Category Archives: what we’re looking for

Reaching out

For most of the time that I’ve been in publishing, I’ve found clients in one of four ways: the slush pile, referrals from clients, seeking out authors for ideas I’ve come up with, or convincing a person I’ve come across to write a book. I’ve long been reflexively skeptical of supposed innovations on the query system—everything I tried for a long time turned out to be a huge waste of time that generated no better results than just letting the slush come to my inbox.

But four or so years ago, I looked at my list and my slush pile and realized how heavily they both skewed toward a narrow range of voices. And as I looked for ways to fix this problem I listened to a lot of wise people (including the fine folks at We Need Diverse Books) on the perils of any system in which gatekeepers simply wait for things to come their way.  So now I try to actively participate in things happening outside my inbox, making sure that writers know that my door is open (and my list inclusive).

Authors looking for an agent have a lot of great opportunities now not just to seek an agent, but to reach out to the best possible fit for them and their work. Many wonderful agents participate in these new ways to find clients (and quite a lot of them were on the bandwagon before I got my head out of the sand). And for me, they’re a good way to proactively seek submissions from a diverse pool of authors so I can make sure that my client list supports a wide array of voices.

TwitterLogo_#55aceeTwitter pitch parties like Brenda Drake’s PitMad still involve authors querying agents, but it means I get to find those projects that seem like a good fit for my list and invite the authors to send their queries my way.  And resources like Manuscript Wish List, co-created by Jessica Sinsheimer and KK Hendin, allow me to highlight book concepts that I’d love to see, which gives me a chance to proactively seek a broader and more balanced list, both via the Twitter hashtag and their fantastic website (for which you can find my profile here).  And I’m really excited about the upcoming Twitter event #DVPit, which Beth Phelan created to “showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices.”  If you’re a writer from a marginalized community looking for an agent, I strongly encourage you to check out that link before Tuesday, because it looks like it’ll be a great event!

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails in my Weekend Reading folder, many of which come from sources like the above. I look at my To Read list right now and tremble in fear. But I love knowing that the chances that I’ll find a gem that I have a vision for among those projects is far higher, since I’ve already done some of the work in getting authors who have written the kinds of books I’m looking for to reach my way.

5

A case for military books

I have always had a healthy appetite for military books because they sell.  Books—both fiction and non-fiction—about the Civil War, and the two world wars sell particularly well.

This weekend, I had the opportunity to browse in a bookstore in Quantico, Virginia—where the FBI is based and where marine officers receive their first qualification and training.  I found the range of titles they carry very interesting.

I was at Quantico because my son was graduating from Officer Candidate School in the Marines and, in fact, he and his classmates had read many of the books (though obviously not all) that I found below:

There were books like this one about policy: IMG_2366

 

Reference books: IMG_2367

 

Children’s books: download

 

Related titles for women: 51ZLJlvzBHL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Books by bestselling authors: TheGunsatLastLight

 

Books about leadership: IMG_2371

 

Books to improve our intellect and make us think:  FotorCreated

 

And bestselling fiction: IMG_2375

(Interestingly Battle Cry is a book that my father both edited and published.)

All of this underlines the fact that books about military subjects hold a real fascination for the reading public.  Now that my son is an officer, it’s a category I will follow more closely.  What are your favorite military titles?

 

 

0

I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want

My clever colleagues Stacey and Jessica used this space to share their wish lists for the coming year and I’m going to avail myself of their example! Here are some of the categories I’m eager for right now:

Can’t put it down narrative non-fiction. Whether it’s a gripping personal narrative about key current events, or an exquisitely reported work of journalism, I want it! Send me your Five Days at Memorial or your Missoula, your Irritable Hearts or your A House In the Sky.

Tell me something I don’t know explanatory / exploratory non-fiction. Are you really good at something everyone is curious about right now? Do you have a new approach to save money or reset your memory, a new explanation of why we need love or what scares us most….and the platform to back it up? Rip it from the headlines and explain it to me. I’m not looking for gimmicks, but for accessible experts with fresh ways of looking at our world, the things we do, and what we care about most, like Caitlin Doughty’s Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, Scott Stossel’s My Age of Anxiety and Kate Bolick’s Spinster.

OMG! book club fiction. I will never not be hungry for character-driven page turners and well-written plots that keep you guessing. Got a closed community, like a boarding school or fishing village? Bring it on. Is a lifelong group of friends falling apart? Is a family struggling to keep a secret from the outside world…or from each other? YES PLEASE. Bring me your Big Little Lies, your Secret Histories, your Tana Frenches and Beatriz Williamses yearning to breathe free.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of the types of writing I am interested in, so don’t be discouraged if the thing you’re working on doesn’t fall meet these descriptions. If you’ve done your research and think I’m right for it, send it to me – sometimes the favorite projects of all are ones we never would’ve thought to wish for…

And those of you who do fall into these categories…I can’t wait to read your work!

Books I wish I’d sold

New Year equals New Books. I generally start the new year feeling a bit overwhelmed at all there is to catch up on, but also excited and motivated with renewed enthusiasm for fresh starts and what’s to come. So many books, so little time to sell them all.

In addition to bestseller lists and book reviews, I like to read Publisher’s Marketplace and look over the recent deals. I am often amazed at how good so many of the books sound, so instead of making a general “wish list” of what kinds of books I’d like to see in my in-box, I thought it might be more useful to see a few examples of books that were recently published or recently sold that resonated with me for one reason or another.

This book that was written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist explores the story of a set of adopted identical twins (anything having to do with identical twins as the parent of a set is of interest to me), one of whom transitions their gender identity. It sounds fascinating and wonderfully researched and written over the course of four years, and it looks into a very important subject that is still underexplored.

Becoming Nicole by Amy Ellis Nutt

Media personality and leading voice in brain health Max Lugavere’s COGNITION NUTRITION, a roadmap to optimal brain health and performance using what the latest science has discovered about food and diet recently sold and taps into two areas of interest – science and the brain. It’s an area that’s well covered (including my own upcoming title THE DISTRACTED MIND by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Larry Rosen), but a new angle is always of interest.

Author of The ADHD EXPLOSION and THE TRIPLE BIND, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley Stephen Hinshaw’s STIGMA: A Father and Son’s Journey Through the Mark of Mental Illness, which explores the burden of living in a family “loaded” with mental illness, with all the potential for insight and creativity as well as despair and isolation that entails, and in which he reveals his father’s (the distinguished philosopher Virgil Hinshaw, Jr.) and his own lifelong struggles with mental illness, the associated shame and stigma, and his evolving understanding of the social and public health dilemmas involved in the exploding mental illness crisis in America today. I’ve also had a strong interest in mental health issues and have books on my list which include PERFECT CHAOS, by Linea and Cinda Johnson, a powerful story about a daughter and her mom dealing with the daughter’s bipolar breakdown.

Finally, I’m having a love affair with children’s books at the moment. Both books I’m selling and books I’m reading with my girls. Sibling writing duo Heidi Lang and Kati Bartkowski’s debut LAILU LOGANBERRY’S MYSTIC COOKING, following the youngest master chef in 300 years in her efforts to open a restaurant where anyone, not only the wealthy, can feast on her fantastic cuisine including everything from kraken calamari to dragon steak; all the while she must help her absentee mentor pay back a vicious loan shark and avoid the notorious Elven mafia before the escalating conflict costs her the restaurant and possibly her life. Sounds unique and mixes my love of food and kids!

I could go on and on, but I’m hoping this gives you an idea of my interests and hoping I’ll see some project submissions from you in the near future. Feel free to reference this post if you contact me so I know you’ve been reading our blog!

4

All I Want for Christmas, 2015 Edition

1512522_736265656401481_1811941197_nIn this time of festivity, merriment, and the Union Square Holiday Market, naturally my thoughts turn to myself. Time with family and friends is all well and good, but more important, what do I want them to give me? I know you’re all having trouble coming up with the perfect gift for me, the most important person on your list, so why not give me the perfect query this holiday season? I get many great queries, and I’m open to a fairly wide range of categories, but here are the things I want that I’m not already getting (or just not seeing enough of):

  • Books in just about any category that manage to combine my four favorite qualities: sense of humor, brisk pace, clever writing, and insightful but unobtrusive ideas.
  • Accessible literary novels that tread new ground. In particular, I’d love to see literary fiction that’s not about suburban malaise, 20- or 30-something angst, or family drama. I’m not against those things certainly (some of my favorite books are those things), but I feel like that covers a very high percentage of the literary fiction that comes my way, and I’d love something that feels really fresh and new.
  • A truly disturbing psychological thriller. The kind that makes you look at the people you know with suspicion while you’re reading it, because the book reminds you how untrustworthy people can be.
  • Unreliable narrators. They’re so tricky to pull off, but when it works, it’s just about my favorite thing.
  • Contemporary middle grade and YA with strong, fun, accessible voices, but also heart. I especially want characters who are badass, but not kicking ass.
  • Contemporary romance that fits well within the category but stands out from the crowd. I’d love to see more contemporary romance with heroes and heroines of color.
  • Novels about major historical events of the 20th and 21st centuries that don’t primarily involve Americans and Europeans. I’m looking for historical fiction about events I didn’t get taught in school…but probably should have been.
  • As I’ve said before (including right over there –> in that sidebar), I’m eager to find more underrepresented voices. Now that can mean many things, and I welcome you to send me whatever you think might fit the bill, but in particular I’m looking for:
    • books for young readers and middle graders featuring protagonists who are on the autism spectrum
    • novels set in large African cities: I’ve realized recently that almost every narrative I’ve seen of Africa, whether in books or otherwise, is about remote places and small villages. Lagos has almost as many people as New York City. There are stories to be told there, and I want to read them.
    • fiction or non-fiction about the experience of going from disadvantaged backgrounds to elite colleges
    • a YA novel that actively explores code switching
    • a novel set in the contemporary Middle East that isn’t a thriller or chiefly about politics
    • novels about the immigrant experience in the United States
    •  current affairs nonfiction on feminism, especially intersectional feminism

None of that to say you shouldn’t query me for other things, but these are the books that aren’t happening to come my way—and that I really wish would.

Does one of those describe your work? Hit me up with a query at labramo@dystel.com.

12

First person vs. third person

It seems like I’ve been receiving a lot of manuscripts/sample chapters written in the first person lately, and while this is absolutely fine if it works for that particular story/genre, I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to explain some common misconceptions about the different narrative points of view.

  • The idea that a third person narrator is not as intimate as a first person narrator is false. When I ask authors why they chose to write in first person, the response usually has to do with telling an intimate story. A third person narrator can be just as intimate—he/she can express the thoughts, fears and dreams of the character, as well as take a bird’s eye view of the action, which leads me to my next point
  • First person isn’t easier to write than third person. In fact, you could argue the opposite. As mentioned, writing in the third person grants you a lot more freedom—it allows you to write a story from any perspective you want. On the other hand, first person narratives can severely limit the author’s options. The author can’t write about events that the character doesn’t witness or the emotions and thoughts of other characters. It can be restrictive. Worse yet, if a reader doesn’t connect with a character’s voice, that kills the book right there. But perhaps most difficult of all, I find that writers tend to overemphasize emotions, which quickly becomes unbearable. Don’t, I repeat, DON’T put me in a glass case of emotion.

 

will ferrell glass case of emotion

 

  • Third person isn’t necessarily better than first person. While it should seem clear by now that I prefer the third person, it is in no way, shape, or form the better point of view. Certain genres work very well in first person, particularly YA. Furthermore, some books just work in first person regardless of genre. Think about your classic unreliable narrator, Holden Caulfield (although The Catcher in the Rye would probably be considered YA nowadays). The Martian and The Bookseller, and The Rosie Project were great in the first person…or so I’ve heard (only actually read The Martian). First person can work, don’t get me wrong. I just prefer third person.

I’d like to hear from our readers. Which point of view do you prefer to read? To write? Why?

3

What I’m Looking For

I’m always on the hunt for new and exciting projects, but what I’m looking for does shift and change a bit based on what I already rep, the market, and whatever I’m personally ruminating at the moment. Right now, that’s:

  • YA and MG novels that deal with faith, loss of faith, and other “big questions” kinds of books. I remember my teen years being about questioning and figuring out exactly what I believed in. I’d also love to see a novel about a kid exploring political issues, and perhaps how one’s political identity contrasts with one’s parents’.
  • I’d love to see some more ghosts. Ghost stories have always been a favorite of mine, and while there have been so many, I’d love to see something new and original. MG, YA, adult—it’s all good!
  • I’m still eager to find a great tennis novel. I’ve seen some good books over the years, but nothing that I connected with enough to take it on.
  • On the nonfiction side, I’m still very eager to find more pop science. I’d love a Sixth Extinction or a What If? I’d really love a book about the space program, particularly women involved with it.

That’s just a brief list of the things I’m most interested in at the moment, but as usual, if you’ve got something brilliant, I’d love to see it!

0

Something for everyone

As a general rule, I’m wary when someone thinks that a book is for everyone.  It’s usually a red flag that people don’t know their market or haven’t thought about their category.  But in a different sense, it’s critical that books be for everyone, as this incredible piece by Mira Jacob illustrates.  (It’s fantastic. Go read it. I’ll wait here till you get back.) We need to have books for everyone. Books that reflect everyone’s experience.   Not all books need to be for all people, but no one should be unable to find themselves reflected back on the page.  And no one should be unable to love and enjoy and identify with a book only because it’s not written explicitly for them.  Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me is pretty explicitly for his son and about the experience of being black and male, but it’s still one of the best books I’ve read this year, even though I am neither black nor male. We’re all drawing from the same well of human experience: joy, anger, fear, alienation, community, love, loneliness, etc.  There are things in the book I identified with, and things that were alien to me, but those too had value for me as a reader.  People need to be seen, and they also need to see.  People need to be heard, and they also need to listen.

The tie kills me.

Fidge looking for my name in the back of The Maze Runner.  He was delighted when he realized that my name is in books!

To that end, for the last several years I’ve made sure to take this into account when I consider who I want to represent.  I’m very interested in underrepresented voices, and if that describes you and you’re reading this in the course of your search for representation, I hope you’ll consider querying me.

There largely aren’t specific underrepresented voices I’m looking for, but I am on the lookout for books for young readers and middle graders featuring protagonists who are on the autism spectrum.   My nephew (I call him Fidge) is a voracious reader, one of my two favorite people on this earth alongside his little brother, and on the spectrum.  Reading is kind of our thing.   I already know he’s capable of loving books that don’t reflect that aspect of him, but I’d love to help bring books to the market that he would be able to find himself in.  He’s one of the world’s two best people—surely he deserves to feel seen and heard.

Characteristics of a great thriller

Publishing is trendy—as in, it’s an industry dominated by trends, like pretty much every other industry. It’s not hard to understand why. Demand for books in a certain genre increases. Publishers acquire more books in said genre. And right now, thriller is that genre.

Thrillers have always sold, but Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL hit the big screen last year and demand for the genre grew. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins enjoyed some serious pre-publication buzz and came out of the gates at a full sprint this January. It’s been at, or near, the top of all bestseller lists since. Renee Knight’s debut, DISCLAIMER, comes out in a week, and it has drawn comparisons to both GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. And on the eve of the London Book Fair this year, a professor at Oberlin College saw his debut thriller go for 7 figures in a two-book deal!

So clearly thrillers are hot. But what makes them great? What differentiates a top tier thriller from an average one? What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Oh, and if you think you’ve written a top tier thriller, do send it my way. I wouldn’t hate reading it…

2

A call for more sports literature

As some of you may know, I’m a little into sports, and as a fan of the Mets, Nets, and Jets, things are looking surprisingly good. The New York Mets own the best record in baseball, at least for now (probably won’t last…or will it?). The Brooklyn Nets beat the Atlanta Hawks last night to tie up the series at 2 games apiece against the best team in the Eastern Conference (though their chances of advancing are still small). And with the offseason moves the Jets have made, they are, in my opinion, just a decent quarterback away from being potential playoff contenders (a tall order, I know).

So, with that said, I’d like to request/plead for sports-related queries. If you have a novel or nonfiction work on sports, I would love to take a look at your material.

Fair warning: books about sports are tough to sell for a very simple reason: the market. Publishers won’t buy a book that they cannot definitively say will appear to X number of readers or Y demographic. It’s no secret that women tend to read more than men, and it also isn’t a secret that men tend to be more interested in sports than women. Except that—and this is a secret—neither are true. Well okay, maybe the former is, but I have male friends who read voraciously and female friends who bleed red and blue (NY Giants, NY Rangers).

Sports are universal. There is a market. And when books about sports work, they really, really work. In fact, they often work themselves onto the big screen. Yeah, I’m looking at you FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS by H.G. Bissinger, MONEYBALL and THE BLIND SIDE by Michael Lewis, and SEABISCUIT by Laura Hillenbrand. Oh, and novels can work too—case in point: THE ART OF FIELDING, Chad Harbach’s wildly successful debut and one of my favorite novels in recent years.

Notice any commonalities between any of those books mentioned above? They’re great sports stories, told beautifully, and aren’t really about sports. Query me if you think your book fits the bill.