Category Archives: Jane

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Taken for granted

Last week, The Wall Street Journal did a story about a publisher taking an award-winning author it had published for years for granted – and what that author did in response.

Several days later, one of my best-selling authors received a marketing plan from her publisher which was a boilerplate document—with nothing in it pointing to a strategy for marketing and selling this author’s newest book in a creative and unique way.  I immediately contacted them and asked that they come back to us with a plan tailor made for this particular book.

Two months ago this same thing happened with another publisher and another one of their best-selling authors.  They presented a publicity plan to us that was filled with things that we had already learned weren’t working as well as rubber stamped ideas.  In that case, my client demanded (and received) a much more creative plan for her latest book, which is now being implemented.

And then there is the publisher who is putting together a small focus group to find out how they, as a publisher can be more effective.  This is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time and I truly wish everyone would introduce such research into their publishing agendas.  I am willing to bet that they would learn a great deal about how they are perceived and how to improve their publishing practices.

I wonder how you—especially those of you who have been with the same publisher through a number of books—perceive the way your books have been treated over the years. Is each title dealt with uniquely?  Or, have you found yourself being taken for granted?

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Those conventional publishing rules…are made to be broken

PicMonkey CollageLast week I had lunch with one of my favorite editors and we got to talking about the state of publishing and what was working and what wasn’t.  Somewhere along the line, we began to try to identify all of those “rules” which we were taught about the business—and discovered that in this ever changing world most of them no longer held.

Here are some examples:

Green covers don’t work—and then there was GOOD NIGHT MOON.

Books about dead or abused children won’t sell—now the true crime category is back and books like Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE have become bestsellers.

Short story collections don’t do well.   And then along comes Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.

Books about death are a “no no” but what about BEING MORTAL and WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR?

And, finally, we all know that books with unlikeable protagonists definitely don’t work, but what about those in GONE GIRL or Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS?

I guess rules are made to be broken and, I have to say, I am always delighted when those in our industry are.  It makes life so much more interesting.

I wonder whether you have any examples of what you have been told definitely won’t work…until it does.  Let me know.

Who is your reader?

One of the critical questions I ask my clients to address in their proposals is who their reader is.  They not only need to define them demographically, but also statistically.  This is to show the editor considering the material that the author understands their audience and is aiming his or her book directly at them.

For example, last week I received a cookbook proposal on a very strong idea.  The problem with this was that though the idea was unique, the author had completely neglected who the reader should be and in so doing, the contents of the proposed book didn’t work at all.  Back to the drawing board.

In another instance, I spoke with a client at the very beginning of her proposal writing and addressed how important it would be to the eventual sale of her book that the potential reader be very clearly defined.

Both of the above have to do with non-fiction.  When you are writing fiction, you also need to keep your reader in mind.  Decide where he or she would look for your book in the bookstore and if at all possible, try not to mix in elements from other genres to such a degree that you cross categories (you might turn off a whole group of potential fans).

So often, I find that the author overlooks this, but I cannot stress how important this question is to answer—it not only helps the editor considering the material but, in the case of nonfiction, it also helps the writer as they proceed with putting together their manuscript.

Whether you are writing non-fiction or fiction, being totally clear about who your audience is is vitally important.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.

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The book proposal

I know, I know, I have blogged before about doing a book proposal and how important it is.  But, it seems from what I am seeing recently that I am not getting through.

In the last couple of months, I find that clients are really rushing to get their proposals ready.  In doing so, they are making mistakes – both large and small – and ultimately prolonging the process of creating this very important document.

Book proposals really are the backbone of the non-fiction publishing process.  They identify an idea, discuss who the reader will be for that idea, both demographically and statistically, and discuss other titles which would be comparable, in terms of audience, to the one the author is proposing.

Proposals provide a structure for the book and demonstrate (with a sample chapter) the author’s writing ability.

Finally, with a bio and links of supporting material, the proposal highlights the author’s credentials and platform.

I tell my clients that doing the proposal is probably more difficult than writing the actual book but that once they have a proposal that a publisher wants to buy, they will have the blueprint for their book.

I also tell them “better late than lousy” and I mean that because a poorly constructed and written proposal will not sell in this challenging market.

So, take your time in creating your book proposal.  Think it through carefully and consider every element.  Taking the necessary time to do this right is important and will ultimately pay off.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this subject.  Let me know what you think.

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A case for military books

I have always had a healthy appetite for military books because they sell.  Books—both fiction and non-fiction—about the Civil War, and the two world wars sell particularly well.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to browse in a bookstore in Quantico, Virginia—where the FBI is based and where marine officers receive their first qualification and training.  I found the range of titles they carry very interesting.

I was at Quantico because my son was graduating from Officer Candidate School in the Marines and, in fact, he and his classmates had read many of the books (though obviously not all) that I found below:

There were books like this one about policy: IMG_2366

 

Reference books: IMG_2367

 

Children’s books: download

 

Related titles for women: 51ZLJlvzBHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Books by bestselling authors: TheGunsatLastLight

 

Books about leadership: IMG_2371

 

Books to improve our intellect and make us think:  FotorCreated

 

And bestselling fiction: IMG_2375

(Interestingly Battle Cry is a book that my father both edited and published.)

All of this underlines the fact that books about military subjects hold a real fascination for the reading public.  Now that my son is an officer, it’s a category I will follow more closely.  What are your favorite military titles?

 

 

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Why it’s sometimes best to work with a collaborator

People often ask me why the need for a collaborator and my answer is very simple—to make the work they are creating better and more saleable. (Here, by the way, I am mainly talking about non-fiction.)

Collaborators—especially those with experience—help the author, especially at the proposal stage, focus their idea and on exactly how they want to organize the message they want their book to deliver.

Collaborators can also bring out aspects of the book that the author hadn’t even considered including.

Collaborators, because they are paid a flat fee or have a percentage of the project, are dedicated to the work of producing both a proposal and a manuscript in an efficient and timely manner.  This is often something the author (especially first time authors) working alone is unable to do.

Finally, the author, if he or she wants to and is interested in writing subsequent books, can learn a great deal from the collaboration and then go on to write their own books down the line.

I would love to know your thoughts on the benefits of using a collaborator, so bring them on.

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How long should it take me to write my novel?

Over the weekend, I finished a remarkable first novel.  The author had taken many years to complete this work and, in the end, I think the time it took her to do so has paid off (of course, only the marketplace will tell).

Thinking about this – the time it takes a writer to finish a book – brought to mind how different each writer’s process is.  I found this very interesting piece on the subject in the Huffington Post.

I have clients who take many years to finish their novels, much like the writer whose work I read this weekend.   Then, there are those who actually ask for deadlines (from me) by when they should have their next manuscript completed.  And then, of course, there are those who can conceptualize their stories and write them down much much faster.

In the end, there is no right answer to how long it should take a writer to complete his/her manuscript.  It is what works for each individual.  I find it’s best not to compare your process to others’. Do what feels right for you.

I am curious to hear what you think about the subject.  Let me know.

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Panel etiquette

Over the years, I have been asked to participate on a number of panels.  Some of the experiences have been very positive—I have learned a lot and met some really terrific people.  Some of them, however, have  been…less than perfect.

In order to understand exactly how a panel should proceed, I went on Google (but, of course) and found some good advice.   When things go smoothly, everyone has a good time.  Sadly, that’s not always the case.

A while back I was asked to be a part of a panel on the state of self-publishing.  Having a lot to say on the subject (and I thought a good amount of knowledge as well), I agreed.  Everything began positively,  but then one of the participants simply hijacked the proceedings and took over the discussion.  Soon, the panel moderator lost all control.  At the time, I vowed never to repeat that experience.

Last year, I moderated a panel, chose the participants and presided over a lively session.  That experience  was a good one.  I very briefly introduced myself and then each of the participants and made sure that each of them contributed equally to the discussion.  It was, I thought, very successful and I think the audience learned a great deal—and we all enjoyed ourselves.

Over the weekend, I again participated on a publishing panel.  This time, the moderator not only took far too long to relate her own story, but then interrupted me and the others in mid-speech. Everyone in the audience noticed and even commented on this afterward.  Her behavior was offensive and disrespectful and, because of this, I was unable to fully enjoy this particular event.

Panels are meant to inform and teach.  Moderators should use their position to control each speaker and support them and to move things along, not as a bully pulpit.  I think after this last experience (combined with some of my previous ones), I will limit the panels in which I participate in the future.  We publishing folks do these things in our free time and they take us away from other important activities.   I would much rather “teach”  and learn than be diminished by someone who either deliberately or through ignorance doesn’t follow the etiquette of panel participation.

What has your experience been as a participant in panels or audience member?

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Going back a ways…

Last week, I received this lovely message from one of my long term clients, “Do you realize next September we will have been working together for 15 years?  I am blessed.”

And I realized just how many of our clients have been with us for many many  years. For instance:

Gus Lee, author of several novels, including his bestselling CHINA BOY, and the recently published non-fiction, WITH SCHWARZKOPF, has been a friend and a client since 1989.

Thomas French the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of the still-in-print UNANSWERED CRIES has been with us since 1989 as well.  He and his wife Kelley are publishing a book next year about the birth of their very premature daughter titled THE ZERO ZONE.

Lorene Cary, author of both non-fiction­, BLACK ICE, and fiction, THE PRICE OF A CHILD, among others has actually been with the agency since 1988.

The great Mary Doria Russell has been a client since the 1990s and her latest, EPITAPH, is making a number of “best of the year” lists.

Interestingly, there are many long term clients whom, for one reason or another, I have not actually met—but we are in constant communication, and I feel like they are “family”.

The point of all of this is that we all have experienced through these long alliances the value of continuity.  In a business that has gone through and continues to see major upheavals, it is these ongoing connections that provide new opportunities and enrich our professional (and personal) lives.

I look forward to many more years of continuing these important and treasured relationships and establishing new ones.

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Holiday gifting

Because of what I do, I generally don’t buy books as holiday gifts.  Frankly, I find it too difficult—there are so many to choose from.  This year, though, I thought I would try to select some that family and friends would enjoy.

But what should I be considering?  Their interests? Their reading taste?  Perhaps I should pick books that I would want to read.  In the end, I chose the latter, simply because that is always the way I buy gifts—I buy others what I would want for myself.  I so enjoy doing that.

So, here is a list of ten books—all published in 2015—that I think might make great gifts.  My one disclaimer is that I haven’t chosen books that I represent for the obvious reason: I think they are all pretty fantastic, and I couldn’t possibly single out ten.  So, here goes:

FICTION:

City of Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg (Knopf)

God Help the Child  by Toni Morrison (Knopf)

Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon (Atria)

A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories by Lucia Berlin (Farrar, Strauss)

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Riverhead)

NON-FICTION:

Guantánamo DiaryDaughters of the Samurai: A Journey from East to West and Back by Janice P. Nimura (Norton)

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedo Ould Slahi (Little Brown)

Jonas Salk: A Life by Charlotte de Croes (Oxford University Press)

Killing a King: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Remaking of Israel by Dan Ephron (Pantheon)

The 613 by Archie Rand (Blue Ridge Press)

All of these are books I would love to read (in fact I have only read one). How do you choose the books you will give as holiday gifts and what are you planning to give?