Hello! I hope this newsletter finds you coping well from the inevitable end-of-summer doldrums. I'm not quite there yet myself; as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I'm in a bit of a reading slump at the moment. The other day I was considering revisiting a few of my old favorites to snap me out of this funk I'm in, and as I was browsing my bookshelves, I got to thinking: we all have books we love and will champion to the death, but what if we could get a definitive answer to which book is the best of them all? Enter: PBS's The Great American Read.
This eight-part series is the centerpiece of PBS's campaign to "get the country reading and passionately talking about books." The premiere back in May introduced the 100 books eligible for the title (restricted to fiction novels) and to date, over two million votes have been cast. America's best loved book will be announced during the finale on October 23, and episodes in between will explore themes and concepts common to books in the top 100.
There are two things I love about what The Great American Read is doing here.
First, I think it's brilliant that the opportunity to cast a vote is available to anyone who cares to participate. I think there's a tendency when it comes to entertainment to value the opinion of "experts" more highly than the opinion of the public (for example, the Oscars), but The Great American Read is making an effort to make engaging with literature accessible to everyone. The list of 100 books the series is working from was compiled based on a public survey that asked people to nominate whichever book they love the most, and the results of that survey were narrowed down by a very basic set of criteria (which you can read here) to identify eligible candidates. But that's it! There was no elitism or pretension involved in the process, no literary credentials or qualifications voters had to have -- just, if you love a book, let us know.
The other thing I think is great about this series is the variety of candidates in the top 100. Some of these books come from other countries and languages; were written by people of color and the differently abled; and, collectively, span a crazy range of time periods (1600s to 2016) and genres. Overall, the top 100 gives a genuinely well-rounded representation of the diverse literary spirit of America. I mean, would you expect to see Twilight and Moby Dick on the same ballot? I certainly didn't, but it was a refreshing surprise. I guess that's what happens when you cast off preconceptions about what is "great" (and what is "American") and just let people enjoy the stories they do.
If you're interested in voting for America's best loved book, you can do so here. Let me know if you plan on tuning in, and read on for your updates from the world of publishing.
The end of summer is finally in sight! Between a trip to Aspen for a wedding and a mini-vacation to Ireland, my July was exceptionally hectic. Thankfully, the first hints of cooler weather are on the breeze and that means it's time to settle back down. I'm looking forward to returning to my roots – hard work and good stories. If you have any book recommendations to ease me back in, send them my way.
And speaking of roots, If you've been with me since the beginning, you probably know that LTS Editorial has changed shape a few times over the years and the place we're in today looks a lot different from where we started. I was recently featured in a wonderful article written by a good friend of mine that gives a behind-the-scenes look at how my company and I have grown from a boutique editorial service to a multifaceted publishing outfit. I'll say that a great deal of that growth was inspired by seeing how what I had to offer stacked up to what clients actually needed, and being able to adapt my company to meet those needs has been such a worthwhile journey. Check it out if you're interested, let me know what you think, and read on for the latest news in the world of publishing.
Hello, and welcome to the midsummer slump! I hope you're not withering in the heat. I, for one, will be escaping to the cooler weather of Ireland pretty soon here so if you notice I'm a little quieter over the next couple of weeks, don't worry—I'll be back in full force when it's not as sweltering. Fall can't come fast enough!
One thing I AM loving this summer is HBO's latest gem, Sharp Objects. It's a show adapted from Gillian Flynn's eponymous novel, and it's everything I hoped it would be and more after reading the book—creepy, moody, and intensely unnerving. If you were wondering what Amy Adams is like at her prime, look no further.
Watching the first couple of (extremely well done) episodes of Sharp Objects got me thinking about some of the buzzier movies and television shows from recent memory: Game of Thrones, Gone Girl, Big Little Lies, Orange is the New Black, Room, The Handmaid's Tale, Call Me By Your Name, The Fault In Our Stars...The list goes on and on. And what's the common thread here? Well, all of these were books before they hit the screen. Lately we've been seeing adaptions made left and right. It seems like every day has an old story to tell in a new format, and I have to wonder: why are we so enamored with adaptations?
Book-to-screen adaptations have historically done well with critics—as of 2014,more than 60 Best Picture winners at the Academy Awards were films derived from literature, and we've seen the recent success of adapted television shows at the Golden Globes and the Emmys, where 57% of wins go to adaptations.
Adaptations also have a knack for raking in revenue at the box office, taking in 44% more on average than original screenplays. And what's more, books that are adapted for the screen tend to receive a boost in sales after the release of the adaptation, with some books seeing the largest share of revenue come in decades after the book's initial publication; in some cases, a film adaptation can breathe life back into a book that was forgotten or never remembered in the first place (take, for example, the resurgence of the travel memoir Tracks after the movie came out...33 years after its initial publication).
Clearly, there's some kind of symbiosis happening where adaptations are concerned. I'm curious as to what the exact nature of that relationship is; my hunch is that adaptations often have a built-in fanbase thanks to whatever popularity the literature it's based on had initially, and on top of that, the production will garner whatever attention it was going to regardless from people who hadn't read the book. If the book was popular on its own merit, being adapted can only contribute to its following (at least where sales are concerned—you can't unsell a book). If the book being adapted wasn't well-known to begin with, having it adapted into a TV show or movie is basically a lengthy commercial for the story, and we all know how powerful advertising can be.
The reputation a story has often transcends its medium, so any acclaim a book has will likely stick around as it transitions to the screen and vice versa. Fame feeds off of itself. And then, think about just how much vetting and crafting and blood, sweat, and tears a great book endures on its way to publication. Maybe it's the case—not all the time, but sometimes—that the stories told in adaptations are more thoroughly fleshed out and developed than those told in original screenplays. Maybe the stories told in adaptations are just better, having been through the grinder of two different industries where entertainment value is king. A story told once can be stellar, but what kind of magic is possible when we get the chance to tell it a second time in a completely new medium? I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Sometimes when a holiday weekend rolls around, I get a strange kind of anxiety.
That's because holidays can be both a blessing and a curse. When you're constantly swamped with work, just one extra day can feel like a welcome break...or a guilt trip waiting to happen. Sure you could relax, take a trip, do a movie marathon...but wouldn't it be smarter to tackle all of those emails crowding your inbox or to work on your book?
Which was precisely my dilemma this past weekend. May was probably the craziest month of my year; weekends were spent flying to North Carolina for my brother's graduation and driving to Montreal with friends, and weekdays were consumed with the usual editorial work plus prepping for speaking at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference (pictured below).
So when Memorial Day weekend rolled around with absolutely no plans, I had a choice; spend the weekend catching up on work, or turn off my brain for the first time all month?
And while catching up on work would certainly make me feel more on top of things when the week rolled around, it could also backfire. Which is how I eventually made the best plan for my weekend; instead of burning myself out even further by forcing myself to work, or spending even more energy dragging myself on yet another trip or activity, I restricted myself to a day in the park and one night of drinks with friends. Beyond that, I was home. And what I discovered I was lacking was something I bet you're lacking too.
Listen to your body, not your brain
When you spend so much time living in your thoughts, it's easy to get mired in the intellectual and forget the physical. At a certain point, our bodies become impediments to our minds; when our energy is lacking, it's easier to chug a coffee than it is to stop working and listen to our bodies. But that's an easy recipe for burnout and writer's block. I'll tell you something; just before the long weekend, I hated work. I was playing with different ideas on how to change what I did for a living...and I created my own job! It was completely absurd, but I couldn't see the forest for the trees because I wasso burnt out.
What I wasn't doing was listening to my body. I felt like I "should" be working on weekends, so I worked on weekends. I felt like I "should" be taking advantage of every fun event, so I did that too. I was listening to my brain and ignoring my body. And I very quickly started to hate my life.
Once I gave myself some space to breathe this past weekend, the strangest thing happened. I did what my body wanted me to do, and it was completely the opposite of what I thought I wanted. I slept for hours on end. I drank as much water as I could. When my body wanted to move, I went to the gym, but not before that. I started craving healthier food. It was like every goal I had for myself came to me naturally, but only because I was listening to my body.
This is probably all advice we've heard before, but let me ask you this; when was the last time you actually lived it? How many times have you pushed yourself to make this deadline, that event, to write just five more pages? And how many times has that pushing bled into other parts of your life?
And wouldn't you believe it? When Tuesday morning rolled around, I couldn't wait to check my email and get back to work. I no longer needed long breaks during the day, I didn't need as much caffeine, I was excited to do what I dreaded just a week before. And it didn't take an expensive vacation. All it took was listening to my body.
Is it just me, or does this time of year get busier for you guys, too?
On top of all my editorial work, this upcoming Friday I'm speaking on a panel at the American Society of Journalists and Authors' 2018 Annual Writers Conference, on a topic I absolutely love to talk about: How to Turn a Nugget of an Idea into a Book Proposal.
If you happen to be attending ASJA this year, you'd better come say hi! But if you're not able to come up to New York this time around, don't fret. I can give you a few things right now that will help you if you're considering going from an idea to a book.
Why do you want to write this book?
You’re clearly drawn to this topic for a reason. What’s your reason? Are you an expert in this field? Are you simply passionate about this topic, and you’re excellent at research? Do you already have an audience that you know would love to read a book written by you? These are elements of this that will clearly change as you develop your platform, but for now, thinking about what you bring to the table is a good place to start.
Is there a hole in the market for a book like yours?
This one’s a biggie: you want to know that your book has a place in the world before you create it. Take a trip to your local independent bookstore, the library, or Barnes and Noble. Browse around your topic’s section and write down the books that catch your eye. Which ones are you compelled to read? Why do you like them? Is it because of the author’s expertise, the cover design, the blurb on the front from a celebrity endorsing it? Is it the way that the information is organized? Is it the way the author approaches the topic? What don’t you like about what you see? Take home some of those books and read them, and take notes on how those authors created their books. Not only will this give you ideas for how to write your book, you’ll also learn what kind of books already exist in the world and how you might fill a hole in the market. Find out what others are doing already and how you can either do it better or differently.
While researching books will be the primary research you do at this point, you should also take note of online resources on the topic you’ve chosen. Ask yourself the same questions as above and take note of who runs the website, writes the blog, etc.
How might you share your book?
Let’s talk about what your goals are in terms of getting your book out into the world. Are you wanting to build brand recognition and perhaps create a bit of additional revenue? You might consider self publishing. Do you want your content to reach the widest audience possible and perhaps lead to more speaking engagements? Is it also relevant to a wide audience? You’ll probably want to go for traditional publishing. You don’t have to make a definitive decision just yet, but it’s good to know where you might want to take this project before you get started. Plus, it’ll change what you do now; if you want to self publish, you’ll want to write the whole book, but if you want to traditionally publish, you don’t have to write the whole thing yet, as you’ll be writing a proposal instead.
I wish all of you luck in your writing journeys, and if you feel like your idea could be something more, don't hesitate to get in touch via the contact form on my website! I want to hear your ideas and help you build them into something bigger.
Happy belated Independent Bookstore Day!
So, I come from two places — I'm an indie book editor, but I used to work with the "Big Five" too,. Thinking about indie bookstores through both of those lenses, I can unwaveringly tell you how important they are.
It's not that I have an agenda against Amazon or big-box bookstores, but ultimately their goals are to feed the cash cow. When John Oliver's book came out and it was Amazon-only, it was to make the most money as quickly as possible. When Barnes & Noble sends out coupons and lists every new book at 20% off, it's because, as a corporation, it can afford to.
Investing in an indie bookstore is investing in a kinship. Staff members of indie bookstores put their heart and soul into booking author signings, organizing events, and decorating displays out of passion and love, rather than for a paycheck. And I totally understand that you can order from Amazon while wearing pajamas and eating Chinese food, but if you want to support your local literary community, I urge you to take the extra ten minutes to head over to an independent bookstore, even if it means putting some pants on. And if pants aren't on your agenda, the majority of them do online sales too.
Personally, whenever I travel, indie bookstores are the first thing I check out in a new town. And now that it's spring (aka road trip season) I intend to visit some new ones. So much so that I'm working on a comprehensive road trip map of the best independent book stores in the United States. From big names like The Strand to tiny ones nestled inside nursing homes, this map will be your all-inclusive guide to literary bliss — so make sure you watch your inboxes in the next few days.
If the phrase "writer's block" seems like a way of life to you, you're not alone.
And if you try to circumvent your problem by reading all your favorite books and hoping inspiration will come to you, that's normal too.
But what if, in the rush to read as much Kafka and Voltaire as possible and let it soak into your brains, you've missed another obvious source of inspiration?
In light of Kendrick Lamar's recent Pulitzer Prize win, I've been thinking about the ways music can be inspirational to writers, and how it's been a tool to me in my own journey. The first personal essay I ever had published was inspired by a song by the band Heartless Bastards. Sure, I always had the story in me, but it took the deeply personal chord that the song struck to dig the story out of myself.
That was a few years ago, but I still allow music to guide me when I'm feeling stuck — I actually have an entire "writing" playlist on Spotify just for this very reason. I like music with a modern, jazzy feel to it, like St. Germain or Bonobo, but sometimes it depends on my mood or the type of writing I'm doing. If I'm writing something angsty I'll put on some Chelsea Wolfe, and I love throwing some Radiohead in the mix too.
If you're someone who can't listen to music with words while you're working, I have a few favorite soundtracks as well — I'm a big fan of Hans Zimmer's original scores, particularly Interstellar and Inception.
What are your favorite songs or genres to listen to while writing? I always love a good recommendation!
I've got all the publishing news and updates for you, but first, here's a fantasy for you...
Imagine clean, airy shelves, the perfect book found right away, a sense of calm to go with your literary pursuits.
Yet of course, if you're any kind of a serious book lover, that's nowhere near your reality. Books stacked on every available space is more like it. Your living space is getting smaller, your cohabitants are getting angrier, and you're starting to develop a serious dust allergy.
In honor of spring, we're going to do away with the clutter and usher in a new age of...well not quite airy bookshelves, but as close to it as any book lover can get.
Today I'm going to take you through the process I went through when I moved into my new office, and which I will likely go through again now that we're entering warmer weather (and my office is slowly reaching book avalanche-level).
So there are two major steps to this process: Cleaning out the shelves, and then reorganizing the shelves.
Cleaning out bookshelves is both daunting and terrifying — it forces us to confront the safety of "I'll read this eventually." But that's how we end up with giant piles of books that we just can't — and won't — read. So how do you start cleaning out your shelves?
Divide and Conquer
Over the years, I've tried countless approaches to cleaning out my shelves — tossing as I go, doing the Marie Kondo thing, you name it — but nothing is as effective as creating piles. Start by creating the first two piles right off the bat, and the third one is an empty box at this point.
Pile One: Books I've Read
Pile Two: Books I Haven't Read
Pile Three: Books I'm Willing to Give a Loving Goodbye
Then, I divide those down even further. If you've read a book and love it enough to reread it, keep it. If you've read a book and probably won't reread it, but still loved it and admired it, keep it. If you read a book and hated it, and have kept it just to seethe at, go ahead and put it in the goodbye pile. You won't miss it, I promise.
Pile One: Books I've Read
- Did you love it? Will you reread it? Keep it.
- Did you love it? Do you not think you'll reread it? Gently place it in the goodbye pile.
- Did you hate it? WHY DO YOU STILL HAVE IT, THROW IT IN THAT GOODBYE PILE NOW.
The second pile is usually the harder one. This is where I start asking myself some questions, like "What does 'eventually' really mean?" If you've had a book for years and only kind of like the idea of it, and always pick up another book over that one — toss it. Something I like to do is pretend I'm moving and only have a few suitcases. Is this five-year-old copy of a book you only read the first 30 pages of really worth the overweight baggage fee?
Pile Two: Books I Haven't Read
- Have you had the book longer than three years? Read the flap copy; are you excited to read it? If so, keep it, if not, go ahead and get it in that goodbye pile.
- Be ruthless here, this is the moment that you will thank yourself for later when you feel calm instead of anxious when looking at your shelves.
On Organizing Your Books...
Now before we get to the painful moment of dealing with pile three, let's start getting your beloved books back on the shelves. This is the moment where you have a lot of different options: color coding, alphabetizing, organizing by genre...it's all at your disposal. What I can say is that if you have to reference your books a lot, by genre is definitely best. There are many times when I'm on the phone with a writer and want to reference a humorous memoir, but I have to do it quickly or else leave them sitting on the phone in silence. Luckily I have a whole section of memoirs, and I've even grouped the humorous ones together within the section. If I were really OCD and had a lot of time on my hands I might go alpha by author within the genre section, but that's for another day.
Pile Three: Don't Toss, Donate
I know, the idea of getting rid of books just seems heartbreaking, but think of it less like "getting rid" and more like "passing it on." Here's where you make even more piles. Find the books that you know some of your friends would like, or your family. Maybe the book you hated is exactly the type of book your coworker loves.
Are the shelves at your local library looking a little sparse? Give your books a second life by donating them. Or, sell them, and buy some beautiful statement pieces that draw the eyes toward your newly organized shelves.
Okay, but what if you have ARCs and galleys — those definitely can't be sold, and while some libraries take donations for summer programs and giveaways, not all of them do (it's always good to ask, though!). Pass them on to a local school — their teachers are almost always underfunded and looking for new materials. Or, send them to a prison. Prisons are trying to implement literacy and education programs, but they don't have much funding either. They'll take the ARCs you never got around to reading and put them to good use. If all else fails, there are tons of charities that accept them -- this article from YA Highway lists a few.
And, the most important tip? Do what feels right. You'll know deep down which ones are keepers, and which ones you just have to say goodbye to.
If you've ever wondered exactly what an editor does, you're not alone.
The art of writing a book and the business of publishing are distinctly different animals; when turning a writer's manuscript into a product, there's not a whole lot of loving emotion going around. It's a whole lot of cold hard business, albeit done with the care and devotion of people who love books.
Which is why working as an editor is such an interesting experience. An editor must love the book as the author does, but also understand the industry and the market in a business sense. They have to speak the language of the author, the publisher, and the reader, all at the same time.
I'm currently reading What Editors Do: The Art, Craft & Business of Book Editing, and Peter Ginna puts it perfectly:
To edit a manuscript effectively, you must put yourself in the shoes of someone who's picking up the book with no prior knowledge of the author or the project's history. At the same time, you must grasp what the writer is trying to accomplish in the book; sometimes this will be more evident to you than to the author. And to publish a book well, you must combine that understanding of the author's vision with your knowledge of the marketplace—of what readers are looking for and how they find it.
So if editors at times have trouble explaining something, give them some slack. It's usually because they're considering your question from at least three different perspectives, and thinking about the consequences of decisions on each.
Send me your questions about editing and the publishing industry, I'd love to answer them!
Let's talk for a moment about why it's so important to promote yourself as a Writer.
Every writer I know freaks out when they hear they have to promote themselves before they even have a book to sell. I don't blame them; it never used to be that way. You wrote a book, you found an agent, your agent found a publisher, and boom, you had a book.
It's a lot more complicated now. The marketplace is more crowded, and publishers don't have as many deals to give out as they used to. Publishers are skittish about making bad deals that don't sell books, and can you blame them when Amazon is selling books at a loss, causing them to lose out on necessary profits?
Imagine this scenario, if you will: You're an acquisitions editor at a major publishing house. An agent has brought you a manuscript you've absolutely fallen in love with. Time to throw some money at the agent and author, right? Wrong. You now have to send the manuscript around to second readers, which are usually other editors, the publisher, the sales department, publicity, and/or marketing. They're all instrumental in helping you decide if the book is right for the house. Once you pass that hurdle, now you've got to gather your data: similar titles, how those titles sold, and how your book might fit into the marketplace. Then you finally get to present to the editorial board and make your case for acquiring the book. Maybe the comp titles you pulled sold decent numbers, but they're not impressive. But you see potential in this book!
Now imagine how much stronger your case would be if you could say to the ed board, "The comp titles sold decent numbers, but this author brings in a devoted audience of X number of social media followers, Y number of newsletter subscribers, and here are a few samples of what her fans had to say about her writing."
Sold! You've just proven that this author brings a solid audience, and you've shown the house that this is a serious author who is intent on building a career and an audience for years to come. Now that is a solid investment.
I'll talk more about how to promote yourself as a Writer in future issues, but if you're gearing up to submit to agents/editors soon, shoot me an email and we can talk about how I can help.