Category Archives: media

1

A tale of two cultures working together

Last week, I journeyed to LA to meet a group of TV/film people, find out what they are looking for in the way of new projects and tell them about many of the books we are representing which we hoped they would be interested in reading and ultimately optioning.  Often we work through a community of co-agents to get to these producers, but I always feel that meeting in person, when possible, cements a relationship.  Putting a face to a name is a good thing.

I hadn’t done this kind of trip in many years–film people come through our offices all the time–and I really enjoyed meeting all of these new folks.  The differences between our two cultures (book publishing and Hollywood) really struck me, though.

First and foremost is the fact that the people in the LA movie business are totally dependent on their cars–they need to drive everywhere as public transportation is very limited.

Another difference is that we in publishing submit our projects almost exclusively online.  Theirs, on the other hand, is a world of in-person pitches.  Co-agents meet with producers, directors and sometimes writers to pitch them projects.  We do almost all of this electronically. Here is a photo of a pool we sat beside to pitch a producer some of our books (not a bad way to do it, actually, except hard to accomplish in New York City).

Finally, the Hollywood folk spend a lot of time on the phone.  This is something we in publishing really try to avoid.  Of course, sometimes phone calls are necessary to describe a project we are really passionate about, and/or to begin or complete a negotiation, but most of the time we find it more efficient and, frankly, legally sound to keep our communications written.

The “publishing lunch,” though, is something the folks in the film business enjoy equally.  The difference between us is that we journey to our destination on foot, by cab, or subway, while they drive.  Here is a photo outside the CAA Headquarters where you can see a large number of valets who are on staff to park and bring up cars for those entering and leaving.

Bottom line, though?  I think this was a very productive trip in every way and now I am looking forward to digging in and sending out the numerous projects that the people we met with want to consider.

7

Writer’s block

I’ve been bad. About blogging. I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I don’t want to say how long, because it’s embarrassing, even to me. I could blame computer woes–it’s been fun! Or the fact that I’ve been really busy with work work. I could pretend I’ve made up for it by being very active on Twitter, but you’d find me out. So what gives?
I would blame writer’s block, but it’s not something I believe in. Because the truth is, it’s not that I can’t write about things. It’s that I don’t want to write about things. Call it a crisis of confidence if you will, but I can’t imagine there’s anything left to blog  about that either 1) I haven’t already blogged about or 2) someone hasn’t said better than I ever could.
I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed lately, but not by work–busy though that has been. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the constant stream of information: the RSS feeds, the news, TV, texts, movies, IMs, music, Twitter. It’s a cacophony, and I’ve been feeling especially mindful of my part in it. Am I just adding to the noise? Does what I say actually benefit anyone or add to their existence/knowledge/growth? Am I listening and learning? Why am I blogging and tweeting? Am I carrying on a meaningful conversation?
I’m not sure I have the answers. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking into the wind, and there’s no point in that. Other times, I feel like I’m making a real human connection, and I cherish the contacts I’ve made through social media (many of whom are now people I know in real life).
I hope my quietness or silence isn’t misinterpreted. I want to connect. I want to learn. I want to grow. But I also want to make sure that what I’m putting out there isn’t just for the sake of putting something out there. Bear with me?
6

The Times it is a-changing

For the first time since 2004, the New York Times has made changes to their children’s bestseller lists. Up to this change, there were picture book, chapter book, paperback and series lists, with ten titles on each list (see here, though you’ll have to scroll down and click on the link for each list individually). There were complaints about the list (there are always complaints about the list), and publishers had been pushing for more space, especially as children’s sales increased dramatically. For comparison, the adult hardcover fiction list has fifteen slots, plus twenty on the extended list, for thirty-five slots total. In addition, many of us in the industry have complained about non-fiction titles dominating the chapter book list, particularly some licensed, toy-based books. The bestseller list is an important sales tool, not just an indicator of sales, and we know that the “New York Times Bestseller” designation for a book and author mean more attention from stores, libraries and consumers. Those of us bothered by the inclusion of those books felt that there were other titles that would benefit more from the attention that making the list brings, whereas these branded books would sell the same number of copies, with or without the designation. It’s not that they don’t deserve to be on a list; the chapter book list just seemed an odd fit.

So, when I heard from a source that the lists would be changing, I was hopeful. Sadly, this is definitely a case of “be careful what you wish for.” In their statement that proceeds the new list, the Times says they’ve made these changes in the list to reflect the changes in the book world, i.e. e-books. So now they have a picture book, middle grade, young adult, and series lists. The lists are format agnostic, so all hardcover, paperback and e-book sales on a title are included in the count. In addition, the MG and YA lists now include a short, five-slot extended list.

This all seems like it should be positive. I’ve been arguing that e-book sales should count towards the list, and there are ten new slots. But looking at the results for the first week, it’s disappointing. In splitting the books onto MG and YA (I can’t wait for when the Times puts a book on the “wrong” list), all of the children’s non-fiction, including those licensed books that drive me nuts, moved to the MG list. As such, eight of the top ten are nonfiction, and only two of those are narrative. The YA list is free of non-fiction, which is great. And it’s nice to see the quality, depth and breadth of the books on the list. But digging into the sales numbers a bit, it’s clear just how disadvantaged MG books are. Without the non-fiction to compete with, the YA list features titles on the main list that aren’t selling as well as some of the titles on the MG extended list. I’m basing this on one list, but from what I can see, it’s going to be much more difficult to have a MG bestseller than a YA one.

Though we know the times is now tracking hardcover, paperback and e-book sales for each title, it’s also unclear how the sales are weighted (and the Times guards their formula closely). The biggest question in this regard are about e-books. Are they tracking self-published books that are categorized as YA or MG? Does the price of the book effect the weighting? Could a publisher put an e-book on sale and watch their book jump onto the list? Making the list has always had an element of gamesmanship (colleagues and I like to joke about which book will magically land in the #10 spot, oftentimes despite dismal sales), but I think we’re in for an intense period of experimentation to see how e-book sales impact recognition.

And, I have one last complaint. With the start of the new MG and YA lists, the Times has reset each title’s “weeks on the list” count to 1. That means that Markus Zusak’s THE BOOK THIEF went from 272 weeks on the list back down to 1. It’s going to make it awfully tough for the next few months to easily see which books have been successful in the long run. Over time, this would cease to be an issue, but I hope the Times figures out a way to restore those “weeks on” counts.

End of rant. Any thoughts about the new lists and their impact?

4

Television and Novels: A Love Story

I came across this fascinating article in The Chronicle of Higher Education and simply had to share it. It  accounts for the evolution of arc television (ex. Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones) and highlights the similarities between these types of shows and other creative media. I have to admit, the title, “Storied TV: Cable Is the New Novel,” threw me for a loop at first. I thought this piece was going to propose that these wildly popular and critically acclaimed series are on the road to replacing novels, but after reading it, I don’t think this is what the author intends to suggest (even if some of the people who commented disagree). In fact, it seems that the author is comparing the television vs. motion picture dispute (until now, films have undoubtedly beat television in terms of status, merit, and praise) to that of the new journalism vs. novel debate from the 70s.

In fact, the author of the piece, Thomas Doherty (a writer, among other things) points out what makes these television shows as enthralling as a great novel: “Like the bulky tomes of Dickens and Dreiser, Trollope and Wharton, the series are thick on character and dense in plot line, spanning generations and tribal networks and crisscrossing the currents of personal life and professional duty.” In the comments, someone even points out that several of these shows were actually based on novels. This brings me to my question for you, the readers: Think about your favorite novel. Would you rather see it as a television show following the format described above or as a big screen debut?

10

Content pressure

A friend of mine alerted me to this story about Jonah Lehrer’s self-plagiarism (which turned into a story of him plagiarizing others) and it made me sad.  This kind of thing keeps coming up (whether it’s plagiarizing or making things up, a la Frey and Mortenson) and it’s disappointing, sure, but it’s also puzzling.

Rather than opting for knee-jerk demonizing, I find myself wondering if it’s possible that these talented people are just cracking under the pressure to produce content at a speed that is unsustainable in order to catch the miniscule attention span of readers used to having 17 websites open at once and getting their information in McNugget bites.   Or, as in the case of those who “embellish,” if it’s the trying to make their stories bigger, shinier, funnier, more tragic, more more in order to grab your and my interest.

Is any of this excusable?  Are we collectively putting too much pressure on our writers and thinkers and pushing them over the edge into the ethical abyss?  What do you all think?

 

 

5

Video Games + Books = ?

The New York Times wrote up a new Scholastic children’s book series today: Infinity Ring. What is interesting to me about this series isn’t that it is written by several different authors, some of which we represent, or that it is (according to the New York Times, anyway) supposed to be the successor to the Harry Potter throne. What I find interesting is that there is a tie-in video game, and that it is being called a multi-media property.

Video games are certainly one of the most interesting story telling mediums today, mostly because it hasn’t quite figured out how to best tell a story. Role Playing Games, like the recently released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, have an expansive history of elaborate backstory and narrative driven gameplay. Action and Shooter games, on the other hand, have put significantly less emphasis on story, but some games, like the Assassin’s Creed series and the Uncharted series, are looking to change that. Meanwhile, there are those games that put story absolutely up front and center, like 2010’s Alan Wake, but those tend to fall flat on gameplay to the point of being totally boring. Of course, being an interactive medium, video games should be focusing more on player interaction than story. The greatest game I’ve ever played, Shadow of the Colossus (please play the ps3 version), has a story so bare bones and minimal it almost isn’t there. I call it the greatest game I’ve ever played because every time I play it, without fail, my palms sweat, my heartbeat triples, and I get this feeling of utter fragility in my limbs. That is what video games excel at – getting the player completely physically and emotionally involved in the game. You would imagine that video games that tie-in to other properties would do this exceptionally well, as the story and characters have already been laid out for the game designers and they need to just focus on the gameplay – like Shadow of the Colossus does.

An example of a truly great tie-in/multi-media project is Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire: the novel was really gripping, the comic was fun as hell, and the video game was absolutely amazing (I still play it). More importantly, each medium offered stories and aspects of the project unique and well-suited to that specific format. To the point where not only did each of the three work well as a standalone entity, but you couldn’t really consider any one of them to be the principal focus of the overall story. All three worked together in concert.

I have high hopes for Infinity Ring. There are really great authors behind it,  Scholastic is an exceptional publisher, and I think the timing is perfect for something new to sweep in and steal the hearts and minds of our youth. I really, really hope to see is a truly multi-media project in which all the different mediums being used are used to their full potential. It could be revolutionary, to the likes of which we haven’t seen before, and I can’t wait to see what happens.

5

World domination

When Dan Slater of Amazon, a longtime friend of DGLM, was visiting last week, I jokingly asked him what new steps his company was taking toward its ultimate goal of world domination.  Discreet as Dan is, he did not let on about the new Kindle Fire announcement (although we’d all heard buzz) but he definitely did not deny that Amazon was in the process of taking over the universe (at least the publishing universe).

Well, as the HuffPost live blog of today’s announcement by Jeff Bezos about the new tablet shows, the Amazon juggernaut rumbles inexorably on.  Not having seen one of these babies in person, I’ve no idea whether I’m going to rush out and buy the new KF instead of the iPad I’ve been thinking of gifting myself for Christmas.   On the one hand, I use my current Kindle quite a bit and, given how lame the Apple book store is, I expect that I’ll continue to get most of my online reading from Amazon anyway.  On the other hand, it’s hard to root for the prohibitive favorite in sports or big business.  I’m not sure I want to live under an Amazon dictatorship, no matter how benign.

Is it as dire as all that?  Or is this all just healthy, good fun on the part of the superpowers?  Are they just giving us all more options even as we have less and less time to avail ourselves of them?

4

Retromania

Has anyone read Simon Reynolds’ Retromania? I vaguely remember reading a review when it came out this summer and thinking it looked interesting, but of course promptly forgot about it until yesterday, when a Facebook friend posted an interview Reynolds did with Salon in early August. Put it back at the top of my to-read list!

Despite mostly softball questions from the interviewer, it’s fascinating to watch Reynolds attempt to maintain a consistent message. On the one hand, despite his protests to the contrary, Reynolds still  sounds like an old-fogey complaining about “them kids today” and splitting hairs about how today’s pop music recycles older sounds and styles, as opposed to music in the past. But then again, he’s right that old-fogeys don’t usually want the kids to try something new and different. And the idea that the universal access and constant feedback loop of the Internet denies creative innovation is definitely worth some consideration–and probably some concern as well.

While Reynolds focuses mostly here on music, he does touch on TV, movies, and politics as well. But what about books? Is writing equally stuck in retromania?

I have to tell you, from an agenting perspective it does feel that way sometimes, especially when you’ve seen the umpteenth submission for a zombie novel (yes, Jim isn’t the only one who gets the zombies). And perhaps it’s worth worrying that the biggest sellers of the aughts—Harry Potter, Twilight, Hunger Games—are to varying degrees synthetic takes on old tropes and genres. But then again, I doubt all those millions of readers found much “boredom” in these books, as Reynolds worries. And personally, if I were totally bored by the cultural landscape—well, I probably wouldn’t have so many amazing clients, would I?

What do you guys think? Is writing stuck in retromania the way other cultural forms may (or may not) be? Or are writers still coming up with original stories and topics that feel fresh and new? If so, what are your picks for books that break out the loop?

2

Reading Detours

I am a creature of habit; even in the boundless spaces of the internet, I march a well-beaten path between the New York Times, Salon, the Millions, assorted publishing sites and a familiar assortment of blogs.  Last night, in an effort to shake up my routine, I decided to explore some new sites. I began with Brain Pickings, which bills itself asa discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.” Although I found the description somewhat twee, the brains behind Brain did a good job engaging mine. Smart stuff, including the ambitious if not slightly ridiculous “Everything you need to know about culture in 10 books.”

From there, I poked around at The Atavist, one of the new on-line homes for long form journalism, the meaty, painstakingly researched magazine pieces that occupy the interstices of my life. Philip Gourevich’s article “Climbers” in last week’s New Yorker about the Rwandan Cycling Team is a perfect example. I read it on line at the grocery store.  (If you write in this vein, query me.) The Atavist, bless them, is also looking to monetize their content; they sell original long form pieces, complete with cool multimedia imbeds for the the iPad and iPhone for $2.99. $1.99 buys you a version suitable for Kindle.

I moved on to Byliner, another safe space for the embattled long-form, where I could binge on the collected works of any of scores of established writers and acquaint myself with some new ones.  At that point, relieved that long form journalism is being collected (the “curated” tag bothers me a bit: are these stories museum pieces?) I headed to a source for another endangered species, investigative journalism. I finally checked  out Propublica,  and felt reassured that the practice of muckraking is not so dated as the word that describes it.

I concluded my tour feeling pleased and slightly overwhelmed—as ever, so much to read, so little time. Until, of course, it occurred to me that during this whole exercise (ostensibly a departure from routine), I simply discovered more of the kind of stuff I like.  It’s hard to argue that any of the above, worthy as they are, were substantially broadening my horizons, prying open my mind. Plenty of thinkers have pointed out that the internet can allow us to spend time exclusively with others who reflect back our tastes and opinions. So in the interests of a more mind-blowing detour, can anyone recommend some good sites?

3

Blue Horseshoe Loves Book Publishing

I know, I know, everyone’s sick to death of Charlie Sheen, even those of us who’ve barely followed the story (my teenage fascination with Wall Street notwithstanding). But as soon as Charlie got canned by CBS, I knew it would eventually, inevitably, come to this: yes, Charlie’s shopping a memoir.

While I love a good juicy tell-all as much as the next person, it’s always bothered me that book publishing tends to be the last refuge of villains and scoundrels. How many times have celebrities burned out so spectacularly in public to the point where no one will ever work with them again, and yet, lo and behold, 6 months later they’ve got a book deals? And big ones, too! Just wait, Charlie’s going to rake in some serious bucks on nothing more than his name and a title—though, I’ll admit,  Apocalypse Me is killer.

Okay, I realize publishing has never really been the ivory tower that we imagine as undergraduates, but I just hate that feeling that in the media food chain we’re always the last suckers to be taken in. And while the AP reports that publishers are “wary of such polarizing books since the fiasco of O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It, you know that someone going to take the story—in fact, irony of ironies, look who wants to publish a book of Charlie Sheen’s poetry!