Category Archives: bestsellers

Read this piece (aka more on Stephen King)!

I am really not obsessed with Stephen King. I do think he’s amazing and a genius, and I’d like to spend a day living inside his brain, but I really don’t follow his every move. Which is why it’s kind of funny that I’m doing another post about him.

I recently shared a link with what I thought was some great advice from Stephen King, and now I want to share with our readers an article I came upon this week while cleaning out my bathroom (I store much of my best reading material there!). It’s from an August, 2013 issue of the New York Times Magazine, and it goes into some detail about the immediate King family, all of whom have storytelling in their blood. I find it beyond fascinating that this entire clan lives and breathes books and writing, stories and ideas. Not to mention they genuinely seem to have a strong affection for one another, despite some very rough and rocky times.

One of my favorite anecdotes is about how when King’s kids were little and he needed books to listen to while driving, he’d have them record the books he was interested in hearing. It’s brilliant! I’m going to get my kids to start recording books immediately. I can’t think of a better family activity.

I also loved reading about King’s daughter in-law, Kelly Braffet’s, entrée into the family. Can you imagine being an aspiring writer (she met King’s son at the Columbia MFA writing program in 2001) and meeting your future in-laws named Stephen and Tabitha King for the first time?

And yet another great anecdote comes from King’s son, Joe, who struggled as a writer for years unwilling to use his dad’s name to sell books. He went beyond using a pseudonym, Joe Hill, refusing to even admit who he was to his literary agent for 8 years (a time during which he did not sell a book)!

The stories go on. Anyone interested in writing should read this article. To me, it illustrates how important it is that the environment we create for ourselves and our families be one that allows for thoughtful and creative thinking. If you surround yourself with smart people who have similar interests and ideas, you will naturally find yourself gravitating in that direction.

I hope you enjoy learning more about the King family, and that they inspire you to be better writers, readers, and storytellers.

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Life (or writing) lessons from Stephen King

Who doesn’t like to take advice from a master? I’d say Stephen King falls into that category. Despite a terrible accident which almost caused him to retire from writing in 2002, King has produced a staggering number of books, including classics like Carrie, The Shining, Misery, and the list goes on. No one does it better, and there have been few that have managed to compete with his mastery of prose and plot. His category of fiction should just bear his namesake!

He’s offered much advice to many over the years, and his 2000 memoir/writing guide called On Writing is widely admired. This recent piece from openculture.com shines a light on King’s top 20 pieces of advice for writers, and it’s worth taking a fresh look at how to implement them in your writing process today.

His advice is so straightforward, and some of it is really simple. One wouldn’t necessarily think that turning off the tv would be a tip that Stephen King would consider in his top 20, but it speaks to the larger issue of a distracted culture and the need to pay attention to the task at hand. It reminds me of my parents always telling me to turn off the tv when I was doing homework as a kid. They had a point, even if I didn’t want to hear it at the time.

The suggestion to finish a draft within 3 months is also interesting. It’s like he’s in your ear screaming “Stop procrastinating!”.

And there are inspiring tips for writing here that are entirely applicable to life in general, so this list does not solely apply to writers and writing. A few to ponder: Don’t worry about making people happy (a ubiquitous but smart piece of advice that my client Amy Morin talks about in her piece “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”), The magic is in you, Stick to your own style, and Take a break. Good thoughts for writing and life. Enjoy!

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Just Keep Reading

I can’t resist the urge to blog about just one more list. If you follow us on Twitter, you may have already seen this beautiful essay on the literary blog The Millions: 28 Books to Read If You Want To. Don’t panic – it’s not really a list! The essay is celebrating the joy of serendipity in your reading life, urging us all to let go of our Must-Read lists and make room for the books that find us.

I discovered one of my favorite books because the author called our store and charmed the living daylights out of me. I found another in a box of old books that my Russian literature professor left outside his office to give away. So while I do think that you should read the canon if it interests you, I think it’s more important that you read the books that find their own way into your hands.

What follows is a lovely and inspiring meditation on the many ways books wander into our lives, when we’re paying attention to them. And between the lines of the essay is a message for authors who have a book to promote – the best marketing for your work is a reader who’s in love with your story.

You should read the book that you see someone reading for hours in a coffee shop — there when you got there and still there when you left — that made you envious because you were working instead of absorbed in a book.

That’s how the excitement spills from the quiet act of reading to everyone that you meet throughout the day.

This essay is a great relief to those of us with stacks of unread books in our homes and award lists half-checked-off. Trends come and go, bestsellers burn up the charts and then fade into oblivion, but the joy of reading lasts through book after book after book.

Do you keep a TBR list? How did you discover your favorite author?

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Ready for a little test of your literary instincts?

Don’t cheat and skip ahead to the pictures!

The following is the final paragraph of the galley letter for WHAT very popular book:

“I predict you’ll also face another quandary: whether to share this with a friend, or to keep it for yourself, knowing how much this Reader’s Edition of __________’s first book will be worth in years to come.”

Any guesses?

Here’s another clue. The galley letter is signed by Arthur Levine…

Written for a debut novel that his eponymous imprint at Scholastic purchased for $100,000…

And this galley mailing happened in the summer of 1998…

Being brilliant and super knowledgeable about publishing lore (as all regular readers of the DGLM blog are), I’m sure you’ve guessed that this mystery title is Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

 

  I learned all this delightful trivia from The ABC of It: Why Children’s Books Matter, an exhibit at the New York Public Library’s historic Bryant Park branch (yes, the one with the lions out front). The Harry Potter area caught my eye, as I am currently in the middle of a delightful re-read of the series, which I only read for the first time a few years ago. (I know, I know, hush!)

Sound philosophy, even for muggles

Now it’s no secret that I’m a sucker for children’s books. And the exhibit area was full of artifacts from other children’s literature. You can stop by and see the original Winnie-the-Pooh plushies that inspired A.A. Milne or Frances Hodgson Burnett’s handwritten manuscript for The Secret Garden. One display discusses classic NYC-themed children’s lit (hooray for From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler!), and there’s even a Goodnight Moon reading nook with battered library copies of all your favorite picture books. Quite a few families were curled up on the rainy Sunday afternoon that I visited, and I was tempted to grab a Wild Thing and join them.

Not all attendees were as riveted as I was.

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What’s in a name?

Yesterday, I tweeted this piece about how reading literary fiction (vs. popular fiction) develops our ability to understand and decipher social cues that power our relationships with other people.   My initial reaction to the article was, “Hmmm, interesting.  Makes sense.”  I think all self-respecting bookworms would agree that books teach us much more than facts and big words, they teach us human behavior.   So, of course literary fiction would sharpen our abilities to identify emotional and intellectual motivations and apply them to ourselves and our real-world dilemmas.  After all, wasn’t that the point of all those tedious essays we wrote in high school and college about why Emma Bovary was so delusional or why Ahab couldn’t just leave that dumb whale alone?

 

But something about the piece troubled me, and my “Aha!” moment came when I read this slightly different take on the New School study.  In the first article the examples of popular fiction were Danielle Steel’s The Sins of the Mother and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.  Literary fiction, on the other hand was represented by Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife, Don DeLillo and Anton Chekhov.  Okaaay, who decided that Gillian Flynn is more popular than literary or that she should be featured in the same sentence as Danielle Steel?  Before you Steel fans get all worked up, I am not casting aspersions on that author’s prodigious body of work.  I am merely saying that just because a book sells a lot of copies and hangs out on the bestseller lists for a while does not make it “popular fiction” as the literary snobs among us think of it any more than tiny print runs and fewer sales make something “literary.”  And so claiming that Flynn’s brilliantly crafted, psychological thriller is for the purposes of this study less literary than Obreht’s book* seems to point to a major fault in the findings if, in fact, that is the criteria for judgment.

All of this, of course, takes us to the old publishing pastime of arguing over whether something is literary or commercial.  If sales are the basis for categorization, then Cormac McCarthy, Phillip Roth, and, yes, Mr. Dickens would all be labeled popular fiction authors.  Of course, the study makes the point that a “literary” work is one that is more concerned with its characters’ internal processes and less with plot and action, thus forcing us to work harder at deciphering motivation.   But haven’t we all read many plot driven novels that have been raised to the literary canon?  Ahem, Mr. Dickens, again.

Personally, I think that most fiction flexes our mental muscles.  Even formula romance (or mystery, or science fiction) forces us to look for motivation and emotional cause and effect.  Maybe some books make us work harder and, therefore, give us the brain equivalent of a six-pack, but my sense is that I’ve learned a thing or two even from wildly popular fiction that I may not have by reading only highbrow stuff.

What do you think?  Is it possible that the bias in this study is “literary”?  Can you think of samples of popular fiction that forced you to bring out  your empathy/social decoding tools?

 

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*In the interest of full disclosure, I hated that book.

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Cool publishing news

I’m always heartened to hear about books selling and new opportunities for authors. This week we’ve had a couple of stories in the news that speak to both of these things.

First, The Today Show, a longtime supporter of authors, announced a new book club this week that will be a wonderful way for new and old books to be exposed to a large audience. The first pick, Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season, is written by a 21-year-old debut author! With the great press surrounding the new club, the book is sure to be a bestseller right out of the gate, a rare achievement in this market and especially remarkable for an author so young.

Then I saw this bittersweet piece about a successful word-of-mouth (the old-fashioned way) bestseller by another debut author which is being compared to last summer’s breakout hit Gone Girl. The Silent Wife has been climbing the lists since its release and unfortunately the author is no longer here to enjoy its success. She passed away from cancer in April, just weeks before the book’s release but the fact that a first novel by an unknown author can achieve this level of success is incredibly encouraging. And a piece of advice to you aspiring novelists – use “wife” in the title of your book because there have been a number of bestsellers recently that have done just that (The Paris Wife, The Time Traveler’s Wife and American Wife)!

I enjoy reading stories like this because it gives me renewed enthusiasm for the book business and the ways in which good books can be published well and find a large audience. If you have any positive publishing stories to share, please do. We’d love to hear them.

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50 Years in 10 Books?

 

I realize that this infographic is not new, but I found it a little staggering.  Granted, an infographic is only as accurate as the data from which it was created, but even taken with a generous grain of salt, the “top ten most-read books of the past 50 years,” are surprising. It’s interesting to note that a good number feature magical thinking; Hobbits, Harry Potter, teenage vampires, an Alchemist, and in a slightly different vein, Think and Grow Rich.  Funny to see Margaret Mitchell and Mao Tse Tsung occupying the same shelf, or Anne Frank and Napoleon Hill.  Trying to draw conclusions about the era in which we live based on the primacy of these ten books is probably an exercise in absurdity or despair, better left to philosophers, practitioners of literary mash-up, or the list-makers at Buzzfeed.  And yet.  

 A year or so ago the BBC and the British Museum did a fascinating book and accompanying radio series called A History of the World in One Hundred Objects  available here—I wonder if a similar project—the history of the past 50 years–could be undertaken in ten carefully selected books.  What’s omitted would be as important as what’s included, but I’d be curious to see the upshot!

Any nominations?

For another, slightly longer list, you can check http://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/arts/literature/21-best-sellers.htm#page=22

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Quintessentially aughts?

Buzzfeed is one of my current guilty pleasures.  Its layout suits my ever diminishing attention span and…well, there are cute dog, cat, and Paul McCartney pictures.  But every once in a while, they make random picks in a category, lump them together and give them a header like “19 Quintessential Books of the ‘90s” (the numbers are never even, it seems, and that’s another BF affectation), and off I go to spend five minutes that I’ll never get back growing increasingly disgruntled by their choices.

I remember the ‘90s in literature quite well and this list is disappointing.  Where are The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, The Hours, The Hot Zone  (Remember when we were all worried about Ebola? Simpler times…), Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for goodness’ sake?

Which got me thinking that now that the “aughts” are over we should be able to put together a list of the quintessential books of the first decade of the 21st century.  I’ll get us started (let’s keep it simple and list only fiction):

  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen
  • Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

What would you add to (or delete from) the list?

 

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Addicted to memoirs

No matter what the season, I am always drawn to the latest memoir. It’s been an ongoing interest of mine my entire adult life, and since becoming a literary agent almost 15 years ago, I have always tried to mix my list up with the occasional I-can’t-believe-how-amazing-this-story-is memoir. I tend to like dark, psychological memoirs. I’ve sold books about sexual abuse, autism, and bipolar disorder. They always have some measure of redemption, and the journey is often painful but inspiring.

So, this spring season is no exception to my memoir craze. Right now, I’m really enjoying Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In (I know, I’m not the only one riding that train as evidenced by its #1 NYT bestseller status). Although it’s not a memoir, there’s a lot about her own history in there that I find compelling.

Other memoirs on my reading shelf at the moment are Emily Rapp’s The Still Point of the Turning World. This one is difficult reading. It’s about her son’s diagnosis with a fatal genetic disorder. He died just a couple of weeks before the book’s release. But Rapp is a transformative writer, her prose is gorgeous, and it is worth it to check this one out.

Being the mother of identical twins, I am fascinated by all twin stories. There is a new memoir, Her, by Christa Parravani, an identical twin who lost her sister at twenty-eight to a drug overdose. It’s a fascinating look at the identical twin connection and the intense grief when one sister loses not just a sibling, but a part of herself.

I’d love to hear from our readers what memoirs you love, old or new, that I can add to my large and growing collection. Until then, I will be reading the memoirs on my shelf and looking for new projects in this category to blow me away.

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Categorizing

Shy, but spunky wallflower meets hot, broody guy.  Sparks fly, complications arise, but true love triumphs in the end.  This could take place in any high school, college, or corporate setting.  And love is love at any age, right?

So, why is there such a flap over bookstore placement of Young Adult vs. New Adult titles?  It all comes down to sex, of course.  The older the protagonists the more sexually explicit the books has always been the rule of thumb.  But, is that still true?  Was the New Adult category created so that everyone involved was of legal age but still playing varsity, emotionally speaking?  Or is there more to this in-between genre that makes it deserving of its own place on store shelves?

I get not putting sexually explicit material next to middle grade or picture book offerings.  But what’s so hard about sliding over a couple of bookcases and hanging a sign saying “New Adult”?  If the problem is that you don’t want kids exposed to inappropriate content, then clear labeling is a tried and true way of dealing with the issue.  Clearly this is a category that is extremely popular for both older teens and adults but one that is having a hard time finding its way into the hands of print consumers because of what seems to me like simple orneriness on the part of booksellers.

Am I missing something here?  What do you all think?