Category Archives: Jane

1

A tale of two cultures working together

Last week, I journeyed to LA to meet a group of TV/film people, find out what they are looking for in the way of new projects and tell them about many of the books we are representing which we hoped they would be interested in reading and ultimately optioning.  Often we work through a community of co-agents to get to these producers, but I always feel that meeting in person, when possible, cements a relationship.  Putting a face to a name is a good thing.

I hadn’t done this kind of trip in many years–film people come through our offices all the time–and I really enjoyed meeting all of these new folks.  The differences between our two cultures (book publishing and Hollywood) really struck me, though.

First and foremost is the fact that the people in the LA movie business are totally dependent on their cars–they need to drive everywhere as public transportation is very limited.

Another difference is that we in publishing submit our projects almost exclusively online.  Theirs, on the other hand, is a world of in-person pitches.  Co-agents meet with producers, directors and sometimes writers to pitch them projects.  We do almost all of this electronically. Here is a photo of a pool we sat beside to pitch a producer some of our books (not a bad way to do it, actually, except hard to accomplish in New York City).

Finally, the Hollywood folk spend a lot of time on the phone.  This is something we in publishing really try to avoid.  Of course, sometimes phone calls are necessary to describe a project we are really passionate about, and/or to begin or complete a negotiation, but most of the time we find it more efficient and, frankly, legally sound to keep our communications written.

The “publishing lunch,” though, is something the folks in the film business enjoy equally.  The difference between us is that we journey to our destination on foot, by cab, or subway, while they drive.  Here is a photo outside the CAA Headquarters where you can see a large number of valets who are on staff to park and bring up cars for those entering and leaving.

Bottom line, though?  I think this was a very productive trip in every way and now I am looking forward to digging in and sending out the numerous projects that the people we met with want to consider.

1

Writing shorter is better

As many of my colleagues and clients know, as much as I enjoy reading, I absolutely hate writing. When I am required to write something, however, I have learned to be as brief and concise as possible–for me this works better, enabling me to get my point across without committing dozens of literary mistakes.

Now, my client Roy Peter Clark has published a book that tells us just how to do this effectively:

Ever since he came up with this idea, I have been excited – finally a book that I can use to improve whatever writing skills I have.

Writing short is what is happening these days, what with Twitter and all of the other social media messaging. But doing so effectively is definitely a different skill—especially for those who haven’t done it before. I think this piece by Roy which the New York Times published last week really says it all.

Certainly, following Roy’s advice has made me more confident in my writing skills. I am curious how other writers feel about the phenomenon of “short writing” given the growing importance of social media.

4

When traditional publishing works!

With book publishing undergoing such major changes and so many of my colleagues and clients  discouraged by these, one wonders whether the experience of having a first book published will ever be as satisfying as it once was.  The answer is “yes!” Last week one of my projects, a first book, had an incredibly exciting and successful launch.

Five years ago, I read the obituary of Robert Giroux and I thought that there might be a wonderful story about Farrar Straus & Giroux and its authors during its heyday.  I thought about who might write this book and read a very good piece in New York Magazine written by a young writer named Boris Kachka.  Boris and I talked and, though he was initially doubtful about whether such a book would sell, he decided to tackle it.

The idea then became his and the result, five years later is HOTHOUSE: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America’s Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar Straus & Giroux.  The success of the book, as is always the case, was dependent on a number of factors:

1)    The manuscript was well written and told a compelling story.

2)    The editing was brilliant.

3)    The launch of the book was thoroughly thought out and extremely well timed.

In fact, Boris produced a terrific manuscript which even in draft form was a real page turner.  Then his editor Jofie Ferrari-Adler did an incredible job of editing the narrative.

Finally, with Jofie’s  passionate mentorship, Simon & Schuster strategically sent out galleys to writers and independent booksellers for quotes.  Authors, including Toni Morrison, Junot Diaz, and Larry McMurtry, and dozens of independent booksellers commented on how terrific the material was.

The title topped the August non-fiction Independent Bookseller Recommended list and then the publisher distributed a superb marketing brochure conceived by publishing icon Michael Korda and developed by Jofie, his team and Boris.  Check it out:

HOTHOUSE

In this day of digital distribution, the brochure was mailed out to hundreds of people and the reaction was instantaneous and incredibly enthusiastic.  Everyone who received it wanted an advance copy of the book.

HOTHOUSE was reprinted before it was published on August 6th and was celebrated at a publishing party in the Roundtable Room at the Algonquin.

Of course we don’t know what will ultimately happen in this story, but of one thing I am sure.  As I stood listening to Boris talk at his launch party, I thought, “This is why I love the publishing business!”


5

“We are in the business of communication!”

The title of this post is a phrase I find myself using all the time.  We “communicate” all day long by texting, by emailing, on Twitter, on Facebook, etc., but I wonder if we are really communicating. Even phone conversations seem to be a dying art.

The other day when I opened my e-mail in the morning, I found a very concerned message from an editor suggesting that one of my clients’ manuscript was deeply flawed and he suggested that he was going to have to reject it.  I reminded him, again by e-mail, of the clause in the client’s contract requiring the publisher to provide a list of the problems and to give the writer a chance to rectify the situation.  Over e-mail the issue certainly sounded dire and unfixable.  But then he and I talked and he suggested that we call the writer together.  He said he was going to tell her that one of her options was to put the current manuscript aside and begin a new one.  This was a person whom he had only e-mailed with and whom I had also mostly communicated with by e-mail, so we had no idea how she would react.

First, the editor e-mailed my client to make a date to talk.  This naturally freaked her out and she e-mailed me and asked what was going on.  I told her a bit about the problem (again by e-mail) and said we would cover the rest in our talk.  Frankly, I wasn’t sure she would participate in the conference call at all.  She did, though, and when she was told on the phone that one of her options was to put the current novel aside and begin again, she was hugely relieved.  She and I had a subsequent lovely and constructive conversation and we all “walked away” feeling good about what had seemed like an unfixable problem at the beginning of the day.  We all felt much more positive and moving forward.

This all goes to prove that picking up the phone and talking can be far more effective and satisfying than e-mailing as this article in Forbes suggests.

It’s true that phone conversations take longer than e-mailing but often they get more accomplished.  I don’t know about you, but I am going to try to talk more and e-mail less from now on and see what happens.  I would be curious to hear what you think about all of this.

6

We’re not always what we seem

Recently, one of my favorite clients explained how even though she seems otherwise, she is an introvert in real life – and that gave me pause.

I am an active and very public literary agent in the publishing world.  I negotiate deals every day with publishers, movie and tv people and foreign publishers and I am known to be a staunch defender of my clients’ rights.  Indeed, I am passionate about what I do.

Deep down, though, I am truly very shy. In fact years ago, I found that during a job interview, the interviewer suggested to me that I really should look the person I was communicating with in the eye.  I never even realized I wasn’t doing that, but in fact, up until that point, I hadn’t been.

Still, today, many years later, if I agree to attend a cocktail party for example, I have to fight the impulse to find one person in a corner to talk to and stay there all evening.  I am extremely nervous entering  a room filled with groups of people I don’t know, and tend to stay with those with whom I am familiar.

Probably those who know me and who read this will find my admission of shyness a surprise because I am such a lioness when it comes to advocating for my clients. But it is very true.  And so I am a definite example of the fact that not all of us are what we appear to be outwardly.

I wonder how many of you are the same and how that comes into play in your professional lives.

2

We’re growing!

One of my favorite things to do on this blog is welcoming new members of our team.  This time, I am delighted to introduce two:

Michael Hoogland joined us on May 20th as our new Royalties Manager.  Michael graduated from Colgate University in 2012 and also attended the Columbia publishing course.  We are excited to have his interest in the business side of publishing which is so important to the continued growth of Dystel & Goderich.

On June 3rd, Sharon Pelletier joined us as the manager of our digital publishing program.  Sharon was previously at Barnes & Noble, Europa Editions, and Vantage Press.  She is extremely knowledgeable about the world of digital publishing and will be helping us grow this exciting area of our business.

I hope all of our blog readers will welcome both Mike and Sharon who are available to answer any questions our clients might have for them.

5

What’s with all those women’s backs?

A book’s cover art is one of the most important sales tools in our business – it must appeal to the potential reader just as other forms of advertising do.  It needs to be attractive, descriptive and, in my opinion, original.

Over the last year, I thought I must be imagining the fact that a huge number of my clients’ book covers were featuring women’s backs; at first I thought this was interesting and unique – and it was also inviting, urging the potential reader to imagine what the books’ heroines looked like.  Then, I noticed that almost all I was seeing were covers with women’s backs on them.  I didn’t say anything about this until about a week ago, and then in one of our staff morning meetings I asked, “What’s with all these covers with women’s backs on them?”  In the beginning, I guess this conveyed a certain amount of mystery.  And I know that authors often would prefer that the characters they portray in their novels be imagined by their readers rather than literally depicted on the covers.  But so many backs?

My colleagues laughed and pointed out that a number of years ago covers used to feature cut-off heads.   And, then then there was a spate of covers with only landscapes on them.  All for the sake of mystery and imagination.

Finally, yesterday, the New York Times Magazine picked up on this phenomenon in the piece “Show Some Spine” by Chloe Schama.

My question is:  where is the originality that I remember in book jackets and covers when I began in this business so many years ago?  Isn’t using the same device on all of these covers making them more difficult to tell apart and therefore sell?  Finally, what is the next trend going to be? – it is time to do something different, after all.

5

What I did on my vacation

This year, my husband and I decided to travel far away to one of the places on our bucket list.  We would celebrate our son’s twenty-first birthday with him (he was doing is college junior year spring semester abroad in Sydney, Australia) and then travel throughout the country – far from the goings-on in our lives back home.

And so on May 25th, we landed in Sydney – a truly beautiful city and walked right into The Sydney Writers’ Festival,  which was enormous and just steps away from our hotel.  As we strolled on the piers near the Rocks Section of the city, we were surrounded by publishers and authors at their very familiar looking cocktail parties.

Several days later, we were off to Ayers Rock, Australia’s most recognizable natural icon and I found an informative and relevant book describing this really phenomenal area, Uluru, Kjata Tjuta and Watarrka Ayres Rock by Anne Kerle (New South Publishing).  What a great setting for a kind of Raiders of the Lost Ark type of story!

On we went to Adelaide where I again discovered that there is an annual arts festival – usually held in March – and which includes some of Australia’s most prominent writers.

We journeyed to the Barossa Valley,  which is included in the very popular 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz (Workman Publishing) and where we also spent the day at several vineyards, tasting all kinds of wine including a 100-year-old “fortified wine” (it is literally against the law to call this a port in Australia).

Finally, before heading back to Sydney, we spent two days on Kangaroo Island, a beautiful place filled with kangaroos, koala bears, all kinds of birds and seals, sea lions, whales, and wallabies.  And on the last day, of course, upon hearing that I was a literary agent, our guide Jamie presented me with a signed copy of his wife Gaynor Bowden’s book, SHACK ATTACK! Humorous Kangaroo Island Verse (her self- published book).  I had come full circle.

And so we had a true adventure in this fabulous place, but it proved one thing to me – one can never get far away from books and the people involved with them.

Where will you go on your vacation this summer?

9

What should I read on my vacation?

Finally, our vacation is in sight.  It’s  been a long  time since we’ve been away and it’s been a long winter of recovery from emergency surgery (for my husband, Steve) and lots of hard work for us both.  But our trip to Australia to spend my son  Zach’s twenty-first birthday with him is almost here.  As these will be the longest  flights we’ve ever taken, I am wondering what great suggestions our blog followers will have for me to read.

Yesterday, one of my clients asked me if I still enjoyed reading for pleasure because I review so many flawed manuscripts.  I answered that, indeed, I am able to put my “agent’s hat” aside when reading for my own enjoyment (other than, of course, to wish that the book I am loving had been one I had represented).  The problem is that I have so little time to choose what I read and so many books to choose from.

So, I am very eager to have your suggestions.  Not only would I like to know the titles and authors of the books you single out, but also why you think they are great reads.

I very much look forward to hearing from you.

5

Mining for book ideas

Sunday is my absolutely favorite day for reading the newspaper as I love diving into the New York Times.  Usually, I just digest it and enjoy but always in the back of my head, I am asking myself whether or not the story I am reading might be a book.  Today I actually read two, one about a Holocaust survivor who died last year at the age of 97 leaving $40 million and no will, and the other about an enemy agent in New York City during World War II called Doll Lady. I think that each of these stories could be the basis for either a book of narrative nonfiction or even a novel.

In fact, I find book ideas everywhere especially in the obituaries which are often filled with rich and colorful material (one of my clients is publishing a book in June which began many years ago when I read one of these pieces).

I am always intrigued about where writers get their book ideas.  With nonfiction, many times the author explains this in their book’s preface or introduction.  Novelists on the other hand rarely explain where their ideas come from and so I am wondering, those of you who write fiction, what inspires you to write the stories you write.