Category Archives: optimism

5

Why we do what we do

With my kids finally back in school and my twins finally starting Kindergarten, I feel like a new chapter of my life is beginning. And it’s one I’m really looking forward to. The focus is more on things outside of the basic needs of keeping small children alive, which in addition to working full-time, has consumed me in big and small ways for the better part of almost 10 years.

The last couple of years as my kids have grown and our amazing nanny and my supportive husband have enabled me to step up my work schedule, I’ve talked so many times to my kids (not to mention interns, editors and authors) about what I do, answered questions about what I like about my job (a lot — the creative process; working with smart, talented people; developing projects I’m passionate about; business lunches; the flexibility of my work schedule), what I don’t like (admin; industry challenges which include great books not selling or not selling well; commuting to NYC when I go in for meetings). I’ve also had many discussions about what my kids want to be when they grow up (so far, we have a pop star, a writer, a mom or Kindergarten teacher, and an undecided). There’s so much clichéd advice out there about doing what you love and doing what makes you happy, but it’s all so subjective and hard to articulate.

Now that it’s a new school year and my thoughts are with new beginnings, I wanted to share this lovely piece of writing advice from Elizabeth Gilbert. It’s not new or groundbreaking, but so much of what she has to say about writing and the life of a writer resonated with me. I especially loved the idea that you can begin a writing career at any age. It’s so true and how many jobs can you say that about?

So, enjoy the read, get inspired, and get to work on something you love. Let us know what that might be and what you want to be when you grow up, or grow old.

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!

14

Happy Sisyphus

We here at DGLM are big believers in helping authors develop their work.  That means that  all of us spend a significant amount of time reading, evaluating, and editing proposals and manuscripts so that we can get them in shape for submission.  Oftentimes, for myriad reasons, our input extends beyond the selling stage and we get involved in the editorial process after the book is sold.   In other words, we spend a lot of time observing the creative process in all its (painful) glory.

Revising seems to be most people’s Achilles heel.  I’ve seen even the most confident, successful, unflappable, hardworking authors melt into puddles of insecurity, denial, and rage at the thought of tackling a revision of a work they’re convinced is perfection (or as good as it gets).  For every author who loves to roll up his/her sleeves and get to work polishing, adding, restructuring, and (perish the thought) cutting, there are dozens, nay, hundreds who are thrown into existential despair at the thought of revising.

Which is why this piece in the Atlantic is so wonderful.  From Khaled Hosseini’s fatalistic “it’ll never be as good as you imagined” to Fay Weldon’s “F—k it! Just start again!” I love the advice and the insights into the writing process, so much of which involves watching the rock rolling downhill after you’ve used every ounce of strength to get it to the top, pausing a moment to feel sorry for yourself, and then taking a big breath and starting the uphill climb again. 

I agree with Hosseini that perfection can’t be attained, that all you can do is the best you possibly can and hope that your work strikes a chord and means something to someone.  But, to get the thing as good as it can be requires a lot of rewriting, reconceptualizing, reevaluating, all the re’s, including restarting after you think you’re finished.  And, in order to do that you need to be mentally and creatively tough.  Just because it’s not perfect yet doesn’t mean it’s not good or it can’t be.

What are your thoughts on revising?  Is it as horrific a process as many authors make it out to be or is there zen in the art of taking your work apart and putting it back together?

 

0

Read-A-Thon

The other weekend I participated in a Read-a-thon. Organized by some book bloggers that I follow, the Read-a-thon goal was a relatively unambitious 24-in-48. That is, read for 24 hours out of a 48-hour weekend. And yes, I said unambitious – there are Read-a-thons out there that are 24-in-24!

It’s been a hectic summer, so I liked the idea of a quiet weekend with nothing to do but read. Can’t do laundry, won’t go grocery shopping, so much for vacuuming the apartment – I’m busy with a Read-a-thon, thank you. (It’s like a marathon, but less chafing.)

Though once I started reading on the clock, I was infinitely distracted. Keeping track of my time spent reading paradoxically made it really difficult to spend time reading. Better make a snack. Oops, forgot to update my Goodreads lists. Time for more coffee. Maybe I should check out the blogs of the other Read-a-thonners. I was hyperconscious of the Read-a-thon’s 48 hours ticking by, and couldn’t quite lose myself in any of the excellent books I had piled up.

In the end, it was still a lovely weekend of reading, though my hours logged won’t win me any medals.

Anyone else done a Read-a-thon? Any tips for reading against the clock?

6

Books and pieces

Just got back from a relaxing beach vacation in North Carolina’s Outer Banks.  Aside from blue skies, a minimal amount of jellyfish, and the blackened fish tacos at Uncle Ike’s, one of the highlights of our week was spending time at the Island Bookstore in Corolla.  Below is a view from the front porch of this quaint, but well stocked and organized, establishment which seems to do a brisk business (warms the heart, that):

Like most publishing people (really, like most book people) I’m thrilled at how nicely the independent stores are doing after being pummeled by giant corporations starting in the ‘90s and facing the threat of death by e-books that doomsayers predicted (and still do).  What I didn’t expect, and find rather ironic, is the fact that we now are all worrying about  and rooting for Barnes & Noble’s survival in the wake of its recent struggles.  B&N, once publishing’s bad guy, has relinquished its evil empire status to the mighty (Villanous? Depends on who you talk to…) Amazon, with the result that people who once reviled the company are now offering suggestions on how to stay afloat for the sake of the book business as a whole.  This piece by Jason Diamond in Flavorwire goes to the heart of the issue and suggests that B&N act more like an Indie in order to save itself.  Did I mention irony?

As much as I love a musty, cluttered shop that I can lose myself in for hours at a time, growing up in the Miami sprawl, I went to the Waldenbooks or Borders at the mall because quaint, pretty Indie bookstores were not just a stroll away.  Sure, these mall venues lacked charm, but they offered access to the titles I wanted and needed and I was grateful they were around.  I do hope B&N, which effectively replaced those old mall stores, will hang on for a new generation of readers who get dropped off at the mall by their parents.

So, what’s your favorite bookstore?  And why?

 

The best of all possible worlds

Last night I walked a couple of blocks down Fifth Avenue to the brownstone home of the Salmagundi Art Club for a panel discussion of “Publishing in the Digital Age” hosted by the Deadline Club.  It was a miserable evening, weather-wise (as soon as I walked out the door of 1 Union Square West, the heavens opened, cabs splashed water as I waited for the lights to change, and my hair took on the proportions of Diana Ross’ favorite wig), but the panel discussion was lively and informative.

The question on everyone’s mind seemed to be “Should we panic about the state of the book business in the wake of the digital revolution or do we dare be optimistic.”  Our job on the panel was to illuminate the big issues preoccupying publishers and authors while attempting not to freak anyone out.  Overall, my fellow panelists and I were quite optimistic about the opportunities digital publishing affords while still admitting to twinges of regret over the passing of the traditional, wood paneled, musty smelling industry we all came of age in.

The optimism on our end came down to “choice.”  Authors have more choices now than they ever did.  They can self-publish easily and relatively economically if they choose or they can go through the traditional channels and, if that doesn’t pan out, go back to the idea of self-publishing.  Before e-books, if an author was rejected by enough agents and publishers, the idea of printing and distributing his or her own work was a daunting one.  Now, it’s a relatively painless process.

So, how is this good news to us inside the industry?  Well, what empowers authors usually empowers agents and, perhaps to a lesser degree, publishers.  Publishers and agents still provide an invaluable service in terms of curating literary material.  We still bring experience, love of craft, and critical acumen to bear on the process of book making and we’re pretty good at it.  And, authors and readers know this.  While self-publishing is now a thriving business, traditional publishing continues to publish more (digital and print) books every year.   And readers continue to buy these curated products.   Despite the perception of the business as the Titanic wildly trying to skirt the iceberg, publishers are making real efforts to keep up with the changing times so that they can bring their traditional talents to bear on the work authors are producing today.

Not to get all Panglossian about it, but isn’t this the best of all possible worlds?

5

All the resolve in the world.

You know, I never think about making New Year’s resolutions until a few days into the new year. And then, when everyone else is talking about all the positive and life-affirming things they are going to start doing (or all the horrible, bad for you things they are going to stop doing), it clicks in my head that this is a new year and there’s a reason that people get so excited about changing things up. The whole blank calendar in front of you, just waiting for you to fill it up with triumphs and screw-ups (more of the former, hopefully, but if it was the latter last year, then you can totally erase all of that now, too!).

In any case, I’ve decided that my biggest goal for this new year is organization. You know, I’m not too bad at it. I’m timely, I know where things that I need are and I know when I’m going to need them. I love alphabetization and sorting things by color or size. However, there’s got to be room for improvement. There’s got to be a reason that sometimes it’s midnight and oh my goodness where did the time go and I’ve still got all of these pages I want to read before tomorrow!

Luckily, not only is the low number on the calendar page a good impetus, but have you seen the weather out there? It is cold. Who wants to go outside gallivanting, throwing organization out the window when all we really should be doing is keeping that darn window closed, it’s windy, I’m cold, my papers are blowing everywhere.

So, what I want to know is hardly original, nor am I probably the only one asking, but it’s certainly interesting nonetheless (why would everyone ask the question otherwise?): What are your New Year’s resolutions? Whether they relate to writing, reading, or other literary ventures or not, it does not matter. Any sort of determination and willingness to sit down and really think about what you want and what you don’t need is an exercise that can be applied to all aspects, creative or otherwise. Go ahead, I want to know!

3

Huffpost pick-me-up

Usually, when I sit down to write my Tuesday blog, I have at least some topic in mind—some event or link that I carefully filed away that will let the blog write itself. But every now and again, Tuesday afternoon arrives and I got nuthin’. Maybe it’s that this past week’s news was pretty glum—several notable authors and publishing people passed away—but there just wasn’t anything out there that’s got the creative juices going.

So, as I sometimes do when I get really, really stuck, I turned to the Books section of the Huffington Post. And I have to tell you, just a little digging totally turned my frown upside-down!

We’ve got bad book blurbs by good writers—nothing more encouraging than seeing how your literary models can really stink it up! Along those lines, we’ve got the crappy jobs famous authors worked before they made it big, a little bit of field-leveling we all could use. They even managed to find happy thoughts in some of the more depressing books around. Who knew The Old Man and the Sea was such an upper? Taking them all together, I feel positively reinvigorated!

Well, here’s the question: what sites/media/books do you visit to get unblocked or raise your spirits? I could always use some new sources for inspiration (and blogging!).

8

Moving forward positively

I spend almost every weekday lunch with an editor or a publisher talking about, among other things, our business; what has been happening and where it is going.  Sadly, most of the time these days, my lunch companions are bemoaning the state of things.  Fewer books are being published, editors are losing their jobs, and advances are going down.

Perhaps I am being a Pollyanna, but I don’t see the future as anything but positive for writers.  Of course it can be more challenging to sell a book these days – as I have stated in this blog more than once, publishers appear to care more about platform and credentials than they do about the actual contents of the proposals and manuscripts they are considering.  But there are still those out there who do care about the writing and, even if the particular material presented to them isn’t quite right, many do want to help the author develop a book that will work.

What’s most exciting to me though, is the developing world of ebooks and online publishing.  There are now so many more possibilities for unpublished and even traditionally published authors.

We at DGLM had a very interesting meeting last week with some publishing executives from Amazon who are launching a large number of publishing initiatives.  It has been such a long time since there has been really original thinking in our business and I, for one, am hugely encouraged by what I heard.

And then, of course, there is the Wild West world of online publishing.  Last Friday, Alexandra Alter wrote this article in The Wall Street Journal about one woman’s success in this area. Though Darcie Chan’s experience is unusual and very few will be able to duplicate it, the piece does point out that there are so many new possibilities available to writers who have previously been turned down by publishers.  This also opens the door to those who never really aspired to be published by a traditional publisher as well as to those whose books are out of print and who want to breathe new life into them.

The DGLM online publishing initiative is something I am very excited about building – just as I have helped to build our agency over the last twenty-five years.  It would be wonderful if my colleagues on the publishing side, rather than seeing the negatives in today’s publishing landscape, looked forward to the future with excitement and a willingness to change.

As I have said all along, digital publishing has increased reading and book buying.  Looking into the future, we all need to help to build that world so its foundations are strong and it can offer more possibilities to more writers and readers. As always, I am eager to hear your thoughts and comments about this.

6

Blocking the block

I think it’s safe to say that most writers have, at some point along the way, felt stuck in their writing. It’s never a good feeling, without a doubt. So what is a writer to do? I thought I’d pass along  some thoughts to help you get moving again.

  • Take a step back: Time away from your work-in-progress can be a very helpful way to gain some clarity on any issues you may feel are plaguing your writing at any given time.
  • Revisit: Going over the parts of your writing that flow smoothly can often help unblock the problems in other areas.
  • Get a second opinion: Show your writing to a friend, writer-friend, or critique group member—anyone who will be objective and give you their honest opinion.
  • Read: There are always lessons to be learned from reading someone else’s writing.

Do you have any special tricks for beating writers’ block?