Category Archives: chat

The art of storytelling

The story matters. But so does the way you tell it. Just learn from this 23-year-old who has been writing a memoir on Instagram.

There are so many great things to love about this story. Sure, I appreciate the beautiful photos and well-written captions, but I admire the sheer ingenuity most of all. Fact: a new memoir is published every 38 minutes. Don’t fact-check me on that, just trust me. There are a lot of memoirs out there. Another fact: not many of them are written using the medium of a photograph social media platform, with carefully curated shots posted a year later, a completely different practice than the usual immediacy and spontaneity of picture posting.

Short stories and even entire novels have been written on Twitter too, but what technology gives, technology also takes away. Algorithms generate news stories and a scary amount of written content that you would never suspect. Don’t believe me? Then take this test.

The point is this: technology has changed everything and will continue to change everything, for better or worse. There are an unimaginable number of ways to spread stories now. Get creative and find a way that is uniquely you. Otherwise computer algorithms may as well write your story for you.

Also, I just wanted to include a quick update on one of my earlier blog posts. In March 2015, I posted a blog about censorship and China being named the guest of honor at BEA 2015. Want to see what that all amounted to? This was the result.

Characteristics of a great thriller

Publishing is trendy—as in, it’s an industry dominated by trends, like pretty much every other industry. It’s not hard to understand why. Demand for books in a certain genre increases. Publishers acquire more books in said genre. And right now, thriller is that genre.

Thrillers have always sold, but Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL hit the big screen last year and demand for the genre grew. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins enjoyed some serious pre-publication buzz and came out of the gates at a full sprint this January. It’s been at, or near, the top of all bestseller lists since. Renee Knight’s debut, DISCLAIMER, comes out in a week, and it has drawn comparisons to both GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. And on the eve of the London Book Fair this year, a professor at Oberlin College saw his debut thriller go for 7 figures in a two-book deal!

So clearly thrillers are hot. But what makes them great? What differentiates a top tier thriller from an average one? What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Oh, and if you think you’ve written a top tier thriller, do send it my way. I wouldn’t hate reading it…

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A call for more sports literature

As some of you may know, I’m a little into sports, and as a fan of the Mets, Nets, and Jets, things are looking surprisingly good. The New York Mets own the best record in baseball, at least for now (probably won’t last…or will it?). The Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks last night to tie up the series at 2 games apiece against the best team in the Eastern Conference (though their chances of advancing are still small). And with the offseason moves the Jets have made, they are, in my opinion, just a decent quarterback away from being potential playoff contenders (a tall order, I know).

So, with that said, I’d like to request/plead for sports-related queries. If you have a novel or nonfiction work on sports, I would love to take a look at your material.

Fair warning: books about sports are tough to sell for a very simple reason: the market. Publishers won’t buy a book that they cannot definitively say will appear to X number of readers or Y demographic. It’s no secret that women tend to read more than men, and it also isn’t a secret that men tend to be more interested in sports than women. Except that—and this is a secret—neither are true. Well okay, maybe the former is, but I have male friends who read voraciously and female friends who bleed red and blue (NY Giants, NY Rangers).

Sports are universal. There is a market. And when books about sports work, they really, really work. In fact, they often work themselves onto the big screen. Yeah, I’m looking at you FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS by H.G. Bissinger, MONEYBALL and THE BLIND SIDE by Michael Lewis, and SEABISCUIT by Laura Hillenbrand. Oh, and novels can work too—case in point: THE ART OF FIELDING, Chad Harbach’s wildly successful debut and one of my favorite novels in recent years.

Notice any commonalities between any of those books mentioned above? They’re great sports stories, told beautifully, and aren’t really about sports. Query me if you think your book fits the bill.

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Globalizing the literary landscape

Hey readers! Today I’m pleased to share a guest blog post from our bright and insightful intern Christa Angelios:

From Mallory Ortberg’s poem “Male Novelist Jokes” to Junot Diaz’s comment in the New Yorker on his MFA program – “that shit was too white” – it’s no secret that the world of literary classics is awash in a lack of diversity. Culturally diverse authors often assume pseudonyms or use initials to make themselves fit in more with what they see as expected of them – because they’re worried the sales numbers will be too low if they use their given names. They’re worried that the American public is simply not interested in hearing their stories, cultural stories.

There are, of course, authors who are pushing against this formulaic assimilation, and proving that diversity does not equal diminishing numbers. Khaled Hosseini’s wildly popular novel, THE KITE RUNNER; Matt de la Peña’s critically acclaimed piece, MEXICAN WHITEBOY; and Junot Diaz’s hailed work, THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO, all attempt to diversify the modern literary landscape. Fortunately, my schools have not only respected diversity, but encouraged it. In high school, during my sophomore year, we read Jhumpa Lahiri’s INTERPRETER OF MALADIES along with a selection of short stories by Amy Tan, Sherman Alexie, and Junot Diaz. Diaz came to read at my high school that year, before which the administration begged him to keep his audience in mind and to tone down his presentation and after which the administration stood mortified when he chose to read some of the most colorful stories he had hand. Teachers were torn between admiring his bold rejection of censorship and finding his gall appalling. But despite the fact that the administration cracked down on a lot of smaller spoken-word performances after that, we still read works that broadened our cultural literary palate.

In college, I discovered that folklore held my literary heart. Celtic mythology, Grimm’s tales, and Russian skazkas could entertain me for a lifetime. And when I began writing culturally informed work, taking up the mission Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie expressed in her TED talk to prevent a culture from being distilled into a “single story,” my professors felt compelled to ask the question: what gives you the right to be writing about a culture that isn’t your own? My father is from Egypt, after all, so I have a rich ethnic history to draw from to which I could “appropriately” lay claim, and I admit that Ancient Egypt and the Arab Spring have captured my interest and imagination. But I count myself among what ethnically Indian author Pico Iyer, who feels he has not earned the “right” to call himself Indian because he didn’t know enough about the culture even if it was his ethnicity, calls an increasingly multicultural group for whom “home” is more of an intangible and ongoing project than a place. With no indication that globalization will be slowing down any time soon, what happens when our world becomes full of people who are of every nation – then whose “right” is it to lay claim to a nation’s culture?

These are not questions that the literary world can continue to ignore. Diversity should be recognized and celebrated across the board, not separated out into its own genre of “ethnic” work. In an interview with RonReads, young adult author Jenny Han said of her choice to include diversity in her work, “I want my books to look like the real world, and the real world is populated by all kinds of people.” It’s time the American literary landscape began reflecting the real world, too.

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On censorship

I don’t often think on the topic, but a recent New Yorker article, coupled with the recent announcement that China is the guest of honor at this year’s BEA Global Market Forum, pretty much demands a philosophical blog post today.

Office politics plays a role in publishing, same as in any other industry. In China, it’s Party politics.

Peter Hessler’s piece in the New Yorker not only sheds some light on the Chinese publishing industry and the extent to which it is controlled by the government, but it also begs an interesting question—one to which I don’t have a confident answer.

Should authors allow their work to be censored if it means bringing their book to a new market and a fresh audience?

I don’t know. As Americans, our freedom of expression valued as highly as it is, our initial reaction is: absolutely not. After all, allowing your manuscript to be censored can be seen as passive endorsement of government propaganda. But when the alternative is not being published, can you really deny an entire country of people your ideas? Change is often incremental, and many publishers in China are doing an admirable job working around the realities of censorship to bring fresh, sometimes controversial literature to the Chinese people.

What do our readers think? Does anyone have experience dealing with such issues?

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Tips from writers, for writers

Stephen King’s  short story, “A Death,” was this week’s fiction in the New Yorker, so naturally I started thinking about how I still have to get around to reading 11/22/63 and ON WRITING. Then I started thinking about how a lot of writers seem to enjoy giving advice about writing. But is any of it any good? The answer is yes: Yes, writing tips from established writers can be very, very good.

Here’s some of the best advice I’ve come across:

99% of great writers will tell you that their first drafts are rambling, incoherent pieces of s!@*. The other 1% are lying. (Full disclosure: I haven’t finished crunching all the numbers yet, so I’m ballparking here.) Editing and rewriting are such vital components to crafting a story, but first you need to put your ideas down on paper. You can’t shape what’s not there. If you haven’t read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, do so. Now. It will revolutionize your writing process.

John McPhee’s “The Writing Life” column in the New Yorker is a goldmine of wisdom. His tips on how to develop the structure of a story are particularly helpful. Few writers place such importance on structure as McPhee. Few writers have also had as prolific a career.

You ever hear of this guy Ernest Hemingway? I hear he’s good. He was also a proponent of simple, direct prose. Cut out all ornamentation. If a word isn’t necessary, lose it. He also said that writers should never describe an emotion—they should present the situation/action in a way that evokes the emotion in readers. This is  difficult to perfect, but it’s something all writers should strive to do.

What are your favorite tips from writers? Let us know in the comments.

Tell us how we’re doing

A while back (a year, maybe more—my conception of time is shockingly horrible, bordering on nonexistent), Sharon did a blog post asking for feedback from our readers. What we heard was eye-opening to say the least.

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All of it was informative and very helpful—and I believe it led to a better year in blogging for DGLM and our readers. So I will do so again here. Let’s call it our year-end review.

What do you guys enjoy about our blog? What keeps bringing you back for more? What would you like to see us do differently, do better?

This is your chance for some input. Our readers are important to us, and we want to blog about what you want to read about. So please, don’t hold back. What’s on your mind?

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Reading goals for 2015

The New Year is fast approaching—way too quickly if you ask me—and with a new year comes new goals!

I have never before made reading one of my resolutions for the new year. Reading has always been such a huge part of my life that I never really felt it was necessary. It would be like resolving to drink more water or take more showers. But ever since I’ve started taking on clients of my own and representing more and more authors, I’ve found that I’ve had less and less time to read books by authors who aren’t my clients. So for 2015 I will make a very moderate reading goal: I will read one book every two weeks, in addition to the massive amounts of reading that comes with the territory of being a literary agent.

And then, I came across this thoughtful post about resolving to read less on Book Riot via Twitter. (I’m new to Twitter, by the way, so excuse this shameless plug: mike_hoogland.)

Now I’m certainly not at the point of “oversaturation” that Jeremy describes, but he makes a very compelling point. Reading should make you better informed, wiser, and possibly even funnier or more empathetic, so a better-informed, wiser, funnier, more empathetic person-turned-hermit is counterintuitive. I don’t think reading 24 books next year will lead to such a life either, but I’m wondering if there are people out there who have hit this reading tipping point.

Are you one of them? What are your reading goals? I’d like to know. Sound off in the comments.

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National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo)

Happy National Novel Writing Month everybody! Writing a draft for a 50,000-word novel in a single month is no easy feat, so I figured I would help out those of our readers who are writers currently working on a project with some helpful tips and resources.

First things first, if you’re going to do this, don’t make excuses. Check out this advice about finding time to write. I especially like #2. As an iPhone 6 Plus user, one of the benefits a big screen provides is the ability read and edit manuscripts on the go. Smartphones do everything. They can be your pen and paper when you’re out and about.

GalleyCat also has some useful advice for writers. Their first writing tip this November can be found here.

Who better to take advice from than Ernest Hemingway? Ever heard of him?

And perhaps the most important tip of all: don’t get discouraged! You can do it! After all, it’s been done before. And if you need some inspiration, here’s a pep talk from James Patterson.

Show, don’t tell. This is a classic piece of advice. It’s also what I tell my clients on a consistent basis. Not only does showing the reader actions and emotions make your story come alive, but it’ll help you increase that word count so 50,000 words in a month seems like no big thing!

How many of our readers out there are currently partaking in National Novel Writing Month? Do you have any other tips for fellow writers? Let us know in the comments below.

Lastly, and on a completely unrelated note, we here at DGLM would like to express our sincere gratitude to all former and active members of the U.S. military. Happy Veterans Day!

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A couple guest posts by our interns on what they’ve learned so far

A Little More Than Nothing About Publishing by Francis Adams

Today, when Mike asked me if I’d like to write something for the blog, I looked at him blankly, then said, “Sure!”, knowing full well that I had no idea what I was going to write about. After kicking around a few ideas, he suggested that I might talk about a few things I’ve learned about publishing since taking on this internship. After thinking about this for some time, I must say (in the spirit of Socrates) that the only thing I know for sure about publishing is that I know only a little more than nothing about publishing.

But upon further (and only somewhat more serious) reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that the clearest glimpses I’ve gained into the world of publishing have come in the moments when I am doing the exact opposite of what I am supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable! Let me explain. The truth is, I often find my attention drifting from the narrative of my n’th slush sample of the day, or the reader’s report I am writing, and zeroing in on the things going on around me—whether it be a phone conversation, a quick (or not-so-quick) glance at my fellow colleagues’ monitors (I hope that’s vague enough), or even, in the more extreme cases, overhearing someone interview for a job, or listening in on a meeting. When you’re new to a job, you tend to try to hold as much as possible to the conventional wisdom that tells you to always be focused and attentive to completing the task at hand, or on figuring out what new tasks need doing—in short, don’t slack off–but I have found that it is in the idlest of moments, when I let my focus drift momentarily from the task at hand, that I actually learn the most.

So when I try to pinpoint one thing, one overarching theme if you will, that these little diversions have alerted me to, I am forced to conclude, simply, that communication is paramount in this business. I say I am forced to conclude this only because nearly every glance to a monitor displays either an open email or twitter page, and nearly every phone conversation—especially if it is with an author—seems to be directed towards clarifying some misconception or making sure he or she knows what works, what doesn’t, and, overall what is marketable about the work.

I’d be interested to know if anyone else has experienced this irony—the realization that one has actually learned more by doing the opposite of what one is supposed to be doing, or even what is socially acceptable? If so, maybe it’s worth writing about …

 

The Ingredients of Book Publishing by Amy Hendricks

Before applying to internships, I knew I wanted to get into publishing somehow. Being able to work with books is a dream for any passionate reader, and I was eager to see what it would be like. I never realized just how many people are involved in the production of one book! From what I’ve gathered in the office, there’s the query to be read, calls to be made, publishers to shop around to, emails sent, financial negotiations, contracts to be signed, covers to design, and so so so much more. I’m not sure what I imagined before seeing it in action, but the most important ingredient in the recipe for a book seems to be a supportive team of ambitious agents.

One week in September I was able to help Lauren with the packaging and shipping of some boxes. This day of work entailed unpacking foreign copies of books and sorting then sending them to authors. It was a good day of work, and as someone with a bit of wanderlust it was interesting to see the different covers and titles of the same book throughout different countries. Lauren taught me how to decipher their country codes and send the books on their way, and I spent my commute home imagining the variety of languages these stories would be told in.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned interning here is that there are so many good ideas out there! Reading queries and helping agents look over potential manuscripts has been an exciting part of this internship, and I am endlessly amazed by the wide range of stories which come into the office. The volume of queries is another thing I didn’t quite grasp the enormity of until I was sent an email with several attached at once. It has been so exciting to read some of these stories, and even if they don’t make the cut it is an honor to read something that has been worked on lovingly by someone.

Something I’ve learned, which pertains less to books and more to what it’s like working in an office, is that baked goods don’t last a long time in the kitchen here. I’ve been able to try out a few new recipes (like today’s White Chocolate Pumpkin Snickerdoodles) on everyone, and am happy to say I never need to cart leftovers home on the train!