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Thanksgiving is here again

I cannot believe that Thanksgiving is here already. The last year seems to have raced by with many, many changes in my life. Usually, at this time of year, my husband and I spend the holiday in Florida visiting his family and our friends. This year, however, my father-in-law Sam Schwinder and my old and close friend Rena Wolner (a former head of Pocket Books, Berkley, and Avon) passed away and so we will be sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner around our dinner table here in Manhattan along with my daughter, my son, my son-in-law and my two adorable grandchildren. I will think about Sam and Rena on that day, as I am very thankful for having had the chance to know, love, and learn from them.

I am also incredibly thankful for so many other things: the talented, brilliant, funny people on my staff (we are now 14 strong), my wonderful clients, my colleagues at the many publishing houses and other agencies we do business with. My business partner Miriam Goderich helps me run our company and think through the numerous issues we face every day. She is the best editor I have ever worked with and a stabilizing force in a world that has lots of highs and lows. I am so grateful to her. My daughter Jessica Toonkel is a talented reporter with Reuters and a superb partner to her husband Brian and mother to her children, eight-year-old Elena and almost-two-year-old Leo. I am incredibly proud of her. My son, Zachary Schwinder who is about to enter Officer Candidate School for the Marines—I am both frightened for his safety and oh so proud of his goal to keep our country safe. My kind and wonderful husband and partner Steve who is by my side through thick and thin and has been since I met him almost 30 years ago—I am so very grateful for him and his love.
I encourage each of you to think about those things and people you are grateful for at this time of year. And, if you like, I would love you to tell me what they are.

Happy Thanksgiving to one and all. May it be filled with peace and everything delicious!


Good as gold

Getting a mention of one’s book on network television is kind of a Holy Grail for authors these days. It’s right up there with being interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR’s  Fresh Air.  Network attention was exactly what my client Chris Grabenstein got a couple of weeks ago, in the most serendipitous way. Chris’s Middle Grade adventure Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library is beloved by kids all over the country, who are eagerly awaiting the sequel, Mr. Lemoncello’s Library Olympics, in January. But Chris had no idea that it would turn out to be part of a major gag on Seth Meyers’s late-night show. On the pretext of forming a new family, Meyers and his brother interviewed a series of kids on camera. They asked one little girl the question, “What’s your favorite book?”  And she immediately answered, “Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.” That led to a prolonged improvised comic riff on the title between the brothers Meyers. Licensing restrictions prohibit me from embedding that clip into this post, but suffice it to say that Chris’s phone started ringing off the hook. He also got a nice Amazon ratings bump.

Nobody can take credit for a break like this one—it was just luck of the draw that this little girl happened to be such a big fan of the book.

Actually, Meyers has turned out to be a great friend to the reading public.  He regularly features novelists as guests on his show—something few late-night network talk show hosts are doing these days.   Recently, not only big names like Stephen King and George R. R. Martin have been guests, but newer, younger writers like Marlon James, Joshua Ferris, and Hanya Yanagihara have all been on Meyers’s show to promote their new books.

Meyers’s interest in contemporary fiction is certainly a boon to both authors and the public. But he shouldn’t be a minority of one. There’s no reason Fallon, Kimmel, Corden, Colbert, or the yet-untested Trevor Noah shouldn’t hop on board. As many of us know, writers can be articulate, entertaining, and very funny people. They are often highly sought-after as party guests. What better qualifications for being on a talk show?


Fail Fast or Succeed Slowly?

I know that the “fail fast” mantra of the tech world is not universally accepted, but  I’ve heard it repeated frequently enough to wonder at its wisdom. In the world of Silicon Valley start-ups, a fast failure yields lessons learned, some takeaway that will leave the entrepreneur better positioned to monetize his or her next idea. But here on planet publishing (an alternate and occasionally dystopian reality peopled with fewer angel investors) I think “succeed slowly” makes more sense. Publishing is a long game–a marathon not a sprint–and good books take time. A work in progress can pass through several unsuccessful iterations before it sells, and the learning curve (though painful) is an essential part of the process. Writing is one of the few fields in which the totality of a practitioner’s lived experience counts as on-the-job training. I’ve seen writers whose first (several) attempts at authorhood flopped go on to become “overnight successes.”

Hemingway’s iceberg theory of writing—the notion  that a writer should omit details in order to allow the reader to fully apprehend the whole—could just as easily be applied to the process of becoming a writer.  Most of the time, every visible published work floats atop a submerged mountain of failures, false-starts, and otherwise discarded manuscript pages sturdy enough to down a Titanic.

I’m no Luddite, but I’m skeptical of the fail fast preachers and their proselytes. Of course, the book business has little in common with the tech industry—no snack filled break rooms, no on-site dry cleaning , no  IPOS. As far as I can tell, conversations via emoji are still rare (and I dispute the notion that a picture is worth a thousand words, because really, can a winking smiley moon face ever be  le mot juste?) but here I’d say that’s just as well.

What do you think—can/should writers fail fast?


London Calling

I’m off to London, catching the tail end of events connected to the London Book Fair and attending a conference on literary translation at Oxford. I love London unabashedly, with the kind of nostalgia-tinged enthusiasm folks reserve for the place that was their first trip abroad, their first experience with independent city life.  I studied in London as an undergraduate and have returned at every opportunity I could manage. (I still mourn the demise of the Virgin Atlantic 99£ fare, which bore me across the ocean on an editorial assistant’s salary.)  In London I find a wonderful mashup of my childhood fantasies (surely there is a wardrobe into which I may wander? A chance to swoop past Big Ben and fly straight on ‘til morning?) and the rich, contemporary, polyglot literary scene that exists atop it,  a palimpsest of history, language and cultures.  Like many bookish kids, I was an Anglophile. I grew up reading C.S, Lewis, E. Nesbit, Edward Eager, J.R.R. Tolkien, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Noel Streatfield, J.M. Barrie, and later Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, George Orwell, Iris Murdoch, A.S. Byatt—and the list goes on. Although it dates me to admit it, I was already a full-grown muggle and working in publishing when a colleague brought me back a first UK edition of Harry Potter and urged me to read it. I was foolish enough to pass that copy along to a friend, who passed it to a friend, who passed it to a friend who never quite returned it, but I found my way back to Hogwarts later, and also found ample consolation in the magical landscapes of Philip Pullman’s Oxford, Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and in the less fantastical (but no less transporting) works of post-colonial experience—books by writers like V.S. Naipul, Hanif Kureishi, Monica Ali, and Zadie Smith.

My own literary map of London would surely be less beautifully detailed than the one I found on-line, here and below. I’m not much of a cartographer and there are titles here that I’ve not read—but  it would be fun to make a personal version.  What books, or what city, would feature in your own literary map? What book would you nominate as the quintessential London read?


Angels Among Us

 I’m thrilled to be the new kid on the block here at D&G, one of the classiest and most respected agencies in the business. This is a great team of people to be working with.

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about libraries and librarians. My client Chris Grabenstein’s Middle Grade adventure THE ISLAND OF DR. LIBRIS just published on March 24, and it’s already been embraced by the same librarians who loved Chris’s recent bestseller ESCAPE FROM MR. LEMONCELLO’S LIBRARY. When we’re kids, we take plenty for granted. Throughout my childhood, librarians were just always there, and I never really appreciated all they did for us, or what courageous warriors they could be.

It is librarians who have always been the first line of defense against book-banning. It is librarians who struggle, in the face of constant budget cuts, to keep their stock as full, wide, and up-to-date as possible. And it is librarians who are determined to get kids started reading early, and to encourage them to keep reading beyond the age when they are distracted by sports, TV, and video games.

But sometimes they take that extra step and become heroes. It’s no wonder that we now have The Lemony Snicket Prize for Noble Librarians Faced With Adversity. Inaugurated by Daniel Handler and the American Library Association last year, it is presented at the Summer ALA conference. The first winner was Laurance Copel, who was honored for her work in New Orleans’s Ninth Ward. This year, on June 28, the recipient will be Scott Bonner, director of the Ferguson Public Library in Ferguson, Missouri. What did he do to reap this award? Let’s start with the fact that he kept the library, located just a couple of blocks from where armed militia were clashing with protestors, open and active throughout the unrest following the Michael Brown shooting.  Amidst the surrounding rioting, looting, and violence, Bonner hung a sign on the library’s entrance:  “Stay strong, Ferguson. We are family.”

All through those disturbing weeks, with the local school system shut down, Bonner recruited volunteers, teachers, and church groups to provide educational activities for up to 200 children per day. He organized community groups to offer a wide range of programs and services to help affected local citizens and businesses to recover. Bonner, the sole full-time librarian on the staff, had started on the job only weeks before, yet he instantly became a mainstay of the community right when Ferguson needed one. He even brought the Small Business Administration into the library to make low-interest loans and aid available to local Ferguson businesses. So successful was Bonner’s outreach that his programs become SRO, and he had to expand activities into rental space in the church next door.

I had the pleasure of speaking briefly with Bonner on the phone last week. He sounded solid, unassuming, and down-to-earth as could be.  But in my book, he, like so many other librarians, has a pair of white wings on his back, and walks a few feet off the ground.


Snow Day!

Much of NYC shut down yesterday afternoon so that people could get home early and stay safe and warm through the predicted 2-3 feet of snow that Winter Storm Juno was predicted to dump on us. The subway system, commuter trains, and bus lines closed at 11 pm, which was also the curfew for all non-emergency traffic on the roads.


Columbus Triangle in Astoria yesterday afternoon

And while NYC didn’t get as much snow as Long Island and other parts of New England –“just” 11 inches so far here in Queens – the DGLM office is nevertheless closed today. In this happy age of Wifi and smartphones, a lot of our business can carry on close to normal. I think everyone in publishing is excited for a day out of the office to get caught up on the manuscripts piled up on our e-readers.

And because I was homeschooled, I never got to miss school during even the blizzardiest Michigan winter. So I’m working from the comfort of my couch, catching up on submissions, finishing a couple promising manuscripts, and maybe even sneaking peeks into the amazing David Foster Wallace Reader I picked up at my local bookstore this weekend. I am emailing in my pajamas until at least lunch time, and counting it as a Snow Day.

If you’re snowed in, what are you reading today? Any tips for making the best of a unexpected work-from-home day?


Follow the (Twitter) leader

Yesterday the pop culture blog Flavorwire published this list of The 35 Writers Who Run the Literary Internet. It’s a nice list, so if you’re looking for some new bookish folks to follow, click on through.

But clicking through the list got me thinking about how the internet is at once enormous and very cliquey. We have a world of information at our fingertips, and many of us broadcast details of our lives via one, two, three, or ten social media platforms. Yet, I bet most of us actually interact with a rather small and repetitive group on those platforms. And we are creatures of habit in our internet consumption, just as we are in our daily coffee shops and lunch orders, Netflix binges and Pandora stations. I read the same handful of blogs every day, rather than venture on to new ones. My Facebook field adapts itself to my “Like”ing habits, and I can’t remember the last time I followed someone new on Instagram.

So I wonder if Influencers lists like these actually influence the Literary Internet in its entirety, or if they merely reflect a certain corner of it? I ask this because I already follow so many of the folks on the Flavorwire list – my book club is reading Emily Gould‘s new novel this summer, and I loved Roxane Gay‘s debut AN UNTAMED STATE so much that I’m counting the minutes until her essay collection BAD FEMINIST comes out next month. I even follow the guy who compiled the list, for crying out loud. And many of these folks are constantly tweeting to each other, which is fascinating to digitally eavesdrop on, but also suggests there may be a lot of overlap between their circles of interest. So are we missing vast swatches of the Literary Internet? What if there are bookworms and aspiring authors out there reading totally different pop culture blogs,  and RTing a set of passionate writers that I’ve never come across? Who runs the Literary Internet in Australia? Or does John Green actually rule the world?

Who are your favorite literary people on Twitter? Any tips for making room in your internet habits for new discoveries?



Single Star Blues


I’m late to the game with this post from satirist Andy Borowitz, “Hillary Considers Dropping 2016 Bid After Reading One-Star Reviews on Amazon, but it made me laugh aloud. “Secretary Clinton said that she was “shattered” to discover that dozens of people had apparently purchased her book on its first day of publication, read all six hundred and fifty-six pages in one sitting, and judged the finished product so unsatisfactory that it only merited one star on Amazon.”

Clinton, of all people, must be thick-skinned by now (she’s been a cherished target for decades) but authors of all sorts, successful, struggling, aspiring, award-winning, do take those one star reviews to heart–even when it’s pretty clear that the review has little bearing on the work at hand.  Or is part of a “vast right wing conspiracy.” But, as we all know, an unjust attack is not as bad as a trenchant criticism that fillets a work on reasonable grounds.  Those are worse, and writing demands a baseline conviction that what you’ve produced is worth sharing.  Bad reviews and rejections can shake that conviction, but writers know (or must remind themselves) they need to soldier on.

So, what’s your best advice on dealing with a bad review? Would a lascerating review prompt you to give up your run for the nation’s highest office (or similar dream?)


Intern Guest Post: Fan Fiction

Today we’re excited to welcome a guest contributor to our blog: one of our fabulous DGLM summer interns, Morgan Rath! Stay tuned after Morgan’s post to learn a little more about her.

Is fan fiction finally going to get its time in the spotlight? Fan fiction, a.k.a. fanfic, has been populating sites around the Internet for years. It gives writers a chance to create new stories involving some of their favorite people and existing characters. But following a new publishing deal from top publisher Simon & Schuster, fan fiction authors may have their chance to share their stories beyond just the Internet community.

Simon & Schuster’s Gallery Books imprint made a six-figure deal for worldwide and audio rights to a One Direction fanfic piece called After by Wattpad writer Anna Todd. The first book in the trilogy is expected to hit shelves in November, with the second two following in January and March of 2015. The series is about 18-year-old Tessa Young who falls for band member Harry Styles’ handsome looks and love of Jane Austen. The book also features appearances by the other four members of the internationally renowned boy band.

Adam Wilson acquired the series for Simon & Schuster. He said that the publishing house will have to cut out some sections of the book due to its length; however, they are going to try to keep the story as close to the original as possible, while still making modifications to attract traditional readers.

After reading through slush-pile submissions that make you wonder if the writer ever paid attention in high school English classes, I can’t help but wonder if there is some potential in looking to fanfic for the next big hit. The stories, about people and characters that a large readership already loves, will surely have a sizeable potential audience and revenue base. Todd’s trilogy alone has gotten over 800 million reads on Wattpad.

But on the opposite, more realistic side of my thinking, fanfic is not always too well written. I have a very hard time with the notion that fan fiction will become a regular source of new publishable material.

In addition, is it right for an author to capitalize on an already established celebrity? Todd did not personally create One Direction or any of the boys’ personas. But she did dream up the story and supplemental characters surrounding them in the trilogy. And after all, aren’t characters in books generally based on some aspects of the author’s life experiences and acquaintances? We all find ourselves identifying with characters in books. If people were not familiar with the band members, or if the names in Todd’s trilogy were changed, they would just come across as normal characters.

I guess all the fanfic aspiring authors will just have to wait and see how well Todd’s trilogy does in the big leagues. In the meantime, what do you think about the Simon & Schuster deal? Do you believe that fan fiction has potential in the publishing world? Do you think it’s wrong for authors to write about characters they did not solely create?

Morgan Rath is from western New York and currently studying at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. She may be pursuing a journalism degree, but Morgan’s true passion lies in the publishing world. For as long as she can remember, Morgan has loved to read. While most kids would go to the mall to look for clothes, Morgan would find herself spending hours in the Barnes & Noble browsing through all the shelves. When Morgan discovered that she could turn her love of reading into a career, she vowed that someday she would make her way into the NYC publishing scene.

Morgan is particularly drawn to Young Adult novels and Women’s fiction. She also loves a good romance, but nothing too cheesy. However, like any bookworm, her interests expand to all genres. It is safe to assume if you put a book in her hands, Morgan will read it.

If you’re interested in interning with DGLM this fall, or if you know of someone who is, contact Mike Hoogland.