Aug 262014


Josh Getzler

So, have YOU been challenged yet?

Wait! Wait! Don’t click off. I realize that between summer and shoulders I’ve not been that active recently, and I missed the initial rosy glow of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Now, when I want to write something supporting it, I look around and see the Backlash. Money being raised will take away from other charities. Less funding will be available to use for developing cures for diseases with more victims. Why are we pouring ice on our heads when there are water shortages? When ALS uses genomes? When scientists test on animals? When we should be thinking about ISIS and Gaza and Ferguson and Ukraine and Ebola and…

Stop it. Pull back for a minute.

A few weeks ago, ALS—Lou Gehrig’s Disease—was mostly known about by friends and relatives and colleagues of people who have, or more likely died, of the disease. My wife’s aunt, the incorrigible, powerful Carol Kaufman, was my link. She died several years ago after a terrible, painful illness where the humiliation was only lessened by the incredible love and dedication of her family. But beside Carol, I have never been affected by ALS directly, as opposed to cancer or Parkinson’s or MS or many other illnesses. There are only (only…) a few thousand people suffering from ALS at any time. There is no cure, and researchers are not overly well-funded. Last year, at this time, the ALS Association had raised somewhere around $2.5 million.

And then someone dumped a bucket of ice over his head, made a donation, posted it on Facebook, and challenged some friends to do the same. And all of a sudden the game had changed. It was 50 Shades of Grey or Gangnam Style, but trying to help eradicate a disease. And it’s all done by taking a video, talking for a minute, dumping some cold liquid on your head, and paying it forward. And what is wrong with that? It’s been absolutely rejuvenating for my Facebook surfing (and by the way, it’s been fascinating to see, as in the article here (, how users are staying of Facebook for this, while tweeting the aftermath of the killing of Michael Brown.) And it’s raised more than $80 MILLION in real money for ALS. And what’s wrong with THAT?

Well, folks are saying that it’s taking away discretionary charitable donation money away from other charities, and this is going to be a giant money suck away from other places that need it. Here’s the thing, though. The Challenge isn’t necessarily forcing anyone to give, or even suggest an amount. People are giving because they feel like doing good. It has felt to me (non-scientifically, so you can roll your eyes if you wish—but I suspect if you’ve read this far you likely aren’t going to do so) that this is the charity version of the impulse buy—the pack of gum or Us magazine at the checkout counter, where you aren’t going to stop buying bread (or, I suppose, the New Yorker, so stretch a metaphor until it screams) because one day you saw Oprah or Benedict Cumberbatch being shown doing something and feel like getting involved. I’m not going to give less to the American Cancer Society or my synagogue or my animal rights charities or my alma mater because I made a small donation to fight ALS because everyone else is doing it and it feels good.

Finally, another thing that’s happening is that people are starting to read about and understand ALS; and whether they are directly impacted by it or not in the future, they might have a little more understanding the next time they read about it or see a tv news story about it.

So that’s it. The ALS Challenge was a great, simple idea that took off unexpectedly. It has done good for the world. And it almost singlehandedly justified Facebook’s existence. There’s enough tragedy and despair in the world; let’s enjoy something good. OK?



On the DL

 Josh Getzler  Comments Off
Aug 202014

Josh Getzler

So today it's going to be short, since I'm finding typing pretty painful. I've got something in common with the following people:





Yep, I'm a pitcher.

No, no. Rotator cuff issues. They suck. but make it hurt to throw a ball, sleep, hail a taxi, and type. Going to see an orthopedist Thursday, and hope not to be on the DL as long as these guys. In the meantime, enjoy your end-of-summer and join Jeff Cohen's email list! Or EJ Copperman's. Doesn't matter to me. or him. I mean them. :)

Aug 062014

Josh Getzler


Today was one of those where the astonishing range of the writers I work with came out in force. It reminded me why this job, with its stress and never-shrinking inbox (Summer Slowdown? HA!) is so consistently fascinating.


Today, over the course of nine hours, I dealt with the following people and events:


1)      A new author, who wrote a wonderful young adult novel filled with angst, poetry, and first love, agreed to let me represent her. When Danielle gets back from vacation she will dance, since she put this novel on my desk and said “READ THIS.” It’s called My Pablo Neruda Summer. Watch out.



2)      While I was on the phone with New Client, I was handed an envelope from Putnam, with a first copy, hot off the presses, of Todd Moss’s The Golden Hour. It’s always such a thrill to hold a first copy, and this one stands to MOVE.

 Embedded image permalink



3)      Once off with New Client, and done tweeting the picture above, it was time to go to a meeting at Oxford University Press with a client, Professor Jenna Weissman Joselit, whose examination of America’s fascination with the image of the Ten Commandments is going to come out in 2016. I was not simply the least intelligent person in the editor’s office; I felt rather that I was the least intelligent person in the building. On the way out I stopped for a moment at Tim Bent’s office. Tim, who’s now been editing at Oxford for many years, was a classmate of mine at the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course in the summer of 1990. We realized that there might not be more than one other member of our class (Random House editor Jordan Pavlin) who made publishing his or her career. And I took a 13 year sabbatical!


4)         On my return I had meetings with our summer interns, one of whom was updating our editor database (editors change houses a LOT!) and was getting started on a new project to track foreign sales of Geoff Rodkey’s new, hysterical middle grade series The Tapper Twins, whose imagery is slightly less elevated at times than Jenna’s (dead fish in knapsacks, half-eaten cronuts…). Coincidentally, that was followed by a call from Geoff himself, with some questions about the second in the series.



5)      Finally I had a chance to work on some emails. It was 4:30. These ranged from confirming a visit from the talented young writers from Writopia, to organizing a drop-in from Dead Guy Guru Jeff (“EJ Copperman’s CLOSE PERSONAL FRIEND”) Cohen, to downloading a new contract to asking for a new author to send me her debut Young Adult novel about teenage angst and love in 18th Century France. A lovely bookend to an always-interesting day.


And the inbox remains full.


Click Bait

 Books, Josh Getzler, Music, Writing  Comments Off
Jul 302014

Josh Getzler

So a friend of mine, editor and author Bryon Quertermous, late of Angry Robot and Exhibit A, took his family to Disney World. In his absence I'm going to be stepping in for him later in the week on his website (, but I thought I'd tease it with a little background and explanation on the topic.

It started when I read a Facebook post by Ron Currie, Jr. last week with a link to the Warren Zevon song Boom-Boom Mancini (from the amazing album Sentimental Hygene saying that the next time someone wants to know how to write stories, Ron would guide him to Zevon.


I would say that’s a great start. And it got me thinking about the artists I listen to whose songs are themselves narratives. These troubadours have always appealed to me, and I’m going to use my time on Bryon’s site to talk about several of my favorites.


But as I was thinking about which songs to discuss, it occurred to me that it was going to appear weird if I didn’t explain something: This particular set of artists—perhaps because I was riffing off Zevon—is specifically white, male, and (in a general sense) rock. Not hip hop, not country, not female (and Lord knows there are many great narrative voices in all three, so don’t comment about the lack of, say, Biggie or Johnny Cash or Suzanne Vega or Renaissance). Perhaps we’ll get there. And I’m not going to do Tom Waits because he’s kind of like Bonnie Raitt to me—I know I’m supposed to like them, and I understand their talent, but, I just can’t…


So check in tomorrow over at Bryon’s site. Then comment there, here, on Facebook—I’d love to hear your thoughts, opinions, people I missed, why I’m nuts, and why you’re all rushing to download the catalog of a broken up pub band from Australia that writes songs about cannibals and war and lovers finding time to talk between work shifts and a lonely divorced man who loves Saturdays because every Saturday is Father’s Day. (Teaser:

And then maybe next time we’ll get into songs by female country rappers.

Jul 232014

Josh Getzler


This week, I was lucky to have one of my newest clients, Nikki Trionfo, visit our Chelsea offices. Nikki has written a terrific, searing young adult novel about a girl in California who’s trying to investigate her sister’s death. The girl, Salem, is the daughter of a peach grower in California, and the novel, called Shatter, brings into play the conflicts among white middle-class growers, Hispanic migrant workers, unions, and gangs.


One of the things I enjoyed about Shatter is the way Nikki brings in characters of different races and socio-economic statuses and shows their interaction in a natural, unforced way. When I took her on, I told Nikki that one of the more sought after elements in fiction these days, both in children’s books and books for adults, is Diversity. My colleagues on both the buy and sell side of publishing are actively looking for books that address cultural, racial, and sexual diversity, and I felt that when she finishes her revisions and we go out on submission, we will have a very enthusiastic response from editors.


This afternoon I was looking on Nikki’s website,, and I saw her latest blog post. It was fascinating. In it, Nikki brings up this conversation, and how it took her aback. She hadn’t thought she was writing a book with a Diversity theme in it at all. Rather, she was writing from her own experience growing up in the orchards of California, where different cultures mixed all the time—it felt so natural because it was.


Often, we spend our time in our own bubble of similar-looking and –behaving communities. And often writers, working off their own experiences, create homogenous casts. And part of the need for diversity in literature is to give future readers and writers role models to look to—so sometimes we strain ourselves looking for diversity. (And that’s not a bad thing, and has great cultural relevance and worth.) Which is why I’m so excited when I get a book like Nikki’s where the diversity is so second nature as to be that much more powerful. I can’t wait to see where it lands.

Jul 092014

Josh Getzler

Greetings from...Newark Airport, on my way off to London for a week to recharge the batteries. It's a bizarre thing, too--my wife and I are in the unique position of traveling without children, and without them being with either set of grandparents. We dropped off The Boy at a monthlong theater program at Brandeis U, and the girls are still at camp.

 So when we realized that we'd be alone, with the opportunity to take a little break, we decided to take a trip. We hadn't assumed we'd return to London--we'd taken the kids a couple of summers ago, and I'd been to the London Book Fair. But then we heard that adaptations of Hilary Mantel's brilliant Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were playing in the West End, and we decided to Go Tudor (I know, it's not a terrible surprise). We are spending the vast majority of our times exploring 16th Century tourist attractions, with breaks only to go BACK and visit Canterbury and take the Fifth Knight Tour (thanks for the advice, Elaine!), and forward to WW2 to visit the Churchill War Rooms. And we'll be staying right near Sam Thomas's Midwife's London Lodgings (it'll be in book 4, so you'll just have to wait to see how and why she gets there--but it's fabulous!)

The one sacrifice I'm making in taking this trip is that for the first time in five years I'll be missing ThrillerFest. So the intrepid Danielle gets to cut her teeth on Agentfest speed dating (she'll need that drink ticket for the cocktail party after!), and I look forward to following the tweets and the posts.

In the meantime it'll be interesting to visit the bookstores in London, wander the streets, and watch the finals of the World Cup at London's only vegetarian pub.


Jun 252014

Joe Newman-Getzler

(Note From Josh: I welcome once again The Boy to take over as Temporary Tuesday Dead Guy. Joe's been working at HSG for a couple of weeks, reading manuscripts and generally hanging out looking Publishing-y. I believe that while he speaks for himself, Jacob and Rachel, our other Biblically aptly named interns (HA! Jacob, Rachel, and Joseph...) and many other interns, would probably find Joe's thoughts pretty familiar. And note to authors: Interns do read manuscripts, but (at least at HSG) are not entrusted with decision-making authority. Next week I'll go through Jeff Cohen's Better Query Letter.)




So, the summer has begun. Freshman Year ended for me almost a month ago, and words cannot describe the joy I felt when I finally exited my last final. I was all set for a summer full of rest and relaxation, and taking the time to watch the world go by and soak up the sun.

Well, while I will get to that, I had to work for my dad first.

Now, for a teenager, there are fewer things that appeal as much as money, and working as an intern for my dad at his literary agency promised at least a few dollars. Plus, I have a chance to spend the day doing what I love to do: reading and hanging out with my dear ol’ dad. So, I agreed to work for him for 6 days over the course of 2 weeks. Each day, I get up early and have two coffees with Dad (a hot one at home, and iced one once we’re close to the office). We hitch a crowded Subway, each partake in either a Metro or amNewYork (then switch when we’re finished), and get out at 34th Street.

At HSG I get to read, alternately, the 50-page excerpts that my dad and his assistant Danielle get on a regular basis, or one of the huge manuscripts that, were I not doing this for a job, would probably finish in a month. This can be either fun or taxing, depending on the manuscript. I must admit, until I started working with Dad, I had no idea how much action an author can cram within 50 pages, and I end the Partial wondering how long the actual manuscript must be, and how much more action must take place.

The best of the 50-pagers are like the best carnival barkers. They reel you in with promises of excitement, adventure, and altogether stellar storytelling, and once you reach the end, you’re almost falling over yourself trying to find out more; begging on your knees to sample more of the carnival's wares. At worst, it’s like you can already see the shadow through the tent that makes it clear that the “rare mermaid of Worcestershire” isn’t much more than a Barbie doll’s torso pasted to the tail of a fish. The writing is on the wall that there’s no desire to forge onward and that further reading will drain rather than enthrall. My initial reading has resulted in a balance of better and worse, and the happiness I feel when I give the “OK” to a good manuscript is proportional to the guilt I feel when I dismiss a bad one. But to me, it’s the journey, not the destination. My dad likes to say that when an author ties up a book nicely, they “stick the landing,” but the actual routine needs to impress me as much as the landing.

At the end of the day, it really is the principle of the thing. While I'm giving my opinions about real people's blood and sweat, I’m doing it in service for the dad I love. I’ve seen how hard he works: the man’s on the phone so often it’s a wonder his ear doesn’t fall off. He and I share the common goal of wanting a book to succeed. We both share the desire to never give up, and rather improve to a point where it can be either passable or perfect. It’s really been working with my dad that helps me understand how to edit and pass proper judgment without being nitpicky or cruel. Many books don't work, but how great it feels to help a book get better! Such are the thoughts of an intern desiring to help more books succeed, and ready to take on the next batch of possible success stories.


Jun 182014


Josh Getzler


In September, 1996, my now-wife Amanda was my fiancée. Our first season running the Watertown (NY) Indians of minor league baseball’s New York-Penn League had recently concluded with a heartbreaking loss on a 2-out squeeze play to the hated St. Catharines Stompers. There was nothing to do in Watertown except freeze, so we were in New York getting ready for our October wedding.


I looked at the newspaper one afternoon and saw that the Mets were playing that night against the San Diego Padres at (the late, not-terribly-lamented) Shea Stadium. I turned to Amanda.


“Let’s go to the game tonight.”


She looked at me like I was a crazy person. I wasn’t a Mets fan, and we’d just been to 38 of our own games. The Mets weren’t anything special that year—they were on their way to going 71-91—and there were probably going to be 5,000 masochists in the stands that night.


“What brings this on?” She asked.


“It’s a chance to see Tony Gwynn. He’s getting older, he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame, and who knows when we’re going to get to see him again—he’s in his late 30’s (he was 36) and the Padres only come to NY once a year. So if we have the chance, we should be able to say that we saw Tony Gwynn.”


Honestly, I have no idea if Gwynn, who died of mouth cancer yesterday at only 54 years old, got a hit that night. My estimate of the attendance was, I believe, optimistic, and we were just happy to sit there, have a beer and a pretzel, and see a future hall of famer with a beautiful swing, 3,000 hits, no chip on his shoulder, and the utter respect of truly everyone in the sport.



And it’s funny. It’s been more than 18 years since we went to that game, and “you don’t understand: it’s seeing Tony Gwynn” has become a shorthand for Amanda and me every time we want to go see somebody who’s legendary and perhaps a bit past his or her prime, even if it’s inconvenient, because it’s simply worth it to have seen them.


“Oh Man, Steely Dan is playing at The Beacon but it’s $110 a ticket.”


“It’s Tony Gwynn.”




“Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart are in Waiting for Godot and the only tickets are the day before we’re leaving on a trip.”


“But it’s Tony Gwynn.”


A few months ago, there was a panel of Mad magazine writers at the east side Barnes & Noble, and my son Joe was hocking me to go because, among others, 90-something year-old Al Jaffe was going to be there. On a school night. Before a test. I hesitated, until my wife looked at me, and said all she needed to say.


“Tony Gwynn.”



Jun 112014

Josh Getzler


I PROMISED myself I wouldn’t do it. I would read Jeff’s post and leave it alone—after all, he’s a smart guy, published many times, a client and friend, AND he got me this Tuesday gig. So I should really shut up. But I can’t, and so I’m going to tweak a couple (but only a couple) of elements of his Query Letter post.


First, though, the part that is 100% correct (we agents always start with the good news. Right. RIGHT?): Yes, when you write a query letter, you must say what your book is about, and in Jeff’s straw man letter, the author didn’t. Now, mind you, most of the time the problem is not that there isn’t enough about the story, but rather that there is too much. But no matter: it is important to say what your book is about. I’ve done this before in this space: You need to say whether the book is:


  • fiction or nonfiction (and if a genre, which);
  • an adult book or if for kids; picture book, chapter book, middle grade, or YA;
  • how long is it (honestly, I don’t care if you round it a bit. I don’t care if it’s 84.375 or 85,782 words. If you say “approximately 85,000 words” that’s good enough. What I’m looking for is whether you are an outlier (a YA novel of 425 words, a mystery at 300,000 (I’ve had both));
  • whether it’s contemporary or historic;
  • where it takes place.


This can be done in a sentence or two: “My novel, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side, is a 75,000-word historical thriller set in the forests of 19th Century Bavaria. Our protagonist, a crippled, miserable castrato known only as Moz, must save his mother when they are both buried alive by evil, jealous, but brilliant lutist Johannes Marr. ‘Oh Mother,’ he says with what he thinks is his last breath, ‘I can feel the soil falling over our head.’”


Quick, no? And with only a little self-indulgent wordplay.


Where I disagree with Jeff, however, is with respect to your biography. He indicates that you basically should put nothing in—it’s about the story and whether you can write. And that’s very true, and if we had a blind reading, it would be irrefutable. But I’ll take a step back: If you have something in your biography that makes you particularly qualified to write your book, by all means include it. My client Sam Thomas is able to get away with being an American man writing in the first person about a 17th Century British midwife because he wrote his Ph.D thesis on 17th Century British midwifery. It was in his bio and gave him immediate credibility. Sheila Webster Boneham has that much more credibility in writing her Animals In Focus mysteries because she’s written something like a bajillion nonfiction books about animals. So while Jeff’s right in that you don’t need to tell me how many cats you live with or the names of your children, if you are a bartender and write a series of cozies set in a pub, that matters to me. How Jeff could write about ghosts in the attic of a B&B…well, he didn’t include that in his bio.


Ultimately the old saw about query letters being around a page long, with the first paragraph being the basic stats about the book, the second (and sometimes third if it’s really complex) being a quick summary of the plot, and the third (and shortest, most of the time) being about yourself is about right. And you should ALWAYS address the letter to the specific person, not Dear Agent or (God Forbid) Dear Sir or (Heavens!) Hi. And even better is to say how you knew that I might be interested in your book (but I KNOW I’ve written ad nauseum about that), and where you saw my name.


Then get to the sample—and know what the agent wants from you. I, for example, want five pages (can be four, can be six, but around five) so I can figure out whether you can write. It’s the most basic test: will Danielle or I like the first, presumably most impactful bit of the book well enough to ask to read more. And we ALWAYS want to. It’s what we love most about the job: We want to find something wonderful, ask for the full, love it, sign you, and sell it.


OK, Jeff, back to you!

Coming Attraction

 Josh Getzler  Comments Off
Jun 032014
Josh Getzler
Well, with BEA, an out of state funeral and the onset of yet another two-day Jewish Holiday (Shavuot, if you're Nasty), as well as 9th grade finals and the last 6th grade science test of the year, something had to give.
It was this post, which I really look forward to bringing you next week, on Rejection. And it'll be funny, kind of like Fault in our Stars: you'll know it'll be tragic in the end, but the first two acts will have humor, heart, and a spunky protag. Til Tuesday! (Oh hush hush, keep it down down...)