Thursday, January 31, 2008

My Book Is Out. How Can I Still Screw This Up?

You navigated all the work and worry and frustration of getting published; you avoided all the pitfalls and hurdles, the traps, mistakes, and numbskull moves, and you can't imagine how. You have a book in your hands and on the spine there's a real publisher's name!

But you're a self-defeatist, and dammit, you wanted to fail! So, you ask yourself, surely there's still some way I can f*** this up?

Yes, indeed there is. You already know how positively maddening it is to your publisher to receive several phone calls from you in a single month. So of course you'll be sure to call them with many questions, and phrase the questions so as to imply that your publicity person isn't doing her job well. Done and done.

But harassing publicity people fresh from sorority life until they cry may or may not torpedo your book. How can you really undermine things? Well, it may seem obvious, but your book will be selling in bookstores... unless you can prevent it!

While you may be tempted to simply try to hide copies of your book behind the shelves or scatter them in the toddler play area to let nature take its course, the really efficient tactic is to make the booksellers themselves hate your book.

This is much easier than you think. First you should come on all nice and eager-newbie-like and get the person in charge to take a copy of your book to review it. Booksellers are such patsies, they'll fall for this over and over again. They know they have far too many important running-the-bookstore tasks to realistically get your book read, but they'll promise they will anyway. Suckers.

Now's the fun part. Start calling that person every week or so asking if they've read the book yet. That's all. It's really that simple! Whereas waiting a couple of months before reminding them would inspire guilt and feelings of indebtedness, calling them almost immediately (and relentlessly thereafter) will take the bookseller directly to feelings of indignation, followed quickly by mounting irritation, disbelief, and actual rancor.

Cross that bookstore off your list. If they even stock the book, they'll do the hiding of it for you. Choose a good, connected bookseller, and you might be able to cross several bookstores off your list—and better yet, the bookseller will complain about you to your publicity and marketing departments!

When your publisher realizes you're making yourself unpleasant to everyone (not just to your publisher), they'll definitely write you off. No more promotion, actually irate booksellers, and really no chance of being published at that publisher again!

When you can't even find copies of your book on remainder tables because your publisher has sold them off as high-fiber livestock feed, you'll know you're a truly successful failure! Congratulations!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Hook vs Gimmick: the Death Match

The Cathy's Book approach: Gimmick?
Hugo Cabret: Hook?
(If my assumptions are correct, what's really the difference between using graphics in a novel and using interactivity in a novel, then? Neither has much to do with the core story. Is it just a matter of the value judgments concealed in hook vs. gimmick?)
Books written in IM: hook or gimmick?
Scratch n' sniff ERs: gimmick? or hook?
Googlie eyes, die cuts, etc: gimmick?
(I'd say so, but those googlie eye books sell enough to perhaps call that a hook?)
Urban vampire books: started out as hook, has turned into gimmick?

Ok, we already seem to have forgotten that effective gimmicks are hooks (though not all hooks are gimmicks). Please refer to the venn diagram. And if you'll refer to my definitions of "hook" and "gimmick", I think you'll see that there are no value judgements involved.

Cathy's Book: The text itself wasn't bad, but the extras, while fun, were an effective gimmick. (Which, once again, means they were also a hook.)

Hugo Cabret: The extraordinary visual storytelling is not a distraction from what the book is. It is part and parcel of what the book is. That means it is not a gimmick.

Vampire books: ditto. Either you want a vampire story or you don't. You aren't going to think "Ooo, vampires!" in the store and then get the book home and think, "Wait, there are vampires in this book! I didn't want a book with vampires!"

Books written in IM: Arguable. Some would argue that it's no different than traditional epistolary novels, which would make it no kind of hook (gimmick or otherwise). Others would argue that anything that makes a book unreadable does distract from what it is, so perhaps it could be a gimmick. Ok, now I'm just being mean.

Scratch and Sniff: gimmick.

Googly eyes: gimmick.

Die cuts: varies from book to book. The die cuts in First the Egg were not a gimmick. They were absolutely integral to the book. The die cuts in Penis Pokey... well, I'm hoping they're a gimmick. I guess it depends whether people are actually using them.

Ok, here's a fantastic example of a gimmick: the squishy, stretchable (surprisingly realistic-looking) plastic tongue in the cover of Chewy, Gooey, Rumble, Plop. Kids who are in no way interested in learning about the digestive system are going to beg for this book just for the tongue. They'll get it home and play with the toy parts and not read a word of it, and the parent who paid hard-earned money for it will be irritated. That's a gimmick. If you had a product that was solely a squishy, stretchable plastic tongue, then its appeal would not be a gimmick, because it wouldn't be distracting from anything else. Are we clear now?

A Couple More

From Raymond Nakamura:

Nice detail. Especially like the helpless editor in its hand.

From Leslie Muir:

Nice t-shirt. Like the crushed city behind.

The Slush Monster Is Here for Your Soul

Now THIS is going to haunt my dreams. I mean nightmares.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

One More

From Elizabeth Dulemba: Oh, this is so charming. While obviously it doesn't embody any of the ways I feel about slush, I want to take it home and tickle its feet.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Hook vs Gimmick

So, suppose my agent tells me that a publisher is looking for easy readers with strong hooks, like "pirate mom" or "dancing dinosaurs." What's the difference between a hook and a gimmick?

Good question.

A hook is the reason a reader decides to buy (or read) a book.

A gimmick is an attention-getting element that does little more than get attention. It is a contrivance that seems to add value without actually adding value. It distracts the consumer from the question of whether she really wants the product in her hands.

So while there are many, many hooks that are not gimmicks, all gimmicks are meant to be a form of hook.

I don't think I agree that the subject of a book can be a gimmick. It's the subject. If you aren't interested in buying a book about pirate moms or ballet dinosaurs, you aren't going to be distracted from that lack of interest by the fact that the book is about pirate moms or ballet dinosaurs.

What your agent (and the publisher) want to remind you of is that the goal of any early reader is to be appealing enough to get a child (for whom reading is difficult) to read it. That means it needs a hook that is not

1. great writing (because they can't discern great writing yet)
2. sparkly covers or novelty elements (because early readers are low budget) or
3. name recognition (because they do not recognize author names yet)

...and that leaves you with topic. You have to give them topics they know they want: dinosaurs, sports, ballet, pirates, superheroes, goofy jokes and puns, etc etc.

A Couple More

From Jimmer:
This slush has two cups of coffee, wears glasses, and isn't in a very good mood. In fact I don't think this is slush at all. Looks more like an editor.

From Eric Hammond:

Voila, the not-terribly-rancorous monster I mentioned before.

From Roz Fulcher:
Another editor. I wish I had those fangs.
I'm no closer to a decision, but I'm loving this!

Friday, January 25, 2008

How Awesome Are My Readers?

Finally had the chance to post all the Slush Monsters sent in by readers. Check it out!

From Andy J Smith:
Energetic. I think I prefer the angry monster to the one that looks like an eager dog... though I suppose slush bears a resemblance to both. Gotta have the tail, I think.

Great texture. This monster seems less slushy than "aww", though. I was hoping for one that embodied editors' frustration, amusement, and terror. This one's just so sympathetic.

From Gin:

Friendly. I might almost say... hobbitty. He looks like he likes his elevenses. Doesn't look like the kind of monster who could scare an editor, though. ;)

From Elizabeth Dulemba:

Slush as the monster that comes to your tea party and eats the cups. I do find myself identifying with the little girl.

Kinda creepy. But true slush doesn't sneak up on you. It accidentally crushes the life out of you without realizing it.

That is some dippy slush. I like the lost tourist thing. Wish he looked hungrier for his destination, though.

Definitely hungrier, heehee. But the slush monster I live with is hungry for publishing offices rather than paper. I guess that's why I saw him as city-sized.

Nice vivacity. Still, if I heard that this monster was looking for me, I would assume it wanted a tummy rub rather than my life force.

From Carly Schuna's brother, who goes by 'olie' on

Nice. Appealingly brainless looking. Still, not quite threatening enough.

Eric Hammond (for whom I cannot find a link) sent me a nice b&w monster who was vaguely reminiscent of the rancor monster in Star Wars (if a bit less, you know, rancorous). Alas, it was a PDF and my computer is fighting me about converting it to something I could post here. Nice work, though.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Blog Mascot

One of the new year's suggestions was that this blog should adopt a mascot. As a fan of the vicious poodle of Snark, the idea appeals to me.

Unfortunately, I have no artistic ability. If anyone feels like making me one, here's what I'd like: a godzilla-type monster named "slush" looking a bit dull-witted. I'm particularly fond of this cutie from, but alas, he seems to know where he's going.

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Invention of Hugo Cabret Wins the Caldecott!!

I, like many other people, was biting my nails. If you use the strictest interpretation of the Newbery and Caldecott terms and criteria, it's possible to argue that Hugo Cabret, which relies equally on its art and text to tell its story, might not be eligible for either award. (The horror. How could it not be considered for one or the other?)

Well, the Caldecott committee (and I agree that it's a better fit for the Caldecott than the Newbery) came through. You all rock.

Congratulations, Brian!

Here's where you can find most of the awards.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Quick Reference

I hope some of you will appreciate the fact that I've gone back through the archives and standardised the labelling of this blog's posts. In the column to your right you'll see them under "quick reference."

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pigeon, Meet Hole. (except no, not really)

A writer friend of mine commented to me once that after the sale of your first work, publishers will expect you to stay in that genre – if your first is a YA those that follow should be YA. I’m currently sending my YA novel to publishers and an agent or two. (Will be my first once sold.) Everything else I’ve written is MG. Is my friend right? Will I have a hard time selling my MGs if I sell a YA first?
Some of the best idea people work in more than one genre and age group, and publishers know this. M T Anderson, Adam Rex, Rosemary Wells, Ann Martin, Jaqueline Woodson, Dav Pilkey, Kevin Henkes, Brian Selznick, sheesh, the list goes on.

You may have sold your YA novel to a publisher imprint (or editor) who really only does YA. In which case you'll have to send your middle grades somewhere else. But real artists cannot paint themselves into a corner. For real artists, there are no corners.

The Yellow Brick Blank Wall of Despair

Dear Editor, Do you review submissions via this blog? I have self-published (yes – self published) a children’s book. Local children have great things to say about it and I think it would be a commercial success if given the opportunity.

No, I don't. I get enough of that at work to want to do more in my spare time.

Local children (not to mention children not at all local) do not have a great deal of money to spend on books. Moreover, children always have nice things to say about books they've been specially read aloud or have authors who made a special trip to see these children. Does this sound like what's happened in your case? If so, you can reliably discount anything the children have said to you.

And in terms of its being a commercial success if given the opportunity: alas, I think there are many people who feel this way about their self-published book. But the opportunity you're hoping for—the one that would get the book in front of lots of people—is called being published by a publisher with a marketing department.

Either you've
(a) decided to forego that option or
(b) didn't try hard enough to get it published at a normal publisher (and by hard enough, I mean sending it to everyone it could work for) or
(c) looked at an enormous pile of rejection letters and decided it couldn't possibly mean that your manuscript would not, in fact, be a commercial success if given the chance.

I don't want to jump to conclusions; I don't know you or your book. But in my experience, the people at publishers know a hell of a lot more about what makes a commercial success than writers do. And we're looking for those books.
In the case of any one manuscript, the person who sees the manuscript at a particular publisher could reject it mistakenly or short-sightedly, but if absolutely no one wants to publish it, I would take that as a Sign of some kind.

You've embarked down a path that for most people goes nowhere. I hope you've brought along a grappling hook or something.

Yea, Verily, Coff Thee.

What were your favorite children's/YA books published in 2007. Why?

Which were your least favorite? Why?

Which books do you most look forward to reading in 2008?

Oh, these questions are always hard, because it means remembering what I've read.
I have a predisposition to smart ass writers, and at the top of that list would be The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, Wednesday Wars, and The True Meaning of Smekday. Oh, and how about Spanking Shakespeare?
Elijah of Buxton was certainly awesome, but does not qualify for smart-assness.

A couple of my favorite read-alouds in picture books came from England this year: That Rabbit Belongs to Emily Brown and When a Monster Is Born. Frustratingly, the most prestigious picture book award in this country is not for whichever picture book became available to Americans in the past year and rocked. It's for illustration. I'd also like to point out the irony in the fact that a bunch of librarians (and don't get me wrong: fine, brilliant librarians) get to choose which picture book art is the best. As opposed to, say, people with a background in art.

Least favorites are even harder, because it means remembering books I started and never finished. It's also kinda unfair to complain by name about books you haven't read all the way through (though one or two do spring to mind).

The Newberys will be announced on Monday, but I'm already over them. Why? Because I've already read the best book of 2008, and it blows 2007 out of the water: Gary Schmidt's Trouble. Hie thee to a bookstore in a couple of months and coff thee a copy! It releases in April.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Best Face Forward

I'm a Times New Roman 12 pt gal-- mostly because my college professors and all my jobs (govt, university and private sector) used this as the standard.
I recently joined an online critique group where all the other members are courier people. I was tearing out my hair until I started converting their files to TNR, critiquing them, and then converting them back....
But I've noticed that font does affect how I perceive a piece of writing.
So, what font do you prefer? Do you even care? How about your colleagues? Do you discuss fonts when you talk about pet peeves? Or are you all so professional and focused on the actual writing that any font is fine?

Most of what we get is Times or Courier or Palatino or one of the other very normal-looking fonts, and I'm not particular about which one it is. (Though the house standard is Times.) Courier is my least favorite of those, but as long as it's legible, it's not fair to hold a font against a writer.
This is of course the time to point out that Zapf Chancery is not a legible typeface. Typeface is not the writer's chance to make her manuscript more beautiful. If your manuscript needs decoration, it's not good enough yet.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Before We Begin...

How do you feel about prologues? I've heard mixed opinions--some editors don't like them, some like them if they're "done right." What's your opinion on what constitutes a good prologue?
It probably won't come as a surprise that I like cutting to the chase. When I was a child, I took "prologue" to mean "something too boring to include in the main text" and habitually skipped them.
So I'm sensitive to the fact that there are children like that out there. I suppose as long as you give it a more interesting name than simply "prologue" or "introduction," it could be fine. But what's the difference between a prologue and the first chapter of Harry Potter? Or the first chapter of Red Moon At Sharpsburg? The answer is: you've added a paragraph or two to the beginning of chapter 2, and you know your reader's really started at the beginning.
If an author wants to convince me of the importance of a prologue as a separate entity from chapter 1, I'm willing to listen. But it'll take a little convincing. How do you feel about them?