February 8, 2014
|Digital: Fiction: Women’s/Romance||
Anna Zabo’s MERGERS & ACQUISITIONS, about a man, who has a passionate one night stand on vacation, only to discover when he returns that he hooked up with his new CEO, a man so deep in the closet he may as well be in Narnia, to Cindy Hwang at Intermix, in a nice deal, in a two-book deal, byJennifer Udden at the Donald Maass Literary Agency (World English).
The obligatory Books What I Read Last Year post. I set a goal for myself of 80 books, which I *almost* met. I have the feeling I actually met it because there are books that I definitely read – for example, Kingmaker by Maurice Broaddus and Shambling Guide to New York by Mur Lafferty – that I read and didn’t list because they were technically “for work.” Since, you know, I represent them now. *CACKLE*
It was a great year in reading – I can’t really say that I read any duds, although my Goodreads indicates that I gave no stars to Beautiful Creatures, which is accurate since I didn’t actually finish it, and only two stars to How to Think More about Sex by Alain de Botton, which I thought was a bit silly and not in a hot way. Maybe it just means I’m too generous with the five stars. I like to think that I picked a lot of winners!
How were your reading years? Any reading resolutions for 2014? I’m going to be discussing mine on the next episode of the podcast, Shipping & Handling, which will go up Monday/Tuesday of next week.
J.D. Robb – Immortal In Death, Glory In Death, Naked In Death
Josephine Tey – Miss Pym Disposes, To Love and Be Wise
Asa Larsson – Until Thy Wrath Be Past
Jo Nesbo – The Redeemer
The Hard Bounce – Todd Robinson
I didn’t read as much mystery as I feel I have in years past, but that’s probably only because I didn’t reread any Dorothy L. this year. Usually I re-read Gaudy Night at least once for, you know, reasons. There are two Teys on this list because Half Price Books in Houston had two of her mass market editions on sale, and heavy on the Swedes and Scandinavians because of my trip to Sweden, which I just realized I didn’t blog about. Josephine Tey is fabulous – she wrote the wonderful, classic, kind-of-historical Daughter of Time, and Miss Pym Disposes is a great look at sinister friendships and frustrated ambition in a girl’s boarding school. Technically the first three “In Death” J.D. Robb books are re-reads for me; I’m about 70% into the fourth, Rapture In Death, right now. I love her worldbuilding, and Eve Dallas, and her hottie billionaire husband Roarke. Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb, for me, is a grand master of writing long-running series that don’t get stale, and her near-future New York is a lot of fun to read in.
My Life in France – Julia Child with Alec Pru d’homme
I Remember Nothing & Other Reflections – Nora Ephron
The Unexpurgated Beaton – Cecil Beaton
The London Adventure or The Art of Wandering – Arthur Machen
The Amazing Adventures of Dietgirl – Shauna Reid
Stranger Here: How Weight-Loss Surgery transformed my body and messed with my mind – Jen Larsen
Half-Assed: A Weight-Loss Memoir –Jennette Fulda
Scribblings of a Madcap Shambleton – Noel Fielding
All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
Back Story – David Mitchell
I read a lot of nonfiction this year. I divided it up into Memoir and Nonfiction/Biography/History for simplicity’s sake, but there is a certain overlap – for instance, you’ll see that I have a lot of weight-loss memoirs in this section, and a diet book and a few self-improvement books in the nonfiction section. My favorite of the memoirs has to be Back Story, by David Mitchell, followed closely (almost a tie) by Julia Child, who must be the most charming person ever to grace this earth. Did you know she couldn’t even cook when she got to France? Me either! I wrote about Back Story and how much I ❤ it in this post. If you haven’t read My Life in France, do. It’s charming, a quickish read, and will make you want to go out and learn how to cook. On the other end of the spectrum, I think the book that made me think the most in this category was Stranger Here. Jen Larsen got weight loss surgery and she got thin, but it changed her life in ways she didn’t expect. Instead of a surfacey, upbeat memoir about How Much Better Life Is Now I’m Skinny!, Stranger Here is a sometimes dark, sometimes emotional, always truthful story. You can read her Big Idea piece on Scalzi’s blog here.
The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories – Angela Carter
Here Lies: The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker
I had always thought of Dorothy Parker as a charming bon-mot dispenser, and it was interesting discovering that her short stories usually have a sting in the end. Highly recommend. And Angela Carter – wow. Just wow. (thanks, Miriam!)
The Wicked (novella), Rising Darkness, Falling Light, Lord’s Fall^, Serpent’s Kiss^, Oracle’s Moon^, Storm’s Heart^, Dragon Bound ^, Kinked – Thea Harrison
A Damaged Trust, The Great Escape – Amanda Carpenter
No Escape – Shannon K. Butcher
Hot Rocks – Nora Roberts
Close Quarter – Anna Zabo
Checkmate, My Lord, A Lady’s Secret Weapon, A Lady’s Revenge – Tracey Devlyn
Tracey Devlyn is great, and my client, and everyone should read her books like YESTERDAY. So is Anna Zabo, and Close Quarter is REALLY fun. Thea Harrison continues to be fabulous. All these ladies write romance with compelling characters and plots that will keep you on the edge of your seat. I want to read more romance like this in 2014. The ^ represents a re-read.
Fangirl *, Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell
Girl of Fire and Thorns – Rae Carson
Daughter of Smoke & Bone – Laini Taylor
The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials – James Dashner
Beautiful Creatures (gave up) – Kami Garcia
City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, The City of Lost Souls – Cassandra Clare
Catching Fire – Suzanne Collins
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown – Holly Black
Bloody Jack: Being an account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy – L.A. Meyer
The Raven Boys – Maggie Stiefvater *
Vivian Versus the Apocalypse – Katie Coyle
Megan Whalen Turner – The Queen of Attolia, The Thief
I read a lot of YA this year! The Mortal Instruments series was a really fun discovery for me. I went to the party for the series at BEA this year (Thanks, Rachel!) and my sister and I started reading the books together. We both got so into them that we even went to see the movie which, sad to say, was a little disappointing. (My sister gave me the DVD for Christmas though, so – you know I’ll watch it. Repeatedly) I have the first book in the prequel trilogy at home but haven’t started reading it. My absolute favorite YA of the year is a three-way-tie between The Raven Boys, Eleanor & Park, and Vivian Versus the Apocalypse. All three of these books have amazing characters and mind-blowing writing. I went back and forth between including some of these on the SFF list instead of the YA/NA list, since technically Daughter of Smoke and Bone is some of the most inventive urban fantasy I’ve read like ever (with a teenage protagonist) and Girl of Fire and Thorn is fabulous second-world fantasy (with a teenaged (fat) protagonist). But since everyone and their mom counts these as YA first and SFFnal second, into YA they go. A quick note on Beautiful Creatures – I tried, and I couldn’t. I liked the movie! My sister LOVES the book/movie. But it was pretty slow, for me.
Nonfiction / Biography / History
The Paleo Diet – Loren Cordain
And So It Goes: Kurt Vonnegut, A Life – Charles Shields
250 Things You Should Know About Writing – Chuck Wendig
Heaven’s Command, Pax Brittanica – Jan Morris
Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life – Alan Deutschman
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich – A History of Nazi Germany – William L. Shirer
Get The Guy – Matthew Hussey
Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power – Rachel Maddow
Lean In – Sheryl Sandberg
The President’s Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity – Nancy Gibbs
The Art of Doing: How Superachievers Do What They Do and How They Do it So Well – Camille Sweeney
The Zimmerman Telegram – Barbara Tuchman
Writing Movies for Fun and Profit – Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant
On Literature – Umberto Eco
How to Think More About Sex – Alain de Botton
Decline of the English Murder – George Orwell
A lot of random stuff in this category. I loved the Kurt Vonnegut bio (turns out he was kind of a dick?) and the history stuff I read this year was great all around – the Pax Brittanica trilogy (of which I have read two) is an extremely funny and readable history of the Victorian era, if you’re into that kind of thing. Barbara Tuchman is the queen. Drift was really interesting and incredibly frustrating to read, not because of the book but because of the subject matter. The President’s Club was an incredibly fascinating look at something I had never really given much thought to – the interactions between past presidents and a sitting president. Highly recommend. None of the self-helpy stuff in this really stood out to me, except Lean In, which I found great (and whose issues are well-documented elsewhere.) Get the Guy was good fun & the author is handsome, though the fact that I am still single would indicate that the book is either unhelpful or I didn’t put its precepts to use. Writing Movies for Fun and Profit is a screenwriting book, but I think that many of the things they talk about are applicable to novels as well.
Alex Bledsoe – The Hum & The Shiver*
Brian Stavely – The Emperor’s Blades*
Robin McKinley – Sunshine
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – N.K. Jemisin*
So I didn’t read a whole lot of straight-up SFF this year but all of it was AWESOME. Brian Staveley’s The Emperor’s Blades (which comes out this month) was straight- up fucking rad epic fantasy in a world that I wanted to run around in forever. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms – go out and buy this book NOW, what are you waiting for, do it! Alex Bledsoe’s The Hum and the Shiver was soooooo gooooooooooooood – really fabulous contemporary fantasy set in the Smoky Mountains (where my mom’s family is from), about music and family and duty and outsiders and fate. AAAHHH SO GOOD. And Sunshine came out a million years ago but is SO original and anyone who wants to write vampire books should just read it and then change your mind. (Unless you are Holly Black, in which case, thanks for COLDEST GIRL IN COLDTOWN, you are great.)
The War Poems – Siegfriend Sassoon
Girls In White Dresses – Jennifer Close
I LOVE THIS BOOK. There. I said it. I talked about how much I loved it here.
If you’re interested, you can read my recap of The Year in Reading 2012 here.
Today is Mountain Day. What is Mountain Day? You may rightly ask. I attended Mount Holyoke College. Every year, on the first really nice day of the fall, the Mary Lyon bells ring out to signal to the slumbering campus that classes are cancelled. Everyone then boards shuttle buses to Mount Skinner, to climb to the top and eat ice cream served by the president of the college.
Yes, this is a real thing! Not a figment of our collective lady-imaginations. It’s pretty much the best tradition, second only to the Laurel Parade, and maybe singing Bread & Roses around Mary Lyon’s grave.
I’ve been thinking about Mountain Day a lot lately. I think about it every time there’s an article about The Entitlement Generation/Generation Me/Jesus Christ These Milleniums are Lazy. I thought about it a lot last week, as I talked with a college friend who just this last Sunday was widowed. I thought about it a lot when I got the email this morning from the Alumnae Association, saying that today is Mountain Day, and then checked my twitter feed and found out that the U.S. Government apparently also wanted to celebrate Mountain Day and decided to give itself the day off. (Obviously that’s a very simplistic description of what is happening.)
Mountain Day, on the one hand, is a fun vacation from your cares. You get the day off class. You get ice cream. You get the beautiful view from a mountain of the Pioneer Valley spread below you like a green hippie paradise. But on the other hand, you have to walk up a mountain to get the ice cream. And it’s not the most intense mountain ever, but it’s still a mountain, more hill than any of us New Yorkers encounter on a daily basis. (Unless you live in Inwood.)
Mary Lyon believed in exercise and exertion. She encouraged Mount Holyoke Seminary students to walk at least a mile every day. In addition to being a fun day of relaxation and skiving off class, Mountain Day is also a chance to test yourself, to challenge yourself to do something you don’t usually do. And yes, the mountain is a fairly easy climb, and yes, there’s ice cream as a reward, and yes, a lot of people spend the day sleeping instead of climbing the mountain. But the option is there, and the fact that so many MHC women choose to walk up to the top is something great.
So yeah, these articles about how everyone my age is a lazy, entitled jagoff are partly true. Some people do choose to sleep in instead of waking up when they hear the bells ringing. But many more choose to climb the mountain. Or work three part-time jobs. Or go back to graduate school, or volunteer. For many of us, especially MHC students, every day is Mountain Day, where we get to choose which one we’ll be.
N.B.: My first year I climbed the mountain, but my friends and I decided to be idiots and climb up what we thought was a trail instead of following the road like every single other person was doing. We arrived several hours later at the top, ice cream long gone, sweaty as hell, but with a feeling of idiotic accomplishment.
I know I haven’t done of the “what I’m reading” or “What I’ve read” posts in a while – things have been crazy, what with one thing and another, but rest assured that I have been reading, and I’m going to start this post by flailing inconsolably about Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Boys.
Not very spoilery review under the cut.
Today I live-tweeted my slushpile. The live-tweeting got picked up by Choire Sicha of The Awl, and then by Thought Catalog. Over the course of the day I got 400+ new followers. I read about 90 queries during #millionqueries, and made five requests of partial manuscripts. I was briefly put in Twitter jail.
I have a few thoughts about this:
1. This started as bit of a frustration-vent; I wanted to get through a big chunk of my unread queries, and had seen someone do a #tenqueries livetweet earlier in the week. I started out with just #tenqueries. Once I was done, though, I realized that seven out of the ten didn’t include the first five pages that the DMLA specifies in its submission guidelines, so there hadn’t been much variety to what I had tweeted. I was also, at this point, a little irritated with constantly having to tell people to submit the five pages our guidelines call for. So I decided to keep going.
I do think that as an exercise in letting people know the kinds of issues agents face, this was useful, in that it gave some people on twitter a bit more insight into what an agent’s work day is like, and what our email inboxes actually consist of. People were able to ask me questions to clarify what I was saying or what I rep.
2. I avoided giving specific information about the queries I was reading beyond genre and some basic reasons for rejecting something. Some people, especially once this got picked up, found this lack of detail unspecific and unhelpful—looking back, I’m not sure I could have done better. To be more detailed I’d need to give excerpts, or more detailed plot descriptions, or even bits of funny lines from the query letters themselves—while this is hilarious on slushpilehell, it’s less funny when a literary agent does it in public. Several people pointed me towards the #queryfail kerfuffle in 2009, before I became an agent, in which several literary agents similarly live-tweeted their slush pile reading, only with much more snarky commentary.
3. Some of the the pushback wasn’t even about the queries themselves, but being more specific about my reasoning for rejecting something. Yes, “boring” is a bit vague. So is “didn’t pull me in.” This is such a personal business—sometimes I tagged as “detailed pass” works that I could see had potential but weren’t genres or premises I was interested in repping. Sometimes even though the writing was OK it literally didn’t pull me in- I got bored after one paragraph, one page, one sentence. And even though I wasn’t actually rejecting anything in real time—more on that later—sometimes, the answer was just “this person can’t write.”
4. The “not following submission guidelines” thing. On our website, we ask for the first five pages, a one to two page synopsis, all pasted into the body of an email with a query letter. So many of the queries I receive don’t follow these guidelines—they omit the first five pages, they include the entire MS as attachments, they just send me a link to their amazon page where they have self pubbed their book. So I decide on the basis of what they send me. I used to send first five pages requests as a matter of course, but that’s turned into a ton of work. Now I read the query letter or synopsis, and if the premise is good, or if the author has credentials, I reply to the email asking for the first five pages. Someone asked why I do that for some and not for others–basically, I don’t want to waste someone’s time by requesting something I know I’m not going to be into.
5. I keep circling back to the idea of “having time.” When it comes right down to it, I don’t have time to request five pages from every author who doesn’t follow our guidelines, or to write detailed rejections of each of the 500+ queries I’ve received since November (oldest query in my inbox.) I read for my boss, I have nine clients. I handle administrative stuff around the office. In other words, my job as an agent is not to hold someone’s hand and teach them the ways of the world. All those minutes spent writing “Your main character is a bad pastiche of Jack Reacher” would add up. The last author I signed sent me a query and didn’t follow submission guidelines. She didn’t include a synopsis or the first five pages. Her query letter was well-written, however, and made her book sound exciting. She had an original premise, and though she had interest from other agents, she had seen my profile via Writer’s Digest, had checked out my twitter and my blog, and thought that I might be a good fit for her book. Since she had other interest (and since I knew I was interested in the premise) I decided to skip asking for the first five, and asked for the first fifty. I signed her up in January.
6. Around mid-afternoon the #millionqueries hashtag got picked up by The Awl and Thought Catalog. Choire Sicha framed it as an educational, if sort of horrifying experiment, and I think Thought Catalog thought the same? Both sites framed it a bit as “Go watch this asshole be mean to writers on the internet,” which I understand, because at it’s heart this is a really boring exercise. Reading queries is boring. The bad writing all blurs together until every sixteen year old misunderstood teen girl who one day wakes up from a dream, goes to the mirror and describes her hair, and is then kidnapped by a knight/elf/fairy/vampire only to learn that she is a princess/princess self/chosen vampire starts to bleed into the next. But when I find something that captivates my attention—with a cool premise or a good opening line, good writing or interest from editors / other agents—I take notice. Those things stand out. I requested five partials today. Sometimes—not necessarily with these—I request partial manuscripts knowing I will probably eventually say no, but I can see that there is something about an author’s writing that makes me want to see more, because I want to give them more feedback or see where they take the book. I like to be surprised.
After all this, I’m not sure when I’ll do #millionqueries again. I didn’t actually do much rejecting today—any rejections I sent today were for things that I don’t rep, such as nonfiction or middle-grade fiction—so I still have about 160 rejections to send. (I had been reading queries for hours before I started live-tweeting them.) Sending the rejections as I read the queries felt inappropriate, and any details I gave to the author I wanted to remain private. I’m really glad, however, that I got a chance to connect with people, as cheesy as that sounds—I know that this business can seem harsh and unforgiving, that agents can seem aloof or disconnected, and I’m glad if I got to dispel any of that even a little, even if for only a few. I hope that I get a query from someone who was watching #millionqueries today—or even someone who wasn’t. I hope that query surprises me and makes me keep reading. I hope it makes me impatiently refresh my inbox to see if the requested pages have come in. Because at the end of the day I don’t do this for the buckets of cash (lol) or the retweets or the notices in the Awl- although, keep those last coming, thankyouverymuch—I love to read, I love stories, I love to find them sitting quietly and waiting to be found.
P.S. Twitter Jail is a frustrating and hilarious situation wherein I was not allowed to tweet because I had exceeded my daily limit- 1000 tweets in less than 24 hours. I had to wait an hour to start again, and in that time I did some hunting for my coworker Amy Boggs to find a contract. In a giant, unsorted box of other contracts. Livetweeting was much more fun.