Saturday, March 29, 2008


Before I launched my own book publicity firm and then this new literary agency, I spent over 13 years at Rodale where good health, "healthy living," exercise and the "organic lifestyle" was what our company stood for. More important, it's what most of us employed there really believed. I learned so much in those 13 years, things that continue to impact me every day. Rodale in the 80s was an Eden, at least for me, a former stay-at-home mom and freelance writer.

I was hired as "publicity assistant" for the book division. My first day my wonderful boss, the publicity director, showed me my desk and my cubicle. She took me around the company and introduced me to the marketing, sales and editorial people I'd be working with. She showed me where to get coffee, where to eat (company subsidized) healthy lunches and where people exercised. She even introduced me to the CEO himself, Bob Rodale. Then she took me back to my cubicle where I stood, dumbstruck for a few moments. People get PAID to do this I thought?

For the next 13 years I learned all about the world of book publishing. I took Dave Barry on his first book tour. In a stretch limo I picked up James Michener and his wife at the Newark Airport and accompanied them to "Good Morning America." I planned fine dinners at places like The Mansion on Turtle Creek in Texas, I drank fine wine, I spent time in green rooms, I media-coached and I travelled all over the country, meeting authors, producers, editors and sales people. It was my version of graduate school.

The company valued its employees and whenever possible I took advantage of the corporate gym, taking aerobic and yoga classes and enrolling in the "Beginner Running" class given by corporate running coach, Budd Coates. Coates, an elite runner, gave all employees the opportunity to take his running course beginning in April and ending with a corporate 5-K run in New York's Central Park in July. I took the course. I learned to run. I ran my first 5-K thanks to Budd.

So, my natural tendency to believe that we are responsible for our own health was honed at Rodale. I still believe it. I eat well. I try to exercise sensibly. But sometimes, like last week, I get sick. I'm not a good patient. And last Tuesday, when I was still feeling miserable, I broke down and went to see my doctor. He said I was OK, but that the virus had probably turned into a bacterial infection. He gave me 5 pills. I took them. Now I'm well.

I HATE taking medicine. But, sometimes you just have to do it. At Rodale we practiced and preached "Prevention" as much as possible. But Rodale is not anti-doctors. We used the term "complimentary medicine." Use natural methods first, employ doctors when necessary. I still believe this.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


OK, let's get this straight. No religious connotations in this headline, even though it is Easter Sunday--it's simply the phrase that came to mind as I awoke this morning after a wretched 4 days of upper-respiratory flu, or plague or who knows what. The bug felled me Tuesday night as I sat with my neighborhood book group discussing The Other Boleyn Girl. (Loved it!) As the night progressed and our discussion got juicy, my used Kleenex piled up next to me--to the horror of my book buddies. I just couldn't concentrate. I also couldn't touch the wine which should have been a tip-off.

By the next day I was in fever land with chills and headache and that old "I couldn't give a s--t!" feeling. My dreams of a productive work week flew out the door with the used Kleenex. Each day I would creep down to the computer and look at the email queries waiting for me. I wisely didn't open any, knowing my powers of judgement were severely impaired. I had to beg off a movie night with the girls, forget lunch with Rodale buddies and cancel my trip to NYC to visit editors. I told publicity clients that I'd be back to them "next week," told my kids to stay away and let Jon take care of me. I learned once again what a marvelous thing it is to have a husband who can cook and clean AND do the taxes when you are just too sick to do anything but watch Turner Classic Movies.

And, oh, boy, did I watch movies. I watched "The Shining" from beginning to end. I swear, it's better now than it was in 1980 when it was made. Also watched "The Music Man" which became tedious, although I still love to watch Ron Howard as a 5-year-old. I can't exactly tell you what else I watched because I think I slept through most of them. I did enjoy "Easter Parade" today before I gave myself a stern talking-to and went up to the shower.

When I wasn't sleeping I was reading Crime and Punishment, our book group's selection for April and an advance reading copy of Mrs. Perfect, Jane Porter's forthcoming sequel to Odd Mom Out. I began reading manuscripts today and I think I'll actually do some real work tomorrow!

Friday, March 14, 2008


I've spent several hours this week on the phone and on the computer with a client who is the author of a nonfiction book. She is a brilliant author with an academic background. We worked together on her first book which sold quickly because it was a trade-oriented psychology book geared to a popular audience.

[Note: This client is "grandfathered" in to our agency. We were her publicists first and consented to represent her new book because of a long-standing and productive relationship.]

This new book is tougher because the topic is serious and borders on the academic. She's writing it with a co-author. It's also tougher because the "platform" bar is higher than it was when I sold her first book five years ago. (I wasn't even an agent then--I worked with an agent friend to make the sale.) Today, nonfiction authors looking for a quick sale need to be near-famous, with regular television appearances, regular radio interviews and/or print and public speaking venues. My author(s) have none of these things and their book is going to have to stand on its own merits. In other words, it's got to be perfect, or at least near-perfect to have a chance.

My client has been writing chapters and the formatting is all wrong. I asked her to please change it to meet current standards--double-spaced throughout, author name, title, page number at the top of every page, etc. I should have brought this to her attention earlier, but I didn't, so we've been making the changes this week to bring the formatting into line.

I just reread the proposal and the sample chapters again this morning and am pleased that it is now perfect. I can make new copies with a clear mind and begin my publisher pitches again.

The point of this ramble is this. Book writing has an element of "housekeeping" inherent in the process. That housekeeping includes all the boring stuff: grammar, punctuation, and FORMATTING. Make sure that your manuscript (or partial, or proposal) "house" is in order before you send it to anyone. You don't want to be rejected on the basis of sloppy housekeeping.

Monday, March 10, 2008

ODD MOM OUT Revisited

I finished Jane Porter's book tonight, and gads, I cried. I cried on page 404 when Luke said, "I haven't given up on you, not by a long shot."

Now, I'm not an easy cryer. I started thinking about the books that have made me cry. I must admit, Love Story did it, but that doesn't count because I was pregnant and uber-hormonal at the time. Sophie's Choice, Cold Mountain, Of Mice and Men, and Oh, Pioneers! brought me to tears. But a girly romance? Not in recent memory.

So, what is it about Odd Mom Out that engaged this jaded reader to such a degree? Why does this book work so well in the women's fiction genre? Let's get out the white board and do an analysis. It might help me as an agent and you as a writer of women's fiction:
  1. Porter is a slick, powerful and gifted writer. That is the first and most important reason this book works so well. In her hands you feel safe and you feel pampered. She won't let you down. Her language, word choice, tempo, plotting, and energy work together to weave a fine tale.
  2. The characters are believable. Marta, the odd mom, is plucky, brave, funny and passionate. And, as I mentioned in the previous post, her priorties are in the right place. Her daughter is number one. Marta and her daughter moved back to Seattle from NYC to help Marta's dad and her mother who has Alzheimer's. Marta loves her family and will not betray them. This character development is a vital part of women's fiction. If you don't identify with and like the protagonist, you are not going to like the book. [Readers' Note: I HATE Madame Bovary, but I LOVE that book. It's a classic, for heaven's sake. So what's up with that? Yes, dear reader, Madame Bovary is a first-class bi---. But that novel is not women's fiction. It's a literary masterpiece. We don't like Lady McBeth or Becky Sharpe much either. Again, they're not chick-lit, oops, sorry, women's fiction.]
  3. The plot moves rapidly, yet believably. We follow Marta and her daughter Eva from late summer through the new year. We meet their friends, their enemies. We attend meetings, endure Eva's struggle to be "popular," agonize with Marta's balancing act as mom and career woman. But we are caught up in all the action and we keep turning pages.
  4. The love interest is engaging, hot and lovely. (OK, Porter walks a fine line here, but I don't want to give away the plot.) Luke is a hottie and he is kind, gentle, smart and we can't wait for Marta to give in.
  5. Jane Porter wraps up loose ends, gives us a happy outcome, but doesn't whitewash some very real problems.

That's it. Can you write a book for women that keeps these things in mind? Can you make me cry?

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


With spring around the corner, Jon and I have resumed our early morning 2-mile walks. Our conversation on these walks, though we’re both barely awake, often centers on books and our business--What we’re reading. What we’re rejecting. What we’re dreaming about. What’s knocking our socks off. Then we talk about what we’re reading for fun.

Today I monopolized at least one mile telling Jon about Odd Mom Out by Jane Porter. I picked up the advance copy of this book at the Book Expo in New York last year. I’ve never read this author, but I liked the sassy jacket which features a tea kettle and a svelte female in a red dress, fishnet stockings and platform mules. (Plus, like most advance copies at BEA, it was FREE!)

I’ve read up to page 150 and I love this book. It’s not fine literature. It would have been considered “chick-lit” a couple of years ago. Now it’s “women’s fiction.” Ms. Porter knows her way around a story. She writes in the first person with lots of dialogue to move the action ahead. The protagonist, Marta, is compelling, smart, and has her priorities in the right place. I like her. I like her daughter Eva, and the story rings true. I find myself rooting for Marta, hoping she gets the best of the snobby “A-List” moms at Eva’s school. I know there’s a love interest in the wings—I just haven’t gotten there yet. He’s big. He’s handsome. Be still my heart!

So, is that all it takes to get a book published? Likable characters, believable action, good dialogue? Hunky love interest? Perhaps not, but it’s a good start. If you write women’s fiction, read Odd Mom Out. And if you can structure a story as well as Jane Porter, I’d love to hear from you!