Category Archives: problem solving

3

Better writing through apps?

As loyal readers of this blog know, we sometimes have trouble coming up with topics for posts. And when we’re in the weeds, we often fall back on the Huffpost for a reading list or slideshow to provide a topic. You may note, too, that these posts usually get the “fun” tag, because they tend to be a little frivolous–though I guess “Ten Books to Survive Downton Abbey Withdrawal” might be considered vital “advice” to some…

But today I saw a Huffpost that actually got me thinking, both about the writing process and the role of technology in writing today. To me, the idea that apps can help you finish your novel at first seems counterintuitive–surely a major undertaking like a novel can’t be aided by rinky-dink phone apps? Yet the suggestions here seem pretty darn helpful, and partly because they seem ancillary to the main project, rather than tools that are embedded in your word processor.

Certainly the reading apps are no great revelation for most writers, and a voice memo app seems like a no-brainer. But Evernote and MindNode are far superior tools than the basic memo tool on my old iPhone, and has anyone used Poetreat yet? It seems like a great way to vary your word choice, which can often be a challenge, especially in early drafts.

Most impressive to me, though, is Hemingway, which has the potential to serve as your very own digital copyeditor. Often, when I send edits to an author, I ask them to do Global searches for words that get overused, like “Then”, or adverbs or repeated sentence structures like three or more “I verb” sentences in a row. I’ve always thought it’s a good, schematic way to go over a draft, but it can definitely get tedious. Hemingway seems like a great tool for that kind of analysis without having to spend hours doing individual word and phrase searches.

Of course, it wouldn’t be the Huffpost without a little bit of fluff–or cats, which I guess is why they mention Write or Die. Silliness aside, though, procrastination and adhering to daily word counts are certainly struggles that writers know well, and for that SelfControl does seem like a good choice for blocking those pesky distracting websites like… oh, I don’t know… maybe the Huffpost?

Have you ever used any of these apps to help finish a novel? Or any other apps? If so, which ones? 

 

3

Little House in the Big City

Polar vortex, snowmaggedon, bombogenesis…whatever you call it, this has been one cold, snowy winter. Even the DGLM office closed early due to blizzard conditions last week! Well I, and anyone else who grew up reading the Little House on the Prairie series, am undaunted by this harsh winter. Thanks to Laura Ingalls and her family, I am more than ready to twist hay into braids to be burnt in the stove, and fill my pockets with baked potatoes for warmth.

Okay, so some of these measures might be unnecessary – there aren’t a lot of clotheslines to be found between my apartment and the subway line, unfortunately. But I was pleased to discover that one Little House winter delight is still alive and well: Molasses Snow Candy! You can read the recipe there on the official Little House website, and if you’re still skeptical, check out this blog post from a mom who tried it out for herself with her kids.

I can’t wait for the next big snowstorm so that I can try this out for myself! (Maybe Laura Ingalls would be brave enough to eat week-old NYC snow, but not I!) In the meantime, I’m taking this quiz to find out what Little House girl I would be, and visiting the Union Square farmer’s market to look for molasses.

Anyone else secretly wishing they could spend the winter in a log cabin? What are your favorite winter survival tips from books?

3

Stalagmites of Books

This morning I was browsing Twitter while waiting for my coffee to kick in, as usual, and this tweet caught my eye:

“I am making a very important New Year’s Resolution for 2014: read more books and own fewer of them.” -@doughtylouise http://t.co/bKHxs8Jzx2

— Book Keeping (@FSGBookKeeping) 

I’m totally on board with the first half of that resolution, but own fewer books?? This I gotta read.

So I clicked the link and read on to discover the author describing a very familiar predicament:

 

“All around my house – in the bedroom, the spare room, the sitting room – there are interesting geological features.  This is nothing to do with the fact that I live in a Victorian townhouse in North London, nor to do with the clay soil on which it is built.  It’s because I don’t have enough shelves.

These interesting features consist of stalagmites of books – great wobbly pillars of varying heights constantly threatening to come crashing down.”

 

This is a problem I can relate to. Books are stacked on every surface in my apartment, two rows deep on the actual bookshelves, taking over endtable space where normal other people have framed pictures of loved ones, and fighting for position on top of cabinets that more rightfully belong to wine glasses and board games. Like the blog post author, I too can blame my mountains of books on my career – but perhaps it would be more honest to blame my career on my greedy love of books?

It doesn’t help that I’m an inveterate producer of marginalia. Sure, I could check out more library books, or borrow from my friends with similar bibliophilic afflictions. But I love scribbling all over my books – asterisks and exclamation points in the margin, long rambling (and obviously brilliant) thoughts and comparison on the back pages at the end. They frown on writing in library books, I’m pretty sure. And if I start marking up my friends’ books, well, soon I’ll find myself with no friends, just tons of free time on my hands to read…hmmmm, on second thought, that doesn’t sound so bad.

Anyway, you should read the whole blog post, because the author offers a nice and logical plan for accomplishing her read-more-own-fewer book resolution. Have you ever tried to cut down on your own book collection? Any success stories to share?

If all else fails, you can always loan your unwanted/unwritten-in books to me!

13

The psychology of writing

I have a very strong interest in psychology that goes back to when I minored in it in college. My list has been peppered with titles over the years that explore various issues in this area and I am always interested in seeing new ideas with a psychological bend.

I enjoyed this article in authormagazine.org by published author Jennifer Paros about the psychology of writing. She used her son as a jumping off point, describing how as a young teenager he decided he had an interest in writing. He was then hampered by a fear of failure, essentially. My 8 year-old has recently expressed a similar interest, so I told her the only way to become a writer is to actually write but when I ask her if she wants to, the answer is usually no. I’m  not yet sure where her reluctance is coming from, but I’m going to keep an eye on it and try to encourage her to keep working on it.

Ms. Paros talked with her son about what was holding him back to get him past his stumbling blocks and the writing became easier and more natural. Eventually the process of writing outweighed the insecurity of worrying about a possible negative reaction in sharing his work.

This is likely a common stressor for writers and everyone else. We all worry, some more than others, about what people think of us or if they will react negatively to something we’ve said or done. It’s the people who use their mental strength to overcome these fears that will likely have the most success in writing or anything else they choose to do, a topic generating a great deal of interest following my client Amy Morin’s recent piece about mentally strong people and things they avoid.

What’s your biggest fear as a writer? Have you been able to overcome your insecurities to find a successful path? Share your stories. There are lessons to be learned for all of us.

7

Parting is such sweet sorrow

You might be surprised to learn that here at DGLM we’ve got a lot of books. A ton of books. So many books that we’re tripping over them, ducking so that we don’t get hit by them falling from teetering towers, and constantly moving and re-shelving them to make space for the books that just keep arriving.

So that we don’t suffocate in the inevitable glut of paper and ink (the office isn’t that big, guys), there’s a lot of nice donating that goes on around here. A few times a year I get to pack up a whole bunch of old books and inventory them with the help of a few trusty interns and send them off to places where they’ll go to good use.

That’s an easy solution for a place with so many books, but what to do with your own personal collection? I know we’re already out of room in my apartment—even with two giant bookcases, the extras are starting to pile up in interesting places on the floor, on chairs, on tables and under things. There’s even a giant bag my roommate and I filled over a year ago with “books we don’t care about, have doubles of or don’t want anymore,” yet it’s still sitting there, cumbersome and in the way.

It’s hard to let go of a book, even if it’s one I know I’ll never read again or never liked very much in the first place. There are memories and associations paired with each and every one, whether or not they have anything to do with the actual story or content. The same goes for clothes and shoes—whether they no longer fit, are falling apart (often my case with shoes), or are dreadfully, woefully hideous beyond any comprehension and I have no idea when or why I ever wore such a thing. Still, it’s painful to part with them.

I’m not a pack rat or a hoarder, it’s easy for me to nonchalantly discard most anything else, but donating books seems difficult. They need to go to the right place, to a place where they’ll be appreciated again and not just thrown in the corner. Right? Does it matter? What do you do with your spares and excess? Do you take them to secondhand shops, give them to people you think might enjoy them, or, and I shudder, just throw them in the trash? What other options are there?

Latest boxes off for donation!

 

 

1

Behind the numbers

Looking at a royalty statement for the first time can be a little confusing. While the math is never hard, certain terms like “reserve against returns” and “subsidiary rights” can cause headaches where there needn’t be. The layout of a royalty statement is important too—an unorganized format can make reading a royalty statement ten times harder. Since there is no standard format though, I’ll just touch upon some basics.

Reserve against returns. Yes, most publishers don’t pay authors all the royalties they earn in the one period covered by a statement. The reserve against returns shows the amount withheld by the publisher for a limited period of time against the expectation of returns. This reserve is then released on later statements (assuming the book continues to sell).

Subsidiary rights. This is the section of the royalty statement that lists the revenue accumulated from rights that the publisher has sold to third parties. For example, this could include any earnings accrued by foreign editions of a book.

Unearned balance. An advance is simply that ladies and gentlemen. An advance. In order for a book to start earning royalties, it must first earn out the advance payment. Only then will an author see a positive balance. Negative balances are usually portrayed in parentheses.

Royalties earned. This amount depends on both the net units sold, as well as the terms stipulated in the author’s contract. Royalty rates range, but earnings are generally calculated based on the net or retail price of the book.

So those are some basics. Have more questions about royalty statements? Bring ’em!

4

The power of networking

The other day, one of my clients approached me asking if I knew anyone – an agent or a manager – in the music business who could help a close relative who is a talented songwriter and singer.  This is something way outside of my bailiwick but then I remembered that a colleague, who I really like, respect and trust, works at a large, multi-faceted agency, and it occurred to me that they must have a music component.  Sure enough, I contacted him and he got right back to me saying that he had been in touch with someone in their music department about my client and his situation.  I put them all together and am really hoping that something solid comes out of this.

This got me thinking about the power of networking in our business.  Over the years, publishers have come to me for recommendations on people they should interview for jobs and I have not hesitated to recommend those who I think are qualified and appropriate.  And, of course, as an agent, it is networking that gets me to the right editors and publishers for my projects.

Historically, I haven’t seen a lot of networking  among the various segments of the writing community.  (Sure there are cliques – but these are small and not always effective.) That, however, seems to have changed now, and I think this change is a very positive one.  Over the last year or two, a number of my newer clients have recommended me to their friends and colleagues and everyone has benefitted from this.  By networking, these writers are learning more about their craft and about the business and I am learning more about new talent.

In fact, I think networking is absolutely essential in this crowded and very competitive marketplace. I would love to hear about your own networking experiences.

6

Boot camp for writers

I love sharing stories about writers who make time to write despite busy, stressful and overscheduled lives. I wonder what people complained about generations ago—being bored (like my kids, if they only knew how good they have it now)?

I’ve written about this topic before, and this piece from author Judy Christie via Writers Digest cracked me up because I just think it’s so relatable. We all struggle sometimes to motivate when there are so many distractions, and I’ve never actually timed how much of each day I spend working versus other stuff, some of which constitutes work and some of which certainly does not. Setting a timer and doing it boot camp style sounds so over the top, but in a good way. No pain, no gain!

So, take the advice, writers and get to writing, in whatever way feels right for you. Personally, I want to hire Judy Christie to set me on track and get that timer ringing in my ear. I wonder how long it would take me to get into shape!

What do you do to quantify your time spent writing? And what do you consider to be a successful day? Most people don’t set kitchen timers, I’d bet, but I hope a few of you will give it a try and let me know how it goes. I bet you’ll be a lot more productive for it.

2

We’re all really on the same team

This last week, I found myself in a really heated conversation with a publisher about one of my clients.  I called him to see whether they were going to act on my suggestion to help pump up the sales of her book and he jumped down my throat for what he said were all of my complaints about their not trying hard enough to make this title a huge bestseller.

When I pointed out that, in fact, I don’t work for him but for my client and that as her advocate it is my obligation to put forth as many ideas as I can on her behalf, he understood better where I was coming from.  It is true that publishers often forget that the agent is working for the author and not against the publisher.

We talked about the various ideas I had offered and why he felt some might not work, and I understood better where he was coming from.  He also admitted that his “heated tone” was coming from a place of utter frustration at not being able to achieve the sales that he and his colleagues had been hoping for.

In the end, we both realized that we are on the same team and working for the same goals – to build this author’s career.  Later in the week, when I passed on another suggestion to him, he seemed to accept it from where it was coming from and he promised to address it quickly with his colleagues.

So, the bottom line is that agents, authors, and publishers are all working towards the same end – to increase book sales as efficiently and creatively as possible.

Has this been your experience with the publishing process?

12

Making Room

After a confusing month of wondering whether or not to wear a jacket, layer with a sweater, go bare-legged or long-sleeved, it finally seems like spring is here to stay. Moods are cheery, windows are open and it’s time to turn over new leaves. Odd though it is, I look forward to my Sunday afternoon housecleaning (the kitchen especially) and even more to the big overhaul that comes with the changing of the seasons.

Spring cleaning. Out with the old and in with the new. It’s a great feeling except for one small glitch—sometimes, there’s just so much old to get rid of that I don’t know where to put it! We’ve all posted on this blog about the vast quantity of books and reading we’ve acquired over the years. There’s no room for a third bookshelf in my quaint (read: tiny) little living room in Brooklyn and so we’ve had to go through a bit of an overhaul, as we keep amassing books with nowhere to put them.

Painstaking as it was in some cases, both myself and my roommate have managed to fill a deceptively large shopping bag with enough books to leave us marginal space on the shelves. Deciding which books to get rid of was a process and heartwrench of its own, and so we thought the hard part was over once we’d finally settled. Except now it’s two weeks later and the giant bag of books is still sitting there. The question remains—where to donate?

The options, while not endless, are many. Easiest would be to bring them to the coffee shop down the street that has a little lending library that thrives on donations, but I dump books there all the time. There’s a small library three blocks from my apartment that might benefit from a few more additions. We could cart them into the city and donate to thrift stores or other charity-based bookstores. Surely we could think of friends who would gladly take some off of our hands, too. There’s selling to second-hand shops, online or in the front yard (pretending I have a front yard). Throwing them away is obviously not a possibility (They’re BOOKS!).

While it’s not the worst of dilemmas, it’s one I’m currently facing. What do you do when you run out of space for your books? To whom to they go?