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1

An Immodest Proposal

My life changed forever when I came across this little piece.

Of course! It all clicked into place with this helpful little checklist.

Do I have a tendency to overanalyze things? You betcha!

Do new places and experiences give me anxiety? Uhuh.

Are my expectations too high? I’ll answer that question with one of my own. What’s wrong with holding out for that someone special who has the body of a supermodel and personality of a saint halfway through canonization, but, you know, who is still living?

Has it been said that I like neat resolutions? Well, sure. I mean, who doesn’t? The “How I Met Your Mother” series finale sent me into an absolute tailspin last night. How could they do that with

***SPOILER ALERT***

The next thing I knew it was 2 am and I was outside and cold and had apparently wandered into traffic. And I don’t even watch “How I Met Your Mother.”

How could it be, you ask, that someone as amazing as me has had a few dating problems? Simple: I’m a book lover.

Does any of this sound familiar? Has reading ruined your life or storytelling given you unrealistic expectations and the inability to cope with loose ends?

Then, for our own well being, I prescribe that we stop reading, starting now.

THE END

(Afterword for those still reading despite my proposal: if this doesn’t work we may have to eat our children. Let’s call that Plan B.)

6

Book orphans

About two months ago, one of my clients turned in the manuscript for her new novel after having worked on it for several years.   She was a bit nervous but also very excited as this was the first novel she was publishing with her new publisher.  About a week after she submitted the material, I had a note from her editor that she was leaving the publishing house and, in fact, leaving publishing altogether.  She said that she would be editing the book on a freelance basis, but that the shepherding of it through the publishing process would not be her responsibility.

Needless to say, this was pretty devastating news to my client.  As I mentioned, this was a new publisher for her.  She had published five novels with her previous publisher and during those years had been edited by at least five different editors—each leaving the house or the business.  Now she was experiencing being “orphaned” again.

I made a couple of phone calls and as it happens the publisher of this particular house has promised me that he will be looking after my client himself.  Though he will not be doing the actual editing, he will be guiding the novel’s publication and so we’ll keep our fingers crossed that, with his help, this book will be a huge success.

It’s true, though, that the saga of the orphaned book is a real one and, in this age of downsizing and publishing mergers, it could well become a more frequent phenomenon.  This makes the agent’s job all the more important as we have to ensure more than ever that our clients and their work are well looked after and that their books are published well.

Last summer, another one of my clients had his book published after it had been transferred during the writing process to five different editors.  That story did have a happy ending.  The book’s final editor was totally devoted to the work and, in my opinion, his editorial suggestions made it even better.  The reviews have been phenomenal and the sales have been solid.  Equally as important, I have an author who was well satisfied with his publishing experience in the end.

But this is a tricky road to follow and it is important for the agent to be vigilant and take special care.  I found this piece in GalleyCat, which covers the topic and which, interestingly, quoted yours truly

So, I wonder, if your book were orphaned, what would you do?

1

Long ago favorites

Inspired by this Buzzfeed post from earlier in the week, I thought back on my favorite illustrated books as a kid. They were mostly fairy tales (or close to), as are the illustrations in that post. I know the trends in children’s book illustrations change drastically from generation to generation—even year to year—so when I went hunting, it was no real surprise to me, that it took some more serious digging to find examples of the types of books—both in story and design—that I loved the most.

It wasn’t hard, however, to remember the titles of my top favorites, since they still hold a place on my bookshelf (albeit in my childhood home, but they did withstand all the teenage and college year purges).

I remember reading Melisande by E. Nesbit and illustrated by P.J. Lynch (Harcourt 1989) over and over and over as a girl, fascinated as I was by the artwork (and envious of her lustrous hair) and drawn in by the recognizable elements of both Rapunzel and Sleeping Beauty in a story that was an original unto itself.

 

Another favorite about another plucky, independent girl was Mirette on the High Wire by Emily Arnold McCully (Puffin 1992). Mirette has a very French Toulouse-Lautrec poster advertisement look about it and I remember thinking that I would have given anything for her outfits, hair and bravery. Similarly, I loved the Madeleine books as well, but I don’t think I need to post a reference picture for those!

 

In addition to these and the usual Berenstein Bears and Mr. Men picture books that crowded our shelves, I realized I had an odd penchant for inherently sad stories as well. Some of my favorites (when I was in the mood—otherwise I would make my parents skip them when reading to me) were stories like The Velveteen Rabbit, Oscar Wilde’s The Selfish Giant and original versions of Grimm’s fairy tales—most notably The Little Mermaid wherein the Mermaid must kill herself with a dagger in the end. I don’t know what attracted me to these books, but I loved them.

4

The backstory

Backstory is important, you’ll agree.  It’s what gives depth and weight to a narrative, allowing us to understand motivations and giving us context.  A common error authors make is letting the backstory overwhelm the narrative.  Then, it’s pages and pages of genealogy or irrelevant details about, for instance, the hero’s years spent kayaking in the Pacific Northwest, even if the novel is a legal thriller set in DC and having nothing to do with water craft.  Well thought out and incorporated backstory, however, is a joy.

Always having been intrigued by the part of the iceberg that hides beneath the water (to mangle part of a Hemingway quote), I also like to know the interesting arcana about the books themselves.  I like to know what the author was thinking, why s/he made the choices s/he did, what weird circumstances were taking place in the author’s life during the writing of the book, etc.   Being on our side of the publishing biz, we know a lot of books’ backstories—some funny, some sad, some sexy, some…surprising—and I always feel that they add a dimension to the reading experience.

If you’re like me in this respect, check out this clever and informative Buzzfeed compilation of weird book factoids, creation tales, and trivia.  My favorite?  Nabokov, notecards and butterfly nets in hand while creating Lolita.

What’s the weirdest thing you’ve learned about a book you love?

2

One-on-ones

Readers, I would love to get your feedback on this one: What do you think is the most productive format for one-on-one meetings at a writer’s conference? I ask, of course, because I attended a conference this past weekend, where I spent most of my time in one-on-one meetings with authors.

Over the years, I’ve done all sorts of configurations: one-on-ones and roundtables; 5-minute slots, 10, 15, and so on; MSS in advance, no prep, 10 pages, and so on again. This time out, the meetings were half an hour, and we were sent 40 pages in advance. And as much as I hate to say it, on the whole I don’t think they were particularly productive.

40 pages is a funny length–much longer than what an author would probably send on submission, yet not really enough to give a full snapshot of a MS–while half an hour is a ton of time to talk. And with that, it seemed like the chattier authors got bogged down in a lot of details and small points, with not enough time to discuss the big picture, while at the same time, the sessions for those who sat back and listened tended to run way short, even with some question time at the end.

So, unfortunately, it was a bit of a frustrating day, and I worry that I didn’t give the authors the help they were looking for. However, the organizers are asking for feedback for next year, so I’d love to hear what works best for you and try to change things up–any thoughts?

7

Your turn.

We have a lot of fun with our blog posts around here. Whether we’re drooling over the latest book swag or marveling at the latest technology that’s changing our industry, this blog serves as a great place to share what we’re thinking.

But it’s not ALL about us, you know. And we love it when you get involved in the conversation, like the important discussion sparked by Jim’s post yesterday.

So I’m turning the spotlight on you for a minute. Let us know what YOU want to read about. Do you want more or less…

Or hankering after something else altogether that we’ve never thought to post about?!

Leave a comment below and maybe, just maybe, your DGLM blog wish will come true.

22

The R Word.

On Friday night, I went to see a screening of the movie Dear White People, a wonderfully funny and warm but still very biting comedy about race relations on an Ivy league campus. (“Dear White People, the amount of black friends required not to seem racist has just been raised to two. Sorry, your weed man, Tyrone, doesn’t count.” ) The filmmaker, Justin Simien, said that he wants the movie to start a conversation—nothing gets better without a dialogue. He also cited as his inspiration great black cinema of the ‘80s and ‘90s and movies like Do the Right Thing that had things to say and left you feeling not just entertained but moved, sometimes uncomfortably so.

So race was at the front of my mind the next day when I went to the NYC Teen Author Book Festival to see some of my authors present on different panels. The audience was probably 90% white women in their 30s and 40s. This is an observation, not a judgment. But it’s something I kept thinking about because in the middle of New York City, that’s an awfully homogenous crowd.

I was not alone thinking about race that day. One of panels was called “Summer Reading” and the four authors discussed their novels, each set during the summer. At the end, an audience member stood up to say that she had been at the festival for two days and only seen one author of color. She also mentioned that she works with underprivileged teens in Hartford whose summers wouldn’t at all resemble those in the books being read from. She wanted to know what the panelists had to say about that.

It was an uncomfortable moment not just because a big issue was being raised but because my first thought was, “These four authors have nothing to do with planning this event and shouldn’t be asked to speak to such a large issue when they were just there to talk for five minutes about their particular novels.”

That’s a lie. My first thought was, “Please don’t let my client say anything stupid.” Listen, I’m an agent. It’s just in the bones.

Happily for me, my client on the panel, Gae Polisner, actually had a very thoughtful response, explaining that she writes fiction that comes from a very internal place and that her leads resemble her because she can only write from a place she knows and understands and just hopes that she touches on truths universal enough that they’ll resonate across the broadest spectrum of people possible. That is a great answer for an author. It does, however, leave some great big questions for an industry. Take a look at these articles by Walter Dean Myers  and his son Christopher Myers.

Those articles were spurred on by a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin showing that of 3,200 children’s books released in 2013, 223 were by authors of color, and 253 were about people of color. That’s less than 7%. To give some perspective, nationally, approximately 27% of the population is people of color.

Happily, I have easy answers to this diversity gap.

Ha! Just kidding. I don’t have easy answers. I actually don’t have any answers—just more questions. Like where is the root of the problem? Is it in the largely white make-up of the publishing industry? Are we weeding out material by and about experiences we simply don’t understand? Is there an institutional racism that hasn’t been broached yet? Is the problem that people of color aren’t encouraged to pursue careers in writing? Is it possible that there aren’t enough of these books being published because there aren’t enough being written? And, perhaps my own biggest question: are we too overwhelmed or scared to ask these questions because we don’t know what we’ll uncover about ourselves?

I won’t lie—I almost scrapped this blog post several times. It makes me nervous to bring up such a big subject because I don’t want to get it wrong. I don’t want to offend, and I don’t want anyone to cringe while they read it. But in the spirit of Dear White People, let’s do it. Let’s have the conversation.

4

Nine Years and Counting

Nine years ago today, I started my first day at DGLM.  Every person who worked here on my first day (Jane Dystel & Miriam Goderich, naturally, but also Stacey Glick, Michael Bourret, and Jim McCarthy) is working here still.  I’m lucky to be part of an agency that’s grown and changed and evolved so much in my nearly a decade here.  Publishing isn’t an easy business, agenting maybe even less so than working for a big corporation where income isn’t commission based, so I’m lucky that Team DGLM of early 2005 is still the core of Team DGLM of early 2014.  If you’re interested in how I feel about being here for nine years—and clearly you are, because the inner workings of my mind are oh so fascinating—the answer is: pretty similar to how I felt about being here for seven.

Still I wanted to mark the occasion somehow on the blog.  I mean, with my DGLMiversary falling on my blog day, it’s just too convenient not to.  Fortunately, through the magic of Twitter (and the help of @MichRichter1, @HopeDellon, and @PicadorUSA), I found inspiration in this Atlantic round-up of answers as to who is the greatest fictional character of all time.  I was thinking that I can’t imagine answering that, as such questions always paralyze me.  Greatest?  Of all time?  That’s too many to choose from!  I can’t decide what to eat if a menu has more than 15 options, so how could I possible do that??  But I think what I can do is tell you my favorite 9 new non-DGLM books of the last 9 years.  Obviously all the DGLM books are equally perfect and superior to all other books, so you’d be here all day if I didn’t exclude them.  So without further ado:

  • Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love is nothing short of exquisite.  I loved it so much more than I ever thought was possible.  And despite years of people telling me to check it out, which normally makes something basically unlovable to my contrary soul, it’s one of few books I really thought lived up to the hype.
  • Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me is a middle grade novel that is absolutely spot-on in its understanding of its characters and its audience.  There aren’t too many novels I read that I’m confident will stand the test of time, but if there’s any justice in this world, this one will.  It made me want to re-read my favorite books from childhood, so I could linger in that feeling a little longer.
  • In as much as books can really be for a person, I didn’t think that Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One would be for me.  It’s so involved in the minutiae of its deeply nostalgic world, and my knowledge of videogames and geek culture doesn’t run nearly deep enough for me to love the novel on that level.  And yet it’s a captivating story, and one which my book club loved more than virtually anything else we’ve read, despite having no knowledge of nearly any of the references.  A real testament to the fact that some of the best books are the ones that anyone can love.
  • Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang is a story of family dysfunction that’s moving and delightful and hilarious and strange.  It has tons of heart and is a lot of fun, which is an impressive feat given that it could easily have gotten bogged down in theories of art and morality.  Wilson has a beautifully light touch.
  • The World Without Us by Alan Weisman is precisely the kind of interdisciplinary narrative nonfiction that I really adore.  It’s a fascinating subject compellingly explored.
  • Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette is every wonderful thing every person you know whose read it said it was.  It’s funny and charming and touching and original—and I can’t wait to see what Semple does next.
  • What can I say about Emma Donohue’s Room that hasn’t already been said?  It’s narrated from the perspective of 5-year-old Jack, whose unusual circumstances color how he sees the world in ways I would call unimaginable if Donohue hadn’t somehow managed to imagine them down to the most intricate details.  It’s a difficult premise in more ways than one, but Donohue explores it with enviable skill.
  • Joshua Ferris’s Then We Came to the End is compelling and accessible and beautifully written and ambitious and all around extraordinary.  I was confident that the structure was going to annoy me fairly quickly, but the perfection of the voice carried me through to the last page, where I was truly sad to put it down.
  • Colum McCann blew me away with Let the Great World Spin.  I think this must be my absolute favorite book of the last decade.  I was already a fan of McCann, who I’d first come across when reading his Everything in This Country Must in college, so I had high hopes for this novel.  But I didn’t realize when I first began reading that I would wind up loving this book so much that it would become my favorite of his novels—and among my favorite of anyone’s.

Honorable mention to Rivka Galchen’s Atmospheric Disturbances, Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, and Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which I was definitely going to include before I realized that I already had 9.

So…what am I forgetting?  Which books am I going to hate myself for leaving off the list the second you mention them?

8

Books as gifts

I’m always trying to think of clever ways to give a book as a gift. Sometimes it might seem too impersonal or like it needs a little extra something to go with it, depending on the occasion or the person on the receiving end. I find this particularly true when giving books as gifts to kids. For birthday parties, I’ll often give a book along with something else – a little toy or craft, or a painting set with Christie Matheson’s Tap the Magic Tree, or a box of crayons with a copy of The Day the Crayons Quit. And sometimes when I’m inspired I’ll buy multiple copies and give them away until they run out.

I was pleased with my latest book gift inspiration when I decided to give copies of Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to all the kids attending my daughter’s upcoming 9th birthday party. Since we’ll be watching the movie (not sure which version yet) and doing a candy/dessert-themed party, I figured giving a copy of the book with some sort of confection was a good idea for a favor. And so I ordered 19 copies of this adorable illustrated paperback edition. When the box arrived, we all grabbed the books like they were filled with golden tickets (which they were since there is one inside each copy)!

 

It has been such a pleasure seeing my older girls enjoy the book, and I dipped into it again myself and fondly remember reading it when I was young. All these years later, and the book still entertains and delights. It really is a timeless treasure. And speaking of books as gifts, I think I’ll order the Roald Dahl boxed set for my daughter’s birthday so all my girls can enjoy them, even the ones who are not yet reading!

I’d love to hear how you give books as gifts. Do you wait for specific holidays or birthdays? Do you buy books you love? New ones or classics? What categories? Do you pair them up with anything else? There’s no right answer here. Just a fun thing to think about – giving books as gifts. It really is the gift that keeps on giving as they can be savored for so many years to come.

 

 

 

0

Some tips on query letters

I will never understand sloppy query letters. It’s a familiar song and dance at this point: author writes manuscript, revises manuscript, generally pours heart and soul into manuscript, and then misspells agent’s name on query letter—or even worse, author opens with “Dear Agent.”

Why?

Your book might ooze literary genius, but a generic, lazily written query could put you at a serious disadvantage. It’s a first impression, so make it good, because agents might not give you a second chance. At the very least, show that you put some effort into the query by following some simple advice, courtesy of a couple DGLM interns.

Ashley believes that you should “try to keep your query to a neat and trim four paragraphs: the first two paragraphs being a short, concise summary of your book with a great hook at the beginning, the third paragraph being why you chose DGLM and the particular agent, and the last paragraph should be about you, your writing history, and your credentials. Be polite, be sure to check your grammar on your query (and your manuscript!), and be patient.”

Kelsey advises writers “to be original but not over-the-top.  We have to read through a lot of submissions so it’s important to keep queries simple and straightforward.  Also, do not compare your work to bestsellers and classic works of literature.  Your query is not going to be taken seriously if you compare yourself to someone like Shakespeare.  Overall, when writing your query, aim to portray your work in an honest and concise manner.”

For those interested in querying a particular agent here, please refer to our newly revised submission guidelines. You worked hard on that manuscript. Make sure your query letter reflects that.