Category Archives: Jim

22

The R Word.

On Friday night, I went to see a screening of the movie Dear White People, a wonderfully funny and warm but still very biting comedy about race relations on an Ivy league campus. (“Dear White People, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn’t count.” ) The filmmaker, Justin Simien, said that he wants the movie to start a conversation—nothing gets better without a dialogue. He also cited as his inspiration great black cinema of the ‘80s and ‘90s and movies like Do the Right Thing that had things to say and left you feeling not just entertained but moved, sometimes uncomfortably so.

So race was at the front of my mind the next day when I went to the NYC Teen Author Book Festival to see some of my authors present on different panels. The audience was probably 90% white women in their 30s and 40s. This is an observation, not a judgment. But it’s something I kept thinking about because in the middle of New York City, that’s an awfully homogenous crowd.

I was not alone thinking about race that day. One of panels was called “Summer Reading” and the four authors discussed their novels, each set during the summer. At the end, an audience member stood up to say that she had been at the festival for two days and only seen one author of color. She also mentioned that she works with underprivileged teens in Hartford whose summers wouldn’t at all resemble those in the books being read from. She wanted to know what the panelists had to say about that.

It was an uncomfortable moment not just because a big issue was being raised but because my first thought was, “These four authors have nothing to do with planning this event and shouldn’t be asked to speak to such a large issue when they were just there to talk for five minutes about their particular novels.”

That’s a lie. My first thought was, “Please don’t let my client say anything stupid.” Listen, I’m an agent. It’s just in the bones.

Happily for me, my client on the panel, Gae Polisner, actually had a very thoughtful response, explaining that she writes fiction that comes from a very internal place and that her leads resemble her because she can only write from a place she knows and understands and just hopes that she touches on truths universal enough that they’ll resonate across the broadest spectrum of people possible. That is a great answer for an author. It does, however, leave some great big questions for an industry. Take a look at these articles by Walter Dean Myers  and his son Christopher Myers.

Those articles were spurred on by a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin showing that of 3,200 children’s books released in 2013, 223 were by authors of color, and 253 were about people of color. That’s less than 7%. To give some perspective, nationally, approximately 27% of the population is people of color.

Happily, I have easy answers to this diversity gap.

Ha! Just kidding. I don’t have easy answers. I actually don’t have any answers—just more questions. Like where is the root of the problem? Is it in the largely white make-up of the publishing industry? Are we weeding out material by and about experiences we simply don’t understand? Is there an institutional racism that hasn’t been broached yet? Is the problem that people of color aren’t encouraged to pursue careers in writing? Is it possible that there aren’t enough of these books being published because there aren’t enough being written? And, perhaps my own biggest question: are we too overwhelmed or scared to ask these questions because we don’t know what we’ll uncover about ourselves?

I won’t lie—I almost scrapped this blog post several times. It makes me nervous to bring up such a big subject because I don’t want to get it wrong. I don’t want to offend, and I don’t want anyone to cringe while they read it. But in the spirit of Dear White People, let’s do it. Let’s have the conversation.

2

Hating winter, loving contests

I do not love winter in general. Snow appalls me. I do not enjoy temperatures under 40. And I look terrible in hats. But two things happen in winter that bring me glimmers of hope: awards season (which I will not be discussing here) and the announcement of the Morning News’ annual Tournament of Books (which I will).

What the Tournament explains as its aim is revealing how silly the act of choosing works of art as the “best” is while also reveling in a little literary bloodsport. What it gives ME is a chance to obsess about a whole bunch of novels I meant to read in the previous year but hadn’t gotten to yet.

Every year, I get it in my head that I’ll read all of the novels in the tournament before it starts. I’ve only actually done it once, but like clockwork, when the list came out, I started stocking up on books. Especially because I had read a whopping ONE of the 17 books in contention this year. That being Rainbow Rowell’s delightful ELEANOR & PARK.

This past weekend I tore through one and a half of the other books on the list and bought a dozen more. I am a man on a reading mission. And I will stay that way until something gets in the way of me completing the task (like work…or life).

What I wonder is, does anyone else ever feel the need to be prompted to read more? Do you go through moments when the books keep piling up faster than you can read them until you eventually move whole piles and start new shorter to-be-read piles? And does anyone else want to join my read-‘em-all before March challenge? I got through HILL WILLIAM and a little over half of LIFE AFTER LIFE (which I’m loving!).

Full list here! http://www.themorningnews.org/article/announcing-the-morning-news-tournament-of-books-x

2

Stumbling into YA

When I first started agenting, I was unsure what kind of books I’d be working on. I assumed there would be lots of commercial fiction because I loved reading it. I figured I’d do some offbeat literary fiction because, well, same reason. I had no idea that I’d end up working on young adult fiction. That ended up being a (very, very, very) happy accident.

The only reason I got into YA was that my client Richelle Mead sent me a young adult manuscript that became Vampire Academy. I loved the novel, so I figured I should probably learn about the category in order to be able to work on it. That book ended up doing preeeeeeeeetty well. Needless to say, more YA followed, and I fell more and more in love with the category and signed on more and more authors in that realm.

Tumbling into teen fiction has so far been the happiest accident of my career. Well…my career itself is somewhat of a happy accident. I landed an internship that I thought would last a few months, and DGLM just never managed to shake me.

But the most surprising fact of finding myself representing YA books is that I never really read them as a teen. Sure, I really dug R.L. Stine’s Fear Street series, but other than that, I didn’t read many children’s or teen books. Not because I was so sophisticated a reader that I barreled past them. I was actually just a bit of a late bloomer when it came to the love of reading.

I’m still trying to catch up on the classics. I grabbed The Giver a few months ago. I only recently read The Outsiders. I read my first Roald Dahl novel THIS YEAR (and you guys…he’s super amazing). I still need to get around to A Wrinkle In Time. And yet the more of these books I read, the more hooked I am on the category and the more thrilled I am to watch it expand and grow. It has been an unexpected ride, and a completely joyful one.

I will also add as a side note that I am not only looking for YA. I still adore commercial adult fiction, offbeat literary fiction, and I’d kill to find some amazing narrative nonfiction. The ONLY downside to my success with YA is that sometimes people forget I’m looking for other stuff too!

2

Have I succeeded?

I asked my Twitter followers for blog ideas because, hey, I’m just back from vacation and a little swamped, so stop judging me!

My favorite was from @KatieNewingham who said, “Define what a successful book means in industry terms.” It’s an interesting request and one where the answer is both simpler and more complicated than might be expected.

Let’s take the simple answer first: a book is a success if it turns a profit. It’s really that simple. If your publisher makes more money than they spent on you? Success. Of course, it’s impossible to really know when that happens because it’s not as straightforward as looking at advances, but by and large, that’s the easiest gauge.

I don’t know whether this still holds true, but I remember hearing a few years ago that only 20% of books published earn out. So would that mean that 80% of books failures? Well…yes and no. Because some books are published to earn houses prestige—whether that means going for books likely to win awards or publishing notable figures—the sort of things that will help draw other authors into that fold. Others are published because a house believes in an author and thinks that holding onto them is important. Look at Jonathan Franzen—his first two books were well-reviewed and probably performed nicely. Then THE CORRECTIONS happened, and…well-played FSG!

As far as the new JK Rowling, which Katie brought up? That novel looked like it was failing. It had gotten nice reviews across the board, but the sales were abysmal. It never even broke 100 copies a week on Bookscan. If Robert Galbraith were, in fact, a debut author, he would have had to hope that his publisher remained optimistic that he had the potential to break out on a future book because on its own, those numbers were never going to support another release.

Now that we know who he is? It’s supremely smooth sailing.

In the end, publishing, like any business, just wants to turn a profit. So we gamble on books. Sometimes that gamble pays off; and sometimes we just keep plugging away until it does. Because of that, it’s a business that rewards patience, or at the very least determination and tenacity!

11

I’ve TOTALLY read that…

Here’s something I don’t bother doing: lying about what I haven’t read. It’s my general feeling that even the most exhaustive readers have some major blind spots in their reading history. And I’m not saying something like, “Oh, I’ve not yet had a chance to finish the last volume Remembrance of Things Past.” I’m talking about things like, “I’ve never read Jane Austen. Or George Orwell.” Both of which are true for me. No Pride and Prejudice. No Animal Farm.

It’s not just adult books, either. I never read A Wrinkle in Time. Or any of the Narnia books. I’ve never read Judy Blume. Or Roald Dahl. For god’s sake, I’ve never even read The Giver.

I’m not saying I won’t ever read these authors or books. I just haven’t yet. And I think that’s fine. Better that than faking it, as far as I’m concerned. Not to say that anyone in publishing would ever fake having read something in order to sound smarter. (AHAHAHAHAHAHA)

So admit it: there are giant blind spots in your own reading history. Get it off your chest: what are they? What novel can you not even believe you haven’t read? What book has been sitting on your bedside table for seven years that you still haven’t picked up? Cough. Crime and Punishment. Cough.

And do you ever lie to save face, or does that feel like a fool’s errand to you?

7

Eleanor & Park & Lauren & Jim

For anyone who was unaware, Lauren Abramo and I decided some weeks back to do our first ever online book club. We went with Rainbow Rowell’s delightful novel ELEANOR & PARK which, disappointingly, we both enjoyed. As such, no one was treated to watching two terribly opinionated agents facing off against each other.

 

For anyone who wants to see how the action went down, go to Twitter and check out #eandpdglm.

 

Here’s a confession: I’ve never taken part in a normal bookclub. We have one in the office where we all read different books and pitch them to each other, but that’s obviously different. With this one, though, I got to see what it was like to join with other people to chat about the same reading experience. Obviously I talk about books every day, but there was something so refreshing about doing it in a setting where nothing was at stake.

 

But as a newbie to the world of the traditional bookclub, I was a bit disappointed that no fights broke out and no names were called. I have to ask those of you who do this more regularly: are these events more fun when there’s someone to argue with? Or what about when a book is complicated and you really need to hash out some points?

 

And on a more selfish level, I’m curious—we know how many people were actively involved in our Twitter chats, but we don’t know how many people followed along later or what people thought about the format. So here’s a question: should we do it again? If so, should be keep it on Twitter? Do a different genre? Pick something more controversial? Add in a pie tossing at whoever makes the least popular comment?

 

Let us know! Inquiring minds, and all that…

1

“She seemed to realize that she’d lost her right to knock.”

Were you with us on Twitter this past Tuesday, when Jim and I chatted with a bunch of folks about the first half of Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park?  As promised, we want to take the conversation to the blog as well, for those who couldn’t make it.  If you want to read it without the SPOILERS you might find below, why not give it a read in the next two weeks, then come back and check out part one’s conversation here, and join us on May 14th at 6 p.m. EST on Twitter (#EandPdglm)?

I’d say the subject that most dominated our discussion was the 1980s setting.  Jim and I both felt that though we love how it plays out in the book, it might have given us some pause as agents considering the book in the slush pile: as Jim asked, “Do kids care about the 80s?”  Fortunately, we had some researchers in the chat to uncover the answer for us.  Anecdotal evidence from Susanna Donato (@SusannaDonato) and DGLM client Brian Bliss (@brainbliss) suggests that teens didn’t mind the choice, might even have been intrigued by it, but would not have cared about the music referenced, which is the source of much of the bond between the two characters.  I was perplexed when Bryan reported that his teen creative writing students wouldn’t have bothered to look up the bands on Park’s mixtapes, until I realized that I didn’t bother to look up the comics that take up an equal amount of the narrative, if not more.  Of course, I’ve heard of them, but it doesn’t mean I fully understand the context.  In the end, I don’t feel like I’m missing anything.

After all, that moment where Park first realizes Eleanor is reading his comics along with him and stops to let her catch up has plenty of impact no matter what.  That was one of Kellie Lovegrove (@k_love671)’s favorite parts of the book.  Other favorite moments in the first half included: the very end of the first half, which made Susanna’s heart race.  She also loved when Park asked his grandmother for batteries for his birthday so he could give them to Eleanor.  Jim swooned over “You look like a protagonist…You look like a person who wins in the end.”  And for me, the line referenced in the title of this blog entry, which I loved so much I ran across the room to get a post-it to flag it.

So if you couldn’t make it, tell me, what was YOUR favorite part?  And what did you think of the time period?  Do you have the same sense of dread about whatever Richie reveal is coming our way in the second half?

On May 14th at 6 p.m. EST, Jim (@JimMcCarthy528) and I (@LaurenAbramo) will reconvene at #EandPdglm to talk with everyone about the rest of the book.  If you haven’t gotten started yet, please jump on in!  It’s a pretty quick, short, wonderful read.  (Though Jim and I were rooting for a contrarian to come along and mix it up—are you that person?  Come tell us why!)  I can’t wait to find out how the rest of the book will unravel.

And in case you want to catch up so you can join us next time, here’s a handy dandy widget with all the good stuff to come out of our chat under the #EandPdglm hashtag:


 

 

5

Teaching English

Last Friday, I met one of my newest clients for the first time. Amy Hanson, besides being the author of the glorious novel THE THIRD ACT (coming soon to editors’ desks around town!) is an English teacher. And lucky for her, she has say over what books she will teach. We chatted a bit about the fact that she teaches Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD to her high school students. As someone who would marry that book if I could, I was jealous of the teenagers who got the chance to read such a vibrant, thrilling, daring novel in class. I also started thinking a lot about what I read in high school and how valuable teaching current fiction can be.

 

Let me first say that I believe deeply in teaching the classics. I actually believe every student should have to read LORD OF THE FLIES and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I’m much less certain that I feel CATCHER IN THE RYE and THE GREAT GATSBY are as important as they’re made out to be. And sure, everyone should read some Shakespeare, but how about some August Wilson? Amy teaches Ibsen! That thrilled me to no end.

 

That aside, I remember the day my English teacher delivered copies of Richard Russo’s THE RISK POOL to our desks, and my mind blew open. Here was a novel that had been published in my lifetime. And there were things in it to learn? Mesmerizing.

 

As most people reading this can probably also claim, I had already found books I loved by this point. SONG OF SOLOMON and SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE remain two of my favorite novels precisely because of when I first encountered them and how defining the first reading of each was to me. But it was that notion of great literature as a living, evolving thing that most struck me. Maybe I just wasn’t terribly bright, but until then it had never occurred to me to think of new books as potential future classics, or to approach them with the open mindedness that they might very well be brilliant.

 

So then the question becomes: which contemporary books should be taught? A few of the first novels I thought of would likely be terribly dull for teenagers or just be those kinds of books you don’t enjoy until you’ve experienced certain things: THE CORRECTIONS, BEL CANTO, THEN WE CAME TO THE END, GILEAD… Right now I’m leaning towards Bonnie Jo Campbell’s brilliant collection AMERICAN SALVAGE and Junot Diaz’s peerless THE BRIEF AND WONDROUS LIFE OF OSCAR WAO.

 

What about you all? What contemporary work of fiction would you add to a high school curriculum? And if you are a teacher, what do you wish you could add?

 

Also! Don’t forget that Lauren and I are hosting an online book club. We’re reading ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell, and the first Twitter chat will be April 30 on the first half of the book. Follow along with @JimMcCarthy528 and @laureneabramo. And check back here for updates on our progress!

3

The Abramo/McCarthy book reading bonanza

Looks like Lauren and I (and hopefully you!) will be reading ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell for our first foray into an online book discussion.

We have lots of ideas that we’re going to try out with this. Keep eyes on this page and on both of our Twitter feeds for updates.

Throughout the process, we’ll have Twitter chats and longer form blog discussions, and we want you to be involved.

If there’s one thing Lauren and I have learned over the several years we’ve worked together, it’s that neither of us has any shortage of opinions, so with any luck this will be a lively discussion.

So what’s next on the docket? Read the first half of the book! Our first Twitter chat with be at 6:00 Eastern on April 30, and the first big blog discussion will be on Friday, May 3.

Hope to see you all there!

 

 

UPDATE: Join us tonight, Tuesday, 4/30, at 6 p.m. to discuss the first half of ELEANOR & PARK!  Just follow the hashtag #eandpdglm on Twitter.

13

Calling all readers!

One of the things that I love most about publishing is the chance to discuss books with other people who’ve read them, which is actually something I get paid to do.  It’s all well and good to recommend books to people or even complain about them, but celebrating or debating them with people who’ve actually read them is one of my favorite pastimes.

To that end, Jim and I have a mission for you:  let’s all pick a book, read it at the same time, and discuss it together.  We’ve selected four options, and now you can vote for which one we should all read.  We’ll set up a schedule so we can have a few discussions along the way, with the aim that we’ll finish reading by end of May.

So which should it be?  Place your vote in the comments—one book per commenter, please.

 

Herman Koch’s The Dinner?

Mary Roach’s Gulp?

Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park?

Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette??

 

On Monday, Jim will let you know who the winner is and the how/when/where of discussing.  So get to voting!

P.S. Three cheers for these authors who all have websites that are easy to find by searching their names, navigate, and link to the book you want!  Koch’s is actually here, but since his website is (understandably) in Dutch, I linked to RH.

 

UPDATE: Thanks for the votes, folks!  Eleanor & Park was the victor.  We hope you’ll all join us!  Details here: http://www.dystel.com/2013/04/the-abramomccarthy-book-reading-bonanza/

UPDATE 2: Join us tonight, Tuesday, 4/30, at 6 p.m. to discuss the first half of ELEANOR & PARK!  Just follow the hashtag #eandpdglm on Twitter.