Category Archives: opinion

3

Those wide open spaces

Many years ago, before I was an agent, I directed all book and magazine publishing for a large newspaper syndicate.  While those of us who didn’t work directly in editorial for the syndicate—publishing, licensing, sales and the executive suite—had our individual offices, some of them very spacious, the heart of the staff worked in an open bullpen.  There, they communicated easily with each other as they edited the writers with whom they worked.  In fact the editorial staff who worked in my division also worked in an open bullpen-like area, writing and editing material and sharing their ideas with each other.

Last Tuesday, many, many years later, Miriam and I attended a party held by HarperCollins to celebrate the relocation of their offices from Midtown to the Financial District downtown. The layout was open and airy with people sitting in bullpen-like settings.  Some, who previously had window offices still had offices with glass walls so that they could see out and those passing by could see in.  This layout, we were told, was meant to foster a spirit of collaboration.  In addition, I would guess that there was an overall downsizing in terms of the number of square feet the company now occupies, which will enable the publisher to spend money on the titles they are publishing rather than on rent and maintenance of the many floors they took up at 10 East 53rd Street.  Bottom line, my general impression was a very positive one.

Fostering a spirit of collaboration and cooperation in this publishing climate can produce nothing but solid results, in my opinion.  Sure, there is some resistance to this layout—those who previously had privacy don’t have it any more, certainly not as much.  But the benefits include a sense of team building and a  collegial environment.  I think growth will be the ultimate result here and I think this kind of organizational layout will become the norm in the years to come.

Of course, I am always curious as to what you, our readers, think of this idea and I look forward to your comments.

7

MG vs YA

Two weekends ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Pacific Northwest Writers Association conference in Seattle. At the opening Agent’s Panel, I gave my usual spiel of what I’m looking for–Adult nonfiction, a smattering of offbeat adult fiction, and the broad range of children’s projects–YA, Middle Grade, and picture books. After that, I settled into my seat in the ballroom for a long stretch of power pitching, where the writers line up for 4-minute pitch meetings one after the other in the hopes of getting a request to see a full MS.

As exhausting as power pitching can be, it does serve to give an agent a good idea of what writers are generally working on these days. Although we often recommend that writers NOT write for the market, it’s natural for writers to turn to what seems to be popular. And hence, I heard a ton of MG pitches, which makes sense, since a ton of editors seem to be focusing on it these days.

But what surprised me about these MG pitches is that a solid majority of them featured a main character who was 13 years old. Which, if you go by the traditional demarcations of MG as ages 8-12 and YA as 12 up, means that they’re really writing YA. At the same time, the stories seemed to be solidly MG–heavy on fantasy and school stories, light on teen issues and racy content.

So what gives? Do these writers not know the basic guidelines? Are they just trying to age down their YA novels for the market? Or has MG become more elastic and less constricted by age distinctions than in the past?

Frankly, I’m not exactly sure, so I was very interested to read this article from PW Children’s Bookshelf, which looks at how bookstores are struggling with how to shelve MG and YA. And from their survey, it seems that stores are making up their own rules–some are keeping YA and MG totally separate, some create overlapping sections of 8-12, 10-14, and 14 up, while others lump them all together. Different strokes for different customer bases, perhaps, but for me it seems like there’s just confusion all round about where books belong on the shelf.

So, what’s a writer to do? Well, like a lot of category distinctions in publishing, unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like there’s a clear answer. My personal feeling is that despite the shifting winds, a writer seeking representation is still better off adhering to the old guidelines–if your character is 12 or under, it’s MG, 13 and up, YA. Not that I’m trying to take the easy way out here, but the last thing I want to hear from an editor is that they love the book but aren’t sure where it would live on the shelf–that’s a classic rejection line.  So I’d much prefer an author adhere to what’s been done in the past when starting out and go genre-busting on book 2.

That said, others may have different ideas of what marks MG versus YA these days, so I’d love to know what you’ve been hearing. Are 8-12 and 12 up still recommended? If not, what are folks suggesting as new guidelines?

 

2

What makes it work?

I had an interesting conversation with a friend over the 4th of July weekend. The internet has been abuzz recently with speculation about when fans of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire can expect to see the next book in the series.

And people have been freaking out. Practically trembling with excitement.

Now I’ve never read the books, but I love “Game of Thrones,” so my friend and I got to discussing how amazing it was that the books and television show seem to feed off each other. It’s generally accepted that movie adaptations of books drive book sales up, at least for a time, but we weren’t discussing sales. Rather, we were talking about the mania surrounding the whole series.

It’s really quite remarkable. The books compel readers to watch the show, and the show sends viewers to the bookstore. It’s been parodied, on talk shows, and all over the internet. So what makes it work?

There are many other instances of this phenomenon. Virtually every movie adaptation of a comic book seems to cause an uproar at Comic Con and comic bookstores across the nation. Harry Potter. The Hunger Games.  And the reverse is true too, if less frequently. Star Wars has countless comic books and novelizations with a wide readership—more than 30 years after the original film.

I think we can safely say that any of the examples above aren’t simply a series, but a franchise. So again, I’ll ask, only somewhat rhetorically: what makes it work?

1

Live Amazon-free or die

Perhaps it’s leftover patriotism from the World Cup, or that the calendar makes for a real three-day weekend this year, but it feels like the 4th is generating an extra dose of excitement and patriotic good will this year. Or maybe it’s just MY excitement for getting out of the sweltering city for a few days. Either way, I can’t wait for a weekend of beaches, BBQs, and family time—maybe we’ll even sing patriotic songs in the car…

So, in the spirit of freedom and rejection of tyranny that the 4th celebrates, I thought I’d quickly share this article from the Times  about Edan Lepucki’s California,  which I’m sure you’ve been hearing about. But the article is a nice summary of what’s been going on, especially for those of us who can’t stay up for the Colbert Report anymore. And maybe I’m stretching, but perhaps there’s a timely holiday parallel here, in how the current revolt against Amazon, through grassroots support, hard work, luck, and media savvy, created a bestseller. Heck, all we need is the French to jump on board, and we’ll have a good old fashioned American revolution!

Anyway, have a very happy 4th of July everyone. And if you do any book shopping this weekend, keep it local…

4

Good music

With apologies to Miriam for shamelessly ripping off her recent blogmy life has revolved around two things recently: work and music. As some of you might know, I used to sing and play guitar in a few bands back in the day, and I spent a couple of summers as a camp music counselor as well. Even majored in music in college, though I think that says more about my school’s lax curriculum than my musical abilities…

Anyway, my musical endeavors these days consist of screwing around on Garageband and playing for two boys who occasionally tolerate Daddy singing weird songs about bowling skinheads and some guy named Alex Chilton. But back in in December, a choice guest spot backing up the Manhattan School for Children’s winter hootenanny rekindled the performance itch, and so tomorrow I’ve got my first real gig in years–I’m playing 4 songs for my oldest’s kindergarten class. Needles to say, I’m terrified!

Okay, what does any of this have to do with books? Well, as I’ve written before, I do love rock bios and other books about music, and I’ve had the good fortune to place a few music-related titles as well. But it’s a tough market, especially for anything not written by or about an aging 60′s rock star. Yes, books about punk, jazz, classical, even hip-hop occasionally end up on the Big Six’s lists, but it’s hard to think of many that have broken out in recent years the way Keith Richard’s LIFE did–the numbers for PLEASE KILL ME, OUR BAND COULD BE YOUR LIFE or THE BIG PAYBACK pale in comparison.

So, like non-baseball sports books, is this a case of publishers not knowing or reaching their audience, or are 60s fans the only ones who buy books en masse? Of course the 60s inspire a lot of writers, but to the exclusion of other eras? Does gender play a role? Or is it simply that the music book category is so small that it takes a major celebrity to sell a book in serious numbers?

Well, I’d love to hear thoughts, because I do want to sign more music books across the board. What kinds of music books do you read and why? Are there any subjects, genres, or people you want to read about? What are your all-time favorites?

And if anyone wants to send good vibes my way tomorrow around 8:30 a.m., I’ll take them! I hear these kids today can be a pretty tough crowd…

2

Love is an open door

Does the title of this post sound familiar? If you’re a parent of young kids, I’m sure it does–your kids have probably been singing it ad nauseum for months now…

Yep, I’m talking about Frozen. Actually, we’ve been talking about Frozen quite a bit here at DGLM over the past couple of weeks, trying to wrap our head around why it’s such a cultural phenomenon and whether there’s a book in it. Of course, anything that involves The Mouse would be hard to get an insider’s POV, but I’d love to know more about how the story evolved and how they thought about their audience.

Because while Frozen is clearly, even transparently, targeted at girls, boys love it too–just ask the New York Times!  I can personally attest to it as well, with daily requests from my two sons (ages 5 and 3) to “play Frozen music” and an Elsa doll taking her place of honor next to the Star Wars figures and Matchbox cars. And as much as Dad keeps hoping they will “let it go” and start singing something else, I don’t see this obsession ending anytime soon…

Okay, what does this have to do with books? Well, it’s long been a truism in children’s book marketing that girls will read books with boy main characters, but boys will only read about boys. And so while books with boy main characters tend to be marketed with less regard for gender (Harry Potter pops to mind immediately), books with girl mains are often pitched much more directly to girl readers, especially “girly” ones like Fancy Nancy, Pinkalicious, Eloise, etc.

But with that, are the children’s marketeers giving our boys short shrift? My sons love Eloise, Ladybug Girl, and Olivia, who has gotten progressively “girlier” over the years. Granted, I already had these books on the shelf from my editor days, but we’ve also taken Fancy Nancy out of the library at their request. And when I talk to parents of boys in my oldest’s class or check out their bookshelves on play dates, I usually see some evidence of books that aren’t “meant” for their boys.

Now, of course my anecdotal evidence is flimsy at best, but I’m curious, dear readers: if you’re a parent of young boys, do they like books with girl main characters? Do they ever get Frozen-level obsessed? And if so, how do the books get into their hands? It’s a question for me as an agent, too, in terms of how I pitch certain projects–it’d be great to be able to say a girl main character will appeal to boys if there’s a way to back it up. So, please, lemme know!

 

0

I like reading YA and I don’t care who knows

I’ve always felt secretly awkward of the fact that I love young-adult fiction. I mean, can you blame me? Just look at how the phenomenon of adults reading YA has been dissected.

With so much analysis aimed at those of us adults who read YA, we needed a hero, someone to stand up and say nay, it’s not weird. And then I came across this game changer from John Green. (Who else?) And now I’m not hesitant to admit it. I love reading YA. I want to shout it from a mountaintop.

Do you qualify as a YA addict? Gotta love the shout-outs to Richelle Mead and James Dashner…but don’t stop your YA reading list there! Many of our clients are doing awesome things in YA!

Now, to get to the point of this post, I’ve been searching for a series that can live up to the recent ending of, what is scientifically speaking, the best YA series of all time: The Wheel of Time. Any suggestions? Anyone? Bueller?

0

A long time coming

One of the many things I love about book publishing is that the life of a book can be much longer than one might think. Generally speaking, from a publisher’s point of view a book’s “life” runs about three years–that’s when the business office usually runs their final post-mortem on a book’s performance. Yet even three years down the line (or more), things happen that can boost a book’s sales and give it new life on the shelf, and those surprises are gratifying in so many ways.

Case in point: When I was an editor at Putnam, I had the great pleasure to debut Royce Buckingham, whose DEMONKEEPER made a nice little splash in MG circles. However, it wasn’t as big as Putnam hoped, and his next novel didn’t do so well, either. So when it came time for Book 3, Royce and I felt he had to try something different. Thus, he came up with THE DEAD BOYS, which was much darker and scarier than his previous books, but in my opinion, the best thing he’d written by far.

As you might have guessed, THE DEAD BOYS totally tanked, despite some good reviews. But then some funny things happened: first, DEMONKEEPER became a huge hit in Germany, to the point that his German publishers asked him to write sequels in English solely for translation into German. It’s hard to quantify how much this helped raise Royce’s profile stateside, but it certainly didn’t hurt!

And then, THE DEAD BOYS quietly chugged along, particularly in Royce’s home state of Washington, where he does his share of school visits and other local promotion. The result? THE DEAD BOYS just won the Washington State 2014 Sasquatch Award, for which it was nominated by local librarians and voted on by kids across the state–four years after it was first published!

So, great news for THE DEAD BOYS–validation for a book that should have been “dead” by now, and I’m sure it will be followed by the sales boost that accompanies state awards. But more to the point, it’s just one of the many examples of a book whose life was extended beyond expectations, and I feel like it’s good for authors to keep these stories in mind when faced with dwindling royalty reports or out-of-print notices. You just never know–especially if you put in the work!

1

Royalty rate questions from the interns

I’ve looked over so many royalty statements that sometimes it’s easy to forget that not everyone understands them. And believe me, there are times when royalty statements are very, very hard to understand. But I realized the necessity of this post when going over royalty statements with a few interns, and they had the same basic questions I first had.

How do publishers determine royalty rates?

Fair question. The answer is that they don’t. Not alone, at least. Royalty rates are outlined in the author’s contract, and if the author has an agent, it’s his or her job to negotiate the terms of this contract on behalf of their client, including the royalty rates. This also partially answered their second question.

Are hardcover royalties handled differently than e-book royalties? And what about audio royalties?

Well, yes, they are, and kudos to the interns for inadvertently asking a contentious question concerning a longtime issue in the publishing industry ever since the ascent of e-books. Although all royalty rates are outlined in each individual author’s contract, the industry standard generally dictates a royalty rate around 10-15% of the list price (retail price) for hardcover editions of a book–7.5% for trade paperback and 8%-10% for mass market. E-book rates hover around 25% of the net, meaning 25% of the publisher’s profits. Although the latter might seem more beneficial for authors, e-books are priced lower than print editions and have significantly lower production costs, which if we were to do the math, results in less earnings per unit.

And if considering a wide range of royalty rates for multiple editions of a book isn’t enough, many contracts have royalty escalators and different rates for exports, foreign sales, and subsidiary rights.

Confused yet? Want to know more? Well then let me hear your thoughts: post your question in comments section!

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?