Category Archives: Jane

6

Books for young (and very young) readers

For those of you who haven’t read my recent Facebook posts, I have a brand new grandson: Leo Daniel Stein, born on January 20th.   

Leo joins his six-year-old big sister Elena who is thrilled to have a little brother.

This, of course, got me thinking about what I will be reading to my new grandson (after all, it has been years since I have done this).  And, because I always want to bring Elena a book to read as well, I’ve been thinking about what titles she might like.

For newborns I have chosen the traditional and ever popular Goodnight Moon, Very Hungry Caterpillar, Guess How Much I love You, and Pat the Bunny and then Brian Fiocca’s Locomotive which just won the Caldecott Medal.  For my granddaughter who is a terrific reader, there is Where the Wild Things Are, What Does the Fox Say?, The Polar Express, I Want My Hat Back, Make Way for Ducklings and Mrs. Rumphius.

I would love to hear your suggestions for titles for each of these age groups.  There can never be too many books!

7

It’s that New Year’s resolutions time again

It’s hard to realize that another year has passed and it is that time again—t he time to make my New Year’s resolutions.

To be totally honest, I have always believed in writing down goals.  In fact, I do this every quarter.  I review my quarterly goals every month and then at the end of the quarter, I actually do a written comparative of what I achieved against the goals I set.  And it works!  It really does.

New Year’s resolutions though are another kettle of fish.  They never seem to be achievable and perhaps that is because we (I) don’t take them as seriously as the goals I do four times a year.

Just the other day I read this piece about goals, and found many of them inspirational.  So I have put together a list of my resolutions which I am sharing here.  Hopefully, I will be able to stick to them—at least for a while:

  • Learn to read faster.  There is so much to read and I am always running out of time.
  • Explore at least one independent bookstore a week as opposed to a chain store and buy a new book when I do so. It is important to support the independents.
  • Try to stop working after 10:30 every night.  I usually wake up at 5:45 so going to bed after 11:00 or so really doesn’t allow me to get enough sleep.
  • Get better on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumbler.  I know I should be using these social media tools more but I find them intimidating.  I need to get more confident in my abilities.
  • Continue to work out daily.  I always feel better after using the life cycle, weight training, or taking a yoga class.
  • Go to more movies!  Movies are a part of our business and last year I think I only saw two—I  need to get out more.
  • Stop letting my kids drive me crazy.
  • Try to eat a more balanced diet—I am a poor eater and I know it.  At 90 pounds I really should be more health conscious.
  • Finally, look forward to the year ahead, developing books with my super stable of clients and finding new and exciting projects as well.

Resolutions are personal and many don’t like to share theirs; if you don’t mind though, I would love to know what yours are.

HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL OF OUR READERS! May yours be filled with good health, much laughter and peace.

 

2

How those publishing roles have changed

In the good ol’ days, an author would sell his or her book to a publisher (often with the help of an agent) and  expect that the material s/he delivered would be edited by his/her editor and that the publisher would then publicize, advertise  and sell the book to the best of its ability.  Up until about ten years ago, all of these things did happen in for the most part – with some editors being far more hands on and some publishers being much stronger in publicizing, advertising and promoting the books on their list.

Authors  today are discovering that all of the roles have changed, and rather dramatically.  Agents often have to act as editors, authors have to be their own publicists and promoters, editors act as the overall publishers.  It is no longer enough that an author has written a strong proposal or a terrific manuscript –s/he must have a substantial platform and very solid credentials to be published.

All of this can be fairly depressing, especially for the author.  Recently though, I discovered this very clever piece which I think says it all, and I thought, “Well, at least we can laugh about it.”

I guess in the end, as with everything else, change is inevitable.  Over this last decade, authors and everyone else involved in the publishing process seem to be adapting to these  new roles and for the most part, making them work.  And so we proceed….

I wonder how you are feeling about your new role in the publishing process?  Have you noticed the changes?  Are you affected by them?

5

Giving thanks

It’s that time of year again—I can’t believe it’s here already—and I find myself thinking about all of those things I am thankful for.

First and foremost, I am thankful for my family – my husband Steve, my whip-smart daughter Jessica and her loving husband Brian, my handsome son Zach, and my darling  granddaughter Elena who always makes me smile.  Were it not for you, my life would be meaningless.

Zach and Steve; Jessica and Brian at their wedding, with Zach, Steve, and me; Elena

I am thankful for my dad who turned 101 on Halloween, who was my mentor, and who I now have the good fortune to be caring for.

Me with my father

And then there are the people I work with every day, each one of them so very special in their own way: Miriam Goderich, Michael Bourret, Jim McCarthy, Stacey Glick, Lauren Abramo,  Jessica Papin, John Rudolph, Michael Hoogland, Sharon Pelletier, and Rachel Stout!  You all make my life so much easier each and every day.  We are a great team and I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished together.

Our clients, every one of them.  Without them, we wouldn’t exist.  I am constantly saying that we are what we are because of the enormous talent we represent.

My colleagues on the publishing side; the reason I have stayed in the business so long is because it is filled with wonderful, creative people.  Without you, doing business wouldn’t be nearly as fun as it is.

I am thankful for the books I have represented this last year, many of which have become bestsellers.  I am thankful for the ideas we generate, many of which eventually result in great books.

I am thankful for my friends, both within our business and outside of it.  Without friendship, I couldn’t exist.

Most of all, I am thankful for the blessings I have been given both in my personal life and my work life.  There are very few days that go by when I don’t think about how lucky I am to have all of this and more.

I’d love to know what you are thankful for – it’s that time of year after all.

3

The value of gossip

A couple of weeks ago, we had a staff lunch—where we order a bunch of delicious food and sit around talking about what’s on our mind regarding our business and the industry in general.  In the past, I have learned a great deal from these sessions and I believe our staff has as well.

Sure enough, there was some heated gossip along with the yummy cole slaw.   We dished about what was happening at various publishing companies—Amazon and Penguin-Random in particular—and how these events would affect our business and our clients.  There was a really interesting exchange of news and ideas and I think we all felt afterwards that we got some good inside information, as well as enjoying each other’s company.

All of this made me think about industry gossip and its value.  I can see, as I did at our lunch, that when important news and information gets passed around (even if it’s just hearsay) and its implications are discussed and analyzed, we can learn a lot…I certainly did.

After the lunch, I found this piece, which ran a couple of years ago in Forbes and which underlines various aspects of office gossip.  Do you all engage in a lot of office gossip?  Do you find it useful?

4

Learning to deal with “no”

A couple of weeks ago I had lunch with a colleague and friend who was thinking of going back to a previous agenting career.  This person had once been an agent and had the reputation of not being able to take rejection well.  When he told me what he planned to do, I said I thought that his choice sounded great but that he had to learn to handle the word “no.”  His response was that he simply couldn’t deal with a young, inexperienced person on the publishing side of the business turning down one of his clients’ ideas.  All, I could think was, “That’s just too bad.”

Over the last many years since I have been an agent, I have been handed rejection many, many times. When I was starting out, I actually took the turn downs personally, but then, after about six months, I realized that people really weren’t rejecting me, they were passing on the proposals I was presenting.  And so, I decided to learn what I could from the rejection and move on.  It hasn’t always been easy – I am still disappointed when an editor rejects one of my clients’ proposals – but over the years, I really feel that through rejection, I have become a better agent.

Looking for material on how to handle rejection, I happened upon this blog post.  There is, indeed, much here that is instructive not only to those of us who represent writers but also for authors who must steel themselves to handle rejection, for editors who want to buy a project but are turned down by their bosses and colleagues, for publishers who are rejected by accounts and consumers when they go to sell their books, and on and on and on.

I really believe that if we try to benefit from being turned down, and learn from it, we can more easily move forward.  And perhaps using what we have learned from a previous rejection will enable us to experience success with the next project we set out to sell or get published.

I would love to hear what your experience has been dealing with “no” and whether you agree or disagree with my take on this.

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.