Wednesday, August 10, 2011


I've neglected the Weekly Weeder for some time but am thrilled to be posting a terrific interview this week with Lucinda Blumenfeld an agent in her own right, who also happens to be a dynamo outside publicist and marketing pro.  I've worked with her on three campaigns thus far and have been really impressed. I thought talking to her about the real skinny on publicity would be helpful to readers.

EW: You define your company as a “hybrid:” you’re an agent, but you also handle marketing and publicity for authors you don’t represent. What is your background, objective, and why should someone work with you?

LB: As devoted as publishers are to the books they acquire, the industry, in the last few years, has seen fewer acquisitions of debuts and “mid-list” (not quite bestselling) titles. Publishers are still gambling on the rare blockbuster bestseller: which means the books with the most commercial, often those written by celebrities and not writers, are given the most investment in the ramp up to publication day. This means debuts and mid-list titles naturally fall to the wayside, and this can be hard to swallow; challenging, even, for those authors paid a substantial advance and naturally expecting that “the love would be there” come launch time. I’ve worked with in-house teams very dedicated to their books, and with in-house publicists particularly good in approaching radio and television connections for appropriately “big” (i.e. controversial, political or celebrity) books. These publicists turn to proprietary media lists, which they figure, if these outlets worked for one book, they should theoretically work for the next book in a similar category. But this is a paint-by-numbers approach. There’s rarely time – I can vouch for this, having lived it within the Publicity Department at HarperCollins – to craft any kind of promotional strategy, and certainly nothing too creative, social, or multi-media, when finished books have just hit your desk. There’s negligible bandwidth to listen to an author’s specific ideas, to manage those expectations, or even to leverage an author’s particular connections, possibly the best resource authors have to promote themselves.

What’s missing here? Well, the valuable resource of time, but also, education early on. Here are some of the questions authors are prone to ask, and typical publisher responses they hear.

“Does publicity translate to sales?” Not always.
“Am I going to get the Today Show, the New York Times, and NPR?” Unlikely.
“Then, what is feasible?” Well, it’s sort of wait-and-see.
“How do I increase visibility?” Start a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account. Here’s a template to guide you through it.
“Do pre-orders help? Special sales?” Sure.
“How are you handling these?” We’re not. You are.

My role in the process of a book’s publication was designed to answer these questions for authors, as well as do the legwork obtaining media and publicity exposure.  As someone with a variety of publishing experience – I worked at HarperCollins in Publicity, then Scholastic in Online Marketing Partnerships, and later became an agent with a boutique firm, which is why my company is truly a hybrid – I saw that publishing was changing fast, and that my diverse experience might actually help to navigate authors (and editors, and agents) across the digital divide from traditional publishing into new media.

It’s just a reality in today’s publishing world that authors are going to bear a whole lot of the load in promoting their own books. And that means getting educated, and getting real: if you’re a debut novelist, chances are NPR and “Good Morning America” are not happening for you; but People and USA Today could. If someone’s tenaciously devoted to making your goals happen.

The period between the first pitch meeting for a given book and the moment it lands on your in-house publicist’s desk as a galley is a long one, and in that time, publicists are slammed with other campaigns. The unfortunate result is that your book is mailed to a template list of often unreasonable or incongruous prospects. Really, the education, the strategy, and the marketing outreach has to happen far earlier: I recommend to authors 6-8 months in advance of publication. Having discussed both the challenges and advantages of the book from a media standpoint, we collaboratively devise the strategy. I’m tough and candid with authors, as I would be as an agent: here’s what’s realistically obtainable for you and here’s what’s ideal. I’ll pursue both. Here’s why your book is relevant and current, and here are the audiences it’s speaking to: mass, niche, domestically, globally, hardcover readers, e-book readers. It’s creativity more than anything that authors need right now. I’ll ask you, and then we’ll answer together: how does your spiritual/inspirational book translate to a business audience? How does your YA “cross over” to an adult reader Even for historical or literary fiction, we’re going to come up with a message or a story we’re getting out there, both online and offline. My approach is not singularly social media: it’s really a custom marketing campaign.

But a word on social media: while hesitant at first, the authors I’ve worked with who are naturally industrious, fierce and curious, have found a second calling in it. Connecting on social platforms is just another opportunity for fan engagement. Who doesn’t want to meet their fans, and hear from readers valuable feedback? You'll not only develop meaningful “virtual” relationships, which sell your books. You’ll also be far more informed in writing your next book, being knowledgeable about what themes in your writing have most resonated. Once authors get the knack for using social media, or crafting opinion pieces they’d never imagined they could write, and often for online sites they never thought could be as important attention-wise as they actually turn out to be, authors see immediate gratification. Rather than waiting interminably on a chance TV spot, my authors feel more gratified in seeing a Google Alert pop up for them every day, or a splurge of talk on Twitter around one of their recent posts, and perhaps there’s even a new and active follower on their blog who’s rallying friends to post and read – a fangelist as I call it. My authors feel visible, and that the book they spent two years writing – well someone on Goodreads, and another on Amazon, and several more on Huffington Post, and now the LA Times is calling you for an interview… All these people think it matters. And my authors and I can watch the momentum in real-time.

The most popular books appear to depend primarily on “WOM,” or word-of-mouth: how to capture it remains elusive to most working in the industry. (I’ll talk about some of my theories on WOM on my forthcoming blog at WOM is the oldest tradition in an even older tradition: readers still talk about books. With online, we’re only talking about them more loudly, and to a far larger universe than our mothers and close friends.

I don’t call the WOM phenomenon publicity: I call it straight up marketing.

EW: Does this mean publicity in today’s marketplace is irrelevant?

LB: I’d offend a lot of friends and people I admire if I said that, Elisabeth. I don’t think I’d be in business, at least in this evolving stage of publishing, if I didn’t offer traditional publicity services and contacts. But I try to work in a more “all hands on deck” way. Once the preliminary education, strategy, and social grounding are there (for blogs, this is most often quantified as traffic growth), I’m positioned to compliment the efforts of in-house publicist, editor, agent. I know how tough it really is within the walls of corporate publishing, so I’m genuinely looking to align interests and create group energy. The more minds, the more faith in the project, the better. We can divvy up the work in a time-efficient way: the in-house publicist utilizing their strong relationships with television and radio producers, while I pursue online magazines, popular sites, and influential blogs. It’s as important these days to develop relationships in print as it is with editorial managers of online content. If you’re unable to get the cover review in The Times Book Review, you can find exposure through an op-ed or trend piece, primarily for nonfiction, in which an author can either write the essay or be sourced as an expert within the body of the article. (And bonus: you can always claim that nice “has written for the New York Times” mention as part of your permanent portfolio.)

This may sound ironic, but I try to move the author’s focus away from the book’s publication, the notion that your book’s release is the most important, life-defining moment of your career.  Do you just want to write books or do you want to have influence and engage a much wider conversation that could outlive your book and yet always anchors back to it? I work with a majority of women’s interest writers, so I’m not asking authors to role play at politician, scientist or a hard news pundit, but do be brave enough to inspire controversy. A provocative opinion on a well-exposed site has the power to inform modern culture, thought, and maybe even language. A small, but not insignificant example: during our marketing campaign for the book Formerly Hot, which unexpectedly hit the extended bestseller’s list, The Times called “formerly hot” one of its trending terms for the year of 2010.

EW: You worked on the marketing/PR team for Gretchen Rubin of the massively popular book, The Happiness Project. Can you satisfy all of agent curiosity and give us the ingredients for the secret sauce to bestsellerdom? And what can authors learn and emulate from her example?

LB: Gretchen is a wunderkind, and though she invested heavily and early in the promotion of her book, Gretchen’s success was largely due to her own investment: the time she took, daily, to connect with fans at the grassroots level.  “Grassroots” is a word I use a lot in my business—it demonstrates that organic buzz which inspires WOM – encompassing both the potential of engaging fans online as well as offline. Gretchen created “super fans,” those fangelist readers of her blog who, so excited about the book’s release, would physically activate her message in their own local communities. Whether you have a minimal or exponential blog readership, an author needs to know their blog readers, and everything about them that they’re willing to comfortably give away (hey, Facebook does it and no one’s complaining!) If readers feel they belong to a greater message that self-empowers them, a “movement” even, you’re engaging what I think of as cause marketing. I try to keep cause marketing at the heart of all relevant book campaigns.

Another note on fan engagement: as you blog, keep your readers foremost in mind.  It’s fairly transparent if you have a blog what your audience is looking for, or most interested in: just take the time to look. If you dispel theories into the blogosphere that are based on personal whims and fancies, you risk alienating important relationships. “Come down from the ivory tower,” I tell my authors affectionately.

In summary, what you can do as an author: 1) grow your “subscriber” list. 2) Know your audience. And if they’re predominantly bloggers, please take a moment to read their blogs or books, too? 3) Write for readers, not your mother. I think most agents agree this applies for books, too.

 In summary, what you can do as an author: 1) grow your “subscriber” list. 2) Know your audience. And if they’re predominantly bloggers, please take a moment to read their blogs or books, too? 3) Write for readers, not yourself or your mother. I think most agents agree this applies for books, too.

EW: Can you tell us some of your proudest moments or greatest successes since the launch of your company?

LB: Excellent, I can finally talk about my authors!

I was tremendously happy when I recently saw a three ideal women’s media outlets – Huffington Post, The Frisky, and People Magazine – coincide at the very moment of publication for a women’s fiction novel I worked on.  I credit the author here, too, because she already had the following, and paid attention to her audience, per Gretchen’s model. Surprisingly, of those three outlets, the least known of the three brought the author the most eyeballs and conversation. This was her post on “The Frisky,” a pop culture oriented, young women’s relationship/love site that happens to get a lot of traffic and engagement online. The particular advantage of this placement was that it reached a demo of women who were not the author’s primary readership, thereby expanding audience and potentially breeding new fans and readers.

Another rewarding moment was launching, alongside a terrifically industrious and passionate middle-grade/YA author, an interactive site: one so sophisticated in groundwork and concept that my former company had taken about 7 years to pull the same thing off! (I’m not positing that the site was on equal technical par, but we were able – with three pairs of eyes: an author, a marketer, and a web developer – to emulate all the interactive, data capture, and entertainment/game elements required, all branded around the book without off-putting its audience with too much push-to-buy. It’s a site I’ll always take pride in seeing as it lives on, and with hope, it will be the foothold as the author expands her recognition in the continuation of her series.

Here’s a last unconventional example. Special sales, when they work, can be either complimentary or crucial to a book’s success. Without a publisher’s vested effort or creativity in pitching these outlets, I’ve incorporated special sales possibilities into my book campaigns. Just as I want authors and publishers to think beyond book reviews, I want us all to think beyond readings. Most publishers will tell you a reading at B&N just ain’t happening. So where can authors sell and read from their books, or at least, toast to the celebratory moment of publication? I’ve booked events that you’d never think had anything to do with publishing, and in some instances, no apparent connection to the book at all. This is really more training in partnerships than in publishing. If there's no author precedent for events, which there often isn’t, I still press on for the open door, asking and listening to recent branding initiatives they're proud of, asking about their revenue model, their audience, even their partners. There's usually a way to submit an author into the running. I’ve booked 5 authors for events in the past year where they’ve sold their books, and not a single event has disappointed, (compared to all those ill-attended readings I remember cheerleading dismayed authors through back in corporate publishing!) The best of scenarios I've found, was an event sponsor which not only bought 200 pre-orders of my author's book, but chipped in 10% of sales for the evening to a charity of her choice. I remember she was most excited that they comp-ed her the dress.

Whether you can engage an outside company partner in your book’s campaign or not, I encourage authors to learn how to promote without too much self-promoting – because there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit to be picked when you think about it! – and to ask yourself when it comes time to promote, who are your target audiences large and small, and how can you attract them through your writing or blogging. For all of us in publishing, let’s see the value in partnerships.

Lucinda has worked as a literary agent, an online marketing associate at Scholastic, and began her publishing career in “boot camp” within the Publicity department at HarperCollins. Recent projects include nonfiction bestseller The Happiness Project, women’s nonfiction title My Formerly Hot Life: Dispatches from Just the Other Side of Young, leadership debut Too Many Bosses, Too Few Leaders, and novel The One That I Want. Lucinda Blumenfeld can be reached for more information at and followed on Twitter @lucindaliterary. Her website, launches this month.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Art of the Two-Book Deal

Authors these days are so savvy. Before I even submit a book on their behalf, they often ask me if I think it will be a two book deal.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way, unless you actually have a second book written and are clearly submitting two books--say a short story collection and a novel, or a series, or if it’s genre fiction.

That said, once in a while, there are exceptions, as in the case of Meg Mitchell Moore and  her two book deal with Reagan Arthur Books/Little Brown.

We sent Meg’s debut, The Arrivals out in early September of 2008 and a few days later, Reagan emailed to say that she really liked the book. I actually dug up her exact email because she quotes one of my favorite lines from the novel and I knew, she got the book.

“Hi there - I really like this!  That line about baby knuckles really got me. But the whole thing is great. I'm going to get reads.  My bberry cut off your letter - do you know what she wants to do next?  (Early to think along these lines, I realize, just curious.)”

So, while Reagan wasn’t offering a two-book deal, she was entertaining it.   And while Meg hadn’t specifically asked me about two-book deals before the process started, I had asked her what she was writing next, so I knew she had a book in the pipeline, if only in her head  I asked her to put it to paper and emailed it to Reagan the next day. A few days later we accepted a pre-emptive two book offer. 

EW: Meg, what was going through your mind when I mentioned that RAB was thinking about a two book deal?

MM: First, I was shocked. Then: excited. Next came relief, then (months later) terror. I understand how difficult it is to sell one book, so I was not expecting to sell two at once. That was the shock part. Next, it was very exciting to think that someone liked the first book enough to sign up to publish another one. The relief came in when I realized I could write this book (unlike the first) without having to worry about going through the submission process again, and that the publication of my second book is not tied to the sales of my first book. That allowed me to focus purely on the writing. The terror has been intermittent throughout. If I let myself think about the fact that I had sold the book on a single paragraph I could really feel myself starting to freak out. I tried not to think that way too much during the process. When those fears crept in I had you to talk me down. Thank you!  I remember when we first got the offer you said this offer was "a real vote of confidence from Reagan Arthur Books." That has stuck with me. 

EW: You've mentioned in the past that author friends of yours have balked at the idea. What is the reasoning?

 MM: Yes, I  have heard more than one author say, “I would never take a two-book deal!” This is sometimes followed by an admonition: “And you shouldn’t either.” The reasons behind these statements go something like this: What if you turn out a bad book because you’re writing it under pressure? Alternatively, what if your first book goes the way of The Help and you’ve already sold your second book for less than a gazillion dollars? And don’t you feel guilty about taking money for something you haven’t yet produced?

 EW From your lips to God’s ears, let The Arrivals be the next The Help!

MM: Ha. Yeah, me and every other debut author in the world. I certainly see the point of the statements above. But. Most first novels do not become The Help. My advance will be paid out over the course of the two books; I didn’t take money for work I didn’t produce. And the pressure? There were days when I felt it, I’ll be honest, but for the most part it I think that pressure made for a better book. I worked as a journalist for a long time. I don’t miss deadlines. If somebody asks me to write a 1,000 word magazine article by next Tuesday and I say yes, I’m gong to do it. If somebody asks me to write a 90,000 word novel by next January, and that person is going to sign my paycheck, I’m going to do that too, and I’m going to do it as well as I possibly can.

EW: Was writing a book that you were contracted to write hard to do?

MM:  At times it was tortuous. I don’t think it was harder because of the two-book deal, but because the plot is more complex and at times I felt like I’d gotten myself into a pickle. But knowing this book had a publication date and knowing that I had an agent and an editor who already had a stake in it made me work harder, ask for help when I needed it, keep my eye on the prize. Without the two-book deal, I think I would likely not have a second book completed just as my first is coming out. I can see how a debut novelist could become paralyzed by a first novel’s success or its failure and be unable to work on a new project for a while. I understand now that authors get stretched in many different directions as publication day nears. There are plenty of distractions. But I want The Arrivals to be a springboard to a career as a novelist, not the beginning and end of one, and I’m grateful to have a built-in second chance, whichever way things go.

Thanks, Meg!  The Arrivals pubs today! To read more about it and Meg, go to

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Meeting with Publishers

Often times (and mostly with a non-fiction) once I’ve submitted a proposal to publishers, if there’s interest, I bring the author around for meetings. It’s a great way for authors and publishers to get a sense of one another, especially if after said meetings, more than one house offers.  And if the author is particularly charming and “telegenic” it’s a chance to get the publicity folks more excited as well.

I really enjoy these meetings. So much of this job is spent communicating over the phone and via email, that it’s a nice change of pace to meet editor colleagues on their turf, as well as spend time with the crucial people in the business--the marketing and publicity folks.  That said, I am merely the middlewoman in these operations, there to pay for taxis, keep my author’s blood sugar and energy on target with a steady stream of coffee and chocolate. If there’s a lull in conversation or an important point isn’t made, I am there to interject, but for the most part, I am along for the ride. The author, on the other hand, has much more to contend with.

I asked Sarah Sentilles, a scholar of religion, an award-winning speaker and the author of three books:  Taught By American, A Church of Her Own and the upcoming Breaking Up With God to talk to me a bit about her experiences in these meetings.  In my opinion, she is the ideal author for these affairs. She is funny and whip smart.  And yet….it seems like our meetings always end up being a comedy of errors.

EW: What’s it like meeting with publishing houses?

SS: It’s nerve-wracking! To me, it feels like being on a date. A date on which you’re not sure exactly who likes whom, or who is trying to impress whom. I find it nearly impossible to figure out what editors are thinking about my book during these meetings.

EW: But presumably, your agent is there to guide you and debrief you afterwards, right?

SS: Eh, Right? Every time we’ve tried to guess post-meeting what an editor thinks about my book, we’ve have been wrong. The editors we’re convinced love my work usually pass, and the editors we’re convinced hate my book usually make the best offers. Remember when we thought we’d had a horrible meeting with an editor and we were tempted to call him to tell him not to waste our time again? Good thing we didn’t because he ended up making an amazing offer. Lesson learned. Be patient because you probably have no idea what you’re talking about.

EW: Right-o, That was pretty funny. We walked out of the meeting and were bitching to each other on the street that he could have just made all our lives easier and cancelled, and a few hours later, he called to tell me how much he enjoyed meeting you and was going to be putting together a formal offer.

 SS: I still remember the very first meeting I ever had with a publisher. I was wearing a suit, which in and of itself is painful to think about! The editor’s office was really warm, and I was starting to sweat, so I took off my suit jacket. I talked with the editor for a few minutes, and then I looked down and realized I was still wearing a suit jacket—but it was one that didn’t belong to me! I had met you at your office before we went to meet with publishers, and I’d hung my jacket on the hook on the back of your door. You must have had a jacket hanging there, too, and I somehow managed to put on my jacket and your jacket, which is how I ended up wearing not one but two suit jackets to my first meeting at a publishing house in New York City.

EW: You must have been really nervous, not to notice that you put on two jackets. Laughing out loud.

SS: When I’m nervous I have what I call “the inappropriate disease.” I find myself saying things that I know deep down I should not be saying, but I can’t help it. This often happens to me at airports. Once I was dropping my sister off at the airport, and I was waiting with her while she checked in. She had an enormous black bag, and the ticket agent asked her, “How much do you think that bag weighs?” And, without thinking, I said, “How much does a dead body weigh?” This was after 9/11. I’m lucky I’m not still in jail.

EW: Well, at least you didn’t say something inappropriate like that in one of those meetings….

SS: Yes, I did. Remember our meeting with one of the biggest publishing houses we met with? It was a huge meeting—the two of us and maybe a dozen people around a table—and they were asking me all kinds of questions I didn’t know how to answer. This was for A Church of Her Own, about women in the ministry, which at the time was titled Collared Women. I think because of the title, we started talking about clerical collars and why priests wear them. I am not a fan of clerical collars, and not just because they make dressing in a remotely fashionable way impossible. One of the editors at the meeting asked, “If you were ordained, would you wear a clerical collar?” And for some reason, I said. “No, because if I wore a clerical collar I would look like a porn star.” No one laughed except for me and you. They didn’t buy my book. But I knew then that I had the right agent.

EW: I am glad you thought I was the right agent. I felt like I hadn’t prepared you for all those people. One of the things I sometimes forget, especially with someone like you who is so quick and articulate, is that you get nervous too!

But, the silver lining (we always need a silver lining in this business) is that we knew we had to change the title.

SS: That was the first sign that maybe that book didn’t have the right title. The second sign was that whenever I sent anyone an email with “Collared Women” in the subject line the email ended up in the “trash” or “spam” folder because to the computer it looked like porn. That book and porn seemed to want to be together. After I told my yoga class I was writing a book about sexism, they referred to it as “my sex book.”

EW: But knowing you have to change a title and actually coming up with a new one are two very different beasts.

SS: I had trouble with that title the whole time I was writing the book. When the book was called Collared Women, my editor Andrea Schulz and I worked for months—well after the book was completed—to try to find a subtitle, with my husband Eric throwing in a few suggestions here and there to make me laugh when I started freaking out. He suggested subtitles like “An Oprah Book Club Selection,” and “Shake Your Money Maker,” and “And the Horse You Rode In On.” Eventually we realized that the word “women” in the title created a problem for the subtitle because we couldn't use “women” again—but we didn't know what other word to use. We thought maybe we needed a new title. And again Eric suggested some titles to make me laugh. My favorite was “Who Put the Semen in Seminary?”

Eventually Andrea ended up creating a whole new title—A Church of Her Own: What Happens When a Woman Takes the Pulpit. And that was that. It was hard to get used to a new title when the book had a different title throughout the entire writing process, but now I see why Andrea chose that title, and I think it is the right one.

EW: Your latest book, Breaking Up With God, as the title suggests, is your un-conversion memoir. The title is brilliant.  At what point in the writing process did you come to it?

SS: Breaking Up with God: A Love Story, had its title from the beginning, and it was almost like a revelation, like the title was wiser about what story the book was going to tell than I was. I think the book knew what it wanted to be before I did.

To read more about Sarah, go to:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

What Is a Good Title for a Blog about Titles?

I’ve been thinking a lot about titles, and specifically how and why a title changes over the course of the book’s evolution. Of the books I am representing that are publishing this year, only two came in to me with the same title it is being published as. (That is The Art of Forgetting by Camille Noe Pagan, Dutton, 2011) and Breaking Up With God: A Love Story by Sarah Sentilles (HarperOne) Both great titles!

So, do agents and editors improve titles? I asked my authors to email me their title stories and I wanted to share them with you here. Curious what you all think:

Mothers and Daughters by Rae Meadows (Henry Holt) fiction
Mothers and Daughters was originally Mercy Train. At the time, the novel opened and closed with Violet (orphan train) but editor (Helen)/publisher wanted to make it broader in appeal, hence starting with the modern day story of Sam, and changing the title to Mothers and Daughters. Although I didn't love the title change, I didn't hate it, and I was game for anything to give the book a wider audience. I still don't love the title, but they were right and I'm glad it was changed.—Rae Meadows

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (Gallery) debut fiction
“First, the book was called SIMMER. We shopped it around as SIMMER, and that was okay, although one editor did mention that she thought SIMMER "sounded too much like erotica." Along the way, we considered other titles -- A WATCHED POT was one memorable misfire -- and when Gallery Books bought it, it was still SIMMER, with the knowledge that it was probably going to have to change.

When my editor finally said, Look, we are really going to need a new title for this, I brainstormed about 30, and gave them the list. The list covered everything from HONEY FROM AN ONION (still one of my personal favorites, which no one else liked) to THE NORMAL BOOK (which is an important part of the story, but a little generic for the book itself.) And the Gallery folks had a meeting, and the one they liked best was THE KITCHEN DAUGHTER. I like it because it gives you a sense of what to expect -- it's about a woman and her relationship with her parents, and the kitchen is an important part of her story. SIMMER didn't do that.—Jael McHenry

The Violets of March by Sarah Jio (Plume 2011)
 The Violets of March was first The Waters of March, but the sales team at Plume felt that it was a little too somber for booksellers to get excited about. So, we began our search for a new title. It was hard for me to part with “Waters,” but I soon got excited about a new idea. I suggested “Violets” after being inspired by these gorgeous little wood violets that cropped up in my garden unannounced (a guy I’d hired to do some weeding for me pointed them out) and I immediately began to imagine them symbolizing redemption and reconciliation in the novel. The next day, on an afternoon jog, I spotted some more wood violets growing along the roadside and had a gut feeling that the title had to be The Violets of March. I shared with you and Denise, and it stuck!—Sarah Jio

The Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky (Poppy/Little Brown) Young Adult
Before The Time-Traveling Fashionista, which now seems like the PERFECT title, I believe we were going to call it Louise Lambert's Vintage Fashionistery.. Which in retrospect seems like a tongue twister to say the least. Thank God I was open to change!
--Bianca Turetsky

The Arrivals by Meg Mitchell Moore (Regan Arthur Books, 2011) debut fiction
Mine was WHAT YOU'RE MISSING. (Lame.) I think Leslie (outside reader) suggested we think about something different and we started brainstorming around the idea of a full house, crowded house, full nest, etc. My husband claims that he came up with THE ARRIVALS but I'm really not convinced of that...  :>-  We submitted it to publishers as The Arrivals --Meg Mitchell Moore

The Song Remains the Same by Allison Winn Scotch (Putnam) fiction
Mine was The Memory of Us. (Blech.) It changed because while everyone really liked it, I secretly really didn’t. I’d tacked it onto my proposal because, well, I needed to include a title, and that was what I came up with in the five minute period of thinking about it and pressing “send.” But I very much was in love with another title that I thought would be quickly mocked and discarded, so I kept mum. Only after a glass of wine with you and Marysue (editor) did I blurt out my fantasy title. Turned out she loved it too. If I had never said anything, I’m guessing The Memory of Us would have stuck. It would have been fine, but generic, I suppose.—Allison Winn Scotch

The Only Ones by Aaron Starmer (Delacorte) Young Adult Fiction
The Lonely Ones became The Only Ones.  Not that different on first examination, but the editors (Michelle and Rebecca) really didn't want The Lonely Ones because they thought it sounded too quiet and sad, and preteens and young teens (the main audience) don't care much for quiet and sad. I loved The Lonely Ones so I tried to stick to my guns and turned down any number of title suggestions (The Day, The Ones They Left Behind, Place of Fear, and a ton of others that didn't grab me.)

Finally, they said, "how about The Only Ones?" The more I thought about it, the more I saw that it worked, perhaps even better than the original. They pointed out that it sounded more hopeful and made the characters sound more special (rather than sad) and I had to agree. Took me a while to get used to it, but I love it now.—Aaron Starmer

The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It by Valerie Young (Crown Business)

My self-published book is “How to Feel as Bright as Everyone Thinks You Are" which was how we submitted it to publishers. With Crown we went originally with the Confidence Project which I agreed to but proved problematic for me b/c suddenly the expectation was that I take a body of work that was never intended to be a project and turn it into one – here an example of a title driving the content vs. the other way around.—Valerie Young

Did the titles get better? Have any good title stories to share?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


With so much doom and gloom about the state of publishing these days, I am even more excited to share a really inspiring story with you.  It’s not mine to tell, but super agent Julie Barer’s.  If you don’t know Julie, you really should. If I didn’t already adore her, I would probably be too envious of her client list (Josh Ferris, Kathleen Kent, Lauren Grodstein, Helen Simonson to name a few) to be her friend, but she is one of the good ones in publishing. She’s a dynamo agent, a voracious fiction reader and a wonderfully helpful and supportive colleague.

Over a recent agent dinner of wine and plates of charcuterie and cheese at her house, Julie shared the story behind her most recent best seller, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. The following is a must read for any author, agent or editor who is trying to overcome a less than stellar track record, for Paula McLain’s first two books, while wonderfully well reviewed, did not sell particularly well.

EW: Tell me how you and Paula McLain first found one another?

JB: Paula came to me five years ago through an editor who had worked with her before on her memoir, Like Family. She was looking for a new agent and I fell in love with her writing immediately. Paula is a poet, and I think that’s reflected in everything she writes- her novels are so lyrical they almost read like songs to me.

EW: And then you sold her fist novel, A Ticket To Ride?  What was that about?

JB: A Ticket to Ride is a gorgeous coming of age novel set in the early seventies. It’s the story of an insecure, motherless teenager named Jamie who falls under the dangerous spell of her sophisticated older cousin Fawn, and the desperate lengths she goes to win her approval. For me, it was an incredibly perceptive novel about that painful time of early adolescence when in some ways another girl’s approval is more powerful than any boy’s. Paula was able to really tap into that insecurity and lack of confidence that so many young girls feel, and how vulnerable that can make you.

EW: Tell me a bit about the conversation you had when she returned with a second "quiet" novel?

JB: Paula gave me two chapters from a new novel she was working on about three or four months after the publication of A Ticket to Ride. It was clear at that point that despite being a wonderful book and getting great reviews, the sales figures were going to be modest. So I was already in a frame of mind where I knew we would need to think very carefully about what to sell next. The new pages she sent me were beautiful – my mother used to use the phrase “she could wear a paper bag and look pretty” – well Paula could write about a paper bag and it would be gorgeous, but that didn’t make it saleable. We had a very frank conversation about how challenging selling a second novel can be, especially when the sales of the first book were lower than what we and the publisher had hoped for. I told her I loved her writing in these new pages, but the story wasn’t blowing me away, and I had concerns that the voice and tone felt too similar to the book that had preceded it. Even if I could sell this new book, I was worried that it would have a hard time getting attention from reviewers, and that bookstores would stock fewer copies because the last book hadn’t sold significantly. More than anything, I wanted the world to read Paula’s work, not to have it buried.

EW: What did you tell her to encourage her to go back to the drawing board?

JB: I hope I told her I had complete faith in her, because I did (and still do). I think I told her that she was not just a beautiful writer, she was a great storyteller, and that she just had to think a little more about what kind of story she wanted to tell.

EW: So, am I right in that she went back to the drawing board and came back with what is now The Paris Wife?

Yes, she came back with the most extraordinary pages about Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, and the years they lived in Paris before he was famous. I didn’t know a thing about Hadley, but I had recently read the novel Hemingway wrote while he was married to her (The Sun Also Rises) and it seemed like kismet.

EW: Did you know you had a winner before you went out with it?

JB: It feels like tempting fate to say so, but I kind of did- it’s just a funny feeling you get in your gut, kind of like when you start to develop a crush on someone you’ve just met. I was so excited to send it out I could hardly sleep the night before.

EW: Did her modest sales concern you?

JB: To be honest, they didn’t. I was completely head over heels in love with the story and the writing, and especially the narrator, Hadley Richardson. I couldn’t imagine someone not feeling the same way. But I think it made a significant difference that I knew the book had strong commercial potential – I could see it reaching a broad audience, and appealing to both men and women of different ages. Historical novels were gaining traction in the marketplace, and other books written about famous authors had performed well, so I felt confident there was a framework already in place for how the book would be published. I was hoping that marketability would help overcome anyone’s concerns about the track record for her previous books.

EW: What happened after you went out with it?

JB: There’s no way that every single editor you send a book to is going to love it as much as you do, but it was incredibly validating to come to work the Monday after we had sent it out and have so many editors echoing my own feelings about the writing, the story, and the characters. They were as passionate about the book as I was, and it was everything I had always wanted for the book, and for Paula. We had a very exciting auction, and found a fantastic home for the novel – it’s the happy ending I always hope for.

EW: And now you have another happy ending. The Paris Wife has been on the New York Times Bestseller list for the last 5 weeks.  

JB: I don’t want to imply that this process was easy for either of us, especially Paula- walking away from a book at any stage is one of the hardest and bravest things I think an author can do. And I don’t want to suggest that writers should think first and foremost about whether their story is “commercial” or “marketable”. That said when I love a writer’s work, I want everyone to read it, I don’t want it to be published to radio silence and remaindered after a year. I think it’s important to be realistic about the kind of story you’re writing, and who you envision your audience to be, and what your hopes and expectations for the book’s publication will be as well. I see it as my responsibility to help guide my authors in all aspects of their career, including what they choose to write and how they envision their long term careers. But I’m also blessed with clients who want me involved in that way, who listen to the advice I have to offer, and who at the end of the day follow their heart and write what they are passionate about. Paula’s fascination and adoration of Hadley and Hemingway came across on every page that I read- if she hadn’t been that invested in them, I could never have been.

EW: Thank you, Julie!  To read more about Paula McLain and The Paris Wife go to and to find out more about what Ms Barer is up to, check out her agency website  I am also going to be getting her on Twitter VERY soon!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Vintage Clothes and Chianti

I am blessed to work with wonderful writers and editors, but it isn’t every day that the agent, writer and editor discover a mutual love and admiration for one another that transcends the work relationship. This post is a love letter to the author/agent/editor team behind The Time Traveling Fashionista by Bianca Turetsky, a completely delightful young adult novel about a girl who discovers she can time-travel by wearing vintage dresses from different eras.  The book is being published by the immensely talented and very funny Cindy Eagan, editor-in-chief of Poppy/Little Brown, in two weeks.

The other night, Bianca, Cindy and I met for a drink at Fred’s at Barney’s and started reminiscing about the road to publication.  Over a bottle of buttery chardonnay,  I asked Bianca to remind me how we first met. It’s both a really fun New York story and one that I think highlights how books can travel down many different paths toward publication.

Bianca: I first met you, E through our mutual friend Mike Mezzo (who we still owe a drink by the way!) I remember he promised he was going to give you my card, and then I never heard from you, so I assumed you weren’t interested and I started reluctantly querying other agents. When I finally got your call a few weeks/months?! later (I think you had lost my card?) and you asked me to send you the manuscript I felt like I had won the lottery, I was so surprised and happy. 

Elisabeth: I almost threw your card away!  And then I lost it. Eek. But as I was unpacking Weed Literary’s new headquarters in the summer of 2007 (yes, it was my apartment back then) I found it and thought, well, now that I am on my own, I need some clients, so I should call this person. Kidding!

Bianca: We had our first meeting at a French restaurant by your apt on the UES, and I felt so Carrie Bradshaw telling everyone I was having drinks with my agent! I remember I wore this black vintage Mary Qaunt’esque dress from the 60’s, after trying on several other options, because I wanted to project some sort of vintagey image. I was so excited because you were talking like, “once we sell the book” as though it was really going to happen, that after wards I walked all the way from the 70's to Grand Central calling everyone I knew. It was the first night that I truly felt like a “real” writer.  

 Elisabeth: I fell in love with the idea immediately!  I mean, what's more fun than vintage clothes and time travel? It's such a smart book too because it teaches girls a little history, or to steal Cindy's great comp, it's Quantam Leap for girls.   So, Cindy, what’s your first memory of the book?

Cindy: I was introduced to The Time-Traveling Fashionista by you, Elisabeth, on our first fantastic lunch date together.  The idea sounded dreamy and distinctive: a young teenage girl who loves vintage fashion and falls back in time via a gorgeous gown.  You sent me the manuscript soon after and I was taken with how imaginative Louise, the main character, was.  I remember being in junior high and wishing I too was living an adventurous life in romantic, faraway places. 

Elisabeth: But let’s be honest, it was the first time the three of us met that was the most memorable, no?

Cindy: Indeed.  I had sent you some editorial notes to pass along to Bianca for her consideration and then you set up a meeting for all of us to discuss. 

Bianca: I remember that when Elisabeth and I were compiling our list of editors to submit to, you thought she was The One who would be a perfect fit for the book, so I was really nervous to make a good first impression.

Cindy: I thought we were going to get together at some dive bar down in the Village, but then the address I had scribbled down brought me to the steps of the beautiful Palazzo Chupi, where Bianca works as artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel’s assistant. 

Bianca: Cindy wanted to meet during the afternoon, and I still had (have) a day job working with the artist/filmmaker Julian Schnabel. I remember the dress I wore to this meeting too! (this kind of odd blue and orange harajuku looking mini I bought in the east village the week before. not sure on the logic behind that choice:)   I thought I could sneak out and meet you both at the White Horse Tavern and then run back to work. When I told Julian, he decided that we needed to have the meeting in his house, and he would be my assistant for the afternoon.

Cindy: He was so enthusiastic about her bringing The Time-Traveling Fashionista to life. 

Bianca: It was really great, he went and brought you guys up from the lobby, poured everyone a glass of red wine, and talked about how much he loved my book and what a talented writer I was even though I don’t think he had read more than the first page at that time. I felt really special, it was one of my favorite New York memories ever. Would Cindy have bought the book if we didn’t ply her with expensive Chianti and given her a studio tour? Hopefully, but we’ll never know!

Cindy: I had done my senior thesis on Jean-Michel Basquiat and remember reading many “Artforum” articles about Julian Schnabel in my college library basement, so getting a studio tour was phenomenal!  But I would have pursued this special first novel no matter what.  I was excited to meet Bianca because her story had swept me away.  She’s a lot like Louise: classic, nostalgic, sweet, talented, an old soul.  With the best laugh.  I feel lucky you brought us all together, Elisabeth.

Elisabeth: It was such a great New York moment! I have never wanted to be a smoker more than when Julian offered me a cigarette. 

Cindy: It was a truly memorable introduction and we continue to keep the good times a’comin’.  My favorite thing about our author/editor/agent team is when we get together, usually over drinks dates.  The conversation begins with The Time-Traveling Fashionista and work, which is always creatively inspiring, but then it goes off into the most hilarious places.  What’s going on in our lives, what sort of embarrassing things have we been up to, etc. 

Bianca: My favorite thing about you, E is that you didn't laugh when I handed you a 100 page manuscript utterly convinced it was a finished book. (I had never written anything more than a short story, so 100 pages seemed like A LOT to me!) That you took the time to revise the book, line by line, with me over an entire year, and didn’t just tell me to give you a call when I was finished. That despite the fact that every single publishing house rejected the book before we found a home at Poppy, I always hung up the phone laughing and feeling hopeful that the book would find its way eventually. That our meetings generally last late into the night and involve copious amounts of wine, and never ever feel like “work”. And last, but certainly not least, that you know the name of a good astrologist!

Elisabeth: Hey, my motto in this business is that it only takes one. And the fact that we found THE ONE in Cindy makes this whole experience all the better.

Bianca: I know!  I completely trust Cindy and look forward to getting her notes and revisions.  Every suggestion of hers that I’ve incorporated (which is 99% of her comments) has made the story better and taken T-TF to a whole other level that I could never have imagined on my own.  And yet, aside from being a genius editor, and a pretty big deal in the publishing world, she’s also become a great friend, and doesn’t think I’m weird when I suggest we organize a sleepover with 80’s beauty treatments (and even offers to supply the Queen Helene face masks!)  She’s perhaps the funniest lady I know, and the sign of a good meeting with her the night before is waking up with a stomachache from laughing so much and a headache from one glass chard too many. 

Cindy:  I love how funny, insightful, and caring both you and Bianca are.  You are dear friends and I’m so proud to be publishing The Time-Traveling Fashionista together.  And hopefully many more novels to come.

Check out the cover to Bianca's book here!