Friday, December 21, 2007

Adina Kahn discusses competitive titles

One of the most important parts of any book proposal is the comparative books section. This is your opportunity to prove to that you are well acquainted with the market and convince editors that your book will stand out from all the rest. Of course, it is the agent’s job as well as the writer’s to be aware of all competition, but every author should approach an agent already intimately familiar with other titles in their category.

A few tips:

  1. Take a Trip To the Bookstore

The easiest way to start your search is on Amazon, and this is an excellent start to obtaining a comprehensive overview of competing books and their sales. But do not stop there. The next step should be a trip to the bookstore, where you can observe which titles are more prominently displayed on the shelves, and see in person just how much competition you will have.

  1. Check the Publication Date

Unless the book stands out as one of the classic books in its genre, it will suffice to list books that have been published within the past five years. Listing a book from the 80’s that is out of print is going to be of little interest to an editor. A good rule of thumb is to come up with about 5-6 books.

  1. Update Your List

A proposal can end up going through a few edits, so before you hand in the final product, make sure to check one last time and see if any books were recently published that might compete with yours. If you omit a new bestseller, it will make the proposal look dated and the author will appear unfamiliar with the competition.

  1. Explain How Your Book Differs

Some writers feel they have to badmouth their competition, but that is not the case. If you feel that another book is lacking in some respect you may say so, but your main focus should be describing how your book is different.

  1. Know the Competition for Fiction

Fiction authors are not usually asked to submit a list to editors of comparative titles, but that does not mean they should not be doing this for themselves. You should be aware of what category of fiction your material falls under, how other books have performed in that category, and which books yours will most likely be compared to. Also, be knowledgeable about which trends are no longer working.

Of course, if you’re a big enough name you don’t have to concern yourself as much with the competition. Jessica Seinfeld, wife of Jerry, recently made bestseller lists with her cookbook Deceptively Delicious, even though it was very similar to another recently published title The Sneaky Chef by Missy Chase Lapine. Ultimately, the press from the authors’ quarrel ended up causing both books to rise in sales. It didn’t hurt that Jessica Seinfeld was also backed by an appearance on Oprah and the fact that Jerry gave her recipes his seal of approval.

Mrs. Seinfeld ended up with a successful book, but many authors may not have been as lucky. My advice is to make sure your book stands out as an original and take the time to prove it in your proposal.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Chasya Milgrom is thankful for...

I’ve watched with envy as my fellow D&Gers posted lists of recommended books and decided I wanted in on the action. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I got to thinking about books that I have come across that have truly made me thankful. Whether fluffy and fun, serious and academic, or just plain good reading, here is a short selection of books that I am thrilled to have had the chance to discover. The list is incomplete and in no particular order. Please feel free to add your own as well!

Jailbird by Kurt Vonnegut

We’ve all heard of Slaughterhouse-Five, but this title by the recently deceased master of postmodern fiction is another must-read. The novel follows Walter F. Starbuck, a low level player in the Watergate scandal who has just been released into the corporate world from a minimum-security prison for his involvement in said scandal. In Vonnegut’s unique, brilliant and satiric style, he delivers a novel that is absurd, humorous, and smart and touches on a vein of truth about the American experience that resonates with us all.

I Know This Much Is True by Wally Lamb

Begins with the protagonist Dominick Birdsey’s schizophrenic twin brother, Thomas, slicing off his hand. This thematically ambitious novel encompasses family history, dysfunction, mental illness, and the complication of family loyalty and responsibility and spans the length of three generations. Lamb pulls it all off and then some while still making it look easy.

Me Talk Pretty One Day – David Sedaris

The widely acclaimed Sedaris is a master of acerbic wit and this collection of autobiographical essays showcases his talents at their absolute best. His observations and stories about his family growing up in North Carolina and his time as an expat in Paris are by far among the funniest essays I have ever read. I laughed until I cried.

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace

This Pulitzer Prize winning 1,000 + page tome may look daunting, but it will grab you at the very first page. The all-encompassing work (co-written by one of my former professors) is almost novelistic; peppered with stories of well known and lesser-known Gothamites that shaped this city, while still being so broad in scope as to be a definitive work of the history of New York from the Dutch settlers up until the end of the 19th century. If you read one book about New York, read this one.

Bill Bryson

There is just something about him. Bryson has the ability to find the humor in almost everything he writes about. And he brings that, along with a laid-back style, astute observations and genuine child-like curiosity to every one of his books. He primarily writes travelogues, but this smart and funny author can write about anything. Start with In a Sunburned Country and work your way up to A Short History of Nearly Everything, which I loved so much I put it in our staff recommendations.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

You might want to pick up a copy of this breathtaking novel before the movie comes out, as no movie can compare to McEwan’s stunning prose. The novel begins as 13-year-old Briony Tallis witnesses her sister, Cecelia, stripping out of her clothes and diving into a fountain on a scorching summer’s day in 1935. Beside Cecelia stands Robbie Turner, the housekeeper’s son and close friend. By the end of that day Briony will commit a crime that will change their lives forever. McEwan follows the characters and repercussions that the crime has had on their lives. McEwan is a true master of his craft and nothing could have prepared me for the novel’s ending, which takes place many years later in 1999.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Like many of Irving’s novels, this one, about a young boy and his strange friend, received mixed reviews. While the novel is, in fact, strange – Owen, the title character, is extremely small, has a distractingly high-pitched voice, and believes he is God’s vessel – it is one of the most touching and lovely books I have come across, and certainly one of Irving’s best.

And now, over to you…

Monday, November 12, 2007

Jim McCarthy is excited that 3 out of 4 people read a book last year

When the AP did their recent poll on literacy, they found that one in four Americans didn’t read a book last year. I know a lot of people who found that news depressing, but my own reaction was more, “Rock! Three out of four people read a book last year!”

Let me just get one important fact out there—I’m not an optimistic person by nature. If I’m excited about a concert, when it starts I’m less, “This is gonna be great!” and more, “I hope the speakers don’t fall on anyone.” I worry—it’s just what I do. When I tell my mother I’m traveling, she usually replies with something comforting like, “I hope the plane stays up.” Me too. It’s in the genes. Which is to say: when people proclaim the death of the written word, and I of all people think, “You seriously worry too much…,” that’s saying something.

So 25 out of 100 people didn’t read a book last year. At least one or two of them must not be able to read, right? (Note to self: look up American illiteracy rates) And then you have people who just don’t like to read. I’m not thrilled with that fact, but I’m at peace with it. Because elsewhere in that group of 100 are people who read 20, 30, 40 books a year—folks for whom the written word can’t be replaced by TV, movies, the internet, or any other media yet to be created. Sure, we have more entertainment options now, and people have a little bit less time to read. But do we actually think books are so easily replaced?

When it comes right down it, there is little I find as satisfying as a great read, and it has nothing to do with any lack of affection on my part for every other type of entertainment.

Perhaps it’s because I’m consistently surrounded by book lovers (it comes with the job), but the chance that books will become passé seems a bit unlikely to me. All the people who were up in arms over this poll only were so because they’re readers. And readers are still in a majority.

What I do find unnerving is that other poll from a year or so back that indicated 80% of Americans wanted to write a book. First of all, that means that at least 5% of people who want to write a book didn’t read one in the past year. That is frightening. Truly. I honestly don’t believe someone can be a great writer without being well-read, let alone without being just…read. Beyond that, if four out of five people in the entire country are going to be sending query letters…that’s a lot of digging we’re going to have to do, not to mention a lot of awkward cocktail party chatter. “What do you do for a living? Oh! Well, let me tell you, I have the most wonderful idea for a book. It’s about kittens.” Scintillating stuff. There’s nothing like dodging the mother of the bride at a wedding after she tells you about her “brilliant” concept for a picture book about cheese. Not that I don’t love cheese.

I kid (mostly). I’ve said it before, and I still mean it: I love the slush pile and the feeling of potential when I dig in. It’s intimidating at times because there’s just so much, but finding something brilliant in the mass is such a thrill. Just like starting a book and finding yourself instantly hooked.

I digress… So why do you read? And why do you write? And am I overly optimistic in thinking books will always be around?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Michael Bourret doesn't think young adult novels are only for young adults

Telling people that I represent young adult books can be annoying, whether it's because of blank stares from people who don't understand that children's books go through much the same process as adult books, or the gentle ribbing from friends that think I'm still stuck in high school.

But there are great YA books out there that everyone can appreciate and enjoy, like my own client Sara Zarr’s Story of a Girl a finalist for this year’s National Book Award, I put together a short list of some of my favorite books for teens that even adults reluctant to read YA should be able to enjoy and appreciate.

1. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

A gritty, honest, sober look at what it means to be a teenager. Alienated from her peers after calling the cops during a party over the summer, Melinda has become an outcast at school, and can barely speak. We experience her pain, anger, and frustration dealing with her school and home life. It isn’t until much later in the book that we come to understand her silence. This is an important and powerful novel that has started many discussions between parents and children.

2. Monster by Walter Dean Myers

Teenager Steve Harmon is accused of being the lookout during a burglary that ended in murder, and is now on trial for the crime. Innovatively told with a mixture of screenplay dialogue and journal entries, all written by Steve, Monster asks important questions about morality and conscience, and is a quick, engaging read.

3. Twilight by Stehpenie Meyer

Much more commercial than my first two picks, this one has easily been successful with adult readers already. It is the romance between the self-assured Bella and her vampire beau that has quickened many pulses. Like good chocolate, Twilight is the perfect balance between dark bitterness and sugary sweetness. Perfect for any romance reader.

4. Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

This one is perfect for anyone who likes sci-fi or fantasy. Set in a world where everyone is made “pretty” on their 16th birthday, Uglies is a Brave New World for the Paris and Britney generation. All of the books in the series deal with issues like beauty standards, the role of government, the importance of free will, and celebrity culture, all the while being a thrill-a-minute ride.

5. Clay by David Almond

The story of two boys who build a monster, Clay deals with questions of faith, character, and evil. This is one of my favorite books, period. The language is beautiful and evocative, and I think anyone can relate to the issues at hand. I find myself recommending this book more often than almost any other.

I hope I can convince some of you who aren’t already hooked on YA books that they’re just as good and varied as the adult books you’re reading. They run the gamut from literary to commercial, and they welcome every genre (and don’t mind mixing them sometimes). For those of you that are reading YA, what would be on your list of recommendations?

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jane Dystel explains the option clause

So many of my first-time clients ask why they have to have an option clause in their contracts that I thought I would write about it.

First, what is an option? An “option” is the author’s promise to show the publisher his or her next book before showing it to any other publisher. That’s it.

I actually don’t mind options. With this “promise” from the author that s/he will show the publisher his/her “next” book, the publisher is, therefore, more committed to investing in that author’s future. And, as we will see here, the author isn’t giving up anything other than a bit of time.

The important thing about options is that they must be very well defined. What to I mean by this?

First, if the author is a novelist, then the option should only be for his or her next novel. Even narrower, if the author is writing a mystery series, for example, the publisher should only have the option on the next book in that series. All other books that an author might write – non fiction, cookbooks, or novels in another series do not fall under the option and the author should be free to sell those at any time. This should apply to all book categories. If the author’s next book is in another category, she should not be obligated to show it first to her current publisher (although there is no reason why that publisher shouldn’t see it at the same time everyone else does).

Second, the timing of the option is critical. The option should kick in after the publisher accepts the current manuscript NOT after the current manuscript is published. There should be no time defined after acceptance. For example, there are publishers who try to say that the option shouldn’t take effect until 60 or 90 days after acceptance. This is unfair to the author and should not be permitted. (The reason the publisher does this is to get as close to the publication date of the current book as possible in order to ascertain how it will do. They then base whether they will bid on the next book and how much they will offer based on the indicators of the first book’s success.)

Finally, there should be a time limit for negotiating the option. The publisher should have X days in order to consider the next project (I think no more than 30 days is appropriate) and if necessary Y days to negotiate in the event they make an offer. After that time limit, the author should be free to approach any other publisher.

There should be no “topping” or “matching” privileges. If the author has given the publisher adequate time to make an offer and negotiate and they cannot come to an agreement, the author should not be obligated to come back to the original publisher for any reason if he gets another offer.

So there is no real reason to object to having an option in your contract IF it is negotiated properly. Of course, in practice, you cannot always get the ideal option clause; much depends on what kind of leverage you have and how many precedents your agent has with that publisher. But, these simple qualifications make it fair for all involved.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Stacey Glick on why, "Sometimes it Pays to Not Give Up."

Several years ago, I received material from a mother and daughter who wanted to write a joint memoir about their harrowing experiences involving the daughter’s dramatic emotional breakdown and subsequent recovery at a boot camp-style school in Montana. The mom was a screenwriter; the daughter then a college student at a top university. Their proposal was one of the best I’d ever read. Well-written, commercial, unputdownable. I couldn’t wait to get it out to publishers.

With high hopes, I did a wide submission and received a tremendously positive response from editors whose opinions I valued. They, too, felt it was among the best proposals they’d seen. And yet, no offers came in. Days turned into weeks, and weeks turned into months. I was getting a ton of positive feedback. Editors told me over and over how much they loved the project…and how they couldn’t buy it. There were a variety of reasons cited, including lackluster sales on competitive titles and no guarantee of publicity. Publishers are looking for bestsellers, and this wasn’t a guaranteed big seller, despite the quality of the material.

But I refused to give up. I worried that if I couldn’t sell this book, I might not be able to sell anything. I just believed so strongly in the project and that it deserved to be published. So the submissions continued. Fifty-four of them, to be exact. I started to think about throwing in the towel because I just couldn’t come up with anywhere else to go. Then I met the daughter in person for the first time when she was visiting New York. It turned out she was going to be in the city that summer and wanted an internship at our agency. How could I have her working here after all she’d been through when I couldn’t sell her book? She was lovely and it broke my heart.

Then it happened – just a few days after I met this charming young woman, an offer came in. That offer was suddenly followed by two more, all that time after we started the process. Before much longer, we had sold the book to ReganBooks, a then-prominent and commercial division of HarperCollins. Meanwhile, the daughter did work with us that summer, and became one of our favorite interns. She was (and is) smart, articulate, mature, and a very hard worker, and we were all sad to see her go at the end of the summer.

When the book, COME BACK by Claire and Mia Fontaine (you can visit their website at to learn more about it), was published in hardcover in April 2006, sales were modest, though the authors worked tirelessly to spread the word. Then, the publisher scheduled the paperback release for February, 2007, and we soon learned that the book had been chosen by Target’s book club and that they were taking 40,000 copies. It’s since gone back to press several times, and the book has now sold over 100,000 copies! Claire and Mia and their publisher are working hard to continue promoting the book. We’re hopeful that the Target sales will help get it into other outlets and word of mouth will continue to work its magic to get it into the hands of parents and teens everywhere who will benefit not only from a good read, but from the positive messages the narrative has to offer.

I reflect on this when I get frustrated that a great project isn’t working -- which unfortunately happens more and more in this market -- and it gives me hope. Sometimes, it pays for a publisher to take a chance and for an author and her agent to never, ever give up.

Endnote: One person integral to Mia’s recovery, Mike Linderman, has his own book just out (referred to me by the Fontaines, of course, for which I am grateful) this fall entitled THE TEEN WHISPERER, intended to help parents and teens in need. The authors are very much looking forward to cross-promoting and spreading the word about both titles. Oprah, here they come!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Lauren Abramo explains subrights

With the Frankfurt Book Fair just passing, now seems the perfect time to bring you into the weird world of subsidiary and ancillary rights.

Why me, you ask? In July I had the pleasure of taking over the agency’s sub rights “department” to fill the formidable, but fashionable shoes of Michael Bourret, who is now focusing entirely on his personal client list. Said department had consisted only of Michael and me, with some much appreciated help from the interns who suffer hand cramps filling out customs declarations, brain damage from trying to figure out the best postage options to get books halfway around the world quickly without spending our entire commission, and sneeze attacks scouring the shelves for copies of books to send uptown, across the country, and to far off lands. Fortunately for me, and for Michael before me, we have a fantastic network of co-agents scattered across the globe who know the ins and outs of the markets, publishing houses and production companies, so that we don’t have to do all the legwork ourselves.

So what exactly are subrights? Basically they’re rights derived from the book itself, including foreign editions—both in translation and in English in the UK and Commonwealth—as well as audio books, film adaptations, and serial rights—book excerpts printed in magazines and newspapers.

When you sign that book contract with a publisher, you’ll see something called the Grant of Rights, which essentially spells out which of those rights you’re giving to the publisher and which you’re not. For example, nearly all publishers buy the e-book and book club rights in a standard contract. Others, like multimedia and film, are often reserved by the author—though those following the news about partnerships between publishers and film producers will know that the publisher trying to buy film rights is increasingly common.

Being the subrights director at DGLM mostly involves foreign and audio rights, with some film and serial in there for good measure. As an agency, we do some of our film business with co-agents—many of them in LA, some in New York—and some ourselves directly with production companies. While I’m often the first point of contact on film rights, every deal is a bit different, and submissions and negotiations are handled by some combination of a co-agent, the agent who sold the book rights, and me.

Other rights, like foreign, audio and serial, are handled by me regardless of the agent who sold the book rights. Serial rights come in two varieties—first and second. For first serial the excerpt runs before the book is published, and for second, which is almost always controlled by the publisher, it runs after. Like many facets of the business, serial is undergoing a transformation. Fewer and fewer magazines and newspapers are buying serial rights, the conventional wisdom being that they don’t want to pay for an excerpt when they can just have a staff writer whose salary they’re already paying review or write about the book for free. Those of you who caught the PW article linked above may also have seen this one on the changing face of serial rights. And when an excerpt from Alan Greenspan’s book reportedly sold for only $1—ouch. These days serial is much more a publicity opportunity—and not terribly easy to come by with so many publications reducing their book coverage—rather than a real moneymaker.

Audio’s a whole different ballgame, though that doesn’t necessarily make easy. Have any of you bought or contemplated buying an audio book recently? If you have, you know just how expensive they can be, which means they’re not going to sell as many copies as the same book that’s a fraction of the price; if you haven’t, well, now you know why so many books don’t actually get to be published in audio editions. With the cost of production, low demand and the high price point needed to have a shot at paying back those costs, audio books are a tough market. In order to compete, a book really needs one of two things—to be a very big deal in its book release or to be the sort of book that would do well in the library market. Bearing in mind that most audio books are published simultaneous with the first release of the book, and that they need to be sold, recorded, produced and packaged before that time, but after the manuscript is available for the audio editors’ review, that’s not a terribly large window for selling audio. When that window happens to line up with the timeframe in which good information is available on the publisher’s plans for publication, publicity and marketing—and when that information indicates the likelihood of success in audio—authors can find a happy home in a different medium.

Last but by no means least, foreign rights. Fortunately for sub rights as a whole, while foreign rights are by no means simple to sell, in most categories things are not quite so bleak as they can be with something like serial. A book that “travels,” meaning it appeals to a foreign audience, can find itself republished in different translations and editions around the world. The tricky thing is that the book has to be perceived to be of interest to enough people in a particular territory that the cost of buying the rights, translating and producing the book will be offset by the number of people interested enough to buy the book and not interested in reading it in the original edition, which will often be available, whether through distribution in the territory or from the U.S. itself.

Though I’ve done my fair share of laying out the reasons that sub rights are tough, I must say what a great part of my job that it is. I love getting to speak to and email with people who are outside of the typical New York book publishing world—either in foreign countries, Los Angeles production companies, big magazine offices in midtown, or audio publishers wherever they happen to be—and hear different perspectives on whether or not a book “works.” It’s absolutely fascinating to be able to really look at the big picture and evaluate a project not just for how it’s going to work on the bookshelf at the Barnes and Noble on the north side of Union Square, but in the multiplex, the car CD player, the newsstand and the whole wide world.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Adina Kahn talks about nonfiction platforms

When discussing nonfiction proposals with editors, the question that I am asked most commonly is: What is the author’s platform? Editors want to know if the authors have written for any publications, whether they have an established website or blog, and if they have recently done any media appearances or speaking engagements.

It isn’t always enough to simply be an expert on the subject you are writing about. In order to catch an agent’s or editor’s attention, you want to already have a built-in readership. The best proposal not only proves that you are the perfect person to tackle the topic at hand, but also shows that people already look to you for the answers.

Obviously, being a recognized name helps matters when selling a book. Stephen Colbert, Alan Greenspan and Bill Clinton did not need to do much to persuade their publisher that they could sell books. Sometimes a celebrity can help build buzz around your name without you having to do a thing. Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin’s SKINNY BITCH was selling nicely, but Victoria Beckham ensured that they hit the bestseller lists when she was spotted carrying a copy of their book.

Of course, not every author is this lucky. Very often it is the authors’ responsibility to get their own name out in the public eye. There are some simple and inexpensive ways to do this. Pitch articles to publications. Get endorsements from recognized names in your field. Start a website or a blog (of course, you also have to make sure people are actually reading them.) In AUTHOR 101: BESTSELLING BOOK PUBLICITY Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman emphasize the importance of platforms and discuss in detail how to create your own promotional campaign for a book.

Of course, there are still many cases where an author’s stellar credentials or inspiring memoir will ensure that a book gets sold, regardless of whether or not anyone has ever heard of the writer. The strength of the material will always be the number one reason a book ends up getting sold.

It may seem logical that a platform can only be established after a book is published, but when trying to get an agent or editor’s attention it is not a bad idea to come to them with a built-in audience. Perhaps Victoria Beckham will eventually pick up another book, and perhaps that book will be yours, but until then it never hurts to work on building your platform.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Jim McCarthy offers books to make you question humanity

To rip off Miriam, I’ve compiled a little list of my own. Below are a few books that, for whatever reason, may make you question your faith in humanity. More publishing advice to come soon!

WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES by Philip Gourevitch: The title gives a pretty strong indication that all is not well in these pages. Emotionally devastating but entirely necessary, this work, subtitled “Stories from Rwanda” is an impeccable look at contemporary genocide, brilliantly written and depressingly relevant.

IF I DID IT by O.J. Simpson: What does it say about us that we’re snatching this book up in large numbers? Who is reading it? And why? To me, the only thing more upsetting than the book was the number of people who tried to silence it. Would I buy it? No. Would I have represented it? Probably.

The collected works of Ann Coulter: About as smart as O.J. and about as reprehensible. This woman is a mouthpiece for hatred and contributes nothing legitimate to political discourse. Also, I think she eats babies.

TRY by Dennis Cooper: The adopted teenage son of two sexually abusive fathers begins a journal about his own mistreatment and exploitation entitled “I Apologize.” The adults in Cooper’s vicious world are violent and degraded. The children seek solace in drugs and sex. The book is legitimately shocking, and you might have to numb yourself to get through it. But the biggest surprise is that if you can stomach it, you come out on the other end realizing that Cooper is actually a humanist, and that this is a novel about love. You just have to survive the attack to realize it.

THE MYSTERY METHOD: HOW TO GET BEAUTIFUL WOMEN INTO BED by Mystery: Now, if anyone has seen the VH1 series The Pick-Up Artist, they know that Mystery is a guy named Erik who wears big furry hats, silly eye makeup, and entirely too much animal print. He looks like the love child of Dennis Rodman and Tammy Faye Bakker. He’s a misogynist, a moron, and a self-professed “expert” on landing beautiful women. Now, I watch bad reality TV. I watch a lot of bad reality TV. Rarely, if ever, have I come across someone who is as big a tool as this guy. That enough people seem to believe he might have the secrets to becoming a ladies’ man to propel his book to the bestseller lists makes me want to vomit in my mouth a little bit.

HALF OF A YELLOW SUN by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Sometimes I get on thematic reading kicks. I’ll go all Southern Gothic for a little while then find myself reading lots of books set in and around zoos for a few weeks. Earlier this year, I found myself reading back to back books about civil wars in Africa. I followed the aforementioned Gourevitch with this novel about the impact of the Nigerian-Biafran war a few decades back. Is there hope and redemption in this astonishing novel? Absolutely. Would I recommend you read it immediately after a book about the Rwandan genocide? Not unless you want to feel like you got sucker punched in your soul.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Miriam Goderich's breakup books

My stepdaughter was recently going through a bad breakup with her boyfriend and in need of solace. The usual clichés and verbal palliatives weren’t having much effect and I was trying to come up with things she could do to take her mind off the creep as well as support my contention that we’d all been there and most of us recover fully (which, by the way, she didn’t believe at all).

We’d already gone through the sad music (Nick Drake, anyone) and depressing movies catalogues and I decided to dip into my “necessary books” list to see if I could pull together 10 titles that would do the trick. As all bookworms know, there’s nothing like the comfort to be found in the pages of a book. The list I finally came up with allows for a certain amount of wallowing, but mostly it’s meant to inspire – ‘cause what’s more inspirational than turning pain into art:

1. CHERI and THE LAST OF CHERI by Colette. The French do bittersweet love affairs better than anyone else (also see Charles Aznavour).

2. A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway. You wouldn’t think the macho writer could make doomed love so heartbreakingly tender.

3. LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Makes you cry, laugh and hope. Oh, and the prose is worth a Nobel Prize.

4. WRITING A WOMAN’S LIFE by Carolyn Heilbrun. Empowerment for when you’re ready to stop dating idiots.

5. FIRST LOVE AND OTHER SORROWS by Harold Brodkey. Hmmm, the title says it all.

6. LAUGHABLE LOVES by Milan Kundera. Because every doomed love affair has great reserves of irony and humor (even though you may not get either for a couple of decades).

7. BELOVED INFIDEL by Sheilah Graham. After reading what she went through with F. Scott, you’ll be thinking your own life’s not so bad.

8. THE FEAST OF LOVE by Charles Baxter. Because he writes so beautifully about the tiny, luminous moments that make up being human and alive.

9. THE SHIPPING NEWS by E. Annie Proulx. There’s always a second act.

10. CONSIDER THE OYSTER by M.F. K. Fisher. For when you’re ready to get off the couch and reclaim your mojo.

What are your favorite breakup books?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Chasya Milgrom chats about changing perspectives

Having read some of your interesting questions in our Q & A, I got to thinking about the way in which we begin to see books in a different light when we (as agents, authors, editors, etc…) enter the world of publishing.

For instance, a little while ago I was scanning my bookshelf for something to read and my eye hit on one of my all-time favorite books, an epistolary novel by Steve Kluger called Last Days of Summer. The book is not something I would think most people have heard of, and I’m fairly sure it didn’t make any bestseller lists, but it is one of those great reads that leaves you laughing out loud at certain points and crying hysterically at others.

The story is about a precocious 12-year-old wise-guy named Joey, who is growing up fatherless and Jewish in early 1940s Brooklyn, and his unlikely friendship with the hot-headed 3rd baseman of the New York Giants, Charlie Banks (also a wise-guy, naturally). I feel like so many people have one of those books on their shelves – the one that you catch yourself wistfully glancing at every so often, remembering just how much you enjoyed it. I remember reading Last Days of Summer for the first time and laughing myself to tears. “Here,” I would insist, shoving it into the hands of one friend after another, “read this; it’s funny.” And they all pretty much agreed.

So I picked it up off the shelf. It had been years. My copy had yellowed with age and was pretty dusty – it literally made me sneeze when I opened it. Given my nostalgic feelings about the book, I was pretty surprised at myself when the first thing I flipped to wasn’t the beginning of the novel itself, even though, as I recall, the novel opens to hilarious effect with a letter from Franklin D. Roosevelt to a then nine-year-old Joey thanking him for his campaign contribution. Nope, that wasn’t what I was looking for. I picked it up and immediately flipped to the copyright page to look for the publication details.

This is a strange little habit that I seemed to have picked up after starting to work here at D & G. Now with every book I see, I am struck with the insatiable curiosity to find out who it was published by, when it was published, whether or not it had been published originally as a hardcover or trade paperback. It was when I lifted Last Days that I was most surprised by this new added dimension through which I now see books.

That is not to say that I am upset by it. In fact, I get a huge kick out of watching my boyfriend shake his head as I flip to the copyright page of every book I pick up. He thinks I’m a huge dork. I tend not to disagree.

A couple of months ago I got to see the entire industry come together at BEA – the Book Expo of America, a yearly gathering of the publishing community. It was really exciting for me to walk around the Jacob Javits Center here in New York. The convention center was simply buzzing and it was great to watch this business in action. Publishers with their books on display, distributing advance reader copies for books coming out in the fall, editors and booksellers mingling with each other, authors (like our own David Morrell) doing book signings.

I realized then how interesting it is how we all begin to have a multi-dimensional perspective on books and how our curiosity can add to our understanding of this industry.

Now, rifling through books, I wonder about their history. Did this book I am reading go through growing pains? How many people had to read it before someone agreed to publish it? Then I crawl up in a ball on my giant cozy chair and start with Chapter 1…

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Q&A Round 4 by Jane Dystel

I am delighted to contribute my answers to some of your questions and hope these will be of help:

Question: “Is it a death knell if your agent takes longer and longer (weeks or no response at all) to answer questions or e-mail? At what point do you bring it up and say , Hey, have you lost your passion for my book, or are you just a poor communicator?

This is a difficult question for me to answer because I try to be responsive to all the queries from my clients in a timely manner. If I am having trouble selling a project of theirs then we talk about it, and together we try to find a way to fix the project we are trying to sell or go on to the next project. And sometimes, rarely, but sometimes, we might decide that the client would be better served with other representation, and we tell them that. Not returning calls or e-mails only makes people frustrated and angry. In my opinion, this is also incredibly unprofessional and I have had numerous conversations with editors about the fact that no matter what they have to say about one of my projects, I need my calls and/or e-mail returned responsibly. One piece of advice I would give any client of any agent is to make sure, before hiring the agent, that communication is open and prompt. There is nothing wrong with telling a prospective agent that this is important to you.

Question: “What’s the best way for an unpublished writer to express that they have honed their craft and are serious about it? Or do you care only about the manuscript in front of you, not whether the writer is working on something else/developing ideas?

I very much care about the work and the writing. I also care about an author’s background, education and qualifications. I am also interested in knowing if the writer is developing other work. But, I really only want to consider one project at a time, and if the writing isn’t there, then no amount of qualifications or an interesting background or even future projects is going to matter.

Finally, one of our very own clients, Heather Brewer is curious as to what a day in the life of our agency is like.

Well, Heather, one of the reasons why I love our business is that there are many days when pure serendipity occurs, and that’s what we wait for. Here though is what many of our days look like (from my point of view)

I arrive at my office between 7:30 and 7:45 AM. Every day that I am in the office and don’t have an outside early morning meeting, I meet at 8:00 with Miriam to discuss certain things the two of us have been working on together, staff matters, upcoming projects and/or future planning.

At 8:30 we have a staff meeting where I ask each member of the staff questions about projects and where they ask me questions they have about things they are working on. Sometimes these meetings are quite short; they can go on at other times as long as half an hour to 45 minutes.

The first thing I do after the morning meetings are over is follow up on various proposals I have out on submission. This can last most of the morning, although almost every morning I have a meeting with somebody from outside – a client who is in town or someone we are interested in representing; sometimes, it’s a publisher from abroad or a movie producer or co-agent from LA.

Lunch is usually with a client or an editor. If the latter, I learn more about what he or she is doing, is interested in seeing, and I tell them about projects I am excited about.

In the afternoon I spend time closing deals, hopefully, answering e-mails and phone messages. I am in the office until 6:30 or 7:00 every day.

After I have had dinner with my family, I either read and edit a non-fiction proposal, write submission letters and put together submission lists or review contracts. On Fridays, when I do not go into the office, I read fiction manuscripts.

Of course, the others in our office might do things differently, but I would guess not much. This is the routine of a literary agent. Heather, I do hope this helps. Thank you for asking.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Michael Bourret tackles some more questions

Annie said...

No burning questions, but would be interested to read your thoughts on either of the following...the influence (or lack thereof) of movies on contemporary fiction. Or, in the kids world, the seeming division between school/library and commercial markets...

The influence of movies on contemporary fiction is as strong as the influence of movies in any other area of our culture. Film (or the motion picture, I should say) is our preferred method of communication. That's why authors have moved on from simple blogs to using things like Flash and YouTube to connect with readers. I also think that authors now have film in mind when they write, which is something Jane Austen certainly wasn't thinking about, though her books are made into movies more often than anyone else's! I won't decry the influence of film on writing, as I think it's inevitable that one medium will affect another, but I think authors would benefit themselves by writing a good book first and letting the movie thing follow.

As for the second question, there certainly are books that work better in one than the other. It's just that the needs of the markets are quite different. Nonfiction, for instance, is a staple in the school/library market -- kids have to write reports, and they need sources, but there isn't a desire, for the most part, to own those books. The library is the perfect place for them. In fiction, there's much more overlap, and I'm sure that Stephenie Meyer's library sales are pretty darn good. But what I love about libraries is that they'll buy quiet books, the books that kids can't find on their own, and give them a chance to flourish. While big commercial success doesn't necessarily follow, it can, and it's great that the libraries are there to expose kids to new kinds of books.

Anonymous said...

I read on another lit agent blog that, while he is open to queries, he has in his entire career only picked up two authors out of his slush pile. This made me wonder is the problem isn't that he has a full slate of books to take out at all times and is rarely hungry for someone/something new. Sort of like having 3 square meals before heading out to the buffet. Might this mean that perhaps someone starting at a new agency, who states he or she is looking to build their list, might be more receptive to slush pile queries?

I definitely think it's smart to go after young, hungry agents. While it's nice to have that big-shot agent, they’re tougher to get. As the agent you mention exemplifies, a lot of very established agents aren't as interested in sorting through all of the queries to find the next big thing. Perhaps there's a young agent at the same company who is more open to new authors -- that's the person I'd target. That said, there are established agents who look to the slush pile to find new talent, and you should be looking into those agencies, as well (ahem, DGLM).

Anonymous said...

This summer I've begun to query my big, serious literary novel, got a dozen requests. Most have come back with personal notes: "beautiful poetic prose" "I think it's very good" "I like the voice" but they always reject it. Some hate the voice, some say the plot is too thin. I know it's not your average book, it's old-fashioned and big and not like anything that's out there. At this point is it advisable to keep querying for that right agent, or is it time for something else?

It sounds to me like you need to keep querying. Since what you're writing is unconventional and not on most agent's "I do this, this, and this" list, you're going to have to keep trying until you find someone whose sensibilities are right for your work. It may be a long, hard road, but if you believe in the work (and I'm making that assumption), you should keep knocking on doors.

Rikitikitavi said...

How often does a publisher change the title of a book, and do you try and lobby for the author's original title so that the publisher won't change it? I had that done to me, and my agent at the time didn't care.

I would certainly try to lobby for the original title if that's what the author wants, and I think most publishers want their authors to be happy with the title. That said, the publisher has a lot of people giving feedback on what works and what doesn't: sales, marketing, publicity, and even feedback from buyers. If Barnes & Noble won't buy kids' books with the word "sucks" in the title, you're going to have to change it if you want your book to sell. The publishing process includes a lot of give and take, and you have to pick your battles. Sometimes the title is one you have to choose not to fight.

Also, what about the "last minute" calls, where the editor attempts to make changes hours before your book goes to the printer. I know two authors that threatened retraction if the changes were made. Only then did the editor back off.

This isn't something that's ever happened on one of my books, if I'm remembering correctly. The author, however, should always have a chance to review and approve changes. Nothing should go in without your knowledge. But, when production schedules are compressed and everyone is rushing, things slip through. This is why it's important for all people in the publishing process, authors included, to do their work on time. There's a reason books take a long time to get published, and oversight is a big part of it.

In my case error was added to my nonfiction book despite my protest (and some things added without my review that were wrong).
That's a very odd situation. I hope they fixed the problems in subsequent printings, and I hope you chose not to work with them again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A few more of your questions answered by Jim McCarthy

I think we’re about 25 down, 15 to go on the open call for questions. We’ll keep plugging along, and we hope that our answers are helpful!

Athena said...

My questions are:

1. Since it's been over 8 weeks, should I send the agent a "hey, haven't heard from you about that late Roman Empire novel set in North Africa"? Or should I assume that because I was a big dork and queried with a (not perfect) partial, the answer's going to be no anyhow?

--If eight weeks is the amount of time they say they need to respond to a submission, then by all means, send a follow-up to check in.

2. Since I haven't done diddly-squat on that MS since I queried (because I'm a neurotic little scrivener and I've been immobilized by my angst about the opinion of the agent), am I totally screwed if the agent comes back and says, "I would like to represent this--where's the rest of it, dear?"

--Well, it wouldn’t be the best of situations. The reason you want the entire manuscript ready to go is that you should be able to strike while the iron is hot. If the agent wants to read the rest of your manuscript now, you want to be able to give it to them. If they have to wait for you to finish, they’ll most likely be willing to look whenever you’re done, but their enthusiasm could have a chance to wane.

3. Does the fact that I even asked question #2 mean that my ego has reached megalomaniacal proportions, and that I am not able to recognize the simple and salient fact that my writing does, in fact, suck?


Kidding! Nah, the querying process is neuroses inducing for the sanest of authors. It’s tough to get a handle on, but you’re clearly trying to learn, so good for you. In the meantime, do what’s most important—keep writing! The ins and outs of submissions will get clearer and clearer, but if you’re not actively working on your craft, then who knows if you’ll ever have a book ready to send?

Aimless Writer said...

Pitching at conferences:
If you are at an RWA conference is it okay to pitch a mystery if you know the agent your interviewing with handles mysteries?

My book is a little of both but heavier on the mystery/suspense part. I do belong to RWA but this book fell out of my head more toward the mystery genre.

--That should be fine. And maybe that particular agent might be thrilled to have a break from romance pitches for a moment! Long story short, if they represent what you do, you’re welcome to pitch it. And if you’re going to RWA this weekend, have a blast!

Anonymous said...

I am in the unfortunate circumstance of finding another agent. In the query process, should I mention that I had an agent but it didn't work out, or leave it out all together?

On one hand, it shows that another agent thought my work was good enough to offer representation (assume I'm talking about a good agent, well known, not one new to the biz) but on the other, the prospective agent could wonder 'why' it didn't work out.

I don't want to hurt my chances, but I'd like to help them, if possible. My dream agent is out there!!

--It does help to let us know you had another agent and how far along you got in the process. If a project has been submitted or editors have said they want to see more of your work in the future, these are things we should know. If the information will be necessary when it comes time for us to submit, that’s likely something we should have up front. It shouldn’t hurt your chances if you’ve had another agent. We realize that the agent/client relationship can be a very close one. Sometimes you and your agent just aren’t the right fit. That doesn’t mean we wouldn’t be.

Linda said...

Is a historic setting for a first book (in this case, it's a thriller) an automatic minus?

--Historical fiction can be tricky, but not really any more so than other fiction. If it works, it works. Sure, if we’re positively drowning in Civil War novels, maybe we won’t feel like we can fit another one on the list. But that can be said of any setting, topic, style, etc.

Anonymous said...

I just read on another blog that no manuscripts sell during the summer months because all the decision-makers are on vacation. Is that true, even for agented submissions?

--This is one of those publishing myths that everyone seems to believe. In fact, a lot of people in publishing do take their vacations in the summer months, so sometimes things can slow down. That said, we’ve had numerous successful sales during the summer months (even in the dead of August). It can just take a little more planning and making sure the right people are around when you submit.

Rachel said...

How did you discover the Kushiel books? Was it a gem in the slush, or is there some grand series of coincidences?

I really love Ms. Carey's books, and I'm interested to know if she had to go through the slush pile too, or if things just happen when you've got something that good.

--We love Jacqueline Carey’s books too! If memory serves, she did come across the transom and was discovered in the slush pile by Todd Keithley, a former agent here who changed career paths a few years back. It is the possibility of finding books like hers that make the query pile such a strange and wonderful thing. You never know when you’ll strike gold!

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lauren Abramo answers (some of) your burning questions:

In lieu of thinking up my own topic—that audible sigh of relief you’re hearing is coming from my desk—I thought I’d take a crack at some of your questions this week. Thanks for so many interesting and thoughtful ones! If we haven’t gotten to yours yet, check back because we’ll continue to cover as many as possible.

xoxochristine said...

What is the difference between chick lit, women's fiction and literary fiction that is from a woman's perspective? For example, would Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible be considered woman's fiction? And what about Susan Minot's Evening?

--To be honest, there isn’t a ton of difference. And it comes down not so much to what is written as to how it is written. Let’s say this: if you have doubts about where something falls in these categories, just call it women’s fiction. It’s such an insanely broad category that just about anything written from a female perspective or about female characters will fall in. Barbara Kingsolver and Susan Minot are generally considered to be more “literary” than commercial, although their books sell well enough to be both.

May said...

What would you do if you got a query letter that asks you to email the writer if it's a request? Or should I be focusing only on agents who accept e-queries?

--If we want the material, we’ll request it. Just make a note at the end of your letter that because you’re writing from overseas, SASE’s are cost-prohibitive. And, of course, e-query when it’s an option.

Eliza said...

How does an emerging fiction writer create a market for her work? What should we do to create a sales base even before we've been picked up?

--We talk a lot about market and platform, but that’s quite a bit more important with nonfiction than it is with fiction. If you happen to have access to a mailing list of thousands, or if you have a dedicated readership somewhere, by all means let us know. But it really will come down to how we (and ultimately book buyers) feel about the work. Honest.

Anonymous said...

What are questions for your agent, and what are questions for your editor? I don't want to step on my agent's toes by circumventing her, but at the same time, I don't want to make her work harder for her 15% than I have to. If, for example, I want to know whether a book will be released as a hardback or a trade paperback, to whom do I direct that question?

--Knowing what to ask, when, and to whom can be tough—especially for a first time author. As a general rule, if it’s a business question, it should go through your agent, and if it’s an editorial one, your editor is probably your best bet. When in doubt, especially if it relates in some way to the publisher’s contractual obligations to you, you can ask your agent. And if someone needs to be the bad guy, you should definitely let your agent take care of that. Don’t be afraid to get in touch when you have questions—that’s why you got an agent in the first place!

Anonymous said...

In response to Jane Dystel's just previous post: why do so many agents seem to object to authors querying multiple agents? I queried 10 agents all of whom represent work in my genre. I researched them all and tried to personalize every query. I got six form rejections, one request for a partial which immediately turned itno a request for a full (which I am still waiting to hear about)and 3 non-responses. Are we authors supposed to put all our eggs in one basket?

--Here’s some clarification on that point from our response in the comments to that post: It isn't that we turn things down just because a few other agents have seen it. But if names are switched, other agents are listed on the same e-mail, or you make mention of how many people have turned you down (why do people do that??), then it becomes apparent that you're applying to any and every agent just because they're agents. We'll take more time with someone who has chosen us because we might actually be the right fit.

David said...

Why is this latest post displayed in Times while the preceding ones are displayed in Arial?

(It's a question!)

And Anonymous said...

Not a question but a request: do you mind having all the fonts in your posts the same size? That will make the articles easier to read. Thanks.

--Sadly, Blogger hates us. We’ll keep trying to make posts show up in the same font and same size, but every once in awhile, things go all wonky.

Anonymous said...

How long, on average, do you take to read a full? Reading comments about your agency, I have heard that some agents have responded within a week, but what is the longest you have ever taken to read a full?

And Anonymous said...

Let's say one of your agents is considering a full manuscript. How often do you prefer for the writer to contact the agent to check the status (obviously not after a week, but...)? Does the writer receive any notification if months go by, but the full is still under consideration?

--It can really vary depending on how backed up we are. We say six-to-eight weeks for our response time, but it is often a much shorter wait. If you haven’t heard from us by the end of eight weeks, something has gone wrong, and you should definitely get in touch. If you have offers from other agents or an editor, please do get in touch right away to check in with us and let us know that we don’t have much time. Otherwise, please do wait for two months to go by before you check in—we want to read your work and give it serious consideration and that takes time. Remember that we don’t sit around at our desks reading all day—we’re on the phone and on email with editors and our existing clients, so it’s in the evening and on weekends that we’re reading the material we’ve requested.

Anonymous said...

What would happen if you had a really catchy title for a non-fiction book (as catchy as "He's Just Not That Into You") but found that an obsure blog in another country had the same title? Would you still use it? Could you still use it?

--Titles can’t be copyrighted, so you’re in the clear. You don’t want to go with something too familiar only because of any potential confusion, but that’s the only thing to consider.

Anonymous also said...

Also, have any D&G agents ever had to choose a project between a client and a potential client?

Meaning if the projects are competitive? It depends how close they are and in what category (it matters less if two novels have some common ideas than if two prescriptive nonfiction books do), but if we receive a query we think is promising that sounds too much like something one of our clients is already working on, we’ll usually pass it on to a colleague.

Anonymous said...

If you're rejected by an agent at DGLM, can you query another DGLM agent with the same project or is it not allowed?

--You shouldn’t. Most of us have been working together for long enough that we know each other’s taste very well, so we pass material among each other regularly. Ultimately, it doesn’t pay off to submit twice.

And while we’re on that subject—please don’t query each agent at the agency simultaneously either. As it says on the submissions page on our website, if we notice that a query has come to multiple agents here, we’re not going to read it.

Anonymous said...

Two questions:

1) When dealing with editors for a clients manuscript, is the time it takes them to get back to you any indication to the MS's quality?

In other words, does a manuscript that they know they wouldn't want get a quick no, to clear their desk, and one they might want get kept for 3 months (even if they pass)?

2) Does the agent's personality have more pull than we all realized -- I heard at a writer's conference recently that editor's pay close attention to what their favorite agents send them and have a tendency to be very critical of an abrasive agents's submissions.

--A lot of writers do seem to think that response time has a lot to do with manuscript quality or interest, both for agents and editors, but it’s usually not an indicator of much at all. There are too many variables, and there’s no reason to believe that the letter passing on a project is written the same day that decision is made. In fact, though, it’s much easier to pass on something you know you don’t want to handle quickly and move on to the next thing. It’s those in-between projects that require mulling over that tend to sit on our (and editors’) desks for a while.

Re: the agent’s personality—it’s a business, and everyone in it deals with people they don’t necessarily like. But of course, it’s a business full of human beings and some are more sensitive than others. Most editors and agents are professional enough to consider the work and not the person submitting it. Ultimately, it’s the quality of the projects an agent handles that will make editors take notice when they receive a submission, not whether the agent is everyone’s best friend.

Mary Witzl said...

I love memoirs, particularly when they are about ordinary (or rather non-celebrity, for lack of a better term) people who have led extraordinary lives, or when they include interesting travel or cross-cultural experiences. Am I in a minority here? And how extraordinary does a memoir have to be to be marketable, in your opinion?

--Certainly not. Memoirs will always be a popular publishing category and one that has experienced a real explosion in recent years. That said, there’s actually so much out there that it is an extremely crowded category, so new memoirs must, indeed, feature either an extraordinary story or extraordinary writing for it to have a chance in this marketplace.

Ryan Field said...

I've been receiving a great deal of hints from editors lately regarding fiction with "crossover potential". Is this a trend that will last, or is it just another marketing tool that will come and go?

Your guess is as good as ours! It’s really hard to predict future trends much as we try, but for now genre crossing is working really well in certain markets—for example, paranormal stories can easily be shelved in romance, fantasy, or mystery these days. Of course, it’s important to have an idea of where exactly your book would fit in a bookstore and to know that however appropriate something may be for multiple categories, it’s only going to be shelved in one in the majority of stores.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in hearing an agent's take on working with an intentionally non-prolific author. I know for many writers, the hope is to write book after book after book and hopefully publish all of them. I look at Harper Lee and the value and reach of To Kill a Mockingbird and think I might feel finished as a book writer and choose to focus my future creativity towards other art forms. As an agent, when you hear this are you inclined to seek other clients instead, or are you intrigued? Do you find my approach to be unusual or surprisingly common among the "literary" writers you encounter?

Some authors have only one book in them, and I think we’d all agree that writing one fantastic novel is better than writing one fantastic one and then writing terrible failures just to keep going. Of course, the odds are stacked against you, so writing only one novel is putting all your eggs in one basket. The reality is that agents and editors would prefer to work with authors who are going to write multiple phenomenal books, but if a book is amazing we won’t turn it down because the author has no current plans to write another.

Anonymous said...

Tell us the truth (as you always do) please:

What differences do age and looks make for a novelist?

The work is what matters first and foremost. Are a disproportionate number of big buzz debut novels written by attractive 20-somethings? Sure. But in the end it’s so much more about the work than it is about the author’s promotability where fiction is concerned.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I think the US publishing industry doesn't care as much about West Coast lifestyles or Midwestern ones. Over 75% of fiction I see takes place on the East Coast, mostly in New York. Am I imagining this, or is it real? And if the latter, is there anything we can all do to improve the situation and make the industry more realistic/representative?

I don’t think it’s quite as dire as that figure would suggest, but since so much of the US publishing industry is based in New York, there is going to be an unintentional bias sometimes. And, if fact, it’s all about supply and demand. Those New York books are being bought by a large audience or they wouldn’t continue to be published. If Wichita, KS, suddenly became a bestselling destination, you’d be surprised at how many books would suddenly be set there. Plenty of people who work in publishing are not actually from the East Coast and we are all conscious that we need to find books for the broadest possible readership.

Anonymous said...

I'm one of your authors and would like to know if you think it's possible to plan a career in publishing (as an author, that is!). I've just had my seventh book published and as the years pass, it seems like it's getting harder to map out any kind of career path. Do you think it's possible?

Sure. It does depend on the author and the category—and certainly paths aren’t always going to go as planned, since a big success, a book that just doesn’t perform, or significant life change can alter that path—but part of what we good agents and editors do is to help build authors’ careers. It’s important to have goals in mind and to think about the big picture, as well as to be open to changes and opportunities.

JDuncan said...

I'm curious about how you all are as agents in relation to your clients. Are you all the hands on type of agent that gets into the editing process, helping with book ideas, etc. or are you a more hands off sort that likes to just deal with the business end of things and leave all the writing stuff to the writer? If you have different approaches, does this have any effect on how you interact amongst each other when dealing with client issues?

You can read more about it on the About Us page of our website, but here’s the gist of our philosophy: “Being involved in every stage of putting together a non-fiction book proposal, offering substantial editing on fiction manuscripts, and coming up with book ideas for authors looking for their next project is as much a part of our work as selling, negotiating contracts, and collecting monies for our clients. We follow a book from its inception through its sale to a publisher, its publication, and beyond. Our commitment to our writers does not, by any means, end when we have collected our commission. This is one of the many things that makes us unique in a very competitive business.

Rose Green said...

I see a lot of internet commentary on what a writer should NEVER do (usually along the lines of bad formatting, sending bribes and/or threats along with the query, not knowing how to use the English language--or possibly any written language--etc). I'm more interested in that top 5 percent who all get full requests. Some make it and some don't. Are there any systematic characteristics you see that clearly cut off a ms from the running, once you've read the whole thing?

Ah, see, that’s because it’s easier to tell people what not to do then to tell them what they should actually do. But if we actually read an entire manuscript and turn it down, chances are that we either really liked it but don’t believe we can sell it (because the market is especially crowded, or it has some fatal flaw that can’t be fixed with some editing) or because that elusive spark just isn’t there.

Kanani said...

Actually, I much prefer to hear all of you spout out. You're funny, you can be wise, you can be direct, and you do it all very nicely. So this? We have to ask you? As in what Miss Snark did so well?

So you've driven me to ask the basics.

Boxers or briefs?

Hipsters, bikinis or thongs?

Clooney or Jolie?

Thank you—finally someone’s asking the critical stuff! Boxer-briefs. Anything but thongs. And we’re a bit divided on the Clooney/Jolie issue (quick insight into the dynamics of the DGLM workplace: we fight about nothing more than trivial things related to celebrities—the Jake Gyllenhaal: Hot or Ugly debate rears its head far more often than we should probably admit) but if Jim gets his wish, Angelina’ll be co-hosting The View any day now!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

An open call for questions

Though we’re of the opinion that any random thing we chatter about is endlessly fascinating, it occurred to us recently that it might be time to find out if there is anything in particular that you, our delightful readers, want to know from us. Or about us.

So here’s your chance: ask anything at all that you’d like an answer to. Feel free to direct questions to us en masse or individually (though this isn’t your chance to pitch us, natch). Keep in mind that with the holiday, summer vacations, and general busyness, responses will come in a bit sporadically, but you can keep an eye on this space, and we’ll try to answer as many questions as possible!