Advice for a Young Author

March 9th, 2011

One of our clients forwarded us an email from a fan of hers– a 13 year-old boy who had just discovered her literature, and wanted to ask her advice about how he could get started on becoming a writer himself. Unable to hold herself back from chiming in, Molly Friedrich instantly compiled a list of Do’s and Don’ts for this young writer, and although I’ve shared an abbreviated form of this list already on Twitter (#mollyslist) , I wanted to post the unabridged list here for anyone interested. Keep in mind, this advice is directed at a 13 year-old! But I think there’s something here for everyone.

Molly’s List:

l. Hang onto your name, it’s already perhaps a best-selling name.

2. Keep reading.  Then pick your favorite book and actually study it.  Outline it.  Figure out why it’s so compelling and terrific.

3. Read all the prize-winners of the last five years, two per month, from the Booker and the Pulitzer in Fiction and the National Book Critics Circle Award.

4. Then read the four most commercial writers of fiction on the Times Best-seller List.  Try to figure out how on earth they got there.  If you can’t stand James Patterson, then go to his very first book, ALONG CAME A SPIDER, and figure out what must have happened to launch him into the stratosphere of sales.

5. Do three things each day which have nothing to do with literature or any sort of book.  Don’t forget to have a life, so that you’ll be able to pull upon something to write about, even if radically altered.

6. Read Michael Greenberg’s collection about the life of the free-lance writer, BEG, BORROW, STEAL.  Brace yourself.

7. Stay away from social networking, Facebook, twittering, blogging, all of this.  Your brain is still too young for such distractions and your neural paths will go haywire.

8. Grow up.  Most prodigies who publish at age eighteen or so, fail to recover sufficiently to get it right in their ripe old twenties.  Pay no attention to the Justin Bieber world that is inspiring an entire generation of nubile singers.  You belong to a different nation.

9.  Good luck to you, you’ll need it.  At the end of the day, the decade, a good deal of success–after all the hard work–comes down to luck.

Too bad about the social networking caveat– she’s obviously not the one blogging this list! But perhaps we can all appreciate the irony. What do you think, folks– is there any advice you might add?

MARCHing into Spring! Three Incredible Reads…

March 4th, 2011
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Hi folks! I know it’s been a while since my last post, but what better occasion than Spring for a proper update on what’s happening over at TFA? We have three fantastic, very different novels that are hot off the press, and I’d love to take this chance to introduce them to you.

Debut novelist Alison Espach brings us THE ADULTS, a fresh and hip coming-of-age that one book scout very cleverly referred to as “more of a growing-up-too-soon” novel. We were blessed with a killer New York Times review that among other words of praise, compared Espach to Woody Allen himself. Equal parts hilarious and poignant– we love this book!

With a narrator who instantly wins your heart and a completely unique plotline (we won’t divulge any spoilers!), CLEANING NABOKOV’S HOUSE follows the unusual journey of a newly single woman who realized she happens to have moved into the house where Nabokov lived during his years of teaching in upstate NY. This is Leslie Daniels’ hysterical debut, but she’s no stranger to great writing– Leslie herself used to be a literary agent! Check out her author site for a comprehensive collection of reviews and other news.

Last but NEVER least, WITCHES ON THE ROAD TONIGHT is the latest novel from the immensely talented Sheri Holman. What do you get when you combine interweaving historical narratives, exquisite prose, and a touch of the paranormal? This one-of-a-kind novel defies all genres and labels. You simply experience it to understand! And bring a pen, because you’ll be underlining many shatteringly articulate sentences. Many reviews still to come, but for now, this is the place to learn more…

Happy reading! ‘Tis the season to lose track of time and space in great fiction!

It’s Not You, It’s Me

November 12th, 2010

Yesterday morning an author called to pitch his novel, and to his great dismay, I asked him to send us a standard one page query letter. “ONE page?” He countered. “How can a single page ever come close to encapsulating a novel so structurally and thematically complex?” Since it might be the 400th time I’ve heard this complaint about the query submission system, I wanted to take a moment to argue the case.

When an agent receives your query letter, they are deciding whether or not to invest serious time in pursuing a professional relationship with you. Yes, reading an author’s manuscript does qualify as “serious time” because we don’t read in the office. We *read* when you *write*…having just finished putting the kids to sleep. We know and appreciate that we’re damned lucky to be part of this industry, but reading manuscripts is and always has been off the clock.

Just like a first date, a query letter is that important initial impression which can either excite or discourage. And just like that one, brief date with a stranger, rejection only means you weren’t what the person was looking for—not that you won’t be perfect for someone else! I saw a query last month that mentioned Nazi Vampires in the first sentence and it really WAS enough for me to stop reading right there. I couldn’t help remembering the time that a man said to me on a first date that he hadn’t read a book since middle school…when it’s not a match, it’s not a match. It hurts because it IS personal, but then again– it couldn’t be more subjective.

Are you thinking, “But what about books that can’t be described? I really feel that my book is special, but only in a way that can be appreciated through the reading experience”? I’d counter with the question—How can you expect any editor to make time for a project that is (to invent a word) unpitchable? How can you then expect that editor to get support from all of their colleagues to buy a book that no one can put into words? But most importantly, would YOU go to a bookstore and spend $23.99 on a book that had no catalogue copy with which to grab your interest?

A brief description may never do your writing justice. But it CAN and should be able to entice the right audience and weed out the critics.

Off the Chain…

October 6th, 2010

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It was thirteen years ago when our author George Dawes Green, missing his hometown of St. Simons Island, Georgia, said to himself, “Hey, wait a minute, what happened to the good ol’ days of sitting around on Wanda’s porch telling stories and watching those pesky moths get caught in the light??” Succumbing to the power of nostalgia, George started (with a bunch of like-minded folks in his East Village apartment) what has since become the adored storytelling organization The Moth.  The New York Times calls The Moth “an example of the phenomenon of storytelling that is gaining momentum nationwide. In The Moth’s case, these narrative sessions are fast becoming an institution.” But hopefully this is old news. And in fact, it is! For George is at it again, and this time, he’s going on an “Unchained Tour” in a hand-painted school bus!

George’s newest plan might be insane or brilliant or perhaps a bit of both, but he has decided to do what he can to rescue the imperiled state of independent bookstores in Georgia.  Comprised of Moth storytellers (Dan Kennedy and Edgar Oliver to name a few), musicians, a circus clown or two (!), and an impressive volunteer squad, The Unchained gang intends to go from one bookstore to the next through the state of Georgia, to re-connect the community to its store by telling stories, performing pieces, and perhaps most importantly, really getting to know each other. It’s a bold, perhaps last-ditch effort to insist that independent bookstores MATTER, before it’s too late.

We couldn’t be more proud of George for pulling this ambitious and heroic project together, from start to finish. More importantly– whether you’re a writer, a journalist, an agent, an editor or just a book lover– this is good for ALL of us!

For more information on The Unchained Tour, visit the very informative and exciting website at www.theunchainedtour.org. And hey, if you live in Georgia, make sure to consult their calendar and treat yourself to an evening with the “gang!”

(This post brought to you by Molly Schulman.)

A Bit of Shameless Bragging…

June 17th, 2010

Now if you’re already browsing our website and checking this blog, you know about Molly and probably don’t need any more reminding that she’s terrific. But if you can’t spend a little time self-promoting on your OWN website, then where CAN you self-promote? Besides, it hasn’t previously been stated that this blog is a one-woman operation run by Lucy Carson (that’s me), and I am not only Molly’s employee but also her second oldest daughter– I feel that a bit of bragging is perfectly acceptable. In addition, this piece from the current issue of Poets & Writers is about not only Molly, but also several other agents who have wisdom and insight to offer that could be helpful to any writer looking for insider information about this industry. So check it out! There are too many secrets and mysteries about the publishing world that I feel should be openly shared for everyone’s education, rather than kept under lock and key. Hopefully this piece will demystify the author/agent/editor relationship for those of you who seek a position in that triangle.

One of Our Schine-ing Stars!

February 25th, 2010

Cathy Schine’s latest novel, THE THREE WEISSMANNS OF WESPORT, has just debuted on the New York Times Bestseller List at #7 for Hardcover Fiction! Congrats Cathy! Reader, if you’re a NY Times subscriber, you may recall the front page of the Sunday Times book review from two weeks ago, on Valentine’s Day, which raved about this novel to an extent that we’ve never seen from the Times before (linked above). WEISSMANNS is the story of two daughters, one emotional and one logical, who move to a family cottage in Westport, CT with their recently abandoned elderly mother. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s a tribute of sorts to Jane Austen’s SENSE AND SENSIBILITY, but Cathy has brought her unique humor, charm and wisdom to every page of this modern tale. I can’t possibly do justice to this book with any further attempt at description! Read the review above– then surrender to the temptation to buy a copy for your bedside table.

Amazon vs. [well, all of us?]

February 19th, 2010

If you’re reading this post, you’re here because you’re somehow connected to or interested in the publishing industry. We’ve probably already gone silent for too long on the topic, so it’s time to get some sort of update here for any readers who aren’t yet in the loop about these pricing wars.

The issue of e-book pricing has been of growing importance since the time when, about two years ago, the Kindle came onto the scene. In the early days, Amazon announced that $9.99 would be their standard price for electronic titles, and most people agree that Amazon set this price at rock bottom because they were aiming to make their real profits with the Kindle reading devices. It’s a whole lot easier to buy a $300 gadget when you think– hey look at all the cash I’ll be saving on actual books! But Publishers worried that this pricing model wasn’t sustainable, and independent e-book retailers accused Amazon of “predatory pricing”, claiming that Amazon was moving to drive out all competitors who couldn’t afford to take a loss on each e-book sale (yes, Amazon loses money when they sell e-books at $9.99, read the articles linked below for a more thorough explanation).

Finally, last month Apple joined the e-book scene with the arrival of the iPad (side note: our author Sue Grafton had her book U IS FOR UNDERTOW featured in the iPad demo video!). Ever the trouble-makers (we say this affectionately), Apple put forth a different pricing model to the publishing houses– now referred to as the “agency model”. It allows for publishers to sell e-books directly to consumers, giving the retailer (Amazon and all others) a commission on any sales generated by their online store. Macmillan, one of the major trade houses, announced to Amazon that they would be exclusively operating under the agency model from now on… Amazon balked and tried to fight it by disabling the “buy” buttons for all Macmillan titles (that includes FSG, St. Martin’s, and Holt). The NY Times covered the issue in more detail in this article. Eventually, Amazon relented and (surprise?) several other major publishing houses have now joined Macmillan in adopting the agency model.

But the case really isn’t closed here, and Amazon customers have “fought back” by giving crummy user reviews to books that now have higher electronic price tags. To this we say– “Um, why punish the authors for decisions that are completely out of their control!!?” If you wrote one of these nasty reviews, really, shame on you. However, Amazon has some valid arguments concerning the ongoing controversy over e-book pricing, and we believe it’s important for you to know all sides of this discussion. The current issue of Publisher’s Weekly has an in-depth and we think, quite measured, piece on e-book pricing that should be required reading for anyone who has ever considered themselves a writer, reader or lover of literature in any form.

It’s imperative that we all continue to stay educated about this and all other digital developments. Whether we like it or not, the number of words that now have a variation that begins with “e” is growing every day… we welcome your thoughts!

A Memoir Not to Be Missed!

January 25th, 2010

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Today marks the publication of Josh Sundquist’s memoir JUST DON’T FALL, a hilarious and poignant account of how Sundquist lost his leg to cancer at age nine, and then with determination, grace and good humor, decided to work tirelessly towards attending the 2006 Paralympics in Italy as one of the U.S. Ski racers. Congratulations, Josh! To our readers, do yourself an enormous favor and pick up a copy of JUST DON’T FALL. Sundquist strikes that rare golden chord of great memoir writing– it’s a gorgeously personal story that is also universally accessible and moving.

And if you happen to live in one of the nine cities where Josh will be reading, we highly recommend seeing him in person. Tour dates and schedule are on Josh’s website, linked above.

Choose Your Poison

December 17th, 2009

As the Publishing world shrinks (you knew that was happening, right? If not, sorry for the leading spoiler alert) we find that authors are growing increasingly frantic about how to craft their pitches, and how to effectively communicate the nature of their work. The motivating reason for this is completely understandable, how does one accurately convey the project without placing it into an easily defined (and easily recognized) category? The danger here is in beginning to think about your work as if it can only belong in one category. And lately, we’ve seen a lot of authors give themselves either the Commercial badge or the Literary one. We know that authors feel immense pressure to project one identity or the other… but this isn’t “Dirty Harry”, No one is pointing a gun at you and growling, “Well?! Are you an artist or a businessman? Which one is it gonna be, punk?!”

If you’ve been describing yourself as a Commercial Author, be aware that while you are busy trying to hit the note that implies, “My books are easily read by the masses and will therefore be imminent bestsellers”, you are simultaneously sounding alarms for the agent/editor that are along the lines of, “Is this another author churning out crap that they merely consider publishable because it follows a formula? Why did I get into this business if I can’t find any literature worth championing?” Commercial Authors, you chose that term perhaps because you define yourself in opposition to the (sometimes) negative connotation of literary work, wherein “nothing happens” or “it’s indecipherable”. But be careful there—you don’t want to tell us what you are NOT, because to rely on those stereotypes can and will work against you.

If you’ve been describing yourself as a Literary Author, keep it in perspective. Presenting your work with the suggestion that you count Dickens and Dostoevsky among your latterday counterparts is like wearing a red t-shirt with EGOMANIAC printed on the front. You hope that the term “literary” will prepare your reader for the quality of your writing, but remember that these terms are subjective. Yes, you will weed out the agents/editors that are looking for fast-paced, mass-appeal fiction BUT if you raise the expectations you are more likely to disappoint. Let’s not forget that commercial fiction doesn’t sell because it is “crap”, it sells because in some aspect of storytelling, that author has hit a perfect, golden note. That’s something to acknowledge, even if you don’t choose to read their work. There’s a grain of salt in even the most buttery of popcorn literature. Figure out why a book is reaching readers. You don’t (and shouldn’t) have to emulate it, but it’s good for you to understand it.

The title of this post is “Choose Your Poison”, but perhaps what it really boils down to is the simple act of not forcing yourself to remain rooted in one neighborhood. By embracing the best of both poisons, you may find the antidote. More importantly, when you are attempting to interest some publishing professional in your writing—don’t tell us where it should fit, tell us why we will love it!

Indie Next Picks!

December 10th, 2009

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We’re ecstatically excited to announce that three of our authors have been chosen as upcoming Indie Next picks! These picks are specially selected by independent booksellers across America, and it’s an honor to be included. The three from our authors are all very different, but each is a treasure and sure to please.

A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS is a debut memoir by Elena Gorokhova, a coming-of-age story of her own childhood in Soviet Russia. Her portrait of Russia is emotionally rich and told in stunning prose.

WHY MY THIRD HUSBAND WILL BE A DOG is a hilarious and brilliant collection of essays by novelist Lisa Scottoline, who gathered together her wildly popular columns from The Philadelphia Inquirer to create this gem. Not to be missed!

THEREBY HANGS A TAIL is the second book in the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn, which debuted last February and built an instant fan base. Bernie is a down-on-his-luck private investigator, whose dog Chet narrates each novel with an uncannily convincing voice. Hysterical, suspenseful and completely addicting!