Category Archives: Stacey

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It’s never too late to start writing

What do you think about waiting until you’re almost 80 to start a new career? If you’re legendary book editor Dick Jackson, the answer is no time like the present!

As reported in a fascinating article in Publisher’s Weekly, Jackson retired from book publishing in 2005 after a long and very successful career as a children’s book editor. It was in 2013 when he was being treated for cancer that this creativity as an author was piqued and he began pitching ideas to former colleagues. He is still in treatment and his cancer is not in remission, and yet he now has 8 (yes, that’s 8!) picture books under contract! The first of which, HAVE A LOOK, SAYS BOOK, has just been published by Atheneum, where he previously had his own imprint. At the age of 81, he is making his debut as an author! And what a debut it is, with illustrations by Kevin Hawkes. Future books will be illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and Laura Vaccaro Seeger. It helps to have the kind of deep experience and relationships in children’s book publishing that he has, but even so it’s an amazing journey he’s taken from editor to author, especially given the circumstances of his age and health.

I hope this story serves as inspiration for those of you aspiring writers who might be feeling discouraged or frustrated that the process isn’t always fun, fast or rewarding. You never know when or how that might change and you will get the spark that becomes your first published book. Keep on keeping on!

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What makes us tick

A couple of years ago I attended a very lively and work-intensive but fun conference in Las Vegas. My lovely and talented client, Nicole McInnes, had been invited to sit on a panel to discuss the author-agent relationship and when she asked if I could join her on the panel, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I get to see her, but I’d get to spend some time in Sin City!

When I got there, I met several terrific editors and agents and we bonded big time. One of those agents was Carly Watters, a charming and smart young agent based in Canada who works for PS Literary. I’ve since followed her on social media and she has some nice insights to share about books and publishing.

I found this recent piece about navigating social media particularly compelling as we are always trying to encourage our authors to learn more about social media and using it in a positive way to build name and brand recognition. Carly interviews a successful “bookstagrammer” who is now an editor at a major publishing house who also runs a blog, website, and manages several social media accounts. She offers some tips for writers that you might find useful. I like when she says:

“Be authentic – your personality and style will make your platforms sing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be original with your words and ideas. Know your audience – every platform will attract different types of readers. Be honest with your content – if you are passionate about your work, it will show and people are more likely to appreciate your honesty! Lastly, remember that if reading and sharing your love of reading with others is something that you adore doing, then you are in the right place! Books are what bind us together in this community – don’t forget that we are all just readers finding our place in this online bookish world.”

Enjoy and check out Carly and Book Baristas to learn more about books and what makes us all tick.

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REALLY lengthy middle grade fiction

Since I have two middle grade readers in my house, and two teetering on the brink, I was intrigued by this article from an editor at The Booklist Reader suggesting that middle grade novels have gotten longer over the last 40 years, and not just longer, but 173% longer (!), in large part because of Harry Potter. It’s pretty cool research.

I have a 5th grader who is pretty obsessed with Harry Potter, having read the entire series three times over. Not to mention we all just finished reading the beautiful illustrated edition of Book 1 that released last year. So, I get it. Sort of. Harry Potter changed the book world, for the better without question (having just seen Hamilton, I feel like that show changes the theater world the way Potter changed books, but I digress. Just go see it. It really is that good). The thing is that culturally we’ve gone in the complete opposite direction. We have shorter attention spans, want immediate gratification, and live on tidbits and snippets of news and entertainment (i.e. twitter, as one good example!). So, it seems a bit of an oxymoron that books are getting longer.

I see the challenges in my own kids. My oldest, the Potterhead, is ok with longer books although she certainly doesn’t seek them out. And honestly, while she does tons of reading for school, it’s been hard to find a book or series that has excited her the way Potter did. We’ve tried all the usual suspects and nothing has captivated her imagination in the same way.

My middle daughter who’s in third grade is more of a grazer when it comes to reading. She doesn’t like fantasy and prefers more contemporary books, often with humor. She’s very visual and likes books that have illustrations so she likes series like Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

Personally I feel like there is a great deal of diversity in middle grade fiction now and from what I’m seeing on the selling side, much more to come over the next few years. The books that are selling are full of a broad range of characters, plots and, yes, lengths. The fantasies tend to be longer and run through more than one book, usually a trilogy to start. And the realistic stories tend to be shorter and can be contained in one book. I suspect the majority of books will continue to be published this way.

I’d also like to see the industry shift more to even shorter form fiction. Short stories and novellas for kids who like to read but might feel overwhelmed or intimidated by a book as long as Harry Potter. Something for everyone.

What do you think of this change in the middle grade category? Yay, nay, want to see more or less? Shorter or longer?

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Book publishing’s handy cheat sheet

I was doing some online research as I was vetting a recent contract and came upon a vintage blog post (originally posted in 2009, and updated in 2014) from Nathan Bransford, an interesting publishing figure who has worked in several areas of the publishing business. It gives a long list of brief digestible definitions of basic publishing terms. Many are likely familiar even to a lay person, like “hardcover” or “debut novel” or “editor”, but many are more inside baseball like “first pass pages” or “reserves against returns” or “co-op”.

Whatever your interest in publishing, how nice it is to have a free easily accessible reference page to help with your research. It’s an easy list to navigate, entries listed in alphabetical order, and some entries offer brief examples for clarification, like “Imprint” which refers to “The entity within a publisher whose name is printed on the spine of a book and which theoretically has a certain publishing “flavor.” An imprint may be a division within a publishing house (Knopf, HarperCollins, etc.), it may be based around a certain genre (Harlequin Silhouette, Harlequin Blaze, etc.) or it may be a “boutique” imprint named after editor(s) (Nan A. Talese, Spiegel & Grau, etc.). Keeping imprints straight and remembering who reports to whom takes years of familiarity with the publishing industry and gigantic spreadsheets.” While many entries just skims the surface as far as what each of these terms mean, often without using real-world examples, it’s a highly useful tool to have at your disposable.

What do you think of the list? Are there any terms you have questions about that either aren’t referenced here and/or require further explanation? Are there other resources you go to when you have questions about book publishing? I’m happy to answer any and all questions Mr. Bransford or others might not have covered.

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At least nine lives for writers

They say a cat has nine lives. I’d like to argue that a writer has many more. Literary lives, so to speak. I’ve talked on this blog before about talented authors like Sloane Crossley making the move from nonfiction to fiction, and now I’m switching it up to talk about a famous fiction author trying her hand at nonfiction.

Jhumpa Lahiri needs no introduction in literary circles. One of the world’s most accomplished living writers, she has managed to find success in her story collections and novels, including her first Pulitzer-Prize winning collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, a beautiful book which might have one of the best titles ever.

And now, just when you might think a new novel or collection is going to hit the market, she does a complete 360 and writes a memoir. And not only is In Other Words, scheduled to be published February 9th, her first nonfiction, and she wrote it in Italian! It’s about her love affair with the Italian language, and it inspired her to create a book that could be experienced in both languages (for the U.S. edition, she used a translator so those of us who do not read Italian can still enjoy the book). Here is an article that goes into more detail about the book and the author’s process from Harpers.org.

As a publishing professional, it is such an admirable and huge risk to go so far astray from one’s comfort zone and I’d guess that the decision wasn’t well received by all. Some might say it’s gimmicky, or inaccessible, but creative passion sometimes takes us in unexpected directions. And talent is talent. Plus at a certain point in an author’s career, when you’ve had the level of success that Ms. Lahiri has had, she can call the shots to a certain extent on what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.

Reviews have been glowing. Kirkus calls it “An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.” Personally, I am very much looking forward to seeing what Ms. Lahiri has done with this book, and I just know no matter what I think of it that it’s going to make me long for Italy, one of the most special and beautiful places on earth, and where I spent my honeymoon almost fifteen years ago. How many writing lives do you think you have? And at what point do you decide to reinvent yourself and change direction?

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Zen writing life

I’ve been getting into yoga now that I’m inching toward my mid 40s and am suffering from a variety of aches and pains. I appreciate the deep stretching more than the deep breathing although I know the combination is what’s so good for us.

I was intrigued by this article by author Erica Black in the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association’s online magazine that compares yoga to writing. I can see the connections so clearly once it’s spelled out. That idea of a solo practice, the intensity of serious concentration, and working hard on something that can be painful and difficult but is ultimately (for most, at least) rewarding and uplifting!

What do you think? Do you appreciate the connection between a yoga life and a writing life? Does it feel like an apt comparison? Does one help the other? Namaste, and happy writing!

life yoga balance yogi flexibility

ps – that is so not me pictured!

Books I wish I’d sold

New Year equals New Books. I generally start the new year feeling a bit overwhelmed at all there is to catch up on, but also excited and motivated with renewed enthusiasm for fresh starts and what’s to come. So many books, so little time to sell them all.

In addition to bestseller lists and book reviews, I like to read Publisher’s Marketplace and look over the recent deals. I am often amazed at how good so many of the books sound, so instead of making a general “wish list” of what kinds of books I’d like to see in my in-box, I thought it might be more useful to see a few examples of books that were recently published or recently sold that resonated with me for one reason or another.

This book that was written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist explores the story of a set of adopted identical twins (anything having to do with identical twins as the parent of a set is of interest to me), one of whom transitions their gender identity. It sounds fascinating and wonderfully researched and written over the course of four years, and it looks into a very important subject that is still underexplored.

Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Media personality and leading voice in brain health Max Lugavere’s COGNITION NUTRITION, a roadmap to optimal brain health and performance using what the latest science has discovered about food and diet recently sold and taps into two areas of interest – science and the brain. It’s an area that’s well covered (including my own upcoming title THE DISTRACTED MIND by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Larry Rosen), but a new angle is always of interest.

Author of The ADHD EXPLOSION and THE TRIPLE BIND, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley Stephen Hinshaw’s STIGMA: A Father and Son’s Journey Through the Mark of Mental Illness, which explores the burden of living in a family “loaded” with mental illness, with all the potential for insight and creativity as well as despair and isolation that entails, and in which he reveals his father’s (the distinguished philosopher Virgil Hinshaw, Jr.) and his own lifelong struggles with mental illness, the associated shame and stigma, and his evolving understanding of the social and public health dilemmas involved in the exploding mental illness crisis in America today. I’ve also had a strong interest in mental health issues and have books on my list which include PERFECT CHAOS, by Linea and Cinda Johnson, a powerful story about a daughter and her mom dealing with the daughter’s bipolar breakdown.

Finally, I’m having a love affair with children’s books at the moment. Both books I’m selling and books I’m reading with my girls. Sibling writing duo Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski’s debut LAILU LOGANBERRY’S MYSTIC COOKING, following the youngest master chef in 300 years in her efforts to open a restaurant where anyone, not only the wealthy, can feast on her fantastic cuisine including everything from kraken calamari to dragon steak; all the while she must help her absentee mentor pay back a vicious loan shark and avoid the notorious Elven mafia before the escalating conflict costs her the restaurant and possibly her life. Sounds unique and mixes my love of food and kids!

I could go on and on, but I’m hoping this gives you an idea of my interests and hoping I’ll see some project submissions from you in the near future. Feel free to reference this post if you contact me so I know you’ve been reading our blog!

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Children’s best-of picture books

I know this time of year everyone is compiling best-of-the-year lists. And I take it all with a grain of salt because there are so many great books published every year that it’s hard to pick just a sampling. Although I do love when I see my own titles on there, like Christie Matheson’s beautiful and thoughtful TOUCH THE BRIGHTEST STAR on this best-of list from B&N. I especially love that it’s listed under Books That Are a Feast for the Eyes.

I also saw this great list compiled by a Huffington Post editor, some of which I knew and others I was happy to learn about. All of which look interesting and beautiful. I appreciate the list because it’s incredibly diverse and comprehensive, and she gives the honorable mention books in addition to the winners. There is something about the timeless beauty of a good picture book that warms my heard and makes me happy to have it in my collection.

What were your favorite children’s books this year? And what would you like to see more of next year? I’m working on a few new projects that I think and hope will entertain, educate, and enlighten both kids AND their parents.

Touch the Brightest Star

From page to screen, more ways than one

I have a few books I’m working on book-to-film deals at the moment, and for several years before I became an agent I worked in NYC in film and tv development. Which means I looked for books to be adapted into movies. So I guess you can say I got my start in books by reading to see what might translate to film. I still find I read this way, and relate to books that I can visualize as movies.

So I’ve been taking note of several recent book-to-film deals that have sort of interesting stories behind them. I’m fascinated that The Martian by Andy Weir, which was initially self-pubbed. This article from Variety.com talks about its path from publication to big screen. It’s nothing short of amazing! He had no luck attracting an agent or publisher so he self-published the book and it started to gain some momentum. Eventually, publishers and film companies started approaching him and very lucrative deals were signed. He has a deep fear of flying so never met any of the people he was doing business with. The way he describes it, it was all so surreal he actually thought it was a scam.

Then I saw another piece about a bestselling YA book, 13 Reasons Why, that is now going to be turned into a tv series for Netflix starring Selena Gomez. That’s interesting because the book was initially published back in 2007 and then became a bestseller in paperback in 2011. It’s taken years to get it from page to screen!

Finally, there’s the much hyped adaptation of the bestseller Room, which was adapted by the book author. She drafted the screenplay even before she knew it was going to be optioned and made for film. An interview from Publisher’s Weekly about that process you can find here.

To me they all have interesting back stories and histories and the takeaway is that you never really know what’s going to happen with your book, or when. In each of these cases you have examples where a book property started life as something else and then went on to become not only a published book, but a film or tv show after the fact, in the case of 13 Reasons Why, years after the fact. Keep on writing and working toward success in your endeavors. You never know when someone will find your book and turn it into something else. If you have any other fun book-to-film stories, please share them with us!

Successful query breakdown via an author and her agent

kristi-belcamino-author-writer

I was recently asked by my talented client Kristi Belcamino to join her in a guest post for Writer’s Digest in Chuck Sambuchino’s “Successful Queries” series to share her query letter and my response. I shared why I was drawn to it and ultimately went on to represent and sell the book. I love this kind of thing because it feels so simple and yet I know for prospective authors looking for advice this kind of feedback, which includes a real life example, can be really useful.

Book publishing is obviously an inherently subjective business so what appeals to me is not necessarily what appeals to others. However, when I look at a successful query letter, I find there are certain things that are generally done well.

In Kristi’s case, she introduces herself and her background in a way that is intriguing. An actual female crime reporter? Bring it on!
Then we see a first line that sucks you right in: Gabriella Giovanni has never met a man more exciting than a murder. I’m beyond interested to know more about this character.

She goes on to CLEARLY and CONCISELY pitch the book in a way that makes you want to read more. My best advice for writers looking to pitch their books in a query letter is to try to write the jacket copy of the book. You can go into greater detail about the story and characters in a synopsis or follow-up email, but for me (and again, this is subjective), I want to see the elevator pitch because if you can describe your work in a clear, concise and compelling way, then I can too when I speak with editors on your behalf.

Finally, she offers additional information about her writing background which shows me that not only has she received good feedback from industry professionals for her work, but that she also has worked hard on her book and takes her writing seriously.

Take a look at our post and let us know what you think and if there’s anything else you see in Kristi’s query or my response that’s worth targeting. Happy querying!

blessed-are-those-who-mourn-book-cover