Category Archives: timing



That loud sound you may have heard last week was the collective gnashing of agents’ teeth all over New York when it was announced that Amy Schumer’s memoir sold to Simon and Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint for somewhere north of $8 million. The only agent who was unequivocally NOT doing any gnashing was Miss Schumer’s, David Kuhn, and to him all congratulations are due. (Her original agent, Yfat Reiss Gendell of Foundry Literary + Media, also deserves a shout-out for the groundwork she had lain getting the book sold the FIRST time around—in 2013, to HarperCollins, for the already-impressive sum of $1 million. Miss Schumer eventually did an about-face and bought back those rights.) The whole tangled saga of the sale was told in this article in the New York Times on October 1:

I’m a huge fan of Schumer and her brash, satiric eye. I regularly watch her TV show and made sure to catch the wildly funny TRAINWRECK during its opening weekend. But while Schumer and her camp are popping the champagne corks, I have to wonder what her enormous advance means in the context of other things.

I don’t think any aspiring memoirist, no matter how fine a writer, expects to make that kind of money right out of the gate. Fame and following, and a huge public platform, count for much in the publishing business. But when a publisher spends such an astronomical fee on an advance, how will this affect the amount they’ll be able to offer other writers who are far less well known than Schumer? If future celebrity memoirs start going for that much or even more, will it cut further into the much smaller advances that other writers are offered?

The irony is that there’s no guarantee that Schumer’s book will ultimately earn back such an enormous advance.  But as the Times article points out, even if it doesn’t, Gallery will still have plenty to gain from all the exposure and enhanced reputation they will derive. Let’s hope they will still be willing to allocate to lesser-known writers the advances they deserve.


Timing is everything

I was reading about the big auction for film rights this week in to Lynsey Addario’s recently published IT’S WHAT I DO. It’s a memoir by the award-winning war photojournalist and has been promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow on, excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, and picked as a best book by Amazon for February. What’s interesting to me is that the book is selling pretty modestly according to Bookscan, but Hollywood jumped all over it. Why? I’d say in large part because of the recent success at the box office of another wartime memoir, AMERICAN SNIPER. This time it will be Steven Spielberg making the movie and Jennifer Lawrence starring in it. Those kinds of deals in Hollywood can take months or years to set up, but when you have a hot topic, a book like this practically sells itself, even if it’s not a big bestseller.

I see examples of the power of timing all the time in my work. I once sold a book to an editor who I met for coffee who told me she was looking for a memoir about a young person with bipolar disorder, and I happened to be going out that day with a  mother/daughter memoir about just that. That editor bought the book, PERFECT CHAOS by Linea and Cinda Johnson.

Sometimes it goes the other way too. One time I submitted a proposal for a project that I thought was unique in the marketplace but it turns out a similar book was published almost at the same time my submission went out. That one wasn’t meant to be so we reworked it and sold it as something entirely different.

When things aren’t going your way or you’re feeling frustrated by the rejection pile or low sales on your books, just remember that your time might not be now but if you keep putting yourself out there and working hard and pounding the pavement, that time will come. And when it does, it will be a good reminder that timing is everything, or at least a big piece of the publishing puzzle.


Coming Not-So-Soon

There’s nothing like the excitement when your favorite author announces the pub date of their next book. You can hardly wait! A year, or a year and a half, sounds so far away! You imagine yourself springing out of bed on pub date, running to the local bookstore, seeing the long-awaited cover sitting there on the NEW RELEASES table. Or maybe you set a pre-order alert online and then you’re crouched over your e-reader at midnight, eager for the new file to blip onto your screen.

Well, for Margaret Atwood fans, and the fans of other to-be-announced authors, that excitement is not to be. A library in Norway has announced a new, carefully curated collection of books affiliated with a newly planted forest. The books in this collection will be published on paper coming from the trees in the forest…starting in 2114. That’s right – a hundred years from now!

trees Margaret Atwood, always adventurous in her fiction, is excited to be a part of this experiment, loving the idea of the distance of time between her and the critical reception of the book. She noted, “When you write any book you do not know who’s going to read it, and you do not know when they’re going to read it. You don’t know who they will be, you don’t know their age, or gender, or nationality, or anything else about them. So books, anyway, really are like the message in the bottle.”

But this is most provocative part of this program to me: Its funding grant includes provision for the library to invest in a printing press, to be sure they’ll have the technology to print the books when the pub date finally arrives, next century. Which struck me as a little bit odd – isn’t the important part of a book the story itself? The words, the plot, the characters? If, (a BIG if) in a century, printing presses don’t even exist, and books don’t even use paper…but people are still reading, and still excited for a collection of books from last century’s great authors…isn’t that just fine?!

What do you think?

Is it important for libraries or literary organizations to preserve the technology of physical books printed on paper if society is outgrowing it?

How would you feel if your favorite author were selected for this collection – excited that they were so honored, or upset that you would never get to read this particular work?

How would you feel if you were invited to participate as an author?



Reading Fast and Slow

I am a person sensitive to time pressures. At the time of this writing, it is nearly 11 pm, my blog post is late, and I have two manuscripts to read this evening.  When I am feeling especially harried–flooring it en route to pick up my sons, scrolling through my inbox, willing the train to move more quickly–I try and remind myself (deep inhale) that time is a construct, and therefore I ought not  fret about something that is essentially made-up (slow exhale).  This rationalization is not particularly effective, because it leads to a mind-bogglingly long chain of other important things that are also constructs (money, manners, the idea that television is now “really good”) and I find I have fallen into a deconstructionist wormhole from which I must emerge post-haste if I want to get anything done.  Still, much as  I acknowledge the universality of busyness and the supremacy of schedules , I think the idea of posting reading times on books, as discussed here in this piece from Publishing Perspectives  is ludicrous. Maybe even flat-out wrong.

Perhaps reading speed is less variable than I believe, though I know that how quickly I read has everything to do what I’m reading, but even if most people read at more or less the same pace so that these estimates are accurate,  a time stamp seems awfully reductive.  It undermines what is one of the principle joys of a good book—that while immersed in one, we lose all sense of time.  So sure, a  book might take six hours to finish, and maybe someone will next figure out the actual per person cost of those book reading hours so we can figure out how to schedule our lives most efficiently, but I think it is impossible to quantify the experience of reading.

What do you think? Does knowing the reading time of an article affects your willingness to read it? What about a book?


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?


Writing Time

Like many a parent, I watch summer retreat and my children return to school (this very morning, as a matter of fact) with considerable ambivalence. I am relieved that our schedules will once again prove predictable and productive, and heartbroken that the season, which seemed so golden and endless when I was a kid, is so finite, so fill-able, and can close itself out in a matter of a few weekends.

Many people more qualified than I have taken on the subject of time, how we perceive it, how we divide it, occupy and squander it, but I am always interested in how writers capture it.  After all, inside a narrative, whether true or imagined, time is an illusion. However long we spend reading the book—hours, days, weeks—the time inside the story unfolds according to its own rules. I represent a short fiction writer who can, in the space of a few thousand words, create the impression that we’ve known a character for a lifetime.  In truth, the author presents us with a middle-aged woman who recounts the events of single summer long past. Yet the psychological space between the perceptions of the college-age narrator and the recollections of her more mature self expands–almost magically–to create a whole life.  It’s a bit like a painting, where close inspection of some cleverly rendered distant landscape is revealed to be no more than a field of contrasting colors that our brain has resolved into coherent shapes.  Good writing enlists the power of suggestion, expansion, imagination.

Whether an author is stretching a single day into a world—as Virginia Woolf  famously did in  Mrs. Dalloway or Ian McEwan in Saturday, or folding generations and political and social transformations into a single story,  as Geoffrey Eugenides did in Middlesex or Naguib Mahfouz in his Cairo Trilogy—the author is, in this endeavor at least,  a master over time.

What books would you say weave the fabric of time from whole cloth? What works do you look to as models for temporality?


A contract for creativity

I minored in psychology in college, and I’m a huge fan of anything that makes me feel more organized, more in control, and better able to manage the 10,000 things I have to do all the time. Lists help a lot, as do deadlines, but what about creating a self-imposed contract? An intriguing idea.

Aimee Bender, the talented author of most recently The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, has this enlightening piece in the latest O Magazine that talks about her decision to create a writing contract with a friend that would allow for each of them to maintain certain very specific writing rules complete with confirmation e-mails that each had stuck to their previously agreed-to commitments. I love her line about the parallels between writing and psychology: “Although psychotherapy and writing are distinct in many ways, they are two fields whose great resource is the vast plains of the unconscious mind and how this landscape gets translated into words.” So true.

For many writers, the ability to work in solitude is both liberating and daunting. Sometimes it’s hard to motivate when there isn’t anyone there to encourage you. And when you’re feeling a spell of procrastination coming on, the water cooler at work is a good way to get a few minutes of down time before heading back to the task at hand. When you work alone, you don’t have that luxury, and when the Internet in many cases  is your sole companion, it becomes way too easy to get sucked into an unproductive cycle. Then again, you can get sucked in anywhere really, but that’s another story (see my recent post about technology).

A contract makes you accountable for your own time and how you spend it. When you commit to writing for a certain period of time each day, or 5 days a week, or whatever works for your own life and schedule, it allows you the time to breathe outside of that without the nagging feeling of always feeling like you should be doing more.

What do you think about this for your own writing, and would you consider doing it? Would you want to team up with a partner to check that you are meeting your contractual obligations? Let us know what you think, and if you’d be willing to experiment and give it a try. I suspect the act of creating the contract alone would make you feel more in control, more motivated, and more productive.



The return of the instant book

Last week, I witnessed something I hadn’t seen in many years.  It took ten days from the time  the  publishing agreement was signed to being handed a bound copy of Tracey Garvis Graves’ ON THE ISLAND. That is truly amazing and exciting in terms of future publishing ventures.  But publishing instant books, as they were once  called, isn’t new to many of us who have been in the business for years.

In fact when I held my copy of Tracey’s book  in my hands, I thought back to many exciting titles that were published in this way back in the day.  And when I looked back I found this New York Times article which describes some of what took place during that time.

This kind of publishing was inspired in the ‘60s , ‘70s and ‘80s by major news events.  The most popular of the titles was The Report of the Warren Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy; others included  The Pentagon Papers, The Israeli Rescue at Entebbe and many, many more.

A publisher would usually team up with a news organization like one of the news weekly magazines or The New York Times and together they would produce a manuscript, often using material from the government which, of course, was in the public domain.  They would work on this for a week, sometimes less, and then go through the production process, typesetting, printing, binding and shipping the books.

I was actually a part of one of these projects right at the beginning of my career:  I carried a manuscript, after the writing and editing, were completed from our offices in New York to Chicago where I was taken to the printer in Des Plaines, Illinois, where the book was ultimately printed bound and shipped out.  It was all very exciting and very hush hush – most of these instant books were top secret until they were published, which created great excitement.

The problem was that while the publishing company was working on these projects , all other work , especially in the editorial department came to a standstill and, ultimately this led to  the demise of the instant book; the profits they were making didn’t justify what they were costing in terms of the loss of other business.

Now, though, with the change in technology, books can be produced much faster and efficiently – and even more inexpensively.  So the possibilities are becoming very exciting and bode well for the future.

As I like to say, there are no totally new ideas, it’s just the way they are “presented.”  What do you think about the whole “instant” book phenomenon?


Are you too busy to write?

When I saw this piece from Writer’s Digest about finding time to write when we’re all so busy, it struck a chord with me. I love seeing the spreadsheet for planned writing days and goals laid out on the page. It appeals to the organized side of my brain. The problem is that that side is always fighting it out with the other, less organized, lower tech sphere, and sometimes for me the spreadsheet doesn’t come out ahead.

Of course, I’m not a writer. I represent writers. But we all have obligations, goals, deadlines (I’m late for my blog deadline today as a matter of fact), and we need to keep it straight. Sometimes things come up that take us away from the task at hand. Especially in our digital world (see my recent post about this) where we’re pulled in a lot of directions each day.

So, I’d love to hear from our readers. How do you fit in writing time in your busy life? Does it take priority over other things? Do you work late at night or early in the morning? Do you write in your head while you’re driving to work? Or do you, like the author of this blog post, create spreadsheets outlining your short and long term goals? Please let us know, and enlighten us about what you’ve found to be the most effective methods of writing. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned for other writers, as well as the rest of us.


What’s your favorite writing success story?

It’s funny how in this business, as in life, sometimes it takes something small to remember why we’re in it in the first place. As you all by now know, the publishing industry has been a fairly controversial place of late. I won’t go through it all again here, or get into the nitty gritty of some of the latest news headlines pitting Amazon against independent booksellers, but suffice to say there’s a lot of fear about the future.

That’s why I was happy to find this video recently that shares an unbelievable story about how  Cherie Priest got her start as an author. After having been rejected by Tor with a form letter a couple of years earlier, a young editor found Cherie’s manuscript while cleaning out the office of someone who died, and after reading it (because she says she can’t throw anything away without reading it first) and loving it, e-mailed her hoping she was still at the same address. It was a good thing the e-mail address was there because she’d long since moved and the editor’s letter had already been returned unopened. The rest, as they say, is history. A really cool publishing story, right? And one that gives faith that good things still happen and dreams really can come true. Alright, enough with the cotton candy fluff, but you get my point.

What is your favorite writing success story? It doesn’t have to be getting an agent or a publisher. I’m thinking more about what led you on a writer’s path. Could be getting an A on a grade school paper, or finding a writing teacher who inspired you to do your best work, or getting dumped and realizing the only way to survive was to write about the experience. Please share. Sometimes it’s the little things that can make the biggest difference.