Saturday, October 27, 2007

Suffering Fools Gladly

I've always wondered about this expression. I know a few people who are very commonly described as not suffering fools gladly, and I always experience a twinge of jealousy when I hear it. I certainly don't suffer fools gladly (after all, who does?), but I keep this fact to myself and the fools don't often realize how fed up with them I am. So the jealousy is for the people who keep getting away with making their irritation plain. Why can't I be someone like that?

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.

The Clue Arms Race and What You Can Do to Help

In my email this week:
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

The Magic 8 Ball Says...

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

Children Making Up Their Own Minds? Scandalous!

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.

Eternity x The Times = Zero

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:
"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?
The part that troubles me is the single word "perpetual". Perpetual?

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

Query, Query, Partial, Full

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.

3. No.

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

Onward, Children's Soldiers

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.

YA and Middle Grade, and Never the Tween Shall Meet

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

Selflessness, Charity, and Masochism

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.

Anonymous said...

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!

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.

Love For My Readers

I want to thank you all—sincerely—for the conversation around 'Busted Again'. Some of the commenters have made very valid points, and I admit my view of this issue has changed a bit.
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

Busted Again

A recent post on The Rejecter about low advances inspired me to say a little something about this topic. It's a real irony that I don't like casinos and I don't play the lottery, but I work in publishing. Publishing is gambling in so many ways it's absurd. And the greatest irony is that at least with casinos, the house always wins—I mean, at least there someone always wins. Not so in publishing. So here we go:

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.

The Return of Grandma

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

The Perils! The Thrills! The Restfully Dull Paperwork!

I acquired all last night in my dreams. This did not make for bad dreams, but they also weren't terribly restful. Acquiring is an exciting, creative, stressful and mildly terrifying experience. It's one of the things that makes this job worthwhile, and, clearly, it's also one of the things that can make this job very tiring.
  • 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

Check This Box

Ah, the check-the-box query letter. Several short summaries of manuscripts that you have to offer, and all I have to do is indicate which ones I like and mail the sheet back to you.

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.

Just fyi.

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

Grandma Strikes Again

Is one of the characters in your picture book "grandma"? Is "grandma" the main character, or as prominent a character as the child in the story?

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?
That's right.

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.

Pride Goeth Before the Slush

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.


1. Content

  • 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.

2. Context

  • 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.
These are the clueless masses with whom you are jostling for place in slush:

I like children, but I don't like :
  1. reading submission guidelines
  2. reading children's books
  3. reading