Category Archives: Jane

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The role of the editor

This afternoon, a group of us were sitting around our offices discussing how the editor’s role continues to change as our business evolves, and I thought I would share with you some of our thoughts.

Years ago, the primary role of the editor was to work with the author to make the book better in anticipation of its publication.  Well known examples from the past include: Maxwell Perkins, Bob Gottlieb, Ellis Amburn, Jack Shoemaker, Judith Jones and many, many more. These editors literally spent night and day with their authors until they had a polished, publishable manuscript.

Over the years, however, as publishing became more of a “bottom line” business, these editors started disappearing and those who were left had the primary responsibility of acquiring manuscripts.  The actual editing, if it was done at all, was farmed out to freelancers, a number of whom were solid, working editors who had been let go  by major publishers in waves of acquisition and downsizing.

Today, there seems to be a new breed of editor—the person who acts as both editor and publisher and oftentimes has a publishing imprint with his or her name on it.  These people are responsible for everything—the book acquisition, the editing, the marketing and publicity, etc.   In fact, the only thing they aren’t responsible for themselves is probably selling the books into the accounts.  They are, however, responsible for the bottom line of their imprint, much as a publisher is.  Examples of these editors include Sarah Crichton (Farrar, Straus &  Giroux), Margaret McElderry (Simon & Schuster) and Amy Einhorn (Flatiron/Macmillan).

We are all curious about what the next editor evolution will be.  I would love to know what you think about all this and what your experience with editors has been.

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A call for new material

Covers

Last Thursday, during an interview I was giving, I was asked about new trends in our business.  It is always so difficult to predict these but it does seem to me that there is definitely an increased interest in thrillers and mysteries lately.

Just look at the enormous success of GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn, IN THE WOODS by Tana French, Chelsea Cain’s HEART SICK and its sequels,  and our own MURDER AS A FINE ART.  What I’m looking for in this category is “fresh” and “new,” character driven material featuring strong writing and plenty of twists.  Definitely not “old fashioned” as so many of the scripts I see are.

So, this is a call for that kind of fiction.   I would be excited to consider what you have to offer, especially if you have already had success in the category even in the self-published arena.

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What I did on my vacation

2 collageOver the years, I have developed quite an adventure lust,  journeying to such places as Greece, Turkey, Venice, Berlin and Prague, Israel, Jordan  and Australia.  Wherever I go I come back with a fresh perspective on our work and many times I return with ideas which I subsequently help develop into books.

This year was no different although our trip was a bit more exotic and adventurous than they have been in the past.  In mid-September, we went to Kenya on the east coast of Africa and journeyed on a nine- day safari.  We flew all over the country, from Nairobi where we visited Karen Blixen’s  home  (Out of Africa), to the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro, to the Mara and Mt. Kenya, and back to Nairobi.  We went on at least a dozen game drives, saw the great migration and experienced the thrill of a hot air balloon ride (with its scary, controlled crash landing).  Ultimately we returned with wonderful photographs and stories to tell.

3 collageAnd, as in the past, I came back with a couple of book ideas that I am actively pursuing—a book about what the world would be like without wildlife and another about giraffes.  I am really hoping that one or both of these come to fruition.

In the end, this vacation was restorative to my psyche and my creativity.  Vacations should do that for all of us—enable us to renew our energy, so to speak.

I’d love to hear your vacation experiences and what resulted from your time away.  I hope you will share those here.

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When friends succeed

1746-v1-150x.PNGThe Publishers Weekly edition which was published right before I left on vacation featured Flatiron Books on the cover and I was so pleased to see that.

I have known the founder and publisher, Bob Miller for a lot of years starting when he was an editor at St. Martin’s way back when, through his tenure at Warner Books (now Grand Central) , then Delacorte and then on to establishing Hyperion which, in its day, was a huge success.

Bob is now well on his way to another thrilling achievement with this new imprint of Macmillan Publishing.  After being in business for a little over a year they already have a number one New York Times bestseller: WHAT I KNOW FOR SURE by Oprah Winfrey.  I’m sure this is only the beginning and I am so pleased for my good friend and his super team, which includes the brilliant Amy Einhorn who recently relocated from Penguin .

Over the last several years we in publishing have watched numerous companies consolidate and our colleagues lose their jobs as a result. Many have left the business altogether; others are just getting by or trying to create new careers for themselves within the publishing world.  This isn’t easy, which is why it is always encouraging to see an old colleague’s new success.

We should all be rooting for their success, in fact.  I for one am hoping that we as an agency can contribute to that.  Congratulations to Bob and John Sargent, Macmillan’s CEO, and your talented crew for your courage in starting something new during a perilous time.

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Mentoring – giving and receiving

Last week marked the end of our summer interns’ time with us and I spent a while with a couple of them answering their questions about our business and, actually, about life in general. Spending time doing this—mentoring—is something I really enjoy and even learn from.

When I think of the subject of mentoring I realize I come by it honestly.  My father was my biggest mentor.  He did this all of his life and though I wasn’t always open to his advice, I have never forgotten it.  Several of my bosses as I was moving forward in my career also advised and mentored me in ways that proved invaluable.  As I think about this I can remember their advice and how I have implemented it over the years.

I began to mentor with my children—first with my daughter who is now a successful financial reporter for Reuters and of whom I am very proud—and then for my son who, having just graduated college, is just starting out on his career.  Watching them grow gives me enormous pleasure.

The same is true for the people with whom I work.  I try to mentor each and every one of them, although it seems at times there are too few hours in the day.  Still I find this one of the most satisfying parts of my job—sharing the wisdom I have been given is enormously gratifying.

Then there are my clients.  Much of what I do as I help them develop their ideas and sell their books is a kind of mentoring.  That, of course, often results in a financial as well as an emotional  payoff.

Ultimately though, for me, advising young people about our business is what I like to do best—even when I am not aware that I am “mentoring.”  Their success reflects back on our efforts.

I’d love to hear about your mentoring experiences—both the giving and the receiving.  Please share them with me.

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Those wide open spaces

Many years ago, before I was an agent, I directed all book and magazine publishing for a large newspaper syndicate.  While those of us who didn’t work directly in editorial for the syndicate—publishing, licensing, sales and the executive suite—had our individual offices, some of them very spacious, the heart of the staff worked in an open bullpen.  There, they communicated easily with each other as they edited the writers with whom they worked.  In fact the editorial staff who worked in my division also worked in an open bullpen-like area, writing and editing material and sharing their ideas with each other.

Last Tuesday, many, many years later, Miriam and I attended a party held by HarperCollins to celebrate the relocation of their offices from Midtown to the Financial District downtown. The layout was open and airy with people sitting in bullpen-like settings.  Some, who previously had window offices still had offices with glass walls so that they could see out and those passing by could see in.  This layout, we were told, was meant to foster a spirit of collaboration.  In addition, I would guess that there was an overall downsizing in terms of the number of square feet the company now occupies, which will enable the publisher to spend money on the titles they are publishing rather than on rent and maintenance of the many floors they took up at 10 East 53rd Street.  Bottom line, my general impression was a very positive one.

Fostering a spirit of collaboration and cooperation in this publishing climate can produce nothing but solid results, in my opinion.  Sure, there is some resistance to this layout—those who previously had privacy don’t have it any more, certainly not as much.  But the benefits include a sense of team building and a  collegial environment.  I think growth will be the ultimate result here and I think this kind of organizational layout will become the norm in the years to come.

Of course, I am always curious as to what you, our readers, think of this idea and I look forward to your comments.

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Those other social media websites

Over the last few years I have counseled my clients to build and/or increase their social media presences.  It is, after all, what can really make a difference to the success or lack of success of one’s book.  When I was giving this advice though, I was more often than not talking about Facebook and Twitter.  We have found over time that the more friends and followers an author has, the higher their book sales.

Now though I have discovered the effectiveness of Pinterest.  My client Sarah Kiefer (http://www.pinterest.com/threadedbasil/) has a large following on the site, and it is building.  We are certain this is going to be effective in selling her new book THE VANILLA BEAN BAKING BOOK.  Stacey Glick represents several authors with big Pinterest followings as well, including Jamielyn Nye of I Heart Naptime and Jessica Merchant of How Sweet Eats.

Last week, I discovered my newest client Derek Krahn on Vine.  Here he is with a sneezing baby lion:

And here he is trying to take a selfie with a tiger named Levi:

His contributions are really effective and they attracted me immediately.  Right now, he has 420,000+ followers and growing, and I am certain this is going to help me sell his upcoming book BIG CAT.

I am sure in the months to come there will be newer and more innovative sites on which potential authors can and should promote themselves.  To that end, I would love to hear from you about any you know of and how effective you believe them to be.

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Things to think about after your publishing contract is executed

Congratulations!  You’ve sold your book and are about to embark on a new experience.  Recently at a writers’ conference at Sarah Lawrence College, Julie Shoerke provided some tips which I think are extremely valuable and which I would like to pass along here:

  • Save part of your advance towards publicity and promotion.  Generally, I would put this to building your social media as I have found that having a strong presence in this space is incredibly effective in the current publishing climate to publicize your books.
  • Appreciate the people who are working for and with you.  This will make everything during this experience that much more enjoyable and it will increase productivity on all sides.
  • Network with booksellers, librarians and other authors in your category.  I cannot tell you how important this is.  You will stand out to those who will be buying your book and you will undoubtedly learn from others.  Be open to doing this.
  • Stockpile stories/jokes for appearances.  I can’t tell you how difficult that opening anecdote is – I always have to spend lots of time thinking what an effective, attention getting one would be.  This, though, is critically important in getting your audience to listen to the rest of what you have to say.
  • Be realistic about the effort you/your team will put into promoting the book.  Keep in mind how many books you will have to sell to earn back the costs of publicity and try to budget accordingly or you could be in a financial hole.
  • Your name should be across all platforms so people can find you.  Be sure to buy your name.
  • Brand your name not your book’s title – titles can and do change.
  • Team with other authors in the same category to cross-promote.  I have found this to be extremely effective.
  • Be nice!  Understand how lucky you are to be traditionally published—and show your appreciation often.

I hope you will find these tidbits useful and I would be most interested in hearing if you have any others to add.

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So many ideas, but who will write them?

I am constantly thinking of ideas for books.  I read two or three newspapers a day, blogs, online publications, and several magazines weekly.  There are fresh and original concepts everywhere.  The problem, though, is who will turn these ideas into a book.

In fact finding a writer for many of our ideas is extremely difficult.  We start, of course, by talking to our own clients and, surprisingly, most of the time they turn us down.  They simply don’t see the idea as being material for a book, as we do.  Then, we go beyond our client list and ask our contacts if they know qualified writers (we mostly come up with non-fiction ideas as fiction is such a personal creative process) who might be interested.  Again, it’s hard to find any takers.

One would think that because we have all of these years of experience selling books it would be easier to find people who would be interested in taking our suggestions more seriously.  But, you would be wrong.  Most of the time writers want to come up with their own ideas.  It takes a long time to develop a book project and so rather than adopting one of mine, their ideas are “owned” by them.  I get that.

Still, though, I think many of my ideas and those of my colleagues (we actually have an ideas meeting every two weeks) are very worthwhile.  And so I thought I would throw out a couple here and see if there are any “takers.”  I would love to hear from you if there are.

The first idea is about the New York City Opera which collapsed last year.  This would be both a human interest story (there are some very colorful people involved) and a business story (the fate of this organization resulted from colossal mismanagement).  I have spoken to a number of writers about a book about its rise and fall but all have dropped out after considering it for a short time.

Then, there is a book about Friendship (with a capital “F”) modeled after Gail Sheehy’s Passages.  I believe that we go through many stages of who our friends are – they and we are different (sometimes sadly so) through the many cycles of our lives and I would love to explore how and why this evolution occurs.

So let me know if any of you want to pursue one of these or have any thoughts or opinions about  why this process can be so difficult.

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My dad

This coming Sunday is Father’s Day and so it is natural for all of us to think of our dads.  I am thinking of mine with special love as he just passed away (the Times prepared a lovely obit which I’m sharing here): Over the past week since his passing, I’ve been thinking about the things my father loved and I wanted to share some of them with you:

He loved baseball, most particularly the Yankees.  As a boy, he would journey by subway to Yankee Stadium from his home on the Lower East Side of New York, stand outside the gate where the players came in and get their autographs on his baseball. These included Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig among many others.  When I was a girl, I remember him taking me to the stadium and introducing me to Mickey Mantle.

When my brother John and I became competitive figure skaters, my dad became passionate about the sport and actually helped to get figure skating on television.

When my brother, sadly, was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, dad became a passionate participant in the National MS Society, served on their board, and set up two funds in my brother’s name – a research fund which continues to this day and a nursing fellowship.

My dad was, of course, passionate about books (he was a brilliant editor and marketer), and he built a publishing company into the leading mass market publisher in the world.

More than anything else, however, my father was passionate about people.  He made a real difference in the lives of so many—family, friends, and colleagues—really almost everyone whose life he touched.  He encouraged me to become an agent and to open my own literary agency so many years ago.

I will miss him very much but I have many wonderful memories of him and am so profoundly grateful for the enormous outpouring of love from his many admirers over the last several days.

So on Father’s Day, I will be remembering my father Oscar Dystel in a very special way this year.  Happy Father’s Day, Dad, wherever you may be.  I love you.