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I’m in the mood for…

If you’re like me, I’m starting to think longingly about fall—nestling into soft sweaters and scarves, brisk temperatures, and the explosion of pumpkin that seems to accompany autumn. It also signals a new wave of books, TV shows, and movies that many of us have been eagerly waiting for all summer. With the new wealth of things available to lose yourself in, it can seem overwhelming. I’ve noticed that since moving to NYC, I’ve found myself in a mad dash to try and keep up with pop culture and just…culture in general. As a newbie to the publishing industry, there’s so much to learn and so much to read. I’ve subscribed to a few literary/publishing industry newsletters, try and read Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch fairly religiously, I’ve dipped a tentative toe into the podcast waters, and I have constant running fines at the New York Public Library.  However, when it comes to movies and TV shows, I’m totally out of my element. And with all the suggestions flooding in from various sources, it can be tough to figure out exactly what you want to spend your time immersed in.

Thankfully, for the film/TV illiterate like me, Vulture has released a fall entertainment generator, which they describe as, “an interactive guide to this season’s 306 best offerings” for books, movies, TV shows, theatre, art, and music. You pick what you’re in the mood for and how you want it to make you feel, and it spits out a list of recommendations for you to choose from. I’m excited to see what it might steer me towards in the ever-busy autumn months! I’ve already got a fall reading list going, but am always looking for new recommendations.

Where do you get your book recommendations from? How do you get your daily dose of culture? What makes one book or movie stand out to you from a list?

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Time to edit

I’d been considering writing about the editorial process for the blog today, so I was pleased this morning to see this PW interview all about that with author Eowyn Ivey and editors Reagan Arthur and Mary-Anne Harrington. Ivey, Arthur, and Harrington talk about taking her new novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, from an outline and 50 pages to a completed book.

Editing can be smooth sailing or a minefield or, most often, somewhere in between. (For example, sometimes an editor has to tell a writer to cool it with the mixed metaphors.) I always tell authors that it’s important that they are on board with the vision for the book. Their name is going on the cover. If they don’t agree with an edit, there’s something to discuss. Editors are not—nor do they tend to want to be—dictators. And I know from experience that editing can be very nerve-wracking, because you are taking on a role of omniscient authority but everyone knows you’re just one person with an opinion. An informed opinion, but an opinion nonetheless. I encourage authors who are in very strong disagreement to come to me and talk it out, so we can figure out the best way to get them and their editor on the same page—and so they can get it off their chest, regroup, and be diplomatic, or let me handle it if diplomacy feels beyond reach so that the relationship can continue forward smoothly.

I also generally suggest to authors that they ask themselves if changes they don’t agree with are possibly bad solutions to a problem they need to tackle another way. Maybe you don’t need to change your vision, but is it possible you’ve not executed that vision as well as you thought? Or can you explain to your editor what you’re seeing that they’re not, so that they’ll understand where they lost the thread? Maybe there’s a different, unobjectionable change that will get the job done. On the other hand, maybe the editor missed something because they don’t come from the same demographic as the character and writer, and the edit they’re suggesting doesn’t actually ring true. It can be hard at first blush to sort out which edits simply sting but are a good idea and which edits are a huge misstep, a path to a different book than the author wants to write, or a misread on the editor’s part. Edits are not an edict from on high, and they absolutely can be a conversation.

One of the best keys to a strong publishing experience is to trust that we’re all in this together.  If as an author you have a concern or a problem, know you’re almost certainly not the first person to have that issue, and your agent and editor should be more than capable of being professional enough to help resolve it. And your agent makes a great sounding board if you’re not quite sure how to move forward or want to express the unvarnished truth before taking a more diplomatic tack. A big part of what we’re here for is bringing the author and publisher back onto the same page when their interests or ideas begin to diverge so that everyone can move forward together.

Platform talk

There was a blog post recently from Eric Smith that got a lot of attention around publishing circles. My colleague, Sharon, passed it around the office for all of us to see, and I thought it might be a good idea to share wider with our blog readers as well.

Periodically the conversation changes about what authors should be doing to reach their fans once they’re published or how to build up their fan base before they’re published. One of the nice things about the piece is that it gives a few examples of authors doing things that are effective.

When I’m at conferences or talking with prospective authors, I often discuss what I refer to as the “platform pie.” Years ago, you had a good book idea, you got it published and you built your platform around the book. Now, the book has to be one of the last pieces of the platform pie, with the others already in place when you sell the book. Other pieces of the pie include social media, traditional media (radio and tv), public speaking, and writing online and offline for blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines.

A good example on my own list is Amy Morin, author of 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PEOPLE DON’T DO and the upcoming 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PARENTS DON’T DO. Her writing career started with freelance articles, one of which, talking about Amy’s groundbreaking work on mental strength, went viral in late 2014. I sold the book that became 13 THINGS just a few weeks later after feverishly working on it over the holidays.  She then took that success and extended her platform, writing for various publications, doing radio and tv interviews, and setting up speaking engagements in front of all kinds of audiences which eventually led to a Tedx talk and many other outlets to grow her platform.

It’s the end of summer and most of us are hanging on to the last few days before the busyness of September kicks in. This is a good thing to be thinking about while sitting on the beach, sipping ice cold cocktails, all the ways in which you can make your voice heard.

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Reflections on my first writer’s conference

I attended my very first writer’s conference this past weekend: The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and participated in the Pitch Slam. During the Pitch Slam, writers received 3-4 minutes with an agent—half of that time was meant for their pitch and the other half was allotted for the agent to provide feedback on the pitch and viability of the book. Many of the pitches I heard on Saturday were very well thought out, concise and clear. However, I did also make several observations that I hope aspiring authors reading this will take to heart when attending their next conference.

Unfocused pitches were not nearly as ubiquitous as I would have expected, but there were still some writers who delved into plot specifics way too deeply. Now usually this wouldn’t be so bad, but remember that writers only had 90-120 seconds to pitch their book, and those with meandering, seemingly aimless, pitches often ended up speaking the entire time, which left agents, such as myself, no time to respond. The whole point of a pitch slam is to provide writers with feedback and help them perfect their pitch. That’s not possible if the agent doesn’t get a chance to respond. Instead, the truly standout pitches told me everything I needed to know in a short amount of time: genre, word length, comp titles, and quick character and plot descriptions. And the best of the best also incorporated a nifty tagline to capture my attention. (Click here for more helpful advice how to pitch your book.)

Now my conversations with writers who didn’t take too much time to pitch their book typically went one of two ways. Either I was impressed with their pitch and preparation and we engaged in a short, but lively, discussion, or I mentioned a few areas where he/she could improve. Most took my suggestions into consideration and were very grateful for the advice. After all, that’s what the event is for. Yet, there were some who became defensive, if not downright argumentative. Criticism is never easy to hear, and you absolutely shouldn’t take anything one person says as gospel, but there’s a time and place for lengthy explanations and vehement disagreements. During a 3-minute pitch session isn’t one of them.

Lastly, don’t be so uptight and competitive with your fellow aspiring authors! People line waiting to pitch their book often gave others dirty looks or were so noticeably anxious that I felt a little bad. It’s not the end of the world if someone inadvertently goes over the time limit during their pitch. Remember that another aspect of these conferences is to try and make some connections, so present yourself in an amiable, professional manner. And relax. Agents put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you.

All in all, my first conference was very enjoyable and quite productive. I heard a lot of great pitches, and sample pages from writers I met on Saturday are starting to flood my inbox. I’m looking forward to my next one!

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How what we do is like golf

As many of you know, I am constantly trying to improve my golf game.  Each summer I spend hours on Saturdays and Sundays on the driving range, in lessons, and on the golf course practicing and playing.  This summer I started working with a new golf pro to completely change and improve my swing; it was a radical step that involved studying videos of my swing (something I’d never done before) and learning how to make adjustments based on the replays, but, in the end, after many hours of working on it  and lots of frustration, I am happy to report that I’m seeing some significant improvement.Golfing

Like golf, our agenting takes continual practice, both in choosing the projects we will represent and establishing a strategy to sell those projects.  As in golf, we find that we learn from our failures as much or more than from our successes and we are constantly tweaking our game—finding different publishers and editors to whom to submit and different approaches to developing the books we are representing.

This can be a very frustrating process, but as with golf, with enough “practice” we often succeed.

In fact, this summer I have done deals with at least three publishers who are entirely new to me.  After agenting for so many years, I still get a kick out of establishing relationships with new publishers and editors—it’s a very inspiring and exciting part of our business.

Changing things up every once in a while is something I love to do, both in golf and in life.  Do you have a hobby or sport you pursue that gives you perspective on your writing?

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Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Lauren Abramo and I both have books coming out today, and that’s not all we have in common – Lauren and I also both used to work at Barnes and Noble! So we thought it would be fun to spend a little time visiting the big flagship B&N here in Union Square and see how many DGLM books we could spot. Including, of course, our own!

Lauren put together this fabulous collage of our field trip, which you’ve already seen if you follow her on Twitter (and while you’re at it, follow me too!) .

 

BN collage

 

Agents are almost as proud of the books they’ve worked on as the authors themselves are! In my bookseller days, my favorite part of the job was suggesting books I loved to regular customers and hearing what they thought on their next trip to the bookstore. And being an agent is like that, only better, because you get to be an even bigger part of getting books you love into customers’ hands. It makes wandering through a bookstore all the more satisfying.

 

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The Oprah Effect

August 2 turned out to be a big day for Colson Whitehead. Not only was it the launch date of his new novel The Underground Railroad, which had already received rapturous advance reviews. It was also the day that Oprah Winfrey announced that The Underground Railroad would be the latest selection of her Book Club.  As we well know, there is no better friend to a book than Oprah. Her book club has harnessed the power of social media to form a reading community that builds exponentially. She and Whitehead are now promoting The Underground Railroad on just about every platform that exists. What more could any author dream of?  (Well, perhaps any author except Jonathan Franzen, who famously snubbed Oprah’s choice of his The Corrections in 2001 and turned himself into quite the pariah for a while. Not that this hurt his book sales any—in fact, The Corrections enjoyed a good spike after the brouhaha.)

My question is this:  Oprah, what took you so long? This was Oprah’s first new Book Club selection in eighteen months. She claimed that she hadn’t read any book during that time that she loved enough to want to choose. Fair enough, but I’ll bet most of us could have offered her a few suggestions. All the Light We Cannot See? Beautiful Ruins? Maybe even a great YA like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda?

In the past, Oprah felt free to choose books that had been out for a while, or established classics by writers like Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Tolstoy.  She kept the country reading, at a time when literacy was and remains a matter of real concern.  World leaked out late last week that she may now have another book pick lined up for September. If so, it’s a gratifying sign for readers, writers, and the entire publishing industry. Let’s hope Oprah doesn’t plan to take another eighteen-month hiatus anytime soon.

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Storytelling

As I look with something akin to terror at the icon telling me there are 24 manuscripts in my Urgent to read folder, I’m thinking, as I have been so much lately (this week, this month, this year, this last few years), about what it means to be an agent. When I moved back to New York after grad school, I only applied to two kinds of jobs: non-profits and publishing. You all know where I ended up (insert joke about profitability of publishing here), but I like to think that I’ve built a career where I can achieve the goals both those types of jobs represented: trying to do some good in the world and working with the written word. Beyond the ways in which books do, as a whole, make the world a better place, I also work hard to tailor my list to something that Alternate Universe Lauren who runs a non-profit would be proud of, whether I’m looking at serious non-fiction or commercial fiction and everything in between.

And in working on that project–on trying to make sure that my client list and the books I represent do good in the world in addition to telling compelling, enriching stories–I find myself coming back repeatedly to this Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of a single story. It’s from 2009 and many people have seen it, but if you haven’t, I urge you to watch. It’s an important facet not just of publishing and reading, but of existing in a world that is in so many ways, from politics to news media to social media to advertising to memory to relationships, constructed on stories. As a person who commodifies stories for a living, I try to do justice to them, and the complex people behind them, and the complex people reading them. And I’m grateful to Adichie for telling this story in such a way that it’s crystallized in my brain to guide me.

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Get Out and Read

As a huge fan of maps and finding unique things to do in my city on the weekend, I found this article detailing artist Jason Polan’s map of the best places to read in Los Angeles a wonderful treat. Even if you don’t live in LA, you have to appreciate how amazing this map is. Reading can be a very insular experience, keeping you locked indoors with your favorite blanket, or it can give you a reason to go out and just sit somewhere while becoming a part of the setting—a park, the beach, or perhaps under a tree in the amazing bookstore, Book Soup, of Los Feliz. I tend to prefer the blanket and couch scenario, but every time I do get out of my house, I find I have a far greater appreciation for reading. It could be the vitamin D, or that weird association with happiness and sun, or perhaps just that I feel more a part of society or nature. Whatever it is, there’s undeniably something special about reading outdoors.

MapBack

(The back of Jason Polan’s map.)

I plan on picking up one of those maps, but what really interests me, is the thought of making my own map of the best places to read in LA. So far I have one place that is nearly unbeatable.

The café at Griffith Observatory.

I took my dog on a walk through Griffith Park late one Saturday afternoon, planning to sit under a tree and tuck into some summer reading. As I started walking, I realized I could walk all the way up to the Griffith Observatory, which seemed like a challenge me and my pup were up to. I was currently reading Wild by Cheryl Strayed, which was partly the reason I tortured myself walking the two mile, six hundred feet climb to the observatory. When we got there, the café was our first stop for some water, and I was so blown away with the beautiful scenery, I ended up staying for hours. My pup slept under my feet, and I got through nearly half of Wild. I took breaks from the book to look over the city, enamored that a place so beautiful existed, AND allowed dogs, AND allowed me to sit there for hours nursing some free water. When the sun went down, I was faced with a far more beautiful sight: stars as bright as the city lights below them. It truly is a magical spot, and it made the book I was reading—particularly because the book also deals with getting out in the world—even more special and memorable for me. Plus, it’s called the Café at the End of the Universe, how could it be better?

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(My dog, Nyx, looking very cultured.)

Cafe at the End of the Universe at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA

Cafe at the End of the Universe at Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles, CA

(The café at night.)

I’m looking forward to finding more spots in LA where I can cozy up to a nice book while also enjoying the great city I have the privilege to live in. Perhaps I’ll have a few updates in the future!

Where are the best places to read in your city?

Potter mania!

I know I’m not the only one talking about Harry Potter these days. The new “book”, which is really the published version of the play currently running in London (oh, how I wish I could go!) went on sale this week and the frenzy is out of control.

Publisher’s Weekly reports here that sales have already topped 2 million copies, in North America alone. I admit I’m one of those who preordered the book as soon as I heard it was becoming available. I actually realized that I did it twice so now have 2 copies on their way! Midnight parties across the country attracted kids and adults of all ages.

I just love how a fictional character has caused such a stir in popular culture. It’s such a positive reminder of the lasting impact books can have in a time when there is so much negativity being put out into the media. It’s incredible and practically unfathomable to me that a published play could achieve this level of success. I love theater so it’s heartening to me to know that this medium can generate big numbers, as evidenced by this new Harry Potter as well as the huge success of Hamilton (my other current obsession, more exciting news to come on that in a later post).

We’ve had our own version of Potter fever around here lately. While my oldest daughter is away at sleepaway camp, her younger sister dressed up as Harry for Halloween in July at camp (photo below). I was impressed with how she put the costume together with adult glasses and the scar drawn on a piece of scotch tape, and it helped we still have our wands from our amazing visit to Potter World at Universal in Florida last November.

Have you ordered your copy of Cursed Child yet? If you have and you’ve read it, please let us know what you think. Michiko Kakutani’s review in the New York Times was very positive and she’s one tough critic. She actually refers to it as “a compelling, stay-up-all-night read.” I’m so excited to dive back into the wonderful world of Harry Potter and read it with all the girls when Sam’s back from camp. Will let you know how it goes!

ps- my first copy arrived while I was writing this post, and it’s a beautiful book: