Category Archives: Jane



great-wallOur trip to China was truly fascinating.  As you all know,  the country is huge, both geographically and in terms of its population.  Beijing has 22 million people; Shanghai has 25 million.  We saw so many amazing things—even a week after our return it is difficult to remember them all:

In Beijing, of course, we climbed The Great Wall.  Our guide took us to a part of the wall not visited by many tourists so it was relatively free of the hordes.  And in order to come down, we took individual toboggans—which was really thrilling. Being there was incredibly exciting.

We also visited The Forbidden City which is very beautiful and The Temple of Heaven which is both lovely and interesting. We had lunch in one of the old neighborhoods called Narrow Alley where our guide had grown up, and we rode on a pedicab.  We drove around Tiananmen Square with the huge picture of MAO still overlooking it.  I felt like I had taken a step back in history.

terra-cotta-1Then we flew to Xian—a city of nine million—where the huge number of high rises going up is simply astounding.  It was there that we viewed the army of Terracotta Warriors, a stunning archeological discovery made in 1974.

Among other things, we also had a lesson in Chinese Calligraphy which was great fun. And we saw the Wild Goose Pagodas which overlooks Xian and is simply beautiful.

Then on to Shanghai.  This city, whose modern section is no more than 25 years old epitomizes modern China—rushing headlong towards the future.  There are incredible innovations in fashion, finance, technology and transport which have helped make this a global hub with one of the world’s busiest ports.  We walked The Bund—a  famous waterfront area in central Shanghai—several times and visited both the historical buildings along the way as well as the towering skyscrapers (many over 100 stories high) just across the Huangpu River near the mouth of the Yangtze.  We explored the old British and French quarters, the Yu Garden, which is beautiful, and shopped (or tried to at least) on the famous Nanjing Road.  One of the highlights was seeing a thrilling extravaganza featuring innovative acrobatics, death defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects.  (It was like the Big Apple Circus on steroids!)

img_2869This is an adventure we will never forget.  It was challenging in that there is a twelve-hour time difference and the language barrier prevented us from doing certain things we would have liked to do.  But we agreed that this was probably the most fantastic trip we have ever taken.

And, of course, I am thinking of some book ideas inspired by China, and hope to be able to move ahead with them in the weeks and months to come.


My impending trip to China and what I am hoping to learn from it

great-wall-of-china-814143_1920Over the last several years, my husband and I have become more adventurous in the places we travel to on vacation. We have been to Greece, Turkey, Israel and Jordan (five years ago), Australia, Kenya, through Peru and Machu Picchu, and on a cruise on the Amazon. This year, we are going to China (Beijing, Xian and Shanghai). Every time I travel, I hope to learn something that I can bring back with me to my regular life. When I returned from Kenya, I came back with a book idea and as a result we have a publishing contract which I am very excited about.terracotta-1028109_1920

In Beijing, we will go to The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square, and we will of course journey to The Great Wall (and climb a bit of it). I am so excited to visit these historic places that I have only read about in the past. In Xian, we will see the Terracotta Warriors (both those which have been restored and the actual “dig” which is ongoing), the Great Mosque of Xian, and the Wild Goose Pagoda. In Shanghai we will have a full city tour including the Old Quarter, Yu Garden and the modern city. One night we are going to an “extravaganza” including acrobatics, death-defying stunts and the latest in high tech special effects!pexels-photo

Throughout all of this, I am hoping to learn about the people of China and their culture and maybe, just maybe, I might return with another book idea or two.
I wonder what you come back from your vacations with? I would love to hear.


How what we do is like golf

As many of you know, I am constantly trying to improve my golf game.  Each summer I spend hours on Saturdays and Sundays on the driving range, in lessons, and on the golf course practicing and playing.  This summer I started working with a new golf pro to completely change and improve my swing; it was a radical step that involved studying videos of my swing (something I’d never done before) and learning how to make adjustments based on the replays, but, in the end, after many hours of working on it  and lots of frustration, I am happy to report that I’m seeing some significant improvement.Golfing

Like golf, our agenting takes continual practice, both in choosing the projects we will represent and establishing a strategy to sell those projects.  As in golf, we find that we learn from our failures as much or more than from our successes and we are constantly tweaking our game—finding different publishers and editors to whom to submit and different approaches to developing the books we are representing.

This can be a very frustrating process, but as with golf, with enough “practice” we often succeed.

In fact, this summer I have done deals with at least three publishers who are entirely new to me.  After agenting for so many years, I still get a kick out of establishing relationships with new publishers and editors—it’s a very inspiring and exciting part of our business.

Changing things up every once in a while is something I love to do, both in golf and in life.  Do you have a hobby or sport you pursue that gives you perspective on your writing?


The 2016 Democratic National Convention

Karla Ortiz and her mother, Francisca Ortiz

Karla Ortiz and her mother, Francisca Ortiz

Last week I found myself riveted to the TV during the Democratic National Convention—for a number of reasons.  One of them, though, was the number of potential book projects.  For example:

Karla Ortiz: Karla is an eleven-year-old American citizen living in Las Vegas, but her parents are undocumented and, as a result, live in fear of deportation.

Lauren Manning, a former partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, is one of the most catastrophically wounded survivors of 9/11.  She battled enormous odds of survival, spending more than six months in the hospital, and fought through the next decade to recover from burns over 82.5% of her body.

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza

Anastasia Somoza from New York City was diagnosed with cerebral palsy and spastic quadriplegia when she was born and is an advocate for Americans with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Kate Burdick: a staff attorney at the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

Jelani Freeman, who grew up in foster care in Washington D.C. Since receiving his law degree, he has worked to bring opportunity to kids at risk.

Mothers of the Movement (L-R: Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Pendleton-Cowley, Wanda Johnson, Lezley McSpadden)

Mothers of the Movement (L-R: Maria Hamilton, Annette Nance-Holt, Gwen Carr, Geneva Reed-Veal, Lucia McBath, Sybrina Fulton, Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, Wanda Johnson, Lezley McSpadden)

Mothers of the Movement: Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Maria Hamilton, mother of Dontre Hamilton; Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis; Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Annette Nance-Holt, mother of Blair Holt; and Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant. Each of these women could have a meaningful book (one of them has already published) but I think a book by or about all of them could be very compelling.

Khizr & Ghazala Khan

Khizr & Ghazala Khan

Erica Smegielski, whose mother Dawn was the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary and was killed while trying to protect her students.  Erica is an advocate for common sense gun violence prevention.

And finally Khizr Khan whose son Humayun S. M. Khan was a University of Virginia graduate and who enlisted in the army.  Khan was one of 14 American Muslims who died serving the US in the ten years after 9/11.

Did you see any others who might be great subjects, or authors of potential books?  Let me know.


What do we do when things get slow?


It’s summer, and things have really slowed down in the business.  Editors are away, authors are away—so it’s difficult to actually get books sold and contracts moving forward at anything but a glacial pace.  So what does an agent do at this time?

I actually think this is great opportunity to read whatever I can in order to identify new writers and new ideas.  I also go through our client list and find those I can contact and discuss what they are thinking about doing next.

“Quiet” times are when proposals can be developed well rather than rushed to get to market.

I also spend more time with editors at this time of year to discover what they are looking for, whether they have holes in their lists, what they have read recently that they loved.

This is a great opportunity to plan for the very busy fall selling season so I will develop the list of titles that we will be presenting beginning right after Labor Day.  I contact those clients whose books should be ready to submit at that time and make sure they are on track—this is me in the role of cheerleader J.

This is also a time when I can evaluate carefully my current list of titles on submission and see where I should make changes – either continuing to pursue selling a book or advising the client to move on to something new.

So, though it’s “quiet”, or seemingly so at this time of year, it is a time to review and renew and move forward.

I’d love to hear what you do during your “quiet” times of the year?


When nothing works

Often, when I tell people what my job is, they reply that it sounds really fun.  The fact is that most of the time it is. I get to read for a living.  I live in a world of ideas.  I work with people on all sides of the business who are creative and passionate about helping writers succeed in a pretty competitive marketplace.  I love that there is so much variety in what I am doing in a single day—editing a proposal, discussing a new idea with a client, talking about a potential project with a publisher, negotiating contract terms, helping to plan a publicity and marketing campaign, etc.

The other side of this, though, is what to do when nothing seems to be working.  Yes, there are times when it seems nobody is interested in the projects we are submitting.  Editors like the idea but can’t relate to the “voice”; they don’t think the concept works for their list; they can’t define a big enough market; the author isn’t qualified to be writing the book he or she is proposing or don’t have a big enough platform…I’ve heard it all.  Sometimes this gets really discouraging, especially during periods when it seems to be happening with everything we are submitting.

We ask ourselves what we are doing wrong.  Are we picking the wrong projects, presenting them in the wrong way, sending to the wrong editors and publishers?  What is it?  And then we think that maybe we should change up everything—do things differently.

While considering this the other day, I looked up “what to do when nothing works” on Google and I found 300,000,000 entries.  Astonishing! I read through some of them, but, in the end, after a long career full of these experiences, I have come to the conclusion that what I need to do is to stop second guessing myself and just keep doing what I’ve always done: Look for those new ideas and help our clients present them in fresh and original ways.  Identify new editors and new publishing opportunities.  Just keep moving forward.  To quote myself:  “NEXT!”

What do you do when nothing seems to be working in your world?


Making a bestseller

THE WIDOWThere are times, lots of them I think, when a publisher decides to totally get behind a book in order to make it a bestseller.  That happened with a novel, a thriller, published by NAL last February entitled THE WIDOW. Everyone at the publishing house was asked to read the book and start a real buzz about it (when I asked an editor colleague there for a suggestion on what to take with me on my February vacation, she readily recommended this book).

The publisher compared the novel to GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN and everything possible was done in promotion and advertising to put THE WIDOW on the bestsellers list.  And it worked. The book made The New York Times list and remained on it for several weeks.

I read THE WIDOW—though several weeks after my vacation—and I was thoroughly disappointed.  It simply did not live up to the hype it had been given.  I did a survey of those in our company who had also read it and everyone agreed with me.  The book simply didn’t deliver what had been promised—a  page turning psychological thriller. (I even asked my colleague who had recommended the book in the first place what she thought and it turned out that she too was disappointed.)

In May of this year, Berkley, the sister company of NAL published another psychological thriller titled I LET YOU GO. But this one didn’t get the same kind of support in house.  For some reason—though it too was compared to GONE GIRL and GIRL ON THE TRAIN—the powers that be decided not promote it in the same way as they had done for THE WIDOW.

I LET YOU GOI finished I LET YOU GO last week and it is one of the best books I have read in a very long time.  It delivers on all fronts—solid writing, great story telling and characters the reader really roots for.  Again I surveyed my company colleagues who had read the book to see what they thought.  Everyone agreed that this book really delivered.

So my question is why was the decision made to support one of these books and not the other? Why, in the end, did one become a bestseller and the other not?  For those of you who have read both—or who have an opinion on how these decisions are made—I would love to hear your thoughts.


Taken for granted

Last week, The Wall Street Journal did a story about a publisher taking an award-winning author it had published for years for granted – and what that author did in response.

Several days later, one of my best-selling authors received a marketing plan from her publisher which was a boilerplate document—with nothing in it pointing to a strategy for marketing and selling this author’s newest book in a creative and unique way.  I immediately contacted them and asked that they come back to us with a plan tailor made for this particular book.

Two months ago this same thing happened with another publisher and another one of their best-selling authors.  They presented a publicity plan to us that was filled with things that we had already learned weren’t working as well as rubber stamped ideas.  In that case, my client demanded (and received) a much more creative plan for her latest book, which is now being implemented.

And then there is the publisher who is putting together a small focus group to find out how they, as a publisher can be more effective.  This is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time and I truly wish everyone would introduce such research into their publishing agendas.  I am willing to bet that they would learn a great deal about how they are perceived and how to improve their publishing practices.

I wonder how you—especially those of you who have been with the same publisher through a number of books—perceive the way your books have been treated over the years. Is each title dealt with uniquely?  Or, have you found yourself being taken for granted?


Those conventional publishing rules…are made to be broken

PicMonkey CollageLast week I had lunch with one of my favorite editors and we got to talking about the state of publishing and what was working and what wasn’t.  Somewhere along the line, we began to try to identify all of those “rules” which we were taught about the business—and discovered that in this ever changing world most of them no longer held.

Here are some examples:

Green covers don’t work—and then there was GOOD NIGHT MOON.

Books about dead or abused children won’t sell—now the true crime category is back and books like Hanya Yanagihara’s A LITTLE LIFE have become bestsellers.

Short story collections don’t do well.   And then along comes Jennifer Egan’s A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD.

Books about death are a “no no” but what about BEING MORTAL and WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR?

And, finally, we all know that books with unlikeable protagonists definitely don’t work, but what about those in GONE GIRL or Meg Wolitzer’s THE INTERESTINGS?

I guess rules are made to be broken and, I have to say, I am always delighted when those in our industry are.  It makes life so much more interesting.

I wonder whether you have any examples of what you have been told definitely won’t work…until it does.  Let me know.

Who is your reader?

One of the critical questions I ask my clients to address in their proposals is who their reader is.  They not only need to define them demographically, but also statistically.  This is to show the editor considering the material that the author understands their audience and is aiming his or her book directly at them.

For example, last week I received a cookbook proposal on a very strong idea.  The problem with this was that though the idea was unique, the author had completely neglected who the reader should be and in so doing, the contents of the proposed book didn’t work at all.  Back to the drawing board.

In another instance, I spoke with a client at the very beginning of her proposal writing and addressed how important it would be to the eventual sale of her book that the potential reader be very clearly defined.

Both of the above have to do with non-fiction.  When you are writing fiction, you also need to keep your reader in mind.  Decide where he or she would look for your book in the bookstore and if at all possible, try not to mix in elements from other genres to such a degree that you cross categories (you might turn off a whole group of potential fans).

So often, I find that the author overlooks this, but I cannot stress how important this question is to answer—it not only helps the editor considering the material but, in the case of nonfiction, it also helps the writer as they proceed with putting together their manuscript.

Whether you are writing non-fiction or fiction, being totally clear about who your audience is is vitally important.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue.