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.


Out of Time

I’m in the midst of editing a novel that needs to be cut down by a third and I confess, wiping out broad swaths of thoughtful, beautifully composed prose is not easy, even for someone who believes in a stringent edits the way some folks believe in juice cleanses, never going to sleep angry, or a morning constitutional. So I found John McPhee’s piece on Writing By Omission
especially helpful. In truth, most everything McPhee writes about writing is instructive, smart, subtle and so well built as to have no seams showing. A piece that at first seems meandering and conversational is invariably a feat of engineering (for more on this see McPhee on structure.)

How do you decide what to cut? In her recent post, Erin cited Hemingway’s counsel to “write drunk and edit sober.” Does that method work for you? When charged with transforming your shaggy dog sort of tale into a sleek greyhound, do you agonize, rail, sulk or simply get down to the business of shearing? I’m a bit of a railer—after all, I LIKE long books, I’m a devotee of the doorstop. In my own weird universe, a dense book means a longer stay in the world of the story. And who wouldn’t welcome an extra week’s vacation?

Of course, the industry in which I work rarely shares my view, and I’d be a poor sort of agent not to communicate this to my clients. Most any book above 150K words is a non-starter, especially for first time authors; why? First, there’s the high production costs of a printing, shipping and storing a brick of a book, but it’s also true that people are understandably parsimonious with their time. Publishers are afraid that long novels are off-putting. Maybe that’s true. There are certainly plenty of other contenders for our leisure–social media, online games, clever, much-talked-about TV. But that the otherwise smart site Medium.com actually estimates how much time it will take its readers to complete a piece actually offends me. The delight of reading is that it is atemporal. That the words—whether on a page or screen or read by an actor from an audiobook–vanish and with them, any sense of regular time passing.
I can read on a page or a screen with equal ease, but cutting is a task that is best done on paper, and not electronically. There is something bloodthirstily satisfying about a diagonal slash through a page that the Kindle highlight function cannot match. How do you, as F. Scott Fitz may or may not have said, kill your darlings?


Failed Writing Motivators: Do Not Attempt

As a writer, I’m always on the look out for the next motivating factor. The one ritual, the quietest coffee shop, the most caffeinated drink, the tastiest cake, the awe-inspiring view, or the most mind-clearing alcoholic drink that will get to me the status of writer’s nirvana and allow me to write an instant classic. The problem with motivators is, like a sugar-high (which many of them definitely are), they don’t last long. They work for a week before I have to find the newest and more improved device.

Well seeing how I’ve been through plenty, I wrote a list of my worst failures so you can do yourself a favor and steer clear of them.

Enhanced Coffee: Regular coffee blended together with purified (grass-fed-only cow’s milk) butter ghee and a special brain performance coconut oil. Okay, I was alert. But the process of purifying butter to squeeze out a few more words was not worth it. Plus, I didn’t sleep that night or the next.

Driving: While working on an opera that takes place in cars, I drove around downtown Los Angeles for hours. Until I got a ticket for texting. “I wasn’t texting, officer. I was writing opera,” didn’t go down well.

Wine Bars: The new coffee shop. If Hemingway can do it, why can’t I? Except what Hemingway probably left out of his quote, “Write drunk; edit sober,” is how much longer his editing process was than most.

I do know that successful writers say the only way to be successful is to have a routine. But don’t you have to be successful before you can do that? With day jobs, families, etc, and no cooks or maids or PAs, routines are not easy to come by, so I’m still in favor of the ever changing motivation tools.

What are you some of your failures or successes with writing motivators?


Beauty and the book

There is so much talk in publishing about promoting your book. I recently had a conversation with a prospective nonfiction author and when I told him about the proposal process and what he’d need to put together in terms of a marketing and publicity plan, he asked me what the publisher does?! It’s a good point that publishers today look to the author for a lot more than producing a quality commercial book. They are expected to also prove that they can sell it. The publisher certainly has certain resources to support those efforts, but the greater the author’s ability to find their own audience the better the publishing process goes for all involved.

So I was tickled and a little appalled to find this hilarious piece in Time about what was expected of female authors promoting their books in the 1960s, or at least Jeanne Rejaunier, author of The Beauty Trap. The photos are so amazing and my personal favorite is the one of her in bed with her cat and her pencil under her chin making her look like a puppet on a stick. And then there’s the horses…

Let’s get real. A lot has changed (thank goodness) but looks still matter. It’s certainly not mandatory to be beautiful, but it helps! More important is the ability to network with other authors, connect and engage with fans, and produce quality work in a timely manner. Thankfully it is no longer required to take sexy photos in bed to promote your book (unless you’re Holly Madison writing about her time at the Playboy mansion, but even she has taken a less sexy approach to her story and the result is a huge bestseller!). So what works now? What gets you out to the bookstore to buy books? Reviews? Publicity? An author’s book on sale at Costco? Let us know how swayed you are by authors promoting their books.

Jeanne Rejaunier - Author - "The Beauty Trap", with cat

Jeanne Rejaunier – Author – “The Beauty Trap”, with cat



Some nuggets

For today’s blog post I just want to share several short nuggets of information with our followers.

Nugget #1

A cover reveal! Because I know that’s a popular request, and I absolutely love this cover.



FATHER LINCOLN by Alan Manning


Nugget #2

Cause for concern?

I’m referring to an upcoming Authors Guild study on author income coming out this week that everyone in the industry should read, as it affects not only the livelihood of authors, but the wellbeing of the publishing industry as a whole. It’s hard not to wince at the idea of 56% of authors earning below the poverty line in 2014, and the always-contentious standard 25% e-book royalty rate and Amazon’s marketplace dominance are widely believed to be the cause of such an ugly statistic. BUT I would also like to stress that it’s too soon to jump to conclusions without seeing the whole report and being able to identify larger earnings trends. Do things need to change in order for midlist authors to be able to earn a decent living? Yes, almost definitely. And luckily technological innovation is giving us ever more inventive means of distribution, marketing, publicity, etc. Now we just need some sort of study to reveal some jarring statistics that shock us into a conversation about change. Oh wait…


Nugget #3

Gotta love the short fiction on Twitter! Something I alluded to in an earlier blog post.


Finding Time To Write In the Busy Season

There is much rejoicing on Twitter and the general social media parade: fall is (almost) here. It is almost time for scarves and boots, the pumpkin spice takeover, a breath of relief at cooler temperatures, and the crispness in the air that seems to perk up everyone’s steps. The ushering in of fall also means a renewed flurry of activity in publishing as everyone shakes off the residual sand and rays of sun from their vacations and gets back to work. Fall (and spring) seem to be the busy seasons: something in the air is conducive to productivity and bursts of energy.

As lovely as these busy seasons are, as a writer myself, it’s been hard to find time to sit down and write (much less read) with all the new activity at hand. By the time I get home, it’s time to make dinner, say hello to the other humans in my house, prep for the next day, and go to bed. Making a literary life for oneself proves much more difficult outside of the academic setting. Many writers also hold full time jobs, have active families or a significant other, and are engaged in the process of going about the business of the everyday world.  So I suppose I ask: how do you find the time in your day to find the mental space to write or engage in creative work? How do you set aside time to unwind and pull a book off your ever-growing “to-read” stack?

And, on a more fun note, with all these new books to curl up with as the days get shorter: What books does everyone have in their fall queue? What are the best things about fall in your opinion? 



Broken Glass and Other Painful Metaphors about Revising

August tends to be a quiet month in publishing but the past couple weeks have been anything but here at DGLM. The building is doing work on the roof, so we’ve enjoyed a constant racket of drilling, hammering, and buzzsawing. Not to mention dust showers everywhere and occasionally the stench of propane. It was supposed to take just one week, but then they broke some windows in the process. And not just windows – the very ancient tall skinny skylights loom over our entire office! Replacement panes had to be special-ordered, and now the workers are back, hammering, vacuuming, and moving drop-cloths around as they hustle through their repairs.

All this reminded me a little bit of the revision process. It can be torture. It goes on forever! It gives you a headache! You have so many other things you’d rather be doing! And just when you think you’re finished, you realize a beneficial reworking in this part of your story messed up a plot point several chapters on. Back to the computer…

But, just like our roof work – which they tell us is for asbestos abatement, yikes – it’s gotta be done. Revisions lead to a better, stronger book that will stand up to criticism. Maybe you suffered a little broken glass along the way, but now your book is brighter and cleaner, and full of light!

 This metaphor is done now, and we hope the workers soon are as well. In the meantime, stick with it, all you revising writers!



Blast from the Past

Passing through Harrisburg last Sunday night on an impromptu Pennsylvania getaway, I found myself with a half-hour to spare and figured I’d check out what was said to be a terrific used-book store, Midtown Scholar Books. But nothing I’d read or heard about it quite prepared me for this:

….and what you see here are just two of the store’s six levels. Needless to say, I spent a lot more time there than a half-hour, and a lot more money than I had intended. As it was Sunday night, things were slow. But you could tell this was a terrific social and cultural hub in the neighborhood, with an art exhibition space, a café, a big stage for readings, a large children’s section, and that wonderful open gallery, filled with more books as well as secret reading nooks, ringing the second floor.

I was knocked out by the place the way I was by Powell’s the first time I saw it. I also felt rocketed back to the recent past—the pre-Amazon, pre-Kindle era–when New York City boasted fabulous destination bookstores, most of them on Fifth Avenue. Emporiums for new–not used–books, and often for records as well (we had records in those days, not CD’s), these were places with stunning architecture, knowledegable staff, and  huge selections. Rizzoli, Scribner’s, Doubleday, Brentano’s—you could spend an afternoon caroming among them down Fifth Avenue.

Great large-scale bookstores still exist, and it remains a pleasure to spend time in places like Strand, Barnes and Noble on Union Square, and the aforementioned Powell’s in Portland, Oregon.  And Rizzoli has found a new home, further downtown on Broadway and 26th St.  But I wish I could pass on to another generation the sheer thrill of walking into one of those Fifth Avenue architectural beauties, where you felt surrounded by possibility and enriched by the sheer elegance and grace of these vast literary temples. In a more casual way, Midtown Scholar brought back that sensation to me. I’m glad it’s around, and it gives me a good reason to look forward to my next trip to Harrisburg.


Counting Houses and Boys with Shillings

I love the fall, but that doesn’t stop me from mourning the end of summer, and so Tim Kreider’s funny, wistful editorial in the New York Times, “The Summer that Never Was,” struck a particularly resonant chord.

My goals for the summer were more modest than Kreider’s (he was planning to spend a few weeks in Iceland) but I realized that I’ve read far fewer books than I planned, spent less time on my bike than I hoped, and failed utterly in my plan to teach myself to a) garden or b) grout.

Kreider’s article not only measured the (sad) space between best laid plans and actual outcomes, he also captured another facet of summer—one particular to publishing. He writes “though all other transactions in the 21st century are conducted electronically and instantaneously, the process of paying writers is apparently still carried out by scriveners and counting-houses and small boys dispatched with shillings in their hands…”

This made me laugh—rather, snort—aloud. All other aspects of the business may continue to hum along, but the process of getting an author paid does slow down, inevitably and inexcusably. The round robin of vacation-takers seems to insure that all of the necessary parties are never present when it comes to drafting agreements, executing them, signing off on payments and cutting checks. I’ve conducted no formal studies on this matter, but in summertime, livin’ is not always so easy for those who write for theirs. Houses expect professionalism from their authors, and authors should expect that they will be paid in a timely way. My job is to speed the process as much as I can, but (with regrets to Bartleby and his fellow scriveners) I think the process itself needs some modernizing.


Reaching A Younger Generation of Readers

This past spring, a few English majors from my college (including me) got the opportunity to have lunch with M. NourbeSe Philip, a Canadian poet and writer of all genres, and she asked the small group around her, “Do children still read books?” By books, she meant hard copy books, not digital versions. As some diehard English majors are wont to do, the table exploded in reassurances that yes, hard copy books were still very much present and who reads off Kindles/Nooks/iPads anyway? From there, we embarked on a cultural and social discussion about the importance of children holding a book in their hands, why hard copy books will probably always exist., etc.

Four months later, I started babysitting for a charming family who moved to NYC from Hong Kong with two gems of boys. (I’ve honestly never seen better behaved children in my life and they do homework when asked to without much griping. A dream!) My main reason for being there—other than giving their mom a break—is to get them to try and read more. Their mom mentioned with a wry grin that they prefer using the iPad or computer to picking up a book, and do you think you could install a love of reading in them, please?


As a kid who didn’t have access to digital reading, I’m a hard copy book reader myself. But I’ve found myself reading manuscripts on my iPad because those are digital and it’s a matter of convenience. The majority of people I know who are big readers have some kind of digital reading device. And last summer, I had a conversation with an agent at another literary agency about audiobooks and how to reach a wider, more digitally driven audience. “Certain demographics,” he said, “aren’t going to pick up a book. They’re going to be plugged in. How do we reach them?”

I think I’m going to bring my small charges to the Strand and turn them loose. I’m hoping that being surrounded by books will get them excited to choose a book to bring home. (So yeah, it’s a little bit of bribery, but you know. Babysitting is half bribery, to be honest.) Fingers crossed that somehow in my time with them, they start being enchanted by books they can hold and smell and turn pages in.

So that being said: any suggestions for books for active boys around ages 5 and 7 who love soccer, Legos, and have lived in two countries already?

Any predictions on how kids will be reading in ten, fifteen, twenty years?