2

Taboos

A couple of weeks ago, I was at my alma mater to speak to the Columbia Fiction Foundry folks about publishing.   The session was structured as an interview and one of the questions posed to me was how we handle books about taboo subjects.  I liked that question because it’s one that’s seldom asked but which is important to anyone who works in publishing (or any media, really).  Given how charged the political environment is, not just here but globally, freedom of speech is a tricky, sometimes dangerous concept for those who work in the business of communicating ideas.   And, yet, we take on projects all the time that have the potential to offend some or many.  The rule of thumb for us is that if it’s something that doesn’t personally offend us, or it offends us but we think there’s merit in furthering the conversation on that particular topic,  we don’t shy away from representing it.

This week, along with everyone else in the country, we’ve been talking about the Rachel Dolezal story and wondering if there is a book in this very bizarre journey of hers.  The fact is that her actions have offended large numbers of Americans.  Given how volatile the subject of race is in this country, that’s not surprising.  But, regardless of where you stand on this individual’s weird appropriation of a group’s identity, it seems to me that the conversation her story has engendered is a good one.  I’ve read several interesting articles about this now, among them this one by our friend Sam Freedman, which have approached the topic in diverse, but  insightful ways…and isn’t that what free discourse is about?  I still don’t know what the book would be, but maybe it’s one about the very notion of discussing taboo subjects.

So, what taboos would you tackle or shy away from in your own writing?  And which would you like to see more deeply explored in print?

4

A Verbal Confession

My brother is taking a course in professional writing that is required for his criminal justice degree…and I’ve been receiving panicked phone calls at random times asking for explanations of various fine points of grammar and punctuation. I hide my glee a little bit so he will send me tons of pictures of my 3-week-old nephew in payment gratitude for my help, but the truth is I am absolutely delighted. I could talk all day about how to use a semicolon properly and whether the punctuation goes inside or outside the quotation marks!

So when he got his first big assignment back, I took the professor’s corrections very personally. My brother worked really hard researching and writing his project (especially considering he has a newborn); I simply gave it a final proofread. But I am a PROFESSIONAL words person! I’ve spent my entire adult life getting really good at editing other people’s writing, from simple comma corrections to debating the nuances of vocabulary choices. So I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that his prof marked him down for a word choice error! That’s right, faithful blog readers, yours truly, who wrote this bossy post about sneaky homophones, let a vocabulary mistake get past me!

In one section my brother references a video of a police shooting in which the officer gives a “verbal instruction to the victim.”  The prof had flagged this as an incorrect use of “verbal” where it should be “oral.” “What is he talking about???” my brother asked, and I had to, shamefacedly, explain that technically, in the dictionary, “verbal” means written; “oral” means spoken. Your VCR manual contains verbal instructions. Your neighbor yelling “Turn down the TV!” is an oral instruction. Perhaps a distinction that has eroded in common usage, but just the kind of nitpicking that I usually live for! A very humbling moment.

What do you think? Are there any other vocabulary nuances that only the dictionary (and writing profs) are likely to care about? Will you take care to distinguish between “verbal” and “oral”?

1

Transfiguration

The Lambda Literary Awards were held the Monday after BEA, and, although the ceremony stretched over the course of nearly three hours, the feeling was festive. This year there was something new in the air.

For many years, LGBTQ literature has seemed the poor stepchild of the publishing industry. What had once been a boom back in the 80s and 90s had, by the new millennium, been relegated to a “niche” category that wasn’t showing profits.  LGBTQ individuals were, fortunately, becoming less marginalized, and many no longer felt the same drive to seek the solace of literature. Why did you need to pore through the Gay and Lesbian section at Barnes and Noble, or haunt A Different Light, when you could turn on a rerun of Will and Grace any night of the week?  The nation’s LGBTQ book shops shuttered one by one, and the major publishers became reluctant to acquire queer fiction.

But the sector that has always remained open to such books is just the one where it is most needed: YA and Middle Grade. Gay characters have been thriving in the pages of YA and Middle Grade novels—Seth Rudetsky’s upcoming The Rise and Fall of a Theater Geek, Stephen Chbosky’s  The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and Tim Federle’s Better Nate Than Ever are just a few of the books where sexual orientation is basically taken for granted–it is not even the major issue. Times have changed, very much for the better.

Now, transgender is a hot topic among young readers. Along with the growing acceptance of transgender people in society, we are seeing a rising tide of books about kids who are navigating their own gender issues. Alex Gino’s George, slated to be published in August by  Scholastic, was one of the most touted Middle Grade books at BEA. Memoirs like Rethinking Normal by Katie Rain Hill and Some Assembly Required by Arin Andrews are making an impact. And my colleague Jim McCarthy just closed a deal with HarperCollins for Rory Harrison’s Looking for Group, in which a transgender teen will figure prominently. These titles are just the tip of the iceberg.

Will transgender novels reach a tipping point, just as vampires did? Perhaps, but for now, they will help a lot of kids who are going to be very grateful. Adolescence is difficult enough to navigate on its own. It must be a lot tougher when you feel you’re stuck in the wrong body.

0

Friday Fun!

It’s June, it’s Friday, and if the humidity is anything to go by, summer is in full swing here in NY.  So let’s have some fun, shall we?

First of all, check out this chart from Language Log.  You know that phrase “It’s all Greek to me”?  Well, English speakers aren’t the only ones who find Greek impenetrable: so do the Norwegians, Swedes, Persians, and Spanish.  But click through to the chart to find out who the Czech, Italians, and Romanians, among many others, couldn’t understand to save their lives!

And once you’ve investigated the inscrutable, learn a little something on your Friday afternoon, like how books are made!  Okay, learn how books were made, back in 1947, in this Encyclopedia Brittanica film, sent to me by my client Wayne Gladstone.  Though please ignore that the process goes straight from the author’s typewriter to the printer because “he thinks many people will like to read it,” which seems like it’s missing some key steps, even for 1947.

And then sit back and relax, confident that you’ve learned enough to close out the week and enjoy your weekend.

1

Is an MFA in Creative Writing Worth It?

In ten days, I’ll be graduating with an MFA in creative writing. I won’t say it was too much of a challenge; I loved every minute of it (excluding the grueling thesis paper), and I’m actually a little sad to be done with it. There was so much support backing me. My mentors were there for my every question, my peers helped me solve what I thought were insolvable plot problems in workshop, and I basically felt coddled and safe. Now, I have to step out into the real world and trust the skills I’ve learned to finish my novel on my own. I also have to pay back my student loans…

But now that I’ve finished, I wanted to reflect on some of the most important things I’ve gained from it. Mostly because I need to justify all the money I’ve spent, but also because I want anyone who reads this to understand that if you’re serious about writing, it’s worth every penny.

My program afforded me a lot of valuable networking. I know it’s cliché to say “it’s all about who you know,” but that phrase is a cliché for a reason. With all the stiff competition out there, the millions of queries that go out everyday, it is helpful to be able to put a referral on your query letter. But that’s not going to get you published. What’s most important about getting to know a few agents and authors is that it allows you to understand what you’re getting into, who you’re choosing to represent you, and how you need to go about doing it. The internet is a wealth of knowledge on all of this, but the personal stories and information you’ll get from knowing people already in the industry is invaluable. 

The skills I’ve learned throughout the process have made me a better writer. There’s an obvious improvement in the things I write now versus what I wrote before the program. In fact, I hate to go back and read the things I’d written before actually knowing how to write. It took me a lot of writing and rewriting to finally understand. I didn’t just get my knowledge from lectures, books, or the internet. I had to write out my terrible sentences and plots and learn the hard way—through those terrifying editorial letters from my mentors.

Most importantly, the degree has given me a good writer’s work ethic. Everything I wrote over the course of the program was done in the midst of a my other jobs (three, in fact) and additional school work. I had to make time to write. I had to give up parts of my precious social life. After a long day of work, I needed to find solace in my stories rather than multiple episodes of a Netflix show. I had deadlines like any working writer, and I came up with ways to write around my other life.

When I think back on everything my MFA has given me, I don’t mind the loans or the time it took, and I’m excited to think about my future in writing. But of course, everyone has their own experiences. I’m interested in knowing what other people feel about MFAs. Do you think they’re worth it?

3

One project at a time

I was flipping through brainpickings.org and came across some writing advice from Henry Miller that I liked and thought I’d share with our readers.

Apart from the fact that he was a master at his craft, Henry Miller’s advice feels timeless and random in the best of ways. I also like the fact that his suggestions based on his own writing habits are positioned as Commandments, an authoritative approach to getting your writing life in order. Mostly, I really like that he indicates clearly that you should work on one thing at a time until it’s finished. The rest of the ideas support this, and it’s an interesting thought. In our current culture, there’s very little focus on one thing at a time. Multi-tasking is the (not so) new normal. So the idea of working on one thing at a time until it’s done feels daunting and refreshing. How nice to have just one creative project to think about until it’s finished! While it might not always be practical or even possible, it does make one think about taking a breath and paying attention in a different way that could enhance productivity.

I also like that he tells writers to keep human and see people, go places and drink if you want to. It does conflict with his advice in point 11 to write first and always while painting, music, friends, cinema come afterwards (at least the drinking is still allowed!).

What parts of his advice resonate with you? People are so fascinating. I love hearing what makes a brilliant writer tick. Don’t you?

14

Holiday cards—our annual dilemma

 

It’s early June and while most of you are thinking barbecues and lots of fun outdoor activities, we at DGLM are having our annual debate about holiday cards.

holidaycard 2Every one of us has, in the past, personally signed each and every card.  At one time when there were many fewer cards to send (and fewer of us on staff) this was not so onerous.  We began in mid-October and were done in plenty of time.  These days, however, we have a staff that is significantly larger (13 by my last count) and we send out over 2,500 cards each year.  This necessitates us actually beginning the card ordering and signing process in June.

So, the question becomes what do we do this year?  We could send electronic holiday cards, as many are doing.   We could also send cards with just the name of our company and a seasonal greeting.    We could send cards with each of our names pre-printed on them.  Finally, we could continue to do what we have always done with all of us signing each card individually.

There is our quandary and we need to address it quickly given the timing of the alternative that will take the longest.  We are asking you, our readers, what you think we should do.  If you were us, what would that be?

I look forward to hearing.

2

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan

Looking through the online catalogue of the very cool Litographs which, among other things, makes literary temporary tattoos, I came across this one, which recreates Molly Bloom’s iconic closing line of James Joyce’s Ulysses, “yes I said yes I will Yes,” purposely devoid of any punctuation save the closing full stop.

It seems appropriate with Bloomsday fast approaching that I should talk about why Ulysses is one of my favorite books. Not for any snooty, ‘looking down my superior and literary nose at the plebeians who have never read it’ reasons, but because of something nearly the opposite. Being shown how to read Ulysses actually taught me so much about how to read—close reading in between the lines—in general.

My senior year of college was spent completing my English degree and fitting in any other required courses my university required for graduation. I realized, also, that I was thisclose to adding on a minor in either French or Irish Studies (you know, those degrees that are super helpful in the real world). I chose Irish Studies, mainly because I hadn’t taken a French class in at least a year and frankly, Irish Studies just seemed more interesting.

That year, I had two classes where I was the only student. The first was a class about feminism in 20th Century Ireland and not only was I the only student to sign up for it, but the university totally forgot the cancel the class, like they’re supposed to do in a situation where there are fewer than I believe five students. The professor emailed me the day before, a letter which basically consisted of “um, well, this wasn’t supposed to happen, but I’m game if you are,” and so without any classroom assignment, we met in a pub once a week and talked about cool Irish ladies. Not terrible.

The other class was one of my own making—I’d always wanted to read Ulysses, but never trusted that I could venture in on my own. An overly confident seventeen-year-old Rachel once decided she would read it over the summer after covering Portrait of an Artist in her senior year English lit class and ostentatiously carried it around with her for about a month before quietly abandoning the book after making it through a chapter and a half with only the vaguest understanding of what was going on. After approaching my advisor with the idea, I found a professor willing to take me on an independent study course where we met once a week in her office to discuss the chapters one at a time.

I loved it. I have never, ever been someone who marks up her books, but boy is my copy of Ulysses littered with as many of my own scrawlings as Joyce’s (not entirely true). I learned how to be an active reader, how to consider in depth references and also to read in virtually any style known to man (up until 1922) since no two of Joyce’s chapters, or episodes as they are called, is written in the same manner. I read each on my own, marking to the best of my ability, genuinely laughing out loud at sentences and allusions that I would never have understood previously, and then marked them up some more in the hour-long sessions with my professor.

It was a truly enjoyable and enlightening experience and I believe it has forever changed the way I approach a novel, no matter how straightforward or complicated it may be. I’ve since reread the book and have found myself able to follow along unencumbered, and I’ll always be forever grateful for the opportunity that I had. There are countless ways to write, countless ways to read and countless ways to interpret a text, which is part of (all of?) the reason why books and literary pursuits in general are so important. There is always a new thing to discover and no two people will be affected by a piece of writing in the same way. All we can do is gather more and more tools with which to approach ever more books, while delighting in going back to old favorites with our newfound perspectives.

I’d love to know, too, if there are any particular books or moments of clarity that stand out to you as a turning point in your reading career!

2

The Tempest in a tempest

Last night I attended the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Tempest – well, part of it at least.

In case you aren’t familiar with Shakespeare in the Park, it’s one of the most amazing things about New York City. Every summer since 1954, The Public Theater presents two productions of Shakespeare in an open-air theater in the middle of Central Park, with tickets free by lottery or by waiting in line. I was lucky enough to get a pair of tickets in yesterday’s lottery – I’m guessing the entry pool was slim thanks to all-day rain and temps in the 50s. But I was not scared off! In fact, I thought it would be a lot of fun to see The Tempest in the midst of an actual tempest, and I was not wrong. Thanks to a hasty purchase of trusty emergency ponchos and a cozy blanket, my friend and I were ready to brave the elements and hoped the actors were as well.

tempest2

And they were! For at least the first act. And what a first act it was! The play opens with a fearsome shipwreck scene, and the scenery and special effects would no doubt have been impressive in any conditions; experiencing it with nature contributing her own genuine rain and blustery winds made Shakespeare’s gorgeous lines, and the fine work of the hardy actors, truly exceptional. It was a show to remember even though they decided to close the performance after the first act. (I was soaked and shivering, though intellectually elated, so it wasn’t a complete disappointment.)

tempest1

And it got me thinking about the way the weather influences fiction, for readers and maybe for writers as well! This weekend I was reading Neal Stephenson’s excellent Seveneves and thunder boomed outside just as I read an account of the moon exploding into pieces – quite a startling moment! On the other hand, fiction can be escapism – read a beachy book on a frigid winter day, or vice versa, to forget the miserable weather report.

I wonder if the same goes for writers as they create the fiction we love to readDo they have to work a little harder on a blizzard scene if they’re writing on a gorgeous spring day? Or can the creative imagination do its thing regardless of what’s going on outside the window?

What do you think? Do you match your book to the weather, or the opposite? Do you find the weather creeping onto the page when you write? 


7

Lessons from the romance industry

A few weeks ago, the wonderful people at Long Island Romance Writers asked me to speak at their annual luncheon. What follows is the speech I gave at that event:

In the summer of 1999, I had completed my freshman year of college and realized that the money I had saved up throughout high school to spend in college was all gone. I knew that what I made working at the mall Record Town for three months wasn’t going to keep me going through another year, so I made the obvious choice: I sat down in front of my school’s career database and applied for 40 part-time jobs. I was not careful about my choices. I had two criteria: they paid at least minimum wage and they were at least relatively easy to get to from my dorm.

The next day, I received a message that I had missed a call from Stacey Glick at what was then Jane Dystel Literary Management. At this time in my life, I was so scared of speaking to strangers that I would write down scripts of possible sentences I could use on the phone. “Hello, this is Jim McCarthy,” I wrote down. In case I forgot?

Within 24 hours, I had been interviewed, offered the job, and accepted. Knowing how awkward I was at the time, I can only think that there was a dearth of viable candidates. Here’s what I knew on my first day at a literary agency: Nothing. I knew nothing. I didn’t know what an agent was or what they did. I DID know that Judge Judy was on the client list. This was enough for me to feel preeeeeeetty fancy.

I interned off and on for a few years. I quit three times because I thought I needed to go get internships that would help me in my future career. Considering I majored in Architectural History and minored in Dramatic Literature and Women’s Studies, I welcome you all to imagine what that alternate career might have been.

The day I graduated from college, someone quit the agency. Miriam Goderich sat me down and said, “Listen, we’ll give you a job, but if you quit one more time, you can never come back.”

When I started to sign on my own clients in 2003, I didn’t really know what I would be looking for. I always heard how hard fiction was to sell, but I also knew that it was what I loved to read. My favorite authors through high school had been Stephen King and Jackie Collins. I wanted to read about what would happen if Lucky Santangelo had to visit Salem’s Lot. Conveniently for me, paranormal romance was beginning to break out. I hitched my wagon to that train and was off and running.

In the 12 years since I signed my first client, a lot of things have changed, and a lot of trends have come and gone. I represented chick lit until its ignoble death. I was selling vampire novels when they were the only things people wanted. I was selling vampire novels when they were the only thing NO ONE wanted. (On a side note, I asked Miriam Goderich to edit this speech for me, and she included this comment here: “This is the place to mention my philosophy that vampires and Elvis will always sell.”)

I’ve been told that the market for contemporary romance is dead. I’ve been told that the market for contemporary romance is super vibrant and then watched it become all that anyone seemed to buy for six months until lists were declared over-saturated with…contemporary romance.

I’ve witnessed the rise and fall and rise of self-publishing. I saw authors who struggled for years become millionaires. I saw bestselling authors whose sales slowed to a trickle.

I’ve had phone calls where I was told that novels with black protagonists are too hard to sell into the market. I’ve seen the WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign start to make a wonderful difference.

I’ve heard the romance industry derided for being the silly, frilly, fluffy stepsister of publishing. I’ve…okay, actually that still happens, and you know what? Screw ‘em. Romance is a $1.4 BILLION dollar a year industry that makes up a larger market share than any other genre by a large margin.

The romance market has the savviest readers and the most well-connected author community. All of the greatest innovations in the ebook market began with romance authors and readers. And in no other category have I seen authors band together to demand improvements in contracts, control over their careers, or more transparency throughout the industry. And in no other section of the publishing arena have I found writers more willing to support their colleagues’ efforts. I’ve seen friendships build out of initial meetings at RT or RWA that have lasted for years, brought about collaboration, and led to mutual marketing assistance or sometimes just to lending a supportive ear when the business gets tough.

Because this business does get TOUGH. As much as things have changed in my decade and a half in publishing, that has been consistent. I recently saw a well-published author compare writing to trying to build a castle on quicksand. And I understood where she was coming from—there are so many unknowables out there, and one of the most defining characteristics I’ve seen in authors over the past 15 years is that no one ever feels secure. Bestsellers worry that their next book will be the one to tank. Midlist authors convince themselves that if they haven’t broken out yet, their time will never come. And debut authors worry that they will never be good enough to have people want to spend money to read their books.

I’m sure there are SOME authors who feel secure, but I mean…even J.K. Rowling published under a pseudonym so that she didn’t have to deal with the weight of expectations that would be placed on her next book.

That may all sound very negative. But here’s the thing about the author who tweeted about the quicksand: she’s still writing. Passionately. She hasn’t given up. And while I haven’t spoken to her about this particular issue, I’ve heard from a lot of people in similar situations that there’s one reason they never stop: they can’t. Tough as this business gets, the rewards are simply too sweet.

Whether you have to wake up at four in the morning to find some alone time to work on your writing or the responses to a submission make you feel like pounding your head against a wall, there comes a moment—when you get your first deal or receive your first fan letter, when your printed book arrives in the mail or you get that first check for earnings—there comes a time when you know that the words you passionately committed to paper are being read by strangers out there in the wild. There is someone out there who has read your work and been moved or excited, entertained or titillated. Someone out there had a unique experience because of something you alone have done.

I don’t write. I’ve never thought for a second that I have the talent or the discipline to do so. Hell, I joked about how I would stretch this speech out with sections of interpretive dance if I couldn’t come up with enough words to fill the time. (You all better hope I can fill the time because I cannot dance). But when I watch these moments of joy and of discovery, I do get jealous of my clients. I’m thrilled for my own small part of the process, but knowing that feeling of someone else lighting up over your written creation? There’s something magical there.

No one has ever taken up writing because it is easy. No one sits down at their computer and thinks, “I need some cash. Why don’t I just write a novel?” Or if they do, they are crazy people. No. I would venture to guess that all of you started writing because of a need. A need to express yourself. A need to get the stories in your head onto paper. A need to share some piece of your inner world with other people.

So whenever the business becomes tough, as we have determined that it will? Remember that. Remember you have already done something extraordinary and that whatever bad thing is happening at the moment (rejection, disappointing sales, rights reverting, rights not reverting)…it is a road block. It is one of the inevitable frustrations that comes from being brave and bold enough to be chasing your dreams.

The past few years have seen a lot of turmoil throughout the publishing industry. Two of the biggest publishers in the world merged. The percentage of books acquired electronically sky-rocketed. The number of authors finding a way to succeed outside of the traditional path went from zero to…like…a lot. (I don’t have exact figures. But seriously, it’s a lot). So when I’m asked a question like, “What has changed since you became an agent?” my answer is a forceful waffling. Everything has changed. Nothing has changed.

In the Nothing Has Changed column, you can argue that just as many people as ever are writing, there haven’t been enormous gains in the numbers of readers, so one basic tenet of the entire industry has stayed exactly the same. We (the royal we: authors, agents, editors, booksellers, the corporate drones at Amazon) are all trying to figure out how to get the most product by writers into the hands of the most readers. Author writes. Someone sells. People read. Who the someone selling is has more variations now, but it’s still a pretty straight line.

In the Everything Has Changed column, you can dump every piece of technology that has come up in the years since I started: iPads, Kindles, nooks… You can dump in various tech initiatives: Oyster, Kindle Worlds, Smashwords… You can pick trends that have taken the industry by storm whether they are super fun and encourage creativity like fan fiction or they were desperate attempts people glommed onto to seem relevant in a new technological age (…).

So when I try to balance these columns and decide whether much has actually changed in a real way, I arrive at this: for all intents and purposes, the system is very much the same with one crucial difference: authors are more empowered than they ever have been before.

THAT is the gift of the self-publishing boom. Over the past few years, romance authors have led the way in taking a degree of control over their careers that many others would never have even imagined. Authors who had robust backlists and were sick of being told that no one wants a reprint? They made their books accessible and sold tens of thousands of copies. Others who were told they had product that simply wasn’t marketable to any real audience? They tossed off rejection and went on to sell hundreds of thousands of books on their own.

And so publishing divided into maybe three camps: those who believed self-publishing was a threat to the status quo and would destroy the business, those who believed self-published books were trash and not worth their time since all of those authors would burn out quickly, and those that believed that all innovation was good for not only publishing as an industry, but for the future of the written word. Obviously, I am Team Trash: self-published authors will all burn out and things will go back to the better ways of before.

I kid! I once did a panel with an unnamed agent who WAS in that category. We stood in front of a room of 40-50 published authors, some of whom had moved parts of their lists to self-publishing. To them, this agent said something like, “I represent superstars. I don’t need you. There is better to be had.” Now, I am a generally a very relaxed person. But suffice it to say, things went…somewhat poorly. And while the red hot rage I was feeling blurred a lot of my memories of what happened, I do know for sure that at the end of the panel, I was holding all four microphones that had been on stage in the hopes that no one else would speak. I think I only succeeded in making people shout to be heard. It was…delightful.

Sorry for that tangent! Meanwhile, as you might expect, I am actually very much a believer that all innovation is for the better, and the fact that authors have become able to take more control over their careers is a wonderful thing. I do believe in the future of traditional publishing. I think there will always be authors who are best supported by having an agent, an editor, a publisher, and so on. There are enough potentially wonderful things built into the system that at its best, it is irreplaceable.

I also don’t believe that independent publishing will go anywhere. There will always be authors whose work is either misunderstood or belongs in a market that publishers don’t know how to reach. It is invaluable to be able to reach audiences without having to go through the admittedly cloistered publishing community.

I’ve felt the changes most when I’ve been at writers’ conferences. Five year ago, if I was at a conference, you could feel an odd sort of deference to agents and editors. There was that sense of, “Oh my God, there are so few of them, and they determine whether I have a future at this thing that I love.” I’d get the question, “Do I really need a literary agent?” and my answer was always yes. Now I walk into conferences, and I’m not scared to wear my Agent name badge. People still want to talk to me, but I don’t get pitched at urinals. No one breaks into agents’ hotel rooms to leave manuscripts on their pillows anymore (yes, those things really happened). It’s because there is an alternative, and that is such a good thing.

Do I believe that agents are incredibly helpful to authors? Of course I do. I don’t know if I could handle going to work every day if I didn’t believe that. But there is something both challenging and delightful about knowing that whereas clients may formerly have felt like they needed to clutch on for dear life, we all are that much more aware now that we have to be great at our jobs or else people will leave us. I don’t know if it’s masochism or misplaced enthusiasm, but I find that incredibly exhilarating.

As someone whose job description is Author’s Advocate, I have to be happy that those authors are becoming more empowered, increasingly pro-active, and better informed by the day. That happens right here in rooms like this and with authors like you, and I thank the romance community for supporting each other, for keeping us honest, and for keeping us on our toes. We are all the better for it.

I want to tell two quick stories of authors I represent who to me stand out for their incredible strength.

Victoria Laurie was the second or third client I ever signed on. We’ve done more than 30 books together across multiple series—adult, YA, and middle grade. She first queried with the book ABBY COOPER, PSYCHIC EYE, a novel about a psychic intuitive who accidentally gets involved in a murder investigation. I rejected that book. I sent Victoria a letter saying that I loved the main character and thought her voice was incredible. The book, though, didn’t know whether it was a mystery or a romance, so the pacing was wonky, and it didn’t hold together. I said I’d be open to considering future work. Victoria wrote back the next day and told me that it was the nicest letter she had ever received. I momentarily panicked and thought she somehow missed the part where I rejected her. But she hadn’t. Six days later, she sent me a revised novel. I rolled my eyes because I thought there was no way she could have done the necessary work in six days. Long story short? I sold the book about a month after that, and it became the first in a series that continues to this day. What I discovered after we agreed to work together? I was the 114th agent that Victoria had queried. One hundred and fourteen. I don’t think I’m strong enough to be rejected 112 times and keep going. But I’m so glad that Victoria did. I adore her. I adore her books. And she even modeled a character in one of her series after me. I’ll never tell which one.

And then there’s Michelle Rowen. I sold Michelle’s first novel BITTEN & SMITTEN very easily. It went on to very solid sales and the publisher bought more and more books by her. Then her editor left. Sales stopped being what they once were. And we had to move publishers with her. Again and again. And again. It was a tough road. I remember sitting with Michelle at a Romantic Times convention several years ago, as she said that there were times she wanted to give up because it was hard and it was frustrating, and sometimes she didn’t know if she had the strength to keep going. And I remember telling her that it would kill me if she stopped because she was too talented to give up. She kept going. Not because I asked her to, but because she was always strong enough to keep going, even if she had doubts. Michelle wrote the novel FALLING KINGDOMS under the name Morgan Rhodes. It was her 25th book. It was her first New York Times bestseller. I’ve had other bestsellers. This is the only one that I cried over. Because the road was so long and so hard, Michelle’s persistence was all the more inspiring, and her success was all the sweeter.

I share those stories because to me, they’re the best to hear at the beginning of a career. Publishing can seem so impenetrable and impossible. And it can, truly, be incredibly difficult. Everyone needs to know that. But everyone should also know that even when it isn’t working out, it still can. Your greatest asset is your writing. But almost equal to that? Your endurance, your fortitude, your belief in yourself. Ignore the overnight successes. You only hear so much about them because they’re so rare. Go into publishing with your game face on—prepared to fight for your shot and open to enjoying the good news along the way, even when the road is bumpy.

On June 10th, it will have been 13 years since I went full time at Dystel & Goderich. Since then I’ve sold over 300 books by more than 45 authors. It has been an incredible experience. Or a series of incredible experiences, depending on how you look at it. I’ve watched publishing change from the inside for long time, but this remains the same: Being an author is one of the world’s hardest dream careers. But when it works out (and it very often does), nothing could be sweeter.