Friday, January 29, 2010


by Lauren

I know we talk about e-books a lot around here (and around the publishing world in general), but two of the issues we haven’t touched on quite as much as other subjects are free e-books and piracy. Two blog entries this week made me think more carefully about both issues.

First, free e-books. Mike Shatzkin over at the IdeaLogical blog dissected the question of free. As he points out, it’s generally fairly accepted by those on the publishing and agenting sides that free e-books engender more sales than they endanger, at least in the short term. (Anecdotally, back when it was available, I downloaded the free e-book from of the absolutely stunning Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, who regular readers will know we’re quite fond of around here. Half way through reading the free e-book, I bought a hard copy, because it’s amazing; he deserves my money and so do his publisher and agent for making it possible for me to experience it. Plus, I need to share it with people who don’t have e-readers and ultimately give it pride of place on my shelf. Noticing the really reasonable price, I also told all my friends to go buy it ASAP. I know at least some of them did.) Do you lose some sales? Absolutely. But popular consensus seems to be that you gain more than you lose, and I fundamentally agree.

Shatzkin also goes into the separate questions of how we count free downloads vis-à-vis sales, and, more important, what impact the free download has on sales and the industry overall. We know it helps that book in the short term and probably in the long run, but does it hurt all books and publishers and retailers, etc., at the same time? It’s an interesting argument—and the sort of question that always makes me worry. How do you put the genie back in the bottle, and how do you know when it’s too late? If you’re not reading Shatzkin’s blog, you should, because even when I disagree with his conclusions, he always seems to take the conversation that extra step further and never fails to look at the big picture.

And second, a different kind of free: piracy. Sure, this piece on hard copy piracy through a nefarious chain of libraries is tongue-in-cheek, but it’s an interesting counterpoint to the people whose fear of piracy prevents them from embracing a technological revolution. I understand the concern of authors who feel that they’re losing money on piracy—in a time when they’re losing money on everything else (advances, royalties, returns, self-promotion), it must be aggravating to add to the list. However, we don’t ban libraries just because someone who took the book out of the library might otherwise have bought it. I don’t know that many avid library fans even though I know a lot of readers, but the people I do know who are addicted to their library cards don’t buy a whole lot of books. If libraries didn’t exist, they probably would buy more books a year because they are big readers, but we don’t use them as a reason to ban libraries. We also don’t count every book we lend to our friends as a loss of sales, and I actually think if my friends lost their library cards, they’d probably just spend more time looking at my bookshelves. If you create something worth experiencing, some people are probably going to experience it for free. If you think you should stop that, you’re sort of missing the point, but if you think you can just by not going digital, you’re really misunderstanding how the digital world works. Piracy still exists when it’s the only option in the digital format.  (Plenty of illegal e-books are not generated from hacked e-books, so not creating an e-book does not prevent piracy.) A library reader will probably not go steal the book from their local bookstore if it’s not available at the library, but a digital reader might just download the file elsewhere if it’s not available legally. For people who find that distressing rather than just the way of the world, it might help to know that the lesson of the music industry has been: if you don’t give a potential customer what they want, how they want it, when they want it, they will find a way to get it anyway. If you can figure out how to give them what they want, how they want it, and for a price they’re willing to pay, plenty of people will buy it rather than steal it. Don’t believe me? Ask Apple.

The need to write

by Rachel

While reading the many articles dedicated to the late (need I mention great and extremely talented) J.D. Salinger, I came across a story published in the Australian, which touched upon Salinger and his need to write. In today’s celebrity-obsessed culture, writes Erica Wagner, Salinger did not write because publication awaited him, but “because a real writer writes because he must.”

This sentiment is echoed in a Telegraph article, where it mentions the rumors--persisting for 45 years--that although Salinger shied away from publishing, he was still very much writing and that there could be as many as 10 novels tucked away in his safe.

But perhaps most interesting, in a New York Times article, Verlyn Klinkenborg explains that “to send a work out into the world, was, to Mr. Salinger, an intrusion”--which posed the question: is it really possible to be a writer without publishing?

It’s interesting to read about the many sides of J.D. Salinger’s life, but what really struck me was the fact that for many decades, this incredible author wrote purely for the sake of writing, because he had a need to write--he was not putting pen to paper for literary awards or outside praise. This kind of passion is what will make me enjoy reading his books for years to come.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Consolidation of a different kind

by Michael

I was disappointed to hear that YALSA (Youth Adult Library Services Association) decided to discontinue their BBYA (Best Books for Young Adults) list. Though I’m not a librarian or educator, I was always eager to know what librarians were recommending for teens. The list was great because it recognized bestselling and award-winning books, but it also gave attention to lesser-known titles that deserve to be read.

Since it’s the last one, it seems more important than ever to check out the list. Though some of these books may overlap with the other lists (see the arguments in the SLJ article above), I think having this sort of overview is invaluable. Do you agree? Or do you think the list is redundant? I’m curious to know.

Railway reconnaisance

by Jessica

I have what sometimes seems an interminable commute to work. The upside, is, of course, the amount of work I can accomplish, and the opportunity to observe the reading habits of those around me. In the course of my investigations, I have made the following unscientific observations: 1) shortly before the holidays, a well-coiffed lady carrying an expensive shoulder bag could usually be counted on to pull from it a hardcover copy of The Help; 2) People react suspiciously when you make too obvious an effort to see what they are reading; and 3) the presence of wi-fi is inimical to books.

I saw this first when I was in Boston; unlike the trains upon which I rely, Boston’s regional rail line is wired, and as a result, I saw precisely no one reading. No books, no newspapers, nothing. All those not thumbing blackberries and tapping iPhones were typing furiously on their laptops. True, these were commuting hours, but if the (still) employed aren’t buying books, we’re all in trouble. I concede, as Lauren pointed out, that it’s possible that some of the iPhoners were in fact reading, but peering at someone’s handheld device represents a level of nosiness that is perhaps pathological and certainly dangerous . In Philadelphia’s Thirtieth Street Station, where Wi-fi emanates from a handful of restaurants, people cluster together, cozy and anonymous, jostling to be within range of the signal, attending to the urgent business that the internet both facilitates and creates. And I’m as bad as anyone; while traveling I have been known to hold my computer aloft, Geiger-counter style, hoping to pick up some frisson of connectivity. Still, once I started paying attention, it has become increasingly clear (and forgive me for stating the obvious) that leisure time is finite, and as far as my commute is concerned, the pc trumps the paperback. I fly the friendly skies less frequently these days, but it seems to me that the wholesale installation of wi-fi on airplanes would eviscerate the airport read. A publishing colleague told me that the only folks pleased by the prospective ban on all electronic devices on airplanes were booksellers.

The trend I have noted anecdotally among adults has been better and more thoroughly investigated in young people. On January 20, the Kaiser Foundation released its study about media use among children and teens.

I’m not surprised that media use is up dramatically in the last five years—five years in which Facebook, YouTube, texting, etc. were more or less invented. It’s to the good then, that publishing and tech companies are scrambling to figure out how to carve a space for reading in the crowded virtual world. And it’s great that the Kindle or the iPad and the unnamed devices still to come can summon books from the air. (I find this very, very cool.) But even so, the decision to read a book, and not, say, tweet, or check in on all 462 of your closest friends, or even finish up that spreadsheet for the meeting on Friday, is a choice. One that we cannot lose the habit of making.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


by Miriam

At our morning meeting today, we were chatting about query letters and how to help authors who contact us (and other agents) make the best first impression possible. As we’ve mentioned many times on this blog, crafting a successful query letter is by no means an exact science. In some instances we’re hard pressed to account for our decision to request one project over another based on the relative merits of their query letters. Sometimes, I think that the process of elimination is a better way of communicating what works. Maybe by telling you what elements of your query letter turn us agent types off you might avoid having your very worthy book rejected before it’s even seen.

One of the things that makes me (and others here) crazy is self-hype that’s hard to verify or quantify. If we can’t find that award or publication you mention on Google and we can’t track that bestselling novel on Bookscan or even find it on Amazon, it should definitely not find its way into your query letter. Eric, over at Pimp My Novel has a very useful post about when and how to mention awards and accomplishments when querying agents. On a personal note, I’d rather have you tell me something fascinating that you’ve done that’s in no way related to book publishing--e.g., you wrestle alligators as a hobby--but that makes me look at your letter twice than to read about obscure literary accomplishments, real or imagined.

Reading and writing teens

by Stacey

I saw this very cool PW piece about a new initiative HarperTeen has recently launched. Seems like such a wonderfully smart, positive, and original way to get directly to an intended audience, and get them involved in the writing and publishing process. And what a great opportunity for young, creative minds to be able to share their work easily with other members of the site, as well as publishing professionals who will offer feedback to the top picks. There is even the grand prize of obtaining a publishing contract for the winner. It's like American Idol for teen writers! It seems to have already caught on since "Inkpop had a soft launch in late 2009 and currently boasts more than 10,000 members ages 13 and up, and 11,000 written submissions, which include novels, short stories, poetry, and essays." I hope that this site will succeed, and that a new generation of writers will emerge, shaped by the opportunities presented to them in this terrific new forum.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Vote for the best of the worst!

by Lauren

Thanks everyone for the excellent responses to our contest. We're taking votes for the winner till Friday at 5 p.m., so help us find our shiny new DGLM water bottle a home in the poll below!

E-books: New and improved?

by Chasya

It’s been speculated by some in the publishing industry that enhanced e-books are most certainly the wave of the publishing future. Some will argue that with standard e-books not even completely off the ground, this is misguided, while others will say that such a product would be a completely new medium and not a book at all.

Whichever camp you happen to be in, some interesting developments were just announced on the multimedia front. PW reports that Vook, the video book company, has developed new software called MotherVook that will allow publishers to create their own media-enhanced e-books.

Is this one small step for publishing-kind? Though the details haven’t all been worked out, I’m interested to see how this takes off in our ever-changing landscape. I’m one of those who believe that media-enhanced books are more likely to happen then not. So now, particularly on the eve of the Apple tablet unveiling, will publishers take advantage of this software to create hyperlinked, video and music enhanced editions of what, until recently, has always been an ink and paper medium? And if this MotherVook software does take off in the market, will enhanced e-books make books better? It’s gotten me thinking, do I want a book that comes tricked-out with extras?

Cover controversies

by Michael

Nothing causes author duress like the unveiling of the book cover. In my experience, it’s one of the most stressful parts of the publishing process, and there are days when I wish we could go back to the days of unjacketed books, when the only thing to get fired up about would be the font type! I’m sure Bloomsbury Children’s Books is wishing the same thing right about now.

This past summer, Bloomsbury had a big controversy on their hands when people noticed that the cover model for the book Liar by Justine Larbalestier didn’t exactly match the description of Micah, the protagonist in the book. At first, Bloomsbury tried to explain away the decision, saying that this was somehow a reflection of the character’s compulsive lying. They eventually relented, and a new jacket was prepared in time for publication. Though there was some residual blogger anger, things simmered down.

Until Bloomsbury did the same thing again. This time with Jaclyn Dalmore’s Magic Under Glass (a great book, by the way). This time, there were no liars to blame. While the book describes the protagonist, Nimira, as “dark-skinned,” the cover depicts a fair-skinned, corseted girl. While people were upset about Liar, the reaction to this cover was scathing. Jezebel’s (linked above) headline read “The White-Washing of Young Adult Fiction Continues.” Some bloggers went so far as to call for a boycott of Bloomsbury, though they realized they’d be hurting the authors as much, if not more, than the publishing company. And there’s much more to read on the subject at Reading in Color, Bookshelves of Doom, and Chasing Ray, as well as many others (you could spend all day linking between the blogs—and I hope you do).

So why do I bring this up? I think it’s important that we’re all paying attention to the issues involved here, and by linking to these other smart people and their opinions, I hope to generate more good, healthy discussion. As Justine Larbalestier pointed out when the controversy erupted around her book, the reason this happens is that booksellers believe that books with people of color on the cover don’t sell. Yikes. I really don’t think that’s true, despite what people tell me. The publishing industry has neglected people of color in the past, claiming there was no audience for books by and for people of color. Can you imagine? They learned their lesson when authors started self-publishing and selling hundreds of thousands of copies of the books that the publishers turned down. And now those same authors do big business with New York publishers, making them millions.

I hope some progressive, enterprising publishers start to prove these booksellers wrong by designing covers that prominently feature people of color. And when one breaks out and becomes a huge bestseller, maybe we can stop being so cynical. I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this, and as always, let’s keep the conversation respectful and positive.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Tournament of Books 2010

by Jim

Long time followers of our blog may remember that I’m a giant fan of any awards shows or competitions. And if it wasn’t exciting enough that it’s Oscar season, the Olympics are coming, and the Australian Open is going on, the Morning News recently revealed the judges and competing titles for their annual Tournament of Books.

It’s a sort of predictable bunch of literary fiction with limited concessions to commercialism (The Help sold a ton of copies) and some other trend (last year featured a YA title, this year it’s a graphic novel). But who cares?! It’s a contest that acknowledges how arbitrary it is, AND that gets people engaged in a dialogue about books. So I don’t mind that my favorite book of last year (This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper) didn’t make the shortlist. Or that what I thought was the most overrated book of last year did (Lowboy by John Wray, how twee and dull I found you).

Instead, I’m going to celebrate that I’ve already read four of the sixteen competing titles (also including Let the Great World Spin; Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; and Miles from Nowhere). Then I’ll pretend I’m going to read the other twelve, get through maybe two of them, and follow the tournament like a bookie at the races.

The slush pile

by Jane

Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled "The Death of the Slush Pile." How incredibly sad, I thought.

One of my very first jobs in publishing was managing the slush pile at Bantam Books. I didn’t do much; all I was told to do was to log the manuscripts in, put them on a shelf and then two weeks later, reject them after nobody had looked at them. I hated doing it--those writers had worked so hard and yet, even all those years ago, there was nobody to read their work.

From that time on, I have had both respect and curiosity for “slush.” Even today, in a very difficult publishing market, I firmly believe that the slush pile can hold “buried treasure.”

And aside from the very public examples cited in the WSJ piece, we at DGLM have proven that there are wonderful projects to be found if one is patient and persistent enough to look.

Jim McCarthy discovered Carrie Ryan in the slush pile. She wrote The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which Jim sent out on a Friday and sold the following Monday. He also found Victoria Laurie, one of his first clients in slush. Jim has sold 18 of her books in the last six years.

Mike Bourret found three of his biggest clients in slush: Lisa McMann, author of Fade and Wake, among others; Heather Brewer whose first book among many, was Eighth Grade Bites; and Sara Zarr whose Story of a Girl was a National Book Award finalist.

Our very own Mary Doria Russell lay in a colleague’s slush pile for almost a year and when he didn’t respond, her first novel, The Sparrow, was passed along to me--and the rest is history.

So, no matter how busy I am, I have not forsaken the slush pile--and, hopefully, even in difficult times, I never will.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Get drunk militantly

by Lauren

Because it is Friday and the short weeks always somehow feel longest, today seems like a nice day for a slideshow of literary drunks and junkiesLife magazine put this together, complete with not-so-fun facts about the authors' addictions.  It is both troubling and somehow understandable that we almost instinctually feel genius and addiction go hand in hand--though undeniably tragic, what clearer manifestation of mental struggle than to spend your life at the bottom of a bottle?  If nothing else, the slideshow taught me some things:  in spite of my love for Little Women, I know little about Louisa May Alcott and had no idea she was an opium addict.  Also, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who I swear I must've seen pictures of before but somehow hadn't noticed--pretty hot!

I'm not equipped to judge the seeming correlation between genius and addiction (and not entirely sure whether there's actually a relationship--what percentage of brilliant artists of all stripes are perfectly sane and sober?  What percentage of addicts have no discernible artistic ability?).  But if we assume for a moment there is one, I wonder how many of these authors would have taken the trade of sobriety for a lack of a legacy.

(via Book Bench)

Famous people, children's books

by Rachel

With celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg and Julie Andrews writing children’s books these days, it comes as no surprise that the Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has gone down the same path and is penning his very own children’s book, Jasper and Abbey and the Great Australia Day Kerfuffle. The book will be about the PM’s dog and cat, and their adventures through the Prime Minister’s residence. I’ll be sure to order a copy.

After reading the article about this upcoming book, I started to wonder what other celebrities I’d like to see writing children’s books. Brangelina, Ozzy Osbourne, maybe even another well-known politician--it’d be interesting to see what different ideas various celebrities can come up with when writing for kids.

I’m sure there are many more children’s books to be written by famous people, but have you ever been surprised by a particular celebrity writing a book for children? Or, is there a particular famous person you’d love to see pen a book for kids?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The great chain of rejection

by Jessica

Most every writer has a raft of rejection stories, some funny, some harrowing, some downright infuriating. Without question, the worst aspect of my job is turning people down, and I’m aware that the form rejections most agencies employ are a locus of particular outrage. As Jim pointed out in his recent post, they are a necessary evil, since giving a personal response to each query—even the richly deserving—is simply too time-consuming. Like you, I must triage my inbox, and so any constructive criticism and words of encouragement I might otherwise be inclined to offer fall by the wayside.

Littered as it is with “Dear Author” responses, or dead silence (better? worse? You tell me), the agent search can be profoundly dispiriting, but it’s useful to remember that publishing is bound together by the great chain of rejection. Agents turn down writers, editors reject agent submissions, editors are shot down in their editorial meetings (“Not for us.” “Won’t sell,” “Who cares?”), and publishers, though they are ostensibly at the top of what can seem like an appallingly medieval cosmology, they too face rejection when the books they select are summarily ignored by the public. Most everyone involved in publishing is convinced, at one time or another, that the keys to the kingdom reside in others’ hands. Recently I met with an editor who waved his arm in my direction and said, “You people seem to think that houses are swimming in money. But it’s just not the case. I’m telling you it’s grim at my offices. Positively funereal.”

So what’s my point? That rejection is an immutable fact of this business, and that for all involved, developing a thick skin, a deep reservoir of stubbornness and a sense of humor are critical. I also think that we all might dispense with the illusion that books represent the optimal way to “share a story with the world.” A writer’s conviction that his is a book that “people need to read” is better served in the blogosphere, where people can do so. For free. Another not-so-helpful canard is that being an author represents a reasonable path to fame and fortune. These days, fame and fortune are a reasonable path toward being an author.

Obviously, no one is as invested in a book as its creator; it is, of course, your time, your ideas, and sometimes your very life. Memoirists are in the unfortunate position of being judged not only on their ability to write but the substance of their character, life choices, and tone of voice (“a little whiny, too chirpy, too callow”). It’s enough to make a misanthrope of anyone. Yet most everyone involved in the book world, from writers to agents to publishers to consumers, shares a core belief—one, I think that is not misplaced—that readers recognize talent. Such recognition may not come soon (why writers have drawers full of unpublished manuscripts), and it may not be with commercial success. Still, the vast majority of people toiling in the publishing business are united not only by the need to soldier on in the face of rejection, but also by the belief that a really good book is inherently valuable.

Has Amazon met its match?

by Michael

There were two big announcements out of Amazon this week, both Kindle related. The first was that they are offering a new royalty structure for Kindle books: 70% of the price (minus a small delivery fee). But there’s always a catch, and in this case, several catches, including: the price must be between $2.99 and $9.99, must be lower than the hard copy price by at least 20%, and text-to-speech and other experimental features would have to be enabled.

The second and perhaps more surprising announcement is the release of a software development kit (SDK) for the Kindle, allowing developers to write applications for the device. What kinds of things programmers will do for the limited device, I’m not sure.

So what’s prompted all of this? Apple. The impending announcement of their tablet computer next week has everyone on pins and needles, and it surely has Amazon rethinking their own business model in order to stay competitive. I’m not convinced that the Apple device will be the publishing or world cure-all some anticipate, but if they can do for the tablet what they did for the smartphone (make a high-end, niche device a popular consumer product), Amazon--and everyone else--better watch out.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Newbery, Caldecott, and a Faux Pas

by Stacey

The Pulitzers of children's books were announced this week, and the Newbery winner, Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, was tweeted about by an insider at Random House 17 minutes before the award was officially revealed. Oops. Such is the danger of the digital age. The post was taken down almost as soon as it was put up, and Random House has been quiet about the culprit.

The Caldecott for best illustrated book goes to Jerry Pinkney's The Lion and the Mouse, a wordless picture book.

If any of you blog readers have read or seen either of these and want to share your thoughts, we'd love to hear them!


by Miriam

It’s hard not to be amused by the SarcMark and the notion that writers need a symbol to express sarcasm. And yet, I worry that this new emoticon (someone’s already peddling the software that will add it seamlessly to your happy/sad face repertoire) is just another way to dumb down the writing process. If you can’t convey sarcasm on the page (or the screen) with the right combination of syntactical elements such as repetition, hyperbole, and oppositional concepts--and a dash of general mean spiritedness--well then you probably should just resort to being earnest.

Can you imagine these people using a SarcMark?

“No, Groucho is not my real name. I am breaking it in for a friend.” – Groucho Marx

“You have delighted us long enough.” – Jane Austen

“He has all of the virtues I dislike and none of the vices I admire.” – Winston Churchill

“Reader, suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain.

“He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary.” – William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway)

“Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?” – Ernest Hemingway

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Titling, and DGLM's first contest!

by Lauren

The Ghostbusters theme has been ringing through my head this morning, because of a charmingly named article I’ve been corresponding about written by one of the agency’s clients. I’ve had “Paperback Writer” stuck in my head for days because of my own foolish blog post title from Friday. And I was once tormented for months by two projects I had on submission at the same time that had song lyrics as working titles.

Titles can certainly stick with us, especially when they’re allusions to something else. In college I took a class on literature of the “transition” with a professor who was fond of irrelevant tangents, so I often entertained myself by picking out book titles from the poetry course pack. WB Yeats’s “The Second Coming” alone is owed a debt of gratitude from the classics Things Fall Apart and Slouching Towards Bethlehem, and if you search the poem’s key phrases you can find a surprising number of others. WWI era poetry has also provided authors quite a bit of inspiration.

And beyond songs and poetry, puns and movie titles provide a treasure trove of opportunities for books, especially series fiction. Our own Victoria Laurie’s two mystery series are a perfect example.

Unfortunately, titling books is often much, much harder than just coming up with something to reference. As agents, we often have a hand in helping to come up with great titles for our books—and brainstorming lists of options for each others’ clients can be both a fun and trying experience. Recently, after hundreds of choices were suggested and nixed for a particular book, I decided to consult the internet for help and stumbled upon a great and also hysterical tool for authors: author MD Benoit’s Random Title Generator (note: there are words that might offend some, so use with caution). We actually found a handful of really good titles—though none quite right for the book—and some that were so delightfully unfortunate we had to share those with each other, too. Click on over to the title generator and get yourself a new title for your masterpiece or a working title so atrocious it’ll help lighten the mood whenever you get frustrated with writers’ block.

But we think that you, our faithful blog readers, can do better than a random word combiner. So come up with the best bad fake book title you can and leave it in the comments—bonus points for giving us a logline or subtitle to give us context. We’ll take entries until the end of the day on Friday, select our favorites as finalists, and let you fine folks pick the winner here on the blog. Winner gets a shiny new DGLM water bottle!

Chasya's Questions Corner: On platform building

by Chasya


Agents have insisted on their blogs that the best way for an
unpublished author to build a platform is by beginning a blog. Yet, no
one seems to discuss what to do with a blog of say three hundred plus
followers after you've accomplished this. Can you mention or link to
it in a query letter to agents? Is it foolish or wise? Why?


Thanks for your question. First let me clarify that there are many misconceptions out there about how to build a platform and authors are often instructed to blindly get cracking on a blog, as well as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter accounts. Keep in mind that not all online platforms will suit all writers. If you’re not frequently updating your content and dedicated to the task of blogging and networking, you’re not going to garner the following you need to attract attention from publishing folk. You wouldn’t necessarily want to link to your blog unless you have a substantial number of followers. This number would be in the thousands, though it’s hard to be too specific here, as what is considered significant depends on the book you’re writing, the topic, etc…


Send your questions to!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book?

by Lauren

I've been on a bit of a Beatles kick lately, and--rather than my usual method of creating playlists of songs I already love by various artists--I decided to actually listen to some albums in full.  Much to my surprise, I've discovered that a song I never liked is actually pretty fun:  "Paperback Writer."

I wonder if my opinion has changed since I probably last really listened to it before I spent so much time with the slush pile: a song that's actually a query letter is truly a delight.  (It bears an unfortunate resemblance to some of the more misguided queries that come our way!)  I can certainly think of songs about books or about writers or about trying to write, but I can't think of any other songs about the business of publishing.  

There must be some, and I love a good themed playlist, so can anyone think of any other songs about the publishing industry?  Songs about writing, books, and authors also welcome.

Famous voices

by Rachel

I’m excited by the wonders of the audio book world--just the fact that I can listen to Stephen Fry narrate The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy makes me giddy with literary happiness. So, I thought I’d share this fun link that reads like a senior superlatives page in a high school yearbook, only this time matching celebrities to the novels they’ve narrated.

After reading this, it made me wonder who I’d really like to see narrating my favorite book. I’m going to go with Isabella Rossellini reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck--an interesting combination to say the least, but amazing nonetheless. Is there a particular celebrity you’d like to hear reading your favorite book? Or a celebrity that just doesn’t make a good fit for a particular audio book?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Books in translation

by Jessica

This week’s New Yorker has a wonderful article on Arabic Literature: "Found in Translation" by Claudia Roth Pierpont. Since my time in Cairo was spent working on contemporary Arab fiction—I sold translation rights to books to American and international publishers, including many by authors cited in this piece—this is a subject close to my heart. Not long before this, A Public Space ran Bryan T. Edward's very smart piece on Cairo's young literati. Clearly, as I remarked to a colleague who acquires international fiction (one of a handful in the publishing industry), these articles presage a new commercial trend, one in which works in translation rocket right to the top of the bestseller lists, elbowing aside assorted tales of the undead.

Stranger things have happened.

Blog publicity dos and don'ts

by Michael

Lauren pointed me to this excellent post about dos and don’ts for publicists from blogger Lindsay Robertson. The don’ts should be obvious, but sadly, it seems that they aren’t. What I found more interesting, and possibly surprising, were the dos. The rule that really caught my attention was “Pick Eight Blogs.” She suggests that publicists pick eight blogs to publicize to. Yep, just eight. By targeting the most appropriate outlets and building relationships with them, the contention is that coverage will be both better and wider. But how is that possible if you’re only pitching eight blogs? Because the bigger internet sites scan the smaller sites to find their content. And by not throwing things at everyone in sight, you can get higher-quality coverage that people actually pay attention to. Very savvy, very practical, and much more fulfilling for the publicist, I think.

It strikes me that there are lessons here for authors. By being smart and focused about submissions, whether when looking for an agent or promoting one’s own work, authors increase the likelihood of a hit. In a world where it’s easy to communicate broadly, who doesn’t appreciate a tailored message? I know that I more carefully consider the queries that are specifically tailored to me. By doing the research and narrowing the list, an author with an attractive project is more likely to find an agent.

The same is true when author goes to promote her own book. By selecting a limited number of bloggers to approach and tailoring the pitch to each blogger’s interests, an author is more likely to get serious attention. It likely takes the same amount of time as blindly contacting hundreds of people, but the quality of the hits you get will certainly make up for anything lost in numbers.

I know this is something I’ll have in mind when talking to authors and book publicists in the future, and I’m sure this concept can be applied to other aspects of book publishing and beyond.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

1001 children's books

by Stacey

I saw 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up by Julia Eccleshare on Daily Candy and just thought it was so fun, and would be such a nice gift for new parents. A great resource for book lovers and the kids we're trying to raise to be book readers.  Check it out, and let us know if they missed any of your favorites!

So much to read, so little time….

by Miriam

As usual, I’m juggling three different books that I’m reading for pleasure along with the roughly 675 manuscripts and proposals I’m reading for work (I exaggerate, but only slightly). As all you voracious readers know, however, there are always more literary worlds to conquer. So, as I ponder the long months of inclement weather ahead of us still, and the myriad interesting looking books publishers are rolling out every day, here’s my wish list…right now:

(1) GAME CHANGE by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann – Along with the rest of the country I was fascinated by the 2008 presidential campaign. But this gossipy, inside baseball account promises to change the way we look at all the players.

(2) WHERE THE GOD OF LOVE HANGS OUT by Amy Bloom – I’ve been on a short story kick lately and I hear good things about Amy Bloom. Mostly, I just like the title.

(3) LET THE GREAT WORLD SPIN by Colum McCann – I’ve actually started this one and am dazzled already.

(4) YOU: ON A DIET by Michael F. Roizen and Mehmet Oz – Post-holiday guilt about overindulging? Maybe. But I like the “YOU” books and the way the authors present useful information.

(5) JUST KIDS by Patti Smith – Great early reviews for this memoir about the iconic rocker and her crew.

(6) THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO by Stieg Larsson – Because if one more person tells me I have to read this series….

(7) WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel – I’m a sucker for well crafted historical fiction and this sounds splendid.

(8) DRIVE: THE SURPRISING TRUTH ABOUT WHAT MOTIVATES US by Daniel Pink – A subject I’ve always been fascinated by. And, maybe, just trying to get myself motivated in the new year.

(9) BORN TO RUN by Christopher McDougall – I’ve been toying with the idea of taking up running again. Probably won’t do it, but I can read about it….

There is no #10. Right now.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Kirkus not giving up yet

by Chasya

Pub Rants points to an article in Publishers Weekly that indicates that Kirkus might not be dead and gone after all. For those who were concerned about where the uber-snarky reviews were going to come from now, you can breathe a sigh of relief.

Why I Am an Agent (Stacey)

by Stacey

I think it's so interesting to learn how people got to where they are. I guess everyone has a story to tell. It might be a stretch, but I'll start at the beginning by saying that my agenting career, or at least the path there, began when I was a professional child actor starting back in the early 80s. I worked with an agent then and got to understand a bit about what they did, and I was also faced with an enormous amount of rejection! During college, I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, having spent so much of my childhood in front of the camera, so I studied film, and psychology. Upon graduation, I felt a little lost, like most post-grads do, and found a couple of internships in NY in film development, essentially looking for books to be adapted into movies. I eventually landed jobs at PolyGram Filmed Entertainment and Hearst Entertainment, where I scouted for books-to-film, and got to knows agents, editors, and the book biz in general. I realized pretty quickly that trying to pursue a career in film in New York was an almost insurmountable challenge. I knew it couldn't last because of how dispensable these New York film offices were, and so I planned to move to LA to infiltrate myself deeper into the world of film. With one foot practically out the door, I met my now-husband on a blind date and decided the west coast move was out, and I took a long look at what I wanted to do and realized that an agenting career, or at least a job at an agency, was the right direction for me to take.

When the opportunity to work with the esteemed Jane Dystel came up, my then-boss and mentor at Hearst recommended I jump on it. In February, 1999, a new and exciting chapter in my life began. I have to admit the first year or so was rocky, trying to learn my way around with no clients, lots of admin to handle (a highlight of which was hiring Jim and Michael, and I'm sticking to my story about Michael's blue hair!), and little understanding of what this side of the business was really all about. I remember hearing Jane and Miriam talk so fast about so many things in our morning meetings and wondered if I'd ever really get the language of book publishing. But I was intrigued and up to the challenge, and before long, Jane started passing projects my way. I eventually started coming up with my own book ideas, signed up my first client, and submitted my first project to editors. The moment when I got the call that an editor was "running numbers" on a proposal I'd submitted, I thought I was having a heart attack my heart was beating so fast. I was hooked. One project led to another, and before long, I was selling lots of books in all kinds of different categories. And I was loving every minute of it. I think that being an agent is a little like being a drug or a gambling addict (in a healthy way)--you are always on the prowl for that high you get from selling books, and you never know when that big hit is going to come your way. And of course, once you start, it's hard to stop.

Now almost eleven years later, I can say without pause that I am doing what I love, and feel rewarded in big and small ways with the work that I do. I am very grateful for the opportunities that Jane and Miriam have given me here over the years, and that they believed in me even when I didn't believe in myself. I feel truly lucky that I have found a career that is satisfying and fulfilling in ways I didn't think possible when my journey began so long ago. I have four kids at home now, and I love them enormously, but my extended publishing family of clients, colleagues, and friends is just as important to me, and I cherish each and every one of them. I am looking forward to a big and bright future for all of us in this wonderful and wacky world of words we inhabit.

Monday, January 11, 2010

"And this is a delight."

by Lauren

Aspiring authors, published authors, and non-authors alike, do yourselves a favor and take a moment to check out Ben Yagoda's essay in the New York Times on readers' access to writers in our technological age. 
I can only think of one occasion that I've done it on a purely personal level: I was trying to recall the title of a beautiful novel I'd read in college (Bapsi Sidwha's Cracking India) that had been titled one thing when originally published, another in the US, and a third when made into a film.  Upon googling, I stumbled across the author's website. Uncharacteristically, I took a moment to reach out to her and say how fantastic her book was and how much it had stuck with me. And I was delighted when, over a year later, she came across my email and realizing she had not thanked me, wrote back.

Since I haven't done it again, apparently the reward of hearing back wasn't enough to encourage me (though by that point I was an agent, and ethically it had become more complicated) to continue reaching out.  Obviously the examples in the essay are the odd, amusing, or frustrating ones, but do any of you routinely contact authors of books you've read?  And published authors, what emails do you get to rival Mary Karr's love letters from the incarcerated?

The top 10%

by Jim

I just discovered Adrienne Kress’s delightful blog this morning, and she has posted a list of four questions to ask yourself before you query that can assure you’re in the top 10% of submissions.

From an agent’s point of view, she’s totally right. You look at the numbers, and they can be incredibly discouraging. Yes, agents turn down 99% of what they see. But the chances are that since you’ve gotten this far—that you’re reading an agency blog, that you’re doing research—you’re already at the head of the pack. I say the same thing anytime I speak at writers’ conferences. You wouldn’t believe how much material we get that is so off-base or utterly baffling. Seeing writers show up for conferences or visit our websites and educate themselves on the business of publishing…it’s incredibly encouraging.

Of course, maybe I say this here, but you’ve already queried and gotten a form rejection letter. Does that mean we bundled you in with the people who have no idea what they’re doing? Well, no. The fact of the matter is that sometimes I see a perfectly adequate query letter for a project that sounds a lot like something else I represent. Or I see the right kind of novel for me, but it deals with some topic I can’t stand like parrots or something (note: I have no actual aversion to parrots. It’s just a bad example). Because we do get hundreds of queries a week (that’s really not an exaggeration), we can’t necessarily take the time to differentiate between the queries that were perfectly good but not quite right or the ones by people who seem unacquainted with ideas like sentences and commas.

So what does it mean? I’m such a broken record, but it means keep trying. I’ve always felt that books that deserve to get published do eventually make it through. It may not be an easy road, and it may not be a fast one. You may not even realize until you write your next book that THAT’S the one that is meant to be your debut. But if you keep going, eventually you’ll break through if you’re meant to.

E-Reader frenzy

by Jane

The news coming out of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is very exciting for our business. An article in last Friday’s Wall Street Journal and another in Saturday’s New York Times announced that in the next several months over half a dozen new readers will be introduced into the market.

I say the more the better. This is definitely going to mean more readers and higher sales of books in all formats. I am delighted.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Bestsellers of the past and the imagination

by Rachel

Here is a link you must click on from the Book Bench blog to read one hilarious tongue-in-cheek bestseller list by Steve Hely (this might cause smirking or laughing-out-loud), as well as a century’s worth of (actual) bestseller lists (this left me wondering about all the wonderful books I’ve yet to read).

Books I will hate

by Lauren

Yesterday, Jessica discussed Laura Miller’s book on CS Lewis, and today I bring you more of her wisdom, this time from Salon. Earlier this week, Miller recommended we all try something new in 2010: read a book we think we won’t like. I’ll admit that while I’ve grown much more open since I began working in publishing, with my personal reading, I invariably leap for the same sorts of books I’ve always loved. My “free time” reading piles at home have the same general character as the ones that were in my college dorm rooms. When taking the luxury of reading purely for my own enjoyment, I rarely think it’s worth reading trying something I’m not naturally excited about. But I know from my professional experience that sometimes wonderful books are hiding in categories we hesitate to touch or under plots that seem at first glance unappealing.

I’m not generally one for New Year’s resolutions (as it’s universally acknowledged that those are merely things we pretend we’re going to do or else we’d have begun them when we decided they were important rather than arbitrarily on January 1st…er, 7th…oh, by early February at the latest), but I’ll take Miller’s suggestion on in 2010: I will read, for my personal reading, at least one book I’m convinced I will hate.

Since I’m the naturally contrary sort, it shouldn’t be too hard to find something wonderful that I’d normally shove aside. And hey, if I do hate it, I might’ve wasted my time, but I’ll also feel totally vindicated.

Is anyone else prepared to take on this challenge? And does anyone have ground rules about what’s unreadable as delightful and random as Miller’s? If anyone has a graphic novel about 20-something magicians living on a ranch in Prague while working in the silent movie business and feeling disenchanted with their relationships with rabbis, they may want to suggest their publicist steer clear of Miller’s desk at review time. (But they should probably send that manuscript to me, because I bet it’s amazing!)

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why I Am an Agent (Michael)

by Michael

I figure it’s my turn to explain why it is I do what I do, as Jane, Jim, Lauren, Chasya, and Rachel have—if only to satisfy the clients who keep asking when I’d do one of these!

It all started at the end of the last decade, December of 1999. It was my senior year, and I really needed a job. I had no idea what to do, and was thinking of finding something in retail, as I love a good discount. But my friend Jim McCarthy told me that the literary agency where he was interning was looking for another paid intern. Now, Jim had told me what he was doing, but frankly I never quite understood. These people were agents for authors? Why did authors need agents? And isn’t publishing for rich kids who want a hobby career? Though I didn’t think it was the job or industry for me, I figured it couldn’t hurt to go in and interview.

Like Jim, I was interviewed by Stacey Glick. If you talk to her, she’ll tell you that I had blue hair at the time. This is not true. I had bright, bleached-blond hair. The blue hair came later. (And the blue dye largely ran out of my hair when I had to make a delivery to one of our most important clients in the pouring rain that summer.) I believe she hired me on the spot, and I started working Friday of the same week.
I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning. I did what people requested, paid lots of attention, and started asking questions. Slowly, but surely, I came to be very interested and involved in what was going on at the agency. I’d loved books growing up, but I’d not been the same kind of reader in college. It was great to get back to reading things that were fresh, new and contemporary. And, as I looked around, I liked what I saw: a group of smart, creative, engaged, interesting people helping authors manage their careers. Just a few short months later, I was hooked—on publishing, agenting, and DGLM. When Jane and Miriam offered me a job in September of that year, I was honored, and I jumped at the chance.

When I started full-time, I was doing much of what I did as an intern, along with managing royalties and helping Jane with submissions. But quickly, I took on new responsibilities. I began assisting the rights director, learning the ins and outs of the foreign and domestic rights markets. When she left the agency a few years later, I took over the agency’s rights, eventually attending the London Book Fair with Jane and selling rights around the world. At the same time, I was building a list of my own, something Jane encouraged me to do within my first year at the agency. I started representing children’s books at Jane’s suggestion, something I was unsure of at the time(!). But quickly I found that I had a passion for middle grade and YA books, and my career as an agent really took off then. Several years ago now, I became a full agent, and the talented Lauren Abramo took over as our rights director, freeing me up to focus on my own projects.
Last year I was very excited to be promoted to vice president at the agency, and just as pleased this past December when I moved to Los Angeles to open a West Coast office for DGLM. I tell people all the time—I’d never have had these opportunities at any other agency or in any other job, and I’m forever grateful to Jane for that.

Our industry is going through big, drastic, challenging changes, and I’m glad that Jane, Miriam, the rest of the DGLM staff and I are working together to attack them head-on. My ten-year journey with the agency has been full of amazing experiences and opportunities, and I am just as enthusiastic about the ten years to come.

The Magician's Book

by Jessica

Over the holidays, I gave myself the gift of a bit of pleasure reading; one of the books on the NYT’s year end best list, Laura Miller’s The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia. It is essentially a work of literary criticism devoted to C.S. Lewis’s beloved series. Miller, who adored the Narnia series, nevertheless felt bitterly tricked when she discovered they were a Christian allegory. Kids, she argues, are literalists, and as heavy handed as the religious symbolism may be, they lack the general knowledge to see the similarities between a story about a magical lion and the Christian messiah. Years later, Miller returned to the books to examine them as an adult. Hers is a smart and fairly serious undertaking, one that I’ve enjoyed in part because her childhood experience so closely mirrors my own. One idea in particular has really stuck with me. She posits that most avid readers, folks who love books (most of you, I imagine), are forever in search of the purity and pleasure of that first book (or books) that so enchanted us. That as adults, we can never quite recapture that absolute delight when our critical faculties were not yet developed, and our immersion in fiction was complete. That we read, now, in some sense, in an effort to get back to the garden.

For me, the books were, in fact the Chronicles (hence my interest in Miller’s book). But I’ve not reread the series as a grown-up precisely because I fear finding them wanting, hollow, devoid of the pleasure they once afforded me. I’m curious to know what your touchstone book was, and if you’ve ventured to read it now that you can, perhaps, see its shortcomings, peek behind the curtain.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

High expectations

by Stacey

It occurred to me as a publishing professional reading this painful review of Elizabeth Gilbert's new book that there is a case to be made for unpublished authors having certain advantages over bestselling authors. No track record can be a very good thing when it comes to selling books. Granted, it's very hard to get noticed in the slush pile given the volume of submissions agents receive, and if you are lucky enough to find a good agent who will fight for your book, the hurdles to get it sold are often high and daunting. But let's say you get there and the book becomes a huge runaway hit. Then what? How does one follow up a success like Eat, Pray, Love, arguably one of the most successful books of the last decade? It sounds like from the descriptions I've been reading about Gilbert's experience, not easily. She wrote and trashed an entire draft of this book (I wince every time I think about the author, the editor, the publisher, the agent, and what they must have gone through during this grueling process), and based on Maslin's review, it sounds like she might have been better off doing the same for the final! For all the money and fame, there are real challenges that come with having a hit like Gilbert did, and while the book has certainly made her a millionaire and this follow-up is likely to have strong early sales based on name alone, it sounds like it might wind up being a disappointment because the expectations are just so high. Once you hit that mighty bestseller list, the conversations get more complicated, and the pressure to perform and beat the last one can be challenging at best and impossible to achieve at worst. Sometimes the dream is better than the reality, but isn't that often the case in life? If you are able to enjoy and savor the process of writing, stay focused on the positives, work hard and passionately despite any obstacles you might face, there's a lot to be grateful for doing what you love, especially at the start of a new year.

Colum McCann loves books, America, Obama

by Jim

Colum McCann published this gorgeous op-ed the day after Christmas.  I was distinctly not reading the newspaper the day after Christmas, so I just found it today. In a few short paragraphs, he covers the impact of literature, the election of Barack Obama, and his own swearing in as an American citizen.

I wish more people could write like him, and I wish more people’s lives were as fully enriched by the books they had read. I have a feeling that visitors here will be able to relate to both wishes.

Happy new year, folks!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Chasya's Questions Corner: On Resubmitting

by Chasya


I had a manuscript on submission and got double-digit requests for fulls. All were rejections. I had material out to a dozen or so agents when I realized, after a year plus of rejections, that the novel wasn't publishable. I withdrew my manuscript from submission from all the agents and told them I was doing a massive overhaul. All agreed to look at the new work when I was finished. Fast forward two years: I saved about 25% of the old MS, added some subplots, tweaked some characters, and heavily revised the plot. I'll be ready to query soon. I would first like to approach the agents from whom I withdrew the original MS. I still have all the emails, but is it too late to approach them and say, "hey, remember me? I'm back! You wanna take a peek?”


It would be one thing to resubmit the manuscript with the attitude that these agents have been waiting with bated breath for two years to read your material, but that’s clearly not what you’re doing. There’s no harm in dropping them a line to ask if they’d like to see it in it’s different/improved state. Remind them of who you are and the circumstances that led you to withdraw your material. If they’re still interested in having a look they’ll let you know.

We need your questions! Send them along to

Monday, January 04, 2010

Questions to ask yourself

by Lauren

Just came across this really handy item that SCBWI's Kathy Temean posted on her blog: Top Ten Questions Dutton Editors Ask Themselves When Looking At A Manuscript.  Very useful for all writers, especially novelists, whichever market they write for and whether or not Dutton would be interested.  I recommend you consider these points about your own manuscript before you share it, because most of these are questions that'll be asked down the line throughout the publishing process, in many cases all the way up to readers buying your book.

(via Janet Reid)

New Year, new discussions of e-book rights!

by Miriam

I agree with almost everything Jonathan Galassi says in his Op-Ed piece in Sunday’s New York Times about the fact that books, even the ones penned by authors who are considered literary geniuses, are not the product of just one individual spewing brilliance at the world. I go back to my oft repeated point that in this new era of e-books, blogs, vlogs, and all things digital, we’ll still need agents and publishers to act as gatekeepers, shepherds and midwives. My only quarrel with the piece is, of course, Mr. Galassi’s somewhat disingenuous (he is a publisher, after all) implication that Random House (or any other publisher) should be automatically “involved” in these e-book rights (meaning that they would control and derive revenue from them) because of their work in producing the original book. If, as he says, e-books are just another format of a book (like audio and translations), then these rights should be “in play” when a book is sold. And, if the author retains those rights, he or she should be able to dispose of them in any way they see fit without having to involve the publisher of the original work.

What do you say?

Three New Year's Wishes

by Jane

Over the holiday, I thought long and hard about what I wish for our business in 2010 and here are three things I would love to see happen:

For those who believe the readers of electronic books are the same readers as for hard-copy books, let’s experiment and see. Try publishing both versions simultaneously and with another equally marketable title, publish the hardcover first and the electronic version 4 to 6 months later. It seems to me this is far more sensible than just speculating endlessly on the subject.

I hope that in 2010 editors will take more time to consider projects submitted to them. During the last year, perhaps because of the publishing economy, perhaps because of cutbacks in personnel and increased workloads, it seemed to me that editors were more than ever before “programmed” to say no. Many of them even admitted just sending the proposal back after reading the cover note because they were “sure” it wasn’t for them. Authors and agents work very hard on these proposals and consider carefully to whom they are submitting. If we are going to improve the quality of the books being published, editors need to take more time in considering the submissions they receive.

Finally, I hope the New Year brings a renewal of respect and collegiality in our business. In the last couple of years, for whatever reason, I have seen less of both between author and agent, publisher and author, and even among peers within the industry. If our business is to survive, we have to communicate better, more honestly and more respectfully with each other.

I wish all of you a prosperous 2010--may it be filled with peace, good health and lots of bestselling books.