Category Archives: bestsellers


Books that make you laugh

It’s not that often that we talk about books being funny. People look to books for a lot of things, and it’s not always to laugh. Yet there are many authors who write about serious and not so serious matters in a humorous way. And those books can be very successful.

I thought this Slate piece was kind of fun (if not funny) that asks Maria Semple the books that she picks as her top funny reads. Then they asked those three to pick their top books and it goes on in a visual pyramid with all of the colorful book covers represented. All in all, it adds up to 82 books that you can read for a laugh, some of which are by well-known authors (David Sedaris, Philip Roth, Bill Bryson, Sherman Alexie etc.)  and a couple of which are recommended twice (THE HATERS by Jesse Andrews, and WHAT I’D SAY TO THE MARTIANS by Jack Handey, must read those).

I’m a fan of classics like A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES and the more recent WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple for their originality and unique voices. On the nonfiction side, comedians like Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, and Amy Schumer all have huge bestsellers. I enjoy the wackiness of Jenny Lawson, and I think Sloane Crosley is writing smart, funny nonfiction for a younger generation, finding humor in everyday situations.

What are your favorite funny books, or serious books that still make you laugh? It’s a hard balance to strike but I do think there is room in the marketplace for more smart, humorous fiction and nonfiction.








Bestselling poetry in motion

It’s not often that you hear about a poetry collection becoming a commercial bestseller, but in the case of Rupi Kaur’s MILK AND HONEY, that’s exactly what’s happened.

To me, as much as it’s categorized as poetry, I see it more as a lifestyle book, skewing  inspirational self-help, definitely has spirituality and mind/body/spirt overtones. It’s like a collection of poetic mantras for a healthy, positive way of living coming from a place of women overcoming adversity and female empowerment. She addresses dark issues like sexual abuse and survival. Here’s a Buzzfeed piece which lists a sampling of her work like:

“we all move forward when

we recognize how resilient

and striking the women

around us are”

As evidenced in this article from Publisher’s Weekly, she self-published her first book and Andrews McMeel, an independent publisher based in Kansas City primarily known for humor and gift books, took notice and signed up the author to give the book a wider distribution through its networks.

I think it illustrates that if you are able to tap into a receptive audience, no matter what category you are writing in, you can be successful. Social media really helped Rupi Kaur build a name for herself and her work, as well as visiting college campuses to share her spoken-word poetry. Her work was resonating, and the book is an extension of a platform she has worked hard to build and develop. May many others follow in her brave footsteps!

Potter mania!

I know I’m not the only one talking about Harry Potter these days. The new “book”, which is really the published version of the play currently running in London (oh, how I wish I could go!) went on sale this week and the frenzy is out of control.

Publisher’s Weekly reports here that sales have already topped 2 million copies, in North America alone. I admit I’m one of those who preordered the book as soon as I heard it was becoming available. I actually realized that I did it twice so now have 2 copies on their way! Midnight parties across the country attracted kids and adults of all ages.

I just love how a fictional character has caused such a stir in popular culture. It’s such a positive reminder of the lasting impact books can have in a time when there is so much negativity being put out into the media. It’s incredible and practically unfathomable to me that a published play could achieve this level of success. I love theater so it’s heartening to me to know that this medium can generate big numbers, as evidenced by this new Harry Potter as well as the huge success of Hamilton (my other current obsession, more exciting news to come on that in a later post).

We’ve had our own version of Potter fever around here lately. While my oldest daughter is away at sleepaway camp, her younger sister dressed up as Harry for Halloween in July at camp (photo below). I was impressed with how she put the costume together with adult glasses and the scar drawn on a piece of scotch tape, and it helped we still have our wands from our amazing visit to Potter World at Universal in Florida last November.

Have you ordered your copy of Cursed Child yet? If you have and you’ve read it, please let us know what you think. Michiko Kakutani’s review in the New York Times was very positive and she’s one tough critic. She actually refers to it as “a compelling, stay-up-all-night read.” I’m so excited to dive back into the wonderful world of Harry Potter and read it with all the girls when Sam’s back from camp. Will let you know how it goes!

ps- my first copy arrived while I was writing this post, and it’s a beautiful book:

Will books survive if Barnes & Noble doesn’t?

There is no shortage of articles that have been written over the last few years (and beyond) about the death of publishing. There’s little doubt that the industry has changed dramatically since I became an agent in 1999. Back then we had meetings to talk about digital books, and the consensus was it was not going to happen, at least not anytime in the near future and not in a way that would have a dramatic impact on the sale of print books. Well, we all know what a big impact digital publishing has had on the book market in recent years. The good news is publishers are still finding ways to maximize print sales as well as digital sales so it’s another revenue stream to mine that has cost benefit to publishers.

This recent piece in speaks to a specific, if not new, concern for publishers and the book business – the potential demise of Barnes & Noble. Bear in mind, this has been a topic of conversation for many years and despite rumors, challenges and financial constraints, B&N is still in business.

Alex Shephard mentions in the piece: “In a world without Barnes & Noble, risk-averse publishers will double down on celebrity authors and surefire hits.” That might be true, but we’ve been seeing this for a long time. Same with his assertion that “Literary writers without proven sales records will have difficulty getting published, as will young, debut novelists. The most literary of novels will be shunted to smaller publishers. Some will probably never be published at all.” This has been a refrain we’ve heard on repeat for years.

My sense about the retailer’s impact on the book business if it were to shutter its doors is that it would be a significant and negative impact, but not an insurmountable one. No question, B&N has been a wonderful partner for bringing books to a wider audience. They provide some very nice opportunities for books and authors, from in-store events to co-op advertising (front of store placement) to their now 25 year-old Discover Great New Writers program. And while publishers still rely heavily on B&N’s feedback on many things, including covers (I’ve had several covers change at the last minute because B&N didn’t like it), the truth is that the number of books they purchase for their stores has dropped dramatically over the years. Yes, they still carry lots of copies of the big bestsellers, as do all the retailers, but they take a lot fewer copies of almost everything else.

This, in part, has resulted in smaller first printings for most books from years past with the hope that if the book starts selling, publishers can quickly hit the reprint button and fulfill market demand. But that doesn’t feel like new news to me. I hope B&N can survive and find a way to thrive in a very difficult market, but I feel strongly that even if that doesn’t happen, authors, publishers and agents will figure out a way to make it work, just like we’ve always done.


One Book, Two Book, Red Book, Blue Book

Long weekends like the one we just had are the perfect time to take a break from queries and client manuscripts and catch up on some regular ol’ published books, so I churned through a few recent bestsellers that have been waiting on my nightstand. Naming no names, I found myself underwhelmed by a couple of them.

Now, this is a common side-effect of working in publishing – you hear so much buzz that by the time you actually read a book, your chances of coming into it without expectations are practically nil. And it’s also a side-effect of agenting – our brains are trained to look for flaws and pick apart ways to improve, and it can be really difficult to turn that engine off for pleasure reading.

But I was most intrigued to compare these books – let’s call them Red Book and Blue Book to protect the innocent – to books I read and did love. Red Book came out from the same publisher in the same season as a title in the same category – we’ll call it Green Book – that I devoured and have been recommending non-stop! To me, Red Book was tired and unoriginal, Green Book was twisty and unforgettable; yet Red Book has been tremendously outperforming Green Book in both buzz and sales! And coming from the same publisher, with similar marketing campaigns going into publication. Grrrrrrr, I say to myself, but it’s not fair! Green Book is so much better than Red Book!

I had similar feelings about Blue Book, the editor of which had passed on a manuscript I submitted, Yellow Book. I liked Blue Book fine…but Yellow Book is so much better! Yellow Book would appeal to the same readers now buying Blue Book in droves, and is strong in places that Blue Book is flawed. Ugh, wtf, editor!

So you see, agents are not immune to rejection and confusion. As Miriam recently discussed, the “I’m just not loving it” excuse is as valid as it is frustrating. Miriam described the feeling when you don’t like a bestseller: “I always wonder what’s wrong with me as a reader and then, because I’m judgy and have the power of my convictions, what’s wrong with all the other readers.” I too am judgy, with an unshakeable faith in my own taste, so a case like Red Book and Green Book where there are so many similarities makes me think on the X Factor in publishing. You never know what unseeable details of timing and taste are working for or against the story elements and marketing muscle to make one book a bestseller and banish another to obscurity.

So what’s the takeaway? Embrace the lack of control! Just kidding. I love control. And what you CAN control is being as loud as possible for the books you DO love, especially if you see them missing from Best Book of the Whatever lists! Talk about books you love on Twitter and Facebook, leave a copy in an airport, suggest them to friends in book groups and coworkers with free time.

Don’t waste your energy worrying about books you don’t like –keep yelling (or whispering, if you’re in a library) about the ones you can’t forget.


Books that spark joy!

As many of you might already know, I’m a bit of the office optimist. I love stories that inspire, delight, and enlighten. I also am a huge fan of Ann Patchett, both her writing and her overall persona. I love that she opened an independent bookstore in Nashville, and I also love that she periodically writes for their blog.

I was pleased to see this post she wrote about books that spark joy. The list describes books she personally finds joy in, and then she gives some suggestions from her staff so there are a lot of good suggestions.

Patchett  got the idea from another employee at the store who had written about books that make you cry. The reason we all read is ultimately for the emotional , spiritual or intellectual response elicited from a writer’s words. Depending on your place in life, the books that have meaning at that time can make a lasting impact.

As a child, Judy Blume did this for me, as well as Torey Hayden’s books about troubled kids. In college, it was fiction like Donna Tartt’s The Secret History that made me want to get into the world of books. I remember walking to campus in Boston reading while I walked because it was so good. This was long before distractions were digital!

When I started working in working in publishing, I worked for Polygram Filmed Entertainment  in development and read Sleepers by Lorenzo Carcaterra overnight after faxing the ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT to LA. Then I found joy and solace in writers like Ann Patchett and Annie Proulx. I loved The Shipping News.

Today it’s more about narrative nonfiction like Brain on Fire and When Breath Becomes Air and psychological commercial women’s fiction from authors like Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn. And of course the children’s books I read with my kids. The Harry Potter series is an overall favorite, mostly because my eleven-year-old is obsessed with it, and two out of four are loving Wonder right now. They all loved my client Cecilia Galante’s upcoming touching and heartwarming The World from Up Here.

The idea of books that spark joy, and elicit that positive response that makes us feel good is such a coveted pleasure of reading that I love thinking about it in those terms.



So, our next office book club book is a bestselling first novel that a publisher paid a lot of money for and that has gotten the kind of publicity most authors can only dream about (and wake up weeping once reality sets in).  I’m not going to mention what it is because (a) we haven’t discussed it yet, and (b) I don’t want to prejudice you if you’re currently reading or about to read it  (I know, I know, that’s never stopped me before, but I’m trying to turn over a new leaf).

Anyway, the issue I have with this book is that it’s…fine.  It’s okay.  It’s readable.  It’s pleasant.  It’s 20 pages of interesting and I can stop and not pick it up again for days.   What it isn’t is unforgettable and unputdownable.  There’s nothing objectionable about this novel—the writing is nice, descriptive, clean, the characters are fleshed out, believable, the premise is a good one….Zzzzzz.  I just don’t find myself thinking about any of it five minutes after I’ve put it down.  And, honestly, I routinely forget to pick it back up.

When this kind of thing happens with a book as massively hyped as this one, I always wonder what’s wrong with me as a reader and then, because I’m judgy and have the power of my convictions, what’s wrong with all the other readers.  And therein lies the biggest issue we have as agents—we’re first and foremost readers.  And, as anyone who considers him/herself a reader knows, you can objectively see the good in a published work, but you can’t make yourself love it or even care about it if you just don’t.Sherlock

Which accounts for how a DGLM agent (whose identity I will not reveal so as not to expose him to public shaming—we’ve all already shamed him in-house) passed on a first novel that went on to sell for a cool half million dollars with movie rights following for seven figures.  Turns out, he didn’t think it was all that.  And we’ve all been there.

All of this is by way of saying, yet again, that when you get a rejection letter from an agent or publisher with the cliched “I didn’t fall in love,” trust that they’re actually telling you the truth.  You should not take that as a sign that you must give up your dreams of literary success.  It just means that you need to find that one person who does fall in love or at least in enough like to get you a big honking advance and a Netflix series deal.

What are you reading and feeling “meh” about?


Death and Hamsters

Although Atul Gawande’s BEING MORTAL is my assigned DGLM office book-club book, I don’t think I can last until our next meeting without singing its praises in some public forum.

When I began in publishing, there was a certain truism that books on death don’t sell. When I was an editor, I looked at worthy proposals that were, according to conventional wisdom and my ed-board, simply too hard. Certainly there had been exceptions—books by Elizabeth Kubler Ross, Jessica Mitford, Sherwin Nuland—but they just proved the rule. For the most part, the book industry reflected our entirely human propensity to avoid thinking about our own inevitable ends.

That Gawande’s BEING MORTAL—a work of such signal intelligence, readability and compassion–has sold so extravagantly, hitting #1 on the NYT bestseller list, is a sign that perhaps we’ve turned a corner. When my fellow DGLM-er Eric found out that I was reading BEING MORTAL, he told me it should be required reading for everyone. And he’s right. Funny, too, because all sorts of books are billed as universally relevant. But Being Mortal really, truly is.

In addition to weeping on commuter trains over my recreational reads (belated apologies to the dismayed lady sitting beside me), I also represent authors whose works engage mortality. Medical Humanities historian Brandy Schillace’s book, Death’s Summer Coat: What Death and Dying Can Teach us About Life and Living, which was reviewed today in the New Yorker.Com, is a wide-ranging and fascinating look across cultural approaches to death, while forensic pathologist Judy Melinek, co-author of the memoir Working Stiff, chronicled her work as a speaker for the dead. Another client, archaeologist Nicholas Reeves is at work on an excavation that aims to find a particularly ancient and famous corpse, Nefertiti (the ancient Egyptian approach to death, or the royal one, anyway, being that you can take it with you.) And I’m reading a proposal from author and neurosurgeon Richard Rapport on How We Don’t Die.

In any event, none of this has yet helped me with the particular challenges of explaining the certainty of death to my children. My younger son recently requested a pet hamster, one who (in contrast to his cousin’s late and much-mourned Hamchop) would not die. When I patiently explained that all living things die eventually, even people, he looked at me for a beat and retorted, “Yes, Mom. I know. All except my hamster.”


At least nine lives for writers

They say a cat has nine lives. I’d like to argue that a writer has many more. Literary lives, so to speak. I’ve talked on this blog before about talented authors like Sloane Crossley making the move from nonfiction to fiction, and now I’m switching it up to talk about a famous fiction author trying her hand at nonfiction.

Jhumpa Lahiri needs no introduction in literary circles. One of the world’s most accomplished living writers, she has managed to find success in her story collections and novels, including her first Pulitzer-Prize winning collection, The Interpreter of Maladies, a beautiful book which might have one of the best titles ever.

And now, just when you might think a new novel or collection is going to hit the market, she does a complete 360 and writes a memoir. And not only is In Other Words, scheduled to be published February 9th, her first nonfiction, and she wrote it in Italian! It’s about her love affair with the Italian language, and it inspired her to create a book that could be experienced in both languages (for the U.S. edition, she used a translator so those of us who do not read Italian can still enjoy the book). Here is an article that goes into more detail about the book and the author’s process from

As a publishing professional, it is such an admirable and huge risk to go so far astray from one’s comfort zone and I’d guess that the decision wasn’t well received by all. Some might say it’s gimmicky, or inaccessible, but creative passion sometimes takes us in unexpected directions. And talent is talent. Plus at a certain point in an author’s career, when you’ve had the level of success that Ms. Lahiri has had, she can call the shots to a certain extent on what she wants to do and how she wants to do it.

Reviews have been glowing. Kirkus calls it “An honest, self-deprecating, and very moving account of a writer searching for herself in words.” Personally, I am very much looking forward to seeing what Ms. Lahiri has done with this book, and I just know no matter what I think of it that it’s going to make me long for Italy, one of the most special and beautiful places on earth, and where I spent my honeymoon almost fifteen years ago. How many writing lives do you think you have? And at what point do you decide to reinvent yourself and change direction?

From page to screen, more ways than one

I have a few books I’m working on book-to-film deals at the moment, and for several years before I became an agent I worked in NYC in film and tv development. Which means I looked for books to be adapted into movies. So I guess you can say I got my start in books by reading to see what might translate to film. I still find I read this way, and relate to books that I can visualize as movies.

So I’ve been taking note of several recent book-to-film deals that have sort of interesting stories behind them. I’m fascinated that The Martian by Andy Weir, which was initially self-pubbed. This article from talks about its path from publication to big screen. It’s nothing short of amazing! He had no luck attracting an agent or publisher so he self-published the book and it started to gain some momentum. Eventually, publishers and film companies started approaching him and very lucrative deals were signed. He has a deep fear of flying so never met any of the people he was doing business with. The way he describes it, it was all so surreal he actually thought it was a scam.

Then I saw another piece about a bestselling YA book, 13 Reasons Why, that is now going to be turned into a tv series for Netflix starring Selena Gomez. That’s interesting because the book was initially published back in 2007 and then became a bestseller in paperback in 2011. It’s taken years to get it from page to screen!

Finally, there’s the much hyped adaptation of the bestseller Room, which was adapted by the book author. She drafted the screenplay even before she knew it was going to be optioned and made for film. An interview from Publisher’s Weekly about that process you can find here.

To me they all have interesting back stories and histories and the takeaway is that you never really know what’s going to happen with your book, or when. In each of these cases you have examples where a book property started life as something else and then went on to become not only a published book, but a film or tv show after the fact, in the case of 13 Reasons Why, years after the fact. Keep on writing and working toward success in your endeavors. You never know when someone will find your book and turn it into something else. If you have any other fun book-to-film stories, please share them with us!