Category Archives: our clients

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!

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.