Category Archives: Jane

1

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.

3

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.

0

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.

4

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.

12

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.

7

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.

0

Romantic times

Every time I embark on a business trip to a writers’ conference, I feel a sense of adventure.  Who will I meet?  What have they written?  What new things will I learn while I am there?  And, as I believe I have previously written on this blog, I have discovered many writers on these journeys who have ultimately become bestsellers.

Never, however have I been to the Romantic Times Writers’ Conference, which this year is being held in New Orleans.  I am going tomorrow and I am really psyched at the thought of what I might discover.logo

One of the best things about my trip is that I will be spending time with many of my current clients, finding out what they are doing next and exploring new strategies with them.  Interestingly, I will meet many clients in person for the first time simply because they live far from New York –  and, as you know, I always love meeting new people.

I will also be meeting  clients who are represented by my colleagues at DGLM, which I am very excited to do.  As importantly, I will be meeting  new potential clients, which is always exciting to me.  The experience of discovering new talent is one of the biggest pleasures in our business.

Finally, I will be visiting a city I haven’t been to in many years – a city that has gone through enormous changes in that period of time.  I am eager to see how New Orleans has been transformed and continues to move forward.

I would love to know what your writers’ conference experiences have been, so please do share them with me.

4

A crowning achievement

Monday,  April 14, was the day of the first Passover seder.  Because of that I was at home preparing food for my family and guests.  At around 3:00, I checked my e-mail  and saw that an amazing thing had happened.  My client Dan Fagin had been awarded the Pulitzer Prize in the category of general non-fiction for his astounding work on TOMS RIVER (Bantam Books 2013).

fagin 2

Of course, TOMS RIVER had received gushing reviews from The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, USA Today and many other publications, and it had won a Books for a Better Life award in its category. We (Dan and I), however, were not made aware that it was a finalist for the Pulitzer and so this win came as a complete surprise.  Both of us were simply stunned.

Over the years I have been fortunate to work with a number of Pulitzer Prize winning journalists on their books but I have never had one of the books I worked on from the idea stage on actually win this great American prize.  There is, in my opinion no one more deserving than Dan Fagin, because of his brilliant research, beautiful prose, and tenacity in telling a powerful and important story.

Dan worked on TOMS RIVER  for six years.  Through that period, for various reasons, he lost one editor after another, although he finally wound up with the very talented Ryan Doherty.  Dan’s winning this award proves more than ever that hard work pays off.  I have rarely seen an author work harder on a book.

I am so incredibly proud to have been a part of this project.  We here, at DGLM, are very proud of Dan’s incredible achievement.  I hope you will all join me in wishing Dan Fagin a well earned congratulations.

Bravo, my friend.  Way to go!

6

Conscious coupling

Recently, the term “Conscious Uncoupling” has become part of the zeitgeist.  It is meant to define the dissolving of a marriage.

Today, I’d like to discuss “Conscious Coupling” or collaborating on a book – in this case a work of fiction.

In Hollywood, collaborating on screenplays is done all the time and there are good reasons for that.  As I understand it, two people working together to write in that format can benefit from each other’s ideas, and the result can be that much stronger.

To some extent, the same can be said for two people collaborating on a fiction book.  There is no question that sharing ideas can add to the story and if the collaborators can blend their voices, the result can work.  But book collaborations of this kind can be fraught with problems for one or both of the participating authors.

If they are using their real names and then each wants to go off and write individually using his or her own name, could be limited by the option and non-compete clauses in their previous contracts.  If they use a pseudonym for the collaboration, they will not receive the credit they would want for writing the book and if the collaboration results in a successful book, it would not further their career when writing under their own names.

Many times in these collaborations, one of the authors is seen as the more important name, and then the other suffers both in the collaboration and when s/he wants to publish under his/her own name.

Finally, these collaborations can be used as a crutch.  They are comfortable and can be fun to do, but in the end, book writing—successful book writing – is a very difficult and individual task.  When the author completes a novel by him/herself and sells it, his/her future from a contractual point of view is clear and well defined.   S/he knows what s/he can and cannot do going forward as far as his/her option and non- complete responsibilities are concerned.  In the end, it seems to me this is the best path a novelist can take to grow his/her career.

I’d love to know what you think about these kinds of collaborations.  Do you like to read books written by more than one author?

6

Book orphans

About two months ago, one of my clients turned in the manuscript for her new novel after having worked on it for several years.   She was a bit nervous but also very excited as this was the first novel she was publishing with her new publisher.  About a week after she submitted the material, I had a note from her editor that she was leaving the publishing house and, in fact, leaving publishing altogether.  She said that she would be editing the book on a freelance basis, but that the shepherding of it through the publishing process would not be her responsibility.

Needless to say, this was pretty devastating news to my client.  As I mentioned, this was a new publisher for her.  She had published five novels with her previous publisher and during those years had been edited by at least five different editors—each leaving the house or the business.  Now she was experiencing being “orphaned” again.

I made a couple of phone calls and as it happens the publisher of this particular house has promised me that he will be looking after my client himself.  Though he will not be doing the actual editing, he will be guiding the novel’s publication and so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that, with his help, this book will be a huge success.

It’s true, though, that the saga of the orphaned book is a real one and, in this age of downsizing and publishing mergers, it could well become a more frequent phenomenon.  This makes the agent’s job all the more important as we have to ensure more than ever that our clients and their work are well looked after and that their books are published well.

Last summer, another one of my clients had his book published after it had been transferred during the writing process to five different editors.  That story did have a happy ending.  The book’s final editor was totally devoted to the work and, in my opinion, his editorial suggestions made it even better.  The reviews have been phenomenal and the sales have been solid.  Equally as important, I have an author who was well satisfied with his publishing experience in the end.

But this is a tricky road to follow and it is important for the agent to be vigilant and take special care.  I found this piece in GalleyCat, which covers the topic and which, interestingly, quoted yours truly

So, I wonder, if your book were orphaned, what would you do?