Category Archives: competition

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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 wsj.com. 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!

 

How fast can you read?

There is SO much out there that I want to read and so little time to read it all. It’s one of the universe’s sick jokes. I thought Ken Kalfus summarized it perfectly in the beginning of this piece for the New Yorker.

So wouldn’t it be great if we could squeeze all that reading into our schedules? If we could read a page by just glancing at it? There’s no shortage of speed reading books and websites that claim to be able to drill this skill into you. And of course there are apps that help you speed read too.

A lot of these sources relay a lot of the same information. Focus and block out all distractions. Don’t read sentences more than once. User your peripheries and track your place with a finger or pointer. Don’t vocalize the words in your head, which I am pretty sure is impossible NOT to do.

These are all good tips, but do any of these sites offer any substantial improvement? While I can’t answer that definitively, I can point you to this Slate speed reading piece about the plausibility of speed reading and information retention rates.

So what do our readers think? Any tips you’d like to share?

Take the test here to see how you stack up. I got 567 wpm (and 3/3 answers). Challenge extended.

Be careful what you wish for?

So, I came across this piece in Buzzfeed about the dark side of being a debut author and, man, did it depress me.  Not just me, either.   Sharon tells me she found it to be a total downer, too.  Courtney Maum’s message of isolation and despair is positively Hobbesian.  It makes me feel guilty about all the debut authors I’ve had a hand in throwing into this bottomless pit of misery. 

Which is not to say that Ms. Maum doesn’t make some valid points.  The comedown after years of intense yearning for the pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow can be vertiginous.  As with most of the things we covet, success, as represented by a first-time book deal, is not the cure-all for all our problems nor the magic carpet ride to a suddenly fabulous life. 

And, yet, I think that celebrating the validation of oftentimes years of chipping away at one’s craft should be the greater impulse than bemoaning the problems that come with a new state of authorial life.  No, having your novel published isn’t the ticket to nirvana you may have hoped and dreamed it would be as you sat in your roach infested apartment eating ramen noodles at every meal while your parents relentlessly hinted at you to get a real job…with insurance.    But, it’s a pretty great accomplishment and, hopefully, the beginning of a long publishing career.   And, even though (to quote the immortal lyrics of Taylor Swift) haters gonna hate, writers, both published and un- are a lovely community to be a part of.

What’s your take on being a debut author—both from the wishing-that-was-me to the been-there-done-that-and-survived perspective?

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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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Notes from the kid lit conference front lines

I was asked this past spring to join the council for the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (RUCCL.org), a group that has been in existence for forty years. RUCCL is known for putting together each year an annual conference where aspiring authors and illustrators send in samples of their material which are then evaluated by published authors who also sit on the council. Those whose work gets the highest scores are admitted to the conference and paired with industry mentors who volunteer to spend the day meeting with these authors.

I attended the conference for the first time Saturday, October 18th. It was a wonderful day, full of positive energy and hard-working authors, illustrators, agents and editors all coming together with a love of children’s literature. A highlight for me was meeting the author Collen O’Shaughnessy Mckenna, who has been out of the business for many years, but who brought with her and signed for my girls a copy of her book FOURTH GRADE IS A JINX, published by Scholastic in 1990. I happen to have a fourth grader, so all the better!

The two main components of the conference are the Five-on-Five session where five (or so) authors who work in similar categories sit with agents and editors at a round table and talk about anything the attendees are interested in hearing or learning more about.

Then the grand finale is the One-on-One session where the author or illustrator meets for a full hour with the industry professional they’ve been paired with. It was great to walk around and see pairs of people in every corner of the campus. The feedback we got from the attendees was really positive and that hour spent with an industry professional is priceless.

In between the two events is the key note speaker. This year it was the lovely Nancy Werlin, who spoke about the many ways to find joy in the writing life.

As far as takeaway advice for authors, one of the things that struck me was how prepared so many of the authors were for the conference and their meetings. Many had attended the conference before, and even those who did not seemed to have a good working knowledge of the industry and of the editors and agents who were in attendance. No matter what level of the writing game you are at, it’s so important to do your research and know your audience. I can’t tell you enough what a difference it makes to be prepared.

I’m looking forward to planning and attending again on October 17, 2015. For all of you children’s authors out there, please send in an application. I’d love to meet you there!

Time’s winged chariot

About two weekends ago, I found myself—as I usually do on a Sunday—ensconced in my favorite chair reading manuscripts and proposals.   I was engrossed in a novel which, despite its numerous structural problems, showed a lot of promise.  As I might have mentioned on this blog once, or a hundred times, I’m not a speed reader, so if the fiction manuscript I’m reading is any good I can kiss a big chunk of my day goodbye.

After Jane and I discussed the pros and cons of this particular novel, we offered the author representation if she was willing to do some significant revising.  (We’d had the book for about a week at this point.)  The author promptly responded that she loved feedback and was not at all averse to reworking the manuscript but she had just accepted another agent’s offer.  Fair enough, of course, and yet….

It bugged me that having plowed through the review process in near record time we never had a chance.  It doubly bugged me because I could have spent a chunk of my Sunday hanging out with my husband and son, running errands, taking that nap I’ve been needing since 2005, going for a walk outside on one of the few decent weather days in what’s been an epically bad winter…you know, what normal people do on Sundays.

I love my job and I enjoy the “development” (reading, editing, brainstorming) part of it tremendously so I don’t generally feel sorry for my lack of Sundays.  But, I also don’t like to waste my time.

This is the longwinded way of responding to those of you who ask about multiple submissions and the etiquette involved therein.  Basically, I say common sense rules, folks.    You should let agents know when you query them that the manuscript is out with others.  And, if an offer comes in, you should give everyone who has your material the chance to finish their review.  If the offer of representation is just too good to hold off on, then you should immediately contact the competing agents and tell them that the project is no longer available so that they can move on to the next thing in their piles.

In these days of electronic submissions, no one will get mad because you’ve gone to multiple agents (unless you do one of those mass e-mail things where everyone is listed; then all bets are off).  But it would be doing us a kindness if you were to keep us in the loop as to the submission’s progress.

Does this sound right to you or do you guys hold the Darwinian view that it’s survival of the fittest out there and tough noogies if you aren’t fast enough?  And, is there something you wish we’d do differently during the review process (and why)?

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Friday musing

Dastardly co-worker that he is, Jim introduced me to this game presented by National Book Tokens. The kind of girl that pored over pages and pages of rebus puzzles as a kid, this is exactly the kind of thing I jumped at the chance to solve.

It took some creative thinking and a little bit of ask the audience, but in the end we figured out all the book titles. I’m always a fan of puzzles that seem completely absurd and impossible at first glance, but when, after some real thinking and concentration, become glaringly obvious—the thrill of an answer becoming clear in the mind can make anyone feel like a genius.

It’s funny, these literary puzzles, games, checklists and whatever else is out there on the internet that I haven’t yet discovered. Whenever I solve the entire thing, I feel validated in my choice of major in college, career path, declared passion, but then I look back and realize that I’ve maybe only actually read about half to three-quarters of the book titles that are the answers. Whether it’s a cover recognition test, a match the characters to the book, or a crazy fun rebus-esque enigma, much of my knowledge comes from who knows where, but certainly not personal experience from having gone through the books myself.

Sure, I can pick out the cover of Catch-22 anywhere, can tell you that Hester Prynne is the leading lady in The Scarlet Letter or that In the Name of the Rose was written by Umberto Eco, but I have never read any of those books (all three of which do happen to be frequent answers on these booky-type quizzes). It’s a similar bank of knowledge that I dip into for solving crosswords—four letter word for architect Saaranin? That’s EERO, and I’m 100% positive of that every time even though I have absolutely no other knowledge about the man.

It’s the kind of knowledge that’s dangerous, can make you believe you know more than you actually do—nay, understand more than you actually do. Sometimes I have to really think to figure out whether I actually have read a book or whether I’ve just heard so much about it and know enough of the basics to trick myself into thinking I have.

Before I get too down on myself, it’s good to remember that there’s a whole giant bunch of books that I have read (though still not that many architects that I’m intimately familiar with) and there are a great number of authors whose oeuvres I have devoured. It’s impossible to get through everything, I promise, so I suppose I should be grateful that the stories and titles that have somehow wedged their way into my referential knowledge are ready and available when I need them and I don’t have to worry about never having read them.

And, really, knowing the answers, no matter how you do, is the fun part, so enjoy your Fridays and take a crack at the puzzle!

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Spousal envy

A lot of authors are married to or in relationships with other authors.  Who better than another author understands the need to jump out of bed in the middle of the night in order to write down the solution to a tricky scene in your novel, or the misery of staring at a blank sheet or screen and feeling like you’ll never have anything to fill it with, or the fugue state you enter when the characters are racing you through the plot at breakneck speed and it’s all you can do to keep up with them, never mind eating, showering, or answering the phone.   So, yeah, we see a lot of authors who live together and work together and share the ups and downs of the writing life.

And, I’ve always wondered how it must feel to be the less successful half of one of those relationships.   Because even if both authors are supremely talented (Leonard and Virginia Woolf, Michael Dorris and Louise Erdrich, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne…) you know there’s always one half of the couple who garners the greater acclaim critically or commercially (sometimes both).  And, given how fragile creative egos can be, it’s gotta smart a little no matter how much you love your significant other when her book is the talk of the town while yours is languishing in the remainder bins.

This piece by Niall  Leonard, EL James’ husband, is delightful precisely because it is snarky and meanspirited in just the right proportions.  On the one hand, Mr. Leonard is doubtlessly enjoying his wife’s success (and, we hope, if theirs is a good marriage, rejoicing for her).  On the other, he’s a wee bit cranky that her blockbuster is taking over their lives and that all anyone wants to talk about is Fifty Shades of Grey when he’s got his own book to peddle.  He doesn’t come across as unduly bitter and clearly has a sense of humor about the whole thing.   Or does he?

How hard would it be for you to watch your spouse hit the literary jackpot while you’re toiling away in obscurity?  Would you be noble and selfless in your support or would you secretly be drawing mustaches or devil horns on his/her author photo?

Moneyball, Amazon and the end of publishing as we know it

In this week’s death watch, the publishing business is going the way of the Edsel.  E-books have won.  Traditional publishers don’t know what to do with themselves or their lists.  Agents are unnecessary.  Anarchy reigns among authors.   And, oh, yeah, Amazon is getting closer to world domination (tricky bastards).  There is no leadership.  The darkness is encroaching.  The center cannot hold!

Let’s see, that about covers it, I think.  Except, does it?

The afore-linked-to New York Times article contains a quote from Russ Grandinetti (whom we’ve met a few times at Amazon seminars we’ve attended and whom the Times refers to as “one of Amazon’s top executives,” leading me to believe they don’t know exactly what he does) which I actually loved: “It’s always the end of the world. You could set your watch on it arriving.”  It also mentions some other shady (unnamed) Amazon characters twirling their mustaches while claiming that “publishers [are] in love with their own demise.”  As wary as  my colleagues and I are about Amazon and their plans to expand into publishing, I tend to agree with their assessment that traditional publishers can come across as a self-indulgent, hand wringing bunch who’d rather blame the big bad corporate entity for poaching their authors and re-drawing the battle lines than take effective steps to compete and prosper.

Enough, already.  If the model is broken or the times have changed and there’s a new model out there, then learn it, adapt your systems, and make it work for you.  Publishers are sitting on gold mines of backlists.  They seem to be unable or unwilling to competitively price and promote the e-books  they are putting out.  They’re still paying too much for that “sure thing” Jane was talking about earlier this week.  Most of all, they are loath to innovate at the speed the new paradigm requires.

Gerry Howard writes movingly in this week’s PW about how you really can’t apply the principles of Moneyball to publishing because you’d be ripping out its heart and doing away with all that wonderful serendipity that made The Bridges of Madison County, Tuesdays with Morrie, The DaVinci Code and countless other “small” buys into huge bestsellers.  I agree.  But, the thing I take away from Moneyball (the book and the film) is that you’ve got to look at your game differently if you are up against a rich behemoth who outpitches, outhits, and outfields you because they can buy all the talent out there.  Whether you’re talking about the Yankees or Amazon, I think the lesson is the same:  you can win playing smart small ball too.

Thoughts?  Comments?  Angry rebuttals?

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World domination

When Dan Slater of Amazon, a longtime friend of DGLM, was visiting last week, I jokingly asked him what new steps his company was taking toward its ultimate goal of world domination.  Discreet as Dan is, he did not let on about the new Kindle Fire announcement (although we’d all heard buzz) but he definitely did not deny that Amazon was in the process of taking over the universe (at least the publishing universe).

Well, as the HuffPost live blog of today’s announcement by Jeff Bezos about the new tablet shows, the Amazon juggernaut rumbles inexorably on.  Not having seen one of these babies in person, I’ve no idea whether I’m going to rush out and buy the new KF instead of the iPad I’ve been thinking of gifting myself for Christmas.   On the one hand, I use my current Kindle quite a bit and, given how lame the Apple book store is, I expect that I’ll continue to get most of my online reading from Amazon anyway.  On the other hand, it’s hard to root for the prohibitive favorite in sports or big business.  I’m not sure I want to live under an Amazon dictatorship, no matter how benign.

Is it as dire as all that?  Or is this all just healthy, good fun on the part of the superpowers?  Are they just giving us all more options even as we have less and less time to avail ourselves of them?