Bestselling poetry in motion

It’s not often that you hear about a poetry collection becoming a commercial bestseller, but in the case of Rupi Kaur’s MILK AND HONEY, that’s exactly what’s happened.

To me, as much as it’s categorized as poetry, I see it more as a lifestyle book, skewing  inspirational self-help, definitely has spirituality and mind/body/spirt overtones. It’s like a collection of poetic mantras for a healthy, positive way of living coming from a place of women overcoming adversity and female empowerment. She addresses dark issues like sexual abuse and survival. Here’s a Buzzfeed piece which lists a sampling of her work like:

“we all move forward when

we recognize how resilient

and striking the women

around us are”

As evidenced in this article from Publisher’s Weekly, she self-published her first book and Andrews McMeel, an independent publisher based in Kansas City primarily known for humor and gift books, took notice and signed up the author to give the book a wider distribution through its networks.

I think it illustrates that if you are able to tap into a receptive audience, no matter what category you are writing in, you can be successful. Social media really helped Rupi Kaur build a name for herself and her work, as well as visiting college campuses to share her spoken-word poetry. Her work was resonating, and the book is an extension of a platform she has worked hard to build and develop. May many others follow in her brave footsteps!

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Confessions of an Audio-Book Nut

When talking to other people in the publishing industry, I often feel I’m the only one who admits to enjoying audio books. Certainly, if a writer is a great prose stylist, it’s often better to be able to savor that style on the printed page. But a terrific narrator can often make a work come alive in an entirely different way. There are many fine New York actors with wonderfully trained speaking voices who have developed quite a sideline in recorded books. Often these are actors of the transformative kind who can slip in and out of an entire gallery of vocal characterizations. If you don’t believe me, try listening to David Pittu’s heroic reading of all 32 hours and 29 minutes of THE GOLDFINCH (for which he won an Audie award), Jefferson Mays’s superb narration of Simon Mawer’s THE GLASS ROOM; Tony Roberts’s witty version of Kurt Vonnegut’s CAT’S CRADLE–a one-man show if there ever was one.

Best of all is when an actor reads his or her own story. Hearing Diane Keaton choke up when describing the passing of her beloved mother gives one a feeling of unparalleled intimacy with this star; it is like being in a confessional with her. In his recently released memoir MASTER OF CEREMONIES, Joel Grey is everything you’d want Joel Grey to be—charming, insouciant, and a spellbinding anecdotist. One of my great favorites is Frank Langella’s DROPPED NAMES. Not only do you have that magnificent, mellifluous voice resonating in your head; the man is also an incredible mimic. Each time he quotes one of the many celebrities he knew—John Gielgud, Noel Coward, and countless others—he does a spot-on imitation. These memoirs are just the beginning. Rita Moreno, Shirley Jones, Gore Vidal, Robert Wagner, Mindy Kaling—I’ve listened to them all, and enjoyed them all, and the way they give me the illusion of being a friend to whom they are whispering secrets.

I do most of my audio-book listening while performing mindless tasks—cleaning the house, taking a long walk or drive, cooking. But most of all, I listen at the gym. It’s what keeps me going back, and enduring the boredom of the Stairmaster and the stationary bike. I’m dying to find out what happens in the next chapter of whatever I’ve been listening to.  So please don’t laugh at me if you see me at New York Sports Club on the treadmill wearing my earbuds and suddenly bursting into laughter or even tears. I hate to admit it, but I’ve done both.

Have any favorite audio-books or narrators? I’d love to know. In fact, I’d appreciate the suggestions!

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My impending trip to China and what I am hoping to learn from it

great-wall-of-china-814143_1920Over the last several years, my husband and I have become more adventurous in the places we travel to on vacation. We have been to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Jordan (five years ago), Australia, Kenya, through Peru and Machu Picchu, and on a cruise on the Amazon. This year, we are going to China (Beijing, Xian and Shanghai). Every time I travel, I hope to learn something that I can bring back with me to my regular life. When I returned from Kenya, I came back with a book idea and as a result we have a publishing contract which I am very excited about.terracotta-1028109_1920

In Beijing, we will go to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and we will of course journey to The Great Wall (and climb a bit of it). I am so excited to visit these historic places that I have only read about in the past. In Xian, we will see the Terracotta Warriors (both those which have been restored and the actual “dig” which is ongoing), the Great Mosque of Xian, and the Wild Goose Pagoda. In Shanghai we will have a full city tour including the Old Quarter, Yu Garden and the modern city. One night we are going to an “extravaganza” including acrobatics, death-defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects!pexels-photo

Throughout all of this, I am hoping to learn about the people of China and their culture and maybe, just maybe, I might return with another book idea or two.
I wonder what you come back from your vacations with? I would love to hear.

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I’m in the mood for…

If you’re like me, I’m starting to think longingly about fall—nestling into soft sweaters and scarves, brisk temperatures, and the explosion of pumpkin that seems to accompany autumn. It also signals a new wave of books, TV shows, and movies that many of us have been eagerly waiting for all summer. With the new wealth of things available to lose yourself in, it can seem overwhelming. I’ve noticed that since moving to NYC, I’ve found myself in a mad dash to try and keep up with pop culture and just…culture in general. As a newbie to the publishing industry, there’s so much to learn and so much to read. I’ve subscribed to a few literary/publishing industry newsletters, try and read Publishers Weekly and Publishers Lunch fairly religiously, I’ve dipped a tentative toe into the podcast waters, and I have constant running fines at the New York Public Library.  However, when it comes to movies and TV shows, I’m totally out of my element. And with all the suggestions flooding in from various sources, it can be tough to figure out exactly what you want to spend your time immersed in.

Thankfully, for the film/TV illiterate like me, Vulture has released a fall entertainment generator, which they describe as, “an interactive guide to this season’s 306 best offerings” for books, movies, TV shows, theatre, art, and music. You pick what you’re in the mood for and how you want it to make you feel, and it spits out a list of recommendations for you to choose from. I’m excited to see what it might steer me towards in the ever-busy autumn months! I’ve already got a fall reading list going, but am always looking for new recommendations.

Where do you get your book recommendations from? How do you get your daily dose of culture? What makes one book or movie stand out to you from a list?

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Time to edit

I’d been considering writing about the editorial process for the blog today, so I was pleased this morning to see this PW interview all about that with author Eowyn Ivey and editors Reagan Arthur and Mary-Anne Harrington. Ivey, Arthur, and Harrington talk about taking her new novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, from an outline and 50 pages to a completed book.

Editing can be smooth sailing or a minefield or, most often, somewhere in between. (For example, sometimes an editor has to tell a writer to cool it with the mixed metaphors.) I always tell authors that it’s important that they are on board with the vision for the book. Their name is going on the cover. If they don’t agree with an edit, there’s something to discuss. Editors are not—nor do they tend to want to be—dictators. And I know from experience that editing can be very nerve-wracking, because you are taking on a role of omniscient authority but everyone knows you’re just one person with an opinion. An informed opinion, but an opinion nonetheless. I encourage authors who are in very strong disagreement to come to me and talk it out, so we can figure out the best way to get them and their editor on the same page—and so they can get it off their chest, regroup, and be diplomatic, or let me handle it if diplomacy feels beyond reach so that the relationship can continue forward smoothly.

I also generally suggest to authors that they ask themselves if changes they don’t agree with are possibly bad solutions to a problem they need to tackle another way. Maybe you don’t need to change your vision, but is it possible you’ve not executed that vision as well as you thought? Or can you explain to your editor what you’re seeing that they’re not, so that they’ll understand where they lost the thread? Maybe there’s a different, unobjectionable change that will get the job done. On the other hand, maybe the editor missed something because they don’t come from the same demographic as the character and writer, and the edit they’re suggesting doesn’t actually ring true. It can be hard at first blush to sort out which edits simply sting but are a good idea and which edits are a huge misstep, a path to a different book than the author wants to write, or a misread on the editor’s part. Edits are not an edict from on high, and they absolutely can be a conversation.

One of the best keys to a strong publishing experience is to trust that we’re all in this together.  If as an author you have a concern or a problem, know you’re almost certainly not the first person to have that issue, and your agent and editor should be more than capable of being professional enough to help resolve it. And your agent makes a great sounding board if you’re not quite sure how to move forward or want to express the unvarnished truth before taking a more diplomatic tack. A big part of what we’re here for is bringing the author and publisher back onto the same page when their interests or ideas begin to diverge so that everyone can move forward together.

Platform talk

There was a blog post recently from Eric Smith that got a lot of attention around publishing circles. My colleague, Sharon, passed it around the office for all of us to see, and I thought it might be a good idea to share wider with our blog readers as well.

Periodically the conversation changes about what authors should be doing to reach their fans once they’re published or how to build up their fan base before they’re published. One of the nice things about the piece is that it gives a few examples of authors doing things that are effective.

When I’m at conferences or talking with prospective authors, I often discuss what I refer to as the “platform pie.” Years ago, you had a good book idea, you got it published and you built your platform around the book. Now, the book has to be one of the last pieces of the platform pie, with the others already in place when you sell the book. Other pieces of the pie include social media, traditional media (radio and tv), public speaking, and writing online and offline for blogs, websites, newspapers and magazines.

A good example on my own list is Amy Morin, author of 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PEOPLE DON’T DO and the upcoming 13 THINGS MENTALLY STRONG PARENTS DON’T DO. Her writing career started with freelance articles, one of which, talking about Amy’s groundbreaking work on mental strength, went viral in late 2014. I sold the book that became 13 THINGS just a few weeks later after feverishly working on it over the holidays.  She then took that success and extended her platform, writing for various publications, doing radio and tv interviews, and setting up speaking engagements in front of all kinds of audiences which eventually led to a Tedx talk and many other outlets to grow her platform.

It’s the end of summer and most of us are hanging on to the last few days before the busyness of September kicks in. This is a good thing to be thinking about while sitting on the beach, sipping ice cold cocktails, all the ways in which you can make your voice heard.

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Reflections on my first writer’s conference

I attended my very first writer’s conference this past weekend: The Writer’s Digest Annual Conference and participated in the Pitch Slam. During the Pitch Slam, writers received 3-4 minutes with an agent—half of that time was meant for their pitch and the other half was allotted for the agent to provide feedback on the pitch and viability of the book. Many of the pitches I heard on Saturday were very well thought out, concise and clear. However, I did also make several observations that I hope aspiring authors reading this will take to heart when attending their next conference.

Unfocused pitches were not nearly as ubiquitous as I would have expected, but there were still some writers who delved into plot specifics way too deeply. Now usually this wouldn’t be so bad, but remember that writers only had 90-120 seconds to pitch their book, and those with meandering, seemingly aimless, pitches often ended up speaking the entire time, which left agents, such as myself, no time to respond. The whole point of a pitch slam is to provide writers with feedback and help them perfect their pitch. That’s not possible if the agent doesn’t get a chance to respond. Instead, the truly standout pitches told me everything I needed to know in a short amount of time: genre, word length, comp titles, and quick character and plot descriptions. And the best of the best also incorporated a nifty tagline to capture my attention. (Click here for more helpful advice how to pitch your book.)

Now my conversations with writers who didn’t take too much time to pitch their book typically went one of two ways. Either I was impressed with their pitch and preparation and we engaged in a short, but lively, discussion, or I mentioned a few areas where he/she could improve. Most took my suggestions into consideration and were very grateful for the advice. After all, that’s what the event is for. Yet, there were some who became defensive, if not downright argumentative. Criticism is never easy to hear, and you absolutely shouldn’t take anything one person says as gospel, but there’s a time and place for lengthy explanations and vehement disagreements. During a 3-minute pitch session isn’t one of them.

Lastly, don’t be so uptight and competitive with your fellow aspiring authors! People line waiting to pitch their book often gave others dirty looks or were so noticeably anxious that I felt a little bad. It’s not the end of the world if someone inadvertently goes over the time limit during their pitch. Remember that another aspect of these conferences is to try and make some connections, so present yourself in an amiable, professional manner. And relax. Agents put their pants on one leg at a time, just like you.

All in all, my first conference was very enjoyable and quite productive. I heard a lot of great pitches, and sample pages from writers I met on Saturday are starting to flood my inbox. I’m looking forward to my next one!

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How what we do is like golf

As many of you know, I am constantly trying to improve my golf game.  Each summer I spend hours on Saturdays and Sundays on the driving range, in lessons, and on the golf course practicing and playing.  This summer I started working with a new golf pro to completely change and improve my swing; it was a radical step that involved studying videos of my swing (something I’d never done before) and learning how to make adjustments based on the replays, but, in the end, after many hours of working on it  and lots of frustration, I am happy to report that I’m seeing some significant improvement.Golfing

Like golf, our agenting takes continual practice, both in choosing the projects we will represent and establishing a strategy to sell those projects.  As in golf, we find that we learn from our failures as much or more than from our successes and we are constantly tweaking our game—finding different publishers and editors to whom to submit and different approaches to developing the books we are representing.

This can be a very frustrating process, but as with golf, with enough “practice” we often succeed.

In fact, this summer I have done deals with at least three publishers who are entirely new to me.  After agenting for so many years, I still get a kick out of establishing relationships with new publishers and editors—it’s a very inspiring and exciting part of our business.

Changing things up every once in a while is something I love to do, both in golf and in life.  Do you have a hobby or sport you pursue that gives you perspective on your writing?

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Returning to the Scene of the Crime

Lauren Abramo and I both have books coming out today, and that’s not all we have in common – Lauren and I also both used to work at Barnes and Noble! So we thought it would be fun to spend a little time visiting the big flagship B&N here in Union Square and see how many DGLM books we could spot. Including, of course, our own!

Lauren put together this fabulous collage of our field trip, which you’ve already seen if you follow her on Twitter (and while you’re at it, follow me too!) .

 

BN collage

 

Agents are almost as proud of the books they’ve worked on as the authors themselves are! In my bookseller days, my favorite part of the job was suggesting books I loved to regular customers and hearing what they thought on their next trip to the bookstore. And being an agent is like that, only better, because you get to be an even bigger part of getting books you love into customers’ hands. It makes wandering through a bookstore all the more satisfying.

 

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The Oprah Effect

August 2 turned out to be a big day for Colson Whitehead. Not only was it the launch date of his new novel The Underground Railroad, which had already received rapturous advance reviews. It was also the day that Oprah Winfrey announced that The Underground Railroad would be the latest selection of her Book Club.  As we well know, there is no better friend to a book than Oprah. Her book club has harnessed the power of social media to form a reading community that builds exponentially. She and Whitehead are now promoting The Underground Railroad on just about every platform that exists. What more could any author dream of?  (Well, perhaps any author except Jonathan Franzen, who famously snubbed Oprah’s choice of his The Corrections in 2001 and turned himself into quite the pariah for a while. Not that this hurt his book sales any—in fact, The Corrections enjoyed a good spike after the brouhaha.)

My question is this:  Oprah, what took you so long? This was Oprah’s first new Book Club selection in eighteen months. She claimed that she hadn’t read any book during that time that she loved enough to want to choose. Fair enough, but I’ll bet most of us could have offered her a few suggestions. All the Light We Cannot See? Beautiful Ruins? Maybe even a great YA like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda?

In the past, Oprah felt free to choose books that had been out for a while, or established classics by writers like Faulkner, Steinbeck, and Tolstoy.  She kept the country reading, at a time when literacy was and remains a matter of real concern.  World leaked out late last week that she may now have another book pick lined up for September. If so, it’s a gratifying sign for readers, writers, and the entire publishing industry. Let’s hope Oprah doesn’t plan to take another eighteen-month hiatus anytime soon.