Sunday, June 22, 2008

Slush and Punishment: You're Can Fix My Tpyo's, Right?

"You're spelling words are on the board" said Mrs. Feelings. "copy them, down and remeber to study hard on the wekend." Terrance thought "O'K. This ca'nt be so hard. But, Terrance has a problem. A problem with his eyesihgt. Terrance need's glasses.
That's a clever twist. You absolutely had me believing his problem was going to be dyslexia.

You know, I'm going to defer to Sean Lindsay, who responded to this problem (much more thoroughly than I'm ever going to) in this essay on one of the most pernicious myths of publishing: It dont mater how bad is my speling or grammar, cause thats’ what copyeditors is for.

Slush and Punishment: We Have Decided Not to Publish Your Steaming Pile of S***

Last year, about this time, I ran a series of posts called "Slush and Punishment" which were as close as I could ethically come to showing you real examples of the darkness that lurks in the heart of slush. The point being, This Is Your Competition. Not your competition in terms of getting published, of course, because I would rather eat nails than inflict stuff like this on children. But your competition for editors' time and attention... which is why it's so hard to get an editor's time and attention. Go forth armed with the truth.

In that fine (if not very long) tradition:

Little Poo is terrified and alone after the horrific natural disaster called BM washes him up in a strange place known only as "sewer". How will the brave Little Poo find his way home?
I'm throwing this away, but I feel unexpectedly bad for the trash basket.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Something's... Different.

Did this blog do something different with its hair? Is that a new shade of lipstick? There's definitely something...

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Little Red Pudding Head (rerun from 6/07)

A short story with a moral.

Once upon a time there was a hopeful author, and everywhere she went she wore a little red cape and asked total strangers if they would help her get published. Her plumber couldn't help her get published. Her hairdresser couldn't help her get published. Finally it occurred to her to send her manuscript to members of her alma mater’s faculty, guilting them into writing a letter of recommendation.

Now she was all ready. She sent her manuscript and the letters of recommendation to the Big Bad Editor. At first the Big Bad Editor was puzzled by the praise two economics professors had offered a rhymed alphabet book about vitamins. But then she shrugged her shoulders and ate the author for lunch.

The moral:
Clueless? Like to bother strangers for the hell of it? I don’t want to work with you.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Everyone! (translation: No One!)

A woman sits down next to me during a conference break and (surprise) starts describing her picture book idea. It had to do with a small dog, or maybe a mop. I couldn’t tell. So I ask her, “Who do you feel this book is for?”

And she says, in perfect earnestness, “Well, everyone!

Hold it, hold it. You can’t make people laugh that hard while they’re holding hot coffee.

So I catch my breath and address the coffee stains, and then I explain to her:

There is no such thing as a book that is for everyone. No, don’t argue with me. There isn’t, dammit.

There are occasionally books that are for a lot of different people (like Scribbles), and there are even more occasionally books that are for a hell of a lot of people (like Harry Potter, or The Secret).


  1. You do not know that you have your hands on the next bestseller. Seriously. Let me tell you how many yahoos we get pitching us books as the next big thing. This tactic marks them as too dumb to work with, associate with, or confirm ever having spoken to. You are dead to us, Mr. “It’ll be the Cuban-American Harry Potter!” J. K. Rowling had no idea she’d written something that would take the world by storm. Her British publisher had no idea. And no, not because of stodgy publisher shortsightedness. Because you can’t predict what’s going to be big.
    1. And when I say “you can’t predict” I mean you, jackass, the one who hasn’t spent his entire adult life reading and thinking about children’s books and the book industry, and still thinks he’s better at picking bestsellers than publishers are. And you just happen to have written one! How convenient!
    2. And I also mean publishers.
  2. (Deep breath.) Even if you did have something with very wide appeal, there are plenty of people who do not own a copy of Harry Potter, and there is also a segment of the population who owns a copy and did not enjoy it. There is no such thing as a book for everyone.
  3. Finally, and most to the point, when we ask who a book is for, we do not mean “who could it apply to?” We do not mean “who could conceivably enjoy this?” We mean, “who will this definitely appeal to so strongly that they spend money on it?”

Oh, I’m sorry, is that asking you to make assumptions about an audience you have no connection to? Do you, maybe, think there’s a problem with having no connection to your audience?

If I ask you if three-year-olds would like a book and you say “I don’t know,” what you’re really saying is “I don’t know what three-year-olds like.” And that means that you don’t get to write for them.

Unfortunately, there are quite a number of people who don’t think they need to even know what continent their clue is on in order to write a book for children. Happily, they don’t really read this blog. Unhappily, that means I don’t get to cuss them out here.

June Reruns

It has been suggested to me that I might do re-runs of some of the older (but favorite) posts for people who are newer readers. I kinda like the idea, partially because there are some 2007 posts I'm fond of, and partially because it sounds easy.

But what do you guys think? There's a poll option to the right.

If any old timers want to request particular reruns, please do that in the comments.

Thanks for voting!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Today's After-School Special: Sales Peer Pressure

My friends and I have noticed (and frequently complained about) the way that some authors' books seem to degenerate over their career-Rowling and Pullman leap to mind... Anne McCaffrey seemed to have a bit of this problem too, back in the day. Do editors just stop editing them because they're guaranteed cash cows? Or is it a problem with authorial hubris? On the other hand, Rick Riordan's latest book still seemed pretty tight. And Terry Pratchett has improved over time.... So... is a lack of editing for popular authors an editorial or authorial decision? Or is it the whole "secret ending can't have too many eyes" problem?
In my experience, it's mostly commonly a combination of authorial hubris and publisher gutlessness.

It is a fact of life that authors, who may spend a great deal of time lovingly reading fanmail and googling themselves, end up with a warped opinion of their own talent. This is how a charming author who once knew her own mind but valued others' informed opinions becomes someone who doesn't just think her editor doesn't understand her, but doesn't see why she should bother trying to explain herself. She is brilliant! She is an artist! No wonder we don't get what she's trying to do--she is operating at a whole different level! (...of egomania.)

Now combine that with a medium-high level of career success. The editor who looks at the newest manuscript from this person wants to send it back and say, "I love your writing, but there's no character development or plot arc in this. You can do better." But the editor knows that (a) if the manuscript was published as-is, people would still buy it. A lot of people. And (b) if the editor says no to this, there's a fair chance the author would just turn around and sell it to some other publisher. Then that other publisher would have the mediocre book and the pile of money, and the original editor's Sales and Marketing people would be Highly Displeased that those sales were not theirs. Highly. Displeased.

Who has the guts to say no to money? The truth is, not a lot of people, especially in a business that's low-profit for pretty much everybody involved. And, more's the pity, those of us who want to Just Say No are under some serious pressure to say yes. You can get kicked out of school for not taking these drugs.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Submissions R Us

I have written my first picture book (rhyming) for children. It has received positive feedback, and I would like to find a publisher. I've created a dummy, and made a list of possible publishers, intending to send individual submissions and letters of inquiry, depending upon the guidelines. Now, I've been advised to go to Publishers and and let them do the legwork. What do you advise?
I don't know anything about that service. And I think I'd want to hear something pro or con from Preditors and Editors (eg) before I paid them $240. I've gotten some "submissions" that were clearly spam. I wouldn't want my work in the hands of services like that. Anybody have something reliable on publishersandagents?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Critique Roadshow

I have had three picture books and a middle grade novel progress from the slush pile to acquisition meetings at several different major publishing houses. Unfortunately, my work has been rejected at this point each time. The feedback I get is very positive. I'm finding it very frustrating because I don't really know what the problem is, so it makes it difficult to address it. Do you have any suggestions as to what I can do to improve my chances?
I try to let people know what the feedback was at acquisition meetings when something doesn't pass, but if you're not getting that, then you need to try to find feedback wherever you can. What does your crit group say? If they're no help, try to find another group or individual critiquers (perhaps on the blue boards). That you keep getting that far says that your work is very close to publishable... but there may indeed be some piece you're missing. Good luck!

Manuscript Therapy

My agent sent out my non-fiction book to an editor at a major publishing house (Transworld) a couple of months ago. It was in an advanced but incomplete stage and we got word back from the editor saying he was intrigued by the book's central premise, but thought that it needed some work to sound more convincing. He said he would "love" to be able to see the complete manuscript. I finished it a couple of months ago and sent it back to him. My agent seen him a month later at the London Book Fair and the editor let him know he was "very positive" about it, but now needed to "get his senior collegues on board". The London Book Fair was two months ago now and I've since chewed my nails down to a gnarly stump, but still no word back. I thought the editor's response sounded like he was going to take it to an acquisitions meeting, but does it usually take so long to prepare? I thought that the whole acquisitions process thing would be a hell of a lot quicker than this. Is this a good or bad sign? Help! The longy waitness is driving me mental!
Yes, it takes that long sometimes. Look, this is promising. And even if it doesn't pan out at this publisher, this is promising in terms of the project's eventual publication somewhere. Your agent could certainly nudge the editor now to remind him, but take deep breaths. Your manuscript is in a good place, emotionally. Put yourself there, too.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Your Publication (is) History

I am a lawyer-turned-children's writer. Before I made this happy transformation, I ghost wrote a law book. I am now applying to attend a children's writer's conference. The application asks me to describe my professional writing career. Can I name the book and say that I ghost wrote it, or do I have to use some sort of euphemism like "primary contributing author"? I worked on it for about a year, and I would like to specify the name, if it's acceptable to do so. I am not contractually restricted from naming it, but I don't wish to violate any unwritten ethical code.
It is a little dicey to tell strangers about your ghostwriting jobs. As it's not in your contract (as it would be in many ghostwriting instances), you can talk about it, but you may make people a little uncomfortable if they're wondering whether you should be mentioning it.

I think more to the point is that previous publication in law (or physics, or finance, or pretty much any adult topic) does not say anything about your ability to write for children. No, take my word for it. I've met and been submitted to by lots and lots of people who are published writers in one way or another, but their writing for children stinks like feet.

This is not to say that your writing stinks like feet. I am going to assume that your writing smells like lilies and peppermint, and publishers are going to turn your head and ruin your sense of economy with all the money they throw at you. But until that happens, seriously. The law book you wrote means nothing.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Your Fate Is in My Hands (mwah-ha-ha)

My question, as an aspiring children's book illustrator, is: when you receive a manuscript and get the go-ahead to publish it, are you the one who then searches for an appropriate illustrator with the help of an art director; or is the art director the sole decider of the story's illustrated destiny? (That was a little dramatic, I apologize)
This varies from house to house. Some editors have a great deal of say in the illustrator selection, and pretty much every editor has some say in it. Designers have a voice in this, too, and depending on the editor, the author may even get some say in the decision.
So be nice to everybody. This is good advice generally, but especially so in children's books.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Industry Watchdog Under Attack

It was inevitable, but dammit, I'm still mad. PublishAmerica is suing Preditors and Editors.
Please consider donating to their legal defense at the link below.


The Future is Now (Flee for Your Lives!)

Just wondering what you think of Amazon's new Kindle? Do you have one? Would you use one? Is it here to stay? What do the big wigs at the big houses have to say? Are they nervous?
I have used a Sony Reader, and it looks handy for reading submissions (especially longer ones) when the goal is a 'yes' or a 'no'. You can't make notes on them, though, so they won't work for editing. I haven't tried the Kindle yet, but I hear you can make notes. Has anyone else tried one? Thoughts?

Reactions in the book industry are mixed, I think. On the one hand, we've seen tremendous changes in the way music and video reach people in the last fifty years. And while there are still people with players for vinyl records and tapes, there are more and more people (like me) who no longer even own CDs.

On the other hand, the way books reach people has changed very little in the last half-century, or, in fact, in the last 500 years. And you've got to remember that most people in the book industry are hard-core book enthusiasts, and that means they are deeply attached to the physical idea of a book.

So imagining an itunes-like change for the book industry is both difficult and painful for many insiders. I think there's a little bit of denial going around.
I also think that realistically, it's going to happen--one day, most bookstores and libraries will be online, and most books bought will be digital. We'll still need writers and illustrators and editors and designers and publishers and librarians and booksellers... but there will be adjustments to be made.
What I don't think is that this change is right around the corner, so there's no need for hyperventilation. The companies (and individuals) who watch for change and embrace it do just fine. The thing that has book people nervous right now is that it's not clear what the change is going to be; just how it's going to work. It's going to be ok, though. We'll figure it out.