Friday, December 19, 2008

Poets & Writers interviews agents Jeff Kleinman, Daniel Lazar, Julie Barer, and Renee Zuckerbrot.

Great feature in this month's Poets & Writers Magazine, interviewing four of my colleagues: Jeff Kleinman, Daniel Lazar, Julie Barer, and Renee Zuckerbrot. This is an absolute must-read; a long article but worth taking the time. A couple of good excerpts:
How else have things changed? Did everybody read that end-of-publishing article in New York magazine?

LAZAR: I read it and couldn't decide if I should buy up every issue I could get my hands on and throw them off the top of the HarperCollins building, or if I should throw myself off and make it faster. But I talked to Amy Berkower and Al Zuckerman and Robin Rue, who have been in this business for a lot longer than I have, and they all said, "We read that same article every single year."

BARER: People who are not in the business say that to me all the time. "Oh, isn't publishing dying?"

ZUCKERBROT: But the music industry is dead. Of all the media that's really dying or dead, it's music. Books are healthy compared to music. But when people talk about the Kindle and the Sony Reader? Books are pretty much a perfect technology. So all this stuff about how e-books are going to—

KLEINMAN: You freak! What are you talking about? These things [grabs a book] are Paleolithic!

ZUCKERBROT: It's portable. It lasts. If you want to read something, what's broken about it?

KLEINMAN: I don't want to read it there. I can't search that. It's heavy.

ZUCKERBROT: Are you serious?

KLEINMAN: I'm totally serious.

LAZAR: I agree with you, but I don't think the Kindle is the answer. It's going to be something that's not here yet.

ZUCKERBROT: Maybe in fifteen or twenty years.

LAZAR: But whatever the iPod of books is going to be, it's going to come sooner than we think. It's going to change things.

ZUCKERBROT: But does that change the fact that people don't read the way they go to the movies or the way they buy music? That's the question.

KLEINMAN: No, the point is that you simply have to make the device and the medium more interesting to people who do listen to music and go to the movies.

ZUCKERBROT: Don't you have to make the words on the page more interesting? Or is it a combination of the two?

LAZAR: Yeah, I think it's both.
and this...
Tell me ten things in the query process that can make you want to reject something immediately.

ZUCKERBROT: When I get an e-mail that says, "Dear Agent..." and I can see that I'm one of seventy agents who got it.

KLEINMAN: Bad punctuation, bad spelling, and passive voice.

BARER: Is it wrong of me to say that handwritten letters make me uncomfortable? Does that make me ageist?

LAZAR: Writers who will have a lawyer send you something "on their behalf." It's ridiculous, and you also can't get a sense of the author's voice, which is what the letter's all about.

ZUCKERBROT: When people talk about whom they would cast in the movie version of the book. I received three of those this week!

BARER: Anything that says something like, "This is going to be an enormous best-seller, and Oprah's going to love it, and it will make you millions of dollars."

KLEINMAN: Desperation is always good. "I've been living in a garage for the past sixty years. Nobody will publish my book. You have to help me."

BARER: I love it when they tell me why nobody else has taken it on—when they tell me why it's been so unsuccessful.

ZUCKERBROT: Or they've come close and they will include an explanation of who else has rejected it and why. "Julie Barer and Jeff Kleinman said..."

LAZAR: If they're writing a children's book, they'll often say, "My children love this book."

BARER: Right! I don't care if your children, your mother, or your spouse love it. All of that means nothing to me.

KLEINMAN: When it's totally the wrong genre. When they send me a mystery or a western or poetry or a screenplay.

BARER: Don't lie. Don't say, "I read Kevin Wilson's short story collection Tunneling to the Center of the Earth and I loved it so much that I thought you'd be great for my book." Because guess what? That book isn't coming out until next April. You just read that I sold that book, and you suck. You're a liar! That kind of thing happens because everybody subscribes to Publishers Marketplace, and nothing against Publishers Marketplace—I live for it, it's a very useful tool for me—but I think for writers it perpetuates this hugely obsessive cycle of compare and despair.


Deaf Brown Trash Punk said...

that was very helpful.... I DON'T think my book will ever make it to Oprah's Book Club, though.

lol. some people can be so ridiculous.

Jael said...

OMG that is brilliant and I love those agents. Kleinman: "I can't search it! It's heavy!" Brightens my day.

Ann Victor said...

Interesting! Especially liked the comment about the future of books is something that isn't here yet!

Helen said...

Thank you for the link, that interview was fabulous!

Jinx said...

KLEINMAN: You freak! What are you talking about? These things [grabs a book] are Paleolithic!

Full of awesomeness! Thanks for the laugh!