Category Archives: opinion

2

Go read a watchman?

Well, since none of my colleagues have blogged about it yet, I figured I’d bring up the big publishing news of the week…

And while far be it from me to turn down an obvious blog topic, I’m probably not the best person to write this, because, to tell the truth, I can barely remember TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. I know I read it in school, and I also know I saw the movie at some point, but any memories are associated with Gregory Peck in that grey suit of his. It’s probably the cynic in me, but of all the school classics, CATCHER IN THE RYE stuck a lot more than MOCKINGBIRD.

But of course, the news of a new novel from Harper Lee is big news. And while there’s a lot of good-hearted excitement for GO SET A WATCHMAN, like a number of writers, I feel kinda weirded out by the whole situation. For one, despite the claims that WATCHMAN was started before MOCKINGBIRD, it’s still basically a sequel, and of all the books that need a sequel, MOCKINGBIRD would be one of the last I’d think of. And while I’m certainly not in the camp that thinks MOCKINGBIRD is untouchable either, (I wouldn’t be much of an agent if I did!) it’s just strange that in an age where everything gets a sequel and spun off and branded that MOCKINGBIRD suddenly has a companion piece.

Then there’s the nagging feeling that somehow this wasn’t the big surprise everyone claims it is. After all, Harper Lee has been in the news plenty in the last ten years or so, for better or worse keeping her name in the public eye. And again, it’s probably the cynic in me, but even with the reports of Lee’s infirmity, on the heels of her prior press I just can’t help feeling that a publicist couldn’t have played this much better–certainly everyone is going to read the new book, right?

Or are they? Are YOU? I’d love to hear what you think of the whole situation, what MOCKINGBIRD did or didn’t mean to you, and whether you’re excited to read WATCHMAN.

 

9

You like me! You really like me!

“That the question of likability even exists in literary conversations is odd…Certainly we can find kinship in fiction, but literary merit shouldn’t be dictated by whether we want to be friends or lovers with those about whom we read.” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

In reading Bad Feminist recently, I nodded my head so vigorously on so many occasions that I’m lucky I didn’t sprain my neck.  Among the calls to arms and insights and gems was the above quote, perfectly summing up my distaste for the prevailing wisdom on “likable” protagonists.  I mean, sure, there are books I don’t like and that I don’t recommend because of it.  But to reject a book because you don’t like the main character?

It’s an absurd objection to literature—often shorthand, I suppose, for “this book didn’t resonate with me and I need a thing to pin that on”—and totally irrelevant to whether or not one even likes a book.  If the book isn’t working, the unlikeable protagonist is going to stick out like a sore thumb to be sure, but I find it pretty hard to believe that anyone has never loved a book where they didn’t like the protagonist.  Gone Girl isn’t a massive bestseller because we all think Amy seems swell and Nick like the husband of our dreams.

I like my friends.  I like my family.  I like my colleagues.  Perfect to have brunch with, certainly, but you want to know a secret?  You couldn’t pay me to read a book about nearly any of them.

Likewise, I’m happy to read about a serial killer, but I’m not going to buy any BFF heart necklaces for us to wear.

So I’m with Ms. Gay–let’s stop talking about the likability of protagonists as if that’s what really matters.

Tell us how we’re doing

A while back (a year, maybe more—my conception of time is shockingly horrible, bordering on nonexistent), Sharon did a blog post asking for feedback from our readers. What we heard was eye-opening to say the least.

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All of it was informative and very helpful—and I believe it led to a better year in blogging for DGLM and our readers. So I will do so again here. Let’s call it our year-end review.

What do you guys enjoy about our blog? What keeps bringing you back for more? What would you like to see us do differently, do better?

This is your chance for some input. Our readers are important to us, and we want to blog about what you want to read about. So please, don’t hold back. What’s on your mind?

1

How to query me

For my blog post today, I thought I’d share with you all the secret to querying me. Before I do, however, I’d like to provide a disclaimer: The following advice is for those who query me. What I’m about to share may or may not hold true for all agents here at DGLM and other agents at other agencies. (Click here for a refresher course on how to query DGLM agents.)

Step 1: Hook me. Right off the bat. Your first sentence should be compelling. Everyone here has a full inbox. Email never stops. For a query to shoot to the top of my reading pile it really needs to grab my attention from that very first line. What’s your story about and why should I care? Make the tagline simple but powerful.

Step 2: Keep it short, sweet, and to the point. Edit your query over and over again until you’ve removed all extraneous information and have just the juicy bits left. The end product should look something like:

Paragraph One – Hook (one to two sentences)
Paragraph Two/Three – Pitch (genre, audience, comparable books, and plot)
Last Paragraph – Your bio, any publishing/writing credentials, any other pertinent information you think I should know

Step 3: Give me 4 weeks. If I haven’t gotten back to you by then, send me a follow-up email. It’s possible your query was caught by our spam filter, was overlooked, or I have simply been busy and haven’t gotten to it yet. Whatever the case, I always appreciate a gentle reminder!

I hope the tips above helped at least a little. And as you’ve probably gathered, those steps above aren’t fixed in stone, but when you’re querying me and are having trouble, when in doubt, stick to the formula. Let your work do the talking, the persuading. A good writer with a good story to tell is more than enough to intrigue me.

I’m happy to answer any questions. Sound off in the comments.

1

Gonzo innovation

Anyone else out there excited for football this Sunday? Sure, I wish the Giants were playing, but we all knew that wasn’t going to happen this year. However, I’m pleased to have legitimate rooting interests in both games. One of my college roommates grew up in Appleton, Wisconsin, right next to Green Bay, so when the Giants are out, I’m willing to get on the Packer bandwagon. And in the AFC, I just root for whoever’s playing against the Patriots, of course…

Anyway, in reading up on the match-ups this weekend, especially Packers/Seahawks, I stumbled on this article, which, despite the title, talks about how basketball, baseball, and football are going to see some wildly inventive coaching in the next few years, spurred on by advances in statistics and Moneyball-style analysis. A lot of food for thought here, especially if the Patriots make it past the Colts—as much as I hate Belichick, the man is nothing if not inventive. The trick he pulled last week with the four O-line set seems like “gonzo” coaching personified.

Meanwhile, I had drinks last night with a client who was in town for the Digital Book World conference, which focused heavily on data and statistics. And from his description of the presentations, I think there might be a parallel to what’s going on in sports. After all, both sports and publishing at some level start with talent. And then the team/publishing house develops the talent of the athlete/writer, which these days typically involves data analysis, in order to generate wins/book sales.

So, does that mean we’re in for some gonzo innovation on the publishing side? Well, time will tell, though one could argue the PRH merger was pretty gonzo in its audacity. I’ll certainly be watching to see if publishers start pulling some Belichick-style stunts in the coming months—or not, especially if Tom Brady loses yet another Super Bowl. One can only hope…

1

What I’m looking for in 2015

Happy New Year everyone! I’m a bit swamped catching up on work that accumulated over the holidays, so I’ll keep my blog post today short and sweet.

I’m looking to acquire character driven fiction.

I’m currently reading David Mitchell’s THE BONE CLOCKS, and the first thought I had was: wow, this is a character (referring to Holly Sykes—one of the many characters in THE BONE CLOCKS). Holly Sykes is vividly drawn; she has her own slang and mannerisms, has hopes, dreams, desires—in short, she comes across as real person. She has a voice. Of course, Mitchell has a voice too, an exceptional one, and it’s the way he writes his characters, it’s his voice that gives Holly a voice.

All great books have a great voice. Some are plot-driven. Some are character-driven. I’m looking for the latter. Is anyone currently working on a project that fits this description? If so, please query me and reference this blog post in the subject line. I’d love to read what you’ve got.

5

My favorite New Year’s resolution

So it’s a new year and rather than making a list of virtually the same resolutions I made in 2014, I started to think about what my all-time favorite one is.  I thought back through this year, which was, in fact, a difficult one for me for a number of reasons and what comes to mind is:

“Never give up!”

Indeed, my father, whom I lost last May, taught me that perseverance is one of the most important qualities a person can have.  I listened to him carefully, watched as he led by example and have learned through much trial and error that not giving up is incredibly important.

In my career, as in my personal life, I have always tried to achieve my best.  I have also always stuck with clients whose work I absolutely knew would find a home and just two weeks ago I learned again the real value of perseverance.

I had tried to sell a new client’s novel beginning in the fall of 2012 and finally had to acknowledge that it wasn’t going to happen about four months and dozens of rejections later.  He came back to me with a new manuscript in the spring of 2014 and finally, after submitting to 30 publishers  and on the last day I was in the office before our holiday break, I found him a home…I think a good one.  He didn’t give up and neither did I.  There were times along the way when we both thought about giving up and moving on, but instead we just kept moving forward.

So I am hoping that in 2015 we will all continue to persevere in whatever we choose to do.  That really is my favorite New Year’s resolution.

1

Who will write the revolution?

Like most New Yorkers, I was shocked by yesterday’s grand jury ruling in the Eric Garner case. I only wish I wasn’t on babysitting duty last night and could have joined the protest that marched up the Upper West Side past our apartment–instead, I watched on TV with the roaring drone of helicopters flying low overhead our building. Creepy, to say the least, though it was a relief to see this morning that the protests were mostly peaceful and that the cops didn’t lose their cool.

But as I read the paper and tried to wrap my head around how the grand jury could possibly have let Pantaleo off when the video evidence seemed so crystal clear, it got me thinking both about the power of narrative and the role of books in other protest movements. Bear with me here, but I’d argue that when political and social change arises, especially here in America, books often play a prominent role, if not a central one–off the top of my head, I’m thinking of UNCLE TOM’S CABIN, THE JUNGLE, SILENT SPRING, even up through ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN.

And while, true, these examples come from a time when people didn’t have information available the way they do now, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the emotional connection people felt to these narrative and the characters therein ran far deeper than simple exposure to unknown atrocities. Particularly in a case like this, one power of fiction is to make sense of the world when our eyes tell us that something very wrong just happened, and yet we’re at a loss with how to deal with it or effect change.

So, as we struggle to deal with the Garner decision, I wonder if the power of a book-length narrative could help pave the way for the much-needed police reform. Whether it’s a fictionalized insider look at the NYPD or a novel from a victim’s perspective, maybe we need that emotional response to a book in order to help move us forward. So hey, if there are any writers out there who feel the revolution will not be televised but written, I’d love to hear from you…

0

When publishers compete–or not?

No, I’m not blogging about the highly competitive (hah!) Publishers Softball League, though I do have many happy memories of cutting out early summer afternoons to play left field for the Penguin Penguins, only to get our butts kicked by the NY Times and Time Magazine. Who routinely stocked their teams with ringers, by the way–so much for journalistic integrity!

Instead, I wanted to point you to our friend Mike Shatzkin’s recent blogpost about subscription services, and how Penguin Random House has opted out of the game. Mike makes a convincing argument that PRH is making a mistake here, but what really struck me more than anything else was his opening statement:

“I sometimes feel like I’m the only guy in town… contemplating out loud how Penguin Random House might use its position as by far the biggest commercial trade publisher to make life a bit more difficult for its competitors.”

Indeed, with all the consternation over Amazon, the notion that publishers might actually try to compete against each other for market share seems beside the point. And according to Mike, it seems like PRH is avoiding opportunities for competition, whether by wrongheadedness or design. I’d add, too, that from my agent’s perspective, it feels like PRH is NOT flexing its muscles, whether by limiting submissions or demanding contract concessions. Rather, it feels like they’ve gone out of their way to stress that the merger hasn’t affected business as usual, nor will it in the future.

But how long can that last? Especially now that Amazon and Hachette have come to terms, I would certainly expect PRH to be under more scrutiny. Mike suspects that a competitive move in kid’s ebook subscriptions is coming is coming down the pike, though that seems fairly minor to me. But I’ll be very curious to see in the new year if at some point PRH takes over from Amazon as the publishing industry villain–or at least competes for the title.

3

Could be worse (if you’re a songwriter)

Evidently, it’s music appreciation week here at DGLM–believe it or not, I actually had this music-themed blog post in the works Wednesday morning before I saw Miriam’s post. But rather than scrap it, I think it dovetails with Miriam’s question about lyrics and books, so here we go:

As book publishing is considered a media industry, you’ll often hear comparisons drawn between the book business, the music business, and the film industry. And you’ll often hear about the common problems they share–declining sales, disappearing retail outlets, fragmented audience, technological challenges, and so on. But as much as people carp about the state of book publishing, I think it’s always good to remember that when you compare books to other media–especially the music biz–things could be worse. A lot worse.

And to that point, I wanted to share this post from Wired by the musician Aloe Blacc yesterday morning, where he points out the criminally small royalty that songwriters are paid by streaming music services like Spotify and Pandora. The idea that Blacc has earned less than $4,000 for a song that has been streamed 168 million times seems crazy. Yet on the whole, the complaints about royalties for streaming services have been fairly muted–as Blacc notes, streaming provides more exposure for listeners than ever before, and it seems like artists to this point have been willing to trade earnings for that exposure.

Now, compare those muted complaints to the noise surrounding Amazon vs Hachette. With all the hue and cry about Amazon screwing authors and publishers, one might assume they’re being ripped off as badly as Blacc–and of course, it’s nothing even remotely close to that bad, partially thanks to the agents who established standard eBook royalty rates early on. But credit also goes to publishers for defending their author’s right to earn–a right that has never been recognized properly by the big music companies who’ve been screwing artists out of royalties since the beginning of the industry. And as much as I hate to admit it, credit goes to Amazon when it comes to self-pubbed authors, for whom a loose analogy can be drawn to indie musicians on services like Soundcloud and Bandcamp–again, Amazon is making indie authors millionaires, Soundcloud not so much.

So while our business has its problems, and while writers have legitimate complaints about earning power, take heart–apparently it’s better to be even a struggling writer than a famous songwriter. Though movie stars seem to have it pretty good…