Vacation Reading

 Books, Josh Getzler  Comments Off
Apr 152014
 

Josh Getzler

So after the endless winter, with months of parkas and gloves and boots and depressing dreariness, it's spring break. We go away for Passover each year, which makes sense since my wife and daughters are in a Jewish school and this coincides with spring break. The Boy, in his secular high school, just gets to miss some time (which does not upset him, even though he is schlepping all of his schoolbooks and papers with him, and is going to need to communicate with his somewhat cranky-about-this teachers by email. They are particularly cranky, since his March and April basically consisted of two weeks of his own spring break; a week of dress rehearsals for his musical, where he missed considerable time getting ready to bring down the house in Drowsy Chaperone; and now this.).

We are all pretty beat. Amanda's been finishing grading 104 exams and first drafts of term papers (all of which seem to be about Hatshepsut's sexuality and the Six Day War, albeit not in the SAME paper). My work's been busy and intense, with lots going on and manuscripts pouring in both from new clients and more established authors. We're putting the finishing touches on five new deals, some of which are more complicated than they have any right to be. It's never boring, and it's relentless.

So when we decided to take the family, Getzler-side, to Costa Rica, it became a Holy Grail. "Just two more weeks till Costa Rica," we said, sitting down to dinner at 10 PM. Again. "It's going to be quiet in Costa Rica," we said as the girls yelled at us that something wasn't Fair. Again. "We'll be able to sit and relax in Costa Rica we said as we sat next to each other yesterday afternoon, Amanda finishing her last paper-grading and me going through the third draft of a slightly unusual agreement and loading the sixth manuscript into the Kindle.

And as I sit on the airplane, two hours from San Jose, the tension is already melting away. Part of it is the knowledge that we are at last out of town. But the other part of it is that, while they are in the midst of the hell that is tween-and-teen-dom, our children are, fundamentally, good kids. And while being 10, 11, and almost 15 makes them sullen and grouchy and argumentative (SOMETIMES, my wife is making me add, punching me), it also makes them a hell of a lot easier to travel with.

And it's not just the fact that they are able to find their way to the bathroom and can ask for sodas all by themselves (which is marvelous!), and don't need to hear Green Eggs and Ham four hundred times consecutively so they don't scream (happened!). It's also the way they go about planning the trip, and what they are going to take with them.

Yes sure, part of the packing involved choosing cute outfits and accessories (particularly for the girls--Joe would be content to wear the same Green Lantern t-shirt all the time, including for seder), and downloading inexplicable albums onto their devices. (Sweeney Todd? Queen's Greatest Hits? One Dir--OK, THAT one makes sense.) But part of it involved the discussion surrounding, and the choosing of, Vacation Reading. In addition to the manuscripts--which are among the reasons I love my job, and are the best kinds of work a person could have--I promised middle daughter JJ that I'd finally read A Fault in our Stars this vacation, so she and I could be Movie Buddies together when the film comes out. As I was taking it off the shelf to put it into my suitcase, The Boy saw and actually showed interest in something unrelated to histories of film studios or Dave Barry collections and said "Oh man, I've been wanting to read that. If you take it, give it to me when you are done."

The ten year-old has it easy. She's bringing Harry 5, which will last the vacation. Amanda the history teacher has a fun take on British history called 1000 Years of Annoying the French, and Amanda the Wife of the Agent is going to take breaks by reading Blue Sea Burning, the final installment of The Chronicles of Egg series by my incredibly talented client Geoff Rodkey. My mother has The Goldfinch. My father, a bunch of magazines and whatever I download for him once we get there...

There are other bits of reading material in our suitcases too, along with bathing suits and running shorts--middle grade novels involving cupcakes and Woody Allen's Side Effects, The New Yorker and Bop and Vanity Fair and Seventeen and Entertainment Weekly. And Amanda stole the Sky Mall. We are on vacation.

Apr 092014
 



Josh Getzler

I's Tuesday night, and I'm waiting for my 10 year old daughter to finish her homework so we can watch the NCAA women's basketball championship game between UConn and Notre Dame. Both teams are undefeated, having gone a combined 68-0 this year. Neither team has lost in more a calendar year--and each team's last loss was to the other.  The players don't like each other much. The coaches don't either. It stands to be a brilliant game.

So as I was sitting around waiting to start watching, I decided to check my Twitter feed.

And now I'm depressed. Here's what the responses are to ESPN's tweet of

SportsCenterVerified account‏@SportsCenter

Both UConn and Notre Dame have not lost in more than a calendar year (!!). And each team's last loss was to the other. Talk about a RIVALRY.

 

 Here are the respoonses:

  1. Zack ‏@ZTennenhouse  33m

@SportsCenter lebrons a pussy tho.

  1. Stefani Ciccone ‏@c0ckeater  33m

@SportsCenter i send NUDES to my new FOLLOWERS FAV if you want them

Details

  1. Connor ‏@McCartyConnor  33m

@SportsCenter who cares honestly?

  1. FrenchFry ‏@TweetGamePretty  32m

@SportsCenter nobody cares about womens basketball

  1. iHu$$le ‏@iTrue_6lu3  32m

@SportsCenter Sound fraud but it's not

  1. ⚾️ Tanner ⚾️ ‏@TannerMoore30  32m

@SportsCenter yet again, a cooking and cleaning national championship needs to be on HGTV, not ESPN

  1. Amr Korayem ‏@amr_korayem  32m

@SportsCenter no one gives a fuk

  1. Bastel Nooristany ‏@NBastel  32m

@SportsCenter just stop

Details

  1. Jakobee ‏@UojiKehara  32m

@SportsCenter Too bad IDGAF

  1. Bigg Poppa ‏@TheRealBIGBrown  32m

@SportsCenter that's crazy shit

  1. Kyle Levier ‏@OneManArmy_10  32m

@SportsCenter It's women's basketball. #Joke

  1. Jordan Handy ‏@kidd_culi  32m

@SportsCenter Who watches women's basketball? 100 people?

  1. Matt Ashton ‏@MbAshton  32m

@SportsCenter ya you would think, but it's not cuz it's women's basketball

 

That’s the first THIRTEEN responses. And it starts young (my daughter’s friends scorn her Liberty tickets from FIFTH grade, even though she can take most of them in a game of 1 on 1.) Just pathetic.

 

And then I think about the terrific lunch I had today with a young editor—a guy—who’s building a list. He was talking about the frustration he feels when he receives “guy books” because he’s the new young male editor, despite the fact that he is uninterested in pigeonholing himself as the bro-diter (not his term, but it works). I talked about the fact that I say over and over that I am looking for badass women and strong girls and historical fiction, but it’s taken a long time for that to stick.

 

Fundamentally, we live in a gendered society with particular expectations and assumptions about us. That’s nothing new. But there are times that I sit in my apartment in Manhattan, with my highly empowered daughters and my son who’s as likely to wear his Liberty shirt to school as his Punisher hoodie, and I forget what a long, long way we have to go. And unfortunately, all I need to do is look at Twitter before arguably the best athletic contest—men or women—of the year, and I’m reminded of the distance we need to bridge before we can just look at each other as people, with talent and skill and game. I think the game is about to start. And I hope Jakobee and Bigg Poppa give it a try. 

Like Any Other Day

 Josh Getzler  Comments Off
Apr 022014
 

Josh Getzler

I thought that perhaps I would try to prank my readers today. (One thought I had was to come out of the closet...as Authoress. But I can't do that, and Ms. A would be mad at me.) But I can't do an earnest publishing advice column, and my kids are not being overly funny today. So instead, I give you three of my favorite representations of April 1:

 

War of the worlds

 


War of the worlds

 


War of the worlds

 

Happy April Fool's Day

Mar 252014
 

Josh Getzler

 

Recently, Danielle and I were discussing a number of queries we had received where the setup and buildup were outstanding, the manuscript was rolling along, we were wondering “hmm, I wonder how this will play out,” and then…

BANG—Conspiracy of Templars!

BANG—The evil bully is actually an alien!!

BANG—The GOVERNMENT is out to get the 12 year old!

(No, this is not about any specific query, but a type. If you think this is about YOUR query, read on, then revise!)

OK, so here’s the thing: If you are writing a big international thriller, a YA adventure with Save-the-world written all over it, or epic fantasy, then fine. Go ahead with the Uncle Who’s Really a Triple Agent from the 28th Century.

But the books we were reading where this was happening were smaller in scope; mysteries and domestic dramas and YA novels that were, in some fundamental ways, cozier than that. It’s not necessary for a kid to find enough nitroglycerine to destroy the world three times over in the neighbor’s garage; he can find a stash of porn or a couple of kilos of coke. The bad apple down the block could have issues smaller than being three light years from the planet Xenon.

My point is pretty basic. Most novels have a built-in scope, where the reader is nodding along and where the suspension of disbelief is reasonable. When a writer, for reasons of ambition or because it seems cool, or in order to work out a tricky plot point, goes beyond scope, it is jarring. Eyes roll. We ask “Why????” We don’t want to read further, or we ask the author to walk it back.

Sometimes the writer will make a reasonable point: “We always hear that books need to be BIG in order to ‘make an impact in the market,’ and that’s what I was trying to do.” OK, fair enough. But almost all the time, the issue is far less about the true Bigness of the story and more about trying to compensate for a plot deficit.

And also understand, I’m not saying don’t be ambitious. I don’t want only tidy dramas in small towns or, you know, Good Expectations. But when you are thinking “OK, what if the dog can fly?” PLEASE be sure that you set it up that the spaniel drank a whole mess of magical non-poisonous jet fuel for dinner. 

Mar 192014
 

Josh Getzler

Aol-mile-high-chocolate-cake-v
As I wandered past the ever-diligent Danielle's desk this afternoon, I saw her lean back and shake her head.

"This is impossible," she said. "I know I need to stop asking for partials, but I don't want to miss any, and I could read for a month and never catch up."

Danielle's issue is a common one in the literary agent's world, and reflects one of the real conundra in trying to evaluate manuscripts. You NEVER want to miss a Great One, and so the temptation is that every time you come across a query with potential, you want to ask to read more. The problem is that, well, you then need to find the time to go through these partials.

It's a problem because these are neither the M and Ms of initial queries, where we read a handful at a time; nor are they the meals of full manuscripts, where we invest a great deal of time and energy to satisfy ourselves. So they end up in the queue, like the large slices of pie in a diner's rotating display, where we really want to eat them, but where they are too big for a snack and too small for a meal. But we know, in our hearts, that they can be delicious.

Mar 112014
 

Josh Getzler

 

This post is related to my last one, which was about why agents sometimes ask potential clients to edit their material before taking them on; and Jeff's about the teamwork involved in publishing a book. As with Jeff's, this one deals with traditional publishing issues, and also with novels for that matter. Many of the things I talk about here are transferable to indies, but not all. I mean, all manuscripts ought to be clean before they go out into the world. How we get there, and who's paying for it, can be different in independent publishing circumstances.

 

So I've taken you on as a client, which means that you've stuck the landing on your draft, and I'm ready to work with you to send your baby out to publishers. Almost certainly, we will have a conversation that goes like this:

 

Me: So I think you need to go through your manuscript one more time and fix the section where the girl is exposed as the spy. It's almost there, but not quite, and I think you need to add a couple of sentences here or there beforehand that kind of seeds the idea in the reader's head that this is happening.

 

Author: I don't get it. I've been editing this (bad word)ing manuscipt for three years, and for you alone for nine months. Won't the editor get it? If they like the idea of the book, won't they take it on and, you know, edit it? That is  their job title, you know. (Eye roll, shoulder shrug, like my eleven year old daughter.)

 

OK, so here's the thing. I get it. I understand the issue. And if you were, say, Jeff, and were on book 97, and had an editor who has worked with you for ten years like Shannon, then you can submit a book before it's completely clean. It's also likely that a) you have a contract already, and b) you've proven already that you are capable of following your editor's directions and fixing things that are almost there when you send in your draft.

 

But if you are most clients, then you are a debut author. You are still proving yourself at every freaking level. You had to stick the landing to get an agent, and you need to be even BETTER, even CLEANER: perfect, in fact, in order to get an offer from a publisher when I send it in. Here's the fact of it: Writers are in very large supply. You know this--if you are reading this blog you are literate in Publishing and likely understand many aspects of the business. Editors are swamped with manuscripts, all of which have stuck their landings while been vetted by agents and have gone through many additional drafts after being taken on (like yours). If you want yours to stand out, to make it through, to be undeniable, you have to, absolutely MUST, dot every I and cross every T. You have to go through that manuscript another time and another, answer all the questions, so that when the third sales rep during Editorial Board asks the editor "So, can we tell beforehand that the girl is the spy?" the editor can say "only if you really pay attention." There is no time or effort available if the answer is "well, not yet, but maybe she will fix it in editorial, but I don't know if she can."

 

When I was in high school, my college advisor gave me the following advice about my application essay: "Think of it this way: The college admissions guy has been reading applications for six hours. He's sitting at his kitchen table, and it's ten o'clock at night. There is a cold Heineken in the fridge, which he has promised himself as a reward when he finished the pile in front of him. Your application is the bottom of the pile--the only thing that stands between him and his Heineken. If you want him to spend more than ten seconds on it before opening that fridge, you fucking BETTER be perfect."

 

Editors, in one way or another (sometimes literally) are waiting for their Heinekens. If your manuscript is clean, undeniable, you just might get her to step away from the fridge. 

 

Feb 262014
 

Josh Getzler

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.

Image

Feb 122014
 

Josh Getzler

 

Tonight was the annual Columbia University Agents Mixer. It was awesome, with a chance to see friends and meet talented writers. But it killed blog-time. So I will leave you with the photo below, which was the best of NY on a chilly Tuesday evening.

 

Columbia

Feb 052014
 

Josh Getzler

 

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.

 

Leverage.

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