Category Archives: conferences

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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!

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Getting away from it all

For almost two weeks now, I’ve been on the road. I spent a few days in Portland, Oregon, at the Willamette Writers Conference, followed by a week of vacation in mid-coast Maine. And actually, I’m still in Maine, working from our rental house just a few hundred yards from Pemaquid Beach. Even today, with the clouds and fog rolling in, it’s pretty spectacular…

But as I’ve been out of the office and working in various non-NYC places for a good stretch now, I’ve been thinking about locale, access to information, and how they inform a writer’s work. At home in New York, there’s information everywhere you look–screens everywhere, newspapers galore, even news tickers on the side of buildings. And with that, I feel like NYC writers tend to work on a fairly broad canvas of topics and locations.

On the other hand, when I was out in Portland, i.e., a mid-sized, west coast city, the news and information seemed like a mix of local and national concern. And I saw that reflected by the writers I met at the conference, whose pitches seemed fairly evenly split between Oregonian subjects or more worldly concerns. It held for kids’ books, too–50% west coast-based stories, 50% fantasy.

At the same time, here in Maine, information gathering  is very much an individual responsibility–nobody’s going to tell you what’s up in the world besides the Red Sox (hopefully) losing. And fittingly, whenever I meet writers in Maine, their work almost always has a Vacationland focus–maybe they’ll stretch it to Massachusetts, but not much farther than New England.

So, writers, I’m curious: what’s the correlation between your location and your subject matter? Or, to put it another way, how much does the outside world inform your work? BTW, no value judgments here–no one thinks less of Barbara Cooney or Robert McCloskey for staying close to home, and the truths in their books have proven to be universal. But I’d love to hear your thoughts and help me reconnect to the outside world!

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WWYK?

I am typing this on a plane headed for Seattle, happy to be en route to the always-terrific PNWA conference.   I don’t get to as many far flung writers conferences as I did before I had children, but that makes the ones I do attend a particular treat.  I love fielding pitches, talking about the book business and listening to writers who, despite the vagaries of this difficult marketplace, are united by a love for what they do.  It also gives me an opportunity to see my Seattle-based clients, in this case, the prodigiously talented Valerie Trueblood, whose new short story collection, Search Party: Stories of Rescue, was just released yesterday by Counterpoint Press.  Valerie’s previous collection, Marry or Burn, was shortlisted for the Frank O’ Connor prize, and this one (I say without a shred of bias) is every bit as wondrous.

Trueblood writes short fiction that is mind-bendingly capacious. Whole lifetimes and histories, epiphanies and slow revelations are coiled into her stories, like DNA inside a cell. And like a double helix, their structure is impossibly elegant. She is also wonderful because, to some extent, I think she writes what she does not know, quietly flouting what Ben Yagoda in this week’s NYT cites as the third of the three cardinal rules of writing. First is “Kill your darlings” second is “Show don’t tell,” both well-worn but worthy cliches of the craft that I lean on heavily.  This third one I’m not so sure about.  Yagoda concedes that WWYK is a notion is “rightly scorned as leading to the literary solipsism that, in fact, so many short stories, novels, essays and memoirs exhibit.”   Still he argues that the “motto is nonetheless true.”  Yagoda expands the definition of “what you know” to include what you research and learn, thank goodness, but I’m still skeptical.   One of my favorite Trueblood characters is a convicted murderess, and I am pretty certain that Valerie has not done time.

What do you think? Do you WWYN? Where do you come down in your experience as a reader, as a writer? How far do you venture outside your comfort zone?