Category Archives: suggestions

Read this piece (aka more on Stephen King)!

I am really not obsessed with Stephen King. I do think he’s amazing and a genius, and I’d like to spend a day living inside his brain, but I really don’t follow his every move. Which is why it’s kind of funny that I’m doing another post about him.

I recently shared a link with what I thought was some great advice from Stephen King, and now I want to share with our readers an article I came upon this week while cleaning out my bathroom (I store much of my best reading material there!). It’s from an August, 2013 issue of the New York Times Magazine, and it goes into some detail about the immediate King family, all of whom have storytelling in their blood. I find it beyond fascinating that this entire clan lives and breathes books and writing, stories and ideas. Not to mention they genuinely seem to have a strong affection for one another, despite some very rough and rocky times.

One of my favorite anecdotes is about how when King’s kids were little and he needed books to listen to while driving, he’d have them record the books he was interested in hearing. It’s brilliant! I’m going to get my kids to start recording books immediately. I can’t think of a better family activity.

I also loved reading about King’s daughter in-law, Kelly Braffet’s, entrée into the family. Can you imagine being an aspiring writer (she met King’s son at the Columbia MFA writing program in 2001) and meeting your future in-laws named Stephen and Tabitha King for the first time?

And yet another great anecdote comes from King’s son, Joe, who struggled as a writer for years unwilling to use his dad’s name to sell books. He went beyond using a pseudonym, Joe Hill, refusing to even admit who he was to his literary agent for 8 years (a time during which he did not sell a book)!

The stories go on. Anyone interested in writing should read this article. To me, it illustrates how important it is that the environment we create for ourselves and our families be one that allows for thoughtful and creative thinking. If you surround yourself with smart people who have similar interests and ideas, you will naturally find yourself gravitating in that direction.

I hope you enjoy learning more about the King family, and that they inspire you to be better writers, readers, and storytellers.


A few thoughts about writing YA

I’ve been working with a lot of authors the last few years on the adult side who are looking to publish on the children’s side. I know I’m not the only one, as the market has surged and become a destination for talented writers whose books can often cross over to the adult market. The obvious early megahits on the YA side like Twilight and The Hunger Games have made room for more recent realistic teen novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder.

I thought it was worth sharing this advice column I found in Publisher’s Weekly from published author Seth Fishman. Now that I have a few young humans of my own, I love that he says: “You’re writing for young humans, people who are the most in need of answers, people who are the most curious.” And I like the way he positions his advice from a broad perspective. Rather than focusing on plot or characters, it’s about thinking and feeling and the emotion that is so critical for adults writing for teens to get right.

Take a look and see if you YA authors have anything else to add to his list. What do you do when you’re getting ready to channel your inner teen?


When it’s okay to use bad grammar

When shuffling through query letters, bad grammar is often a loud warning bell. Literary agents tend to be wary when reading material from the prospective, unpublished author. Nothing will make an agent drop a query into the reject pile faster than poor grammar.

However, incorrect grammar can often be utilized as a literary style. Nearly every accomplished author does so—to one degree or another. Sentence fragments. Abbreviated words. Missing punctuation. Misspelled words and incomplete sentences. Literature is abundant with poor grammar.

So, how then can you determine when to ignore all those rules drilled into you by your elementary school teachers?

What is your writing for? Writing is purposeful. You don’t pick up a pen and commit words to paper accidentally. Is this a blog? An academic piece? A query letter? A creative piece? Resume? Knowing your audience is a time-tested lesson in writing, so for formal prose, always go the safe route and edit your piece to perfection to ensure perfect, “proper” grammar.

On the other hand, for creative pieces, bad grammar can help the author illustrate his or her point. The form your writing takes should match its tone.

Cormac McCarthy is known for his stark, bare prose and his distaste for commas and other forms of punctuation, such as the quotation mark. His writing not only complements the often-bleak tone of his work, but also adheres to a simplistic style for the sake of clarity and rhythm. He believes that punctuation can often disrupt the flow of a sentence and is usually superfluous.

Hope this was enlightening. I encourage those interested to read more on the topic. Here are some semi-related links to check out on the topic of grammar:


Writing tips from 2013 to help you in 2014

I hope you all had good holidays. I personally did a lot of celebrating since my birthday falls right between Christmas and New Year’s. One highlight was seeing Kinky Boots on Broadway. I loved it! After so much fun, I feel ready (even if my piles don’t) to be back at work and motivated to work with my authors to sell lots of great books.

I like at this time of year to regroup, look at the big picture, and try to come up with a strategy for a successful year ahead. I find this approach to be effective, even if I can’t always keep all of my annual goals.

I love this list of best-of writing articles from 2013 compiled by Writer’s Digest because it covers so many bases in the writing process. And it’s especially useful since it’s broken down by categories like Writing Better Characters, How to Get Published, and Inspiration for Writers. One of my favorites is the 2001 interview with Tom Clancy and his quote: “I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I just keep it simple: Tell the damn story”. That’s definitely keeping it simple, and direct!

I wanted to share it with our blog readers who are hopefully feeling like I am – motivated, energized, and ready to work hard to be as successful as we can be. Starting out by reading these articles just might help get you on the right track for the year ahead.

Enjoy and please let us know which articles from their list you find to be the most helpful. Now, let’s all get to work!


Virtual assistant to the rescue!

I was reading PW online and came across this piece about writers hiring virtual assistants to help them with various admin tasks related to their writing. I was intrigued, and it seems there’s a crop of these online helpers out there in business to lighten the load on writers so that they can spend more time on what they do best – writing!

It’s a simple concept, and yet novel and very 21st Century. I’m sure there are a variety of ways in which these relationships can be developed and managed in terms of pay, hours, and the “virtual” piece suggests the person works remotely. It’s key to find someone who knows the skills required (or can learn them), can do the job from wherever they are, and can be flexible to meet your needs as a writer which can change depending on where you are in your career.

This might not be the right solution for everyone, but I do think there are some ideas in here worth exploring. For example, the list that Kati comes up with describes various activities that a virtual assistant can help with. It includes everything from answering e-mails, updating your website, handling mailings for promotions, and exploring/managing all forms of social media.

In this market, writing is only one part (thankfully it still is the most important part) of the job. Marketing and promoting yourself and your work is critical to an author’s long-term success and that’s why a virtual assistant (or any other kind of assistant for that matter) is an interesting concept to contemplate.

If you were fortunate enough to be able to hire a virtual assistant, what would you have him or her do for you?


Look ma’, no hands!

Lately, I’ve been reading with no hands. Well technically I’ve been listening with no hands, but that’s a far less impressive feat. Essentially, I’ve become an audiobook junkie.

Many of my colleagues have asked for recommendations about what to read on vacation. Suggestions range, but notice the common element here? Vacation. There’s a reason people read a lot on vacations. It’s relaxing, it’s enjoyable, and I can’t stress this enough: people have the time.

But what about if you just can’t find the time to pick up a book during the work week? What if you’re like me and you wake at 5:00 am, go to the gym, head off to work, head home, eat dinner, and then go to bed?

I’ve found that audiobooks are actually very enjoyable to listen to, and they’ve quenched my thirst to read quite nicely. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not the same, but my morning workouts, commute, and dinner are now all enjoyed while “reading.” Suddenly, I have all the time in the world to enjoy a good book. Granted, some genres are generally easier to listen to than others, but that’s a topic for another post.

How about you guys? Ever listen to an audiobook? I’m currently looking for my next good listen. Suggestions?


Who do you call? (Not Ghostbusters)

When you’re looking for a new book to read, who do you listen to? The broad selection of books can be overwhelming – walk into a bookstore and you’re confronted by table after table, shelf after shelf, of unopened books with the fresh smell of ink luring you towards them. Or turn on your e-reader and scroll through the e-bookstore, cover after exciting cover designed especially to catch your eye and pull your thumb to the “Buy” button.

So how do you choose? Do you ask friends and coworkers what they’ve loved? If so, maybe you have certain friends that you can count on to recommend a read that’s just up your alley…and certain others whom you have learned the hard way never to ask for a suggestions. What if your brother only reads really gritty war novels, but you’re looking for something cheery for the beach. Or the woman next door churns through self-improvement titles when you really want the next meaty political memoir. After all, one reader’s trash is another reader’s literary treasure.

Maybe you play it safe by checking reviews online, or asking a bookseller. Most booksellers are in it for the love of it – nothing makes their eyes light up like being asked what they’ve read recently. Same goes for reviewers, whether it’s the venerable New York Times Book Review, The Millions webmag, or a YA reader active on Goodreads. Lauren recently asked all of you blog readers for suggestions, while I myself rely on an even mix of what’s buzzy on Twitter, what’s new at the library, what my friends in publishing are excited about, and whatever catches my eye during my weekend used bookstore prowls.

Where did you hear about the last book you read?

If You Had to Choose

Very recently, I had to play that desert island game—you know the one where you’re stranded on a desert island and have to choose what to bring? It’s all pretend, of course. Just a quick little skip through Imagination Town, a vacation in make believe. Except I was forced to make my desert island choices for real. I’ll explain.

No, I wasn’t stranded on a desert island. Quite the opposite actually: I moved to Manhattan. Granted, moving into a tiny apartment in Manhattan isn’t on the same level, hardship-wise, but coming from a spacious place in the suburbs certainly made things difficult, especially when it came to choosing what books to bring.

Smaller room = less shelf space = the fewer books I can bring. It’s that simple; yet, you find yourself considering some difficult choices. Do you bring that book you’ve read dozens of times with the hundreds of dog-eared pages and even greater number of coffee stains? Or do you bring leave those behind, as painful as that is, to make room for those new books you recently acquired (say at BEA, maybe) and haven’t had the chance to read yet?

In the end, I cheated. One conference call with my soon-to-be roommates, and we worked out a way to put together a respectable library. John brings the Hemingway, while Ryan is in charge of all non-fiction. We managed to make room for everything, from the favorites like Infinite Jest right down to your political thrillers, such as a couple of Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp books. Oh yeah, and we have Kindles too…

What would you bring?


Eleanor & Park & Lauren & Jim

For anyone who was unaware, Lauren Abramo and I decided some weeks back to do our first ever online book club. We went with Rainbow Rowell’s delightful novel ELEANOR & PARK which, disappointingly, we both enjoyed. As such, no one was treated to watching two terribly opinionated agents facing off against each other.


For anyone who wants to see how the action went down, go to Twitter and check out #eandpdglm.


Here’s a confession: I’ve never taken part in a normal bookclub. We have one in the office where we all read different books and pitch them to each other, but that’s obviously different. With this one, though, I got to see what it was like to join with other people to chat about the same reading experience. Obviously I talk about books every day, but there was something so refreshing about doing it in a setting where nothing was at stake.


But as a newbie to the world of the traditional bookclub, I was a bit disappointed that no fights broke out and no names were called. I have to ask those of you who do this more regularly: are these events more fun when there’s someone to argue with? Or what about when a book is complicated and you really need to hash out some points?


And on a more selfish level, I’m curious—we know how many people were actively involved in our Twitter chats, but we don’t know how many people followed along later or what people thought about the format. So here’s a question: should we do it again? If so, should be keep it on Twitter? Do a different genre? Pick something more controversial? Add in a pie tossing at whoever makes the least popular comment?


Let us know! Inquiring minds, and all that…


Do’s and Don’ts for Pitchers


In the past few weeks I’ve done several pitch sessions (pretty much the only sort of pitch I’m likely to entertain, since I’m not much of a baseball fan) and although my advice may well be familiar, my experiences would indicate that it bears repeating.

Do: Relax. Pitches are good practice, but your ability to pitch your project does not necessarily determine its fate.  What matters most is always on the page, so don’t treat the meeting as a summary judgment of your future in publishing.

Do: Identify a few contemporary writers to whom you feel your style/work compares. I am always surprised when an aspiring writer can’t come up with a few “like” books or authors.  This is a basic and almost inescapable question.  Having an answer at the ready shows that you know the market and are reading in the category into which you hope to be published.   Once you’ve pitched your book and made a couple comparisons, feel free to turn the question back on the agent/editor.  “Having heard my description, is there a project that you think sounds like an apt comp title?”

Do: Follow up via e-mail.  If an agent has invited you to send along your query or additional materials, you can feel free to issue a gentle nudge several weeks after your meeting.  Mention the conference in your subject line or in the first few lines of your letter.

Don’t:  Bog down in a play by play synopsis of the plot. Think about your summary as back cover copy and try to craft a description that is as more persuasive than exhaustive.

Don’t:  Arrive at your pitch session in search of an idea. It’s fine to field a concept in hopes of soliciting feedback, but know that agents and editors can seldom suggest a book idea upon meeting someone.

Don’t: Try and present more than one (or at most, two) ideas at a time. Fine to mention that you have other projects in the works, but concentrate on the single pitch that is strongest and most suited to your appointment.

Do you have any pitch related questions? I would be happy to field them. (It seems baseball metaphors are impossible to escape in the spring).