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The Gerard Butler Guide to Agenting

The best thing about being a literary agent is that there’s always so much to read.

The worst thing about being a literary agent is that there’s always so much to read!

Sometimes, when faced with a particularly daunting pile of manuscripts, I turn to GIFs for inspiration in staying focused and fired up. This week, hoping to get enough done to leave the work reading behind when I go away for the weekend, I am channeling the élan of Gerard Butler:

 

And when I find one of those mind-blowing, can’t-put-it-down, I-gotta-represent-this manuscripts:

 

 

 

Who are your GET IT DONE inspirations? Do you have any GIFs or characters you turn to when you need to power through an intimidating to-do list?

 

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The Second Time Around

 

It’s no surprise that a particular author interview last week made the front page of the New York Times’s Arts section.

 

Karen Hall’s debut novel Dark Debts was published by Random House twenty years ago and was an instant hit, with big sales, rave reviews, and a Paramount film deal. Since then, Hall has never written another book; instead, she obsessed over what was wrong with Dark Debts and how she could make it better. You usually only get one crack at a novel once it’s been published, but it turned out that her editor Jonathan Karp harbored the same misgivings. In the meantime, he became publisher of Simon and Schuster, and offered Hall a chance for a twentieth anniversary re-issue of the book, in a newly revised version. Both Hall and Karp are now happy with the end result, which was published on Tuesday of last week.

 

The revisions were extensive. Hall has made changes throughout the book, including a new ending, the excision of a major character, and the addition of a new one. Whether fans of the original will go for these changes remains to be seen, but it’s unusual that a novelist is given this kind of second chance.

 

It all reminds me a bit of Steven Spielberg. Everybody loved his classic Close Encounters of the Third Kind when it was released in 1977, and nobody seemed to feel the need to enter the spaceship with Richard Dreyfuss at the end. But the management of Columbia Pictures did, and two years later, Spielberg was persuaded to shoot an additional scene showing what happened to Dreyfuss after he stepped into the ship. The reaction from audiences was a collective shrug. Few felt the film had been enhanced or improved. And it didn’t help that Richard Dreyfuss was two years older and looked it. Spielberg himself was unhappy with the addition, and had it removed for subsequent home-video releases.

 

It will be interesting to see whether critics and fans take to the new Dark Debts or consider it a misfire. I’d love to hear from you as to whether you think authors should periodically revise their work as Hall did–or whether they should let each book stand as a record of its time and of the point in life when the author wrote it. My own opinion, without having yet read the revised version? Sometimes you need to just leave something alone and move on to the next project. As important and lengthy as the writing–and re-writing–process can be, there is a point where you finally have to put down the hammer and tongs. Otherwise, by that time, the best you can get out of it may turn out to be the worst.

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Favorite Reading Spots

Despite news of a snowstorm threatening to hit this weekend, it was still warm and sunny enough this morning to make me believe spring is well and truly on the way. This also means that reading outside is a thing I can start to do again with regularity. The summer I interned for DGLM, I would often meet up with another literary friend in Washington Square Park after work and we’d get iced coffee, claim a sunny patch of grass, spread out a blanket (or sweater), and unpack our reading. There were few things I enjoyed more that summer than reading in the park amid all the other background noise—the sound of the fountain, conversational chatter, music being played, and dogs barking.

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However, I know that for some people, they have to have absolute silence in order to read and concentrate. It’s always interesting to me to see where people can (and cannot) read. My favorite is watching people stand in line and fish out a small paperback while they wait or get out of the subway, their nose still in the book, trying to get to the end of the chapter.

Where are your favorite spots to read? Do you need quiet or do you enjoy background noise? Where’s the weirdest spot you’ve ever caught yourself (or others) reading? Do you enjoy reading outside?

Now that I finally have a NYPL card (it only took me seven months to activate it, to the open disapproval of the librarian who finally gave it to me), I’m ready for summer Fridays, some good “must-read” lists, and the park.

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What makes us tick

A couple of years ago I attended a very lively and work-intensive but fun conference in Las Vegas. My lovely and talented client, Nicole McInnes, had been invited to sit on a panel to discuss the author-agent relationship and when she asked if I could join her on the panel, I jumped at the chance. Not only would I get to see her, but I’d get to spend some time in Sin City!

When I got there, I met several terrific editors and agents and we bonded big time. One of those agents was Carly Watters, a charming and smart young agent based in Canada who works for PS Literary. I’ve since followed her on social media and she has some nice insights to share about books and publishing.

I found this recent piece about navigating social media particularly compelling as we are always trying to encourage our authors to learn more about social media and using it in a positive way to build name and brand recognition. Carly interviews a successful “bookstagrammer” who is now an editor at a major publishing house who also runs a blog, website, and manages several social media accounts. She offers some tips for writers that you might find useful. I like when she says:

“Be authentic – your personality and style will make your platforms sing. I can’t stress enough how important it is to be original with your words and ideas. Know your audience – every platform will attract different types of readers. Be honest with your content – if you are passionate about your work, it will show and people are more likely to appreciate your honesty! Lastly, remember that if reading and sharing your love of reading with others is something that you adore doing, then you are in the right place! Books are what bind us together in this community – don’t forget that we are all just readers finding our place in this online bookish world.”

Enjoy and check out Carly and Book Baristas to learn more about books and what makes us all tick.

2

The Appeal of Bad Boys

I’ve always been fascinated with the appeal of the bad boy. When thinking about my favorite male characters in novels, I’m always drawn to the slightly evil. Though, I don’t necessarily think I’m alone. After talking with a few of my colleagues, I realized we were all captivated by the same bad boy character. Just look at Edward Cullen from Twilight whose character led to Christian Grey in 50 Shades of Grey, there’s clearly something appealing about a man who needs redemption. One of my favorite bad boys is Howl from Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle. Howl lives without a heart until Sophie finds a way to return it to him, but before she does, she has to live through all kinds of horrible treatment from him. How could a horrible or evil character ever be appealing?

I believe it’s the need to be the savior that attracts the reader to these characters. There’s something attractive about seeing a true change in a flawed character. Perhaps it’s the hero inside all of us, needing to help someone trapped in their evil way and bring out that sliver of a good side. Or perhaps we love seeing it in literature because it so rarely happens in real life?

Who are your favorite male characters? Are they bad boys? Could their character be described as flawed? Do you want to save them?

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Today is St. Patrick’s Day, the city abounds with drunken revelers, and I am keeping a low profile. Though I am not Irish by extraction (a deficit my part-Irish husband generously overlooks) I am a Hibernophile. I quite like Irish literature (though I’m no Lauren Abramo) have an inexpert but nerdy fondness for illuminated manuscripts (hello Book of Kells), and while I can pass on the Stout, I love Irish music, especially fiddling. I’ve also been known to caper around with my arms at my sides in a terrible approximation of Irish dance. I had a roommate who was a champion step-dancer, and his occasional efforts to teach me a few moves ended in gales of laughter. I’ve been to Ireland on a number of memorable occasions, and while the shamrock-splashed, boozy holiday we celebrate here seems to have little to do with the place from which it ostensibly comes, today is a fitting day to think about books by Irish writers. There is, of course, no shortage, and the contemporary scene is a rich one.

My favorites include Edna O’Brien, Colum McCann, Colm Toibin, William Trevor and Roddy Doyle, but I first fell in love with the fictional Ireland when I read a middle grade fantasy by an American children’s book author named Mary Tannen. The Wizard Children of Finn told the story of a brother and sister swept back through time to the pre-modern Ireland. It was a rip-roaring, tunic-sporting, magic-salmon-swimming adventure that thereafter hooked me on tales of Finn McCool, the Fianna, and the various spooky and strange legends of Ireland. Leprechauns are just the tip of the iceberg. Unfortunately, aside from Finn, I had no real idea how to pronounce most any of the names. Not that I let this stop me. Because these were books I read to myself, not stories I ever heard, I simply jerry-rigged my own pronunciations–glossaries be damned. Invariably it was in some semi-public and fully embarrassing way that I learned the correct (and still confounding) way to say Maebh, Cuchulain and Siobhan. Who knew Samhain was pronounced Sow-in? Not Jessica of 2015. Jessica of 2016? Well, she’s learned her lesson.

*Never to read Irish-sounding names aloud.

Who are your favorite Irish authors, contemporary or otherwise?

(*But you can watch others attempt it here). 

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Inspiration for Young Readers

I’ve mentioned a few times before that unlike most people in the publishing business, I did not fall in love with books at the tender age of 8 months.  I wish I had, and sometimes I find myself looking out for great books I might have missed out on at the time. There were no specific reasons for my not being interested in reading, I had all the resources at my fingertips but I just wasn’t bothered.

The same can’t be said for the many children living in the slums of India. I read this short article about an inspiring young girl named Muskaan, who at the age of nine runs her own library outside her house in the slums of Bhopal.

As she returns from school, Muskaan would find eager young readers awaiting her at the spot where she lays out a mat and arranges her total of 119 books (donated by officials from the State Education Board), then they would gather around and listen intently as she reads out loud to them. After these allegedly fun reading sessions, the kids would then borrow whatever books they can and settled on the mats to read, or take them as they leave.

Having read this article I am reminded how much we take for granted. While majority of the world struggle to have decent and well stocked libraries, we feel the need to cut the budget on libraries, perhaps ensuring children in the future won’t have the same library experiences most of us had growing up. At the same time, Muskaan’s courage also shows me how blessed we are as a human race because no matter what the situation may be, there is always something, despite how small it is that gives us hope.

 

 

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How do you read?

And by that I mean, do you read one book at a time or multiple books at once?

As for myself, I’m always reading at least 3 books at any given time, not counting those for work. It’s a tendency fed by both practicality and whim. When I’m on the go, I’m reading a book on my Kindle or iPhone. When I’m home it’s always print books—I’m curling up on the couch with a nice new hardcover or lying in bed with a paperback before going to sleep. But I also shuffle between books based on mood. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for nonfiction and would rather read a fun, fast-paced espionage thriller instead of that critically-acclaimed National Book Award nominee.

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Average readers might find the habit odd—I know many of my less literate friends do—but book lovers, more often than not, couldn’t imagine reading any differently. I polled a few coworkers, and all of them responded with the “multiple books at once” answer. Not a fair poll, I’ll give you that, considering we all work in publishing, but I think you’ll find that most serious readers are in the middle of a few books. Which brings me to my next question.

Is this an efficient reading habit? Is it the “right” way to read?

Although several studies have looked at multitasking and its harmful effects on the brain, I’m not sure you can consider reading multiple books as “multitasking.” At least in the sense of rapidly switching attention from one task to another. However, I could also easily see how shuffling between books might decrease reading speed. Regardless, I won’t be changing my reading habits any time soon. Not only is reading multiple books at once both practical and enjoyable, but it’s also rewarding in the sense that sometimes the books play well off one another—whether it be a juxtaposition of different writing styles or books with similar settings or the structure of nonfiction books.

I’d like to hear what our readers think. How do you read? Have you seen a dramatic difference in reading efficiency reading one way over the other? Let us know in the comments!

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Why it’s sometimes best to work with a collaborator

People often ask me why the need for a collaborator and my answer is very simple—to make the work they are creating better and more saleable. (Here, by the way, I am mainly talking about non-fiction.)

Collaborators—especially those with experience—help the author, especially at the proposal stage, focus their idea and on exactly how they want to organize the message they want their book to deliver.

Collaborators can also bring out aspects of the book that the author hadn’t even considered including.

Collaborators, because they are paid a flat fee or have a percentage of the project, are dedicated to the work of producing both a proposal and a manuscript in an efficient and timely manner.  This is often something the author (especially first time authors) working alone is unable to do.

Finally, the author, if he or she wants to and is interested in writing subsequent books, can learn a great deal from the collaboration and then go on to write their own books down the line.

I would love to know your thoughts on the benefits of using a collaborator, so bring them on.

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To know them is to love them

As a middle schooler and beyond, I had some very serious crushes on fictional characters. Considering that I spent the majority of my free time wrapped up in a fictional world, this probably comes as no surprise. In college (and to this day, to be quite honest), Jamie Fraser from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander was my huge fictional crush. (The Starz series with Sam Heughan starring as Jamie only made it worse.)  I also had a big thing for Numair from Tamara Pierce’s The Immortals series and pretty much all of Jane Austen’s male characters. The thing that made me love all of these characters was their soft spots. They might be brusque on the outside, with some very major flaws, but at the end of the day, they were deeply caring and perfect gentlemen.
In the spirit of some lighthearted Friday fun, I decided to poll the DGLM office and find out who were the fictional characters they were most attracted to. Results below!

  • ​Michael: Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, for his unattainable nature.
  • Lauren: Laurie from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, for his impetuous and willful spirit.
  • Mike: Louisa from Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You for her sweet, tough, and caring character.
  • Sharon: Gilbert Blythe from L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, for being in love with Anne for her personality and ideas, not just her looks—and the fact that his feelings for her didn’t get in the way of being a good friend.
  • Kemi: George Knightley from Jane Austen’s Emma, for his compassionate character and his long friendship with her, despite his romantic feelings.
And lastly, one of our interns, Chrissy chose Jay Gatsby, from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby for his wealth, his passionate love for Daisy, and his attraction to Nick (and also, because Leonardo DiCaprio).
Who’s the most attractive fictional character in your opinion? What do you think makes a fictional character attractive? What specific traits make our hearts melt every time we read about them?