Category Archives: Lauren

1

Under Pressure*

Earlier today, I gave up. Looking at the bookmarks toolbar on my web browser, I thought that I should really read some of those articles over lunch, because they’re timely and important or potentially edifying and I will be a better person if I read them or a terrible person if I don’t.  At first I thought about how I could send them to my Pocket app and read them this weekend, but then I realized that would cut into the time I’d planned to set aside to crack open one of the new books I’ve bought myself lately.  Then it occurred to me that my list of subrights reading is growing at such a fast pace that I wouldn’t have time for a pure pleasure read till late May at earliest.  And there are three books for two different book clubs sitting next to my TV, shaming me every time I pick up the remote.  Though those aren’t quite as time sensitive as those requested manuscripts sitting on my iPad, so I’d have to tackle them this weekend instead.  Which naturally lead me to count up the books on my weekend to do list of reading and editing for clients—which is pretty much going to dominate every minute I’m home this weekend except for those I’ll need to spend sleeping.

And while I love reading and feel grateful to have the career I do, I won’t lie:  when the piles of obligations get so high they look like they might topple, the idea of how much I have to (or “have to”) read really stresses me out.  It’s a lot harder to love a book if all you can think about is that you’re reading it too slowly.

So I was honest with myself:  I’m just never going to read all those can’t-miss articles I’d flagged for later because there was no time to dive into them during work.  Instead of reading through as many as I could at the fastest possible clip during lunch, I deleted them.  Going through, some of them seemed so important that at first I was conservative in ditching them.  That technological development sounds like it could be relevant to publishing five years down the line, so I should definitely take a look.  Or that essay on contemporary fiction by Julian Barnes, he’s one of my favorite writers so I can’t skip that.  But when I realized that some of those links were from best books of 2012 lists, I knew I had a problem.  I mean, sure, that summer reads of 2013 list would be kind of handy to have as the warm weather approaches (one assumes!) and those books hit paperback release dates, but that doesn’t mean I actually need to read it.  After all, there are stacks and shelves and stacks and more stacks of books in my apartment and office, so it’s not like I’m short on ideas of what to read next.  So I deleted all those bookmarks and gave myself the favor of a blank slate.  And, I told myself that if I don’t read the 15 books I impulse bought in the last month before the end of 2014, it’s probably going to be okay.

I still have a ton of reading to do this weekend, but the load on my shoulders feels just that little bit lighter. There’s a seemingly infinite amount of writing in the world, much of it worth reading.  Sometimes we just need to let ourselves off the hook so that we can give our best attention to what we do read—and maybe even have some time to enjoy it.

*If you saw that title and thought of this interview, you are my favorite person today.

8

Eventful

For some reason behind the book table is always my preferred spot at Greenlight readings.

Wayne Gladstone reads at Greenlight Books in Brooklyn

 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about author events, having been to four very different ones in the last several weeks: first Wayne Gladstone’s two readings for his hilarious and heartfelt debut novel Notes from the Internet Apocalypse at Corner Bookstore and Greenlight Books, then two book launch parties, one for Aaron Starmer’s new middle grade series The Riverman, which took place on a river cruise around Manhattan; the other for Christopher J. Yates’s debut, a psychological thriller called Black Chalk, at University Settlement not far from where the book is partially set.  Each event had a different spirit and in some ways different purposes, and in each case the setting of the event and the personality of the author really contributed to making it feel like it perfectly suited the book being celebrated and enjoyed.

 
I must admit, I don’t go to many author events purely as a spectator (all of the above are DGLM clients), but it’s nice to have a moment to sit back and celebrate the results of all the hard work that goes into bringing a book to fruition.  Even handier when the author, his/her agent, and his/her editor are all in the same vicinity and can do so together.

I should know which skyline that is (NJ? BK? Manhattan?), but I don't.

Aaron Starmer (in red near the right of the photo) reading from The Riverman

 
I think the logistics of book events are challenging: beyond the well-attended reading series (of which there are a number in NYC), the ones at industry conventions, and the signings for major bestsellers, they’re not terribly likely to sell many books to people who weren’t going to buy them anyway and often are populated by people close enough to the author to already have a copy.  And an event that’s more of a party than a sales opportunity is likely to get pretty costly for the author, without much (or any) chance of return on that. The conventional wisdom is that book events don’t sell books and tours aren’t worth it, and as a former bookstore cashier I know firsthand how few copies of books are sold at most signings. 

That cover photo projection is a very nice touch.

Christopher J. Yates reading from Black Chalk

But I do wonder if there are things more authors can and should do that would make book events more beneficial to them and to readers.  Certainly stores that have multi-writer reading series (like the one Wayne participated in at Greenlight) are helping to introduce people to the fans of others, and this is something the self-published author community has strongly embraced as well with very large multi-author signings.  And I’ve personally found that an author event that happens well after publication—though this is logistically tougher to justify or achieve—is likely to be more appealing to me, because I have little interest in attending author events for books I haven’t read by authors I don’t have a professional relationship with.  For example, I’ve seen Colum McCann twice, once for Let the Great World Spin well after publication, which was magical, and once for Transatlantic right when the book came out that really didn’t do anything for me.

 
Do you ever go to author events? If so, what draws you in?  If not, what’s keeping you away?  What would you like to see more of?  Have you ever been to one that really blew you away?  Have you seen any creative strategies that you’ve taken note of for yourself?

 

4

Nine Years and Counting

Nine years ago today, I started my first day at DGLM.  Every person who worked here on my first day (Jane Dystel & Miriam Goderich, naturally, but also Stacey Glick, Michael Bourret, and Jim McCarthy) is working here still.  I’m lucky to be part of an agency that’s grown and changed and evolved so much in my nearly a decade here.  Publishing isn’t an easy business, agenting maybe even less so than working for a big corporation where income isn’t commission based, so I’m lucky that Team DGLM of early 2005 is still the core of Team DGLM of early 2014.  If you’re interested in how I feel about being here for nine years—and clearly you are, because the inner workings of my mind are oh so fascinating—the answer is: pretty similar to how I felt about being here for seven.

Still I wanted to mark the occasion somehow on the blog.  I mean, with my DGLMiversary falling on my blog day, it’s just too convenient not to.  Fortunately, through the magic of Twitter (and the help of @MichRichter1, @HopeDellon, and @PicadorUSA), I found inspiration in this Atlantic round-up of answers as to who is the greatest fictional character of all time.  I was thinking that I can’t imagine answering that, as such questions always paralyze me.  Greatest?  Of all time?  That’s too many to choose from!  I can’t decide what to eat if a menu has more than 15 options, so how could I possible do that??  But I think what I can do is tell you my favorite 9 new non-DGLM books of the last 9 years.  Obviously all the DGLM books are equally perfect and superior to all other books, so you’d be here all day if I didn’t exclude them.  So without further ado:

  • Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love is nothing short of exquisite.  I loved it so much more than I ever thought was possible.  And despite years of people telling me to check it out, which normally makes something basically unlovable to my contrary soul, it’s one of few books I really thought lived up to the hype.
  • Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is a middle grade novel that is absolutely spot-on in its understanding of its characters and its audience.  There aren’t too many novels I read that I’m confident will stand the test of time, but if there’s any justice in this world, this one will.  It made me want to re-read my favorite books from childhood, so I could linger in that feeling a little longer.
  • In as much as books can really be for a person, I didn’t think that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One would be for me.  It’s so involved in the minutiae of its deeply nostalgic world, and my knowledge of videogames and geek culture doesn’t run nearly deep enough for me to love the novel on that level.  And yet it’s a captivating story, and one which my book club loved more than virtually anything else we’ve read, despite having no knowledge of nearly any of the references.  A real testament to the fact that some of the best books are the ones that anyone can love.
  • Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang is a story of family dysfunction that’s moving and delightful and hilarious and strange.  It has tons of heart and is a lot of fun, which is an impressive feat given that it could easily have gotten bogged down in theories of art and morality.  Wilson has a beautifully light touch.
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman is precisely the kind of interdisciplinary narrative nonfiction that I really adore.  It’s a fascinating subject compellingly explored.
  • Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is every wonderful thing every person you know whose read it said it was.  It’s funny and charming and touching and original—and I can’t wait to see what Semple does next.
  • What can I say about Emma Donohue’s Room that hasn’t already been said?  It’s narrated from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack, whose unusual circumstances color how he sees the world in ways I would call unimaginable if Donohue hadn’t somehow managed to imagine them down to the most intricate details.  It’s a difficult premise in more ways than one, but Donohue explores it with enviable skill.
  • Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End is compelling and accessible and beautifully written and ambitious and all around extraordinary.  I was confident that the structure was going to annoy me fairly quickly, but the perfection of the voice carried me through to the last page, where I was truly sad to put it down.
  • Colum McCann blew me away with Let the Great World Spin.  I think this must be my absolute favorite book of the last decade.  I was already a fan of McCann, who I’d first come across when reading his Everything in This Country Must in college, so I had high hopes for this novel.  But I didn’t realize when I first began reading that I would wind up loving this book so much that it would become my favorite of his novels—and among my favorite of anyone’s.

Honorable mention to Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which I was definitely going to include before I realized that I already had 9.

So…what am I forgetting?  Which books am I going to hate myself for leaving off the list the second you mention them?

3

Mementos

Earlier this week, my client Wayne Gladstone asked me if I still had the copy of his manuscript I’d first read.  We were talking about the release of his debut novel, Notes from the Internet Apocalypse (which you should definitely feel free to go buy right now.  I’ll wait.), and he recalled that when I’d offered representation I’d told him that I’d been sure that I wanted to sign it, so I’d started making edits as I read.  I’d been marking mistakes when I suddenly reached a pivotal moment and wrote “holy shit!” in the margin, as I’d realized all the “mistakes” were clues building up to a major revelation.  He wanted to get that piece of paper with my “holy shit” in the margin so he could frame it.

Unfortunately, he’d misremembered.  The real story was that I’d made edit notes on my e-reader and then exclaimed “holy shit!” out loud on the subway on my way home.  Somewhat less frameable, alas.  Also not recorded for posterity.

Still, it got me thinking about publishing and the trinkets we keep.  I don’t know about the author’s side of things, but I have a bulletin board covered in thank you notes, bookmarks, and various promotional items that authors have sent my way.  I also have a postcard my client Erica Ridley sent me when she visited Galway, where I went to grad school; the New York Times crossword puzzle featuring a clue about Heather Brewer’s The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod; and a copy of one of the poems that I wrote my grad school dissertation on, to remind myself of why I went into publishing. Not to mention the star of our DGLM holiday parties, an inflatable fruitcake that Richelle Mead sent me one year, now displayed prominently on my bookshelves.

I’m all about the little reminders of how far we’ve come.  Any time I’m near a bookstore or book section with my family, I show them my name in the acknowledgments of at least a few books.  I try to restrain myself when with friends, who are less obligated to indulge me, but I rarely succeed completely. I’ve also done it at both the bookstore I worked at in college (B&N 6th Ave and 8th Street, may she rest in peace) and grad school (Dubray Books in Galway), showing off to my ex-coworkers that I wasn’t just lying about where I spend my days.  So I was both completely flattered by Wayne’s request and totally understood.  I also wish I had that to frame.  If only I had been working in hard copy!

Do you have any mementos of your publishing journey?  What do you not have yet that you’re saving a special place for on your mantel?

19

Tweet, tweet

I joined Twitter a few years back, because I realized that despite my aversion to it, it’s a really useful tool for keeping up on publishing.  From being more in tune with what the industry is talking about and where it’s headed to the stronger relationships with colleagues and clients, it’s proven to be the right choice, however much time I might waste trying to condense my overly verbose thoughts into 140 characters.  I don’t think it’s for everyone, but it’s for far more people than I realized, including me.

Still, I find myself wondering what’s really effective in using the platform for networking and promotion.  How do you maintain a balance between participating in the conversation and drowning others out?  How many tweets is too many tweets?  How few is like not being on it at all?  How much honesty do you allow yourself?  Does diplomacy rule your choices, or is Twitter a place for your unvarnished opinions?

And how do you promote yourself without turning people off?  I’d say Twitter markedly skews my perception of success toward people who are wildly good at self-promotion, even though certain strategies drive me up a wall.  Even the strategies I hate sometimes work on me.

So the question is: what works for you?  Let’s assume that as a person who is reading a literary agency blog you’re not averse to the notion of marketing in general.  Have you ever bought a book because of Twitter or learned about an author that way?  Do you follow the authors you are fans of?  Do you use Twitter primarily as a tool in your platform or primarily as a vehicle for socializing?  Do you primarily hope to reach readers or to network with authors?  And what really turns you off?  What Twitter “sins” make you unfollow?

Update:  Whoops!  I somehow managed not to tag this at all, so here I was wondering why no one had an opinion on Twitter, but actually I just wasn’t getting notifications because WordPress didn’t know I wrote it.  Thanks everyone for your feedback!

5

All I Want for Christmas

As every year, by mid-December I am hardcore entrenched in the holiday spirit.  I’m a curmudgeonly grump 11 months of the year, but when December 1st hits I throw on my favorite Christmas albums (John Denver & the Muppets, Vince Guaraldi Trio, Phil Spector, and all of those woven with very frequent repetition of the pop perfection that is Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”), throw some lights around the place (my aims tend to outpace my follow through so nothing too many at Chez Lauren), and watch all the best holiday classics, especially the woefully underseen The Christmas Toy, which is basically Toy Story before Toy Story and even better (yeah, I said it). It takes a hardcore assault of holiday cheer to turn that frown upside down, but I am up for the task.

So though we have a full week left of work before it really becomes Christmas, I’m pretty much thinking of nothing else.  Thus, here’s what you should feel free to give me for Christmas, if you are so inclined:

  • A universal Schedule A. For the uninitiated, by which I mean lucky, Schedule A is shorthand for the list of countries at the back of a US or UK contract that spells out which countries the UK publisher gets exclusively.  So US contracts have either exclusive or non-exclusive rights in everything except the Schedule A in their contract, and UK publishers have exclusive rights only in the Schedule A in their contract, which means that if there are separate US and UK publishers, they have to have matching Schedule As (Schedules A?).  Which would be a lovely system if I didn’t have to spend so much of every year fighting the same fight about which places should be in that Schedule A.  It’s not that hard, and yet…(No, really, guys, I ask for this every year for Christmas and for my birthday, and no one ever gets it for me, but it is my super duper #1 wish and please, please, please.)
  • A month off to read my towering piles of pleasure reading and work reading and magazine reading and everything else reading.
  • An engrossing, compelling, clever, and mind-blowing popular science proposal.  I’ve found some close-but-no-cigars in 2013, but I think 2014 is going to be the year.
  • Fiction to represent that is so captivating that it can keep me awake on my pre-coffee morning commute or on my couch later that night after a long day at work.  If unputdownable were a word and not a horror show inflicted upon society by sadists, I would want something unputdownable.
  • Santa’s elves to come vet any contracts, send any mail, read any queries, and answer any emails that might come in while we’re closed for the holidays, so that the blank slate I will work so hard to achieve next week won’t be completely eradicated by January 2nd.
  • Peace on earth, good will towards men, the criminalization of animated GIF making, you know, the biggies we all agree on.

 

Thanks in advance, you guys!  And happiest of all happy holidays to anyone with anything to celebrate this month.  If you don’t have a holiday to celebrate, I recommend inventing something.  You, too, deserve baked goods, presents, and Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Ice Cream and Violins Day is You.”

5

Accentuate the positive

Rumor has it that I’m the critical type,* so you might guess that I’d turn my nose up at the announcement that BuzzFeed’s new books page will only post positive reviews.

But I’ve gotta be honest: wasting a lot of time working to discourage other people from liking what they like just isn’t my thing.  Maybe that’s why I work in a job that’s all about telling people about new things they should love.  Years after seeing a presentation by Tumblr creator David Karp, I still use as an example of creative genius that Tumblr was created without comments so that anyone who wants to add their two cents has to reblog—essentially putting their sentiments onto the page they own, which forces people to consider whether they want to be known by their vitriol.  It’s a brilliant way around the problem that the internet is a toxic cesspit of anonymous rage, but it’s also a goal I can get behind.

I love a clever piece of writing as much as the next person, but reviewers who endeavor to destroy what they’ve read (or seen or heard or eaten) with the might of their pen just irk me.  I never fall in love with the angry reviews that make the rounds, and I’m not sure I see the point in excoriating a thing that people worked hard to create.  (Sure, they didn’t always work hard, but there’s only so much joy in taking down an easy target.)  I mean, I’ve been known to bitch when something gets tons of praise heaped upon it that seems to miss every flaw that I found glaring (I’m looking at you, film adaptation of Silver Linings Playbook), but I’ve only ever looked at negative reviews when I’m looking to confirm that it is right and just for me to dislike a thing I already dislike.

Criticism is an art form, and I think negative critiques have their place, but to me it’s more of an academic need than a practical one.  One of the reasons I don’t really read reviews is that I’m not terribly interested in what people who hate things have to say about them.  I’ve never read a bad review and thought, “Oh, okay, I can skip that,” because it so often seems like the reviewer, be they a highly regarded professional or a person on Goodreads, has an axe to grind.  Fortunately, for people like me, there’s BuzzFeed, and for anyone who wants an aggressive critique rather than simply an opportunity to find something new to check out there’s virtually the entirety of Kirkus and a certain someone at the New York Times.

 

 

*I prefer to think of myself as intellectually thorough.

1

Arrogant liars and emotional ninjas

Sharon and I were discussing our taste in books earlier today (shocking, I know) and both confessed to a fondness for unreliable narrators.  Likewise I have a real soft-spot for any protagonist I love in spite of myself.  Clever, wry, horrible jerk I’d never want to know in real life?  Sign me up!  I’m the type of person who loves Lucifer in Paradise Lost more than any other main character in classic lit.  But I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea—and I think it’s harder to do it well than to write a likeable protagonist well (though that’s not always an easy feat either).  I’m no fan of gimmicks, in general, but if you try something that seems like it can’t possibly work and actually win, you get my undying devotion in return.  I don’t advise authors to stack the odds against themselves, because I’m a fairly risk averse person, but the ones who do and actually pull it off are my gods.

My pet peeve: writers I can see trying to pull my heartstrings.  I described myself earlier as unmovable, which is an exaggeration, but I definitely have more of a heart of stone than the average reader.  I’m all for something that does move me, but if you try too hard to do it I am going to check out.  I need to be lulled into a false sense of security and then wham! tears out of nowhere.  Can you make me cry on the subway* when I’m tired and grumpy?  If so, I’m in.  But if I see it coming, it’s never going to happen.  The icy walls clamp down around my heart, and I start rooting against the hero or heroine.  (Told you I was naturally contrary.)  Chances are the author is trying no matter what, but I need stealth emotion, not transparent manipulation.

I’m just all about any book that can best my natural tendencies.

But we all have our things: the quirks that we look for even though we know they drive others nuts and the things we can’t stand even though everyone else is enthralled.  What draws you in, and what do you tune out?

*Making me forget I’m on the subway is inevitably going to be worked into my pitches. Three real world examples off the top of my head:

“There’s a point in the book where everything just clicks into place, and I actually yelled ‘Holy shit!’ out loud on the train when I read it.  But I was so excited I didn’t even have time to be embarrassed or see how my fellow commuters reacted, because I needed to find out how it was going to go down.”

“I was so wrapped up in what was happening that I completely lost track of time and tuned out everything else.  Even when I finally realized I had missed my stop, I got off the train and walked home while still reading, in the rain, holding my arm across the top of my e-reader so it wouldn’t get wet.”

“I didn’t even know that I was afraid of being forgotten, but the next thing I know I’m just bawling on the subway, imagining what it would be like if my family and friends couldn’t remember I had ever existed.”

4

I didn’t finish it.

As the world’s most instinctively contrary human being (so contrary that upon writing that I thought “Well, surely not the world’s most…”), I’m not really the best at Obligation Reading.  But apparently I’m also a masochist, because in addition to actively pursuing a job where I read for a living, thus extending 18 years of school required reading right on through to retirement, I also started a book club amongst my friends specifically to force myself to read things I might not otherwise choose.  Well, that and to exploit my friends for market research.  95% of the time, on seeing the selection, my brain says, “But I don’t wanna!”  Even with books that are actually on my very long to read list.  I have to actively remind myself that I do wanna.  I mean, I might even have already bought it.

Such is the conundrum I’ve faced with the selection for this weekend’s book club meeting: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.  I was already curious about it when my friend Nell picked it.  I hadn’t bought it yet, but I’d added it to a To Buy list I keep on my phone (for emergencies).  And not only that, it’s published by Reagan Arthur, who has excellent taste, so that’s an obvious point in its favor.  And yet…I haven’t even peeked at the cover page.  I bought it and immediately lent it out to my friend Rachael to buy myself some time.  I’ve read a million manuscripts and five published books since purchasing it a little more than a month ago.  I’ve carried it to and from City Island in the Bronx, Red Bull Arena in New Jersey, and a wedding weekend in Washington, DC, without so much as a glance at the cover copy.  Even though I want to read it and hear it’s great and am sure I’ll enjoy it and a group of people I convened for the sole purpose of reading books and discussing them together will be meeting up on Sunday with this in hand, I just…haven’t.  My random and arbitrary stubborn streak has kept me away.

So I did the right thing and bowed out of book club for this round.  No sooner had I done so then my friend and fellow book club participant Andrea posted this video on Facebook, so it’s probably for the best I didn’t try to fake it:

 

(In case you’re wondering, I’m the one who aggressively makes people write their questions down.  Which is annoying, but hey, I still have never shot anyone, right?)

 

P.S.  RIP Summer Fridays.  We hardly knew ye.

0

Summer reading

Thanks again to everyone who made recommendations here and on Twitter for my vacation reading.  While in Greece, I ended up devouring the phenomenal Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple; enjoying the impressive and delightful History of Love by Nicole Krauss; dipping in and out of Joan Didion’s The White Album, which I’d somehow never read, but mostly really liked; and immersing myself in Jorge Luis Borges’s A Personal Anthology.  Plus I got through a healthy chunk of Tao Lin’s very engaging Taipei, which I hope to finish reading this weekend.

These might be somewhat atypical vacation reads.  Mostly I want something that will keep me from watching bad movies on the plane (though I did watch one of those anyway, plus another that was a likably ambitious failure) and entice me away from a mid-afternoon nap.  Something that will hold my attention so well that I’m grateful for an extra hour spent on the runway or an unexpected delay.  I usually try to pack away some things that I’ve been meaning to get to for a while but keep letting slip by me.  If I can trim down those teetering piles that look guiltily at me from all around my apartment and office, I get to experience the illusion of progress while simultaneously enjoying myself. Since I like to compete with myself, I like ‘em short and digestible enough that I can read a whole bunch of books instead of just one or two.  I also tend to steer clear of things that are very much like what I read for work, so there’s not as much commercial fiction or YA as I’d normally read throughout the year.  And I always try to get in at least one book that publishing is buzzing about, so I’ll have something current to chat knowledgably about at lunches and parties.

But judging by the airport bookstores, these aren’t exactly the average person’s criteria.  And understandably so.  So what have you tackled this summer, and how did you pick?

BTW, have you been to Greece?  If not, I highly recommend it.  It’s exactly what you think it will be, in the best possible way.  If you go, be sure to make it to the Temple of Poseidon in Cape Sounion, where you can see Lord Byron’s graffiti carved into a column!  Such a delinquent.  Check out his handiwork:

In the close-up, look for “Byron” just below the center of the photo.  It’s in the part that’s lighter than the rest.  I’m guessing that back when you used to be able to walk right up to it, people took rubbings of the impression or something.  If I had a time machine, I’d go back to the time before we preserved art and history quite so carefully and do a world tour of all those things that are behind barriers and glass now.  I wanna stand in the middle of Stonehenge, dammit.