Category Archives: Jane

4

Chatting with the president

As many of our readers and clients know, I met our current president when he was a second-year law student at Harvard University and represented his first book, DREAMS FROM MY FATHER.  I remember saying to him when he first came to my office to meet me (I believe he was twenty-five years old) that if there was ever to be a black president during my lifetime, I believed it would be he.  I had the distinct impression that this wasn’t the first time he had heard someone say that.

When it came to the sale of the second book, THE AUDACITY OF HOPE, Obama chose to work with a D.C. agent more appropriate to represent someone who was running for office (at the time, the U.S. Senate). We continued to communicate, though, directly or through a close staffer named Reggie Love .

Fast forward to last July when, during the Democratic National Convention, the controversy involving the Khan (Gold Star) family arose and, thinking about my son, who is now an officer in the Marines, I wrote a note to Reggie asking him to convey a message to the president telling him how strongly I felt about his support of military families.  Reggie told me that he would convey my message to the President.

img_2976In response to my note, I received a handwritten letter from Barack telling me how proud he was of Zachary and inviting me to come to the White House to meet with him before he left office.

And so, on Wednesday December 7th my husband and I journeyed to Washington where we met with the President in the Oval Office and talked for about fifteen minutes – about our past, about our children, and about our future.  And as we left, he thanked me for the work I had done for him so long ago and asked that we stay in touch.

This experience was, to say the least, one of the highlights of my career.  To have been a part of this man’s professional life and career is something I am very proud of and I will remember his words always.

2

2016, what a year…and not in a good way

It’s the holiday season, right?  And so, we are all supposed to be filled with the joy of this time of year – beautiful decorations,

CC courtesy of PBS NewsHour (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/legalcode)

(CC courtesy of PBS NewsHour)

Christmas carols, food and drink and lots of parties.  Why then do I find myself so discouraged and even depressed?  The truth of the matter is that the horrible events of 2016 have simply worn me out.  I just want to bury myself in a good book so I don’t have to look at the headlines any more.

Here are just some of the terrible things that happened this year, a far from comprehensive list:

The deaths of David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Muhammad Ali, Gene Wilder, Alan Rickman, Jose Fernandez, Christina Grimmie, Gwen Ifill, and Florence Henderson.

New Ebola cases in Africa and the Zika virus outbreak

The Istanbul Airport attack, the Bastille Day terrorist attack in Nice, France, plus the bombing in Brussels, and the ISIS attack in Jakarta.

The killings of unarmed black citizens.

The nightclub shooting in Orlando and  the Dallas police shooting,

Harambe’s killing at the Cincinnati Zoo and the Disney gator attack

California wildfires and Gatlinburg, North Carolina, wild fires, plus the most recent wild fires in Tennessee.

Brexit.

The plane in Brazil running out of fuel and crashing with the young championship soccer team aboard.

The escalating refugee crisis and the horrors in Syria.

And,  don’t get me started on the U.S. elections.

I am certainly hoping that 2017 is far, far better.  Curious, though, do you all agree that 2016 was a miserable year?  And, what are you reading to take your mind off the news?

0

It’s that time of year again

It’s Thanksgiving already and even though I find myself a bit “down” this year because of all that has happened, I still love to reflect on what I am thankful for:

My wonderful husband, Steve, who is supportive in every way.  He is my “rock.”

My beautiful and accomplished daughter  Jessica, a correspondent at Reuters, her incredible husband, Brian, and their children Elena (9) and Leo (2).

My handsome, determined and very brave son Zachary who is currently achieving his dream of becoming a pilot as a Marine officer.

My incredibly talented partner Miriam Goderich who has helped me build and run this business for  almost three decades and my new partner Michael Bourret of whom I am so proud.

Our accomplished agents and support staff.  You are a fabulous team and I am so thankful for all you do every day.

And then, most importantly, I am so thankful for our clients without whom we wouldn’t continue to thrive and grow.  Your work is incredibly important and we are all grateful that we can continue to work together to build your careers as writers.

Of course, I would love to hear what you, our readers, are thankful for at this time of year, so let me know.

Meanwhile, a happy Thanksgiving to all.

2

China!

great-wallOur trip to China was truly fascinating.  As you all know,  the country is huge, both geographically and in terms of its population.  Beijing has 22 million people; Shanghai has 25 million.  We saw so many amazing things—even a week after our return it is difficult to remember them all:

In Beijing, of course, we climbed The Great Wall.  Our guide took us to a part of the wall not visited by many tourists so it was relatively free of the hordes.  And in order to come down, we took individual toboggans—which was really thrilling. Being there was incredibly exciting.

We also visited The Forbidden City which is very beautiful and The Temple of Heaven which is both lovely and interesting. We had lunch in one of the old neighborhoods called Narrow Alley where our guide had grown up, and we rode on a pedicab.  We drove around Tiananmen Square with the huge picture of MAO still overlooking it.  I felt like I had taken a step back in history.

terra-cotta-1Then we flew to Xian—a city of nine million—where the huge number of high rises going up is simply astounding.  It was there that we viewed the army of Terracotta Warriors, a stunning archeological discovery made in 1974.

Among other things, we also had a lesson in Chinese Calligraphy which was great fun. And we saw the Wild Goose Pagodas which overlooks Xian and is simply beautiful.

Then on to Shanghai.  This city, whose modern section is no more than 25 years old epitomizes modern China—rushing headlong towards the future.  There are incredible innovations in fashion, finance, technology and transport which have helped make this a global hub with one of the world’s busiest ports.  We walked The Bund—a  famous waterfront area in central Shanghai—several times and visited both the historical buildings along the way as well as the towering skyscrapers (many over 100 stories high) just across the Huangpu River near the mouth of the Yangtze.  We explored the old British and French quarters, the Yu Garden, which is beautiful, and shopped (or tried to at least) on the famous Nanjing Road.  One of the highlights was seeing a thrilling extravaganza featuring innovative acrobatics, death defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects.  (It was like the Big Apple Circus on steroids!)

img_2869This is an adventure we will never forget.  It was challenging in that there is a twelve-hour time difference and the language barrier prevented us from doing certain things we would have liked to do.  But we agreed that this was probably the most fantastic trip we have ever taken.

And, of course, I am thinking of some book ideas inspired by China, and hope to be able to move ahead with them in the weeks and months to come.

4

My impending trip to China and what I am hoping to learn from it

great-wall-of-china-814143_1920Over the last several years, my husband and I have become more adventurous in the places we travel to on vacation. We have been to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Jordan (five years ago), Australia, Kenya, through Peru and Machu Picchu, and on a cruise on the Amazon. This year, we are going to China (Beijing, Xian and Shanghai). Every time I travel, I hope to learn something that I can bring back with me to my regular life. When I returned from Kenya, I came back with a book idea and as a result we have a publishing contract which I am very excited about.terracotta-1028109_1920

In Beijing, we will go to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and we will of course journey to The Great Wall (and climb a bit of it). I am so excited to visit these historic places that I have only read about in the past. In Xian, we will see the Terracotta Warriors (both those which have been restored and the actual “dig” which is ongoing), the Great Mosque of Xian, and the Wild Goose Pagoda. In Shanghai we will have a full city tour including the Old Quarter, Yu Garden and the modern city. One night we are going to an “extravaganza” including acrobatics, death-defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects!pexels-photo

Throughout all of this, I am hoping to learn about the people of China and their culture and maybe, just maybe, I might return with another book idea or two.
I wonder what you come back from your vacations with? I would love to hear.

0

How what we do is like golf

As many of you know, I am constantly trying to improve my golf game.  Each summer I spend hours on Saturdays and Sundays on the driving range, in lessons, and on the golf course practicing and playing.  This summer I started working with a new golf pro to completely change and improve my swing; it was a radical step that involved studying videos of my swing (something I’d never done before) and learning how to make adjustments based on the replays, but, in the end, after many hours of working on it  and lots of frustration, I am happy to report that I’m seeing some significant improvement.Golfing

Like golf, our agenting takes continual practice, both in choosing the projects we will represent and establishing a strategy to sell those projects.  As in golf, we find that we learn from our failures as much or more than from our successes and we are constantly tweaking our game—finding different publishers and editors to whom to submit and different approaches to developing the books we are representing.

This can be a very frustrating process, but as with golf, with enough “practice” we often succeed.

In fact, this summer I have done deals with at least three publishers who are entirely new to me.  After agenting for so many years, I still get a kick out of establishing relationships with new publishers and editors—it’s a very inspiring and exciting part of our business.

Changing things up every once in a while is something I love to do, both in golf and in life.  Do you have a hobby or sport you pursue that gives you perspective on your writing?

1

The 2016 Democratic National Convention

Karla Ortiz and her mother, Francisca Ortiz

Karla Ortiz and her mother, Francisca Ortiz

Last week I found myself riveted to the TV during the Democratic National Convention—for a number of reasons.  One of them, though, was the number of potential book projects.  For example:

Karla Ortiz: Karla is an eleven-year-old American citizen living in Las Vegas, but her parents are undocumented and, as a result, live in fear of deportation.

Lauren Manning, a former partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, is one of the most catastrophically wounded survivors of 9/11.  She battled enormous odds of survival, spending more than six months in the hospital, and fought through the next decade to recover from burns over 82.5% of her body.

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza from New York City was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia when she was born and is an advocate for Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Kate Burdick: a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

Jelani Freeman, who grew up in foster care in Washington D.C. Since receiving his law degree, he has worked to bring opportunity to kids at risk.

Mothers of the Movement (L-R: Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, Wanda Johnson, Lezley McSpadden)

Mothers of the Movement (L-R: Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Wanda Johnson, Lezley McSpadden)

Mothers of the Movement: Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis; Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Annette Nance-Holt, mother of Blair Holt; and Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant. Each of these women could have a meaningful book (one of them has already published) but I think a book by or about all of them could be very compelling.

Khizr & Ghazala Khan

Khizr & Ghazala Khan

Erica Smegielski, whose mother Dawn was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary and was killed while trying to protect her students.  Erica is an advocate for common sense gun violence prevention.

And finally Khizr Khan whose son Humayun S. M. Khan was a University of Virginia graduate and who enlisted in the army.  Khan was one of 14 American Muslims who died serving the US in the ten years after 9/11.

Did you see any others who might be great subjects, or authors of potential books?  Let me know.

2

What do we do when things get slow?

 

It’s summer, and things have really slowed down in the business.  Editors are away, authors are away—so it’s difficult to actually get books sold and contracts moving forward at anything but a glacial pace.  So what does an agent do at this time?

I actually think this is great opportunity to read whatever I can in order to identify new writers and new ideas.  I also go through our client list and find those I can contact and discuss what they are thinking about doing next.

“Quiet” times are when proposals can be developed well rather than rushed to get to market.

I also spend more time with editors at this time of year to discover what they are looking for, whether they have holes in their lists, what they have read recently that they loved.

This is a great opportunity to plan for the very busy fall selling season so I will develop the list of titles that we will be presenting beginning right after Labor Day.  I contact those clients whose books should be ready to submit at that time and make sure they are on track—this is me in the role of cheerleader J.

This is also a time when I can evaluate carefully my current list of titles on submission and see where I should make changes – either continuing to pursue selling a book or advising the client to move on to something new.

So, though it’s “quiet”, or seemingly so at this time of year, it is a time to review and renew and move forward.

I’d love to hear what you do during your “quiet” times of the year?

5

When nothing works

Often, when I tell people what my job is, they reply that it sounds really fun.  The fact is that most of the time it is. I get to read for a living.  I live in a world of ideas.  I work with people on all sides of the business who are creative and passionate about helping writers succeed in a pretty competitive marketplace.  I love that there is so much variety in what I am doing in a single day—editing a proposal, discussing a new idea with a client, talking about a potential project with a publisher, negotiating contract terms, helping to plan a publicity and marketing campaign, etc.

The other side of this, though, is what to do when nothing seems to be working.  Yes, there are times when it seems nobody is interested in the projects we are submitting.  Editors like the idea but can’t relate to the “voice”; they don’t think the concept works for their list; they can’t define a big enough market; the author isn’t qualified to be writing the book he or she is proposing or don’t have a big enough platform…I’ve heard it all.  Sometimes this gets really discouraging, especially during periods when it seems to be happening with everything we are submitting.

We ask ourselves what we are doing wrong.  Are we picking the wrong projects, presenting them in the wrong way, sending to the wrong editors and publishers?  What is it?  And then we think that maybe we should change up everything—do things differently.

While considering this the other day, I looked up “what to do when nothing works” on Google and I found 300,000,000 entries.  Astonishing! I read through some of them, but, in the end, after a long career full of these experiences, I have come to the conclusion that what I need to do is to stop second guessing myself and just keep doing what I’ve always done: Look for those new ideas and help our clients present them in fresh and original ways.  Identify new editors and new publishing opportunities.  Just keep moving forward.  To quote myself:  “NEXT!”

What do you do when nothing seems to be working in your world?

11

Making a bestseller

THE WIDOWThere are times, lots of them I think, when a publisher decides to totally get behind a book in order to make it a bestseller.  That happened with a novel, a thriller, published by NAL last February entitled THE WIDOW. Everyone at the publishing house was asked to read the book and start a real buzz about it (when I asked an editor colleague there for a suggestion on what to take with me on my February vacation, she readily recommended this book).

The publisher compared the novel to GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN and everything possible was done in promotion and advertising to put THE WIDOW on the bestsellers list.  And it worked. The book made The New York Times list and remained on it for several weeks.

I read THE WIDOW—though several weeks after my vacation—and I was thoroughly disappointed.  It simply did not live up to the hype it had been given.  I did a survey of those in our company who had also read it and everyone agreed with me.  The book simply didn’t deliver what had been promised—a  page turning psychological thriller. (I even asked my colleague who had recommended the book in the first place what she thought and it turned out that she too was disappointed.)

In May of this year, Berkley, the sister company of NAL published another psychological thriller titled I LET YOU GO. But this one didn’t get the same kind of support in house.  For some reason—though it too was compared to GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN—the powers that be decided not promote it in the same way as they had done for THE WIDOW.

I LET YOU GOI finished I LET YOU GO last week and it is one of the best books I have read in a very long time.  It delivers on all fronts—solid writing, great story telling and characters the reader really roots for.  Again I surveyed my company colleagues who had read the book to see what they thought.  Everyone agreed that this book really delivered.

So my question is why was the decision made to support one of these books and not the other? Why, in the end, did one become a bestseller and the other not?  For those of you who have read both—or who have an opinion on how these decisions are made—I would love to hear your thoughts.