Category Archives: advice

3

Speed Limits

Writerly corners of the internet have been abuzz this week about this little piece in the New York Times: Impatience Has Its Reward: Books Are Rolled Out Faster:

The practice of spacing an author’s books at least one year apart is gradually being discarded as publishers appeal to the same “must-know-now” impulse that drives binge viewing of shows like “

House of Cards” and “Breaking Bad.”

While 24-7 internet culture may be shifting our entertainment expectations, digital publishing is surely of influence as well, with its quicker production schedules and near-instant distribution options. Digitally published authors often hope to capitalize on the binge impulse by including sell pages in the back of their e-books with links to their other titles. As the article quotes,

“It’s so much easier to buy books online,” Ms. Weis said. “The temptation is right at your fingertips because you don’t have to go to the bookstore. We have to play to that.”

As with any new innovation, an accelerated pub schedule is not going to be one-size-fits-all success for every book. As traditional publishers experiment with some of the speedy strategies that have served self-pubbers well, they’re accepting some risks alongside the advantages:

But for many writers out there, all this talk of release dates and market trends is still ahead of you, in the tantalizing future when your book is published. It’s a dream come true for readers to discover your work at all! Don’t be impatient as you pursue this dream – the most important place to slow down is before your project even gets to the market. Not just writing a great book, but revising and re-writing, polling beta readers, incorporating professional editorial input. Digital publishing can seem like a quicker path to the finish line, but it’s still more of a marathon, even a relay, than a sprint.

What do you think? Is the binge-watching spirit of Netflix spreading to the book business?

Do authors need plenty of time to hone their work and build anticipation, or should they shift their focus to publishing schedule that feeds a (hopefully) hungry market?

0

Writerly advice from the trenches

My enterprising client Kristi Belcamino, whose first book comes out in June, has been busy getting ready for her road to publication. One of her recent stops included a piece she did for Writer’s Digest, which I’d love to share with you all.

There is much to take away from Kristi’s article, including advice on the query process that she compares to a road trip with many twists and turns along the way. Her suggestion to not be prepared to stop until you’ve queried at least 100 agents might sound extreme, but she’s got a point about not giving up.

In a clever and entertaining way, she goes on to offer important pieces of insider advice that are widely applicable to anyone looking to develop a writing career. These include 4 key things you’ll need to “pack for your journey”: Perseverance, Work, Teflon-Mentality and Patience. Come to think of it, these 4 points not only apply to writing, but to anything you want to excel at!

Hope you enjoy Kristi’s article, and please share with us if you have other suggestions for the sometimes long, winding road to publication.

1

When it’s okay to use bad grammar

When shuffling through query letters, bad grammar is often a loud warning bell. Literary agents tend to be wary when reading material from the prospective, unpublished author. Nothing will make an agent drop a query into the reject pile faster than poor grammar.

However, incorrect grammar can often be utilized as a literary style. Nearly every accomplished author does so—to one degree or another. Sentence fragments. Abbreviated words. Missing punctuation. Misspelled words and incomplete sentences. Literature is abundant with poor grammar.

So, how then can you determine when to ignore all those rules drilled into you by your elementary school teachers?

What is your writing for? Writing is purposeful. You don’t pick up a pen and commit words to paper accidentally. Is this a blog? An academic piece? A query letter? A creative piece? Resume? Knowing your audience is a time-tested lesson in writing, so for formal prose, always go the safe route and edit your piece to perfection to ensure perfect, “proper” grammar.

On the other hand, for creative pieces, bad grammar can help the author illustrate his or her point. The form your writing takes should match its tone.

Cormac McCarthy is known for his stark, bare prose and his distaste for commas and other forms of punctuation, such as the quotation mark. His writing not only complements the often-bleak tone of his work, but also adheres to a simplistic style for the sake of clarity and rhythm. He believes that punctuation can often disrupt the flow of a sentence and is usually superfluous.

Hope this was enlightening. I encourage those interested to read more on the topic. Here are some semi-related links to check out on the topic of grammar:

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/09/a-matter-of-fashion/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

http://grammar.about.com/od/rhetoricstyle/a/effectivefrag.htm

http://andthatswhyyouresingle.com/2013/03/12/does-bad-grammar-punctuation-turn-you-off/

6

Books for young (and very young) readers

For those of you who haven’t read my recent Facebook posts, I have a brand new grandson: Leo Daniel Stein, born on January 20th.   

Leo joins his six-year-old big sister Elena who is thrilled to have a little brother.

This, of course, got me thinking about what I will be reading to my new grandson (after all, it has been years since I have done this).  And, because I always want to bring Elena a book to read as well, I’ve been thinking about what titles she might like.

For newborns I have chosen the traditional and ever popular Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Guess How Much I love You, and Pat the Bunny and then Brian Fiocca’s Locomotive which just won the Caldecott Medal.  For my granddaughter who is a terrific reader, there is Where the Wild Things Are, What Does the Fox Say?, The Polar Express, I Want My Hat Back, Make Way for Ducklings and Mrs. Rumphius.

I would love to hear your suggestions for titles for each of these age groups.  There can never be too many books!

5

Query quandary

We write a lot about queries on this blog.  A lot.  A query letter is the Moby Dick of the writer looking for an agent—crafting the perfect one can become an obsessive and bloody quest.  For those of us on the receiving end, query letters are both bane and blessing.  For every well-proofed, well-crafted, lucid missive that makes you want to request a manuscript or proposal and which puts you on the road to representing a work you love, there are hundreds riddled with typos, grandiose or patently false statements, endless plot summaries,  and tiny, tiny margins.

And, of course, not all queries we receive can be answered personally.  We rely on the dreaded form response to thank authors for their submission and let them know that their work is not what we are looking for right now.  Some authors take this to mean that no one read their query letter or that the evil gatekeepers don’t think enough of them, in particular, and all writers, in general, to send a personal response.  Not true.  We do read everything we receive (some things more quickly than others) and the reason most people  get a form letter back is that we simply don’t have the time or manpower to send individual responses to the thousands of queries we receive every week.

Most authors who have educated themselves about the business understand that a form letter or even a personal one simply means that you need to try someone else.  Or, if you’re getting them from everyone in town, that you should re-evaluate your query and see if you can make it better, more eye-catching.  In some cases, it may mean that you need to re-evaluate the work you’re pitching because clearly the description you are giving doesn’t appeal to anyone.  The ideal response is to try to learn from this as from all other steps in the arduous publishing process, which is why I liked this upbeat piece in  the HuffPost.

Here’s a short tip list:

  • Follow the agent’s submission guidelines and only query them in areas you know they are interested in.
  • Proofread, for goodness sake.  (Don’t send it to an agent at a different agency than the one your envelope is addressed to, and make sure there are no embarrassing typos.)
  • If you have a connection to the agent you’re querying, use it.  Don’t be shy about mentioning that so-and-so asked you to submit your work, or that your aunt Mary is the agent’s husband’s former babysitter.
  • Don’t summarize the entire plot of the novel in the query letter; try to come up with a good “high concept” pitch.
  • Do tell us anything important, exciting, unusual about you or the work.
  • Don’t compare your work (or yourself, for that matter) to that of people so iconic and brilliant that you will only suffer by comparison.
  • Do know your category and what kinds of books yours might be a shelf mate to.
  • Don’t cram 500 words into one page.
  • Make sure all of your contact information is included.  (We’ve actually had instances where we have not been able to contact people who have submitted work to us because they did not provide contact information. I know, right?)

Does this help?  Do you guys feel your querying process has been satisfactory if not necessarily successful?  What bugs you most about sending out queries?

2

The old man and the lists

Because of a client’s Facebook post, last week I ordered a copy of The Hemingway Cookbook by Craig Boreth.  Now, most everyone who’s known me for a week or twenty years knows that my devotion to Papa Hemingway started early and has never really wavered.  It has survived the bad publicity, the parodies, the mediocre later works, the disdain of my feminist friends who think of him as a sexist blowhard who could write a little….

Thing is, I still find that despite the reams written by and about him, this author continues to surprise and delight.  Every once in a while I’ll read a book (The Paris Wife) or an article about Hemingway and his intimates and cronies that makes me think, “Man, those people lived large!”  And despite the tragic ending and the many missteps I’ve always felt that he possessed great generosity of spirit.

Many years ago, I read in the local paper about a young man who wanted to be a writer and went to Hemingway for advice.  He was given two lists of books to read.  I dimly remember that both lists contained classic titles, but one featured books Ernest considered masterpieces and the other those he considered terrible.  He suggested that the young author become familiar with both, the logic being that you can learn a lot even from a bad book.   This notion has served me well professionally and so I’m always thrilled when I come across stories of Hemingway’s reading lists, like this one.

I think great writers learn to write by learning to read and I think a properly curated list is an invaluable tool.  Do you agree?  And, what books would be on the list you make up for someone looking for advice?

BTW, the cookbook is a treasure.  I’m gonna try the burger recipe this weekend.

0

Big in Japan (and Germany)

A career in publishing typically involves a lot of twists and turns, both for the professionals like editors and agents, as well as for writers themselves. This weekend, the Times magazine shared the amusing story of David Gordon, a (sorry, David) midlist author who suddenly found that his novel The Serialist was a huge hit in Japan, culminating in a trip to Tokyo where he got the royal treatment from an adoring press.

Reading Gordon’s story, it put me in mind of an author I used to work with at Putnam, Royce Buckingham. Like The Serialist, Royce’s debut novel, Demonkeeper, did well enough to get a second book signed up, but for some reason, the book became a huge hit in Germany. In fact, Royce was commissioned to write two sequels for Random House Germany, which they duly translated into German–at their cost.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Well, for one, I hope it explains why we agents fight to retain foreign rights as much as we can. But I think the larger point is that for authors, you never know where you might find an audience, and in the age of Globalization, it’s a good idea for authors to have the international market in mind–even if the results might feel a little Spinal Tap-ish at times…

 

3

Stalagmites of Books

This morning I was browsing Twitter while waiting for my coffee to kick in, as usual, and this tweet caught my eye:

“I am making a very important New Year’s Resolution for 2014: read more books and own fewer of them.” -@doughtylouise http://t.co/bKHxs8Jzx2

— Book Keeping (@FSGBookKeeping) 

I’m totally on board with the first half of that resolution, but own fewer books?? This I gotta read.

So I clicked the link and read on to discover the author describing a very familiar predicament:

 

“All around my house – in the bedroom, the spare room, the sitting room – there are interesting geological features.  This is nothing to do with the fact that I live in a Victorian townhouse in North London, nor to do with the clay soil on which it is built.  It’s because I don’t have enough shelves.

These interesting features consist of stalagmites of books – great wobbly pillars of varying heights constantly threatening to come crashing down.”

 

This is a problem I can relate to. Books are stacked on every surface in my apartment, two rows deep on the actual bookshelves, taking over endtable space where normal other people have framed pictures of loved ones, and fighting for position on top of cabinets that more rightfully belong to wine glasses and board games. Like the blog post author, I too can blame my mountains of books on my career – but perhaps it would be more honest to blame my career on my greedy love of books?

It doesn’t help that I’m an inveterate producer of marginalia. Sure, I could check out more library books, or borrow from my friends with similar bibliophilic afflictions. But I love scribbling all over my books – asterisks and exclamation points in the margin, long rambling (and obviously brilliant) thoughts and comparison on the back pages at the end. They frown on writing in library books, I’m pretty sure. And if I start marking up my friends’ books, well, soon I’ll find myself with no friends, just tons of free time on my hands to read…hmmmm, on second thought, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Anyway, you should read the whole blog post, because the author offers a nice and logical plan for accomplishing her read-more-own-fewer book resolution. Have you ever tried to cut down on your own book collection? Any success stories to share?

If all else fails, you can always loan your unwanted/unwritten-in books to me!

1

Writing tips from 2013 to help you in 2014

I hope you all had good holidays. I personally did a lot of celebrating since my birthday falls right between Christmas and New Year’s. One highlight was seeing Kinky Boots on Broadway. I loved it! After so much fun, I feel ready (even if my piles don’t) to be back at work and motivated to work with my authors to sell lots of great books.

I like at this time of year to regroup, look at the big picture, and try to come up with a strategy for a successful year ahead. I find this approach to be effective, even if I can’t always keep all of my annual goals.

I love this list of best-of writing articles from 2013 compiled by Writer’s Digest because it covers so many bases in the writing process. And it’s especially useful since it’s broken down by categories like Writing Better Characters, How to Get Published, and Inspiration for Writers. One of my favorites is the 2001 interview with Tom Clancy and his quote: “I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I just keep it simple: Tell the damn story”. That’s definitely keeping it simple, and direct!

I wanted to share it with our blog readers who are hopefully feeling like I am – motivated, energized, and ready to work hard to be as successful as we can be. Starting out by reading these articles just might help get you on the right track for the year ahead.

Enjoy and please let us know which articles from their list you find to be the most helpful. Now, let’s all get to work!

14

Happy Sisyphus

We here at DGLM are big believers in helping authors develop their work.  That means that  all of us spend a significant amount of time reading, evaluating, and editing proposals and manuscripts so that we can get them in shape for submission.  Oftentimes, for myriad reasons, our input extends beyond the selling stage and we get involved in the editorial process after the book is sold.   In other words, we spend a lot of time observing the creative process in all its (painful) glory.

Revising seems to be most people’s Achilles heel.  I’ve seen even the most confident, successful, unflappable, hardworking authors melt into puddles of insecurity, denial, and rage at the thought of tackling a revision of a work they’re convinced is perfection (or as good as it gets).  For every author who loves to roll up his/her sleeves and get to work polishing, adding, restructuring, and (perish the thought) cutting, there are dozens, nay, hundreds who are thrown into existential despair at the thought of revising.

Which is why this piece in the Atlantic is so wonderful.  From Khaled Hosseini’s fatalistic “it’ll never be as good as you imagined” to Fay Weldon’s “F—k it! Just start again!” I love the advice and the insights into the writing process, so much of which involves watching the rock rolling downhill after you’ve used every ounce of strength to get it to the top, pausing a moment to feel sorry for yourself, and then taking a big breath and starting the uphill climb again. 

I agree with Hosseini that perfection can’t be attained, that all you can do is the best you possibly can and hope that your work strikes a chord and means something to someone.  But, to get the thing as good as it can be requires a lot of rewriting, reconceptualizing, reevaluating, all the re’s, including restarting after you think you’re finished.  And, in order to do that you need to be mentally and creatively tough.  Just because it’s not perfect yet doesn’t mean it’s not good or it can’t be.

What are your thoughts on revising?  Is it as horrific a process as many authors make it out to be or is there zen in the art of taking your work apart and putting it back together?