Category Archives: John

0

Illustrators at Dystel.com

In case you haven’t seen it yet, I wanted to use my blog time today to alert readers to a new feature on our website: illustration samples!

Over the past few years, we’ve added a good number of author/illustrators to our list. And so we thought it would be useful to have a single page where readers could see samples of our clients’ work without having to click over to a slew of personal websites. (Though of course we encourage that, too!)

Hence, please check out our DGLM author/illustrators, either from the menu on the right or directly at http://www.dystel.com/illustration-samples/. You’ll find a wonderful breadth of styles and techniques here, not to mention a whole lot of cuteness!

2

One-on-ones

Readers, I would love to get your feedback on this one: What do you think is the most productive format for one-on-one meetings at a writer’s conference? I ask, of course, because I attended a conference this past weekend, where I spent most of my time in one-on-one meetings with authors.

Over the years, I’ve done all sorts of configurations: one-on-ones and roundtables; 5-minute slots, 10, 15, and so on; MSS in advance, no prep, 10 pages, and so on again. This time out, the meetings were half an hour, and we were sent 40 pages in advance. And as much as I hate to say it, on the whole I don’t think they were particularly productive.

40 pages is a funny length–much longer than what an author would probably send on submission, yet not really enough to give a full snapshot of a MS–while half an hour is a ton of time to talk. And with that, it seemed like the chattier authors got bogged down in a lot of details and small points, with not enough time to discuss the big picture, while at the same time, the sessions for those who sat back and listened tended to run way short, even with some question time at the end.

So, unfortunately, it was a bit of a frustrating day, and I worry that I didn’t give the authors the help they were looking for. However, the organizers are asking for feedback for next year, so I’d love to hear what works best for you and try to change things up–any thoughts?

1

Write where you know

“Write what you know” is probably the most contested piece of writerly advice out there. Yes, writing what you know gives you authority and a personal approach; no, writing should be about discovery and taking readers to a new place.

So I was intrigued by a profile of the novelist Chris Pavone from yesterday’s Times , which highlights how his new thriller is set in the publishing world, a world that, according to the article, is a rare setting for a novel, especially a thriller, because it’s “too cerebral, too dominated by meetings, too absorbed by reading manuscripts and filling out profit-and-loss reports to make riveting fiction.”

Now, Pavone’s justification for such an ostensibly boring setting is that, “Any setting can be a good setting for a novel.” But in reality, it’s a classic case of write what you know, since Pavone served as a longtime nonfiction editor at Clarkson Potter. And not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that–clearly Pavone’s book focuses on the classic thriller tropes of action and suspense, rather than the drudgery of acquisition paperwork!

But it did get me wondering about setting in general, and whether it’s more constructive to place a story in a world with which you’re deeply familiar, or whether an exotic locale or industry is more helpful, especially for thrillers, as the article suggests. Personally, I’m not really sure–I’m usually drawn to thrillers that avoid NYC or DC as a home base, but then again, so many thrillers set abroad follow the same old trajectory of a former agent in exile forced back into action.

Where do you fall on the divide? Set the book in a world you know, or a world you don’t? And how does familiarity with the setting (or lack thereof) inform your plot?

3

Better writing through apps?

As loyal readers of this blog know, we sometimes have trouble coming up with topics for posts. And when we’re in the weeds, we often fall back on the Huffpost for a reading list or slideshow to provide a topic. You may note, too, that these posts usually get the “fun” tag, because they tend to be a little frivolous–though I guess “Ten Books to Survive Downton Abbey Withdrawal” might be considered vital “advice” to some…

But today I saw a Huffpost that actually got me thinking, both about the writing process and the role of technology in writing today. To me, the idea that apps can help you finish your novel at first seems counterintuitive–surely a major undertaking like a novel can’t be aided by rinky-dink phone apps? Yet the suggestions here seem pretty darn helpful, and partly because they seem ancillary to the main project, rather than tools that are embedded in your word processor.

Certainly the reading apps are no great revelation for most writers, and a voice memo app seems like a no-brainer. But Evernote and MindNode are far superior tools than the basic memo tool on my old iPhone, and has anyone used Poetreat yet? It seems like a great way to vary your word choice, which can often be a challenge, especially in early drafts.

Most impressive to me, though, is Hemingway, which has the potential to serve as your very own digital copyeditor. Often, when I send edits to an author, I ask them to do Global searches for words that get overused, like “Then”, or adverbs or repeated sentence structures like three or more “I verb” sentences in a row. I’ve always thought it’s a good, schematic way to go over a draft, but it can definitely get tedious. Hemingway seems like a great tool for that kind of analysis without having to spend hours doing individual word and phrase searches.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Huffpost without a little bit of fluff–or cats, which I guess is why they mention Write or Die. Silliness aside, though, procrastination and adhering to daily word counts are certainly struggles that writers know well, and for that SelfControl does seem like a good choice for blocking those pesky distracting websites like… oh, I don’t know… maybe the Huffpost?

Have you ever used any of these apps to help finish a novel? Or any other apps? If so, which ones? 

 

3

Amazon bucket list

Okay, it’s not exactly Amazon’s bucket list– that would probably involve gathering every shred of your personal info while putting every indie bookstore out to pasture… But seriously, folks, Amazon just put out a list of 100 books to read in a lifetime, or as they put it, “a bucket list of books to create a well-read life.” I know we see lists like this all the time, but given that this one comes from a retailer, and the dominant one at that, I thought it was worth taking a closer look.

Right off the bat, it’s really striking how contemporary the majority of the titles are–like, now contemporary, not just the last 50 years. Usually, lists like this are super-heavy on the classics and completely ignore current non-fiction, of which there are commendably a healthy number of entries here. On the other hand, a “well-read life” used to mean a whole lot of philosophy, particularly the Greeks. I know Plato isn’t as fun as Me Talk Pretty One Day, but I’d like to think the Republic is a bit more instructive…

Similarly,  as much as I enjoyed them, are Henrietta Lacks and Unbroken essential for a well-read life? Or, to be cynical, is the Amazon algorithm at work, in that contemporary titles sell more than classics? In that vein, I’d love to give them kudos for presenting a good number of picture books, MG and YA on equal footing with the grown-up books… but again, is that a statement of purpose or a sales ploy?

 Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think of Amazon’s list–is it a legitimate syllabus or a clever gimmick? Maybe both? Which omissions particularly get your goat? Discuss, discuss…

0

Remembering Pete (the author)

As I’m sure you’ve seen by now, the great folksinger Pete Seeger passed away Monday night at the ripe old age of 94. Like a lot of kids with liberal-minded parents, I grew up with Pete’s music,  and I still vaguely remember him dancing across the stage at Symphony Space at one of his children’s concerts. Later on in college, I got to know more about his achievements, especially his work with the Clearwater Sloop and their annual festival in the Hudson Valley.

But then, I also had the privilege and pleasure of working with Pete as his editor on several of his picture books. And while the appreciations and obituaries today have rightly focused on his music and his activism, I just wanted to point out that Pete had quite a prolific career as a writer, too–his bibliography lists over 30 titles, from picture books to autobiographies to instruction manuals. And several of them, like Abiyoyo and How to Play the Five-String Banjo are classics in their own right.

And what was so fascinating about working with Pete was that Pete the Author was often at odds with Pete the Folksinger. In other words, while Pete clearly loved books and the written word, he struggled to reconcile the idea of a book as a finite project with the ever-evolving folk process. In other words, he couldn’t stop tinkering!

Thinking about it now, it’s a shame that the e-book revolution came just a little too late for Pete–I think he would have loved the idea that he could publish a piece of writing but continue to update it. Or better yet, to get other writers involved in a story through Wattpad or other crowd-sourcing websites. Ironic that the folk process could be furthered by this strain of technology…

Anyway, musings aside, I hope that if you’re thinking about Pete that in addition to listening to his music, you’ll look up some of his books as well–and if you don’t, Abiyoyo might come down from the hills and getcha!

0

Big in Japan (and Germany)

A career in publishing typically involves a lot of twists and turns, both for the professionals like editors and agents, as well as for writers themselves. This weekend, the Times magazine shared the amusing story of David Gordon, a (sorry, David) midlist author who suddenly found that his novel The Serialist was a huge hit in Japan, culminating in a trip to Tokyo where he got the royal treatment from an adoring press.

Reading Gordon’s story, it put me in mind of an author I used to work with at Putnam, Royce Buckingham. Like The Serialist, Royce’s debut novel, Demonkeeper, did well enough to get a second book signed up, but for some reason, the book became a huge hit in Germany. In fact, Royce was commissioned to write two sequels for Random House Germany, which they duly translated into German–at their cost.

So, what’s the takeaway here? Well, for one, I hope it explains why we agents fight to retain foreign rights as much as we can. But I think the larger point is that for authors, you never know where you might find an audience, and in the age of Globalization, it’s a good idea for authors to have the international market in mind–even if the results might feel a little Spinal Tap-ish at times…

 

5

A techie holiday wish

Hey folks, I could really use your thoughts on this one…

As Sharon noted below, we’ve been doing a lot of work on our computer systems here at DGLM–brand new server, new webmail system, even a new postal meter. And with that, I’ve been trying to figure out what computer configuration makes the most sense for me when I need to do work at home–because I am waaaay out of date.

Right now, I’ve got an ancient Macbook (one of those white ones with the chipped casing not-so-affectionately known as a “crackbook”) that I use for writing, editing, and the internet. The webmail system is fairly good for email, but it’s still a lot clunkier than even my iphone (a 3GS, but can’t do much about that until the contract runs out next summer). And for reading MSS, I use a 2nd generation Kindle, which I’d love to replace as well.

For MS reading, I’m thinking an ipad is the way to go. And from Michael Bourret, I gather that email will be a lot more functional on an ipad than webmail. Certainly the ipad will be better for web surfing than what I have now. But when it comes to writing and editing, it’s hard to imagine using an ipad, even with an external keyboard–so maybe a new laptop makes more sense? I’ve never had problems reading on a laptop, and I guess I could suck it up with the kindle when I’m on the subway. But I’m also a total cheapskate when it comes to tech, so I’d really rather not invest in a laptop unless it’s a vastly superior solution.

Well, since I’m sure you writers out there have similar computing needs, what’s your set-up? Do you use multiple devices? If so, what? Any PC users out there? Ever since my old Dell got overtaken by viruses, I’ve steered clear of PCs, but Mike Hoogland’s been singing the praises of the new Microsoft tablet/computer combo–anyone else tried one of those?

0

Best time of year

Keeping up the holiday cheer and general positivity that has crept into our blog lately, I figured it’s time to bring up the Best Books of 2013. It seems like almost all of the lists are in (here’s a handy little Google search for most of the notable players). Lots of crossover and consensus among them, but when it comes to comprehensiveness, I’ve got to hand it to the Times. At least on the fiction side, it seems like they cited just about every novel that got significant ink this year.

So… whatcha think? Everyone out there love THE GOLDFINCH and THE GOOD LORD BIRD as much as the list-makers? What are YOUR best books for 2013?

0

Oh captain, my captain

So, I now know how my life in publishing will be complete: I will sell a book to Derek Jeter.

You probably saw the news last week that Derek Jeter is planning to be a book publisher when he retires from baseball. Yes, Mr. November is starting an imprint, Jeter Publishing, with Simon & Schuster. Interestingly, unlike other imprints headed up by famous people that tend to reflect their famousness (e.g., Anthony Bourdain signing up his chef buddies), Jeter Publishing intends to publish a wide spectrum of adult and children’s books, not just baseball tomes.

But while Jeter says he intends to be involved with every book that bears his name, he might first want to read Daniel Menaker’s memoir (an excerpt from which ran in New York Magazine this week) and see what he’s in for. Yes, there’s a whole lot of inside baseball (sorry, couldn’t resist) in the Menaker piece, but I can tell you that much of the craziness rings all too true…

Then again, if Jeter could thrive under George Steinbrenner for so long, I’m sure he can handle S&S. After all, he’s been a savvy businessman from the start–anyone remember Jeter Flakes?

Anyway, back to the original point: I will sell a book to Derek Jeter.