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1. Three tiny kids and a guy

by Lauren

Looking up some contact information in our database, I was reminded of my very favorite thing about it: small notes, devoid of context, that give a strange glimpse into our conversations with editors.  The stand out stars of the “notes” section of our contacts are surely that one editor has “three tiny kids” and another (whose name is not one you’d come across often) “is a GUY!”  I like to imagine the shock and surprise of the assistant who’d picked up the phone to discover a deep, masculine voice attached to a name he or she had previously assumed belonged to a woman.  (I also am not entirely certain that one wasn’t me, back when I was Jane’s assistant an alarmingly high number of years ago.)  I also imagine the kindly editor who sat across from one of my colleagues at a lunch meeting and showed off pictures of her miniature children, perhaps posed next to objects of regular stature for comparison purposes.  That note has been in there long enough that the tiny kids are probably not so tiny any more.

Most of the notes, though, are actually quite usefulsuch and such a person is obsessed with dogs or used to be a ballet dancer or absolutely cannot stand misery memoirs. When we submit our projects, we’re working not only on the parameters of a publisher’s and editor's list and our personal interactions with them, but with the company’s collective knowledge of what makes them tick and gets them excited. Excitement is the huge intangible of the publishing process. And when we just happen to have a book about dogs or dance or misery, we know where to goor where not to.

For authors looking for agents, I suspect the best resources out there are the blogs and websites and Twitter feeds and what have you of the agents themselves.  We do suffer sometimes from too many queries quoting our own bios back to us, sending us things that are far off base because they might have a common keyword.  I think all the agents who’ve been here a while have at one point or another edited a reference out of our descriptions of ourselves or our lists, because we found it led too many people down the wrong path.  But more often than not, these little factoids about us and our interests point people the right way.  While we do share queries amongst ourselves and know each other’s taste well, it’s always nice to look at a batch of newly arrived queries and see that several of them are on a subject that we’re already really enthusiastic aboutit doesn’t guarantee success, of course, but a book on a subject that usually bores us has to be that much more amazing to even catch our eye.  Much as agents train themselves to see the difference between “I like this” and “this is good” (and “I don’t like this” and “this is bad”), we’re still human, and with all the reading at night or on the weekends, it’s a real pleasure to come across the projects that we’d happily buy off the shelves if they had nothing to do with us.

So when you’re querying us, if it’s because an off-hand reference in one of our blog entries made you realize we just might be the right advocate for your book, please do let us know!  It always helps us to know why you wanted us to read your work.

4 Comments on Three tiny kids and a guy, last added: 12/21/2010
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2. Short stories and glory

by Lauren

Twice this week, I spent my evenings at Symphony Space, soaking in culture at some great literary events. On Monday, I was lucky enough to see Emma Donoghue for the second time—rather than doing a reading, this time she was discussing the fabulous Room with Michael Cunningham. Then on Wednesday, Jim and I went to the Selected Shorts program’s evening with Colum McCann, who I’ve also had the privilege of seeing before. If you feel about Let the Great World Spin and McCann’s work in general as we do, you’ll be happy to hear that the series is actually recorded for radio broadcast, so you can listen to it here. On this particular night, Colum McCann hosted Amy Ryan reading his story “Everything in This Country Must” (from the collection of the same name that first introduced me to one of my favorite writers!), Mary-Louise Parker reading “(She Owns) Every Thing” by Anne Enright, and Michael Cerveris reading Nathan Englander’s “Free Fruit for War Widows.” It was a phenomenal performance all around, and I think I’ll be attending far more of these events in the future. As Jim said, Mary-Louise Parker should read everything.

Tucked into the program I found a flyer for the Selected Shorts Writing Contest, which I thought might be right for some of you. The 2011 Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize with guest judge Jennifer Egan will result in a $1000 prize for the winner, whose story will be read as part of a Selected Shorts performance and recorded for possible broadcast. Plus Jennifer Egan saying you’re worthy is no small thing in itself. The deadline is March 1st, and you can read the rules here. Anyone planning to submit? If so, good luck!

4 Comments on Short stories and glory, last added: 12/13/2010
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3. You've got questions, we've got answers

by Lauren

Recently, we've been asked a number of related questions about aspects of the query process, so I thought I'd try to tackle them here to give prospective clients a helping hand. 
  • Which agent should I query for my work?
There are a fair number of us here and even if you're reading the blog, it can be tough to figure out just which of us might be the right agent for you.  On our website, each agent has a bio listing our areas of interest, and that's a very good place to start.  Beyond that, most books have an acknowledgments section that will tell you who represented them.  If you feel your book would sit comfortably alongside others on the shelf (and you should know which those are before you query anyway), try the agents who represented them.  And if you're querying us because you think your work would appeal to the same readers as something on our list does, let us know in the query!

  • What if I have a few options and the person I select doesn't bite?  Should I query another agent at the agency for that project?
There's overlap in categories and finer points of taste that are hard to suss out if you don't know us well.  Fortunately, we do know each other's taste very well.  It's not unusual for us to pass a query along to a colleague because we feel they'd be a better fit.  Even after we've read a partial or manuscript, we regularly share with our colleagues here to get another opinion or see if it might be up their alley.  That does mean a rejection from an agent here is a rejection from the agency, and you shouldn't try us all in turn.  You especially shouldn't try us simultaneously.  We won't compete internally, and no one likes to spend their time reading something only to find that another of our colleagues is already pursuing it. 

  • What if you've already rejected my manuscript, but I've thoroughly revised it?
First, I'd caution you to be honest about how thorough your revisions are.  If you've genuinely made it substantially different (and, one hopes, better) then we don't at all mind if you come back to us and offer it again.  Just be up front about it when you do, and if we think that a re-read might be to our and your benefit, we'll be happy to do so.  No one knows better than us how much difference revision can make! 

  • If you turn me down, can you give me editorial feedback?
If we haven't offered it ourselves in the rejection, no.  There are times when we feel we have constructive feedback to give and in those cases we do provide it.  We might say that we don't think it works, and we think we know why.  We might say that we think there are key issues that if revised might make the book workand if we feel strongly about that, we might ask you to consider resubmitting to us if you make those changes.  If we don't offer editorial feedback in our response, it's because we don't have it to offer.  Either we have no vision for what's wrong and needs fixing, or we don't feel confident that we have the right grasp on the project or enough enthusiasm for it to point you in the right direction.  It's too subjective for us to make pronouncements on the problems with everything that doesn't work for us, and we could easily lead you astray and send you off working on edits that will hinder rather than help your chances of finding the agent who does get what you're doing.

  • If you turn me down, can you give me a recommendation to another agent?
The nature of the business allows us to know what editors are looking for much more than what other agents seek.  As such, we can’t offer recommend

7 Comments on You've got questions, we've got answers, last added: 12/6/2010
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4. The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages

by Lauren

Courtesy of our beloved former intern Bridget, I bring you this list of "awesomely untranslatable words from around the world."  Some I've heard of (litost, from the Czech, meaning roughly "a state of agony and torment created by the sudden sight of one’s own misery"), one I've used (schadenfreude, naturally), and others I never knew I needed but definitely do (tartle, "the act of hestitating while introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name," which comes courtesy of the Scots, a linguistically ingenious people who also bring us "to haver," from that one line in The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)" that no one understands).

It's hard to pick a favorite, but I think ultimately I have to go with torschlusspanik, the word that roughly means the title of this blog post.  The words people use say a great deal about them in a broad sense--about what a culture values enough to discuss or does not--but surely it isn't merely the Germans who experience torschlusspanik.  I find myself lamenting of late that even if I woke up tomorrow as an extraordinary visionary genius, I'm no longer young enough to be a wunderkind (there's those Germans again).  As a teenager, I was sad to discover that I could never be a prodigy at anything, because my parents hadn't set me on a path to remarkability while I was still in diapers. Torschlusspanik is a sentiment close to my heart.

Which sentiments do you find you could really use a word for that doesn't seem to exist?  Is there a word for being thoroughly disappointed in a thing despite conscious awareness that it's not in the least worth being upset about?  I feel like that would come in handy. 

10 Comments on The fear of diminishing opportunities as one ages, last added: 11/13/2010
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5. Yikes!

by Lauren
As we leave you for the holiday weekend, a cautionary tale:  Apparently Penguin is suing an author to recover the signing payment on a contract they've canceled for failure to meet a deadline.  It must be said, that deadline was in 2007, and there were presumably multiple extensions that got them here, so Penguin has been quite accommodating.  And that signing payment is not exactly chump change.

As a person who is ever so slightly panicked at the prospect of finishing my to do list before leaving for the holiday weekend, the notion of breaking a contract for non-delivery strikes fear into my heart, but for those of you who need that extra bit of danger before something seems real, it seems this might just be it.

But hey, a three day weekend is a great time to hunker down and write, right?

3 Comments on Yikes!, last added: 9/4/2010
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6. The Good, the Bad, and the Sideburns

by Lauren

As Michael already pointed out, it’s awfully quiet out there this week, so I was pleased to stumble across this piece at The Millions on books penned by celebs. If I had a copy of Courtney Thorne-Smith’s novel, I feel like my day might be much more fun. Have none of the 90210 gang been struck by the literary muse? Surely they wouldn’t go down without a fight to the likes of Melrose Place. Luke Perry and his sideburns could write an excellent western, no?

I also really loved learning that Katie Price has a ghostwriter because she doesn’t have time to write the books herself. Yes, time. That’s the only thing standing between you and the Booker, Katie. But hey, anything that keeps her in the spotlight is OK by me, because I find British celeb culture totally fascinating, and she’s by far my favorite tabloid staple.

As for me, I think I’ll do myself the favor of not reading novels, poetry, and short stories written (or “written”) by celebrities I actually like. (Needless to say, I’m also skipping the ones by the celebs I can’t stand.) It might be awfully hard to respect someone who feels “Speak to me not of food, for I am soon to die” is reasonable dialogue, even if he’s brilliant in The French Connection.

1 Comments on The Good, the Bad, and the Sideburns, last added: 9/10/2010
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7. Reading in the now

by Lauren

I came across some interesting discussion in the Guardian on the use of present tense narration in novels. Apparently Philip Pullman and Philip Hensher aren’t crazy about it and are aggravated that it seems to be on the rise—and on the Booker shortlist. I’m not unsympathetic to their distaste for the technique, but it seems to me an exaggeration to say that it “does nothing but annoy.” It often does annoy, me at least, and clearly Misters Pullman and Hensher. But it also does other things, like create a feeling of immediacy and throw the reader slightly off balance. I think it’s a gimmick like any other (second person, foreign language words) that some authors use as a shortcut and few are skilled enough to employ well, but in the right hands, it’s not deadly or even distracting. I’m on record about my love of Emma Donoghue’s Room, and it’ll be Pullman’s loss if he doesn’t read it because he doesn’t like the tense. (If he already has and didn’t love it, well, I guess I won’t be matched up with him on that dating site.)

It’s easy to say that something is overused so no one should do it, but if a technique (or idea or what have you) has value, there’s no point in everyone abandoning it. Overused implies that there is an appropriate level of use, after all. It’s also easy to criticize a book that we don’t think works and blame the technique, but really, if it doesn’t work, shouldn’t we blame the technician? Room is a highly stylized novel to be sure, but the reason I rate it and Donoghue so highly is precisely because it’s stylized (noticeably, but not, I’d argue, distractingly) yet still compelling and riveting and funny and disturbing and sad and hopeful. I’d imagine the Booker committee felt likewise, about that and the other two present tense novels on the shortlist. I’m at least willing to give Tom McCarthy the benefit of the doubt here, because I loved Remainder, his previous book, and think he’s pretty talented.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater, okay?

13 Comments on Reading in the now, last added: 9/19/2010
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8. Romance is not a dirty word

by Lauren

 
Oh, Danielle Steel! First Nicholas Sparks, now you. How can we help you make peace with romance novels? It may be true that your novels are not romance, narrowly defined by some conventions of the genre. I'm not sure I agree, but I'll grant the premise isn’t completely without merit, not least because I’m not immune to the packaging efforts of publishers. Which is not to say your books are without their conventions—I hate to judge*, but formulaic is a word that comes to mind—but perhaps in some way those conventions are quite specific to you and your prolific output, possibly distinct enough to consider them in a separate category from other titles. However, I get the impression here, Ms. Steel, that you don't want people to think of you as an author of romance because it devalues your work, which it turns out is some kind of lofty thing about the human condition, and that is a problem. (To be fair, you handle the issue with quite a bit more grace than Mr. Sparks.)

Romance novels can be totally fabulous. Not all of them are, sure, but that's true in any category including whatever category you’d each like to be in. More than that, though, if you think a different label will change how seriously people take you, you’re being a bit naive. You're both giant targets, especially you, Ms. Steel, with your shelves and shelves of bright and shiny spines branded more thoroughly than any other set of books in any store. When I worked at Barnes & Noble, you took up half a bookcase all by yourself, even without duplicate copies of anything. Trust me when I tell you that that’s a noticeable amount of gold foil and fuchsia. When people notice success, they deride it. That, my friend, is the human condition.

But you're also massively successful with more readers than you can count and dedicated fan bases who come back for more every time it's on offer. Let the haters hate, as they say, and take a look at your bank statement when you're feeling insecure about what people think of you. Not because money matters more than respect or makes up for all the world's ills, but because it proves that people keep buying your books in droves, so you're doing something right.

Oh, and, don't make us link this blog to the Ducktales theme again, because you know we will.




*I love to judge.

5 Comments on Romance is not a dirty word, last added: 9/25/2010
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9. Germany loves us!

By Lauren

I was heartened to read this recent piece on Deutsche Welle (via Publishers Lunch Automat) about Germany’s love affair with American fiction. It’s been my experience as rights director that Germany is the one market we can really count on to buy the books we have rights to in a wide variety of categories—the one market where we don’t tend to hear, “Well, we know it’s big everywhere, but here we just don’t buy American (fill in the blank).” It helps of course that it’s among the largest book markets in the world. It’s a nice counterpoint to a discussion we had here a while back about how American literary fiction is often too insular for everyone else to get excited about. Those interested in the ways in which books cross borders should give it a read!

1 Comments on Germany loves us!, last added: 10/18/2010
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10. Apology from a pedant

by Lauren

Courtesy of my friend Leila, I bring you this amazing video from Rogers Creations.  Apparently it's called kinetic typography animation, and it features the oh-so-wise and entertaining words of Stephen Fry, who you all already know I adore.  When I can sneak some pleasure reading in around the metaphorical pile of work reading, I'm currently enjoying Moab Is My Washpot.  Genius, as expected.  So in the spirit of Fry's words—which I can't argue with even though I want to, because he came up with cogent counterarguments to every point I would have made—I apologize for being so uptight about other people's grammar and punctuation.  I know I'm not above reproach in that regard in general or likely even in this very blog entry. 

To be honest, I'm probably still going to snicker at errant quotation marks and sigh aloud at inarticulate comments strewn across the internet.  Just please don't tell Mr. Fry!

1 Comments on Apology from a pedant, last added: 10/22/2010
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11. Perspective, dinosaurs, and death machines

by Lauren

I was so happy to read this post on PWxyz about a new book co-edited by Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics, who you already know I love.  Machine of Death is an anthology of stories from a variety of incredible contributors (including xkcd's Randall Munroe) spawned from a particular Dinosaur Comic about a machine that tells people how they're going to die.  I can't believe I'm only hearing about it now, but I'm about to order my own copy.

There are a few things about the PWxyz post that warmed my cold, cynical NY heart.  One was the editors' appreciation of the efforts of people who tried to move the work through the great traditional publishing machine.  The anthology's editors worked really hard, produced what is surely a fabulous product, and found people who'd go to bat for it.  It didn't work out, so they self-published.  But rather than complain bitterly about how broken publishing is and how all authors should abandon it, they didn't take it personally:

This isn’t some vanity-press sour-grapes effort. The simple truth is that we probably can’t compete on the shelves at Barnes & Noble alongside every other book in the world. The agents and the publishers are right; it might not work for a mass market. That’s okay. We don’t need to sell it to everyone. We don’t need to sell 100,000 copies; we don’t have the rent on a New York office to pay for.

I don't think all authors should self-publish.  In fact, I don't think most authors should self-publish.  But for the right project, with the right platform, at the right time, it can be the right way to get a book to the audience that wants it, as long as you can put together a team of people who know how to get all the right pieces in place. 

The second thing I loved was how well this demonstrates that people who are truly dedicated to a great idea can build a community supportive enough to make their projects economically viable.  Sure, MOD-Day benefitted from the existing platforms of the people involved, but those people built their platforms online from the ground up through hard work, great content, and presumably a little luck.  No one says it's easy, but I love seeing the proof that it's possible if you're willing to make it happen.  The internet isn't a cornfield baseball stadium, but if you build it, and you work really hard to get people to see it, especially people with influence, and they like it, people are gonna come.


P.S.  This is a great excuse to link you to a delightful recent Dinosaur Comic.  You're welcome!

0 Comments on Perspective, dinosaurs, and death machines as of 1/1/1900
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12. The sharpest tool in the shed

by Lauren

I've had technology on the brain this week.  Recently, our server failed us in catastrophic fashion (apparently Outlook doesn't like it when you save all your emails forever and ever just in case you need information later--who knew?), and as the company's liaison to our IT company, it's been my good fortune to orchestrate its replacement and the lengthy process of moving from one to the other.  On top of the system upgrade, I've been working on a couple new things for the blog (stay tuned for fun changes coming up!), so I've been thinking a lot about how dependent we are on technology and how tough it can be to figure out what's new and worth investigating.

Finding a new tool can change everything.  My mind was blown a couple years back when I found out that you could change existing text from ALL CAPS to various other options in MS Word with the press of two buttons: Shift+F3.  And I can't imagine how I managed to regularly read any newspapers or magazines or blogs before I found Instapaper and Feedly.

So I'm wondering, as writers or editors or readers, what technological tools do you find that you couldn't live without?  Have you found, say, a trick in a common program that changed your life?  Or an app that makes you more productive?  What websites make your social networking efforts easier to manage?  Any techniques to make editing easier?  Let us all know below--who knows how many hours you might save of us!

12 Comments on The sharpest tool in the shed, last added: 11/8/2010
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13. Technical difficulties

by Lauren

Hello there, blog readers!  I've recently been alerted to a couple technological snafus related to our blog.   Fortunately, you guys have been super helpful in the past, so I'm coming back for more.  In the eternal tech conundrum, it's near impossible to troubleshoot a problem you can't replicate, so naturally both these things don't appear to be an issue on our end (and we haven't changed any settings recently, related or otherwise).

First DGLM client Joelle Anthony let us know that sometime in April or so, she stopped being able to comment on our blog.  Here's what she says:

"Just so you know, what happens is I click comment, the window opens, I type my comment, I choose my name and URL (I’ve also tried anonymous) and then when I hit post, instead of word verification coming up like it used to, everything just disappears and I’m back reading the comments that are already there."

She can comment on blogs where comments are formatted like this: http://anthonysundaysoup.blogspot.com/ but not on blogs where comments are formatted like ours: http://ramblingsofadevotedbookworm.blogspot.com/.


And second we heard via Facebook from reader Mark Janousek that lately our blog entries don't show up in his Facebook news feed.  I suspect Facebook's the culprit here, with their constant setting switches and such, but I don't see a way to change those settings. 


I still get the blog feed on my Facebook and have no problem commenting on our blog.

So for both questions: a) does anyone know why that happens?, b) does it happen to anyone else?, c) has anyone narrowed down the circumstances under which it happens to a narrower set?, and/or d) does anyone know what settings I need to tweak?


If you can't comment, please feel free to email me at labramo@dystel.com with any answers to the above!

Thanks in advance, guys, and thanks especially to Joelle and Mark for giving us the heads up!

6 Comments on Technical difficulties, last added: 6/10/2010
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14. The book stays in the picture

by Lauren

There was some great debate in the comments when I tackled foreign rights, so let's move on to another sub right.  It seems like this is the perfect week to talk about film, since Variety just did a piece on the current state of book-to-film, complete with quotes from Jane!  (I always enjoy the Variety lingo--only in LA would we be referred to as a "Gotham-based" agency.  Clearly Batman was rights director before me. )

So we've already talked about foreign, which takes up the most time and generates the most deals, but film and television is the big one on a per deal basis in terms of money. On the one hand, a big film means big money for the author (though as Jane points out, not as big as it used to be).  That said, the percentage of books that ever reach the screen is tiny. Of those that don't, a slightly larger percentage will have the rights bought but will never be made. Another slightly larger bunch will be optioned--meaning a studio or production company has the right to try to get the funding to outright buy the rights to the material. Options, however, usually lapse before any significant progress is made.

I've heard it said that the ideal situation for the author is for the option producer to get enough traction to keep optioning and eventually buy the rights, but never make the movie.  Though I don't know how many authors would really want to lose the upside—significantly inflated booksales—to get rid of the downside—a corrupted version of the story they wrote making it into the world.

5 Comments on The book stays in the picture, last added: 6/14/2010
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15. Hey Everybody! Meet Lauren

When I first took over the OUPblog I gave our readers a chance to ask me questions so they could get to know me.  Since Lauren will be in charge starting Monday (get excited!), I decided to ask her a few questions before I go.  I think her answers will give you a taste of how lucky we are to have her on-board.  Don’t worry, I plan on saying a proper goodbye tomorrow (Friday).

What is your favorite fiction book?
Becca, we’ve had this conversation so many times. For the sake of this Q&A, I’ll forgo my top 10 and say The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. This year is actually the 20th anniversary of the book’s publication. Also, fun fact: O’Brien and I share an Alma Mater.

What is your favorite non-fiction book?
Laura Hillenbrand’s Seabiscuit. Hands down. No contest. ’Nough said.

What is your favorite guilty pleasure blog?
Overheard in the Office is pretty great.

What kind of flowers should we send you?
Who’s “we”? And why am I getting flowers? I don’t think I should be trusted with flowers. This cactus isn’t looking so good itself. Remember when we had to hide it in a file cabinet for a week? I gave it too much too much sun, Becca. I exposed a cactus to too much sun.

What was your first blog post ever?
I had a LiveJournal back in the day. I have no idea what my first post was, but I’m sure it was something to the effect of, “Hey everyone! I’m Lauren! My favorite color is purple, I have a major sweet tooth, and I’m so totally obsessed with Dark Angel.” I think I had a really big impact on the lives of all (2) of my readers.

What other languages do you speak?
I used to speak pretty decent Japanese, but now I mostly just mumble things like, “aré?” and “éé, nanto ka…” usually directed at my computer. I know some French as well, and one very important phrase in Spanish: “Y para mi, un café con leche por favor.” I recently went to Spain, but that was all I knew how to say, so I was a bit shaky the whole time.

If your friend were visiting NYC, what is the one thing they should do while they are here?
Whenever I have visitors, the first thing we do is go to 5 Napkin Burger. Airport –> 5 Napkin. Bus stop –> 5 Napkin. IKEA ferry –> 5 Napkin. Can you drop off your luggage first? No you cannot. Because: 5 Napkin.

What color are your socks today?
Socks are for people who are wearing shoes…

What is your favorite Twitter hashtag?
#thefuture. Except when it’s being used to denote  something actually in the future.

Fill in the blank: I’m psyched to be the OUPblog editor because it is _tasty_.

Oh, we’re not doing this Mad Libs style?

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16. The definition of insanity

by Lauren

Reading Miriam's post the other day, I was totally delighted by all the great/bad books.  I'm not sure I can make a top five list, because I'm incredibly contrary and like to overthink lists before I commit to them, but Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, and the collected works of Charles Dickens (sorry, Jim!) and John Steinbeck (sorry, Rachel!) would at least be in my top 25.

The thing that struck me most, though, was several of you mentioned reading these books multiple times.  I particularly loved that Kerry went back to a book she hated the first time, which I can't even imagine. I just can't do it, myself.  With very few exceptions (the odd children's book I don't remember well; Gatsby once to try to understand a reference to it that still makes no sense), the only books I re-read are manuscripts I'm editing.  Even when I love the books, I find re-reading has none of the enjoyment for me that reading for the first time does.  I find it near impossible to focus, knowing what's coming next.  (It's probably for the best that I never became a copyeditor, for that and other reasons.)

The idea doesn't bother me: On the one hand, there are so many books to read, it seems a waste to read one of them multiple times.  On the other hand, you're never going to read them all anyway, so what's the harm?  I just can't actually do it in practice.

Anyone else? Re-readers, tell me, why? Do you easily read every word, have no objection to skimming, or struggle with the impulse? And is there a certain kind of book you find re-readable when others aren't? A thriller doesn't sound like much fun the second time. Enlighten me below!

23 Comments on The definition of insanity, last added: 6/20/2010
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17. On nepotism

by Lauren

Trolling the internet for a blog topic, I stumbled across this Gawker piece by Richard Lawson on why one shouldn't hate Simon Rich just because nepotism probably accounts at least somewhat for his success (and recent book-to-film deal).  I'll admit that I had missed this deal announcement, but I probably would've at least scoffed had I first seen it out of this context.

Lawson sums up my (and perhaps the average person's) gut reaction to such things thusly:
But still, in a country where so many doors are closed to so many people, that a twentysomething born into a life of ease can just saunter in and get exactly what he wants on the first try seems to fly in the face of our noble belief in the meritocracy.*
But he also goes on to say that sometimes, we really ought to just suck it up and put all that aside.  As he points out, why bother to wish that other people struggle because we do?  Is it a belief in merit or just envy?  Sometimes geniuinely talented people get an easy in, not because it's the only way they can succeed, but because it's not sensible to reject the easy in on principle.

The piece is well argued, and I think a good reminder not to fall into the trap of begrudging someone success.  In publishing, I think it's especially easy to get caught up in looking for someone to blame.  There's celebrity memoirs; a publishing system full of gatekeepers; bottom line thinking; all the people taking the supposedly (but actually not at all) "easy" way out by writing something trendy or very commercial; and yes, too, the well connected.  But even if the system is imperfect and quality isn't always the deciding factor, where does bitterness get you? 

It's natural to be annoyed, but don't let that drive you.  Sometimes we can all use the reminder to breathe deep and worry not about everybody else, but instead about how to achieve our goals independent of whether anyone else achieves theirs. 

via The Awl


*I learned from the comments to that Gawker post that the term "meritocracy" was coined (satirically) by Toby Young's father, which seems delightfully a propos.

4 Comments on On nepotism, last added: 6/25/2010
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18. 2011 will be the best year ever

by Lauren

I must admit that I’d be the first person here to IM my colleagues with “Reeeeeally?” followed by the latest celeb memoir listing from Pub Marketplace. In general, the trend irks me, not because it’s taking the room of other, better books, but because I simply don’t understand why there’s a market for any random has-beens to get paid to talk about their mostly mundane lives. Comedians and other performers known for their ability to string words together are fine with me, and occasionally someone’s life is spectacularly weird, but once upon a time sitcom actresses with the same story as every other memoir on the shelf just boggle my mind. And yet people care. They care in droves. It’s a market I simply cannot comprehend.

Until now, that is. I’m beginning to suspect my confusion is a product of age. Celeb memoirs have, until recently, by and large been written by people who barely register as famous to me and many of my contemporaries. (Which is probably for the best, since you should live at least a reasonable share of a life before writing about it.) Before Valerie Bertinelli became a bestselling author, I knew only that she’d been on a sitcom that happened not to be in my steady childhood diet of crappy TV and that she’d been a spokesperson for a weight loss company. Naturally, I couldn’t have been bothered to read her memoir on the grounds that she’s famous. And those people who were truly famous to me who happened to have book deals—Tori Spelling, for example—didn’t come along so often that the odds were in favor of my actually caring they existed.

But this changes everything.  Sam Seaborn AND Punky Brewster publishing memoirs in the same year! This is the greatest celebrity memoir news of all time. I was genuinely disappointed when Rob Lowe canceled his first book deal. 13-year-old Lauren was a devoted fan of many an 80s movie, but St. Elmo’s Fire was by far at the top of the list. Not to mention that The West Wing is the best TV show of all time, and anyone who thinks otherwise is mistaken. Punky Brewster was my childhood hero (and Halloween costume at least twice). For probably the first time, the authors of celebrity memoirs actually star in my DVD collection.

I’m still not sure I’m going to read their memoirs, I must admit. I suspect I know the more interesting parts of both their back stories, and much as I get the impression both are at least reasonably intelligent, I’m not really that eager to hear their lives in their own words. (If Rob Lowe’s book features a photo insert, I’ll at least browse it at the bookstore, however, because he’s awfully pretty, even in St. Elmo’s Fire, where he looks kind of ridiculous.)

Whose celeb memoir would I actually read? Well, I got Colin Ferguson’s as a gift for Christmas, and it’s on my to-read pile, because that man is a genius. I plan, eventually, to get around to Kathy Griffin’s. And I’ve been meaning to pick up Stephen Fry’s. Aaron Sorkin’s, which must come to pass eventually, definitely.  But it’s harder for those who are famous for something other than their ability to express their thoughts. Maybe if Johnny Depp wrote one, because he seems like an interesting and intelligent guy.

What about you guys? Read any celebrity memoirs that are genuinely more interesting than a cursory glance at the author’s Wikipedia page? (Seriously, click that--he should write a second memoir, covering the later, wackier years.)  And who hasn’t written one who really should?

8 Comments on 2011 will be the best year ever, last added: 7/3/2010
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19. Kick Back and Read: A Contest

by Lauren

 
Folks, if you’ve spoken to me in the last month, you’ll know that I have a serious case of World Cup fever. As a child, I was a devoted soccer player and a fairly good goalie, if I say so myself. While I’m something of a fair-weather soccer fan now, every four years I get really, really into it again. I’ve spent the last few weeks on a rollercoaster of excitement (Impressive goals! Beautiful men with even more beautiful accents! Delightful tonsorial choices!) and disappointment (my top three choice teams going out in a blaze of something other than glory). While I gear up to see my (fourth) favorite in the final, inexplicably not doomed by my supporting them, I’m also starting to feel withdrawal.

Now I’m the one who sells foreign rights around here, but I’m not particularly widely read on books in translation. In the spirit of improving that and keeping the World Cup buzz part of my life a bit longer, let’s have some fun here:

Below is a list of the “teams” in the tournament. I’m going to start this off at the round of 16, even if that means excluding Italy (sob). Here’s where you come in: in the comments below, give a shout out to your favorite book from a country listed. The first book named from each is getting selected for the national team! Next week, before I head out on vacation, I’ll set you up with the head-to-head battles. Then while I’m away, you guys can vote for your favorite book in each match. We’ll take this on through to it’s logical conclusion: the World Champion, which I’ll promise to read and report back on—and I’ll send the person who nominated said book a copy of something from the list they’d like to check out.

 
Fine print: books must have been translated into English, because I don’t know any other language well enough to read in it. (Way back when, my trusty French-English dictionary and I trudged through a few, but let’s just say that neither of us enjoyed it.) Let’s see if we can’t get books in for the US and England that were published in those countries but not originally in English. And if we can’t come up with something for a country that doesn’t export a whole lot to the US, the best argument for including a book for that country gets called up, much like those athletes who play for the team grandma was from instead of the one they’ve lived in their entire lives.

Don't have any favorites for countries that haven't already been taken?  Get in the game by suggesting a new name for this contest, because mine is terrible.
  • Uruguay
  • South Korea
  • USA
  • Ghana
  • Netherlands
  • Slovakia
  • Brazil
  • Chile
  • Argentina
  • Mexico
  • Germany
  • England
  • Paraguay
  • Japan
  • Spain
  • Portugal

15 Comments on Kick Back and Read: A Contest, last added: 7/13/2010
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20. From the Vault: By the numbers

Happy summer, everybody!  For the next while, there are going to be some absences from the blog as we take vacations, but we'd hate to leave you guys hanging.  It's no secret that we blog much more now than when we started this baby, and there are far more of you reading than there were way back when.  So we thought we'd bring back some blog entries of days gone by that you may have missed if you just joined us in the last year.  If you have any favorites you think your fellow readers might enjoy, give us a shout below!

by Lauren

Numbers don’t mean a whole lot to me. I was always much better at the arts/humanities portion of my education than the math/science one. That’s not to say I don’t find math absolutely fascinating—I actually do, I swear!—I just don’t get it the way I do literature and language.


Without a ton of context, statistics don’t tend to make an impact on my brain. But there are some numbers that even the biggest numerophobe in publishing really ought to know. Here are some you might find interesting:

  • U.S. publishing is a $35 billion industry, the Book Industry Study Group reported at BEA last year—net revenues reached $34.59 billion in 2005, which was an increase of 5.9% over the previous year. We may tell ourselves that in this age of video games, technology and instant gratification people are reading less and less—but if that’s true, we’re certainly paying more and more for the books we’re not reading. That same report projects that revenues will break $40 billion by 2010.

  • How many books does it take to bring in that kind of money? Well, approximately 200,000 new books are published each year, reported PW in 2004.

  • And how much paper does it take to print so many books? According to the New York Times (via the Authors Guild Bulletin in Summer 2006), Random House buys 110,000 tons of uncoated paper to publish books each year. 

  • Many of us know that the Bible has more copies in print than any other book, but what’s number two? Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, with more than 50 million copies in print and still going, according to Publishers Weekly from 2/12/07.

  • In 2006, Bowker, the self-proclaimed “world’s leading source for bibliographic information,” published a survey based on 13,000 novels published in the U.S.

    • 1,550 of those with a location that could be identified were set in England, Scotland, Wales or Ireland.

    • New York and London were the two most common cities used as settings.

    • The same study showed that 65% of romance books, 61% of science fiction titles, and 58% of mystery/detective novels were published in paperback (meaning both mass market and trade).

  • And just how long were those books? The average for sci-fi was 329 pages with romance on its heels at 324. Mysteries were just shy of 300 at 292, followed by westerns at 261.

  • So just how long does it take to write those 13,000 novels anyway?

    • Tom Perkins, ex-husband of Danielle Steel, wrote Sex and the Single Zillionaire in 100 hours over 30 days.

    • Compare that with Donna Tartt and Shirley Hazzard. Tartt published The Secret History in 1992, then spent the next decade writing her second novel, The Little Friend.

    • Hazzard’s follow up took even longer—2003 saw publication of The Great Fire, 23 years after her debut, The Transit of Venus.

  • And do they sell well? The standards for success really do change from book to book based on any number of factors—category, author’s platform, size of the advance, size of the marketing budget—but everyone

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21. The little things

by Lauren
As I’m slowly readjusting to my return home from vacation, I’m still reflecting on the best moments of last week. Chief among them seeing old friends; strolling down streets I walked down every day for more than a year; eating honeycomb ice cream (why don’t we have that here??); and watching QI (see previous parenthetical). I sort of prefer vacation to be more like living an ideal life for a week than doing fancy touristy things, and an ideal life would include more honeycomb and Stephen Fry.

One of the best moments was actually work-related: finding a book with my name in the acknowledgments on the shelves of the bookshop I used to work in. The last job I had before Jane brought me on here as her assistant was at a fantastic book store in Galway called Dubray Books. So naturally, one of my first stops when I arrived in town was to see my old coworkers and browse through the shelves. I think I may actually have scoured every shelf in the store that had a remote possibility of containing a DGLM title—spotting a few here and there, a couple editions I sold the rights for, some others where I sold translations but not international English editions, still others I had nothing to do with at all but felt proud to see nonetheless. Because of the speed with which publishing moves, especially international publishing, and the fact that not every title is going to find its way into Ireland’s relatively small market, I wasn’t sure that anything in which I was acknowledged would be there. And then I found it, Richelle Mead’s Spirit Bound. I’m not her agent, of course, but I’ve sold rights for her internationally, and she graciously thanked me for doing that. (Thanks, Richelle!) So I got to stroll around the store, book in hand, showing off my name to friends and former coworkers. It meant a great deal—a marker of how far I’ve come professionally in the 5 ½ years since I was stocking those shelves—and a comfort when I was feeling pangs of regret for having left a city I love so much. My desire to work in publishing is, after all, the primary reason I always knew I’d come home to NY after grad school.

This isn’t the only time I’ve seen a book I had a hand in out in the wild, and years into this job, I still seek them out. The first thing I did after work on pub day for the first of my books to hit the shelves was to go to the B&N where I spent 3 1/2 years of my working life and see the fruits of my labor. Every time I find myself in a bookstore with family members, I make them endure this little ritual. Just a few weeks ago, for the very first time, I saw one of my own books being read by a random person sitting across from me on the subway, and I think I may have just sat there beaming till I got off the train. These moments are why I’m in this business: getting to help books get into the hands of readers. I could never write one, and I can’t singlehandedly buy them all, but I can help keep this publishing ecosystem going in my own small way.

I think that there are small moments throughout the process for each of us here that really make us proud to get to work with our fantastic clients and help them make their dreams come true. This morning there were 185 emails in my inbox not counting the queries, spam, and things I was copied on or forwarded as an FYI. 185 things to respond to and take care of and think through and take action on, during a week in which my colleagues and many of the people I work with didn’t get in touch because they knew I was away. Plus the 10 or so contracts in my mail pile, the voicemails, the things that I have to follow up on now that I’m back. At the end of the day, we do all that because we get to be a part of something that’s pretty magical. The odds are so stacked against any book that there’s something really special about having the privilege of seeing them on the shelf and knowing that we helped to get them there.
5 Comments on The little things, last added: 7/28/2010
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22. Contest: Into the finals

by Lauren

You know about our contest, right? If not, read here and here.

So first, let me start by apologizing for the technical difficulties.  The polling site I used to generate the polls seems to have gone down and the polls won't load now.  Anyone who tried to load that blog post (or even our home page) in the last couple days before we noticed would probably have found it very slow going.  Sorry for that! 

It also proves a slight problem because I'm not 100% sure about all the books now and of course hadn't written them down.  I think I've gotten this right, but please let me know below if I haven't.

I did write down the countries that won the last round before the site went belly up, fortunately.  In the interest of not dragging this out, let's skip ahead to the final match, shall we!  New poll pitting the last 8 against one another, below.  (I'm using a different polling site and sacrificing a USB drive to the technology gods for good measure.) 

Let's get ourselves a winner, shall we?  Polls open till Thursday 8/5, and the winner will be handed glory the next day.



1 Comments on Contest: Into the finals, last added: 7/31/2010
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23. Contest: World champion!

by Lauren

Well, the USA may have bowed out to Ghana back in June, but thanks to Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, we are the victors in this contest.  Let's take a moment to pause for chants of "USA! USA!" and maybe a round or two of "We are the Champions." 

OK, so now that that's done, here's the results:

1) USA: Harper Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: 36.59%
2) England: George Orwell's 1984: 26.83%
3 - tie) Chile: Isabel Allende's THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS: 9.76% and Spain: Carlos Ruiz Zafon's THE SHADOW OF THE WIND: 9.76%
4)  Netherlands: Anne Frank's DIARY OF A YOUNG GIRL: 7.32%
5) Argentina: Jorge Luis Borges's LABYRINTHS: 4.88%
6 - tie) South Korea: Hwang Sok-yong's THE GUEST: 2.44% and Paraguay:  Augusto Roa Bastos's I, THE SUPREME:  2.44%

So, our winner is...Anonymous.  Email me at labramo@dystel.com to claim your prize, which you'll recall is a copy of one of the fine books in the contest. 

And while I did promise to read the winner and report back, I've actually read both #1 and #2 on this list.  I love them both (and still fear being in close quarters with rats as a result of the latter), so I certainly support their victory.  But since the goal was to get me reading more foreign lit, I'll skip on down to the tie for #3.  I have long meant to read both, so they're both moving up to the "to read soon" pile.  Tell me which to start with below!

Thanks to everyone who participated, and I hope we all at least got some good book recommendations out of it!

3 Comments on Contest: World champion!, last added: 8/9/2010
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24. The allusive and elusive Jay-Z

by Lauren

As you may recall, I’m a bit of a poetry fan. Truth be told, though, I enjoy breaking apart its rhythms and allusions much more than I ever have any sentiment it’s meant to convey. I like the challenge of memorization and figuring out the appropriate intonation, as well as the more scientific analysis of form, which is both nerdy and perhaps a real violation of the spirit in which many poets endeavor. I myself am a fan of the just slightly too clever type of poet—Paul Muldoon and the like—instead of poetry in which form doesn’t play a strong role. I have a vague recollection of once reading a poem about poetry that was so clever, it actually demonstrated each term as it discussed it, and while I instantly fell in love I can’t for the life of me recall what it is.  Does anyone know what I’m thinking of? It’d certainly be some canonical thing from an English class.

I was reminded of this type of analysis while reading a Guardian article on Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” a song I quite like, not least because it sort of sounds like nonsense if don’t understand the allusions. I certainly don’t get much of it on my own, which is why I lost a bit of time down the rabbit hole of this blog entry and subsequent comments on The Awl a while back. The analyses of various parts of the song and the allusions that may or may not be contained therein—as well as this very detailed explanation of the entire song linked to in the comments—are really kind of mind blowing. If you like the song, are confused by it, or just love when people put words together in an interesting way, do check it out! And if the bad grammar of the chorus bothers you as much as it does me, you’re going to love this solution.

P.S. I really need to teach my nephew to do this once he learns some more words, because I’m thoroughly impressed with the way this kid captures the nuance and rhythm required for this poem to make sense. (Thanks, Michael, for sharing the link!)

2 Comments on The allusive and elusive Jay-Z, last added: 8/22/2010
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25. Lines being crossed

by Lauren

Jim, Miriam, Jessica have already tackled two of this late summer’s most hotly anticipated releases, but the one I’m most excited for is one that I’ve already read. Emma Donoghue’s Room is on the Booker longlist and recently came out in the UK, where it’s receiving some very nice reviews. My BEA galley made the rounds in this office and has also been read by many of my friends, even though it’s not released in the US till mid-September. No one could deny Donoghue’s genius.

Apparently, though, at least one person feels that the book’s quality as a work of fiction is irrelevant given that it’s inspired in part by real events. The idea for Room came from the idea that when Josef Fritzl was captured, the children his daughter had borne while his captive had never seen the world outside where they were held. The story isn’t about the Fritzl case, and it’s not (unfortunately) the only case of that nature, but Donoghue admits to getting the idea for the book because of it. Writing in the Guardian, Darragh McManus objects to using a major tragedy as inspiration for a fictional work, presuming, apparently, that it’s a cynical choice motivated by greed. McManus grants an exemption for those with personal ties (Maus is okay, because of Spiegelman’s father) and apparently reserves no such negative judgment for people writing about smaller, less “newsworthy” tragedies, which I suppose is for the best given that it’d leave novelists with precious little to write about.

I think that McManus’s conclusion in the piece really misses the mark, in that I don’t think Donoghue is doing those things he claims are the reason for his “no big tragedies” policy in his concluding paragraph. That aside, though, I’m just not convinced that it can reasonably be considered wrong to write novels based on real events. Can it be crass and cynical? Absolutely. Though I doubt that most people writing stories inspired by, say, the Holocaust are being deliberately, consciously manipulative, I’m certainly not beyond finding some of them to be schmaltzy and cheap. But for me, it doesn’t follow that they shouldn’t have done it because I happen to feel that way. I’m just not comfortable with the notions that a) anyone owns particular tragedies, b) some tragedies are more important or sacred than others, or c) we’d be well served by declining to fictionalize them. Novels are a large part of the way that we understand the past and process our feelings about it in the present. I can only imagine how much we’d lose of our understanding of life, death, and what came before us if we saved it for the history books that many never bother to read.

In this case, I’m taking the old standby: if McManus isn’t comfortable with it, he doesn’t have to read it, but that doesn’t mean Donoghue shouldn’t write it.

5 Comments on Lines being crossed, last added: 8/28/2010
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