Monthly Archives: April 2013

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Literary Agents: From One Legend To Another

Any writer who wants their book commercially published can’t do it alone. The magic touch of a literary agent, who conducts the negotiation and sale of the project, is crucial,  the conduit between author and publisher.

There are hundreds of agents in the U.S. but few legends. I was lucky enough to wind up with the latter–twice.

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First there was Owen Laster of the  William Morris Agency, one of the most powerful literary deal makers of his generation. Having run William Morris’s worldwide literary operations for decades, Owen represented such illustrious writers as James Michener and Gore Vidal, plus a stable of film stars, former Presidents and First Ladies too.

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Owen hardly needed me as a client when I turned up at age 25 with the idea of writing a biography of pianist Vladimir Horowitz. Taking a chance on my youth and total inexperience, Owen sold my book in the U.S., England, Japan, Finland, and Germany. He subsequently launched my journalism career as well, arranging my first celebrity interview with Carol Burnett.

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When Owen  retired in 2006,  I necessarily left one legend, but was fortunate enough to find another.

A few years before, I’d been sitting in the lobby of Manhattan’s Four Seasons Hotel, waiting to visit with a former interview subject, the extraordinary peak performance coach Tony Robbins. As I took out a gift for him, a small box from Steuben Glass containing a crystal dolphin (a miniature of a dolphin sculpture at Namale, his resort in Fiji), an attractive brunette nearby glanced my way, giving me a warm smile, and telling me she loved that store.

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The Effervescent Jan Miller

Fifteen minutes later, when I walked into the restaurant, that same woman was sitting with Tony Robbins. “I’m Jan Miller,” she smiled, “Tony’s agent.” What a strange coincidence! As I soon discovered, Jan Miller of Dupree Miller was one of the nation’s leading literary agents with her own stable of stars, including Arnold Schwarenegger, Maria Shriver, Joel Osteen, Stephen Covey, The Duchess of York, Dr. Phil, and dozens of bestselling authors devoted to Christian-based inspirational books.

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Skipping ahead two years later, when Owen retired, I spontaneously called Jan up on the phone, coming right to the point: “I’ve decided I want you to represent me!”  She readily agreed, and I was thrilled, feeling fortunate to pair up with another topnotch agent.

Powerfully intuitive, with an instinct for knowing whom to introduce to whom, Jan quickly paired me up for a ghostwriting project with a charismatic Chicago Pastor. That collaboration really clicked. And after that book was published by Hachette Book Group USA, our mutual passion for dogs lead to her, and Dupree Miller’s superb agent Nena Madonia, to selling my own memoir about my cocker spaniel, Katie, which was recently published in China, Indonesia, and Germany. (Jan is a beagle lover to the core and perfectly understood the profound bond that develops between dogs and their owners.In fact, she encouraged me to get another dog, cocker spaniel Lucy, after eight years of mourning for the first one.)

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Fellow dog lover Jan Miller

Fellow dog lover Jan Miller

 

Jan's adorable beagle, Schumacher

Jan’s adorable beagle, Schumacher

This was a project close to Jan’s heart, and she flew in from her offices in Dallas to personally supervise every aspect of the book’s marketing and promotion. This included even procuring an elegant locale for the publishing party, Manhattan’s MacKenzie-Childs, a unique shop filled with hand-crafted china. It was a night to remember–with Calvin Klein hosting.

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Surrounded by Judge Judy, New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, authors Mary Higgins Clark and Barbara Taylor Bradford, Jan made a glamorous entrance, snatching up my new puppy Lucy for photos.

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It was a fantastic night made possible by Jan. And then just a few months later, Jan generously opened up her elegant Dallas home for another “Katie” book party. I couldn’t have asked for more.

The exquisite dining room in Jan's Dallas home, at the KATIE book party

The exquisite dining room in Jan’s Dallas home, at the KATIE book party

Was it just accidental that I ran into Jan Miller in the lobby that afternoon years ago, or was it destiny? As Tony Robbins always says, “proximity is the messenger of fate,” and indeed it has been.

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With Jan in her home at the Dallas Book Party
Much more than just a literary agent to me.

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Hiring A Ghostwriter? Chemistry Counts

In the The Ghost Writer, the 2010 political thriller directed by Roman Polanski, the film’s hero, Ewan McGregor, is hired to ghostwrite the memoir of England’s former Prime Minister, played by Pierce Brosnan.

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As  McGregor’s character eventually discovers, the ghostwriter who preceded him was murdered on the job, while the Prime Minister is later assassinated in the film.

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Let that be a warning! (Just kidding.) Neither a client nor a ghostwriter should be mortally wounded by the end of any project. (And most ghostwriters, unlike the McGregor character, don’t wind up in bed with the boss’s secretary.)

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But chemistry does count. After all, your ghostwriter becomes your muse, someone who can get inside your head and transform your life experience into a compelling narrative. He or she is creating a work customized for you, capturing your unique voice and intention.

Just as 18th century European royalty would commission court composers, including the young Mozart, to write chamber music and symphonic works, hiring someone to write a book is not much different. You’re engaging someone to produce an expression of your thoughts and feelings in a form that is considered an art.

Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing one of his compositions at Court

Young Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart playing one of his compositions at Court

Choosing your ghostwriter is like choosing someone you’d want to date–minus the romance. Your writer becomes a trusted friend, a confidante, someone with whom you’ll have almost daily contact. For that to work, you must have personal chemistry, a subject I’ve written about.

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I remember once flying to Chicago for an interview with a prospective client, who happened to be a Pastor. From the minute I walked in the room, there was instant rapport. The interview lasted 3 hours! And I was hired. Likeability, one of my favorite subjects, is almost always a factor in creating an effective team.

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 And one key component of likeability is a shared sense of humor. The Pastor and I were always laughing and telling jokes, and it was this easy rapport that allowed us to produce the book in record time. Laughter was a tonic that dissolved tension.

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Whereas, I recently met a Wall Streeter (who had been charged with insider trading and wanted to write a book about it), and there was zero chemistry. Shall we say it was no laughing matter, a true mismatch. And I wasn’t hired.

In short, the ghostwriter and client must feel a genuine connection, a  meeting of the minds. It’s all a matter of personality. And it’s not predictable or predicated on someone’s resume. But you’ll know it when you see and feel it.

The result can be stellar–a bestseller that becomes part of your legacy. And equally important, left behind is the experience of writing the book, a fun process that becomes a treasured memory.

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Instant Credibility With A Quote

Once your memoir is finished, the all-important marketing phase begins. In fact, before your book is even published, you always want sample copies of it sent out to experts in your field who can provide testimonial quotes for the back of the book jacket.

Having a glowing endorsement written by someone with authority, knowledge, and a high public profile provides instant credibility for your work. Most commercial publishers send out a “galley,”  the copyedited, typeset manuscript bound into what looks like a paperback. It’s not the final hardcover, but it’s the advance version of the book, a teaser sent out for reviews and testimonial quotes. This galley can also autographed and distributed at BookExpo America, where all the upcoming books are exhibited.

That's me in the sport jacket in the middle of Book Expo America, signing books.

In the middle of Book Expo America, signing books.

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My puppy Lucy resting on my arm as I sign books

My puppy Lucy resting on my arm as I sign books

 

My book galleys all lined up at Book Expo America

My book galleys all lined up at Book Expo America

How do you get these testimonial quotes? In my case, having worked as a  journalist for more than three decades, I’ve built up a rolodex of contacts. And I’m sure you have a professional network as well. Before the publication of my memoir about my dog, I made a list of every celebrity dog lover I could think of, including Betty White, Judge Judy, Calvin Klein, Mary Tyler Moore, Joan Rivers, Mariah Carey, and Mary Tyler Moore,  all of whom I’d interviewed for magazines.

 

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I was  touched by  what some of them wrote, comments seen scrolling in the right column of this page. Also, as my book has a light-hearted component to it, to make my overture an appealing one, I proceeded to send out 18 festive gift bags, into which were put edible dark chocolate dog bones, First Aid Kit for dogs, hand-painted Christmas ornaments in the shape of dog bones, cuddly stuffed cocker spaniel toys, treats for dogs from Pedigree, plus a hand-written note from me.

The Katie gift bags all lined up and ready to go

The Katie gift bags all lined up and ready to go

 

The Christmas ornament dog bone in every bag

The Christmas ornament dog bone in every bag

 

NEVER SEND OUT AN E MAIL OR A TYPED LETTER. A personal note hand-written by you on good quality stationery (I had Katie cards printed) will capture the interest of the recipient far more effectively than anything else. (Do your research and customize this note, making reference to the person’s past achievements and current activities, etc.)

The note card sent out for the Katie book

The note card sent out for the Katie book

Also, I always use either FedEx or a messenger service to deliver the gift bag, as doing it this way telegraphs that this package is an important one, something appealing they want to open.

Of course, if you’ve written a book about economics or politics, a fun gift bag such as the one I used is obviously not appropriate. You have to find what’s right for your subject. In fact, a gift bag isn’t even necessary. Just the bound manuscript and personal note are often enough, though if you’ve written a cookbook, brownies go a long way!

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In any case, what you’re asking for is just a few sentences of praise that capture the tone or flavor of your book. Some of those approached will simply not have the time to read your book; others may not want to provide a quote. But you’ll find that many people are receptive to your work.

So begin mapping out a list of people you can contact.

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Be practical. If you don’t know celebrities, don’t worry about it. Start with people in your community—leaders in your field who can relate to your story. Ask your friends and family and colleagues whom they know. Also make a dream list of people have attained greatness in their field. (Finding out the addresses of those you want to contact isn’t very hard nowadays, and you’d be surprised how delighted some people are to receive such a request.)

The goal is about 10 quotes, if possible, but just a few good ones from the right people are worth their weight in gold. It’s a great feeling turning over your book and seeing those quotes appear.

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Ultimately, when a customer picks up your book, or browses online for it, they’re going to read  those testimonial quotes, which can make all the difference  between buying the book and moving on to another one.

So dig in and enjoy the process of sharing your work with those you most admire.

In closing, I can tell you that my most treasured testimonial of all time was from former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, an esteemed book editor at Doubleday with whom I  conferred on projects. One day I asked her if she would write a short quote for my then agent who was supporting my TV interviews. It arrived in the mail a few days later and I was incredibly touched by it.

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Your hero or heroine just might be interested in your work too. Just reach out to them with confidence. You never know what can happen. That’s for sure!

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