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, http://www.nikkitrionfo.com/, 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.

Cheers 

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.”

 

“Oh…OK…”

 

“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.”

 

RIP

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...) 
May 272014
 

Josh Getzler

During the past several months, we’ve been noticing around the office that an interesting trend has been popping up, particularly in our suspense fiction manuscripts. Authors, in order to ratchet up tension and leave the reader guessing, plant secrets in the front of their stories, then tease them out for most of the book, finally revealing the answer in Act 3.

Sounds reasonable, no? Suspense novels ought to be, you know, suspenseful.

But the problem is that there is such a thing as overdoing the tease. It’s perfectly fine, for example, to indicate that there might be something meaningful in a glance between two friends when the Yankees come on the TV—and then play it out for a hundred pages—if one of them (perish the thought) had been the mother of George Steinbrenner’s love child. Less so if the reveal on page 325 is that she had grown up a Mets fan.

Yes, that is ridiculous, and most aren’t that egregious, but they illustrate a point. Suspense works, and books are interesting, when the teases have real payoff. If you plant a tease simply in order to keep the reader going, wondering why Cousin Jimmy hates marigolds, then if it’s because he knows they are Aunt Jane’s favorites, , you are simply being manipulative.  However, if you find out on page 325 that he is the only one who knows Aunt Jane is deathly allergic to them and she just dropped dead of anaphylactic shock, then you have made the right decision to wait to tell us.

Besides being manipulative, the other issue with the Unimportant Tease is that it makes the Important Reveals MUCH less exciting. You want to give the reader enough information throughout so they are almost figuring it out. You don’t want to hold too much back. It’s OK to say that the protag won’t drink gin because he had a bad experience with it when he was young and almost had his entire teen-tour group evicted from the Holy Land Hotel—that doesn’t need to hold through to the end of the book, when the murder has to do with ancient relics and nothing to do with underage alcohol consumption.

So I guess the conclusion is this: When you are trying to decide what to hold back and what to reveal, remember that the “aha” moment is just that: Momentous. Think about whether that hold-back is going to truly surprise the reader and enhance the story, or whether it’s merely—as it often is—a gimmick.

 

May 142014
 

Josh Getzler



There’s been a lot of talk and outrage the past week or so about the conflict that is currently going on between Amazon and Hachette, which is very similar to the fight several months ago between Barnes and Noble and Simon and Schuster.



The short version in both cases is this: The retailer either a) believes that it is paying too much for the publisher’s books, or b) believes it is able to use its leverage as a large distributor of the publisher’s books to improve its purchasing terms with the retailer. Whatever the reason, the retailer says to the publisher, “Hey, until you give us better terms, we are not going to sell your books as well or as efficiently, and you will suffer. Readers won’t be able to find your books. We won’t put them out on the front tables/best landing pages. Your sales will drop. Your authors will not be happy. We have enough other customers that we won’t be materially harmed, but you will feel the pain. So improve your rates, and we’ll go back to normal.”



The publishers then need to decide what to do. Do they hurt their business one way, by giving in to the pressure of the retailer and lowering their rates? Or do they hurt their business in another way by sticking it out and trying to outlast the retailer? After all, the retailer’s not helping its own bottom line by selling badly and inefficiently.



There is, of course, great hue and cry by the readers and authors, who are caught in the middle. The readers just want to find and purchase the latest Philippa Gregory or James Patterson novel, and the authors want them to. Of course, readers want reasonably priced books, and authors want to sell as many books as possible at the maximum reasonable price, in order to have a chance to earn out their advance and make a few bucks in royalties. So on some level the readers ought to be somewhat on the side of the retailer--after all, the better the deal the retailer gets from the publisher, the more likely it will be (theoretically) to pass long those savings to the purchaser--ie the reader. On the flip side, the author should hope for the highest price that will still allow maximum sales.

In many ways, this conflict is the same as any price negotiation between supplier and retailer, where each side uses its leverage to get the best deal. It's even the same thing, fundamentally, as the negotiation that just took place in my apartment building between our co-op and its building staff. The staff's union wanted its workers to get a raise; our co-op wanted to keep rates more or less the same, otherwise it would need to raise our monthly maintenance. We received a notice that this negotiation was taking place, and that if an agreement couldn't be reached, there would be a strike.

Really, the issue was between the union and the Board, not between the tenants and the staff. We'd go downstairs and commiserate with the super and handymen, find out how things were going. We were slightly on the side of the Board, since we didn't want our monthly costs to go up, but we certainly didn't begrudge the workers the chance to make a decent living. The workers wanted to run the building efficiently and well, but didn't want to undervalue themselves.

They didn't end up striking--the sides sat down and hashed out a deal before it started to get nasty.

This scenario is the basis for what's going on with Amazon and Hachette now, and what happened between B&N and S&S. it's not fundamentally more nefarious than that. The tactics are visible, however, and seem heavy-handed in both cases--but also effective. It's business, and business isn't necessarily sweet. And in both cases, I think the optics were particularly bad for the retailer because it LOOKS like Amazon and B and N are punishing specific authors for no good reason, when what they are actually doing is using the authors and their books as bargaining chips against their publishers.

There's not an obvious outcome here, except that at some point the sides will make a deal and the Hachette Slowdown will end. And unfortunately it looks like, whatever the result, neither the reader nor the author will win in the end.

May 072014
 

Josh Getzler

 

Last night, my wife and I went to see The Heir Apparent, an adaptation by David Ives of the 18th  Century French farce by Jean-Francois Regnard. It’s hysterically funny, consistently entertaining, and in verse. One of the more interesting aspects is that Ives sprinkled in an awful lot of contemporary references and even slang within the formal structure of the play.

 

This led to a conversation over dinner about historical fiction and the use of colloquial language. I feel like I’ve been talking about this quite a bit with clients and potential clients, since a) I have a large number of novels that take place across history; b) It’s one of the trickier aspects of historical fiction to get right; and c) there are several ways to do it.

 

When writing historical fiction, there is a tendency to use the colloquial of the time, particularly in conversation. The thought is that it adds authenticity and credibility to the story. The thing is, most of the time it creates what we call a “Forsoothly” tone. It feels forced and choppy, particularly when overdone, and often undermines the whole purpose of the device—to take the reader to a different time and place. Instead many times it actually takes the reader OUT of the story, particularly when it feels like a parody or homage rather than an authentic story of the time. (Obviously there are counterexamples, but they are the exceptions that prove the rule.)

 

When I talk to clients and other writers about this, my advice most of the time is for them to write in what I call “Flat contemporary.” That’s a style that purposely largely eschews the colloquial of BOTH the 21st Century and the period being rendered. It gets the point across that we are in a different time through descriptions of dress and movement and plot, rather than through “fancy talk,” as one of my clients put it. It doesn’t mean that conversation needs to be vague or non-descriptive—just not flowery. And sprinkling in the language of the time, with authentic vocabulary, then enhances the story rather than detracts from it. It’s an incredibly tricky line to walk (in the same way, incidentally, that writing contemporary dialect of any kind can be), and one that requires great restraint and discipline in order to succeed. And when it does, it’s magical.

Apr 302014
 

Josh Getzler (and Danielle Burby)

So when I got back from vacation this past week, I found out that in my absence, the Marvelous HSG Associate Danielle had gone through several hundred queries, organized the Inbox, and interviewed a slew of intern candidates. She was quite pleased with her productivity (and with good reason), until she turned around two days later to find 130 queries in the To Be Read folder (the result of my clearing out my own inbox of ten days’ worth of correspondence).

But as we talked about what she'd been doing, she started to bring up trends in communications from folks we are dealing with—first-time querying authors, writers from whom we requested partial or full manuscripts to evaluate, and candidates for internships. We realized that we could do us both a service by talking about some dos and don’ts of the process. Some of these are instinctive (or ought to be) and some are the results of the quirks of the process. Danielle wrote down her most common points, and I’m going to comment occasionally.

Please realize, if you are reading this (um, which you are), that in exactly zero of these cases are we talking about one particular person. All of these are common points. If you find yourself nodding along, though, in the rueful realization that you’ve violated some of them…well good, now you know. Finally, the typical caveat: These are our particular feelings. Other agents may feel differently. I suspect, however, that we are not outliers at all.

 
OK, so here we go:


Queries

Make sure to state the genre of the book and the intended audience. (JG: “This is a Middle-grade historical mystery for girls.” Not “This is a sweeping epic that has such a broad audience that everyone from 9 to 90 will appreciate my tale of a wizard and his dwarf rabbit. It’s based on a true story.”)

Follow our guidelines--they are clearly stated on the website. (JG: This means email only, FIRST five pages (not the BEST five), and certain genres need not bother.)

Send queries from your own email address/don't have someone else send queries on your behalf. (JG: We get a TON of emails from a KELLOGSVC email address. They may do fine work, but they keep sending me queries for picture books, which I basically don’t represent. So their research isn’t up to date, and they are carpet-bombing the agency population.)

If you're in the process of self-publishing or submitting to indie publishers, don't query us.

Don't query us until you have a completed manuscript to share. (JG: This is HUGE, and, for the most part, folks are pretty good about it. We get the “almost done” queries more often when we meet authors in person at conferences.)

Requested Materials
Response time is eight weeks. Do not check in before that time unless you've received an offer of representation. (JG: And this is a bottleneck zone for us, and we often are not done after 8 weeks, as hard as we try. After that point, though, it is fine to follow up. Really! But not daily, and please do understand that there are times that we have a bunch of client manuscripts that come in, and they need to jump the line. The exception is…)


Do not accept an offer of representation without alerting us and giving us a deadline to respond by. That's unprofessional. (JG…The exception is when you have an offer. Then we will make every effort to read right away. That way if we do like it, we can talk to you about the project and give you a real chance to think about your options (and choose us J). I lost a project just last week partly because I didn’t in fact read it in sufficient time, and the author (justifiably) went with the other agent rather than give me more time. I will kick myself for my own inefficiency when that book sells.)

Don't self-publish your book while we have your materials and you're waiting for our response.

Do reply to emails professionally and with a friendly tone. If we reject your manuscript, responding in anger will burn bridges. You may want to send us your next project so think of the impression you've left us with. (JG: Here’s the thing: we all talk to each other. And we all have that special group of colleagues all over the industry whom we will pass on particularly nasty responses with a “Wow, SOMEONE needs a hug.” And most of the time, we find that if a writer has written a nasty or snide response to us, he or she will have done so to other agents, and we’ll get a knowing response back from our friends.)

If we take the time to give you editorial feedback, even if it's in a rejection, it's polite to respond with at least a thank you. (JG: Not everything works. Sometimes we will give suggestions and spend time with you, and ultimately just not be able to pull the trigger. Often that will mean if we see something else from you down the road, we’ll be predisposed to like it. But not if you sulk.)

Intern
(JG: This is a HUGE mistake for a candidate!!! ENORMOUS!!) Don't mention your dreams of becoming a writer. This is a difficult industry to break into and we only take interns who actually have a goal of working in publishing. Wanting to make connections for your future writing career doesn't count.

Always send a thank you email and/or card after an internship interview and after you've completed our internship program. If you don't, we will take note. (JG: EVERY time I have lunch or a drink with an editor, the first thing I do when I get back to the office is shoot off a thank you email. It takes three minutes. We don’t need fancy stationary. But acknowledging that we met is good business, and it makes us think of you as appropriate and professional. This is, unfortunately, a common issue.)


We very clearly state in all intern postings that the email address to send applications to is dburby@hsgagency.com. This is a test. If you do any research on HSG at all you can figure out who that email address belongs to. If you send an email to that address and write To Whom It May Concern (or any variation of that), it shows that you haven't done your research on the company. (JG: And you really ought to know that you’d want to work for us if you apply to work for us. You should know what we do, you should know that if you are in love with high-tech fantasy picture books you’re likely in the wrong place, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, you should know that the D in Dburby is Danielle, and not Dave or Diane or To Whom It May Concern.)

 

There you have it. Hope this was helpful!