Category Archives: Lauren

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Hooray for picture books

I represent very few picture books, but in my personal life I’m deeply indebted to them.  As I’ve mentioned countless times, my nephews are my favorite people on this planet, and at 6 and 3, their primary bond with me these days is over reading bedtime stories.  The older one started associating me with reading pretty early on in life, and through an aggressive campaign of reading fun things loudly in his vicinity (often while lying on the floor so he’d be tempted to come over and torment me by climbing onto my back), I’ve gotten the little one on Team Aunts Read Books as well.  Now thanks to a couple strategic buys by my mother in advance of our gathering at her house this past weekend for her birthday, the kiddos are begging for some videos I’ve promised to send of me reading their two favorites from the bunch.  As they were leaving to head back home on Monday, they were devastated to cut our last reading session short at only two books, so I promised to combine their two favorite things about me: reading fun books and watching videos on my phone.

But while I was very excited to discover This Book Just Ate My Dog! this weekend, which very cleverly uses the physical book and encourages interaction, one thing I did find myself wanting was some more children’s nonfiction.  When Martin Luther King came up with my older nephew, he was sort of familiar with him from some things he learned in kindergarten last week, but pretty confused about the role of water fountains in history.  As we discussed, I realized I was struggling to explain Dr. King’s legacy to a child who doesn’t understand race much less racism, or to get him interested in anything beyond the fact that he won the Nobel Peace Prize (which both children were very excited to learn they could watch a video of on my phone.  Injustice and civil rights fly above their head, but they know all about prizes and medals from the absurd number of sports the 6 year old plays).

Fortunately, I realize that there are experts out there who know how to talk about historical figures to children without getting caught up in attempting to explain what a dream is metaphorically.  Next time I see them, I’m determined to be better prepared.  So I turn to you: does anyone have any favorite nonfiction books for young children?  I’d love to be able to teach them more about not only Dr. King, but other important figures and historical moments.  Any pointers?

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Sublicenses, the Matryoshka of Publishing

One of my favorite podcasts is Stuff You Should Know, from the people at How Stuff Works.  Each episode hosts Josh and Chuck give a primer on a different subject, on topics as varied as Jim Henson, gambling, sea monsters, cinnamon, boomerangs, The Hum, and leper colonies, and that’s just in the last month.  Sometimes they’re serious.  Sometimes they’re ridiculous.  But they’re nearly always fascinating.

Photo by Salvatore Vuono courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Photo by Salvatore Vuono courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

While I can’t promise to ever be quite as entertaining, one thing I can do is explain how some of the facets of publishing work.  I’ll start today with sublicenses—something I’m called on to explain fairly regularly—but if there are any other things about publishing you’d like to understand better, give me a topic in the comments and I’ll do my best to explain it or ask a colleague to take it on.

As with most things, there are exceptions to every rule, but here’s how sublicenses typically work:

So what’s a sublicense?  Basically, when you sign a deal with a publisher, you grant them some rights and reserve others to yourself.  (Those others are the ones that your agency would represent for you, which is where my job as Subsidiary Rights Director for DGLM comes in.)  So let’s say you sign a deal with Random House, and in that deal you’d generally give them print book rights and e-book rights, and you’d generally keep multimedia and film/TV rights.  Other things will be a part of the negotiation your agent is doing, like audio rights, translation rights, and the breadth of the territory granted to the publisher in English.  So let’s say you grant translation rights to the publisher as part of the deal.  That means that the publisher is the party empowered to sell those rights to another publisher.  When you do your deal with Random House, that’s a license.  When they sell your French rights to, let’s say, Hachette, that’s a sublicense.

That part is relatively straightforward. The thing that tends to trip people up is the money.  Now in your contract with Random House, terms will be set for how you earn money on that sublicense. Typically, Random House is going to get to keep 25% for their efforts.  The other 75% is for you, but it’s not really going straight into your pocket.  When Hachette pays Random House, 75% of the money goes into your royalty account and works to earn back your advance.  Advance with RH already earned out?  Great, then that money is coming your way soon.  Advance with RH still left to earn back? Then the money isn’t going to leave Random House. The French rights are part of what they bought from you in that advance, so they can use their French deal to earn back that investment.

Think of sublicenses like Russian nesting dolls full of coins:  your deal with Random House is the biggest of the dolls. When that dolls is full of coins—meaning once your royalty account has earned as much as they advanced you—the coins that don’t fit (aka, the amount above the amount previously advanced to you) come spilling out and get paid out to you!*  But inside your deal with Random House is Random House’s deal with Hachette, and that doll starts off empty, too.  Hachette paid an advance to Random House, which added to the coins inside the larger doll, but then the Hachette doll has to fill up with earnings from the French sale of the book.  Once the Hachette doll is full, coins spill into the Random House doll, and if the Random House doll is full, they spill over to you.  And yes, there can be a third doll inside the Hachette doll, where Hachette sublicenses, say, French audio rights.  As you might imagine, the French audio nesting doll is pretty tiny and doesn’t always exist.

So, does that make sublicenses clearer?  Or are you now just wondering why I think nesting dolls have coins inside them?  Any other questions about sublicenses?  And what topic should I tackle next?

*We don’t really pay our clients in coins.  But if they chose to withdraw their money from the bank in coins so they could Scrooge McDuck it up, we would never judge.

 

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Reading in a Winter Wonderland

snowy water towersEarlier this week, as I watched snow fluttering by my office window, I took a moment to daydream about curling up by a fireplace with some hot cocoa or wine or hot whiskey, reading an appropriately wintery book.  Naturally I then had to think about exactly which books might fit the bill, and the first that came to mind was Little Women, with its general vibe of New England Christmas.   Though on reflection I don’t think it’s true, in my mind every key scene in the book happens in front of a fireplace (where Amy does burn Jo’s manuscript) or frolicking about in the snow.

On the bleaker side of things, I also thought about the Jack London short story “To Build a Fire,” which is definitely not how I’d like my winter to go.

When I polled the office, Sharon reminded me of how much winter plays in to the Laura Ingalls Wilder books:  “I am fully prepared to navigate blizzards with a clothesline or twist hay into braids for the fire among other traumatizing winter survival skills.”  Now I know if we ever set up an apocalypse emergency system here at the office, I should pick Sharon as my buddy.  And bonus points for the venerable LIW, one of them is even called The Long Winter.

Jane voted for our very own David Morrell’s The Spy Who Came for Christmas.  Miriam picked The Cider House Rules and Snow Falling on Cedars, plus Holidays on Ice, while Michael thought of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which Intern Elie also cited).  Jessica came up with The Corrections and James Joyce’s “The Dead.”  John’s vote was for Russell Banks’s Affliction.  Jim chose The Shipping News, which Stacey seconded, and Frankenstein.  And Intern Jordan made a strong case for Rachel Conn & David Levithan’s Dash & Lily’s Book of Dares that made me want to run to the store after work and pick it up.

There were two votes for Snow—but for two different books by that name.  Jessica went with Orhan Pamuk, while Jim picked Maxence Fermine.  And there were two for Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, including Sharon and Intern Francis, who is reading it right now.  Plus three for the Harry Potter books, from Interns Tatiana, Amy, and Elie.

A few people came up with books that might not be quite winter books, but have a winter feel to them nonetheless, including Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers (Miriam), Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Mike), The Road by Cormac McCarthy and Into Thin Air by Jon Kraukauer (both Stacey).  On a similar note, Intern May Zhee reads a lot of Russian novels that feel wintery even if they’re not, like Anna Karenina and Doctor Zhivago.

So now that I have such a long list of wintery reading options, all I need is some snow days to curl up and give them a go.   What are your favorite winter reads?

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Want it.

Clearly I’m late to the party, but I’ve just come across Book Riot’s Book Fetish series, and now I know where I’ll be doing my gift shopping this holiday season.  (I operate firmly on the one for them, one for me rule.)  Union Square has started assembling its holiday market, so ready or not, it’s that time of year!  But this year, I’m feeling prepared:

This Shakespearean insults poster is going to come in very handy.  And there are some tedious rogues in my life who might love it, too.

I might just buy a new bookcase so I have an excuse to use the Clampersand, which is genius.

Plus the many, many literate lawyers I know would look great in this t-shirt.

And this vintage library cart bar cart combines two of my very favorite things and would be a fine addition to my home.  Who do I know that’s crafty enough to make it for me?

My book-obsessed nephews will for sure be getting some of these.  And their mom loves socks almost as much as books, so I’ve gotta get her these.

24x36-Little-Women-column-SDBook Fetish aside, my favorite lit paraphernalia is PosterText prints:  prints made of the text of books, where the negative space forms an image.  I have Little Women in my office and The Great Gatsby at home, and everyone is always amazed when they look closely.

So, my fellow book nerds, where else should I be shopping this holiday season?

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Tension

It’s no secret to anyone who follows me on Twitter (or works here or has seen me in the last couple weeks), that I’ve become completely addicted to a new podcast called Serial (serialpodcast.org).  It’s a spin-off from This American Life, focused on one murder case and the possibly wrongful conviction of the victim’s ex-boyfriend, who has been in jail for 15 years.  It unravels in thematic episodes, following the course of the investigation not quite in real time.  The narrative arc of the “season” isn’t fully known to the producers, or wasn’t when it started airing at least, so those of us who are listening weekly with rapt attention have no idea where it will end up—or if there are even really satisfying answers to the questions it raises.  I’m completely and totally hooked, and I’ve managed to get Sharon, Miriam, Michael, Jim, DGLM client Catherine Whitney, my mother, and many of my friends addicted, too.

So for today’s blog entry, a plea to you from me:  I want to represent the book that feels like this podcast feels.  I want that tension.  I want that slow unfolding and conversational reportage.  Fiction or nonfiction is fine, but I’m not looking for a run-of-the-mill mystery or true crime book.  I want something that feels huge and also intimate.  A book where every answer raises more questions and then explores all those paths looking for the truth.  I want a book where I’m dying to get back to it and desperate for friends to read it to so we can talk about what we think is happening as we read.  I want to be certain and then confounded and certain again and endlessly curious.  I want something that grips me from the first sentence and maybe won’t ever let me go.

So if you’re the author of that book and you’re looking for an agent, please query me.  And if you want to just talk about Serial, hit me up in the comments or on Twitter (@laurenabramo). (Though let’s try not to spoil it below for anyone who’s just diving in.)

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Spoiler alert!

I’ve been thinking a lot about spoilers lately.  You can’t really talk about them without citing them, so if you’re really averse and somehow magically haven’t had Gone Girl ruined for you yet, you might want to click away.

With all the book-to-film adaptations* this fall—perhaps not more than usual, but more than I usually have any interest in—I dedicated my vacation reading to finally getting to two books I’ve been meaning to read for quite a while, before the movies could ruin them for me.  I might just be the last person to read Gone Girl, and I wasn’t exactly early to the This Is Where I Leave You bandwagon.  Fortunately, my experience with the latter was spoiler free—the only thing I’d been forewarned about was that it was really, really good.

Now, this isn’t me getting on my soapbox about spoilers, because I tend to think that if you aren’t passionate enough to prioritize something you don’t get to quell the conversations of those who are.  (I’m almost always the late one, so I’ve come to this via zen-like acceptance of my own bad impulses to get angry at someone for talking about something they care about, as if talking about something you care about isn’t a fundamentally important part of the human experience that I value highly.)  I know there was also that whole thing about how people actually like spoilers, contrary to what they think, but I’d argue that it changes your experience anyway, in a way that’s interesting but not ideal.  I know I get distracted by spoilers, and it takes me out of the experience of really enjoying the thing in the way I otherwise would.  To each their own, of course, but I’m not going to start seeking them out, and I’ll still probably have to ban myself from social media on Sunday nights when all the good TV is on for the rest of eternity.

But sometimes—like when you’ve put off reading one of the buzziest books of the last few years until the eve of the release of a film adaptation and you work in publishing—spoilers are not entirely avoidable.  To be fair, I wasn’t totally spoiled with Gone Girl.  I somehow made it all this time without finding out exactly what the twist is. When Stacey read it for DGLM book club, I fled the room.  But I can’t imagine it’s possible at this point to have heard of Gone Girl and not know there’s a twist.  And like all books (or films) that are built around a major plot twist, knowing there is one is pretty much spoiler enough.  It didn’t take me long into the book to realize that there was really only one option people would actually have been impressed with in the way I knew people were.  Unfortunately, while I found it clever and admirably crafted and insightful—that “cool girl” diatribe is everything—I missed my chance to have the opportunity with the novel that so many others did.

The thing about thrillers, or mysteries, or other twisty types of fiction is that I really enjoy the puzzle of trying to figure it out before I’m meant to, but I don’t like it when I win.  I want the author to best my whirring brain and catch me by surprise.

So having finished Gone Girl with quite a bit of like and admiration, but no love, I’ve made a pact with myself:  next time a big buzzy, mysterious novel comes along, I’m reading it right away.

*Like The Maze Runner, based of course on DGLM’s own James Dashner’s novel of the same name.  I know I’m biased, but I thought it was a perfect adaptation.  Exactly what you always hope book-to-film can be, but it almost never is.

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New York, New York, It’s a Helluva Town!

Sheep Meadow at Central ParkI am unabashedly fond of New York City.  I was born in Manhattan, to parents from the Bronx, where ¾ of my grandparents were from as well and where I lived as a child.   Since I grew up in the suburbs in New York State and moved back at 18 (other than a year-and-a-half stint at an Irish grad school I’ve been in NYC ever siWater Towers Near Union Squarence), I wouldn’t quite go as far as to call myself a New Yorker, but I love the place.  It has its flaws, but there’s nowhere else I’d want to live for more than the short term.  Conveniently, it’s also the center of the industry I’m planning to work in for the rest of my career and within driving distance (not that I know how to drive) of nearly everyone in the world I love.  You can tell me that it’s not the center of the universe or that there are far better places out there, and I will pretend to believe that is a perfectly reasonable opinion, but I’m not going to mean it.

Green-Wood Cemetery, the Prettiest Place in New York CitySo of course I was a sucker for Charlotte Jones’s blog post over at the Guardian on New York in books.  New York plus books?  Who could ask for anything more?  I haven’t read all of her selections, but am eager to pick them up.  Readers followed up with their own picks, which also helps add to my list.  From these, The Great Gatsby, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, and Let the Great World Spin are not just among my favorite Bright Lights, Big CityNew York books, they’re some of my favorite books period.  I’ve never quite realized that their New Yorkness might be part of the reason why.

I’m actually currently reading Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I’m really loving for how much it reflects my own adolescent feelings about New York (for better or worse).  And my splurge on last The Big Blue Whale at the American Museum of Natural Historyweekend’s sleepover at the American Museum of Natural History was partially informed by my childhood adoration of E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (about a different NY institution, of course, but my childhood love was reserved for the big blue whale and the brontosaurus more than anything you can find in the Met*).

I loved Rebecca Stead’s gorgeous When You Reach Me for its loving, complex depiction of city childhood.  The Wonder Wheel at Coney IslandNot to mention Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Siri Hustvedt’s What I Loved, Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy, so many things by Judy Blume, Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love, and probably countless others I’m not thinking of. And it’s at least part of what drew me into my client Wayne Gladstone’s Notes from the Internet Apocalypse and Jane’s client Michael Callahan’s forthcoming Searching for Grace Kelly.

Don’t get me wroLady Liberty Salutes the Sunsetng, I love reading about other places, too, but when someone captures NYC just right, it fills my heart with joy and fond feeling.  What are your favorite NYC books?  I mean, my reading piles haven’t actually toppled over to kill me yet, so clearly there’s room for them to grow.  We like to build things up high here in New York City.

*Except for the Temple of Dendur, because of this other glorious locked-in-the-Met story from my childhood.

 

The Brooklyn Public Library    Prospect Park

 

 

 

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Permanence

I’m not really a tattoo girl.  That might be an understatement: the notion of a tattoo terrifies me.  Not because I hate needles or pain—I’m not exactly fond of either, but they don’t bother me especially.  But getting a tattoo is decision making that is way too far down the scale of permanence.  I shudder when people suggest I will someday want to buy a house and that would be something I could sell.  Sure, laser tattoo removal exists, but I’m not sure I would ever elect to do anything to my body that requires being burned off with a laser if I change my mind. It’s not quite that I’m fickle, though it is true that I’ve hated virtually every pair of shoes I’ve ever bought within two weeks of purchase, but more that I’m the sort of person who is paralyzed by the question: What is your favorite X?  Or even, What are your top ten Y?  If you want to ask me that question, you’d better be prepared to give me paper, a pencil, and 24 hours to answer you.

I know who I am, but choosing something to visually represent that to others, something I’ll remain connected to and proud of displaying, for years of my life?  That’s daunting.  I’m simply not up for the task.  But these people are, by golly.  They not only know what their favorite books or lines from books are, but they have happily permanently affixed them to their bodies.  Leaving aside that I’m not a tattoo girl, let’s envision the weirdest possible mugging: if someone put a gun to my head, I couldn’t think of a single image or line from literature that I’d want to identify myself by to the world.  There are those that I love, certainly.  I embrace Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book so much that I’m slightly bitter when my 5-year-old nephew beats me to declaring that “It was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.”  But I wouldn’t put that on my body, certainly.  The final lines of The Great Gatsby are gorgeous, but again kind of bleak.  The best lines in literature are often insightful about things that are more dismal than celebratory.  Tolstoy’s observation on unhappy families is true and brilliant, but I think that tattoo might be perceived as a cry for help!  And much as I love plenty of childhood books, I don’t quite have the personality for the cartoon embrace of kidhood writ across my skin.  So I guess I’d just have to call that mugger’s bluff and see how it goes.  Or at least ask him to make it multiple choice.

What about you?  Any literary tattoos adorning your skin?  Or any you hope to get?  Or would if you ever found yourself at gunpoint?

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World Cup World Cup World Cup

If you don’t have World Cup fever, you might want to look away from this post.  (You might also want to reconsider, because not having World Cup fever is just wrong.)  I probably already love soccer too much—the 2010 World Cup reignited a passion I’d let dissipate a bit before it, and I’ve been in annoying-people-about-soccer mode ever since.  But with the tournament kicking off yesterday and how excited I am for the rematch of 2010’s finale that will be happening at 3 p.m. EST between Spain and the Netherlands today, I wasn’t sure how I’d manage to write a blog entry without writing it about soccer.

Happily for me, the fine folks at The Three Percent have made my job easy: with their 2014 World Cup of Literature I can combine the two things I love most in the world, books and soccer.  I like their strategy: books published after 2000 to eliminate the old guys who wouldn’t get called up for the squad and in some way capturing the spirit of the team.  Even if their David Foster Wallace/USMNT explanation stings just a bit.

It turns out I haven’t read any of the books in question, so I’ll just be pulling for the same “teams” here as I am in the World Cup itself: US, England, and Spain.  Which book do you think deserves the victory?

I’ll be watching Spain v Netherlands later with one of the refs—I mean, judges—so if anyone wants to offer her a bribe to honor the spirit of FIFA, please let me know ASAP.

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Tiny readers

As the absurdly proud aunt of exceptionally wonderful nephews—who we’ll call Fidge and Gus, because that is what I call them—I’ve actively made it my mission to get them to associate me with books.  Fidge once told his “Aunt” Gabby that “Aunts read books” and made her read him bedtime stories.  A few weeks after that, he unceremoniously announced his desire to go to bed by walking up to me and saying “You always read to me.”  Why yes, Fidge, yes I do.  Gus is a bit of a tougher sell—he’s rambunctious and not so fond of sitting still.  But if he can interact with a book or laugh hysterically while “At” Lauren makes faces or yells or roars, he’s game.  His biggest obsession is with Bill Cotter’s Don’t Push the Button, in which illicit button pushes lead to a whole host of multi-colored monsters named Larry.  He now “reads” that one to himself, turning each page to intone “Don’t push a button!” and then…pushing that button anyway.

As Gus’s birthd9780062247759_p0_v1_s260x420ay is coming up, I headed out of town last weekend to celebrate it with the family.  Naturally, I dragged Sharon to the bookstore with me last week to find some future favorites for him and settled on Press Here by Herve Tullet, I Am Otter by Sam Garton, and his autobiography The Boss Baby by Marla Frazee (which is really more for his parents).  I read the books to both boys separately, and Gus especially loved Press Here, which was no surprise since it’s very similar to Don’t Push the Button.  He’s also a fan of counting, so it suits him.  He did seem to think The Boss Baby was pretty funny, but now I’m worried it might’ve given him ideas.  And I Am Otter was definitely my favorite of the three.

But my favorite reading moment of the weekend was this one: in a crowded house full of family, with Gus trying to go to sleep in the bedroom, Fidge was clearly ready to wind down.  Fortunately, aunts know what to do when you need a moment away from all the bustle.  So I gathered up Gus’s new books and some old favorites and hunkered down in a Super Secret Hiding Spot under the dining room table with Fidge.  We read through the above three plus Madeline and Wild About Books, one of his absolute favorites, since it’s got books AND animals AND ample opportunities for counting and guessing and finding hidden frogs.  Not only did we get quiet time (where, according to Fidge at least, no one even knew where we were!), we also got to revisit old friends and make new ones.

I kind of miss Otter and Teddy, actually.