Monday, December 31, 2007
I'm the sort of person who thinks books are the best decor touch for any room, so the same must be true for blogs.
I defy you to name all of these books. (The skinny yellow one is going to be impossible to recognize, I'm sure.) But you could perhaps determine which author or illustrator is most represented here. Guesses?
And don't forget to add your two cents to the post below.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
The copyeditor says, "No, those are elk tracks."
"I disagree," says the editor. "The majority of viewers would certainly interpret these as deer tracks."
"But they do not follow the correct form of deer tracks," objects the copyeditor. "They must be elk."
They argue back and forth, on and on, and they're still arguing when the train hits them.
There aren't nearly enough editor jokes. You guys are the writers; can't you come up with some?
In the new year, this blog resolves to laugh more and eat fewer authors for lunch (its margins are feeling a bit tight). It resolves to go to the gym when it says it's going to the gym, instead of stopping at a bar to bench press tequila. It resolves to tidy its apartment more often and see if it can figure out why the damn toilet keeps running, even if this requires visiting a (gasp!) hardware store.
When I started this blog I wasn't sure it wouldn't be just to amuse myself, but a couple of months later, ta-dah! I had a readership. It's nearly a year later (which is eons in internet terms, not to mention in terms of my attention span), and to celebrate this miracle of longevity I thought I'd ask you what you'd like to see on this blog in the new year. Ideas? Suggestions? Most appreciated.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
I have a 9K ms that is part picture book, part chapter book and part graphic novel. Several agents have requested the full ms and I am waiting to hear back.
But I worry that they cannot envision the book. I have been illustrating for a long time, so I can see the presentation in my mind's eye; the problem is that the format is not like anything else out there on the market now so I have nothing to compare it to. So how do I sell this without dummying up the whole thing? Or do I have to bite the bullet and do that? Scripting it will not work. But creating the dummy is a heck of a lot of spec work, when I have paying and more salable projects in hand. Still, this one calls to me.
You're going to have to dummy up enough of the manuscript for people to get a good idea of what will happen in the rest of it. If that's a lot of work for no sure gain, well, welcome to children's books. (laugh!)
I am the author/ illustrator of several picture books. I often speak and read to children in schools and libraries. I would like to try something new. My idea is to present an unpublished dummy of one of my books and ask the children to be the "editors". This would be an interesting way to get them to think critically. Can you suggest a list of criteria for them to use as a guide?
That's a fun idea. You'll be inserting some "mistakes" for them to fix, I assume? It'll depend on the age of the kids, but you might try some show-not-tell on them, ask them for ways to "show" something you've "told". You could ask them to look for the things that are pictured in the illustrations and can thus be cut from the text. You could ask them what image would be best for the cover, and talk about what the cover should convey. If you want to talk about spelling and punctuation, you could include some examples of how the wrong punctuation will make the sense of a sentence change.
Just leave out the crushing paperwork part.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Assuming that along with her comments she included a request to see the revision, yes, it is ok to use email for future correspondence, as long as this means
A related question ... If an editor emails you, does that mean you have an "email relationship" now and it's fine to use email for future correspondence? For instance, I had an editor email revision comments to me; I did the revision and now need to check in to see where it stands (many months have passed). Is it OK to email for this, or should I mail a letter inquiring?
- asking her if she would like the revision via email or via post (don't assume)
- not emailing her more than twice in a four-month period (editors are in contact with so very many people; if every one of them emailed us just once a month, our heads (and computers) would explode.)
Likewise, another editor I met said that I could email a manuscript to her. She rejected it but said she'd look at other stuff. OK to email again?
Ok to ask her via email if she'd like the manuscript via email or post.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I'm new enough to the industry that I worry about being "black-balled". Not sure if that kind of thing happens in the publishing business, but I know it happens in other industries.
Remember the kitchen full of slush?
Good. Now imagine that on your way through those piles, one of the authors has done something that you feel is kinda unprofessional.
At least half of that sea of manuscripts is from people who haven't even heard of submission guidelines. So unprofessionalism, while often enough to get the manuscript tossed without a second thought, is not nearly enough to get us to remember your name.
If you want publishers to remember you darkly enough to never want to work with you, you'll have to do something on a higher order of Obnoxious, Stupid, or Psychotic. Eg:
- Sending me lingerie, pornographic manuscripts, or death threats. You're nuts. I've given your name to security.
- Calling or emailing me repeatedly in the belief that you're just too charming to have to play by the rules. Using the phone or email forces me to respond personally to you, and the thought of all the patient, rule-abiding, very likely more talented authors in the slush pile who would love to hear from me personally—when in fact I'm busy dealing with jackasses like you—boils my blood.
- Writing a manuscript so totally out of touch with children—or humans—that I have to share it with all of my colleagues.
And it should be said that in these instances, when you've ensured that your name will live on in infamy with me, that does not go for the many other people in the publishing industry. We don't have a bulletin board or secret clan meetings where The People We Must Never Work With are discussed and flogged in effigy. Though that does sound nice.
So rest assured. The next time that publisher gets something from you, they will not be thinking, "It's that person who waited much longer for a response from us that he should have had to and then, when we still didn't respond, submitted his manuscript to a contest! Kill him!"
They're going to think, "Who?"
Sunday, December 16, 2007
Whether Tis Nobler to Suffer the Slings of Publishers' Indifference or to Take Arms Against a Sea of Contests
I have a YA manuscript that I would like to submit to a First YA Novel Contest. The deadline is Dec. 31. The problem is, I still have that manuscript out to another publisher, and the contest rules say the manuscript cannot be sent out to others while under consideration for the contest. Even though I sent my manuscript out over 8 months ago, I still haven't heard anything. And unlike some publishers, this particular publisher says they will respond within six months if the author sends an SASE, which I did. Two weeks ago, I sent a letter inquiring whether or not they are still considering the manuscript, and if they are, when might they make their decision. I sent another SASE as well. My question to you is, if I still haven't heard back by the contest submission deadline (Dec. 31), do I need to contact the publisher with the manuscript to withdraw it from consideration? I have no desire to antagonize any publishers, but nor do I want to withdraw my manuscript if there is a chance that they want it. Neither the contest nor this other publisher is a sure thing after all.
Eight months is a bit long, no question. I wonder if it's gotten lost there. And you've given them a chance to express interest—even just preliminary interest. I'd recommend withdrawing the manuscript and trying the contest; you can send it back to that publisher later if you like.
I’m an author and illustrator, and I’d like to tell my next story as a graphic novel. How are graphic novels presented to you — as pure text, like picture books, or as text with sketches, or in final form? Thanks for all your efforts to keep us writing, and laughing, and presenting ourselves professionally.I don't see many of these; I think many writers aren't quite comfortable with the format yet. Basically you're writing a script—so I'd want you to include only as much of the action/stage direction as is needed to understand the dialogue and changes of scene. Of course writing scripts is a separate talent from writing stories... but as longer books get more visual (many thanks to Hugo Cabret), I'm hoping to see more manuscripts that experiment with visual elements in my slush pile. Good luck!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Do interns really go through the slush pile or have I wasted my coffee money on stamps?
How does a regular person with no connections and no money get an agent?
Will the good houses ever be open to unsolicited ms?
How do you get your foot in the door? Really?
Ali Baba sees a bunch of people walking back from a mountain, loaded down with jewels and precious metals. He imagines the treasure cave they must have found. "There must be some trick to getting in," he thinks to himself. "Some magic phrase."
So he starts stopping each guy as he passes.
"Is it 'abracadabra'?" he asks the first guy. The guy just shakes his head.
"Is it 'hocus pocus'?" he asks the second guy. The second guy just shakes his head.
He keeps asking until finally around the seventh or eighth guy he says, "Is it 'open sesame'?"
The guy stops and looks at him. "Wow," he says. "You just don't get it." The guy swings a big, heavy hammer off his shoulder, where he's been carrying it. "You see this sledge hammer?" says the guy to Ali Baba. "I made this. And it's not my first one. Every treasure I've pulled from that mountain I've hammered out of it with my own hands."
The answers to your questions:
1. Yes, and not just interns.
2. You query them and submit to them the same as you'd do for a publisher.
3. There are good houses open to unsolicited manuscripts.
4. First you've got to create something strong. And then you've got to really work.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
I'm a newbie, but I have been writing poetry. Now I think im ready for children picture book writing. Just wondering, I like how the children book is business about. I have done some researching. I just want to know, as being a poet; I wonder, if I'm am ready to take the next step.Other questions that have the same answer:
- I want to know if this electrical socket is live. Should I use a fork or a screwdriver?
- I have a rash somewhere, you know, private. But my girlfriend's on the pill, so that's ok, right?
- I'll just put my makeup on in the car. I can drive with my knees, and what are all those mirrors for, anyway?
- The only way to get published is to make your own rules and do things to stand out from the rest of the herd. Won't it impress an editor if I show up at her office or mail her little gifts of lingerie with my manuscript?
When do most editors actually leave for the holidays? I've been led to believe that most people in the publishing industry take off around December 15 and don't return to work until the first or second week in January. Is that a generally accurate assumption or do many editors keep longer office hours throughout the season? (Perhaps taking off only one week during Christmas.) I'm asking this mostly in relation to book deals and acquisitions. Are offers made and finalized in late December?
Some of us take off for the last half of the month (often the ones with kids who are out of school); others sneak into the office on Christmas Day.
I'm trying not to be that much of a workaholic. But the group decisions needed to approve an offer do get tough to make as you get closer to the holidays, since important members of the group will be unavailable.
Friday, November 30, 2007
Whatever it is, it's so adorable you've made a photo album of it. Oh, I'm sorry, a picture book.
You've traveled with wittle wuvums to scenic locales for your photo shoots. "Scenic" evidently includes the ditch near your house and the four corners area. (You can see four states! Except, you know, not in the photograph.)
And then you've convinced yourself that people with photoshop don't need artistic talent, and you've been doctoring the photos so that your overweight chihuahua (as a completely random example) has an adventure in outer space where he worries the planets like tennis balls and teaches children facts about the solar system. (Are there ten planets?) It's delightful! Because he's so cute!
And you've sent this off to a publisher because sharing your pookie with the world qualifies as a public service, and to "show" those people who made fun of your weird obsession and suggested in their "nice" voice that you might join a book group or try knitting or take a bath.
In the end, it doesn't matter whether these submissions will get published or not. (Though they won't. Ever.) The point is that people at publishing houses get the chance to play MST3K with your photos and for this we sincerely thank you. It's a nice break from taking things seriously.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
A couple of editors have commented that some secondary characters in my YA ms aren't "developed enough." I'm guessing they meant the characters were cardboard cutouts. I tried to address this problem by showing more of these characters' motivations, gave them more to do than just be a sounding board or antagonist for the heroine, etc, but I'm not sure I've gone far enough. At the same time, I don't want the secondaries to take over the whole show. Could you please talk about character development, what works for you and what doesn't?
The trick seems to lie in giving your secondary characters personalities, histories, and priorities of their own, without regard to your main characters. Then picture the characters interacting. (Not everything will go as planned, and that's what makes writing life-like.) Give your secondary characters a small chance somewhere to show us their point of view—even if it isn't one anyone else in the book agrees with. Give each character a chance to petition for the readers' sympathy—even if they don't get it. Give each of your characters a sense of self, and they'll become the currents your main character swims in and against, rather than simple scenery.
What is your opinion of writers submitting to agents and editors at the same time, especially for picture books? Say a ms was well received during a First Pages session and the editors said they would like to see the rest of the book, would the writer be better off securing an agent before submitting or should he go ahead and submit on his own?
The decision to find an agent or not is a personal one. There's nothing wrong with submitting to editors and agents at the same time; go about this however suits you best.
EA, you may have answered this, but I was wondering about the rejections you give to agents, are they more honest than the ones to authors? Before an editor said yes to my manuscript, several said a variety of things like what you've described here, "strong writing, character, plot, but not right for me." There was also at least one, the writing isn't strong enough. I'm curious if you work harder to be clear about your rejection with an agent, because you are trying to educate the agent as to what you are looking for, and developing a relationship, or if the bottom line is you don't have much time to spend on manuscripts you don't want because you've got to find and work on the ones you do?
As with authors, I'm more likely to be specific if I think there may be some eventual reward for me. Very promising authors and agents who I know have great taste get more feedback for the reasons you mention, as well as to encourage them to keep trying me with manuscripts.
Non-specific responses are not necessarily a sign of no respect, however; it's usually just a sign of no time. Most authors and agents don't really need encouragement to keep submitting, after all.
How realistic is it that a writer might forge a career relationship with one
It does happen, and it's a happy thing for everyone when it does. But it's not very frequent.
Now that I’m about to start sending out queries, I want to target those editors who are looking for manuscripts in the varied genres I write in. (Material suitable for their list of course.) Am I dropping the ball here by thinking this way? Should I concentrate solely on the sale of each individual manuscript and not consider this?Yes. Trying to get your manuscript published is hard enough without trying to find and only submit to editors who might take any genre you ever feel like writing. Find someone to publish something of yours, and count yourself lucky. If you happen to find someone with whom to build a continuing relationship, count yourself very lucky indeed.
When you take on a writer, do you look ahead for future projects from him orI want to be sure you understand something—the writers who do have a continuing relationship with a particular editor have it for these reasons; and all of these reasons, not just one or two of them:
her, or do you just care specifically about the current one?
1. Luck (and perhaps some networking). If an editor and an author who make a really great team happen to find each other, there's always some serendipity about it. Erect a shrine to the goddess Bibliomachia and hope. (If you want to make offerings, she prefers burned manuscript pages and broken pencils.)
2. Professionalism and similar working styles. Those editors you see at conferences and hear about in the writing community? 99.9% of them are very nice people. Those authors out there hoping to get published? 99.9% of them are very nice people. This does not matter, because being a nice person and being good to work with are about as related as hamsters and salad forks.
You don't care if your editor is the kind of person who steals lawn gnomes and dribbles spaghetti sauce into library books, as long as she helps you make your book better and gets back to you promptly when you email. Your editor doesn't care if you're the kind of person who taxidermies your dead pets and only washes your hair when it starts to itch, as long as you take feedback and respect your due dates. It doesn't matter how much you and your editor like each other personally; if your working styles drive each other nuts, you'd both be much happier with other people.
3. Success. Here's the real catch. Not one of those happy teams you may have heard about is turning out unsuccessful books. If you sell a manuscript to an editor who you do happen to enjoy working with, wonderful. But if that book bombs, her publisher is going to cast a skeptical eye on any other manuscripts from you that she decides to champion. And she knows this, so she's less likely to champion them. It doesn't matter how great you both are to work with or how blessed by the ferocious goddess of books you both happen to be if you aren't creating books that sell.
So a quick bit of advice.
I don't need consecutive chapters at this stage, because sample chapters are really just about whether your writing style appeals. (And the synopsis is about whether you've got a plotline that hangs together.)
But let's see... one assumes you've given me your best chapters. Is one of those not chapter one? Has it occurred to you that readers of your published book will not read chapters 19 and 47 first? They'll read chapter one (often skipping any foreword), and if it doesn't grab them, they'll put the book down.
If you have not put some of your best writing at the very front of the book—on the very first page, ideally—that is Not Good.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
Are there ever times where you find yourself buying two manuscripts at the same time? (Say, within a few weeks.) Or do you generally try to avoid that?Why would I avoid that? I acquire when I get the chance to acquire, and no other consideration of timing often comes into it. I think I once offered on three things in the same week.
A number of writer's-market-type-guides advise authors to be aware of the market, of who's publishing what. Fine and dandy. But many of them further recommend that you demonstrate this knowledge in your query letter by comparing your manuscript to "similar" offerings from said publisher -- in other words, explain why you think your story is a good fit for this editor and/or house with concrete examples.While it's nice to see that people have actually done a little research, you're exactly right. Most of the time that skimming of our website does not result in a particularly better-targeted submission or a significant understanding of how my publishing house is different from others. And yes, absolutely, I don't care what you think your manuscript is like unless you give me a good reason to think I might agree.
Am I the only one who thinks this is bound to come off as pretentious at least 80% of the time? I'm a part-time bookseller, and few things make me want to pluck out my eyeballs as much as catalog copy that assures me a new fantasy is the "next Harry Potter" or that a historical novel is "sure to appeal to fans of Dear America." I end up muttering, "Oh puh-leeze!" and turning the page. (I also sniggered mercilessly when Jenna Bush compared her book to Number the Stars and Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl .) Just let me read the dang book and *I'll* decide what it reminds me of, thank you very much. Besides, I don't know about you, but when I give a new book a shot, I'm mostly hoping it will be somehow DIFFERENT from the other gazillion books I've already read.
In light of that, how can an author appear well-informed and familiar with a publisher's taste without going too far and coming off as a conceited nitwit?
So here's what would really make a difference: mention a couple of our titles that are in some way similar to yours (e.g., in the same genre and age range, or on the same topic but in a different genre or age range) and tell me specifically what's strong about them. Don't use filler words like "sweet" or "charming" or "great" which essentially mean nothing. Think like you were in a Masters program on children's literature and say precisely what one of our books' strengths are. Showing me that you are aware of the ingredients of a good manuscript rather than simply your reaction to it sets you apart.
You know, most people enjoy any cake that is pretty and palatable, and that's about all they can say about it. Other bakers, though, can tell that this one has a good crumb and a touch of nutmeg and that the type of icing is a good match for the texture and sugar content of the cake. Talk to me like that. Show me you know the difference between pretty and palatable, and pretty and palatable and well-made.
I've had an ed say she loved the voice, the plot, and the premise but not the dialogue. There were literally all of three lines of dialogue in that ms.
Yes, here's an example of wanting to give feedback and avoid the problem at the same time, which editors ought to know are mutually exclusive goals. Sure, editors are sometimes skittish about approaching the problem, since some of the things you definitely can do while giving feedback are confuse, anger, frustrate, and offend people. Still, if you're going to skip the problem, skip the "feedback". This sort of letter just makes people wonder what you're using for brains.
"the writing is thin"
This most often means the writing didn't have enough color or personality of its own. This doesn't necessarily mean you need more description, though writers are frequently in danger of taking it that way. Good, muscular writing knows what its goal is in the manuscript, and gets it done with few words. If you choose the right few words, the right few telling details, you only need a few.
"it's too quiet"
This is a topic problem; the editor is saying there isn't enough of a hook. There are now so many books on the market with lovely writing and illustration that those facts alone will not sell a book. If the writing or art is breathtaking, then that can be a hook of its own. Otherwise, the book also needs to be about something people know they want.
"not substantial enough"
This could mean "too thin" or "too quiet" (see above). Hard to say which.
I have a friend who just got a rejection from an ed who said she loved the concept, loved the genuine voice, loved the really great writing, but rejected the ms b/c she wanted to see more b/w 2 characters. As writers we hear over and over that plot can be fixed. But believable voice, solid writing, original concept, etc...have to be there first. So what was the deal-e-oh here? Not even a revision request. Although she did ask to see anything else of the writer's. Is there a subliminal message, like, "I adore this, but my publisher will never green-light this project," huh?For writers, these kinds of rejections are both exhilarating and excruciating.
Sounds like a letter I would have ended with a revision request. It's sometimes hard, though, to be sure a writer's able to change a manuscript the way you think it needs to be changed. And while we'd love to give people the benefit of the doubt, we see a few hundred manuscripts every year that have distinct strengths and that are simply not ready to be published. If we gave all of them an open door for resubmission, we'd regret it almost instantly. My advice: think hard about this feedback, and if you like it enough to make some real changes to the manuscript, do resubmit it. And submit it elsewhere. And keep submitting.
My husband has noticed that I get more vague yet personal rejections of the "I loved this, really enjoyed it, want a copy for myself but...no." variety between May and September... Even worse are the friendly, unsigned replies from publishers who told me not to include a SASE b/c they only respond if interested... so someone actually SPENT MONEY to send me a vaguely polite rejection..His diagnosis? Summer Interns.(Though I half-wonder if the polite rejection from the "only respond if interested" publisher was, in fact, a veiled attempt to say "please don't EVER submit to us again." Then I stop being paranoid and make another pot of coffee to make me feel better...)
I would attribute any rejection in the vein of "This was so great! I can't think of a single thing to criticize! Not on your life!" to interns.
The friendly, unsigned replies from houses who don't promise a response, however, I would take as actually friendly (while obviously not real personal or helpful).
Now, I do know what you mean about a polite letter that was sent in the hope that the author would never submit again, but you can be absolutely sure you've never received one. You seem perfectly sane. We don't send those letters to the clueless or the people who need to work on their manuscript some more. We don't even send them to the people who we feel could really work on their writing some more. They are solely for the very occasional certifiably insane person whose manuscript and/or cover letter actually scares us. They are "Oh my god, send this person a very nice but vague letter and let's hope the next thing we get from him isn't a bomb" letters.
So far we have not gotten any bombs, but trust me, some of the slush is just that terrifying.
Monday, November 12, 2007
If this is not a repetitive question could you please define what "slightly more commercial then we would pursue" means. That word commercial, has me a bit befuddled!I was just thinking it's about time we had another round of What's -This-Editor-Thinking, otherwise known as the Magic Decoder Ring of Editor Speak. Come one, come all, and email me with your favorite unintelligible editorial comments; I'll try to translate (but no promises). Offer ends on Friday; not applicable where prohibited by law; etc, etc.
Commercial is one of those terms that you know for sure you understand until someone asks you to define it for them.
I not infrequently run into manuscripts that could stand to be a bit more commercial, in that they could stand to appeal to a wider audience.
Saying something is too commercial, though, could be taken a couple ways. Maybe this editor feels it's too mass-market, as in, would be most at home at Kmart and Target rather than at trade bookstores.
Or maybe she means it's trying to appeal to so wide an audience that it's lost it's own uniqueness, and thus has no particular audience.
Or... it's possible there's an interpretation I'm not thinking of right now.
If you cannot make head nor tail of an editorial comment, chances are you should just ignore it. (Remember The 8 Rules of Rejections?) But if you just want to have some fun with them, go ahead an email 'em to me.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I've just stumbled on to your blog and I'm really enjoying it. Thank you. I have a question: What does an illustrated children's book manuscript actually look like? I'm trying to picture it, but it's hard considering there aren't yet illustrations.
If you mean a manuscript that is meant to be illustrated by someone other than the author, it looks like a manuscript. It's up to the editor reading it to picture what would be going on in the art.
If you mean one of the manuscripts I get that's already illustrated, that varies a great deal. Simple pencil sketches, full-color art samples (photocopies, one hopes), the occasional manuscript with illustrations borrowed from someone else's book (instant reject) ....
Unless the author is a professional artist, including art of any kind is often a bad idea. See my previous post "Stick Figure Theater."
Is it possible to view actual manuscript submissions (strong ones vs. poor submissions)?
Is it possible for me to post submissions I get at work on my personal blog? Hell no. Those people sent their manuscripts to a publisher, who can be relied upon not to use their intellectual property in any way they do not explicitly agree to.
When you talk about finding "something I want to acquire" in the slush pile, what do you mean? Is this a literary gem that speaks to your heart or is it a commercial manuscript with a hook that will beat out the competition?
The answer is yes.
I don't pull things out of slush that I think will be a commercial success but that I personally despise. Those stay there. The less said about them to Marketing, the better.
But when I do pull something from slush and get excited about it, it can be for lots of reasons. "Literary gem" is one of them; so is "kids are going to love this" and "what a great read-aloud." And many other categories. I love many different kinds of readers, so I love making many different kinds of books.
I guess what I'm trying to ask is are you (and other editors) looking to create art these days or is your company (and you by extension) mainly fixated on the bottom line?
The answer is yes.
Editors are in this business because they love books and want to help create great ones. Publishers are in this business to make money.
Editors work for publishers, which on the one hand put an emphasis on profitability, but on the other hand pay us to work in books.
And publishers hire editors, who on the one hand are stubborn and headstrong and care much more for literature than for profitability, but on the other hand are the only types of people who can do the job.
So each side has some trade-offs.
Is there any room for beautiful writing in picture books?
You're sounding awfully discouraged. Did you notice Show Way got a Newbery honor last year? What a great book.
Friday, November 9, 2007
The answers to your questions:
I'm an artist, and last year, my art rep started shopping around my dummybooks. Her method is starting with an AD who in turn says they love the concept and will "pitch" it to an editor.
YAY! But then the crickets start chirping. My rep contacts the AD who apologizes profusely and says to call on such and such a date when they will have some feedback. This follows with a string of apologies when rep does call and nothing has been done regarding the manuscript.
More phone dates are planned and then eventually AD avoids phone calls all together. This has happened at two houses so far and each time the AD has had the manuscript for 5-6 months at least.
I would just appreciate a "NO" rather than being ignored. Should I seek a literary agent who will submit directly to the editor?Are my manuscripts junky and the Art Director doesn't want to share that feedback?Should I suggest to my rep to submit to more houses than one at a time and directly to an editor? (Ack, I hate to do this, I don't want to come off like I know more than she does.)
1. Yes. The problem with trying to sidestep the swamp of The Slush is that on either side of it is a sheer cliff. There's no where to stand out there. At most houses, designers are not your best advocates for acquisition.
2. Possibly. Designers are often sweeter people than editors. Editors (who are often very nice themselves) have to develop the ability to give bad news without stressing over it or worrying about just how to put it: we get lots and lots of practice, and after the first couple years it gets easy. Designers don't have as much of this experience, and do stress and worry... and may procrastinate because of it.
3. For god's sake, yes. Assuming you don't do the better thing and get a literary agent.
4. And remember to tell the publishing houses you submit to (whomever does the submitting for you) that it's ok if they want someone else to illustrate your manuscript. I've gotten illustrated submissions from artists who were in no way bad artists—but whose art style's strengths did not complement the manuscript's strengths. In those cases, it's better to get someone else.
A few months ago I sent a sample (three chapters) of my YA fantasy to The Publisher Of My Dreams. Last week, I was both surprised and delighted to receive a phone call from said Publisher requesting the full manuscript.Of course I obliged, mailing the package as fast as was humanly possible.
Now, I am fully aware that a request to see the entire manuscript is in no way a guarantee that my work will be published. But at the same time, it's as good a sign as I could possibly have hoped for, and I find myself wondering about my situation should I actually be offered a deal. You see, I have no agent... and no clue as to how a Publishing Contract works should one fall on my doorstep. I'm not saying for a second that The Publisher would try to take advantage of me, but I'd like the benefit of someone who knows what they are doing in my corner. If I were to receive an offer, would it be considered a slap in the face to The Publisher for me to then approach an agent? I really don't want want to ruin my chances by committing some stupid faux pas.
I've offered on books that then suddenly developed an agent. In all honesty, I am a tad irritated when this happens, because I'll often make an unagented author a better offer than I would an agent. Agents always haggle, no matter what the starting offer, so you have to leave room for negotiation.
But I put that irritation away. I understand that (a) it's damn difficult for new authors to get an agent (if they want one) before they have a publication deal, and (b) everyone deserves to come to the negotiation table with the knowledge they need in order to understand the contract.
It is, in fact, in the publisher's interest (assuming it's a legitimate publisher) for authors to understand the contract they're signing. The fewer misunderstandings down the road, the better.
So go ahead and get yourself an agent. Do also read Negotiating a Book Contract or something similar, because no matter how great your agent, you should still know what you're signing.
Monday, November 5, 2007
My question is, if you do acquire this manuscript, how will you go about choosing the illustrator? Does a particular illustrator immediately pop into your head,
or do you take the marketing advantage of teaming a new writer with an established illustrator into account first?
If neither of these is true, do you go through postcards you've received, talk to your Art Director for suggestions, or wander online portfolios (which ones?) or illustration annuals (which ones?) to find the illustrator?Yes, sometimes.
(Ones the design department suggests.)
How much time do you generally spend on this process?
As long as it takes. Sometimes that's a week or two (ie, no time at all: knowing what illustrator I want: illustrator agreeing to do it), other times it's a process of a couple months as design and I find time to meet a couple times to discuss ideas and narrow down who they'd like to work with and who I think will give the project what it needs.
The moral: What's right for one project is not the same as what's right for another.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
I have a question concerning the proper way to follow-up on a submission. I had a manuscript critique with an editor from a closed house roughly five months ago. She was interested in the novel, but it wasn’t finished yet. At the end of the critique she gave me her business card. A month later, I sent her a picture book via the conference coupon. It is now one week shy of four months and I haven’t heard anything yet. This is a relatively short amount of time I know, but I am anxious to send it on to other publishers but feel this was an exclusive submission as I didn’t note otherwise. Which would be more professional in this situation, send a follow-up e-mail (which was on her card) or snail mail? I would walk a mile of hot coals to work with her, so I don’t want to do anything that comes across too casual. Any advice?It's not an exclusive unless you tell someone it's an exclusive. Keep submitting. And you may email the editor at this point and remind her that she's had your submission for four months. Mentioning how excited you would be to work with her isn't a bad idea, either.
Is it OK for a writer (newly unagented) to approach one (or more) of the editors at a closed house who looked at another manuscript when she was agented?If the editor in question specifically asked to see other work from that author (and not just other projects from that agent) in her correspondence, then yes. Be sure to remind her of that, and be calm if she wants to stand on her company's no-unagented-work policy. But it's ok to ask.
If yes, then can said writer use the email address she obtained via notes from the agent or should she snail mail to the address of the publisher? If this is not appropriate behavior ever ever ever, please discuss why not.
No. While this does vary some from editor to editor, many editors do not want anything in their email inboxes that they could reasonably handle via paper. This is not because we have a vendetta against trees, but because our email inboxes are monstrous already. They are not the place for slush. Agents get to email me because the stuff they send me is often time-sensitive. Email is for things that need a quick turn around. The author who emails a manuscript to me seems to be saying I am important rather than the preferable I have manners.
Finding something, though... ah, what joy.
I know I haven't been blogging much recently; instead I've been working very hard. I've seen the inside of my office both days this weekend. But I've been rewarded. This very afternoon I was working my way through a pile of manuscripts that other people (agents, my publishing director, the editorial assistant, etc) had decided I should read, and there it was. Something I want to acquire!
The gleeful disbelief. The attempts to quell my burgeoning optimism with skepticism and visions of the enormous piles of work already sucking my every waking moment away from me. I don't care; I want it, I want it!
Of course, now I must show it to other people at my publisher—people who may go, "Eh." And if so I will have to maintain a professional demeanor while inside I am thinking, "Who cares what you think?! It's mine, it's mine!"
And then I will have to talk to the author (who may have interest from other houses) without acting like a big baby. ("You can't sell this elsewhere, it's mine, it's mine!")
Deep breaths. Still, this glee. Machinations about the illustrator to match with this manuscript. More deep breaths. Must go read something to distract myself.
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Instead, I've seriously and politely sat through two separate meetings this month with utterly fourth-rate one-offers who felt they needed to read their manuscripts aloud to me. We'll skip how exactly I got roped into these meetings by otherwise likable counterparts in adult publishing.
Whatever makes people think reading their manuscript aloud to an editor is a good idea? I can think better with a page in front of me, and damn it, if a manuscript can't speak for itself on the page, it isn't going to speak for itself in the bookstore. Maybe they picture standing in bookstores and reading their book aloud to passing bookstore patrons. The problem with that is: most of the people I know who get away with not sufferng fools gladly... own bookstores.
I attended [X] conference where you spoke. I'm sure you've gotten lots of emails since,No, most people know better.
so I'm sorry for adding to the number. I'm a writer of children's books. I was going through the shelves at my public library and noticed quite a few were from your publishing house.Oh, you noticed that, did you? Congrats.
I have a few questions for you. Do you know any good agents?We've just passed amusingly clueless and are headed into hilarious.
Do you know which publishers are best for children's books? Which editor would you suggest at your own house for a quick meeting? I have a mostly-finished dummy and I'd really like to walk someone through it. I realize this probably isn't the normal modus operandi, but I'm a really hard worker and I think I'm pretty talented and I'm talking no more than 15 or 20 minutes of an editor's time. Seems worth it.I am now trying to howl with laughter and gasp at this person's nerve at the same time, a combination that results in mild choking and then a coughing fit.
Loyal readers, I know none of you are this lost. Would you do me (and all other editors) a great favor and try to impart some of your own wisdom to the newbies you run into out there? I'll take this one, but my weeks would be better (if less full of incredulous hilarity) if more hopeful authors had some sense of how the business works. Much sincere gratitude if you get a chance to do this.
Monday, October 22, 2007
My publisher sold paperback rights for my picture book to Scholastic Book Club, which was a good thing, I think. My publisher's letter told me what my advance would be and that it would be payable 1/2 upon their receipt from Scholastic and 1/2, plus sample copies, upon publication. I got the first half, but have received neither the second part nor, more distressing to me (because the advance is paltry anyway), the sample copies. I know the book is out because teacher friends showed me the Scholastic flyer and last night a friend showed me the book. So who do I ask about this (without upsetting anyone, since they are publishing a second book and have a third under consideration?) My editor on that book? My editor on the second book? The publicist assigned to me? The president who sent the letter? Someone else, like whoever answers the phone? I would really appreciate some advice.The editor you've worked with most recently. She may ask the editorial assistant to follow up on this, but you should go to your editor first. She's supposed to be your first contact at the publisher, and this is not an unusual request. Don't, please, go hunting up random people to bother with your questions. If your editor is hard to get in touch with, cultivate a relationship with the editorial assistant. (Editorial assistants are a bit of information desk, customer service, records, R&D, receptionist, and reviewer all rolled into one. If they can do everything, eventually they'll become an editor. In the meantime, they are your go-to when you don't know who to ask.)
Just say cheerfully that you've noticed the book is out and you were wondering when you'd see the sample copies and the rest of your advance. You may in fact be doing your publisher a favor—if you haven't gotten your money, they may not have gotten theirs, and they'll be glad to be reminded that Scholastic owes them money.
Friday, October 19, 2007
I'm wondering about drinking and drug use by adults in mid-grade novels. My WIP, set in 1970s, has a pot-smoking mother (daughter, main character, disapproves and pretends not to know.) Would that element place me in the YA category? (problematical since MC is only 13)
The only way this would end up in the middle-grade shelves is if it were abundantly clear that the author/book itself disapproved of that behavior. It's not enough for the main character to disapprove, unless it's written in 1st person. As long as the book clearly presents a bias against drug use, it might be tween. If you want to present both sides and let your reader choose, you're talking YA.
I wanted to ask your opinion on this competition: The Times / Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition It looks like a good opportunity (if a bit of a long shot), but this paragraph in the T&C made me pause:The part that troubles me is the single word "perpetual". Perpetual?
"11. TNL reserves the right to publish segments/parts of entries other than the winning entry (up to 500 words of any non-winner's entry), and publication does not necessarily mean that the entrant has won a prize. TNL reserves the right to edit entries in its discretion for publication. Entrants will retain copyright in their submitted entries; however, by entering, all entrants give TNL a worldwide royalty free perpetual licence to edit, publish and use segments of each entry in any and all media (including print and online) for publicity and news purposes. In particular, all entrants license TNL the right to print their entry on Times Online and in The Times or The Sunday Times or any of their supplements."
Is this a fair deal for the entrants? 500 words seems fair enough, but that last line sounds as if TNL could print the whole of an entrant's story and not pay for the privilege of doing so?
So let me get this straight: They get to publish any 500 words (edited/abridged at their discretion) from your novel forever? Royalty free? And as far as I can see, they have not committed to only publishing the same 500 words, so they could conceivably publish your entire novel in serial form, 500 words at a time.
No doubt Chicken House already has a deal with the Times to sell them "first serial" rights for the winning entry (assuming that winner agrees to the Chicken House's contract). Which is acceptable—it means the Times gets to print an excerpt ahead of the book's publication. That's just good publicity.
But I'll bet you Chicken House isn't going to give the Times perpetual anything with regards to the work they invest money in. So I'm at a loss as to why the Times thinks lone authors would agree to such a thing (besides, obviously, ignorance).
I think it's acceptable for the Times to ask for the right to print a single example of 500 words of your manuscript in all of their media within a particular window of time—and I would count that time in weeks or months rather than years—that usage would cover the building of publicity around this contest, which is reasonable. But the only reason they would choose to use your work over and over throughout years is if it were making them money. And how much of that money would be for you? That's right: zero.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
I am unagented, and I sent out ten well-chosen (and researched) queries to some editors. I mentioned that they were simultaneous queries. Now I have three who have requested the manuscript—do I need to remind them that others are reading this?It's not necessary to mention this unless one of them asks for an exclusive (then you can point out that a couple other editors have already expressed interest).
Recently, I have been asked to send a partial manuscript to two different editors. I'm wondering if I send the partial, will they actually be reading it to acquire? Or are they reading it to see if my next forty five pages or so lives up to the first fifteen? Are they just trying to be helpful? Am I asking you to be a mind reader? I suppose if I knew what they were reading for, it will help me with whether or not to submit now or wait until the manuscript is finished. I'm afraid they'll read the WIP pages and forget that it is, in fact, still a WIP. Also, do pre-published awards really matter to you in a query? Thanks, as always, for taking the time to answer questions and provide a format for us to argue with each other (civilly, of course!).1. Assuming this is fiction, probably not.
2. Most likely.
4. A little bit.
4a. As long as your were clear about that up front, there shouldn't be a problem.
5. Depends on whether I've heard of it.
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Children's books have multiple audiences to please -- not only the kids reading them, but the adults selecting/buying/promoting them. Is it tougher to market a book that kids love but adults groan about, for whatever reason? (potty humor, sexual edginess, etc.)Of course. The children's book market is absolutely lousy with books that are not for children at all (The Gift of Nothing) but that adults will buy for children anyway. Are they easier to sell than Grossology and Everyone Poops, even though those are truly books for how children are, what they're interested in and amused by? The answer is: Duh.
Here again is one of the inescapable contradictions of children's books—the people with the money to buy children's books often have an extremely limited recollection of childhood. I'm not saying for a second that this excuses "children's" publishers for publishing books for the childhood adults think they remember. But it is a fact of the market. It's also something worth fighting, so feel free to grab your banner and follow me.
You made a comment on your blog about the content matter of one reader's middle-grade novel (sex, alcohol consumption, etc.). This got me to wondering, what would you define as appropriate topics for a tween novel? Where would you draw the line on edgy types of subjects, and do you have any good tween titles to recommend?Pretty much any serious romance (even without any sex) puts a book in the YA section—see Twilight and A Great and Terrible Beauty.
The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants didn't have serious romance or sex, but it had a girl attempting to seduce her soccer camp counsellor. Which makes it YA.
Now, we all know that some junior high schoolers are having sex and doing drugs, (and some elementary schoolers are swearing a blue streak when there are no adults around) and the fact of this exposes the rest of them to those things. So putting sex, drugs, booze, eating disorders, suicide, profanity, etc etc firmly in the YA section doesn't say a thing about the readers of these books. It says something about their parents.
Which, yes, bothers me, but that's the world we live in. Parents are naturally inclined towards overprotectiveness and its constant companion, denial.
A tween book can have flirting but not seduction; doubt but not depression.
It can have the bomb, but not the fuse.
Tuesday, October 9, 2007
How true this is. As someone who has worked on a couple of books just like this, I can say even I didn't understand why the author agreed to this sort of deal. Don't get me wrong—I was offering her the very most I could without sending the book into negative profit. Some books truly shave much closer to the bone than others. If she hadn't agreed to that deal, we would have had to abandon the book—that was simply the most we could offer. But still.
I am getting ready to sign a contract for a children's nf book with a small advance that will be used, per the publisher's unnegotiable demand, almost entirely to find and purchase photographs to illustrate the book. How depressing is that? Still, according to the publisher's statistics, books similar to mine do earn substantially after several years. My co-author and I are calling our upcoming year of basically no pay and a whole lot of work "an investment" in the future, but I can't help feel a bit downtrodden.
Oh, I hear you on the nonfiction stuff. Another writer told me that if I sold my nonfiction book that I should use the advance to pay for a trip to do more research. Cripes, I need the advance to pay for a trip to the grocery store.
Good luck with your project!
While some of us are clearly feeling pissed off, and others of us are feeling verbally tarred and feathered, I want to thank everyone who didn't walk away from the table in the midst of this disagreement. If this blog can accomplish anything, I hope that it's fostering a better understanding between authors, illustrators, and editors. And we can't do that unless we keep arguing with each other (civilly, of course), and listening to each other.
So sincere thanks to everyone who expressed an opinion and read the comments of others—whether you agreed or not; whether you changed your mind or not. Thank you for talking.
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Advance money is not money you are owed.
The publisher gambles a whole bunch of money on you in order to print, bind, edit, design, warehouse, ship, publicize, market, and sell your book. That all by itself is many thousands of dollars offered up to the great craps table of publishing.
And then they gamble more money on you to pay you an advance—specifically, the money your royalty for the book might earn if the book sells as well as the publisher hopes it will.
So I'm a tad impatient with people who feel a certain level of advance is just what they're due. A certain level of royalty is what you are due, and you should fight damned hard for it. And this is not to say I short anyone in the way of advances; I use the equation I shared with you all a while back, and since that equation is pretty standard, I can speak of "shorting" an author, in spite of the fact that, as I say, this is not your money, at least not yet.
Some authors work for years on something and get paid $2,000 for it. Other authors whip something out in 2 hours and get paid $30,000 for it. You know this already, and you don't need me to tell you why, but just in case: it's not about your time and effort.
So please do us all the favor of coming to the negotiating table without arrogance. We will pay you, but you're not going to make it easier by thinking of it as money for your hard work. It isn't, any more than the profits publishers make is money for our hard work. It is all—your advance, your royalty, the publisher's own profits—money for results.
Nobody gets paid for kissing the dice unless it's a lucky toss.
No more books about grandmas? That's like saying, no more books about squirrels. It's not the grandmas or the squirrels that make or break a pb, it's the story, story, story. How about: no more corny, sappy books about grandmas and squirrels?What I want is no more books that are aimed at grandma more than they are at children. Much of what I see in slush has this quality, and comes from a motivation that is more "oh my grandchildren are so precious" or "oh my relationship with my grandchildren is so precious" or "god I wish my grandchildren were as obsessed with me as I am with them", none of which are attitudes that the actual grandchildren can identify with.
Put whatever characters in your manuscripts you like. But write them for children, or face my wrath.
I warn people about the squirrel manuscript epidemic just as an fyi. If there's suddenly 10 thousand squirrels on your front lawn, you're not going to care that one of them might be the most beautiful squirrel ever born. You're going to break out your broom and start laying about you with abandon.
Friday, October 5, 2007
- Exciting because you've found something you think is going to get readers excited. Exciting when the other people at the publisher get as excited as you are about a project.
- Creative because you're imagining and discussing what illustration style, production aspects, and market positioning will make this text attract attention— will get it in front of the people who will love it.
- Stressful because you have to bring the project, plus sales histories and product info about similar books, competition research, etc etc, to a group of people who may express a killing ambivalence for the project; who may ask you for the one piece of information you didn't gather and (doh!) should have; who may disagree strongly with the vision for the book.
- And mildly terrifying because when you've gotten the go-ahead and it's back on your desk, it's your work and vision and skill that's going to make a difference between flushing money down the toilet and earning back this investment.
So yes, some extra espresso this morning. It's been an exciting week. Today, I think I'll just straighten up my desk.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
So tidy, so efficient, so dumb.
I know, you're multi-talented and the muse has you gushing manuscripts faster than you can write letters. Here's the thing about query letters that query more than one thing at a time: I'm going to choose one.
And even more often than that, I'm going to choose none. You're sending the psychological message that none of these manuscripts is worth devoting a whole sheet of paper to.
I'm also puzzled and amused by the check-the-box response forms some people include with their manuscripts.
- I've received this manuscript (included in a submission for which there is only the required SASE; response form itself is not stamped)
- I haven't received this manuscript (think about it)
- I love it! (Why would I use a form for this?)
- I hate it! (I'm never going to tell people this.)
- Try _______________ (name) at _____________ (publisher) (Oh, yeah. I'm ambivalent about you enough to use a form, but I'm going to pass a colleague's name to you. Sure.)
- Signed, Hotshot editor (or I could just sign it)
- Signed, Hotshot editor's assistant (or she could just sign it)
- Signed, Hotshot editor's assistant's intern (or she could just throw it in the trash)
Monday, October 1, 2007
If so, pause. Consider whether your book is for children, or if it is, in fact, for grandma.
Some of you, the guilty ones, are saying to yourselves, "It's for children and grandmothers! It's for them to enjoy together!"
Ha, ha. Guess who are the only people who enjoy reading about grandmothers?
I know, some of you are thinking of your own twinkly-eyed grandmothers, or of your own twinkly-eyed selves, and are thinking something along the lines of "Who does that whippersnapper of an editor think she is? Why, in my day..."
Yeah. In your day, children still cared more about themselves, their friends, and their parents than they did about their grandparents. To small children especially, grandparents are conveniences like the car or the refrigerator: grandparents take children nice places and give them yummy treats. It's true that the car and the refrigerator cannot hug children, but they also can't pinch their cheeks. Life is full of trade-offs.
There should be a special term for the euphoric obsession experienced by grandparents. And, yes, sometimes it's a positive thing. And other times it's in my inbox.
I have a question regarding an article someone sent me. It lists the top reasons editors reject manuscripts (and the list is long). Here's the link to it:
I've shared this article with some fellow writers, but most of them insist that the contents of this article are fiction. I've never been published, so I can't say whether or not they're correct. Of course, they haven't been published either... So my question is this: does the article contain valid information? Or did the author pull some things out of thin air, then post them on the internet?
Very valid. She seems to be speaking of the adult publishing world, but still, very valid.
REASONS WHY EDITORS REJECT MANUSCRIPTS
- Otherwise known as "not my section of the market". Many editors I've met at conferences reference this. Hey, there's a lot of specialization! Don't send a picture book manuscript to a YA imprint.
- Otherwise known as "nobody's section of the market". Imagine a manuscript that parents would hate. I have one really creepy guy who keeps sending me the same X-rated manuscript with an awful scene on the first page. It's made the word "commodious" very difficult for me.
3. Mechanical and/or Technical Challenges
- Otherwise known as "knowing how to write in English is not the same thing as knowing how to write". This part of the article is full of the kinds of basic advice that people get when they're learning to write. Our slush piles, however, are full of people who think writing for children doesn't require any skill or craft.
I like children, but I don't like :
- reading submission guidelines
- reading children's books
Sunday, September 30, 2007
To Whom It May Concern:
Benjamin is the youngest son of Sir Edgar the Tall. One day, while playing with his brothers and a few other boys, Benjamin becomes injured and humiliated.
Injury is natural in sports; humiliation requires a little explanation. Otherwise, your reader ends up wondering just where he was injured.
Princess Sarah finds him sobbing in the castle gardens with a bloody nose. She helps him, and soon a friendship begins to grow.Helps him how? With the crying? The nose? The garden?
Look, you don't want to give us too many scenes to picture in the brief snapshot of your manuscript, but the ones you do offer us should have the little details that allow us to really picture it.
Years later, Benjamin goes to study with Master Gregg, the castle blacksmith.We need more of a segue here than “years later”. Maybe you want to start this summary with him apprenticing to a blacksmith and mention as you go that he’s always been the butt of jokes and the princess has been his friend from childhood.
Unfortunately, he is so clumsy with a hammer the other boys begin teasing him and calling him “Ben the Unlikely” because it seems so unlikely he will ever become a blacksmith.You know what I would do if people were teasing me while I was holding a hammer?
One day, Sir Andrew comes into the shop to get his armor repaired. When asked what happened to it, Sir Andrew tells them about the battle with Squashbugs the Troll who kidnapped Princess Sarah. “All the knights ran after him, but he was much faster than we were. We tried to sneak into his cave, but before we were even able to get close, all these bells started ringing. We could not even see them!” Ben wants to help her, but Master Gregg says he should leave such things to the knights. Unable to just leave his childhood friend to be eaten by a troll,Ben borrows a horse and sneaks into Squashbugs’ dark, smelly cave. Ben is able to escape the spell protecting Squashbugs’ cave because of a loop hole, frees Sarah, and traps Squashbugs. He is rewarded with knighthood.Here we have the classic mistake of too much information. Shorten this. Also, he rescues her? I'm worried that boys are not going to enjoy this plot line because they don’t want to rescue stinky girls. And girls aren’t going to enjoy this plot line because they don’t want to be rescued. I'd suggest letting the girl help in her own rescue, or else sending this story back to the furnace.
Sorry for losing track of this one. This goes in the "needs more work" category. Like the others in that group, it might be great. I just can't tell from the query.
P.S. Are you sure about the name "Squashbugs"?
Have you ever rejected a manuscript, then changed your mind about the project and wanted it back? I've had this happen to me, where an editor will say a year or two later, "Hey, you still have that wacky manuscript available?"
Sure. It's a subjective business and we're subjective people. The thing that seems like a bad idea for today's market and today's frame of mind may strike an editor as just right in the market and frame of mind of two years from now.
Which is why you keep submitting. You should be giving a publisher the space of years before re-submitting, of course. This allows for (a) attitudes changing (b) staff changing and (c) your writing getting better.
The dark side of this healthy persistence, of course, is spamming publishers. Email spam is very obvious because many of your missives will immediately be forwarded to the department assistant. She, realizing it is spam, will delete it without reading it and possibly without replying. But the other kinds of spam are noticed and disliked as well, because, again, most of the mail is being opened by the same person.
You, Darth Manuscript. When you send in multiple copies addressed to various editors in the hope of reaching the right editor, we make sure your manuscript is not seen by any editor. I've been the editorial assistant and have trained later editorial assistants, and the force is with them. (And so is the paper shredder.)
Saturday, September 29, 2007
I would be really grateful if you would answer my question. I have been working on a book for the past ten years or so (I'm a slow writer). I would like to finish the manuscript before another ten years of my life go flying by and I've been in the fine polishing stage for the past year. My question is, how polished should the final manuscript be before submitting to an agent? I know this is a silly question because obviously the cleaner everything is grammar, spelling, continuity wise, the better my chances of being accepted are, but at the same time, I don't trust myself to pick up on all the little mistakes that might be lurking in there. Should I hire someone to edit and proof read the manuscript for me? Or should I find guinea pigs to sit and read the book and give me feedback? If the later is the correct answer, where can I find such people?
Wow, you have been at it for a while. I'd suggest getting a critique group to read it for little grammatical / punctuation issues and big-picture problems. And then stop worrying the manuscript and get it out there.
I try to look past the little stuff that a copyeditor will end up fixing, but there are a few mistakes (eg its/it's) that, when made repeatedly, make it very, very hard for me to keep reading.
I've got a 48,000 word MG/YA ms. Contemporary teen crossed with science fiction / fantasy. Not very edgy, but an imaginative, entertaining story. No swearing, sex, or drugs. I write fairly well as I'm an editor myself. I've gone the agent route, with no luck (I've sent out around 20 queries). Set it aside and start a new one, or plug away at trying to get this one published?Both. Both, both, both.
- You must keep writing.
- You must keep submitting.
- Rejections mean nothing.
The two greatest things writers have on their side is Time and Work.
Very few of them realize this until they're years and years into their careers, however. Nevertheless, it is a fact that is worth meditating upon deeply or cross-stitching on a sampler. Try hard to realize the truth of this early.
Just wondering about queries for very short picture books, say 250-500 words. The "too short" comment took me by surprise. When something doesn't have a complex plot, do you deliberately make a query longer than necessary? I hate writing queries for very short PBs because it seems like a waste of time to write one that can be longer than the actual manuscript. But yes, I do it when that's what the guidelines call for.Ok, I realize that it is hard to write a description of a manuscript that is possibly longer than the manuscript itself. You should be able to imagine doing this, however. Those studying poetry, for instance, have written about William Carlos Williams' "Red Wheelbarrow" using a great many more words than the 16 in the poem.
And I'm going to take issue with the question, "do you deliberately make a query longer than necessary?" No, of course you don't. But "longer than necessary" is any description past the description I need in order to know
- what your manuscript is about
- what happens in it (which is often not the same thing as what it's about)
- what makes it particularly appealing/charming
The people who wrote those two very short queries were assuming too much about what the reader can reasonably draw from those short descriptions. Every writer can answer #2. But it's #1 and #3 that are really telling—about the manuscript, and about the writer.
I've heard of this happening a LOT, and far too often: writers who got really positive comments from editors in critiques get a scant form rejection after many months and usually a status check. What gives? Are editors overly optimistic because it's hard to reject face to face? Are they encouraging a writer as a whole who they see has talent, even if that particular project isn't there yet? Or do they just want to get these people out of their hair, no matter what they end up saying?
It is certainly true that we're always more positive face-to-face than we are in our own heads. As has been recently highlighted on this blog, we're often very critical—even of the things we honestly think have promise.
If normal people could witness the weighing of positives and negatives, the calculations and arguments with ourselves that happen in an editor's head, many of you would start to wonder if we were, in fact, schizophrenic.
We aren't. But we are aware that what goes on in our heads is hardly material for social interaction. It has to be filtered.
And that's hard. How do we offer you enough of that mix of impressions and thoughts to be useful to you, without giving you so much that you're confused, or offended? It's also hard to be sure we're communicating what we think we're communicating when dealing with the wide variety of people we meet at conferences. I once answered a question that I could swear was "do you think my manuscript is publishable?" but that subsequent events proved the author had thought was "do you want to acquire my manuscript?" These are awfully different questions, obviously. Not everything that I think is salable is something I personally (or even my publishing company particularly) wants to produce.
All of that said, I still don't understand people who agree ahead of time to do something they (knowing the state of their desks and workloads) realistically cannot promise. (Though it should be noted that more than once I've arrived at a conference to discover I'd been committed to things I had not agreed to beforehand. Grr. I have a whole rant about pitch sessions that I'll save for some other time.)
So the answer to your questions are:
1. Some editors are fantastic editors, but are terrible at keeping their desks organized or getting back to people in a timely fashion.
2. Yes, sometimes.
3. Yes, sometimes.
4. Unusual. This reaction is saved for the rare absolute nutball who makes us uncomfortable / afraid they may be concealing weapons.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Attending a SCBWI conference last spring, I had an extremely positive paid critique and response from an editor from a top publishing company. She made some excellent suggestions and invited me to resend the picture book after I made the changes, which I did. Now...tick, tock....much time has passed—and like any hopeful writer, I’m still hoping. This is a closed house. Do I assume I’ve been rejected? Or do I send a friendly reminder nudge?
It's about time for some more of this topic, isn't it?
Without knowing how much time we're talking about—as I keep reminding my readers, time passes much more quickly for editors than it does for authors—I would say, yes, nudge her. And keep nudging her, politely, pleasantly, every three months or so from now until whenever she finally gets back to you. But while you're doing that, keep submitting! Sometimes manuscripts fall into a black hole, and trying to figure out why or what you can do about it is just going to make you nuts.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Queries 6, 7, and 12.
In need of more work:
Queries 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 18, 19, 20.
Why are you so good at being so bad?
Queries 1, 3, 10, 13, 14, 15, 16, and 17.
Thank you all for braving the snark, and for sending so many goofy ones. Some of those last ones made me tear up from suppressed laughter (some people are sleeping at this hour).
When I was young and couldn’t sleep, my mom suggested I count sheep. In my 830-word story titled “If You Can’t Sleep…”, Abby’s mom does, too. Abby thinks it’s a silly idea and refuses to do it. While tossing and turning, and still not sleeping, some things land on her bed. They're walking all over her legs. One of them crawls onto her tummy and she's very afraid. Monsters? No, the counting sheep have arrived!
The problem is, Abby won't count them. Woolly, the youngest counting sheep, befriends Abby in spite of the fact that he ends up smooshed into the blankets... more than once.
Woolly eventually learns that Abby can’t count very well and that’s why she doesn’t want to count sheep. I show young children that it’s okay if you can’t count well, as long as you try.
Oh, crap, a moral. Remember what I said earlier about ducking?
Woolly admits he can’t jump fences very well either because he’s still little but that he’s getting better with practice. I also believe if young children sometimes have trouble sleeping, counting fluffy little sheep can’t hurt.
I’m a recent graduate of the Institute of Children’s Literature. I’m a member of the Writer’s Guild of Alberta and SCBWI. I’ve recently received acceptances from Stories For Children for a fiction piece to be published in their January 2008 edition and from Once Upon A Time for an article, publishing date yet to be determined. If you are interested in reviewing my manuscript, I would be happy to submit it for your consideration.
I am submitting to you my picture book manuscript A Beach For All Seasons. It is a love story about a beach, a mom, and a daughter. I thought that you might appreciate this tale set on a New England beach. I am a writer of nonfiction and fiction. I am published in Appleseeds magazine, in the book Stories of Strength, and recently sold work to Hopscotch andHighlights magazine. Thank you for your time and consideration. I have include a SASE and this will be a simultaneous submission. I am a member of SCBWI.
Steven didn't actually mean to steal the egg, he just wanted to see what would happen. But when Old Mrs Hartman summoned him to her house, he knew he was in trouble. Typical teacher, she didn't believe a word of what he told her.Now he's got to keep his nosy little sister quiet and find out about dragons before Mrs Hartman accidentally hatches it. Steven's Dragon is a story of fantasy and coming of age aimed at 10 to 12 year-old boys. It is complete at 10,000 words.
I am so excited about sending you my query letter. Or is this a cover letter? You are my favorite publisher in my first batch of 37 (should I spell this out...Thirty-seven) editors. I found you and every other editor in the CWIM (Children's Writers and Illustrators Market). I hope it is still up to date from 2001 (Two Thousand and One). I am so glad that I don't need an agent to sub to YOU because I have heard that it takes even longer to hear back if you have one. Plus you have to pay 15% (Fifteen percent) for that. Well, that is what they say on Verla Kay anyway. Unless, I can get a pre-empt and an auction. Is it possible to have an auction with just one house? I mean can more than one editor at your house try to outbid another at your house, or does it have to be 2 (Two) different houses? What if it is an assistant editor...can an assistant editor get a higher advance for me than a senior editor? And what about those foreign rights, huh? Do you think that MY CUTE LITTLE PUPPY PET will be popular in China? Will HOLY COW make it in India? They both rhyme. I am not sure if they are magazine pieces, pbs, mid-grades or young adults. But it really doesn't matter because I know you publish all of these. You can decide. And I'll bet if I go over to these countries they won't even care because they don't read English anyway. Thanks for you're attention to these matter. Oh BTW (By the Way), my first story is about my pet puppy and my second story is about a very special cow with a gift of making chocolate milk.
If you are looking for something to fill your fantasy void since acquiring THE SQUIRREL KNIGHTS and NANNY’S MAGIC KNICKERS, and now that HP is finally complete, perhaps I have something of interest to you. Although, it should be noted that if you are looking for more wands, wizarding schools, rodent knights or magical underwear, I am afraid I may not be the right author for you. But what I can promise you is a medieval orphanage, wretched chores, dragons, talking mushrooms, gargoyles, banshees, sylphs, kobolds, and a genderless oddity called Mimick.Or pounds at it
Please let me elaborate further.
Perhaps you are sitting at your desk enjoying a tasty tuna fish sandwich. Might I interrupt, and ask that you imagine seven colored stones, arranged in a circle upon your desk. You put your hand in the centre of the ring, but with caution, for you do not know what this author is purporting for you. And sure enough, as soon as your fingers touch the surface of your paper-covered desk, you are whisked off to another world – a medieval realm where magic lives and thrives. You think to yourself, “Oh no! - another story with a portal to a fantasy realm.” Your finger hovers over the delete key,
but something makes you hold. You wonder, perhaps there is something more to this. And you learn, much to your surprise, that you were actually born upon this world, and that your parents transported you to Earth many years ago. They fled an evil king that usurped your mother’s throne. Your parents must now attempt to regain their stolen kingdom and are sending you and your little brother Sam off to an orphanage located in a castle. You now think to yourself, “Oh, I’m going to live in a castle!” Alas, your excitement is sadly misplaced, for the castle is not only haunted, but is in shambles. It is mired in a boot-sucking bog, and around every corner rather unexpected things await you –dark magic, Dragons, Mimicks, Gargoyles, Sylphs, Sprights, Banshees, Kobolds, and wretched chores like emptying chamber pots, serving royal snobs that treat you like a lowly peasant, and cleaning Master Cobblepot’s spittle bowl. The latter notion makes you shudder uncontrollably.Who can tell?
You learn that you haven’t got a magical bone in your body and you covet your brother’s special abilities. Everyone around you seems able to wield some form of magic, and the best you can do is learn to use a bow and arrow – you might become a Knight one day. Wonderful. Of course, you do not really think it’s wonderful. You cannot wait to escape such a miserable existence. Your parents must be absolutely, and most undeniably crazy to have sent you to this place. To top it all off, your evil cousin, Festrel, has shown up at the orphanage and terrible things start to happen. One of the children is turned to stone and a deadly plague is spreading through the orphanage. Now, you and your friends must try to discover who is bent on destroying you with this Warlock’s Plague, and how you can survive. This is the story of Rudy Doyle, minus the tuna fish sandwich, of course. She much prefers smoked ham and mustard, thank you very much.Holy crap, I think this is serious. Who would like to comment?
This enchanting middle-grade novel, which is approximately 81,000 words and contains characters from culturally diverse backgrounds, is the first of two parallel series. The first series (with three books) centers on a young girl named Rudy Doyle. The second series (also three books) revolves around a young boy named Kelvin Bo. So, imagine two intertwining series that take place in the same world, where characters and events overlap. As each series is weaved, the two main characters will look to each other for help. The two series culminate in one final tale that will bind them together, for the evil that haunts Rudy and Kelvin is a common foe. If you can hold a little longer on that tuna fish sandwich, I have endeavoured to create two fantastical web sites. There you will find additional information on this project, as well as sample chapters for both series: http://www.rudydoyle.com and http://www.kelvinbo.com.
If you are interested, I'd be happy to forward further material to you. Thank you for your time and consideration. You may now return to your meal. Bon appétit!
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
This is your lucky day! Attached for your review and enjoyment is my 6,000-word picture book entitled Sparky Squirrel Finds His Nuts. Follow Sparky's adventures along with his friends Ollie Ostrich, Greta Goose, Timmy Turtle, and Spritzy Skunk. I know your submission guidelines say "no unsolicited manuscripts," but I know in this case you'll make an exception. You won't want to miss out on representing the next Dr. Seuss and J.K. Rowling rolled into one!!!
Children and parents everywhere will love this rhyming story, which teaches kids that we can all be friends even though we're all different.
I know that this will be a real hit with kids since my own children and the kids in my neighborhood love it. It makes a great read-aloud bedtime story-- they are always sleeping like little angels by the time I get to the end. Here's the best news: this is just the first book in a 10-part series! I'm working on the second book already, in which readers will delight in following Sparky and friends in their wacky outer-space adventures in Sparky Squirrel Explores Uranus.
My brother is really good at drawing so I've asked him to be my illustrator. I'm sure he'll give you a good deal on the pictures for the book. Please let me know as soon as possible when we can get rolling on the publication. I look forward to meeting you and working with you!
I am sending electronic copies of this query to you and every agent listed in my agent guide in the hopes that someone will care about saving the planet.
It has come to my attention that my carbon footprint has grown unacceptably large since the advent of my search for an agent. By my calculations, my agent submissions thus far have consumed 4,794 sheets of high quality printer paper, approximately half a full-grown tree that would otherwise be absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. My ongoing submissions have also become a problem in terms of the consumption of non-renewable fossil fuels. Though I’m just a few miles from the post office, my trips to mail people like you a query and then a partial and then a full have required 136.8 miles on our nation’s already clogged roads. I’ve been unable to find other authors in my area sending out requested manuscripts at the same time, so my attempts to organize post office carpools have been futile. The manuscripts themselves have traveled an additional 116,478 miles in vehicles that have spewed still more carbon into our troubled atmosphere. To compound all of this, my household energy consumption has risen dramatically due to the need to keep my computer on and running email checks 24 hours a day. And one can only guess at the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere as a result of the vast quantities of chocolate that’s been shipped thousands of miles to the Northeast for my personal consumption during this stressful time.
As you can see, the earth hangs in the balance. I’m sure you’ll want to offer representation immediately, especially if you have a fondness for polar bears. I can be reached at the email address below so that we can work out the details.
Dear Agent/Editor/Editorial Asstant/Lowly Reader:
I want to thank you for the opportunity to query you. I’ve been striking out in the publishing game for eons, and here I am three books into it, and still no bite. It’s hard on me, as I’m sure it’s hard on you, receiving letter after letter after letter. This is probably your hundredth one today. I’m sorry! I’ll try to make it worth your while.
So. The novel. The Misadventures of Adventurous Children. It’s a 78,000 mid grade paranormal soon-to-be-classic. There’s love. There’s adventure. And there’s a purple-tailed, snarky raccoon searching for a lime flavored popsicle. What’s not to love? I can send it to you as soon as it’s finished. My work has been featured on many blogs, including: my own, my family’s, and in the comments section of many well-known authors. I’ve also sent my work into some big name publishers. No word yet. I’ll call you if I hear anything. I chose to query you because you are in the publishing business, and I’m hoping you can get me in that business, too. Please? Kidding! No, really, I could use some love. Thank you for your time and dedication. You really are a lovely person. Unless you reject me, in which case, I’LL MAKE YOU PAY! Ha! That was another joke. Kind of. Cheerio! A writer
Monday, September 24, 2007
Query 12: Tune In Next Time for "All's Fairy in Love and War," or "You Can Pick Your Friends, But You Can't Pixie Your Family"
Nine-year-old Chloe catches more than she bargains for in the Catch-'Em-Alive trap under her bed. That weird buzzing sound isn't a mouse, it's a pixie… a really, really ticked off pixie with a black t-shirt, teeny tiny work boots and a crappy attitude.Goofy. Sounds like there's a sense of humor. Hmm. Could work.
Chloe imagines the fun of having her own pet pixie, but this one has her own agenda. In her usually snarky and often bewildering way, she cajoles Chloe, against the girl's better judgment, into a bit of sneaking, a lot of lying, and the eventual rescue of a gaggle of baby pixies that Chloe's mom had accidentally thrown away with the yard trash.There isn’t enough snark in kids’ books. I'm ... curious.
It doesn't help, of course, that the pixie (who refuses to tell Chloe her name) sounds like a cross between Yoda and Natasha from The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.“Natasha” reference is unusual and amusing. Points.
"Chloe's Catch" is a 16,000-word story for readers making the transition from chapter books to novels: a "my first urban fantasy" for readers not yet ready for [insert title of publisher's comparable MG or YA urban fantasy]. I see that you're interested in assertive female characters [replace with appropriate phrase tailored to the particular publisher], so I hope you'll enjoy Chloe and her pixie. Chloe is more [insert comparable character from publisher's novels] than [another character], and the pixie is… well, the pixie is just pretty much herself.I'm a bit hesitant about this query. We have enough allusion to the humor in the manuscript to know it's meant to be funny. Why, then, was none of the actual humor of the manuscript included here? If you can make me laugh, do.
Highlights, Cricket and Our Little Friend have accepted several of my short stories for publication.
I am currently seeking representation for Screw-Up Summer, a middle grade novel of 32,0000 words. Something about the agent here. Well, what would you do if your parents dumped you in some old summer camp while they went hiking in Nepal? Ginger Patterson tries to make friends, really she does, but the mean girls in her cabin won’t give her a chance.
That sounds familiar. What makes this different from all the other times we've seen "the mean girls"?
She even tries to keep her big mouth shut, but Molly and the Tee Hee Twins press her buttons too hard. Ginger burps out a string of boastful liesBurps? You don't mean literally?
and ends up with only one friend —shy Diana, the only camper more unpopular than she is.Again, sounds familiar. The outcast is befriended by the shy girl. Is this meant to be a send-up of the genre?
Irritated by Ginger’s antics like overturning a canoe and messing up a baseball game, Camp Sequoia kicks her out, calling her eccentric Aunt Sylvan to come get her. Sylvan takes Ginger to Hollywood. The place is a blast except Ginger keeps obsessing about her friend Diana who can’t be found.What? Did Diana follow Ginger to Hollywood? I hope your manuscript doesn't have sentences like that last one.
Discovering that Diana is mega-rich hooks Ginger into believing someone’s kidnapped the shy girl.Why? Oh, you mean no one could find Diana, and it’s a mystery? That was not clear. And suddenly Diana’s rich and kidnapped? Feels contrived.
She’s turning up clues when her terrible big mouth gets her into more trouble. This time Ginger’s exiled to a mobile home in Lake Elsinore with her senile grandmother and a caretaker. Bored and lonely, Ginger investigates an abandoned mansion Diana mentioned. If only she can rescue her billionaire friend, she’ll be a heroine. That will show the whole world that Ginger Patterson is not a screw-up. Through a series of zany misadventures, this sassy but good-hearted girl finally learns to value friendship more than fame.
Another change of scene, and the mystery of the billionaire camper continues to follow Ginger? My suspension of disbelief is seriously strained at this point.
I'm going to take a guess and say that at the end, the kidnappers who have been haunting the abandoned mansion with the use of phosphorescent paint turn out to be the mean girls from camp wearing werewolf masks, and as they’re led away by the police, they say: “And we would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for you pesky kids and your dog!”