Category Archives: conferences

Writer’s Digest x2

Coinciding with my turn to blog this week, I was fortunate to realize that one of my wonderful clients was kind enough to write a guest blog post on Writer’s Digest about the author-agent relationship, and share her experience at finding an agent and publisher.

There are a couple of reasons I wanted to link to the WD piece. First, I thought this post might be useful to aspiring authors. I think it gives a unique perspective that is just that – personal and individual. I always find stories of how authors got their start fascinating because they are all so similar in terms of the process but so different in terms of how it plays out. And there is something to be learned from each and every story. Beth talks here about how she got 32 rejections before she got to me. Persistence can certainly pay off, but so can paying attention to your rejections and learning from the feedback. She also talks about researching agents before you submit, a very important part of the process if you want to target an agent that is right for you and your work.

Second, I spent most of the day this past Saturday at the Writer’s Digest annual Pitch Slam conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC where the several hundred attendees took turns pitching the many agents who volunteered to be there. Each author waited in line for the agent they wanted to pitch to, and then had 3 minutes to share their story. The day was broken up into 3 one-hour pitch sessions where they split up the attendees to make the room less crowded (I’m told it was the first time they did it this way, and it worked really well).  I really enjoy meeting aspiring authors in the trenches and seeing motivated people who are looking to improve their craft and network with professionals. It was a very fun, productive, exhausting day for authors and agents alike!

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MG vs YA

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle. At the opening Agent’s Panel, I gave my usual spiel of what I’m looking for–Adult nonfiction, a smattering of offbeat adult fiction, and the broad range of children’s projects–YA, Middle Grade, and picture books. After that, I settled into my seat in the ballroom for a long stretch of power pitching, where the writers line up for 4-minute pitch meetings one after the other in the hopes of getting a request to see a full MS.

As exhausting as power pitching can be, it does serve to give an agent a good idea of what writers are generally working on these days. Although we often recommend that writers NOT write for the market, it’s natural for writers to turn to what seems to be popular. And hence, I heard a ton of MG pitches, which makes sense, since a ton of editors seem to be focusing on it these days.

But what surprised me about these MG pitches is that a solid majority of them featured a main character who was 13 years old. Which, if you go by the traditional demarcations of MG as ages 8-12 and YA as 12 up, means that they’re really writing YA. At the same time, the stories seemed to be solidly MG–heavy on fantasy and school stories, light on teen issues and racy content.

So what gives? Do these writers not know the basic guidelines? Are they just trying to age down their YA novels for the market? Or has MG become more elastic and less constricted by age distinctions than in the past?

Frankly, I’m not exactly sure, so I was very interested to read this article from PW Children’s Bookshelf, which looks at how bookstores are struggling with how to shelve MG and YA. And from their survey, it seems that stores are making up their own rules–some are keeping YA and MG totally separate, some create overlapping sections of 8-12, 10-14, and 14 up, while others lump them all together. Different strokes for different customer bases, perhaps, but for me it seems like there’s just confusion all round about where books belong on the shelf.

So, what’s a writer to do? Well, like a lot of category distinctions in publishing, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear answer. My personal feeling is that despite the shifting winds, a writer seeking representation is still better off adhering to the old guidelines–if your character is 12 or under, it’s MG, 13 and up, YA. Not that I’m trying to take the easy way out here, but the last thing I want to hear from an editor is that they love the book but aren’t sure where it would live on the shelf–that’s a classic rejection line.  So I’d much prefer an author adhere to what’s been done in the past when starting out and go genre-busting on book 2.

That said, others may have different ideas of what marks MG versus YA these days, so I’d love to know what you’ve been hearing. Are 8-12 and 12 up still recommended? If not, what are folks suggesting as new guidelines?

 

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BEA: Not just about the free books

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$16 for this, folks.

As you heard from Jessica, last week brought the crowds and chaos of Book Expo to the cavernous Javits Center. Once you’ve got a few BEAs tucked under your belt, it’s easy to get a little jaded, or even grumpy – yes, it’s cold in there. Yes, the floors are hard, the food is overpriced (and not good), the aisles are crowded, and all the hot galleys vanish so quickly! I get it, I do. But I still kind of love BEA. And I recognize that it’s an incredible privilege to GET to attend, let alone have my entry pass and day out of the office handed to me.

Sure, it’s fun to dash around collecting pens, buttons, posters, even ice cream sandwiches and champagne, if you work it right! It’s fantastic to be handed early copies of books you’re dying to read, and to have publicists shoving books you’ve never heard of in your hand, promising you it’s going to be amazing (one of these I read in one sitting over the weekend because omg yes it IS that good). And, when you’re Industry, it’s also a bit of a reunion week. You get to catch up with friends from previous jobs that you haven’t seen in a year, or meet contacts face-to-face that you email every day or know from Twitter. If you’re lucky one of your industry pals might even let you stash your bag of galleys under their table so your back doesn’t break!

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Bag of books!

But it’s not really about the free stuff or the socializing. As Jessica said, BEA is “a tangible manifestation of people whose lives revolve around reading.” At BEA I chatted with a blogger from Georgia who was thrilled out of her mind to be at BEA. She had cashed in frequent flyer miles and was sharing a hotel room with three other ladies in order to be there. In another line I talked to a delightful mother-daughter pair of children’s librarians from Iowa who were so eager to meet children’s book authors – not just to meet them, but to talk to them about the books their little patrons love and the books they believe need to exist. They took their responsibility to the kids in their community so incredibly seriously. I was inspired.

I love working in publishing in NYC, but it’s also so easy to take it for granted because I get to live and breathe books without even trying. I am surrounded by indie bookstores and could go to an author event every night of the week. I don’t have to plan my year around one big book event, or spend my vacation in a grim convention center. So I’m going to try to be a little less crabby about BEA’s inconveniences next year. And in the meantime, I’m going to work even harder on my little corner of publishing to make sure that the bloggers in Georgia and the librarians in Iowa get incredible books to keep them excited about reading. Because that’s what this industry is really all about. And I’m proud to be a part of it.

Have you ever been to BEA?

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Stereotype versus Archetype

Earlier this month, at Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference, I was part of a panel discussion on “ethnic” writing with four very talented writers, Adam Stumacher, Qais Akbar Omar, Jennifer DeLeon, and Celeste Ng.  As you might imagine, I was—for better and worse—the designated voice of the “marketplace,” and I tried to address the commercial considerations of publishing books that John Cheever didn’t write.

At one point, the issue of cover design came up, and Ng, whose novel EVERYTHING I NEVER TOLD YOU comes out from Penguin Press this June, said she felt fortunate that her publisher created a cover refreshingly devoid of elements (bamboo leaves, jade figures, gold coins) that seem to be the go-to images for books by Asian writers. I noted that there is an analogous complaint about books that engage Islam, an overwhelming number of which feature the image of a veiled woman. A couple of days ago I spotted this blog entry that illustrates, quite effectively, that “all books about Africa have the same cover.” This same entry also cites blogger Marcia Lynx Qualey, who provides a gallery of covers featuring ladies in burqas.  

Book covers perform a function; their job is to be visually arresting, instantly evocative and appealing to a consumer. Most rely on archetypal imagery that stands in for larger ideas, and broadly communicates a book’s themes and settings. A cover design is effective not because  (or not only because) it is original or “accurate,” a cover design is effective if it sells the book.  And yet, inasmuch as I am a voice of the marketplace, over-reliance on the same set of images—images that reflect back and shape our own imperfect notions of a place, a faith or a culture– seems problematic. I think publishers need to be careful to avoid trading in stereotype, rather than archetype.

What do you think? Do you see similar done-to-death themes in other “ethnic” or international literature? 

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Romantic times

Every time I embark on a business trip to a writers’ conference, I feel a sense of adventure.  Who will I meet?  What have they written?  What new things will I learn while I am there?  And, as I believe I have previously written on this blog, I have discovered many writers on these journeys who have ultimately become bestsellers.

Never, however have I been to the Romantic Times Writers’ Conference, which this year is being held in New Orleans.  I am going tomorrow and I am really psyched at the thought of what I might discover.logo

One of the best things about my trip is that I will be spending time with many of my current clients, finding out what they are doing next and exploring new strategies with them.  Interestingly, I will meet many clients in person for the first time simply because they live far from New York –  and, as you know, I always love meeting new people.

I will also be meeting  clients who are represented by my colleagues at DGLM, which I am very excited to do.  As importantly, I will be meeting  new potential clients, which is always exciting to me.  The experience of discovering new talent is one of the biggest pleasures in our business.

Finally, I will be visiting a city I haven’t been to in many years – a city that has gone through enormous changes in that period of time.  I am eager to see how New Orleans has been transformed and continues to move forward.

I would love to know what your writers’ conference experiences have been, so please do share them with me.

Offer to do first page critique

I just returned from the Henderson Writer’s Conference in Las Vegas. It was a lot of work, but also a lot of fun. One of the best parts was finally meeting my amazing client, Nicole McInnes. We had a great time doing two unscripted panels describing the author-agent relationship. There was little time for gambling until the conference was over (or late into the night!), but there was plenty of time for the attendees to spend with the faculty pitching their books and learning about the business from a select group of seasoned professionals.

 One section of the event consisted of an American Idol-style critique where the first page of an attendee’s work was read out loud and a panel of agents would raise their hand at the point they felt the material went off track. Then, each panelist would share their thoughts on strengths and weaknesses of the first page.

As an agent, it’s a challenging but interesting exercise. I personally prefer to have the page in front of me rather than relying on the auditory cues. And then there are the differences of opinion that inevitably arise from our subjective views in that setting. On the other hand, it was interesting to hear a variety of ideas about what other agents respond to when considering a submission. In the end, no major shouting matches ensued and I think the attendees found the honest feedback useful.

So it got me to thinking this could be a fun exercise on the blog. If you are interested in hearing my first page thoughts on a finished book or work in progress, and you’re willing to share the page on this space, please send a comment by Wednesday, May 7th, and I will pick one person at random to do a critique. Obviously it won’t be Idol-style, but it still should be an entertaining and productive exercise. Thanks in advance for participating!

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Writing’s (un)willing partners?

 

The writing life, as so many of you know, is a difficult one. Inherent in devoting yourself to a solitary, maddening, financially precarious pursuit is the tacit understanding that those around you must also come to some accommodation with your avocation.

I’m off to Grub Street’s MUSE AND THE MARKETPLACE conference in Boston (and very excited to be a participant, thanks to Adam Stumacher!) and I noted that there is a session on managing writing and parenthood.  Kids are not especially solicitous of activities that require quiet, solitary time—at least they are not in my house–so I think swapping strategies makes sense.  If I were not busy taking pitches and doing critiques, I’d sit in and take notes.   But in the absence of children, things are not necessarily easier.  My client, Christopher Yates, whose terrific literary thriller BLACK CHALK is just being released in the US, wrote a frank and funny piece on being a stay at home husband in order to write.  http://nypost.com/2014/04/30/my-wife-couldnt-survive-without-a-stay-at-home-husband/. Without prying, I wonder how it works in your household.  How do you negotiate time to concentrate, to create?

Writing has wrecked its share of relationships, so this strikes me as fairly essential question.

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One-on-ones

Readers, I would love to get your feedback on this one: What do you think is the most productive format for one-on-one meetings at a writer’s conference? I ask, of course, because I attended a conference this past weekend, where I spent most of my time in one-on-one meetings with authors.

Over the years, I’ve done all sorts of configurations: one-on-ones and roundtables; 5-minute slots, 10, 15, and so on; MSS in advance, no prep, 10 pages, and so on again. This time out, the meetings were half an hour, and we were sent 40 pages in advance. And as much as I hate to say it, on the whole I don’t think they were particularly productive.

40 pages is a funny length–much longer than what an author would probably send on submission, yet not really enough to give a full snapshot of a MS–while half an hour is a ton of time to talk. And with that, it seemed like the chattier authors got bogged down in a lot of details and small points, with not enough time to discuss the big picture, while at the same time, the sessions for those who sat back and listened tended to run way short, even with some question time at the end.

So, unfortunately, it was a bit of a frustrating day, and I worry that I didn’t give the authors the help they were looking for. However, the organizers are asking for feedback for next year, so I’d love to hear what works best for you and try to change things up–any thoughts?

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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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What to expect when you’re expecting to be published

Having your book published is a dream come true, right? You’ve probably imagined what it will feel like since before you even finished a first draft of the book, and you just know that everything will change. You’ll be smarter, handsomer, more popular, and most certainly richer. Right? RIGHT?!

The truth of the matter is that for most authors, all that changes is that you’re now published. It doesn’t make your hair shinier, and it doesn’t address all of the other ills in your life. I actually speak about this quite a bit at conferences, because I think it’s important to have perspective and realistic expectations. But, you don’t just have to take my word for it! (Because really, I’m not an author—what do I know?) This fantastic post from author Alison Cherry is honest and real and, I think, greatly helpful for others suffering postpartum book launch depression. Go check it out now!