Category Archives: Lauren

1

That special something

Authors often lament—quite reasonably—that many of the rejections they receive are not specific. “I liked it but I didn’t love it,” the letters say, and offer no more feedback on why. And some of that is because there is only so much time in a day, so agents can’t offer feedback to all the projects they turn down and still actually have time to fulfill the obligations to the clients they’ve signed on. But it’s also true that sometimes that is simply the answer. The main characters seem well rounded enough, the premise compelling enough, the plot well-paced enough, the voice strong enough, the writing well composed enough. You read the book and you can imagine it being published by someone, but…you simply cannot say it’s a book that you love. You don’t have a vision for it. You don’t know what the spark is that’s missing, only that it’s missing. You don’t begrudge that book publication certainly, but you also don’t have the enthusiasm for it to tell other people they must read it, or to edit it, or to champion it in a million ways for years to come.  Even those of us who don’t read books for a living can probably think of books they felt this way about—the book was fine, you suppose, but also you didn’t feel compelled to recommend it to anyone.

But the flip side of this is when an author turns in a revised manuscript, and it’s like they’ve flipped a switch. Maybe it’s one big edit, maybe it’s a million tiny edits, but that perfect, beautiful book that you thought you saw hiding inside the previous draft is right there, shiny and on display. It’s not magic, it’s the result of hard and often tedious and sometimes quite exhausting work, but that special extra spark changes everything. And as an agent, you feel a degree of excitement that it’s hard to properly convey—because now you get to go out and champion this perfect, beautiful thing in a million ways for years to come.

Fortunately for us all, whether or not a person sees that spark is completely subjective. That manuscript an agent passed on because they just weren’t head over heels? Someone else is telling every single person they speak to how much they adore it.

Reaching out

For most of the time that I’ve been in publishing, I’ve found clients in one of four ways: the slush pile, referrals from clients, seeking out authors for ideas I’ve come up with, or convincing a person I’ve come across to write a book. I’ve long been reflexively skeptical of supposed innovations on the query system—everything I tried for a long time turned out to be a huge waste of time that generated no better results than just letting the slush come to my inbox.

But four or so years ago, I looked at my list and my slush pile and realized how heavily they both skewed toward a narrow range of voices. And as I looked for ways to fix this problem I listened to a lot of wise people (including the fine folks at We Need Diverse Books) on the perils of any system in which gatekeepers simply wait for things to come their way.  So now I try to actively participate in things happening outside my inbox, making sure that writers know that my door is open (and my list inclusive).

Authors looking for an agent have a lot of great opportunities now not just to seek an agent, but to reach out to the best possible fit for them and their work. Many wonderful agents participate in these new ways to find clients (and quite a lot of them were on the bandwagon before I got my head out of the sand). And for me, they’re a good way to proactively seek submissions from a diverse pool of authors so I can make sure that my client list supports a wide array of voices.

TwitterLogo_#55aceeTwitter pitch parties like Brenda Drake’s PitMad still involve authors querying agents, but it means I get to find those projects that seem like a good fit for my list and invite the authors to send their queries my way.  And resources like Manuscript Wish List, co-created by Jessica Sinsheimer and KK Hendin, allow me to highlight book concepts that I’d love to see, which gives me a chance to proactively seek a broader and more balanced list, both via the Twitter hashtag and their fantastic website (for which you can find my profile here).  And I’m really excited about the upcoming Twitter event #DVPit, which Beth Phelan created to “showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices.”  If you’re a writer from a marginalized community looking for an agent, I strongly encourage you to check out that link before Tuesday, because it looks like it’ll be a great event!

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails in my Weekend Reading folder, many of which come from sources like the above. I look at my To Read list right now and tremble in fear. But I love knowing that the chances that I’ll find a gem that I have a vision for among those projects is far higher, since I’ve already done some of the work in getting authors who have written the kinds of books I’m looking for to reach my way.

9

Presence

I was chatting with a client earlier today about the website she’s building—as a debut author she’s had a blog, but now that she’s gearing up for her first book to come out, she needs a website to showcase her book as well.  She sent me the work-in-progress, and I was giving her some ideas that I thought would help her to finish it up.

But it got me to thinking about internet presence in general. I’m well aware of my own clients’ websites and social media accounts, and to some degree familiar with those of other DGLM clients, especially those I work with on subrights.  But for all that we talk about the importance of an author’s internet presence as agents, I realize my go to examples are kind of out of date. Some of those websites probably don’t even exist anymore.  I used to have a much better sense of the lay of the land. I can point people to my own authors to show particular strengths and models of best practices. But it’s time I re-expand my reference points.

So tell me, dear blog readers: which authors do you love on the internet?  Whose Twitter feed are you retweeting the most? Whose Facebook posts do you like (or heart or smiley, now that that’s a thing) the most often? Which websites do you keep bookmarked?  If you were going to model your own internet presence on an existing author, who would you emulate?

1

Form & function

Yeats full

Mr. Yeats attended two universities with me and lives his life with paper clips marking the poems I’ve studied and annotated.

H&M

Heaney and Muldoon live on my shelf in many forms, but NORTH and QUOOF actually live at my office. Six months before I began working at DGLM, I turned in my master’s thesis on these two collections. And something about identity and politics. I’m not sure I ever knew what I was trying to say about them. But now they live in my office reminding me of what words can do and why I broker them for a living.

Last week, Sharon and I were discussing a book she wants to read that I own a copy of, and we agreed on the one major failing of borrowing a book:  you don’t get to keep it.  I’m a hard copy person (a trade paperback person, if we’re getting specific), and I not only want to own physical copies of the books I’ve read and loved, I want to own the exact copy I read and loved.  I’ll borrow a galley if I want to read the book before I can buy it and don’t have a copy of my own, but if the book is available for purchase, I’d rather go buy it just in case I love it enough to give it a permanent home on my shelves. 

I mean, sure, I could borrow the book and go out and buy my own if it turns out to be worthy, but then I wouldn’t have an emotional attachment to the book as an object as well as to the book’s contents, and it’s just not the same.  I’ve always wanted to be a library person, since it’s obviously more fiscally sensible, but ultimately I’d rather forego new clothes and expensive dinners and fancy technology and living in a trendy neighborhood so I can curate my own personal library. One day I’m going to be a rich person with a dedicated library and rolling ladder, and I want the books that I fly past Beauty in the Beast-style to tell the story of my reading history.

McCann

To the left, my reading-worn original. To the right, my pristine copy signed by the master himself.

This is such a strong issue, that it turns out both Sharon and I have some books that we own in two copies: the one we read, and the one we got signed at an event.  I’m not really that big on signed books, but obviously, you can’t get rid of a signed copy, especially if it was personalized. But how am I supposed to part with the object I was holding in my hands as I experienced a book that means something to me?  That would just be insane.  So I’ll just persist with multiple copies of Let the Great World Spin on my shelves forever.  

Emma Donoghue signed this, my most coveted BEA galley of all time, after it had been read by me and several friends of mine.

Emma Donoghue signed this, my most prized BEA galley of all time, after it had been read by me and several friends of mine.

Many of the books I own have lived on two continents, in two countries, in three towns/cities, in two boroughs of NYC, and in around ten apartments.  I paid about $100 extra just to get all my books on the plane when I moved home after grad school in Ireland.  And when I’m old and grey, they’ll still be there, physical reminders of the worlds I’ve had the good fortune to temporarily inhabit.

These are some of Sharon's special totems (though she also has the same double McCann "problem" that I do). I'm most envious of her signed copy of Roxane Gay's AN UNTAMED STATE, with that incredible inscription. Though Matt Weiland is no slouch at book signing himself.

These are some of Sharon’s special totems (plus she also has the same double McCann “problem” that I do). I’m most envious of her signed copy of Roxane Gay’s AN UNTAMED STATE, with that incredible inscription. Though Matt Weiland is no slouch at book signing himself.

1

Happy birthday, Byron!

graffiti2

Lord Byron’s graffiti on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, near Athens, Greece

 

Ah, Lord Byron.  You were only 36 when you died, but you still managed: to write one of the best Romantic poems, become a hero in Greece for fighting in their revolutionary war, father Ava Lovelace (who was a computer programming badass in the 1840s, and no that isn’t a typo), have a lifetime’s worth of scandalous affairs, and literally leave your mark on some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  That is a lot of life for only 36 years. Happy birthday, you mad, bad, dangerous bastard!

 

 

0

Reading Goals

I’m the kind of person who loves a good To Do List.  (As I’ve probably mentioned before, since I’m also the kind of person who talks too much about the kind of person I am.) In fact I keep several kinds of lists, varied in form, content, technology, and location. I used to keep a To Read list on my phone, but then I found that I wasn’t actually ever reading anything from it except by accident, so now I keep my To Read list in the form of stacks of books. I’m far more likely to read a book if it just happens to be in my apartment when I finish reading another one. (Now is the time some of you will be tempted to tell me that this is where e-books come in handy, but I don’t read digitally except for submissions and manuscripts. The strict divide between work reading and pleasure reading does me a world of good psychologically and makes me better at turning my editor brain on and off as befits my reading purpose, so I’m sticking with it.) I even keep a high-priority To Read list in pile form (things I’m super excited about, plus DGLM galleys, plus books for my office and personal book clubs) right next to my TV, to shame me into not neglecting them in favor of rewatching The West Wing for the 83rd time.

So naturally I love when other people make lists of books I should read, so I can mine them for new reading goals. I was pleased to see that Esquire enlisted eight “female literary powerhouses” to help them make a list of books everyone should read. You see, the last time they did that, it was kind of a disaster. The fantastic Rebecca Solnit (go read her collection Men Explain Things to Me) rightly called them out for their myopia, so they called in some reinforcements to give it another go.  It’s a pretty fantastic list—and not just because it features DGLM’s own Tayari Jones and her excellent Silver Sparrow.

Hey, credit card, looks like we need to stop by the bookstore on our way home from work.

4

All I Want for Christmas, 2015 Edition

1512522_736265656401481_1811941197_nIn this time of festivity, merriment, and the Union Square Holiday Market, naturally my thoughts turn to myself. Time with family and friends is all well and good, but more important, what do I want them to give me? I know you’re all having trouble coming up with the perfect gift for me, the most important person on your list, so why not give me the perfect query this holiday season? I get many great queries, and I’m open to a fairly wide range of categories, but here are the things I want that I’m not already getting (or just not seeing enough of):

  • Books in just about any category that manage to combine my four favorite qualities: sense of humor, brisk pace, clever writing, and insightful but unobtrusive ideas.
  • Accessible literary novels that tread new ground. In particular, I’d love to see literary fiction that’s not about suburban malaise, 20- or 30-something angst, or family drama. I’m not against those things certainly (some of my favorite books are those things), but I feel like that covers a very high percentage of the literary fiction that comes my way, and I’d love something that feels really fresh and new.
  • A truly disturbing psychological thriller. The kind that makes you look at the people you know with suspicion while you’re reading it, because the book reminds you how untrustworthy people can be.
  • Unreliable narrators. They’re so tricky to pull off, but when it works, it’s just about my favorite thing.
  • Contemporary middle grade and YA with strong, fun, accessible voices, but also heart. I especially want characters who are badass, but not kicking ass.
  • Contemporary romance that fits well within the category but stands out from the crowd. I’d love to see more contemporary romance with heroes and heroines of color.
  • Novels about major historical events of the 20th and 21st centuries that don’t primarily involve Americans and Europeans. I’m looking for historical fiction about events I didn’t get taught in school…but probably should have been.
  • As I’ve said before (including right over there –> in that sidebar), I’m eager to find more underrepresented voices. Now that can mean many things, and I welcome you to send me whatever you think might fit the bill, but in particular I’m looking for:
    • books for young readers and middle graders featuring protagonists who are on the autism spectrum
    • novels set in large African cities: I’ve realized recently that almost every narrative I’ve seen of Africa, whether in books or otherwise, is about remote places and small villages. Lagos has almost as many people as New York City. There are stories to be told there, and I want to read them.
    • fiction or non-fiction about the experience of going from disadvantaged backgrounds to elite colleges
    • a YA novel that actively explores code switching
    • a novel set in the contemporary Middle East that isn’t a thriller or chiefly about politics
    • novels about the immigrant experience in the United States
    •  current affairs nonfiction on feminism, especially intersectional feminism

None of that to say you shouldn’t query me for other things, but these are the books that aren’t happening to come my way—and that I really wish would.

Does one of those describe your work? Hit me up with a query at labramo@dystel.com.

0

Books on the move

If you’re reading an agency blog, you probably have a reasonably good idea how a book goes from your brain to the bookshelf, but have you ever wondered about the process a book takes as it travels through the library system?  I can’t say I really did until I saw this fun piece from the New York Times, but I enjoyed getting to know the journey.  I remember when news broke of the NYPL’s Super Sorter (that’s probably not what they call it), and I’ve always been intrigued.  A friend of mine works for NYPL in Long Island City—albeit as an archivist, not a book sorter.  I wonder if she can get me into the sorting room.

If you’re not excited yet, try picturing the book version of this classic Sesame Street segment at the Crayola Factory.

 

0

My dearest, Angelica

11822302_1189555777737964_6537270592173409997_nAs you’ve likely gathered if you’ve spoken to me in the last month, I am obsessed with the musical Hamilton.  I haven’t even seen it yet (less than 4 weeks away now!), but I’ve been listening to the cast recording near constantly for weeks. There are a million small moments I adore, but the one that really sold Hamilton to the grammar pedant in me was when Angelica Schuyler inquires about the placement of a comma, hoping it’s an indication that her brother-in-law Alexander Hamilton is secretly as in love with her as she is with him. That Schuyler not only noticed Hamilton’s comma use (apparently this moment is drawn from a real letter where the reverse is true), but assumes it was a coded message of love is what pleases me most. I mean, sure, it would be a bad idea to have a secret affair with your sister’s husband or your wife’s sister, but that would be a grammar nerd love I could get behind.

So naturally when I saw this Buzzfeed list of grammar tweets in PW Daily, I clicked on over. These people are using the internet for its true purpose: bonding with their fellow nerds. Grammar pedants of Twitter, I salute you!

0

Read, and then read again, and then read more

So what are you doing tomorrow?  If you’re reading this agency website, chances are the answer is reading.  But today’s particular tomorrow is special: it’s Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-Thon.  What is a read-a-thon, you ask?  Well it’s an event and a  challenge, so to speak, to read as much as you can alongside other reading enthusiasts and talk about it as you go.  There are all kinds of ways you can participate, via blogs and social media and Goodreads, and you can sign up as a reader to show your participation, as well as cheerleaders who encourage the readers along, and various people running the show from bloggers hosting mini-challenges to prize donors and more.  The very thorough website linked above has all the fun details!

Reading is so often seen as a solitary activity, but those of us in publishing know that reading is also one of the best sources of bonding out there. Why not dedicate yourself to reading tomorrow?  You might make new friends or win a fun prize.  And even if you don’t—even if you don’t sign up for the actual read-a-thon—there aren’t many better ways to spend your Saturday!