“A song to go to the soul of things”

mixtape of new songs

    (Photograph courtesy of Michael Lorenzo)

I keep some mixtapes upon the shelf. They hide a nasty stain or gloss over some messy memories from another era. Actually, they’re mix CDs. I still like them, and I’m still sensitive to the urge behind their creation.

Because playlists have become technically easy to assemble online, I suppose we’re inclined to make them effortful in some other way, so they’ll remain meaningful. In “Why we crave human-curated playlists,” Justin Fowler touches briefly on how we try. Elsewhere, the blog Largehearted Boy features Book Notes, which are playlists compiled by authors who want to elaborate on themes in their books. Finally, Bop.fm is making it simpler to use embedded playlists. Merely listening to one doesn’t require user registration, which has been an annoying obstacle with other music streaming services.

Most of the music I now buy was shared through social media or used as part of the soundtrack for a film or television program. I work in silence, so ten minutes of listening is the equivalent of a smoke break. The recommendation algorithms built into streaming services are helpful, but I owe more to the old mixtapes that introduced me to metal and blues and to friends who find and post throwbacks and new songs.

The title of this post is a line from Lorca’s “New Songs” (“Cantos nuevos”) translated by Catherine Brown. Go on down the rabbit hole, if you’re of a mind to. A.S. Kline’s translation of “New Songs” is on page 9 of the freely distributed book Twenty-Six Early Poems of Federico García Lorca.   pdf icon

Doing business in the public eye

business in the public eye

(Photograph courtesy of Mompes)

Most of a literary agency’s business is conducted quietly, behind the scenes. Attempting to bring any of it to light is difficult, because significant context often is missing. Every profession shares this quandary. Looking in from the outside, observers are forced to oversimplify and stereotype other occupations and businesses, because it’s impossible to experience all of them firsthand.

My work as an agent is neither routine nor boring, which makes it fun. After five years, I no longer feel like a novice, but that doesn’t mean I can ever stop learning. Most knowledge workers recognize that continually educating ourselves and monitoring industry intelligence are necessary aspects of our jobs; otherwise, we’d consign ourselves rapidly to obsolescence.

Many of us have been watching and commenting on the latest machinations of big corporations. Because of their size and reach, the largest companies involved in publishing and bookselling must contend with heightened public scrutiny. That’s good, because we need to be reminded that these big corporations establish de facto standards for balancing competition and cooperation, which other businesses in the industry then will emulate. If the biggest companies succeed by dodging taxes, being aggressively adversarial, poaching talent, emphasizing volume over quality, crowdsourcing free content, eschewing customer service, and exploiting their employees, then every other businessperson within the book publishing industry’s entrepreneurial ecosystem will begin to see value in those strategies. Ruthless tactics can appear much less unethical when they’re necessary for survival.

The outrage and dissent, even when inarticulately expressed in debates riddled with inaccuracies, help to reassure me that we haven’t completely lost our ethical sensibilities. And by the way, in the grand scheme, I really enjoy being in a position to advocate for the artist.

Exactly when did kindness and courtesy became unbusinesslike and unsexy? Certain old-fashioned business practices are worth reinstating.

Literary agents for textbook authors

Instead of textbooks, I prefer to handle the licensing of trade books, which are sold to the general public. Some books might be suitable for either type of publishing, but often the author is not. If the author thinks of herself or himself as a textbook author, then heading in that direction probably is a good idea.

The first 4 things a textbook author needs to know

  1. A concise explanation of the different types of book publishing can be found on the University of Chicago Press website in a free chapter of William Germano’s Getting It Published: A Guide for Scholars and Anyone Else Serious about Serious Books. Without an understanding of these fundamentals, it will be a struggle for a textbook author to make the appropriate connections.
  2. THINKING LIKE YOUR EDITOR by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato

  3. The elements of a textbook proposal have been described thoroughly in Thinking Like Your Editor: How to Write Great Serious Nonfiction and Get It Published by Susan Rabiner and Alfred Fortunato. The book can be found at a nearby library via WorldCat.org. Information on this topic is easy to locate online using a search term such as “textbook proposal.”
  4. The meaning of “author platform” should not be alien and should not be confused with CV.
  5. Textbook publishers offer on their websites helpful, detailed guidelines for authors, because it’s assumed that many authors will contact the publishers directly with their book proposals. Currently, some of the largest English-language textbook publishers are Macmillan Higher Education, Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill Education, and Cengage. There are many other textbook publishers.

Who might be able to help

Literary agents who specialize in textbooks

If a textbook project has sufficient commercial potential, the author might be able to enlist the assistance of a literary agent. Submissions guidelines can be found on each literary agency’s website. For example, Susan Rabiner, who is particularly interested in science and economics, says, “What I want to see is an author who is well connected in the field and knows how the field is being taught and what is lacking from existing textbooks.”

The agents listed here are working primarily in the English language.

Barbara Collins Rosenberg
The Rosenberg Group
Marblehead, MA

Carole Jelen – carole@jelenpub.com
Waterside Productions, Inc.
San Francisco, CA

Elizabeth Evans
Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency Inc.
New York, NY

Jeff Herman
The Jeff Herman Agency
Stockbridge, MA

John W. Wright
John W. Wright Literary Agency
New York, NY

Michael Lennie
Lennie Literary Agency & Author’s Attorney
San Diego, CA

Michael Snell
Michael Snell Literary Agency
Truro, MA

Neil J. Salkind and Lynn Haller
Salkind Literary Agency / Studio B Productions, Inc.
Great Neck, NY

Rubin Pfeffer
Rubin Pfeffer Content, LLC
Chestnut Hill, MA

Sam Stoloff
Frances Goldin Literary Agency
New York, NY

Sandra Dijkstra
Sandra Dijkstra Literary Agency
Del Mar, CA

Stephanie Ebdon
The Marsh Agency
London, UK

Sterling Lord
Sterling Lord Literistic
New York, NY

Susan Rabiner, Sydelle Kramer, and Eric Nelson
The Susan Rabiner Literary Agency, Inc.
New York, NY

Will Lippincott
Lippincott Massie McQuilkin
New York, NY

Zick Rubin and Brenda Ulrich
The Law Office of Zick Rubin
Newton, MA

Publishing attorneys with hourly or percentage-based fees

Lloyd Jassin
Law Offices of Lloyd J. Jassin
New York, NY

I’ll be happy to update this list with additional suggestions and agencies. Feel free to comment or send email to mail(at)robinmizell.com.

Can’t remember the title of an obscure book? Ask a bookseller in Shaker Heights, Ohio

Books at Hein & Co. Bookstore

(Photograph: “Books at Hein & Co. Bookstore” by Sarah Stierch is licensed under CC BY 2.0)

Sometimes all you can recall are a character’s name and the book’s genre, the decade when you read it, or maybe the basic plot or the setting. Especially when a book is out of print and hasn’t been digitized, the search for it can be frustrating.

Stump the Bookseller can help. It’s a fee-based online information exchange hosted by Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio. What a cool place Harriett Logan’s used bookstore must be—home to a bindery and an art gallery.

In Loganberry’s free question-and-answer archives I found the title of a middle-grade novel I borrowed from a public library in the 1960s. For $150 I can buy Hilary’s Island on eBay now. I almost wish I didn’t know.

Would save if my house burned down: Australian Bush Cooking

AUSTRALIAN BUSH COOKING by Cathy SavageDay 30: Just kidding.

I couldn’t take the final #BookADayUK prompt seriously, no matter how hard I tried. If my house were to go up in flames, I’d be forced to camp out like the vagabond I’ve always hoped to be. The cookbook would come in handy. Besides, it’s a souvenir of last year’s camping trip to Dunns swamp, which reminded me that you’re never too old, even if you think you are. If I had a fraction of the camping gear owned by Marsha Durham and her husband, I could live outdoors indefinitely.

Dunns Swamp
BookADay-The Borough Press

The one I have reread revisited most often: The Great Gatsby

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (OUP)Day 29: Aside from manuscripts, I don’t reread entire books. However, since reading The Great Gatsby when I was a high school junior I’ve seen two of four existing movie adaptations. Does that count? (Baz Luhrmann’s was the better of the two.) The first adaptation, a 1926 silent film, would make a total of five, but there are no surviving copies.

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner)Contrary to popular opinion that the first design was the best, I think the most effective cover for the novel is the 1930 painting by Tamara de Lempicka, which is used for the Oxford World’s Classics paperback edition. My old copy is a red Scribner paperback. You can see some of the other variations in T: The New York Times Style Magazine.

Near the last page of the novel is this paragraph:

I spent my Saturday nights in New York because those gleaming, dazzling parties of his were with me so vividly that I could still hear the music and the laughter, faint and incessant, from his garden, and the cars going up and down his drive. One night I did hear a material car there, and saw its lights stop at his front steps. But I didn’t investigate. Probably it was some final guest who had been away at the ends of the earth and didn’t know that the party was over.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Bought at my fave independent bookshop: Poems: New and Collected, 1957—1997, by Wisława Szymborska

Day 28: My go-to bookshop for three decades was the Book Loft of German Village at 631 South Third Street in Columbus, Ohio. I’m sure it’s still filled to the high ceilings with remainders and new books. In the old shop, a room (32 of them) or sometimes a hallway or closet was devoted to every literary category. Browsing through the entire store was a little like being digested; it might take twelve hours. The bookseller transacted sales behind a tiny counter under the stairs, in a space the size of a tollbooth. I could find a beautiful monthly or weekly planner among the Book Loft’s selection, instead of scavenging all over town the way I do now.

Poems New and Collected 1958—1997 by Wisława SzymborskaWisława Szymborska‘s Poems: New and Collected, 1957-1997, translated by Stanisław Baránczak and Clare Cavanagh, likely was purchased from the Book Loft. The pretty first edition, published by Harcourt Brace, has a caramel-colored ribbon marker that matches the dust jacket and the binding. Do many new books, other than Bibles, have bound page markers today?

When it was published in the U.S., Frances Padorr Brent covered the book in the Boston Review:

In Szymborska’s work there is hesitancy and modesty—perhaps a matter of personality—an emphasis on the difficulty of telling the truth, to get it right, to thread one’s way through a maze of official half-truths. In post-war Poland, which had lost more than 6,000,000 people to the Germans, it was not permissible to speak directly about the 2,000,000 Jews who died at Auschwitz or the indifference of certain segments of Polish society. The encounter with communism, which the Polish critic Jan Kott calls the “serpent’s sting,” insinuated itself into Polish art, leaving behind a hole of silence, representing what was sometimes compromised, sometimes excised.

Readers of all ages find Szymborska’s poetry approachable. You can see one of the poems reproduced in the form of a printable notice to pin on a bulletin board.

BookADay-The Borough Press

Want to be one of the characters: in MJB’s songs

Day 27: Trying to think of which literary character I’d want to be was giving me a headache. I almost skipped today’s prompt, but while I was watching one of my favorite old music videos I thought, Yes! I want to be Mary J. Blige.

MJB writes or co-writes many of her often autobiographical songs, and Hal Leonard Corporation publishes them in songbooks. They’re stories, and she’s a character in them. She didn’t write “One,” but there’s a great story behind it as well.

If I can’t be Mary J. Blige, then I’ll be Penelope.

BookADay-The Borough Press