Category Archives: Lauren


Keeping it short

September is a brutal month in publishing. In theory things wind down a bit in August, then rev back up after Labor Day, though in practice that August wind down appears to be a thing of the past, so the September rev up is just adding new pressure on top of old. (RIP End of Summer Blank Slate. I will miss you.) And if you’re both a literary agent AND a rights director, the go-go-go nature of September peaks in both sides of your job at once, as publishing resumes its post-vacations speed and international publishing preps for the Frankfurt Book Fair.

So September is the month each year that I find myself incapable of squeezing in pleasure reading, something I work hard to make room for every other month of the year but now need to trade for sleep. That means that when I’m formatting highlight lists and triaging my overflowing inbox, I find myself daydreaming lists of short books I could read if I just, you know, pull an all-nighter, or convince the rest of publishing to call out sick for a day. I find my mind wandering to the slim volumes on my living room bookshelves, my eye wandering to the narrowest book in the to-take-home office stack. This would not be a great time to finally start reading that copy of Infinite Jest I bought freshman year of college, but maybe I could take a quick mental break with some middle grade or a breezy essay collection, right?

Wrong, realistically, but once I’ve powered through to the other side of the never-ending to-do list, I’m going to need a reset. And I’m going to want to speed through some not-DGLM books in October to make up for September’s big zero. So help me out: what are the best books you’ve read that are under 200 pages, or just feel like they are?


Time to edit

I’d been considering writing about the editorial process for the blog today, so I was pleased this morning to see this PW interview all about that with author Eowyn Ivey and editors Reagan Arthur and Mary-Anne Harrington. Ivey, Arthur, and Harrington talk about taking her new novel, To the Bright Edge of the World, from an outline and 50 pages to a completed book.

Editing can be smooth sailing or a minefield or, most often, somewhere in between. (For example, sometimes an editor has to tell a writer to cool it with the mixed metaphors.) I always tell authors that it’s important that they are on board with the vision for the book. Their name is going on the cover. If they don’t agree with an edit, there’s something to discuss. Editors are not—nor do they tend to want to be—dictators. And I know from experience that editing can be very nerve-wracking, because you are taking on a role of omniscient authority but everyone knows you’re just one person with an opinion. An informed opinion, but an opinion nonetheless. I encourage authors who are in very strong disagreement to come to me and talk it out, so we can figure out the best way to get them and their editor on the same page—and so they can get it off their chest, regroup, and be diplomatic, or let me handle it if diplomacy feels beyond reach so that the relationship can continue forward smoothly.

I also generally suggest to authors that they ask themselves if changes they don’t agree with are possibly bad solutions to a problem they need to tackle another way. Maybe you don’t need to change your vision, but is it possible you’ve not executed that vision as well as you thought? Or can you explain to your editor what you’re seeing that they’re not, so that they’ll understand where they lost the thread? Maybe there’s a different, unobjectionable change that will get the job done. On the other hand, maybe the editor missed something because they don’t come from the same demographic as the character and writer, and the edit they’re suggesting doesn’t actually ring true. It can be hard at first blush to sort out which edits simply sting but are a good idea and which edits are a huge misstep, a path to a different book than the author wants to write, or a misread on the editor’s part. Edits are not an edict from on high, and they absolutely can be a conversation.

One of the best keys to a strong publishing experience is to trust that we’re all in this together.  If as an author you have a concern or a problem, know you’re almost certainly not the first person to have that issue, and your agent and editor should be more than capable of being professional enough to help resolve it. And your agent makes a great sounding board if you’re not quite sure how to move forward or want to express the unvarnished truth before taking a more diplomatic tack. A big part of what we’re here for is bringing the author and publisher back onto the same page when their interests or ideas begin to diverge so that everyone can move forward together.



As I look with something akin to terror at the icon telling me there are 24 manuscripts in my Urgent to read folder, I’m thinking, as I have been so much lately (this week, this month, this year, this last few years), about what it means to be an agent. When I moved back to New York after grad school, I only applied to two kinds of jobs: non-profits and publishing. You all know where I ended up (insert joke about profitability of publishing here), but I like to think that I’ve built a career where I can achieve the goals both those types of jobs represented: trying to do some good in the world and working with the written word. Beyond the ways in which books do, as a whole, make the world a better place, I also work hard to tailor my list to something that Alternate Universe Lauren who runs a non-profit would be proud of, whether I’m looking at serious non-fiction or commercial fiction and everything in between.

And in working on that project–on trying to make sure that my client list and the books I represent do good in the world in addition to telling compelling, enriching stories–I find myself coming back repeatedly to this Ted Talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on the danger of a single story. It’s from 2009 and many people have seen it, but if you haven’t, I urge you to watch. It’s an important facet not just of publishing and reading, but of existing in a world that is in so many ways, from politics to news media to social media to advertising to memory to relationships, constructed on stories. As a person who commodifies stories for a living, I try to do justice to them, and the complex people behind them, and the complex people reading them. And I’m grateful to Adichie for telling this story in such a way that it’s crystallized in my brain to guide me.


I believe the children are our future

coverRegular readers of the DGLM blog will already know that I dote on my nephews, and that reading is one of our strongest bonds. The two little goons had their first day of summer vacation this week and asked their mom if they could spend it reading, which pleases me to no end.

Luckily I got to spend this past weekend with them, where I planned to work with them on making a “book.” They’re already fascinated with the fact that their aunt makes books happen—the older one, who I call Fidge, refuses to leave a bookstore without looking for my name in some books, even proudly showing it off to strangers in the same aisle, and the little one, who I call Gus, thinks that my job is International Secret Agent.  Imagine my delight when I arrived at my mother’s this weekend to see that they had already taken it upon themselves to make their own books, without my ever suggesting it.  Fidge wasn’t done with his yet, so I’ll have to wait till next time.

back coverBut Gus?  Gus not only finished his book, he read it to me, then turned it over with a flourish to read the title page that he tells me says “By At Lauren.”  (Having the title page on the back cover is a really bold move. He’s going to really change things up in publishing, I think.) While I don’t actually recommend that new authors sign over their copyright to publishing professionals just to curry favor, I can’t help but be touched.

interiorFor those of you who don’t read Gus-ese, the book is about a turtle who is lonely because he doesn’t have any friends. Then a shark swims by and tells him that he wants to be the turtle’s friend. And then they are friends forever.  I couldn’t be prouder to have “written” it. Picture book editors, shoot me an email if you’re interested.



That special something

Authors often lament—quite reasonably—that many of the rejections they receive are not specific. “I liked it but I didn’t love it,” the letters say, and offer no more feedback on why. And some of that is because there is only so much time in a day, so agents can’t offer feedback to all the projects they turn down and still actually have time to fulfill the obligations to the clients they’ve signed on. But it’s also true that sometimes that is simply the answer. The main characters seem well rounded enough, the premise compelling enough, the plot well-paced enough, the voice strong enough, the writing well composed enough. You read the book and you can imagine it being published by someone, but…you simply cannot say it’s a book that you love. You don’t have a vision for it. You don’t know what the spark is that’s missing, only that it’s missing. You don’t begrudge that book publication certainly, but you also don’t have the enthusiasm for it to tell other people they must read it, or to edit it, or to champion it in a million ways for years to come.  Even those of us who don’t read books for a living can probably think of books they felt this way about—the book was fine, you suppose, but also you didn’t feel compelled to recommend it to anyone.

But the flip side of this is when an author turns in a revised manuscript, and it’s like they’ve flipped a switch. Maybe it’s one big edit, maybe it’s a million tiny edits, but that perfect, beautiful book that you thought you saw hiding inside the previous draft is right there, shiny and on display. It’s not magic, it’s the result of hard and often tedious and sometimes quite exhausting work, but that special extra spark changes everything. And as an agent, you feel a degree of excitement that it’s hard to properly convey—because now you get to go out and champion this perfect, beautiful thing in a million ways for years to come.

Fortunately for us all, whether or not a person sees that spark is completely subjective. That manuscript an agent passed on because they just weren’t head over heels? Someone else is telling every single person they speak to how much they adore it.

Reaching out

For most of the time that I’ve been in publishing, I’ve found clients in one of four ways: the slush pile, referrals from clients, seeking out authors for ideas I’ve come up with, or convincing a person I’ve come across to write a book. I’ve long been reflexively skeptical of supposed innovations on the query system—everything I tried for a long time turned out to be a huge waste of time that generated no better results than just letting the slush come to my inbox.

But four or so years ago, I looked at my list and my slush pile and realized how heavily they both skewed toward a narrow range of voices. And as I looked for ways to fix this problem I listened to a lot of wise people (including the fine folks at We Need Diverse Books) on the perils of any system in which gatekeepers simply wait for things to come their way.  So now I try to actively participate in things happening outside my inbox, making sure that writers know that my door is open (and my list inclusive).

Authors looking for an agent have a lot of great opportunities now not just to seek an agent, but to reach out to the best possible fit for them and their work. Many wonderful agents participate in these new ways to find clients (and quite a lot of them were on the bandwagon before I got my head out of the sand). And for me, they’re a good way to proactively seek submissions from a diverse pool of authors so I can make sure that my client list supports a wide array of voices.

TwitterLogo_#55aceeTwitter pitch parties like Brenda Drake’s PitMad still involve authors querying agents, but it means I get to find those projects that seem like a good fit for my list and invite the authors to send their queries my way.  And resources like Manuscript Wish List, co-created by Jessica Sinsheimer and KK Hendin, allow me to highlight book concepts that I’d love to see, which gives me a chance to proactively seek a broader and more balanced list, both via the Twitter hashtag and their fantastic website (for which you can find my profile here).  And I’m really excited about the upcoming Twitter event #DVPit, which Beth Phelan created to “showcase pitches about and especially by marginalized voices.”  If you’re a writer from a marginalized community looking for an agent, I strongly encourage you to check out that link before Tuesday, because it looks like it’ll be a great event!

I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the sheer volume of emails in my Weekend Reading folder, many of which come from sources like the above. I look at my To Read list right now and tremble in fear. But I love knowing that the chances that I’ll find a gem that I have a vision for among those projects is far higher, since I’ve already done some of the work in getting authors who have written the kinds of books I’m looking for to reach my way.



I was chatting with a client earlier today about the website she’s building—as a debut author she’s had a blog, but now that she’s gearing up for her first book to come out, she needs a website to showcase her book as well.  She sent me the work-in-progress, and I was giving her some ideas that I thought would help her to finish it up.

But it got me to thinking about internet presence in general. I’m well aware of my own clients’ websites and social media accounts, and to some degree familiar with those of other DGLM clients, especially those I work with on subrights.  But for all that we talk about the importance of an author’s internet presence as agents, I realize my go to examples are kind of out of date. Some of those websites probably don’t even exist anymore.  I used to have a much better sense of the lay of the land. I can point people to my own authors to show particular strengths and models of best practices. But it’s time I re-expand my reference points.

So tell me, dear blog readers: which authors do you love on the internet?  Whose Twitter feed are you retweeting the most? Whose Facebook posts do you like (or heart or smiley, now that that’s a thing) the most often? Which websites do you keep bookmarked?  If you were going to model your own internet presence on an existing author, who would you emulate?


Form & function

Yeats full

Mr. Yeats attended two universities with me and lives his life with paper clips marking the poems I’ve studied and annotated.


Heaney and Muldoon live on my shelf in many forms, but NORTH and QUOOF actually live at my office. Six months before I began working at DGLM, I turned in my master’s thesis on these two collections. And something about identity and politics. I’m not sure I ever knew what I was trying to say about them. But now they live in my office reminding me of what words can do and why I broker them for a living.

Last week, Sharon and I were discussing a book she wants to read that I own a copy of, and we agreed on the one major failing of borrowing a book:  you don’t get to keep it.  I’m a hard copy person (a trade paperback person, if we’re getting specific), and I not only want to own physical copies of the books I’ve read and loved, I want to own the exact copy I read and loved.  I’ll borrow a galley if I want to read the book before I can buy it and don’t have a copy of my own, but if the book is available for purchase, I’d rather go buy it just in case I love it enough to give it a permanent home on my shelves. 

I mean, sure, I could borrow the book and go out and buy my own if it turns out to be worthy, but then I wouldn’t have an emotional attachment to the book as an object as well as to the book’s contents, and it’s just not the same.  I’ve always wanted to be a library person, since it’s obviously more fiscally sensible, but ultimately I’d rather forego new clothes and expensive dinners and fancy technology and living in a trendy neighborhood so I can curate my own personal library. One day I’m going to be a rich person with a dedicated library and rolling ladder, and I want the books that I fly past Beauty in the Beast-style to tell the story of my reading history.


To the left, my reading-worn original. To the right, my pristine copy signed by the master himself.

This is such a strong issue, that it turns out both Sharon and I have some books that we own in two copies: the one we read, and the one we got signed at an event.  I’m not really that big on signed books, but obviously, you can’t get rid of a signed copy, especially if it was personalized. But how am I supposed to part with the object I was holding in my hands as I experienced a book that means something to me?  That would just be insane.  So I’ll just persist with multiple copies of Let the Great World Spin on my shelves forever.  

Emma Donoghue signed this, my most coveted BEA galley of all time, after it had been read by me and several friends of mine.

Emma Donoghue signed this, my most prized BEA galley of all time, after it had been read by me and several friends of mine.

Many of the books I own have lived on two continents, in two countries, in three towns/cities, in two boroughs of NYC, and in around ten apartments.  I paid about $100 extra just to get all my books on the plane when I moved home after grad school in Ireland.  And when I’m old and grey, they’ll still be there, physical reminders of the worlds I’ve had the good fortune to temporarily inhabit.

These are some of Sharon's special totems (though she also has the same double McCann "problem" that I do). I'm most envious of her signed copy of Roxane Gay's AN UNTAMED STATE, with that incredible inscription. Though Matt Weiland is no slouch at book signing himself.

These are some of Sharon’s special totems (plus she also has the same double McCann “problem” that I do). I’m most envious of her signed copy of Roxane Gay’s AN UNTAMED STATE, with that incredible inscription. Though Matt Weiland is no slouch at book signing himself.


Happy birthday, Byron!


Lord Byron’s graffiti on the Temple of Poseidon at Cape Sounion, near Athens, Greece


Ah, Lord Byron.  You were only 36 when you died, but you still managed: to write one of the best Romantic poems, become a hero in Greece for fighting in their revolutionary war, father Ava Lovelace (who was a computer programming badass in the 1840s, and no that isn’t a typo), have a lifetime’s worth of scandalous affairs, and literally leave your mark on some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.  That is a lot of life for only 36 years. Happy birthday, you mad, bad, dangerous bastard!




Reading Goals

I’m the kind of person who loves a good To Do List.  (As I’ve probably mentioned before, since I’m also the kind of person who talks too much about the kind of person I am.) In fact I keep several kinds of lists, varied in form, content, technology, and location. I used to keep a To Read list on my phone, but then I found that I wasn’t actually ever reading anything from it except by accident, so now I keep my To Read list in the form of stacks of books. I’m far more likely to read a book if it just happens to be in my apartment when I finish reading another one. (Now is the time some of you will be tempted to tell me that this is where e-books come in handy, but I don’t read digitally except for submissions and manuscripts. The strict divide between work reading and pleasure reading does me a world of good psychologically and makes me better at turning my editor brain on and off as befits my reading purpose, so I’m sticking with it.) I even keep a high-priority To Read list in pile form (things I’m super excited about, plus DGLM galleys, plus books for my office and personal book clubs) right next to my TV, to shame me into not neglecting them in favor of rewatching The West Wing for the 83rd time.

So naturally I love when other people make lists of books I should read, so I can mine them for new reading goals. I was pleased to see that Esquire enlisted eight “female literary powerhouses” to help them make a list of books everyone should read. You see, the last time they did that, it was kind of a disaster. The fantastic Rebecca Solnit (go read her collection Men Explain Things to Me) rightly called them out for their myopia, so they called in some reinforcements to give it another go.  It’s a pretty fantastic list—and not just because it features DGLM’s own Tayari Jones and her excellent Silver Sparrow.

Hey, credit card, looks like we need to stop by the bookstore on our way home from work.