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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Wall Street Journal Bestsellers

THE SISTERHOOD and WAR BRIDES by Helen Bryan

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3

Staying positive in a volatile environment

It’s still a relatively new year and I have been reflecting on how much our publishing environment continues to change.  Books that sold easily even two or three years ago are no longer selling, categories that weren’t selling as recently as last year are all of a sudden back in vogue, the landscape for self-published books has undergone a major shift, both for those who have been picked up previously by traditional publishers and for those who have gone back to self-publishing or who are continuing to self-publish but having much less success.  So, how are we supposed to stay positive in this ever changing publishing environment?

I started googling “how to be positive” and found the Internet teeming with articles about this very thing.  I guess I’m not the only one pondering this issue.

Among the more helpful pieces I came across was this one in WikiHow.  Admitting there are problems and identifying what they are has always been something I believe in doing and I try to pay special attention to this—especially now.  Then I set goals every quarter and I review those goals monthly.  I find it  very important to be honest with myself as to whether or not I am achieving those goals and if not, I ask myself why not.

I ask for feedback from those I respect.  It is so important, in my opinion to listen to others who are knowledgeable.

Finally, I try not to be afraid of failure.  In my career, I have certainly faced some pretty major setbacks but I have always addressed them and the reasons for them head-on, and that has enabled me to move forward.

Even writing this blog has helped me to evaluate the issue of staying positive in an ever changing publishing environment and I hope it will help you as well.  Please let me know if it has.

0

Ending the week with a giggle.

When it comes to jokes, my opinion is, the groanier, the better. I like ’em to elicit a sigh, an eye roll and a look of “are you kidding me?”

Whatever you want to call them, dad jokes, terrible puns, to me, they’re the height of comedic enjoyment—all the more so if the teller is 100% aware of the awfulness (yet implicit cleverness) of the joke. What do we call that, verbal irony? Don’t tell my freshman English teacher that I’m a little unsure here.

An appreciation for horrible, overdone jokes is a trait I’ve long since decided will be prominent in a character if I ever do get around to writing anything of substance. I’m pretty sure it will be difficult to pull off well, but that makes it all the more of a desirable challenge.

However, I digress. For all you literature, grammar and language nerds out there, I want to share this super dumb, super amazing list of puns that will have your eyes rolling so hard they’ll fall out of your head.

A Friday treat, if you will. Here’s a particular favorite:

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If anyone can point me in the direction of similar literature and grammar-related jokes, I’ll be forever grateful. Happy weekend!

 

*PS I clearly saw this (hilarious) joke on Buzzfeed via Instagram, but I can’t find the original artist–I’d love to credit if anyone knows the answer!

2

No more “boy books”

When I first started agenting, I naturally put out a call for submissions. Through my bio and personal essay on this site, and through interviews and postings on other sites and in print, I told anyone who would listen that I was looking for “boy books,” or that I was known as a “boy book” kind of guy. At the time, it seemed to make sense based on much of what I’d edited at Penguin, and also as a way to differentiate myself from my colleagues here at DGLM. And it worked, in that I quickly built up a client list, most of whom were male and writing about male characters in their fiction.

However, over time, I started to chafe at my self-assigned “boy book” label. For one, I realized that while I might gravitate toward what’s considered “boy book” territory, especially in nonfiction, my personal reading is chock full of books that might be called “girl books”—most YA, for example, as well as some popular fiction and even nonfiction. (I loved WILD, after all.) Moreover, one of my proudest achievements as an editor was working on Padma Venkatraman’s CLIMBING THE STAIRS, which would certainly get labeled a “girl book”—in other words, I had a track record working on “girl books,” so why give that up as an agent? Plus, I discovered that I was limiting the kinds of submissions I was getting, quite severely at times, which is certainly problematic for my bottom line.

So, last year I revamped my bio and essay and took out the “boy book” designation. But while I had practical reasons for trying to shy away from the “boy book” label, I never really thought about it in political or moral terms. So it was pretty staggering to read this recent blog post by bestelling author Shannon Hale, and how “boy/girl” labeling has affected her school visits. On first glance, it seems ludicrous that school administers would only excuse girls from class to hear her talk, yet I can understand the thinking: “Well, her books feature girl protagonists, and we know boys won’t read those kind of books, so why should they skip class for a talk where we know they’ll be bored and won’t learn anything?”

Now, while I can understand the thinking, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Hale correctly points out that the expectation that boys won’t like books featuring girl characters is so deeply rooted in the educational system that for boys a book like THE HUNGER GAMES has to be qualified: “Even though it’s about a girl, I think you’ll like it.” And by denying the encouragement of boys to read girl characters, and the shaming of them when they do, Hale makes a valid argument that this leads to the rape culture that is far too prevalent, particularly at the college level these days.

So—no more “boy books” for me. Or “girl books.” Instead, just great books, featuring interesting, original, engaging characters. Hopefully this post will supersede any “boy book” info linked to me in searches, and if it does, I’d love for writers to take a look at Hale’s post and reconsider how they might label their work. Obviously, the effort to get past boy/girl labels will involve heavy lifting on the part of educators, parents, and publishers, who are certainly culpable for perpetuating the gendered reading divide. But if authors can shift how they view their own work, that’s a major step toward helping the boy who was too embarrassed to hear Hale talk because he would have needed special permission to miss class.

2

Youth is wasted on the young. Or is it?

Every “semester” we have an office lunch for the purpose of getting to know our current batch of interns and to answer any questions they might have about the, undoubtedly, bizarre goings-on in publishing (and in our office).  Yesterday, over a Middle Eastern spread (the baba ganoush was delicious!) we asked everyone to tell us what they read for pleasure.  Overwhelmingly, the response was YA.  And, for some reason, that surprised me and even made me a little wistful for the days when youngsters couldn’t wait to get their grubby little hands on “adult” literature.

I still remember when, in seventh grade, a beat up copy of The Other Side of Midnight (which was already a decade old at the time, in case you were wondering about the timeline) was surreptitiously passed around at my school.  The book, of course, opened naturally to the “sexy” parts and we would have all been mortified if our parents had caught us reading it.  By the time I was a young adult, myself, my peeps and I were interested in SERIOUS fiction that dealt with IMPORTANT subjects, and if you wanted some sex and scandal, you turned to grown-up bestsellers like Marguerite Duras’ The Lover  or Josephine Hart’s Damage.  You know, stories about older people behaving badly….

The thing is that, traditionally,  YA was considered “aspirational”—kids younger than those depicted in the books were the primary market for it. Now, I know that YA literature has exploded as a genre and that, in many ways, it’s tackling tough subjects in ways  sometimes more inventive and provocative than we’ve seen in what is considered adult fiction.  That said, is it narcissism, solipsism or fear of growing up that accounts for young adults actually preferring YA books in general?  In recent years, with blockbusters like  the Harry Potter  and Twilight series playing havoc with readership demographics (as evidenced by 40-something moms reading YA and NA alongside their tweens and teenagers), it seems that the category now even appeals to its own namesakes.   Crazy, huh?

How do you account for this shift?  Are there broader cultural implications that I’m missing here or is this trend just a function of how sophisticated the category has become?

 

7

Query Turn-Offs

Now that you know what I’m looking for, here’s a follow-up on what I’m NOT looking for – a quick list of my query pet peeves!

These won’t be an automatic deal-breaker for you and your project, but they will make me a little sad; more importantly, they’ll make me wonder if you’ve done your research, and if you take your writing seriously. And your pitch and sample pages will have to work that much harder to win me over.

  •  “What’s her name? Shannon? Close enough.” While no one loves “Dear Agent” or “To Whom It May Concern,” it’s even worse to get a query addressed to “Dear [Coworker’s Name]”; “Dear Sarah” (you’d be surprised how often it happens), or even “Dear Mr. Spelletier.” You should be doing your research to make sure you’re querying agents who will be a good fit; in addition, messing up my name makes me wonder if you’ll take your time and pay attention to detail when we work together.
  •  “Pssht, guidelines don’t apply to me.” Yes they do, and they’re right here! So please follow them; don’t ask me to click on your website or download a file from Dropbox. I won’t buy your self-published e-book or look under a rock in Central Park for your hand-penned sample pages.
  •  “My book is the next GONE GIRL meets WILD!” It’s probably not, and those comps don’t do much to help me understand your book – what’s special about it, why you were the perfect person to write it, how it fits into the market. Of course you want to highlight how your book will fit in with what’s popular right now, but be specific, and show that you’ve read widely in your genre. If you’re querying me with a thriller about a time-traveling cheerleader who kidnaps the Lindbergh baby, mention The Shining Girls and Dare Me, not Gone Girl and Twilight.
  •  “Whatever, spellcheck probably caught it all.” Now I must admit that I am a grammar zealot, and my spam filter is set to automatically delete any email that omits the second attributive comma (just kidding – that’s only a dream of mine). I’m self-aware enough not to hold minor typos against you, and I might even let it slide if you use fiancé where fiancée should be. But fundamental writing errors like homophone confusion (isle ≠ aisle, discrete ≠ discreet), dangling participles, verb-subject disagreement, etc., are a red flag. Whether you need more time to learn the basics of your craft, or whether you just didn’t bother to give your letter a second read, grammar mistakes are signs that you might not be ready to work with an agent.
  •  “You’re making a huge mistake.” And please be nice. Be professional in your query, not arrogant or demeaning, and don’t write back rudely if I decline. Even if the project you’re querying isn’t for me, who knows when and where our paths might cross again – publishing is a small town!

 

Now you know what to double-check before hitting SEND on that fantastic project that’s exactly what I’m looking for. For more query tips, check out Jessica and Mike’s great insights recently.

Do you have any suggestions for making sure your queries are good to go? Any embarrassing mistakes you didn’t catch in time?

 

5

Page to screen

Oscar weekend is upon us, which has me thinking, as it inevitably does, about book-to-film adaptations, so I polled the office on this dreary winter day about their favorites (excluding DGLM titles, because that’s just cheating).

Sharon went for literary classics: Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby, the recent musical film of Les Miserables, and Jane Campion’s take on Sense & Sensibility.  (For Baz Luhrmann adaptations of literature starring Leonardo DiCaprio, I’m personally much more partial to Romeo + Juliet, but I’ll allow that maybe you had to be a certain age when that came out to actually have found it appealing.)

Mike Hoogland will vouch for Fight Club, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Sniper.  I definitely have feelings about all of those choices, so I guess those movies are doing something right!

Rachel’s more up my alley, though: The Virgin Suicides, The Commitments (seconded by me!), and Bridget Jones’s Diary.

Jim and I also both picked good old Bridget Jones.  In fact, my taste in book-to-film adaptations overwhelmingly runs toward the contemporary update of literary classics: the Brit Lit curriculum makes great fodder for high school comedies.  For example, Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You are two of my favorite movies.  I prefer Clueless to Emma, but Taming of the Shrew is among my preferred Shakespeare plays (and I also love, love, love it in musical form in Kiss Me, Kate).

WakingthedeadMy all-time favorite book-to-film adaptation is Scott Spencer’s Waking the Dead starring Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly.  I love the book and I love the movie, which is pretty rare for me.  I even love the soundtrack.  I think the movie is criminally underrated and the book should have been read more widely.

Jim was on a roll though, so he picked many more, most of which I heartily agree with: Adaptation, American Psycho, Apocalypse Now, Rebecca, The Godfather, Silence of the Lambs, Leaving Las Vegas, Election, Precious, and Children of Men.

I could name so many more, too: Jurassic Park, Stand By Me, Trainspotting, Brokeback Mountain, The Princess Bride…Basically, if you’re looking for a memorable movie with strong characters and a compelling story to tell, it probably started life as a book.

And now I have to head home for the weekend, because writing this post has made me want to build the Netflix queue to end all Netflix queues and stay curled up in doors away from the arctic chill of February till Monday.

What are your favorites?  Least favorites?

0

Cold weather books to keep you warm

For those of us on the East Coast, it has been another rough winter. I’ve started to compare being outside to spending time in a freezer. In the suburbs, everything is layers of ice on bottom followed by layers of fresh snow on top that eventually freeze because we haven’t seen a thermostat above freezing in what seems like weeks. There have been mornings where the temperature outside is zero with wind chills far below. My crazy husband is marathon training and running outside. What? This is what we call a different kind of slush pile (#publishingpuns)! All I want to do is stay inside, drink hot chocolate (or wine, even better) and read books.

It got me to thinking about great books that evoke the cold. I was thinking about THE SHIPPING NEWS by Annie Proulx, a favorite of mine where the weather is a lead character. Or SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW (one review on Amazon highlights “the language of snow and ice”) or the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The seventh book in the series is called THE LONG WINTER! How did people live back then with no heat?

So, I’m wondering what your favorite cold weather books are. Or just your favorite books that you like to snuggle up with on a cold winter’s day. Please share, and stay warm!

 

 

 

 

0

Fifty Shades: The Movie

So FIFTY SHADES OF GREY by E.L. James finally hit the big screen this past weekend after what seemed like a million bumps in the road, including losing actors left and right. It made a splash in the box office just as it did in the publishing industry. The movie brought in $94 million its opening weekend: the highest-grossing President’s Day Weekend ever.

But how long will the film industry feel the ripples of this splash? The book was/is an absolute phenomenon. James’s Fifty Shades series has sold an absurd amount of copies—both when it was self-published and after Random House picked it up. Imitators and parodies of the books soon appeared on shelves and e-bookstores. It’s paved the way for other fan fiction and other self-published authors to have a chance to land with a big publisher and/or movie studio.

So will we begin to see more erotica made into films? Given the success of Fifty Shades on opening weekend, it’d be easy to definitively answer yes. However, reading is an intrinsically private experience, which lends itself to fantasy. Watching explicit scenes on a big screen in a room full of people is a different matter entirely. Could Fifty Shades be an exception?

Your guess is as good as mine: What do you think?

P.S. Saw American Sniper this weekend. The movie ended, and everyone walked out silently, somberly. No one said a word. A completely full theater, and not one sound was made. I’ve never experienced anything like that before. What did you think of this movie/book? I’d like to hear your thoughts on this one, too.

2

Go read a watchman?

Well, since none of my colleagues have blogged about it yet, I figured I’d bring up the big publishing news of the week…

And while far be it from me to turn down an obvious blog topic, I’m probably not the best person to write this, because, to tell the truth, I can barely remember TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I know I read it in school, and I also know I saw the movie at some point, but any memories are associated with Gregory Peck in that grey suit of his. It’s probably the cynic in me, but of all the school classics, CATCHER IN THE RYE stuck a lot more than MOCKINGBIRD.

But of course, the news of a new novel from Harper Lee is big news. And while there’s a lot of good-hearted excitement for GO SET A WATCHMAN, like a number of writers, I feel kinda weirded out by the whole situation. For one, despite the claims that WATCHMAN was started before MOCKINGBIRD, it’s still basically a sequel, and of all the books that need a sequel, MOCKINGBIRD would be one of the last I’d think of. And while I’m certainly not in the camp that thinks MOCKINGBIRD is untouchable either, (I wouldn’t be much of an agent if I did!) it’s just strange that in an age where everything gets a sequel and spun off and branded that MOCKINGBIRD suddenly has a companion piece.

Then there’s the nagging feeling that somehow this wasn’t the big surprise everyone claims it is. After all, Harper Lee has been in the news plenty in the last ten years or so, for better or worse keeping her name in the public eye. And again, it’s probably the cynic in me, but even with the reports of Lee’s infirmity, on the heels of her prior press I just can’t help feeling that a publicist couldn’t have played this much better–certainly everyone is going to read the new book, right?

Or are they? Are YOU? I’d love to hear what you think of the whole situation, what MOCKINGBIRD did or didn’t mean to you, and whether you’re excited to read WATCHMAN.

 

0

My 2015 Wish List

Jumping on the bandwagon to tell you all what kind of projects I would love to see fly into my inbox!

(Reminder: Submission guidelines here. )

  • Historical fiction with a believable voice like Vanessa and Her Sister and Euphoria. It’s not easy to get the dialogue right when you’re setting your story in a century you never saw. Even manuscripts with every detail perfect from shoe buttons to breakfast menu have lost me the second the characters opened their mouths (visit our archives for more from Rachel on this). So if you have a fantastic historical setting and you’ve really nailed your characters’ thoughts and conversations…I want to read it!
  • Narrative nonfiction with a personal angle like Brain on Fire, Full Body Burden, and Irritable Hearts. If you are the right person to explore a little-known story, expose an injustice, or explain something fascinating, and you can blend your expertise and careful reporting with the emotion and passion of memoir-type nonfiction…send it to me!
  • A smart, edgy literary thriller that I can’t put down and can’t stop talking about like Dear Daughter and The Weight of Blood. A story that will make me scream “whaaaaaaaaat!” or “NO!!!” when I’m reading on the train.  I’m a complete sucker for unreliable narrators, and would also love some more procedural but still twisty mysteries like the work of Tana French or Brad Meltzer. (BONUS: combine bullet points 1 and 3 for an authentic historical suspense like The Paying Guests and I will love you forever.)
  • Nonfiction on any of the following topics: feminism/gender politics, contemporary religion, little-known historical figures with a BIG story.

Of course, if you have an absolutely fabulous project that you’re sure is right up my alley, send it right along even if its category is not mentioned above.  Find me at spelletier@dystel.com.

 

I can’t wait to see all of your fantastic (and carefully proofread) queries!