Tuesday, November 30, 2010

As I embrace my younger days

by Stephanie

After reading Jim’s post on lists, I started to do a bit of reading online, and for whatever reason, I was not prepared for the inundation of end-of-the-year lists that I found. After some perusing, I found that I particularly enjoyed Gayle Forman’s piece from NPR with her picks for some of the best young adult novels of 2010. Her list is brief but varied, and includes titles that tackle a range of universal issues: trauma, war, first love, and so on. But what I loved about this list was what I didn’t findparanormal, otherworldly, fairy-goblin-undead-vampires. Lord knows, many books have done exceedingly well this year being based in the paranormal. But it’s admittedly comforting to know that 2010 also saw its share of quality young adult fiction that involves real people tackling real issues. I wish I saw more things like this in my inbox. There’s just something about reading a young adult novel that takes on tough issues and presents me with characters that I feel I can relate toI feel myself drawn into their lives, as though I could just as easily run in to the same obstacles and emotions.

Am I talking crazy here? Maybe I’m hurling myself off the paranormal/fantasy train too soon? Who knows. Do you have any young adult favorites from this year?

Get to work!

by John

As Jim wrote in his last post, it’s list season in publishing. So here’s one list that I was a bit surprised to see this time of year:  from The Daily Beast, the top five books about losing your job

Nothing like unemployment to get you in the holiday spirit! But I bring it up because I’ve seen a lot of submissions lately featuring main characters who’ve lost their jobs. Of course, they say write what you know, and I imagine there are as many unemployed writers out there as anyone elseprobably more, since writing is a great productive outlet during the long, hard slog of job searching. Trust me, having been there myself, my first instinct was to put pen to paper.

But I do wonder if jobless characters are the best way to cure the unemployment blues, or to reach readers. None of the submissions I’ve seen have worked, generally because the negativity of the main characters makes them very hard to like, even if readers can relate to their being out-of-work. Moreover, depriving characters of a workplace to interact with other characters can often lead to navel gazing and a lack of dialogue, i.e., things that keep readers at arm’s length. And most of the time, unemployment isn’t even central to the plotin just about every submission I’ve seen, the characters could just as easily be working as not.

I think you’ll find gainful employment helps your characters connect better with readers, even those who have lost their jobs in real life. And if unemployment truly is your main thesiswell, it’s telling that none of the books on the Daily Beast list are first novels. Perhaps to write well about joblessness, a writer needs more job experience as a writer first?

The happiest time of the year

by Jim

Now that we’ve passed Thanksgiving, we’ve entered my absolute favorite time of the year. I’m not talking about the Christmas season which totally clogs New York streets with shoppers (though we love all the additional book sales!). It’s something much more magical than the holiday season: December means it’s officially time to rank things. And I looooove a good list.

Largehearted Boy has launched his annual Best-of compendium which includes lists as general as “Best of 2010” and as specific as “Best Hockey Coffee Table Books.” You just know there’s one hockey coffee table book out there that didn’t make the cut, and it’s author is pissed.

I haven’t started compiling my lists yet, though yes, I’m totally nerdy enough to do so. I can, however, easily pick my favorite novel, memoir, and YA novel of the year pretty easily. They are:

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I just don’t understand how Egan does it. Each of her books feels like a revelation, and she gets away with things no one should be able to. 75 pages of this book are a Powerpoint presentation for gods’ sake! Goon Squad is funny, moving, and brilliant. It’s even a quick read!

Just Kids by Patti Smith: I do wonder if my reaction to this book is a bit biased. I love New York stories, and Smith transforms the city into a magical place filled with strange, wonderful, beautiful people. She romanticizes everything which could become grating in lesser hands, but to me just reveals a depth of spirit and wonder.

Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins: Okay. I know that there are those who didn’t care for how the Hunger Games trilogy ended. I also know that when I last brought this up, there were those who balked that the series is a Battle Royale rip-off (though I’d argue that novel had its own direct antecedents). But here’s what I have to say: Collins took the trilogy down the darkest of all possible roads, showing us that even the strongest among us have our breaking points and that everyone will at times crumble. At the same time, she ended the series with just the right glimmer of hope—sometimes it’s enough just to believe there’s a reason to try. And that, to me, was beautiful.

So those are my three. And hey, they all happen to be by female authors. Take that, Michiko Kakutani.

Anyone else ready to disclose their top picks for the year?

UPDATE: In the time it took me to send this to Lauren to check for typos, I realized that there was another novel that I actually loved even more than the Egan this year. ROOM by Emma Donoghue was simply exceptional. Written in the voice of a five-year-old who has grown up imprisoned in a single room with his mother, it is a virtuoso feat of storytelling and voice. It's simply mesmerizing. I haven't cried as hard at a book in ages, but in the end it's hugely uplifting and deeply special. But the Egan is still amazing!

Monday, November 29, 2010

What were they reading?

by Jane

Whenever I go away and am in a place where people are relaxingon a beach, say, or sitting by a poolI always look at what they are reading. Up until now, I have been curious as to the actual books, fiction or non-fiction and then what titles within those two categories. Is it science fiction, romance, mystery? Is it history, politics, biography or memoir? I can learn something from this kind of research in terms of what people are interested in and I can then use that information in searching out projects to represent.

This past week, my husband and I went to Florida to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and I decided to do another kind of research, although I was virtually certain as to what the result was going to be. I decided that once I got through the body scanner or the pat down in security at the airport, that I was going to walk up and down the aisle of the plane I traveled on to see how people were reading, if they were reading. And I was absolutely sure of what I would find out.

First, much to my surprise the pass through security both going and coming was relatively painless; after all of the warnings over the last week and the threatened slow down at the check points, I was not looking forward to the experience; but as luck would have it, none of what was predicted came to pass, at least as far as we were concerned.

Now, on to the actual research. I went through each of the two planes I took and even perused the waiting areas before boarding and I found that almost everyone who was reading a book was reading an actual book and not using any kind of electronic reader. On the plane going down, I saw nobody with Kindles or Nooks or any other reader, but my husband, who helped me with my research, told me he saw two. There were at least 150 people on the flight down so, two readers certainly was surprisingly few. On the flight back which held as many people, I saw one Nook and one person reading on an iPadeveryone else who was reading a book was reading a hardcover or paperback.

I had truly expected the total opposite. With the enormous increase in the sales of e-readers, and e-books and knowing how easy it is to travel with an e-reader, it just seemed to me a no brainer that these would outnumber print editions. I couldn’t have been more mistaken and I am really surprised.

I wonder, would you have predicted as I did or not? And what, dear reader, do you think I was reading?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Even the zombies are on Twitter!

by Stacey

I know we're all getting ready to eat lots of turkey, and that means we are also ready for a few days off. While this link to a clever marketing campaign created by Quirk Books has nothing to do with the holidays, I thought it was a good example of what publishers (and authors) are trying to do to come up with new ways to market their books. To me, it's a bit of a stretch to have fictional characters talking about whatever, but these books are already popular, so Quirk is likely thinking this will be a way to keep them selling through the holidays. According to Bookscan, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has sold well over half a million copies already, so the audience is definitely out there to be marketed to. Enjoy, and have a great Thanksgiving. We'll try to come up with some helpful and thoughtful content for you to sink your teeth into after the break (and before the next one)!!

Talking turkey...

by Miriam

Yes, of course I’m grateful for my amazing family and friends, and my funny, smart, inventive and crazy co-workers. Yadda, yadda. Today, right before we go off to cook and eat until we can’t eat any more only to fix ourselves a sandwich with leftover turkey a few hours later, I want to share some of the things I’m thankful for about the venerable, bloody but unbowed publishing business. In no particular order, I’m grateful that

  • I was able to read Jonathan Franzen’s brilliant opus in hardcover (that book is HEAVY!) and Robert Harris’ delicious The Ghost Writer (strongly recommend it) on my Kindle. Turns out I still buy hardcovers and have the equivalent of my bedside table’s weighty load in my e-reader ready to dive into wherever I may be;
  • the e-book revolution, while metaphorically violent at times, has led to a fresh look at our raison d’etre: books, how they’re published, who reads them, what their value is;
  • there is a new optimism about how we can harness the power of electronic publishing for good and not evil;
  • Patti Smith won the National Book Award and pleaded with us not to abandon the book;
  • more people talk to me about books they love, loathe, are reading, want to read than ever before;
  • we’ve had numerous bestsellers this year, as well as huge sales of books that we hope will be bestsellers in a couple of years, as well as books that we didn’t sell for a lot of money but that were well published to lovely reviews;
  • publishers are starting to roll out some ridiculous new boilerplates whereby they try to aggregate every right known or that will eventually be devised by the next Mark Zuckerberg (yes, we agents will fight them tooth and nail on every point because publishers need to find ways to survive and thrive that are not at the expense of authors and their rights, but it indicates to me that they’re not keeling over and dying and are actually putting up a fight to remain relevant);
  • I get to meet and/or speak with talented, surprising, fascinating characters almost every day—a number of them clients and some clients to be—and have the opportunity to learn something from all of them (David Morrell told me, upon returning from his successful USO trip to Iraq, that the huge chandelier in Saddam’s main palace was made out of plastic!);
  • after 21 years of doing the same thing, I’m still having fun.

Happy Turkey Day everyone!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving's here, I can smell it

by Stephanie

It’s Tuesday! Which means it’s almost Wednesday! Which means it’s almost time for one of my favorite holidays of the year! Needless to say, I’m a little excited for this work week to pass. So as I count the hours (seconds?) to Thursday, I wanted to pass along this great post from Rachelle Gardner’s blog, Rants & Ramblings, about the all-important holiday plan for all you writers out there.  With extra time off but more holiday-related obligations, budgeting out time for writing will be more important than ever. As we approach these next few days off, I’m sure many of you have some kind of goal mapped out for that work-in-progress, but if not, this post offers great tips. First of all, I appreciate Rachelle’s realistic expectations in budgeting time: “try to accurately assess about how much time you’ll have for your personal writing pursuits.  Then, divide that time in half.” She gets it! She also takes into account the possible obstacles that may impede writing, and the importance of anticipating how they could potentially affect those word counts.

So what are your writing plans for the holiday break? Are deadlines looming? Looking to finish that new novel? Or start one, perhaps?  Either way, now that I’m in holiday mode, I hope you, dear readers, have a restful and productive holiday!

Thanksgiving with the kids--where are the books?

by John

As Thanksgiving rolls around this week, I’m reminded of one of the more confounding paradoxes of my previous career as a children’s book editor: that despite the natural opportunity for kids’ books to tie into the holiday, I could never, ever get a Thanksgiving title to work.

After all, Thanksgiving seems like an easy sell. The story of the Pilgrims makes a perfect subject for picture books, as do the themes of thankfulness, family, and togetherness that Thanksgiving celebrates. You’d think, too, that parents would need a book for the holiday, not only to explain things to toddlers, but to keep them seated and quiet for five minutes! And from the Macy’s parade to Black Friday, Thanksgiving has always been about buying stuffso why not books?

Yet, despite multiple attempts to publish books on Thanksgiving and the annual effort to market books for the holiday, I never saw a Thanksgiving book that sold really well. Instead, the best performers seemed to skirt the holiday and focus more on the general season, like Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona’s Harvest or Richard Michelson’s and Mary Azarian’s Tuttle’s Red Barn.

So, if anyone has any ideas why these books don’t work, or better yet, how to make a Thanksgiving book a success, I’d love to know. Because I’d like to think that for the most American of holidays, there must be a successful way to share it through a book. Any thoughts?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Where's the love?

by Jim

On Friday, our commenter Jennifer asked the following question:

I have often heard agents discuss the fact that you need to "be in love" with a book in order to represent it…let's say you take on a client because you're in love with their first book, but you only like the next, or even the next few? Even my favorite writers are about 50% hit or miss for me. Some I love, some I just like, and some I even outright dislike. I imagine it would be unusual to really love every book someone wrote.

So I guess my question is two-fold. One, as an agent, do you often find yourself liking some stories more than others, or are you so passionate about a writer's style that you tend to love them all, and two, what do you do if you aren't feeling the same passion for subsequent books?

Tricky one, Jennifer! I think it’s completely fair to say that when we work with someone on multiple books, we won’t have an equally passionate reaction to each and every project they work on. If someone writes twelve novels, we won’t be equally fond of all twelve. Of course, chances are the author also won’t be.

The reason we always say that we need to fall in love with something in order to take it on is that we’re diving headfirst into a long, involved process with someone we haven’t worked with before. If you don’t love the book wholeheartedly, it’s a lot of dedication and time to offer something (and someone) without any guaranteed results. As we continue working with clients, we still want to love every book, but the dynamic has changedwe know how we work with these particular authors, how comfortable the fit is, what happened with that first novel, what shape their career might take. We’re still responsible for making sure that the best product possible gets out there, but we also have to make sure that our clients wishes and best interests are well represented.

Sometimes the situation can get tricky. Let’s say we don’t just not love a project; let’s say we actively dislike it. If our feeling is that the audience will have the same reaction, we have to say something. No one is helped by glad-handing. So there have been times when projects need to be set aside, or we make recommendations for other ideas that might be pursued. It’s not the most comfortable thing to bring up, but it’s necessary to be able to offer that kind of feedback. Our authors depend on our honesty and feedback. And we likewise depend on them, not to do everything we say, but to take our thoughts into account. The best agent/client relations are built on an ability to share thoughts and find compromise.

So no, we don’t love every single project the same, but ideally the base of every relationship with a client is deep admiration of their work. Even if you don’t love every single thing they do, you can still support and guide them.

A time to be thankful

by Jane

I know it might sound trite, but each year at Thanksgiving I consider all that I am thankful for. This year is no exception.

Of course, first and foremost I am thankful for my wonderful, supportive husband Steve, my two beautiful children Jessica and Zachary, and my incredible three-year-old granddaughter Elena. Without each of them, I wouldn’t have the energy to enjoy my career as much as I do. They really do complete me.

I am thankful for my father Oscar Dystel, a publishing legend who has just celebrated his ninety-eighth birthday and whom I talk with every day.

I am thankful for my incredible colleagues at DGLM: Miriam Goderich, Michael Bourret, Jim McCarthy, Stacey Glick, Jessica Papin, Lauren Abramo, John Rudolph, Stephanie DeVita and Rachel Stout. They are incredible people, industrious, smart, thoughtful, and a fabulous team.

Without our talented and prolific clients, we wouldn’t be here and I am thankful for each and every one of them every single day.

And of course, I am so thankful and appreciative of all of you who follow our blog and give us such great feedback throughout the year. Your advice is invaluable and your supportive comments so very appreciated.

I wish each and every one of you a delicious holiday and, if you have time, I’d love to know what you are thankful for.

Friday, November 19, 2010

What do you want?

by Lauren

Thanks to everyone who joined Jim yesterday for our first DGLM blog chat! If you missed it, check out the entry from yesterday to replay it and read the answers to all the great questions he got. Lots of good query information in there, especially. We’re going to be doing more of these, so if you have any suggestions for topics, please let us know in the comments!

More excitement that’s coming your way, dear blog readers, is a revamp and relaunch of our blog and website. Primarily we’re going to be combining the two into a single site, but we’d love to add some interesting and helpful new features in the process. That’s where you fine folks come in. What would you like to see? We’ve gotten some fantastic tips from all of you in the past, and we’d love to hear what more we could do that you’d find useful. As much as possible, we’d love to work the things that you want into our design!

Once the blog is moved, we’re also going to look to better integrate our blog and Facebook page (Related: do you like us, but not yet “like” us? If so, follow us here!), so if anyone has any thoughts or tips on that, we’d love to hear them.

Part of the revamp means a move to WordPress, because we wanted to be able to host our website and blog as one. I know we had some readers who hoped we’d stay on Blogger when we first suggested it (and that’s why we didn’t move then just to get more bells & whistles) so I’m wondering what we can do to make the transition easy. I suspect most of you can just as easily follow us on WordPress, but I think the problem will come for Google devotees who don’t use a Google Reader. Have things changed on this front in the last year? Anyone know of a way we can keep things simple for the Blogger fans?

Let us know your thoughts below!

And on a final note, with Thanksgiving coming up next week, it’s a perfect time to say thanks to all of you for making our first year of blogging in earnest such a fun one! We’re so grateful for all the feedback we’ve gotten: from technical help, to reading suggestions, to your thoughts on the issues of the day. Thanks to you all for joining the conversation and for forming a little community for us to take part in! It’s not always easy to find time or a subject, but you do make it a pleasure!

A tale of a successful query

by Stacey

We have been talking a lot about what our blog readers are looking for and how we might be better able to give it to them. Insights into our selection process seem to be well received, so I thought it might be a nice exercise to share with you (with the author's permission) a query letter for a YA novel I recently signed up from the slush pile. What I'll do is paste the letter below in its entirety and then comment on the letter itself below that to try to describe to our readers why it grabbed my attention and why I think it worked.

Here's the pitch:

Three years ago Lexi Strauss was an ordinary freshman girl at Covington High. She had a dramaholic, boy-crazy best friend that she adored. And her biggest dilemma was figuring out how to get Xander, her older brother’s gorgeous best friend, to see her as more than just “Little Lexi.”

All those normal pieces of her life were stolen from her the night her family was murdered.

Now she has gruesome nightmares every night—reliving the horrific crime that she witnessed. The man in black, all the blood and screams and that metallic wrong smell…. She can’t tell anyone what really happened that night because what she did is almost as bad as what she witnessed.

Those first two years after it happened she lived in constant darkness. Even Aunt Jenny—her inveterately cheerful guardian—couldn’t bring her back into the light. When Lexi reunites with Xander the summer before her senior year, she can feel herself slowly start to heal. But when she returns to her old high school, it seems her family’s murder isn’t the only lingering mystery in Covington Hills.

She should’ve known the healing was too good to be true. No one gets away with murder…for very long, anyway.

The Killing Breed, 69,800 words, is a young adult novel. Thank you for your time and consideration. Pasted below is a brief synopsis and sample chapter. The full manuscript is available upon request.
Here are my comments on the pitch:

Three years ago Lexi Strauss was an ordinary freshman girl at Covington High. She had a dramaholic, boy-crazy best friend that she adored. And her biggest dilemma was figuring out how to get Xander, her older brother’s gorgeous best friend, to see her as more than just “Little Lexi.”
First, let me start by saying that opening line is a grabber. It's filled with descriptive elements without being overwritten or overly wordy. It also has the right tone for a YA query, the same tone that I'd want to see in the book itself, using words and phrases that will resonate with younger readers. The query letter needs to be indicative of what the book will be, and having the right tone is important.

All those normal pieces of her life were stolen from her the night her family was murdered.
Shocking revelation, simply stated. Gets the facts out clearly and concisely, and sets up a big part of the plot. This has all happened in just four sentences. A lot of information in a brief pitch. Brevity is good.

Now she has gruesome nightmares every night—reliving the horrific crime that she witnessed. The man in black, all the blood and screams and that metallic wrong smell…. She can’t tell anyone what really happened that night because what she did is almost as bad as what she witnessed.
Here's some more plot description, and it's intriguing. But more than that it really tells us a great deal about the story, and about the main character. Incredibly descriptive with clear, concise prose.

Those first two years after it happened she lived in constant darkness. Even Aunt Jennyher inveterately cheerful guardiancouldn’t bring her back into the light. When Lexi reunites with Xander the summer before her senior year, she can feel herself slowly start to heal. But when she returns to her old high school, it seems her family’s murder isn’t the only lingering mystery in Covington Hills.
This gives us even more detail about the timeline, about the key relationships in the book, and a bit more, but not too much, about the plot.
She should’ve known the healing was too good to be true. No one gets away with murder…for very long, anyway.
The voice is here again. It reads like what a kid going through this might think or say. Simply and matter of factly. Conversational.
The Killing Breed, 69,800 words, is a young adult novel. Thank you for your time and consideration. Pasted below is a brief synopsis and sample chapter. The full manuscript is available upon request.
Overall, this query works for me because it gives the reader a very clear picture of the tone of the book, and indicates that the voice is age appropriate. It offers enough detail about the plot to make it sound interesting and make the reader wonder what happens next. And it's concise. There's not one word or sentence that doesn't have a pointful purpose. Think about flap copyif you can't pitch your book in the amount of space on the inside of a book jacket, neither can your agent or publisher! If you really feel the need to go into greater detail about the fine points of the plot, you can always include a synopsis, but the initial pitch should grab your attention and give you just enough to make you want more.

One final point on things I like to see in a query that were not included here. It's always helpful to see that an author has researched me and my books, and then indicate that his or her project might suit my list as a result. That type of personal attention goes a long way in making something stand out. Also, it's a good idea if you can come up with a valid comparison to another book or books in the marketplace that might appeal to a similar audience. Finally, a bit of background information about the author's personal life, and any previous writing experience or credentials. All of it should be brief, and professional.

Hope this has been helpful. If you have any questions, ask away and I'll do my best to answer them!

Thursday, November 18, 2010


by Michael

No, I'm not suddenly blogging about sports. That would be a stretch! I'm talking the National Book Awards, which were held last night (winners here). I was lucky enough to attend this year with the lovely and talented Sara Zarr, who was a judge in the Young People's Literature category. You can read a bit about her experience judging on her blog. I can only imagine how tough it must have been to whittle the books first down to five finalists, then down to one winner. I'm just glad it wasn't me!

The night was a lot of fun, meeting the other judges and some of the nominees, hobnobbing with illustrious publishing folk. I think it's the only event this year that can boast both Elmo and Tom Wolfe as speakers. (My only disappointment last night was in not meeting Elmo.) But the moment of the night was most definitely Patti Smith's acceptance speech for her nonfiction win for Just Kids. Already in tears as she walked to the stage, she recounted working at Scribner's bookstore years ago, and how she would shelve the National Book Award winners, dreaming that someday she would write a book that could win the award. It was so genuine and so endearing. Already popular, I knew she earned even more admirers last night.

I haven't had much time to scan the blogs today, but I'm curious what everyone thought of the winners. Has anyone even read the fiction winner?

Blog Chat Stew with Jim McCarthy starts at 3 p.m.!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Homes away from home

by Rachel S.

It’s true. I’m new to the whole business of book publishingnewer probably than a lot of you reading right now. I learn things about the business every day and while I certainly know more now than I did six weeks ago, I’m still no authority on how to get your book published or even how to perfectly market it so anyone takes interest.

I am not, however, new to reading, writing, or writing while reading. Those things I’ve been doing for years and have gotten pretty good at them! On a functional level at least… In any case, I’m familiar enough with the mechanics of all three (the last is my newest skill as I was never an underliner or write-in-the-margins type of girl until about a year ago). I know what works best for me, personally, when I want to really focus and concentrate on the literary task at hand. Location is key, and the rest of the elements kind of follow from there.
I work and concentrate best, I’ve found, away from home. In my apartment, I get too distracted, listless. My internet is out this week, so I can’t even blame the world wide web as a whole. I don’t know what it is about being in whatever place I’m calling home at the moment, but I can never really concentrate whilst there. If I have a great book I’m eager to read, a piece I need to write, or some other sort of work to get done, my best bet is a coffee shop. Currently, I live exactly one block away from my very favorite coffee shop, so it’s never an issue of getting there when I want to read or have work to do. And thus, I’m on a first name basis with most of the people that work there.

Being out of the house means that I have to be dressed in appropriate out-of-the-house clothing. Which means my brain is more likely not to think that it’s okay to fall asleep or stop working in some other, disastrous way. Being in a coffee shop means that I get a big, warm mug to hold in my hands, which I really find soothing and comforting, while working out any more complicated ideas I may need to put the book or pen down for.

There’s an atmosphere of liveliness that I find invigorating, but not too distractingunless I feel the need to be distracted, that is. In any case, coffee shops and cafes where the servers leave you well enough alone are my havens of productivity. (Though I did just have a lengthy discussion with a friend over the perils of reading books likely to make you cry in public.)

I’m curious to see if others share my love of chalkboard menus and all the varieties of caffeine you could want or if you’re on a totally different side of the fence.


by Miriam

It is a truth universally acknowledged (here at DGLM) that I am the resident grammar narc. Although, by and large, I’m a fairly “live and let live” type, I can be downright dictatorial when it comes to clean, polished prose. Of course, in my line of work, I have had to learn some forbearance. If I got worked up over every typo, I’d be living in a padded cell and re-reading William Safire columns ad infinitum. That said, I still find it baffling how much material is submitted to us that is sloppy, poorly proofread, and full of grammatical and syntactical mistakes.

This blog is rife with palaver about how to get published, how to get an agent, how to craft the perfect query letter, etc., but we seldom discuss the fact that bad grammar and syntax can end your publishing career before it ever gets startedeven if your ideas are fresh and good and your writing actually decent or even great. Although agents and editors are trained to see beyond simple errors that can easily be fixed in copyediting, most of us have to wade through so many submissions that we sometimes can’t get past our irritation with an author who uses random capitals everywhere or who chooses to spell phonetically rather than correctly. These days, it seems that writers are in such a rush to send off their queries the minute the manuscript is finished that they omit the part where they check to make sure that their work is ready for prime time.

Some of the things you may want to be on the lookout for before you hit the “send” key:

Don’t begin sentences with numerals. Ever.

Put the hyphens in the right place when referring to a character’s age: it’s “a four-year-old boy” but “the boy was four years old.”

Don’t use a semi-colon in place of a comma or period…or just because you think it looks sophisticated.

Keep your possessives and your contractions straight. “Its” and “it’s” mean very different things, so do “your” and “you’re.”

Read up on prepositions and their objects. There are songs that make my teeth itch when the singer wails about the love “between you and I.”

However you feel about the serial comma, use it. Doing so will help you avoid a great deal of unnecessary confusion. (I direct you to my friend Jim Donahue’s blog post on this subjecthe’s a big grammar geek too.)

I don’t care how much country music you listen to, it’s not “anyways.”

There is a difference between a hyphen and an em-dashone separates two words that are linked to make one concept, the other is used for parenthetical asides. Hint: in that sentence the hyphen is in the word “em-dash” and the em-dash is right after it.

Ellipses, when overused, are the equivalent of heavy breathing and invariably communicate an inherent laziness on the part of the writer who is overusing them.

Check out The Chicago Manual of Style on numbers usage. It’s very distracting to see a lot of numerals (especially single digit numerals) in non-scientific text.

And, finally, please refrain from repeating the same word or phrase in close proximity unless it’s for a very specific effect.

You know I could go on and on here, but I’m pretty sure you all get the gist. Investing in a couple of good reference books on style and grammar will pay huge dividends. Having someone who’s just a little nitpicky proofread your work will as well. Of course, once sparkling clean prose becomes second nature, you can go ahead and subvert all of the rulesbecause sometimes the correct way of saying something just doesn’t sound as good. Remember Winston Churchill’s clever comeback for a pedant? “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

*Dr. Seuss said the key to good writing is “meticulosity.” Clearly, I agree.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

When literature and art combine

by Stephanie

Today, I wanted to talk about the soon to be published book by Jonathan Safran Foer, as covered in this piece from Vanity Fair. Tree of Codes is a fascinating work that Foer constructed by, well, deconstructing his favorite novel, The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz. What results is a visually beautiful work—die-cut paper that produces a Swiss cheese of sorts—that unites literature with conceptual art in a way that I find both weird and innovative. Foer points out that Tree of Codes is his own alternative to e-books, which is something I really took to. At a time when the physical book as we’ve known it seems to be drastically changing, I appreciate that Foer is, in a way, attempting to put forth his own reinterpretation of the book itself.

This is something I wish I would see more on bookshelves. While it’s doubtful that this art form is something that will ever take off, I can’t help appreciating what Foer is trying to do here. I think pushing the boundaries of a book’s physicality in a way such as this offers the reader a new and complex way of thinking about the printed word, or perhaps lack thereof. At the same time, though, is this just a gimmick? Is there enough practicality in its uniqueness to make it reproducible? Would people even care to see it again elsewhere? Maybe it’s just art for art’s sake; a piece of conceptual art meant to be seen, rather than a new way to think about creating literature. I love the creativity, and I love the high-concept production quality, but this might just be a one-hit wonder. What do you think?

Fully fathoming Full Fathom Five

by John

Did anyone see the major feature from New York magazine on James Frey and Full Fathom Five?  If not, it’s definitely worth a read, though, like some of the writers from the article, you may feel the need for a shower afterward.

Basically, Frey has set himself up as a book packager, which is an accepted and legitimate practice in publishing. Typically, a packager pays an author or illustrator a flat fee for their work, rather than an advance against royalties, then takes the manuscript and/or art and puts it together as a finished product, which is then submitted to publishers. For example, Gossip Girl was put together by Alloy Media, then sold to Little, Brown, and several celebrity picture books like Jerry Seinfeld’s Halloween were package deals as well.

However, the terms that Frey lays out for authors are atrocious and exploitative—a pittance of a fee ($250!), vaguely defined profit sharing, no copyright, no public acknowledgment of authorship, and so on. And the model of success that Frey sells authors on, his young adult novel I Am Number Four, turns out to be not much of a success at all for his co-author. (Full disclosure—as an editor, I passed on I Am Number Four, partly because the secrecy over authorship gave me the willies.)

But I guess what bothers me most about Full Fathom Five is how cynically they target the young adult market for their products—sorry, I mean their books. One of the main reasons I got into children’s publishing in the first place is the strong sense of moral responsibility among children’s editors not to publish “bad” book for kids. And while I know that hucksters like Frey have been part of the book business since the beginning, it’s disturbing not only to watch him prey on the YA market because it’s “hot” right now—you know if Adult Horror was selling, he’d be writing ghost stories—but also to witness his attempts at cloaking his credibility issues for a more na├»ve audience.

So I suppose this post is both a cautionary message and a moral plea for YA writers: Watch out for the Full Fathom Fives, and remember who you’re writing for. Now, excuse me while I hit the showers…

Monday, November 15, 2010

Crossing the line

by Jim

I crossed my first picket line yesterday! I had tickets to see the new musical The Scottsboro Boys by the same folks who wrote Cabaret and Chicago. It’s a musical retelling of the story of nine black men who were wrongfully imprisoned for the rape of two white women in Alabama in the 1930s. The framing device is a minstrel show. Blackface is employed. The writers and director are all white. Yikes! Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to enter past dozens of protesters chanting that the show was racist, that turning this tragic story into a minstrel show was akin to using Borscht Belt humor to talk about the Holocaust. For a show that deals with liberal white guilt, getting shouted at for being racist was actually kind of an affective prelude (more on this in a minute).

I’m appreciative of both the protestors and the show’s writers for this: together, they raised a really interesting question about what stories need to be told and who has the right to do the telling. I remember a former coworker (not here) ranting about Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Twenty-Seventh City and his lead character being Indian. She took great offense at his decision to “talk about something he knows nothing about.” At the Romantic Times convention this year in Columbus, I met a group of really wonderful women who wrote gay male erotica, and I won’t lie: that totally confused me. And I think everyone here has read at least one first person narrative where the author writes from the perspective of someone of a different gender and the whole thing feels inauthentic.

Of course, limiting authors to only writing about what they know would prevent things like, say, historical fiction. It would have blocked my client Mindi Scott from beautifully capturing a teen male’s voice in her debut Freefall. It would have reduced Colum McCann’s glorious array of first person narratives across racial, gender and class lines in Let the Great World Spin (have I mentioned lately how brilliant that book is?). But do the rules change when the character’s identity is so integral to the story being told? What about if the story is about the injustice done to a particular group of people?

I’m inclined to say that it’s simply a matter of quality. The Scottsboro Boys was a brilliant show. At once devastating and hopeful, it was about how far we have (and haven’t) come as a nation and our collective history of racial intolerance. I believe that. But I also question my response since I’m, y’know…really white.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this. Are there stories that “belong” to one group of people? Are there perspectives that you just wouldn’t trust? Have you attempted a first person narration from a perspective radically different from your own?

Time doesn't matter

by Jane

So, this week I talked with a number of editors in our business who are complaining about recent poor bookstore sales and it caused me to consider again how our industry is changing and how I wish publishers would begin to “rethink.”

Traditionally, books are launched and shipped in a certain season and then, in subsequent seasons, these books are considered “backlist” and hopefully continue to sell (with virtually no support from the publishers). So, if the book doesn’t “take off” in its first few weeks, the publisher literally abandons it and moves on to the next one.

The beauty of this new “electronic publishing age” is that books are always there and available. And they can easily continue to be publicized and promoted during the course of the year with very little additional cost and effort. Publishers, in the acquisitions process especially, are totally losing sight of this phenomenon and they certainly aren’t taking advantage of it.

If a novel, say, which contains a story line about breast cancer and also takes place in a highly trafficked summer vacation area is published in March, there is the initial publicity for the book. But then there can be a solid push in May or June because of the location of the story and then again in October for Breast Cancer Awareness month. And this can go on year after year. The novel doesn’t just have one season.

I am currently trying to sell a book with a graduation market; but it is also a great gift title. Publishers are passing because they say that there are too many books aimed at the high school or college graduate, but to my mind that is limited thinking. Why not take advantage of the enormous marketing ability of the internet and not only publish this for that graduation market but also for September when kids leave for school and for Christmas? And what about birthdays? Why just limit the publication to a single event?

Time simply doesn’t matter any more in our business. Backlist can become front list again at a moment’s notice. If only publishers would realize this. I think they simply don’t take the time to consider the inherent possibilities that electronic publishing affords and that, I’m afraid, does matter.

What do you think?

Friday, November 12, 2010

I mean, if Taylor Swift likes it....

by Rachel S.

A couple of weeks ago, one of my friends passed on this website hosted by Scholastic, called You Are What You Read. Intrigued (obviously), I promptly investigated. Scholastic invented a brand new word on which to base their project:

bookprint [book-print] noun: The list of books that leave an indelible mark on our lives, shaping who we are and who we become.
Okay, so as cheesy as it might sound, it’s actually a pretty cool idea. To readers, books really are an incredibly important part of who we are. The purpose of reading is to further your understanding of both the world and yourself and to see meaning in what before may have been unremarkable or elusive. That books can shape perception as well as action is a truth that needs no expansion. There are some books that I’ve read time and time again, each time as enjoyable as the last. Others I’ll get through only once, but these too can stick with me, usefully popping up for new situations or discussions forever after.

Personal and internal importance aside, books are often also a way of connecting to others- whether it’s in a mutual love or excitement over a particular tome or a fierce disagreement. While choosing only 5 is a really difficult task (so many choices- immediately overwhelmed!), once the books have been narrowed down, you can see who else has been similarly affected by the same words.

Also interesting are the lists of popular titles. The “Most Listed" list differs from the “Most Liked” in parts- obviously you don’t have to necessarily like a book to be marked by it.

I’m really interested to know what your “bookprint” would be if you could only have 5. Also, would it matter that Bill Clinton values The Invisible Man or that Taylor Swift was affected by Charlotte’s Web (or that Daniel Radcliffe’s life was changed by Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone…)? Because they all have profiles and Scholastic is conveniently making it easy for your favorite famous people to show you that they like reading, too.

In any case, I really enjoyed exploring the site (though I’m still working on my own list!) and if nothing else, there’s little I like more to look at then lots and lots of book covers all lined up.

The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages

by Lauren

Courtesy of our beloved former intern Bridget, I bring you this list of "awesomely untranslatable words from around the world."  Some I've heard of (litost, from the Czech, meaning roughly "a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery"), one I've used (schadenfreude, naturally), and others I never knew I needed but definitely do (tartle, "the act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name," which comes courtesy of the Scots, a linguistically ingenious people who also bring us "to haver," from that one line in The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" that no one understands).

It's hard to pick a favorite, but I think ultimately I have to go with torschlusspanik, the word that roughly means the title of this blog post.  The words people use say a great deal about them in a broad sense--about what a culture values enough to discuss or does not--but surely it isn't merely the Germans who experience torschlusspanik.  I find myself lamenting of late that even if I woke up tomorrow as an extraordinary visionary genius, I'm no longer young enough to be a wunderkind (there's those Germans again).  As a teenager, I was sad to discover that I could never be a prodigy at anything, because my parents hadn't set me on a path to remarkability while I was still in diapers. Torschlusspanik is a sentiment close to my heart.

Which sentiments do you find you could really use a word for that doesn't seem to exist?  Is there a word for being thoroughly disappointed in a thing despite conscious awareness that it's not in the least worth being upset about?  I feel like that would come in handy. 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The Times it is a-changin'

by Michael

While it was certainly inevitable, since the Times seems to love to add to its bestseller lists (14 and counting!), last night's news about the addition of an e-book bestseller list came as a bit of a surprise. It's interesting to note that in the announcement, Janet Elder, editor of news surveys and election analysis, says that the Times has been creating the e-book tracking system for two years. That's serious investment in time and money on their part. They also mention that they'll be partnering with RoyaltyShare, a company that tracks all sorts of digital downloads and actually got its start in the music business.

It'll be interesting to see what this list looks like when it debuts. How similar will it be to what's selling well on the Kindle platform? Will we see more clearly the effects of the agency model on e-book sales? Will the exclusion of certain publishers from Apple's iBookstore hamper their sales? And how many books will appear both on the e-list and the hardcover or non-fiction lists? How many children's titles will show up on the e-list? Will a Harry Potter-sized smash force the creation of a children's e-list? Could I possibly ask another question?

Seriously, this is a major development in e-book publishing, and I eagerly await the publication of that first list. Do you, as readers and writers, care?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And the winners are....

by Miriam

After much in-fighting and name calling, we’re ready to give you our top three picks for memoir pitches, following last week’s contest. This was a tough process because many of the pitches sounded like books we’d like to read (and/or represent). I hope you will actually send us your queries when you’re ready to tell these stories.

Now, without further ado, the winners:

First place: Ariana Richards
Second place: Ken Olsen
Third place: Tamara

Honorable mentions: February Grace and EHF for Suzan W

If the winners would e-mail me their addresses at Miriam@dystel.com, we’ll send you your prizes (Michael Tucker’s delightful Living in a Foreign Language, a DGLM water bottle, and a DGLM soup mug).

Thank you so much for playing along!

People's picks

by Stacey

My magazine pile has diminished the last few years as I've had less time to spend flipping through glossy pages. But I still like to keep up with the ultimate guilty pleasure, People, not only to follow the latest celeb gossip, but also to keep my finger on the pulse of what's truly commercial as far as music, tv, and yes, even books. Their regular book coverage is such an unusual blend of titles, almost always paying attention to the books that everyone is talking about, the commercial ones at least. A few recent books reviewed or covered include the new John Grisham, Nora Ephron's latest nonfiction, former White House communications director Nicolle Wallace's first Washington novel, and Jessica Seinfeld's second cookbook. Earlyword.com has a list of all the books they review each week. You can see the broad range of well-known and noteworthy authors, but I wonder if they don't compromise on quality when considering what to highlight and if they don't underestimate that their readers just might be interested in a more literary novel, or a more serious piece of nonfiction.

The coverage is limited to just a few pages per issue so there's not a lot of room for lots of titles. Given that fact, I'm fascinated that they almost always give 3-4 stars (out of 4) to everything they review. So does that mean they only review books they think are really good? Or are they choosing titles they think their readers will enjoy? Or do they have really easy critics? Or is it just books that they know are the ones that will be getting the most publicity in other media? If the latter is the case, I'd be surprised that they are all so well reviewed. I don't know the answers, and I think it's probably some combination of all of these things, but I know I'm always curious to see what's highlighted each week. And while I don't always like their reviews or the books they choose to focus on, I am grateful that they still have a Books section at all in this difficult market!

I wonder what our readers think of People's choices, both in terms of what they are highlighting and reviewing, and if the reviews have any weight with consumers buying books. I'm not sure there's much direct impact on sales, especially since so many of the titles are also covered in other media, but I do think the number of eyes the magazine gets is great publicity for any book that's covered, especially since it's bound to get a good review! Is People worth reading for book reviews and coverage, and have you ever purchased a book because you saw it in the magazine? Let us know, we'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

‘Tis the Season (Already?)

by John

Today I want to give a shout-out to one of my favorite blogs, Gregg Easterbrook’s Tuesday Morning Quarterback. Ostensibly a recap of the previous week’s football games, Easterbrook typically goes off on tangents that even a non-football fan can appreciate, covering everything from astrophysics to economics to Battlestar Galactica.  One recurring item is Christmas Creep: how every year retailers and advertisers seem to be promoting Christmas earlier and earlier in the calendar. For instance, in Yokohama, Japan, the municipal Christmas lights went up on October 31st (so much for Halloween)!

I’ve had Christmas Creep on the brain, because November 1st seems to be an unofficial date for the media to start publishing their year-end best-book lists. So far we’ve got the New York Times best illustrated, Publisher’s Weekly and Amazon, with many more to come. I suppose I see the logic in getting these lists out early so that retailers can plan their “best of 2010” holiday displays. But still, by printing “best-ofs” in early November, these media outlets essentially declare that books are done for the year and make November and December a virtual dead zone for new titles.

With so many books fighting all year long for attention, publishers could really use two more months to space out their promotional efforts, rather than having to spend the end of the year focused on “the best.” But what if Christmas keeps on creeping earlier and earlier? Will the window for new book promotion shrink even further, to the point where publishers can only effectively market a few books a year? Or will people start getting skeptical of “best-of-the-year” lists that cover only 10 months or less, especially if there are fewer books to consider? Better yet, could books actually lead the way in reversing the Creep? To me, that would be the best Christmas present of all!

One Moment Please While I Geek Out

by Stephanie

Judge me as you will, but I will make no attempts to hide the fact that I am a Harry Potter fan, and have been since the beginning. The series seems to have been a benchmark for my (relatively speaking) younger years, and I have always been one of those fans who stuck with the books and subsequent franchise throughout its life. In fact, next week I will be going to the theatre (which at $13 a ticket, who does that?) to see the first installment of the final movie. I’m hoping I don’t resort to pushing a small child to get to the good seats, but I won't make any guarantees.

Anyway, with that in mind, I wanted to pass along this clever piece that examines the elements of the series that make for sound tips writers can take away and use to hone their own work. From character development to plotting to points of view, it’s interesting how one pivotal series holds within it so many building blocks to strong writing. I’m sure some won’t feel the same with regard to my admiration for the series, but I think this piece makes a strong argument in favor of Rowling’s talents, as well as driving home the importance of truly enjoying the world you create.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Blog chat live!

by Jim

Next week, you’ll all have the opportunity to join the agency’s first live chat. Yours truly will be available for an hour from 3:00-4:00 Eastern on Thursday the 18th to answer any questions you might have about pretty much anything—how to write a query letter, the state of the marketplace, what we’re looking for, what makes us run away screaming, and pretty much anything you can come up with. The one thing it won’t be is a place to pitch your book—that’s what email’s for.

This is going to be a test run for the chat system. We’re not really sure how many of you will be able to make it, so we’re going to keep it general and see how it goes. If it’s a hit, we’ll be looking to do it regularly and maybe add more specifically themed chats in the future. (If you have requests for particular themed chats, please let us know below!) So be sure to stop by and make me feel popular!

The chat will be live right here, and if you want to sign up now for a reminder, you can do so in the box below!

Go Blue!

by Jane

This weekend I went to my very first tailgate party and college football game. Both took place at the University of Michigan where my son is a freshman.

The party started at 9:30 on Saturday morning and continued until the game began at noon. There was absolutely no food served during the gaiety (much to my surprise) but we did have lots of fun and so I decided that I would share some pictures with our readers.
The game experience was truly amazing. The stadium holds about 120,000 people and it was almost filled on Saturday. Fortunately, after three overtimes, the Michigan Wolverines won 67 to 65, the highest score in Michigan’s history, I believe.

Still, being me I had to check out the bookstores. Since Ann Arbor is the home of Borders, I visited that and a couple more. (Can’t stay away from the biz!) Next time I go back, I will make sure to turn our clients’ books so that they face forward on the shelves.

For now, though, Go Blue!

Friday, November 05, 2010

My life would make a boring memoir

by Rachel

This morning, as I was locking up my bike by the subway out of Brooklyn and into the city, a man and his son approached me asking about a phone number for a local cab company. Thinking nothing of it and glad that I was actually able to help, I happily gave it and turned to take the steps down into the train. It was only at that moment that I noticed the dozens of people milling about, frantically calling co-workers, friends and car services. Another large group anxiously waited for an oncoming bus. Of course this would happen at 8:30 on a weekday morning- there was an emergency in the subway and all trains into Manhattan were stopped.

After a moment of panic, genius that I am, I remembered that I did in fact have a bicycle and could pedal over the bridge just as fast, if not faster than any subway making stops or car in traffic. Though it wasn’t my ideal mode of transport on a workday, and I was totally out of bridge-biking shape as it's been at least a month since I've done so, it would have to do. As I bent down to unlock my bike, a girl pulled up next to me and I ruefully informed her of the situation. She wasn’t too put out and we both went off together over the bridge and into the city, chatting all the way as if we’d known each other for years instead of minutes.

Oddly, this sort of thing happens to me all of the time. With relative frequency, I am approached by an incredible variety of people who say they see me all over the place and feel obliged to make an introduction. In my head, I affectionately refer to these people as my “neighborhood friends.” I don’t know why I come across as particularly approachable, but it’s certainly led me to all sorts of people I would never have known otherwise. Some are interested in the book I’m reading, many inquire on the progress I’ve made on that day’s crossword (invariably, I can be found every morning in the same coffee shop, using their New York Times solely for that one page in the Arts section) and others still find another instrument of acquaintance.

However it happens, I’ve grown to know some of these people beyond a casual chat on the street. There’s the amazing painter who also writes science questions for standardized tests, the girl who works in a wine shop while designing album covers and logos and the unicyclist who works in trend forecasting- among many, many others. I find these people fascinating and enjoy the friendly waves and hellos that come my way when we pass. But more than that, each is so fantastically unique and none are personae that I could myself have crafted.

There has been a lot of talk about memoirs on this blog recently, and while using personal experiences in writing is a wonderful thing, not everyone has lead a life interesting enough to make other people want to read about it. Inspiration has to come from outside as well as from within. Personally, if I were to ever sit down and attempt to pen something that might be somewhere inside me (who knows), it would be from all of these unique people- those that were never friends that I initially sought out, that I would draw my character details, motivations and intricacies from.

Who inspires you?

(And I did make it to work on time…just a little windblown and breathless.)

The sharpest tool in the shed

by Lauren

I've had technology on the brain this week.  Recently, our server failed us in catastrophic fashion (apparently Outlook doesn't like it when you save all your emails forever and ever just in case you need information later--who knew?), and as the company's liaison to our IT company, it's been my good fortune to orchestrate its replacement and the lengthy process of moving from one to the other.  On top of the system upgrade, I've been working on a couple new things for the blog (stay tuned for fun changes coming up!), so I've been thinking a lot about how dependent we are on technology and how tough it can be to figure out what's new and worth investigating.

Finding a new tool can change everything.  My mind was blown a couple years back when I found out that you could change existing text from ALL CAPS to various other options in MS Word with the press of two buttons: Shift+F3.  And I can't imagine how I managed to regularly read any newspapers or magazines or blogs before I found Instapaper and Feedly.

So I'm wondering, as writers or editors or readers, what technological tools do you find that you couldn't live without?  Have you found, say, a trick in a common program that changed your life?  Or an app that makes you more productive?  What websites make your social networking efforts easier to manage?  Any techniques to make editing easier?  Let us all know below--who knows how many hours you might save of us!

Thursday, November 04, 2010


by Michael 

There's been a lot of controversy surrounding this Salon piece by Laura Miller that criticizes the idea of National Novel Writing Month. People are pissed. How dare she tell people not to write, especially when she herself is a writer? One of my favorite publishing bloggers, Carolyn Kellogg of the LA Times's Jacket Copy, really took her to task, attacking her post sentence by sentence. And, as usual, Carolyn is smart and incisive. Writers do need encouragement, especially since much of their time is spent on a rather solitary activity. I think the communal aspect of NaNoWriMo is fantastic--being held accountable is important. If participating means more butt-in-chair time, then I approve. For authors, I think it can be a great exercise, one through which you can learn new techniques and strategies that can be employed long after the month has passed.

Sadly, though, I think Laura made a good point that she unfortunately tied to NaNoWriMo: if you want to write, read. Reading is absolutely the first, most important step to becoming a writer. And while I have a feeling that many people participating in NaNoWriMo are readers--and probably big readers at that--there are plenty of people who aspire to write books, and even attempt to write them, that don't read. When I tell people what I do for a living, many of them tell me that they've thought of writing a book. Many of those same people also couldn't recall the last book they read or bought. Talk about awkward party conversations...

I know if you're following this blog that you're already readers, so I'm preaching to the choir. But have you met non-reader-writers in your publishing adventures? And do they make you as angry as they do Ms. Miller and me?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Social networking means business

by Stacey

Everyone talks about how important social networking is for marketing and promoting your book, both before you're published (especially for nonfiction, where without a sizable platform you're dead in the water before you even begin) and after. That it's important is not new news, but I found this piece in Publisher's Weekly about a recent webcast about digital marketing interesting because it goes into detail on just how social networking influences consumer buying habits. This offers a small way to quantify its impact on selling books. And the numbers are pretty powerful -- "consumers are 67% more likely to buy from the brands they follow on Twitter, 51% more likely to buy from a brand they fan on Facebook, and 79% more likely to recommend brands and products they follow on social media." I also like the suggestion "Don't spray and pray. Listen, reply and engage."

To me this piece serves as yet another reminder that whatever your goals as a writer might be, it's important to find those important connections to others both inside and outside the community. It all starts with talent, and sending out a message or a piece of writing that your audience can connect with in a meaningful way. The broader your reach, the easier time you will have finding agents and publishers to pay attention to you and the work you're doing. The numbers prove it!

Misty, water colored memories…(and a contest)

by Miriam

For someone who’s fanatical about fiction, I’ve always had a soft spot for biographies and memoir (of course, a good account of an interesting life has much in common with the best fiction). Losing oneself in the pages of a novel full of invented characters is a delicious way to spend an afternoon, but there is a particular kind of pleasure in reading about real people’s exploits and experiences and especially how they describe themselves and what they’ve gone through. I find that willingness to share one’s humanity and the courage it takes to air one’s laundry and leave it flapping in the breeze pretty irresistible.

I’ve been charmed by Laurence Olivier’s diffident, self-deprecating take on his prodigious talent and by John Bayley’s loving account of his relationship with the great Iris Murdoch. I’ve been blown away by Paul Monette’s gorgeous Becoming a Man and Elie Wiesel’s devastating Night. I’m desperate to read Keith Richards’ surprisingly well-reviewed Life and Antonia Fraser’s ode to her love affair with Harold Pinter. But, I’ve also got a night table buckling under the weight of memoirs by the likes of Mary Karr, Jeannette Walls and Anne Lamott.

Samuel Johnson, himself the subject of a great biography and the author of the wonderful Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets, put it thusly, “I have often thought that there has rarely passed a life of which a judicious and faithful narrative would not be useful; for...every man has, in the mighty mass of the world, great numbers in the same condition with himself, to whom his mistakes and miscarriages, escapes and expedients, would be of immediate and apparent use.” He went on for a while after that, but you get the idea. Everyone has a story to tell. Their own.

So, I’d like to propose a memoir contest. Give us a couple of sentences that tell us the gist of your memoir and we’ll put it to a vote and decide whose story has the most potential. (Please keep in mind that this is not a referendum on your life…just on your ability to craft a good pitch for it.) We’ll come up with prizes for first, second and third place entries and let you know what those are as soon as we’ve figured them out.

I look forward to reading.

Update: Thanks for all the good stuff, guys. Keep the entries coming until Monday, Nov. 8, at midnight. We'll announce the winners (and prizes) on my Wednesday blog post.