On New York City, Nights in Manhattan, & The City’s Eternal Cultural Glory

2021.09.23. 9.40pm EDT || nyc ballet || v.w.'s.heart.unto.more.x.
Adrian Danchig-Waring & Sterling Hyltin, NYC Ballet || photo credit: Paul Kolnik

Note: I will be migrating these blog posts to a formal blog in the next few weeks, as this site adapts and changes.

When I moved to New York City in the fall of 2010, my knowledge of the city amounted to rolling shots of 9/11, as twin towers fell, burned, and sent ashes through downtown streets, then scenes from the screen — The Devil Wears Prada, with a shout-out to the genie Anne Hathaway and Helen Mirren, or Sex in the City, with a nod to Sarah Jessica Parker and her lady friends.

Falling in love with the city itself, in its concretes, its tangibles, its contours, its smells, its sights and its sounds — its coffee shops, with mugs quirky and varied; its beer gardens, and one illegal drink or two, when a nineteen-year-old literary agent had to clients fulfill her duties, sneaking perhaps, even, into a party at midnight; its cultural houses, from operas with an Italian friend to nights with the Tesla Quartet, over strings and hands abuzz with magic — was supremely easy. Of even this night, and to this heart, the city remains one beloved.

This month, I’ve had the chance to utilize — with the deepest, most profound, and most hysterical of pleasures — the city’s gifts, with a trip to Waitress on Broadway, featuring the lovely Sara Barailles, whose spunk and heart made the story of a woman abused and woman in love worth an evening out; then a revisit with the aforementioned quartet, over a night at New Jersey’s Morris Museum, strings taut and fingers numbed, to then with rhythm ever-play; into a night with the New York City Ballet, its dancers firm and chiseled, formed and even.

Comparisons to the realm of writers abound, in a potential for genius and a manifestation of interior glory. The writer, though, delves deep to experience test and then it on the page utter. Come at me, dear genies, and let’s this musical play — a note, a song, a ballad, a lovers’ pitch, unto a deal, a bestseller, a film, among those Weronika knows well and deep. Into networks, into games, into negotiations and compensations, for work intense and true . . .

Here.

We.

Go.

On GEARBREAKERS, GODSLAYERS, & A Little Zoe’s Precocious Genie

The unfolding of my return to agenting, this September, confirms a stunning trinity, of a kind — in 2010, a mini agent a journey began, then had to take leave; in 2018, she rejoined the game, before she came to witness the undoing of lives around her; and in 2021, she’s back on tap, for queries, phone calls, deals to make and break, and more.


When I first entered the world of book publishing as an eighteen-year-old, genie and precocious in intent and more, I had the great luck of working with marvelous writers, agents, and editors, unto published authors, communities, conferences, and more.

In those early years, I helped Hugo and Nebula Award-winning author Max Gladstone find his home with David Hartwell at Tor (may this giant of a man rest in peace), beginning the launch of a career that I hope endures him forever. Some years later, given the passage into eternal life of a mother, a broken system among some editors who refused to launch a mini, and a drink over a bar that caused an uproar, I elected to scaffold gently out of an industry that has showed some degree of abuse.

In 2018, post-resigning from a non-profit career that I had for five years endured, I came back into the tumble, and was thrilled to place a parallel to Max, a tale of gods and fantasies, of magic and lores — little Zoe Hana Mikuta’s GEARBREAKERS, of two gals over deities in town, into 2022’s GODSLAYERS.

Where GEARBREAKERS was expected to publish in April, it debuted this summer, and is off to a genius start.

When fortune took its fall, and some sickness entered my life, I was overjoyed that, at least for now (eh, eh, oh? unto battles and wars!) the beautiful Laura Rennert took over for this soul.

On a similar note, check out what Max has, over the years, been up to: as a 2011 start, a 2012 publication, into a 2021-2022+ renewal (LAST EXIT, into Weronika’s last entry, to stick around until time ends) brings forward this gift of a soul of a man, who from Yale into China into Weronika’s heart, ever-once-fell. Cheers to Zoe, to Max, and to all the mechas out there.

Be sure to check out the one whom they have acknowledged.

This industry is magic, genius, ever-innovative, and ever-abeatin’, and I’m so happy to be back, to network in some greats, forevermore. (I promise.)

An agent for life,

Weronika {Dubzelina, or Dubz, for short}

In Glee & Adoratio, On A Return to the World of Corporate Book Publishing, Agenting, Networking, & More

Dear Friends, Foes, Writers, & More:

2019 brought on sudden, unexpected, and extended illness, of a form, then Covid came about — and, during this time, I was unable to work. It’s with great joy that, weeks, months, and years later, I’m jumping back into the game, in order to bring about some glories, some beauties, some genius genies, and more.

Everything from the 2019-2021 period has been deleted. Reach out again if you didn’t hear back.

As of this morning, I’m open to queries. Send moi more!

Cheers,

WEJ

On Christopher Columbus’ Illegitimate Son & the World’s Greatest Library

The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books
by Edward Wilson-Lee
Scribner/Simon & Schuster, 2019
Hardcover, 401 pages, $30

A lesson given often in primary schools — perhaps, if later, at the university — is that historical realities can be interpreted for generations in different ways. Some realities are interpreted as true to their objectivity as possible, even while it remains the case that no historical reality can be known in all its detail and complexity. Other interpretations of reality will stand untrue to what happened, even if those who receive these interpretations may not know of their untruth, including the one who narrates them. Certain accounts will be derived from clear, broad, empirical sources, while others will be derived or created from within the imagination of the one who writes any given account.

Caption from the book: The only existing likeness of Hernando Colón, younger and illegitimate child of Columbus, curator of his father’s legacy, and builder of the greatest library of the Renaissance.

Before us, in professor and literature expert Edward Wilson-Lee’s The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, lies a complex, multi-threaded history, integrated with an entire spectrum of key historical, visual artifacts. He writes of Christopher Columbus, “Admiral of the Ocean Sea,” as well as Columbus’ illegitimate son, Hernando Colón, who lost his father at eighteen and fought for paternal legitimacy “by showing himself to be his father’s son in spirit.” Wilson-Lee writes of the imperial and oceanic politics of the sixteenth century and, against their backdrop, Hernando’s single-minded pursuit to maintain his father’s legacy.

While Hernando was born in 1488, and lived until 1539, Wilson-Lee reports that his “earliest recorded memory is characteristically precise. It was an hour before sunrise on Wednesday, the twenty-fifth of September 1493,” as he and his brother Diego observed the messianic ships upon which their father traveled as conqueror of the Americas.

Exposure to this participation in Columbus’ travels, along with an eclectic combination of experiential and intellectual data, underlay the introduction of Hernando to “a bewildering variety of people and things but also to a world of complex and often contradictory ideas. He would have attended lectures by the great scholars recruited to train the aristocracy at court, probably from an early age . . .” Intensive cultural exposure of this kind soon manifested in Hernando’s “genius for ordering” books — and thus a race to grow the world’s largest library of written and visual artifacts, then followed by a love — even an obsessive one — for the collection and ordering of artifacts that reveal the stories of the people and places from whom they come; he would be known as a maker of lists.

The making of lists, among an array of other brilliant mental exercises, proved easy for Hernando “in part because [his] mind moved ceaselessly from event to system, from a single thing to a general framework into which it could be fitted.” In his collecting, he demonstrated respect for those who deeply appreciate the systematization of thought and data, of historical information, and thus of artifacts which serve as vehicles for storytelling and knowledge-giving. As a symbolic parallel, one acute example of a deeply-appreciated statue includes that of Moses, “who sets the history of the world and the peoples of Israel in order, telling of their genesis and exodus, compiling their genealogies and the tables of their law: Moses, the maker of lists.” What Hernando did not expect to realize in his work is that ordering requires intense formation on behalf of (i) those who create the categories by which objects are listed, as well as (ii) those who come to understand and apply these categories to their own learning and searching. In a special way, therefore, Catalogue is written for those with sheer adoration for books, libraries, bookstores — for paintings and other visual artifacts, galleries, museums — and prompts the memory of how one came to relate to any of these objects or spaces in the first place.

Caption from the book: Abridged: Thomas More’s Utopian alphabet, designed to convey the perfect language.

Imagine stepping into a library, not knowing beforehand the categories you must know to find the book most appropriate for the question that you have undertaken. Imagine, also, not realizing the way you are conditioned into choosing from the categories that have been given to you by your parents, your teachers, your librarians, and otherwise — and not knowing to think outside of those categories to expand your own research and the pursuit of a new or wider context for the data provided before you. Wilson-Lee writes that, “. . . once the hierarchies are written into the tools we use to navigate the world, this step [the consciousness and selection of an item from within the pre-imposed hierarchy] becomes even harder to undo. Eventually, in fact, we often forget the hierarchy was imposed in the first place and no longer see anything other than a natural, inevitable, timeless order, from Alpha to Omega.”

Over the course of the book, Wilson-Lee tracks multiple key conceptualizations and historical unfoldings that complete this story which so captured his imagination. In addition to building lists and categorizing libraries, Hernando supported the development of map-making theory, adding “lines of latitude and longitude and then dividing those squares with lines at every mile of each degree. The concept was so new . . . that Hernando had no name for this kind of grid.” It was later deemed important because the “numbered line implied the world portrayed was in the realm of mathematical proportion, scale, and measurement, and not subject to the blurring effects of human experience.”

Beyond map-making, Hernando supported the development of revolutionary printing models, hunting down international texts to then work “with the great printers of the age to make them available in robust editions.”

Finally, amid dozens of other revolutionary, brilliant contributions which Hernando made to his fields, Wilson-Lee includes Hernando’s fight toward the end of his life over the nature and structure of his father’s reputation — given that, on 27 August 1534, the Spanish courts “issued the Sentencia de las Duenas, stripping the Columbuses not only of their right to the title of viceroy of the Indies but also of any right to a share in the gold other goods of those lands.” For Hernando, the playing field for this debate became the artifacts collected, and it is no surprise that that the questions of Columbus’ international primacy as traveler and discoverer remains today “the focus of many modern biographies: it would not do for the great achievements of a celebrated figure’s life to seem to come from random happenstance . . .” With this focus and commitment, Hernando’s own contribution, in an implicit way, to theories of history and storytelling becomes manifest.

Of the purpose and structure that underlies The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books, three things can be said: First, the very historical concept here introduces readers into a previously unexplored dimension of an otherwise muchly-studied era. Most persons know Columbus; very few know his illegitimate son, and even less likely is the chance they know this son’s creative project. Second, Wilson-Lee demonstrates himself once more to be a nuanced, visual thinker, with a broad capacity for collecting and integrating layers of historical data in a beautiful narrative about the chosen topics, themes, and time. (Catalogue follows Wilson-Lee’s trade non-fiction debut, Shakespeare in Swahililand, which treats of African leaders who adopted into their lives and culture Shakespearean genius.)

Finally, I note only that, due to its complexity in terms of integration, there is some degree to which the book could have been more efficiently framed to help readers dive into and consume the story. Multiple layers coordinate here — both the historical timeline of Hernando’s life, from a to z, as well as the more broadly conceptual and thematic set of claims that Wilson-Lee argues to about the nature of knowledge, the construction of theories and categories, and the self-selection and discarding of data points. He uses Hernando as a case study to “argue into” these claims. To some extent, a clearer preference for either the historical data of Hernando’s life versus the conceptual claims about the collecting that Hernando undertook would have helped clarify for readers new to some of this form of intellectual study the structure of his integration.

Either way, however, a reader comes away from Catalogue bearing a fleshed-out introduction to an angle of this time period that is oft not included in history books. Beyond it, the intelligence and cleverness of the angle Wilson-Lee chooses to undertake — this single library, the largest of the Renaissance, its prowess now so deeply overtaken by the development of technology and ease-of-transport of written and visual artifacts — helps concretize the uniqueness of both the man and his mission. I highly encourage its reading, completion, and consideration.

I am grateful to the University Bookman for the provision of a copy of this title.

On The Link Between Queries, Pitches & Contracts

Q. What, exactly, is the relationship between queries, agents’ pitch letters to editors, and the contract that follows?


A. The query introduces the book to an agent. The pitch letter introduces the book to an editor and publisher. The contract finalizes the sale.

See these posts, which have already done the work to put this into foundational context, from former literary agent Nathan Bransford:

  1. What is a query letter from author to agent?
  2. What is a query/pitch letter from agent to editor?

Beyond Nathan’s wonderful posts, note that most writers cannot secure an agent without a solid query letter, which prompts the manuscript request and then an offer of representation to secure the writer as a client at the agency. Once an offer of representation between a writer and an agent is confirmed, that writer confirms agency representation status with a legally-binding agency agreement, and that agent can represent the writer before publishers/imprints with their editors.

An agent and an author can (and ought to) engage in systematic conversations about the nature of this relationship before the agency agreement is confirmed, given that, in signing it, the author confirms a formal, legal relationship for the duration of their career (or project-by-project, pending the structure of the agency agreement).

A query letter will almost always be the first encounter between a writer and an agent, and given that agents will read 5,000-20,000 or so queries over the course of the year, the letter has to stand out beyond belief in order to capture an agent’s imagination. Beyond the query, the manuscript itself, and where a non-fiction writer is querying also (many will come to the agency without querying, in that they often have a platform or expertise that surpasses the query trenches), the proposal, will also have to shatter the agent. An agent must be persuaded s/he can sell a project before s/he proceeds with its submission.

For a record of public query letter vetting, check out literary agent Janet Reid’s excellent blog, QueryShark.

Some clients will come to the agent without querying: through conferences, conversations begun by the agent or the writer, an agent’s active research and pitching to authors potential book ideas or projects, or otherwise. Especially with non-fiction projects, an idea may be pitched and conversations had before a proposal and an agency agreement are formalized, given that certain academics, experts, or otherwise may have never considered trade publication and sought it out.

One of my own agenting loves and strategies, of a kind, is this kind of non-fiction proposal development, given that I read broadly in the deeper academic or non-trade sphere (dissertations, journals, magazines of a more academic orientation, and otherwise), often encounter life-changing and mind-altering ideas and theory, and find much of it deeply relevant to the greater public sphere. This kind of brainstorming and development work is almost always the purview of the literary agent, even if certain editors do elect to pay close attention to news/social media/publishing outlets, to experts, and/or to writers, to then chase after potential projects.

It’s much harder to find a writer and pitch a novel, even if it does happen sometimes, as agents and editors pull novelists-to-be from the screenwriting or short story trenches; novels are harder to build from the ground up, are far more interiorly and existentially demanding, and the practice of craft manifests itself differently from more academic or factual writing. Memoirs are an exception.

When submitting a book, an agent will often include a solid pitch letter to the editors to whom s/he submits (even if one is not intrinsically required at this stage, in this degree of complexity, given the nature of relationships built over time between editors and agents). It is almost impossible for writers to place a project, let alone to place it brilliantly, without an agent.

A healthy submission — the right project, to the right editor, from the right agent — will then result in a sale, and open up the incipient contract negotiation. When confirmed, and signed, this contract legally binds the author to the publisher.

Thus agents become, and have always been, essential for the management of all the stages of the publication and career-building process: project submission and placement, contract negotiation [there is a need for fluency in the legal dimension, which is given/taught by the industry and mentors; contracts are not mere legal frameworks to protect the author, however, but are also tools of adapting to the industry, fundamentally contingent they are upon the book publishing market as a whole, from publishing models to distribution models (i.e., the royalty hierarchies for different publication forms, from trade hardcover, to trade paperback, to mass market paperback, to electronic, to audio, and more)*], marketing support, career management, and more. The vast majority of authors do not have, nor do they want, the business capacities to agent well for themselves.


*What is the nature of this distinction?

Standard contract language between two parties, to protect the interests of both parties, will be ‘transactional language’ here, identifying the nature of the two parties, the nature of the transaction, and the nature of the obligations due to one party versus another. Here a good contracts lawyer can help review/vet the contract (note: a good contracts lawyer), even though the best agents will be operating at a contracts lawyer’s capacity, if not beyond it; the work of literary agents, in this dimension, is supremely intelligent and demanding work.

Besides a kind of transactional protection, however, the publishing agreement puts forth and guarantees a market-based framework for this particular form/type of product (a book). Inserted into the agreement is not just language that negotiates the transaction between the Author and the Publisher, as two key contractual parties, but also between the Author v. Publisher v. Marketplace, in that the Publisher is going to be publishing within and responding to a Marketplace which he cannot control.

(To be particular, with examples:

A standard contract might mediate a simple transaction between two parties. For example: when you pay me $250k, I will sign over the rights to my house to you. This transaction can be and often is made independent of the state of the housing market, and the necessity of or the desire for this form of transaction often transcends or precedes the state of the market. If the housing market is poor, the house will sell for less, but it will still sell, and on the other hand, if the housing market is strong, the house will sell for more, but once the sale is made, the transaction is completed. If it sells again in another 25 years, the sale will be negotiated in an entirely different negotiation, with an independent set of contractual terms.

In book publishing, the publishing agreement does not only mediate this simple form of transaction; it also mediates the Publisher’s responsibility to the Author before the entire, ever-changing Marketplace, over the duration of the existence of the book in that Marketplace, across different forms of publication and distribution.

While contract language does, where appropriately negotiated, account for changes in industry standards, what it often does not do is protect against such large potential institutional changes that the entire contract base would need to be re-negotiated, to account for the marketplace infrastructure which will now affect the potential of the author and said book project. Systematically, ever-more-so, authors find it more viable to self-publish, for example, or to publish with smaller or medium-sized publishers that have perfected more sustainable marketing, digital advertising, and distribution models; if we understand your traditional publisher to be the publisher that sets the standard for the nature and quality of publication, no longer do ‘traditional publishers’ own all of the turf, nor do they necessarily consistently excel at the quality of publication. This is the space for agents to be innovative responders to the movements and limitations of publishers before them.

As another, fun little thought, to help put this into context: There are something like 3.5k+ companies with publicly traded stocks on the stock market. I’ve done some basic research here, so take this with some form of a grain of salt, and as merely a conceptual tool, but: Given that the nature of the products on the stock market is so broad and diverse, it is its own project to not only mediate the contract for funds invested between the Investor/Hedge Fund and Company, as example parties, but to also account for the type of Marketplace within which every kind of product is sold, beyond the time frame to which funds are committed as subject to changes at the level of the stock market.

To invest in tech is not the same thing as to invest in organic, hand-made soap, a sprinkle of cinnamon tossed in; in other words, beyond acknowledging that the marketplace for these things does and can change, it could also be possible and wise for investors to push for/pre-determine the outlets by which a product is sold and the medium by which it is produced. As far as I can tell, not all — if not very few — boilerplate contracts between investors and companies that are on the receiving end of this investment include this latter kind of structured contractual language, helping to shape and negotiate the state of the sub-industry for the product developed by any said company.)

Terms with regards to royalties, forms of publication, distribution models, publication discounts, and others are all subject to change — to a change beyond the immediate agency of the publisher who puts the product into the marketplace in the first place. Here, a hard knowledge of different infrastructural pieces within the industry, the degree to which they are subject to change, and otherwise, is fundamental to the highest quality of contract negotiation for authors.