Category Archives: our clients

74

Lyric Literature

My first exposure to the Avett Brothers was Colleen Hoover’s Slammed.  Over dinner a few months after she became a client, we talked about the band and she recommended one of their live albums.  Since I’m almost as crazy about music as I am about books, I went off and started listening…and promptly fell in love (“I and Love and You” is on constant rotation in my brain).

But, this isn’t the first time I’ve been led to an artist that I became infatuated with through a reference in a book.  The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love led me to explore the golden age of Cuban music (pre-Castro, pre-exodus), for instance.  And, novels like  A Visit from the Goon Squad  are veritable treasure troves of musical references while memoirs like Patti Smith’s, Keith Richards’ and Neil Young’s can keep you looking up song titles on iTunes for weeks.  Since I believe great songwriting is poetry and poetry is storytelling that rhymes (or doesn’t), I love the marriage of literature and music.

On this Valentine’s eve, what devastating, unforgettable songs have you come across in books?

11

Where are all the guys in YA?

Following up on Miriam’s recent post about writers’ groups being comprised of mostly women, I came upon this piece in The Atlantic about female authors dominating the YA market. It discusses how NPR Books this summer had fans choose the 100 Best-Ever Teen Books and of the 235 books being considered for the list, 147 (63%) were written by women.

Certainly there are many bestselling male authors across all categories, but I think it’s fair to say that the YA market is dominated by female authors. We all know that many of the biggest books and series of the past decade were written by women, including, as the piece points out: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and the Twilight books. Each of these series went on to attract a large fan base that included boys and girls, and women and men, one of the reasons they were able to achieve such huge success. The movies didn’t hurt either.

In our own DGLM stable, we have a handful of male YA authors, including the bestselling James Dashner, Geoff Herbach, Andrew Smith, Danny Marks, and Shandy Lawson, but collectively the majority of our other YA authors are women (all of mine are), which confirms the theory based at least on our small sampling. And when I think about the queries I receive for YA, they are usually from women.

So I’m curious why this is. Is it that women read more YA fiction? Is there, as some suggest, the element of nostalgia for women remembering their teen years? Would you like to see more YA fiction from men? Or does it not make a difference who’s writing the books you read? Share your thoughts, and I’d love to start seeing more YA queries from men! (ps-this is my last post until after Labor Day, so enjoy the last few days of summer!)

10

Jealousy is all the fun you think they had*

Personally, I think jealousy is a great motivator.  Who hasn’t experienced a moment of jealous rage so virulent that it’s propelled them  to action?  Whether it’s romantic or professional, this base and vile emotion can force you to get off your keester and make things happen.  Okay, sometimes, it lands you in jail—not so good.  But, when we are jealous of someone’s accomplishments and able to see the effort and talent behind them, we can parse the elements of their success and try to apply them to our own circumstances.  Also, there have been some epic feuds born of jealousy that make for great entertainment—Gore Vidal and Norman Mailer; Mario Vargas Llosa and Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck….

The kind of jealousy we encounter on an almost daily basis is creative and professional.  Why is so and so getting bigger advances than me?  Why did she get a better review from the Times when everyone knows she’s a hack?  Why did [fill in the publisher’s name] give him an eight-city tour when they can’t even get my books in stores?  And so on.

Our response, in soothing, zen-like tones is something along the lines of “Be patient, grasshopper.  Unimaginable success will be yours.”

Uh…yes…well…more often it’s “Stop whining and stay focused on your own work.  No one can write your book better than you and being jealous of other people’s success is just distracting you from doing your best work, not to mention meeting your deadlines.”

So, this piece in Writer’s Relief made me think about the uses and misuses of jealousy and wonder whether it is, indeed, a motivator?  Can you keep it in check and make it work for you? Or is it just a corrosive, soul destroying thing you wish you could banish from your creative life?  Who are you most jealous of?

*Erica Jong

UPDATE:  I love the link Tamara posted in the comments so much, that I thought I’d share it with you here:

http://therumpus.net/2011/03/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-69-we-are-all-savages-inside/

8

Why I signed.. Brodi Ashton

I thought I’d give you, our readers, a bit of insight into what I like and what I look for in a submission.  It’s often hard to articulate what does and doesn’t work once you get past simple mechanics and formatting–which is one of the reasons agents often blog and write about those details.  I hope hearing about why I signed Brodi Ashton gives you a window into my thoughts.

This story is going to start in a surprising way, maybe even for Brodi herself!  Brodi came to me highly recommended by not just one but several clients.  I had actually been hearing about her for quite some time before she queried me.  The clients recommending her were enthusiastic about not just her work, but also as a person.  Everyone seemed to like her.  You’re probably thinking that this was all weighing heavily in her favor, and the truth is, it was…and wasn’t.  By time she queried me, I’d heard such good things that I was a bit overwhelmed by the praise, and frankly concerned she couldn’t live up to it.  But her email query was very friendly, and I really liked the sound of her novel, which she mentioned was based in part in Greek mythology:

“17-year old Nikki Beckett has just returned from the Underworld to a family who doesn’t know where she’s been, a boyfriend who doesn’t know why she left, and old friends who think she’s using. But Nikki won’t have time to answer questions. She only has six months at Park City High before the tunnels of the Underworld come for her again. Six months for goodbyes she’ll never be able to say out loud. Six months to find redemption, if it exists.

She didn’t plan on Jack’s reaction to her return. The boy she betrayed so long ago doesn’t care why she left him or why she’s back, as long as he doesn’t lose her again.

When Nikki discovers she didn’t return to the surface alone, being near Jack becomes dangerous – for him. Cole, an Everliving, followed her back from the Underworld, and he needs Nikki in order to make his push for the throne. He’ll do anything to make it happen, even if it means going back to high school.

Jack would sacrifice anything to help Nikki defeat Cole, but the choice will be Nikki’s: serve the Underworld, or rule it.”


Greek mythology?  Supernatural beings?  Undying love?  And a heroine who who must choose between two seemingly terrible alternatives?  Yes, please!  Paranormal books continue to sell very well, and this pitch was full of both romance and high stakes–something I knew editors were looking for.  I was also impressed that I was able to understand the heart of the story very easily from a short pitch, despite not understanding the rules of the world yet.  I was paying attention by this point, but it was the next paragraph of her query that really drew me in:

“I wrote this story because as a teenager, I had a friend who just took off one day. When she returned months later, she was different. Broken. I never found out where she went, but I wondered what would do that to a person as I watched her try to reclaim her life. I was fascinated in the before and the after, so this story looks at why Nikki left and the struggle after she returned.”

I love to know where writers get their ideas.  And I really loved that Brodi used Greek mythology to explain why something happened in real life–just like the Greeks used myths to explain the world around them.  So, before I got her email I was apprehensive that she couldn’t live up to the hype, and then she blew me away with just the kind of story I love.  I was totally, completely hooked, and I hadn’t even read a word yet.  Though she’d included a sample, I didn’t need to look at those pages to know I’d be reading the whole book.  So I quickly requested the manuscript that day.

Needless to say, the manuscript lived up to the query letter.  I knew about half way through that I wanted to work with Brodi, but the moment when I knew I could sell this book came only a few pages from the end when–and this is hard to admit–I may have teared up.  Or cried.  Whatever you want to call it.  The story moved me in a way that I did not expect.  Before I could reach out to her, Brodi let me know she already had more than one offer of representation, and I immediately set up a time to speak with her.  We discussed the book at length, and it turned out that she and I had a similar vision for it and the rest of the series.  We talked about what I thought worked and what needing more fleshing out, and we talked about dramatically changing the very end of the book.  I was happy with the conversation, confident that my vision was the right one for the book, and nervous beyond belief.  In the end, I was lucky enough to have Brodi choose me over several other agents clamoring for her book, now titled EVERNEATH.  In the fall, we accepted a pre-emptive offer from the amazing Kristin Daly at  Balzer + Bray, and the book is due out in 2012.

So that’s why I signed Brodi Ashton.  Hope it gives you a better idea of what I’m looking for and what the process is like.

2

Thoughts on ALA

Yesterday morning, the American Library Association announced its annual slate of children’s book awards, including the Newbery and Caldecott Medals. Congratulations to all the winners, especially Jewell Parker Rhodes and A.S. King (who just happen to be DGLM clients). Go team!

It’s always interesting to look at the slate of winners and see if there are any lessons to be drawn for the future. Hence, some thoughts, although with a major caveat—I, er, haven’t read any of them yet…

  • CALDECOTT:  A Sick Day for Amos McGee, illustrated by Erin E. Stead, written by Philip C. Stead. Though it had been discussed on-line as a contender, it’s still rare for a debut to win the medal. That said, I can see why it won: The art has a great blend of classic line and child-friendly simplicity, much like Caldecott favorite Marla Frazee. But I’m particularly struck the story and how it features an adult main character, which is one of the big no-nos in picture book writing. Kudos to the Steads for pulling it off—I’d love to see more writers break the rules like this!
  • NEWBERY: Moon over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool. Also discussed on-line as a contender, also a debut, though that’s less unusual for Newbery. Like Amos McGee, it seems a bit retro—historical fiction often comes across as old-fashioned these days. Granted, Newbery has a long history of loving historical fiction, but it’s telling that in a year when ebooks and apps were the talk of the town, the librarians chose to look back to the past. So I’ll be curious now to see if Moon starts to take off in the trade, or if it’s regarded as hopelessly institutional—that’s a question prospective MG writers should consider, too,  especially as the gap between trade and institutional seem to be widening further.
  • PRINTZ: Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi. Really eager to read this one! I have to say, Newbery could take a nod from Printz when it comes to balancing high-interest subject matter and art (i.e., trade and institutional). Year after year, they seem to pick winners and honor books that run the gamut of YA genres and subject matter. I will say, though, that this year’s list seems pretty dark, especially compared to last year’s winners. A reflection on 2010 in general? It’ll be interesting to see if things brighten up for YA in 2011.
  • CORETTA SCOTT KING: I’ll probably catch hell for saying this, but could we please get some new names in here? Not that winners Rita Williams-Garcia and Bryan Collier aren’t deserving, but you look at the winners and honors over the last ten years, and it’s the same players over and over again. Can’t we expand the club a bit?

So, dear readers, what did you think about the awards? Pleased? Surprised? Outraged? I’d love to know. And finally, a BIG congratulations to Wilder Award winner Tomie dePaola. Hooray for Tomie!!!

Welcome to the new DGLM blog and website!

Welcome to our shiny new home, blog readers!  For the new year, we bring you a new DGLM site, a merger of our website and blog.  Thanks to everyone who made suggestions a couple months ago on features and tech questions—where possible we’ve incorporated your feedback, and other things we’re keeping in mind in case we can implement them in future.

We’ll be blogging as usual over here at www.dystel.com now instead of at Blogger, and there are also some other things for you to explore over to the right (unless you’re not currently reading this on the site itself, in which case you might want to just poke your head in and take a look!).  You might be interested in learning more about us and our clients.  If you’re an author looking for representation, perhaps you’ll want to peruse our FAQ, Submission Requirements, Who We Are and What We’re Looking For, and Nonfiction Proposal Guidelines.  Need something new to read?  Check out our Staff Recommendations, Recent and Forthcoming Titles, and What We’re Reading in the column on the right. Maybe you want to know where we’ll be?  We’ve got a calendar with our upcoming conferences and events in that sidebar as well!  Of course, if you’d like, please feel free to use the links over there to Subscribe, Follow, or Like us and share our site with others!  The new blog should start feeding into our Twitter and Facebook accounts today, so if you’re already following us there, you don’t need to do anything.  If you’re reading us in a blog reader, please subscribe to the new RSS feed.

Make yourselves at home!

As always, we want to hear from you!  What do you think of the new digs?  Any suggestions for improvement?  Glitches we may not have caught?  (We hope not, but let us know if so!)  New features that you’d like us to consider?  We can’t always implement everything recommended to us, but we’re always open to hearing your ideas.

3

Where’s the love?

by Jim

On Friday, our commenter Jennifer asked the following question:

I have often heard agents discuss the fact that you need to “be in love” with a book in order to represent it…let’s say you take on a client because you’re in love with their first book, but you only like the next, or even the next few? Even my favorite writers are about 50% hit or miss for me. Some I love, some I just like, and some I even outright dislike. I imagine it would be unusual to really love every book someone wrote.

So I guess my question is two-fold. One, as an agent, do you often find yourself liking some stories more than others, or are you so passionate about a writer’s style that you tend to love them all, and two, what do you do if you aren’t feeling the same passion for subsequent books?

Tricky one, Jennifer! I think it’s completely fair to say that when we work with someone on multiple books, we won’t have an equally passionate reaction to each and every project they work on. If someone writes twelve novels, we won’t be equally fond of all twelve. Of course, chances are the author also won’t be.

The reason we always say that we need to fall in love with something in order to take it on is that we’re diving headfirst into a long, involved process with someone we haven’t worked with before. If you don’t love the book wholeheartedly, it’s a lot of dedication and time to offer something (and someone) without any guaranteed results. As we continue working with clients, we still want to love every book, but the dynamic has changedwe know how we work with these particular authors, how comfortable the fit is, what happened with that first novel, what shape their career might take. We’re still responsible for making sure that the best product possible gets out there, but we also have to make sure that our clients wishes and best interests are well represented.

Sometimes the situation can get tricky. Let’s say we don’t just not love a project; let’s say we actively dislike it. If our feeling is that the audience will have the same reaction, we have to say something. No one is helped by glad-handing. So there have been times when projects need to be set aside, or we make recommendations for other ideas that might be pursued. It’s not the most comfortable thing to bring up, but it’s necessary to be able to offer that kind of feedback. Our authors depend on our honesty and feedback. And we likewise depend on them, not to do everything we say, but to take our thoughts into account. The best agent/client relations are built on an ability to share thoughts and find compromise.

So no, we don’t love every single project the same, but ideally the base of every relationship with a client is deep admiration of their work. Even if you don’t love every single thing they do, you can still support and guide them.

10

Books I couldn’t sell

by Jim

For a conference I’m going to next year, I was asked to answer a series of questions about myself and agenting—what the most exciting part of the job is, how I landed in publishing, and what my first sale was. Those were easy. Then I hit the question about who the first client I ever signed on was. That was less easy. Not that I didn’t know the answer. It just required me to publicly admit that the first project I signed on never sold. You know what? Eight years later, it still stings.

I thought about lying, but that’s really not my style, so I answered instead that I had signed on a wonderfully fun novel in a Valley of the Dolls vein that I still think deserved to be published. It was really good! And then in a slightly defensive moment, I jotted down that I almost immediately thereafter signed on Victoria Laurie who has sold 24 books with me since then. Well, it’s TRUE.

The thing is, every time something doesn’t sell, it hurts a little. The happy fact of the matter is that the number of projects that don’t sell becomes smaller and smaller as you carry on as an agent—you learn what you’re better with, understand markets better, and come to know the perfect editors for certain projects. But sometimes things don’t work. And it suuuuucks. Especially when you’re head over heels for a project.

I was at a release party for Lee Houck’s Yield a few weeks back, and in his incredibly kind remarks, he mentioned the moment I called him to offer him representation. Apparently I told him something like, “I don’t know if I can sell this. But I can try.” Apparently I remembered to put on my honesty shoes that day! I didn’t remember that I had said it, but I remember that I had thought it! It was a literary novel about gay characters and themes that was at best going to be challenging to place. It was also amazingly heartfelt and beautifully written, so I gave it a shot knowing it would pain me if I didn’t place it. Happily, that one worked out.

The novel about a juvenile prostitute in Newark that was written in dialect? That one didn’t sell. It was just as brilliant as Lee’s novel but even more challenging. I still hate that it didn’t work. I also hate that an editor called me to ask if the author had been a hooker in Newark, adding that the novel would be more marketable if so. That led to the single most awkward phone calls of my entire career. “I was just wondering if maybe you ever happened to, ummm…”

In the end, no agent can guarantee a sale. The most they can ever promise you is their best efforts. But if it’s any consolation, they’ll still be kicking themselves years down the road if they aren’t able to usher you to success.

9

You don’t have to read our blog to be my friend

by Steph

I always find it interesting to hear about the personal interactions of the other agents here with authors. In many cases, they have real, lasting bonds of friendship that have developed with time. It’s gratifying, and quite frankly it makes perfect sense. Without good authors, we wouldn’t have material to work with. And without that, what would be the reason to show up to work every day? Seems logical, no?

My point is, I think that one of the most important parts of what we do is building relationships with authors. I’ve always believed this to be true. That’s why I loved reading this piece by Melanie Benjamin at the Huffington Post. In it, she considers the sometimes delicate and glossed-over intricacies of building a friendship with an author, and more specifically the humorous pitfalls that come with the obligations of being a friend to an author. Ultimately, Melanie boils it all down to this one mantra: You don’t have to read my book to be my friend. I’m content to put aside all the serious stuff that’s crossed our computer screens recently, especially when given the chance to read something that reminds me that these days it needs to be less about squabbling over numbers and more about building good relationships. I’m not entirely sure when I turned into Mr. Rogers. It concerns me a little. But just go with me on this one.

4

The little things

by Lauren

As I’m slowly readjusting to my return home from vacation, I’m still reflecting on the best moments of last week. Chief among them seeing old friends; strolling down streets I walked down every day for more than a year; eating honeycomb ice cream (why don’t we have that here??); and watching QI (see previous parenthetical). I sort of prefer vacation to be more like living an ideal life for a week than doing fancy touristy things, and an ideal life would include more honeycomb and Stephen Fry.

One of the best moments was actually work-related: finding a book with my name in the acknowledgments on the shelves of the bookshop I used to work in. The last job I had before Jane brought me on here as her assistant was at a fantastic book store in Galway called Dubray Books. So naturally, one of my first stops when I arrived in town was to see my old coworkers and browse through the shelves. I think I may actually have scoured every shelf in the store that had a remote possibility of containing a DGLM title—spotting a few here and there, a couple editions I sold the rights for, some others where I sold translations but not international English editions, still others I had nothing to do with at all but felt proud to see nonetheless. Because of the speed with which publishing moves, especially international publishing, and the fact that not every title is going to find its way into Ireland’s relatively small market, I wasn’t sure that anything in which I was acknowledged would be there. And then I found it, Richelle Mead’s Spirit Bound. I’m not her agent, of course, but I’ve sold rights for her internationally, and she graciously thanked me for doing that. (Thanks, Richelle!) So I got to stroll around the store, book in hand, showing off my name to friends and former coworkers. It meant a great deal—a marker of how far I’ve come professionally in the 5 ½ years since I was stocking those shelves—and a comfort when I was feeling pangs of regret for having left a city I love so much. My desire to work in publishing is, after all, the primary reason I always knew I’d come home to NY after grad school.

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen a book I had a hand in out in the wild, and years into this job, I still seek them out. The first thing I did after work on pub day for the first of my books to hit the shelves was to go to the B&N where I spent 3 1/2 years of my working life and see the fruits of my labor. Every time I find myself in a bookstore with family members, I make them endure this little ritual. Just a few weeks ago, for the very first time, I saw one of my own books being read by a random person sitting across from me on the subway, and I think I may have just sat there beaming till I got off the train. These moments are why I’m in this business: getting to help books get into the hands of readers. I could never write one, and I can’t singlehandedly buy them all, but I can help keep this publishing ecosystem going in my own small way.

I think that there are small moments throughout the process for each of us here that really make us proud to get to work with our fantastic clients and help them make their dreams come true. This morning there were 185 emails in my inbox not counting the queries, spam, and things I was copied on or forwarded as an FYI. 185 things to respond to and take care of and think through and take action on, during a week in which my colleagues and many of the people I work with didn’t get in touch because they knew I was away. Plus the 10 or so contracts in my mail pile, the voicemails, the things that I have to follow up on now that I’m back. At the end of the day, we do all that because we get to be a part of something that’s pretty magical. The odds are so stacked against any book that there’s something really special about having the privilege of seeing them on the shelf and knowing that we helped to get them there.

So thanks, authors, for letting us be a part of that!

P.S. I bought Moab Is My Washpot at that very bookstore.  Can’t wait to read it!