Jan 212015
 

 

Josh Getzler

Last night, Amanda and I took the whole family—eyes a-rolling and smartphones in hand, to see Selma in commemoration of MLK Day. And for two hours we were all gripped. There are all kinds of discussions and online complaints about what was added or emphasized or neglected in the story of the conflict, marches, and violence in that period of the Civil Rights Movement. But honestly, they were beside the point, and I think one of the real strengths of Selma the Movie was that the decisions Ava DuVernay made ultimately cast great relief on the biggest of the issues. It’s a big, broad, statement movie, and it works.

One of the most powerful scenes was when President Johnson appeared before both houses of Congress to urge them to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The kids understood extremely intensely what had gone into getting the President into that room to make that speech.

As we were leaving the theater, one of the kids mentioned that this evening was going to be the State of the Union Address. They know that Amanda and I watch it every year, talking to the television, keeping score of the points the president makes (ANY president) and when he falls flat. How often the Speaker or the VP falls asleep, how often one side or the other stands and claps. But this time, we’re watching a little differently, thinking about how inconceivable it would have been to both the majority of the marchers in Selma in 1965, and the people within and without politics trying to stop them, that a president who looks like Barack Obama could be giving a State of the Union Address.

Now it’s time for us to go watch. We’ll get back to publishing next week.

 

Jan 192015
 

Jeff Cohen

1. I will not follow your cat.

2. I will not follow you just because you follow me. I have to know who you are. I'm funny that way.

3. I will feel free to post about my books and urge you to buy/nominate/vote for them.

4. I assume you will feel free to ignore me if you don't want to read stuff like that.

5. I will use Twitter to say stuff I think is funny. If you don't, that's entirely your right.

6. I will occasionally say political stuff. Again, your option is to block, ignore or argue with me.

7. I will block you if you get personal in your arguing with me. I won't get personal arguing with you.

8. I still won't follow your cat.

9. I will follow famous people--if I respect their work--and try to get them to notice me. Isn't that what Twitter is for?

10. I won't follow people I know to be dead. What if they respond?

11. I WILL follow some people I know to be fictional, if they're entertaining about it.

12. My baseball-to-posting ratio will be higher on Twitter than elsewhere. I'm an impulsive fan.

13. I do not expect you to follow me unless you want to. 

14. I will post about television, movies, sports (well, baseball), current events and things other than books. 

15. I will not post to anyone in my family, because none of them has a Twitter account.

16. I will check my Twitter account multiple times per day.

17. E.J. Copperman's account will be checked every once in a while.

18. Maxie Malone has a Twitter account. That almost never gets checked.

19. I will follow other authors, especially if they're actually friends.

20. I will not pay much attention to the number of followers I have. Perhaps I should.

21. I will follow the President of the United States. The fact that he follows ME confuses me a little.

22. I will block you if you try to impose your religion, political beliefs or sports affiliations on me. If you just want to state what they are, that's your business. Don't tell me what to do.

23. I will not always use "cozy" language on Twitter. I don't really have a problem with any word in the English language, depending on how it's used.

24. If you use one of those un-cozy words to insult or provoke me, I'll block you. I don't use them that way.

25. I will not use the word "tweet." You can if you want to.

26. No. I'm not following your cat.

27. I will certainly consider following you if you're glad that pitchers and catchers report in 31 days.

Jan 142015
 

Josh Getzler

I was talking to The Redoubtable Danielle this afternoon, not long after she got back to the office after having coffee with an editor from one of the bigger publishers out there. This editor had passed on one of Danielle’s submissions, a cozy mystery where the amateur sleuth is a sommelier, because it was too edgy. Danielle was frustrated—not so much at the editor, who liked the book (with good reason—it’s excellent!); but at the prevailing sense that the ability to sell these kinds of books is more and more difficult, and the requirements more and more specific.

“She told me that the only cozies she can sell are with crafts and knitting and cats and polite murders in book clubs,” she said.

NOTE! Before my successful cozy clients think that we are disparaging them: We are NOT. We love you. We sell you. You succeed. We are talking here about having the ability to expand what’s acceptable to be able to give readers a wider variety of books to read, so the market as a whole grows and there’s a bigger total readership for your books too. (Toni, we really do love you J)

Now mind you, cozies are only one type of crime fiction, as I’ve discussed before, and so have any number of other bloggers here on Hey Dead Guy. Terri Bischoff, whom I love and who publishes at this time four series I represent, just gave a very spot-on description of cozies this weekend, and is talking about other kinds of mysteries this coming week. There are procedurals, historicals, noirs (though, as my former colleague Dan Conaway told me many years ago, “noir will break your heart.”), and novels that don’t quite hit a formula head on.

But there are certain publishers, with particular imprints, that specialize in the cozies (many of which are mass-market paperbacks, and now many of which are e-first), and which, if you look at their New Release shelves at B&N, are indeed publishing one croissant-baker series after another carpentry series after a third driving school series (none of which are necessarily real series, but all plausible). They take place in small towns (a driving school mystery in, say, Boston would be too edgy, but not in Missoula), and they are comfortable.

Much of the time, they are also good. Again, that’s not my issue. My issue is that I think we’re glutting the market, and that cozy readers are going to become, frankly, bored.

So Danielle and I—after bemoaning the pass—started to spitball what would work, and here’s what we came up with.

We think there needs to be a chick lit for cozies—younger, more urban, maybe slightly sexier, maybe at times with greater darkness—aimed at the same market romance publishers were working toward with New Adult. We can call them the Hunger Games/50 Shades On The Subway readers (and yes, while it’s sort of funny to put those two together, they were the dominant books of that market for the past couple of years). It would allow for the post-grad-school sommelier solving a murder in Napa, or the actress in her first Broadway play whose rival falls off the rigging (did the hot stagehand do it?) or the young woman doing teach for America who has to deal with the disappearance of one of her students.

We feel like there is a model here that can work. We’re not trying to reinvent the industry. Just keep it from being wrapped in yarn.

One final word:  Again, please understand that this is NOT a screed against cozies. Far from it. It’s a plea for our creative colleagues on the Buy Side to break out of the box. Not a huge amount—just a little! But it could really make a difference.   

Jan 072015
 

Josh Getzler

This past weekend, two men died. Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott were from different generations, with very different career trajectories, and other than both being fathers and public figures—a politician and a sportscaster—didn’t have much in common. Governor Cuomo was 83 and died of heart disease hours after his son followed in his footsteps and was sworn in for his second term as governor of New York. Stuart Scott, who has two teenage daughters, died of cancer—which he publicly fought for the past seven years—at 49.

I had a real reaction to these deaths. Not simply because they were figures in two of my longest-held pastimes, politics and sports. It was because Mario Cuomo and Stuart Scott, bridging decades, reminded me of Sunday nights.

When I was 11 or 12, I used to listen to a transistor radio under my pillow after lights out (c’mon, Mom, you knew). Most of the time I listened to whatever local New York team was playing, whatever sport. One Sunday night, though, it must’ve been football season, or the Knicks were on the West Coast, or the Yankees had played in the afternoon, because there was nothing on. As I flipped though the stations, I stumbled on a guy talking in this thick New York accent, not a newscaster. He said something like “This is Lieutenant Governor Mario Cuomo, taking your calls for the next hour. I’m here to help.”

The next thing I knew, it was an hour later and I was hooked. He was friendly to some callers, combative to others. He had a rough job—New York was going through tough times and lots of people were angry or depressed. But what I remember was thinking, in my pre-teen way, that he was smart and he was kind. Now certainly not everyone will agree with the kind part—read Jonathan Mahler’s masterful Ladies and Gentlemen the Bronx is Burning to see a terrific take on the complexity of Cuomo’s early political career navigating the cesspool of local borough politics—but everyone knew he was smart.

From that point, I was a fan of Governor Cuomo, even when he seemed to dither about whether to run for president; even when he occasionally descended into the muck of negative politics. I think my obsession with the political process started those nights listening to a young Mario Cuomo tell Florence from Brooklyn that he’d look into why her neighbor was allowed to keep chickens in the back yard.

After I graduated from college and moved into my first apartment—a studio with a lovely view of the Hudson River until Donald Trump built high rises directly in front of my building—I began to watch SportCenter on ESPN, almost always The Big Show at 11 PM. I spent several years watching Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann revolutionize the highlight show, and it was as much a part of my night as listening to the radio under my pillow growing up.

Eventually ESPN started a second station, and Stuart Scott joined ESPN2 for a while, then shifted over to work The Big Show, mostly in those days with Rich Eisen. And while Dan and Keith and Berman and Craig Kilborn were in some ways the dorks who took over, with their catchphrases and snark, Stuart Scott was a whole different thing. He was as cool as the other side of the pillow, to use one of his own phrases. He brought hip hop to SportCenter, made it even quicker. And like Lieutenant Governor Cuomo, he was so clearly smart and, it certainly seemed, kind. Sunday nights as a twenty-something watching Stuart Scott on ESPN were like Sunday nights as a kid listening to Mario Cuomo on the radio. It was the end of the weekend. I was tired and a little tense because I knew the new week was beginning, but I wanted to listen or watch. I knew I’d be entertained, and I often learned something. After I got married, Amanda and I would watch SportCenter a bit less often (though I’m lucky to have married a woman who shares my twin obsessions), and we saw Stuart Scott’s health decline. We saw him a couple of months ago for the first time in quite a while and were taken aback by how gaunt he looked. But he still had a twinkle, still put over the catchphrases, still entertained.

Look, I didn’t know either Stuart Scott or Mario Cuomo, and my perception of their character was shaped completely by what I saw and heard and read about them. But I know that, decades apart, they affected me in similar ways, on Sunday nights.   

Jan 052015
 

Jeff Cohen

New-year-2015

(That's me on the right!)

Personally, I have little to complain about with the year just ended. Yes, there are tweaks I'd have made here and there, not everything was perfect, but professionally and personally, I'd have to rank it among the better years, particularly of late.

But 2014 was a disastrous year for comedy.

In the course of those short 12 months, we lost (among others) Sid Caesar, Harold Ramis, Joan Rivers, Jan Hooks, Mike Nichols, David Brenner, Rik Mayall and possibly the most painful of all, Robin Williams.

Living comedians weren't exactly having the best of times, either. Ask Bill Cosby (who in all likelihood has not deserved to have great times for some decades now). 

The Colbert Report ended its nine-year run. Craig Ferguson left The Late Late Show with no immediate announcement that he will be continuing his incredibly subversive take on a talk show anytime soon. 

And late in the year, a relatively stupid stoner comedy from the guys who brought you Pineapple Express actually started a real international incident, to the point that the President of the United States had to answer questions about a Seth Rogen movie at his year-end press conference. There were threats of violence, although to date none has been perpetrated, thank goodness.

There were no comedy films (particularly non-animated ones) in the Top 10 of the year's box office grosses, according to a web site devoted to such tallies. There were all of three in the Top 20. Then you have to drop down to #34 to find another, and get to Dumb and Dumber To, which is a comedy technically in the sense that it isn't a drama.

Things were somewhat better on television, as has been the case for a number of years now. Discounting popular (if somewhat predictable) tired standbys like Two and a Half Men (who's the half-man now?), TV comedy has settled into a sort-of uncomfortable but sporadically interesting groove with such cool-but-funny shows as Veep and Transparent

But as with most things, once the TV business settles on what is the new exciting thing, it replicates that thing mercilessly until you're sick of it even when it's done well. Veep  begets Alpha House which is a variation on House of Cards which in turn leads to... who cares by then? I believe it was the radio comedian Fred Allen who once said, "Imitation is the sincerest form of television."

So with the end of 2014 comes a sincere plea: Let's hope there are more laughs this year. With everything else that's going on, we could certainly use them.

Happy new year, everybody!

Pitchers and catchers report in 46 days.

Dec 242014
 

Josh Getzler

  WIN_20141223_222000

So tomorrow morning the whole Newman-Getzler family is going on our annual pilgrimage to (right near) Miami, where countless Jews have descended over the decades. We’ve gone to visit Amanda’s parents for almost two decades now. And we’ve gone from newlywed explorations of the neighborhood to years of annual visits to Jungle Island and Monkey Jungle and Seaquarium, to what we expect this year’s trip to comprise: Many days of reading by the pool, watching our ridiculously grown-up kids sit and squint at their smartphones while binge-watching How I Met Your Mother and 90210 (the new, horrible version). I was thinking about this tonight as I packed, and then my Facebook feed bing-ed and I saw that I had my Year In The Life montage showing up. Yes, I posted it. But here’s my impression of 2014 in little nuggets of (mostly publishing-related—and to that end, mostly Amazon-centric) information.

1)      The Amazon-Hachette (and S&S/Macmillan/etc) fight illustrated that while retailers may want to treat books the same way they treat, say, corn flakes, there’s a lot more blowback when the creators of the product are people rather than extruded grain. Does that mean that the Preston group was 100% correct? Well, not necessarily, since it was making the fight personal when it really was, in Godfather terms, Only Business. And now we have détente. I don’t particularly think that the end result will be good for authors in the long run, since I see both publishers and retailers thinking of ways to maintain their margins, and that will inevitably come at the expense of the artists. But at least the books will be available for sale.

2)      While the Amazon  folks may have been the Dark Lords of retail, their (genre fiction) publishing divisions were rock stars, and were by a wide margin the most effective marketers and promoters of their books in the industry this year.  They understand how to create a long tail of sales, and how to use both older books to promote frontlist, and new books to breathe life into backlist. Of course, many people would say that they are able to do so because they are, you know, part of Amazon, and that’s a possible anti-trust issue. And, well, it may be. But this whole situation is complicated, and you know they will use whatever leverage they have to succeed

3)      That being said, the NON-genre-fiction divisions of Amazon publishing were…less impressive, and shed staff as the year went on. Many of my agent colleagues agree with the assessment that, while Amazon is awesome at promoting books with a specific audience, it is less effective when the market isn’t as apparent, when discoverabilitiy of a book is a bit more organic.

4)      That discoverability, in this new age of digital marketing, is still the Holy Grail. We can’t sell books effectively by tweeting or posting on Facebook or Tumbler—there’s simply too much chatter. That’s the challenge we’re seeing, and it’s getting us to very interesting returns to old-school book marketing—co-op dollars spent to get books placed on front tables or landing pages on websites. And who has the money to do that? Traditional publishers. Not independent authors (mostly), and not hybrid (Whatever)-Slash-Publishers (mostly). We may be seeing the worm turning back. Fascinating stuff.

5)      2014 also showed me how great it is to work in a real office, with my colleagues surrounding me, with the comfortable collegiality of popping into co-workers’ offices to collaborate on submissions lists or even to commiserate on a particularly painful pass. I spent 2013 in a kind of exile on 80th Street, working through the idea that “hey, you can do this job from anywhere.” But ultimately we humans are social creatures, and we need consistent interaction in order to be effective and—I think, anyway—happy.

6)      Finally, the combination of shoulder surgery, my daughter’s bat mitzvah, the increasing grey I see in my hair every time I change my Facebook profile (or look in the mirror in the morning J), and the fact that I’m about to go to my 25th college reunion remind me that…I’m just hitting my prime. Now I need to pack for winter break in Miami. Happy New Year!

Dec 062014
 

Another new month (well, a few days old, anyway), another new "Getting Away with Murder" column from Mike Ripley in the Shots Crime & Thriller eZine. 

Among the many items on the agenda this month:

  • Interesting notes from the Autumn Lunch of the Margery Allingham Society;
  • From that lunch, a review of an interesting-sounding mystery by Jane Stevenson;
  • A new Sherlock Holmes exhibition in London;
  • A list of Ripley's favorite mysteries of 2014;
  • A couple of newly-reissued Golden Age classics which I must check out quickly;
  • Lots of reviews of new books published, or about to be published, in the UK;
  • And concluding with a hearty "Merry Crimbles to One and All" from The Ripster.

It's a great way to keep up with what our friends across the pond are doing to keep crime fiction alive and well. Enjoy your reading!

Nov 302014
 

Marilyn Thiele

There are people, institutions and even physical objects that we unconsciously assume will always be around.  They become part of the fabric of our lives, and we merrily roll along forgetting that nothing lasts forever. I’m not thinking of the important elements, family and friends, whom we treasure and see or at least communicate with frequently, but the ones that are called to my mind when a memory is triggered or a significant event occurs.  As I grow older, I find that people and places that have been a piece of me are disappearing with greater frequency.

This week it was P. D. James. I knew her only through her novels and can’t claim any personal loss. And I was well aware of her age. Yet somehow I was expecting another Dalgliesh novel. And another.  There won’t be any more, and despite the multitude of wonderful authors sitting in my “to be read” pile, I am sad.

I discovered P. D. James when An Unsuitable Job For a Woman was published in 1972. I was in my real “coming of age” years, out of college, working, living on my own and unattached. I was finally able to read free of the English Major’s syllabus. Cordelia Gray was my first exposure to a fictional female private eye, and she embodied the independence and ability to succeed in a “man’s world” to which many of us young women aspired. (Remember, these were the early days of “Women’s Lib,” and we all knew how hard it was to be taken seriously.) I thought at the time that this was James’s first novel, and only later discovered the early Dalgliesh mysteries. I was disappointed that there were only two Cordelia Gray books and always hoped for more. But we soon had Kinsey Milhone and V. I. Warshawski as role models.

Much has been written about Adam Dalgliesh, his quirks, his character, his depths, especially in the last few days. I appreciate the “humanness” with which his creator endowed him, making him so much more than a detective. But I am a plot lover, and what I enjoyed most about the books was the way P. D. James set up the crime for the reader long before it occurred. My favorite is probably Original Sin, perhaps because the background is a publishing house. As was typical in a James mystery, we are dropped into the daily life of the characters. The rivalries, grudges, betrayals and slights are slowly exposed. The murder doesn’t take place until almost halfway through the book, and, by then, the reader has identified several potential victims and perpetrators. James was not fond of the female mystery writers of the classic age, saying that their characters were one dimensional and stereotypical. She refined their plotting by creating believable characters with multifaceted personalities, keeping the reader guessing about motives as well as means and opportunity.

The one P. D. James novel that has haunted me for years, and which I still recommend to readers, is The Children of Men. It is not a mystery, but poses the question, “How would we as a society and as individuals behave if we knew that we were the last generation of humans on earth?” It’s well worth reading if you haven’t.

So from my youth through my years of work, marriage, parenthood, and now looming retirement, there was periodically the gleeful word that another Dalgliesh novel was due to be released. They weren’t annuals, and that made them even more special. And there hasn’t been one for six years. And now we know for sure that there won’t be. I’m grateful, though, that P. D. James and Adam Dalgliesh were around all this time and are a little piece of who I am.

Nov 242014
 

Jeff Cohen

There's what I want to think, and what I think. They're not the same thing.

Like many people, I have watched in morbid fascination over the past few weeks as allegations have multiplied against Bill Cosby. This past week, as they reached a crescendo, it was almost impossible to avoid the rising furor.

Let me say right off the top that I think sexual assualt of any kind is a horrendous, reprehensible crime that should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent of the law no matter who the accused party might happen to be. And at the same time, I have no knowledge whether the allegations are true or not. It is not for me to judge.

But it will be impossible to enjoy the comedy the same way ever again, no matter what. And that is what is personally hitting home right now. More than anything else, the Bill Cosby story now makes me sad.

A month of two after his son was shot to death Cosby gave an interview during which he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that people would see him and they would look sad. And that especially bothered him.

Imagine what he's seeing now.

That is not to in any way minimize what it has been said happened to a growing, seemingly large number of women over a very long period of time. If the allegations are true, their suffering is much more serious than anything that happens to fans of a comedian. For those women to find some measure of justice would be far more important.

For me, though, the accusations have damaged, perhaps beyond repair, a mental connection to an influence that helped formed some of the way I think. That's not easy to absorb.

I've posted here before about the way Cosby's stand-up comedy impacted me when I was a child, how it helped form some of the way I use language, which is (let's face it) a large component of what it is I do for a living, and even more, how I express every thought I have. I can't say I don't have some reflexive speech patterns that started when I first heard the man do comedy.

It's not the "America's dad" persona that is most destroyed for me. That was a period after I was an adult, when I could be more critical and had already formed my own personality. I'd seen the other iterations of Cosby before that. And he was one of those entertainers whose work I truly admired, a storyteller and observer with almost no peers at all. I thought Bill Cosby, if we were to meet, would understand me.

Now it would seem I, along with much of the culture, had misjudged him badly. Or that he was remarkably good at projecting an image that was completely contrary to his true character. If that is the case--and maybe even if it transpires that we never know for sure--the damage, on my side, has been done. 

Much as I'd like to say that one can separate the art from the artist, I'm not sure I'll be able to listen to "Go-Karts" or "Track and Field" again the way I once could. To admire the way the comedy was constructed like a piece of music, the rhythm and the pitch of it. To immerse myself in the amazing speed with which the comedian could create characters and situations, switch back and forth from one to the other and have them pay off.

If what is being claimed is true, a number of truly awful crimes were committed by a person we thought we knew. It is perhaps that idea--that we thought we knew someone most of us had never met--that is especially hurtful right now. There's a strange trust between an artist and those who connect emotionally with the art. And when that bond is broken, the art can be broken, too.

Selfish as it is, I'll miss the Bill Cosby I once really admired. Too bad he probably wasn't real.

Oct 292014
 

Josh Getzler

Last week, alert client Elaine Powell tweeted an article at me about a new feature of some UK writers conferences: Dog Walks with Agents. The title of the article in the Bookseller was "Literary Agents Try To Change 'Distant' Image"

It seems that at two literary festivals in England, one of the featured events was a morning jaunt where agents and authors bonded over their dogs, thus humanizing the agents, who might otherwise be thought of as foreboding or unapproachable.

Hmm.

I had a bunch of thoughts about this, all of which were surprisingly negative. I say surprisingly because a) I am a huge dog person, having spent much of my life cohabiting with various retrievers; and b) because I have made a serious effort since becoming an agent to be Out There and approachable. I have spent a lot of time at conferences. I am active on Twitter and Facebook, and have written this blog weekly for more than three years now. So why was my visceral reaction to roll my eyes at such a benign (and likely fun) event?

As I parsed it, I realized that there were two things. The first is that the places I spend most of my time talking to authors at conferences tends to be at the bar (along with everyone else!), where people organically gather at these confabs after a long day of panels and pitches. It’s not forced and it’s not scheduled. (Sometimes it can get sloppy, but that too can say something—how much to do want to work with the agent who starts spilling secrets after a couple of vodka tonics? Maybe it’s a strikeout, but to some, maybe a home run…) I don’t find it to be filled with peer pressure, and agents assume they are going to chat with people they don’t know—with the invite and the plane ticket is the unspoken understanding that you’ll hold court in the lobby.

The second issue I had with this article had to do with the assumption that agents are scary and intimidating and unapproachable, and they will be humanized through their relationships with their pets. There are two things about this: The first is that fundamentally I find that the vast majority of agents (like the vast majority of editors and the bulk of writers I meet, for that matter), are very nice and human (at least in small doses). We enter this business, as I’ve said any number of times in this space, because we want to LIKE things, to say YES, even though we ultimately reject the majority of queries we receive. But our mindset is largely positive and we at least TRY to be optimistic. So we’re approachable. Not like a golden retriever, but not like a komodo dragon, either.

But the other thing that I realized is that, while I am very happy to hang out at the bar with writers who either just finished pitching their manuscripts to me or are going to in the morning, I do think there is a very reasonable desire to be slightly distant from writers who are not clients. My social media persona (as is true with many of my peers), is what I want it to be, by and large. If you look me up, you will know that I play drums, love women’s basketball, am active in my synagogue and with some animal rights groups, am married with kids, and represent a lot of crime and historical fiction, some children’s books, and Other. And that’s fine. In fact, it’s more than many of my colleagues would put out there, but I think it’s enough to be interesting without oversharing.

My clients often know me better, but then, we have a closer relationship, and it’s a two-way street. They can know more about what I think about things, or some of my views. But I think it’s appropriate for there to be a bit of distance between agent and prospective client.  

Finally, I was wondering why walking a dog with me would give you an indication as to my knowledge of the crime fiction market, or how well I line edit (Sheila Boneham, don't kill me!!!!). Now I’m not being obtuse—I know that what breed of dog I have can give as much of an indication as to my personality as the brand of scotch I drink, and I can talk about noir with Frisbees as easily as with tumblers. But in the same way that certain manuscripts can be written perfectly well but have a tone that’s just slightly off, so too is the Dog Walking at the Lit Conference.

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