Category Archives: bestsellers


To fiction or nonfiction, that is the question

I’m a big fan of Sloane Crosley. Her first collection of essays, I WAS TOLD THERE’D BE CAKE, offered a voice of a younger generation that was so distinct it set the stage for another collection of essays and now, a debut novel called THE CLASP. Good writing is good writing regardless of the category but it’s interesting to me to see authors who can go back and forth between fiction and nonfiction. There are many talented writers who try their hand at both successfully. Think Ann Patchett or Joan Didion; even J.K. Rowling had her Harvard graduation speech published in book form.

I have authors on my own list who have tried their hand at both. From my experience, they are usually better at one or the other and once they have some success with finding a publisher they stick with that. One of my most prolific fiction authors doesn’t seem interested in nonfiction, despite a few prods from me. And another who has only done nonfiction so far has teased me by talking about doing a novel at some point. I love the idea of this creative exploration.

I found this piece on Crosley’s publisher’s website interesting for aspiring or established writers because it goes into the psychological mindset of switching from one category to the other, or in her case the idea that many writers move seamlessly from fiction to nonfiction but it’s a different beast when it goes the other way. While the feelings Crosley has experienced crossing over are hers, I suspect there are some common threads that other writers would agree with. She feels fiction is a lot harder, she says that “publishing nonfiction feels like reading poetry on stage and publishing fiction feels like doing it naked while playing the piano.” I look forward to reading the novel and seeing how it compares to her nonfiction.

What do you think? Fiction or nonfiction or both? I say if you have the talent, spread it around!

The Clasp


You’re the best

A propos of Michael’s very handy breakdown of the latest changes to the New York Times bestseller list, I’ve been thinking about just how many lists the Times graces us with these days: 23 on the 8/30 list, in various combinations of format, category, genre, and demographic.

Sports and Fitness. Food and Diet. Education. Relationships. Travel.  Business. Manga.  In August, there were bestseller lists for each of these specific things at least once, separate from the other lists they might fit under.

the-new-york-times-logoAs an agent, I’m thrilled for my and my colleagues’ clients to have the greatest possible number of chances for their books (and careers, frankly) to be tagged with that New York Times bestseller status, and there’s no denying that breaking out into narrower lists gives books that would never make the main lists a fighting chance.  With an Education list, you don’t necessarily have to compete with Felicia Day, Aziz Ansari, Ronda Rousey, Holly Madison, Jimmy Carter, Judd Apatow, and Amy Poehler, all on the main hardcover nonfiction list this week, to get a spot.

If we’re heading toward a day when there are more distinct New York Times bestseller lists then there are spots on the longest of those lists, I’d love to see them drill down further in fiction, too.  Literary Fiction by Women, maybe? (Or just Literary Fiction at all, for that matter.)  And what about one for Diverse Books? (If that’s the first time you’re seeing that phrase, here’s some context.) Or Debut Fiction!  People Who Aren’t on Twitter.  Authors Who’ve Never Been on TV. Authors Who Always Seem About to Break Out but Somehow Never Do. Books by Authors with More Starred Reviews Per Book than Zeroes in Their Advances.

Sure, it’s a little more subjective than Sports and Fitness, but if they need the help I’m happy to curate.  Which lists would you put in your fantasy New York Times?


The Times it is a-changing, part deux

Back in 2012, I blogged about the New York Times making a significant set of changes to their children’s bestseller lists. At the time, the picture books and series lists remained, but what had been “chapter book” and paperback lists were instead replaced with middle grade and YA lists. The bigger change, though, was that these lists would combine sales across formats, counting hardcover, paperback and e-book sales. My concern in that first week of the new lists focused mainly on the middle grade list, which was dominated by non-fiction—which includes all sorts of tie-in publishing. Frankly, we were all sick of seeing the list full of Lego books, and the shift only seemed to make that worse. What wasn’t clear in that first week, however, was just how bad combining sales of all formats into one list would be. Yes, I had questions about how ebook sales would affect the lists (and past-Michael: those ebook price drops are not weighted differently, so dropping the price does get books on the list), but what I hadn’t taken into account was how “new” backlist would go on to dominate the lists.

If there has been one steady complaint about the children’s bestseller lists for the past couple of years, it’s been John Green. Not that anyone begrudges his success—the man works hard for it. But with four of his books pretty permanently in the top 10, there were only 6 slots for other books. And, putting Green aside, it became clear that the list was mostly made up of “new” backlist. Paperbacks are cheaper than hardcovers, and they sell in greater numbers. The ebook editions of those same books also become cheaper when a book goes from hardcover to paperback. So, the list became skewed very heavily towards long-running bestsellers in paperback and ebook. And I think this frustrated just about everyone. It seemed nearly impossible for a new book in hardcover to hit the list, which meant less discoverability. On the adult side of lists, with formats broken out, the hardcover lists typically feature new titles that are just out, changing considerably from week to week, while the paperback lists show which books have long-term staying power. Readers, authors and publishers all benefit, with both new books being highlighted and backlist titles getting recognition for their ongoing sales.

Yesterday, the good news came down that once again, the lists would be changing. And this time around, the changes are huge. In this PW interview, Pamela Paul explains the changes, the rationale for those changes, and the reasons these changes didn’t happen earlier (though I am still curious what the “technical challenges” are that she refers to). Goodbye format agnostic lists, and hello hardcover, paperback and ebook lists—one each for both middle grade and YA. Yet again, the picture book and series lists remain the same. In general, I think this shift is a really good one. Each format will now only compete with other books in that format, which should create a more level playing field. As on the adult side, I think we’ll see a fair amount of change and movement on the hardcover list, while the paperback list will likely feature well-established bestsellers. The ebook list (which is oddly only five slots) will be an interesting one to watch. Will books show up there that aren’t on either the hardcover or print list? Will publishers game their pricing to get books onto that list, eager to have the “NYT Bestseller” on their book? Time will tell, but in the first week, the ebook list looks an awful lot like the paperback list, which reflects, I think, the price-sensitive nature of ebook sales.

Some interesting smaller items:

  • The paperback and ebook lists will be online only, not in print. This means that the books that have dominated the printed lists for the past few years have fallen off the printed list. Does that matter? Likely not, but it does feel like a demotion.
  • As with the last change, “Weeks on List” has been reset. The Book Thief is once again at week 1 on the list. I’m not sure what the solution is, but this doesn’t seem right to me.
  • While there’s some tie-in on there, the middle grade list seems to reflect the breadth and depth of the category. Exciting stuff going on in that space.
  • The paperback list does not feature a single female author. The hardcover list has eight. Will this new formulation feature more women? (Much has been said about the male dominance of the children’s bestseller lists.)

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the changes. The conceit behind these lists makes much more sense—the adult side has been doing it this way for an awfully long time, and it’s worked well there. I’m eager to see how this plays out over the next few years. Any thoughts on the changes, dear readers?

UPDATE: It turns out the series list has changed, albeit slightly. Erin Stein, publisher at Imprint, pointed out that tie-in titles for properties will now be combined and added to the series list. This explains why the Descendants moved over to the series list this week, which had been a point of discussion amongst us list-watchers on Twitter the other day. While I think this is a good move, as it’ll eliminate the MG list being dominated by Frozen tie-ins, it’s going to make the series list even more competitive than it was for authors. I’ll be keeping a close watch on this one.


Behind the scenes of a bestseller

We are all looking for great books that will hit the bestseller lists. That’s the reality of being a book agent. There is nothing more exciting or rewarding than having a project you absolutely love be well supported by the publisher who acquires it and then subsequently embraced by the public who come out to buy it. In our dreams, this happens with every book we sign up. In our reality, it happens very, very rarely.

So, I like hearing about and sharing stories like this one about a nonfiction self-help book (a category I still do a lot of business in despite a very tight market for it) published in 2013 called YOU ARE A BADASS by life coach Jen Sincero that started off slow and has since become a surprise bestseller. It does illustrate that working hard throughout the publication process and beyond is critical for authors, as well as their publishers, if they want their books to be successful. Too often we see books come out of the gate slowly and never able to hit their stride due to a combination of the publisher withdrawing their support and the author slowing down their brand building and marketing efforts. I think that edgier books can really work in the current market, and I’m thinking about this one as well as the recent cookbook bestseller THUG KITCHEN: EAT LIKE YOU GIVE A F*CK, which also has profanity in its (sub)title!

I also think this approach translates to those who are seeking to be published in the first place. Often these roads are long and winding, and you need to be resilient and fierce in your efforts to both produce high quality work as well as your attempts to sell, market and promote it. Remember, you are a badass, like Ms. Sincero says, and clearly her message is resonating in a big way.






Fruit flies and me

A conversation I was having with a publisher last week, went off topic (after we’d reached an agreement about the client in question, of course) when we started discussing vacations and vacation reading.  One thing leading to another as it does, we began to reminisce about the days when the publication of a big book was an EVENT and how rare a thing that is these days when Kim Kardashian’s latest naked selfie breaks the internet every 4.5 days (yawn!), Donald Trump opens his yap and the news cycle is hijacked to the exclusion of anything else, iPhones, tablets, FireTV sticks, and watches that text and send e-mail keep our attention buzzing from one landing spot to another like a drunken fruit fly.

Not to sound like a crotchety old lady but I remember when books made headlines and created the kind of anticipation blockbuster movies can still sometimes drum up (I’m there for the next James Bond film…just sayin’).   Sure, not so long ago the Harry Potter titles were doing just that but it’s been a while since a book was not only buzzed about but read by everyone immediately upon publication and then discussed ad nauseum everywhere you went.  (I don’t count the “new” Harper Lee since, personally, I consider that a cynical, somewhat soulless publishing move that has more in common with the Kardashian publicity machine than the event books I remember fondly and whose success was usually more predicated on their content than the marketing behind them.)

Is all of this due to the fact that there’s too much competition for our ever more fragmented attention spans or is it that we are slowly losing the ability to commit to a reading experience and the subsequent processing of that experience that involves discussion, debate, criticism, etc.?  Have the Buzzfeed book lists taken the place of the lively conversations about important titles that added something to the culture and our understanding of the world?

On a less cranky note, I’m reading The Martianthe martian right now and in the past two weeks have spoken to six people in vastly different contexts and in a serendipitous fashion, about the book.  This, combined with the rise in print sales and the fact that readers are looking for what the publisher I was speaking with called “the physical connection” we experience when reading hardcovers or paperbacks makes me hopeful that the big event book is not totally a thing of the past.


Keep your sense of humor

There has been so much attention on the new Harper Lee book released a couple of weeks ago that it prompted even me, a veteran publishing professional, to buy it as well as a new paperback edition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to re-read. GO SET A WATCHMAN came out to numbers that compare to Jurassic World for the book biz: over 1.1 million copies sold across formats in less than a week, over 3.3 million books printed according to Never have I seen in my almost 17 years as an agent such hoopla surrounding a book’s publication.

I know it’s a big deal, but it even surprised me with the scope of its coverage. I mean, last time we saw a book get so much attention was when the 50 Shades sequel was published in June (joke)!

So, it cracked me up when I came upon this piece recently in Publisher’s Weekly by (as it turns out, didn’t realize when I was reading it) Jane’s client Mardi Link about how her book’s publication fell on the exact same day. What are the chances? She has such a funny take on the whole scenario that I thought it would be fun to share.

As I’ve said on the blog before, so much in life is about timing. What do you think? Is she onto something by using her competition as a way to get publicity for her own book? I think it’s a very clever approach, and an entertaining one as well. Hope her book does a fraction as well as Harper Lee’s!



One project at a time

I was flipping through and came across some writing advice from Henry Miller that I liked and thought I’d share with our readers.

Apart from the fact that he was a master at his craft, Henry Miller’s advice feels timeless and random in the best of ways. I also like the fact that his suggestions based on his own writing habits are positioned as Commandments, an authoritative approach to getting your writing life in order. Mostly, I really like that he indicates clearly that you should work on one thing at a time until it’s finished. The rest of the ideas support this, and it’s an interesting thought. In our current culture, there’s very little focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is the (not so) new normal. So the idea of working on one thing at a time until it’s done feels daunting and refreshing. How nice to have just one creative project to think about until it’s finished! While it might not always be practical or even possible, it does make one think about taking a breath and paying attention in a different way that could enhance productivity.

I also like that he tells writers to keep human and see people, go places and drink if you want to. It does conflict with his advice in point 11 to write first and always while painting, music, friends, cinema come afterwards (at least the drinking is still allowed!).

What parts of his advice resonate with you? People are so fascinating. I love hearing what makes a brilliant writer tick. Don’t you?


My love affair with Ann Patchett

I think Ann Patchett is amazing on so many levels. She’s so uniquely talented, is incredibly prolific, and writes nonfiction as well as fiction. I loved her beautiful tribute to Lucy Grealy, Truth & Beauty, as much as her wonderful novels like Bel Canto and State of Wonder.  And I’m a bit biased at the moment because she recently made a large donation to my small town library, which I talked about recently on this blog.

I was pleased to find an article on writing based on her book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, for that offers such interesting and lovely advice for writers from one of the masters of her craft. In it she talks about how writing nonfiction for her has been easy, while writing fiction has always been more challenging. She talks about the importance of learning to forgive yourself in creating art, which she feels is critical. She uses metaphors that resonate, even if they initially feel a stretch of the imagination.  Why do writers so often feel they can send early work to The New Yorker when musicians would never think they could play at Carnegie Hall after just a month of practice!

Words of wisdom here from a magnificent and gifted writer who not only writes beautiful books, but is so open to sharing her knowledge and skills with other writers. She’s a true gift. Enjoy!


The best books we read last year

Happy New Year! The last month has been a blur of holiday parties, vacations, birthdays, book deals, and lots of presents, both giving and receiving. Now it’s back to reality, and I thought before we get into more titillating conversations about the inner workings of book publishing that I’d share a link I read at the end of last year from the editors over at The Atlantic discussing their favorite books of the year. They’ve been doing this since 2010 and it’s a fun exercise to look at a sampling of the year in books over at The Atlantic from a very savvy literary perspective.

They’re not all new books, and they are wide-ranging in their categories. There really is something for everyone, even those of you who have small children will find Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site on the list! And read the descriptions by the staff at The Atlantic. They are quite entertaining.

How many of these have you read? And which books are you putting on your to-read list? I haven’t read nearly enough, but I will share a couple of my favorite books that I read last year. I thoroughly enjoyed The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty in the commercial fiction department (with thanks to the lovely Amy Einhorn, who gave me a copy at our lunch date), and I was completely mesmerized by Susannah Cahalan’s memoir Brain on Fire on the nonfiction side. There are so many wonderful books published every year, and I look forward to reading as many as I can in the year to come!

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Have book, will travel

For me the hardest part of packing for a trip is making sure I have all the books I’ll need to get me through airport delays, long flights, pool lounging, and, of course, for bedtime reading when I’m too tired from a day of strenuous vacationing to fall asleep.  Then, there’s the tricky part:  leaving enough room in my bulging carry-on for the books I will be buying while abroad.  We all have these problems, right? Right?

Well, when I set off for France two weeks ago, I had the equivalent of my bedside table pile on my Kindle, the galleys I got at BEA five years ago of Jonathan Tropper’s This Is Where I Leave You, and a couple of back issues of the Oprah magazine. I congratulated myself on my light packing.

While in the beautiful Aquitaine region, I finished the Tropper and Jo Jo Moyes’ One Plus One (for my neighborhood book club) and I had queued up the Lily King novel that’s been getting so many raves for the flight back home.  Then, it was time to head back to the States.  We had five hours to kill in London and a large W.H. Smith store to browse in.  And they were having a “buy one get one ½ price”  sale on books that had made the British bestseller lists.  So…


Having already logged quite a few miles that day and anticipating an exhausting journey home (frankly, the worst part of international travel is getting on the Van Wyck Expressway to and from JFK airport—it calls itself a road, but it’s really a parking lot), I opted for the lighter seeming of the two books to start.  And so, I dug into Letters from Skye, which feels like a cross between The Notebook and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and was not disappointed.  It’s a lovely, easy read with just the right mix of romance and sadness to keep you turning pages.  And, I’m really looking forward to diving into the Wyld book, which appears to be much darker and literary (a bit Gaiman-ish).

The best thing, though, is finding new voices as a result of my travels that I might not have ever stumbled on while on this side of the Atlantic.   Turns out both of the books I picked up in London are available in the U.S., but they were not on my radar.  The fact that they were prominently displayed and discounted at a busy airport store made it easy for me to part with the last of my Euros and take home what is to me the perfect souvenir of my European vacation.

How do you handle books and reading on your trips?  Are you literary over-packers?  Do you have to go into any bookstore you pass—whether in North Carolina or Marrakesh?  Do you jointly archive experiences, scenery, and the narratives you were immersed in while on the road?  What did you read on your last vacation?