Monday, December 31, 2007

A Little Decoration

I found myself looking for a book with a digital camera in my hand. It was probably always going to happen; if you visit your bookshelves as much as I do, eventually you'd find yourself there with everything conceivable in your other hand.
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

Blog Resolutions?

An editor and a copyeditor are out walking when they come upon a set of tracks. The editor looks at them and identifies them as deer tracks.
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

The Labor of Love

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!)

My Job: For Children, and Now By Children!

Dear Editor,
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.
Good luck!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Relationship Help

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?

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
  1. asking her if she would like the revision via email or via post (don't assume)
  2. 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.)
If she offered you some constructive comments but did not ask to see a revision, she likely feels she is under no obligation to respond personally to the revision. Ask for a status update via post, and cross your fingers.

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

How To Get Black Balled

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.

Graphic Novels without the "Graphic"

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

It's Magic! And By "Magic" I Mean a Lot of Work

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

Nyet, Nein, La, Non, Nao

From the yellow boards:
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?

Out of the Office Until (a) My Vacation Time Runs Out (b) Monday (c) I'm in the Office Right Now

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.