Saturday, April 5, 2008

I'm Back!

Yes, I've missed you, too. I'm going to be very vague about my whereabouts these past several days, though, so my coworkers can't identify me. It was somewhere where I thought I would have lots of time to sift the many entries to the poetry contest, but was I wrong? And how. Thanks for your patience.

I have a friend who is a Navy SEAL turned Dr. of physiology and chiropractic. He's written a children's novel concerning physiology to teach kids about good posture and how participating in activities in a physically correct manner is beneficial. Sounds crazy, but he's managed to do it and make it cool. For instance, learning to push your scooter with both feet (one at a time of course) helps your overall balance....both legs are strengthened, not just the side you favor, and this helps in playing sports, etc. He wants to include a DVD with the book to demonstrate the techniques. Can you give him a little guidance about querying
agents/publishing houses? It's fiction, but is full of non-fiction, teaching elements. Any advice you have on how to proceed with this would be greatly appreciated.

Your friend needs to fully grasp two facts about the business.

1. Absolutely no one is going to buy a novel for its nonfiction physiology content. And when I say "no one" I mean no agent, no editor, no parent, and no child. These people will only buy it if it is a good story, well told.

2. There is a not large but meaningful section of slush made up entirely of yahoos who are committed to explaining the importance of their chosen careers to children (eg tax audits, cosmology... remember these?). Their manuscripts are universally awful. So: your friend does not want to be mistaken for one of them.

Most of us are familiar with the expression "a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down". (Some of us, in fact, can't think of this expression without hearing Julie Andrews in our heads. Damn Mary Poppins.) It's important for your friend to recognize that what he has here is medicine. Physiology is not the big, bitter pill that "Insurance Structures and Their Importance to You" would be (as a completely random example), but it is still a pill. In order for this manuscript to succeed, he must have wrapped the information so completely in a story that children want to consume that the teaching component is indistinguishable.

And what this means to his queries and cover letters is most likely something he won't want to hear: he shouldn't mention the physiology content at all. He should query and submit this just like he would if it were a story written for its own sake, because if the manuscript does not work on the strength of the story alone, it will. not. sell.

You didn't mention why he felt a novel would be a better vector for this information than a nonfiction manuscript. Personally, I think it's an odd choice. Still, I never say never. Good luck!

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

hmmm...pretty sure 'a spoonful of sugar' is from Mary Poppins, not The Sound of Music.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Oh, duh. Of course. My Julie Andrews loathing has lumped the two.

eluper said...

It just so happens that I am a doctor of chiropractic and a published YA novelist as well (hopefully not the guy you're talking about). I will admit that I tinkered with similar ideas when I was first starting out. I was working on a novel about an aspiring wrestler with asthma who discovers acupuncture. The trouble was that anything I wrote felt like a platform, rather than a story.

Nowadays, I avoid putting anything about alternative healthcare in my novels for just this reason. I want readers to get lost in my story, not for readers to be led by it.

This is also the reason I think "write what you know" is not a good adage without a lot of caveats tacked on. "Write what you are immensely curious about" works much better. It just doesn't roll off the tongue so well.

Anonymous said...

And I don't put anything about my insurance illustrations in my illustrations.
"Okay kids, do you want Term or Whole Life...would that be a thirty year projection with these annuities or those annuities or no annuities at all??"

In my first children's writing class, a guy wrote a story about a pediatrian complete with Sammy Shunt and Suzie Syringe. I walked out.

Oh, and Cell Phone Sally. Sigh.

Carly said...

I'm so glad you're back, EA.

Laurie said...

Glad you're back EA, and that you didn't miss a beat!

ChristineEldin said...

Welcome back!

Cell Phone Sally I kinda like the alliteration.
Is it a sequel to Cellulite Sally, loosely based on me?

kitty said...

"Write what you know"? What does that say about murder mystery writers?


...

Carly said...

I'm going to dig up my favorite quote from R.L. Stine here....

"I hear other authors saying, 'Write from your heart. Write what you know. Write what you feel.' That's horrible. What a way to turn people away from writing. I've never written a single thing from my heart. I write to entertain people. I pick out an audience, and I learn about them and what they like, and I write the best book I can for them."

Sing it, R.L.!

Roger Sutton said...

I have a picture book in my personal collection called Bruce Learns about Life Insurance. It's really gripping.

Anonymous said...

Can I borrow it? It might me a more productive worker bee.
AboveAnon

Colorado Writer said...

Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

I never thought I'd read the word "loathing" next to the name "Julie Andrews." What's up with that?

Editorial Anonymous said...

I have cultural diabetes.

Anonymous said...

Alternative Healthcare in novels.

It can be done. See PopCo by Scarlet Thomas. Fabulous book, with a lot in there about homeopathic medicine.

Deirdre Mundy said...

EA, you've given yourself away....

The comment about Julie Andrews was a clever ploy to distract us...

Obviously, you ARE Julie Andrews! (Thanks for reprinting the little grey men, btw--the kids enjoyed it)

And the vacation you couldn't give details about was OBVIOUSLY a trip to film "Princess Diaries 3,221.5"

=)

BTW-- Does this mean you also hate the original cast recording of My Fair Lady? And Victor/Victoria?

Mary Poppins isn't totally sweet-- there's a dark undertone of neglected children left with unknown caregivers.... Not to mention a crazy homeless lady and rapacious capitalists bent on having very last tuppence.

And do you REALLY think one day in the park with a kite will make up for years of ignoring the kids?

jan said...

Welcome back...you were missed.

The doctor novel reminded me of my favorite "I can't believe he's doing this" horror story. My husband and I were in his doctor's office for a discussion about whether my husband needed A LUNG TRANSPLANT.

Right in the middle, the doctor is talking about a possible need to go on disability and the doctor asks if I work. I say I do. He asks at what. I tell him. His face lights up.

Dr: You know I have this great idea for a kid's book about obesity and I'd love to talk about it with you. You could write it. I'm not really looking for a lot of money out of it, but I want to bring this to kids in a way to make them want to deal with it.

The urge to have a book does weird weird things to people.

Editorial Anonymous said...

No! That's awful.

Did you say, "I've been wanting to write a book about talking to people facing life-threatening operations and I'd love to discuss it with you. You could write it. Unless... do you feel qualified?"

jan said...

Ha! Wish I'd thought of that. I was so gobsmacked that he thought it was appropriate to pitch this story idea he thought I should write while we're talking about giving my husband new lungs. But then he tended to have concentration issues -- our NEW doctor is doing much better.

Anonymous said...

I would surmise that EA means a spoon full of sugar is not good for a diabetic, especially one who relies on cultural oyxgen to exist.

EA means too saccharine as in 'The Julie Andrews Book Collection'. Dumpy (or Dumb Ass) the Dump Truck and their various 'pbs' are a diabetic's nightmare....a spoonful of saccharine makes the spewtum come up...(correct me if I am wrong EA)

I've seen this imprint and I would never send my illos or mss there...ever. No way.

Now Mary Poppins rocks... but to me it is because of 'Bert' and the rest of the cast. Julie did her part but she did not make the movie.''

Don't blame Julie... she is best on stage, not as an imprint with her family's name in books, and the love fest on the the book's spine.

I can see why an EA would go into a coma over this.

This imprint really isn't about good writing or art. It is just another celebrity venue.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed The Palace of Laughter, by Jon Berkeley, a Julie Andrews Imprint book. But I thought it was funny that she would write a favorable blurb on the back - you're the publisher, of course you like the book.

I must say I've not read anything else from it, I shy away from self-indulgent celebrity crap. I just thought she was one of the exceptions. I guess I was wrong.

anon 4:48

Deirdre Mundy said...

I haven't read any of the "Dumpy" Books...

But she reprinted "The Little Grey Men" by BB, and I enjoyed it. And my daughter thought it was a fun read aloud.

True, it's only because she's a star that Julie Andrews gets to have an imprint to herself...

But I don't think it makes her evil--just lucky... I mean, who WOULDN"T want to have an imprint devoted to "Books I Love."

She likes books. She likes kids. She wants to bring the two together. She doesn't bother me.
She's like a singing librarian...no wait... that was Shirley Jones.... O fudge!

(Full disclosure. I LIKE Julie Andrews. My kids have watched Mary Poppins 3 gazillion times and I don't care. I Like the sound of music. I even like the Princess Diaries. I used to play pool to the "My Fair Lady" Andrews/Harrison
original soundtrack..........

But I am a TOTALLY uncool, un-hip, and un-trendy person who sings Rogers and Hammerstein without irony....)

emay said...

Julie Andrews was a children's writer before she became a children's editor, and she didn't trade on her celebrity. When I read MANDY as a child, the book cover did nothing to suggest that Julie Edwards was anyone famous. And it was a good book--I liked it, anyway! I would put her in the category of, say, Toni Morrison as an editor at Random House. Or David Levithan.

Anonymous said...

I read Mandy as a child and I loved it, too. And I was a reluctant reader. But still...

Same Anon 737

Editorial Anonymous said...

I haven't actually read Mandy or The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, but I've heard before that they're good books, and I believe it. I was reacting mostly to her film ouevre and the generally sweeter-than-treacle-pudding image she projects. That's not to say there's anything wrong with people who enjoy her just as she is. I just have less of a sweet tooth.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that Mary Poppins was a book long before it was a movie and it's a great one...dark undertones and all. Much better read than the Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles, if you ask me.