Category Archives: awards

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Bad sex

I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before how much I relish certain kinds of bad writing.  Whether it’s found in queries so incoherent they make you want to request the manuscript they reference to see if the actual pages can possibly be as gawdawful (I do not recommend this as a tactic for getting your foot in the door), a passage so ripe in an otherwise well written novel that you question everything you ever believed about the author’s talent, or a subject so tricky that even otherwise skillful writers royally muck it up time and again when attempting to capture it in simple, lucid prose.

Sex is one of those subjects that turn good and even great authors into flailing amateurs.  It’s so hard to depict well that there should be dedicated writing courses teaching young MFA candidates how not to  screw it up (no pun intended).

That said, bad sex writing is a particularly fun subset of bad writing, and the 22nd Bad Sex in Fiction Awards once again celebrate that badness.  So, wander on over to the Literary Review for a peek at the nominees for “Britain’s Most Dreaded Literary Prize.”

Can you come up with anything similarly cringeworthy?

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I VOTED

It’s Election Day today!  Kudos to those of you already proudly sporting an I VOTED sticker, and to those of you who will make it to the polls by the end of the day. But don’t let the voting fun end there! Another election is taking place right now, one even more exciting and important than the one which determines our nation’s government – and you don’t even have to wait in line in a school gymnasium to vote in this one: The 2014 Goodreads Choice Awards.

 Okay, so maybe this is a little more for fun and a little less for the fate of the future (unless you’re an author with a book in the running, that is!). But it’s still fun to think about your favorite books of the year. There are 15 books presented in each category –Goodreads picked their initial nominees based on the stats from their site, so it’s TRULY democratic. But don’t worry, you can write in your own picks as well! And if you’re like me, and second-guess every award short list that’s announced, this is the perfect chance to actually have a say in picking winners!

New to Goodreads? It’s a fun way to catalog the books you own, the books you’ve read, or to simply check out what passionate readers thought of a book you’ve been planning to pick up – I’m planning to check out The Romanov Sisters and The Museum of Extraordinary Things. So click through the categories and cast your vote. Bonus points if you just so happen to vote for some DGLM authors’ books, like these Jim suggested on Twitter for starters.

Did you any books that didn’t appear on the list as nominees? Add any new titles to your To Read list? What’s your favorite way to use Goodreads?

 

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A crowning achievement

Monday,  April 14, was the day of the first Passover seder.  Because of that I was at home preparing food for my family and guests.  At around 3:00, I checked my e-mail  and saw that an amazing thing had happened.  My client Dan Fagin had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the category of general non-fiction for his astounding work on TOMS RIVER (Bantam Books 2013).

fagin 2

Of course, TOMS RIVER had received gushing reviews from The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, USA Today and many other publications, and it had won a Books for a Better Life award in its category. We (Dan and I), however, were not made aware that it was a finalist for the Pulitzer and so this win came as a complete surprise.  Both of us were simply stunned.

Over the years I have been fortunate to work with a number of Pulitzer Prize winning journalists on their books but I have never had one of the books I worked on from the idea stage on actually win this great American prize.  There is, in my opinion no one more deserving than Dan Fagin, because of his brilliant research, beautiful prose, and tenacity in telling a powerful and important story.

Dan worked on TOMS RIVER  for six years.  Through that period, for various reasons, he lost one editor after another, although he finally wound up with the very talented Ryan Doherty.  Dan’s winning this award proves more than ever that hard work pays off.  I have rarely seen an author work harder on a book.

I am so incredibly proud to have been a part of this project.  We here, at DGLM, are very proud of Dan’s incredible achievement.  I hope you will all join me in wishing Dan Fagin a well earned congratulations.

Bravo, my friend.  Way to go!

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A long time coming

One of the many things I love about book publishing is that the life of a book can be much longer than one might think. Generally speaking, from a publisher’s point of view a book’s “life” runs about three years–that’s when the business office usually runs their final post-mortem on a book’s performance. Yet even three years down the line (or more), things happen that can boost a book’s sales and give it new life on the shelf, and those surprises are gratifying in so many ways.

Case in point: When I was an editor at Putnam, I had the great pleasure to debut Royce Buckingham, whose DEMONKEEPER made a nice little splash in MG circles. However, it wasn’t as big as Putnam hoped, and his next novel didn’t do so well, either. So when it came time for Book 3, Royce and I felt he had to try something different. Thus, he came up with THE DEAD BOYS, which was much darker and scarier than his previous books, but in my opinion, the best thing he’d written by far.

As you might have guessed, THE DEAD BOYS totally tanked, despite some good reviews. But then some funny things happened: first, DEMONKEEPER became a huge hit in Germany, to the point that his German publishers asked him to write sequels in English solely for translation into German. It’s hard to quantify how much this helped raise Royce’s profile stateside, but it certainly didn’t hurt!

And then, THE DEAD BOYS quietly chugged along, particularly in Royce’s home state of Washington, where he does his share of school visits and other local promotion. The result? THE DEAD BOYS just won the Washington State 2014 Sasquatch Award, for which it was nominated by local librarians and voted on by kids across the state–four years after it was first published!

So, great news for THE DEAD BOYS–validation for a book that should have been “dead” by now, and I’m sure it will be followed by the sales boost that accompanies state awards. But more to the point, it’s just one of the many examples of a book whose life was extended beyond expectations, and I feel like it’s good for authors to keep these stories in mind when faced with dwindling royalty reports or out-of-print notices. You just never know–especially if you put in the work!

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Climbing Out from Under

I just got back from a terrific writer’s conference in warm, sunny Florida; Sleuthfest, hosted  by the Mystery Writer’s Association, was a beautifully run event, attended by authors who obviously thrive in a genuine community of writers.  I listened to Ace Atkins deliver a luncheon speech on persistence, and Laura Lippman deliver a frank, provocative keynote challenging the present—and artificial–schism between self-publishing and traditional publishing. I served on some panels, fielded solid pitches, invited a score of submissions, and returned not only to the frozen North, but a towering to-read pile that feels equally chilling.  I am in the midst of editing several proposals, getting ready to send out several more, negotiating contracts, and attempting to keep tabs my on inbox. I say this not to elicit any sympathy, since I know everyone else in this business is just as busy, but as a preamble to a general and sincere apology for my slowness in responding.  I know how excruciating it is to wait for a response. Remember, agents also spend time cooling our heels, drumming our fingers, and (unsuccessfully) cultivating patience.  So know that my crampons are on, my ice-axe sharp, and I am steadily scaling the Everest of my inbox.   It’s not been all slog, however.  Earlier this week my stupendous client Valerie Trueblood was shortlisted for the Pen/Faulkner Award (Hurray!), and yesterday another prodigiously gifted client, Qais Akbar Omar, placed an op-ed in the New York Times.  Not to belabor the climbing metaphor, but both of these were shots of pure 02.

 

What keeps you going when you feel utterly buried by work?

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Bad Titles and Binge Reading

Nominees for the little-known but totally inspired Diagram Prize (an award dreamed up by some publishing professionals to forestall boredom at a Frankfurt Book Fair) have just been announced.   The Diagram honors the “oddest book titles of the year.”

“The first winner of the prize was Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice. Other winners throughout the years have included How to Avoid Huge Ships, Cooking with Poo, and last year’s Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop.”

You can find the 2014 nominees here. I’m partial to Pie-ography: Where Pie Meets Biography, which combines two of my favorite things.

I looked around on my own bookshelves in search of overlooked competitors, and aside from some academic books (which seem unfair to single out, since awfulness in titles is a skill that scholars are required cultivate) the oddest I came up with Neil McFarquhar’s book, The Media Relations Department of Hizbollah Wishes You a Happy Birthday. 

I’m sure you can do me one better.

Another article I spotted—this piece by Julie Bosman— prompted some debate on whether binge watching TV has changed the way we engage with books.  I grant that publishers are keen to publish commercial fiction more quickly, but otherwise, I’m not yet convinced.  On the contrary, it seems to me that TV has finally caught up with books in allowing its viewers to do what any self-respecting bibliophile has long done—stay up impossibly late, shirk all other responsibilities and go on a bleary-eyed bender till the final bittersweet page. And beyond.  The truly intemperate can move on to an author’s entire oeuvre. Well before I was downing Downton Abbey in greedy gulps (I came to the show very late) I’d gone on an Evelyn Waugh tear.  Just reading his books can damage your liver.

In any case, what do you think? Is binge reading books a byproduct of Netflix-ation  and Amazon’s single click culture, or does it have a longer and more storied history?

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Oscars, Tonys,Grammys…Fitzgeralds?

I am willing to confess that I am an enormous fan of awards show. I watch the Oscars, the Tonys, and the Golden Globes religiously. But I also watch the Independent Spirits, Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards, and essentially anything on television that has a red carpet pre-show. Obviously, this means I watched the Grammys last night even though a) they are always terrible, and b) I could care less about the winners.

The tragedy of my life is that I went into essentially the only branch of the entertainment business without a big awards show. Sure, we have the National Book Awards, but those aren’t even televised! Neither are the National Book Critics Circle Awards. ALA at least gets an internet live stream, but I have seen zero librarians show up in a moon suit OR a Givenchy gown.

So this is my hope: someone gets it together enough to put together a big awards show that has enough categories to maximize potential nominees, enough flash to make it on television, and a red carpet daring enough that I can hope to see J.K. Rowling carried down it in a giant plastic egg. Or George R.R. Martin. Or Philip Roth. I’m flexible on this point.

First, the awards need a serious sounds name tied to the industry somehow. Let’s call them the Fitzgeralds. Then let’s move on to some categories that we probably want to see:

Best Cover Design

Steamiest Sex Scene

Best Author Photo

Best Book Trailer

Cliffhanger of the Year

Best Protagonist

Best Supporting Character

Are there categories you would most want to see? And what author would have the best fashions? And who could wear this recent fashion week outfit? John Green?

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What happens after you win a Newbery or Caldecott?

The Newbery and Caldecott award nominees are being announced on Monday, January 28th. Each year I look forward to seeing who is chosen for these prestigious awards. Children’s literature has exploded over the last decade and the quality of material being published in this category is outstanding. When I create my reading lists for pleasure, there are always at least a few middle grade or young adult novels on there. Recent additions include  the much-hyped bestselling FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green and CODE NAME VERITY by Elizabeth E. Wein, which I recall receiving starred reviews when it was released from all of the major trade publications.

So I loved coming across this piece in Publisher’s Weekly recently which interviews previous recipients of this award to ask about how winning has impacted their lives and careers. The answers vary considerably, but it’s always interesting and can be insightful to learn about how writers respond to this type of rare positive attention to their work. Most seem to agree the media outreach and public speaking present a new and unexpected challenge. It’s like becoming a literary celebrity overnight!

I’d love to know if you find any helpful advice for your own work in these interviews, and also if there are books you think or hope will be nominated next week. Please let us know.

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What Really Happened with the Pulitzer

Just yesterday, Michael Cunningham, one of the Pulitzer jurors this year, posted a letter on The New Yorker’s website explaining why there was no fiction winner this year. Finally, some clarification! Or, so I thought–but then comes the acknowledgement that because the Pulitzer board’s discussions are sealed, nobody but the board itself will ever really know what happened. Oh well…

Disappointment and curiosity aside, Cunningham’s letter was a refreshingly honest glimpse of what it’s like to take part in nominating books for such a renowned and highly regarded prize. The highlight for me was when he cited the differences between the three jurors, and which features in novels they’re each partial to. I also found merit in the comment, made by HENKE_M, that suggested seeing this as an opportunity to read three worthy novels, instead of just one.

Cunningham posted a reflective follow up letter today, outlining the issues that arise when faced with choosing the best, and observing that even the most lauded critics can miss a classic.

So, now, I’ll reach out to you, have you read any of the three nominees: “The Pale King” by David Foster Wallace, “Train Dreams” by Denis Johnson, or “Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell? What title do you think deserved to win?

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A Book in That

In all the flap over the National Book Awards and the Chime/Shine mix-up, which made Laura Miller’s critical piece in Salon appear rather kindly, I forgot to perform a little happy dance in honor of the Nobel Peace Prize, which was awarded jointly to three women (none mistakenly): Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf; Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee; and Yemeni pro-democracy activist Tawakkul Karman. Their award was a bright spot in an otherwise grim news cycle, and I’ve tried to spend a bit of my spare time getting to know their respective stories. To that end, I just watched the documentary about Leymah Gbowee, Pray the Devil back to Hell, which is presently being streamed on PBS. http://video.pbs.org/video/2155873888/ Watch it if you can. It’s an extraordinary, powerful, gut-wrenching story. That Gbowee should have been inspired (or approached) to write a book about her experience was only right, I just wish I had something to do with it.  I was interested to note that Gbowee’s memoir, Mighty be Our Powers, is being published by Beast Books, the publishing division of the Daily Beast. Good for Tina Brown. I hope it sells like mad.

In any case, watching the documentary meant that I could officially stop thinking like an agent, which is to say, wondering, “Is there a book in that?” In this case, the answer was yes and it was already written. It can be a funny lens through which to view the world, and every so often it’s nice to switch it off. I imagine writers are similarly afflicted.  Do you view your day to day life in terms of writing projects?