Why you need to schedule a goal-setting day this month

I’ve been thinking a lot about goal-setting lately. Every month, I do a little Monthly Review (inspired by this method from ZenHabits), where I go back and look at how things went that month in some important areas of my life. For me, these important areas are:

  • Spiritual Life
  • Health
  • Relationships
  • Career

And then I end with a little “Hopes for Next Month” section, where I jot down a few things that I want to think on or work on for the next month.

I can’t tell you how invigorating and inspiring this practice has been. I only started in January 2016, but it’s something I don’t think I’d ever give up now.

 literary agent blog goals for writers lon

We spend so much of our lives in the thick of things, so busy getting everything done that we straight forget what we are actually doing in this big game of life. We only see the immediate to-dos looming over our next few days and weeks, and the future is a blurry mess of hopes. Usually, the past is even blurrier—I know I’m so guilty of glossing over successes and moving on to the next thing right away!

This is so especially true of us creative types who work for ourselves or have a side hustle we want to develop. There’s no boss that’s going to sit you down at the end of the year and grade your performance. (Believe it or not, I actually miss the year-end reviews from my previous corporate life!) And there’s no time allotted for you to set goals for next year and to plan your long-term career trajectory. There’s also no bonus to reward you for all those times you pushed through to meet a goal. It’s all on you.

That’s why you need to take goal-setting time for yourself.

No one’s going to come along and tap you on the shoulder incessantly until you schedule in that time. (I’m tempted to do that, but consider this your official nagging from your local literary agent on the subject!)

But really, I can’t stress enough how important this is for writers, bloggers, everyone. If you’re involved in any creative endeavor whatsoever, even if it’s just a side project, then you really owe it to yourself to be intentional about how you spend your time.

And you absolutely owe it to yourself to celebrate your accomplishments in 2016 and get excited for the adventures of 2017.

Your creative life will feel so much richer and more meaningful if you can see the big picture, if you can be mindful of your strengths and weaknesses, and if you can be intentional about what you want to accomplish and what you don’t.

That’s just another reason to love these last quiet weeks of the year. At least in publishing, things are a little slower, more people are out of the office, and there’s more time to do big-picture planning.

The problem is: most of us have no idea how to set goals the right way. (And yes, there is definitely a right way.) Yet, as we all know, goals are high-stakes. We feel awful about ourselves when we don’t meet our goals, and we feel amazing when we crush them. So setting them at all becomes a highly emotional process. How do we know our goals aren’t too easy? How do we know they’re unrealistic? How many goals should we be setting? And the big one: how in the heck are we supposed to put a plan in place to accomplish those goals? We all know it’s not as easy as making a list of things we’d like to do.

The truth is: no one is born knowing these things. Just because you’ve successfully knocked off goals in the past doesn’t mean 2017 won’t throw you some curve balls. Just because you’ve missed some goals in the past doesn’t mean 2017 won’t be the year you hit it out of the park.

But as I talked about here, books and the experts who write them pull us off the isolated island of our own experience and immerse us in the stream of collective learning. There’s no reason we have to struggle on our own when there are hundreds of resources out there for learning important life skills. And you betchya that goal-setting should be one of them.

So this year, I highly recommend making “Set up a system for making and meeting goals” one of your goals.

Yes, a goal about goals. It’s weird. But it’ll be fun to challenge yourself to learn a new goal-setting process, and it’s going to lay the foundation for many, many years of accomplishments.

Personally, I’m going to take all the expert help I can get this year and put a chunk of my continuing education budget (i.e. my book budget) into Michael Hyatt’s Best Year Ever class. I’ve been a huge fan of all things Hyatt for many years (he was the former CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers, for anyone who doesn’t know him), and he builds better resources for advancing your career and creative life than anyone out there.

Michael kicked things off this week with a LifeScore Assessment, which I found really fascinating. It only takes a few minutes, it’s free, and it’s a great way to see where you are now. Take a few extra minutes to read through all 4 options for each of the areas of life—I think it’ll inspire you to let go of complacency in 2017.

My score was a 76, but I’d love to hear what you got! Take it here for free.

And if you’re interested in signing up for his class with me, you can read more about it here. I won’t go yadda yadda about all you could learn in it, but I do think it’s one of the few online classes that will give you a strong return on your investment. Especially since it teaches you a process you can apply to anything, rather than a very niche skill.

He’s closing to new students on December 15th so that the whole class can go through the program together, but he’s running an early bird discount now until this Thursday. So save some money and go for it now, if you feel like it’s right for you!

What I’m Reading

How to Smartly Evaluate a Small Publisher (Jane Friedman): I’ve worked at small, medium, and Big 5 publishers, and I’ve seen how drastically the publishing experience can vary based on what kind of house you’re with. Here are some very smart questions to ask when deciding whether to sign with a smaller house.

The Making of a Cookbook (Chandra Ram for Plate): This is a fantastic piece, with deep detail, about how the team behind the Fat Rice restaurant got their cookbook deal then created and launched The Adventures of Fat Rice.

5 Bookish Christmas Eve Traditions to Start This Year (Kate Scott for BookRiot): My favorite holiday tradition? Spend alllllll of Christmas day reading a book. Requires little set-up and allows for maximum mid-chapter snacking!

So Many Ways to Organize a Cookbook (Dianne Jacob): On the art of creating a cookbook table of contents!

The Miracle of Mindfulness (Thich Nhat Hanh): I loved this conversation between Krista Tippett and Thich Nhat Hanh on the On Being podcast so deeply that I immediately put The Miracle of Mindfulness, How to Relax, and The Long Road Turns to Joy on my reading list. I’ve been so enjoying dipping into How to Relax and am already planning on gifting it to a few people this season, but I think The Miracle of Mindfulness is the best place to start for someone new to mindfulness.

What We’re Eating

Another week on the road for me! Dinner prospects are bleak. (Luckily, I usually have editor or author lunches booked, so at least I get one wonderful meal a day.)

Monday: We had our night of volunteering with The Reading Connection, so we ate the lentil soup I had made Sunday night. This was no hardship at all. I think lentil soup is one of the most perfect foods. My recipe involves dumping a lot of spices in the pot and tasting over and over until it’s just how I like it.

Tuesday: I’m up in NYC, so tortilla de patata with my grandma it is!

Wednesday: ???

Thursday: Send help.

Friday: Back home to homemade pizza and beer. Amen.

Cheers!

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(By the way, I partnered with the Hyatt team to spread the word about his class, but only because I’d buy it myself!)

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A self-guided study to overcome rejection

How did you survive Thanksgiving? I ate way, way too much and loved every minute of it. Then I cooked an enormous pot of turkey soup based off of this recipe and over-ate for another two days. I love the holidays.

But now that we’re in the slight reprieve between Thanksgiving and Christmas, let’s tackle a big subject: rejection.

books-about-rejection

Rejection is an inevitable part of the creative life (and of regular old life, too), but most of the time we focus our energy on trying to avoid rejection, rather than expecting it and building resilience to it.

Let’s turn that around. Because if I’ve seen one thing in my years in the publishing industry, both as an editor and a literary agent, it’s that rejection is part of the job.

So then, our work as people who are engaged in the business of art, is to make peace with rejection. It’s not a bonus skill that will help you get ahead; it is the way ahead.

We’ve talked before about how every single person in the publishing industry gets rejected by one person or another–authors get rejected by agents and publishers; agents get rejected by editors; editors get rejected by acquisitions committees; publicists get rejected by producers.

And we’ve also talked about what to do in those moments and days right after a particularly tough rejection rolls in. But what can we do to steel ourselves against these blows to our souls? How can we dig and then fill a deep well of resilience that allows us to withstand rejection?

Well, the answer, as always, lies in BOOKS. Books are the repository of all human wisdom and knowledge, and you can bet you’re not the first or the last person in history to get kicked about in this particular way. Books also allow us to design our own self-guided studies of any topic known to mankind, and then to spend a good many afternoons on the couch, having our minds blown right open.

That is and will always be the most deeply important thing to me about books. The wisest and most expert minds in the world wring every last drop of their knowledge into a book and sell it for $19.99. If that’s not the best thing about our society (and a really nice deal to boot), then ship me off to the moon because I know nothing.

(Oh, and if you went a little too hard on Cyber Monday and don’t want to drop a few $20s on a few books, may I remind you about libraries? Libraries are the world’s collective knowledge and experiences, assembled over millennia, available to every last person for the price of $0.00. Show me a better deal anywhere this season.)

So this December, let’s hunker down with a self-guided study on rejection, so that we can be fierce and stubborn and relentless rejection warriors in 2017.

I truly believe a rejection study is an essential part of any writer’s self-education.

Only by being in a civil working relationship with rejection will we be able to look it in the eye around the water cooler, roll our eyes at its same old complaints and lies, and huff a little despondently as we walk back to our desk and get to work. Sorry, rejection, we have work to do, and we’re not going to sit around all day whining about how things could have been. Try someone else.

Now let’s get to work and buy or borrow our way to a stack of books that will show us how to build resilience in the face of rejection.

These are the books I would recommend as a start, but as with any self-guided study, only you know how you learn best. If you prefer a more kick-in-the-pants approach, find some authors who will shake you up a little. If you like to supplement with audio and visual learning, search out a few podcasts or video courses on the topic. But I do recommend getting one or two books—books have the incomparable advantage of living in your home, patiently waiting to be pulled down when you need a moment of counsel with them. (They make great home decor, too!)

(By the way, I only recommend books I’ve read or that I’m genuinely excited about reading myself. Life’s too short to read mediocre books. But if you do feel like picking up one of these, it’d be great if you bought them through one of the Amazon Associate links below. It supports the many hours of work this team of two [me and Jarrett] put into this little corner of the web!)

Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection by Jia Jiang

jia jiang rejection proof book cover

Think you’re down and out? Jiang put himself (voluntarily!) through an experiment to seek out rejection for 100 days. This boot-camp approach helped him deflate the dread of putting himself out there, conquer his feelings of self-doubt, and build him back up so he could dare to live more boldly.

From the back cover:

“Jia Jiang came to the United States with the dream of being the next Bill Gates. But despite early success in the corporate world, his first attempt to pursue his entrepreneurial dream ended in rejection. Jia was crushed, and spiraled into a period of deep self doubt. But he realized that his fear of rejection was a bigger obstacle than any single rejection would ever be, and he needed to find a way to cope with being told no without letting it destroy him. Thus was born his ‘100 days of rejection’ experiment, during which he willfully sought rejection on a daily basis–from requesting a lesson in sales from a car salesman (no) to asking a flight attendant if he could make an announcement on the loud speaker (yes) to his famous request to get Krispy Kreme doughnuts in the shape of Olympic rings (yes, with a viral video to prove it).

Jia learned … techniques for steeling himself against rejection and ways to develop his own confidence–a plan that can’t be derailed by a single setback. Filled with great stories and valuable insight, Rejection Proof is a fun and thoughtful examination of how to overcome fear and dare to live more boldly.”

Get the book!

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brene Brown

brene brown rising strong book cover

Already a classic—if you read only one book on this list, make it this one.

From the back cover:

“It is the rise from falling that Brown takes as her subject in Rising Strong. As a grounded theory researcher, Brown has listened as a range of people—from leaders in Fortune 500 companies and the military to artists, couples in long-term relationships, teachers, and parents—shared their stories of being brave, falling, and getting back up. She asked herself, What do these people with strong and loving relationships, leaders nurturing creativity, artists pushing innovation, and clergy walking with people through faith and mystery have in common? The answer was clear: They recognize the power of emotion and they’re not afraid to lean in to discomfort.

Walking into our stories of hurt can feel dangerous. But the process of regaining our footing in the midst of struggle is where our courage is tested and our values are forged. Our stories of struggle can be big ones, like the loss of a job or the end of a relationship, or smaller ones, like a conflict with a friend or colleague. Regardless of magnitude or circumstance, the rising strong process is the same: We reckon with our emotions and get curious about what we’re feeling; we rumble with our stories until we get to a place of truth; and we live this process, every day, until it becomes a practice and creates nothing short of a revolution in our lives. Rising strong after a fall is how we cultivate wholeheartedness. It’s the process, Brown writes, that teaches us the most about who we are.”

Get the book!

The Obstacle is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday

the obstacle is the way ryan holiday book cover

Want to tackle rejection from the angle of the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism? Try this one.

From the back cover:

“The book draws its inspiration from stoicism, the ancient Greek philosophy of enduring pain or adversity with perseverance and resilience. Stoics focus on the things they can control, let go of everything else, and turn every new obstacle into an opportunity to get better, stronger, tougher. As Marcus Aurelius put it nearly 2000 years ago: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Ryan Holiday shows us how some of the most successful people in history—from John D. Rockefeller to Amelia Earhart to Ulysses S. Grant to Steve Jobs—have applied stoicism to overcome difficult or even impossible situations. Their embrace of these principles ultimately mattered more than their natural intelligence, talents, or luck.”

Get the book!

Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth

angela duckworth grit book cover

If you’re going to get kicked around by life (and we all will), you’ll need a bit of grit to get back up. This instant New York Times bestseller has gotten so much attention and praise because of its research-backed look at this new concept of “grit”—the combination of passion and perseverance. It shares dozens of stories of rock-bottom moments in the lives of high-achievers and how they pulled themselves out of the mire of disappointment.

From the back cover:

“Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance.

Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference.”

Get the book!

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

big magic elizabeth gilbert book cover

This book will give you the kick-in-the-pants you need to move on from the tortured artist stereotype and bring some serious delight back into your creative life. If lately your work is feeling like a slog rather than a source of energy, get plugged in to this book STAT!

From the back cover:

“Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives.

Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the ‘strange jewels’ that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”

Get the book!


What I’m Reading This Week

Maya Angelou on How a Library Saved Her Life (Maria Popova of Brain Pickings): This beautiful piece on the magic of libraries is right on point for this week! I especially loved the quotes Popova started the article off with: “’You never know what troubled little girl needs a book,’” Nikki Giovanni wrote in one of her poems celebrating libraries and librarians. “’Knowledge sets us free, art sets us free. A great library is freedom,’” Ursula K. Le Guin asserted in her beautiful essay on the sacredness of public libraries.”

The FLASH Drives (Seth Godin): “Fear, loneliness, anger, shame & hunger. They drive us. They divide us. They take us away from our work, our mission, our ability to make a difference. And yet, sometimes, they fuel our motion, leading to growth and connection.” (This backs up my long-standing belief that we can’t get anything good done when we’re hungry. So get something to eat!)

Bookish Gifts Under $20 (Kelly Jensen): Once you’ve stacked a pile of books under the tree, you’ll need some accessories for stocking stuffers right? 😉

The Kitchn Holiday Gift Guide (The Kitchn): Not sure what to buy your favorite cook? Start with this very-cute, very-practical flowchart (which also leads to some extremely fantastic cookbook recommendations!).

How to Write a Great Story: A Roundup of Best Advice (Jane Friedman): All the storytelling goodness you need in one place. Bookmark this one and come back to it whenever you have a little pocket of time in your day!


What We’re Eating This Week

Finally, a normal week again! I spent our 8-hour Sunday drive from Ann Arbor to Alexandria thinking about what we’d eat this week. Here’s what I came up with with an iPhone, a lot of time, and a desperate need for more vegetables.

Monday: A giant chopped salad based off the chopped salad I always order at Mario Batali’s Otto in NYC. Because if I’m going to be good and eat salad, there better be salami in it.

Tuesday: Penne with prosciutto, asparagus, and kale, adapted from my favorite Italian cookbook (which is written in Italian and now out of print, or I’d share it with you all!).

Wednesday: This recipe for cauliflower steaks, but with leftover pesto instead of the lemon herb sauce. And a side of Rich Lemon Rice from Viana La Place’s classic cookbook Unplugged. (Yes, I’ll share this recipe with you all soon–it’s so, so good!)

Thursday: This Serious Eats recipe for One-Pan Chicken, Sausage, and Brussels Sprouts. Plus adding cabbage to the pan. I’m telling you, I went into a deep vegetable deficit over the holiday.

Friday: Derek Brown’s Miracle on Seventh Street Christmas bar with friends. Cannot wait.

Cheers!

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6 books to cozy up with after dinner

My favorite part of Thanksgiving? Stretching out on the carpet, in the middle of the living room floor, bemoaning the amount of food I just ate.

Growing up, we’d stack our plates, usually with an odd mix of traditional Thanksgiving food and Brazilian food (because you just can’t have a meal without white rice!), then eat and talk and eat and talk. At some point, one or two people would give up all hope of sitting upright and just beach themselves right there in the middle of the living room, belly-up, blissed-out, maybe asleep, hopefully drooling.

I loved how casual and comfy and homey this always felt—we were all family, and so why wouldn’t we take a nice little nap on the living room floor to ride out the turkey torpor? It’s the very opposite of fine dining, where people are continually telling me that I cannot put my head down on the table and take a little snooze next to the artisanal bread basket. (Very unfair.)

But Brazilians believe in naps. An afternoon nap on the weekend was a given in my house growing up, and I remember feeling mild culture shock that my all-American friends in college “weren’t nappers.” To me, that’s like saying you’re “not an eater,” or showers “aren’t your thing.”

A nap costs nothing, has no calories, doesn’t require any preparation, and is really enjoyable. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a nice dinner, especially one eaten at home in the vicinity of a soft surface. A nap is one of life’s simplest and most pure treasures, like pillow-y mashed potatoes and a hot cup of coffee. Naps are a way of life, and I’d bet good money the pilgrims took one after that first Thanksgiving. Thus, they are a sacred part of our tradition.

Another thing I’m almost positive the pilgrims did? Pulled out books and had a bit of a read after dinner. Sadly, this is now very discouraged in public settings, but it would make our country a better place, I think.

That’s why Thanksgiving is, by far, the best meal of the year. It’s a big, comfy family meal in which our primary goals are to eat our weight in mashed potatoes and then recline our way through what’s left of the day. If that’s not the perfect day, I just don’t know how to live.

So if it’s not already a tradition in your family to have a vigorous lounging session after the meal, then this may be the very year to start. You’ll need:

  • a soft spot
  • a full belly
  • a glass of wine that you’re too full to even finish
  • a pillow, if you’re in it for the long haul

Oh, and a book!

Times when it should be considered appropriate to read a book: while chopping (the sole reason audiobooks were invented!), while cooking, while eating, after eating, in between short naps, before bed, first-thing in the morning.

In case you agree with me (please?), here are some books that are perfect post-prandial reads, are significantly better than any and all types of football (a claim I’ve researched heavily), and will whisk you off on an adventure, a nap, or even a trip back to the table (god help you).

 thanksgiving books for adults

(By the way, I only recommend books I’ve read or that I’m genuinely excited about reading myself. Life’s too short to read mediocre books. But if you do feel like picking up one of these, it’d be great if you bought them through one of the Amazon Associate links below. It supports the many hours of work this team of two [me and Jarrett] put into this little corner of the web!)

 

Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

jodi picoult small great things book cover

Feeling up for a thought-provoking read? I applaud you, and I’ll step away and leave you with Jodi Picoult’s newest hit:

“Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.”

Get the book!

More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin

more home cooking laurie colwin book cover

You might think reading about food so soon after performing such shameful acts of gluttony is perverse, but actually, this book will make you feel much, much better about what you just did. You are part of a long and noble line of indulgers, and no one will make you feel quite so proud (well, at least a little less guilty) about this as Laurie Colwin. “Turkey Angst” in particular, is a must-have on your Thanksgiving reading menu:

“In my opinion the poor turkey is a mere scapegoat for the mire of conflicted feelings flooding our psyches at holiday time. It is hard to divorce the turkey from the expectations of the family table, the sibling rivalries, the unspoken resentments, the secret rages that occur even in the happiest families. Add to this the exhaustion of travel or the exhaustion of preparing to welcome traveling relatives, and even the juiciest, tenderest turkey may be as sawdust. Of course, it is possible in the most harmonious family to produce a turkey that may as well be sawdust, just as it is also possible to produce a magnificent turkey in the middle of a family psychodrama. Either way you slice it, it may be easier to blame the turkey.”

Get the book!

The Long Road Turns to Joy: A Guide to Walking Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh

thich nhat hanh the long road turns to joy book cover

Tomorrow. Tomorrow is the day we pick up that whole exercising thing again. But because we’re still moving a little slow and gravy-addled in the brain, let’s take it nice and easy with a beautiful fall walk:

“Touching the earth with our feet is an opportunity to live in the here and now. Thich Nhat Hanh reminds us to enjoy each step and each breath in order to regain peace in difficult moments. The simple practice of walking with attention and mindfulness can bring the spirit of prayer into our everyday life. This book will appeal to anyone who would like to get more out of walking, from long-time meditators to those who are just looking for a way to make their walk around the block more meaningful.”

Get the book!

The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate—Discoveries from a Secret World by Peter Wohlleben

the hidden life of trees peter wohlleben book cover

There are perpetually more books I want to read than I have time for, and there is perpetually more food I want to eat than I can find space for. Such is the cruelty of life. But for those of you who would still rather be humans than, say, trees, this is the book you’ve always wanted.

It’s also a great companion read to The Long Road Turns to Joy and will add even more depth to the simple art of walking in the woods.

“Are trees social beings? In this international bestseller, forester and author Peter Wohlleben convincingly makes the case that, yes, the forest is a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland.

After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again.”

Get the book!

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

commonwealth ann patchett book cover

And for a family saga of a different sort, Ann Patchett will make even your weird Uncle Willy look like a gem of a guy. If you like books-about-books of any kind, Commonwealth will delight you and keep you happily enthralled through the rest of the weekend:

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.

When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a meditation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together.”

Get the book!

Salad Samurai: 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-to-Make Salads You Don’t Have to Be Vegan to Love by Terry Hope Romero

salad samurai book cover

You know why.

Get the book!


What I’m Reading This Week:

Make a Book Advent Calendar! (Danika Ellis for BookRiot): This is such a cute idea! I especially love the pretty wrapping on the books in this version.

The Cookbook as Spiritual Autobiography (Michael Brendan Dougherty for The Week): An interesting look at the newest cookbooks from Alton Brown and Anthony Bourdain and the life stories that run through them.

Marketing and Publishing Checklists for Writers (Jane Friedman): “When embarking on a process that is new or unfamiliar, often you don’t know what you don’t know. A checklist, at the very least, will help you recognize what you don’t know, so that many months later, you’re not beating yourself up for complete ignorance.”

A Free Printable Prioritizing To-Do List (Becky of Clean Mama): I love this simple checklist from one of my authors! As we turn the corner into the holidays, let’s make sure we don’t arrive at December 26th exhausted and full of regrets. You can make this season magical with simple little moments and time spent doing things you love, whether you perfectly wrap every gift or not. (By the way, Becky’s book Simply Clean is now available for preorder, and it is fantastic. If you’ve always dreamed of being a clean person, this is the book that will get you there!)


What We’re Eating This Week:

Monday: $6 burger night at Mason Social with friends! The best way to start the week.

Tuesday: My favorite pesto: Mario Batali’s Kale Pesto. Make it all year, make it in bulk, make it and freeze it–just make it! Find the recipe in America: Farm to Table or start with his base recipe and sub most of the basil for kale. Tonight we’ll pop it out of the freezer, toss it on some spaghetti, and boil a bit of broccoli on the side.

Wednesday: We’re packing up the car and driving to Ann Arbor for the weekend, so road food it is.

Thursday: The big day!! My mother-in-law is a phenomenal cook, and her Thanksgiving spread is legendary. I can’t wait.

Friday: Salad. You know why.

Cheers!

A day in the life of a literary agent

what do literary agents do

It’s been a wild week around here. We were moving over the weekend, then had some bad news on Monday followed by more bad news on Tuesday (why must they come in twos?). But today, things are looking up a bit, and I’m getting excited about all the happy little joys that Thanksgiving brings.

I was recently inspired by an article from Emily Timberlake, a Ten Speed Press editor, in Life & Thyme, who shared a look into a typical day as an editor at a major publisher. And so I thought it might be fun to give you all a peek into one of my days, too!

It’s funny because, before I did this, I thought my days would be a little too diverse to fully encapsulate. There are a million tiny things that pop up throughout the day that have to be dealt with, and sometimes I feel like I’m just fluttering around from task to task, making only glacial-pace progress on bigger projects. But, when I sat down to think about the usual rhythm of my days, I realized that they’re not nearly as unpredictable as I’d thought. It turns out, every one of those little to-dos fit into one of two categories!

All my work as a literary agent boils down to two goals:

  • To guide new authors to the best possible publisher and the best possible deal
  • To guide existing authors through an enjoyable and successful publication process

Then repeat, repeat, repeat.

Of course, those two things break down into dozens of specific tasks: things like editor lunches and marketing calls and concept brainstorming and market research and emails about what the heck is that thing on your book cover.

So if you’ve ever wondered what literary agents actually do (and no, we don’t read all day!), then come on in, and I’ll tell you all about my day!

A day in the life of a literary agent

10:00 a.m.:

I always start the day by catching up on publishing news and my authors’ newsletters. I love this part of the day—I get to sit down with a big cup of coffee and ease into the day with some light reading. My must-reads every day are Shelf Awareness, the Publisher’s Marketplace deal report, Publisher’s Weekly Daily, and The Digital Reader, but I also try to supplement with some reading about marketing and business (Seth Godin, Michael Hyatt, CoSchedule, and Buffer).

After that, I love checking in and seeing what my authors are up to through their email lists—it’s always fun to see what they’re writing, what they’re cooking, what’s going on in their lives that week, and what new launches or other initiatives they have in the works. I could easily spend all day reading all of these newsletters, so obviously, skimming is sometimes in order!

10:30 a.m.:

I’ve been experimenting for a few years now with doing my most important task first thing in the day. I’ve found that it’s easy to get sucked into the flurry of emails throughout the day, and then suddenly it’s 5 p.m., and I haven’t made progress on my big-picture goals. Usually, my most important task is one of three things: proposal editing, author scouting, or post writing. These are the things that require the most brain power and caffeine for me to hammer out, so I try (try!) not to procrastinate on them.

Today, I’m editing a cookbook proposal and brainstorming the best way to position it (which also means researching some of the competitive books in the category and figuring out how to make my author’s project stand-out in this crowded world).

12:30 p.m.:

I have an editor lunch today, which is always a lot of fun. Today I’m lunching with a former colleague from the days when I was on the editorial side at a publisher, and I can’t wait to catch up with her. These editor lunches are also so valuable for getting a read on what’s working and what isn’t.

It’s a lesser-known fact, but publishers and editors can vary so widely in their assessment of the marketplace. For instance, you could easily hear from one editor that they are still going strong on acquiring vegetarian books, while another editor just had a vegetarian book flop and now can’t get enthusiasm for that topic from her team. That’s why so much of our job as agents is about match-making and keeping a finger on the pulse of different imprints—if we submit a proposal to an editor who doesn’t have a taste for a topic, it’ll never work out. If we submit a proposal to an editor who has a strong track record for that kind of book, then suddenly we have the cards stacked in our favor.

Plus, as I always tell my authors, personality matters! I want my authors to work with editors who completely and totally get them. Trust me, when an editor is genuinely excited about a book, it shines through to her whole team, and it’s infectious. It’s the magic that makes a book stand-out at a publisher.

2:30 p.m.:

It’s time to face down that inbox. Usually at this point I’ve tried to do triage throughout the morning on emails, but I still have a hefty stack of them that need more in-depth replies from me. I also always have a few things on my Follow-Up list: following-up on submissions with editors, on proposal with authors, on publicity and marketing plans with publishing teams, on other miscellany that springs up just as soon as you’ve cleared out your inbox.

Do you ever feel like emails run the world? I do. For a while I was looking back on my days and feeling like I’d gotten little done other than stemming the tide of emails. But in the past few weeks, I’ve tried to include “Emails” right there on my to-do list. The reality is, email is an important part of my job, and it feels good to give it a place on my daily list and have the satisfaction of crossing it off at the end of the day.

I’ve also tried to limit how much I check my inbox throughout the day, especially when I’m working on something that involves deep concentration, like editing proposals. That way, I can batch-process my emails without the constant interruption of checking and responding to each email as it comes in. Of course, I keep my phone nearby and check my phone inbox frequently in case something urgent comes up. But even that extra little step really helps quiet the impulse to immediately tap out a response to something that might need more thought from me (or might not even need an instant reply).

4:30 p.m.:

Time for calls! I usually try to schedule any calls for the late afternoon, when my energy is lagging and chatting on the phone is a great pick-me-up. It also helps me preserve the morning for more concentrated work. Today, I’m on a conference call with an author and her publishing team (editor, publicity manager, and marketing manager), and we’re catching up on how the galley submission to long-lead magazines is going.

Long-lead magazines are the big national magazines (Time, People, Bon Appetit, etc.) that plan their coverage 5-6 months in advance. That outreach is a big part of why the traditional publishing process takes so long—if you want to get your summer beach read included in a June issue, the editor at the magazine needs to have the final manuscript around January.

Publishers plan for this by creating galleys (online or printed final versions of a book, usually in black-and-white), which they can send along with a pitch letter to their editor contacts at media outlets. Just like with literary agents, it makes a big difference if a publicist has strong relationships with the editors they’re pitching, since it can often mean the difference between ending up in the slush pile or being bumped up to top-priority.

Publicists are also amazingly relentless, and they’ll chase down any possible nibble if it could mean coverage for a book. At my first in-house editor job at a publisher, I sat next to our imprint’s publicity assistant, who rocked it out all day on the phones, following up on our books and sweet-talking editors for coverage. These publicists are amazing, I tell ya.

5:30 p.m.:

I also have a call today with a new author I signed last week. We’re talking about strategy for her platform and her proposal—I want to make sure her audience is as engaged as possible before we even submit a proposal to editors.

Every author has their strengths and weaknesses, so I try to share learnings from our entire author base with each author, so that they’re not trying to reinvent the wheel each time they take on a new marketing goal. Plus, it helps us get any growth initiatives in the works now, so that when their book comes out two  years from now, they’ll be in excellent shape to promote it proudly and productively.

After all, at the end of the day, my job isn’t just to sell books to editors—it’s to sell books that will actually sell-through to readers. There are no shortcuts here, and it’s the only way to ensure that the publishing doors will remain wide open to my authors for as long as they want to write books.

6:30-11:30 p.m.:

Time to call it a day. On days that I work from home, Jarrett usually walks in around this time, and we both unplug and relax for a few minutes. We love cooking together, so most of the time we talk about our days while prepping and cooking dinner. Usually we have a few household to-dos that can’t be ignored. (Why do three new to-dos pop-up for every one we get done? This is a phenomenon that must be studied.) After dinner, we either read or watch TV together—we are wild and crazy like that.

What about you? What do you do to keep your day on track and get important things done?


What We’re Eating This Week

Oh, you don’t even want to know. We spent all of last weekend moving, so it’s been takeout, eating out, and living off of popcorn around here. (Speaking of which, you must try this popcorn recipe from my author, Jenn Segal of Once Upon a Chef. It is awesome.) But I have really missed my time in the kitchen!

Monday: Chad Allen is in town to visit one of his authors, so we grab dinner together in historic Alexandria at Virtue Feed & Grain. If you don’t already follow Chad’s blog, it’s a can’t-miss!

Tuesday: I’m up to the NYC office today, so dinner at my grandma’s house is a happy must.

Wednesday: It’s a no-frills-rotisserie-chicken kinda night. Sometimes homey and basic feels good, though.

Thursday: Beg Jarrett to cook dinner so I have something to eat when I get back from NYC.

Friday: We’re off to Friendsgiving with a big group of friends this weekend, so tonight will probably be a quick 15-minute pasta. I’m thinking of this one-pot veggie pasta from Stonesong client Jeanine of Love & Lemons or Marcella Hazan’s Simple Tomato Sauce. Or, you know, throw what we’ve got in a pot with some pasta and hope for the best.


What I’m Reading This Week

5 Literary Agents Tell You Exactly How to Secure Representation for Your Book (Chad Allen): Over dinner on Monday night, Chad asked me what advice I’d give to aspiring authors who are on the hunt for an agent. Here’s my answer!

Is Your Plan For Success “I Just Want to Write My Books”? (Judith Briles for The Book Designer): “Authoring and book selling isn’t the lottery. You don’t buy a chance. The truth is that the creation of a book, even though it took years to do, is a mere fraction of the time, energy, commitment and money needed to teach it to walk.”

10 Delicious Books About Food (Amanda Nelson for Book Riot): Do you listen to audiobooks while you cook? I never have, but I’m so tempted to turn on one of these and see if my brain can keep up with the words and the chopping at the same time!

The Binge Breaker (Bianca Bosker for The Atlantic): “The attention economy, which showers profits on companies that seize our focus, has kicked off what Harris calls a ‘race to the bottom of the brain stem.’ ‘You could say that it’s my responsibility’ to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage, he explains, ‘but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.’ In short, we’ve lost control of our relationship with technology because technology has become better at controlling us.”

As The Web Goes to Video, What Happens to Writing? (Dianne Jacob): If you’re doing anything online today, you need to know about video and also make a few conscious decisions about it. Here are a few things to think about.

We Didn’t Know How to Promote a Podcast. So Here’s All We Learned (Kevan Lee for Buffer): Thinking about starting a podcast? Start here–no need to reinvent the wheel yourself!

Cheers!

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