Category Archives: inspiration

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The bookshelf project: part 2

After posting about the recent arrival of my long awaited built-in bookshelves, and getting some great feedback from our readers, family, and friends, I finally embarked upon the multi-hour project and wanted to share the end result (still a work-in-progress) here:

To give you some more information about the strategy (and it was discussed extensively before the project began as well as throughout the endeavor!), I’ll share how it all played out. We started by unpacking books from boxes as well as taking off of shelves from my office one copy of each of the books I’ve sold during my almost eighteen years at DGLM.

We then labeled the shelves with post-its indicating which category of books would go into which shelves. The broad sections include adult fiction, cookbooks, illustrated/craft, practical nonfiction, narrative nonfiction, and children’s. For categories where we had more books, we used more shelves. For the cookbooks, we divided them into sections: general, vegetarian/vegan, and baking and then alphabetized them within the section. Then we filled in the two top shelves with foreign editions of my titles.

We mixed the style of display with horizontal and vertical and left a few books standing up and facing out, and then filled in some blank spaces with decorative touches and picture frames. At that point, we’d filled ten of the fourteen sections, and the other four sections we used for additional cookbooks, miscellaneous awesome books (Hamilton!), and my beloved large and growing collection of books signed by the author, which includes mostly children’s books (I’m that person who will go to an author event with or without my children to get a signed book!) and a few celebrity titles.

I have a lot more books that I’ve read and collected over the years, but I didn’t want to pack the shelves too tight so I could leave room for more of my own titles to fill in. At some point I’ll get another large bookcase which I’ll put  in a different room to house  the others, but for now I’m happy my living room bookshelf project is finally complete.

Please let me know what you think and if you have any suggestions for changes or improvements!

Some Things I’m Looking for:

While developing my list, I keep having these desires for books I’m not seeing. Although my interests aren’t limited to this list, I wanted to give a few examples of the things I’d like to see:

  • YA/MG where the character is growing up in a foreign country, whether he or she just moved or lived there all his or her life. I’m particular interested in settings where the character lives in a rural village or town. I’d love to know how difficult it is to milk cows or use an outhouse every day of your life while simultaneously trying to understand the ins and outs of a new country.
  • YA/MG fantasy with human characters set in rich worlds not anything like Earth. I’m very fascinated when an author can create an understandable world with its own physical rules and composition. Think Dune and some of the worlds described in His Dark Materials. I grew up reading these books and would love to see more of them on my bookshelf!
  • Mystery novels with atypical detectives. I want characters that by all means should not be a detective, but against all odds they’re actually really great at the job. When I was younger, I loved The Cat Who… series. I thought it was hilarious that the cats did all the work. Whether it’s adult, YA, or MG, I’m all in.
  • Women’s fiction where the conflict lies outside of marriage or kids. I’d love the family unit to be the crutch the wife/mother relies on. Perhaps this is because I’m newly married and want to believe in all the good of it!

If you have a book like any of the above, please query me. You’ll have my full attention.

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Getting the spark back

I recently picked up Leslie Jamison’s stunning collection of essays, THE EMPATHY EXAMS, which I haven’t been able to put down. It’s one of those books that changes how you see the world, how you approach the motions of everyday living, and how you treat others. It is also a book that makes me want to think about writing and the craft of writing more.

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I know it can be tough to find inspiration—and time and energy—to write when you have a full-time job, are in a committed relationship or taking care of a family, when you want to find the time to also create and maintain sustainable and meaningful relationships with other human beings. It can be tough even if your full time job is to write. There are so many other things to be thinking about, to be concentrating on. Yet, Jamison’s essays remind me that it is exactly in these moments—full of activity and ordinary—that are so ripe with writing material. It’s little, intimate, ordinary details that can make a character truly stand out on the page and make us go, “Oh yes! I know exactly what he/she is feeling/thinking” or “I’ve been in that situation before too!” Her essays remind me that writing is essentially about people and the stories they carry with them—and so going out and observing, spending time with friends and family, people-watching in a restaurant or bar; these are the beginnings of characters and plotlines and settings.

Is there a book or collection of essays/poetry that you always turn to when you’re feeling uninspired? Is there an activity you like to do for inspiration or to get the writing juices flowing again? Who are your writing muses?

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Write What You Want

 

I was at Yallwest a couple of weeks ago, and something I heard at one of the panels won’t leave me. “Write what you want.” Of course, this seems very self-explanatory, and I’d heard it about 100 times before while working toward my MFA, but something about hearing it now, knowing more about publishing, made that statement more powerful.

 

While trying to get published, it’s easy to get lost in the idea of what will sell and what won’t. I see a lot of queries with, “My book will appeal to ages X through Y and people interested in…” Well that sentence alone tells me that the writer was thinking about the marketing of his or her book. Which, in a way can be good, but at what point does thinking about marketing diminish your ideas?

 

I then thought about how knowing about market trends has influenced my writing. I’ve seen a certain pattern in my idea brainstorming. I’ll have a new book idea only to get excited about it, and then immediately shy away from it because I know it doesn’t follow the current trends. I also know as a writer, that an idea can shape into something wholly different once it becomes a story. What I thought was a poor idea could have shaped into something incredible given my passion for the subject. I could have made something unlike the publishing world has ever seen, and my fear that this would be unaccepted, has squandered that potential.

 

So, that’s why I believe writers should focus more on writing what they want, rather than what they think others want, because if you’re trying to follow a trend, you will never be unique. Originality dies that way. My advice now will always be to write what you want, don’t follow another writer or what you think you should be writing. It may get you published, but that brilliant idea you squashed in order to follow the trend could have been the next break out novel.

 

What do you think about this topic? Do you follow the trends or write what you want?

The Green-Eyed Monster

I had a whole nother blog post planned for today, and then Eric beat me to the punch yesterday with his fun discussion of quarterback Andrew Luck’s bookclub for “Rookies” and “Veterans.” My first thought when I saw Eric’s post was was “noooooooooooooo!” And then I realized that was the perfect new idea right there!

That “oh no! I was going to write about that,” reaction is so common in publishing. Whether you’re a writer toiling away in the query trenches or a seasoned author brainstorming ideas for a new series, I’m sure you’ve felt that sinking feeling when you see a new book come out with a premise or setting similar to yours. You’ve been working so hard for months, or even years, on an idea you love and you worry that there’s no room left for it now. It even happens for agents and editors when we see a book announced and worry it will affect the momentum for one you’ve been working so hard on. Even if a book is not very much like yours at all, you might feel nervous, competitive, even jealous or angry (yes, it happens!) when you see another writer get a great book deal, a lot of buzzy press, or an award.

That’s a normal feeling and it’s okay to feel that way for up to five minutes. Then you gotta shake it off and go back to your work. Because that’s all you really have a hand in, right? Publishing often can seem like a lot of luck and a lot of flukes, but as my client Rena Olsen discussed in a smart set of tweets yesterday, you’ll never succeed to any extent if you aren’t working extremely hard.


And someone else’s success does not get in the way of yours!  I love the way agent Carly Watters put it in her own very smart set of tweets this morning:


After all, there are only seven stories under the sun, and Shakespeare wrote them all already. Change up your angle if you must, or get your keyboard smoking after a new idea, but don’t give up and don’t get jealous. Just get writing!

 

 

 

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Conference Tips

It feels like winter in NYC today so I’m dreaming of summer travel…and I’m excited to have a few writers’ conferences in my summer plans! I will be at Carnegie Books-in-Progress conference in Lexington, KY, and Killer Nashville in, well, Nashville in August! Conferences are wonderful opportunities for writers to learn more about their craft, connect with other writers for support, and meet industry professionals such as yours truly for advice and feedback. If you have a writers’ conference in your area I strongly suggest you consider attending!

But did you ever wonder what we, the agents, get out of it?

Hmmmm. Good question. 

After all, we’re giving up our time – our precious reading time! often our precious weekends! – to travel across the country and mingle with strangers! Well, I can only speak for myself, but I love getting out of NYC to see a different part of the country and meet editors and agents who might be based outside New York or whose paths I haven’t crossed yet. Most of all, though, I love meeting writers who are passionate about their stories and willing to spend their time and money to get better at telling them. As an agent, I’m always hungry for my next amazing project, and a conference offers me a veritable buffet of talent and hard work. Every project might not be to my taste, but I have pretty good odds of finding one or two or ten that I will be dying to sign up. The inspiration refill alone is well-worth a weekend of hotel coffee.

Candid shot of me, post-hotel coffee,
preparing to meet writers and hear pitches!

I always want to make sure, though, that I’m offering something valuable to the attendees who chose to meet me or attend my workshop or panel during their busy conference time! So I found this Tumblr post How to Panel Like a Lit Champ to be very detailed and helpful. I will for sure be bookmarking it to re-read next time I’m preparing for a talk or panel. And the final piece of advice applies to all of us, no matter what part of the industry we’re in, querying writer or autograph signer, editorial assistant or high-powered agent: “It doesn’t matter if you are the most famous or the least famous in the room / on the panel, be nice. Stay classy.”

 

Be nice. Stay classy. 

 

Now I want to hear from you. What do you consider most valuable when you’re attending a panel? Pet peeves or top tips from your conference experiences?  

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The Gerard Butler Guide to Agenting

The best thing about being a literary agent is that there’s always so much to read.

The worst thing about being a literary agent is that there’s always so much to read!

Sometimes, when faced with a particularly daunting pile of manuscripts, I turn to GIFs for inspiration in staying focused and fired up. This week, hoping to get enough done to leave the work reading behind when I go away for the weekend, I am channeling the élan of Gerard Butler:

 

And when I find one of those mind-blowing, can’t-put-it-down, I-gotta-represent-this manuscripts:

 

 

 

Who are your GET IT DONE inspirations? Do you have any GIFs or characters you turn to when you need to power through an intimidating to-do list?

 

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What makes us tick

A couple of years ago I attended a very lively and work-intensive but fun conference in Las Vegas. My lovely and talented client, Nicole McInnes, had been invited to sit on a panel to discuss the author-agent relationship and when she asked if I could join her on the panel, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I get to see her, but I’d get to spend some time in Sin City!

When I got there, I met several terrific editors and agents and we bonded big time. One of those agents was Carly Watters, a charming and smart young agent based in Canada who works for PS Literary. I’ve since followed her on social media and she has some nice insights to share about books and publishing.

I found this recent piece about navigating social media particularly compelling as we are always trying to encourage our authors to learn more about social media and using it in a positive way to build name and brand recognition. Carly interviews a successful “bookstagrammer” who is now an editor at a major publishing house who also runs a blog, website, and manages several social media accounts. She offers some tips for writers that you might find useful. I like when she says:

“Be authentic – your personality and style will make your platforms sing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be original with your words and ideas. Know your audience – every platform will attract different types of readers. Be honest with your content – if you are passionate about your work, it will show and people are more likely to appreciate your honesty! Lastly, remember that if reading and sharing your love of reading with others is something that you adore doing, then you are in the right place! Books are what bind us together in this community – don’t forget that we are all just readers finding our place in this online bookish world.”

Enjoy and check out Carly and Book Baristas to learn more about books and what makes us all tick.

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We Should All Be Feminist

Today is International Women’s Day, which, believe it or not, dates back to 1908, when 15,000 women marched in New York City to demand better pay, better hours, and voting rights. Social media brought the celebration to my attention a few years ago, and, I’m grateful that today my Facebook and Twitter are an extravaganza of women celebrating each other and the achievements we’ve made toward more equal lives.

 

 

So, in the spirit of adding to the inspiration,  I asked a few of my officemates about books that were significant to their understanding of women’s issues and equality, and got some moving responses that have definitely added to my reading list! Lauren is a fan of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All Be Feminist, which she describes as “Conveniently bite-sized but available as a small physical book as well, it’s a smart, inclusive, and compelling case for why feminism is for all of us. Perfect for people who are too overwhelmed by the decades of discourse to know where to start.” Amy mentioned C**t by Inga Muscio: “I was in high school when I read it, and it really opened my eyes on a personal and global level as to what women were facing and the remarkable things that had already been accomplished.”

Jim suggested Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, sharing the following really incredible story:

My 7th grade English teacher was a kickass feminist activist who pushed really challenging material. Herland was my first experience dealing with issues of separatism at all, but it also really informed my notion of the distrust that can exist, and most importantly, the roots of that distrust in systemic sexual violence. I went on to read The Yellow Wallpaper, which further blew my mind. It was one of the first times that I had to confront profound inequality in a way that broke through my incredibly sheltered and narrow world-view. It was an eye-opener, and (in retrospect) a gloriously nervy lesson for a teacher to drive home so hard to a group of middle school students.

Jim’s story brought to mind my childhood librarian, Carla, who took me seriously from the first moment I approached her desk; while I don’t remember a specific book she recommended that taught me about feminism, her interest in my ideas about books and her example as the first working mom I ever knew—a working woman who loved her work and took pride in it—were incredibly influential.  And to bring it into the present, my book club tonight is discussing Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, which is a lively little book that should be required reading for every human being, explores the how mildly annoying behaviors like mansplaining are connected to the global epidemic of violence against women.

If you’re on social media, check out the hashtag #IWD2016 for more inspiring stories and galvanizing information. And please, in the comments, chime in with your favorite books celebrating women and women’s issues!

 

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Mixing Music and Writing

A friend of mine recently introduced me to the art of listening to music while writing. He said it helps bring him inspiration and motivation in the same way some musicians use books as inspiration for their songwriting. My friend creates a playlist of songs that match the scene he’s writing—so if he’s writing a scary scene, he’ll listen to the kind of music you might hear in a horror movie—to help him better get into the mood of the scene. While it may seem like a self-explanatory concept, there really is a finer science to it the way he sees it.

Lyrics are the most important key to inspiration. Certain word in the lyrics can trigger new thoughts, which could lead to ideas for your novel. Hopefully if you’ve picked the correct song—which is why it’s important to take seriously—those ideas will match the theme of your book. The mood of the song is important to motivation. If you’re writing an action scene, you want a song with a faster tempo. If your own heart is pumping, you’ll feel more inclined to stay in the mindset of a character that’s escaping some type of danger.

I recently tried this method, being skeptical because the process of choosing music, and not just any music but that which would appropriately match my writing, seemed like a waste of time that could be spent actually writing. I also have a very difficult time hearing people sing words when I’m trying to write down different words. However, he was so enthusiastic about his method, I had to at least try it.

And it was magic.

Because the songs I’d picked were all about the subject of my attention, the words in the lyrics didn’t send my mind spiraling off topic, and it was much easier to get into the heads of my characters when the music matched their feelings or actions. Writing became more of an interactive experience; it became not only the soundtrack for my characters but for me as I wrote. I also worked for about twice the time I usually do, and I found my writing much more imaginative than normal.

I think it’s safe to say that I’ll be using this method more, and now I’ve become so much more interested in trying out different writing methods. Any suggestions?