Category Archives: Jane

6

The non-fiction book proposal

Most writers who are hoping to sell a non-fiction book know that in order to do so it is necessary to create a book proposal. This document can be critical not only to the sale of the book but to the size of the publisher’s offer.  I often tell prospective clients that doing the proposal is an unnatural act—it can actually be more difficult to create a good one than to write the book itself.  Our website describes exactly what is required to be in the proposal clearly and concisely (see “Nonfiction Proposal Guidelines”).

These days, I am consistently trying to push writers to create proposals that are well focused and that clearly define the different readerships, both demographically and statistically.  Inevitably, as I learned last week, a writer will try to “game” the system—describing his or her book as neither fish nor fowl and thus confusing the reader (the editor).  The result is a rejection letter instead of an offer.  So I am stressing here that it is extremely important for the writer proposing a work of non-fiction to clearly define exactly what he or she wants to do in his or her book in a keynote sentence or two. That keynote is so very important!  If a sale is made, the proposal goes from the writer, to the editor who buys the book, to the publisher, to the person who creates both the catalog and cover copy and, finally, to the sales person who is selling the book in to the accounts.  It has to be right.

And, sometimes, for it to be “right” takes time.  The other thing that was brought home to me again this last week is that rushing a book proposal never pays.  It results in shoddy work which can be misinterpreted by the editor considering the material.  I use the saying “better late than lousy” so often these days—and it is very important to remember.  Doing the proposal the right way can make all the difference in the world.

Of course, as always, I would be interested in hearing your thoughts and experiences on the subject of proposal writing.

3

WE ARE GROWING!

Today I want to welcome two new members to our staff.

I am thrilled to announce that Eric Myers joins us today as an agent after thirteen years at The Spieler Agency.   As you will see in our staff bios page, Eric is a graduate of UCLA and the Sorbonne, Eric entered publishing as a journalist and book author. His books include Screen Deco: A Celebration of High Style in Hollywood, Forties Screen Style: A Celebration of High Pastiche in Hollywood, and Uncle Mame: The Life of Patrick Dennis, all published by St. Martin’s Press. His writing has also appeared in The New York Times Magazine and Arts and Leisure sections, as well as Time Out, Variety, Opera News, and Art and Auction.  As an agent, Eric has a strong affinity for Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, as well as adult non-fiction, especially in the areas of history, biography, psychology, health and wellness, mind/body/spirit, and pop culture. I know that Eric will be a great addition to DGLM.

I am also belatedly welcoming Erin Young who joined DGLM as assistant to Michael Bourret in our West Coast office in Los Angeles, where she is also working toward an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. Previously, she worked as an editor at two prestigious literary magazines. Erin received her bachelor’s degree in zoology and loves all things about animals. She is interested in all forms of young adult and middle grade fiction, particularly fantasy, paranormal, and magical realism. In adult fiction, she likes weird literary and intellectual commercial thrillers. In nonfiction, she enjoys memoirs and biographies, sport and science narratives, and just about anything unusually original. I am so pleased that Erin is part of our team.

Please join me in welcoming both of these new members of our family.

6

Staying positive in a volatile environment

It’s still a relatively new year and I have been reflecting on how much our publishing environment continues to change.  Books that sold easily even two or three years ago are no longer selling, categories that weren’t selling as recently as last year are all of a sudden back in vogue, the landscape for self-published books has undergone a major shift, both for those who have been picked up previously by traditional publishers and for those who have gone back to self-publishing or who are continuing to self-publish but having much less success.  So, how are we supposed to stay positive in this ever changing publishing environment?

I started googling “how to be positive” and found the Internet teeming with articles about this very thing.  I guess I’m not the only one pondering this issue.

Among the more helpful pieces I came across was this one in WikiHow.  Admitting there are problems and identifying what they are has always been something I believe in doing and I try to pay special attention to this—especially now.  Then I set goals every quarter and I review those goals monthly.  I find it  very important to be honest with myself as to whether or not I am achieving those goals and if not, I ask myself why not.

I ask for feedback from those I respect.  It is so important, in my opinion to listen to others who are knowledgeable.

Finally, I try not to be afraid of failure.  In my career, I have certainly faced some pretty major setbacks but I have always addressed them and the reasons for them head-on, and that has enabled me to move forward.

Even writing this blog has helped me to evaluate the issue of staying positive in an ever changing publishing environment and I hope it will help you as well.  Please let me know if it has.

1

The job of a literary agent

Last week I began thinking about what the technical responsibilities of a literary agent are compared to what we at DGLM do for our clients.  I researched the subject and I also asked our staff what they thought.  The results are interesting and I wanted to share those with you, our readers.

First, I found this definition of the responsibilities of a literary agent online:

Literary agents represent authors in the publishing world. Authors rely on literary agents to manage the business aspect of publishing for them. Agents negotiate contracts regarding publishing rights, advances and royalties. They represent authors to book publishers and other companies that may be interested in publishing an author’s work.

It turns out that this is a good definition but it doesn’t cover nearly all of the things we do for our clients at our agency.

This weekend for example Miriam and I have been working on amending an exciting movie/TV contract for one of our clients who had previously committed to this project without really realizing what she was getting into.  In fact, working with our clients on weekends and after office hours is something we do all the time.

We also do many things that other agencies do not do:

  • We send out  adult and childrens’ book  newsletters three times per year announcing the books we will be selling in the following four months and those we have sold in the previous four months.
  •  We have a digital book program with its own manager whereby we help clients self-publish their work—either new projects or those where the rights have reverted.
  • We have an extensive, informative website which we are constantly updating.
  • We have author social media guides for all kinds of situations.
  • We are very hands on in career management, advising our authors not just in the book space, but also in film/TV, newspapers and periodicals, and in whatever other career category they require our help.

We  also often go above and beyond, by helping clients with legal issues on for other parts of their lives, helping them to get mortgages or refinance their homes, even helping them to get jobs when we are able, and, perhaps more importantly,  providing a constant source of advice and support.

Above all else, and as I have said very recently in this space, we never give up until we really believe we have hit a wall and that it is best for our client to move on to the next project.  What is your experience and your expectations of literary agents?

I am sure I have overlooked some of the things we do that go above and beyond that tight definition of the responsibilities of the agent but this will give you a very good idea of the kind of agency Dystel & Goderich Literary Management is.

5

My favorite New Year’s resolution

So it’s a new year and rather than making a list of virtually the same resolutions I made in 2014, I started to think about what my all-time favorite one is.  I thought back through this year, which was, in fact, a difficult one for me for a number of reasons and what comes to mind is:

“Never give up!”

Indeed, my father, whom I lost last May, taught me that perseverance is one of the most important qualities a person can have.  I listened to him carefully, watched as he led by example and have learned through much trial and error that not giving up is incredibly important.

In my career, as in my personal life, I have always tried to achieve my best.  I have also always stuck with clients whose work I absolutely knew would find a home and just two weeks ago I learned again the real value of perseverance.

I had tried to sell a new client’s novel beginning in the fall of 2012 and finally had to acknowledge that it wasn’t going to happen about four months and dozens of rejections later.  He came back to me with a new manuscript in the spring of 2014 and finally, after submitting to 30 publishers  and on the last day I was in the office before our holiday break, I found him a home…I think a good one.  He didn’t give up and neither did I.  There were times along the way when we both thought about giving up and moving on, but instead we just kept moving forward.

So I am hoping that in 2015 we will all continue to persevere in whatever we choose to do.  That really is my favorite New Year’s resolution.

0

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.

1

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.

2

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.

2

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.

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.