Winter cleaning

If you’re anything like me, you have too many books—a disappointing number of which remain unread. Books fill my apartment. They are on my coffee table. Spilling out of a floor-to-ceiling bookcase (because the last one couldn’t cut it and literally collapsed from the weight). Littered across my bedroom and on my desk. So when I came across Jessica Pryde’s Book Riot blog post about cleaning up her bookshelves it really struck a chord.

Usually around this time of year I like to set aside time to do a little housecleaning. And I don’t think I can overemphasize “little” enough. I simply take a few boxes and fill them with all the books I’ve never read and have admitted to myself that I will never read, plus those books which I’ve read and don’t feel the intense need to keep. Then off they go to friends and/or charity. There’s no labeling or organizing involved. My method is a lot less ritualistic than Jessica’s, but her process sounds a lot more effective and fun than my own. I might very well keep it mind this year. Plus, drunk weeding sounds awfully tempting.

How do our readers manage their book collections? Any tips?


Happy Thanksgiving Everybody!

Now that the holidays are upon us, not only am I excited to mingle with family and eat an unnatural amount of food, but also start on the imposing tower of “books to read” I’ve had building up for months.

So, in the spirit of giving thanks, I figured it would be appropriate to share a few things that I am thankful for as a book lover:

  • I’m thankful for family and friends that love and support me in everything I do.
  • I am thankful for the cool and grey days that make me want to curl up in my blanket with a nice cup of hot cocoa and my favorite book.
  • I’m thankful for libraries in general, but most especially thankful for this wonderful library in Dryden that has challenged kids to read up to 1,000 books before kindergarten. 1,000! I find it very encouraging, and I’m so proud of all the little ones taking on the challenge. Like the good doctor said, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”—Dr. Seuss
  • The Hunger Games: MockingJay, part 2. I have purposely waited to see the final installment of the movies based on Suzanne Collins’ books this Thanksgiving weekend, mainly to keep up with the tradition of watching the movies with my sister, who introduced me to the series in the first place. Yes, Tolu, thank you for literally shoving the book in my face.
  • Ali Benjamin. I read her debut The Thing about Jellyfish for book club, fell in love, and now I eagerly await her next work.
  • Every Friends Thanksgiving episode.
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  • Starbucks’s Caramel Brulee Frappuccino. I don’t even like coffee, but this is stuff is pretty good (It’s the sugar!!). Pair it with a witty YA romance and your afternoon is completely made.
  • Esty.com for making my Christmas shopping easy. With its cool and unique merchandise, you are sure to find just the right gift for your book loving/creative friends this holiday season.

And finally, I am thankful for DGLM and all you wonderful readers. Please share what you are thankful for, and I hope everyone has a fun, safe and relaxing Thanksgiving weekend!!



Thanksgiving is here again

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is here already. The last year seems to have raced by with many, many changes in my life. Usually, at this time of year, my husband and I spend the holiday in Florida visiting his family and our friends. This year, however, my father-in-law Sam Schwinder and my old and close friend Rena Wolner (a former head of Pocket Books, Berkley, and Avon) passed away and so we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner around our dinner table here in Manhattan along with my daughter, my son, my son-in-law and my two adorable grandchildren. I will think about Sam and Rena on that day, as I am very thankful for having had the chance to know, love, and learn from them.

I am also incredibly thankful for so many other things: the talented, brilliant, funny people on my staff (we are now 14 strong), my wonderful clients, my colleagues at the many publishing houses and other agencies we do business with. My business partner Miriam Goderich helps me run our company and think through the numerous issues we face every day. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and a stabilizing force in a world that has lots of highs and lows. I am so grateful to her. My daughter Jessica Toonkel is a talented reporter with Reuters and a superb partner to her husband Brian and mother to her children, eight-year-old Elena and almost-two-year-old Leo. I am incredibly proud of her. My son, Zachary Schwinder who is about to enter Officer Candidate School for the Marines—I am both frightened for his safety and oh so proud of his goal to keep our country safe. My kind and wonderful husband and partner Steve who is by my side through thick and thin and has been since I met him almost 30 years ago—I am so very grateful for him and his love.
I encourage each of you to think about those things and people you are grateful for at this time of year. And, if you like, I would love you to tell me what they are.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May it be filled with peace and everything delicious!



Books Stand Guard

Sharon Pelletier eloquently expressed in this blog last week how books can give us great solace in times of trouble—as in the recent events in Paris. The shock waves that weekend were felt worldwide, and for some of us with strong connections to Paris, they reverberated with particular force. I spent my senior college year at the Sorbonne,  a confirmed Francophile since childhood.  And every time I return to Paris, be it for work, pleasure, or both, I fall in love with the city all over again.

Shakespeare and Company, Paris’s famous English-language bookstore, is a Left Bank haven many of us have frequently visited to browse and to attend readings by Anglophone authors and poets.  On the night of November 13, it suddenly became a place of refuge. Approximately 20 customers were in the shop when the violence erupted. They barricaded themselves inside, pulled the shades, blacked out the lights. All night long they remained together in the relative safety of Shakespeare and Company, keeping track of the real-time events on their smartphones and texting loved ones to let them know they were okay.  And some were undoubtedly passing those frightening hours trying to calm themselves by reading books off the shelves.

All night long, it was as if all those books were standing guard. Art, as often happens, was watching over humanity through one of its darkest hours. That night, the bookshop truly lived up to the Bible quotation which hangs over its door:  “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise.” Rose Alana Frith, a bookseller at the store, said  that its role on November 13, 2015 as “a refuge from atrocities” was something “many will be unable to forget.”

You can read a fuller account, with links to first-hand reports, at this Shelf Awareness page:  http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=2635#m30518

These days, the final line of Oscar Hammerstein II’s lyrics for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” keeps running through my mind:

“No matter how they change her, I’ll remember her that way.”


Running and writing

When my father first moved to New York City in the late 1960s, he got into the jogging trend that had just started sweeping the nation. And ever since, nary a week goes by where he doesn’t go out once or twice at the crack of dawn and log a few miles. As a kid, he’d often ask me to join him, and I still remember huffing and puffing up the hill from 90th street to 86th trying to keep up with his well-practiced strides.

And to this day, I HATE jogging.

Of course, to make myself even more miserable, I ran cross-country in high school– it was either that or gym class. Fortunately, our coach realized that many of us were only there for the class credit and could care less about our personal bests, so practices were pretty low key. But boy did I dread the Saturday meets at Van Corlandt Park in the Bronx–getting passed left and right, the burning lungs, the brutal final sprint across an open field to the finish line, all of which was made worse by those Friday nights of experimental teenage drinking.

So yeah, I am still not a runner. But maybe that’s why I’m an agent, not a writer?

All of this brings me to this interesting piece in The Atlantic about how so many prominent writers pair their writing with a running regimen. And it does make sense—like writing, running can be a long slog, but supposedly you get better with practice. And several authors note how it’s a good way to clear one’s mind and work out story issues away from the page.

So, do any of YOU run? If so, do you find that it helps your writing?


Between the World and Me

As most of you know, the 2015 National Book Awards winners were announced this week. I did a quick skim of the list and was incredibly pleased to find that Ta-Nehisi Coates had won the non-fiction category. I had read his book in short bursts on the subway to and from work—a small volume, but one that I could only read in small doses. Reading his work, I was reminded of a class I had taken my senior year in college, titled “Black Apocalyptic Fiction.” We had discussed a question similar to what Coates asks in Between the World and Me: “What is it like to inhabit a black body and find a way to live within it?” My final paper for that class focused on art and scholarship and how so much art and literature was focused on eventually creating a kind of scholarship that people used to dehumanize African American bodies.

So I was particularly interested when I noticed Coates’s answer to the question that the NBA posed to each finalist and winner: “In the process of writing your book, what did you discover, what, if anything, surprised you?”

Coates answered, “I discovered how hard it was to make the abstract into the something visceral. My goal was to take numbers and stats and make people feel them with actual stories. It was to take scholarship and make it literature.” (emphasis mine)


I have immense hope—despite everything—that scholarship will continue to emerge through literature created by people of color and that a new art will emerge as a reclamation of the body and self.

Watch Ta-Nehisi Coates’s acceptance speech:

What did you think of this year’s winners? What do you think about the future of diverse authors?


What I’m Looking For

I’m always on the hunt for new and exciting projects, but what I’m looking for does shift and change a bit based on what I already rep, the market, and whatever I’m personally ruminating at the moment. Right now, that’s:

  • YA and MG novels that deal with faith, loss of faith, and other “big questions” kinds of books. I remember my teen years being about questioning and figuring out exactly what I believed in. I’d also love to see a novel about a kid exploring political issues, and perhaps how one’s political identity contrasts with one’s parents’.
  • I’d love to see some more ghosts. Ghost stories have always been a favorite of mine, and while there have been so many, I’d love to see something new and original. MG, YA, adult—it’s all good!
  • I’m still eager to find a great tennis novel. I’ve seen some good books over the years, but nothing that I connected with enough to take it on.
  • On the nonfiction side, I’m still very eager to find more pop science. I’d love a Sixth Extinction or a What If? I’d really love a book about the space program, particularly women involved with it.

That’s just a brief list of the things I’m most interested in at the moment, but as usual, if you’ve got something brilliant, I’d love to see it!


What’s in a name?

As it turns out, a lot.  Because titles can’t be copyrighted, same or similar ones pop up with surprising regularity despite best efforts by authors, agents, publishers, filmmakers, and playwrights to come up with something original.  That, of course, is not always a bad thing, as evidenced by this report from Galleycat.  A. J. Waines’ Girl on a Train is benefiting from the confusion of readers who were looking to buy Paula Hawkins’ bestseller The Girl on the Train.  The sales of Waines’ book have spiked and some readers don’t seem to mind the mix-up as they enjoyed their reading experience.

We spend a lot of time giving feedback to our authors on titles and it’s never not tough.  A good title resonates with a book buyer.  It makes you either “get” the category/subject matter immediately or it puzzles you enough that it makes you want to find out more.  It’s either straightforward and catchy or confusingly oblique but still memorable.  Depending on the category you are working in, a strong title can go a long way in helping to market the book.  And really, anything goes—Cryptonomicon, anyone?—as long as it’s intriguing in the right way to the right group of readers.

But while everyone tries to be unique, duplicates and triplicates abound.  Even after searching Amazon for similar titles in your category, there’s no guarantee that the same one won’t pop up in another genre.  Case in point (one is a novel from DGLM client Libby Cudmore due out in 2016; one is a memoir from 2010):

Big Rewind

Hey, a good title is a good title is a good title.  As long as you’re not intentionally trying to draw readers away from another author’s work by using their title, no harm no foul (at least as far as copyright law is concerned).

What books can you think of that share same/similar titles?


A living fire to lighten the darkness

Over the past week, news from around the world has been terrifying and heartbreaking. In times of great danger and violence, when fellow humans across the globe are running for their lives and seeking refuge for their families, we feel helpless and often turn to our favorite things – books! – for comfort and distraction. On Saturday afternoon I saw a lot of smart bookish friends on Twitter admitting to feeling very guilty for spending the afternoon cozy at home reading, with tea, chocolate, blankets, pets, loved ones. I felt that way myself.

But books are just as important in troubled times as in light ones, because reading builds empathy. A 2013 study suggested that reading actually affects the neurological connectivity in the brain – and I believe the compassion we earn from books is even simpler than that. Reading takes you to worlds outside your own, brings you inside the joys and fears and decision-making of characters totally unlike you facing obstacles you may never experience. Reading reminds you there are the human lives making up the faceless statistics from a country you may never see as well as marginalized communities in your hometown, right outside your front door. Reading gives you brave heroines to imitate and callow villains to avoid following. As Madeleine L’Engle said beautifully in her Newbery award speech, “A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

When you see horrible things on the news – or when you see friends and loved ones responding in ways that you strongly disagree with – respond with love and compassion.  And then it’s okay to pick up a book and escape from things for a little bit – you’re refilling your empathy tank.

What are your favorite comfort reads? Any recommendations for a book that opened a new world up for you and made you a better person?



Books on the move

If you’re reading an agency blog, you probably have a reasonably good idea how a book goes from your brain to the bookshelf, but have you ever wondered about the process a book takes as it travels through the library system?  I can’t say I really did until I saw this fun piece from the New York Times, but I enjoyed getting to know the journey.  I remember when news broke of the NYPL’s Super Sorter (that’s probably not what they call it), and I’ve always been intrigued.  A friend of mine works for NYPL in Long Island City—albeit as an archivist, not a book sorter.  I wonder if she can get me into the sorting room.

If you’re not excited yet, try picturing the book version of this classic Sesame Street segment at the Crayola Factory.