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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5

The Thing and the Other Thing

In college I had a workshop with the writer Tony Earley, who taught us a theory of putting together an effective short story that I have never forgotten. I’m going to spend a bit of time discussing it today, because it’s fun and it might help you if you’re stuck in your writing.

Your story needs two pieces: 1. The Thing 2. The Other Thing.

To explain how it works, I’m going to just shamelessly paraphrase what Mr. Earley explained, because the details have stuck with me for almost ten years (accurately, I hope!).

Mr. Earley read to us a short story he had recently written, and explained its background: He had been fascinated by Bigfoot believers for years, and wanted to write about them – the Thing – but the story had never quite worked when he sat down to write it. Then, he read a news article about the FBI pursuing a suspect into the woods around his home in North Carolina, and realized that could be the missing piece of his story – the Other Thing. And boom. The Cryptozoologist was ready to be a story.

While Mr. Earley was focused on short fiction, I’ve found the theory of the Thing and the Other Thing applies to full-length fiction and even memoir, as well as short stories – it helps me analyze the bones of a plot when I’m when I’m assessing queries or responding to a client’s story concept. Let’s look for this concept in a few other books so that you can really get a handle on how this works.  

Twilight by Stephanie Meyers Thing: Girl goes to a new school and falls in love (yawn) Other Thing: with a vampire in disguise.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt Thing: Boy’s mother dies in a museum bombing and he struggles to find meaning in the rest of his life (yawn) Other Thing: while keeping hidden the painting he stole from that museum.

WILD by Cheryl Strayed Thing: Woman is grieving mother’s premature death while trying to move on from a lifetime of self-destructive behavior (like a thousand other grief memoirs) Other Thing: and hikes Pacific Crest Trail with no experience and little preparation.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin Thing: Middle-aged widower running a small bookstore (ok, so what?) Other Thing adopts a baby girl abandoned in the store.

Now, I’m not claiming that no book ever could manage to organize itself without clear, identifiable Thing and Other Thing at all. (Bonus points for whoever can pull out the GONE GIRL T. and O.T. in the comments.) But the main idea holds up, and can even help you organize more complex projects.

Maybe you have multiple story lines, and they all have their own Other Thing, so sharing the same Thing unifies the book.  Or maybe your story jumps from era to era and each has the same Thing and Other Thing but in different form for each time and place (David Mitchell, I’m looking at you.)  And there might be a couple Secondary Things. For example, in the Donna Tartt example above, STs are that Theo’s father dies, that his best friend is a drug dealer, that he goes to live with an antiques seller and ends up embezzling from him…but none of those pieces can hang with each other without being pinned to both T. and O.T., right? (Not to mention that we can’t all be Donna Tartt.)

This is probably the longest post in the history of the DGLM blog, so I’ll cut to the takeaway: If you have an amazing idea that just isn’t working, put it in a Thing folder. And wait for its perfect Other Thing to come to you. (And then send it to me!)

0

Friends in Unexpected Places

FGI’ve mentioned my love of Book Riot’s Book Fetish column before, but this might be its most exciting week yet.  I’ve also probably mentioned my love of infographics.  So it’s no surprise I’m a huge, huge fan of Pop Chart Lab.  I spend time every year browsing their booth at the Union Square Holiday Market, hoping they’ll create a new design that’s just right for me (or, okay, one to buy as a gift, but let’s be honest, I’m there for me first and foremost).   Their work is fantastic, but I’ve never found the right one.  UNTIL NOW.  Thanks to Book Riot, I know they’ve created a Fiction Genres chart!  (Pictured here, but check out their site to see it close up.)  I excitedly clicked over, while simultaneously reaching for my wallet.  I already knew I was definitely going to buy it but I thought I should at least pretend to do my due diligence and started zooming in on the poster.  And that’s when I spotted it: hanging out by the Romance marker, right by D.H. Freaking Lawrence, is “On Dublin Street (Young).”  Now if you’re not a student of my personal client list, you might not realize that On Dublin Street by Samantha Young is a book that I represent.  Just sitting there on the poster of my dreams, waiting for me to urgently buy two copies so that I don’t have to decide whether to put it in my home or office. (Obviously I did that before typing this blog entry.  Priorities!)

That might be the loudest I yelped (and the most ALL CAPSedly I declared my excitement to my DGLM colleagues via IM), but it’s not the only time recently that I’ve come across one of our own in a not-so-bookish place.  Just yesterday I discovered, to the delight of my inner twelve year old, that the film adaptation of The Maze Runner was nominated for an MTV Movie Award.  You can say there are more important prizes to be won in the worlds of books and movies, but I have a totally unreasonable nostalgic soft spot for that golden popcorn statuette.  I know what I’ll be doing on Sunday, April 12th.  (Trying in vain to convince a friend who has cable that they want to watch an awards show they haven’t cared about since they were 15, if ever.)

BL PosterFortunately, I discovered those in the privacy of my office and home, respectively.  Not so for coming across this fantastic ad for Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines series in the subway station.  I might have yelled “Oooh!” so loud I startled a stranger who was walking beside me, earning myself quite a dirty look.  Not that I’m sorry: if that’s the most alarming thing she heard in the New York City subway that week, it was a very good week indeed.  Plus, book ads in the subway are totally Oooh-worthy.

I work and live surrounded by books, and as Rights Director have a constant flow of DGLM client news coming through my email account and Twitter feed, but it’s extra exciting when our clients’ work jumps out at me from the places I’m not expecting them.  Now to go order myself the perfect frames for those posters…

0

They get it; They really get it! The singular delight of a good reviews.

Yesterday, Akashic editor Ibrahim Ahmad kindly forwarded along a stellar review for Salar Abdoh’s TEHRAN NOIR, part of Akashic Book’s wide-ranging Noir series. The review ran in PopMatters, an on-line magazine that I’d not been familiar with, but that I will read faithfully from this point on.  The review was of a collection of Tehran-set noir short stories that Abdoh commissioned, edited and then translated from the Persian.  He’s a talented fellow.

There is something magical that happens for authors when they see that a reader, and especially a reviewer, really “gets” a book, when the level of engagement with the text is profound, insightful and original.  Straight praise is great—who doesn’t appreciate superlatives?—but  I thrill to reviews that connect a single very good book with the wider world,  that open up its particular theme in a way that makes me shout, yes, that’s right. (My children are accustomed to hearing me talk to books, screens and magazines).  What was particularly lovely about this piece was that the reviewer, Hans Rollman, also got the point of Akashic’s whole Noir project. Akashic has been publishing collections that focus on cities throughout the world, creating narrative maps of places from Istanbul to Boston, Addis Ababa to  Brooklyn.  Each story is set in a particular neighborhood, and though the books portray their subjects in “a chipped and jaded light” I agree that ”the Akashic Noir collections give a truly alternative and grassroots voice to the cities of the world, and the power of that voice conveys something beyond the noir style that is its medium.”

Akashic launched Tehran Noir and Tel Aviv Noir simultaneously, at a panel discussion at the New York Public Library.  I’ve written here before about the effect of watching Israeli and Iranian authors share the stage to discuss both craft and country—it’s not something one usually encounters.  As Jane noted in her post, publishing can be a volatile business and sometimes a venal one, but moments like that remind me what books can do.

In any event, whatever pleasure I experience from good reviews must be a faint echo of yours.  Have you had a review that made your heart sing? What is it about the feeling that someone really “gets” your work?

2

Timing is everything

I was reading about the big auction for film rights this week in Variety.com to Lynsey Addario’s recently published IT’S WHAT I DO. It’s a memoir by the award-winning war photojournalist and has been promoted by Gwyneth Paltrow on goop.com, excerpted in the New York Times Magazine, and picked as a best book by Amazon for February. What’s interesting to me is that the book is selling pretty modestly according to Bookscan, but Hollywood jumped all over it. Why? I’d say in large part because of the recent success at the box office of another wartime memoir, AMERICAN SNIPER. This time it will be Steven Spielberg making the movie and Jennifer Lawrence starring in it. Those kinds of deals in Hollywood can take months or years to set up, but when you have a hot topic, a book like this practically sells itself, even if it’s not a big bestseller.

I see examples of the power of timing all the time in my work. I once sold a book to an editor who I met for coffee who told me she was looking for a memoir about a young person with bipolar disorder, and I happened to be going out that day with a  mother/daughter memoir about just that. That editor bought the book, PERFECT CHAOS by Linea and Cinda Johnson.

Sometimes it goes the other way too. One time I submitted a proposal for a project that I thought was unique in the marketplace but it turns out a similar book was published almost at the same time my submission went out. That one wasn’t meant to be so we reworked it and sold it as something entirely different.

When things aren’t going your way or you’re feeling frustrated by the rejection pile or low sales on your books, just remember that your time might not be now but if you keep putting yourself out there and working hard and pounding the pavement, that time will come. And when it does, it will be a good reminder that timing is everything, or at least a big piece of the publishing puzzle.

4

Tips from writers, for writers

Stephen King’s  short story, “A Death,” was this week’s fiction in the New Yorker, so naturally I started thinking about how I still have to get around to reading 11/22/63 and ON WRITING. Then I started thinking about how a lot of writers seem to enjoy giving advice about writing. But is any of it any good? The answer is yes: Yes, writing tips from established writers can be very, very good.

Here’s some of the best advice I’ve come across:

99% of great writers will tell you that their first drafts are rambling, incoherent pieces of s!@*. The other 1% are lying. (Full disclosure: I haven’t finished crunching all the numbers yet, so I’m ballparking here.) Editing and rewriting are such vital components to crafting a story, but first you need to put your ideas down on paper. You can’t shape what’s not there. If you haven’t read Anne Lamott’s BIRD BY BIRD, do so. Now. It will revolutionize your writing process.

John McPhee’s “The Writing Life” column in the New Yorker is a goldmine of wisdom. His tips on how to develop the structure of a story are particularly helpful. Few writers place such importance on structure as McPhee. Few writers have also had as prolific a career.

You ever hear of this guy Ernest Hemingway? I hear he’s good. He was also a proponent of simple, direct prose. Cut out all ornamentation. If a word isn’t necessary, lose it. He also said that writers should never describe an emotion—they should present the situation/action in a way that evokes the emotion in readers. This is  difficult to perfect, but it’s something all writers should strive to do.

What are your favorite tips from writers? Let us know in the comments.

6

Staying positive in a volatile environment

It’s still a relatively new year and I have been reflecting on how much our publishing environment continues to change.  Books that sold easily even two or three years ago are no longer selling, categories that weren’t selling as recently as last year are all of a sudden back in vogue, the landscape for self-published books has undergone a major shift, both for those who have been picked up previously by traditional publishers and for those who have gone back to self-publishing or who are continuing to self-publish but having much less success.  So, how are we supposed to stay positive in this ever changing publishing environment?

I started googling “how to be positive” and found the Internet teeming with articles about this very thing.  I guess I’m not the only one pondering this issue.

Among the more helpful pieces I came across was this one in WikiHow.  Admitting there are problems and identifying what they are has always been something I believe in doing and I try to pay special attention to this—especially now.  Then I set goals every quarter and I review those goals monthly.  I find it  very important to be honest with myself as to whether or not I am achieving those goals and if not, I ask myself why not.

I ask for feedback from those I respect.  It is so important, in my opinion to listen to others who are knowledgeable.

Finally, I try not to be afraid of failure.  In my career, I have certainly faced some pretty major setbacks but I have always addressed them and the reasons for them head-on, and that has enabled me to move forward.

Even writing this blog has helped me to evaluate the issue of staying positive in an ever changing publishing environment and I hope it will help you as well.  Please let me know if it has.

0

Ending the week with a giggle.

When it comes to jokes, my opinion is, the groanier, the better. I like ’em to elicit a sigh, an eye roll and a look of “are you kidding me?”

Whatever you want to call them, dad jokes, terrible puns, to me, they’re the height of comedic enjoyment—all the more so if the teller is 100% aware of the awfulness (yet implicit cleverness) of the joke. What do we call that, verbal irony? Don’t tell my freshman English teacher that I’m a little unsure here.

An appreciation for horrible, overdone jokes is a trait I’ve long since decided will be prominent in a character if I ever do get around to writing anything of substance. I’m pretty sure it will be difficult to pull off well, but that makes it all the more of a desirable challenge.

However, I digress. For all you literature, grammar and language nerds out there, I want to share this super dumb, super amazing list of puns that will have your eyes rolling so hard they’ll fall out of your head.

A Friday treat, if you will. Here’s a particular favorite:

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If anyone can point me in the direction of similar literature and grammar-related jokes, I’ll be forever grateful. Happy weekend!

 

*PS I clearly saw this (hilarious) joke on Buzzfeed via Instagram, but I can’t find the original artist–I’d love to credit if anyone knows the answer!

2

No more “boy books”

When I first started agenting, I naturally put out a call for submissions. Through my bio and personal essay on this site, and through interviews and postings on other sites and in print, I told anyone who would listen that I was looking for “boy books,” or that I was known as a “boy book” kind of guy. At the time, it seemed to make sense based on much of what I’d edited at Penguin, and also as a way to differentiate myself from my colleagues here at DGLM. And it worked, in that I quickly built up a client list, most of whom were male and writing about male characters in their fiction.

However, over time, I started to chafe at my self-assigned “boy book” label. For one, I realized that while I might gravitate toward what’s considered “boy book” territory, especially in nonfiction, my personal reading is chock full of books that might be called “girl books”—most YA, for example, as well as some popular fiction and even nonfiction. (I loved WILD, after all.) Moreover, one of my proudest achievements as an editor was working on Padma Venkatraman’s CLIMBING THE STAIRS, which would certainly get labeled a “girl book”—in other words, I had a track record working on “girl books,” so why give that up as an agent? Plus, I discovered that I was limiting the kinds of submissions I was getting, quite severely at times, which is certainly problematic for my bottom line.

So, last year I revamped my bio and essay and took out the “boy book” designation. But while I had practical reasons for trying to shy away from the “boy book” label, I never really thought about it in political or moral terms. So it was pretty staggering to read this recent blog post by bestelling author Shannon Hale, and how “boy/girl” labeling has affected her school visits. On first glance, it seems ludicrous that school administers would only excuse girls from class to hear her talk, yet I can understand the thinking: “Well, her books feature girl protagonists, and we know boys won’t read those kind of books, so why should they skip class for a talk where we know they’ll be bored and won’t learn anything?”

Now, while I can understand the thinking, that doesn’t mean it’s right. Hale correctly points out that the expectation that boys won’t like books featuring girl characters is so deeply rooted in the educational system that for boys a book like THE HUNGER GAMES has to be qualified: “Even though it’s about a girl, I think you’ll like it.” And by denying the encouragement of boys to read girl characters, and the shaming of them when they do, Hale makes a valid argument that this leads to the rape culture that is far too prevalent, particularly at the college level these days.

So—no more “boy books” for me. Or “girl books.” Instead, just great books, featuring interesting, original, engaging characters. Hopefully this post will supersede any “boy book” info linked to me in searches, and if it does, I’d love for writers to take a look at Hale’s post and reconsider how they might label their work. Obviously, the effort to get past boy/girl labels will involve heavy lifting on the part of educators, parents, and publishers, who are certainly culpable for perpetuating the gendered reading divide. But if authors can shift how they view their own work, that’s a major step toward helping the boy who was too embarrassed to hear Hale talk because he would have needed special permission to miss class.

2

Youth is wasted on the young. Or is it?

Every “semester” we have an office lunch for the purpose of getting to know our current batch of interns and to answer any questions they might have about the, undoubtedly, bizarre goings-on in publishing (and in our office).  Yesterday, over a Middle Eastern spread (the baba ganoush was delicious!) we asked everyone to tell us what they read for pleasure.  Overwhelmingly, the response was YA.  And, for some reason, that surprised me and even made me a little wistful for the days when youngsters couldn’t wait to get their grubby little hands on “adult” literature.

I still remember when, in seventh grade, a beat up copy of The Other Side of Midnight (which was already a decade old at the time, in case you were wondering about the timeline) was surreptitiously passed around at my school.  The book, of course, opened naturally to the “sexy” parts and we would have all been mortified if our parents had caught us reading it.  By the time I was a young adult, myself, my peeps and I were interested in SERIOUS fiction that dealt with IMPORTANT subjects, and if you wanted some sex and scandal, you turned to grown-up bestsellers like Marguerite Duras’ The Lover  or Josephine Hart’s Damage.  You know, stories about older people behaving badly….

The thing is that, traditionally,  YA was considered “aspirational”—kids younger than those depicted in the books were the primary market for it. Now, I know that YA literature has exploded as a genre and that, in many ways, it’s tackling tough subjects in ways  sometimes more inventive and provocative than we’ve seen in what is considered adult fiction.  That said, is it narcissism, solipsism or fear of growing up that accounts for young adults actually preferring YA books in general?  In recent years, with blockbusters like  the Harry Potter  and Twilight series playing havoc with readership demographics (as evidenced by 40-something moms reading YA and NA alongside their tweens and teenagers), it seems that the category now even appeals to its own namesakes.   Crazy, huh?

How do you account for this shift?  Are there broader cultural implications that I’m missing here or is this trend just a function of how sophisticated the category has become?

 

7

Query Turn-Offs

Now that you know what I’m looking for, here’s a follow-up on what I’m NOT looking for – a quick list of my query pet peeves!

These won’t be an automatic deal-breaker for you and your project, but they will make me a little sad; more importantly, they’ll make me wonder if you’ve done your research, and if you take your writing seriously. And your pitch and sample pages will have to work that much harder to win me over.

  •  “What’s her name? Shannon? Close enough.” While no one loves “Dear Agent” or “To Whom It May Concern,” it’s even worse to get a query addressed to “Dear [Coworker’s Name]”; “Dear Sarah” (you’d be surprised how often it happens), or even “Dear Mr. Spelletier.” You should be doing your research to make sure you’re querying agents who will be a good fit; in addition, messing up my name makes me wonder if you’ll take your time and pay attention to detail when we work together.
  •  “Pssht, guidelines don’t apply to me.” Yes they do, and they’re right here! So please follow them; don’t ask me to click on your website or download a file from Dropbox. I won’t buy your self-published e-book or look under a rock in Central Park for your hand-penned sample pages.
  •  “My book is the next GONE GIRL meets WILD!” It’s probably not, and those comps don’t do much to help me understand your book – what’s special about it, why you were the perfect person to write it, how it fits into the market. Of course you want to highlight how your book will fit in with what’s popular right now, but be specific, and show that you’ve read widely in your genre. If you’re querying me with a thriller about a time-traveling cheerleader who kidnaps the Lindbergh baby, mention The Shining Girls and Dare Me, not Gone Girl and Twilight.
  •  “Whatever, spellcheck probably caught it all.” Now I must admit that I am a grammar zealot, and my spam filter is set to automatically delete any email that omits the second attributive comma (just kidding – that’s only a dream of mine). I’m self-aware enough not to hold minor typos against you, and I might even let it slide if you use fiancé where fiancée should be. But fundamental writing errors like homophone confusion (isle ≠ aisle, discrete ≠ discreet), dangling participles, verb-subject disagreement, etc., are a red flag. Whether you need more time to learn the basics of your craft, or whether you just didn’t bother to give your letter a second read, grammar mistakes are signs that you might not be ready to work with an agent.
  •  “You’re making a huge mistake.” And please be nice. Be professional in your query, not arrogant or demeaning, and don’t write back rudely if I decline. Even if the project you’re querying isn’t for me, who knows when and where our paths might cross again – publishing is a small town!

 

Now you know what to double-check before hitting SEND on that fantastic project that’s exactly what I’m looking for. For more query tips, check out Jessica and Mike’s great insights recently.

Do you have any suggestions for making sure your queries are good to go? Any embarrassing mistakes you didn’t catch in time?