Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Michael Bourret laments, "Judith Regan, I never knew ye."

I miss Judith Regan already. I know, I know, we publishing folk can’t stop talking about her. In an industry that’s fairly quiet, this has been a pretty interesting year or so: James Frey admitting on Oprah that he wasn’t quite who he said he was; Kaavya Viswanathan “internalizing” Megan McCafferty’s words and using them as her own. But neither of those scandals really lived up to the Judith Regan-O.J. Simpson fiasco. Only Ms. Regan could come out on top of that heap, even if for all the wrong reasons.

Full disclosure: I’ve never met, nor do I believe I’ve ever spoken with, Ms. Regan. So it’s not really her I miss. What I miss is her presence in the industry which we all felt, if not from her in person then from her books.

With ReganBooks gone, there are many questions: Who else is going to do WWE books? Who’s going to sign the O.J.s of the world (don’t pretend you weren’t at least a little bit curious about that one!)? How else will I know if a book project, no matter how off-color the subject matter, is destined to be a bestseller? Remember, Judith Regan made Jenna Jameson, porn star, a bestselling writer. How many publishers have that claim to fame? Porn not your thing? How about true crime? Ms. Regan published no less than three Scott Peterson books in eight weeks, and all three made the New York Times Bestseller List. Don’t like that either? How about some well-received fiction? Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone and I Know This Much Is True were both bestsellers and Oprah Book Club Picks. As she herself was quoted as saying in her Vanity Fair profile: "Every f****** time we do something prestigious, they overlook us. But God forbid we do a piece of s*** … " She’s got a point.

On the same day that the now infamous O.J. Simpson book was announced, there was a good, but rather overshadowed, piece of news for ReganBooks. Jess Walter’s The Zero was named a finalist for the National Book Awards, a competition that is usually associated with highbrow publishers like Knopf and Farrar, Straus & Giroux. I think that this was, by far, the best example of the dichotomy that was ReganBooks; Ms. Regan courted both controversy and acclaim equally well.

It would be an understatement to say that many people found Judith Regan difficult. We’ve all heard the horror stories, and the publishing world is eager to read former-Regan staffer Bridie Clark’s roman-a-clef Because She Can, that doesn’t exactly include a flattering portrait. But, while her office was known as a revolving door, there were many people who were in it for the long haul and made names for themselves while there. Agents have their own stories about the difficulties of negotiating with her (again, I do not), but I don’t think many of them actually stopped submitting to ReganBooks; Judith’s track record was just too good for that.

ReganBooks published a startling number of successful titles -- both commercially and critically successful titles. I think the statistics demonstrate Ms. Regan’s biggest asset: her gut. She got it right more than most publishers, and she always seemed to know what the public wanted. Yes, that sometimes meant appealing to the least common denominator, but in this business, our goal is to sell books. And that’s what she did.

In the end, for me, it was especially sad to see the ReganBooks imprint dismantled; getting rid of her name I understand, but why get rid of the imprint itself? Though I’m not sure the beast would have survived without its head, I’d like to think that a new one would have grown in its place, and the tradition of renegade publishing would have continued.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Jane Dystel requests that you "Don't Shoot the Messenger"

Agents have a tough row to hoe. It is our job, of course, to give good news. But just as often, unfortunately, we also have to give bad news. And often, quite often, when the news is bad, we, as the messengers are blamed for it.

Years ago I remember I had an author who ultimately had a huge bestseller. I, however, represented him at the beginning of his career and handled his first three books. Each book sold less well than the one before and in each case, because of this, we had to switch publishers. Finally, he fired me and went on to a new agent. Soon after, I was having lunch with one of his former editors who said to me, “Of course, he had to fire you; he had fired each of his previous publishers and when that didn’t work, he had to blame you for his bad sales – there was nowhere else to go.”

Authors should really think about what we are saying to them when we bring bad news; I for one am trying very hard to be constructive as I passionately believe that when we are turned down or when a book doesn’t sell, oftentimes there is an important lesson to be learned.

I am very persistent when it comes to submitting my clients’ work; there are many cases where I go to as many as 35 or 40 editors to find a buyer. But when I don’t, I usually come around to feeling there is a valid reason why the book hasn’t sold; and it is constructive to find that reason and either deal with it or put the proposal aside and go on to something new. (I always tell my clients that when they become bestselling authors, they can go back to that other project and sell it for lots of money.)

When a book doesn’t sell, it is totally inappropriate to blame the agent as so many authors do. We are on the author’s side – if only because when they do well, we do well. I care deeply about the writing careers of each and every one of my clients and when I am blamed for their projects not selling either to a publisher or in the marketplace or when I am blamed for the advance not being high enough, it is incredibly discouraging.

Authors select their agents carefully, I hope, getting recommendations from other authors, looking us up online, etc. Once they’ve landed an agent, they need to trust us more and understand that we really do have their best interests at heart as well as the professional experience to guide them through the process.

Many years ago, a young man came to me with a novel I liked a lot. We tried to sell it and failed; he then presented another and again we tried and again we failed. But he and we learned from each of these experiences and he is now finishing the last novel in his second three-book deal. Of course this willingness to absorb and learn from what seems to be bad news has helped him to grow in his career.

The purpose of this blog is to ask authors to think before they shoot. We agents are trying our best to help you grow in your careers. Please listen to us, know we care, and trust that we are doing our very best.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Lauren Abramo lists “10 Things Every Aspiring Author Should Try This Year”

Well, it’s the start of a bright and shiny new year. And with a new year, comes the perfect excuse to make some resolutions. While we here at DGLM brace ourselves for the busy month ahead with all its post-holiday urgency, we’ll be making resolutions to read our slush faster, find the next big something or other, and perfect our mind reading techniques so we can pick the best possible editors for our clients’ projects.

It’s not just a good time for our resolutions. What better time for writers to motivate themselves to really get going and take their careers in bigger and better directions?

With that in mind, here are 10 Things Every Aspiring Author Should Try This Year:

  1. Write an amazing query letter. Really work hard on getting this new project out the door and putting your best face forward. Miriam’s got some advice on how you can do just that.
  2. Read Publisher’s Weekly , industry blogs , and the New York Times Book Review. Pay attention to the best seller lists and the trends. Know what’s out there, and think about how your book fits into the big picture of publishing.
  3. Head down to a bookstore or surf over to one online and check out what’s going on in your category. Know your category, know how your book will fit into the marketplace, and figure out why a reader might buy your book instead of the others on the shelf. It can’t just be the words themselves, because something has to get ‘em reading in the first place. If you can’t find a reason why, then you’re going to have a hard time convincing an agent that your book is the one that’s worth his/her efforts.
  4. Attend a writers’ conference. Do some research into the many, many conferences that happen every year, and keep looking till you find one that works for you. You might learn more about a side of the publishing business you’d never given any thought to. You might make some new writer friends who can act as your support group and sounding board. You might even meet your future agent and/or editor in a pitch session. If you don’t have the time or means to get to an actual conference, look into writers’ groups in your area.
  5. Stop over thinking. This seems like a popular one among my clients. One has decided to stop worrying about writing what he thinks he should write. Another plans to stop going over and over her ideas and just get something on the page. It’s important to really think things through, but don’t let yourself get bogged down in it at the expense of making progress.
  6. Write something, anything—daily or weekly or whenever you can fit it in your schedule. Set a word limit or a time limit, but give yourself a goal and stick to it. As one of my clients pointed out, it doesn’t matter if it’s useless—in fact, most of it probably will be. But you never know when idle thoughts on a page will set you off down a path you wouldn’t have expected.
  7. Be honest with yourself. If you know in your heart of hearts that your book isn’t working and isn’t going to, don’t be afraid to admit it to yourself. Research the (perhaps a bit demoralizing) statistics on what sort of advances are typically out there, how many books earn out their advance, and how many copies an average book actually sells. If you can face the reality of this business and still want to be a part of it, more power to you! But until you face the realities, you’re going to have a hard time getting anywhere. If you really want to succeed, you have to know the odds are stacked against you and feel compelled to try it anyway.
  8. Calm down. A tough one certainly for the naturally high strung among us, but critical to peace of mind in the often difficult world of publishing. Resolve to take things in stride. If your manuscript isn’t working, or you can’t find an agent or publisher, you can and will keep going. Just try not to be disheartened when that time comes—you have to have faith that if this isn’t the one, the next one will be. As one of my clients put it, “I should resolve to stop valuing myself on whether my novel has found a publisher. I'm a decent person whether it does or not and I need to remember that.”
  9. Find your place to write. Buy a really comfortable chair. Stake out a favorite corner at the local coffee shop. Buy soft throw pillows to prop up against the wall. Rearrange some space in your home to make an office. Wherever you do it, find a corner of the world that’s all about writing.
  10. Read. It sounds so simple, right? Curl up on the couch with some hot cocoa, shove something in your bag for the subway, get in bed just that little bit earlier with the book you bought three months ago but haven’t taken out of the bag, or carve out a couple hours on your weekend to hide yourself away from the world. Just do it. Reading is why we’re all in this business together. It may even help you to check off a few of the resolutions above!

What about all of you? Any great resolutions to share from years past that really got things moving for you? What are you planning to tackle this year?