1

True romance

It’s the Wednesday before July 4th weekend and I was sitting at my desk thinking about what I should write about that’s not too heavy—you know you’re all just thinking burgers, beers, and lounging by a pool right now—when I came across this delightfully obvious article in the HuffPost.  Well, I mean, obvious to me….

I’ve been married for roughly 100 years and was more of a serial monogamist than dater back in the day so I’m not an authority on the subject, but I never had a romantic connection with anyone who didn’t read, didn’t love discussing books and plays, and wasn’t able to tell me in loving detail about the titles that had had the most impact on him.  That, of course, applies to most (all?) of my good friends as well, when I think about it.

Personally, I think the way to anyone’s heart is not through their stomach but through their book collection.  Do you have any stories of meeting cute through books you’d like to share?

Sense and Sensibility

0

#AgentsDay

Yesterday was #AgentsDay, one of those fun faux festivals that spring up to give people a theme for their tweets. It made for an encouraging Monday here at the office as many of our amazing clients were inspired by the hashtag to share what they appreciate most about Team @DGLM.

Browse through the hashtag and watch for a familiar name…and don’t forget to follow all our agents on Twitter while you’re over there!

If you’re still querying, #AgentsDay is also a helpful resource for finding agents to follow – many happy authors tagged their agents in their tweets, so click on over to their Twitter profile to start getting to know their lists and personality.

There are a lot of benefits to following a bunch of agents on Twitter! For one, it helps you jumpstart your agent research, which is an important part of the query process. Agents often tweet about new releases from their lists or genres they’re particularly eager to see, so you can narrow down the best match for your manuscript. Sending materials to an agent who doesn’t represent your category wastes your time and theirs! An agent’s Twitter feed is also a good sneak peek of what an agent’s personality is like; if you find someone who seems like the perfect fit for you, you can put extra time and energy into crafting the perfect personalized query to catch their attention, or even find out about opportunities to meet them in person at conferences or workshops. And a lot of agents tweet editing tips and query feedback, from general dos and don’ts to specific feedback on (anonymous) queries as they go through their inbox.

So get to following! We won’t even be mad if you follow agents other than #TeamDGLM. (Just remember: when it comes time to query an agent or follow-up with them, keep it professional and do it through email! )

 

Who are your favorite agents to follow on Twitter? What’s the best writing/querying tip you’ve gotten on Twitter?

1

Critical Mass

 

I’m not quite sure why it took so long, but at last we have a literary equivalent to Rotten Tomatoes. Book Marks, which is part of the Literary Hub website, is now up and running.

Just as Rotten Tomatoes does for movies, Bookmarks will aggregate the reviews from professional critics, assigning each new book a grade from A to F according to the consensus of critical opinion. Thumbnail versions of the reviews will be posted, along with links to take you to the full text. There will be a space for average readers to weigh in, too, but the emphasis here is on the major mainstream reviews—ones we may disagree with, but which certainly carry plenty of weight for publishers, booksellers, and book buyers, not to mention the authors whose careers may ultimately be affected for better or worse.

In the age of the internet, received critical opinion has been devalued because anybody at all can now state an opinion and put it out there for the world.  And there’s something to be said for that, as a book’s popularity can often buck the critical tide. In recent years, we’ve seen self-published authors who have become phenomenons without the support of mainstream reviews.

But there’s still something to be said for a perceptive, insightful review by a professional critic who may bring a career’s worth of education and experience to his or her work. Lord knows we may not always agree with their findings. Still, what they have to say will always carry weight within the publishing industry, and Book Marks will make it easy to  find a book’s reviews gathered together at a single keystroke.  And who knows? Maybe it will return to book critics a bit of the respect they’ve missed lately.

I’d love to know from this blog’s readers whether they think they will use this new site or ignore it as just so much “book noise” that’s already out there.

1

I believe the children are our future

coverRegular readers of the DGLM blog will already know that I dote on my nephews, and that reading is one of our strongest bonds. The two little goons had their first day of summer vacation this week and asked their mom if they could spend it reading, which pleases me to no end.

Luckily I got to spend this past weekend with them, where I planned to work with them on making a “book.” They’re already fascinated with the fact that their aunt makes books happen—the older one, who I call Fidge, refuses to leave a bookstore without looking for my name in some books, even proudly showing it off to strangers in the same aisle, and the little one, who I call Gus, thinks that my job is International Secret Agent.  Imagine my delight when I arrived at my mother’s this weekend to see that they had already taken it upon themselves to make their own books, without my ever suggesting it.  Fidge wasn’t done with his yet, so I’ll have to wait till next time.

back coverBut Gus?  Gus not only finished his book, he read it to me, then turned it over with a flourish to read the title page that he tells me says “By At Lauren.”  (Having the title page on the back cover is a really bold move. He’s going to really change things up in publishing, I think.) While I don’t actually recommend that new authors sign over their copyright to publishing professionals just to curry favor, I can’t help but be touched.

interiorFor those of you who don’t read Gus-ese, the book is about a turtle who is lonely because he doesn’t have any friends. Then a shark swims by and tells him that he wants to be the turtle’s friend. And then they are friends forever.  I couldn’t be prouder to have “written” it. Picture book editors, shoot me an email if you’re interested.

 

1

Book Art

3c9a7c3c1011b71c029716359300f8f8One of my favorite  things to do is to go into a book store and judge book covers. “Gasp! No! This is something you should never do,” you may be thinking. But I think there’s actually merit in appreciating and critiquing the artworks that decorate books. That doesn’t mean I’m judging the writing, though.

The cover of a book is a work of art. There are artists involved in this process, and a lot of time and effort from many different people goes into making them just right. So if you’re not appreciating them or looking at them critically, you’re basically saying that all that effort is a waste of time. In my opinion, going into a bookstore is like going into a museum full of paintings. You may not love or understand every work of art, but you should appreciate its existence.

Here’s a blog that I love. It takes the covers of books and shows how absolutely beautiful they can be.

Bookbento

A photo posted by Book Bento Box (@bookbento) on


And here’s an article that shows some truly gorgeous book covers like this one:

8aaf07f0118381246684b291abef4c23http://drinkmicro.com/25-beautiful-book-covers/

These covers can enrich your home as much as they can your mind. Covers are just one more wonderful thing to love about books!

What are your favorite book covers?

Will books survive if Barnes & Noble doesn’t?

There is no shortage of articles that have been written over the last few years (and beyond) about the death of publishing. There’s little doubt that the industry has changed dramatically since I became an agent in 1999. Back then we had meetings to talk about digital books, and the consensus was it was not going to happen, at least not anytime in the near future and not in a way that would have a dramatic impact on the sale of print books. Well, we all know what a big impact digital publishing has had on the book market in recent years. The good news is publishers are still finding ways to maximize print sales as well as digital sales so it’s another revenue stream to mine that has cost benefit to publishers.

This recent piece in newrepublic.com speaks to a specific, if not new, concern for publishers and the book business – the potential demise of Barnes & Noble. Bear in mind, this has been a topic of conversation for many years and despite rumors, challenges and financial constraints, B&N is still in business.

Alex Shephard mentions in the piece: “In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits.” That might be true, but we’ve been seeing this for a long time. Same with his assertion that “Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all.” This has been a refrain we’ve heard on repeat for years.

My sense about the retailer’s impact on the book business if it were to shutter its doors is that it would be a significant and negative impact, but not an insurmountable one. No question, B&N has been a wonderful partner for bringing books to a wider audience. They provide some very nice opportunities for books and authors, from in-store events to co-op advertising (front of store placement) to their now 25 year-old Discover Great New Writers program. And while publishers still rely heavily on B&N’s feedback on many things, including covers (I’ve had several covers change at the last minute because B&N didn’t like it), the truth is that the number of books they purchase for their stores has dropped dramatically over the years. Yes, they still carry lots of copies of the big bestsellers, as do all the retailers, but they take a lot fewer copies of almost everything else.

This, in part, has resulted in smaller first printings for most books from years past with the hope that if the book starts selling, publishers can quickly hit the reprint button and fulfill market demand. But that doesn’t feel like new news to me. I hope B&N can survive and find a way to thrive in a very difficult market, but I feel strongly that even if that doesn’t happen, authors, publishers and agents will figure out a way to make it work, just like we’ve always done.

 

5

When nothing works

Often, when I tell people what my job is, they reply that it sounds really fun.  The fact is that most of the time it is. I get to read for a living.  I live in a world of ideas.  I work with people on all sides of the business who are creative and passionate about helping writers succeed in a pretty competitive marketplace.  I love that there is so much variety in what I am doing in a single day—editing a proposal, discussing a new idea with a client, talking about a potential project with a publisher, negotiating contract terms, helping to plan a publicity and marketing campaign, etc.

The other side of this, though, is what to do when nothing seems to be working.  Yes, there are times when it seems nobody is interested in the projects we are submitting.  Editors like the idea but can’t relate to the “voice”; they don’t think the concept works for their list; they can’t define a big enough market; the author isn’t qualified to be writing the book he or she is proposing or don’t have a big enough platform…I’ve heard it all.  Sometimes this gets really discouraging, especially during periods when it seems to be happening with everything we are submitting.

We ask ourselves what we are doing wrong.  Are we picking the wrong projects, presenting them in the wrong way, sending to the wrong editors and publishers?  What is it?  And then we think that maybe we should change up everything—do things differently.

While considering this the other day, I looked up “what to do when nothing works” on Google and I found 300,000,000 entries.  Astonishing! I read through some of them, but, in the end, after a long career full of these experiences, I have come to the conclusion that what I need to do is to stop second guessing myself and just keep doing what I’ve always done: Look for those new ideas and help our clients present them in fresh and original ways.  Identify new editors and new publishing opportunities.  Just keep moving forward.  To quote myself:  “NEXT!”

What do you do when nothing seems to be working in your world?

10

Getting lost in a book

My preferred activity as a kid was sitting somewhere (I always hoped for inside and air-conditioned during the summer) with my library bag stuffed with ten to fifteen new library books, and reading the day away. I would zip from one universe to another, skip centuries back in time, advance a few thousand light years in the future, face down a dragon or learn new magic words, be embroiled in the Civil War or Elizabethan England…the possibilities were endless. Changing worlds was as effortless as changing from wakefulness to dreams.

Given this, it’s unsurprising that this article from The New York Times piqued my interest. Two writers (Francine Prose and Benjamin Moser) ask whether or not it’s harder for readers to be transported by a book as they get older. Prose argues that children’s bigger imaginations and willingness to suspend disbelief allow them to become more wholly immersed in a book. Adults are more likely to analyze, cross-reference, and compare people and events in a book to things they’ve experienced. Moser says he discovered that he wanted to read the same books again and again, since, “the deeper you go into your own writing, the harder it becomes to enter someone else’s.”

Now of course, neither Prose or Moser’s points are true for everyone. Prose admits that some books still have the ability to totally immerse her in their reading experience and plenty of writers find new inspiration and motivation from reading other people’s work. Reflecting on my own reading trends, I realize that maybe I’m choosing a different kind of immersion as I’ve gotten older. I used to devour everything fantasy & sci-fi as a kid—I loved escaping to other (more exciting) worlds that had the possibility of magic glimmering at every turn. Now, I’m more interested in commercial fiction, “women’s” fiction, and more contemporary fiction, perhaps as a reflection of my own life. I’m turning to these genres for answers, other experiences and perspectives, and identification in my own life. It’s a different kind of immersion. (And I still love sitting down on a weekend and turning my attention to the stack of two or three library books I’ve checked out.)

What do you think? Can you mark a noticeable difference in your reading experience as a child and an adult? Do you think writing helps or hurts your reading?

10

Whatever Works

During a very energizing few days at the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference last week, I had the pleasure of spending time with fellow agents as well as a lot of authors—published and yet to be—and I practically O.D.’d on some of the best tacos known to man (El Sitio at 2830 De La Vina St., I’m lookin’ at YOU.)

One of the highlights of my stay was attending a panel of newly-published authors who were eager to talk about the craft of writing. An audience member asked them at  one point what their “process” was. It’s a legitimate question, because it seems to me that no two authors have the same process for writing and, Lord knows, that process is not always a steady one. It can vary depending on a writer’s moods, not to mention demands both personal and professional that always threaten to encroach on writing time. Lida Sideris, author of the mystery thriller Murder and Other Unnatural Disasters, answered, “I don’t have a process. I write by the seat of my pants. No one was more surprised at who the culprit was than me.”  Another panelist, Stephen Vessels, (The Mountain and the Vortex) warned of the danger of procrastination. “THINKING about writing can take an enormous amount of time,” he said. “You can THINK about writing instead of ACTUALLY writing for years.” That would seem to tie in with the mantra that succesful authors urge upon neophytes: Write every day. Sometimes that can mean setting yourself a goal of a certain number of words or pages. If it’s ultimately not usable or requires heavy editing, fine—those are decisions that can be made later.  You can’t edit a blank page.

But there are also successful authors who depend on a germination period before they sit down to write. They may need to take time to develop possibilities and choose among them; to let stories grow in their head before the actual writing begins. They may outline the arc of a plot before actually beginning a novel.

Whatever your process is, it is just that—your process. It’s what works best for you. Would anyone like to chime in and let us know what your particular system is? I’m always eager to hear about that.

4

Dream Job

A few days ago, I signed a new client—a scientist and researcher who studies dreams, who is writing a smart, heady novel that draws upon the neuroscience of dreaming and pushes it just beyond the threshold of the possible. Think David Mitchell, the film Inception, with a dash of DaVinci Code.  The novel is built like a mystery and set against a dreamscape backdrop that beggars Freud.  The author interleaves both the science and the mythology of dreaming in a tale that is inventive, original and utterly spellbinding.    All this is by way of introduction to the idea that I love my job.   It’s like grad school, but this time without papers, politics or adjunct teaching. Agenting offers exposure to big ideas and the folks who think them, and the opportunity to keep learning pretty much all of the time across a dizzying range of subjects.

Since part of my job is to act as a stand in for a curious, bright-but-not expert reader, I get to ask innumerable questions, request clarifications, and read like mad–sometimes even an actual, published, bound-in-paper book. Other parts of my job are just as satisfying, but in different ways—matchmaking, negotiating, advocating, advising… and the gerunds continue.  Of course, there are plenty of downsides to this business, too; rejection is a constant, there are disappointing sales, difficult people and the always fragile ecosystem of publishers, but I’ll save the grim bits  for another post. On balance, I love the work I do.

And what does that work look like on a day to day basis? My lived version is not especially glamorous.  I was a rank disappointment to a client visiting New York for the first time, who imagined me kitted out in Louboutins and Armani, climbing in red-soled stilettos over the bodies of tourists.  Happily, she forgave me for my lack of resemblance to Anna Wintour or even Annie Hall.  As I’m writing this on Thursday, I’m dashing in sensible flats between meetings with editors from three different imprints, all in midtown. This evening I have two author events, novelist Beth Hahn, author of THE SINGING BONE, doing a reading at the terrific Spine Out series and Mychal Denzel Smith, author of INVISIBLE MAN, GOT THE WHOLE WORLD WATCHING in conversation with Melissa Harris Perry at B&N. Assuming the subways and my legs are functioning, I’ll attend both; the first on the lower east side, the second on the upper west.

Wednesday was a staff meeting in which all the agents in our office go over the projects presently on or near submission.  With more than a dozen agents in attendance, it’s lengthy but informative. This is always followed by an ideas meeting where we pitch potential book concepts. In the interstices, I edited a proposal, responded to countless e-mails, set up author meetings/phone calls for a project on submission, and conducted gently harassing follow-ups on behalf of other projects out in the world. Earlier in the week I learned a great deal about ground scanning radar technology on a conference call with an archeologist client, conferred with a film co-agent shopping the adaptation of a forthcoming work of narrative history, had a long editorial conversation with client/co-authors about a novel in progress,  and requested several projects from queries.  I also tried to glance at social media, the newspaper and the weather.  I managed two thirds of these, hence was umbrella-less on Wednesday when the skies opened up.

The downpour was actually useful. Trapped until the rain slackened with a rapidly draining iPhone battery and no computer, I did something I rarely do in the space of a work day;  I cracked open a book and read—which to me, is living the dream.