Category Archives: relationships

1

What do we do when things get slow?

 

It’s summer, and things have really slowed down in the business.  Editors are away, authors are away—so it’s difficult to actually get books sold and contracts moving forward at anything but a glacial pace.  So what does an agent do at this time?

I actually think this is great opportunity to read whatever I can in order to identify new writers and new ideas.  I also go through our client list and find those I can contact and discuss what they are thinking about doing next.

“Quiet” times are when proposals can be developed well rather than rushed to get to market.

I also spend more time with editors at this time of year to discover what they are looking for, whether they have holes in their lists, what they have read recently that they loved.

This is a great opportunity to plan for the very busy fall selling season so I will develop the list of titles that we will be presenting beginning right after Labor Day.  I contact those clients whose books should be ready to submit at that time and make sure they are on track—this is me in the role of cheerleader J.

This is also a time when I can evaluate carefully my current list of titles on submission and see where I should make changes – either continuing to pursue selling a book or advising the client to move on to something new.

So, though it’s “quiet”, or seemingly so at this time of year, it is a time to review and renew and move forward.

I’d love to hear what you do during your “quiet” times of the year?

2

Going back a ways…

Last week, I received this lovely message from one of my long term clients, “Do you realize next September we will have been working together for 15 years?  I am blessed.”

And I realized just how many of our clients have been with us for many many  years. For instance:

Gus Lee, author of several novels, including his bestselling CHINA BOY, and the recently published non-fiction, WITH SCHWARZKOPF, has been a friend and a client since 1989.

Thomas French the Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author of the still-in-print UNANSWERED CRIES has been with us since 1989 as well.  He and his wife Kelley are publishing a book next year about the birth of their very premature daughter titled THE ZERO ZONE.

Lorene Cary, author of both non-fiction­, BLACK ICE, and fiction, THE PRICE OF A CHILD, among others has actually been with the agency since 1988.

The great Mary Doria Russell has been a client since the 1990s and her latest, EPITAPH, is making a number of “best of the year” lists.

Interestingly, there are many long term clients whom, for one reason or another, I have not actually met—but we are in constant communication, and I feel like they are “family”.

The point of all of this is that we all have experienced through these long alliances the value of continuity.  In a business that has gone through and continues to see major upheavals, it is these ongoing connections that provide new opportunities and enrich our professional (and personal) lives.

I look forward to many more years of continuing these important and treasured relationships and establishing new ones.

14

Right Behind You

Yesterday I had an interesting–and rather bracing–exchange with a writer whose work I read, admired, and ultimately, after much time and consideration, decided not to represent. I’d sent her a note that was well-meaning but bland; I wrote that I’d not “fallen in love” with the material, and without the ability to be a wholehearted champion for the work, that I didn’t feel I could represent it. I got a civil but pointed note back, urging me to reconsider–not my decision–but the very pat “didn’t fall in love” phrase that has become the book world’s answer to “it’s not you, it’ s me.” This writer pointed out that it’s patronizing and more or less reviled by authors. I agreed that it is an easy shorthand, the catch-all diagnosis of the publishing business. But perhaps we who work with words have a certain responsibility to be a little less lazy when stringing them together.

Still, turning people talented people down is never easy, and we agents are often wrong. I’m at a writer’s conference now, and every editor and agent here has a tale of the book that got away—or more precisely, the book we failed to see.

Taste is apallingly subjective, and sometimes it’s hard to put a fine point on exactly what drives my reservations. More often than not, it’s a combination of factors; undeveloped storyline, characters with whom I’d rather not pass 350 pages, utter lack of editorial vision for how to place it. Sometimes I read the testaments of lives of people far braver and more extraordinary than I will ever be, but I worry that the telling does not match the tale, or the story is suited to a smaller circle of readers than most publishers would wish to reach.

I grumble and occasionally rail at the rejection letters I receive as well, but is there a way to soften the blow? Many notes I send are form rejections. We try hard to craft one that is professional and respectful, though it is by definition impersonal. It would be impossible to respond to all the mail that we receive. But know that despite all the maladroit notes and form letters, the late responses and the missed chances, most agents really do get it. We get the frustration, the disappointment, we respect your efforts and exist to support them. True, the works in question are not our own, but they are our livelihood, a reflection of our taste, our ideals, and often long collaborative efforts. It would be absurd to imagine that my emotional stake in a book is as great as that of its creator, but we agents are right behind you.

1

Connections

Last week, I got a submission over the transom for a YA novel. The query was well structured, a sample was attached, and while it wasn’t for me, I did appreciate that the author took the time to research and follow our submission guidelines. End of story, until a few days later I got another email from the same author—turns out her son was a very close friend of my sister from college, and could I help her out with suggestions for other agents who might want to take a look?

Well, of course I’d be happy to help—but why didn’t she make the connection in the first place? Yes, it was a couple of degrees of separation, but I think if she’d dug just a little bit deeper, she would have connected me to my sister, and then she could have included that connection in her original query. And with that, while I still wouldn’t have taken on her project, I might have written her a personal note when I responded, or offered some editorial advice, rather than sending my form rejection.

The point is, connections are a major part of the publishing game. It’s why I stress to authors at every conference I attend that if they’re going to submit to me, make sure they reference meeting me or hearing me talk at that conference. And thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, etc., making those connections has never been easier.

If you really need further proof of the power of connections, go back and watch the MAD MEN finale again—or stop reading if you haven’t (SPOILER ALERT). For me, the most gratifying wrap-up by far was for Joan’s success in her new business—which is based, as they stress several times, on her Rolodex, i.e., her connections. Yes, it’s fictional and set 45 years ago, but the power of connection endure; after all, the job of a literary agent at root is to connect authors with publishers…

So while we always encourage authors to do their homework before submitting and check out the website, submission guidelines, etc., I’d urge you to go the extra mile and look for a more personal connection as well. Look around on-line, ask your friends and family if they know anyone in the publishing industry, check your college’s alumni listings—even the wedding listings in the Times can suggest a contact. Sure, at the end of the day it’s the work that matters, but that common link definitely helps get your foot in the door. And who knows where that connection might lead in the future?

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?