Monday, January 24, 2011

Writing Groups this week

Writing groups meeting this week (all meet in the Whitridge Room):

Memoir Writers: TODAY, Monday, Jan 24 @3pm

Poets: Tuesday, Jan 25 @4:30pm

Fiction Writers Group II: Wednesday, Jan 26 @11am

All groups are open to active members of the Library.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Finding a Literary Agent, Part III

This is the last post on the Q&A from last week's The Writing Life daytime talk series program on finding a literary agent. Read Part I and Part II.

Our speakers:
Zoe Pagnamenta (ZP), founder of The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency
Sharon Bowers (SB), partner at The Miller Agency
Elisabeth Weed (EW), founder of Weed Literary

Q: When can I move on from my current agent?
EW: Look at the term clause
SB: If you're unhappy, drop the agent an email to let them know.

Q: Why would you need an agent if an editor is already interested in your book?
ZP: I think it's in the best interestsof a writer. The agent can guide the writer through the process.
SB: Agent is more involved in the marketing than an editor is. For example, we can call the NY Times if we know them to try and get attention. The agent is your buffer. If you're unhappy with the editor or something going on with the publishing process, the agent will work with the editor.

Q: Why is the standard agent fee 15%?
EW: It used to be 10%. It's just become the industry norm.
SB: Fee is not negotiable.

Q: The Miller Agency website says it doesn't take unsolicited manuscripts. How could we submit to you?
SB: We do look at unsolicited work and will always take on writers we want to sell. We take a lot of referrals. It's just become our house policy not to solicit because we get so much. So in keeping with that, we've also made our website very minimalist.

Q: Is it appropriate to send a full manuscript?
SB: I like having the full manuscript of a novel, but if there's a good hook...

Q: What's the easiest kind of book for you to sell?
EW: A sexy, upmarket thriller
SB: If you're currently on a tv show right now. Also, a really smart mystery series -not a standalone mystery. Something like Tana French...
ZP: Historical fiction

Q: Are parenting books over?
EW: I've done some. But I've been told it's tough now because so much information is online. The more specific the topic, the better.
SB: Author's expertise on the topic is crucial.

Q: Would you ever introduce an editor to an author before signing?
EW: Typically no. Sometimes when there's an auction for a book.
ZP: Very often we might do a phone conversation. Editor might want to know how receptive the author is to edits.

Q: Who does fact checking?
EW: Publisher will fact check.

Q: Is there an argument for smaller agencies versus large powerhouse agencies?
ZP: Definitely you get more attention from smaller agencies. They take fewer meetings.
EW: Smaller agencies like ours have more time for writers.
SB: If you have the choice of a larger agency, though, you probably have more choices. If a large agency wants to sign you, go for it. I say make hay while the sun shines.

...and that's all folks. Did I catch everything from the Q&A? Leave a comment below and let me know.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Finding a Literary Agent, Part II

I'm not sure why yesterday's post (notes from Finding a Literary Agent, Part I) looks like it was published last week. It wasn't. I just posted it yesterday.'s more from the Jan 11 talk in The Writing Life daytime talk series program.

{Also, if I've missed something key or you have something to add that the speakers mentioned, please add that to the comments below or email me and I'll update these notes.}

Our speakers:
Zoe Pagnamenta (ZP), founder of The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency
Sharon Bowers (SB), partner at The Miller Agency
Elisabeth Weed (EW), founder of Weed Literary

Q: What if you write in various forms - fiction, screenplays...
ZP: Agents at ICM and William Morris do both film and books. But most agents would work with you and connect you with the right people for the work.

{our agents had differing viewpoints on this question:}
Q: What should writers ask an agent they are looking to sign with?
EW: Ask "where would you send my book?". An agent should be able to answer that?. Ask to speak with other authors on their roster.
SB: If you want to speak to my other authors, that's a red flag for me. I might get the impression you're going to be difficult. What you're paying us for is our experience.
ZP: Ask "what do agents do everyday?" - they should answer that they take a book all the way through the process, because that's what we do. Ask "what do they see their role as?"
SB: Ask how many clients they have. If an agent asks you for money, that's a red flag. Agents should never ask you for money. We get paid when the book sells.

Q: How necessary is it to have an editor in advance for a first time author?
EW: I do 2-3 edits before sending to an editor. I suggest putting it away for a month, read it, edit again, send to friends you trust, put it away again. Get it as polished as you can first.
SB: It's not done till the agent feels it's done, so many edits may be necessary before sending it to publishers

Q: I'm writing memoir - how should I tell a prospective agent about it?
ZP: Your cover letter should outline the full story. There are some great books out there: Susan Rabiner's Thinking like your editor : how to write great serious nonfiction-- and get it published is a good one.
SB: Put your credentials at the top of the cover letter - if you're a doctor specializing in {blank} and your book is about {blank}

Q: Which chapter do I send as a sample? The first? last?
EW: For fiction, send the 1st 3 chapters.

Q: How much of a book must be finished before inquiring about an agent?
EW: For fiction, the whole thing.
SB: For non-fiction, I don't necessarily want the whole thing. Publishers will buy on proposal.

Q: Is it ok to send queries to more than 1 agent at the same time?
EW: 5-10 at a time ok, but say that it's a multiple submission
ZP: Definitely tell us that you're sending to other agents. We like to know if we have competition.

Q: What should the submission look like?
ZP: It should be as simple as possible
SB: 12 pt double spaced Times New Roman or Courier

Part III of the Q&A tomorrow....

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Finding a Literary Agent, Part I

I promised to take notes and share the Q&A from last week's Writing Life daytime talk series program on finding a literary agent. Thanks to our terrific speakers, I have 9 pages of furiously scribbled notes. It's going to take me a few days to get them all transcribed (mostly paraphrased, I'm afraid).

Our speakers:
Zoe Pagnamenta (ZP), founder of The Zoe Pagnamenta Agency
Sharon Bowers (SB), partner at The Miller Agency
Elisabeth Weed (EW), founder of Weed Literary

I love our members. No reason not to cut right to the chase:
Q: How do we submit to you?
EW: Submit 1 page query about the book and about you via email. Definitely mention NYSL
SB: Do mention NYSL. Do some research - do mention "I saw that you sold this...". Don't say "this is the book that's going to make you rich". What's selling? Women's romance is growing, publishers are buying in quantity.
ZP: Keep cover letters short, say less. Agencies post guidelines on websites. Look at my client list to see the kind of things I go for. I prefer mail submissions (cover letter, 1st 50pp synopsis, sense of how you write)

Q: How democratic is this process? Does an anonymous writer have a chance?
EW: I read everything that comes through. Publishers Marketplace is a great place to start to find out what kind of work specific agents are buying
SB: Our site is minimal. We say we don't take unsolicited manuscripts, but we do look at them if they come in. We do take a lot of referrals. Sometimes as an agent you just fall in love with the work.
ZP: There is a degree of luck involved in getting it sold. The timing of the submission is sometimes influenced by what's already on the editor's desk, what else is going on. May not work the 1st time, sometimes the next. Authors shouldn't give up, especially if you're given comments which could help improve the work.

Q: Has the publishing industry changed in the past 2 years?
EW: I have 10 books coming out between April and June, including debut fiction. There are less $ for marketing, definitely, and a lot will fall on the shoulders of authors, including tweeting, blogging. I'm hopeful about e-books and think it could revive book industry.
SB: Definitely feel an uptick. 1 year ago, buys were down, advances were down.

Q: How will industry restructure with e-books? What will industry look like 3 years out?
ZP: Printed books must be higher production quality, better looking, and must be something you want to own.
SB: Industry will still look to agented work. Agents are the 1st line filter and editors sometimes refer writers to agents so an agent is involved in process. I also see books being less expensive for consumers. Unfortunately, I also think fewer people will be able to make a living as a writer.

Q: Do agents ever look at work outside their comfort zone?
EW: Yes. I am always surprising myself.
ZP: Yes, but it's in your best interest to submit your manuscript to an agent that knows about your subject. Especially true for non-fiction.

Q: Are there agents interested in work other than commercial fiction?
ZP: Younger agents at bigger agencies
EW: Sometimes it's a labor of love. I'm selling 1 book now to a university press.

Q: What does commercial mean?
ZP: Difficult to talk commercial non-fiction versus fiction. For fiction, must have characters, good story, universal themes. Watch the market, see what works.
EW: Just talk about the work and let the market work it out. Will or will not get that label once it's published.

Q: What qualities make you fall in love with a memoir?
ZP: Must be utterly convincing, not artificial, a powerful story. Also must be right length. If it's a misery memoir, add some lightness.
SB: Must be literary above all. Market is overdone on redemption memoir.

Part II of the Q&A tomorrow....

Today's Finding a Literary Agent talk is FULLY REGISTERED

This took me a little by surprise. I knew this morning's Writing Life daytime talk series program was going to be popular, but I am still shocked by the overwhelming response.

I wish I could accommodate every member who is interested, but at this point, if you are not officially registered or were not notified that your waitlist status was transferred to registered, unfortunately I do not have a seat for you.

I will be taking copious notes of our presenters' comments and the Q&A and will record as much as possible of that in upcoming blog posts. Stay tuned!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Congratulations to Trustee Robert Caro

NYSL trustee Robert Caro can add yet another award to his many honors.

Caro has been awarded the 2011 BIO Award, given by the Biographers International Organization "to a colleague who has made a major contribution to the advancement of the art and craft of real life depiction". {via Publishers Marketplace}

For his biographies of Robert Moses and Lyndon Johnson, Robert A. Caro has twice won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Nonfiction Book of the Year, and has won virtually every other major literary honor. The Power Broker was chosen by the Modern Library as one of the hundred greatest nonfiction books of the twentieth century.

The Most Literary Rent Party Ever on Feb 6

The writer Charles Bock (Beautiful Children) has some great friends. On February 6 at PS 122, a number of them will get together to throw the Most Literary Rent Party Ever to benefit Bock's wife Diana Colbert, who has leukemia.

Tickets go on sale today for the party, where you can help the cause and meet many of Bock's writer friends such as (NYSL members) Jonathan Franzen and Susan Cheever, Joshua Ferris, Mary-Beth Hughes, Nicole Krauss, Gary Shteyngart, Rick Moody, Richard Price, Mary Gaitskill and many others. Forget the Super Bowl - the Giants won't be there - and this sounds more up our alley anyway. Send me an email if you're going...

In case you missed it, here's a link to the New York Times Arts Beat blog post about the benefit.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Top 10 I Read in 2010

In a prior blog post, I promised my list of the Top 10 books I read this past year. Everyone seems to have put together a Top 10 list, and maybe you're tired of them, maybe not. But there's something satisfying about making (and sharing) lists, so herewith, the top 10 books I read (not necessarily published) in 2010 (in no particular order):

1. A Confederacy of Dunces. How I made it all these years without reading John Kennedy Toole's classic comic novel is a mystery. I suspect, after talking with a colleague, that it might have been the cover. I like to think I don't judge books by their covers, but this cover is just awful. Anyway, I've made up for not reading it all these years by subsequently recommending it to everyone I know.

2. Room by Emma Donohue. Quite simply, the best book I read this year. I read it through in one sitting.

3. Freedom. There was a lot of early praise for Jonathan Franzen's latest...and then the criticism began. I thought it was great (but then I loved The Corrections too).

4. The Most Beautiful Book in the World. The novellas in this collection by Eric Emmanuel-Schmitt are surprising and uplifting, illuminating situations that are not always what they seem. The only story that seems out of place is the title story - interestingly, the one that attracted me to the book in the first place (see: judging book by its cover, er.. title)

5. I Am a Fugitive from a Georgia Chain Gang (by Robert Burns) was originally published in 1932 (and made into a classic movie starring Paul Muni), and is one of the most remarkable stories of wrongful conviction, punishment, escape, punishment, escape...

6. One Day by David Nicholls. A "Hollywood-ready" {says Publishers Weekly} romantic comedy. Let's just say it was a guilty pleasure. And I'm betting that the book will be better than the movie, anyway.

7. As someone who used to spend a lot of time in airports in a previous life, I really enjoyed Alain de Botton's A Week at the Airport. de Botton was invited to be Heathrow's writer in residence and his witty and perceptive observations on airport life are beautifully rendered.

8. In A Visit from the Goon Squad, Jennifer Egan changes the narration from character to character and jumps back and forth across decades in a story that sometimes confuses. But don't let that put you off, because as the novel progresses, you are increasingly drawn to these characters and their intersecting lives.

9. David Goodwillie's debut novel American Subversive is a fascinating characterization of a home grown terrorist and he weaves this into a great psychological thriller that also involves a jaded political blogger who happens to stumble into the story of a terrorist plot.

10. I don't read a lot of mysteries, but Tana French's Faithful Place drew me in as much for the characters at the center of it - the estranged Irish family of cop Frank Mackey (introduced in French's earlier mystery The Likeness) - as much for the story itself.

and some of the others...The Lovers by Vendela Vida, American Music by Jane Mendelsohn, The End of Wall Street by Roger Lowenstein.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Books at the Bar TONIGHT

I highly recommend the Books at the Bar series. Fascinating book talks (all with some sort of legal bent) at the beautiful New York City Bar Association. and there's Wine and Cheese! {there, I got your attention}.

Books at the Bar welcomes author Steve Wermiel who will discuss his new book written with Seth Stern -- Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion. Steve is a professor in Washington, D.C. and a former newspaper reporter who covered the Supreme Court for many years. He had unprecedented access to the justice's personal papers. This promises to be an interesting and lively program.

Thursday, Jan 6, 6:00pm
The New York City Bar Association
42 West 44th Street
Free and open to the public!

The Books at the Bar series is a program of the New York City Bar Association and is chaired by NYSL member, New York State Judge, and author Diane Kiesel.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

How many books did you read last year?

I read 52*. I know this because I keep track of them on Goodreads, which is a fabulous tool if, like me, you're losing your faculty for remembering things you read just last month.

The LA Times is taking a poll {thanks for the link Book Bench}. One woman read 462 books. Preposterous, you say? Well read on...

How many did you read last year?

*everyone's got their Top 10 lists. Will post mine in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New books for writers

We've purchased a few new books on or about the craft of writing. For those of you who need a little encouragement, a little instruction, or just some writerly camraderie...

According to Booklist, New York Times columnist Stanley Fish "communicates and instills in readers a deep appreciation for beautiful sentences that do things the language you use every day would not have seemed capable of doing" in How to Write a Sentence .

Stony Brook University professor Roger Rosenblatt takes you through the winter/spring 2008 semester of his class "Writing Everything" and tackles the questions that trouble his students in Unless it Moves the Human Heart: The Craft and Art of Writing.

Personally, I am eagerly awaiting Volume 2 of Gail Godwin's The Making of a Writer, covering her journal entries from 1963-1969 (yes, that's me with the first hold on it). I recently finished The Making of a Writer: Journals, 1961-1963, and was rapt. I'll write more about this in an upcoming post because I'm also working on booking a Writing Life Daytime Talk series program on journaling. More to come...

Monday, January 3, 2011

January e-newsletter

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Lockers, We've Got Lockers

The day lockers are now ready for use. If you're in the Library and would like to snag one for the day, ask at the Circulation Desk.

The lucky members who have been assigned six-month lockers have all been notified. If you would like to add your name to the six-month locker waiting list, please ask at the Circulation Desk for an application