Friday, April 30, 2010

Literary Olympics

by Rachel
Matt Stewart’s call for a literary draft, posted on the Huffington Post, sounds like an excellent idea! With the enormous amount of money being thrown around in the NFL draft, why not take a fraction of that money to discover the next literary superstar? Matt asks us to humor him with this idea, so let’s do that.

The LitDraft, he says, is more than a recruitment tool. He envisions this event going on TV, with running commentary, red carpet interviews, and “nifty segments on writers’ fascinating stories.” Matt believes this will get people excited about new voices, as well as getting those not so interested in reading, interested in reading.

The article may be all tongue-in-cheek, but I love the idea of a LitDraft. So, why not go one step further and hold the Literary Olympics? It could be a cross between Iron Chef and Wipeout. I’ve already though of one event: The Write Splash. Authors get one hour to come up with the synopsis of a story; the contestants are then judged on character and plot development by famous authors; one winner goes onto the next heat, the losers have to sit through a reading of bad celebrity biographies as they’re being pelted with water balloons.

Any other ideas as to what events could be held?

Tabloid lit

by Lauren

While I've not been much of a trashy magazine reader since I was a teenager (except for when I lived in Ireland where British tabloids abound, because they really are the masters of the genre!), I loved this Flavorpill post on which tabloid staples our great literary figures most closely resemble.  It's hard to decide in some cases whom the comparison is crueler to: the fictional trainwreck or the real-life one. 

But I quibble with some of their choices.  Gatsby and Diddy seem similar on the surface, which I suppose is somewhat fitting the themes of the book, but Diddy just doesn't seem as emotionally damaged as poor pathetic Jay.  For me, Gatsby's all about the pathos and how poorly the surface covers it up if you really look.  I'd probably have gone for some unloved and unloveable poseur who hangs with the heiress set but is still never totally of them.  Admittedly, I can't think of someone who fits.  Nicole Richie?  Clearly seems to have her issues, and she wasn't born into wealth--though unlike Gatsby, she didn't work her way in either.  Lindsay Lohan, perhaps?  (I clearly love Gatsby, but have never been a fan of Mr. Combs, so perhaps that's my issue.  Poor little LiLo, though, I'm still giving credit for the sheer watchability of her Parent Trap remake, which I've seen roughly 80 million times on television.)

And perhaps it's just me, but George Clooney oozes charisma, whereas Darcy seems more reserved and steadfast.  Frankly, I don't see a Darcy type ending up in the tabloids unless he...I don't know...saves a small child or cute puppy during a slow news week?

But it's got me thinking, and now I'm trying to figure out who would stand in for some other classics.  Clarissa Dalloway?  Jo March?  And who is John Mayer in the canon?

Thursday, April 29, 2010

On writing manuals

by Jessica

At long last I have seized the opportunity to read the Atlantic fiction issue, which has sat neglected on my coffee table, patiently awaiting my attention, for far too many days. Much as I hate the fact that the Atlantic no longer serves up a short story a month, their dedicated fiction issue almost makes up for it . This year’s line-up does not disappoint: there’s a refreshingly cranky piece by Paul Theroux on e-books and the future of reading, a creepy T.C. Boyle story and a piece by Joyce Carol Oates (one blogger waggishly wondered if including stories by Boyle and Oates is some kind of lit-mag requirement), and Richard Bausch’s essay “How to Write in 700 Easy Lessons: The Case Against Writing Manuals.”  In it, Bausch argues that despite the success and proliferation of books that promise to teach you how to write a [fill-in-genre-here] novel in 15 easy steps or offer to share the “secrets” of successful novelists, writing is not a skill that can be taught in the manner of model airplane construction or home repair. The whole essay is well worth a read, but I’ll cut to the chase:
“My advice? Put the manuals and the how-to books away. Read the writers themselves, whose work and example are all you really need if you want to write. And wanting to write is so much more than a pose. To my mind, nothing is as important as good writing, because in literature, the walls between people and cultures are broken down, and the things that plague us most—suspicion and fear of the other, and the tendency to see whole groups of people as objects, as monoliths of one cultural stereotype or another—are defeated.”
I don’t disagree with Bausch’s recommendation that aspiring writers should be broad and assiduous readers, and I nearly stood and cheered at his last line; good writing does undermine cultural stereotypes. But on further reflection, the whole polemic, well-crafted and funny as it was, rang a bit hollow. I somehow doubt that books that peddle “shortcuts” to being a good writer are exerting an especially malign influence on the world of letters. It’s unlikely that novels written solely according to the literary equivalent of paint-by-numbers get published, much less endure (though there are, I realize, exceptions to every rule). Most aspiring writers are readers (right?) and most writers figure out that the path they’ve chosen is not only devoid of the kind of shortcuts Bausch deplores, it’s uphill over brutal terrain. If books on writing are useful triggers to imagination/discipline, are they deserving of scorn?
Since the vast majority of the folks who read this blog are writers, I’m interested to know what you think: are there writing guides that you swear by? Manuals you recommend? Do you agree with Bausch that that how-to books foster cookie cutter writing? Do you think, more broadly, that good writing can be taught at all?

A day at the printer

by Michael

A recent post over at MobileRead led me to this amazing graphic about how books are made--not the editorial stuff, but rather how a physical book is taken from digital file to printed copies. It’s quite educational, and very, very geeky. When I shared the link with Lauren, her reaction was the same as mine: it looks like a Richard Scarry book! And like Mr. Scarry’s A Day at the Airport would keep me occupied for hours, I have a feeling I’ll be spending a lot of time with this!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Notes to your younger self

by Stacey

I loved this clever marketing idea from YA author Sarah Mlynowski, whose new novel is about to come out. In anticipation, she asked fellow YA authors what they would tell their high school selves if given the chance. Not surprisingly, she's had a great response and people are loving the conversation. My personal favorite is from DGLM client, Sara Zarr: "@sarazarr: You are NOT FAT. You will be, but you're not now, so enjoy it."

If you were able to communicate with your high school self, what would you say? I wouldn't even know where to begin, but I better start thinking about it with four little girls of my own who will be teenagers before long!

Is blogging killing writing?

by Miriam

Being the chatty bunch we are here at DGLM, we spend almost as much time talking about whether we should be blogging as we spend actually blogging. For us, the issue is the time it takes to come up with a blog topic on our allotted blogging day each week, the time it takes to find an interesting story to comment on, the time it takes to write our post, the time it takes to read the ensuing comments and respond, if appropriate or necessary…. In short, all of us are conflicted about how much time away from our always reproducing piles of work blogging demands. And, yet, we do it because you can’t be a forward thinking outfit in this day and age without a blog presence (secretly, some of us even enjoy the interaction with our readers and followers).

This piece in the Daily Beast is interesting in that it raises another topic. Is blogging making writers less able to write anything with more substance than a People magazine article? Is it imperiling long, satisfying narratives, replacing them with the literary equivalent of gossipy chit chat?

Obviously a lot of people are worried about the fate of the publishing business. But what about the fate of literary works and the actual craft of writing?

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The LA Times Book Fest

by Chasya

It brings us no greater pleasure than when we see tangible examples that prove that the bookpocalypse that is constantly being predicted is not imminent. Hence my joy at this wonderful PW article citing that this weekend’s Los Angeles Times Festival of Books was a great success that drew record crowds of 130,000 attendees. Nice going LA! The Huffington Post has a good recap of the events--uh, including a seemingly unrelated Tetris flash mob at the festival. But who am I to complain? I love a good flash mob almost as much as I love Tetris.

What’s your favorite thing about book fairs, readers? Aside from mingling with like-minded book lovers, of course!

Choosing the first lines

by Jim

There are several reasons I think the internet is made of magic. First, I put out a call for a first lines contest and ended up with 263 comments on the post (some of them were duplicates, but there’s no way I’m counting to find out the exact number of entries). Regardless, that’s a darned impressive tally. Second, some of them were great. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, when I posted the nine finalists, we got my favorite kind of response: anonymous snarkiness.

No seriously, I love the snarky. That the first comment asked me whether I chose the best or worst nine entries made me smile. Interestingly, someone else took the time to critique all nine entries. And while my first instinct was to rip them a new one, on a second read through, I saw that they actually made some thoughtful points, a few of which I didn’t disagree with. So I thought it would be fun/enlightening to go through and offer their critique along with my response to it as well as the entries themselves.

Before that, I want to take a quick moment to say thank you again to everyone who posted an entry. There were so many to choose from, and some really great ones slipped by. There are three in particular that I’m still mentally rotating with some of the entries I chose. A few commenters yesterday mentioned first lines that they admired: I’d love for you to share which you chose, and I’m sure the folks who penned them will be delighted to be discussed!

Now, on to the main event:

“The next time Hermes brought her back from the Underworld, Persephone wept tears of rage.”

Anonymous says: “Feels too close to pre-existing mythology.”

Jim says: Well…yeah. But I love this sentence. Not only am I a mythology fan, but I think there’s real room in the marketplace for more fiction based in Greek and Roman myths. Beyond that, the language feels nicely in tune with the subject matter but also feels effortless. And even if you know nothing about these gods, you’re left with a tantalizing question: why would someone feel rage for being taken out of hell?

"I saw her do it before she did.”

Anonymous wonders: “What does"it" refer to?”

Jim says: I don’t know. But I want to. This sentence hits a sweet spot between vague and specific that makes me ask a lot of questions. Not only what “it” is (which I assume will be answered in a later sentence), but whether this is about a main character with some sort of psychic ability, or if “she” may lack awareness of what she’s doing, in fact whether the speaker is seeing something that hasn’t happened or whether the subject is doing something without “seeing” it. It’s open ended without feeling clumsy, and it pushes me to want to know more.

“I'm pretty sure my sister had decided to become a pagan or a baptist or something before she offed herself so I don't know why we were having a Catholic funeral.”

Anonymous feels: “"Had decided" versus "decided" and the second "or" with "something" dilutes the power of the sentence.”

Jim feels: I’m going to disagree completely on this one. The “or something” is completely crucial to the success of this sentence. It reinforces the narrator’s indifference to their sister making this seem that much more wrong in so many right ways. As for the “had,” I’d keep it. It feels right for the voice which is key in the first person. This line seems to be giving us a tough yet funny narrator who isn’t afraid to tell it like it is. I most definitely want to hear more from him/her.

"Homo sapiens sluttiwhen drunkus. The subspecies to which I apparently belong."

Anonymous asks: “Am I the only one missing a verb?”

Jim says: I’m not going to lie. This is the only entry that I almost edited ever so slightly before posting. I would much rather the period after “drunkus” was a colon, making this one sentence, or really: setting it up as a single definition. A verb? Totally unnecessary. I let the punctuation slide because I laughed out loud when I read it. A lot of people tried to be funny. This represents one of the few who succeeded.

“There are four Captain Stupendous fan clubs in Copperplate City, but ours is the only one that doesn't suck.”

Anonymous states: “Better stated if it didn't start with "There"”

Jim says: Huh? I don’t understand that comment. This was a triumphant entry. I never doubted its place among the finalists because it captures a voice. I can pick out the genre AND identify a likely speaker in under 20 words. I’ve said before that you can teach writing but you can’t teach voice. Happily, this author doesn’t need any help.

"I will never be Lady Hakebourn."

Anonymous offers: “Okay, but classic problem”

Jim says: True. But there’s so much room to re-explore stories that have been told in new and exciting ways. I dig this because it’s simple and straightforward but also sounds as though it will propel the reader right into the story. I saw a lot of entries that touched on a pet peeve of mine: weather writing. I’ve mentioned it before, and I know that people will be able to come up with great examples of when writing about the weather has been employed to brilliant effect. Trouble is, too many people use rainstorms and cloudy days and whistling wind to set the reader up, and 99 times out of 100, it serves only to delay the opening and prevent the reader from being immediately engaged. Here, the author starts with a blunt enough statement that I feel as though I know the next sentence will build on it. It’s not going to be, say: I will never be Lady Hakebourn. It was a sunny day in June, and a warm wind was stirring up a dustcloud by the barn…

"I wondered if the girl sitting at the front desk knew that things like me existed.”

Anonymous queries: “Extraneous "that," what is the "thing"?”

Jim says: I’m going to go 50% with Anonymous on this. I would absolutely agree that “that” is extraneous. Put a mental line through it. And now it’s a brilliant sentence. What is the “thing?” That’s the whole point! We want to know! Is this being narrated by a supernatural creature? Or is the protagonist just so down on him/herself that they identify as less than human? Like the second finalist, I love that this so fabulously nestles in that nexus between specific and vague.

"I've had five husbands; none of them were mine."

Anonymous votes! “The one I voted for, even though it sounds kind of cheesy like Mae West. Best of the bunch.”

Jim says: Whether or not I think it’s the best of the bunch, I’ll never tell…at least until next week. I can’t agree with calling it cheesy, though. It’s tantalizing and vampy and intentionally provocative. Perfect employment of a semi-colon (brava!), and if you don’t want more specifics, you have less prurient interests than me.

"Thomas Buttermore was your typical left-coast college kid, raised on Twinkies and white guilt."

Anonymous said: “This sounds more like a right-coastie to me. I don't know any educated Californians who eat Twinkies.”

Jim says: Okay, Anonymous: that’s damn funny. But I still love this line. It’s got a nice little wink and a nudge going. It walks up to the line of gimmickry without crossing over it. And Thomas Buttermore is SUCH a good name for a character.

Monday, April 26, 2010

First line finalists: It's poll time!

by Jim

I asked for your first lines, and hundreds of you delivered. Now we’re down to nine finalists (the polling site wouldn’t let me do ten), and I’m asking you to do your part and vote for your favorite.

We’ll keep the poll open until 5:00 NY time on Thursday, and the winner gets their manuscript considered by yours truly.

And check back here tomorrow for more commentary from me on the contest; how I chose these nine finalists, what my first line pet peeves are, and other first-line-related shenanigans.

For the time being, remember to vote! Discussions of my choices are welcome. Feel free to tell me I’m an idiot if you dislike my picks, but remember to be nice to each other!

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Publish or perish

by Jane

With all of the sturm und drang going on in the publishing business over the last few months with regard to Amazon, Apple and Google, there is an enormous amount of confusion—understandably.

I found this article in this week’s New Yorker to be quite enlightening. Even if it will “date” quickly because of the speed at which things are changing, I highly recommend that all published and unpublished writers read it. There is much to learn and absorb here.

I would be interested in hearing what you think.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Read Argentina!

by Rachel

One of the things I love to do when I have spare time on the weekends, is to sit in cafés and read. There’s nothing quite like a lazy Sunday afternoon spent with a good book and hot coffee, surrounded by other readers with good books and hot coffee. So reading this BBC News article made me appreciate my lazy café reading time even more.

According to the article, today only 10% of Argentina’s population buys and reads books because of repeated blows to the publishing industry including the banning of books in the 1970’s, the economic crisis in the early 2000’s, and the recent boom in electronic media which has proved to be stiff competition for publishers. In contrast, a NY Times article from 2009 indicated that 50% of adults in the U.S. had read books in print or online within the previous 12 months.

Wanting to promote reading across the city of Buenos Aires, the government has set out to furnish cafés with books by great writers such as Pablo Neruda and Julio Cortazar. Other schemes are also in place to promote reading, including the giving away of books to school children so they can start to build their own collections at home, and large book purchases for school libraries. This is definitely something I like hearing about!

There’s a long list of authors I’d suggest to promote reading--perhaps Dickens? Camus? Twain?

Which books would you give to encourage new readers?

A literary mystery

by Lauren

Recently I experienced a moment of great joy when a friend spontaneously remembered the name of the girl band we liked in elementary school that no one else seemed to remember. I couldn’t remember any helpful details like the band’s name or song titles or song lyrics or even melodies I could hum. But it turns out they were called BoyKrazy, and they were even worse than I might have guessed.

This is not book-related in itself, but it has come up as a topic of conversation over the last couple years on occasion with my friend Nell, who has her own life mystery to solve. On realizing the joy of solving mine, it occurred to me that I could try to pay it forward by asking for the help of you, our well read audience, to solve hers. Nell loved a children’s book when she was in elementary school that must have been first published no later than 1986, but she suspects it was probably from the mid-to-late 70s or early 80s. Here’s what she remembers:

The main character is a young girl who always paints mustaches on herself. Her teacher tells her that mustaches are for boys and that she can't paint any more on herself. She has black hair that I think is in a bowl cut with bangs.

At some point in the story, she makes a new friend who has an electric train set in her attic, closet, spare room, or someplace like that. I believe the story takes place in New York City or some other metropolitan area with apartment buildings (I vaguely remember the new friend living in her building), but I may have projected that on my memories from my earliest childhood memories.

The story ends with the girl painting mustaches on everyone in art class, including the girly girl and the art teacher--who ends up laughing about it.

So, please, if this is at all familiar to you, help a girl out in the comments! If you understand the agony of kind of sort of remembering something that no one else seems to know exists, you’ll want to lend her a hand. Thanks!

UPDATE: Mystery solved!!  Nell reports that it was in fact Elizabeth Levy's Nice Little Girls.   Thank you very much, Rebecca!  Now tell me, do you own the book, or are you the best Google detective of all time?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The best of all possible houses

by Jessica

Last week demonstrated that few people note, or especially care, about the publisher behind a given book, which means that it is a distinct minority that pays attention to the colophon, the little logo printed on a book’s spine. Knopf has a sleek borzoi, Harper a torch, and Random House a rather distinctive house. For anyone who has ever puzzled over where those symbols originate (or fans of generally useless trivia) here is the provenance of the little house on the big books.

Author websites

by Stacey

An author recently asked me to take a look at her revamped, updated, and exciting new website. It got me thinking about what a good website entails, which author sites are worth seeking out, and what readers are looking for when they visit an author website. My research took me to this old but interesting piece written by the head of Thomas Nelson which offers some ideas about tools to rank your website's success, and some, as he calls them, surprising conclusions about traffic to author websites.

All of this author website talk now turns to you, our blog readers, to find out what you want to see when you visit an author's website? Is it personal information about the author, videos of interviews, excerpts from their book(s), contests? I'd love some feedback from you on what's of personal interest to get some perspective and perhaps allow us to better inform our authors of things they can do to make their websites more appealing to readers and fans. It would also be helpful to know some of your favorite websites, ones you keep going back to over and over. Thanks!!

When less is more

by Michael

I think we all probably suffer from information overload, and I know that those of us who work in publishing are often even more inundated. At this point, I’ve stopped adding to my RSS reader, and I’m actually taking off all the things I never get around to reading. And, though I love technology and all it affords us, I’m generally trying to pare down. So I was fascinated by this Ars Technica article I found this week. To sum up, Oxford University Press has created a scholarly, peer-reviewed search engine that allows users to find worthwhile articles on specific subjects. Now, instead of wading through pages and pages of Google results to find out what to read on, say, Menander of Athens, you can find out what the authorities think you need to know. And with the curators of each section listed, you can decide for yourself if they’re expert enough to trust.

And while that’s publishing-related enough to mention, it brought to mind some of the ongoing discussion about the future of trade publishing. There’s been talk lately that publishers are on the way out, as authors can now just publish directly through several ebook and POD options. But with statistics like the most recent ones from Bowker stating that over 1,000,000 titles were published last year, I believe publishers and editors become all the more necessary. No one has time to find what they want out of a million titles, so readers will expect someone to help direct them and narrow their choices. That job is going to fall to publishers, their imprints and their editors, all of whose names will be more important in the future as readers will expect that each name means something. It’s not just the amazing editorial, design, publicity and marketing that publishers bring to the table; it’s also the simple act of separating the wheat from the chaff. In a world of information overload, it’s hard to put a price on that service.

But am I just being a publishing Pollyanna? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Twitter and twits…

by Miriam

For some reason (don’t judge) I find Twitter humor irresistible. Maybe it’s because the idea of winnowing human communication to 140 characters at a time seems at once so efficient (in a Dr. Evil sort of way) and so ludicrous, but I can pretty predictably crack myself up trying to imagine those palaverous Victorian authors tweeting about their work.

This fun piece in the Huff Post about historical presidential tweets made me wonder how our bygone literary stars would’ve told their followers about their work in progress. Publishing people have been poking fun at their Hollywood counterparts for their high concept pitches (“When Harry Met Sally meets Jaws”) forever but, as Twitter shows us, there’s an art to boiling down and dumbing down.

RT@MCervantes Almost done with novel about crazy old man and his fat sidekick who like to attack windmills. Feeling good about this one.

RT@LTolstoy This war saga is turning out a little longer than expected. Hope my publisher doesn’t mind that I’m a little over word count.

RT@Faulkner My mother is a fish. That’s a whole chapter in my new book. Twitter has been a great influence.

What would your favorite authors be tweeting?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Your favorite writers get snarky at each other!

by Chasya
Oh, snap! Straight to you via the New Yorker’s Book Bench blog is this amazing Examiner article listing fifty of the best insults flung at our beloved literary greats by their peers. Don’t get me wrong, I respect these writers just like the next guy, but I do also love a good insult.

My favorite? Mark Twain commenting thusly on Jane Austen: “Every time I read 'Pride and Prejudice,' I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.”

What’s yours?


by Chasya

A few days ago EW’s Shelf Life blog linked to the just released American Library Association’s list of top ten books most frequently challenged in 2009. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the list, their site explains that frequently challenged books are those that are formally, through written request, asked to be removed from a library’s bookshelf for inappropriate content.

I looked at the list for 2009 along with the 100 most frequently challenged books of the decade in astonishment. The 2009 list includes most notably, as EW points out, the Twilight series. It takes me back a while. In school we learned that The Catcher in the Rye was at one time censored, and I remember feeling incensed by the notion and proud that those days of narrow-minded censorship were over. But lo and behold, there, staring back at me at #6, was the 1951 Salinger classic. I was aghast to see other titles that shaped and influenced me in my youth on the list: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky (#3) and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (#4). The list of 100 Banned/Challenged books were equally as shocking and included an all time favorite, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle (#90). It was just one among many, many others that I had read and loved as a child. And what was at #1 on the list of 100, you ask? Why it’s the one and only Harry Potter series—a contemporary classic that pretty much introduced a new generation to reading, period. Among the quibbles that they are arguing make the books on the list unsuitable are topics such as Satanism, objectionable religious viewpoints, offensive language and homosexuality. While I will say that it’s true that a book should be age appropriate, and that parents of young children should have the right to determine what that means individually, removing books from the shelves is not today, and has never been, an acceptable course of action. ALA Director Barbara Jones puts it perfectly when she says, “Protecting one of our most fundamental rights—the freedom to read—means respecting each other’s differences and the right of all people to choose for themselves what they and their families read.”

We learn and are shaped as people by learning about subject matter that exposes us to the harsher (or truer) realities of life. Some of the most important things I have learned about, I learned from reading books just like these. Many people would be appalled that To Kill A Mockingbird is still on the top ten list. As EW’s Catherine Garcia points out, the objection that it incites racism misses the point entirely. But even books that legitimately tackle subjects that some parents would want to shield their children from are beneficial to us in a way that we may not even know to appreciate. Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (#65) is about war, sure. But few other things convey the heartbreak, the magnitude and the ramifications of it the way O’Brien’s words do. It is more than just about war—it’s about people, individuals. And the lessons I took from it were complex, eye-opening, and, dare I say, good for me. As someone who read a whole lot of stuff that was age inappropriate (the first time I became fully aware of sex and attraction it was in Judy Blume’s Tiger Eyes, #87, I was 8), I can say that I don’t believe I turned out any worse for it. I felt armed with knowledge that the world was a bigger place, with more for me to learn than I was able to wrap my head around. And personally, I rather enjoyed unwrapping those layers of ignorance; it is much like the satisfaction I feel when peeling away the skins of a tightly wrapped onion.

What about you, readers? Which of these books were you surprised to learn people are objecting to?

Monday, April 19, 2010

First Lines: A contest!

by Jim

The biggest news in publishing this week is that the London Book Fair is barely happening because of cursed Icelandic volcano Eyjafjallajokull which, thanks to the NY Times, I can now pronounce!

But really, I can only say so much about that, so instead, let’s have a contest!

You’ve all surely heard that agents make decisions really fast, and if we aren’t entranced by your writing within 6.2 seconds or somesuch, we’ll just move on to the next thing. This is, for the most part, entirely true. So let’s see how quickly you can win us (and your fellow blog readers) over. Post the first line of your manuscript in the comments below by the end of the day on Thursday, 4/22. I’ll narrow it down to a select group of finalists, and then we’ll have a poll for you to judge who had the best, most intriguing first line.

The winner gets to have their full manuscript considered by yours truly. You don’t even have to query!

Bring it on! And in the meantime, enjoy this hysterical NPR link about mishaps that has nothing to do with anything.

Timing is everything

by Jane

So much of life has to do with timing: where we go to school; who we end up with as a partner or a spouse; what job we end up with. And, there is no business where this is more true than in publishing.

An author has an idea, finds just the right agent who “gets” that idea and who then finds the right publisher to publish that book at just the right time. There are so many good examples of this--and, of course, there are negative examples as well.

This week, for me at least all of this really rang true:

I sold a novel that one of our best and oldest clients had been working on for five long years to just the right editor and publisher.

I sold another book just a week after I sent it out on submission--it was an idea that just happened to strike a chord right now, from an author who wrote a brilliant proposal and it went to a publisher who really got it.

Trying to beat the rush out of town for the London Book Fair, I also quickly closed two other deals. As it turns out, I didn’t have to hurry. As a result of the unpronounceable volcano, many of my colleagues had to cancel their travel plans.

Still, timing is everything.

Friday, April 16, 2010

I'm so excited!

by Rachel

Remember Jessie Spano from Bayside High? Well, I do, and Lauren, being the Saved By The Bell fanatic that she is, pointed out this announcement on about Elizabeth Berkley writing a self-esteem book for girls. It probably won’t be written from Jessie Spano’s perspective (because, if you care to remember, she was a little neurotic–make sure to click on the link in the EW post), and I’m guessing it also won’t be written from the perspective of, well, other characters she’s played which we’d rather choose to forget, but this looks to be like an interesting project.

Going along with the teenaged TV star theme, I think Shannen Doherty could definitely write an interesting--if not helpful--book on self-esteem for girls. Maybe a celebrity mother would make a good fit too--Gwen Stefani? Jada Pinkett? Reese Witherspoon?

Who else do you think would make a great author of a self-help book for teens?

Ke$ha: A poet for our times

by Lauren

Poetry doesn't often find itself a subject of our blog entries around here, since it's not within the purview of this agency or most others professionally speaking. And unless we're talking the poetry of pop music, it's not necessarily of interest to the majority of us personally. I'm something of an exception to the rule: I've only recently learned to identify Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift by voice, much to the dismay of Jim and our interns, but do happen to know a bit about poetry.  I've studied it and even used to memorize it for fun, because that's just the kind of nerd I am.

So I was delighted to finally learn who this Ke$ha girl is through the Princeton Tiger's video interview with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon, the subject of my grad school dissertation.  If you love pop songs, allusive poets, or college students in very brightly colored ties, check it out.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The brand

by Jessica

Two recent stories in Publishing Perspectives caught my eye: first, that the number of self and micro published titles has risen to the staggering figure of 764,448 in the last year; the next was a story about whether consumers feel a sense of allegiance (or actually notice) the name of a book’s publisher or imprint.

Taken together, the stories seem to capture two countervailing impulses in publishing. For many writers, the decision to publish without backing from a major house--whether by choice or necessity--expresses a fundamental confidence that it is the author, not imprint, who is the “brand.” The latter article (which is more impassioned argument for than clear demonstration of) points to imprints that have built for themselves a recognizable brand identity. The articles cites Knopf, Vintage, and Penguin Classics as imprints that readers may deliberately seek out, or at the very least, spot and have a baseline assurance of quality.

So, I’m curious to know: How often, or have you ever, bought a self-published book?  Have you self-published a book yourself?  To what degree to you pay attention to a book’s imprint?  Are there imprints that you swear by?

All together now!

by Michael

Back in 1998, super-librarian Nancy Pearl launched “If All of Seattle Read the Same Book,” the first city-wide book club. The success of that program led cities all across the country to get together and read collectively. (Our own Lorene Cary’s The Price of a Child was selected as the inaugural One Book, One Philadelphia pick in 2003.) The NEA has their own version of the program, called The Big Read, which has a list of books that communities can choose from, each with related guides and ancillary materials.

Now comes One Book, One Twitter from Wired writer Jeff Howe, in which Twitter users help select a title by April 27, then will read and discuss the book via Twitter. I’m curious to see how this experiment turns out. With the One City programs, there were ways for small groups of people to get together to discuss the book. I wonder how much listening will actually be done in this case. But there’s only one way to find out!

The only book on the list I haven’t read is American Gods, so I’ve voted for that. Anyone else care to join?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A puzzle with a message

by Stacey

Following up on my post last week about not taking anything for granted in this business, I had a meeting with an editor this week from Atria Books, and she shared a story I loved and wanted to pass on. She told me about a book on her list, a first novel, that has been doing very well since its release last month, and has become a bit of a sleeper hit over there. She also told me that part of the reason for the book's success is because a major bestselling author (who happens to be edited by this editor) read the book and endorsed it. Most of the time, that's where it ends, a great blurb and everyone is ecstatic! In this case, the bestselling author loved the book so much that she offered to host a contest of sorts where anyone who produced a receipt confirming purchase of the first novel indicating a particular date of sale would receive a signed copy free of charge of one of her books. I'm told that not only did she keep her promise, but she wound up sending out hundreds of signed copies on her own time and at her own expense. This goes above and beyond the call of duty, but it illustrates to me a wonderful camaraderie that exists in books. Authors willing to help other authors, and really remembering to give back when they've already made it. It's such a simple lesson, really, but one that bears repeating and often. This story has stuck with me and made me feel great about publishing and the decent, kind, generous people who inhabit our world. Can any of you figure out what first novel and which bestselling author I'm talking about? The clues should lead you there if you are so inclined. I will send the first person who solves the puzzle a copy of one of my books. Hint: I (unfortunately) do not represent either author. Good luck!

Out of questions yet?

by Miriam

The weather in New York is beautiful today. Sunny, low humidity, none of those icky smells we’ll be subjected to once the temps start heading toward triple digits. And, I’ve got a case of spring fever--meaning that I am having a hard time wrestling my mind back to thoughts of work as it keeps veering off to fantasies of sitting in Union Square Park drinking a mid-morning latte and watching squirrels chase each other.

So, given my seasonally induced lack of intellectual wherewithal to come up with an interesting and enlightening blog topic, I thought I’d jump on Jim’s questions bandwagon and let you guys do all the work. Given what you know about us as agents, bloggers, and all-around snarks, what do you want to know that you can’t find in the submission guidelines or staff bios page of the DGLM website. Target v. K-Mart? Pynchon v. Vonnegut? Dancing with the Stars v. American Idol? Kindle v. Nook? I’ll answer to the best of my lethargic abilities….

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


by Chasya

One of the purposes of our blog is to provide helpful information to authors -- published and unpublished -- so that they are better informed of the variables that will guide them in this difficult and confusing industry. We’re not the only ones, albeit Penny Sansevieri, CEO of Author Marketing Experts, doesn’t mince nary a word in her list of why, as she puts it, authors fail. Sansevieri gets right to the point, asking authors to face the things that could be hindering them from potential success. Blunt? Perhaps. But nevertheless, excellent advice.

Dare you, authors, to read it in full and identify the behaviors that are sabotaging you? Any other advice, in your opinion, on why authors fail?

The strategy of building a client

by Jane

Every once in a while, we are asked why we signed a particular client and what the process was like, specifically what appealed to us about the client and/or the project in the first place, what strategies we used to build that client’s career and how things went from when they first contacted us until now.

Naturally, I have many different stories that could answer this question but one of my favorites is that of Thomas French, a hugely talented journalist and author.

In the fall of 1988, I read a series Tom had written for the St. Petersburg Times about a murder case in Gulfport, Florida, a case where the small town detective ended up arresting one of his best friends and charging him with rape and first degree murder. It was a fascinating case with lots of twists. As I do when I read interesting and compelling material, I called Tom immediately and told him I thought that the series would make a terrific book.

Tom became a client and together we created a super book proposal which we sold to St. Martin’s Press. The book was published first in hardcover in 1991 and then a year later in paperback. It turned out to be a terrific success; it’s still in print and continues to sell today.

In the decades since, I have advised Tom on his other book projects and I think he and I have taught each other a lot. We have talked about the continuing challenges of writing, about the business of publishing, and the differences between the two. I have analyzed for him why this project can snag a contract and why that one will not. Over the years, when Tom found himself having trouble with one of his sources or stuck at a certain point in the writing of a book, I have listened and tried to help him see the big picture. Working in this way allowed Tom to focus on what he wanted to focus on--the reporting and writing and the storytelling and everything else required to wrestle another page, another chapter, another book into publication.

In 1998, Tom French won the Pulitzer Prize for series he did for the St. Petersburg Times entitled “Angels and Demons,” and we actually sold a movie option of the series.

Now, Tom’s third and I think best book to date is about to come out. In July, Zoo Story, an account of life and death inside the Tampa zoo, will be published by Hyperion; it has required six years of immersion reporting, interviewing and writing. For me, it has been exhilarating to watch Tom develop this incredible tale, and I am eagerly anticipating its success.

Now, once again, we are in the early stages of discussing new projects which Tom will develop in the next several months.

When the agent/author relationship unfolds as this one has it is incredibly fulfilling. In fact it is why I continue to love what I do. Strategizing literary careers and developing successful authors is challenging, sure, but it is also enormously satisfying to watch our clients grow and succeed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The blown “publishing coup of the century”

by Jane

The majority of authors are concerned with having some control over the way their books are published. They (rightfully) want to have a say in the title, the quality of the paper, the look of the interior, and the cover art and design. And, often, publishers fight authors on these things–sometimes tooth and nail.

So when I read this piece in last week’s New York magazine, it was nice to see, for a change, what might happen when an author doesn’t maintain the control he wants over his book’s publication.

I would be interested to hear what you think.

Blogger's block

by Jim

Let’s face it, sometimes you stare at a blank screen, knowing you need to write SOMETHING, and nothing comes to mind.

Yes, dear readers, I’m suffering from writer’s block on the blog (blogger’s block?). So I look to you for inspiration. Go down there to the comments and ask me anything. Pet peeves in a query, favorite Stephen King novel, best pitch ever heard, preferred footwear designer, least favorite colleague (okay, maybe not that one). But you get the picture.

Bombs away!

Friday, April 09, 2010

Fixing the business

by Jessica

Publishers Marketplace ran a link to the Harvard Business School Working Knowledge interview with former Random House CEO Peter Olson, whose class at HBS uses the publishing industry’s hype/hate relationship with the e-book as a semester-long case study.

The whole article is worth a read, but one passage struck me as particularly noteworthy. With regard to the price skirmishes over e-book pricing, Olson points out that the customer has not been given much of a say. He continues: "I don't know of many successful examples of pricing a product based not on what it costs or what people want to pay for it, but based on another format that is completely different, just because you want to keep that format alive." Youch.

Publishing is a peculiar, and some might say, poorly conceived business. I’ve often thought it would be interesting to issue an invitation to assorted big-thinkers, (economists, management consultants, authors, agents, editors, plus all the students in Peter Olson’s class) for their plans to “fix” publishing—redesigning this ad-hoc business into something self-sustaining, or at least, an industry whose death is not forecast on a daily basis. Of course, I realize such schemes might or might not have any bearing on reality. Back when I worked at a publishing house that was part of a larger entertainment conglomerate, the sleekly suited management consultants from McKinsey and Co. favored us with several visits; in each case our role was to answer their questions, then speculate among ourselves how much they were being paid.

I was flat out amazed at how little our well-compensated interlocutors seemed to know about publishing. Perhaps their ignorance was in fact their strength, and they could see, de-Toqueville style, the assets and liabilities we local yokels failed to perceive. Without knowing how things are done, how things have always been done, they were free to critique our ways, and offer comprehensive recommendations. My favorite being “Publish more bestsellers.” I recall that one consultant asked me what I could tell him about market testing. My mouth hung open for a moment before I replied “only that publishers don’t do it.” So far as I know, focus groups are not convened on behalf of books. What might this look like? AOne could create one easily enough on-line, and indeed, the book-to-blog phenomenon is the closest that publishers come to “market testing,” ascertaining that there is some quantifiable readership for a given subject.

Now that Harper Studio has been shuttered, I wonder if their innovative idea of attempting to do away with returns will vanish along with it. Returns are, of course, a prime example of the way in which how things are done seldom reflect best practices. As you probably know, booksellers can, at pretty much any time, return unsold stock for a full refund from the publisher. The return system was dreamt up during the Great Depression to entice booksellers to stock shelves that might otherwise have remained empty; knowing that the books came with a money back guarantee lowered retailer’s risk and essentially propped up their business. Now, however, some 70 years later, the same system is in place. Abolishing it makes good common sense, but it would send shockwaves through the industry. Booksellers would certainly reduce their buys, and likely demand a deeper discount. But we might move closer to a tenable model…

So, I’m throwing open the doors to the big thinker among you. Any ideas to reform the whole (or even a part?).

Anyone, anyone?

Making bookstore magic

by Chasya

It’s no secret that one of the most delicate debates between an author and their publisher happens to be over the book jacket (and we’ve been in the middle of many of these disagreements). Sometimes the author has a particular vision, or they just don’t like the cover they’re presented with. The publisher, meanwhile, is getting feedback from many various departments, including the sales team, and there is input coming from everywhere as to how the jacket will most likely appeal to the audience it targets. Overall it takes a lot of hard work to come up with a jacket that will ultimately do what it’s supposed to do – and that’s sell books. Key in this process is the art, the cover copy, the title and various other factors. That’s why I really enjoyed this guest blog by Lindsay Carmichael at The Intern. It’s an insightful look at how all of these factors come together to move a book.

Whether or not you agree with her that it’s a “sad fact” that jacket art is what draws us to books, this is a solid explanation from a bookstore insider.

What do you think, authors? Any disagreements with Ms. Carmichael’s list of how to make “Brick and Mortar Magic”?

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The family book blog

by Jessica

Earlier this week the NYT ran a piece about a family of four who created a book review blog. Seemed like a swell idea, so in that spirit, here is my family book blog, as recorded by me.

My husband is a publishing apostate turned academic, so he generally has his nose buried in an Arabic or Farsi text, which means I have more or less no idea what he’s reading: esoteric treatises by medieval Sufi mystics? Recipes for chicken fesenjoon? Post-modern literary criticism (in its own way as impenetrable as Farsi)? As far as fiction is concerned, he just finished Amos Oz’s The Hill of Evil Counsel, three linked novellas by the eminent Israeli novelist who was Ladbrokes heavily favored pick for last year’s Nobel. He didn’t win, but according to my husband, he should. Oz is a singularly humane writer, one who captures the relationship between fathers and children with particular sensitivity.
My son, who is just turning four, is on a fairy tale jag—and we just returned from the library with an armload of gorgeously illustrated pictures books. My love for libraries is a capacious enough to fill several dozen blog entries (so much available, all for free!) but that they stand between me and another reading of Green Eggs and Ham is enough to earn my gratitude. I love Sam-I-am as much as the next person, but man does not live by green eggs alone. So we’ve just read Jan Brett’s exquisite Goldilocks and the Three Bears, a retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk by John Cech and Robert Mackenzie in which the otherwise terrifying giant is too afraid of heights to pursue Jack back down the beanstalk. The clever Jack escapes not only with the goose that laid the golden egg and the enchanted harp, but the giant’s beleaguered wife. Apparently, the giant’s bossiness, boorishness, and predilection for dining on dinner guests proves too much for the weary woman, and she leaves him to become a great friend to Jack’s mother. Peter Pan (this version adapted by Michael Johnstone and illustrated by Chris Mallone) however, is my son’s current hands-down favorite. I realize that children are, according to experts, supposed to be able to handle the scary bits of fairy tales, but my son descends, at least on his mother’s side, from a long line of lily livered scaredy cats, so any version in which people/animals are not hacked to bits, cooked in a pot, burnt in an oven, or otherwise imaginatively offed is fine by me. My son often speculates that Hook and Peter Pan go on to become great friends. As you might imagine, in my reading, Hook escapes the jaws of the ticking crocodile.

As for me, I am perforce also reading fairy tales, which, wimpiness notwithstanding, I also loved as a child. I was, however, older than four when I read the Andrew Lang’s Red, Green, Brown, etc. Fairy Books. I also read (to myself) a galley for One Day by David Nicholls, a UK import that Vintage will publish in June. The obvious comparison is Nick Hornby, whose enthusiastic blurb is prominently featured on the cover. It is a bittersweet, sprawling and beautifully drawn portrait of a friendship. That this friendship is between erstwhile lovers (on the night before graduating from university, the two main characters have a farewell fling) will likely invite parallels with When Harry Met Sally, but the novel is smarter and more subtle and blessedly free of Meg Ryan. I’m also reading Life is More Beautiful Than Paradise by Khaled al Berry, a candid, wry look at the path that a young Egyptian man from a moderate family took toward radical Islam. His gradual involvement in an extremist organization is eye-opening and oddly familiar. Yesterday I happened to catch an interview on NPR’s Fresh Air with a “Recovering Skin Head” and the parallels between two young, wayward teens are interesting.
Here’s a great interview with al Berry on the BBC.

What’s your family reading?

Thou art difficult to understand

by Rachel

Let's talk Shakespeare. Going back ten years to my senior year of high school, I can still remember the huge effort my English teacher put into educating us on Shakespeare. As a senior project, my class read Twelfth Night together. Back then I didn't know why my teacher insisted we actually understand the language used in Shakespeare's plays since it seemed to go right over my head. So, it was interesting to read Joseph Smigelski's article on Huffington Post. He writes about being "distressed" by his friend who struggled through Shakespeare also. The word "distressed" seemed a little melodramatic, but then I recalled the Shakespearean addicts I befriended in college; this would likely distress them also!

To prevent further ignorance and distress, we're given a quick lesson on how to read Shakespeare. The lesson is easy--all you have to do is put in a lot of hard work. If you're wanting to appreciate the material, says Smigelski, you've got to remember that "nothing worth having comes easily". Get a Shakespeare paperback, he suggests--the one with that neverending glossary--become "attuned to a few archaic anomalies", and then, he says, you'll start to "get it" and the enjoyment will kick in. Sounds like it’s going to take some time before enjoyment kicks in for the people who struggle to read Shakespeare, but I’ve got to admit that once I “get” Shakespeare, I do enjoy reading his material.

Are we among diehard Shakespeare fans here? Did it take you a while to “get” Shakespeare like so many other people out there?

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

And speaking of dead authors....

by Miriam

Actually, it’s been a while since L. Ron Hubbard or Ernest Hemingway has come out with a new book, so I’m eagerly awaiting the many volumes sure to be forthcoming from the recalcitrant and mysterious J.D. Salinger. In the meantime, George Carlin’s wife has pulled together the great comedian and cultural gadfly’s letters.  Personally, I’m a little sad about this.

For me, part of the experience of an artist’s work is the intention behind it, what that artist chose to say publicly and the vacant lots she or he left purposely empty. Posthumous publications leave me feeling a bit embarrassed for those great artists who, unless they gave specific deathbed instructions to their heirs about how to dispose of their unfinished or personal work, might be horrified to find these writings and ideas collected and organized by others.

Perhaps I’m wrong, but the man who said, “People who say they don't care what people think are usually desperate to have people think they don't care what people think” may have actually cared what people thought of his work.

What do you all think?

Humble reminders

by Stacey

This article from last week's PW serves as a good reminder to published and aspiring authors alike to remember to take nothing and no one for granted in this very fickle and cyclical, not to mention small, business. Sometimes we all get complacent, caught up in our busy, fast paced lives, but this kind of article for me is a reminder to take a step back, breathe, and forge on, doing the little things that can make a difference in your career, or in your life. I always try to remind my authors that there is a benefit to daily upkeep of your role as author, and there are cumulative and ongoing effects of networking, staying involved, going to conferences, meeting other authors, and most importantly, connecting with your fans. I recently sold a book by an adult author who was writing for the children's market for the first time. Last summer, he had met a big, bestselling children's author at a writer's conference (and an adult writer's conference at that) and decided to ask that author to read his book before we sent it to publishers. We wound up with a great quote, and all because of a networking event at a writer's conference. Small things do matter, and each book sale does make a difference. If you believe that, and you stay focused each and every day, you will get to where you want to be, and stay there.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Get organized

by Lauren

As the rights director, part of my job is trying to synthesize information on an author’s entire career to pitch front and backlist titles—and to know what is available to be sold or resold now. Foreign rights don’t have as short a shelf life as many others, and we still make foreign deals on books years down the line, sometimes after they’re out of print in the U.S.  Recently, I asked one of our clients to send me a copy of an old contract from before we represented him, and he quickly pulled it from his files and got it in my hands. He remarked that he had heard from other authors that they didn’t really keep accurate files, and he couldn’t understand how they functioned. The truth is, sometimes, they don’t do it very well.

So if I can offer you one piece of advice today, it’s this: get organized. Even if organization doesn’t come naturally to you. Even if you find it inherently loathsome. Do not assume that other people will keep records of things you’re getting copies of and don’t assume that you’ll still be in touch with them when you need those things later. Don’t assume that people who you’ve stopped doing business with will prioritize giving you information you want at the speed with which you need it. Keep every single contract, license, and royalty statement you receive. Any time you sign a legal document or are given a financial statement, be sure you can get your hands on it in the future and within a few hours of it being asked of you. Think about saving things digitally to make them easier to find and save space (though you should still keep hard copies with original signatures of any legal agreement as well). 

And start early. Plenty of well meaning authors tell me--as they sigh with dismay that they think they maybe did a deal with some country that begins with T for their 3rd or 4th book--that they’re going to organize their paperwork this time.  But 20 years in, that’s a much more difficult task than if you start organizing yourself from Day 1. And who wouldn’t want a career with that kind of longevity and potential?

Penguin’s got skillz

by Michael

Well, I’m not sure they’ve actually got “skillz,” but they’re proving that they know how to have fun and don’t take themselves too seriously. In this video, the staff at Peguin rap, sing and dance a parody of Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind.” While I don’t think they’ll be winning any Grammys, and I hope they’re keeping their day jobs, it’s an amusing publishing video! Enjoy.

[UPDATE:  Sadly, it's been taken down.  According to Publishers Lunch, it was never meant for public display.  Not entirely clear what they did mean it for.  Hope you got to check it out before the magic went away!  - Lauren]

Monday, April 05, 2010

The greening of the e-book

by Jane

One morning last week I, along with probably every other agent, received an e-mail from the Chief Executive Officer of Penguin announcing that because their company had been unable to reach an agreement with Amazon on the agency model pricing of e-books, all new Penguin titles would not be available on the Kindle until such agreement was reached. A short while later, I had a call from an executive at Amazon telling me essentially the same thing. And so another chapter began in the ups and downs of the publishing and distribution of e-books.

But one thing that I don’t think has been widely discussed in this whole e-book controversy is how environmentally friendly e-books are. Yesterday, I was enlightened on this subject.

An Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by Daniel Goleman and Gregory Norris called some very interesting facts to my (and hopefully many others’) attention. It turns out that even though one would think e-books would be more environmentally friendly because they don’t involve cutting down all of the trees it takes to manufacture paper books and fuel consumption in shipping them to their final destinations, they’re not.

I was really surprised by all of this--and actually found it somewhat comforting. I wonder what you think.

Jim told you what to read: A recap

by Jim

I had a lot of fun/was totally overwhelmed last Monday when I offered to suggest the next book any commenter should read based on the last five titles they had completed.

Beyond the fact that I love telling people what to do, it was an interesting challenge trying to draw connections between titles individuals had read (often without having read those books myself). And coming up with fresh books to recommend each time was tricky. Happily, since 2007, I have kept a list of everything I read.

For me, reading is a great individual pleasure, and there’s something exceedingly exciting about finding a novel on your own that you just tumble head over heels for. But there is something equally invigorating about finding yourself in a community of readers. I thank everyone who took part for sharing what they’ve read and entering that community for a moment. It was also an exciting opportunity to mentally revisit my own reading habits, and I can say that I’ve been browsing my bookshelves quite a bit over the past week. I was surprised to find that I didn’t recommend anyone read Prague by Arthur Phillips, a novel I adore and have tried to convince many people to read over the years. For some reason no one ever takes me up on it. So I’ll offer it as a group suggestion. It has one of my favorite openings ever, and there’s a small scene on a funicular over the river between Buda and Pest that thrilled me so much I can still remember the first time I read it.

One of the most interesting comments (I thought) came from Michael who noted: “Too lazy to check for myself but of all the books mentioned in the last five read list, has any book been mentioned by more than one reader? So much for the idea we all are reading today's ‘Bestsellers’.”

Good question! I went through all the lists and counted. Five books were read by three people. They were:
Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help
James Dashner’s The Maze Runner (repped by our very own Michael Bourret)
Gail Carriger’s Soulless
Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth (repped by yours truly)

Soulless totally surprised me. Two books that agents here represent makes sense since our readers might share an interest in…you know, us. Wintergirls and The Help are great big books that have gotten tons of attention. Soulless doesn’t seem to have those characteristics, which makes it kind of exciting. Are we seeing a book in the process of really breaking out? Go Gail Carriger!

And then one series truly set itself apart: seven people had read either The Hunger Games or its sequel Catching Fire. Rock on, Suzanne Collins. I haven’t loved a YA series more since Harry Potter. I root for the success of these books as a reader and a fan.

But let’s get to the MOST exciting part of my suggestions: the ones people have already taken! Three people have been in touch so far to let me know that they read what I suggested. How’d it go? Well…two hits and a miss.

Kristi had this to say: “I don't often read books involving male protagonists but I absolutely loved "Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You." It was a quick read but has stayed with me for several days and I love it when books do that to me.” Yay! This makes me happy.

About We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Joan offered this: “I loved it from the first page: “Everyone else in my family is dead.” And the magic continued throughout the book where she’d drop in little bombs like that... To me it felt like a mix of two of my favorites, Diane Setterfield’s Thirteenth Tale and Sarah Waters’ Little Stranger. I’m sure you’ve read them, but if not, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.” Hurrah! Success AND other recommendations. I’ve read the Setterfield but not the Waters. Add it to the list!

Peggy was less thrilled with her suggestion. “It was... OK…I'm glad I read something by de Maupassant, though, since he's one of those authors I was probably supposed to read in high school and never did. I have found, as I have read those sorts of books through the years that most of them are disappointing. I suppose the moralistic tales that can teach us what to be - or not to be - in high school don't have much effect on us years later.” Drat! Ah well, you can’t win ‘em all!

To wrap it all up, I got a lot out of this exercise and hope others got a bit of fun out of it as well. And I hope that if any more people do read the books I recommended, they let me know what they think, good or bad!

Friday, April 02, 2010

Sisters on pages

by Rachel

I have an older sister I keep in constant contact with--daily phone calls, emails, texts--it’s a relationship only other people with sisters can understand. I hear, “You’re calling your sister again?” on a regular basis. We’re sisters, we’re close! So being a sister makes me incredibly interested in reading about the different sisterly relationships out there.

Thanks to Lauren, I’ve come across a list of the five most memorable portraits of sisters from Zoe Heller’s article in the Wall Street Journal. A great list, I’ve got to say. But where is The Color Purple? Sense and Sensibility? Do you agree with her top five? Do you have further sisterly recommendations that might bump her chosen titles?

More on Nicholas Sparks

by Chasya

Some fun Friday frivolity! A little while ago Jessica wrote about an interview that Nicholas Sparks did with USA Today. Some of you (and us!) were understandably annoyed by his rather elitist view of his own writing and categorization thereof. As much as I enjoyed The Notebook (yes, I’ll readily admit it!) I also enjoyed this hilarious post by NPR blogger Linda Homes, in which she takes some of our all-time favorite movies and give them a Sparkian twist. So funny that I just had to share it.

Happy weekend! Enjoy!

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Epocalypse now!

by Michael

April 1, 2010, marks not just April Fools’ Day (quite possibly my least favorite day of the year, in close contention with Halloween and New Year’s Eve), but also the day that the “Agency 5” switch to the agency model (see my last post for more on this). I think most of us knew the transition wouldn’t be smooth, as entirely changing your business model in, oh, three months, isn’t exactly easy. And indeed, there are some hiccups along the way, with Hachette Kindle books temporarily missing, and Penguin unable to close a deal with Amazon (we received an email from Peguin regarding the issue this morning). There’s still some tension between Amazon and publishers, as evidenced by the response from Amazon regarding the missing Hachette titles, and there will be more carefully worded missives publicly traded in the days to come.

Amazon can’t be happy with the iPad reviews that rolled in last night, either, because in several of them (great round up here at Gizmodo), the reviewers mentioned that they preferred the iBooks reading experience to that of the Kindle. I am officially excited for Saturday.

Hats off

by Jessica

This past weekend I was at a writer’s conference, where, as always, I learned at least as much as the writers to whom I was to impart my “market wisdom.” I am perpetually impressed by the diversity of people and richness of experience that I encounter; I spoke to a man who had been a 12-year-old operative in the Ukrainian underground, another man who had hitchhiked around the world, and a hospice nurse whose experience helping others navigate the end of life informs her understanding of the human situation. This time, however, I was struck afresh by just how much commitment, doggedness, and all-out sacrifice goes into what one of the conference speakers, writing teacher James N. Frey (note: not the James Frey of A Million Little Pieces) calls the “writing life.” According to Frey, and judging from the nodding heads around me, many in the audience, writing is neither a career nor a job, but rather, something bigger, more demanding, and generally speaking, more heartbreaking.

I’d never encountered Frey before—he teaches writing at California’s Squaw Valley workshop, and has published a number of books on fiction writing. He sports a white beard just this side of kempt, Buddy Holly glasses and a fondness for the plaid shirt. He is, apparently, a firm believer in telling writers that their works “stinks”—until, one day, with lots of practice—it doesn’t. What follows is an excerpt from his “ten rules” for writing fiction. (The first three are, not so surprisingly, “Write, write, write.”)

The next three, suffer, suffer, suffer, is the writer's lot in life. Learning the craft of writing is difficult, creating stories is sometimes agonizing, rewriting is torturous. Dealing with editors is like being tossed into the lions' den at lunch time. Then when you're finally published, often your publisher will not do enough publicity and the critics will probably crown you with thorns.

When you tell your mother you've become a writer she will likely disown you, your friends will think you've lost your mind, and your spouse will be lighting candles and saying prayers to cast out the demon. So that's it. The writer's life, suffering to make a work of art that is not appreciated, suffering the slings and arrows of insulting editors and agents, suffering the isolation of a life of an outcast, suffering at the hands of an uncaring and indifferent public and deranged, stupid critics out to get you.

So why do we do it? We do it to experience the ecstasy inherent in the act of participation in the creation of the world, my friend. That alone is more than adequate recompense. Living a writer's life, a life of reflection, of personal growth, of accomplishment, of working and striving and suffering for one's art, that is its own glory.

Melodramatic? Maybe. But looking out at a banquet room full of people with otherwise hectic lives who carved out a weekend to sit beneath extremely unflattering lights in order to listen, learn, swap stories and improve their craft, I was humbled by the degree of determination that writing demands. I get an enormous number of queries, and it’s true that I turn down far more than I take on, but even as I dispatch dreaded form letters, I think it’s worthwhile to note that I (and agents in general) understand, celebrate, and respect the work required.

Hats off to writers.