Category Archives: Jane


Thanksgiving is here again

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is here already. The last year seems to have raced by with many, many changes in my life. Usually, at this time of year, my husband and I spend the holiday in Florida visiting his family and our friends. This year, however, my father-in-law Sam Schwinder and my old and close friend Rena Wolner (a former head of Pocket Books, Berkley, and Avon) passed away and so we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner around our dinner table here in Manhattan along with my daughter, my son, my son-in-law and my two adorable grandchildren. I will think about Sam and Rena on that day, as I am very thankful for having had the chance to know, love, and learn from them.

I am also incredibly thankful for so many other things: the talented, brilliant, funny people on my staff (we are now 14 strong), my wonderful clients, my colleagues at the many publishing houses and other agencies we do business with. My business partner Miriam Goderich helps me run our company and think through the numerous issues we face every day. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and a stabilizing force in a world that has lots of highs and lows. I am so grateful to her. My daughter Jessica Toonkel is a talented reporter with Reuters and a superb partner to her husband Brian and mother to her children, eight-year-old Elena and almost-two-year-old Leo. I am incredibly proud of her. My son, Zachary Schwinder who is about to enter Officer Candidate School for the Marines—I am both frightened for his safety and oh so proud of his goal to keep our country safe. My kind and wonderful husband and partner Steve who is by my side through thick and thin and has been since I met him almost 30 years ago—I am so very grateful for him and his love.
I encourage each of you to think about those things and people you are grateful for at this time of year. And, if you like, I would love you to tell me what they are.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May it be filled with peace and everything delicious!



Amazon is entering the real (vs. virtual) world

Amazon StoreSo the news last week was that Amazon has opened its first brick and mortar bookstore—this one is in Seattle where the company has its headquarters.  Twenty years after Amazon began as a website selling books (and before they were pushing lawnmowers and groceries), this could be an exciting beginning for those who love to browse in actual bookstores.

Evidently, most of the books in this new store are displayed cover out which could be seductive to consumers because titles will be easier to find.  The other thing that is interesting here is that it was announced that the books will be the same retail price in the store as they are online (where merchandise is usually discounted).

Given the fact that Borders went out several years ago leaving a huge gap in the print bookstore business and that Barnes & Noble seems to be floundering, this is very good news—for consumers and  for publishers.  Hopefully, this new venture will be so successful that Amazon which, after all, began in the book business will expand their  bookstores  to other cities in the years ahead.  One can only hope.

I’d be curious, though, to know what you think of this new development.


Uncovering ideas for books

One of the things most agents do is come up with ideas for books, and we come up with them in a bunch of different places.

HOTHOUSEThe first example of a book idea I just stumbled upon was a story I came across in the New York Times Obituaries a number of years ago.  Robert Giroux, one of the founders of Farrar, Straus and Giroux had died and the piece written about him was filled with colorful stories and  characters.  I immediately thought there was a book about the publishing business in that era and I approached Boris Kachka, who agreed to write it.  Boris made the idea his own, of course, and the result was HOTHOUSE: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art in America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House Farrar Straus.

DON'T PEEA number of years ago now, I was watching 60 Minutes (which I do every week) and I saw a family court judge profiled who was incredibly colorful, opinionated and somewhat outrageous.  I found out how to reach that judge and suggested she write a book.  That became DON’T PEE ON MY LEG AND TELL ME IT’S RAINING and the author became television’s beloved Judge Judy.

Then, last year when I vacationed in Kenya, I learned about how various animals are disappearing and I approached a science writer to do a book that might be titled THE WORLD WITHOUT ANIMALS.

I have found many true crime book ideas in the pages of People magazine or in the newspaper. One of the most recent LOST GIRLSand a book that is doing very well is THE LOST GIRLS by John Glatt, about the three young women who were imprisoned in a house in Cleveland for ten years.

Three years ago I went to Florence on vacation and learned for the first time of the great flood in the 1950s that threatened to destroy all of the city’s incredible art and how people came from all over the world to help save it.  While in Rome on that same trip, I met a journalist who is now working on a book about this fascinating event.

Finding ideas is like discovering treasure.  We are always looking for them wherever we go.  I wonder where you get your book ideas and whether you would like to tell me about them.  Maybe we will uncover something new together.


The importance of positive persistence

Last Wednesday, there was a piece in The New York Times titled “The Plot Twist”.  In it, the writer, Alexandra Alter discussed the fact that e-book sales were slipping and print book sales were rising by about the same percentage rate.  This, after the dire predictions of four years ago that e-book sales would overtake print sales in a very short time.

I remember when e-books were the topic everyone was talking about.  Many of my colleagues in the publishing business were predicting the demise of print book publishing and of the entire business as we know it.  We were all—publishers, agents and authors—frightened about what would happen.  And then nothing did.

Although we at Dystel & Goderich did begin a digital publishing program in order to help some of our clients self-publish, we didn’t panic.  We felt this was a natural alternative for those authors whose books were out of print but which could still find a readership.   In fact, the program has served us well and will continue to do so in the future.

I found that through all of the sturm und drang of the negativity of the past four years, I kept looking forward, signing new authors, adding to our staff of super talented agents, and knowing that, in the end, print books would survive.  And they did and will continue to do so.

Thinking positively during those difficult days wasn’t easy.  Everyone seemed to be shaking their heads and worrying about the future of the business.  I have found though, over the years, that worrying is paralyzing—that the only way to keep going is to think positively, to find those projects and strategies that will move us forward and to use my energy to make them happen.

Again, this idea of positive persistence is one I have lived by and will continue to do so as it is the only way to keep growing both as an individual and as a mentor to my staff and clients.  I urge you all to think about this and how this concept plays out in your lives.  I would be most interested to hear your thoughts on the subject.



So last week, I did something I don’t believe I have ever done before.  I spent a week at my country house by myself to recharge.

The concept of “recharging” has always been anathema to me.  The dictionary defines it as “regaining your energy and strength,” something I always assumed could be accomplished in a long weekend.  Last week, though, I proved (to myself) that my preconceptions were wrong.

While I was away I got lots of sleep, played some golf, had lunch and dinner with friends, went to concerts and simply enjoyed the beauty of the Berkshire Mountains.  And it worked. I came back last Monday re-energized and ready to go.

I think it is so important for us creative types to take some time every so often to do just this—leave our professional world and enjoy other things we like to do.  Only then can we gain the perspective and energy to return to our work lives and move forward.

Check out this piece I found about ways to recharge.  How do you all do it?


A new member of our team

Amy BishopIt is always exciting for me to welcome new members to our team; inevitably they bring fresh perspective, energy, and creative ideas.

I am delighted to welcome Amy Bishop as our new administrative assistant. She joins Miriam, Michael, Jim, Stacey, Lauren, Jessica, John, Eric, Mike, Rachel, Sharon, Erin and, of course, me.

Amy is a graduate (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from the State University of New York at Geneseo and was an intern at DGLM during the summer of 2014.  We very much enjoyed having her with us then and so when this job opened up, she was a natural choice to add to our staff.

I hope everyone will join me in welcoming Amy Bishop.


Learning about Middle Grade fiction

I have been agenting for a long time, and I’ve met a lot of interesting and wonderful writers and learned a great deal about different categories of fiction and nonfiction, what sells and what doesn’t.  But, I am always eager to learn new things.

Over the last several years we have all heard a great deal about Young Adult books and what seems to work and what doesn’t.  And we at DGLM represent a bunch of bestsellers in this category.  One of the interesting things in this category is the crossover market that has developed with books like THE HUNGER GAMES series and titles authored by John Green and James Dashner.  And I have been fortunate to represent a number of significant new YA authors.

When we were looking to choose a category for our next book club meeting, Jim McCarthy wisely came up with the concept of all of us reading a recently published Middle Grade book and I loved this idea as this is a category I am just now dipping my toe into.  The potential market is huge since the Harry Potter series put the genre on the map and obviously crossed over into an adult market.

RATSCALIBURTo prepare, I have studied the category a bit.  I know that the age range of readers is between 8 and 12 and the average length of books is 100 pages or less.  Here is a piece I found that clearly describes this category and its traditional market.

Middle Grade classics include the previously mentioned Harry Potter titles, Charlotte’s Web, Matilda and our own Chris Grabenstein’s Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and The Island of Dr. Libris.

So I chose as my book club title (with Jim’s help) Ratscalibur by Josh Lieb.  And my thought is that I will read this and then give it to my seven-year-old granddaughter, Elena, who is a terrific reader, to see what she thinks.  Stay tuned for our thoughts.

I’d also love to know what your experiences are with Middle Grade and what you (and your children) have enjoyed reading in the category.


My aspirational reading list

GIRLTRAINThis afternoon I was talking with my daughter who was just returning from her vacation and she told me that among the many things she had done while she was away, she had read a book. That made me think of when the last time was that I read a book for pleasure.

So many people assume that we who work in publishing are so very lucky because we get to read all the time; well, we are and we do, but most of the time we are reading material for our jobs and not what we would choose to read for ourselves.

Inspired by my kid, I started to put together a short list of current(ish) books I would like to read for pleasure if I had the time:




DEAD WAKE by Eric Larson

THE HUSBAND’S SECRET by Liane Moriarty


THE LONGEST RIDE by Nicholas Sparks


I’m curious. What would your aspirational reading list look like if you were to put one together? I’d love to know.


The Pseudonym

I know I have written on this subject before but I think it is worth another round.

Authors use pseudonyms when they change categories; they also use them if their first book(s) sells less well than hoped and they want to try again.  There is nothing wrong with doing this as long as you are upfront in saying you are doing so.  (Note please, it is not necessary to provide your real name unless asked directly and then you should, while offering an explanation for why you have chosen to use the pseudonym.)

Pseudonyms can be extremely useful.  Writers can change categories by changing their “pen names” going back and forth as they wish.  Fiction, in particular, lends itself to using pseudonyms in categories such as mystery/thriller, horror, romance (contemporary, historical), sci-fi/fantasy, etc.  A pseudonym, in fact, can be an effective marketing tool.  Why tell the customer (the book buyer) the author’s real name when using another will boost sales for everyone? With social media, promotional possibilities abound when using a different name. We put together a list of a number of bestselling authors who use this device and I wanted to share it with you:

J.K. Rowling

James Patterson

Anne Stuart

Eloisa James

Stephen King (wrote short stories under the name Richard Bachman)

Nora Roberts (also writes under J.D. Robb)

Dean Koontz (writes under Aaron Wolfe and K.R. Dwyer)

Michael Crichton

Lemony Snicket


Anne Rice (also writes under Anne Rampling)

Agatha Christie (also wrote under Mary Westcott)

Stan Lee

I would be curious to know what you think about the use of pseudonyms, whether as a writer, you have used one, or as a reader you would buy a book by someone who does.


The acceptability clause

There are many clauses in publishing contracts that can be confusing to a first time author and that need clarification.  Most of these can be negotiated by the agent (on the author’s behalf) and the publisher.

The one clause, though, that can be truly disturbing is the “acceptability clause” because it states  that the sole decision as to whether a manuscript is acceptable or not is the publisher’s.

Usually we are able to get an addition to the clause that says that if the publisher finds the manuscript unacceptable, it must provide the reasons in writing and give the author the opportunity to make the requested changes.

Most of the time (I estimate over 95%), the publisher and the author work out their differences and the book is published. There are occasions, however, when publishers arbitrarily decide, for whatever reason, that they no longer want to publish the book they have contracted for and they reject the delivered manuscript and demand that the author return the advance already received.  In that case, if the author refuses to return the money, the publisher will not release the author from his or her contract, thus preventing a future sale of that project.

Sadly when this happens, the only recourse an author has is to seek legal counsel, which is expensive and which does not  guarantee that the author will win.  Still, the publisher generally doesn’t want the bad PR a lawsuit would bring and so an author taking this route—in an extreme situation—might, in fact, either get his or her rights back or the publisher might decide to publish the book after all.

The bottom line here is that the acceptability clause is an important one and should be taken very seriously by everyone.  Authors are required to deliver their manuscripts on a certain date.  If an extension on the delivery date is necessary, authors should notify the publisher that they will be late, why they will be late and, on occasion, show progress on the work they are doing. Extensions are usually granted unless there is a timeliness factor due to the subject matter of the book.

Looking around for a comprehensive  piece on the acceptability clause, I found this from my agent colleague Richard Curtis’ blog.  It covers the subject very well and it’s worth reading, especially by first time authors.