“So, uh…what do you do, anyway?”

Thanksgiving is coming up, which means (for many of us), the inevitable Questioning by Relatives and/or Friends begins. This also means that I have started preparing my Working at a Literary Agency 101 speech for my extended family, who really are genuinely curious and interested in what I do.

One of the things that attracted me to interning and later working at a literary agency in the first place was the array of things I got to do with my day. Everyone I spoke with hemmed and hawed when I asked them what an “average day” looked like. To tell you the truth, there is no real average day at an agency. Sure, there are tasks that you may do every week, but there’s always something different to tackle or get your hands on.

I was lucky enough to see a few different areas of work at DGLM—first as the royalties and subsidiary rights assistant, and now as Jane’s assistant. When I thought about literary agencies and publishing in college, I didn’t consider publishing as a business, per se. Like many people (young and old), I regarded it as a mythical place where people chose and read books they liked and turned them into the things that we saw on the bookshelves of our local Barnes & Noble.


How wrong I was. Naturally, we read. We read a lot. We edit, we comment, we do all the expected things. But what I didn’t expect was the whole business side of an agency: from the financials and contracts that keep the agency moving forward, the administrative side that makes sure everything is running smoothly, to the foreign deals that get authors more recognition in an ever growing global market.

On a less glamorous note, we also email a lot. Dear authors, who are worried about the status of their manuscript or making sure that we’ve received it: we are desperately trying to get back to you. We’ve probably seen it, marked it, and are trying to fight through the swelter of our inboxes to get back to your lovely query. We’ll get there, we promise.

One of the things that keeps me so excited about coming to work every day is knowing that my day will never be quite the same as the day before it.

What were your conceptions of publishing/literary agencies? What other things are you curious about?


“You Gotta Read this Book.”

Publishers (and thus agents) often talk about word-of-mouth. The elusive factor that can make or break a book, especially in fiction. You readers know exactly what I’m talking about! “Oh, oh, you gotta read this book” or “OK…That book is SO good,” often accompanied by wide eyes, clutching your heart, and/or waving hands (personally I usually do a weird STOP motion with my hands, like some kind of frantic reading crossing guard).


The contagious excitement often leads to borrows, sales, and more – you read it, you love it, and you enact the same dance with someone else. On and on! This is why publicists often spend a lot of time, energy, and postage on getting upcoming titles in the hands of “influencers” – in addition to important reviewers and bloggers, people who are loudmouths about books in their communities, whether it’s on Twitter, in book clubs, or at the dog park.

But the real question is…just what what makes a book you gotta read? Is it something identifiable in plot, characters, setting? Is it just a lucky perfect storm of everyday readers, and bestseller headlines?

Buzzfeed asked their audience recently what books they can’t stop talking about, and the wide variety of answers seem to suggest a third option: it’s simply different for every reader. On this list you’ll find classics, contemporary award winners, scifi, YA (all genres), mysteries and histories. There’s books I loved on this list, and books I’ve hated! So I spent some time thinking about the qualities common to books I tend to force people to read: things like a big twist that I didn’t see coming will get me yelling about a book; a memoir that makes me laugh and cry; or a true story that leads me into a subject I never realized existed. Whatever the factor, it’s definitely something I’m thinking about when reading submissions – am I excited enough about this book that I am dying to recommend it to people…starting with editors?

What makes for a book you can’t stop talking about? Any of your favorite recommends make this list?



That loud sound you may have heard last week was the collective gnashing of agents’ teeth all over New York when it was announced that Amy Schumer’s memoir sold to Simon and Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint for somewhere north of $8 million. The only agent who was unequivocally NOT doing any gnashing was Miss Schumer’s, David Kuhn, and to him all congratulations are due. (Her original agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell of Foundry Literary + Media, also deserves a shout-out for the groundwork she had lain getting the book sold the FIRST time around—in 2013, to HarperCollins, for the already-impressive sum of $1 million. Miss Schumer eventually did an about-face and bought back those rights.) The whole tangled saga of the sale was told in this article in the New York Times on October 1:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/books/for-amy-schumer-multimillion-dollar-book-deal-is-all-in-the-timing.html

I’m a huge fan of Schumer and her brash, satiric eye. I regularly watch her TV show and made sure to catch the wildly funny TRAINWRECK during its opening weekend. But while Schumer and her camp are popping the champagne corks, I have to wonder what her enormous advance means in the context of other things.

I don’t think any aspiring memoirist, no matter how fine a writer, expects to make that kind of money right out of the gate. Fame and following, and a huge public platform, count for much in the publishing business. But when a publisher spends such an astronomical fee on an advance, how will this affect the amount they’ll be able to offer other writers who are far less well known than Schumer? If future celebrity memoirs start going for that much or even more, will it cut further into the much smaller advances that other writers are offered?

The irony is that there’s no guarantee that Schumer’s book will ultimately earn back such an enormous advance.  But as the Times article points out, even if it doesn’t, Gallery will still have plenty to gain from all the exposure and enhanced reputation they will derive. Let’s hope they will still be willing to allocate to lesser-known writers the advances they deserve.


To fiction or nonfiction, that is the question

I’m a big fan of Sloane Crosley. Her first collection of essays, I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE, offered a voice of a younger generation that was so distinct it set the stage for another collection of essays and now, a debut novel called THE CLASP. Good writing is good writing regardless of the category but it’s interesting to me to see authors who can go back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. There are many talented writers who try their hand at both successfully. Think Ann Patchett or Joan Didion; even J.K. Rowling had her Harvard graduation speech published in book form.

I have authors on my own list who have tried their hand at both. From my experience, they are usually better at one or the other and once they have some success with finding a publisher they stick with that. One of my most prolific fiction authors doesn’t seem interested in nonfiction, despite a few prods from me. And another who has only done nonfiction so far has teased me by talking about doing a novel at some point. I love the idea of this creative exploration.

I found this piece on Crosley’s publisher’s website interesting for aspiring or established writers because it goes into the psychological mindset of switching from one category to the other, or in her case the idea that many writers move seamlessly from fiction to nonfiction but it’s a different beast when it goes the other way. While the feelings Crosley has experienced crossing over are hers, I suspect there are some common threads that other writers would agree with. She feels fiction is a lot harder, she says that “publishing nonfiction feels like reading poetry on stage and publishing fiction feels like doing it naked while playing the piano.” I look forward to reading the novel and seeing how it compares to her nonfiction.

What do you think? Fiction or nonfiction or both? I say if you have the talent, spread it around!

The Clasp



During my year abroad in Germany, I was lucky enough to have a host mom who was also a librarian. My first week there, she signed me up for a library card and once I stopped getting lost on public transportation, I often visited a small library a half hour away (Bücherhalle Bergedorf). For an avid reader, Germany felt like paradise to me. Like in America, there was a bookstore in the mall, a small independent bookstore around the corner in a small square from my German tutor’s apartment, and books in train stations.

Unlike what I had experienced in America (living in several small towns without much public transportation), everyone seemed to be reading. My host sister and host brother (ages 16 and 12, respectively) brought two or three books with them to the beach. (I was charmed by the German “vacation books”—slender, inexpensive volumes of fiction that would be typed as “beach reads” or “light reading” here—but for €5 or even sometimes less.) It seemed like everyone carried at least one book around with them to read on the bus, the train, while waiting in line. Bookstores abounded.

I think part of the German insistence and delight in reading comes from their idea of a “Kulturnation”—a country bound together by tradition, literature, language, and religion. The act of reading and writing has always furthered (and often challenged) these aspects of any country. Back in the U.S., as I read headlines about the demise of independent bookstores, Borders closing, and many questions about the future of print books, I wondered how the Germans did it. Now granted, Germany is considerably smaller than the United States, and one might argue that we do have a substantial book culture here. But is it more due to geographical size and population than an actual ingrained cultural tradition? How could we here in America make turning to a book as natural as turning to our phones or another electronic device?

What do you think of the U.S.’s book culture? How can we make it better? Or do you think we’re doing just fine, after all?

**If you’re further interested in this topic, I found this article, originally published by The Nation in 2012 to be very interesting and helpful.


Blog ’bout blurbs

It seems that most book covers nowadays sport a blurb or two from well-known authors, but do you know who the first authors were to introduce the world to the blurb?

I didn’t think so. It was Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman (the former blurbing about the latter), according to this piece by NPR. The article touches on the origins of the blurb and its efficacy in persuasiveness. It’s certainly worth reading it in its entirety. Personally, no one has ever told me that they picked up a book because of the blurb on the cover, but the fact that booksellers appear to be taking them into account says something.

In fact, that blurbs have greater traction with publishing professionals behind the scenes rather than consumers in bookstores speaks to their continued pervasiveness. Because the truth is that it’s increasingly difficult to make a book stand out to the general reader, and if there’s even a chance that a blurb might cause a consumer to take a closer look, you take it. Same goes for generating any buzz you can pre-publication and arming your sales teams with as much firepower as possible.

What do our readers think? As a reader, do you take blurbs into account? How important are they to you as a writer?


The importance of positive persistence

Last Wednesday, there was a piece in The New York Times titled “The Plot Twist”.  In it, the writer, Alexandra Alter discussed the fact that e-book sales were slipping and print book sales were rising by about the same percentage rate.  This, after the dire predictions of four years ago that e-book sales would overtake print sales in a very short time.

I remember when e-books were the topic everyone was talking about.  Many of my colleagues in the publishing business were predicting the demise of print book publishing and of the entire business as we know it.  We were all—publishers, agents and authors—frightened about what would happen.  And then nothing did.

Although we at Dystel & Goderich did begin a digital publishing program in order to help some of our clients self-publish, we didn’t panic.  We felt this was a natural alternative for those authors whose books were out of print but which could still find a readership.   In fact, the program has served us well and will continue to do so in the future.

I found that through all of the sturm und drang of the negativity of the past four years, I kept looking forward, signing new authors, adding to our staff of super talented agents, and knowing that, in the end, print books would survive.  And they did and will continue to do so.

Thinking positively during those difficult days wasn’t easy.  Everyone seemed to be shaking their heads and worrying about the future of the business.  I have found though, over the years, that worrying is paralyzing—that the only way to keep going is to think positively, to find those projects and strategies that will move us forward and to use my energy to make them happen.

Again, this idea of positive persistence is one I have lived by and will continue to do so as it is the only way to keep growing both as an individual and as a mentor to my staff and clients.  I urge you all to think about this and how this concept plays out in your lives.  I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.


It ain’t over till it’s over

As the press has noted, with the passing of Yogi Berra, we’ve lost not only a baseball legend, but a legendary quipster, whose wit and wisdom (real or attributed) applies to so much beyond baseball. And one of his most famous Yogisms, “It ain’t over till it’s over” came to mind yesterday when I saw the front page article on the Times proclaiming that, hey, print isn’t dead after all!

Now, anyone who’s been keeping up with this blog and publishing news in general already knows that e-book sales have plateaued, and that both print and bookstores have had a nice resurgence over the past year. But as they usually do, the Times provides a nice overview, especially when it points out that the ABA counts 300 new independent bookstores since 2010, and that the big publishers are expanding their warehouse space to keep up with demand. And in their even-handed way, the Times does point out that both new e-readers and pricing could lead to an e-book resurgence, though I find it hard to imagine the $50 Kindle will lead the way…

Instead, I wonder if most people will end up as hybrid readers—e-books for travel, work, maybe for certain genres, and print for the rest. You might draw a parallel of sorts to the record biz, where hipsters gather physical vinyl for home listening but use Spotify on the go. If that becomes the new normal, then maybe the more prescient Yogism here would be “It’s deja vu all over again…”

Anyway, I’d love to know your thoughts on this. Has anyone ditched e-books completely at this point, or vice versa? If so, why? And if you’re a hybrid reader, how do you divvy up your reading between print and e?


A truth acknowledged

The first time I read Pride and Prejudice I was smitten by Austen’s acerbic wit, her depiction of a woman with a mind (and sense of humor) of her own, her good humored (and, okay, sometimes a little bitter) skewering of Regency mores, her prose, her storytelling, and, okay, yeah, the most swoonworthy hero ever.    Over the years, my affection for the book has not waned.  If anything I appreciate its subtleties and charms more than ever before.  And, I get why  the novel has become the prototype of the modern romance novel.  It’s a formula that never gets old: Independent minded attractive female meets disdainful but hot male  and a battle of wits ensues; sparks fly, love blossoms, marriage results.

But, is the formula overused?  Is it time to step back from the P&P retreads?  Should we leave Lizzie and Darcy alone for a while to enjoy the glories of Pemberley without fear of encroaching rodents?  Can we agree that guinea pigs and Austen is just a “No”?

Really.  Despite what Sharon Pelletier may or may not say publicly, just no.

Are you with me blog readers?



Don’t Judge A Book by Its Dress

Readers find books in a lot of ways: a friend’s suggestion, a radio interview, a magazine ad, a blogger’s review. But nothing beats browsing a bookstore (or a website) and picking a new book simply because the cover caught your eye. In spite of – or perhaps because of – an increasingly digital world, it’s fun to see publishers’ art departments paying a lot of attention to creating arresting covers for books.

So I got a big kick out of this Buzzfeed list matching 24 striking book covers with couture seen on the runway during New York Fashion Week held earlier this month. High fashion and literature might not go hand-in-hand very often, but when they do, it sure is fun!

24 Books That Perfectly Match New York Fashion Week Looks

I don’t know if I’d wear that dress, but I sure would read it!

Have you ever bought a book based on cover design alone? What do you look for in a great cover design? Any favorite book covers that you think would make a great dress?