Grant Winner from the National Endowment of the Arts!
SILVER SPARROW by Tayari Jones
IACP – Cookbook Award Winner (Baking) and Finalist (Single Subject)
CHEWY GOOEY CRISPY CRUNCH MELT-IN-YOUR-MOUTH COOKIES by Alice Medrich
James Beard Foundation Book Award Winner
PIG: KING OF THE SOUTHERN TABLE by James Villas
New York Times Bestseller
GHOULS, GHOULS, GHOULS by Victoria Laurie
2011 Coretta Scott King Honor Book
NINTH WARD by Jewell Parker Rhodes
New York Times Bestsellers
James Dashner’s THE MAZE RUNNER, THE SCORCH TRIALS, and THE DEATH CURE
Soros Justice Fellow and Image Award Winner for Outstanding Literary Work
A QUESTION OF FREEDOM: A MEMOIR OF LEARNING, SURVIVAL, AND COMING OF AGE IN PRISON R. Dwayne Betts
New York Times Bestseller
YOUR INNER SKINNY: FOUR STEPS TO THIN FOREVER by Joy Bauer
New York Times Bestseller
Carrie Ryan’s THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH
New York Times Bestselling Series
WAKE, FADE and GONE by Lisa McMann
New York Times Bestseller
MENNONITE IN A LITTLE BLACK DRESS: A MEMOIR OF GOING HOME by Rhoda Janzen
New York Times Bestselling Series
Heather Brewer’s THE CHRONICLES OF VLADIMIR TOD
The demise of physical copies of reference books
I knew this day would come and am actually surprised it didn’t arrive sooner. On Thursday it was announced that there would be no more copies of the physical edition of The Encyclopedia Britannica.
Many years ago, before I became a literary agent, I was the publisher of The World Almanac. During the years I was there its circulation increased from a million copies a year to two million copies a year. Indeed, my colleagues thought the sky was the limit, but hearing the initial stirrings about this strange phenomenon “the Internet” I had a feeling things were going to change.
Change is exciting; in this case though, it is also kind of sad. As a kid, I remember always being told to refer to the encyclopedia or the dictionary or the thesaurus when I needed to know something. Now, at least for the latter two, I always go online. And the time has finally arrived that if I want to use an encyclopedia, I will use the Internet as well.
Soon there will cease to be printed copies of the phone book that will (or has that happened already?) and then, what’s next?
Last week over dinner with a client and old friend, she asked me if I thought there would come a time when physical copies of books wouldn’t exist. I replied that I certainly didn’t think so; but for reference books of any kind, I do believe that end is upon us.
What do you think?
Best Friends Forever
Having recently (well, recently enough) read Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife and seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, I am well aware of, and fascinated by, the great literary friendships of the Lost Generation. I’m embarrassed to say, however, that I didn’t even think of all the other author pals who have existed throughout history. When Lauren sent me this article just yesterday that starts off with Hemingway/Fitzgerald and explores the impact of other great writers who were admirers of and friends to one another, I dove right in.
Many of them I had previously been aware of—Shelley and Byron, of course, Tolkien and Lewis, Wordsworth and Coleridge (I’ll always have a soft spot for the Romantics, and I’m sure everyone else here at DGLM is groaning a “you would” right now), and Emerson and Thoreau are an obvious pair…though I never noticed before how strongly each resembles Abraham Lincoln in distinct ways. The rest, however, were new to me, and both surprising and not. Writing is in so many ways such a solitary endeavor, yet we tend to flock towards those with similar values, sentiments and aspirations to our own. While there were clearly disagreements—some of the physical—it was also, what I can assume, a benefit to the craft of each of these well-known figures. Without the ability to defend one’s own ideas to a compatriot who is willing to cut one down to size, yet also completely understand the absolute anguish and exhilaration that accompany grand literary output, there is less chance, less motivation to grow, evolve and even change, should it benefit.
If you had the opportunity to befriend any author—past or present, well-known or little-read—who would it be? I don’t mean someone who merely interests you or whose work you particularly admire, but someone who you feel could really be both adversary and advisor, who would help you grow as a writer. This takes some thinking, but I’m curious!
A few weeks ago, someone who saw me reading on my Kindle while my son had his karate class asked me if I’d heard of a book called Fifty Shades of Grey. As I usually am when anyone asks me if I’ve heard of a book and I haven’t, I was a little embarrassed (never mind that with a gazillion books published every year, it’s not possible to know about every last one of them or that my memory for titles and authors’ names is shockingly poor for someone who, well, works with titles and authors—do I sound a little defensive?). I asked her what it was about and she told me it was a romance that she was trying to get a copy of without success. I suggested Amazon and promptly forgot all about the discussion.
Of course, I now know that Fifty Shades of Grey is the latest publishing phenom (an allegedly not very well written kinky sex fest for Twilight fans who thought the vampire saga was too squeaky clean, according to Jezebel) and that Vintage has plopped down a ton of money for the print rights to a book that is currently selling like hotcakes…online.
Which raises a number of interesting questions.
As the Wall Street Journal points out in a piece about the rise in sales of books that women have traditionally been embarrassed to be seen reading in public, e-readers have made sales of romance and erotica skyrocket precisely because of the privacy they afford. So, how wise is a seven-figure investment for print rights to a book that people may not want others to see them reading?
And, does all of this mean that books in these categories will go exclusively digital in the near future? I know lots of smart, professional women with a weakness for what we used to call “bodice rippers” in the good old days (before Kindles and romance branding) who didn’t want to be caught dead on the subway behind a cover of some buxom lass being ravished by a half-naked Fabio type. I can also imagine all the soccer moms who don’t want their kids to know what kinds of books they’re devouring while they extol the virtues of Moby Dick and The Scarlet Letter.
Personally, I do think that e-readers are liberating in that way. In my line of work, I occasionally have to read things that may be a little hard to explain to casual acquaintances or even my six-year-old. What about you guys? Do you find yourselves sneaking around reading naughty things on your e-readers? And, do you think this is one of the “intangibles” that publishing people have overlooked when trying to figure out the value of e-books vs. print books?
Getting a grip on fear
While it’s said that Publishing is an industry built on optimism, it’s often ruled by fear. Writers fear rejection; editors fear acquiring an unsuccessful project; booksellers fear Amazon; everyone fears ebooks; and so on. And ever since I became an agent, I feel like I’ve been more aware of the fearful side of the business than ever before.
If one of the key attractions of agenting is that you work across the publishing spectrum, it seems to come with a similarly broad range of fears. In any given day, agents handle acquisition worries (i.e. whether or not to take on a client), fear of rejection from editors, stress about the future of the industry, and a good dose of personal financial uncertainty, much like our independent bookselling colleagues.
In other words, oy!
But as I logged on to Facebook this morning, I was fortunate that the first post on my wall was this blog from writer Candice Ransom about dealing with fears both in writing and in life. It’s a beautiful piece, perhaps made more so by her stunning photographs. I was particularly struck by her honesty about her new fear concerning time and productivity—it’s a sobering thought, and yet a brave one to acknowledge like this.
Best of all, I appreciate that she offers at least one concrete suggestion for dealing with fear. Has anyone read Writing Past Dark? If so, I’d love to know what you think. One thing that certainly helps me deal with my fears and to get better as an agent is to see how writers manage their own work. So I’d love any suggestions/inspiration you’ve got for how, as Candice puts it, to “face down fear and walk through doors into uncertainty.”
On conferences and agents and the future…
I spent part of Friday at the PASIC Power conference, a gathering of published romance authors right here in midtown. I’ve done quite a few conferences, and for the most part they’ve long been the same. Agents and editors chatter on about how to go about convincing agents and editors to work with you, move on to listen to authors’ plea for consideration, and then retire to the bar confident in their feelings of superiority.
There’s been a change in conferences lately, and it’s a fascinating one. The tone has gone from attendees asking, “How do I get you?” to the less ego-boosting, “Why do I need you?” Or, as someone in Friday’s audience queried, “What can publishers and agents do for me that I can’t do for myself?”
I happen to believe that agents do play a vital role for all authors and will continue to do so. I’m sure that will come as a complete shock and that you can all acknowledge that I have no bias whatsoever in this debate…
Okay, I have a huge bias, but a) I can admit it, and b) I still think I’m right. Because the role of the agent has long been as author’s advocate and manager. And however your career is going, I think there’s room for a partner in this process.
That said, I think this moment, wherein everyone’s worth is called into question, is a valuable one for all parties. It allows authors to really demand that they be paid attention to and that they be serviced properly. Obviously that’s good for the authors. But frankly, it’s also good for agents because I believe that being questioned on these topics makes us consider our work in very real ways and forces us to strive to do better.
Something else happened at Friday’s conference. I started wondering out loud. Is it possible that as more and more people start self-publishing, there will be a flood of books that aren’t actually ready for publication (either because they’re just not very good or because they’re by authors who still need to develop and probably should have waited until their second or third or fourth manuscript to share it with readers)? And if that’s the case, what is the effect on the reader? How will new authors get started if they’re competing for attention with a million other novels that possibly shouldn’t be out there?
That’s when I threw out an idea that wasn’t super popular: is there a chance that publisher branding will play an increased role in reader decision making? One less than thrilled attendee muttered in the back of the room that no one pays attention to who publishes novels. Another agent went on the record to disagree with me and state that author branding is what counts and not publisher branding. Certainly, those things are true. But for new authors trying to rise above the morass, it’s an idea that intrigues me. Is it crazy to think that the lay-reader will start paying attention to publishers? Could other publishers brand themselves as successfully as Harlequin has?
Or is it just as simple as the fact that word of mouth will drive people to (and away from) new fiction?
The book I’ve always wanted
Everyone once in a while, someone sends you an interesting link that just happens to answer a question you’ve long been asking. You see, I’ve always loved history, but I can’t for the life of me contextualize it. I was once humiliated in a college class for accidentally suggesting that Biblical times predate ancient Greece because, well, I might have sort of thought they did up until that time. I mean, I knew they were both old, don’t get me wrong. And the second it was out of my mouth I knew for a million reasons that it made no sense. I just have no innate sense of the timeline of history and how each piece fits together. (Incidentally, I also have this problem with neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Fort Greene is where in regards to Park Slope??)
So when Rachel sent me this link to a post on The Awl about books that teach you about the world, I was totally thrilled to find this:
“Before I read this book—I later came to realize—I had no consistent mental timeline for human history. Because everything I had learned in school I had learned in discrete sections: US history was separate from European history which was separate from “World” history, and I had no real idea of how the events I learned about in each of these classes interrelated with one another. But in this history, the Basques, who have maintained a stable society in the same place of the world, Euskadi, since before the Roman Empire, become the continuous line through which to view and analyze the events of Western history, as Kurlansky does a phenomenal job plotting the parallels between changes in Basque culture with what was going on elsewhere in the world.”
The answer to the question I’ve always been asking myself is apparently, “Read The Basque History of the World by Mark Kurlansky.” Handy! The only things I really know about Basque country relate to soccer and the perplexing anomaly that is their language, so I’d actually be kind of excited to find out more. Conveniently, I’ve also long been asking myself “Which Mark Kurlansky book should I read first?”
Two questions: one answer. Just the way I like it.
So what book have you always needed? Maybe someone else can chime in with your perfect answer.
Not long ago, I was reading a novel when I encountered someone I knew. Not on the train, or at the next table, or passing by the park bench where I sometimes attempt to read while my children are playing. In the novel.
There, despite a change of name and a few identifying features, was a person I knew quite well, rendered in mostly accurate but less than flattering detail. I had been tipped off by a mutual friend that this was the case, but it was eerie—and faintly thrilling—to find so familiar a figure pinned (if not unforgivingly than at least uncomfortably) to the page. Here, the standard fiction disclaimer that “any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental” was patently untrue, and I expect that the book’s guest star was none too pleased with his portrayal. Since I don’t know the author well enough to ask her, I thought I’d pose the question here: To what degree do you incorporate recognizable versions of real people in your own fiction, and have you run into some difficult situations as a result? Where a