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.