Category Archives: agents

13

Right Behind You

Yesterday I had an interesting–and rather bracing–exchange with a writer whose work I read, admired, and ultimately, after much time and consideration, decided not to represent. I’d sent her a note that was well-meaning but bland; I wrote that I’d not “fallen in love” with the material, and without the ability to be a wholehearted champion for the work, that I didn’t feel I could represent it. I got a civil but pointed note back, urging me to reconsider–not my decision–but the very pat “didn’t fall in love” phrase that has become the book world’s answer to “it’s not you, it’ s me.” This writer pointed out that it’s patronizing and more or less reviled by authors. I agreed that it is an easy shorthand, the catch-all diagnosis of the publishing business. But perhaps we who work with words have a certain responsibility to be a little less lazy when stringing them together.

Still, turning people talented people down is never easy, and we agents are often wrong. I’m at a writer’s conference now, and every editor and agent here has a tale of the book that got away—or more precisely, the book we failed to see.

Taste is apallingly subjective, and sometimes it’s hard to put a fine point on exactly what drives my reservations. More often than not, it’s a combination of factors; undeveloped storyline, characters with whom I’d rather not pass 350 pages, utter lack of editorial vision for how to place it. Sometimes I read the testaments of lives of people far braver and more extraordinary than I will ever be, but I worry that the telling does not match the tale, or the story is suited to a smaller circle of readers than most publishers would wish to reach.

I grumble and occasionally rail at the rejection letters I receive as well, but is there a way to soften the blow? Many notes I send are form rejections. We try hard to craft one that is professional and respectful, though it is by definition impersonal. It would be impossible to respond to all the mail that we receive. But know that despite all the maladroit notes and form letters, the late responses and the missed chances, most agents really do get it. We get the frustration, the disappointment, we respect your efforts and exist to support them. True, the works in question are not our own, but they are our livelihood, a reflection of our taste, our ideals, and often long collaborative efforts. It would be absurd to imagine that my emotional stake in a book is as great as that of its creator, but we agents are right behind you.

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What I’ve Learned as a Writer Working at a Literary Agency: The Essential Elements of a Pitch

On the last day of my MFA program, I attended a lecture about how to secure and work with an agent. The lecture was very informative and covered a lot of what I’ve learned since starting to work at an agency; however, as a writer, I wanted to know more about query letters. She didn’t quite get into the importance of pitching your novel. She merely said, “write a short synopsis.” This was so vague! How short is short? What details should you give? What does an agent need to know about your novel, and what can you leave out? Luckily, this got me thinking, and I made a list of the items that I want to see when reading a pitch in a query letter.

Main character(s) – You should include your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s), along with their roles in the novel.

Relative age – Whether directly stated or implied through action/conflict/setting of the story.

Genre – This can be stated before you pitch your novel. You can say it directly (e.g. “In this fantasy novel…”), or you can imply it in the pitch (e.g. “Jamie wants only to be king, but can he defeat the Lord of the Dragons?”). Just make sure it’s clear somewhere in the query letter.

Inciting event – What starts the conflict of the novel?

An idea of the direction in which the plot goes – What can I expect to read about?

Promise of emotional payout – Probably the most important to make sure you’re including. Why should I care about this novel? What can I expect to feel? Though, this should NOT be directly stated (e.g. “You’ll cry when you find out how his daughter was murdered.”). You should imply it (e.g. “When his daughter is sacrificed by his religious leader, he has to choose between loyalty to the religion that will make him king or vengeance.”).

You do not have explain the conclusion of the book—this isn’t a true synopsis, but a pitch. You want to use the query letter to draw your reader in and make them want to read more. If you spoil the ending, what’s the point?

What do you think? Are there any other essential elements that will make a pitch perfect?

2

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

Creating a captivating pitch is arguably one of the hardest parts about getting an agent. As I’ve mentioned in some of my previous posts, agents are busy and read unfathomable amounts of queries every year. It’s difficult to stand out amongst the masses, but you would be surprised how easily a carefully crafted pitch can hold our attention.

Throughout my time reading queries, the ones that have stood out always followed these simple rules:

– Be reflective of what your book is and use a similar tone.

  • If you’re writing a middle grade novel about a blundering superhero, it’s okay to use goofy words (though, don’t go overboard and remember you’re querying an adult). If you’re writing an adult thriller, you shouldn’t use infantile language.

– Be concise.

  • You should be able to tell the summary of your story in 100-200 words. Any longer is likely to bore the agent, any shorter and you’re probably leaving out necessary information.

– Be clear.

  • Give the agent enough information so they’re not led on to think your book is something that it’s not. This will work against you when they read your manuscript or proposal. If they think they’re getting one thing and they actually get another, it will turn them off to whatever they’re reading. It’s similar to the idea of someone making you close your eyes, saying they’re going to feed you candy and then actually feeding you steak. You’re going to be repulsed. You may even seriously love steak, but because you were expecting candy, your tastes are off.

– Be exciting.

  • What makes your book interesting? That should be the center of your pitch. Don’t say in plain form, “My book is different because…” Make sure the distinctiveness of your novel is portrayed in your summary. If your character is a going to a magical school in a unique setting, make sure the characteristics of the school are mentioned in a way that makes it stand out from every other magical school out there.

 

I hope these tips help you make the best of your queries. I look forward to reading your captivating pitches!

1

Book Expo America — it’s here!


Every year at this time, the entire publishing industry converges at the Javits Center in NYC for the biggest annual bookseller’s convention in the U.S. It’s a massive endeavor, full of publisher booths that cost tens of thousands of dollars, author events and signings, an International Rights Center where our own Lauren Abramo will be meeting with publishers form around the world, and a whole lot of schmoozing and general conversation about books.

BEA Amy

The books that are the focus at Book Expo (BEA for short) are the ones that will be published the following fall, so Fall, 2015 this year. Galleys, or early reader copies, abound and many of us run around sharing stories about who scored what.

Last year, I had a couple of authors at BEA, and even had a client doing a cooking demo from his latest book (photo below, the waffle chocolate chip cookies were delicious!).

 

BEA Dan

The past couple of years I’ve waited to get signed books from children’s authors, and last year I scored a big one with a special BEA edition copy of B.J. Novak’s THE BOOK WITH NO PICTURES. One of my colleagues saw me and took a picture when I was getting it signed.

BEA BJ Novak

And then of course, there are the parties that precede and follow BEA. Many publishers host parties at their offices, and some rent out space at local restaurants. Last year’s Harper party was epic, and not just because they were promoting their epic reads teen website!

Last year, I even got to see my mom doing an event for her own book at BEA, a fun first.

BEA Mom

The past couple of years they’ve also included a consumer post-BEA event called Bookcon, which has generated enormous interest and huge bestselling authors come to events where the public can buy tickets, meet the authors and get books signed. This year the lineup is pretty outstanding, and I suspect it’s going to continue to be a big draw in the years to come.

Thought you might enjoy a sneak peek at what we’re all focusing on this week. If you can’t find us, now you know why!

Take a look at the website links, and let us know what events you’d be most interested in attending, and which authors you’d love to see at BEA. Maybe next year, you can join us.

 

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What I’ve Learned as a Writer Working at a Literary Agency: Making Your Queries Professional

After reading my fair share of queries, I’ve begun to see a few simple mistakes writers are making when sending out their work to agents. The query letter should be very professional. It should stand only as a means to stage your pitch. While adding personal touches can make them stand out, being too familiar can ruin the true purpose of the letter. Agents want only to know what your book is about and why you’re capable of writing it. They’re also assessing your ability to write and pay attention to detail. So here are a few tips to make sure you’re being meticulous and making your query as professional as possible.

  • Make sure the name attached to your email address matches the name you’re signing with.
    • It looks unprofessional when your email address is a common nickname your friends use—or even worse, a nickname that implies your private hobbies like Mr. Buzzed or Romantic Janet. Remember that whatever name you’ve entered for your email address will be visible to the agent you query.
  • Don’t ramble on about yourself.
    • A good query will include a bio about what you’ve achieved as a writer, but leave out the fact that you have two kids, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and a goldfish. Giving any more information than necessary distracts from your pitch.
  • Check your signature line.
    • A quote or tag line that may be cute or inspirational to you may come off as unprofessional or rude to an agent. It’s best to leave out quotes, sayings, pictures, or anything else that may appear beneath your name.
  • Proofread everything.
    • If there’s a grammatical or spelling mistake in your subject line, there’s a chance the agent won’t read much further. That goes for your pitch, too.

While most of these tips may seem self explanatory, I can say from experience that a lot less people follow them than you would think. It can never hurt to send your query to a friend or an alternate email so you can see what it looks like to the agent. Never underestimate the power of a professionally written query letter.

 

3

WE ARE GROWING!

Today I want to welcome two new members to our staff.

I am thrilled to announce that Eric Myers joins us today as an agent after thirteen years at The Spieler Agency.   As you will see in our staff bios page, Eric is a graduate of UCLA and the Sorbonne, Eric entered publishing as a journalist and book author. His books include Screen Deco: A Celebration of High Style in Hollywood, Forties Screen Style: A Celebration of High Pastiche in Hollywood, and Uncle Mame: The Life of Patrick Dennis, all published by St. Martin’s Press. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure sections, as well as Time Out, Variety, Opera News, and Art and Auction.  As an agent, Eric has a strong affinity for Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, as well as adult non-fiction, especially in the areas of history, biography, psychology, health and wellness, mind/body/spirit, and pop culture. I know that Eric will be a great addition to DGLM.

I am also belatedly welcoming Erin Young who joined DGLM as assistant to Michael Bourret in our West Coast office in Los Angeles, where she is also working toward an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Previously, she worked as an editor at two prestigious literary magazines. Erin received her bachelor’s degree in zoology and loves all things about animals. She is interested in all forms of young adult and middle grade fiction, particularly fantasy, paranormal, and magical realism. In adult fiction, she likes weird literary and intellectual commercial thrillers. In nonfiction, she enjoys memoirs and biographies, sport and science narratives, and just about anything unusually original. I am so pleased that Erin is part of our team.

Please join me in welcoming both of these new members of our family.

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.