New York Times Bestseller

HERO by Samantha Young

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New York Times and USA Today bestseller

I WAS HERE by Gayle Forman

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Winner of the 2015 Michael L. Printz Honor

GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE by Andrew Smith

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Winner of the 2014 National Jewish Book Award

VIOLINS OF HOPE by James A. Grymes

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New York Times bestseller

WORKING STIFF by Judy Melenik, MD and T.J. Mitchell

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Wall Street Journal bestseller

TAKEN BY TUESDAY by Catherine Bybee

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New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller

Abbi Glines’ ONE MORE CHANCE 

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New York Times Bestseller

Colleen Hoover’s UGLY LOVE 

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Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature

Andrew Smith’s 100 SIDEWAYS MILES

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New York Times Bestseller

Tammara Webber’s BREAKABLE 

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New York Times Bestseller

Suzanne Young’s THE TREATMENT 

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New York Times Bestseller

Colleen Hoover’s MAYBE SOMEDAY 

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New York Times Bestseller

Raine Miller’s RARE AND PRECIOUS THINGS 

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New York Times Bestseller

Molly Wizenberg’s DELANCEY 

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The 2014 Winner of the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Fiction

Andrew Smith’s GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE 

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James Beard Award Winner

James Ahern and Daniel Ahern’s GLUTEN-FREE GIRL EVERY DAY 

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USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times Bestselling Series

Abbi Glines’s SEA BREEZE SERIES 

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The Winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction

Dan Fagin’s TOMS RIVER

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USA Today, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times Bestsellers

J.C. Reed’s SURRENDER YOUR LOVE, CONQUER YOUR LOVE, and TREASURE YOUR LOVE

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WEEKNIGHT WONDERS by Ellie Krieger

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DARK CURRENTS, AUTUMN BONES, and POISON FRUIT by Jacqueline Carey

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HOTHOUSE by Boris Kachka

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New York Times Bestseller

FALLING KINGDOMS by Morgan Rhodes

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“#1 New York Times Bestseller and Major Motion Picture

VAMPIRE ACADEMY by Richelle Mead

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#1 New York Times bestseller, #1 Box Office Major Motion Picture

THE MAZE RUNNER by James Dashner

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Characteristics of a great thriller

Publishing is trendy—as in, it’s an industry dominated by trends, like pretty much every other industry. It’s not hard to understand why. Demand for books in a certain genre increases. Publishers acquire more books in said genre. And right now, thriller is that genre.

Thrillers have always sold, but Gillian Flynn’s GONE GIRL hit the big screen last year and demand for the genre grew. THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins enjoyed some serious pre-publication buzz and came out of the gates at a full sprint this January. It’s been at, or near, the top of all bestseller lists since. Renee Knight’s debut, DISCLAIMER, comes out in a week, and it has drawn comparisons to both GONE GIRL and THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. And on the eve of the London Book Fair this year, a professor at Oberlin College saw his debut thriller go for 7 figures in a two-book deal!

So clearly thrillers are hot. But what makes them great? What differentiates a top tier thriller from an average one? What do you think? Sound off in the comments.

Oh, and if you think you’ve written a top tier thriller, do send it my way. I wouldn’t hate reading it…

4

The Pseudonym

I know I have written on this subject before but I think it is worth another round.

Authors use pseudonyms when they change categories; they also use them if their first book(s) sells less well than hoped and they want to try again.  There is nothing wrong with doing this as long as you are upfront in saying you are doing so.  (Note please, it is not necessary to provide your real name unless asked directly and then you should, while offering an explanation for why you have chosen to use the pseudonym.)

Pseudonyms can be extremely useful.  Writers can change categories by changing their “pen names” going back and forth as they wish.  Fiction, in particular, lends itself to using pseudonyms in categories such as mystery/thriller, horror, romance (contemporary, historical), sci-fi/fantasy, etc.  A pseudonym, in fact, can be an effective marketing tool.  Why tell the customer (the book buyer) the author’s real name when using another will boost sales for everyone? With social media, promotional possibilities abound when using a different name. We put together a list of a number of bestselling authors who use this device and I wanted to share it with you:

J.K. Rowling

James Patterson

Anne Stuart

Eloisa James

Stephen King (wrote short stories under the name Richard Bachman)

Nora Roberts (also writes under J.D. Robb)

Dean Koontz (writes under Aaron Wolfe and K.R. Dwyer)

Michael Crichton

Lemony Snicket

Sapphire

Anne Rice (also writes under Anne Rampling)

Agatha Christie (also wrote under Mary Westcott)

Stan Lee

I would be curious to know what you think about the use of pseudonyms, whether as a writer, you have used one, or as a reader you would buy a book by someone who does.

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Adaptation dichotomy

For our office book club this month (category: thrillers), I read, not a random suspenseful mystery pulled out of a hat, but the book adaptation of a very popular television show. I have not seen said show (though I’ve heard great things), so even though I thought it was a bit weird to have such a detailed and faithfully recounted literary version, I went along with it, because why not.

In the end, the book was fine—I enjoyed it enough, but it was forgettable in the way some books are. I’m still interested in watching the show, but I guess, now that I know how it ends, it won’t be as fun. It got me thinking, though, about book adaptations in general.

Why is it so much more natural for a book to be turned into a very good (or at least entertaining) TV show or film, but not the other way around? You could say, I guess, that the wealth of material in a book can be expanded, cut, intensified, used as inspiration for a spin etc. But then, if there’s less material, say, in a 100 minute movie, isn’t that a writer’s job to add the depth and extra detail to make it a good book, too? If readers are allowed to be outraged by a less than stellar film adaptation, while those that have not read the source material look blithely on, wouldn’t avid movie buffs allowed to do the same if they went on to read the book?

Maybe. But I just don’t see it happening as much. And I don’t see readers getting excited about literary versions of their favorite movies or TV shows the way they would about their cherished books getting a shot at the silver screen.

I remember as a kid reading scads of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Alex Mack books, but that was only because I wasn’t allowed to watch any channels other than PBS for quite some time. The only way I could know about these super cool characters was to read about them. I’m sure the books themselves lacked something found in the TV shows and I can say with relative certainty that the writing quality was not quite up to par with other books I was reading at the time. Still, I loved them. But I don’t think the genre (can we call it a genre?) of book adaptations would really spark my interest at all any more—no matter how much I loved a show.

There’s a difference in the way one connects to a character on screen and on the page. Some things are better seen, some are better read. What about you? Agree? Disagree? If you’re in the latter camp, what are some good book adaptations you’ve read?

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Plausibility

As devoted DGLM readers know, we run an in-house book club here to broaden our horizons and keep abreast of categories we might not otherwise investigate. This month, we’re doing thrillers, and while I enjoyed my book—fast-paced, good characters, lots of practical information—ultimately it bugged me because the central premise was totally unbelievable. While there’s eventually a plot-twist that tries to explain away the implausibility of the concept, it doesn’t pass the smell test.

Yet without naming names, the book came from a Big Six house, edited by a top editor, and was the author’s tenth novel. It came armed with tons of blurbs from major authors, and I could find only one review that took issue with the premise. To which I say… really? But while I sit here feeling like I’m taking crazy pills with Mugatu from ZOOLANDER, the book did make me think about plausibility in general.

I’m sure plausibility is a question  for all writers, but especially ones who write in plot-heavy genres like thriller, sci-fi, fantasy, kids books, etc. It’s hard enough to come up with inventive plots, character and voice, yet do it in a way that readers will buy–even if your story is about, say, zombie kittens from Mars. So if you’re wrestling with plausibility issues, check out this essay from Steve Almond in Writer’s Digest, which ably dissects the various plausibility traps writers often fall into (I’d say the premise of my Book Club book falls under the Factual/Logistical umbrella). Or, for an elegant summation of how to think about plausibility, it’s hard to beat this letter from Ursula K. LeGuin.

How many of you have run into problems with plausibility? And how have you found your way out of the traps?

3

Weather or not…

This piece in Salon about how rain is often used in literature and film to create or punctuate a mood, advance the story, or simply provide an arresting backdrop to the goings-on, tickled me because it immediately led me to run a mental list of rain-filled books and movies.  And, sure enough, rain as metaphor and plot device is everywhere, in ways big and small.

Of course, I’ve been railing for years about weather.com writing, imploring authors not to open their work with long descriptions of weather or geographic conditions.  While I get how irresistible it is to set about capturing in words/images the awesome power of nature, very few authors can make non-catastrophic meteorological events compelling over a large span of narrative. 

That said, there’s no denying that weather is great for atmosphere (tautological pun intended).  From the foggy moors of Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, to the feverish heat of Lily King’s Euphoria, skillful depictions of weather conditions help make literary works unforgettable.  Many years later, you may not remember other details of a story, but you probably recall the sense of humid discomfort in the bayous or the crispness of a spring day in southern France. 

What are your favorite weather sequences?  And, which authors do you feel use weather most effectively?

Lake

0

Summer Sizzlers

 New York has skipped right over Spring and rushed straight to summer – it’s a sunny 80 degrees outside and our office’s air conditioning is scrambling to get back in action. So of course my thoughts turned to summer reads, especially because I am going away this weekend. Here are a few of the non-agency/client books on my TBR pile that I am most eager to have time for! 

Invasion of the Tearling by Erika Johansen True devotees of the DGLM blog will remember how much I loved Queen of the Tearling, which I scored at BEA last year. So I can hardly wait to get my hands on this sequel!

The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
Will reading about the origins of flight be good or bad for my plane anxiety? I’m willing to find out.

-More Happy than Not by Adam Silvera
Full disclosure: this author is a good friend of mine, and I’ve read an early version of the manuscript. It’s just that good that I am dying to read the finished product!

Madam President by Nicole Wallace
Hopefully a woman president will move from fiction into real life someday soon, but until then this novel of the White House’s very public pressures and very private secrets sounds THRILLING.

If you’re looking for more ideas for your own must-read list, here’s a great list from Publisher’s Weekly with even more ideas.

Then tell me in the comments what you’ll be taking on vacation this summer!

 

1

Stealing Horses at Grub Street

I’m writing on the train home from Boston, where I spent three days at Grub Street’s Muse and the Marketplace conference.  It was a whirlwind of activities, pitch sessions and manuscript critiques. In addition to meeting a host of promising new writers, I was happy to be able to attend a couple of panel discussions.   I sat in on a workshop taught by two of my Boston-based clients, Adam Stumacher (whose short story “Subject, Object ,Verb” was just named a finalist by Narrative Magazine)  and Qais Akbar Omar, whose memoir A Fort Of Nine Towers: An Afghan Family Story, was published by FSG. Together, they tackled the important but thorny marriage of “politics and prose,” looking at how writers can effectively grapple with political themes in their work.  Adam, who teaches writing at Grub Street, and Qais, who has an MFA from BU but is a storyteller of the Afghan tradition (he’s a definite outlier in the MFA versus NYC debate) came at the subject quite differently, but in complementary ways.

Through readings of their own work, as well as selections from writers like Isaac Babel and Anton Chekhov, Stumacher and Omar reminded the audience that the job of the writer is to render accurately, to tell a story without judgement—and to resist the urge to proselytize.  Here’s Chekhov, in a celebrated and often quoted letter:  “When I depict horse thieves, you want me to say that stealing horses is wrong. But surely this has long been known without me saying so. Let the jury condemn them, but it is my job simply to show them as they are.”

Because I am interested in projects that engage global issues, I often get query letters for works of fiction that promise to draw attention to the plight of a worthy and under-represented story.  Much as I may agree with the writer’s impulse, I am invariably suspicious of the means they employ. Too often the political novel features characters that are simply mouthpieces, sock puppets rehearsing the views of their creators, or straw men waiting to be knocked down.  I’m all for the novel (and memoir)  of ideas, but only when it doesn’t  lean so heavily on a theme that the story is lost.  Like most readers, I don’t like being told what to think.  Instead, I want to see the situation clearly and formulate my own emotional and intellectual response.

What authors do you think do this particularly well?

0

What I’ve Learned as a Writer Working at a Literary Agency: Making Your Queries Professional

After reading my fair share of queries, I’ve begun to see a few simple mistakes writers are making when sending out their work to agents. The query letter should be very professional. It should stand only as a means to stage your pitch. While adding personal touches can make them stand out, being too familiar can ruin the true purpose of the letter. Agents want only to know what your book is about and why you’re capable of writing it. They’re also assessing your ability to write and pay attention to detail. So here are a few tips to make sure you’re being meticulous and making your query as professional as possible.

  • Make sure the name attached to your email address matches the name you’re signing with.
    • It looks unprofessional when your email address is a common nickname your friends use—or even worse, a nickname that implies your private hobbies like Mr. Buzzed or Romantic Janet. Remember that whatever name you’ve entered for your email address will be visible to the agent you query.
  • Don’t ramble on about yourself.
    • A good query will include a bio about what you’ve achieved as a writer, but leave out the fact that you have two kids, a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and a goldfish. Giving any more information than necessary distracts from your pitch.
  • Check your signature line.
    • A quote or tag line that may be cute or inspirational to you may come off as unprofessional or rude to an agent. It’s best to leave out quotes, sayings, pictures, or anything else that may appear beneath your name.
  • Proofread everything.
    • If there’s a grammatical or spelling mistake in your subject line, there’s a chance the agent won’t read much further. That goes for your pitch, too.

While most of these tips may seem self explanatory, I can say from experience that a lot less people follow them than you would think. It can never hurt to send your query to a friend or an alternate email so you can see what it looks like to the agent. Never underestimate the power of a professionally written query letter.

 

12

Nephews Read Books

This past weekend, I went to visit my nephews (and their parents, of course, but frankly they’re not as cute).  Now as I’ve previously reported, my nephews know me pretty well by now as a person who reads books.  The older of the two, who we’ll call Fidge, has been known to declare to visitors that “Aunts read books.”  And on the whiteboard on which they count down sleeps until major events, they art directed a sketch of me with a soccer ball in one hand and a book in the other.

At LaurnenSo consider me thrilled to report that my younger nephew, who we’ll call Gus, has started reading memorized bits of his books unprompted, and his big brother Fidge can full on read now, sounding out words he doesn’t recognize and automatically trying to read every word he sees, whether on a book or a street sign or a building.  For the first time ever, he read to me a book he hasn’t memorized.  I love picture books, but I’ve been eagerly awaiting this stage, when we can start advancing to more complicated stories.

So now I need to advance my book acquisitions beyond picture books.  I’m going to stock up on some Amelia Bedelias and Pippi Longstockings.  And they need to hear the news that Miss Nelson Is Missing.  I’ve been holding a set of Roald Dahl books for at least 3 years waiting for them to be old enough.  I’m pretty sure Fidge will be all about the Magic School Bus.  Plus it’s probably time to continue the family Laura Ingalls Wilder tradition.

Do you have any favorite post-picture book gems that my nephews and I should dive into?

All-Important Deadlines

 Jane Dystel wrote an informative blog post earlier this week about the Acceptability clause, which can come into play when an author’s completed work proves unsatisfactory (fortunately, a rare occurrence)  or when an author does not make the contracted deadline.

The writing process requires great discipline, but it can also be unpredictable. Authors may promise, and fully believe, that their work will be completed and delivered by a certain date, but that date might prove to be somewhat unrealistic. As soon as it becomes clear to a writer that this may be a looming problem, he or should make it known to the agent and editor.

In this business, where publication dates are slotted in so far ahead, a late arrival of a manuscript can create a domino-effect of problems. The editing process may turn out to be extensive, requiring large amounts of time for rewrites. Publishers’ catalogs are planned seasonally, far in advance. And so it is not a good thing if your book is already in the Fall catalog but, because you turned in your manuscript so late, it now won’t be coming out till the following Spring. Consider your editor: she will now have to add your late manuscript to the ones she will already be working on from other authors who turned in their work on time. That creates quite an editorial logjam.

Moreover, marketing plans are also made far ahead, timed to the book’s publication. If that publication is delayed but you already have several big media breaks or appearances set, then everyone, especially you, will wind up with egg on their faces. And of course, avoidable problems like these do not leave your publisher happy, or willing, to work with you again.

Most publishers are understanding when an author lets them know that the manuscript will be coming in later than expected, and they will make adjustments if necessary. Just be sure to alert them as far in advance as possible—because nobody likes nasty surprises.