Saturday, August 30, 2008

Cakes and Critics

I have friends (agented and unagented) who sold their first book and then received 10+ page editor revision notes, while others have revised more than once for an editor before they received their contract. How does an editor decide when to offer a contract to a new writer? Why would an editor offer, and sales, marketing, publisher, etc., approve that offer if they know they are going to ask the author to overhaul most of their book?
1. Let us first pay tribute to the Truth that there are revision letters, and then there are revision letters.
2. Let us secondly pay tribute to the Truth that the highest compliment an editor can give you is a very thoughtful (and possibly long) editorial letter.

Jackson Pearce (my favorite new video blogger) recently compared writing and revision to making a cake:

So, to put Truth 1 into this analogy:
There's a difference between the food critic saying you should have whisked the eggs and sugar together before putting them in the batter... and the food critic pointing out that you have no eggs or sugar in your cake.
I have sent very short letters to people that said, essentially: I love this flour. I love this sugar. I love these eggs. But I think this cake would be better with milk rather than sour cream, so let me know if you decide to bake it again.
This is a short letter, but A Hell of a Lot of Revision... and revision I can't be sure the author can achieve. This is a letter before a contract.
And I have sent very long letters to people that said, essentially: I love all your ingredients. And your wrist, when you use that whisk! Where did you learn that technique? But there are a few places where you could try something different, and maybe the oven should be a touch cooler. And have you considered the addition of walnuts?
This is a long letter, and it may still be A Hell of a Lot of Revision... but it's revision I am confident is within the author's scope, and (hopefully) within the author's vision of the cake she wants to serve. This is a letter after a contract.

And, to put Truth 2 somewhere near this analogy:
Editors are people who love books. We feel passionately about them, and think good books are worth thinking about hard. A (possibly long) thoughtful editorial letter is an editor's way of saying: This Book Is Worthwhile. It is worth the hours (and perhaps days) that it took us to think carefully about it, and weigh ideas, and try to put ourselves in your shoes, and try to put ourselves in the readers' shoes. It is worth our thinking about each ingredient you know you put into it, and the ingredients you may not have realized you put in. Ideally, a good editorial letter is your chance to see your manuscript through new eyes: eyes that love what your manuscript is, but love what it wants to be even more.

Can't See the Forest for the Leaves?

I still can’t figure out what’s wrong with the opening line of my Best/Worst Pitch Contest submission. I’m not asking you to offer advice on it, but the whole query aspect of writing is overwhelming me. Instead of sending manuscripts out like my other writer friends, I just sit here like a dunce collecting them. What is my problem? One silly letter and you’d think I was attempting to write the equation for Einstein’s theory of relativity.

And right now I’m stressing out over whether or not the commas in my post reply were correctly placed.
A. You are definitely over-thinking this. Nobody writes at their best when they're stressed out.

B. What was the first line of your pitch? I separate them from names, so I have no record of which was yours.

Preparing for Critique Sessions

EA, I will be attending a writer's conference that features a lengthy one-on-one critique session. The mentors at this conference are known to look over other manuscripts, apart from the one submitted with the application. Of course, I plan on polishing several manuscripts as best as I can before the event. I also started to research the editors, agents, and authors on the list of mentors. I thought it would be useful to know what books they have edited and to read some of these books. It became unwieldy, and almost creepy -- I found out about one editor's softball achievements in college and that another dated George Clooney. (Or maybe not.) But anyway, I am wondering what is the advisable course of preparation for a one-on-one critique? Just polishing manuscripts, or does it help to know a bit about the mentors as well, other than what's provided on the bio sheet at the conference? Thanks.
1. DON'T reveal that you found personal information about the editor on the internet. Some of us have stalkers. Some of us don't. But none of us want them, and we're all sensitive to the possibility.

2. DO research the editor's publishing house/imprint. Don't just think about what they do publish, but what they don't publish.

3. DO get your work in the best shape you can, so that you'll get the most accurate and useful feedback.

4. DON'T think of this as a pitch session. You aren't there to sell a manuscript. You're there to get an industry-side viewpoint on the manuscript's strengths and weaknesses. Think of it as an opportunity for creative growth (not financial).

5. DO think of questions you might ask the editor. This is your time with her, so use it to your best advantage by asking about the things you want to know.

6. Questions NOT to ask:
  • "Do you want this manuscript?" (Instead: "May I send you this manuscript after I've considered your revision suggestions?")
  • "Will you respond personally if I do?" (I don't know yet. If I see the revision and really wish I could take it on, but I can't, then yes, I will probably respond personally. If it's just not connecting with me as strongly as I want it to, then I won't feel an obligation to make the letter particularly detailed.)
  • "Where else should I submit this?" (a. I don't know. b. This is your job.)
  • "Why is getting published so hard?" (No matter how sympathetic the editor seems, don't start whining to her. Be professional, cheerful, and accepting of critique. We meet a broad spectrum of people at conferences, and these qualities usually mark the people who have a chance at making it in the industry.)

I'm Out of Questions to Answer.

Otherwise there would be more posts this weekend.

Posting: Possible. Constructive Feedback: You Decide.

I have a cover letter I was hoping you’d post on your site with some of your witty (and constructive) feedback. Please let me know if this is possible.

Dear ______,
“If you’re not careful your face will stick that way!” How many children have heard this phrase? Although it is a phrase that gets uttered by countless parents, Riley didn’t listen to his mom until it was too late.
It doesn't matter to Riley (or any child) that countless parents have said anything. The last sentence should focus on what Riley's mom has said. I also feel it doesn't matter that this is an oft-repeated phrase, since everybody knows it isn't true. You should be focusing on the surprise (and humor) factor of it unexpectedly being true for this boy.
After Riley defiantly twisted his lips, squinched up his nose and narrowed his eyes he felt a strange and tingling feeling starting across the top of his forehead, right where his forehead met his messy blonde hair.
The word 'defiantly' is making me wonder whether you're going someplace funny with this... or someplace preachy. Lots of parents want funny books for their children. Very few are looking for a book that will Teach Them Not to Make Faces.
The tingling moved down toward his eyebrows. Then it crept to the tip of his nose, wiggled across his lips like a worm on a wet sidewalk
and floated down to his chin. His entire face was like one big tingly, sleeping foot.
I'm getting 'off-putting' more than I'm getting 'humorous' at this point. Needs a bit of rewriting.
In My Face is Stuck This Way, Riley tries everything from stuffing his face with marshmallows to inflating his face with a bicycle pump to fix his problem. In the end, it is an unexpected event that transforms his face back to normal.
The humor isn't coming across in this letter. The topic itself isn't enough to sell this book. What's the element that people will love about this story? I'm also wondering why a cover letter would need this much detail. A query letter would, but a cover letter can be simpler.
I feel that _____________ is a great fit for Riley’s story. The intriguing story line and creative problem solving ideas will appeal to a wide array of readers, and will add a strong piece of fiction to your picture book line.
I have been previously published as a journalist and have spent many years studying writing for children. I am also an active member of the SCBWI.
This is a simultaneous submission. Thank you, in advance, for considering My Face is Stuck This Way. I have included a business SASE for your reply, however return of my submission materials in not necessary.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Jacqueline Wilson Willingly Censored

Swear words used in context? My god, what next? What is the world coming to? Who will protect the purity of our children? Etc, etc.

In related news, Wilson has announced her next book will be entitled The Big Book of Denial for Parents: Places You've Probably Stuck Your Head Besides "The Sand"

Here's what I think: twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat, twat.

10 Things I Hate About Your Web Portfolio

I am an illustrator just entering the children's book market. (Currently illustrating a new work with HarperCollins.) I have a blog of course, and don't particularly find it a taxing labor to keep up. (What artist doesn't like another venue?) But I am curious to know whether I'm just belching my thoughts into the ether (and for a slew of other illustrators,) or whether artist's blogs are perused by editors and art buyers. Is it a valuable way for an editor to find/get to know an illustrator? Do you regularly view artist's blogs? Did you just snort like a train whistle and say: "Like I've got that kind of time!!!???"
I do not look at artists' blogs regularly. But I do have cause to look artists up sometimes, and I'm shocked and irritated when I find they have no web portfolio of any kind. WTF.

I was, in fact, just browsing a bunch of new artists' portfolios this week. Actually, I'd like to say something about that. (Though as I am an editor and not a designer, you can feel free to take this with as much salt as you like.) Here are the things I'm looking for when I browse artists:

Yes, this ought to be a no-brainer, but it's clearly not. If you can do people, show me that. If you can't-- if your proportions are always a bit off and you can't get a 3/4 profile right and you can't figure out why your children just look like short adults, then for the love of mike don't do people. You're conveying that you have no idea when your work is subpar and when it isn't. Do some adorable animals-- we have lots of work for adorable animals.

Mood and Character
I see some really charming stuff sometimes-- art that would make great merch. That's right, I mean art for posters or bedding or sippy cups or some crap like that. Because all it is is decoration.
I'm trying to tell stories, here. Give me a hand, for chrissakes.

Have you noticed the way many children's books are funny? That's because human beings like to laugh. And publishers need illustrators for those funny manuscripts who --shocker!-- have a sense of humor, too. When telling a joke, author and artist must be a team, or the joke will fall flat. Imagine Laurel and Hardy, but instead of Laurel, you've got a guy named Snorel who is really, really tired of Hardy's antics and is projecting a strong "was that supposed to be funny?" vibe. The thing is, it takes real skill to put a sense of humor into your art. Those people who can are golden.

Your Own Style
For frike's sake, don't fill your portfolio with the assignments you and everybody else at your art school did. Because they're going to look like everybody else's. It's nice to give brand-new artists a shot. But if I can get the same damn look and feel from somebody who already knows all about the business and has a track record of making their deadlines, who am I going to go with? You must stand out.
The usual suspects:
  • Very traditional-looking portraiture. (Congrats. I know it takes skill. Also, snore.)
  • Disney has come for your soul (and career). (Hey, you can do Tinkerbell! ...I don't like Tinkerbell.) Know who you can work for with that style? Disney.
  • Fricking cartoony find-it-on-any-damn-greeting-card art. (Do you ever eat vanilla ice cream and wish it was... you know... less flavorful? Do you feel the same way about a lot of "art"? I don't.)
Children's Work Separated From Adult Work
So I can tell you know there's a difference between what plays in the two industries. And yes, two industries. It's not just "the book industry". This falls under the same rubric as authors who don't read children's books. No interest in the field in which you're trying to find work? You are such a waste of my time.

I See a Lavender Man Bearing a Book Contract

A friend of mine recently attended a local SCBWI conference, where she had a paid critique session with an editorial assistant at a well-respected, mid-sized publishing house. This editor was very interested in my friend's manuscript and said that she'd waited "all day" to meet with her (the critique was one of the last scheduled). She went as far as to say that if my friend had carried the emotional arc that she'd shown in those first 30 pages throughout the rest of the manuscript, she'd be interested in acquiring it.

I've heard of editors showing interest in manuscripts, but I don't recall the word "acquire" ever being used at this stage. I think this is a very promising sign, but my friend thinks this (newish) editorial assistant is jumping the gun. She thinks it probably means nothing more than that the editor would like to see the full manuscript, and she'll probably reject it anyway. I'd like to know your thoughts on the subject. Should my friend be scrambling to get the manuscript over to the editor, continuing at her snail's pace with preparing to query agents, or some combination of the above?
If it weren't your friend who thought the editor was jumping the gun, I would have wondered if your friend had had a little critique-stress-induced delusion. Was there a unicorn nearby when the editor said that?

It does strike me as highly unusual for anyone who is in the position to acquire to use the word "acquire" around a manuscript she hasn't read all the way through. But who knows? I wouldn't recommend your friend "scramble", as that usually results in manuscripts being sent too early (unless it's finished already?), but yes, do send that manuscript to that editor. And unless your friend agreed to an exclusive, she should also keep doing the regular submissions work she would have anyway, just in case the fairy dust wears off before the editor can get the acquisition approved. Good luck to her!


I am a Canadian writer with a problem. I went online today to order US postage stamps for SASEs. However, USPS is no longer shipping US stamps internationally. Publishers and agents will not accept postal coupons, and many state that packages not containing SASEs will be recycled upon receipt. What's the solution? Is it possible to crawl out of the slush with a sticky note attached saying, "please, recycle if rejected" or must I spend my spare time in chat rooms looking for some lonely old american man to be my stamp daddy (well, it does give new meaning to the words "mail order bride")?
Can't you buy stamps on ebay? And other places? Though your sticky note idea sounds fine to me, it's hard to predict how finicky different publishers' submissions processing is truly going to be.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Did You Not Read the First Three Books?

Avert your eyes! I know, you're sick to death of hearing people talk about Breaking Dawn. I can't believe I'm doing this myself. But I've been looking at the question below --and many other comments-- and, well, I can't stand it anymore.
EA, I'd be interested to hear your take on all the glowing reader reviews and angry reader reviews of the Stephenie Meyer book, Breaking Dawn. Do you think her editors simply didn't edit -- so many plot points that dragged on and on without going anywhere... 180 degree turns for a lot of characters...the whole weird Renesme thing taking over what should've been a LOVE story... OR, do you think no matter what S. Meyer would've done, she was bound to disappoint half her fans anyway, so she was screwed from the get go?
all the glowing reader reviews and angry reader reviews...
Ok. I pretty well agree with the things that are being said about this book, but I don't understand the "angry" part. Seriously, did you guys not read the first three books?

Do you think her editors simply didn't edit...
I can say that I think I would have edited the books differently. But that's an extremely hypothetical thing to say, because there are many, many considerations that may have led to the books being published the way they were. Until you sit in an editor's chair, it's hard to imagine how many different adversities you do sometimes have to contend with. If you're unsatisfied with the way this turned out, imagine what may have gotten cut.

so many plot points that dragged on and on without going anywhere...
You mean like in the first three books?

180 degree turns for a lot of characters...
Yes, but absolutely no change of direction for the author. She has been entirely consistent in her attitude toward her characters and her story-- i.e., her character's happiness has always been more important to her than whether they get to grow as people, or whether the story is a satisfying one narratively and thematically. Just as you could see... in the first three books.

the whole weird Renesme thing taking over what should've been a LOVE story...
It was a love story. Where some writers would have given Bella a chance to know and love herself, a chance to change her life and the world around her, Meyer sees the greatest gift she can give her main character as the chance to experience perfect friendship love, perfect romantic love, and perfect mother love.

You guys knew the author is a Mormon, right? Do you know any Mormons? For many Mormon women, there is no more important thing they could do with their lives than to have and protect a family. They take the Biblical injunction to Go Forth and Multiply very seriously. So I had an inkling going into the book that Meyer might work in a pregnancy. And once she did, I was frankly surprised that she was able to stop herself at one vampire/human abomination-to-nature.

I know, I know. A lot of you were hoping that Meyer was one of those authors who makes you wait (and wait) for the character and plot payoffs so that they're more meaningful in the end. You were hoping that as the clouds gathered on the horizon and the thunder got closer and closer, it meant Bella was going to have to face a real storm. But honestly, what books were you reading? Meyer's idea of a happy ending is not that her character weathers the storm and emerges changed, but that she suddenly realizes she had an umbrella in her bag all the time.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Define "Worthwhile"

Some links from the inestimable Ms. Reid:

1. Do you want to write some absolutely horrible one-sentence pitches? Maybe. Do you want to read them? Almost certainly.
Here's one: "When a woman dies and is reincarnated as a power saw, she uses a telepathic link with feral cats to help trick and trap and kill her former- lover- turned- murderer- turned- taxidermist."

Go on.

2. Many of you come here for tips on what not to do. Here are ten. But there are a couple you might disagree with.

Basic Principles in Writing

Can animals talk to humans in stories and have the humans understand them? I have recently heard this concept is taboo and should never be implemented in a children's story. Guess what? The fractured fairy-tale I wrote uses this concept, (briefly) and I was wondering if that's, perhaps, part of the reason why it's being passed over.
This is one of those things that can be quite tricky to achieve, and speaks to the skill of the writer in world-building.

World Building level 1: Many people think of world building as just imagining another reality. (Whether it's our normal world with some added magic, or vampires, or zombie cheerleaders; or a completely different world.)

World Building level 2: Some people realize that an important part of world building is tone. Why is it OK for Winnie the Pooh to speak to Christopher Robin? Why is it OK for Despereaux to speak to the Princess? Why is it OK for Jennie to speak to Baby? Because we have a clear sense --from the start-- of what kind of story we're in, and so when there is communication between humans and animals, we aren't surprised, and it doesn't break our suspension of disbelief.

World Building level 3: A few dedicated writers believe that world building involves figuring out the rules of your alternate reality and sticking to them. (Though, as J. K. Rowling's example proves, this level of world building is not necessary to success.)

The times when I see animals and humans talking to each other not work is when the writer has not given the reader a clear enough picture of what reality we're in.

Which brings us back to perhaps the two most BASIC PRINCIPLES OF WRITING:

1. Execution Is Everything.
If you can figure out how to do anything well, you can do anything.

2. Never Say Never.
If you can figure out how to do anything well, you can do anything.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Where's My Book?

1. I was sitting in on an author's talk at a recent conference. The author in question (who is a darling) mentioned that she has a standing relationship with her local bookstore: she links to them on her website, and they carry everything she's ever published, and people know that they can find signed copies there.

My thoughts: "That's swell. Unusual, but swell."

... And then I noticed everybody else in the room writing this down with fervor. And talking about what a great idea it was.

Oh, the humanity.

2. And then, just this week, I get an email from one of my authors complaining about how she'd been into a little bookstore in North Carolina somewhere while she was on vacation, and her brand new book wasn't there! They hadn't even heard of it! Was our marketing department doing nothing?

3. And all this reminded me of an author friend of mine who sometimes complains about how her local bookstore doesn't carry any of her books, even though they know she's local.

Important Principle: shelf space in bookstores is real estate. It isn't parkland, open to all. Shelf space costs the owner money, so the books on each shelf have to make money.

Yes, many booksellers like to support local authors. But here's the thing: keeping books on the shelves that do not sell uses valuable real estate for no gain, which in bookseller terms means financial loss. Because they're paying rent on every inch and square foot of that store.

Which means that every book in the store needs to be earning money by being bought regularly.


1. If you are a very well-known author with a fan base that does a lot of collecting of signed editions, then you may indeed develop a fan-bookstore to carry all your works. But don't hold your breath.

2. Are you vacationing in some out of the way place, and happen into some adorable little bookshop? And they don't carry your book? Consider that it's because they know they wouldn't be able to sell it there. Who knows their clientele better, you or them?

3. Has your local bookstore stopped carrying your books? Consider that it's because your books did not sell. Bookstores carry local authors' books if they can support the local author financially. The bookstore will not carry your books for moral support.

This industry is full of nice, supportive people who want to help each other. But you'll get the farthest by knowing when you're asking for help, and when you're asking for something that won't help at all.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How to Determine Appropriate Word Count

My question is this: What is the average word count for a memoir? What is too much? What is the word count (approx) that literay agents and publishers want?
This response is for all my readers, not just this questioner:

The editors I know spend a lot of time on Amazon, doing research. Don't you? Why not?

If you have been, then you might have noticed that some of the books (unfortunately not all of them, but enough to be useful) have a link you can click on about a third of the way down the page (under "Inside This Book") called "Text Stats".

Let's have a look at the Amazon page for Bad Boy: a Memoir, by Walter Dean Myers. Do you see the "text stats" link? Great. Click on it. It tells you how many words are in the book!

How about that. Now, to determine what your word count might reasonably be, you'd look up some of the books in the same genre, age range, and perhaps topic as your book's, and compare their word counts.

Sound easy? It is!

The hard part is knowing what the best comparisons for your book will be, and as much as I enjoy helping people, this part is your problem. Not because I can't be bothered, but because doing the research is a big, important learning experience for authors. Let me repeat: big and important.

Go learn something.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Commercial vs Literary (again)

Another question--is it the voice that distinguishes the two (commercial vs. literary)? Or is it everything together--voice, subject matter, amount of description, etc.? (And actually, I find the commercial stuff harder to write, like the series that need to be short, tight, and often with short deadlines. It's a joy to write more literary stuff where it can be as long as it needs to be to tell the story.)
Commercialness is about popularity, and that means at the least that the language is not difficult for most children to get into. Outside of that, what makes a book popular can vary a great deal.

And don't think that there are only two categories. There are plenty of books that are neither particularly literary nor commercial. They're often called "science fiction".

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Don't Spam Editors (part 5!)

NBA Star Ricky Pierce Bounces Into Children's Books With Release of First Title
Sugar Land, TX, Feb 22, 2008 -
Retired NBA star Ricky Pierce made a name for himself as one of professional basketball's most reliable shooters. Now, Pierce, who was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 1987 and 1990 and an All-Star in 1990, has entered a different kind of court: the world of children's books.
Pierce's first entry, the beautiful full-color "Bouncing Billy: A Learning Adventure," combines Pierce's love for sports, children and reading and adds an important message of acceptance. This is a charming story of a friendly basketball who learns a valuable lesson with the help of some friends. All the pieces of playground equipment are excited for the end of the rainy season, except Bouncing Billy, a basketball with some unique-but unusual-spots on his side. He's worried his different appearance will make him a benchwarmer when the recess bell rings.
His pals in the equipment locker, however, are quick to point out that differences are what make each of them specially suited to what they do, whether it's facilitating a game of jump rope or football. That's when Bouncing Billy discovers his "spots" are actually key finger-position markings, giving young basketball players a leg-up on shooting. As sounds of "swoosh!" ring out again and again over the playground, Bouncing Billy finds he's a slam-dunk just the way he is.
"Bouncing Billy: A Learning Adventure" marks a whole new ballgame for the Rice University star, who also played for the Detroit Pistons, Milwaukee Bucks and Seattle SuperSonics. But it continues an effort to positively impact the lives of youngsters first began during his pro years, when Pierce would often read to grade-school age youth at schools and hospitals. Having three children of his own, he says, only reinforced the importance of reading to kids, spurring him on to his latest endeavor. "Books are essential learning tools for emerging readers, and as a child I truly had limited access to books in the home," says Pierce. With artwork by renowned children's book illustrator Bobbi Switzer, "Bouncing Billy" boasts a vibrant, colorful and fun cast of characters, with each one-from the grizzled Fred the football to the bookish tennis ball called Ted-imbued with a unique personality. Children are sure to connect with the recognizable playground setting and its lovable inhabitants as they learn an important life lesson while improving their reading skills.
About the book:
Bouncing Billy by Ricky Pierce
ISBN: 978-1432716967
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Date of publish: Feb 2008
Pages: 24
S.R.P.: $10.95
About the author:
Ricky Pierce retired from the National Basketball Association in 1998, where he scored a total of 14,467 points. He boasts a shooting record of 49.3 percent from the floor and 88.5 percent from the foul line during his 16-year NBA career. Pierce was the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year in 1987 and 1990 and an All-Star in 1990. He is the creator and inventor of the AccUShot22 Basketball, which aids children and adults in ball-handling shooting skills. The Bouncing Billy Active Play Kit, for ages three to six, followed. "Bouncing Billy: A Learning Adventure" is the first in a series of planned children's books. Pierce lives in Texas with his wife, Joyce, formerly of the multi-Grammy award-winning group, The Fifth Dimension, along with their three children, Christian, Rachel, and Aron.

Yes, Billy: Everyone Is Different. No two manuscripts are not on fire.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Don't Spam Editors (part 4!)

Dan and Derrick's Prayer to the Troops
Chicago, Mar 4, 2008 -
In Dan and Derrick's Prayer to the Troops author Monalisa Okhilua develops a plot that makes children aware of the sacrifices our soldiers and their families make for all of us.
The greatest gift you can ever give to children is the ability to read a powerful book that will inspire them. With what is going on in our world today, we do not want to wait and see how it would affect our children. Their mind set should be protected, every word in this book will empower our children positively, and the mystery in these stories is magically fantastic.
The children of military parents only ask two questions, where is my mom or dad? and when is he/she coming home? The answer is in this story book. The puzzle has been solved. Yes, its okay to cry, its okay to miss someone we love so dearly, its even better to be in control and understand.
It's good to be sensitive in matters like these, there are so many questions our children would like to ask." states Okhilua. "Expect to smile, laugh, cry and become uplifted. This is for the love of our troops."
About the book:
Dan and Derrick's Prayer to the Troops by Monalisa Okhilua
ISBN: 978-1432707538
Publisher: Outskirts Press
Date of publish: Oct 2007
Pages: 36
S.R.P.: $16.95
About the author: Monalisa Okhilua is an activity aide, wielding the written craft to enrapture the mind much like an artist wields a brush. She is a mother of two boys, Dan and Derrick, and a loving wife, she loves to cook, she really loves to write, that is her biggest passion, she loves to reach people with her story, to tell them, it's okay. the task. Dan and Derrick's Prayer to the Troops is the first in a series of recent pursuits, with work progressing quickly on the follow-up.

Don't Spam Editors (part 3!)

New Children's Book - The Squirrel, the Worm and the Nut Trees
Memphis, TN, Mar 5, 2008 -

The Squirrel, the Worm and the Nut Trees is a gorgeously illustrated new children's picture book that depicts how one furry family and their bushy-tailed neighbors pull together during extreme hardship to survive a threat to their survival, growing even stronger under the pressure.

Jimmy Powell's full-color book, features illustrations by renowned artist Bobbi Switzer. The book tells the tale of the adorable Mr. Squirrel, whose annual trip to stockpile nuts takes an unexpected turn when he discovers they've been ruined-turned rotten due to a silk-spinning worm who derives a cruel kind of pleasure from enveloping the trees in his web. Faced with a dangerously low food harvest, Mr. Squirrel and his family brainstorm to figure out how to survive the winter and ensure they're not caught up in the same trap next year. Against the odds, they hatch a simple yet ingenious plot-but can they avoid the watchful eyes of the worms while they carry it out?

A story with a heartwarming message of teamwork conquering adversity, The Squirrel, the Worm and the Nut Trees teaches children the value of thinking things through and working together. At the same time, it's also a kind of fable, in the great tradition of Aesop, on the importance of preparing for the future. Children will benefit from seeing how one group of determined squirrels wasn't about to be caught ill equipped come next winter.
Readers of all ages will also love pouring over a richly imagined forest environment filled with the flora and fauna of the woods-not to mention the vividly depicted characters of Mr. Squirrel and Mr. Worm.

About the book:

The Squirrel, the Worm and the Nut Trees by Jimmy Powell

ISBN: 978-1432713263

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Date of publish: Dec 29, 2007

Pages: 48

S.R.P.: $15.95

About the author: Memphis resident Jimmy Powell is a published poet who works as an aircraft technician for FedEx. In addition to writing-he has recently completed an autobiography-Powell, a married father of three, enjoys spending time with his family and on various capacities as a volunteer.
I think I prefer the other squirrel.

Of Course I'm Right: Moral Compasses in Children's Lit

Here we are, back at an old discussion in children's literature: the need --or lack thereof-- of morals in children's books.

Not "and the moral of this story is" morals, but the sense that we are looking at a story through the eyes of someone whose ideas of right and wrong are similar to our own.

Mr. Luper asks,
  • In fiction, is it the author's responsibility to set his or her moral compass to adhere to society's moral compass?
  • Is it more important for a novel to espouse certain values or is it okay to leave things in a vague moral place to offer leaping-off points for discussion?
  • To whose moral compass should we all synchronize our own moral compasses?
  • Is the plot of a novel indicative of an author's moral values? Should it be?
But of course the question at the very heart of this (sometimes acrimonious) debate is: are children's books literature? Are they art? Or are they lessons?

Weighing in on the side of Nurturance of Children as the People We'll Eventually Have to Share Society With So Wouldn't You Like Them Not to Be Sociopaths are child development specialists, religious nuts, and various earnest people:
  • Up to the age of ten or eleven, children do not have an adult brain and are not capable of thinking as adults do. (Though as discussed before, they're certainly still capable of thinking.)
  • Even just after they develop their adult brains, they are highly impressionable, which is why confirmations and bar mitzvahs etc are all held at about that time.
  • It is the early inculcation of morals --before preschool-- that has the deepest effect on a child's innate sense of right and wrong.
Weighing in on the side of Nurturance of Children as People Who Will Eventually Vote and Who Ought to Be Used to Making Up Their Own Minds By That Time, Don't You Think are child development specialists, liberal nuts, and various earnest people:
  • Children do not become sociopaths --nor avoid becoming sociopaths-- because of the books they read. A million times more powerful in the shaping of a child's moral outlook is (a) their brain chemistry and (b) the example their parents set for them.
  • Children need opportunities to think for themselves. The positive results from these experiences are not only intellectual, widening a child's perception of the world and better equipping them to wrestle with the ambiguities and injustices they will encounter in their lives; but also emotional, developing the self-confidence and self-reliance that will allow them to wrestle without fear.
I expect there will be some discussion in the comments. My own position is that a healthy diet of books is a wide diet of books, and children should be exposed to as many different ways of looking at things as possible. That means some traditionally moral tales, and some non-traditional. Telling people (of any age) that they can think as freely as they want as long as they stay within the bounds is like telling a horse it can run as much as it wants as long as it stays in the corral.

So I have no problem with a book being essentially moral because the author just writes that way, and I have no problem with parents influencing their children's moral development. But I disagree that every children's book should present a united moral front. The difference between the important influences in a child's life being of one moral outlook and every influence being of one moral outlook is the difference between the halter and the bit.

Don't Spam Editors (part 2!)

Our current project:
Finding a publisher for a Children’s Book about Gracie the Grasshopper and her friends. The story has 25 illustrations and is about Gracie and her best friend Ginger the Giraffe. It’s a Picture book for pre-school – Grade 2.
If you’re a publisher that handles children’s books please contact us.
We also sell our designs and artwork for:
Greetings Cards
Decorative Accessories
Kitchen Accessories and Products
Limited Edition Serigraphs
Seriously? Even aside from the creative capitalization and the "kitchen accessories", this is hilarious.

Editors and Assistants

I've been working with a very nice Editorial Assistant on my YA ms at a small press. We've done two revisions so far. Last month she sent me an email telling me she is "waiting to get some feedback from other editors" on my manuscript. Can you give me some feedback on where I stand here. I'm not sure of what to expect.
Two revisions is one too many without a contract, if you ask me. But hey, if you agree with her feedback enough to have wanted to revise the manuscript in the ways she suggested anyway, sure, whatever.
No editorial assistant is going anywhere with that manuscript without a bunch of support from the editors at her house, but it's a bit of a foot in the door--at least you've got a voice on your side at the publisher, if not in the meeting where acquisitions are approved.

Cross your fingers and see if anything happens.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Down From the Door Where It Began

Could you spend a few sentences on the topic of first chapters? We hear a lot about throwing out the non-happening first chapters of the draft and starting where the action starts, but I'm hoping you can elaborate a little more on elements you feel like really need to be there for a first chapter to work. Character, action, backstory, etc. all have to be balanced properly, and while I don't believe there is a formula (or that you should write to one), I think there ARE things that just have to be there.
You're right about there not being a formula. Character, action, backstory... the balance between them has to vary for different books.

In terms of what must be in a first chapter, you're almost there already. The thing that should be in every first chapter is what makes the story worth reading. (Not necessarily what makes the story satisfying, in the end; not necessarily what the story is about.) What makes the journey worth taking.

Lots of writers write a first-draft first chapter that is, really, them orienting themselves in the story; the writer is packing the bags she'll need as she plays tour guide on this trip. Start your story after that part--start your story not where your journey into the story starts, but where the reader's journey into the story is ready to begin--the baggage and gear are for you, not your reader. A good first chapter is not the packing for the trip part; it is the setting off. A good first chapter allows the reader to begin their journey just as Bilbo Baggins did-- without luggage or map, but with the road before him, and a wide vista beyond.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Pitch Contest

...And we're done!
Some of you have evil little minds. Funny, evil, little minds.
Thank you to everyone for participating.

The I Need a Shower Now and a Cocktail Immediately After Trophy

for Pitches That Make Me Ask Myself Why I Wanted to Be an Editor goes to:
How will Daddy convince little Eddie that the body parts in the cellar just won't do for his kindergarten show-and-tell? FATHER, FATHER, GODFATHER is a touching, autobiographical 350 word picture book. Think MARRIED TO THE MOB meets WHEN I WAS YOUNG IN THE MOUNTAINS, with just a soupcon of WOLVES IN THE WALLS. The surprise ending will make this one a keeper.
Whimper. Autobiographical?
Please don't use the word "soupcon" in the same paragraph with "body parts".
“The Babysitter has Bad Balance” is a sweet counting story about a time-crunched couple who leave sweet Billy in the care of a dirty, but very trustworthy, looking man lurking in their garbage. With each page helping children with their counting skills (one empty bottle of alcohol at a time), this rollicking free verse tale follows our charming babysitter as he helpfully inspects the liquor cabinet (“Jackpotsies!”), organizes the parent’s financial records (“Wash? Z' not doin’ nothin’!”), and tests out Billy’s Xbox (“Getsh youz ownsh!”), before gently falling asleep on the door step in a pool of white pearls, silver cutlery, and stale saliva. While there is heated demand from several publishers, including the nationally renowned “Publish America”, there is still time to arrange an auction. Also available is what will surely be its best-selling sequel: “Billy Borrowed the Babysitter’s wallet”.
I feel all warm and fuzzy... like bread mold.

Requested Manuscript Award:

Princess Ravenna seems to have it all: a big old palace, nice clothes, lots of shoes, a hot private tutor, and the ruling of a kingdom to look forward to. But Ravenna is a princess with problems. Her mother is basically permanently asleep (thanks to some badass fairy godmother), her father has vanished (thanks to some ogre that needed killing), her aunt and uncle hate her (and the feeling is mutual), she can’t stop stealing things (doesn’t want to), and her hunky tutor seems obsessed with her mastering hand-to-hand combat rather than the lip-to-lip peace talks she’d prefer (haiiii-ya). When she overhears a plan for her own murder, she goes underground with some rather questionable elves to upset her uncle’s schemes and return the kingdom to its rightful heir.
Sounds like this has a sense of humor. I'd request this. But are you sure about the word "hunky"? Feels a bit dated.

The Drivel Award

for the Overly Familiar goes to three contestants:
My book is Harry Potter meets Beatrix Potter. A magical rabbit named Wallbert Fuzzyton has a well-known destiny that is a closely guarded secret. She battles the evil shrieking dwarves of the hollow, with their leader Wolfmort the One-Whose-Name-We-Shan't-Utter. Once Wallbert Fuzzyton finds his destiny, you won't want to miss the clash between good and evil, rabbit and shrieking dwarf! Will Wallbert fulfill her destiny by slaying the evil that lies within the hollow? If you buy my book I'll tell you.
If only this manuscript were a closely guarded secret.
Poor Tony has four older sisters and bossy, no-good parents....UGH! So when he makes a wish to get outta town, Wink-the-mouse happily obliges with his magical powers. Trouble is, Wink is a bad, bad seed, and he loves getting into trouble. Every time Tony makes a wish, Wink adds his own personal touch.
Extra cliche points for naming the mouse "Wink".
It's not the being undead part that bothers Madison. It's the blood part... like, ew. And the (freak me out) bats, or the mega-uncomfie coffin beds, or maybe it's the fangs--SO unflattering. TWILIGHT meets THE BEACON STREET GIRLS in SO NOT MY UNLIFE, a middle grade novel targeted at tween girls.
I feel like writing something on the girls' room wall about this pitch.

Requested Manuscript Award:

Nick borrows David's toy dinosaur for a week and promises he won't lose it. When Nick loses it the very next day, he has so much fun hunting for the tiny dino that he "loses" it again...and again...and again...The dinosaur spends a fun-filled week doing things like guarding a sand castle, dangling from a shopping cart and stalking fossils at the science museum. When practical joker Nick returns the toy, David asks to borrow Nick's new firetruck----he promises he won't lose it.
I'm not sure why there needs to be a friend involved. The losing something and the adventures of the lost toy sound interesting by themselves. I'd have a look.

The 'If I Had a Hammer' Statuette

for the Lesson You're Going to Learn Whether You Like It or Not goes to:
Meet Lucy O’Neal, a spunky eight-year-old who wants some variety in her mom’s weekly menu plan. After banishing Lucy from the kitchen, Mom begins to experiment with new-flavored recipes. All is well until Lucy announces she doesn't want something different every night of the week. In the end, Lucy apologizes and learns to express a few compliments to Mom once in awhile--because the truth is she can't imagine what in the world she would do without her. What’s For Dinner, Mom? is a 806 word story picture book.
This might have been interesting enough to request if it weren't for the lesson at the end. Who's this book really serving— kids... or moms?
The last thing a kid like Mason wants is to be some kind of hero. So when a top secret transmission pops up on the screen of his video game drafting him and his brother Joel as secret Eco-naut agents, he's just a teensy bit freaked. But Joel figures the message is just part of the very cool, very life-like video game and he convinces Mason to sign up. Besides, even if Eco-naut is the real deal it’s not like they would expect a couple of kids to do anything dangerous....would they?
Again, the premise without the lesson sounds like it could work. But "Eco-nauts"?
Having a message is fine. Making it impossible to ignore is not. Your readers have minds of their own. Respect that.

The I've Given Up Before I've Even Started Award

for Outstanding Lack of Ambition goes to:
In Cognito is a 75,000 word love letter to storytelling and the natural world. I’m a little embarrassed that I can’t provide a whiz-bang, high-concept hook to persuade you to read it, but once I wrote down “The Seven Seals meets Where the Wild Things Are” I was just too appalled to keep trying. It's a good book. Thank you for your time.
Sigh. You can have your pitch back; can I have my time back?

Requested Manuscript Award:

It was supposed to be the summer Michael's parents got back together—the summer his dad would realize he'd been a complete idiot in leaving Michael's mom two years ago for a high school Spanish teacher (especially after the teacher left him for a younger man—but kept the $10,000 engagement ring he'd given her "because it was a gift"). For 12-year-old Gina, it was supposed to be the "summer without men"—as in, The Summer Her Mother Did Not Have a Boyfriend. Both Michael and Gina have had their fill of watching their parents fall head over heels for strangers, and of having their own needs put on hold while their parents navigate the dating scene. But when Michael's dad and Gina's mother meet on-line, Michael and Gina decide they've had their fill, and they plot together to end this summer romance – or make their parents pay.
Interesting. Kind of The Parent Trap in reverse. I'd have a look.

The Restraining Order Commendation

for Overall Creepiness goes to:
This is a story I wrote last night and my husband and mother just love it! I'd be happy to make corrections but I don't think you'll find any mistakes since I used spellcheck. Should I limit my book tour to the US or go international? Move over J.K. Rowling! Dora is a young girl who gets swept up in a hurricane, wakes up in a magical land called ZO and travels to the Sapphire City with some friends she meets along the way. Did I mention she's wearing beautiful Emerald green shoes? Actually, they're not unlike the sexy green pumps you were wearing last night. Personally, I would have chosen the black pumps you tried on but put back in your bedroom closet.

My Darling Editor:
I am so very tired of the mindless dribble found in vampire novels published today. Anne Rice, Stephanie Meyer, and other nonsensical writers have no knowledge as to what they are penning, what it’s really like. I have written the accounts of my life in my 450,000-word autobiography entitled YOUR BLOOD SMELLS SO GOOD : CONFESSIONS OF A NIGHT MONSTER, in which I tell the truths of what it’s like to be a real vampire – a centuries old creature of the night that hunts and feeds to satisfy cravings for delectable human blood.
I have chosen you to publish my works, for when I saw a picture of you and your supple neck gracing the New York Times book review section, my cold heart beat faster. It would be in your best interests if I hear from you at the stroke of midnight next Friday, August the 1st.

The Robert Munsch Citation

for Most Dysfunctional Relationship in a Pitch goes to:
Fuzzy Kitty, Purr Purr was inspired by my cat, Boots. On a warm and cheery day as she lay licking her feet and nibbling on her toes, Boots started to purr . . . and purr . . . and purr. It was purr joy for me to hear at first, but then I realized that Boots’s purrer was stuck! I’d be happy to send my manuscript so you can learn how Boots gets out of this jam, as any pet lover knows that a purr that lasts more than four hours can cause serious damage.
Brings new meaning to the phrase “pet lover” doesn’t it?