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

Armchair travel

Because the weather has finally turned to spring time, my mind is now turning to summer.  Maybe it’s how crazy busy things have been, but I’m thinking about vacation like a man stranded in a desert thinks about water.  In a little over a month, I get to go away for a weekend to one of my favorite places: a cabin on the Susquehanna River I’ve rented a few times with some of my closest friends.  The primary activity at that cabin is sitting reading books side-by-side in Adirondack chairs, and I’m already starting to fantasize about which books I’ll bring with me.

But there are other books I’m fantasizing about now, too: the kind that transport you to faraway lands without a plane ticket.  I’ve idly looked back at old vacation photos and all the bookmarked internet photo lists of beautiful places I absolutely must go to someday.  This year’s vacation is a family one that should be lovely, but won’t involve going to some foreign land or immersing myself alone in a culture and a place that I’ve never experienced before, which is my favorite thing about vacation.

So now I’m yearning for books to do it for me, and I need your recommendations.  Travel writing is a-okay in my book, but it doesn’t have to be non-fiction.  A well rendered novel about a far off land that will make me feel like I’ve been there will do the trick, too.  (I occasionally forget I haven’t been to Morocco because of how much Esther Freud’s Hideous Kinky sticks with me more than 10 years after reading it.)  So, what have you got for me???

1

London Calling

I’m off to London, catching the tail end of events connected to the London Book Fair and attending a conference on literary translation at Oxford. I love London unabashedly, with the kind of nostalgia-tinged enthusiasm folks reserve for the place that was their first trip abroad, their first experience with independent city life.  I studied in London as an undergraduate and have returned at every opportunity I could manage. (I still mourn the demise of the Virgin Atlantic 99£ fare, which bore me across the ocean on an editorial assistant’s salary.)  In London I find a wonderful mashup of my childhood fantasies (surely there is a wardrobe into which I may wander? A chance to swoop past Big Ben and fly straight on ‘til morning?) and the rich, contemporary, polyglot literary scene that exists atop it,  a palimpsest of history, language and cultures.  Like many bookish kids, I was an Anglophile. I grew up reading C.S, Lewis, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Noel Streatfield, J.M. Barrie, and later Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt—and the list goes on. Although it dates me to admit it, I was already a full-grown muggle and working in publishing when a colleague brought me back a first UK edition of Harry Potter and urged me to read it. I was foolish enough to pass that copy along to a friend, who passed it to a friend, who passed it to a friend who never quite returned it, but I found my way back to Hogwarts later, and also found ample consolation in the magical landscapes of Philip Pullman’s Oxford, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and in the less fantastical (but no less transporting) works of post-colonial experience—books by writers like V.S. Naipul, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, and Zadie Smith.

My own literary map of London would surely be less beautifully detailed than the one I found on-line, here and below. I’m not much of a cartographer and there are titles here that I’ve not read—but  it would be fun to make a personal version.  What books, or what city, would feature in your own literary map? What book would you nominate as the quintessential London read?

1

What I’ve Learned as a Writer Working at a Literary Agency: Pitches

Hello Readers,

I’m excited to be posting my first blog entry! I recently joined Dystel and Goderich as the assistant to Michael Bourret here in Los Angeles. It’s been everything I dreamed of when I wanted to get into publishing—except, I realized that everything I thought I knew was wrong.

Before these past few months, I was simply an aspiring writer near the end of my MFA program. I finally felt like I could string together a decent story, and I was sure that was all you needed. However, after having worked for a literary agency—even for a relatively short time—I realize how naïve I’d been about actually selling my work. I learn something new every day, something crucial to becoming or being a published author that I never learned in my MFA program. And I’d like to share that knowledge with our readers in a series of blog posts.

So here’s the most basic and essential thing I learned: the importance of being able to pitch your novel.

No one ever taught me how to write a pitch, and from what I can tell after reading my fair share of queries, it doesn’t seem like MFA programs are teaching this aspect of the process at all. This is probably because the programs are taught by authors, who only write a few pitches in their lives (if they’re lucky), not agents, who read well over a two thousand pitches a year and know the true impact of a well-written one.

But why are pitches so important anyway?

It’s the first contact anyone will have with your novel. Before you can get an agent to read your book, you have to sell them with your pitch. And given the number of pitches they read every year, this isn’t an easy task. Time is money to an agent, and they’re not going to waste time reading your sample pages if your pitch isn’t good.

A messy pitch is seen as a sign that your writing abilities are subpar. A boring pitch that your novel is boring. An overwritten pitch that your novel is a bunch of fluff. Get the trend?

Being that your pitch is the query equivalent of a novel’s cover, and knowing that people most certainly judge a book based on its cover, it makes sense that you should spend a significant amount of time writing and editing your pitch—soliciting feedback from knowledgeable friends and critique partners.

So remember, if you’re in the process of sending out your novel to agents, take your time to make sure your pitch properly represents your novel. In my next blog entry, I’ll share a few tips I’ve learned that will help your pitch catch the eye of the right agent.

5

Beware of Homophones

 

Faithful readers of this blog know that I am a bit of a stickler when it comes to grammar/spelling errors in a query. Some agents don’t mind but it’s a big distraction for me. And one of the mistakes I see most often is the dreaded homophone! Homophone.com (a delightful, enthralling website if you ask me) defines its namesake as “words that share the same pronunciation, regardless of how they are spelled.”

I think a lot of homophones sneak into queries, manuscripts, and even occasionally (gasp) printed books because spellcheck cannot catch them. So it’s up to you to be alert! Today’s blog post is devoted to raising awareness of a few of the most tricky homophone errors…because the first step in getting help is realizing you have a problem.

Discrete ≠ discreet

Is your character very good at handling a scandalous piece of info? She is discreet!
Is your character an individual unlike anyone else in all of fiction? He is discrete!

Faze ≠ phase

If your protagonist is handles an unexpected event with aplomb, it did not faze him. He is unfazed!
If your protagonist is planning each step of an espionage investigation, she is in charge of every phase. Phase Two: TOP SECRET.

Peak ≠ pique ≠ peek

Did you just reach the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro? You peaked!
Did you read a teaser from your new manuscript that left everyone on the edge of their seats? You piqued their interest!
Did you sneak into your mom’s closet where she always hides the holiday gifts? You peeked!

I’m sure anyone who reads this blog is past master of the dreaded to/two/too pitfall, or the slightly more challenging they’re/there/their trilogy. What homophone mistakes always trip you up? 

 

4

The non-fiction book proposal

Most writers who are hoping to sell a non-fiction book know that in order to do so it is necessary to create a book proposal. This document can be critical not only to the sale of the book but to the size of the publisher’s offer.  I often tell prospective clients that doing the proposal is an unnatural act—it can actually be more difficult to create a good one than to write the book itself.  Our website describes exactly what is required to be in the proposal clearly and concisely (see “Nonfiction Proposal Guidelines”).

These days, I am consistently trying to push writers to create proposals that are well focused and that clearly define the different readerships, both demographically and statistically.  Inevitably, as I learned last week, a writer will try to “game” the system—describing his or her book as neither fish nor fowl and thus confusing the reader (the editor).  The result is a rejection letter instead of an offer.  So I am stressing here that it is extremely important for the writer proposing a work of non-fiction to clearly define exactly what he or she wants to do in his or her book in a keynote sentence or two. That keynote is so very important!  If a sale is made, the proposal goes from the writer, to the editor who buys the book, to the publisher, to the person who creates both the catalog and cover copy and, finally, to the sales person who is selling the book in to the accounts.  It has to be right.

And, sometimes, for it to be “right” takes time.  The other thing that was brought home to me again this last week is that rushing a book proposal never pays.  It results in shoddy work which can be misinterpreted by the editor considering the material.  I use the saying “better late than lousy” so often these days—and it is very important to remember.  Doing the proposal the right way can make all the difference in the world.

Of course, as always, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences on the subject of proposal writing.

0

#READBOOKS

I won’t lie, one of the biggest reasons I was so excited to get a smartphone (it’s been a little over a year, happy anniversary!) was because I wanted to see what this “Instagram” business was all about. I’m a little embarrassed to say that I think it was the first thing I downloaded onto my brand new iPhone and promptly forgot about all the other cool things the phone could do.

But, I digress. Because what I really wanted to highlight was the absolute beauty that are the Instagram accounts of publishers, booksellers or simply the literarily-obsessed. Books, as we know, are wonderful things mainly because of the stories they tell, the gorgeous writing, the action, suspense, emotion and wonder.

But books are also pretty. Readers are enigmatic. Jokes and signs about books are witty and fun. Authors are real people with interesting lives. When I saw this Huffington Post compilation of top notch literary Instagram accounts, I promptly explored each and every one—and then dove into the search even further, so pretty much my entire feed for a little while was pictures of and about books. Which, if I’m being totally honest, it totally a-okay.

What I also found in my search was that aside from being purely visually entertaining, these posts and photos can actually be really, really helpful in figuring out what books to read next, discovering new authors and getting news about what the next big literary sensation is going to be.

Searching hashtags with author names, publishers and imprints, genres, or more specific ones like #FridayReads, #BookClub, #WhatShouldIRead is both really fun (it’s like a research adventure!) and informative.

Social media has become a huge factor in the way books and authors are marketed and promoted and the ways to do it are becoming more and more diverse and manifold. Where Facebook, Twitter and even Tumblr can be seen as obvious go-tos, Instagram is less of a first thought. In reality, it’s rich with possibility. Books are visual, tangible objects and that, as well as the calming image of an open book or someone reading, should be celebrated.

Do you guys have any great bookish accounts you can recommend me? I’m always looking!

1

Libraries and Discoverability

Where do readers find out about new books?

It’s one of the questions every publisher asks itself over and over–perhaps even every time they release a new book. And on that topic, there was an interesting article in PW this week by branding guru David Vinjamuri about how libraries should be utilized to promote new titles. Vinjamuri makes some fascinating points here, especially when he correctly show how libraries do not cannibalize bookstore sales, which is unfortunately a truism that children’s book publishers have railed against with their corporate overlords for years. I was also impressed by his analysis of how important physical space is for discoverability, and how the shrinking of physical display space through store closings has affected sales—though it’s a little depressing that one takeaway here is how much people really do judge books by their cover!

Now, one can certainly debate Vinjamuri’s ultimate conclusion that publishers should work with libraries to replace bookstores as a means for finding new books. Myself, I wonder if a cynical attempt to promote through libraries might backfire, and backfire badly, as I think most people at some level go to libraries to escape commerce. I also know from years spent talking to librarians at ALA that they tend to guard their independence rather fiercely, and it’s hard to see them getting into the pay-to-play games of co-op advertising and display space.

But on the other hand, it’s great to see someone suggesting a new approach to book promotion. As I’ve written before here on the blog, with all the sales data available now, I wonder if we’re going to see more inventive ways of publishing and promoting books. While marketing through libraries may not be the best way to go, the fact that marketing types are thinking this way could lead to some rather interesting new book campaigns in the coming months and years.

Okay, enough speculation. Let’s get back to the question at hand—where do YOU (as a reader) find out about new books? And if libraries are one of the places, do you think publishers should market through them?

0

We’ll Have Fun, Fun, Fun

Here we are again, my favorite time of the year: the LA Times Festival of Books! People will try to convince you that we Angelinos aren’t book people (I’d say the box office would argue differently), but the festival always reminds me just how much we love our books. With attendance of 150,000 people, it’s the largest book festival in the US—and it’s even survived a move from UCLA to the USC campus, a location with better access to public transportation and freeways, encouraging even greater participation.

This year’s festival is an exciting one for me, with Andrew Smith’s Grasshopper Jungle a finalist in the YA category of the LA Times Book Prizes (an award A.S. King won in 2012 for Ask the Passengers), and it’s always great to have authors come see me in my still-somewhat-new city. I plan to slather on a bunch of sunscreen and spend the weekend hearing some amazing authors speak. Will I see any of you there?

4

A killing spree

I was scrolling down the feed on Facebook looking for inspiration for this blog post, when I saw a friend’s link to this piece from Bookriot.  I had  one of those moments of instant recognition that happens when someone says something you weren’t even sure you’d been thinking about but which, when articulated, seems to reveal buried fragments of ideas and convictions you’ve had bubbling beneath the surface all along. 

Like the author of “Why I Need a Break from Books about Dead Girls,” I too have been immersed in a lot of narratives that feature dead girls/women lately.  Tana French’s hypnotic In the Woods is about the murder of a young ballet dancer and the ensuing investigation.   I just finished the second season of The Fall with its charismatic serial killer who targets young brunettes.  A manuscript that kept me engaged all weekend featured an unreliable narrator and the violent deaths of several women and a 12-year-old girl. 

Now, I read plenty of fiction and nonfiction where women are not murder victims, per se.  My recent forays into pleasure reading include The Paying Guests and The Silent Wife in which male protagonists did not, shall we say, fare well.  But, it does seem that dead girls/women are a recurring trope in all kinds of storytelling.  Of course, the underlying psychological and cultural reasons for this are myriad and complex, but it makes me wonder what it is about killing off females that appeals to a writer’s imagination.  Why is it easier to kill the girls?  Does it reflect a more misogynistic societal bent?  Or is it simply a matter of storytelling convenience (is it easier, for instance, to plot the physical overpowering of a woman by a larger male assailant)?

All I know is that now that this idea has been unearthed for me, I’m going to be paying a lot more attention to the female body count in the books I read and the films/programs I watch.

1

Globalizing the literary landscape

Hey readers! Today I’m pleased to share a guest blog post from our bright and insightful intern Christa Angelios:

From Mallory Ortberg’s poem “Male Novelist Jokes” to Junot Diaz’s comment in the New Yorker on his MFA program – “that shit was too white” – it’s no secret that the world of literary classics is awash in a lack of diversity. Culturally diverse authors often assume pseudonyms or use initials to make themselves fit in more with what they see as expected of them – because they’re worried the sales numbers will be too low if they use their given names. They’re worried that the American public is simply not interested in hearing their stories, cultural stories.

There are, of course, authors who are pushing against this formulaic assimilation, and proving that diversity does not equal diminishing numbers. Khaled Hosseini’s wildly popular novel, THE KITE RUNNER; Matt de la Peña’s critically acclaimed piece, MEXICAN WHITEBOY; and Junot Diaz’s hailed work, THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, all attempt to diversify the modern literary landscape. Fortunately, my schools have not only respected diversity, but encouraged it. In high school, during my sophomore year, we read Jhumpa Lahiri’s INTERPRETER OF MALADIES along with a selection of short stories by Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie, and Junot Diaz. Diaz came to read at my high school that year, before which the administration begged him to keep his audience in mind and to tone down his presentation and after which the administration stood mortified when he chose to read some of the most colorful stories he had hand. Teachers were torn between admiring his bold rejection of censorship and finding his gall appalling. But despite the fact that the administration cracked down on a lot of smaller spoken-word performances after that, we still read works that broadened our cultural literary palate.

In college, I discovered that folklore held my literary heart. Celtic mythology, Grimm’s tales, and Russian skazkas could entertain me for a lifetime. And when I began writing culturally informed work, taking up the mission Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk to prevent a culture from being distilled into a “single story,” my professors felt compelled to ask the question: what gives you the right to be writing about a culture that isn’t your own? My father is from Egypt, after all, so I have a rich ethnic history to draw from to which I could “appropriately” lay claim, and I admit that Ancient Egypt and the Arab Spring have captured my interest and imagination. But I count myself among what ethnically Indian author Pico Iyer, who feels he has not earned the “right” to call himself Indian because he didn’t know enough about the culture even if it was his ethnicity, calls an increasingly multicultural group for whom “home” is more of an intangible and ongoing project than a place. With no indication that globalization will be slowing down any time soon, what happens when our world becomes full of people who are of every nation – then whose “right” is it to lay claim to a nation’s culture?

These are not questions that the literary world can continue to ignore. Diversity should be recognized and celebrated across the board, not separated out into its own genre of “ethnic” work. In an interview with RonReads, young adult author Jenny Han said of her choice to include diversity in her work, “I want my books to look like the real world, and the real world is populated by all kinds of people.” It’s time the American literary landscape began reflecting the real world, too.