Category Archives: agents

0

Boston and Austin

As spring finally approaches (fingers crossed that the snow forecast for later today fails to materialize,) I’m looking forward to a couple of terrific writers’ conferences. The first is Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace, a Boston-based literary extravaganza that takes place first week of May, by which point, sunshine and shovels will surely have vanquished the snow. Right?

There, I’ll listen to pitches, give detailed manuscript critiques, and sit in on as many workshops as I can, especially Adam Stumacher and Qais Akbar Omar’s panel discussion on “Politics and Prose” where they’ll explore the altogether tricky business  of addressing political issues through narrative.   Next up is the Writer’s League of Texas Conference in June.  Both Boston and Austin are literary (rhyming) towns with their own vibrant cultures of letters, and I love to see how place affects writers and their works.   In any event, The WLT conference organizers asked me, as well as host of other Texas-bound agents and editors, to respond to some questions about the publishing process that I thought I might pass along.  If you don’t have plans to be in the Lone Star State or Beantown in the next few months, you might have a look.  Both Grub Street and the Writers League of Texas have robust websites that are teeming with excellent resources.

1

The job of a literary agent

Last week I began thinking about what the technical responsibilities of a literary agent are compared to what we at DGLM do for our clients.  I researched the subject and I also asked our staff what they thought.  The results are interesting and I wanted to share those with you, our readers.

First, I found this definition of the responsibilities of a literary agent online:

Literary agents represent authors in the publishing world. Authors rely on literary agents to manage the business aspect of publishing for them. Agents negotiate contracts regarding publishing rights, advances and royalties. They represent authors to book publishers and other companies that may be interested in publishing an author’s work.

It turns out that this is a good definition but it doesn’t cover nearly all of the things we do for our clients at our agency.

This weekend for example Miriam and I have been working on amending an exciting movie/TV contract for one of our clients who had previously committed to this project without really realizing what she was getting into.  In fact, working with our clients on weekends and after office hours is something we do all the time.

We also do many things that other agencies do not do:

  • We send out  adult and childrens’ book  newsletters three times per year announcing the books we will be selling in the following four months and those we have sold in the previous four months.
  •  We have a digital book program with its own manager whereby we help clients self-publish their work—either new projects or those where the rights have reverted.
  • We have an extensive, informative website which we are constantly updating.
  • We have author social media guides for all kinds of situations.
  • We are very hands on in career management, advising our authors not just in the book space, but also in film/TV, newspapers and periodicals, and in whatever other career category they require our help.

We  also often go above and beyond, by helping clients with legal issues on for other parts of their lives, helping them to get mortgages or refinance their homes, even helping them to get jobs when we are able, and, perhaps more importantly,  providing a constant source of advice and support.

Above all else, and as I have said very recently in this space, we never give up until we really believe we have hit a wall and that it is best for our client to move on to the next project.  What is your experience and your expectations of literary agents?

I am sure I have overlooked some of the things we do that go above and beyond that tight definition of the responsibilities of the agent but this will give you a very good idea of the kind of agency Dystel & Goderich Literary Management is.

2

What does a literary agent do?

It is no secret that few people outside of publishing know what a literary agent is, much less what we do.

Holidays, along with the requisite tree-trimming, gift-giving, sweet-eating and bubbly-swilling also involve some job explaining.  At every social gathering I attend, sooner or later someone asks what, exactly, it is that I do. Unlike astronaut, teacher, vet, major league baseball player or artist,  “literary agent” seldom makes the list of things kids wish to be when they grow up.

If you’re reading this blog, chances are you have a pretty firm grasp on the role the agent plays in selling your work, or at least the fact that you:  1) may need one of us  or 2) are presently working with one of us in order to get published.  Still, whenever I sign a new client, I spend a good deal of time explaining the path forward.  And since my “What is a Literary Agent” speech is burnished from recent use, I would be happy to address your specific questions about what we do, the way we work, or, as my son’s friend once asked me, if “our missions are dangerous.”

3

Countdown to Publication

 

Like Miriam, I am an inveterate NPR listener (read: geek), and nothing makes me happier when two of my favorite things come together—my clients and my radio habit.

Tomorrow my client Judy Melinek, co-author of the memoir WORKING STIFF: Two Years, Two Hundred and Sixty Two Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner, will be on NPR’s Science Friday. To kick it off, there’s a medical mystery to solve The Pink Eye of Death (is the cause of death natural or otherwise? You decide) up on the website.

Publication is always thrilling, particularly for first-time authors, and it’s especially exciting when good things are afoot. Reviews for the book have been glowing, there’s a TV option in place, interviews and features are in the works, and I’m counting the hours ‘til 2pm tomorrow. The book officially publishes on August 12th, but this is an excellent lead-in.

Scribner, the publisher, has been terrific.  Editors Shannon Welch and John Glynn worked on numerous drafts of the book—again, disproving the canard that editors “don’t edit.” The design team created an arresting cover, going so far as to correct their initial draft, which featured a blue gloved hand holding a scalpel as a surgeon might.  According to Judy, who is a forensic pathologist, both glove (too thin) and grasp (too delicate) were incorrect, and Scribner actually photographed Judy’s hand to get it right.

The book is also a labor of love; Judy wrote it with her husband TJ, a Hollywood screenwriter turned stay-at-home dad whose literary gifts nicely balance Judy’s scientific mind.  This was my first time representing a husband and wife writing team, and it seems that collaborating on a book, like never going to bed angry, makes for a happy marriage.  In any case, I’m thrilled for both of them.

As agents, we play many roles: we may be midwives, advisers, advocates, editors, but we are also, at heart, fans.  Undergirded as it is by genuine admiration, ours is a job that rarely grows old.  It is also significantly less hair-raising than forensic pathology.  Which–since I can live vicariously through my clients– is just fine by me.

Time’s winged chariot

About two weekends ago, I found myself—as I usually do on a Sunday—ensconced in my favorite chair reading manuscripts and proposals.   I was engrossed in a novel which, despite its numerous structural problems, showed a lot of promise.  As I might have mentioned on this blog once, or a hundred times, I’m not a speed reader, so if the fiction manuscript I’m reading is any good I can kiss a big chunk of my day goodbye.

After Jane and I discussed the pros and cons of this particular novel, we offered the author representation if she was willing to do some significant revising.  (We’d had the book for about a week at this point.)  The author promptly responded that she loved feedback and was not at all averse to reworking the manuscript but she had just accepted another agent’s offer.  Fair enough, of course, and yet….

It bugged me that having plowed through the review process in near record time we never had a chance.  It doubly bugged me because I could have spent a chunk of my Sunday hanging out with my husband and son, running errands, taking that nap I’ve been needing since 2005, going for a walk outside on one of the few decent weather days in what’s been an epically bad winter…you know, what normal people do on Sundays.

I love my job and I enjoy the “development” (reading, editing, brainstorming) part of it tremendously so I don’t generally feel sorry for my lack of Sundays.  But, I also don’t like to waste my time.

This is the longwinded way of responding to those of you who ask about multiple submissions and the etiquette involved therein.  Basically, I say common sense rules, folks.    You should let agents know when you query them that the manuscript is out with others.  And, if an offer comes in, you should give everyone who has your material the chance to finish their review.  If the offer of representation is just too good to hold off on, then you should immediately contact the competing agents and tell them that the project is no longer available so that they can move on to the next thing in their piles.

In these days of electronic submissions, no one will get mad because you’ve gone to multiple agents (unless you do one of those mass e-mail things where everyone is listed; then all bets are off).  But it would be doing us a kindness if you were to keep us in the loop as to the submission’s progress.

Does this sound right to you or do you guys hold the Darwinian view that it’s survival of the fittest out there and tough noogies if you aren’t fast enough?  And, is there something you wish we’d do differently during the review process (and why)?

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

What you need to know about querying agents

I came across this piece from thewritelife.com by the always interesting and entertaining Chuck Sambuchino from Writer’s Digest.

I think all of the advice is meaningful and generally right on, but I must say my favorite is number 1. Can you query multiple agents at the same agency? As he suggests, and speaking at least for our agency, the answer is no. Just today I got a query referred by a colleague that was submitted to me as well. This is something that can be extremely frustrating for us when we request something that another agent in-house has requested as well. He’s absolutely right that within our agency we have a great sense of each other’s interests, and if there is something that we feel isn’t right for our list, but might be a better fit for someone else, we will share it.

The other point that jumps out at me is number 6. When should you query? When is your project ready? He goes on to talk about beta-readers and making sure you have your work read and re-read before you start the submission process. It should be clean and edited and ready to go.

Number 9 about simultaneous submissions is also helpful. We always assume it’s simultaneous unless you tell us otherwise. And that’s ok, just as long as it’s not simultaneous within our own agency J.

I have a question I’d add to this list. Should you personalize your query? The answer to this is yes. The more research you do on agents and their lists, the more likely you are to get the response you are looking for. If you can cite a book that is similar to yours that the agent you’re querying represented, that’s a small personal touch that can really make a difference.

Let us know if you have any other pieces of advice not covered in this list. There is no right or wrong answer, but there are many things you can do to make your query stand out from the others.

1

A tale of two cultures working together

Last week, I journeyed to LA to meet a group of TV/film people, find out what they are looking for in the way of new projects and tell them about many of the books we are representing which we hoped they would be interested in reading and ultimately optioning.  Often we work through a community of co-agents to get to these producers, but I always feel that meeting in person, when possible, cements a relationship.  Putting a face to a name is a good thing.

I hadn’t done this kind of trip in many years–film people come through our offices all the time–and I really enjoyed meeting all of these new folks.  The differences between our two cultures (book publishing and Hollywood) really struck me, though.

First and foremost is the fact that the people in the LA movie business are totally dependent on their cars–they need to drive everywhere as public transportation is very limited.

Another difference is that we in publishing submit our projects almost exclusively online.  Theirs, on the other hand, is a world of in-person pitches.  Co-agents meet with producers, directors and sometimes writers to pitch them projects.  We do almost all of this electronically. Here is a photo of a pool we sat beside to pitch a producer some of our books (not a bad way to do it, actually, except hard to accomplish in New York City).

Finally, the Hollywood folk spend a lot of time on the phone.  This is something we in publishing really try to avoid.  Of course, sometimes phone calls are necessary to describe a project we are really passionate about, and/or to begin or complete a negotiation, but most of the time we find it more efficient and, frankly, legally sound to keep our communications written.

The “publishing lunch,” though, is something the folks in the film business enjoy equally.  The difference between us is that we journey to our destination on foot, by cab, or subway, while they drive.  Here is a photo outside the CAA Headquarters where you can see a large number of valets who are on staff to park and bring up cars for those entering and leaving.

Bottom line, though?  I think this was a very productive trip in every way and now I am looking forward to digging in and sending out the numerous projects that the people we met with want to consider.

5

“We are in the business of communication!”

The title of this post is a phrase I find myself using all the time.  We “communicate” all day long by texting, by emailing, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc., but I wonder if we are really communicating. Even phone conversations seem to be a dying art.

The other day when I opened my e-mail in the morning, I found a very concerned message from an editor suggesting that one of my clients’ manuscript was deeply flawed and he suggested that he was going to have to reject it.  I reminded him, again by e-mail, of the clause in the client’s contract requiring the publisher to provide a list of the problems and to give the writer a chance to rectify the situation.  Over e-mail the issue certainly sounded dire and unfixable.  But then he and I talked and he suggested that we call the writer together.  He said he was going to tell her that one of her options was to put the current manuscript aside and begin a new one.  This was a person whom he had only e-mailed with and whom I had also mostly communicated with by e-mail, so we had no idea how she would react.

First, the editor e-mailed my client to make a date to talk.  This naturally freaked her out and she e-mailed me and asked what was going on.  I told her a bit about the problem (again by e-mail) and said we would cover the rest in our talk.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure she would participate in the conference call at all.  She did, though, and when she was told on the phone that one of her options was to put the current novel aside and begin again, she was hugely relieved.  She and I had a subsequent lovely and constructive conversation and we all “walked away” feeling good about what had seemed like an unfixable problem at the beginning of the day.  We all felt much more positive and moving forward.

This all goes to prove that picking up the phone and talking can be far more effective and satisfying than e-mailing as this article in Forbes suggests.

It’s true that phone conversations take longer than e-mailing but often they get more accomplished.  I don’t know about you, but I am going to try to talk more and e-mail less from now on and see what happens.  I would be curious to hear what you think about all of this.

4

The Synopsis Snare

 

 

A friend at Random House sent me a galley of the forthcoming Margaret Atwood novel (happy Mother’s Day to me). It is the third in her Maddadam trilogy that takes place in a post-apocalyptic world in which most humans have succumbed to a plague. Those who remain are not having such a good time of it.

I loved the first two novels; the second more than the first. I read them out of order because when the first book, Oryx and Crake, was published (despite my admiration for the Atwood oeuvre, and despite my adoration of The Handmaid’s Tale) I did not think that a dystopian novel would be my cup of tea. As a grown-up, it seems that I’m more inclined toward bleak cautionary tales with real-world settings. Of course I was wrong, as I often am, about my teacup. The Year of the Flood won me over and sent me to the library the next day in search of the previously passed-over Oryx and Crake, and I’ve been waiting for book three ever since.

Even so, I nearly did not make it past the second page of Maddadam. Upon opening the book, I found a detailed, multi-page synopsis of the first two books—ostensibly provided as a service to get first time readers up to speed. I dutifully started on my refresher course and found it such hard-going that I began to doubt that I’d ever liked volumes 1 and 2 in the first place. Eventually I gave up and just started the novel—which had me spellbound in no time. But even the august and somewhat offbeat Margaret Atwood is not especially good at crafting a compelling plot summary.

I relate this as a cautionary tale of the non-apocalyptic variety. Authors, do not attempt a comprehensive summary of your project in your query letters, especially if your book involves genetically modified beasts like wolvogs or pigoons or fantastical names/kingdoms of any stripe. Instead, think about hooking your agent, hooking your editor—and then include a terrific first chapter. I guess there are agents out there who don’t want a sample chapters along with the query, but rest assured that I (and my DGLM colleagues) do.