0

Once a book nerd, always a book nerd

Putzing around the internet this past week or so, I’ve noticed a listicle/Twitter trend (because I am very observant and astute) using the hashtag #growingup______ fill in the blank with whatever esoteric or widely recognized variable you’d like. Some of them were funny, especially when I could relate and others I just rolled my eyes because the jokes were either overplayed or just too universal to even be worth it.

I’ve been growing a little bored of the trope, but when I came across Buzzfeed’s compilation of #growingupabooknerd, how could I resist? I thought it would be tired and, yet again, eye-rolly, but there were things there that I didn’t even know I related to until I read them.

Even the URL name had me in (metaphorical) stitches: “just-one-more-chapter-then-i-should-go-to-bed.” How more appropriate can it get? I think my most overused line as a kid was “once I finish this chapter,” which I would slyly wait to say until I had just started a chapter. SO TRICKY, LITTLE RACHEL, SO TRICKY.

However, I think my favorite inclusion in this list #14, which is a level of stress I know so well and am more than a little relieved that others experience the same existential panic:

Anyway, it’s Friday afternoon and I’m in the mood for a little more lightheartedness and knowing chuckles. Add your #growingupabooknerd memory in the comments!

0

Fruit flies and me

A conversation I was having with a publisher last week, went off topic (after we’d reached an agreement about the client in question, of course) when we started discussing vacations and vacation reading.  One thing leading to another as it does, we began to reminisce about the days when the publication of a big book was an EVENT and how rare a thing that is these days when Kim Kardashian’s latest naked selfie breaks the internet every 4.5 days (yawn!), Donald Trump opens his yap and the news cycle is hijacked to the exclusion of anything else, iPhones, tablets, FireTV sticks, and watches that text and send e-mail keep our attention buzzing from one landing spot to another like a drunken fruit fly.

Not to sound like a crotchety old lady but I remember when books made headlines and created the kind of anticipation blockbuster movies can still sometimes drum up (I’m there for the next James Bond film…just sayin’).   Sure, not so long ago the Harry Potter titles were doing just that but it’s been a while since a book was not only buzzed about but read by everyone immediately upon publication and then discussed ad nauseum everywhere you went.  (I don’t count the “new” Harper Lee since, personally, I consider that a cynical, somewhat soulless publishing move that has more in common with the Kardashian publicity machine than the event books I remember fondly and whose success was usually more predicated on their content than the marketing behind them.)

Is all of this due to the fact that there’s too much competition for our ever more fragmented attention spans or is it that we are slowly losing the ability to commit to a reading experience and the subsequent processing of that experience that involves discussion, debate, criticism, etc.?  Have the Buzzfeed book lists taken the place of the lively conversations about important titles that added something to the culture and our understanding of the world?

On a less cranky note, I’m reading The Martianthe martian right now and in the past two weeks have spoken to six people in vastly different contexts and in a serendipitous fashion, about the book.  This, combined with the rise in print sales and the fact that readers are looking for what the publisher I was speaking with called “the physical connection” we experience when reading hardcovers or paperbacks makes me hopeful that the big event book is not totally a thing of the past.

#Persistence

wedding 2I spent my summer vacation this year in Michigan celebrating my sister’s wedding, and I got to hear a lot of behind-the-scenes stories of how she and her fiancé met and fell in love. They’ve known each other for years because she is good friends with his sisters, and he was interested in her for a looooong time before she returned his affection. His sisters told me all the hilarious stories of him talking about her dreamy-eyed at the dinner table, looking for excuses to go to the bagel shop where she worked, treating everyone to baseball games and movies just so she’d come along and he could spend time with her. He was undiscouragable! And eventually, his persistence drew her attention to his kindness and funniness…and he won her heart.

I’m not just gossiping about my little family excitement – these stories about my new brother-in-law reminded me of the road a lot of writers travel on their way to finding an agent. When you’re an aspiring author, you want to be published so badly. It’s all you can think about. Your loved ones get tired of you talking about it morning, noon, and night – maybe they even tease you about how obsessed you are, or how outrageous your dream is. You write, revise, and revise again, go to workshops and writing groups, send your manuscript out to agent after agent after agent. You get a few requests, then heartbreaking “not for me”s. It’s so discouraging.

Don’t give up! Visit the How-I-Got-My-Agent stories on any blog or writing forum and you’ll find that many represented writers went through months or years of disappointing responses before finding the agent that was right for them. Many writers got their agent with the second or third (or more!) manuscript that made the rounds. For example, my client Rena Olsen wrote very frankly about the years of self-doubt and disappointment before she signed with me. And a writer pal of hers pulled together this informal poll on when authors got published – the numbers are fairly evenly split, with only 16% debuting with the first MS they wrote.

So keep at it! Keep writing, keep reading, keep researching, keep querying – that’s what it takes. And it will be a great story to tell when you finally win an agent’s heart.

What success stories inspire you when you get discouraged about your writing? What are your best #persistence tips? 

0

#JonVoyage

As anyone with an internet connection likely already knows, Jon Stewart shuffled off our television sets last night taking with him The Daily Show as we know it.  It remains to be seen whether books will get as warm a welcome from Trevor Noah as they did from Stewart, but the publishing world always mourns when any friend of books says goodbye to their TV audience, taking their power to make a book a household name with them.

But it’s touching to learn, via the Washington Post, that Stewart had time for one last plug close to his heart:

We’ll miss you, Jon.  And your helping hand!

1

A Good Title is Hard To Find

It may be that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. But outside the world of doomed adolescent lovers, the names of things matter, and finding the right title is crucial. A well-chosen title reflects and subtly positions the book, but finding les mots justes–that’s always tricky. My client, debut novelist Beth Hahn, blogged about the experience of letting go of her original title—THE SINGING BONE—in favor of DARK EYES.

“I got to keep THE SINGING BONE through editing and even saw the manuscript’s final version with title intact, but then, at some point–I think it happened during tip sheet review–there was a pause, and someone questioned my title, wondering if it were too literary, too mysterious, too–oh, but those were the very things I liked about it. Anyway, the publisher worried that readers wouldn’t know the how to interpret THE SINGING BONE, and truthfully, I had noticed this when I told people. “The Singing what?” was not an uncommon response.

I guess I could have fought for my title, but then, honestly, I sort-of knew why the title was being changed, so I began to think of the title change as a further relinquishing of my book. Yes, THE SINGING BONE was my novel’s title, but when a book is sold, it belongs to everyone–to editors and art directors and readers, too, to libraries, and to strangers who would not get to ask me, “The Singing what?”

Finally, I got an email from my editor: “What about DARK EYES?” he wrote. It was clean, relevant. It screams “Mystery/Thriller.” I’d thought of DARK EYES, but I’d been too literal with it. The darkest character in the book, Mr. Wyck, has blue eyes–light blue eyes. But the song “Dark Eyes” cuts a strange path through the novel, turning up in different scenes and carrying plenty of psychological and emotional weight.”

I’m in the midst of helping another client and his editor come up with a new title for WWII-era narrative nonfiction. Our marching orders are to find: “Something with zing. Something that sounds dangerous and romantic. Something that’s catchy and rolls off the tongue. Especially something that is not generic.” Whew! Settling on a title that both the author and the publisher love can take a while, but the effort is certainly in the book’s best interest.  Sometimes a title emerges from the text itself, a particularly resonant line or quotation.

Where and how do you find your titles? How often in the writing do you switch gears?

1

Take Me On An Adventure

I immediately wanted to take a road trip after reading this article. The accompanying map routes 12 different literary road trips with points for each pitstop in the novels. Most importantly, it includes a quote from the books describing each place so you can understand how these literary masters were affected and changed by the setting.

Last year, I went on a trip through Utah, and I can remember the driving almost as well as the places we stayed. I can remember driving through Salt Lake City with a perfectly white crescent moon hanging low in a light pink sky. And those mountains! They way they envelop the city feels spiritual. I felt like everything had meaning in that moment, everything was significant. I fell deeper in love with my boyfriend just because he was there to experience it with me. I understood then why people write about road trips and the significant ways they can affect your relationships and appreciation for life. I realized why I love road trips even though I hate driving. It’s not about going from point A to point B. It’s about what you see, what you learn, your perspective shifting as quickly as the passing scenery.

I was recently editing a road trip novel for a friend of mine. Everything was perfectly in place, and yet, I couldn’t quite understand why I felt something was missing. It wasn’t until I read a part where they were driving through Utah that I suddenly realized that the characters hadn’t once commented on the scenery. The setting hadn’t changed them at all. What’s the point then? Why not just stay in one place?

I would love to read more road trip novels. I want to be able to feel in the words the same importance I felt driving through Salt Lake City to Park City to Zion. I want to be able to see the mountains and the blaring stars and the sunburnt skies. Take me on an adventure.

0

Keep your sense of humor

There has been so much attention on the new Harper Lee book released a couple of weeks ago that it prompted even me, a veteran publishing professional, to buy it as well as a new paperback edition of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD to re-read. GO SET A WATCHMAN came out to numbers that compare to Jurassic World for the book biz: over 1.1 million copies sold across formats in less than a week, over 3.3 million books printed according to wsj.com. Never have I seen in my almost 17 years as an agent such hoopla surrounding a book’s publication.


I know it’s a big deal, but it even surprised me with the scope of its coverage. I mean, last time we saw a book get so much attention was when the 50 Shades sequel was published in June (joke)!


So, it cracked me up when I came upon this piece recently in Publisher’s Weekly by (as it turns out, didn’t realize when I was reading it) Jane’s client Mardi Link about how her book’s publication fell on the exact same day. What are the chances? She has such a funny take on the whole scenario that I thought it would be fun to share.


As I’ve said on the blog before, so much in life is about timing. What do you think? Is she onto something by using her competition as a way to get publicity for her own book? I think it’s a very clever approach, and an entertaining one as well. Hope her book does a fraction as well as Harper Lee’s!

 

1

A new member of our team

Amy BishopIt is always exciting for me to welcome new members to our team; inevitably they bring fresh perspective, energy, and creative ideas.

I am delighted to welcome Amy Bishop as our new administrative assistant. She joins Miriam, Michael, Jim, Stacey, Lauren, Jessica, John, Eric, Mike, Rachel, Sharon, Erin and, of course, me.

Amy is a graduate (summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa) from the State University of New York at Geneseo and was an intern at DGLM during the summer of 2014.  We very much enjoyed having her with us then and so when this job opened up, she was a natural choice to add to our staff.

I hope everyone will join me in welcoming Amy Bishop.

Children’s Nonfiction

One of the more interesting and unexpected developments in the children’s book industry over the past year or two has been the rise of nonfiction. Publishers Weekly recently ran an article that surveys the landscape, and how publishers are having success with the kind of MG and YA nonfiction that, until recently, was thought to be going the way of the dodo. Who would have foreseen that in 2015, guidebooks for a video game would be bestsellers?

(Then again, if anyone can explain the appeal of Minecraft in the first place, please do!)

But while video game tie-ins are all well and good, obviously those are licensed products, and for the average children’s book writer, writing for a licensor is a hard gig to land. So how can writers take advantage of this NF “moment” and capitalize on the momentum?

Well, from my seat at the agent’s desk, books like BOMB and RAD AMERICAN WOMEN are the way to go–titles that can fit with Core Curriculum standards while having the kind of adult-market trade appeal that will catch parents’ eyes in the bookstore. Biographies are also attractive, particularly those of living figures (for instance, Hillary Clinton) recently deceased figures (Steve Jobs) or historical figures that are back in the zeitgeist (Alexander Hamilton). And if you’re a published adult writer whose book can be reworked for MG or YA, that’s a great way to further your reach, too.

I’ll also add that on the picture book end, nonfiction is in demand as well. Of course, the topics naturally skew younger than MG or YA–lots of animal stories and bios that can sidestep most controversy. Multicultural topics are also a plus at this level, as they can often be paired with the kind of highly imaginative artwork that editors love.

And here’s another plus on children’s NF–submission guidelines tend to be somewhat squishy. So while picture books submissions do require full text, often you can write longer than the 500-1,000 word limits that frustrate a lot of PB writers. And for MG and YA, my experience is that most editors will review a proposal in lieu of a full manuscript, and a fairly brief proposal at that.

So, for any children’s book writer who’s contemplating NF, this is the time to do it–and when you’ve got your MS or proposal together, send it to me!

5

The book made me do it!

I walked out at lunch time on this scorching, humid day in New York City, and immediately felt like I was in a tropical jungle—only this was the concrete kind.  As I tried to get my errands done quickly so I could scurry back to the relative coolness of my portable air conditioner (my office windows are of a vintage that makes standard units impossible to install)Air Conditioner, I found myself thinking of literary jungle settings—Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder, Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, Lily King’s Euphoria, Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, etc.  In part, this had to do with the sliced mango stand I ran across on the corner of Broadway and 14th Street…but I digress.

Back in the office, while eating my chilled pea and mint soup, I happened upon this piece in Galleycat about Riverhead soliciting essays for a collection about “how Elizabeth Gilbert’s famous memoir [Eat Pray Love] served as inspiration for readers to go on life-changing adventures” and, having just been thinking about her recent novel, I had one of those moments where I felt the universe was trying to tell me something.

I decided that what it was telling me was not to pack up my bags and head for the Amazon (where Jane will be in a month or so, btw), but that I should do a blog post about what books have inspired us to do things.  For instance, reading Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak in high school made me want to learn Russian in the worst way.  And, so I took three years of this beautiful, complicated language while in college (I remember nothing, in case you’re wondering).

It’s a great exercise, in my opinion, to consider how books have influenced our actions.  For those of us who are obsessed with literary works, it’s an exercise that can turn up some fascinating (and maybe disturbing) insights into our psyches.  So, have books influenced actions for you?  If so, what books…and what actions?