Category Archives: media

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Celebrities + celebrity imprints = perfect together?

So, Publisher’s Lunch announced today that Lena Dunham and her partner Jenni Konner are launching a new imprint at Random House named after Lenny, Dunham and Konner’s popular newsletter.  I have mixed feelings.

Everything I’ve heard and read about Lena Dunham suggests that she’s a thoughtful, intelligent young woman with a lot of opinions and a love of literature.  Her business partner, I’m sure, is equally gifted.  That said, does the publishing business need another celebrity imprint?  And, to what end?  What do celebrity imprints bring to the table other than the star power of the celebrity they are affiliated with?  And, is that star power a transitive property as far as book buyers are concerned?

Recently, in fact, a number of celebrity imprints have been announced—Gwyneth Paltrow, Chelsea Handler, Oprah Winfrey, Derek Jeter, and  Johnny Depp (which, huh?) now have deals with big five publishers and a mandate to buy books that sell.  Well, good luck with that.

I like to think that publishing books that enrich the culture, entertain a sizable audience, and have staying power in the collective imagination is a specialized craft.   Much in the same way that a lot of people who know nothing about the arduous process of writing a book think they can write a bestseller, it seems to me that many underestimate the equally arduous process of identifying, curating, developing, massaging, producing and promoting a work of literature.  Obviously, I get that it’s a dog eat dog world out there and that publishers need every little edge they can get in order to get their product the attention it deserves, but I worry that resources that are going into supporting the celebritization of book publishing would be better used in bolstering regular, centuries-old publishing models—with editors/publishers who don’t have a Hollywood pedigree but know a good idea/manuscript when they see one and know how to shepherd it through the publishing process into the hands of readers who care about the prose and ideas and not the celebrity behind the imprint.

Or, am I being an old fuddy duddy?  Do I need to accept the fact that there might be a Kardashian imprint down the road?  What do you all think about celebrities who dip their toes in publishing waters?

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Hail Fellowes!

 

Like a lot of people, I’m rejoicing that the new season of DOWNTON ABBEY has started, while I simultaneously lament its imminent demise: This season is to be its last. But its tireless creator and head writer, Julian Fellowes, won’t be snoozing on a beach in the Bahamas. He’s taking a cue from Charles Dickens with his next project, BELGRAVIA, a novel told in serial form that will make the first of its eleven episodic appearances this coming April, right after DOWNTON will have concluded and many of us will be in the throes of mourning.

BELGRAVIA, set in that very tony neighborhood in mid-19th-century London, will be available first on the web, then will  be published in a complete hard-copy editon by Grand Central in June, once all of the episodes have appeared. But Fellowes is wisely taking advantage of all the technology that Charles Dickens never could have imagined. Each of the episodes will be made available not only in digital but in audio, and subscribers, who will pay $13.99 for the entire package, will be able to switch back and forth between the two as they choose. In addition, there will be all sorts of bells and whistles—bonus materials, video clips, surprise extra features—embedded within each chapter through hyperlinks.

It’s likely to be one of those great web-based events, like NPR’s Serial podcast series, that captures the attention of a huge swath of the country. And if that is the case, it’s a fair bet that plenty of other big-deal books will receive similar treatment as time goes by. It’s one more way that technology will expand the reading experience, and make it something we can all share simultaneously on several different platorms.

Do I sound like I’m shilling here? So be it. Mr. Fellowes, I’m on!  April can’t come soon enough.

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Five publishers have disappeared

Nearly a year ago I wrote about censorship in China’s publishing industry in this blog post. Now five people have disappeared in recent months—all of them employees of Mighty Publishing House, which is known for publishing books critical of the Chinese government. Don’t worry though, according to a cryptic letter one of the missing persons is “fine.”

If it turns out that the Chinese government is responsible, state-sanctioned kidnappings are on a whole different level than censoring  certain passages in a book. In a weird way, could this be a positive sign that the Far East’s freedom of speech battle is gaining momentum if the government is responding so drastically? I have no idea, but I do know that it’s a lot easier to work in this industry when you don’t need to worry about such things. And for that, I’m grateful and as Lee Greenwood would say, proud to be an American.

Good as gold

Getting a mention of one’s book on network television is kind of a Holy Grail for authors these days. It’s right up there with being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s  Fresh Air.  Network attention was exactly what my client Chris Grabenstein got a couple of weeks ago, in the most serendipitous way. Chris’s Middle Grade adventure Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is beloved by kids all over the country, who are eagerly awaiting the sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, in January. But Chris had no idea that it would turn out to be part of a major gag on Seth Meyers’s late-night show. On the pretext of forming a new family, Meyers and his brother interviewed a series of kids on camera. They asked one little girl the question, “What’s your favorite book?”  And she immediately answered, “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” That led to a prolonged improvised comic riff on the title between the brothers Meyers. Licensing restrictions prohibit me from embedding that clip into this post, but suffice it to say that Chris’s phone started ringing off the hook. He also got a nice Amazon ratings bump.

Nobody can take credit for a break like this one—it was just luck of the draw that this little girl happened to be such a big fan of the book.

Actually, Meyers has turned out to be a great friend to the reading public.  He regularly features novelists as guests on his show—something few late-night network talk show hosts are doing these days.   Recently, not only big names like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin have been guests, but newer, younger writers like Marlon James, Joshua Ferris, and Hanya Yanagihara have all been on Meyers’s show to promote their new books.

Meyers’s interest in contemporary fiction is certainly a boon to both authors and the public. But he shouldn’t be a minority of one. There’s no reason Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, Colbert, or the yet-untested Trevor Noah shouldn’t hop on board. As many of us know, writers can be articulate, entertaining, and very funny people. They are often highly sought-after as party guests. What better qualifications for being on a talk show?

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#JonVoyage

As anyone with an internet connection likely already knows, Jon Stewart shuffled off our television sets last night taking with him The Daily Show as we know it.  It remains to be seen whether books will get as warm a welcome from Trevor Noah as they did from Stewart, but the publishing world always mourns when any friend of books says goodbye to their TV audience, taking their power to make a book a household name with them.

But it’s touching to learn, via the Washington Post, that Stewart had time for one last plug close to his heart:

We’ll miss you, Jon.  And your helping hand!

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Taboos

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my alma mater to speak to the Columbia Fiction Foundry folks about publishing.   The session was structured as an interview and one of the questions posed to me was how we handle books about taboo subjects.  I liked that question because it’s one that’s seldom asked but which is important to anyone who works in publishing (or any media, really).  Given how charged the political environment is, not just here but globally, freedom of speech is a tricky, sometimes dangerous concept for those who work in the business of communicating ideas.   And, yet, we take on projects all the time that have the potential to offend some or many.  The rule of thumb for us is that if it’s something that doesn’t personally offend us, or it offends us but we think there’s merit in furthering the conversation on that particular topic,  we don’t shy away from representing it.

This week, along with everyone else in the country, we’ve been talking about the Rachel Dolezal story and wondering if there is a book in this very bizarre journey of hers.  The fact is that her actions have offended large numbers of Americans.  Given how volatile the subject of race is in this country, that’s not surprising.  But, regardless of where you stand on this individual’s weird appropriation of a group’s identity, it seems to me that the conversation her story has engendered is a good one.  I’ve read several interesting articles about this now, among them this one by our friend Sam Freedman, which have approached the topic in diverse, but  insightful ways…and isn’t that what free discourse is about?  I still don’t know what the book would be, but maybe it’s one about the very notion of discussing taboo subjects.

So, what taboos would you tackle or shy away from in your own writing?  And which would you like to see more deeply explored in print?

Making the Long Wait Work For You

It’s great to be able to say that I love my clients to pieces, every last one of them. I’m lucky to have a lot of empathetic authors in my stable, people who understand that publishing often moves at a glacial pace and who are willing to take that slow ride with me.

This is a business of long-range plans. In track-and-field parlance, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to develop a good, bulletproof proposal; time to perfect a manuscript so that it is suitable for presentation to a publishing-industry professional. Then it takes time for acquiring editors to consider it; to bring it to their acquisitions boards and to the dreaded marketing department, which often has the final Yea or Nay. And, assuming the book does find a home with a publisher, it can be a full year or two before it’s edited, designed, printed, and available for sale.  Publishing schedules are planned far ahead, with projects lined up and slotted in like backed-up planes on a runway, waiting to take off.

Many authors now realize that this lag time can be maximized to market that forthcoming book. It’s the chance to build and strengthen your platform, to size up publicity opportunities that might be available further down the road when the book is launched. Monthly magazines that work four to six months ahead have to be pitched well before their long lead times. Holy-Grail dream targets like Terri Gross on NPR’s Fresh Air or anything with the name Oprah in it need to be approached early. And all the while, you can be increasing your social media presence on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

These days, unless you pay dearly for the services of a public-relations firm, nobody is going to do all of this for you. Publishers’ overworked marketing staffs can only devote so much time to each book, each season. The more you can bring to the table marketing-wise, the better your chances of a successful book. That’s why publishers are always on the lookout for authors who bring their own strong platform with them.  If you can offer that, you’ve already won half the battle.

Do you have any of your own thoughts on how to maximize that waiting time? I’d be happy to hear them.

 

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Glossy Pages

Recently Mike blogged about his New Year’s Reading Resolutions, and I was inspired. I’m going to make a read-olution of my own, and mine has to do with the pile of magazines next to my bed! I only subscribe to a handful of publications – Elle and Elle Décor, New York Magazine, Vogue, with the latter about to expire – but somehow can’t quite read them as fast as they come! That’s going to change in 2015; I am going to vanquish the stack before it crashes through the floor of my apartment and gives my landlady a concussion. And there are a couple other practical reasons as well…

Magazines are great for commuting. Flip through an article or two if you’ve just got a couple stations to go and don’t want to get lost in a book and miss your spot. And they’re certainly a lot easier to tote around than a book – I’m currently reading the second book in the Outlander series, which clocks in at 743 pages.

And staying up to date with magazines is important to our work as an agency too. Publishing every week or every month, magazines keep you in touch with the latest lifestyle trends, emerging political or economic thought, fascinating little-known stories, scandals waiting to explode – all potential book ideas, whether we pursue the writer of the piece or share a story idea with of our clients or promising At our bimonthly ideas meetings at least one person mentions “Well, I was reading in the New Yorker” or “I saw this thing in The Atlantic…

So in 2015, I gotta keep up!

Ever seen an article and though that should be a book? Any tips for keeping up with your subscriptions? Or magazines I should check out?

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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.