Category Archives: inspiration

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?

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A living fire to lighten the darkness

Over the past week, news from around the world has been terrifying and heartbreaking. In times of great danger and violence, when fellow humans across the globe are running for their lives and seeking refuge for their families, we feel helpless and often turn to our favorite things – books! – for comfort and distraction. On Saturday afternoon I saw a lot of smart bookish friends on Twitter admitting to feeling very guilty for spending the afternoon cozy at home reading, with tea, chocolate, blankets, pets, loved ones. I felt that way myself.

But books are just as important in troubled times as in light ones, because reading builds empathy. A 2013 study suggested that reading actually affects the neurological connectivity in the brain – and I believe the compassion we earn from books is even simpler than that. Reading takes you to worlds outside your own, brings you inside the joys and fears and decision-making of characters totally unlike you facing obstacles you may never experience. Reading reminds you there are the human lives making up the faceless statistics from a country you may never see as well as marginalized communities in your hometown, right outside your front door. Reading gives you brave heroines to imitate and callow villains to avoid following. As Madeleine L’Engle said beautifully in her Newbery award speech, “A book, too, can be a star, ‘explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,’ a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”

When you see horrible things on the news – or when you see friends and loved ones responding in ways that you strongly disagree with – respond with love and compassion.  And then it’s okay to pick up a book and escape from things for a little bit – you’re refilling your empathy tank.

What are your favorite comfort reads? Any recommendations for a book that opened a new world up for you and made you a better person?

                                                                    

From page to screen, more ways than one

I have a few books I’m working on book-to-film deals at the moment, and for several years before I became an agent I worked in NYC in film and tv development. Which means I looked for books to be adapted into movies. So I guess you can say I got my start in books by reading to see what might translate to film. I still find I read this way, and relate to books that I can visualize as movies.

So I’ve been taking note of several recent book-to-film deals that have sort of interesting stories behind them. I’m fascinated that The Martian by Andy Weir, which was initially self-pubbed. This article from Variety.com talks about its path from publication to big screen. It’s nothing short of amazing! He had no luck attracting an agent or publisher so he self-published the book and it started to gain some momentum. Eventually, publishers and film companies started approaching him and very lucrative deals were signed. He has a deep fear of flying so never met any of the people he was doing business with. The way he describes it, it was all so surreal he actually thought it was a scam.

Then I saw another piece about a bestselling YA book, 13 Reasons Why, that is now going to be turned into a tv series for Netflix starring Selena Gomez. That’s interesting because the book was initially published back in 2007 and then became a bestseller in paperback in 2011. It’s taken years to get it from page to screen!

Finally, there’s the much hyped adaptation of the bestseller Room, which was adapted by the book author. She drafted the screenplay even before she knew it was going to be optioned and made for film. An interview from Publisher’s Weekly about that process you can find here.

To me they all have interesting back stories and histories and the takeaway is that you never really know what’s going to happen with your book, or when. In each of these cases you have examples where a book property started life as something else and then went on to become not only a published book, but a film or tv show after the fact, in the case of 13 Reasons Why, years after the fact. Keep on writing and working toward success in your endeavors. You never know when someone will find your book and turn it into something else. If you have any other fun book-to-film stories, please share them with us!

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The book made me do it!

I walked out at lunch time on this scorching, humid day in New York City, and immediately felt like I was in a tropical jungle—only this was the concrete kind.  As I tried to get my errands done quickly so I could scurry back to the relative coolness of my portable air conditioner (my office windows are of a vintage that makes standard units impossible to install)Air Conditioner, I found myself thinking of literary jungle settings—Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Lily King’s Euphoria, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, etc.  In part, this had to do with the sliced mango stand I ran across on the corner of Broadway and 14th Street…but I digress.

Back in the office, while eating my chilled pea and mint soup, I happened upon this piece in Galleycat about Riverhead soliciting essays for a collection about “how Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous memoir [Eat Pray Love] served as inspiration for readers to go on life-changing adventures” and, having just been thinking about her recent novel, I had one of those moments where I felt the universe was trying to tell me something.

I decided that what it was telling me was not to pack up my bags and head for the Amazon (where Jane will be in a month or so, btw), but that I should do a blog post about what books have inspired us to do things.  For instance, reading Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak in high school made me want to learn Russian in the worst way.  And, so I took three years of this beautiful, complicated language while in college (I remember nothing, in case you’re wondering).

It’s a great exercise, in my opinion, to consider how books have influenced our actions.  For those of us who are obsessed with literary works, it’s an exercise that can turn up some fascinating (and maybe disturbing) insights into our psyches.  So, have books influenced actions for you?  If so, what books…and what actions?

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Fall fiction, and a few debut author stories

Not that I want to rush summer, which is my favorite time of year, but I did get a little excited when I saw this roundup of big fall fiction in Publisher’s Weekly, which really is right around the corner. Fall is always the time when big books are released, in both the nonfiction and fiction categories.

The list is pretty eclectic but the one common factor is that all the books are debuts. Someone took a chance and felt that these books could stand out in a very crowded and difficult marketplace. I’m always eager to get a sense of what publishers are excited about in terms of not only plots, but also writer backgrounds and pedigrees. Has their short fiction been previously published? Do they have an MFA from a prestigious program?

In the case of this list, it’s a mixed bag. There’s a lawyer from Reno, an MFA from NYU, and a former magazine book editor. But my favorite story is about an author who had been rejected by 60 agents (and that’s after getting her MFA from Columbia, people!) before sending her novel to a few independent publishing houses. Eight months later, a fellow student from Columbia was working as an editor at Soho Press and asked her if the manuscript was still available. INTO THE VALLEY by Ruth Gahm will be published this fall.

Check out all of these stories. They are interesting and fun, and look for the books this fall. If PW is profiling them, there’s a good chance at least a couple of them will do really well. Which ones do you want to read? Any other books you’re excited about for fall?