Category Archives: Stephanie

4

As these things go

It’s time for the one blog entry I have dreaded writing (well, okay, dreaded more than the others).  I’m sad to say that this will be my last blog post, coming at the end of my last week with DGLM . I’ve decided, after much consideration, to pursue a new opportunity elsewhere in publishing. It wasn’t an easy decision to make—I love the people I work with and I love my clients. I’ve spent the past two years learning from incredibly talented and hard-working individuals, and I’ve had the opportunity to immerse myself in an industry that continues to interest and fascinate me.

I often think about what would’ve happened if Lauren had never hired me as an intern (i.e., ignored my pestering) or if Jane and Miriam hadn’t extended the offer of a full-time position to me. I’m deeply indebted and grateful to the three of them—they each gave me the opportunities and tools necessary to put my career in motion.

I’ve always said that when moving forward, it’s crucial to remember where you came from and where you’ve been. And I intend to do just that. As I move on to a new challenge, I’ll take with me the lessons learned and the memories shared—DGLM will always be the place where it all started for me.  Finally, thank you, blog readers, sincerely, for the lively discussions, funny comments, and most of all for faithfully reading.

2

It’s that time again

Well readers, it’s November 1st, which can only mean one thing (aside from the start to the Christmas season in my book). It’s time for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. This is, of course, the annual communal writing experience that challenges people to start and finish a 50,000 word novel in thirty days. Over the years the movement has grown from a handful of participants to thousands, so there clearly is something to be said for this large-scale timed writing exercise.

The great thing about NaNoWriMo, besides, of course, its celebration of the art of writing, is that it encourages discipline and imperfection. It celebrates the fact that, for better or for worse, writers must develop, write, and complete a novel in only a month. It’s a very quantity-over-quality-minded task, but either way by the time November 30th rolls around, the result is (fingers crossed) a finished novel. And that is something to celebrate. In searching for some reading material about NaNoWriMo, I found this hilarious post from the blog, Terrible Minds, which provides some wonderfully honest observations about this challenge.

So how about you: are you getting in on the fun this year?

2

Everything old is new again

I’ve always been a firm believer in the notion that the past is something to hold on to, interpret, and learn from. Which is why I really loved reading this piece from NPR written by Norton Juster, author of the 1961 classic, The Phantom Tollbooth.  Fifty years after its debut release, Juster looks back at the road that led him to create what was and continues to be one of the leading classics for young readers. I myself can remember reading it as a child.

What really resonated with me in this piece was Juster’s own experiences with reluctant publishers, who felt that Phantom’s vocabulary and themes were too lofty and would be lost on young readers. His response?

There is no such thing as a difficult word. There are only words you don’t know yet…Children are still the same as they’ve always been. They still get bored and confused, and still struggle to figure out the important questions of life.

In thinking this through, there’s no doubt that Juster’s words withstand the passage of time. With the publishing world changing as much as it has been lately, it’s always comforting to see that there are still ideals that hold true today.

6

Blocking the block

I think it’s safe to say that most writers have, at some point along the way, felt stuck in their writing. It’s never a good feeling, without a doubt. So what is a writer to do? I thought I’d pass along  some thoughts to help you get moving again.

  • Take a step back: Time away from your work-in-progress can be a very helpful way to gain some clarity on any issues you may feel are plaguing your writing at any given time.
  • Revisit: Going over the parts of your writing that flow smoothly can often help unblock the problems in other areas.
  • Get a second opinion: Show your writing to a friend, writer-friend, or critique group member—anyone who will be objective and give you their honest opinion.
  • Read: There are always lessons to be learned from reading someone else’s writing.

Do you have any special tricks for beating writers’ block?

8

Conquering the crazy

I think most writers would admit—but correct me if I’m wrong—that at some point along the way they’ve faced moments of crazy.

You know what I’m talking about: That feeling you get when you begin to wonder if you’re spending too much time on that one manuscript, you feel like you’ve read it so many times it’s imprinted on your retinas; or maybe you have ideas for multiple novels, and you’re trying to get them all down on paper at once before they escape your brain; maybe your family and friends are beginning to wonder exactly what it is you’re doing; and you have no firm idea whether your book or books will ever reach publication.

I think this is a natural feeling for those who are in the midst of writing novels, but it can also be a potentially dangerous thing that could inhibit future writing.

So what I want to know from you is: how do you handle the crazy and keep yourself writing in spite of it all?

10

The inspiration in strife

The act of writing definitely evokes a feeling in people, that’s for sure. In the past, I’ve covered what you write, how you write, and why you write. But something that I’ve always wondered is how a writer’s external world can affect his or her writing. This funny post from the Thought Catalog makes the point that it’s often easier to write when one is feeling more on the melancholy side of life. I have to believe that there is basis for this. After all, some of history’s greatest writers endured some pretty rough times and undoubtedly wrote while in the midst of them—think Edgar Allen Poe, Charles Dickens, Mary Shelley.

So now I ask you: do you find that it is easier for you to write when you are sad or upset? Or do you find it easier to write when you are happy? Or is this something that doesn’t factor in to your motivation levels?

5

Time spent

Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living, invariably my response is followed by questions. For starters, most seem to be pretty unsure of exactly what it is I do. I’ve been called an editor more times than I care to admit, which…while sort of true, is only sort of true. But in my time as an agent, there are a few questions that I have heard repeatedly along the way. It always starts with: so what does an agent do? Then I usually get asked whether I’m nervous about the “new rumor” someone’s heard that publishing is all but extinct. The last question, and segue to my topic this week, is almost always: do you write your own material as well as sell books?

And it always throws me for a loop.

There are undoubtedly plenty of people who work in publishing who also write on the side, but I have to admit that writing was never something I felt I was good at—it was always the reading and editing that I enjoyed.  But that’s just me.

Regardless, it always made me think of my own situation, and now leads me to wonder about YOUR situation. What I want to know from you, our readers, is this: do you spend more time writing or do you spend more time reading?

6

What’s the story

I’ve noticed something recently in many of the queries I receive: the writer wants to tell me all about the emotional journey of the story, but they aren’t telling me the actual story. Quite often, it feels like I’m given a general premise and a resolution but I don’t actually know what happens between the first and last pages.

Let’s think about this a bit. What is a story? It’s action, plot, and characters that are going places and doing things. Ideally for the writer, the problem is with the pitch (easy to fix) rather than with the entire book (not as easy to fix). Remember: the emotional journey of a character is reflected in the action of the story. But the story itself is just that—action, characters making moves that are always working towards a goal.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. (Note: this is not a real query):

(Protagonist)’s life has not been easy, but she’s made it through. Surviving a decidedly rough upbringing, she must cope with the pain of her mother’s violent drug abuse from a very early age.

Okay, we’re getting somewhere…

Vowing to never fall into the same traps as her mother, she relocates to a new city to start her entire life over. She must battle each day to find happiness and contentment, and not let her demons rule her life.

Keep going…

However, she feels that the memories of her past are never far behind. Throughout the story, she has to learn that we’re all human and that her mother needs her help. Ultimately, she forgives her mother and gets her into treatment.

Wait, hang on. What actually happens in the novel?

When it comes to distilling your entire novel into one paragraph for your query—a task I do not envy—you must zero in on the main characters and plot points. The emotional journey of a book is important, but when it comes to the pitch, be sure to convey the actual story first, and bring in the broader themes after.

3

Musings on the library

As I floated through the Twitterverse today, I came across this great link I want to share with everyone. Apparently, for the past several months, there have been mysterious discoveries at libraries throughout Edinburgh, Scotland—delicate, intricate creations that are carved from paper, mounted on books, all of which form small yet fascinating works of art. These complex pieces have been left at places such as the Scottish Poetry Library and the Central Lending Library completely anonymously. My favorite is the most recent, which includes a small note: This is for you in support of Libraries, Books, Words, Ideas…LIBRARIES ARE EXPANSIVE.

Looking at these creations and their deeper meaning brought me back to my days within library walls. Throughout my college years at NYU, four to be exact, I worked at the school library. I began at the very bottom of the totem pole—shelving books and assisting harried (and usually rude) graduate students—and worked my way up to a research assistant in the course reserves and archives department. Besides meeting and working with some of the best people whom I now consider my second family, my time there exposed me to so many different elements of academia and taught me skills I couldn’t have learned elsewhere. I’ll never forget shelving first edition copies of books—printed in 1896—and marveling at the fact that they still existed and were accessible to anyone if only they knew where to look. Likewise when I worked in archives, searching through row upon row of microfilm reels, holding documents from all over the world that were several centuries old. The large majority of my fellow students probably never even knew these things existed.

In an age where articles, and sometimes entire books, can be found on the internet, libraries are becoming increasingly necessary. I think of how much material could potentially be lost to digitizing and it makes me concerned for the future of libraries. I certainly hope that discoveries like those made in Edinburgh will remind people of the importance of places like these.

5

Summer summary

Frankly I’m a little sad that the summer is (unofficially) over. It’s raining here, I’m already back to wearing long pants and it felt way too cold on the commute to work this morning.  But in the interest of keeping things consistent, I wanted to come full circle from my summer reading post back in May.

In that post, I had mentioned a few titles that I was interested in reading (Aimee Bender’s The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Jeannette Walls’s The Glass Castle, and Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall), and while I started several books this summer—and came close to finishing most—I think my plate may have been a bit too full. In addition to reading several clients’ manuscripts, I managed to get through most of Nova Ren Suma’s Imaginary Girls, Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall, and Kristin Hannah’s Night Road. All have been fantastic thus far, and I do intend to finish them. What got in the way?  Life, for the most part. A terrible excuse, yes, but oh well…autumn reading lists!

Anyway, I’d love to know how your summer reading fared. A work-in-progress, like me? Did you get through all the books you were hoping to read? Or did you find yourself falling into books you didn’t expect to pick up?