Serendipity Blog

The Value in Diverse Reading

on Wednesday, 20 July 2016. Posted in Serendipity Blog

By Nadeen Gayle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the discussion comes up about diversity, do you ever step back and examine your stance on the topic? Are you actively trying to make diversity a part of your life?  I’m not sure if we, as a society, realize how crucial it is for us to learn about and interact with people from different cultures. We also don’t realize how important it is for us to share this idea with our children, making sure they recognize and embrace diversity early on in life.

I am the mother of a 6-year-old who is learning how to read (proud mommy moment!). We live in Brooklyn; I’m talking about old school Crown Heights, West Indian and Hasidic Jewish Brooklyn. Sometimes I go out of my way to give my son a different point of view by signing him up for classes at the Park Slope Y, where the experience is more diverse. Diversity means something to me and I want to share that with my child. I know how it shapes a person’s perception of life and people. One of the most inexpensive and efficient ways to encourage diversity in your child’s life is through reading diverse books. Different books can shape how a child perceives others, as well as expose them to unlikely heroes and people of different cultures with different ideas that they’ve never heard of in their daily lives.

The simple task of reading helps to shape the young mind. We are all born a clean slate. What we pour into our children is what they spit out as they get older. As an adult, I also try to implement diverse reading in my life in order to be an example. If you choose to never read anything about any other culture or by an author who is writing from a viewpoint that differs from your own, you are doing yourself and your child a disservice.  My son reminded me of the importance of diversity the other day when he spoke to a neighbor of another culture and they didn’t speak back to him. You may not believe it, but this actually happens frequently.

My son then commented, “They don’t act nice like the people in the book or the people that live near my school.”

In that moment, I realized that he is taking in what he reads and applying it to his day to day life. He is comparing the stories that are read to him and comparing the characters to real life people. Stories such as, A Turn for Noah by Susan Remich Topek, Abuelita’s Secret Matzahs by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, and Always Olivia by Carolivia Herron.

I became a literary agent because I LOVE the fact that knowledge is never ending, and what better place is there to find knowledge than on the pages of different books? There are no absolutes. There can be a norm but we must and should at times show the differences and different variations of people and situations among us, and celebrate them.

Step Up Your Pen Game: How to Help Agents and Editors Find You

on Wednesday, 13 July 2016. Posted in Serendipity Blog

By Dawn Michelle Hardy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whether speaking at a conference or having one-on-one conversations, I’m often asked about what I look for in prospective clients. Over the past 5 years I’ve tweaked my response as I continue to learn more about content development and platform building. When I first started as an agent, I was passionate about wanting to represent celebrities. I just had to have an A-lister memoir on my roster. I learned soon after that most celebrities don’t write their own books; they pay someone else to. And one thing I knew was that I wanted to work with talent that actually loved to write.

I had to reevaluate my potential client list and I started by pinpointing what attracted me to celebrities in the first place. Several things stood out immediately: passion and talent; national reach; magnetism and influence. Celebrities become who they are because they love and are passionate about what they do, they are exceptionally good at what they do, and large quantities of people are drawn to them because of what they do and how they do it. I realized I wanted to find writers with those same qualities.

Writers who love to write, and are actually good at it, don’t need to have the perfect book idea right off the bat. Passionate writers are always writing something, meaning there’s always new content that can be developed further. And, through their writing, they are continuously building their platform by engaging with bigger and bigger audiences. When a writer is sharing their voice, and is well received by the masses for doing so, my role as an agent is to help create their next conversation piece in the form of a longer narrative, i.e. a book. The agent-author relationship is collaborative. We can brainstorm and dig deeper into the writer’s knowledge and interests and compare that to trends and opportunities in publishing. The book will be something that connects in the middle.  

Recently, I garnered a deal for a book of essays for one of our clients, Clay Cane, an entertainment editor for BET.com. While working on his proposal for another book idea, Clay would constantly send me links to his latest TV appearances, opinion pieces, and byline articles from a variety of outlets including Huffington Post, MTV, CNN and Gawker. He consistently managed to keep himself in the media covering entertainment and pop culture, as well as commenting on breaking news stories. As his agent, this level of activity excited me. He was growing his platform by lending his voice across various mediums. His national platform continued to grow exponentially as he directed his first documentary Holler if You Hear Me: Black and Gay in the Church, which garnered him a GLAAD award nomination. We decided to switch gears and came up with the idea to do a book of essays. This came from his voracious writing and dedication to sharing his voice.

Another client at Serendipity is Washington Post sports writer Kent Babb, who penned an article that became the #2 most shared long form article of 2013. As a huge NBA fan I read his article on Allen Iverson and was curious about what happens next for The Answer. The article whet my palate and I knew it did the same for other fans. I contacted Kent with an idea that was an extension of the article he wrote. His debut book, Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson, became one of the best sports books of 2015 and was shortlisted for a PEN Literary Award.

The secret to my success has now been to find bloggers, journalists or lay persons who have furious pen game. As an agent who is building her list in non-fiction it’s important that I represent someone who is a strong, smart and consistent writer. That blogger who manages to land byline articles with The New Yorker, The Undefeated, Salon, Medium and Jezebel while still dedicating an entry a day to his or her own site; the sports journalist who pens 3-5 articles for their newspaper a week and knows all the players in that space; or the socially conscious big mouth who engages their audience in the same way the Beyhive goes hard in the paint for Beyoncé.

Recently, I had the chance to lunch in Chicago with blogger, activist, and digital strategist Luvvie Ayaji, author of the upcoming book of essays I’m Judging You, which is set to be released this Fall. Luvvie is a well-respected humor and entertainment blogger.  She is a contributing editor and columnist for TheGrio, writes Scandal recaps for Vulture, and has written for XOJane, Essence, EBONY, Huffington Post, Clutch Magazine and Uptown Magazine. She has been blogging for 13 years and her writing becomes the talk of many a lunch, brunch, and booze session. She speaks the truth in such an engaging way that I became a fan instantly. During our lunch, Luvvie shared with me how she got her first book deal. Her now agent reached out and said he was a big fan of her blog and loved her writing. Gosh! I was late to that party, but I am not surprised someone scooped her up.

Writers like Clay, Kent and Luvvie are the type of voracious writers that land on the radar of agents and editors, and most often than not, will land a book deal if they want one. As agents we are always combing the web looking for fresh talent. If you have a voice, an area of expertise, a strong opinion backed by intelligent writing, odds are you are closer than you think to authoring a book. The road to discovery is in your writing frequency and audience engagement. That’s how we will find you. 

 

 

Winning an Award Gave Me Writing Anxiety

on Wednesday, 06 July 2016. Posted in Serendipity Blog

By Jocquelle S. Caiby

 

 

 

One Saturday night when I was sixteen, I wrote a poem. It was a quick and delightful experience—the page filling quickly as I confidently tapped away on my computer, editing lines to fit the flow in my head.  When I finished, I smiled, infused with excitement about how it all came together. On a whim, I decided to enter my poem in a writing contest hosted by a well-known in-print poetry magazine. A few months later, I received a letter from the magazine with a certificate for winning Editor’s Choice Award, and an invitation to attend the award ceremony in Las Vegas. I was ecstatic! Though I wasn’t the Grand Prize winner, I felt quite accomplished. 

My life continued as usual, though—attending classes, shucking chores, smothering my cat, and writing more poetry—but there was one major difference: writing was no longer fun. I would write one line; scrutinize said line for twenty minutes; edit it; write a couple more lines; edit the first line again; write another line; painstakingly mull over those four lines; procrastinate; edit line three; continue this process until I had a migraine and give up on the project entirely.  Fun? Not really.

 

The day I received that letter, my perception of “personal” writing shifted. For me, writing used to be the very definition of personal, a reprieve from the demands of being a socially adept teenager—which I wasn’t—and an outlet for everything I wasn’t comfortable expressing aloud.  My writing was for myself and my enjoyment, and if it pleased others, great! But the receipt of that award changed my perception. A standard had been set, turning my “personal” writing into “public” writing. Instead of writing for self-expression, I wrote for validation. From then on, writing—period—made up some of the most anxious moments of my life. I stressed over the general and the specific: Did I utilize a diverse vocabulary?  Did I sound intellectual or emotionally resonant?  I obsessed over these questions. Soon after, I developed physical symptoms. My heart rate quickened, my temperature rose, and I had migraines. It was the definition of extreme discomfort—of anxiety. And so, I stopped writing for years. 

I considered the underlying causes for my problem. Everyone wants to be a writer. In such a congested field, the pressure to stand out is tremendous.  We believe we live in a meritocracy where you’re only as good as your last accomplishment, and your ability to do a job is determined by how much more you’ve accomplished than others. When I realized “accomplishing” was a thing I could do, the pressure became real: “If I want to be a writer I need more of these ‘accomplishments.’”

In 2012, Maura Kelly wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled Trickle-Down Distress: How America’s Meritocracy Drives Our National Anxiety Epidemic. In the article, Maura discusses how Americans’ belief that we live in a meritocratic society has led us to stress over success, earning us the largest percentage of anxiety afflicted citizens of any country.

Working in the publishing industry, I’ve seen firsthand how important credentials are. Editors and agents both covet writers with MFAs, bylines in well-known publications, a stellar publishing history, and lots of connections. With this in mind, how could I not be anxious about writing? However, I’ve also learned that passion and authenticity mean just as much in this industry. During my writing hiatus, I read a lot—blogs, articles, and books. At first, it just made me jealous. But then, I fell in love with what I read.  I realized the most beautiful thing about writing is the unbridled honesty and fearless creativity instilled in each word.  These things only exist when a writer creates from a place of trust, in their ability and in themselves. 

So I began writing again, but this time with trust. The anxiety comes and goes, but it’s much more enjoyable. And trust doesn’t mean closing the door on self-editing or constructive criticism.  It means letting your piece flow, learning what works and what doesn’t, and being open enough to strongly consider suggestions from those who may know a little more. Even the best writers make mistakes or need assistance. As an agent, I often hear words like “raw,” “truthful,” “authentic,” and “passionate” as descriptors of amazing writing.  And in the end, the writing is what we do this for. If writing is your goal, don’t let the pressure get to you.  Remember to trust yourself, but, most importantly, enjoy yourself.

Read This, Not That: How a “Literary Diet” Saved Me Money and Broadened My Horizons

on Wednesday, 29 June 2016. Posted in Serendipity Blog

By Miranda J. Stinson

 

Shortly after graduating college, full of ambition and desperate to travel, I packed up and moved to Dublin. My first interview was for a small press that publishes literary fiction and Irish-interest nonfiction. It couldn’t have gone better—or so I thought. A week later I received a lovely letter informing me that despite my many charming qualities, the company was looking for someone with a stronger foundation in modern Irish writing.

I didn’t know how much I had wanted that position until I was rejected. So I started reading like crazy, as much out of spite as out of a desire to educate myself. Pretty soon, I realized I had a problem: funds were limited, my apartment had no bookshelf (can you believe it?), and most of my personal library was in a storage unit back in Indiana. 

I have always had a tendency to buy books on impulse, with the unfortunate result that I own a lot of things I have never read and most likely never will. So this time, I decided I needed to lay down some rules. If I was going to buy a new book, it had to by an Irish writer (or a writer living in Ireland), published by a small press somewhere other than London or New York, and released within the last twenty years. I’m sure I missed out on a lot of great literature, particularly from the big international houses, but I wanted to see what Ireland’s small press scene had to offer. I also promised myself I would read at least fifty pages of every book I bought, which meant I had to make a real commitment with each purchase. 

Although I couldn’t turn back time to get the job I wanted, I discovered a host of up-and-coming writers I never knew existed. When I went to conferences, I had something to say. And the best part is I finished pretty much everything I bought.

I like to think of this as “literary portion control.” The goal is not to be miserable but to challenge yourself to finish everything you read, and to focus on trying new things. Give yourself three months, or a summer, identify a maximum you’re willing to spend, and start buying what’s missing from your bookshelf. (“But wait!” you say. “Can’t I just go to the library?” Well, of course you can, but if you’re like me, you probably won’t.) Like with any decent diet, you’re allowed to cheat every now and then and still reap the benefits. If you’ve waited years for The Winds of Winter (you poor thing), go ahead and read it when it comes out. You can make the rules however you like, but the goal should be to restrict yourself to a category that interests you and then push yourself to read in that category.

 

Here are a couple of organizing principles you can consider:

 

1)     1) Buy only books in a chosen genre. If you want to write the next YA bestseller, but you don’t know any teenagers, what better way to acquaint yourself with what they’re reading? The one huge caveat here is to pay attention to the publication date—you don’t want your Millennial protagonist to come out sounding like Huck Finn or Holden Caulfield. If you read enough recent books in your chosen genre, you’ll start to get a sense not only of what has been successful but what has started to become passé.

2)     2) Buy only books by women, or writers of color. Taking aim at the serious gender imbalance in panels and prize submissions, the Pakistani novelist Kamila Shamsie has suggested that 2018 be a year of publishing only women. Meanwhile, the We Need Diverse Books campaign has done much to promote a broad definition of diversity in publishing. But the problem isn’t necessarily that we don’t have diverse books; the problem is many of us don’t read them. If you limit your purchases to books by diverse authors, you’ll discover how much is already on the market.

3)     3)Buy only books in translation. Back in 2008, the Nobel committee’s permanent secretary pissed off a good few people when he said of American writers, “They don’t translate enough and don’t really participate in the big dialogue of literature.” While he was soundly rebuked by many, he did have a point. At most three percent of books published in the United States are translated from another language, compared to 27 percent in France and as much as 70 percent in Slovenia.

 

Depending on your goals and your budget, there are plenty of ways you can make a literary diet work for you. Because I had such limited space, I kept a list of all the books I read and then gave most of them away. When friends would ask me for recommendations, I always had something to share! Being able to pass it on gave me a great sense of satisfaction. On the other hand, if you’re settled and want to build your library, this can also be a great way to start filling your shelves. Whatever your circumstances, I challenge you to set some rules and give one of these diets a try. You just might find your new favorite book.

Jay Gatsby's Guide to Beginning Your First Novel

on Tuesday, 21 June 2016. Posted in Serendipity Blog

by Rebecca Bugger

Do Your Research

"Can't repeat the past?" he cried incredulously. "Why of course you can!"

Jay Gatsby, also known as The Great Gatsby, is a literature icon that is sure be remembered for some time. Just as the parties of the Roaring Twenties have faded in to history; the days of simply writing the next great American novel have come to an end. In order to break through, especially if you are a new author that is hoping to become a published, seasoned author, you have to do your research.  A simple google search of popular books will suffice.  If you really want to release your inner crazy flapper, you might even head on over to the New York Times website and check out their best-seller list. The novels on that list have been successful in the past for a reason. When you research why and what people are buying and what they want to read, you can use that knowledge as motivation and for inspiration. You can outline the structure of the book and use it as a guide for potential plotting.

Know Who You Are

“He had come such a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it.”

While learning what is popular and selling will help inspire you, don’t lose track of who you are as a writer along the way. Jay Gatsby created an idea and stuck to it, careless of who believed in him or who might have been whispering behind his back.  As a writer, you have to learn to find a balance between what people want to read, the writer you have blossomed in to, and what story you want to tell.  Don’t lose your grasp on what it was that drove you to write in the first place.  Remember where you came from. Stay rooted.

Mix It Up

“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

Just like there’s not a blueprint for picking and choosing who you fall in love with, there’s no blueprint that tells you how a novel should work.  Don’t spend your time trying to focus on things like word count or character descriptions.  At the beginning stages of this process let your creativity flow. Keep your own style and try not to aspire to write like any particular author; be bold and take chances with your writing.   Don’t be afraid to choose a mixed drink over a glass of wine once in a while.  After all, writing a book is a party and when you feel like dancing, for God’s sake, do the Charleston.

Know Who You Are Writing For

“In his blue gardens men and girls came and went like moths among the whisperings and the champagne and the stars.”

 

Who is your audience?  Who is going to buy and read and share your book?  Make sure that you Have a feel for what it is that will capture their interest. If you are writing Young adult fiction make sure the voices ring true.   Then, as you are tailoring your novel to that audience, reach out to them!  Find fans of other books that fit in to your category and connect with them on social media.  You’ll never throw the best parties if no one ever gets an invitation!  Spread the word!  

A PRECIOUS IDEA IS NEVER ARBITRARILY UNEARTHED. IT SPURTS FORTH FROM EFFORT AND CREATIVITY, FINALLY UNCOVERED AS BRILLIANCE. SERENDIPITY LITERARY AGENCY PUSHES AND UNCOVERS THOSE WHO LOVE TO VENTURE IN THE QUARRY OF THEIR IMAGINATION.