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 172014
 

Josh Getzler

So I suppose it was inevitable. My wife is a teacher. My mother was a professor. I’ve always loved to speak in front of people (my friends reading this are rolling their eyes). When I was in baseball in my previous life, I spent a huge amount of time talking to kids (mostly about Derek Jeter, it turns out). It was only a matter of time before I got a gig teaching something somewhere.

This morning I submitted my final syllabus for NYU’s Master of Science in Publishing PUBB1-GC 3015 002 course, The Role of the Literary Agent, which I’ll be teaching for seven Monday evenings this winter. It’s a second semester course, and gives the agent’s perspective on how authors get represented, submitted, and published. It’s going to be 17 ½ hours of query letters, contract analysis, ethics, and the basics of Publishers Marketplace and royalty statements. My students will be second semester masters students, and they will presumably understand all the basics of the publishing industry in this changing era of digital rights and contracting houses.

When I was thinking about this evolution, one of the things that came to mind was the summer I spent in 1990 at the Radcliffe (now Columbia) Publishing Course. It was right after I graduated from college, and I knew I wanted to be an editor. I went to Boston to live in a (very warm) dorm at Radcliffe, where for three weeks I was going to get a crash course in book publishing and for three others, a primer on the magazine world.

I’d interned for a summer with an agency, and a semester with Philadelphia Magazine, but the information crammed into my head between cocktail parties and trips to Walden Pond was fascinating. At the end of each unit, we spent a week working as a group planning a season’s “list” of books or one month’s issue of a magazine. My publishing house was going to be called God and Mammon Press, but we were told we could include the Deity in our name (copyright?), so after a highly adolescent snit of a memo to our advisor (written at 2 AM after, if I recall, some extremely delicious burritos and perhaps a little tequila), we called ourselves Demiurge Press. We were clearly doomed. But very clever. And if you’d asked us we would have told you just HOW clever we were.

I was thinking about this because so many of our strategies and assumptions are no longer relevant in the marketplace today. Print advertising? Not unless your name is Danielle Steele and you continue to insist on the NYT Book Review Centerfold twice a year. Author tour? How’d that work for you, Jeff Cohen, from the perspective of moving the dial, sales-wise? (Not to say that author tours are useless—just different.) And, well, it was long enough ago that the internet didn’t yet exist outside academia. Mark Zuckerberg was six years old.

And yet, many of the aspects of selling books that we discussed in 1990 are evergreen, and my students will be discussing them in February. How do authors earn out their advances? How are books discovered in the market? (OK, so now we are sometimes looking at virtual bookshelves instead of physical ones. But then, Barnes & Noble was the Juggernaut, taking over the industry and putting smaller retailers out of business through economies of scale and lower price points. Sound familiar?) Is the Midlist going to disappear? (Been talking about it for at least 50 years, and still there are small domestic novels and cozy mysteries selling for $5,000 advances.)

My hope is that my students will get one thing that I got from my teachers that summer, and which my wife’s student’s get from her and my mother’s got from her: The thrill of learning something that the instructor loves. I hope that my enthusiasm for this industry shows up, and that I can hear in 23 years that one of my kids is still (back?) in the business, trying to keep publishing going for another generation.

 

Dec 032014
 

Josh Getzler

First, congratulations to my clients who released books this week: Toni LoTempio, whose MEOW IF IT'S MURDER came out two years after it was bought; Jeff Cohen's VERY CLOSE FRIEND EJ Copperman, whose INSPECTOR SPECTER--the sixth Hounted Guest House mystery, hit the shelves today; and Elaine "EM" Powell, whose sequel to 2012's best-selling THE FIFTH KNIGHT, called, fittingly, "THE BLOOD OF THE FIFTH KNIGHT," was named a Kindle First pick in the UK for December and entered the Kindle UK charts at #10. Great week for three terrific writers!  

 

I had an author come to my office today. He is a possible client, and a very interesting fellow. If we end up working together (which I hope will happen), I will discuss his project in more detail. But that’s a lead-in, not the point of this post.

 

Rather, I want to talk about something he did at the end of our meeting, which I thought was very smart and which other writers ought to do when they are offered representation: He asked me a bunch of questions.

 

The first thing he asked was how many clients I have. That’s reasonable—if you work with an agent you want to know that he or she will have time to take sufficient care of you, and not be too overwhelmed to pay attention or have so many clients that he or she won’t recognize your name when it shows up in the inbox.

 

But that led to a different conversation, about Active Clients versus Inactive. Active clients are the ones we deal with (almost) every day, whether because they are about to go on submission, are in the initial stages of submission, have received an offer (In Play), or are otherwise in an active stage of being published. I have around 50 clients, of whom 15 or so are very active, another 10 are somewhat active, and the rest aren’t. They may be in the purgatory of waiting to hear from editors; they may be writing their next book. The names and faces change, but the proportions stay pretty constant. It’s a lot of work to maintain that number of people among our small staff, but we do recognize our clients when we run into them on sixth avenue.

 

The other question this prospective client asked was what we had to offer versus a large, more corporate place. Look, we are a boutique. There are four of us in the company—five, when our first new hire (whom you will hear about soon) joins us in January. We all have different roles, whether in bookkeeping, marketing, admin, foreign rights, legal, or generally getting our brand out there. At a larger agency, there is more back office. There are great resources and possibly a degree of leverage with publishers that a small shop can’t match. We do our best to be personal, to be our clients’ best advocates in a way that they can be comfortable knowing the name and personality of everyone working on his or her book. Some writers prefer the Big; some, the small. This author, I think, was trying to make up his mind about that.

 

Thankfully, there was one question he DIDN’T ask: How much money will I make for my book? That is a question and can’t, and won’t, answer until I hear it from an editor. And it’s a question that makes me shiver with apprehension. Agents are businesspeople, creative advisors, psychiatrists, occasionally the Voices of Doom (as one of my ex-clients called me right before he left me), and cheerleaders. What we are not, however, are financial prophets. So ask away—but don’t ask that one.     

Big Shot

 Josh Getzler, Music  Comments Off
Nov 262014
 

Josh Getzler

 

In the summer of 1980, I spent a month at Chase Tennis Camp in a boarding school in Pennsylvania. I’d gone to camp before, but this was the first time it wasn’t in the woods with bunks, but rather a dorm setup with a roommate.

 

My roommate was a kid from Long Island named David, also 12 years old; fine kid, we got along well.  He was a slob, if I recall, but, I mean, we were 12 year old boys, so I’m sure he felt the same about me.

 

The first night we were there, David took out a little Panasonic cassette recorder and a home-made cassette. 60 minutes. I asked him what was on it.

 

“My Bar Mitzvah studying. I told my mother I’d listen every night.”

 

“You have headphones?”

 

“Um…no.”

 

So that was the last time his bar mitzvah was mentioned, and side A of the tape was never played.

 

Side B, on the other hand, contained the first half of the album Glass Houses by Billy Joel (You May Be Right through All For Leyna), which had just been released. For those of you reading this born post-cassettes, the optimal length of cassette was 90 minutes, because the typical album in the late 70s through the 80s was approximately 45 minutes, so you could fit two on one tape. The 60 minute tapes were annoying because you really couldn’t do anything with them without wasting a lot of time or cutting off the last three or four songs (or one song if you liked prog rock or live albums).

 

Sorry, digressed. In any case, for one month, therefore, I listened to Side A of Glass Houses, then the side would end, then there would be around 10 minutes of silence, and then the tape recorder would turn off with an enormously loud CLICK-THWAP, which would wake me up; and because Dave was my first roommate who also snored, it would take me forever to go back to sleep. Repressed memories…

 

I bring all this up because this evening, my wife, Amanda, and I, along with Amanda’s brother and his wife, and another couple of friends of ours, went to hear Billy Joel play in his “Residency” at Madison Square Garden. I’d never seen him, though so much of his music was part of my life (although I confess it was probably 10 years before I could hear Side 1 of Glass Houses after Chase Tennis Camp). The reviews of these shows, which he does once a month like Britney in Vegas only more badass, have been good, and it appears that at least some of his sloppiness of the past decade are behind him. And even though he has had the bald-and-grey-goatee look for a while now, I do kind of miss the scrawny kid from Long Island with the mop of brown hair.

 

And he gave us a two and a half hour throwback to a time of saxophones and story-songs, to the Entertainer and Paul the Real Estate Novelist and Virginia (and even Uptown Girls). And every time he sang a beautiful, tender love song like Always a Woman or Just the Way You Are, he concluded with, “And then we got divorced.” Everyone knew every song. And unlike U2, whom we’d seen a few years ago at a stadium where it might as well have been on TV it was produced and remote, this felt relaxed and fun, even as his band was ridiculous. And he even brought on Sting and John Mellencamp for cameos (it was a great show, albeit extremely…non-diverse).

 

This has been a long fall. I had surgery on my shoulder, we planned and executed my daughter’s bat mitzvah (she did not have a cassette of her part), and watched business fluctuate and get busier and busier. But as I stood there at the end and waved goodbye to Brender and Eddie, I realized that, as Amanda’s grandmother used to say—and which she said to our daughter on Sunday—“Kid, you got it good.”

 

Happy Thanksgiving.

 

Nov 122014
 

 

Josh Getzler

So I was looking through my Facebook feed this afternoon, and there are all manner of posts mocking me. THIS friend is packing short and tees for Long Beach. THIS one, already there, is posed in front of a film studio in LA. THAT one is saying where she will be at every moment of the next four days (not the bar. At least not ALL the time…).

 

And not me, this year. I’ll be getting ready for Child #2’s Bat Mitzvah, which is the Sunday following the end of the conference. I had no illusions. Last year, when we saw how the dates lined up, it was very clear that the HSG Client Bowl-o-rama against Team Decker would need to wait another year. I’ll miss you guys. Have fun talking about, thinking about, learning about, and listening to people talking about Crime Fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

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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Oct 222014
 

Josh Getzler

During the past few days, there have been two interesting developments that are worth noting, and thinking about if you are a book person and deal at all with the digital world.

The first thing, which happened over the weekend and broke Twitter, was that an author, Kathleen Hale, felt that she was being trolled by a reviewer who gave her latest book one star. She described what she did to engage in an article for the Guardian (UK), which may be found Here. All hell then broke loose, with writers and bloggers and readers taking sides (or at times specifically NOT taking sides) as to whether a writer should engage with a reviewer. Some of the best discussions were written in Jezebel and on Smart Bitches Trashy Books and on Chuck Wendig's blog. For the record, I think it's a very bad idea for an author to engage with a reviewer for many of the reasons that will be apparent if you read all of these articles. 

The second thing that happened is that Simon and Schuster and Amazon reached an agreement to stave off an Hachette-like stalemate over ebook pricing. Is this agreement (as well as a few smaller publishers' agreements over the past few weeks) the signs of the dominos beginning to fall in a quasi agency-model fashion (details as to what that means can be found most clearly on Publishers Marketplace), or is this an aberration? For myself, given that the biggest series I represent is coming out in April from Little, Brown--of Hachette--I at least hope we are inching toward industry peace. 

 

Just say no?

 Books, Josh Getzler, Writing  Comments Off
Oct 152014
 

Josh Getzler

Recently a number of my agent colleagues and I were discussing whether it’s worth even saying that we would look at young adult novels that are self-described in the query letter as “dystopic.” Dystopic is, at this point, a signifier for “any theme that’s been popular for a long time, been successful, and now is so saturating the market that an editor’s eyes roll back in their heads before the third syllable.” “Vampire” was the “dystopic” of four years ago, and “wizard” of four years before that.

It brings on an interesting thought process, and one that we deal with regularly: When a theme is popular but well-represented, do you keep evaluating submissions, hoping to find something different, or better, or unique? Or is that a waste of time?  Do I look at ANOTHER thriller that feels like a rewrite of Jack Reacher or Da Vinci Code in the hope that a particular editor hasn’t found his best-seller? And how do we even know that the time has passed?

This is one of those areas where we use the tools in our toolbox: experience, taste, and connections.  We will ask our friends on the Buy Side over lunch or drinks, who at this point would rather see the 125th knockoff of Fault in our Stars than another Hunger Games. We ask our agent colleagues whether they are having any luck (not with debut YA dystopia for the past couple of years by and large). And then we look at the queries themselves. Does this feel utterly familiar? Is this loner ex-Seal Team 6 back home in Western PA bringing anything new to the table? Is the writing undeniable? Is it worth spending the next six months whipping it into shape for the hope that one editor at one imprint hasn’t found that one special novel after 900 passes.

And then we take a deep breath, email the author, and say “Any way you can put it in space and call it science fiction? Add some sex and call it New Adult? Kill someone mysteriously and call it a cozy?”

And hope for the best.

 

 

Oct 082014
 

Josh Getzler

As readers of this blog doubtlessly know, Wednesday is Pub Day for Jeff Cohen and his VERY CLOSE FRIEND EJ Copperman’s first (official) collaboration, The Question of the Missing Head. As you may also know, but I will reiterate it, this is a Dead Guy Family Affair, where Monday, Tuesday and Thursday Dead Folk are all involved in our respective roles. But the other thing that we are collaborating on is raising money for autism charity Aspen. As Jeff said yesterday,

The MISSING HEAD CHALLENGEwill see to it that for every person who posts a picture of themselves on Wednesday holding THE QUESTION OF THE MISSING HEAD in some form, $9 will be donated to ASPEN, and it won’t be your $9, but you can claim responsibility for it.

The $9 comes from matching three dollar donations from Jeff and EJ, Terri’s folks over at Midnight Ink, and my agency, Hannigan Salky Getzler. Please take photos and send them in.

 

But that’s not all! Midnight Ink, bucking the Tuesday publication day trend of many other publishers, instead releases its books on Wednesdays! So tomorrow is also the pub day for two other Midnight Ink offerings that are very dear to my heart: Linda Joffe Hull’s second Mrs. Frugalicious mystery, BLACK THURSDAY, and Sheila Webster Boneham’s third Animals in Focus mystery, CATWALK.

 

OK, so I’m hugely prejudiced here, since I’ve worked with these authors for an awfully long time. But I have to say, it’s a terrific bunch of books. All different, but all within the same basic area of mystery where you learn something—whether about how a 20-something guy with Asperger’s thinks, or certain secrets about saving money, or about feline agility trials. All eclectic, all interesting, all good reads, all with mysteries that work, because these writers are skilled . Buy them all (Terri would certainly agree), and Enjoy!

 

 

Oct 012014
 

Josh Getzler

 

Thanks to everyone for your good wishes while I was out with the shoulder surgery. Still barking a bit after two weeks, and I've got an I-Can't-Shave beard going and am still sleeping upright on the couch. But getting there. Thanks to Danielle Burby and Todd Moss for posting the past two weeks.

 

One of the more exciting things that happened in the past month is that Book Culture, an independent bookstore that lost its lease uptown, announced that it was reopening in one of the retail spaces below my apartment building. And instead of putting up the usual brown butcher's paper to cover the windows during renovation, they put up a happy sign telling the story of the return of a bookstore to the former site of an older store, Endicott Books, which was one of the inspirations for You've Got Mail.

 

This weekend, my wife and I were taking a walk and saw that there were a bunch of brightly colored stickies on the window of the store. Turns out that an anonymous Upper West Sider decided to create an Old School Pinterest board and put out a bunch of sticky pads and Sharpies and asked the neighbors to write notes about the new store, take photos, and post on Twitter with #BOOKCULTURE. And they did. And the neighborhood is truly giddy. More next week, but here are a couple of very happy pictures.

 

Bookstore stickies (2)

 

Bookstore sign (2)