Weeknights

January 11, 2012 at 8:19 am | Posted in small law, the book biz | 1 Comment
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In my current job, I need to do a fair amount of networking. When I was a BigLaw corporate lawyer, I spent my weeknights billing big corporate clients. Junior lawyers had no real client interaction, so networking was entirely self-initiated in anticipation of the day when you would want to flee BigLaw (or they let you go).

As a mother, one really didn’t have time to network anyway. You do your work, you go home and put your children to bed, and then you log back in and bill, bill, bill to try to make up the deficit of leaving working early.

Now, however, I work for a very small firm and am expected to generate a degree of business. In addition, as a literary agent I represent a number of authors and am expected to keep finding more. So I have built into my personal “business plan” that I go to an event one night a week. I set that expectation with our nanny, and I try to tell her as far ahead as possible which night that will be. Often, my husband is out with clients one night a week, as well, and while we try to make sure they are different nights, on some nights the nanny ends up putting the children to bed (which causes me a pang of guilt).

On one hand, being in an entrepreneurial environment with small children is challenging. There is of course quite a great deal more business generation I could and arguably should be doing to try to build up my own little practice. And I still do have to bill a certain number of hours in order to cover costs and, um, make money. I don’t think I was entirely aware of this when I left the corporate world.

On the other hand, there is something really great about changing up the “bed, bath & beyond” routine for a night and mingling with creative people, often holding a glass of wine. Of course, when the event is over at 9 p.m. and I have to get myself home and wind down and then the children are up, just as the moon sets at a very early hour, I vow to go to sleep by 8 p.m. the following night.

It’s all a balance and a juggle, isn’t it?

On the job in NYC

October 20, 2011 at 4:52 am | Posted in NYC, Starbucks, the book biz | 6 Comments
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The publishing industry is almost exclusively based in Manhattan. There are a few holdouts, such as Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and some smaller independent presses here in Boston, but the big players — Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins, Penguin, etc. — are in New York. As a literary agent, my job is to find great writers, help them develop their manuscripts and/or book proposals into scintillating, compelling pitches, and then to go sell those manuscripts or proposals to editors in New York.

Each major publishing house is divided into imprints. For example, Random House has three major imprints: the Random House Publishing Group, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, and the Crown Trade Group. And within each of these three major imprints are lots of sub-imprints, each with their own personality and bureaucracy of editors and marketers. If you are a writer of literary fiction, publishing your novel with the sub-imprint Alfred A. Knopf, a division of The Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, would be a dream. If you’re writing a book about food and health, the Ballantine imprint under Crown might be your home. And this is just one publishing house. An agent must learn what kind of books the different editors at the different imprints are acquiring and, in doing so, find the right editor and right home for her author.

Are you confused? Yes, me too. It is a bit overwhelming at times, but you do learn by osmosis and immersion. Every time I travel to New York, then, I’m meeting with editors at the various publishing houses. I actually printed out a map of Manhattan and highlighted each of the major publishers, and I keep this homemade map over my desk so that when I plot out my trips I know that it would be impossible to meet with someone at Harmony Books (a Crown imprint at Random House) at 11 a.m. up at Columbus Circle, have lunch with someone at St. Martin’s near the Flatiron Building, and then make a 2 p.m. meeting at Viking (a Penguin imprint) down on Hudson & Houston. Instead, I try to plan a day visiting a number of editors at one house or at most two houses in close proximity, such as Simon & Schuster (Rockefeller Center) and Harper Collins (53rd & Fifth).

These meetings take place either in the editors’ offices or over coffee or lunch or drinks. Editors need to acquire books. They get these books from agents. I may have the next “The Help” in my list. So it is ostensibly worth their while to take me to a nice lunch. In turn, I find out about their preferences. For example, I met with an editor yesterday who used to be a magazine editor at Details and GQ. He acquires only nonfiction, and journalistic, narrative nonfiction at that. So I’d never pitch him a novel. I met with another editor who acquires mostly fiction, specifically what she (wonderfully) describes as “car crash fiction” — a book which, when you read it, is akin to driving past a car crash: you can’t look away and you think, “Wow, I’m glad that wasn’t me. And yet I can’t stop thinking about what happened.” I would never pitch her a Grisham-esque thriller or “chick lit” (but that’s fine, of course, because there are hundreds of other fiction editors who would love such titles).

Then there’s also general networking and client cultivation: I meet with current clients, potential clients (people I’m wooing!), other agents, and other contacts, such as staff and professors at Columbia Journalism School who may be able to refer clients to me.

This is a job for an extrovert. Fortunately, I am one. I’m energized by New York, and I’m energized by speaking with smart people and hearing their ideas and discussing that which I have always loved more than perhaps anything else (inanimate, of course): books. But it’s also a business, and a business at which I very, very much want to be very, very successful. So I’m “on” all day long. I’m lugging a heavy bag around New York in heels (must rethink the bag; definitely would never rethink the heels!), hopping on the subway, using Starbucks restrooms. Some trips are day trips, but if I have to stay overnight I’ll take the train out to New Jersey and stay at the most comfortable hotel around — Chez Mom. Then I’m on a 7 a.m. commuter train back into the city with all the bankers.

Is it glamorous? Certainly more so than tax law. But it’s also work, and when I’m in New York, I work hard.

Empire State of Mind

October 19, 2011 at 4:01 am | Posted in NYC, the book biz | 2 Comments
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Columbus Circle

I grew up in a New Jersey town perched on a ridge of hills overlooking Manhattan. At several points in town you crest a hill and see the skyline spread out before you. (Of course, it was from the crest of one of these hills that dozens and dozens of people gathered to watch lower Manhattan smolder on the evening of September 11, 2001. My familiarity with that skyline is why my breathe catches still when I see the city from across the river, or from a plane overhead, with that deep gap in lower Manhattan where the Twin Towers should be.)

After college, I attended Columbia Journalism School and was thrown out into the city to pound the pavement and report. Were there Metrocards in 1997? I can’t remember. (Certainly there were no cellphones.) I became intimate with the NYC subway system and to this day can get almost anywhere in Manhattan without a map. After Columbia, I lived in the city on and off for the next several years, training for a marathon in Central Park, living it up in champagne bars in Tribeca, watching the Gay Pride parade from a balcony in the West Village, having a drink on my aunt’s terrace on the Upper East Side. I was relieved when I left NYC for good in some ways — trying to have fun in the city on a journalist’s salary is, well, not fun. But it is the city I know best. Even though I have now lived in Boston far longer than I lived in NYC as an adult, I still can’t quite navigate my way through the South End or even the so-called Boston Financial District (and I actually worked there).

One of the many, many upsides to my new role as a literary agent is that the publishing industry is based in NYC, so I have to travel there often. (I’ll save what I actually do when I’m there for another post.) I get on an early morning Acela and by 10 a.m. I’ve popped out of the subway somewhere near one of the publishing houses, feeling like I’m in the midst of a lot of really important things happening all around me. You may be much hipper than I and so thus familiar with the acronym “FOMO” — “Fear Of Missing Out”. (I was introduced to it only relatively recently by a much hipper friend.) When you’re in the publishing industry but not based in NYC, visiting Manhattan stirs up a bit of FOMO — why don’t I live here? What could I accomplish if I did?

Alas, I’m now a Red Sox fan, raising children with Irish surnames in the Irish Riviera that is my husband’s hometown. I’m extraordinarily content. And, yet, when I stride confidently down Broadway, I also feel at home.

In the second grade I wrote a poem called “The City At Night.” It was so catchy that I remember it still:

The city at night is a wonderful sight,
As you walk down the moonlit street;
The smell of the air, the feel of the wind,
And your heart begins to beat.

A stroll down Newbury or Charles Streets just isn’t …. exciting.  Boston doesn’t make my heart beat quite the way New York does — as it has always done.

Sick days, revisited

October 13, 2011 at 4:45 am | Posted in small law, the book biz, the firm | 2 Comments

At my former BigLaw job, staying home when ill would make me feel worse than hauling myself into work sick as a dog. Oh, the anxiety! I would lie in bed feeling resoundingly guilty, my Blackberry burning up in my hand. I felt the need to reply to every email, every voicemail instantaneously. Mentioning that I was home sick was a sign of weakness, and anyway I was afraid no one would believe me. (What? Why did I think this? I have no idea.)

Yesterday, I emailed my colleagues around 7 a.m. to let them know I’d likely be in late morning — I had been up all night with some sort of stomach bug.

“Please don’t come in and get us all sick,” one pleaded. But I had a few emails that needed to be sent. “I’ll do it for you,” offered another colleague. Granted, this particular piece of business was agency-related, not billable legal work, but to offer to do it for me so I could stay home? Relief.

Later that morning, an email popped in my inbox from a legal client. Could we have a phone call at 11:30 a.m.? I emailed around to let everyone know that I’d call in. Immediately, another email from a colleague: “We don’t need you for this call! Back to bed!”

Is it my BigLaw work ethic or BigLaw fear that makes a legitimate sick day somehow worse than going into the office sick? I think it more likely that it is the latter!

Anyway, it’s fun working with non-lawyers, and even more fun working with lawyers who actually prefer me to stay home when sick.

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