Category Archives: Uncategorized

5

Bigfoot

I recently had to break the news to my seven-year-old son that some of information obtained via the Internet is not, in fact, true.  He looked thunderstruck. “What do you mean?” he cried. “People can just make stuff up and pretend it’s real?  Don’t the people in charge of computers control that?”

Notwithstanding Edward Snowden’s recent revelations regarding surveillance or the fact that my personal data is owned not by me, but by the cloud, I tried to explain that there is no central regulatory agency for The Computer.

My son’s reaction: “Well that’s wrong, and when I grow up…” He set his mouth in a determined line. “That.Will. Change.”

So much for freedom of expression. Before my kid grows up to head the Ministry of Truth in his Orwellian state, I asked him to consider that the people posting to YouTube might be making stuff up. Or playing a joke. Or be mentally disturbed. Or getting their facts muddled.  In this case, the “facts” in question revolved around cryptozoology, which is the “scientific field” devoted to the study of creatures like the LochNess Monster, the Chupacabra and Bigfoot.  Over the Christmas break, my teenaged nephew had helpfully shared some Youtube videos of Sasquatch sightings on his newly acquired tablet computer.  I probably should have checked to see what the two boys were doing more quickly, but after just a few minutes, my son summoned me to his side, triumphant.

Surely now, having seen footage of Bigfoot and Sasquatch, I would have to believe–as he does–that these creatures are real. But instead of conceding and lacing up my hiking boots for our monster catching mission, I called into question the veracity of the Stuff We Read on The Computer.  And to add insult to injury, I said that not all books are trustworthy.  This just about blew his mind.

“Then how do you know,” he demanded, “when books aren’t telling the truth?” I gave a rambling, mom-ish sort of answer that discussed fiction versus nonfiction, good judgment and the meaning of the word skepticism. (Yawn, I know), but of course, the answer is: sometimes we don’t know.  Sometimes we’re fooled.

What made me think of this conversation, which took place a couple weeks back, was a far more recent  instance of my own credulity.  I was looking for a book-related subject to blog about today, and several of my Facebook contacts had shared an infographic about reading that featured the following “facts”:   33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives;  42% of college grads never read another book after college;  80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.”  Yikes.  (As a publishing industry professional, I am one susceptible chicken little to these sky-is-falling-style statistics).  But just before I posted that infographic to this blog, I did a little digging.  Turns out the guy who created the infographic had got his data wrong.  None of that stuff is true. The retraction that he posted on his blog did not, however, go viral.  I’m sure he wasn’t trying to trick anyone, but the information is out there.

Just like Bigfoot.

1

For the person who’s READ everything…

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…the season of the holiday gift guide. Now if you’re reading this blog, you probably already know that a book is the perfect gift. And it’s kind of easy to buy books for readers like your neighbor who loves tear jerkers (Nicholas Sparks, I’m looking at you), or your father-in-law with a collection of 500-page-minimum presidential biographies. But the hardcore bookworms on your list can be a little bit more difficult, because they read, well, simply everything! Don’t worry, I’m here to help. These bookish gifts are likely to delight everyone on your list, from your librarian cousin to the IT guy you drew for your office Secret Santa:

 

Pulp the Classics

 

Ryan Gosling as Dorian Grey? SOLD, SOLD, SOLD. And that Marilyn-Tess of the D’Ubervilles is pretty fantastic, as well.

 

Obvious State

 

Full disclosure: I own the T.S. Eliot poster from the first collection. But I’m dying for the Gatsby one, and this notebook set is perfect if you have a poet on your list…or a scientist!

 

Out of Print

 

Oh, the delicious irony of a 1984-themed case for a 2013 iPhone! Or if you’re not quite ready to disrespect Orwell by forcing him to clothe Siri’s voice, this vintage library card design might be more your speed. And I think this Poe-ka Dot design speaks for itself.

 

Okay, so maybe this list is less a holiday gift guide than a personal letter to Santa. Am I missing anything? Comment below to tell me what bookish goodies I should be asking for buying for friends and family this year!

0

Living Books

When you really love a book, do you protect the way it lives in your imagination? Or do you want to bring it to life as much as possible?

I’m not just talking about movie castings, though I happily argue about this as much as the next bookworm (loved DiCaprio’s Gatsby; undecided about the identity shifting in Cloud Atlas, and don’t even get me started on the disaster that was Russell Crowe in Les Miserables).  The wild wacky world of the internet transforms reading into a nearly 3D experience, from playlists curated by authors to book-inspired recipes. There’s even a community called Small Demons that aims to collect, well, everything, that appears in a book – if I’m ever late replying to your email, look for me in their happiest of rabbit holes, Books Mentioned in Other Books.

But it looks like Donna Tartt may have trumped the internet once and for all. Her new and much-anticipated novel The Goldfinch is published today, and shares a title with a painting by Carel Fabritius, a 17th century Dutch painter who studied with Rembrandt… Well, it just so happens that this very painting is included in a new Dutch Masterpieces exhibit that opens, you guessed it, TODAY. So if you’re in the NYC area, head over to The Frick Collection and bring the book to life, no wifi needed.

 

2

On the Fence

Because it has come up a few times for me lately, I wanted to chat a bit about the difficult moment when I find myself waffling on a manuscript.

I get a lot of questions about how I decide what to represent, and it’s difficult to answer because so much of it is just a gut response. There are outside factors, of course. Sometimes a genre is wildly overpublished, and I think, “I just can’t read another (fill in the blank) right now.” Inevitably, as soon as I think that, something in that category comes along and bowls me over.

Other times, I’ll be reading something and enjoying it, but there’s that piece of me deep down that feels like SOMEbody should sign the project on but it probably isn’t me. This is one of the trickiest areas, and it grows trickier as you amass a larger group of clients. Starting out, if a book seems like it’s saleable, you sign it on. That’s simple math. You’re trying to build a client list, and you grab things up big and small. As you hit a point where you can sign new clients but don’t HAVE to, you start to look at whether you personally add anything to the project—do you know the perfect editor for it? Do you know exactly what edits would make the book sing? Can you simply not say no to the chance to work with an author?

All of those situations come up sometimes. And sometimes they don’t. I read two novels over the weekend that just made me keep thinking, “This ALMOST feels right.” One was very polished, and all of the pieces worked together, but I couldn’t fall in love with it, and I wasn’t sure why. That one I passed along to another agent here. Another novel was unpolished, but I kept reading. And reading. And reading (part of the lack of polish was that it was WAY. TOO. LONG.). That one, I sent the author extensive notes about how they might improve what they have. I wasn’t ready to sign it on yet, but I had hope for it. And I connected with it.

What ran through my mind before I made a final decision on either was what someone told me the first day I read slush for DGLM: “If it isn’t a yes, it’s a no.” It sounds like such a harsh way to go through things, but it has helped me time and again. I could sit on something and waffle forever, but if I don’t know that I can bring something to project, I’m not the right agent for it. It’s as simple as that. And it has to be. Otherwise, nothing would ever get done.

So while I always hem and haw when asked what makes me sign on certain projects and not others, it’s ultimately as simple as that: in my gut, it was a yes, and it couldn’t be a no. And we do want it to be yes. We always want it to be yes. Because yes is always the most satisfying answer for everyone involved.

8

When to stop reading

I am a person who stops reading books constantly. I have whole shelves of books that I started reading and then forgot about because something else more exciting came along. They’re my, “I’ll go back to that eventually” books. I almost never go back. There are too many new books!

It’s not like I’m reading much of those books before abandoning them either. I’ll get a chapter in and then think, “Hey! Wait! I have the new Colum McCann here somewhere!”

The point is, I’m not precious about books, and I have never been and will never be the sort of person who feels that he must finish every book that he started. So I was surprised that when I found an article on BookRiot.com about “deal breakers” that readers have, I got a little bristly!

The article lists “inappropriate treatment of suicide” as a reason to stop reading a book. Which to me sounds like, “I have very specific ideas about how and when this issue can be discussed, and I would not like to be challenged on this point.” Another reason to stop reading a book is because a female character cries all the time. I get that they’re suggesting they don’t like misogynist books, but say that. Don’t say you don’t like depictions of weepy women; say you don’t like ALL women being depicted as weepy. Most bizarre is the suggestion that one stop reading because a book doesn’t acknowledge LGBTQ relationships. Au revoir, Dickens. See you later, Austen…

I get it. Mostly the list is saying that these folks quit reading if they’re offended by something. Me? I like a bit of provocation, but maybe that’s just my thing. More upsetting to me was the comment from someone who said they don’t like reading about characters they don’t like. That is a frequent criticism, and it’s one that drives me a little crazy. It’s so limiting! The last two books I read were Alissa Nutting’s peek into the mind of a female sexual predator, TAMPA, and Peter Stenson’s meth addicts in the post-apocalypse novel FIEND. Not a likeable soul in either book, but both were fascinating, discomfiting, challenging reads.

I think it boils down to this: I abandon books all the time if they don’t grab hold of me. Once I’m invested, though, I’ll stick with something. The idea of a checklist of reasons you might stop reading, though…that just seems limiting.

But maybe it’s just me. What about all of you? When/why do you give up on books?

3

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).

3

The Abramo/McCarthy book reading bonanza

Looks like Lauren and I (and hopefully you!) will be reading ELEANOR & PARK by Rainbow Rowell for our first foray into an online book discussion.

We have lots of ideas that we’re going to try out with this. Keep eyes on this page and on both of our Twitter feeds for updates.

Throughout the process, we’ll have Twitter chats and longer form blog discussions, and we want you to be involved.

If there’s one thing Lauren and I have learned over the several years we’ve worked together, it’s that neither of us has any shortage of opinions, so with any luck this will be a lively discussion.

So what’s next on the docket? Read the first half of the book! Our first Twitter chat with be at 6:00 Eastern on April 30, and the first big blog discussion will be on Friday, May 3.

Hope to see you all there!

 

 

UPDATE: Join us tonight, Tuesday, 4/30, at 6 p.m. to discuss the first half of ELEANOR & PARK!  Just follow the hashtag #eandpdglm on Twitter.

5

Golden Age?

A few days back, NPR did an interesting interview with Little Brown publisher Michael Pietsch, best known for being the editor of authors like David Foster Wallace and James Patterson, who is just about to take over the helm of the Hachette Book group, one of Publishing’s “big six” conglomerates.  His declaration that we are now in “the golden age of publishing” might strike you as Panglossian delusion, or—if you are me—maybe, just possibly, a little bit true.

I suppose, as Zhou en Lai said about the impact of the French Revolution, it’s too early to say.  Pietsch is a persuasive spokesman for what the new indie publishing movement might regard as the ancient regime.   It’s true that he’s not all that likely to rail about the benefits of creative destruction—but he made some good points.

“What has changed in a really exciting way is the ways you can get people’s attention. It used to be one book review at a time, a daily review, maybe you get into Time magazine. Now there’s, with the Internet, this giant echo chamber. Anything good that happens, any genuine excitement that a book elicits can be amplified and repeated and streamed and forwarded and linked in a way that excitement spreads more quickly and universally than ever before. And what I’m seeing is that really wonderful books — the books that people get genuinely excited about because they change their lives, they give them new ideas — those books can travel faster, go further, sell more copies sooner than ever before. It’s just energized the whole business in a thrilling way.”

I do agree with Pietsch. But it’s also true that the internet is so vast, fractured and compartmentalized, that lighting this wildfire word of mouth—getting something to go viral—is harder than a status update and a clever tweet.  Once upon a time, back in the (possibly mythical) days of the “monoculture,” when most Americans had some shared sense of big books, popular musicians, and hit TV, Time magazine had a huge subscription base—a review there, or a spot on a leading morning show could launch a book into best-sellerdom.  This is still true to a certain extent, but I have heard plenty of publicity directors note (and sometimes mourn) the demise of the old certitudes.  It seems to me that publishers see the potential of our new paradigm, where newspaper book reviews are few but book bloggers proliferate and readers can rave about their favorite authors to a potentially unlimited audience, but are still figuring out just how to leverage it. Publicity and marketing plans includes online marketing and social media, but publishing houses are a long way from mastering these new tools.

As you all doubtless have heard, cultivating an on-line presence is regarded as much the author’s duty as the ability to write.  This can feel a bit burdensome, but it’s also true that authors have greater influence over the fates of their books then once they did.  Most authors were never in a position to call up a Today Show producer and pitch their stories, but they can, with diligence and work and a pinch of luck, try to connect their book with its readers.

What do you think?

Golden Age?  France in 1788?

4

Our email is down

Due to the power outage in lower Manhattan, our server is down and we are without email. We hope to be up and running soon, and we’ll be in touch as soon as we can. Our thoughts go out to all of you affected by Sandy.

 

UPDATE:  Power has returned to Union Square, so our server is up and running again.  Thank you to everyone for all your patience while we catch up!

7

The not so subtle subtitle

 

Yesterday I sat down with two clients and their editor for a pleasant meet-and-greet and to discuss their recently acquired work of nonfiction.  We talked about the editorial process, the production schedule, cover,  interior design and title.   The only hiccup arrived when we got to the subtitle. The suggested copy was, in the estimation of the authors, just a little over-the-top.  In particular, the subtitle seemed to intimate that the book’s contents would Change Its Readers Lives. Forever.

The authors wanted the offending lines replaced with something a little more modest, less hyperbolic—some phrase rendered in a tone more wry and recognizable. They offered to come up with some alternatives. The editor was amenable, and we all agreed to reconvene our discussion over e-mail, where we could bounce ideas off of one another. I don’t know about you, but I cannot properly consider a title or a subtitle until I see it written down, and I think best alone and in front of a keyboard.

I’ve been mulling over possibilities and I’ve yet to come up with the precisely-right phrase. Subtitles are tricky because they must 1) capture the content of the book and 2) convince a person to buy it.  I also I feel a bit conflicted.  The reader/consumer/book buyer in me knows better than to believe the overheated rhetoric of subtitles, but 15 years in the publishing business makes me wonder if we are quite ready to dispense with overstatement. More humble assertions like “this book will leave you largely unchanged, albeit with slightly less free time” well, there’s not much appeal in that. What do you say? Would you be as drawn to a book that promised to be only “mildly interesting” or “easy enough to read?”  Do you find subtitles off-putting or inviting?

Perhaps it’s just me, but I suspect that these breathless, over-earnest subtitle pledges, calculated as they are, also speak to the secret wish of every reader.  The desire to find that magic book—the one that does blow our minds, change our lives, the story, true or imagined, that affects us in some powerful, primal way.