Category Archives: why we are agents

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Ten Years

As of tomorrow, I’ll have been at DGLM for ten years.  Since that’s such a pleasingly round number, it feels like a good time to name ten of the best things about the last ten years at DGLM.  In no particular order:

  • We’re not in midtown.  Union Square is pretty much the ideal publishing location.  Between agencies, publishers, and scouts there are enough of us congregated around here, lots of great restaurants, a solid subway hub, and we’re nowhere near Times Square.  If you’re not a New Yorker, this might not resonate for you, but I’ve gotten to spend the last decade below 23rd street, which was more or less my life goal as an NYU student.
  •  I used to work in bookstores.  I have stood in those same places where I used to stock the shelves and read my own name inside books.  I have also made my family members endure this ritual of narcissism pretty much any time we’ve been in a place that sells books.  Given that they’re all book nerds, too, it’s kind of huge.
  •  I spend time on every vacation playing Spot the DGLM Client in foreign bookstores.  About 1/5 of my vacation photos are books I sold in translation.  I have almost no shame.
  • This is an office full of people who actually like each other.  From what I gather from friends, family, and years of sitcom watching, that’s kind of rare.  Our office meetings are usually way more hilarious than office meetings have any right to be. We work collaboratively, and even though we’re pretty ambitious, any internal competition is motivating rather than cutthroat.
  • Okay, so “reading books for a living” is much more the fantasy of agent life than the reality (I’m pretty sure I answer emails for a living, if you want to boil it down to one thing), but I do get to excuse myself from having a budget for books.  Buying books with reckless disregard for personal finance is just the responsible thing to do.
  • bookcasesAnd on a related note, I finally achieved the bookcase wall of my dreams.  (Goal for the next 10 years: rolling ladder.)
  • I get to turn the things I’m most excited about into my job.  If something’s been occupying my attention, there’s a way to publish a book on it.  Whether that’s putting out the call for a novel on the subject or tracking down a writer to cover it, from Serial to soccer, I get to make my passions my work. That’s even better than being able to make your favorite indulgences tax deductible.
  • I’ve learned from some of the best agents in the business.  If there’s anything the DGLM team can’t figure out about publishing between them, I’ve never encountered it.  There is always someone to learn from on every subject.
  • I’ve gone from Jane’s assistant to Subsidiary Rights Director, and I’m empowered to sign up anything I want.  That’s an amount of encouragement, opportunity, and support that I could only have dreamed of the day I shot my resume off to Michael, and I’m so incredibly grateful for it.
  • I work with amazing authors.  Sometimes I get to be the first person to tell an author she’s hit the New York Times bestseller list for the very first time. Someone I once made laugh on the phone is now president of this country.  On my last birthday, I had dinner with an author the week a movie adaptation of his book opened at #1 at the box office.  I tell extremely talented creative people what I think of their work, and they actually listen to me.  On a regular basis, I get to give people news so good it makes them cry.  I get paid to bring the most important tool of entertainment, education, enlightenment, and empathy the world has to offer to as many people as I possibly can.  Was that overly sincere?  I don’t even care.  It’s an extraordinary privilege to help shepherd books into the world.

And for those keeping track, yes, every person that worked at DGLM on my Day 1—Jane, Miriam, Stacey, Michael, & Jim—is still here on Day 3652.  Thanks to them and everyone else on Team DGLM for a fantastic 10 years.  Here’s to 10 more!

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The job of a literary agent

Last week I began thinking about what the technical responsibilities of a literary agent are compared to what we at DGLM do for our clients.  I researched the subject and I also asked our staff what they thought.  The results are interesting and I wanted to share those with you, our readers.

First, I found this definition of the responsibilities of a literary agent online:

Literary agents represent authors in the publishing world. Authors rely on literary agents to manage the business aspect of publishing for them. Agents negotiate contracts regarding publishing rights, advances and royalties. They represent authors to book publishers and other companies that may be interested in publishing an author’s work.

It turns out that this is a good definition but it doesn’t cover nearly all of the things we do for our clients at our agency.

This weekend for example Miriam and I have been working on amending an exciting movie/TV contract for one of our clients who had previously committed to this project without really realizing what she was getting into.  In fact, working with our clients on weekends and after office hours is something we do all the time.

We also do many things that other agencies do not do:

  • We send out  adult and childrens’ book  newsletters three times per year announcing the books we will be selling in the following four months and those we have sold in the previous four months.
  •  We have a digital book program with its own manager whereby we help clients self-publish their work—either new projects or those where the rights have reverted.
  • We have an extensive, informative website which we are constantly updating.
  • We have author social media guides for all kinds of situations.
  • We are very hands on in career management, advising our authors not just in the book space, but also in film/TV, newspapers and periodicals, and in whatever other career category they require our help.

We  also often go above and beyond, by helping clients with legal issues on for other parts of their lives, helping them to get mortgages or refinance their homes, even helping them to get jobs when we are able, and, perhaps more importantly,  providing a constant source of advice and support.

Above all else, and as I have said very recently in this space, we never give up until we really believe we have hit a wall and that it is best for our client to move on to the next project.  What is your experience and your expectations of literary agents?

I am sure I have overlooked some of the things we do that go above and beyond that tight definition of the responsibilities of the agent but this will give you a very good idea of the kind of agency Dystel & Goderich Literary Management is.

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A book can change your life

The title of this post might be overly dramatic, but if you look hard enough you will find some pretty incredible stories about people whose lives were changed by books and reading.

One of those amazing stories comes from YA author Matt de la Peña, whose piece this week in NPR is well worth your time. He touches on so many moments in his own life that were altered by books, and then when he goes into talking about his dad and how his life was changed by reading, well, I was in tears by that point so that tells you what kind of piece this is. In simple prose, he taps into why words and books and reading matter, and how the power of the written word can literally change your life. And I believe almost always for the better.

A love of reading doesn’t have to start early, either. Matt’s life-changing moment came in his second year of college. And you know what else I love about this article? That teacher. That amazing teacher who saw something in this young man and knew he had potential and needed a nudge so she gave him a copy of The Color Purple and asked him to read it before he graduated and then come talk with her about it.

I’m sorry for the way things go for Joshua, a tough young kid profiled here with a secret writing habit, and I hope that de la Peña or someone else can help him find his way through his writing, and through books. When I read pieces like this, it’s so validating to think that the work that we are all doing can make a difference, and in some cases, all the difference.

Do you have any stories to share about how a book changed your life, or the life of someone you know? Please share. And pass this article on too. It’s a great read, and an inspiring one.

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Busman’s holiday

Last night, I had a meeting with my book club (not to be confused with DGLM book club, which meets next week).  On the subway home, I was thinking how much fun it had been to leave work and drink wine and talk about books.  The great thing is that while last night was for fun, it’s often my job to leave work and drink wine and talk about books.  At my lunch meeting yesterday (no wine, since publishing’s moved on from the drinking lunch, sadly), we talked about our own lists and a novel I’m shopping that I think this editor will love (now on submission to her, so fingers crossed!).  We also chatted extensively about books we’d read and loved that have nothing to do with either of our companies, which is pretty much what happens when I get together with friends as well.  Sometimes my personal life and my professional life are similar in the best possible ways.

Reflecting on this brought to mind the debate those of us in publishing go through before every long weekend or vacation: work reading or pleasure reading or both?  We breathlessly discuss which books we’re taking on our vacations.  There’s intense analysis of the towering To Read piles and lengthy lists—what to bring?  How many?  E-reader or hard copy or both?  What are you reading?  Which of these did you like more?  Should I bring some manuscripts or put all work aside?

I can’t recall ever hearing someone in publishing say, “I can’t wait for vacation!  I’m not going to read anything.”  A total vacation from publishing means cramming your suitcase with a huge stack of books that you don’t have a vested interest in, not taking a break from books.

It occurs to me that publishing is an industry all about the busman’s holiday. Frankly, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Any suggestions for what to cram into my suitcase for my vacation next month?

Stacey Glick interview at Writer’s Digest

It’s been a while since I wrote about the kinds of projects I’m looking for, and since I answer that question and many others in an interview I did that was recently published on writersdigest.com, I thought it would be nice to share it with our loyal blog readers.

The interview goes into some detail on my background, my list, and my thoughts on many different aspects of the market, where it is now, and where it is going.

I thought Ricki’s questions were really targeted to my interests and as a result we managed to squeeze a lot of information into a fairly brief interview.

I hope it’s useful to anyone reading, and if I didn’t answer all of your questions or you have others you’d like to ask, ask away and I will do my best to respond to each and every one. Promise! Enjoy.

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Hello!

Thank you, Jane, for the warm introduction. It’s been a whirlwind of instructions and introductions, so please bear with me. I recently moved back to NY after a 6 year stint in Boston, where I had my first job in publishing at a boutique literary agency. Ms. Carolyn Jenks was a terrific mentor for over a year and I’m happy to say that we still keep in touch. I have her to thank for taking a chance on me and opening my eyes to what I now know is my dream job. Books have always fostered my insatiable appetite for learning, and I look forward to that in what I hope will be a lengthy career at DGLM. I’m thrilled to be a part of the team. What a remarkable group of people, as I’m sure you all know by now! For a brief biography and personal essay, please visit Who We Are and What We’re Looking For.

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World traveler

All of us at DGLM travel to writers’ conferences several times a year.  I’ve gone to places as exciting and diverse as Wichita and Richmond, Chicago and Scottsdale, but last weekend was the first time I had to fly across the ocean to chat up authors.  I spent three days in frigid Geneva, which is as lovely as it was cold, attending the Geneva Writers Conference.  Typically, I groused and whined for months about the trip prior to boarding my Swiss Int’l flight.  I mean, really, why couldn’t a writers’ conference in February be held in Hawaii, Bermuda, even South Florida?  And, of course, as my trip got closer I obsessively checked weather reports that told of the deadly cold spell that has Europe in its grip.  Did I mention there was a lot of whining?

So, how thrilled was I to find myself in a gorgeous setting—cold, yes, but picturesque and charming, with views of the Alps and an icy Lake Geneva—among truly fascinating people who were as engaged, smart, and serious a bunch of writers as I’ve ever encountered.  Individuals from all over the world gathered at Webster University to attend panels and workshops by the likes of Colin Harrison of Scribner, author Dinty Moore, British agent Hannah Westland, novelist Nick Barlay, guerilla publisher and author David Applefield, and many other brilliant authors and publishing insiders who came together to share their insights and expertise with kindness, generosity, and intelligence.

I had a great time, but I also came away with a refreshed perspective on our business and the creative process so many of us are engaged in daily.  Seeing how the life experiences and the cultural backgrounds of those present informed their writing, their questions, their goals was incredibly edifying.  I was struck again by the fact that dedication to craft and love of language and ideas is something we all share, regardless of our national boundaries or personal circumstances.  A clichéd observation?  Perhaps.  But I did come back to New York with a renewed love and respect for the business I’m in and for the writers I work with as well as a determination to keep my own intellectual borders open.

My only complaint?  Not enough strong coffee!  But that’s a small price to pay for an experience that I’ll treasure.

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The magic of words

If you follow me on Twitter (@laurenabramo), you might already have seen my delight at the appearance of one Stephen Fry at Barnes & Noble in Tribeca on Tuesday.  I’ve spoken of my love for him (and QI) on the blog before, so I don’t need to bore you with the details of why he’s in many ways my model of everything a human being should strive to be.  Instead of reading from his new memoir (published here in the US by Overlook), he spoke about his love for words.  Apparently, young Stephen was introduced to the magical possibilities of language when he came across the work of Oscar Wilde, who opened his eyes to the fact that words can do so much more than convey meaning and direction.  It’s what endeared him to the written word as an art form—and not coincidentally is much of what I love about Fry himself.

Hearing Fry wax rhapsodic about Wilde made me think about the first time I really got excited by how much power words could have.  I’d always loved reading, but I think much of my early love for books was love for story or characters.  It wasn’t even a book that first tipped me off to what language could do: it was A Few Good Men.  If you aren’t a huge fan and can only recall the climactic court room scene that might seem an odd choice.  But A Few Good Men comes from the pen of Aaron Sorkin, whose greatest strength as a writer has always been the absolutely glorious sentences he constructs.  It’s not even Jack Nicholson telling Tom Cruise he can’t handle the truth that was the clincher for me—throughout the film there are lines and moments that to my young mind were revelatory.  I started keeping a notebook of quotes and transcribed a pretty decent chunk of the film, adding those from other sources along the way.  The way Sorkin expressed even the most trivial things with a cleverness I’d never encountered before was really amazing for me.  I’ve been in love with words ever since.

Of course, it wasn’t long after that I discovered that the best resource for such word mastery was often in books.  Over the years I’ve taken to noting exquisite turns of phrase, not usually in a centralized location or even one I’ll return to, but with a folded corner.  I may never need it again, but I’m not the sort of reader who can let those moments pass unmarked.  In clients’ manuscripts, I usually go for a simple “!!!” in the margin.  No good phrase should go unnoticed as far as I’m concerned.

Surely Fry and I aren’t alone in this moment of explosive realization—I’d imagine many readers and especially writers would feel the same way.  Any distinct sources of epiphany for any of you?

P.S. I may have linked to this before, but it’s worth a listen/watch.  Pretty mesmerizing.

P.P.S. While I’m linking to tangentially relevant things involving British people, I was reintroduced to the delight of this clip from That Mitchell and Webb Look by Twitter earlier this week—I’d love to credit the person, but can’t remember!—and it’s worth watching.  This is pretty much exactly what all my meetings with clients are like.  What book would not be improved by adding a shark, I ask?  And you should definitely kill your main character in the first chapter.  Or don’t.

P.P.P.S. This blog post somehow inadvertently became a very clear view into what TV would look like if I were in charge of it.

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I didn’t know it would be so complicated

Having just returned to my desk from a heartbreaking session of “Lauren takes 25 minutes to do math she could’ve done in 2 minutes when she was 12,” I’m reminded of a chat I had with one of DGLM’s fine departing Fall 2011 interns at the holiday party last night.  He’d come to the agency thinking that publishing is all about editorial, and the biggest lesson he’d learned in his time here was how very much more there is to it.  The misperception that editors sit at their desks and edit and agents sit at their desks and read slush all day and there isn’t anyone else but the writers has been corrected many times (though seemingly not enough to stop well meaning strangers from saying “I’d love to be able to read all day!” while making cocktail party small talk).  Still, I think the sheer variety of things that anyone in publishing does with their time is really hard to wrap your mind around unless you’re in the midst of it.

Today alone I have put my editor hat on to get a client an edit memo, my lawyer’s beret to help sort out some out of print language in a contract amendment, my mathematician’s beanie to calculate the deductions at source on an incoming Spanish wire accounted in Euros, my secretary’s Stetson to input a new deal in our database, my publicist’s sombrero to track down some press mentions of a client’s newly launched novel, and my journalist’s fez to research “types of hats” on Wikipedia.  All the while wearing my agent’s fedora and sending out 150,762 emails.  (Roughly.)  Tortured headgear metaphors aside, agents are many things on any given day, and far more than I’ve even been today.  It’s one of my favorite things about this career—it never gets boring.

I know that as I started working here almost 7 years ago, I really didn’t have much concept of what agents do:  read, edit, sell?  That seemed like it’d cover it.  As our intern said, “I didn’t know it would be so complicated.”  Other than the algebra, I’m pretty happy that it is.

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Why we’re thankful

It makes sense since we’re counting down the minutes until Thanksgiving when we can indulge in a year’s worth of turkey, stuffing, and mashed potatoes to think about things we are thankful for.

Jane shared her thoughts on the subject earlier this week, and I found this piece from writersdigest.com with writers weighing in on why they’re thankful to be writers. There’s some humor to be found, but I also think that Brian Klem sums it up pretty nicely when he talks about his passion for writing (I wish I could say I leap out of bed every morning and rush to my computer!).

We’re all fortunate to work in a business where we can flex our creative muscles, be inspired each and every day by something new and exciting, develop long-term relationships with clients and editors who often become friends as well as colleagues, and for me personally, have the opportunity to do a job I love with the flexibility that a large young family requires.

So, I have a lot to be thankful for this year. And look forward to what tomorrow brings, and not just for the copious amounts of food I’ll be consuming. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!