Category Archives: our clients

5

When close is too close

by Miriam

Having started out in publishing working for a brilliant and somewhat deranged literary agent (no, not Jane, it was her partner at the time, Jay Acton) and in an era of delightful scandals (editors sleeping with their married bosses and creating corporate maelstroms, the multi-martini lunches, the temper tantrums that involved office furniture being launched at unsuspecting assistants, etc.) in our always interesting business, I’m drawn to stories of agents/publishers behaving badly. So it was with a touch of voyeurism and a dash of nostalgia that I read this piece about former über-agent Harriet Wasserman and the implosion of her career.

The thing that struck me most about the piece, however, was Wasserman’s more than questionable judgment in her relationship with Saul Bellow. We often say on this blog that we strive for longterm relationships with our clients and we’ve even revealed that we consider many of our clients friends. However, the kind of inappropriate closeness between Wasserman and Bellow is, if nothing else, a cautionary tale. Ultimately, authors come to us for our professional services. They need our objectivity and our pragmatism much more than the occasional hand-holding and sympathetic ear we also offer. I’ve seen countless situations where a sort of “transference” takes place between a client and an agent and the expectations (on both sides) cease to be professional and start becoming tinged with the personal and emotional. That doesn’t do anyone any good.

So, is this to say that agents and their clients shouldn’t be friends? Of course not. The creative and financial collaboration between these two parties are often enriched by a professional friendship. But, I think neither party is well served to cross the line and treat the other as you would your best buddy. Your agent is not the person to unload all of your neuroses on just because they’re obligated to take your call and you should start looking for a new agent in Publisher’s Marketplace if your agent begins to unload his marital problems when you call to ask about your royalty statements.

Have any of you had inappropriate dealings with agents or other publishing folks (no need to name names, people)?

17

Unsold

by Jim

Last week I admitted to having a case of blogger’s block and asked for suggestions for future topics. Thanks to those of you who offered suggestions! Two people wanted to know what happens when we don’t sell a book. And how can I avoid jumping on a topic as upbeat and positive as that?!

So…yes, sometimes agents sign on books and then cannot sell them—usually because the editors who review those submissions are bad and wrong. It’s true! So what happens then? Well…it depends.

Option 1: We recommend to a client that they revise their manuscript according to some specific feedback that we received during the submission process. Sometimes editors offer very constructive feedback. And doors can occasionally be left open by the editor for resubmission should the author rework. There’s nothing wrong with pausing a submission and taking stock of what changes need to be made. As much as we work with clients editorially, sometimes it takes another eye to see a different kind of potential in a manuscript.

Option 2: We recommend that a client table the current project and work on something new. Some books flat out don’t sell. Maybe they’re good novels but not good first novels. Maybe they’re in a genre that’s just glutted in the marketplace. Maybe editors are blind to the genius that we agents have clearly seen in the project and just need the time to recover their sight before we take a project back out at a later date. These things happen. And there’s no shame there. We’re looking to build long term relationships with our clients, and we sign folks on because we believe not just in their project but in them. I’ve had clients who didn’t get a sale until their second or third novel. That’s far from ideal! But it happens sometimes. And in the best agent/client relationships, there is a level of trust and mutual respect—if that is there and two people continue to have faith in each other, you just keep working until you get it right.

Option 3: The least happy of all options. Here’s the thing: the agent/client relationship is a really close one . It depends on a deep level of confidence being felt on both sides. If that confidence is shaken, it can be best to part ways. And that can happen on either side. A client might want to find a new agent to offer a different perspective. Or an agent might be concerned that their vision for how to break the author out has become too murky. You don’t always get it right on the first go, and that’s really unfortunate, but sometimes it just is.

In short, if a book doesn’t sell, you just keep evaluating and asking questions. Why didn’t it sell? Is it the content? Is it the market? Is it the timing? The important thing is that you learn from the experience and you go forward, still chasing publication, still fighting to be heard. This business can require nerves of steel, but the potential reward is great.

60

Pre-published

by Michael

When I was at an SCBWI conference recently, I said something that the entire audience (only about 800 people) thought was hilarious. I first asked how many of the people in attendance were unpublished. A vast majority raised their hands. I looked at them very seriously and said, “Enjoy it. This is a very special time in your career.” That’s when they laughed.

But I meant it, and I mean it. The time before you’re published is the most important part of an author’s career. My thinking about this started in a conversation with an author of mine. (I won’t reveal her name, but she can out herself in the comments if she likes.) When I asked her if she had any advice for the conference goers, she said it was to enjoy the years spent before publication. In the ten years it took her to get her first book published, she said said she never realized how free she was. She meant creatively free. Before publication, when she sat down to write, she could do whatever she wanted. There were no expectations about what she’d write, no deadlines to write to, and no promotional commitments to take her away from her creative time. So she wrote, and revised, and developed her craft on her own, at conferences and with other writers. She’s done very well for herself in her career, and she wouldn’t give any of it up, but she felt that she lost a little something when she became a published writer, and she wished that other authors would stop and enjoy the process.

It’s not easy advice to follow, I know. For anyone with the goal of being published, it’s hard to imagine that life before publication holds anything special. There’s all the butt-in-chair hours spent writing and revising, the query letters to agents, the conferences, the workshops, the critique groups, the rejections, the hopes and hopes dashed. Writing isn’t for the faint of heart. But getting published isn’t the end of much of that, and there are added pressures once you’ve achieved your first goal. Once you’ve successfully sold and published your first book, the question of your second book is right around the corner. The process of selling that book is different, but may be just as agonizing. Often, you’ll be expected to write an outline and sample pages, instead of a whole book. Great, right? You don’t have to write the whole thing! Not so fast — is that how you started your first novel? Many authors don’t approach writing their first book in that way, and they enjoy the time they spent figuring things out on the page; the characters that they didn’t know existed until they started writing, the plot twist they couldn’t have imagined when they began. I had a very successful author ask me yesterday if she could just write the whole book again — she missed the freedom she experience she had writing her first book, which just flowed out of her and took shape as she wrote it. While it sounds fantastic creatively, it doesn’t make as much sense practically. We’d like to have a good idea from her publisher if they’re interested in the book before she goes through all of that work!

Then there’s the pressure to promote and sell your book. The hours spent online social networking, the time spent at conferences and workshops presenting, and if you’re lucky enough to be very successful, the tours, appearances, video chats, book club appearances, media, stock signings (I have an author flying several hours, for only a day, to sign 5,000 books), and whatever else the publisher throws at you. As the author above said to me, when you’re an author, sometimes it’s hard to find time to be a writer.

I know, I know. At this point you’re thinking, “Can these published writers just stop whining? They have the life they always wanted!” It’s true that in many ways they’ve achieved their goals, and I can assure you that none of the authors I’m referencing here are whiners in the least. In fact, they’re unbelievably hard workers who take their jobs quite seriously. But they were all pre-published (as SCBWI is fond of saying) at some point, and I know that they all wish they’d enjoyed that time period more. They wish they’d relished the time when being an author meant only writing. So for those of you who aren’t published yet, remember to enjoy this part of the journey, too.

4

Paranormal lives on

by Stacey

I’m going to finally meet a client of mine whose YA paranormal trilogy I recently sold to Harper. This recent piece about the ongoing and continued appeal of paranormal is worth reading  if you have an interest in this category, and even if you don’t. Many prominent editors and publishers are quoted and share their insight on why so many of these books are thriving, how broad the parameters are for what will work, and it goes on to discuss how these authors and their editors are making an impact online by connecting with their fans. I am confident and hopeful that the interest in paranormal will continue so that more readers will enjoy these escapist, entertaining, and often well executed stories, many of which come from our own DGLM! If you have favorites that you think we’d enjoy, please share and we will check them out.

10

From Vlad to RPatts

by Miriam

Around these parts, everyone knows that my love of vampires long precedes the Twilight phenomenon. Robert Pattinson was probably still in diapers when I was falling in love with Anne Rice’s Lestat and I remember then-starting-out agents at DGLM rolling their eyes at me when I suggested that they fill their lists with vampire books. One who took me seriously was Jim McCarthy and he’s got the delightful and talented Richelle Mead and her Vampire Academy series, among others, to show for it.

Thing is, it made sense for people to be skeptical. Before Stephenie Meyer re-energized the vampire tale with her sparkly bloodsuckers, this was a tired literary standby. As Meg Cabot reminds us vampires have been around longer even than Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, and, throughout the ages, they have preyed on our imaginations precisely because they traffic in the two most powerful human preoccupations: sex and death.

I’ve been hearing a lot about The Passage, Justin Cronin’s contribution to vampire lit (the description of which makes me think of a cross between 28 Days Later and The Road), including Stephen King’s over-the-top praise of the novel. It’s expected to be one of the summer’s blockbusters. We publishing people are forever trying to predict trends (a fool’s game in the best of times), and we at DGLM often ask ourselves whether the vampire mania is subsiding or getting ready for yet another resurgence. Is it too late to be signing up yet another vampire novel? Or am I right in thinking that this genre will, ahem, never die?
What do you all think?

26

Notes to your younger self

by Stacey

I loved this clever marketing idea from YA author Sarah Mlynowski, whose new novel is about to come out. In anticipation, she asked fellow YA authors what they would tell their high school selves if given the chance. Not surprisingly, she’s had a great response and people are loving the conversation. My personal favorite is from DGLM client, Sara Zarr: “@sarazarr: You are NOT FAT. You will be, but you’re not now, so enjoy it.”

If you were able to communicate with your high school self, what would you say? I wouldn’t even know where to begin, but I better start thinking about it with four little girls of my own who will be teenagers before long!

4

The strategy of building a client

by Jane

Every once in a while, we are asked why we signed a particular client and what the process was like, specifically what appealed to us about the client and/or the project in the first place, what strategies we used to build that client’s career and how things went from when they first contacted us until now.

Naturally, I have many different stories that could answer this question but one of my favorites is that of Thomas French, a hugely talented journalist and author.

In the fall of 1988, I read a series Tom had written for the St. Petersburg Times about a murder case in Gulfport, Florida, a case where the small town detective ended up arresting one of his best friends and charging him with rape and first degree murder. It was a fascinating case with lots of twists. As I do when I read interesting and compelling material, I called Tom immediately and told him I thought that the series would make a terrific book.

Tom became a client and together we created a super book proposal which we sold to St. Martin’s Press. The book was published first in hardcover in 1991 and then a year later in paperback. It turned out to be a terrific success; it’s still in print and continues to sell today.

In the decades since, I have advised Tom on his other book projects and I think he and I have taught each other a lot. We have talked about the continuing challenges of writing, about the business of publishing, and the differences between the two. I have analyzed for him why this project can snag a contract and why that one will not. Over the years, when Tom found himself having trouble with one of his sources or stuck at a certain point in the writing of a book, I have listened and tried to help him see the big picture. Working in this way allowed Tom to focus on what he wanted to focus on–the reporting and writing and the storytelling and everything else required to wrestle another page, another chapter, another book into publication.

In 1998, Tom French won the Pulitzer Prize for series he did for the St. Petersburg Times entitled “Angels and Demons,” and we actually sold a movie option of the series.

Now, Tom’s third and I think best book to date is about to come out. In July, Zoo Story, an account of life and death inside the Tampa zoo, will be published by Hyperion; it has required six years of immersion reporting, interviewing and writing. For me, it has been exhilarating to watch Tom develop this incredible tale, and I am eagerly anticipating its success.

Now, once again, we are in the early stages of discussing new projects which Tom will develop in the next several months.

When the agent/author relationship unfolds as this one has it is incredibly fulfilling. In fact it is why I continue to love what I do. Strategizing literary careers and developing successful authors is challenging, sure, but it is also enormously satisfying to watch our clients grow and succeed.

Why I signed up….

by Jim

Story time! In January 2008, I received a query for a historical romance novel from an author who was friends with one of my clients and critique partners with another client of the agency. I do represent romance novels and have expressed that I’m open to historicals, but it’s not a subgenre I work in often. That aside, the author, Darcy Burke, had crafted an excellent query, and it didn’t hurt that she had references. So I requested and read her novel Glorious.

The novel was quite strong, but I decided to pass. For a real peek behind the curtain, here’s the letter I sent Darcy passing on the project:

Dear Darcy,

Thanks much for the opportunity to consider Glorious, which I read with great interest. Unfortunately, I’m going to be passing at this time.

This was a tough one for me. You’re obviously a talented writer, and this could very well be a marketable manuscript. That said, historical romance is a category that I really don’t know. When I venture into new genres for the first time, it has to be with a book that I’m completely blown away by. Without that driving passion, my inexperience in the category prevents me from being the best possible agent for the project. Though I did very much enjoy this read, I’m not ultimately convinced enough in my own ability to place this successfully in order to offer you representation.

Sorry not to have better news on this one. I do hope you’ll keep me in mind in the future.


All best,


Jim

Happily, Darcy did keep me in mind. Over the next year or two, she worked on a new novel, still historical romance, called The Earl’s Obsession, and she queried me anew on December 21 of last year. I requested it the day before we closed for the holidays and read it over Christmas in Colorado.

The Earl’s Obsession did exactly what it needed to do for me. It introduced me to two incredible lead characters—the arrogant Earl of Saxton, Jasper, and the orphaned seamstress Olivia—who registered so fully and naturally that I couldn’t help rooting for them, even as they often provided their own biggest obstacles. They were flawed, passionate, obstinate people, matched in the strength of their convictions, if not the convictions themselves.

But then Darcy did herself one better: rather than just give me characters that felt fresh and new, she conquered the greatest challenge of genre writing: making the outcome of the plot unpredictable while also managing to satisfy the reader. It might come as a surprise in a romance novel if the two romantic leads don’t end up together, but it wouldn’t be a happy surprise. On the flip side, if you’re slogging through 300 pages just waiting for the inevitable, you’ll be bored silly. Darcy kept me on my toes with enough flips, twists, and turns to keep me fully engaged all the way, while also knowing that I was in the most confident of hands.

I offered to represent Darcy the day we got back from the holidays. Happily, she said yes! Right now, she’s working on some light editorial feedback that I sent her way, and we’ll be taking the project out to editors shortly. Fingers will remain tightly crossed.

Now, I don’t want to give the impression that I only sign on people who were referred. Sure, Darcy knows one of my clients. Still, if I didn’t love her novel, it wouldn’t be to either of our advantage for me to offer to sign her on. Most of my clients did come straight from the slush pile. What I think this particular story illustrates, though, is that if an agent leaves a door open to resubmit in the future, they mean it. Trust me: I’m not asking everyone to send me more material. Just because the fit isn’t right yet doesn’t mean it won’t be.

I’m excited to share Darcy’s work with editors in the near future and hope to have that happiest of endings to report soon. In the meantime, you can get Darcy’s reaction to getting an agent and lots of insight into her writing process and background over at Romance Writers on the Journey.

2

Where we find ideas

by Jane

One of the things I truly love about being an agent is finding new ideas in unexpected places.

Years ago for example, I took my daughter to Canyon Ranch in the Berkshires for her birthday. I decided to do an hour-long individual session on overcoming stress; when the instructor and I began talking, however, it became clear that she had a book in her and what began as a self-help session for me ended with a book deal for her.

Then there was the visit last summer to the eye doctor where the receptionist was doing a blog and pitched his idea for a book to me.

And, just last week, I visited a comedy club in New York as a guest of columnist, client and friend, Cindy Adams, and the featured comedienne is now coming to our office to discuss a possible book.

I really love the serendipity of these situations. Who knows where I will find my next client or book idea? It could come from anywhere.

23

Beta reader basics, a guest post

by Jim

For something a little different today, we have a guest blog post from my wonderful and talented client Jennifer Schubert whose hugely exciting thriller, BROKEN, is out on submission right now!

Jenn contacted me last week about whether we wanted to post on our thoughts on authors critiquing each other’s work. But ours is such an outsider’s perspective on this. My take is that feedback is always wonderful if you can take it in constructively. I’ve never been in the position of taking it since I don’t write, and when I offer it, it’s from a sales perspective. So I thought it made more sense for the expert herself to offer up some bon mots. And happily, Jenn provided us with the below!

Why a beta reader?

Every writer needs feedback. We crave it, for one. That’s what writing is about, the exhibition of the soul, the desire to tell a story and to be judged by it. Every piece of work should be run through a filter, preferably an impartial one, to show where we’re going wrong. Because we are going wrong somewhere. No one is perfect. Everything can stand improvement.

One of the best learning tools is to switch sides and be a beta reader. I’ve learned as much about writing by critiquing others’ works as I have by writing myself. It’s much easier to see the flaws in other people’s work than our own.

How to give a crit without breaking a heart

I’ve been privileged to do a lot of beta reading in my writing journey. I’m a believer in the “sandwich” technique: single out a good thing first, then tackle some of the problem areas, and close with another good thing. Not everyone agrees with this approach, but I’ve found people respond better if criticism is softened with praise, and there’s always something to praise. (An English teacher of mine used to tell people, a bit desperately, “You have lovely handwriting.”)

How to take a crit without throwing a fit

The reaction to a critique ranges widely, but generally falls into two categories. The first group meets a critique, no matter how gentle, with defensiveness. Their reaction is to argue. You, the beta reader, just didn’t understand what the writer was trying to say. Sure, you say, but if you have to explain it to me, it wasn’t very well-written, was it?

The second group says “thank you” and buckles down to edits. A few hours, days, or weeks later, you get the material back and it’s better. You suggest more changes, more tweaks. They go back to work. Maybe the end result isn’t perfect, but they’re willing to work hard to make it as good as it can be.

Like many of us, I started out in the first, or thin-skinned, group. I was fortunate to have a mentor who talked me out of that. Because I wanted to be a writer so badly, I toughened up. Of course hearing that your work isn’t letter-perfect is hard, but the critiquer’s job is to help. Maybe they’re paying it forward. Maybe they believe in you, believe in your work, and want to help make it better.

My question for you is: which group are you in? Are you thin-skinned, or are you tough enough to take a critique designed to help make your writing better? And are you critiquing for others? If so, what are you learning from it?