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Archives: January 2008

Schafer Leaves Janklow For True Love, Own Agency

kate-schafer-headshot.jpgWhen literary agent Kate Schafer was hanging out in the online community for the game City of Heroes, she came across another player who was writing short stories about the characters he was playing and contacted him to see if he might have a novel. He did, and she read it on her first flight out to Denver to meet him and some of their other online friends, but, she laughingly recalls, “I told him I preferred to date him rather than represent him.” (Not that there was anything wrong with the manuscript, which is about to be sent out by another agent; it’s just geared towards an older audience than the YA books she was handling.) Now, after a year’s engagement, Schafer and Doyce Testerman are getting married in April, and she’s moving out to Colorado—which means she’s leaving her position at Janklow & Nesbit and setting up shop on her own as KT Literary.

In some respects, the move has surprised even her. “I grew up in Westchester and never had plans to do anything other than move into the city eventually,” she said earlier this week. “And people don’t usually leave Janklow. I’m still the junior member in my department, even though I’ve been with the firm for ten years.” She described the firm as supportive of her move, even considering the possibility of keeping her on as a remote agent, but ultimately heading out on her own felt like the right thing to do, if not always the calmest: “The idea of planning a wedding, starting my own business, and moving cross-country all at the same time isn’t something I ever thought of doing,” she said. But she’s already got three new YA authors whose books she’s preparing to submit to editors shortly after she lands in Denver… and how are she and her fiancé handling the separation until she arrives? “We’ve been playing Lord of the Rings online,” she smiled. “It can almost be like a date night for us, even 1,600 miles apart.”

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Jury for Thurber Prize Announced

thurberprize-2008jury.jpgNovelists Christopher Buckley and Robert Kaplow and memoirist/essayist Firoozeh Dumas have been named to the jury for this year’s Thurber Prize, awarded annually to “the outstanding book of humor writing published in the United States.” Buckley won the prize four years ago for his novel No Way to Treat a First Lady, beating out Kaplow’s Me and Orson Welles. Dumas was a finalist the following year for her memoir, Funny in Farsi. Nominations will be accepted from among the books published in 2007 until April, and the winner will be announced at a ceremony at the Algonquin in October.

Lots More Women Writers in the Sunday Paper

Although the most recent profile of a woman novelist in the New York Times Magazine is, as best my crowd of researcher-readers has determined, the 2005 story on Gigi Levangie Grazer, many of you wrote in yesterday to supply information on additional profiles that ran before that one. And the evidence is plain: While the magazine arguably has what one of you dubbed “a weakness for a certain kind of ‘drama of the sensitive misunderstood culturally alienated (yet secretly virile!) young male writer’ story,” it will also take women writers at the apex of their careers seriously. (Interestingly, the two “new” writers in this batch are a comics artist and a fantasy writer; make of that what you will.)

sclarke-mrobinson.jpg

So, yes, while my memory had frontloaded all those stories on young men setting the literary world on fire, the magazine’s editors do in fact make room for women novelists—and it’s also worth noting, for those keeping score, the number of strong women journalists who get tapped to write these pieces. (See also, in this vein, Rachel Donadio‘s 2006 piece on South African writers.)

(photos of Clarke and Robinson from the Times)

Ishmael Beah Still Sticks by His Memoir

ishmael-beah-apphoto.jpgFollowing up on last week’s flurry of stories about the Australian articles challenging the veracity of Ishmael Beah‘s A Long Way Gone, Hillel Italie scores Beah’s “first extended comments” on the situation, which aren’t that much different than the statement he issued ten days ago.

“I have tried to think deeply about this,” Beah tells Italie about the dispute over whether a battle he describes in his memoir occurred in 1993 or 1995, “and my memory only gives me 1993 and nothing more. And that’s what I stand by.” Italie suggests, politely, that between the chaos of Sierra Leone and the imperfections of memoir writing in general, we’ll never “know” for sure, but the subtextual implication appears to be that all these questions about dates and accuracy might miss the point of the powerful story Beah has told while trying to make sense of his own experiences.

Want to Save Book Sections? Write Better Reviews

William Skidelesky, the deputy editor of the Prospect, offers a British perspective on the “crisis” in book reviewing, that flowering of American book reviewers’ “anxieties about the vitality of literary culture, the relationship between print and digital media, even the long-term survival of book-reading itself” we’ve all come to know and love—so much so that the National Book Critics Circle is sponsoring yet another “Crisis in Literary Criticism” panel discussion Friday afternoon at the AWP conference. (Although, in all fairness, they probably had to come up with a title for the proposal last spring, when their panic was in full bloom.) “In Britain, so far, there haven’t been any similar eruptions of concern,” he observes:

“On the face of it, book reviewing in this country is in fairly robust health… if anything the trend has been for papers to expand their books coverage, with several—notably the Guardian and the Times—launching stand-alone books sections that are sort of mini-literary magazines in their own right. Newspapers have proved adept at co-opting new trends in book reading and commentary: some have launched literary blogs and book clubs; many sponsor prizes and festivals. A lively chatter surrounds the British book scene, of which newspaper review sections are a central part.”

A lively chatter, that’s the key phrase. To their credit, many American newspapers and magazines are recognizing that their readers want to take part in a conversation about books, and are creating their own spaces to host those conversations, instead of just ceding the territory to bookbloggers and other parties. Because, as Skidelesky quotes British writer Susan Hill, “the lazy, stuck-in-the-mud, cliquey literary editors, and/or mandarins are now almost totally irrelevant,” and something had to emerge to take their place. Skidelesky does see a similar “crisis” looming on the horizon for the British media, but he offers thoughtful suggestions on how to avoid the worst of the what’s happened in the States—the cuts in coverage and the overwrought handwringing that accompanied them—focusing primarily on the idea that literary journalism really needs to get a lot better if it’s going to be genuinely compelling to readers.

Keeping the Manuscript Under Wraps, pt. 2

A scout who would prefer to go unnamed offers some clarification on yesterday’s item about those hot “watermarked” manuscripts. “Watermarked is a slight exaggeration,” this source says of one of the two manuscripts in question. “Editors’ names appeared in the header of the electronic document (pdf) on every page. Nothing that a printer, copier, and black sharpie couldn’t solve.” As we were emailing, he came across a copy of the second manuscript, and saw that the other agent had tried a similar but equally circumventable tactic. One workaround: “Since the names of the editors are placed in a header and don’t interfere with any text it just takes a scan to a pdf (if it’s not already an pdf) and some simple margin adjustment (which takes a mere few clicks and can be arranged for every page with one further click).”

But I did hear about another book deal, one that took place a few months back, that involved a much more successful approach to keeping a “hot” manuscript from circulating into too many hands. As the agent and author for this particular novel, one of the most buzzed-about deals of 2007, tried to figure out how to minimize the exposure of the pages they were sending out, they turned to a technique that’s become increasingly common in the film industry, where script lockdown is a standard practice: protected paper. Had anybody tried to photocopy these opening chapters, we’re told, they’d have wound up with pages that boldly declared their outlaw status, essentially rendering them useless.

Anything to This Online Marketing Thing Yet?

Publishing Trends has posted the results of their survey on marketing books online, and it looks like old-school marketing isn’t going down without a fight:

“Despite their embrace of all things digital, a surprising 50 percent of publicists think traditional media has the same impact now as two years ago, versus 35 percent of media people surveyed. And while 40 percent of publicists and 43 percent of media respondents said traditional media outlets have less impact, both groups chose NYTimes.com and PublishersWeekly.com as the most important general news site and book-related site for promoting books.”

Among the other conclusions: Everybody wants a book trailer, even though nobody knows if they really do any good; smaller publishers might be able to abandon marketing to traditional media altogether once they zero in on their target audiences; and YA authors might just be setting tomorrow’s marketing standard: “In a few years, these teens are going to be the target audience for all book marketing,” says one blogger. “I see most, but certainly not all, book advertising online. Look at teen authors—they’ve got it down; they market on MySpace, on their own blogs, and even on other blogs, plus they blog on Amazon.”

Sony Reader Decked in Pink, Loaded with Romance

sony-harlequin-reader.jpgHarlequin is teaming up with Sony for a Valentine’s-themed Sony Reader that, in addition to the hot-pink skin, comes bundled with 14 romance novels that only exist in e-book format, plus enough memory on the hard drive to store about 100 more. Only 200 of the $320 (update: make that $299) “Book of Love” will be sold.

A bundling deal like this seems like an effective way to get people over the “I’m paying hundreds of dollars for this thing, and I don’t get any books to start?” hurdle. Anyone want to put odds on when Amazon.com lets some publisher alter the casing of a Kindle?

Oprah’s Favorite New Age Self Help Book

eckhart-tolle-oprahbook.JPGI have to admit, didn’t see this one coming: After flirting along the border of literary and commercial fiction with Ken Follett, Oprah Winfrey has gone into full-scale commercial nonfiction mode by picking A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose, aiming, as PW recounts the broadcast, “to lead people to their higher selves.” And she’s not just bringing Tolle onto the show; the two will co-teach an ten-week online seminar centered around the book’s themes starting in March.

Anonymous Readers Are a Cynical and Suspicious Lot

Anonymous (always anonymous) readers among you persist in believing that Sunday’s New York Times Magazine story on Charles Bock must be the result of an unholy alliance between Daniel Menaker, Katherine Boutin, and Charles McGrath—what one email described with an annoyed tone as “a means for ensuring that Random House has a BIG title, regardless of merit.” Well, what if I told you that, from what I’ve heard from sources more reliable than anonymous resentniks, that conspiracy theory has the chain of events completely wrong? That, in all likelihood, McGrath started out writing about Bock for the arts section of the Times, but found his story expanding to the point where he took it to the magazine instead?

Oh, sure, I can imagine the anonymous response already: “Yeah, but I bet Dan Menaker told him he should write about Bock in the first place.” Maybe, maybe not, but, honestly, so what? Frankly, I’m unconvinced that it matters much; as far as I can tell, this just confirms my theory that many of you view the anonymous tip box as an outlet to vent without being held accountable for your negative attitudes.

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