Friday, July 20, 2007
As many in publishing know, there has been a tradition of nonexclusive representation of US agents in Japan. It was often believed that this was the best-case scenario, as some agents may have had greater strengths in some areas. However, after years of such nonexclusive representation, I’ve determined that it’s a bit of a free-for-all. And that’s a bit too disorganized and inefficient for my taste. Thus, after communicating with several Japanese agents and meeting with some of the majors at Book Expo America, I have made the decision to be exclusively represented by Japan UNI.
I look forward to a long and profitable association with Japan UNI.
Monday, July 16, 2007
The next thing we will be doing is completely revising our “What We Want” page. We have begun revising this listing offline and I will be taking a two-pronged approach to this: First we will have a list on the website but, second, I will be going on at greater length in my blog about what we want. The challenge of course is not to just say “fiction” or “nonfiction.”
The truth is, no agent wants to be a barn door at which authors keep throwing things, trying to see what sticks. When I was a single guy, I did a lot of online dating (hey, it worked; I met my wife online). At the beginning, I’d meet just about anyone who sounded interesting and interested. I even met women who didn’t have a photo up! But after a while, I started to get more and more specific about what I wanted. And I started to learn to read between the lines on women’s postings. I could quickly tell which women were “high maintenance,” which really doesn’t work for me. And obviously I could tell which ones could write (many points for the good writers). I discovered that by being more specific and reading more closely, I met women closer and closer to what I hoped to find. In the end, I met my lovely wife (hi sweetie!), who, in the words of Goldilocks, was “just right.”
I’d like to use that same approach here. Some editors will tell you “I want best-sellers,” and every agent I know would hear that and, inside their heads, say “No kidding” (actually, they’d be saying something else, but I’m trying to keep it clean). We all want best-sellers, and if I could tell what will be a best-seller, I wouldn’t need editors. I’d open a publishing house that only published best-sellers.
But other editors will be more specific. Take one editor who recently told me that she hates “high-concept” thrillers, and for her a good thriller is “character-driven” and “involves a puzzle that the reader can try and figure out, along with the main character.” Now THAT I can focus on. That I can look for. And I will. So if you have one of those, get ready to query me soon, when I’m open to submissions.
Keep on reading here. More is definitely to come.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
I just recently got my finished books of Dr. Paul Offit’s VACCINATED: ONE MAN’S QUEST TO DEFEAT THE WORLD’S DEADLIEST DISEASES, a book Smithsonian Books editor TJ Kelleher called “their biggest book of the season.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS called it a “comprehensive biography” and said the book, “Makes a strong case that people get more excited by miraculous cures than by vaccines that save unseen multitudes by preventing disease in the first place.”
The book, in case you haven’t read my blog in a while, is largely the story of Maurice Hilleman, a man who can be credited with saving about 8 million lives a year. Unfortunately, he died not that long ago. But millions of children still receive the vaccines he created during his tenure as a scientist for Merck. The story of how he created these vaccines is as fascinating as an episode of CSI, I think, or at least it is if your favorite parts of the show are the ones in the lab where they figure it all out.
WASHINGTON CITY PAPER hailed the book as “wonderful” and said, “Offit is that rare writer who can translate science into English. … Though it’s not the work of a journalist, Offit’s entertaining and authoritative account displays a mastery of his subject that few journalists could match.”
Paul has an editorial in today’s PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER that you can read right now at its site. And the book, of course, can be bought by clicking the Amazon box below.
Friday, July 06, 2007
But he also wanted to know where the men’s fiction was, i.e., fiction that spoke to men’s tastes.
The comments were interesting, too. One comment said that men don’t read and another said that there’s little out for men to read.
The truth is, everyone is right.
It’s a commonly quoted statistic that 50% of all novels sold (or is it all books?) in the United States are romance novels. That would definitely seem to indicate a desire in the marketplace’s readers for romantic stories. But a ton of these novels are part of series. And there are, believe it or not, women who read a book a day. Who are these women? Housewives passing the time until the kids come home? Retired women passing the time until dinner needs to be made? Businesswomen with long commutes passing the time until the train gets to its destination? Pilots letting the autopilot fly the plane while they read? I don’t actually know, though I’m sure the Romance Writers of America does.
But I do know where the men’s fiction went, or at least I have a theory. In the early 1990s, three things happened in fairly quick succession:
Nintendo and PlayStation became household items;
Microsoft Windows began appearing on household computers;
The first Gulf War
A lot of what we call “men’s fiction” died off in the early 1990s. In fact, I lost my job at The Berkley Publishing Group specifically because of the drop-off in sales of what we called “men’s fiction action/adventure” (or so my boss told me!). I was hired at Berkley to replace a guy named Jim Morris, who was something of a legend in action/adventure publishing. My understanding was that he was a Vietnam vet and the kind of guy who brought a real springblade to the office when they were creating a series called SPRINGBLADE (Jim, interestingly enough, went on to write the movie OPERATION DUMBO DROP). Personally I never knew the guy, but I did take over his office and some of his authors. These authors tended to be Vietnam vets or even active-duty military personnel. They wrote series and sometimes standalone novels featuring snipers, SEALs, Special Operations teams, and the like. These series were steady and predictable sellers, along with Westerns and Romances.
These books were read, not surprisingly, mostly by men. But what kind of men were they? Well, for starters, a huge number of books were sold through military BXs and PXs. We were at peace and had been for a long time and I guess a shoot-‘em-up novel was the closest a lot of the military guys could get to any action.
Then the first Gulf War came along and, for months and months, more and more personnel shipped off to the Gulf for the Mother of All Battles. Six months waiting in the desert leaves a lot of time to read, but there weren’t many bookstores in the desert. So sales dwindled in the BXs and PXs. And it’s generally a fact of life in the book business: once you lose the shelf space, you never get it back. Plus once you’ve actually shipped out and come home, your interest in shoot-‘em-ups might be a bit less.
Next, Windows came along and, along with it, browsers to surf the WWW. Why read a book when you can be surfing the web? Sure, there wasn’t a lot to see, but even I remember spending hours reading bulletin boards on the old GEnie system, and that was DOS-based and at 2400 baud dial-up!
And let’s not forget our friends the video games. Pong was nothing compared to Atari and Atari was nothing compared to Nintendo or PlayStation. As a kid, I read for hours at a time. We didn’t have Atari or a PlayStation. I had to entertain myself reading science fiction and war novels. But by the time the early 90s rolled around, many a home had some kind of videogame and you’re nuts if you think that didn’t cut into reading time.
Today I have friends whose kids go nowhere without a book in hand. They are allowed only a set number of hours a week of “screen time,” which includes tv, computer, and games. I love this concept. I love that all three of these boys never go anywhere without a book (well, maybe they do, but they always have books when they come to our house, which may just mean we are boring).
But they are the exception. And it seems most of the kids who grew up playing video games or surfing the web don’t have the patience to sit still and read a book. Heck, I’m in this business and I can hardly sit still to read a book. I’ve got a half-dozen movies on the DVR, ninety-something emails to read, and plenty of other paperwork to review. Oh, and my portfolio needs rebalancing. And my sprinklers need to be adjusted because parts of the lawn are dying.
Okay, but what does that have to do with men’s fiction? Well, it’s all about the sales. Book sales in general are far lower than in the past. Our finite reading time now competes with the aforementioned DVR and WWW. Not to mention that we spend more time sitting in our cars commuting than ever before. Perhaps that explains the growth of audiobook sales.
Men’s fiction was always a smaller piece of the action than women’s. Simple fact. And now that the entire pie is smaller, that piece is smaller than ever. So what does get published better have an overwhelming potential to sell. And finding that potential seems easier with women’s fiction or nonfiction. Your target market is, well, a bigger target.
That said, there are plenty of thriller writers out there. I wouldn’t call them “men’s fiction” writers, but the books are pretty gender neutral in terms of readership. I know, because my father reads a ton of them.
But, hey, why not read some women’s fiction? Maybe it will put you in touch with your feminine side, which is sure to make you more interesting to your wife or girlfriend.
Monday, July 02, 2007
Well, now, that's a lot to chew on. I'll have to ponder that all, but thought I'd post it and see what comments others may have before I respond.
Thanks for the update. With the instantaneous nature of the Internet, a six-month old announcement on a web site is considered ancient history - that's why I asked.
I'm looking forward to seeing the new information on your site regarding what publishers and what your agency will be looking for in prospective
But let me guess. I may be going out on a limb here, but I'm going to take a shot at it based on my experience in the publishing business. Now remember this is only my theory:
The publishing business is dominated by thirty something women who are mainly interested in romance, finding the right guy, what it takes to be perfect.
The majority of book buyers are forty and fifty something women who desperately want romance in their lives because their husbands are most likely fat and maybe bald, boring and could care less about romance. Their husbands have definitely traveled to Mars while they are still stuck here on earth. They all have this common thread that they sew together in popular books that deal with matters of the heart. So, if you can write to that market and touch a chord in people's heart, you may have a best seller.
The big thing in publishing is women's lit, chick lit, hen lit...well, what about men's lit? Where's that genre? Books that get into the heart and soul of men and their 21st century problems with woman, with jobs, with careers, with children. Maybe, those areas are too boring to get into, besides real men don't read novels - that's a woman's thing and maybe that notion should change, too.