This is a placeholder. Tomorrow morning I'll talk about how polished a manuscript needs to be before an agent will send it out on submission.
This is a placeholder. Tomorrow morning I'll talk about how polished a manuscript needs to be before an agent will send it out on submission.
Today my topic is R&R, which I've heard standing for several different things in the publishing world, and none would be either restful or relaxing. I've heard Rewrite and Resubmit, Rewrite and Reread, Rewrite and Revise...several different versions. But it means this: There are times when agents get manuscripts that we think are terrific...mostly. But there are still issues. Sometimes the writing is great but the plot doesn't move fast enough. Sometimes the setup is great but the payoff doesn't work as well (we call it "sticking the landing"). Sometimes we simply know that there is a great story with good writing stuck inside bad organization.
Whatever it is, we know that as is, we couldn't sell it. And we know that it's going to take a bit of heavy lifting in order to get the manuscript into shape to submit to publishers, who want manuscripts to be VERY tight and clean.
And what we DON'T know, is if the author can do it. We have no experience with the author; we don't know whether he or she can take direction or mesh with our editorial style and demands. We don't know, at its base, whether the manuscript we will get back after an editorial letter and phone call is going to progress sufficiently that we will be confident that it will sell. (And look, it's hard out there--there are plenty of clients who DO do all of this and still have a hard time clearing the hurdles to offer, contract, and publication.)
So we get part of the way there. We offer comments. A letter, sometimes a phone call. Sometimes several, and follow-ups if we need to clarify. We start to develop a rapport with the author. But we can't offer representation until the revision is done (occasionally more than one revision), and we know that it is headed inexorably toward Ready. There have been any number of times where the revision has gone in the wrong direction and we reluctantly stand aside and hope that our comments were constructive. And there have also been, certainly, a bunch of authors who have done it and we have been able to offer representation and start on the road to publication together.
One thing to know, though, if you are a writer and reading this and wonder: If we offer you, the IDEA is to end up offering you representation. We are willing to give you our time, which is one of our most precious commodities, and guide you in a way that we think, if we were to represent you, that we could sell you. We want you to stick your landing like Kerry F'n Strug. Is it a hedge? Of course it is. We DON'T know you, don't know your resilience or capability beyond the not-quite-ready manuscript we've read. We make a huge commitment to each author we take on, and we want to be sure that we will have the best chance for success.
So if you send us a query, get a response of "we're reading and enjoying your book but think there's still more to be done--do you have time to chat about some possible changes?" and then hear that we'll be happy to look at another draft and see whether the book will be right for us to submit, then you should feel heartened. Take a deep breath, straighten your shoulders, run down toward the vault, and stick that landing.
I was talking with my fabulous assistant Danielle this afternoon (it’s her one-year anniversary today, so congratulate her on social media!), and we were discussing the way we negotiate contracts. It came up that often, particularly when only one publisher has been looking at a book, we negotiate from a position of weakness, and often can’t retain rights or control the level of the advance we get for the particular project. I decided to tell her my favorite negotiation story, which would have been genius if it hadn’t happened to me, and it explains the value of leverage.
The story has to do with when, in my Past Life, I was working on moving the minor league baseball team I’d owned from upstate New York down to Staten Island. We had to make a deal with the Yankees in order for them to approve the move, and the cost to us was almost half the franchise. We talked with Hal Steinbrenner, then not quite 30 and still learning the trade from his still-very-active father, The Boss, and he asked my father and me to come up with a price that would be fair, but, as he put it “not market value.” (There was no way to negotiate with anyone else, as the Yankees controlled the territory of Staten Island exclusively. And they didn’t really care whether they moved our team to Staten Island or some other, which they could potentially control as well. So they held all the cards in the negotiation, and knew it.)
My father and I worked for two weeks on an appropriate number to ask for, running every number we could think of. Then cutting it in half. Finally, the day arrived for the phone call.
Understand, the Alex Duffy Fairgrounds in Watertown, New York, does not contain luxurious Executive Offices. Our space was a cinderblock room near the parking lot, approximately eight feet wide by 15 feet long. Our general manager and I each had a desk in it, and he chain-smoked. It was a pleasure, particularly in the middle of winter, when opening a door for ventilation would result in immediate frostbite. That day, however, it was approximately a million degrees, with my wife and both parents cramming into the office with the GM and me. A swarm of flies left over from the previous week’s Jefferson County Fair joined us, still hanging out because it wasn’t crowded enough. The phone rang and it was Hal.
There were no pleasantries.
“So, what’s the word?”
I took a breath, gave a short explanation, and named the number my father and I had massaged for two weeks. There wasn’t even a pause.
“You don’t want me to take that number to George.”
It was masterful. I could have said a million dollars or a buck and a half, and the answer would have been the same: “You don’t want me to take that to George.” Apparently, I turned extremely white. I asked him to hold, put my hand over the phone, and said “He says we don’t want to him to take that to George.”
As my father said “Ask him what he wants,” our GM spoke for the only time during the meeting.
“Get Yankee tickets. Behind the dugout.”
Which is how I sold half my team for a fraction of its value, but watched the New York Yankees win three World Series from two rows behind Mayor Giuliani.
Note From Josh: This week I'll be talking cats in cozies on Rocco LoTempio's blog http://catsbooksmorecats.blogspot.com/. So I decided to give my tireless, talented assistant Danielle the chance to step in and make her Dead Guy debut. And those of you expecting the musings of a semi-exhausted father of three will be in for a surpise--and a LOT of fun. See you next week. JG
I have a confession to make: I tried online dating. (This is book related, I promise!) While the part of me that cares about narrative squirms at the idea of romance starting on a website, the part of me that lives in NYC understands how impossible it is to actually meet someone in the chaos that is Manhattan. So, awhile back, I bit the bullet and set up a profile. And…it wasn’t terrible. But that’s a story for another day.
As a bona fide fiction addict, I developed a highly scientific method for evaluating the men who sent me messages. Their future with me rested on one thing and one thing only. What did they list as their favorite books? (Well, if I’m being honest, first I looked at their pictures and then their life goals, but taste in novels was a close third.)
Again, scientifically, I identified six different groups of men: The ones who never read; the ones who only read nonfiction; the ones who listed books that they’d studied in high school, but had probably never actually read; the pretentious ones; the ones with a nice mix of classics and current books (aka the only ones worth responding to); and, finally, a very perplexing group of confused men who probably thought they were being impressive. This post is a PSA of sorts to those poor unfortunate souls who, for the good of the world, must be stopped.
The first time I read a profile in which Lolita was listed as the guy’s favorite book, I smirked a bit, shook my head, and moved on to the next person. But then it happened again. And again. And again. And again. Before long, I realized a trend was forming. After reading what probably amounted to hundreds of profiles, two books stuck out as the most frequently listed titles. The first was The Great Gatsby, which made sense because the movie had just come out. The second was Lolita. That choice remains a real head scratcher. (If the guy is a doctoral candidate writing his dissertation on Nabokov, I guess I can give him a pass. Although, to be honest, I’ll still question his taste in literature.)
Everything you put on your online dating profile is an advertisement of yourself to the person you’re hoping to attract. Each choice says something specific. My own list of favorite titles was carefully curated to attract the kind of men I was looking for. I mentioned Game of Thrones and emphasized my undying love for Tyrion, for example. I love Tyrion, which means I root for an underdog and choose brains over brawn. See what I did there? Strategy.
So what exactly is the strategy behind listing Lolita as a favorite book on an online dating profile? Why have countless men decided that this is a novel that will attract women? I genuinely want to know. Have these guys ever actually read Lolita? I almost hope the answer is no. If they have, what about it is supposed to appeal? It makes no sense on pretty much every level. The content speaks for itself—do you want me to think about Humbert Humbert when I look at your picture? Am I supposed to interpret something about your preferences? (That’s as far as I’m going to take that thought, I promise!) Beyond that, if Russian authors are suddenly the must-read sexy choice, you could go with Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. What about Proust? Swann in Love is an excellent alternative. I can only speak for myself here, but it doesn’t get much less romantic than Lolita.
And, really, why limit yourself to the Russians? Although I guess there are minefields in pretty much every country and literary movement. It’s probably true that no author will ever be completely safe to claim as your favorite. For example, I’m not a Hemmingway fan so I’ll pretty much discount anyone who lists him. If you list Jane Austen, for better or worse, I’ll suspect you of pandering. If you mention Jack Kerouac—or any of the Beats—I’ll assume that you’re pretentious. So I guess there is something to be said for just going all out and claiming a book that just unapologetically and unabashedly goes for it. I mean, if you’re going for morally questionable or, you know, reprehensible, Lolita is probably the best option.
However, if you or anyone you know genuinely wants to meet someone literate and is considering listing Lolita on an online dating profile, please, I beg of you, take a step back from the ledge and think this one through. There is a vast world of amazing literature to choose from. Make the right choice. Stand out from the crowd of terribly misguided people who wrongly believe that they’re making an attractive statement. You have other options!
Of course, all of this from the girl who makes a point of listing Virginia Woolf as her favorite author because anyone she dates will play second fiddle to Mrs. Dalloway and To the Lighthouse.
I guess it could be worse; at least they’re not worshipping Fifty Shades of Grey.
So the snow is falling, the wind is blowing, the kids got out early, and I have seventeen manuscripts to read (plus one more I just asked for despite myself. Sue me, it's a Tudor thriller, with an Abbey.)
As I settle in with the Kindle and a glass of Uncomplicated Red (and no, Everyone I'm Supposed To Be Reading, I'm not putting your ms aside for the Tudor Abbey...), I leave you with a photo of Chelsea out my office window, when New York City is just so beautiful.
So we’ve been back from Winter break for a couple of weeks now, and it’s given me time to think about the reading I did on vacation. I read a number of manuscripts, some from clients and some requested projects from folks we’ve been considering, trying , Sisyphus-like, to make a dent in the “to-read” queue.
Much of what I read fell, one way or another, into Dark Young Adult for Girls. Some had elements of science fiction, some were historical, some were straight-ahead contemporary. But I found myself noticing a trend which, as it came up again and again, I felt warranted public comment.
The trend was the situation where the lead girl, who’s been traumatized by a particular illness, life circumstance, or by just being a teenager, is paired with the Sidekick Who Can Help, and then spends half the book misunderstanding the SWCH’s motivations (almost willfully), thus slowing down Progress until it’s almost too late.
OK fine, so this is the setup for buddy movies, rom-coms, and stories forever. But I’m seeing two things going on now. The first is that it seems to be taking longer—too long—for the Protagonist to get on board. It’s becoming a primary plot point (possibly designed to try to show the protag’s depth and personality). The Second is that it feels like a crutch, like the authors have manufactured conflict because they are not confident enough in the basic plot. And that’s ironic, because in each case over the break (and there were more than five of them), the overarching plot was fine—terrific, often—and the character-conflict served only as a distraction. The plots were complicated enough without unnecessary misunderstandings. I wanted to say to these girls “STOP IT! JUST STOP IT! (S)he can HELP you. (S)he’s proved loyalty to you , like, a hundred times. Get over yourself and get on with solving the murder/saving the world/finding the boyfriend/protecting the treasure!”
I guess my point to writers is this: Unless your story DEPENDS on conflict between a mistrustful protagonist and a secondary character who’s very different from the protagonist, don’t overplay this plot point. It served to make the protagonists less likable—I grew annoyed with their rigidity and unwillingness to forgive or get with the program. Have faith in your plot, and don’t get bogged down in petty bickering. Sure tension between characters (particularly if they are potential love interests) is useful and important. But resolve it and allow for cooperation before the reader wants to smack your protagonist.
I hope that’s helpful. It is not saying that everyone needs to be pliant. Just that it’s a plot point that ought to be resolved in time for the Team to work smoothly and for the people to trust each other.
So we’re on vacation in Florida, and my son Joe, who’s pinch hit for me before, told me as we took a walk that he’d like to write the year-end post. Since I really had written my Last-of-year post last week, I figured it would be OK. So this is where my always-unique freshman son is on December 31. I hope we all succeed in our hopes and dreams for 2014, and that our expectations are realistic. Happy New Year, everyone!
On the Cusp of the New Year
By Joe Newman-Getzler
Well, folks, in mere hours 2013 can be officially known as “last year” and 2014 will be upon us. I have to say, 2013 was a very mixed year, and at times like this I like to look back at the old year and think of the positive things in my life. After all, I’m an optimist, and who likes thinking of the lowlights when we can celebrate the highlights? In the previous year, I:
So, you might be wondering: what are you going to resolve for the new year, and, for that matter, what am I going to resolve? Here’s the thing: I don’t believe in making huge, lifestyle-changing resolutions for the new year. I fear that too often I’ll forget them and resort to old habits. For instance: you can’t just go out and say, “I’ll never argue with my sisters again.” You could never live up to that. It’s easier to say, “I’ll try harder not to argue with my sisters.” And don’t set huge goals like, “As soon I can, I’ll lose 50 pounds!” Start with 5, then 10, then 15, and move up. It’s easier to receive gradual gratification than immediate. So my new year’s resolutions are relatively small. They aren’t huge lifestyle changes, just little things I’d like to do or improve on.
You see? All of these goals aren’t impossible to reach. No, I can’t do them all at once, but that’s what so many people don’t understand about new year’s resolutions. They think the moment the clock strikes midnight, their goals must be set into action and they can never go back. This isn’t realistic! It will make them feel pressured to meet the expectations immediately, and when they forget or change their minds, they’ll feel immensely unsatisfied and guilty. Be gradual, and set realistic expectations. Good things come to those who wait.
In closing, let me wish everyone, on behalf of my dad and the folks here at Hey, There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room, a happy and safe new year. Let’s hope you all set good goals and achieve all of them. Bonan Novjaron!
I always write my last Dead Guy post of the year from Florida, where my family spends winter break with my in-laws. As I look back on these past few years on the blog, I see that sometimes these posts are a recap of the past year's ups and downs; or a somewhat statistical recapitulation of the year's deals and new clients. This year, given the date, I want to talk briefly about what I've learned from the most important newcomer of 2013: Pope Francis.
I've followed the Pope from the sidelines as a kind of interested spectator--as a Jew my immediate skin in the game is limited. But the articles and analyses about his election and first months as Pontiff have been irresistible and fascinating.
And most importantly, in a year in America infused with cynicism and ugliness, with civility and kindness and person-to-person respect taking blow after blow, the Pope's very public repudiation of this breakdown in kindness has been a refreshing counterbalance. It was the perfect time for him to come in, at a seeming nadir, to remind not only his own flock what the spirit of their religion might be about; but also to remind us all--Catholic, Jew, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, atheist, humanist, whatever--that kindness, humility, and respect for everyone will make this world a better place.
Make no mistake: the Pope isn't going to fix Congress or likely stop the bloodshed in Syria one the Central African Republic or end despair in Greece or end the brinksmanship in the South China Sea. But the overwhelmingly positive reaction by the millions of people he influences indicates a degree of weariness toward the negative, polarizing rhetoric that bombards our lives every day. And that is something to grasp, and is a cause for optimism at the end of this year.
Merry Christmas to my friends who are celebrating, and Happy New Year to everyone. See you in 2014!
For the last three months, I’ve had the fascinating and unique opportunity to watch something very unusual: I watched something Go Viral.
It started when my officemate and client Anthony Weintraub came in one day and said “You know that this year Thanksgiving and Chanukah overlap for the only time in any of our lifetimes?” I said I had heard, and what of it.
“(His 9 year old son) Asher thought of something last night, and we may try to see how it goes. He thought that it would look cool to make a menorah in the shape of a turkey. He wants to call it a Menurkey. (You see where this is going…) We told him to design one, and he did. You think it could sell?”
That started a journey for Anthony, his wife (and also our officemate) Caroline, Asher and their younger son Emmanuel. Because as soon as they put the Menurkey on Kickstarter (another idea of Asher’s, along with giving a percentage of the revenue to charity), their project took off. They thought they would struggle to raise their initial $18,000 to produce a few hundred Menurkeys. They raised it in a couple of days. They went up to $25,000, then $45,000. And the media began to notice. Thanksgivukkah started to become a Thing, and the Menurkey became its symbol. Anthony and Caroline started to struggle to keep up with orders, tried to find new vendors. They were on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and on the hipster Grid in New York Magazine. The Today Show. The Food Network. On and On. Anthony began to look tired. The rest of his work (he and Caroline are filmmakers and app developers) started to take a back seat to the Menurkey. Interns who thought they were going to work on a Pilot started to create spreadsheets to track Menurkey sales.
Then Anthony got a call from the Jewish Museum looking to be the exclusive New York retailer, with initial orders of several thousand. He just shook his head. The Menurkey was viral. It was in hundreds of newspapers and posted about on websites. When the holiday finally arrived, Instagram’s top-posted feed was devoted to pictures of lit Menurkeys.
Then came the apotheosis of the Menurkey. I walked into the office one day last week and found Anthony shaking his head.
“We just heard from the White House. Guess who’s going to President Obama’s Holiday Party?”
My point in telling this story, beside the fact that it was REALLY COOL to sit there and watch this unfold, to actually see something become part of the zeitgeist in front of me, is that it was absolutely impossible to predict. Because that is what Going Viral is. I hear authors and publishers talk and write all the time about setting out to go viral; to try to create something that will be as popular as the Menurkey. But the thing is, the Menurkey worked precisely because it wasn’t calculated, and it would not have worked if all the elements hadn’t been there—it’s a once-in-a-lifetime event. That combines two uniquely family-oriented holidays. That had a funny name. And involved a cute symbol. That was created by a nine year old boy! (It would NEVER have gone viral had Anthony created it—it just wouldn’t have been such a good story that the Today show and the Journal both would have wanted to interview Anthony. But Asher, with his nine-year-old baffled pose, was irresistible. And he was giving a percentage to charity.)
This morning we were sitting in the office, a few boxes of returned Menurkeys scattered around (hey, you can’t please everyone!!). Anthony was back from Washington; Asher, back in fourth grade. We were rehashing their last three months. Anthony said that had they planned better they might have sold more Menurkeys. I disagreed. I believe that sometimes there IS magic, that you hit something perfectly, that there is a wave that you need to ride and just hang on and enjoy the rush, and simply enjoy it and appreciate it. If Anthony had started planning six months before, there was just as much of a chance that our office would have been overrun by plaster menorahs, beaks out and pristine. Instead it seems to me that they sold exactly as many as they ought to have sold. And got to meet the President.
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