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!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Art of the Nudge

Yesterday, I got a note from an author, whose first book being published this year, along with her next novel. 

"Hi E! Know it may be a while before you can get to this, but I think it's in good shape for reading.  Enjoy!"

How nice and laid back is she?

Anyway, this got me thinking about how much of this business is not just about reading, but getting other people to read. People want me to read their queries, clients need me to read their next works and I want and need editors to read my submissions, other authors to read the bound mss and offer endorsements, and reviewers and to read galleys and write about them…and so on and so forth. There is never enough time in the day for any of us to get to all the reading and certainly not in the timely manner that you want to.  But I do think there are ways all of us can help our cause.  Let’s call it nudging with style. Because there is an art to it and if you aren’t careful, you can seriously fuck it up. 

Case in point. A writer was in touch with me a few weeks ago asking me to read his novel. Back story, he had turned me down years ago, when I wanted to represent him and acknowledged that he always regretted it. I was excited to read it and kindly responded in turn that I probably would have gone with the other agent then too (I was about 25) and asked him to please send it along and I would take a look.  He told me he was only sending the novel to me and would be thrilled if we could work together. He sent me the over 100,000 word novel on a Thursday.  On Monday, he asked if I had read it.  Now, warning bells went off in my head about this guy, so I read the first three chapters then and there at my desk, and was happy to discover that the novel, despite it's many merits, was not the best fit for my list, and thusly passed on it.  

Thank god I did. A few days later he accidentally sent me an email that was meant for someone else, trashing me and making fun of my blog and thus proving my warning bell instincts right.  After realizing his mistake, he apologized and acknowledged that he had been too pushy with me but that he was getting pressure from another agent about it. Er, another agent? WELL IF HE HAD JUST SAID RIGHT OFF THE BAT that it was with me and another agent that wanted to rep it, but he really regretted that he hadn't chosen me and would I be willing to take a quick look, I would have started reading the novel the minute it landed in my inbox and maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t have been so quick to want to not like it.

Likewise, when I send a novel out on submission, it's all I can do but sit by the phone, refresh my in box and, um, write blog posts because I am so totally myopically focused on hearing something (anything!) back from my editors (who mind you also have 10 other things to read at that moment).  And, when I do have interest—and I am talking about real solid interest, ala  “I love this! I am getting other in house reads!” “Don’t take a pre-empt without us talking!" I call all the editors and let them know they might want to read it sooner rather than later. What I don't do is call them and force them to read it just because I am freaking out all by myself.  Editors know that the "have you read?" or the fake "I have interest" means you have no interest and I don't want that sort of reputation. They are super busy and I am not going to make them work on my time frame just because or my own ego or angst.

Now back to my lovely client who sent in her novel with a very casual note.  I am not sure she was trying to throw a psychological fast one on me, but if she was, she is even more brilliant than I already thought, because, by acknowledging that I might not get to this right away, she was saying, “I know how busy you are!” and honestly, it made me want to drop everything else and start reading her book immediately.

So maybe the art of the nudge is just good old-fashioned manners and common sense. Be upfront about what you are doing—if you are submitting to agents and are unsure about protocol, just tell them it’s with others and if you want your over-worked representative to read your book, tell her not to. :)