Thursday, July 31, 2008

Requested Manuscript Award:

The pandas love the smell of Listerine. The flamingoes like to see themselves in the mirror. The gorillas enjoy the feel of finger paint. In The Rhinos Sniff Garlic early readers will see how zookeepers use all five senses to keep the animals in their care content.
(nonfiction, easy reader)
This sounds very interesting. But why are you telling people it's an easy reader, when it would be much more profitable to the publisher and to you as a picture book? Let the editor decide what it is. I'd request this.

The Everyone Poops (But You Don't Have to Mail It to Me) Award:

goes to four distinguished contestants:
One man's food poison is another microbe's siren. SAM AND ELLA, A LOVE STORY proves that it isn't just the heart that rules in passion but the wanton and gurgling world of the digestive tract.
Princess Ariel finds herself in the midst of a sudden onslaught of giant bubbles that threatens the very existence of her underwater kingdom. This book is--literally--a "Little Mermaid meets Walter the Farting Dog" story--one that is destined to enchant and amuse children from 1 to 101.
When Ana Rexia slips down the drain and arrives in Xcrement, a sinister underground city squirming with Sewer Rats and Sanitary Product Salesmen, she is captured by Flatulus and Gassigutz for display in their Freak Xhibition at the Vomitarium. There Ana meets Bobbie Bulimic, and the two tumble into a puddle of muck, and into love. Will Ana and Bobbie blow off Flatulus and Gassigutz and escape the Rising Tide of Merde? Fans of Stephen King and Barbara Cartland will kill to find the answer within my Book, Plumbing the Depths, as will over eight million citizens with Eating Disorders.
Have you ever wondered about the Commander in Chief's bathroom habits? What kind of toilet paper they have in the White House, how Watergate affected Nixon's bowels, or where Lincoln's outhouse was located? In my new picture book, Presidential Poops, readers of all ages will delight in the whimsical rhyming texts and colorful illustrations. Plus, a special scratch-n-sniff section on the back cover will help readers feel as if they are right in the Oval Office bathroom!

The Happily Ever After Honor:

MURDEROUS MARY, the true story of the elephant who killed a boy in Tennessee during a circus parade. She seized him with her trunk, threw him against a wall, and squashed him with one foot. The sheriff shot her several times, but the bullet didn't pierce her hide. So they lynched her using a construction crane (it took two tries) and buried her in a pit by the railroad tracks.
For ages 3-7.
Good bedtime reading.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Requested Manuscript Prize:

In my new picture book, A Little Quiet, Mama is on a mission. As she searches for a place to rest, her children follow her all over the house, asking what she is doing. When she tells them she's looking for "a little quiet", they decide to join the search. Though they don't know what it looks like, they're determined to find it - even if they have to make it themselves.
I certainly hope the kids make an enormous amount of noise—in creative ways—as they search (that's not clear from the pitch, and should be). I would request this manuscript.

A well-deserved Metaphor Prize:

I'm very enlivened and dying to send you my finally clear book on Einstein's relativity. Like sand through the hour-glass, so are... well, the sand keeps coming down and there's one for each of us. Then you can throw the clock out the window of the train because its all relative, but not like your mother or your cousins or anyone like that. In the end we all know it is true that when there is happy, or a good time, then it doesn't seem like so much sand.
...And sometimes it really seems like the Sahara, doesn't it?

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Best/Worst Pitch Contest

Submissions have closed. No more!
The Best (and the Worst) are to come. Like, maybe tomorrow or Tuesday.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Bite My Head Off

These are my new favorite cookie cutters.

Over at Book Roast, rumor has it they're partnering with Reach Out and Read (ROR), a children's book charity. The children's books aren't up quite yet, but it's a good reason to add it to the list of blogs you check compulsively (how many are there, now?).

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Best/Worst Pitch Contest!!

Ok, ok, I'm buckling to pressure. It's the first Best/Worst Pitch Contest.

Wondering if your pitch is making a classic mistake or boring your listener to tears? Just want to pitch something awful for the fun of being bad? Go to it!

Send your entries (no more than FOUR SENTENCES per pitch) to my email (not the comments section), and put PITCH CONTEST in the subject line, please.

Categories include, but will not be limited to:
The Metaphor Prize for the kind of comparison that haunts you long after the pitch session
The Bush Sr/Jr Honor for incomprehensible chain-of-thought rambling
Bush Sr. once said, "Remember Lincoln, going to his knees in times of trial and the Civil War and all that stuff. You can't be. And we are blessed. So don't feel sorry for — don't cry for me, Argentina. Message: I care." Not unlike some of the pitches I've heard.
The Restraining Order Commendation for overall scariness/creepiness
The Drivel Award for use of cliches and the plotlines of books everyone has read
The Robert Munsch Citation for most dysfunctional relationship in a pitch
The I Need a Shower Now and a Cocktail Immediately After Trophy for anything that makes me ask myself why I wanted to be an editor

...and of course as many positive awards as necessary.
Can't wait to see what you come up with!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Slush and Punishment: Warm, Fuzzy Messages and Dead Puppies

When Angeline hears that animals can't go to heaven, she starts digging a hole in her backyard in an effort to visit Hell and her dead puppy Sandy. Her parents understand this as part of her spiritual development. While she never reaches Hell, her story is a metaphor for the struggle with death and Man's sinfulness.
Every month or so I do some digging in the slush, and sometimes afterwards I have these phantom paper-cuts that make me itch, and then I wash my hands compulsively.

This is a metaphor for my struggle with the dread of ever meeting these loonies.

Slush and Punishment: God Has a Restraining Order Against You

I am writing to you because God has given me a gift of writing and I will make lots of sales for your company. This writing is a gift from God. I specialize in dramatic writing that will win you awards... (etc etc)
(Enclosed were xeroxed pages from the middle of Tuck Everlasting.)

We'z Heard Youz Don' Agree Wit de Editorial Letter We'z Sentcha

What percentage of an Editorial Letter do you realistically expect an author to accomplish? Or, better phrased, how often does an author fix EVERYTHING you claim is "wrong" with a YA/MG novel? If you disagree with the author, that this certain thing needs "fixed" and the author thinks it's fine, who wins? Who ends up crying? Are any broken bones involved?
No, broken bones are for when you're in breach of contract. Editorial letters are only a matter of sprains and bruises. See, if you don't solve my "problems", we have some "friends" who come over to your house to "explain" things to you.

But seriously, here's how I recently answered a similar question over at the institute:

What I want from my authors are:
1) to consider my suggestions seriously
2) And if they don't agree with a suggestion, to consider if there is another solution to the problem I'm trying to address in the manuscript.
3) If they truly disagree that the part I've marked should change at all, then I want them to show me they've seriously considered both the change and the issue I was trying to address, and to tell me why they think it's important the way it is.

As long as you do these things—which show the editor that you take her contribution and her book experience seriously and are willing to have a reasonable conversation about edits to the book—I would be happy. It is, after all, your creative work, and if there's a place where I'm not understanding your creative vision, then please, try to talk me around. Sensitive, open-minded disagreement is a VITAL part of the creative process. Your editor is offering you this. Offer it back to her.

I suppose I should also say something about the occasional Deal Breaker. Every once in a while, an author wants to do something that I feel significantly hurts the book's appeal to its core audience. Of course, if I see something like that at the acquisition stage, I'll make sure the author and I agree about the necessary change before we get to signing a contract.

But if something like this comes up later in the process, then I try to be very clear that's what I feel is at stake—and if the author and I cannot agree, it will be part of my responsibilities to my publisher to take the matter to a higher authority... in which case the book may be canceled. It's not fair to my publisher for me to continue with publication of a book that I believe has cut itself out of any audience.

Friday, July 18, 2008

The Trouble with Alternate Identities

I'm so bored. Why doesn't Editorial Anonymous post something?

Wait, that's me. I need to post something. Oh, all right. Hold on, I think I have some questions I can answer.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Shaun Tan's The Red Tree grows some music

I'm way behind on my Bookninja reading. So:

First of all, this link. Awesome. How much does airfare to Australia cost?...

Also, You know what's more lexically elite than using deckle-fetish in a sentence?
Yeah, it's complaining that others aren't using it correctly.

The furor over labeling UK books with age ranges continues... Listen, when Phillip Pullman (and quite a few other authors) says Don't Do That, what idiot doesn't listen?

Finally, perhaps not all of you are reading the NY Times. In which case, click here:

If this isn't simply a sign that you should all be reading Bookninja, I don't know what is. Go on, then.

You Don't Get No Respect

I've often felt like the Rodney Dangerfield of children's book illustrators. So much of it seems like a hush hush situation but I feel like writers get more respect than illustrators when it comes to publishing children's books. I've been in this business for over 20 years. I know the pay isn't the greatest, but I feel like it hasn't improved over the past 15 years! I know that teachers' salaries are not the best and yet they make more then I do. I'm having to do a lot of research, too, that editors seem to not acknowledge as time spent on a project. I find it all so frustrating lately and I hate being so negative about the business, but I'm single and just trying to make a living at what I can do my best at. Even Amazon doesn't give me recognition on a picture book and just gives the author the credit on their site.
I can't do much about what you're being paid; perhaps you should be negotiating harder. ...And stepping up the pay scale in illustration is often a matter of developing a style that's recognizably yours and that builds a fan base. Is yours unique?

In terms of authors getting more respect, I think this is true some of the time, unfortunately. The public understands better what the author does, and tends to credit the author with the generation of ideas for the book. (Often idea generation is the author's, but illustrators also sometimes contribute ideas to a book.)

Let's just recognize right here that the public simply does not understand how much work it is for either the author or illustrator to create even the simplest picture books—which is why idea-generation is where they're laying all the glory.

Now, editors have much less of an excuse. True, editors are sometimes buffered from illustrators by the designer, who may or may not trouble to let the editor know how much work has gone into the illustration. But a thoughtful editor should be able to guess, and moreover should be interested enough in her field to find out.

What to do about this? I'm not sure there is much to do. But artists could make a start on educating people by not just showing finished art on their websites. Giving viewers a sense of how many studies/drafts you went through, the brainstorming you did, will help them to realize that you have a job, not just a pastime.

(And editors face the same thing. Lots of people face the same thing. When the public doesn't have any idea how difficult a job is, they go ahead and assume it's easy. How many jobs do you think of as "easy"?)

Amazon is something you can fix, though. There's a link at the bottom of the page (in the Feedback section) where you can click to update product info. Or you could click on the "any other feedback" link, which allows you to send Amazon a message-- which could include a link to your publisher's website so that Amazon can double-check that the illustrator is who you say it is. Give them a couple weeks to make the changes you've requested.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

All the Answers Are No

As we've been discussing, the slush inspires some mixed feelings. For some people (persistant, talented people), it pays off. And for other people it's hay-baling time.

So at the risk of aiming a post at people who don't read this blog, I'd like to point out some instances of slush-related correspondence in which the answer is no:
  • You found a typo on page 76, and here's the corrected page. Could we just replace it in the manuscript you sent us last week? No.
  • Whoops, you moved. Two months ago you sent us a manuscript, and here's your new address. Could we just tuck this notice in with your previous package? No.

  • You air-mailed your aged grandmother to the slush (her rocker was too big for the envelope), and you're starting to worry that she might expire while she waits to be evaluated. Could we give her this bottle of water and kit of emergency rations? No.
I think we've established that hunting through the slush is a dubiously productive activity at the best of times (look, two-month-old chocolate!).

But hunting through the slush just to fix some small thing for you is the kind of pointless that makes old editors look back on their lives and weep bitter tears for their wasted youth. Even considering that it would be editorial assistants and interns doing the hunting, it makes me weep bitter tears for the time they could be spending writing my catalog copy or requesting my contracts.

The occasional typo we don't care about.
New address? Submit again.
Grandmother? Our submission guidelines clearly state that we are not responsible for the health or longevity of any materials sent to us.

There are a few editors and a number of ex-slush readers who seem to read this blog (for companionship, I think). Would anyone like to start a list of the stranger things they've found in slush? I'll start:
  • a crate of tangerines
  • a wool stocking full of jellybeans
  • a hand-made hand puppet that really farted (mini whoopee cushion)

Picture Book Theory

When an editor, who has been given the task by a small publisher to be the art director and then tries to "direct" the illustrator to draw the text, verbatim? I have always thought of illustration in a picture book to be the "second" story/text not just window dressing, that states something twice. Should an illustrator stand their ground, or for that matter, if an art director suggested change in text, should an author stand THEIR ground??? Or... do we all just do as we are told.
Oh, this is awkward. It sounds like this editor doesn't know some of the basics... and it may be hard to talk her around. You're contracted for this book, so you've either got to back out and look at your contract for what happens in the case of irreconcilable differences, or do your best to work it out with this editor.

I think of my job as more 'Facilitator of the Team' than 'Commander of the Army', so on my team suggestions from all sides are welcome (and discussed for merit before implementation, of course). But other editors are other editors.

Good luck!

To Blog or Not to Blog?

I write YA fiction on a blog, mainly because the illusion of having an audience motivates me to write. Does this hurt my chances of publication later because the writing has been public already? Or is there a point in the project when it is wise to remove the work or stop further posting? Is it necessary to disclose to potential publishers that the work is up on a blog? I'd love to hear your opinion on this, or if there are any established industry rules on publishing previously blogged fiction.
I (like many of my colleagues) am not completely familiar with all the implications of blog-to-book publishing. But I think Julie and Julia was originally published in blog form, yes? The publisher may want you to limit the blog's content as the book approaches publication, but I think we're all aware of the (cheap!) publicity possibilities of connecting with the internet community. You should let the publisher know that you're blogging, and give them some idea of how long and what kind of traffic you're getting.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Commercial Is As Commercial Does

What is meant by a "commercial" middle grade novel? My guess is something that might have the potential to become a movie or series (ala Harry Potter or Traveling Pants).
I take "commercial" to mean that a book will likely appeal to a wide variety of kids in its age group. This usually increases a book's likelihood of becoming a series, and because kids like series (and adults, too, of course), the publisher will happily expand on any work that is popular.

Let's not take the easy route and hypothesize that more popular books are less worthwhile. Certainly they tend to be less literary, but they're just as hard to write as less commercial books, and when it comes to getting kids to read, I don't care which type lights their fire.

The Triple Threat: Writing, Submitting, and Submitting Again!

I have had 14 picture books published and 100+ work-for-hire elementary texts. All my books were well-reviewed and most sold moderately. Despite this, I have been turned down by every single agent I have contacted. My theory is that they don't want to represent a writer who doesn't illustrate because their percentage of the five percent royalty is not worth their time.
I can't guess (with this amount of information) why you're being turned down for representation, but I can assure you that it's not because you don't illustrate. Lots and lots of picture book writers who only write are repped by agents. It may be that the books you're writing are consistently niche-market enough that some agents may not feel your advances are large enough to be worth their time, but it may also be that you haven't submitted to enough agents. Submit, submit, submit!
Good luck!

Book Roast!

Lots of fun to be had, and great people. Check it out: BookRoast

Unfortunately, not so much with the children's books so far. Dammit, I don't have time to read all these cool-sounding adult books. Stop tempting me!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Fiery Furnaces of Slush

How did I just discover this?
I empathize so strongly with this writing, I can't tell you. I, too, have hardened myself in the furnaces of editorial assistant-ship, and the slush is just what this writer describes. And the phone calls.
But god, how did I never think of the editor-who-doesn't-exist? Brilliant!

**However, I must note that I never became as down on writers as this columnist seems to have. I saw myself headed down that road, and Took Steps to prevent the impending catastrophe. You can't think writers are consistently batshit and still work collaboratively with them. Some people go through the fire of slush and come out a cinder. Thank Heavens that wasn't me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Slush Gets Me Again

Have you written and submitted a vignette? No, don't play innocent. I see you there, whistling and pretending you didn't hear the question.

Vignettes are often some of the nicest writing, and while I realize you don't mean them to be, they're a dirty trick to play on editors.

Deep in the fens of slush, as we beat at the underbrush of bad punctuation and step gingerly (ew!) around the festering piles of crap, not so infrequently we catch sight of something. Wait, is it...! Something publishable? Something sleek and lovely and well-groomed? Yes! It's... No. It's a vignette.

This is like looking for the literary equivalent of an downy white swan or noble 10-prong buck, and finding a fricking plastic flamingo instead. In the realms of getting- the- rug- pulled- out- from- under- you, you can almost hear the "Yoink!"

Lookit. I don't care how charming and beautiful your two scenes / beloved memory / bonding moment is, it is not a story. Nothing happens. No, I take that back. (Jimmy and his dad caught a fish!) Nothing happens that anyone but you gives a shit about. There's no conflict.

These are also sometimes called "mood pieces", and their aim is to convey a single emotion or atmosphere. Yes, ok, Goodnight Moon has no conflict. But I'm not talking about bedtime books.

If some of your favorite picture books are No David, Where the Wild Things Are, and Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, consider that those books are practically conflict from one end to the other. People love conflict! Think about it. You're reading this blog, aren't you?