSTERY/THRILLERS: Being that these are genre books, certain conventions are unavoidable. But Santa, can you please send me something with a new angle? I’m not sure what that angle is, but I know it isn’t a college professor who uncovers a secret global religious conspiracy or new evidence about the Bible.

SPORTS: Well, I do want some kind of sports storyagain, preferably a character-based narrative piece. But I’d be just as happy if the Giants win the Super Bowl in January…

Thank you, Santa, for reading this list. I can’t wait to open all these presents in 2011!

Happy holidays,

Monday, December 13, 2010

Grumpy old man

by Jim

Little known fact: I love crotchety old people. One of my goals in life is to survive to an age where I can angrily mutter, “Kids these days!” It’s just the kind of righteous anger that I find endlessly entertaining and endearing.

So imagine my pleasure when reading Jonathan Yardley’s “Best of 2010” list from the Washington Post. Yardley has included only two novels on his list this year which “reflects [his] disenchantment with what passes for American literary fiction these days.” Interestingly, both novels are historical and deal with the impact of the political on the personal. He then recommends three nonfiction books about World War II. So…he has his specific interests.

“Kids these days!” I imagine him muttering to his computer. “With their fakakta ideas about writing about the present! When I was their age…”

It’s a charmingly inane piece that reeks of snobbery and is deeply out of touch. Such a cloistered consideration indicates a man who is very cozy living within his self-proscribed boundaries. Or maybe he has a real argument and I’m just being ageist. Thoughts?

One thing that makes me grumpy in the present is the news that Jersey Shore’s JWoww landed a book deal—the third for a cast member of the show. I thought we all knew that the only book that needed to come out of this show was Snooki’s!

So tell me: is American fiction dead? And what makes you grumpy about the current publishing environment?

That intimidating book proposal

by Jane

For the last several months, many of us here at DGLM have talked about the necessity of preparing solid book proposals. A strong proposal is so important because it not only helps the editor and publisher to know what you are doing, it actually helps you, the author, to focus on your subject and the market you are trying to reach.

Many feel that doing this work is an “unnatural” act, and I admit that it can be very difficult. Once it is done right, however, it can be a very effective tool for everyone.

We work very hard with our clients to help them create their proposals. We send them basic instructions, sample proposals and then we review and comment on each draft until we feel the material is ready to be submitted.

Because we think this part of the publishing process is so very important, I thought I would share our basic formula for putting together a non-fiction proposal.

The proposal is broken down into several parts:

The first is the Overview. This begins with a brief dramatic anecdote which is meant to get the reader, in this case the editor at the publishing company, into the material. Immediately after this anecdote, you should describe in two or three sentencesno morewhat the book will be about. This is followed by another brief paragraph on why it is being written and then another on why you are qualified to write it.

After this, you need to describe the different groups of readers who will buy your bookboth demographically and statistically. The more numbers you have here the better.

The final element of the overview is a comparative section where you compare your book to others that would be found in the same place in the bookstore. In each case, book by book you must provide the author, the title, the publisher and the year of initial publication and, book by book, you need to tell us how your proposed book will be as successful or more so.

The next element of the proposal is the Annotated Table of Contents. This consists of chapter heads and no more than a couple of sentences on what each chapter will contain.

Then we need at least One Sample Chapter that matches a chapter described in your annotated table of contents. (I always suggest an early chapter, but the contents cannot repeat anything that has previously appeared in the overview of the proposal.) The sample chapter is meant to do two things: show off the writing and tell us things we don’t already know.

Finally, there should be a more formal narrative Bio of the author.

This is followed by links that serve as Support Materialreviews of previous books, recent articles by and about you from national publications, a schedule of speaking appearance, any national media appearances, etc.

So there you have itmy holiday present to you. I know this isn’t easy, but as I said, once this is done right, it is incredibly helpful in not only selling the proposed book but also in writing it.

Naturally, as always, I am open to answering your questions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Short stories and glory

by Lauren

Twice this week, I spent my evenings at Symphony Space, soaking in culture at some great literary events. On Monday, I was lucky enough to see Emma Donoghue for the second time—rather than doing a reading, this time she was discussing the fabulous Room with Michael Cunningham. Then on Wednesday, Jim and I went to the Selected Shorts program’s evening with Colum McCann, who I’ve also had the privilege of seeing before. If you feel about Let the Great World Spin and McCann’s work in general as we do, you’ll be happy to hear that the series is actually recorded for radio broadcast, so you can listen to it here. On this particular night, Colum McCann hosted Amy Ryan reading his story “Everything in This Country Must” (from the collection of the same name that first introduced me to one of my favorite writers!), Mary-Louise Parker reading “(She Owns) Every Thing” by Anne Enright, and Michael Cerveris reading Nathan Englander’s “Free Fruit for War Widows.” It was a phenomenal performance all around, and I think I’ll be attending far more of these events in the future. As Jim said, Mary-Louise Parker should read everything.

Tucked into the program I found a flyer for the Selected Shorts Writing Contest, which I thought might be right for some of you. The 2011 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize with guest judge Jennifer Egan will result in a $1000 prize for the winner, whose story will be read as part of a Selected Shorts performance and recorded for possible broadcast. Plus Jennifer Egan saying you’re worthy is no small thing in itself. The deadline is March 1st, and you can read the rules here. Anyone planning to submit? If so, good luck!

Who will we be 200 years from now?

by Rachel S.

A friend recently passed on this article printed in The New York Times last week. The headline, “Analyzing Literature by Words and Numbers,” drew me in and I was immediately curious (well, also because I thought the accompanying photograph was pretty). I have always been fascinated by words in all senses. There are words I love because of how they sound or how they look written, words I find interesting purely due to their uses in colloquial speech, and all the ways that a single word can be used to represent so many different things.

Patricia Cohen’s article sheds light on a new computer process that is able to search every single British book published in English during the so-called Victorian era (language analysis and fainting salts? I’m in). This means 1,681,161 texts were analyzed and searched for words that will supposedly shed light on the sentiments and concerns of the 19th century.

Apparently, because of the prevalence of words such as ‘hope,’ ‘light,’ and ‘sunlight,’ the Victorian era was marked by a particular optimism not present in the precedent centuries. Uncovered was the rising secular skepticism of the Enlightenment as well as an unexpected decline in a focus on the idea of evil.

Of course, since this shows only a written record for analysis, there are mistakes to be made. One scholar thought that she had made a groundbreaking discovery proving a shift in focus towards literary debates and analysis after she noted a huge jump in the words “prosody” and “syntax” in 1832. Turns out, Prosody and Syntax were popular racehorses of the day and articles were merely noting race results.

I’ve talked before about words I use too frequently in my writing and that words themselves go in and out of fashion is an indisputable fact. No doubt, this sort of technology will advance to degrees we can’t even imagine, so I’m interested in what sorts of conclusions analysts will draw about life in the 20th and 21st centuries based solely on our written work. Are we optimistic or cynical? Do we tend to focus on ourselves or others? How well do we represent ourselves on paper, anyway?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

That's so five minutes ago

by Michael

Yesterday, Scholastic released their list of the "Ten Trends in Children's Books from 2010."   Aside from the fourth on the list, which felt more like them pushing the multimedia series that they're very invested in, I thought the list was pretty accurate.  There's happy stuff there: expanding YA marketplace!  Return to humor!  Books that aren't about vampires!  I can definitely cheer on all of those things, though I should say that I still love vampire books, despite the market saturation.  There was sad stuff, too: The steady decline of the picture book, which shows no stopping.  The power of big brands to dominate all forms of media.  I love picture books, but I represent very few because it feels like the get harder to sell every day, and that's disappointing, since I think they have the power to make children into life-long readers.  And though there are many popular, brand-name characters that I, too, love, it's hard knowing that books thought of solely as "product" are taking up precious shelf space that could have been devoted to new voices.

While I always keep an eye to trends, I also try not to get too caught up in them.  And, as writers, I encourage you to do the same.  It's important to read about what's happening in the market, so that you can have an understanding of where your work fits in.  But chasing trends, or writing to them, can be as bad--or even worse--than not knowing anything about the business.  I've seen so many manuscripts over the years that are clearly following a recent trend, and as every agent will tell you, if you're modeling your book after what's on the bestseller list now, you're way behind.  With how long it takes to for a book to get published (2 - 3 years from completion of a submission-ready manuscript), those trends will be long gone.  My two cents: write what you feel drawn to write, while keeping an eye on the market to help understand the context of your work and to help tailor your pitch.

What do you think of trends and the list from Scholastic?  Did they miss anything?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Best cookbooks of the year

by Stacey

I wanted to share this piece in today's New York Times about the year's best cookbooks where I was so glad to see two of my books (Flour by Joanne Chang and Christie Matheson and Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef by Shauna James Ahern and Daniel Ahern) included, as well as one of Jane's (Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy by Alice Medrich). It's a really eclectic and diverse list, and I think Julia Moskin does a good job explaining why each of these books works and what they have to offer for different types of cooks or food enthusiasts. For me, it's a peek into the cookbook marketplace, and how for all the talk of it being a dying breed, there is so much unique, innovative and interesting content being published each year. There was a time here when I thought I'd stop working on cookbooks because the market was shrinking, there were fewer publishers (and editors) producing cookbooks, and it seemed the only ones that were working well were the books written by Food Network stars. But I keep on selling them, and I think we've seen something of a resurgence the last couple of years, with a shift away from the glitz and back to the basics. This article highlights that trend. And there's not one Food Network star to be found!

There's another area to me that's worth noting. A lot of food bloggers have been getting books deals recently, some on a very large sale, and a few represented by us, including Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef from this list. The Internet in general has become a place to share stories, recipes, and ideas and people are definitely responding to the good ones, especially those who are also savvy marketers. But one of the things that's interesting to me about Julia Moskin's list in this article is that there are very few bloggers on it. Many of the books she highlights are written by familiar names in the food world who have previously published books. Authors like Alice Waters, Alice Medrich, and Madhur Jaffrey are all considered authorities in their field, and new books from them are always paid attention to, for good reason. Next year will bring a lot of blogger books to the market, so I'll be curious to see how many of them make next year's list.

It's also interesting, and I think a testament to the changing industry, that she discusses a self-published book: Matt Moore's Have Her Over for Dinner. That's not something that happens very often in this type of treatment, so good for the author for writing a book that got the attention of a critic's eye at the Times.

Personally, I'm glad to see so many new cookbooks being well-published and well-received in the marketplace. I will continue to work on them, and have fun reading and eating my way through them! Do you have any cookbook favorites from this year not included on this list? I'd love to hear about them.

Say what you mean to say....

by Miriam

The thing about publishing people is that most of us make a living being all judgy about other people’s work. For some of us, that extends to other areas of our lives. I find myself editing my friends when they start telling me about their job woes, their relationship problems, their kids’ lack of interest in homework, you name it. “If she’d started out with that information,” goes the internal monologue, “I wouldn’t be making a mental list of what I need at Costco and now have no clue what she’s asking me.” Most of the time, the editing also takes place in my head and I don’t actually ask for a stronger opening and a more concise narration.

Given that a large part of our mission is to tell authors how to ply their trade better, I’m often struck by how hard it is to give truly helpful advice on how to (a) write well and (b) be a successful writer. These “Writing Aphorisms” in the Huffington Post remind me that while we’re all incredibly preoccupied with the subject, analyzing and communicating the essence of great writing is as difficult as deciphering Gertrude Stein’s meaning…ever.

Can you share five elements that make up great writing for you? I’ll try to come up with my five and we’ll compare notes.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Please watch the gap between the train and the platform

by Stephanie

As I ride my commuter train into and out of the city every day, I like to peek at the riders around me and see what they’re reading. And what’s interesting is that now that the Kindle and iPad are vastly replacing physical books, the ability to creep on people becomes complicated. It sometimes makes me wish readers had little thought bubbles floating over their heads, a title & author ticker scrolling by. But that’s a digression. How many of you can admit to sneaking a peek at what others are reading, particularly in a public transportation setting? I know you all have, don’t lie! With that in mind, I enjoyed happening upon this blog titled The Book Spy, in which one blogger documents the books he sees while riding the New York City subway, and includes information such as the location / train line spotted, a physical description of the reader, and other varying assessments on the encounter. The reason I like this blog so much is that it reinforces an important point: the physical act of reading is, in fact, enduring. Maybe I seem a bit negative in thinking that reading risks becoming a diminishing pastime, but it is admittedly refreshing to find people actively reading in an otherwise mp3-player-dominated setting. Anyway, if nothing else, I hope you enjoy the Book Spy’s interesting, sometimes snarky evaluations of his fellow subway riders as much as I did!

All I Want for Christmas Is...

by John

Dear Santa,

So, I think I’ve been good this year—or at least, no worse than last year! Hence, here are a number of things I want this holiday season from children’s book authors and illustrators:

PICTURE BOOKS: I’m only interested in professional illustrators who can also write, so Santa, if you’re not keeping your portfolio up to date, you may want to skip ahead. But if you’re sharing this letter with any author/illustrators out there, I want to meet the next great children’s book character(s). I’m finding situational or plot-driven picture books are a tough sell, but a great character that can eventually be branded like Olivia, Fancy Nancy, Skippyjon Jones—that’s what’s working best right now. Also, I want high concept books like IT’S A BOOK or THE QUIET BOOK, which seem to be hitting the mark as well.

MIDDLE-GRADE FICTION: Santa, I really, really, REALLY want the next great middle-grade series. There’s a HUGE hole in the market right now for a new adventure series that appeals to both boys and girls, because a lot of established series (PERCY JACKSON, 39 CLUES) have recently ended. I want middle-grade that takes itself seriously—so much of the middle-grade I see takes that jokey, gross-out, paperback tone that doesn’t really match the reading ability of its audience. I want middle-grade that isn’t trapped in the classroom—I see way too many school stories that just don’t have enough hardcover appeal. And finally, I want middle-grade authors that ask “what if” the way Margaret Peterson Haddix did in her brilliant SHADDOW CHILDREN series.

YOUNG ADULT FICTION: I also want YA writers to ask “what if,” though not necessarily in a fantasy or dystopian setting; for example, Libba Bray’s GOING BOVINE blew me away with its inventive riff on DON QUIXOTE. I want something as funny as GOING BOVINE, too—so much of what I see is soooo dark. Lighten up, folks! That said, I want to see clever concepts like THIRTEEN REASONS WHY, even if they do tread serious ground. And finally, Santa, I want to see something genuinely new, and not just another mash-up of established genres.

Santa, is this all too much to ask? I hope not, because next week I’ll send you my adult wish list...

Monday, December 06, 2010

Teen poetry web-wide

by Jim

Some folks may have seen the article in the NY Times yesterday about new teen website Figment. It’s a forum for teenagers to post their own writing and be advertised to…I mean, get the chance to read chapters of works that will be published. The site is now live, and there’s already ample teen writing to browse through, if you’re into that sort of thing.  I’ll just say this: I do feel bad for a generation whose teenage poetry will have life on the internet long after they’ve become embarrassed by it.

That said, I think there’s a lot to love about this idea. It has the same sort of feel as Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s HitRECord. That site is about creating user generated creative content that can be worked on by a larger online community. HitRECord feels purer because there isn’t a component allowing advertising to crop up. After all, it’s doesn’t seem as profit-motivated as Figment.

However you look at it, I think efforts to create communities around writing are great things. Something about this site, though, seems to be especially artificial. “ZOMG we’ve launched!” What do we think? Nifty place for teens to find a creative outlet or shameless attempt to cash in on YA market growth?


by Jane

Elaine Kaufman, the owner of the famous literary salon, Elaine’s restaurant on New York’s Upper East Side, died on Friday after suffering from chronic heart disease for the last five years. She was not only an incredibly important person in New York’s publishing world, but she was also an important person in my life.

Elaine Kaufman was a huge supporter of writers of all kinds and of those of us who worked with them. I remember well being taken to Elaine’s by my father, Oscar Dystel, then head of Bantam Books, when I was a young girl and he was one of her regular patrons. And, I remember, when I finally followed him into the publishing biz, spending considerable time there.

We had our DGLM holiday dinners there; I took many authors there for dinner over the years, and I held my own family celebrations therethe last one being a high school graduation party for my son Zachary last June, which Elaine helped me to plan.

Elaine was larger than life in every way. She was generous (everyone knew that she would pay for the dinners of writers who were down on their luck); she brought people together (she introduced me to Jerry Brown, California’s new and former governor and to Scott Rudin, the award winning film and theatrical producer); and she was constantly opining on one thing or another. Yes, she was enormously generous in every wayseveral years ago she gave my husband and son tickets to opening day at Yankees Stadiumand, I believe, an important icon in our community.

Elaine Kaufman will be missed by all who knew her, me included. One obituary said on Sunday, “New York will never be the same.” So true.

Friday, December 03, 2010

You've got questions, we've got answers

by Lauren

Recently, we've been asked a number of related questions about aspects of the query process, so I thought I'd try to tackle them here to give prospective clients a helping hand. 
  • Which agent should I query for my work?
There are a fair number of us here and even if you're reading the blog, it can be tough to figure out just which of us might be the right agent for you.  On our website, each agent has a bio listing our areas of interest, and that's a very good place to start.  Beyond that, most books have an acknowledgments section that will tell you who represented them.  If you feel your book would sit comfortably alongside others on the shelf (and you should know which those are before you query anyway), try the agents who represented them.  And if you're querying us because you think your work would appeal to the same readers as something on our list does, let us know in the query!

  • What if I have a few options and the person I select doesn't bite?  Should I query another agent at the agency for that project?
There's overlap in categories and finer points of taste that are hard to suss out if you don't know us well.  Fortunately, we do know each other's taste very well.  It's not unusual for us to pass a query along to a colleague because we feel they'd be a better fit.  Even after we've read a partial or manuscript, we regularly share with our colleagues here to get another opinion or see if it might be up their alley.  That does mean a rejection from an agent here is a rejection from the agency, and you shouldn't try us all in turn.  You especially shouldn't try us simultaneously.  We won't compete internally, and no one likes to spend their time reading something only to find that another of our colleagues is already pursuing it. 

  • What if you've already rejected my manuscript, but I've thoroughly revised it?
First, I'd caution you to be honest about how thorough your revisions are.  If you've genuinely made it substantially different (and, one hopes, better) then we don't at all mind if you come back to us and offer it again.  Just be up front about it when you do, and if we think that a re-read might be to our and your benefit, we'll be happy to do so.  No one knows better than us how much difference revision can make! 

  • If you turn me down, can you give me editorial feedback?
If we haven't offered it ourselves in the rejection, no.  There are times when we feel we have constructive feedback to give and in those cases we do provide it.  We might say that we don't think it works, and we think we know why.  We might say that we think there are key issues that if revised might make the book workand if we feel strongly about that, we might ask you to consider resubmitting to us if you make those changes.  If we don't offer editorial feedback in our response, it's because we don't have it to offer.  Either we have no vision for what's wrong and needs fixing, or we don't feel confident that we have the right grasp on the project or enough enthusiasm for it to point you in the right direction.  It's too subjective for us to make pronouncements on the problems with everything that doesn't work for us, and we could easily lead you astray and send you off working on edits that will hinder rather than help your chances of finding the agent who does get what you're doing.

  • If you turn me down, can you give me a recommendation to another agent?
The nature of the business allows us to know what editors are looking for much more than what other agents seek.  As such, we can’t offer recommendations for agents outside the agency.

I hope this is helpful!  Keep in mind that not all agents feel the same way about all things, but these general guidelines apply to the way we work here at DGLM.  It pays to do your research on the agents you're targeting, rather than assuming that they will feel the same way on the questions you might have.

It's the little things

by Rachel S.

I agree with Michael’s post yesterday. Barnes and Noble and Borders are intimidating. Not to say that I won’t spend an afternoon there with a giant stack of books from a myriad of genres and the biggest cup of coffee they have to offer (which is pretty big), but on the days when I actually want to browse for a book I intend to buy, I head to smaller locations. I get overwhelmed by the rows and rows of shelves within shelves and soon realize I’m not even reading the bindings anymore, but just skimming the colors and shapes of each bookonly picking up ones that stand out in that respect regardless of the title.

Smaller bookshops, whether they house used books, are devoted to a single genre, or are just mini versions of the massive box stores have an appeal that cannot be rivaled. My two favorite places to spend my book money in the city are the Housing Works Bookstore Café in Soho and WORD Books in Brooklyn. They both have their own unique feela sort of atmosphere that is lacking in the impersonal, albeit well-stocked shelves of the giant bookstore chains.

The selection is smaller, sure, but unless I’m looking for something absolutely specific, I find that doesn’t matter. I’ll still always find something I want and I feel that my choice is much better made. If I’m having trouble, the staff in a small bookstore will more likely know each book they do stock and will often have certain opinions and recommendations, which is an undeniable advantage of a smaller selection. In fact, both Housing Works and WORD pepper their shelves with little handwritten index cards from members of the staff praising their most recent literary loves. Because they can’t just sell every book that comes out, there has to be some level of thought and selection put into stocking the independent bookshops.

Smaller stores foster a sense of communitythere even used to be a corkboard in WORD that served as a sort of personals section. Anyone could fill out a slip of paper with their name, age and email address followed by books and authors they loved as well as those they hated and then pin it up on the board, in the hopes that some book-reading match made in heaven would soon emerge.

As the holiday season is upon us, gift-buying must be as well. Shopping in an environment that fosters conversation and comfort as opposed to impersonal abundance, I feel, gives the gift itself greater meaning. Sure, the person you so carefully chose that book for might not know where it was bought, but the sense of thought and care that went into it is surely palpable.

I don’t want to come off totally disparaging the bookstore giantsI love them, too. If you’re looking for something specific, either they’ll have it or will almost certainly have the resources to order it for you. Nowadays there’s near a guarantee that they have a café attached, so there’s no end to the hours you can spend there poring over books you might actually have no intention of buying (okay, so there is an end, as the only times I’ve ever been in a Borders past closing time were for crucial Harry Potter book purchases). Living in the city, it’s easy to forget that oftentimes independent bookstores can’t survive elsewhere and it’s nice to know that the big places are still accessible to the vast majority of the population.

I have a specific experience in mind when I consider entering these havens I call smaller bookstores. When I go book shopping, I want to enjoy it, take my time and truly feel as if I picked the perfect book to read next. I know the next time I go into WORD, the girl behind the desk will be familiar and friendly. I’ll read the lists of updated favorites they tack to the walls as well as the new recommendations on the shelves. There might not be miles and miles of selection, but I’ll hardly miss it once I find the next book I have to have.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Let's do some shopping!

by Michael

I have a love/hate relationship with holiday shopping. On the one hand, holiday shopping is a pain: the crowds, the traffic (that one's new to moving to LA!), the same five Christmas songs in every store, etc. On the other, I really like buying gifts for other people, and I still much prefer going to the store to do it. I don't often have specific things in mind for specific people, but instead I really love to browse and see what's on offer.

Amongst other things, every year I buy books for people. And yes, I do actually pay for them. Rarely do I get someone a big bestseller or literary must-read (though there was the year I got my father The DaVinci Code), but more often than not it's titles I've found while browsing books at non-bookstores. Being an agent, I'm pretty familiar with what's on the tables at Barnes & Noble or the front page of Amazon. But the books that tend to get me most excited at the holidays are those little gift books or ridiculous coffee table books. The other day at a small boutique here in LA, I found Concorde by Frederic Beniada and Michel Fraile, a book that's a few years old but still remarkable in its detail, scope and beauty, and All My Friends Are Dead, a morbidly funny little picture book for adults by Avery Monsen and Jory John. Two gifts accounted for!

Clearly, it's a very hip store to carry both of these books, but it reminded me that an awful lot of my book buying happens outside of the major book outlets. In a big bookstore, I admit that I sometimes get overwhelmed by the selection and tend to gravitate towards what I already know. I really appreciate those times when I can savor very curated environments, whether it's a quirky selection (like the store I mentioned here) or the focus of a cookware or gardening store. I tend to spend more time with the books, and I while I can often leave Barnes & Noble without a book, I never leave a speciality store empty-handed.

I'm curious if there are other book people who also enjoy shopping and browsing in these environments. And what good discoveries have you made in them? Because I'm still looking for some gifts!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

YA character advice

by Stacey

I am a big fan of the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writer's Association) and their annual conference, which I attended a few years back. Their website, newsletter, and blog are full of really informative advice for unpublished writers, as well as often inspirational stories of authors getting published. This recent piece from their website by book doctor Jason Black talks about a very important distinction in paranormal YA fiction between a character's success in the story coming from ordinary human qualities versus some type of paranormal ability. Black claims Harry Potter worked so well on an emotional level that resonated so deeply with readers because many of his most important moments came from noble human qualities, like self-sacrifice, rather than his other wordly abilities. He poses the question if you are writing a YA novel, does your protagonist need to possess these paranormal qualities, or could he/she succeed without them? Black argues that having a character's success come from a supernatural ability can send a discouraging message to readers because it makes it less inspiring for ordinary kids. An example he uses is James Patterson's Maximum Ride series, where the characters would fail without their powers. This series has not had the kind of impact or success that Harry Potter has. He concludes, and I agree, that without his powers, Harry Potter would still be a hero. This is an important distinction to consider when drafting your character sketches and plot points.

It's worth thinking about what he has to say, even if you choose not to follow his advice. Seeing your work from a different or new perspective is always a good way of gauging its success. For those of you writing paranormal YA or thinking about it, take a read and let us know what you think.

Wishin’ and hopin’ and thinkin’…

by Miriam

The year is winding to a close and as some of us immerse ourselves in lists of 2010’s greatest hits, I’m thinking ahead to 2011 and pondering what I’d like to see more of in that prime number year. In no particular order, I want:

Really good historical fiction. You know, like The Alienist or I, Claudius or The White Queen or The Crimson Petal and the Whitethe kind of thing that totally transports you to another era, giving you insights into the lives of the characters, and the cultural mores and political imperatives they were subject to, while also thoroughly immersing you in a transfixing story.

A memoir that makes one individual’s journey mirror the preoccupations, experiences, fears and fantasies many, if not most of us, share. Oh, and if that could come with a funny, self-aware but not self-important, charming protagonist whose life I don’t mind being wrapped up in for 300 pages, that’d be great too.

Gripping science narratives. I was browsing in a book store the other day and came across The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee. I stopped to read so long that I was almost late to my appointment. Dr. Mukherjee grabbed my interest from the very first line and I’m his new biggest fan. I’d like to see more of the kind of writing and storytelling that brings scientific or medical topics to life and creates characters out of concepts or ideas.

A political book that explains what’s going on in our crazy republic. Let’s face it, we have some pretty colorful characters running the country (or trying to) these days and I find myself frequently as baffled as entertained by their antics. I’d love to see someone put it all in some kind of historical perspective while analyzing what it is about us (and them) that would make the founding fathers throw up their hands and head to Vegas.

An edge-of-your-seat, can’t-put-it-down, scary-suspenseful-sexy thriller with a hero/heroine who’d give Jack Reacher a run for his money.

Is that too much to ask? What’ve you guys got?