Category Archives: agents


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.


“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.


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.


Go with the flow

I’ve been mired in contracts lately which means countless iterations of the same conversation:

Me: “We want X, Y, Z.”

Contracts director: “No.  We can’t agree to that.”

Me: “If you don’t give it to us, we’ll walk.”

Contracts director: “Fine, we’ll give you X and Y, but you’ll have to pry Z out of our cold dead hands.”

Me: “What was Z again?”

Multiply this by three or four contracts a week, reams of e-mails, and some name calling, and you’ve got my life in a nutshell.  At this point, the process is so predictable, I could create a flowchart that pretty much tells you the probable outcome of any negotiation.  Which is what tickles me about this delightful infographic that Galleycat reposted yesterday.

As fast as the publishing industry is changing, some things remain wonderfully constant: Authors’ hopes and dreams either coming true or being crushed into oblivion; insiders trying to game the system; agents, editors and publishers working hard and failing roughly as much as professional baseball players; heavy drinking regardless.

You’d think we’d get bored.  But really, it’s such a thrill when all the stars align and the editorial and development work, the tedious nitpicking of contract terms, and the snarky, despairing, bombastic communications result in a book you’re proud of (and which is sometimes profitable), that you end up just feeling grateful to be part of the process.

What’s your favorite part of the flowchart?





When Agents Attack

About a year ago, I noticed a shift in the general tone of writers’ conferences. For the ten years I’ve been attending them, there was a tendency for agents at these events to lord it over the room, being very strict about what they were looking for, how they like to be approached, how not to approach them, and how to talk to them. The power balance was one-sided, needlessly (and sometimes insultingly) so.

Then agents started getting nervous. And defensive. Instead of, “This is how to get us,” the line became, “This is why you need us.” And things started to get a lot more interesting.

A week and a half ago, I had the opportunity to go to the Novelists, Inc. 23rd Annual Conference. And on one of the panels I sat on, all the growing tension and dissatisfaction came to a head.

In her article about the roundtable for the NINC newsletter, author Lori Devoti noted, “If you have heard any chatter about the NINCThink roundtables, it was probably about this roundtable. Things here were lively and at times heated, to put it politely.” Let me say that Lori put it VERY politely. I’ll quote myself here. When the anger had subsided, here’s what I tweeted: “I tend to be super low key, but a panel I was on today nearly turned me rabid. My anger, twas righteous.”

So: what the hell happened?

Here’s my take. The role of agents in the marketplace is changing dramatically. At DGLM, we’ve always prided ourselves on being a full-service agency. In the past few years, we’ve been aware that what “full-service” means is changing. As authors have more access to self-publishing and more success in doing that, agents need to be able not only to guide their clients through that process, but to be aware of the pitfalls, potential gold mines, and ways to strategize that are best for an individual project but also an author’s entire career. That said, here’s where things started to go off the rails: there are a lot of things authors can do without an agent, and there are more in-roads that authors can make independently than ever before. Does everyone need an agent? No. Does having a middling or less than wholly effective agent do you more good than not having one at all? At this stage, I would say absolutely not. That, I should note, is not a popular point with other agents.

Let’s break this down a little: one of my co-panelists went after someone on the panel for “denigrating” agents and said he wouldn’t stand for it. So I grabbed the mic and offered, as an agent, to denigrate agents for them. I believe very strongly that good agents are incredible partners and can bring authors more success (I’ll get back to this). But more importantly at that exact moment, I was just suuuuuuper pissed. It was disgusting to watch another industry professional demean an author simply because they seemed to be chiseling away at his pedestal.

Let me go back to Lori Devoti’s article for a moment. I’m “another industry guest.”

“Another industry guest…said that ideally agents are partners working with authors to serve them better, and that e-books were a revolution. ‘This year alone we have seen dozens of authors sell millions of books on their own with no support. Now you don’t necessarily need an agent and you definitely don’t need an agent who isn’t good. You need to be aware of what you are bringing to the table. And be aware of services that agent can offer. Be pushy and ask questions.’ This…industry guest frequently seemed to be alone in his opinions.”

My point was never to say that agents, particularly good agents, don’t offer value. If I believed that, I would have left my job ages ago. I love working with authors editorially. I love considering what comes next in line, and what the right next moves are. And I love being able to tell clients when they’ve received offers on their books or foreign rights or when we’ve optioned their film rights. There is a real thrill in that. And when agent and client work together effectively, everyone benefits. But in a marketplace that is showing so many rapid shifts in distribution, sales patterns, and access, it’s obscene to believe there is one right answer to any question or that just because your agent is experienced, they should be followed blindly.

What we’re seeing is a balancing of power. Authors have more control of their careers and can be more demanding. Does that make my job easier? No. Does it make it more exciting? Yes. Because it’s one thing to bandy the word “partner” around and make yourself sound friendly, which seems to be happening a lot. It’s another thing to actually act like a partner.

Authors have long been frustrated by the publishing process, and rightly so. It has been an antiquated machine that never treated the people who actually drive it with the respect they deserve. But that is less true now than it has been at any point since I became an agent.

I love my job, and I believe in it, but I also understand (as do the other agents at DGLM), that it’s not safe or effective to rule from a perch, nor to rule at all. To be an author’s advocate, you have to understand where authors come from. Here’s one last quote from Lori. This one is totally self-aggrandizing, but hey, why not?

“This guest…seemed to see and understand the issues through the eyes of the authors more so than most of the other guests.”

I hope that’s true. I really do. That’s the agent I want to be. Not the one who won’t listen to criticism of agents. Not the one who belittles authors who aren’t already hugely successful. And not the one ever on the defensive.


What in the world was he thinking?

Last Friday, I ran across this story on Galleycat and I was really amazed and troubled by it. I sincerely hope this is an isolated, freak incident, but it made me think about our process and how it is perceived by the authors who approach us.

We agents work very hard to encourage new writers and to help them find a home.  Often our business depends on unsolicited queries (I know mine does).  Finding something wonderful in the “slush” pile gives everyone a sense of real satisfaction and during the last twenty-five years I have had my share of new clients come from there.

This, though, is not the norm.  Even though we pride ourselves in reviewing everything that is sent to us, we pass on most unsolicited queries .  In fact, we would be helping nobody by signing an author who isn’t ready and submitting his or her work only to be turned down by publishers.  More than anything else, the author would suffer – his or her ego would be hurt by the mass rejection and he or she would have to wait a good long time before submitting again to the same editors who had just turned down the material.

When we do turn a writer down, whether they are solicited or unsolicited, we try to do so thoughtfully.  There is absolutely no point in being rude or discouraging.  That said, with the volume of queries we receive, there’s no avoiding the dreaded form rejection letter.  We know authors hate these and we’re not thrilled to use them, but we simply don’t have the manpower to write individual notes to everyone.

So my message to authors who are just starting is to have your material be as ready as possible before you query agents and if you get turned down, think about why, continue to work on your project and try again when it is in a more polished place.

Persistence is one of the things I live by; giving up is simply unacceptable.  But so is lashing out against people who work hard and are genuinely trying to help.

Hello World!

It’s my very first blog entry as a full-fledged DGLM employee! However, I’m not totally new to the office and have been around for quite some time. I’ve been working in the office as the Project Manager for DGLM’s digital publishing program, and before that I was an intern in the office. Until recently, I was focused solely on developing the digital program, but I’m branching into agenting now, and I can’t wait to get started.

As a reader, some of my favorite books have been historical fiction—Les Miserables, Atonement and Gone With the Wind, to name a few. But I also love a book that challenges me, like Lolita, the His Dark Materials series or Last Exit to Brooklyn. For more about me and what I am interested in reading, check out Who We Are and What We’re Looking For.

My very first experience with a literary agency was here at DGLM, and I am so grateful to have been able to turn my internship into a position at the company. I’ve always wanted to work in publishing and I am very excited to be a part of this team.


A few words about cookbooks and agents

I participated in a cookbook conference last Friday and sat on a panel with four other agents who also represent practical nonfiction, including cookbooks. The discussion centered around the agent’s role in the current market and how that role has changed with the shift into electronic publishing.

It was a really thoughtful and informative conversation that lasted almost an hour and a half. We had a lengthy talk about the cookbook as object and whether that is something that will continue into the future or go the way of the VHS tape. We all agreed moving away from the book is a long way away, if it ever happens at all, and that there is still a great benefit to holding a book in your hands, cooking from a book rather than a computer screen, and sharing books as gifts with friends and family.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion centered on the agent and author relationship, and the question of how important is it to have an agent in a market where so many writers, bloggers especially, are going it on their own. I strongly believe that (and I think, based on feedback, made a persuasive argument for) authors need agents now more than ever. A savvy agent who understands the nuances of the market’s language and culture is critical as they oversee every aspect of an author’s entire career, focusing on the big picture, as well as the smaller details that can go astray at any point in the process.

What really jumped out at me, though, was the concept of how much book negotiations have changed in the recent past. Each and every negotiation now, even with publishers we’ve dealt with for many years and have boilerplate contracts with the best negotiated terms possible, is fraught with challenges that include new and changing digital royalty rates, author deliverables that previously didn’t exist (one agent mentioned a major publisher had asked that the author deliver along with their manuscript 20 minutes of the author on tape), and which rights will be retained by the author versus the publisher.

This might sound simple, but believe me when I say it is not. The landscape has been described as The Wild West, and we are using our collective years of experience to secure the best deal and contract terms that are possible in a market where publishers are pushing so hard in one direction to keep rights in their control and agents are pushing so hard in the other.

The good news is we are making progress with every deal. Each new contract offers an opportunity to renegotiate contract language we aren’t happy with, or get an author an improved digital royalty, or at least the ability to renegotiate the royalty in the future. We are always striving to protect our clients and maintain a positive working relationship with all the publishers we do business with. I’ll admit it can be precarious, but we have leverage because publishers know the value of our long, successful client list.

All this to say your agent is your friend and will be there to guide you through this sometimes messy and difficult process of being a book author. I’d love to know your thoughts on the agent-author relationship in this new market and also on cookbook as object and its future. Do you think cookbooks are going to go away, or will there always be room on your shelf to display your favorite stain-filled tomes as a badge of cooking honor?


Know when to walk away, know when to run…

I warn you, I’m feeling crabby this week.  Christmas is in ten days and I’m woefully behind on my shopping and general preparedness.  Sure, I’m not like Jane who’s finished buying everyone’s holiday present by July 4th weekend, but I like to give myself a little leeway and not have to deal with the last minute rush to buy, wrap, and decorate.  This year, I’m so swamped, I can’t even run out during lunch to visit the shops in Union Square Park.

I know, I know, I should be grateful that business is booming at a typically dead time of year.  And in theory I am.  Unfortunately, I’ve been busy with a slew of difficult contract negotiations that have me yanking at my already unmanageable hair.  In general, difficult contracts don’t make me all that crabby.  The difference right now is that the negotiations are unnecessarily difficult—lots of lawyerly requests for language that does nothing but overgild the lily  without adding anything of substance to the deal.  Or, worse yet, a negotiation that has taken weeks of pointless back and forth for something we advised our client to walk away from in the first place.

To be clear, we don’t often advise our clients to walk away from any deal that has the potential to make money for them.  That would go against their interests and ours.  But we draw the line at allowing our clients to be treated unfairly or exposed to onerous terms and liabilities without a strong word of caution and a push in the direction of “run, don’t walk away from this deal.”  It pains us when our advice is not heeded because, usually, we’re right.  And even when the most dire consequences do not materialize, a process that starts out as contentious and unreasonable usually continues to be so up until the bitter end…of the book project that is.

So, while we like to keep our clients busy and happy and in funds for their own Christmas shopping, sometimes the only thing that makes sense to us is for them to walk away no matter how tempting it might be to take a bad deal.

Here’s my question to you guys:  If your agent is suggesting that you walk away from an offer—whether it’s a publishing offer from a house that wants your first born in exchange for print publication of your work or a chance to collaborate with a celebrity housewife on her juicy tell-all, say— and you are not in desperate financial straits that leave you without choices, would you listen and take his/her advice?

P.S.  Boy, you guys really don’t have any interest in headlines, do you?  I’m gonna call it a tie between Tamara and Sarah.  Send me your addresses at for your prizes, ladies.


The Unsold

Apropos of Stacey’s post about knowing when to say when, I’m squaring off with the unwelcome possibility that a book I love is on the verge of not selling. I can tell you that we came quite close at several houses, that there were editors who loved it, that all parties agreed that the author was prodigiously talented, that revisions were made and made again. And yet.  We’re now discussing the possibility of e-publishing, this author and I, and so it seemed thematically appropriate that Edan Lepucki should publish her follow up post to Do it Yourself: Self-Published Authors Take Matters Into Their Own Hands in The Millions.

My client is still mulling it over, but Lepucki has decided not to self publish for the reasons she lays out here. I’m with her on most of these: I too read books released by major houses; I’m part of the publishing establishment (and hence about as far from a “hater” as one can be); I work with literary fiction and I am a thorough-going champion of the small press.  But unlike Lepucki, I am perhaps less concerned with the validation that a contract confers. True, I am not an author, so my stake in this is different. I am certainly ambitious for the people and projects I represent, but I don’t set much store by what a client calls “the fantasy” in which book deal, stellar reviews and robust sales are the inevitable outcome of hard work, attention to craft, and talent.  Indeed, it is because I am not an author that I can attest that the system by which books are acquired and sold is an imperfect one, and there are good books, very good books, that go wanting. Like this one.

So, whether or not my client will decide to e-publish is still up in the air, but in the meantime, he is administering himself a crash course in the uses of social media, which will help him whatever transpires. I’ll keep you posted. Meanwhile, I am curious to hear what you think of Lepucki’s decision.