New York Times Bestseller

HERO by Samantha Young

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New York Times and USA Today bestseller

I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman

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Winner of the 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor

GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith

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Winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award

VIOLINS OF HOPE by James A. Grymes

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New York Times bestseller

WORKING STIFF by Judy Melenik, MD and T.J. Mitchell

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Wall Street Journal bestseller

TAKEN BY TUESDAY by Catherine Bybee

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New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller

Abbi Glines’ ONE MORE CHANCE 

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New York Times Bestseller

Colleen Hoover’s UGLY LOVE 

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Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

Andrew Smith’s 100 SIDEWAYS MILES

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New York Times Bestseller

Tammara Webber’s BREAKABLE 

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New York Times Bestseller

Suzanne Young’s THE TREATMENT 

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New York Times Bestseller

Colleen Hoover’s MAYBE SOMEDAY 

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New York Times Bestseller

Raine Miller’s RARE AND PRECIOUS THINGS 

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New York Times Bestseller

Molly Wizenberg’s DELANCEY 

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The 2014 Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction

Andrew Smith’s GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE 

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James Beard Award Winner

James Ahern and Daniel Ahern’s GLUTEN-FREE GIRL EVERY DAY 

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USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times Bestselling Series

Abbi Glines’s SEA BREEZE SERIES 

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The Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

Dan Fagin’s TOMS RIVER

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USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times Bestsellers

J.C. Reed’s SURRENDER YOUR LOVE, CONQUER YOUR LOVE, and TREASURE YOUR LOVE

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WEEKNIGHT WONDERS by Ellie Krieger

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DARK CURRENTS, AUTUMN BONES, and POISON FRUIT by Jacqueline Carey

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HOTHOUSE by Boris Kachka

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New York Times Bestseller

FALLING KINGDOMS by Morgan Rhodes

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“#1 New York Times Bestseller and Major Motion Picture

VAMPIRE ACADEMY by Richelle Mead

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#1 New York Times bestseller, #1 Box Office Major Motion Picture

THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner

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1

Connections

Last week, I got a submission over the transom for a YA novel. The query was well structured, a sample was attached, and while it wasn’t for me, I did appreciate that the author took the time to research and follow our submission guidelines. End of story, until a few days later I got another email from the same author—turns out her son was a very close friend of my sister from college, and could I help her out with suggestions for other agents who might want to take a look?

Well, of course I’d be happy to help—but why didn’t she make the connection in the first place? Yes, it was a couple of degrees of separation, but I think if she’d dug just a little bit deeper, she would have connected me to my sister, and then she could have included that connection in her original query. And with that, while I still wouldn’t have taken on her project, I might have written her a personal note when I responded, or offered some editorial advice, rather than sending my form rejection.

The point is, connections are a major part of the publishing game. It’s why I stress to authors at every conference I attend that if they’re going to submit to me, make sure they reference meeting me or hearing me talk at that conference. And thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., making those connections has never been easier.

If you really need further proof of the power of connections, go back and watch the MAD MEN finale again—or stop reading if you haven’t (SPOILER ALERT). For me, the most gratifying wrap-up by far was for Joan’s success in her new business—which is based, as they stress several times, on her Rolodex, i.e., her connections. Yes, it’s fictional and set 45 years ago, but the power of connection endure; after all, the job of a literary agent at root is to connect authors with publishers…

So while we always encourage authors to do their homework before submitting and check out the website, submission guidelines, etc., I’d urge you to go the extra mile and look for a more personal connection as well. Look around on-line, ask your friends and family if they know anyone in the publishing industry, check your college’s alumni listings—even the wedding listings in the Times can suggest a contact. Sure, at the end of the day it’s the work that matters, but that common link definitely helps get your foot in the door. And who knows where that connection might lead in the future?

1

Out-Amazoning Amazon

Let’s face it: Amazon is convenient. I try hard not to shop at Amazon, just as I avoid Wal*Mart and the like. I shop local and like to support independent business owners. DGLM is a small business, too, and supporting other small businesses is important to me. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go to Amazon.com every day. I use it for book research and to track clients’ sales; I’ll also use it to comparison shop prices on other goods. It’s impossible to avoid, even if I rarely purchase anything there.

One of Amazon’s most annoying tactics has been to try to capitalize on other retailers’ brick and mortar stores—releasing apps that allow consumers to go shop for something in the real world, scan the item with their phones, then buy the item for less money through Amazon. Amazon avoids pesky rent in expensive commercial areas, but gets the advantage of the showroom. This, understandably, drives business owners crazy. But now they have a way, of sorts, to retaliate: a Chrome plug-in that allows Amazon UK users to search on Amazon, but gives you the price of the book at your local shop—reverse showrooming, or some such! It’s completely genius! On the one hand, it almost works as a piece of criticism, making the shopper think twice before clicking the buy button. And on the other, it’s actually a great shopping tool, seeing as books are sometime cheaper at your local store than they are at Amazon. Here’s hoping someone gets this to work in the US, too.

2

So, this happened…

These days, it seems that everyone and their pet snake has a memoir.  The category is jam packed with offerings that range from the sublime (beautifully written literary narratives) to the ridiculous (vapid celebrity p.r. releases masquerading as books), as Sharon discusses below.  So, I don’t know how to feel about the news that the great Barbra Streisand has a memoir in the works.  On the one hand, the woman’s had a fascinating life and career and if she chose to write about it candidly (and has an accomplished ghost writer helping her) it could be great.  On the other hand, this is the lady who filmed herself through a Vaseline coated lens in The Mirror Has Two Faces.  On the other, other hand, even if the book is a panegyric  to herself, won’t it still be compelling?

All of this makes me think about memoirs I’d like to read, based on the perhaps misguided idea that these authors would knock my socks off  in the way Patti Smith and Keith Richards did with their books.  Can you imagine Jack Nicholson reliving his wild days in print?  Or Toni Morrison using her prodigious gifts to tell us about her journey from poverty to international acclaim? (In 2012, Morrison scrapped plans for a memoir, claiming her life was not interesting enough…whaaat?) Basically, it’s the people who probably wouldn’t ever write this kind of narrative whose books I would most want to read.

Whose memoir is on your fantasy bedside reading pile?  

4

Unexpected Authors

I am a longtime devotee of the Bachelor/Bachelorette dating shows, and mostly unashamed to admit it. A lot of the appeal for me is the shows’ host, Chris Harrison: though his job is to keep a straight face while the season’s star agonizes about being in love with too many people at once, he has a sense of humor about it. And he also blogs about each week’s episode and lets more of his snark out in the process. So I was delighted to discover that he wrote a romance novel. I can’t wait to get a copy and see if his long experience with reality TV romance gave him an advantage when creating a fictional one.

chris harriso

And it got me to thinking about others in the entertainment industry who have written an unexpected book. Of course celebrity memoirs are nothing new, but now several young comedians are coming out with essay collections. In addition to Lena Dunham’s much-heralded book out last year, Aziz Ansari has a book on modern love coming out this summer, and I can’t wait for Anna Kendrick’s recently-announced collection . Then there’s David Duchovny’s picture book, Molly Ringwald’s book of short stories, and can’t forget BJ Novak, who’s written one of each. Don’t even get me started on cookbooks!

Obviously publishers love celebrity authors – an author with a built-in fan base, media accessibility, and experience promoting their projects aggressively? SOLD! So it can feel like an unfair advantage to the unknown authors toiling patiently to get the attention of an agent and then a publisher, with nothing to offer but an incredible idea and an irresistible manuscript. On the other hand, more than a few celebrities have experienced embarrassment when a novel with their name on it just doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of true bookworms – naming no names, but it rhymes with Byra Tanks!

 As a reader, what do you think about celebrity authors exploring other genres? Are you more or less likely to buy a book with a Hollywood name on the cover? Sound off in the comments – and let me know if there are other truly great or so-bad-it’s-good celebrity books I should know about!

 

2

Comma sense

Many of you may have seen this last week, when it was all over social media:

 
Rachel Ray

 

I think I’ll stay away from Rachel’s meat loaf.

Call it the tyranny of the comma if you like, but that tiny punctuation mark exists for a very good reason, as demonstrated here.  Even among fine writers, it has become neglected of late, and that is a shame, because it clearly carries great power. Lynne Truss’s EATS, SHOOTS AND LEAVES is an entire book dedicated to the science of punctuation, and to the demons it can unleash when improperly used.

I recently read a Middle Grade manuscript that was truly impressive—good writing, a terrific plot, suspenseful storytelling. The trouble was, it took me twice as long to read as it should have, because the author had no conception of how to use commas. That meant that I had to go back and read nearly every sentence twice in order to grasp  its correct meaning. As an agent, I cannot present a manuscript to an acquiring editor if it’s in that state. I did take the author on as a client, because the book was superb–but I had to insist that the manuscript be professionally proofread and line-edited first, with an eye specifically on punctuation.

If you know or suspect that you’ve got problems with punctuation, have the final version of your manuscript thoroughly proofread and corrected before you show it to any industry professional. Some of us may give up after only a page or two when a manuscript is riddled with this problem. We may even give up after reading just the query letter. I have to be a real schoolmarm about this issue, because commas are as important to a strong sentence as words are. They are the pins that keep it firmly anchored on the clothesline. You don’t want it slipping off and falling into the mud. 

1

A Fantasy Craft Book You’ll Actually Want to Read

Wonderbook_Case_r2.inddI usually shudder at the thought of reading another writing craft book. I’ve read countless in my time as an MFA student. I learn something new every time I read one, so of course I’ll continue to read them, but after a few they all start to sound the same. They drone on like an eighty year old professor teaching ancient history—they lack imagination, soul. But when I heard about Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer, I was thrilled. It’s illustrated nonfiction filled with brilliant writing knowledge that’s presented in an enjoyable, easy to understand way. This book not only makes craft fun and colorful, it makes it something you want to put on your coffee table and show to all your friends. The art is unique all on it’s own, and it will stimulate rather than stifle your creative juices. You’ll also find inspiring essays from some of the most important authors in fantasy today, like George R.R. Martin, Lev Grossman, and Neil Gaiman to name a few. I would recommend checking it out at least, if the colorful diagrams don’t draw you in, you’re probably soulless—I mean, hard to please…

3

My love affair with Ann Patchett

I think Ann Patchett is amazing on so many levels. She’s so uniquely talented, is incredibly prolific, and writes nonfiction as well as fiction. I loved her beautiful tribute to Lucy Grealy, Truth & Beauty, as much as her wonderful novels like Bel Canto and State of Wonder.  And I’m a bit biased at the moment because she recently made a large donation to my small town library, which I talked about recently on this blog.

I was pleased to find an article on writing based on her book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, for brainpickings.org that offers such interesting and lovely advice for writers from one of the masters of her craft. In it she talks about how writing nonfiction for her has been easy, while writing fiction has always been more challenging. She talks about the importance of learning to forgive yourself in creating art, which she feels is critical. She uses metaphors that resonate, even if they initially feel a stretch of the imagination.  Why do writers so often feel they can send early work to The New Yorker when musicians would never think they could play at Carnegie Hall after just a month of practice!

Words of wisdom here from a magnificent and gifted writer who not only writes beautiful books, but is so open to sharing her knowledge and skills with other writers. She’s a true gift. Enjoy!

Characteristics of a great thriller

Publishing is trendy—as in, it’s an industry dominated by trends, like pretty much every other industry. It’s not hard to understand why. Demand for books in a certain genre increases. Publishers acquire more books in said genre. And right now, thriller is that genre.

Thrillers have always sold, but Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL hit the big screen last year and demand for the genre grew. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins enjoyed some serious pre-publication buzz and came out of the gates at a full sprint this January. It’s been at, or near, the top of all bestseller lists since. Renee Knight’s debut, DISCLAIMER, comes out in a week, and it has drawn comparisons to both GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. And on the eve of the London Book Fair this year, a professor at Oberlin College saw his debut thriller go for 7 figures in a two-book deal!

So clearly thrillers are hot. But what makes them great? What differentiates a top tier thriller from an average one? What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Oh, and if you think you’ve written a top tier thriller, do send it my way. I wouldn’t hate reading it…

4

The Pseudonym

I know I have written on this subject before but I think it is worth another round.

Authors use pseudonyms when they change categories; they also use them if their first book(s) sells less well than hoped and they want to try again.  There is nothing wrong with doing this as long as you are upfront in saying you are doing so.  (Note please, it is not necessary to provide your real name unless asked directly and then you should, while offering an explanation for why you have chosen to use the pseudonym.)

Pseudonyms can be extremely useful.  Writers can change categories by changing their “pen names” going back and forth as they wish.  Fiction, in particular, lends itself to using pseudonyms in categories such as mystery/thriller, horror, romance (contemporary, historical), sci-fi/fantasy, etc.  A pseudonym, in fact, can be an effective marketing tool.  Why tell the customer (the book buyer) the author’s real name when using another will boost sales for everyone? With social media, promotional possibilities abound when using a different name. We put together a list of a number of bestselling authors who use this device and I wanted to share it with you:

J.K. Rowling

James Patterson

Anne Stuart

Eloisa James

Stephen King (wrote short stories under the name Richard Bachman)

Nora Roberts (also writes under J.D. Robb)

Dean Koontz (writes under Aaron Wolfe and K.R. Dwyer)

Michael Crichton

Lemony Snicket

Sapphire

Anne Rice (also writes under Anne Rampling)

Agatha Christie (also wrote under Mary Westcott)

Stan Lee

I would be curious to know what you think about the use of pseudonyms, whether as a writer, you have used one, or as a reader you would buy a book by someone who does.

0

Adaptation dichotomy

For our office book club this month (category: thrillers), I read, not a random suspenseful mystery pulled out of a hat, but the book adaptation of a very popular television show. I have not seen said show (though I’ve heard great things), so even though I thought it was a bit weird to have such a detailed and faithfully recounted literary version, I went along with it, because why not.

In the end, the book was fine—I enjoyed it enough, but it was forgettable in the way some books are. I’m still interested in watching the show, but I guess, now that I know how it ends, it won’t be as fun. It got me thinking, though, about book adaptations in general.

Why is it so much more natural for a book to be turned into a very good (or at least entertaining) TV show or film, but not the other way around? You could say, I guess, that the wealth of material in a book can be expanded, cut, intensified, used as inspiration for a spin etc. But then, if there’s less material, say, in a 100 minute movie, isn’t that a writer’s job to add the depth and extra detail to make it a good book, too? If readers are allowed to be outraged by a less than stellar film adaptation, while those that have not read the source material look blithely on, wouldn’t avid movie buffs allowed to do the same if they went on to read the book?

Maybe. But I just don’t see it happening as much. And I don’t see readers getting excited about literary versions of their favorite movies or TV shows the way they would about their cherished books getting a shot at the silver screen.

I remember as a kid reading scads of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Alex Mack books, but that was only because I wasn’t allowed to watch any channels other than PBS for quite some time. The only way I could know about these super cool characters was to read about them. I’m sure the books themselves lacked something found in the TV shows and I can say with relative certainty that the writing quality was not quite up to par with other books I was reading at the time. Still, I loved them. But I don’t think the genre (can we call it a genre?) of book adaptations would really spark my interest at all any more—no matter how much I loved a show.

There’s a difference in the way one connects to a character on screen and on the page. Some things are better seen, some are better read. What about you? Agree? Disagree? If you’re in the latter camp, what are some good book adaptations you’ve read?