Category Archives: relationships

7

Writer’s block

I’ve been bad. About blogging. I haven’t blogged in quite some time. I don’t want to say how long, because it’s embarrassing, even to me. I could blame computer woes–it’s been fun! Or the fact that I’ve been really busy with work work. I could pretend I’ve made up for it by being very active on Twitter, but you’d find me out. So what gives?
I would blame writer’s block, but it’s not something I believe in. Because the truth is, it’s not that I can’t write about things. It’s that I don’t want to write about things. Call it a crisis of confidence if you will, but I can’t imagine there’s anything left to blog  about that either 1) I haven’t already blogged about or 2) someone hasn’t said better than I ever could.
I’ve been feeling pretty overwhelmed lately, but not by work–busy though that has been. I’m feeling overwhelmed by the constant stream of information: the RSS feeds, the news, TV, texts, movies, IMs, music, Twitter. It’s a cacophony, and I’ve been feeling especially mindful of my part in it. Am I just adding to the noise? Does what I say actually benefit anyone or add to their existence/knowledge/growth? Am I listening and learning? Why am I blogging and tweeting? Am I carrying on a meaningful conversation?
I’m not sure I have the answers. Sometimes I feel like I’m talking into the wind, and there’s no point in that. Other times, I feel like I’m making a real human connection, and I cherish the contacts I’ve made through social media (many of whom are now people I know in real life).
I hope my quietness or silence isn’t misinterpreted. I want to connect. I want to learn. I want to grow. But I also want to make sure that what I’m putting out there isn’t just for the sake of putting something out there. Bear with me?

The longview…

It’s probably the worst kept secret in publishing that DGLM has been successfully repping a lot of Indie authors.  In fact, the recent RT conference was filled to the rafters with our clients (prompting a delightful voicemail message from Larry Kirshbaum of Amazon to Jane…but more on that in another blog post or over drinks at BEA).

We’ve learned a tremendous amount from these authors about how to successfully self-publish and these lessons have  direct and significant application to traditional publishing.  The smarter houses have committed to a partnership with us and our clients, showing tremendous vision and flexibility in the way they have modified their systems to accommodate the special needs of people who can sell oodles of books on their own, thank you very much.

Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Grand Central, and PenguinUSA have all been aggressive in offering huge deals that are enticing to our authors not just because of the money involved but because of their afore-mentioned flexibility in terms of publishing schedules, contractual terms (including options and non-compete clauses), marketing and promotion, and their genuine desire to help grow these writers’ careers.  And, here’s where the partnership aspect is important.

Some Indie authors are looking at what these publishers are offering and scoffing, especially if the advances being discussed are less than seven figures.  They think, and rightly so in most cases, that they can make that money themselves without giving such a huge percentage to a third party.  They also feel (again, rightly so in most cases) that they can market themselves more effectively than a house that is publishing hundreds, if not thousands, of books per year.   But, as we’ve often discussed on this blog, that’s a shortsighted view because of the intangibles.

The beauty of and frustrating thing about publishing is that it has never been an exact science—and given how many English majors work in this business, that’s hardly surprising.  So much of what succeeds in our world is due to serendipity and that most fickle of all phenomena, taste, that it’s impossible for a publishing “formula” to  show  a higher rate of success than, say, Derek Jeter’s batting average.    But, despite that, publishers offer a wealth of intangibles that are actually quite measurable over the course of a career, among them editorial support, an understanding of the book buying marketplace that is more macro than micro, a team of professionals whose job it is to make the author look good, a belief in books that is almost evangelical, and a brand identity that has evolved over centuries and that will continue to do so.

So, when an Indie client says to us, what can Publisher X do for me that I can’t do for myself, my answer would be, they can help you establish and grow your career with a goal toward longevity.  Given our success with negotiating non-compete and option clauses that allow Indie authors to continue to self-publish while they are working with a traditional house, I honestly don’t see the downside to also having a publisher’s imprimatur as an adjunct to your own publishing efforts.  I do, however, see how having books published by S&S or HC or GCP can enhance your brand and raise your visibility among readers.  Given how crowded and competitive the Indie marketplace has become, I would be heartened to see that an author has been or is published traditionally when deciding whether to buy his/her book.  I think many readers feel the same.

The bottom line, of course, is that as with all of our clients, we want our Indie authors to have long, prosperous publishing lives and we feel that, under the right conditions, a trade house can be an invaluable partner in achieving that goal.    I’d love to hear what you all think about this because it is a subject that I’m becoming very passionate about.

 

 

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.

Support systems

We’ve lately had the good fortune to represent some lovely women, like Tracey Garvis Graves and Colleen Hoover, who started out self-publishing their fiction and for whom we’ve now been able to make some significant deals with “legacy” publishers (have I mentioned that I really dislike that term?).  These women are very smart and committed about their work, but they are also incredibly generous in their support of other writers who are embarking on the same kind of venture.  They belong to online support groups where they critique each other’s works, give each other tips on how to market their books, and serve as cheerleaders to each other on their public platforms.  As Jane mentioned in her blog post last week, authors mentoring and supporting other authors should not be a surprising phenomenon, but, in fact, it often is.  It’s also wonderful and important and we hope that other authors are taking note and emulating this kind of esprit de corps.

But, as I mull over this interesting development, it occurred to me that I don’t see this kind of “community” among male writers.  Sure, people like our own David Morrell are tireless in speaking at conferences, sharing  insights with up and coming writers, and offering priceless advice (in David’s case like the professor he once was).  And I know that  Joe Konrath, whom we’ve represented for many years, has a huge online following for his often controversial but always provocative views about the publishing process.  But, I have not seen the kind of small  influential online writing groups among male writers that seem to be flowering in the women’s fiction world.

Why is this, do you suppose?  Is it a XX/XY thing?  Is it because of category?  Is it because men are more naturally competitive and women more nurturing (to apply the most pervasive stereotypes)?  Or do these groups exist and thrive and I’m just not hip to them?

3

Publishing relationships

Recently I came across this interesting piece, and it got me to thinking about the value of publishing relationships.

It has long been felt that ours is a “people business,” and I strong believe this is true.  Even with the growth of social media and e-mail, talking face to face always seems to get things done faster and more cordially.

And, in this age of such enormous change in our business, talking to each other about how we can all benefit from these changes is more important than ever.  This goes for publishers and agents, editors and agents, authors and editors, authors and agents, and on and on.  As these relationships grow and develop, they become more and more valuable to our clients and their books.

Recently one of my authors has faced some real challenges with their publisher where there is a great deal at stake. And so in addressing these challenges I included people who I have “grown up with” in the business – people who now are at the top of the publishing company.  My younger colleagues who are directly involved in the issues involved have “slapped my hand” about this; they think I am going around them.  But I don’t agree.  I am simply using the fact that I know these folks at the head of the company can solve the problems and I am telling them directly how concerned I am.  I know by doing this that ultimately these longtime relationships will help solve the issues.

Then there are always the points where there is a disagreement or misunderstanding between colleagues.  Last week, I felt an editor had done something underhanded regarding one of my authors and when I brought this up a couple of days later at a lunch with the head of her company, we discussed it – each of us passionately defending our point of view — and ultimately agreed that we would put this behind us and move forward.  Had we not had a long and solid relationship, this would not have happened.

I actually feel so fortunate to have made so many good friends over the years in this business; I have met and gotten to know some very smart, quite wonderful people.  It is indeed one of the reasons why I love this business and have stayed in it so long.

1

You Are What You Read

I’m something of a science nerd, so I love it when science and literacy come together. Fortunately for me, I get just that in this Jezebel article about readers emulating their favorite characters. The study reveals that readers can shift their thoughts and actions to match their favorite literary character and attempt to live vicariously through a character by taking on what we think would be his or her thoughts, actions and emotions.

I know that there have been plenty of times when I have stopped to think, “What would so-and-so do in this situation?” and this article really made me think back and reflect on my habits and reading. I love to re-read Gone with the Wind, and I feel protective of Scarlett as I imagine what life might have been like for her. Now I wonder if I’m more flirtatious or take on more of a ruthless attitude towards the world as I read and think about Miss O’Hara.

What do you think? Have you ever lived vicariously through a book character? Do you think you emulate your favorite characters?

Literary Socializing

As a newcomer, I’ve recently become more aware of the paradox of how social the publishing industry is and how solitary the act of reading itself is. I’m told that some of the industry’s seasoned professionals express disappointment that the days of gala book parties or hanging out at George Plimpton’s home are long gone. While I can’t imagine how exhilarating that must have been, I’m delighted that the industry is still so social and full of life.

There are few greater feelings in the world than when you connect with someone over a mutual book.

I’m convinced that bibliophiles living in the city are among the luckiest in the world. Not only is the heart of publishing in NYC, but the amount of events you can attend with fellow nerds grows by the second: launches, book clubs, readings, signings, discussions, mixers, benefits. This weekend, the KGB Bar Fiction Reading Series continues not far from our office.

Aside from the beloved book festivals and book weeks, which are a personal favorite, what are your favorite events to attend—either as a writer or as a reader?

4

A few words about cookbooks and agents

I participated in a cookbook conference last Friday and sat on a panel with four other agents who also represent practical nonfiction, including cookbooks. The discussion centered around the agent’s role in the current market and how that role has changed with the shift into electronic publishing.

It was a really thoughtful and informative conversation that lasted almost an hour and a half. We had a lengthy talk about the cookbook as object and whether that is something that will continue into the future or go the way of the VHS tape. We all agreed moving away from the book is a long way away, if it ever happens at all, and that there is still a great benefit to holding a book in your hands, cooking from a book rather than a computer screen, and sharing books as gifts with friends and family.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the discussion centered on the agent and author relationship, and the question of how important is it to have an agent in a market where so many writers, bloggers especially, are going it on their own. I strongly believe that (and I think, based on feedback, made a persuasive argument for) authors need agents now more than ever. A savvy agent who understands the nuances of the market’s language and culture is critical as they oversee every aspect of an author’s entire career, focusing on the big picture, as well as the smaller details that can go astray at any point in the process.

What really jumped out at me, though, was the concept of how much book negotiations have changed in the recent past. Each and every negotiation now, even with publishers we’ve dealt with for many years and have boilerplate contracts with the best negotiated terms possible, is fraught with challenges that include new and changing digital royalty rates, author deliverables that previously didn’t exist (one agent mentioned a major publisher had asked that the author deliver along with their manuscript 20 minutes of the author on tape), and which rights will be retained by the author versus the publisher.

This might sound simple, but believe me when I say it is not. The landscape has been described as The Wild West, and we are using our collective years of experience to secure the best deal and contract terms that are possible in a market where publishers are pushing so hard in one direction to keep rights in their control and agents are pushing so hard in the other.

The good news is we are making progress with every deal. Each new contract offers an opportunity to renegotiate contract language we aren’t happy with, or get an author an improved digital royalty, or at least the ability to renegotiate the royalty in the future. We are always striving to protect our clients and maintain a positive working relationship with all the publishers we do business with. I’ll admit it can be precarious, but we have leverage because publishers know the value of our long, successful client list.

All this to say your agent is your friend and will be there to guide you through this sometimes messy and difficult process of being a book author. I’d love to know your thoughts on the agent-author relationship in this new market and also on cookbook as object and its future. Do you think cookbooks are going to go away, or will there always be room on your shelf to display your favorite stain-filled tomes as a badge of cooking honor?

6

All in the Family

In their interview with siblings-in-writing Ben and Jen Percy, Salon points out that similar instances of “brother sister acts” are rare.  When I stopped to consider this I came up only a handful, most of which came from literary families of centuries past: the Wordsworths, Brontes, Alcotts, Rossettis, etc.  I can think of sisters—Margaret Drabble and A.S. Byatt—but their strained relationship might argue that most families can raise only one writer. Do any of you have siblings who write? Is it a bond, a point of contention, competition, or (in this market, especially) commiseration?

Apropos of siblings, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and his sister Alison, a psychology professor, have produced a joint review of recently published THE SIBLING EFFECT by Jeffrey Kluger   In hindsight, the piece seemed more about the clever Gopnik clan than the Kluger book, but I suppose that further makes the point that some topics–sibling relationships among them–are ever-green, and for this reader (the youngest of five children) endlessly fascinating. Kluger’s argument, that siblings make us who we are, is not especially earth-shattering, but is a fine example of the way in which an artful blend of personal narrative and research-driven reportage can render the familiar new again.

14

First Readers

 

Yesterday I was doing some research on an author whose scholarly works I find interesting, and my online search landed me on the acknowledgments page of her book, where she thanked her husband, whom she described as her first and most careful reader.

I’m not a writer per se, but this line of work calls for a good deal of writing–pitch letters, edit memos, correspondence that attempts to strike that fine balance between “authoritative and rude” (see Jim’s very funny post)–and if I can prevail upon him, my husband is my go-to reader, and vice versa. This is not always the case. In fact, I know plenty of writers who believe that romantic partners, married or otherwise, ought not be part of the process. That talking shop, evaluating drafts, and giving candid feedback is best done by a person with whom there exists some emotional distance. 

How about you? Who is your first reader? If you have a significant other or a family member who reads your work in progress, is her role as a booster or a critique partner? There’s no shame in the former. Frankly, I think all writers could use at least one of each.