Friday, October 31, 2008

Basic Book Construction

How would I go about finding a children’s book editor for a 15 page book?
The first thing you need to know is how this question sounds to anyone in the business. It sounds ignorant. And very confusing. I have no idea what you meant to ask.

For one thing, there aren't different editors for different page counts. (Though of course some editors specialize in picture books and others in novels, etc.)

For another thing, 15?
How did you come up with that number?

Most authors have only the sketchiest idea of how to count pages, so I'm going to go way out on a limb here and guess that you're just wrong about that.

Did you:
  1. count the number of pages the manuscript fills when typed or hand-written?
  2. count the number of pages the manuscript fills when space is left for illustration?
  3. count the number of spreads the manuscript fills when space is left for illustration?
The correct answer would be: none of the above.

Ok, you know what? Everybody: stand up right now and go to your bookshelf. Pull out a picture book and flip to the first two pieces of paper that you can pinch between a finger (i.e., I'm not talking about the paper that's glued to the covers).

Are the two pages made of the same kind of paper? You're holding a self-ended book.

Are the two pages made of two different kinds of paper? You're holding a separate-ended book.

Go through your picture books until you're holding one of each. I am personally holding Wild About Books by Judy Sierra (self-ended) and The Little Red Hen by Jerry Pinkney (separate-ended). Good. Class is now in session.

fig 1.

Ok. The very outside of a book is the jacket. It's loose, and would slip right off of the book except for the way it's folded around the book's cardboard cover. The two parts of the jacket that get folded into the book are called the 'front flap' and the 'back flap'. The front flap usually has a description of the book and/or marketing copy (and by 'copy' I mean 'text'). The copy on the back flap is usually information about the author and illustrator. Take the jackets off of your books and set the jackets aside.

Next you have the cardboard cover. This is the 'hard' part of the term 'hardcover'. It is this cardboard that makes the book not a paperback.

Next are the ends, or endsheets. Let's come back to these.

And then we come to the actual book pages-- the book block. (Aside: if asked for the 'trim size' of a normally bound book, it is this-- the size the pages are trimmed to-- that is being spoken of.)

Printers set bundles of paper sheets into the cover in sets of four. Once bound in, and counted front-and-back as pages, those four sheets make 16 pages. This is a signature. A 32-page book has two signatures of paper in it.

It costs a little extra to split a signature into smaller units, and so a publisher may be reluctant to do this. It is for this reason that many books have page counts in multiples of 16. (It is still possible to have a page count in a multiple of 8 or 4, but never 2--as you'll realize if you try building a book this way.)

So most picture books have 32 pages. Once bound into the book, page 1 is not part of a two-page spread, and neither is page 32. The pages in the book look like this:

fig 2.

Though of course I haven't indicated the gutter in the middle of the two-page spreads in this image.

So here's the thing about endsheets, or 'ends'. If the printer was asked to put 'separate ends' into the book, then he's put two sheets of paper between the cover and the book block. Two sheets of paper, once bound in, make 8 pages. If we numbered these endsheets (which, in bookmaking, we do not), page 1 and page 8 get glue applied to them and are glued onto the cardboard cover. You now cannot look at page 1 or 8, and their other sides, pages 2 and 7, you can look at, but they are now serving as the inside of the cover. Then you have a loose page of endpaper at both the front and back of the book (endsheets 3-4 and 5-6), and between them comes the printed book block.

In the case of separate-ended books, every page in the book block can be printed upon. Page 1 will have the title or half-title. Page 2 may have the copyright information, dedication, acknowledgements, and permissions info (depending on the kind of book) and page 3 the full title, or the CR info may go on page 32, and pages 2-3 may be the first spread you can use for your story. At the most, you will have 15 spreads to tell your story.

But what if the printer was not asked to put endpapers in? Then we go back to our fig 2. Then all we have to work with is the pages of the book block, so page 1 and page 32 are the ones glued face-down onto the cover. Spread 2-3 is the first thing you see when you open the book, and spread 30-31 the last thing before you close it. Now, you will often see those two spreads printed with patterns or extra illustration-- but those spreads cannot have meaningful information printed on them, because librarians are going to stick their little envelopes and barcodes all over them. And librarians have a big voice in children's books, make no mistake.

So, in a self-ended book, pages 1,2,3, and 30, 31, 32 serve as ends. They cannot have another use. Spread 4-5 will have the copyright info (etc) and the title page, and the remaining 12 spreads are what you have in which to tell your story.

I hope this was clear, but if not, I strongly recommend every picture book writer do what they must to figure it out. This is very basic book information.

Now, to the questionner: How many pages is your book?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Goodnight Manuscript

I received several nice personal rejects, then some forms. At that point I became gunshy, and afraid to send things out. How do you know if you need to revise after receiving a personal, or if you just need to try again and hope someone else likes it better? I got comments like "well constructed plot", "adorable character", "made me laugh out loud", but not quite right.
When to think about revising:
When you've gotten a bunch of form rejects, or personal rejections with similar criticisms.

When to keep trying:
When you've gotten personal rejections that aren't highlighting particular faults. This is more likely to mean the manuscript is right for somebody--just somebody you haven't submitted to yet.

The other EA, my adult fiction counterpart, has a sweet little bedtime story for you: The Story of an Underdog

Goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight self-doubts everywhere.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

I've spent the past 10+ hours tediously reading and taking notes on self publishing. Then I logged in to Blogspot to check for some blogs on publishing children's books and came across your blog. Now, I really don't want to self publish! I'm hoping you can help me find a resolution.
+10 points for realizing you don't want to self-publish.
total=10 points
Here's the deal: I've written an Early Reader children's book and my boyfriend (who is a professional Graphic Artist) illustrated it. I have no idea if my book is good or not. Friends and family who've read it have given positive reviews and even bought a few copies. I'm a nanny and have brought it with to the kids I care for who also seem to love it. But, ever the skeptic, I'm still not sure if I have something or not since I know I can't really rely on what those close to me are saying.
+20 points for realizing your friends and family cannot be relied upon to tell you the truth and/or know what will sell in the children's book market.
total=30 points
I've looked into how to go about submitting manuscripts to get the book published, but I've found that publishers want manuscripts without illustrations. This is where my problem lies. I understand that each publishing house has a certain style and most prefer to pair an author with an illustrator.
+50 points for doing the research that tells you this about publishing.
total=80 points

total points needed for possible authorhood: 500
But my boyfriend and I came up with everything together... the illustrations were created based on the story and parts of the story were inspired by the pictures. I don't think it's right to separate the two, which is why I've been looking into self publishing. Will this stubbornness on my end prevent my book from ever becoming published (sans self publishing)?
If it's possible to still submit my book, what is the proper way to go about doing so while requesting his illustrations? Should I send everything compiled as I have it or type the manuscript and submit a few illustrations separately? Is there any guarantee we can keep everything together? I have no problem with editing if that's what the book needs or tweaking the illustrations. I have no problem with putting in the work required to compile queries and submit them to publishers - it's just breaking us up that I can't do.
If you feel the text must be paired with his illustrations, you should say so in your cover letter. Bear in mind that this may be a reason for instant rejection at some houses. The chances that both your writing and your boyfriend's illustration are professional quality seem slim at this point, but perhaps they are. If the most important thing to you is keeping the text and illustration together, then do that. If the most important thing to you is getting this published, then split them up.

You'll have noticed that you still lack some points in my brand-new rating system. The steps left for you to do are:

+20 points: For knowing you need to keep researching, and keep researching, and keep researching. The researching never ends, because publishing never stops changing.

+100 points: For joining a critique group or in other ways connecting yourself firmly with a wider group of writers (like the SCBWI).

+300 points: For putting aside your first, beloved project and realizing that your first effort is almost certainly not your best work. Write some more, and some more, and some more, and realize that you'll love your later projects just as much... and they'll likely be better deserving of your love.

Mailbox Grab Bag

What's the sloppiest dummy book you've ever seen?
I got a dummy about magical spaghetti once that had been painted in tomato sauce.
I’ve been told that student publications count but are they worth mentioning in query letters? What about articles you wrote as an intern?
If any of these publications were in magazines / newspapers / etc that people in publishing might reasonably read, then yes, include them. Otherwise, I don't care.
In my limited research I’ve so far discovered that having a book published seems to be about (other than descent writing) timing, submitting a piece when the publisher is looking for that format, genre etc. Is it acceptable to resubmit a manuscript to the same publisher and if so how often? Yearly? Or is no a no forever?
Publishers will tell you a no is a no forever, but between you and me, yearly is fine. Most publishers get so many submissions that the chances of your manuscript being read by the same person next year are pretty small. Staff changes; times change; tastes change; and most importantly, your writing gets better. Right?

When seeking an agent, to whom do you address a query if the company doesn’t specify? For example, I recently queried a literary agency seeking representation for my children’s picture book. I thought I did all my research. I read all the information on their website, researched and read books they’d represented and had published and followed their query guidelines to the letter. However there are more than a few agents at this agency and they didn’t specify to address a specific agent… so I did the not so professional opener of “Dear Sir or Madame” because I was unsure of what to do. A few days later I happened upon an online interview with the lead agent. To my horror, in the interview they stated that they throw away any query or submission that starts “Dear Sir” because it shows the author didn’t do their due research. I’m now hoping the lead agent isn’t the one to review my query. What should I have done?
First of all, subscribe to Publisher's Lunch. Daily reporting on the deals made by agents in the book world.

Secondly, Google. Go on, do some research.

I know many agencies (and publishers, for that matter) make it difficult to submit to them. Here's the industry secret: They're doing it on purpose. And not because they're elitist jerks.

It's because there is a heaving ocean of rank newbies who all want to submit their work to every agent and every publishing house.

Agents and publishing houses cannot deal with that kind of influx. If we did, all we'd ever do is deal with slush when in reality we have big, complicated jobs to do.

Some of those newbies will quit out of frustration. That's good, because publishing is not an endeavor for the faint of heart or lightly-endowed of stubbornness.

Some of those newbies will be put off long enough for them to educate themselves further in the book business. That's good, because publishing is not for the mildy-interested or the ignorant.

If you want to be in the club, you have to be serious about books and writing: seriously interested, and seriously committed. Welcome to the club!

Friday, October 24, 2008

You Can Use Your Imagination

Today I'd like to talk about a previously undiscussed section of slush: let's call it the "You Can Use Your Imagination" pile.

This pile can be loosely divided into three categories:
1. Isn't my child imaginative?
2. Wouldn't you like to use your imagination?
3. Wouldn't you like to use your imagination while you're asleep (hint, hint)?

All three of these are maddening enough to get your submission back partially chewed by the editor who read it. But let's start with #3, so I can work my way up to foaming at the mouth.

Wouldn't You Like to Use Your Imagination While You're Asleep (hint, hint)?

Now, pretty much every adult understands the desperation that drives people to try nearly anything to get a child to go to sleep. I understand.

That said, nobody is going to pay good money for your plotless, pointless flight of fancy. Dream sequences don't sell. You have my full invitation to go ahead and tell long, convoluted, nonsensical stories (in which nothing happens) to your children to bore them to sleep. But when you start thinking that people are going to pay you for your long, convoluted, nonsensical stories, you have my full invitation to pull your head out of your butt.

Isn't My Child Imaginative?

Isn't it obnoxious the way other parents think their children are so special when it's obvious that your child is the one who is a glowing paragon of childhood precocity and delight?

Yeah. In other news for the reality-challenged: you can only see unicorns if you believe in them; yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus; and if you clap three times and wish on a star, people will pay you for your child's long, convoluted, nonsensical stories.

Wouldn't You Like to Use Your Imagination?

This is the one that irritates me the most. Why, you ask? I suppose the answer is that quite a large amount of the slush is from people who are writing at children rather than to them, and this is perhaps the most perfect example of that.

Writing a story meant to inform children that they can use their imaginations is like writing a story to inform children they can use their hands. (Wait, these things on the ends of my arms are for something? Wow!) ...Are you kidding me?

Children use their imaginations all the time, and need no provocation whatsoever. Which brings me to a perennial point that cannot be made frequently enough: If you don't remember what it's like to be a child, you don't get to write for them.

You, dumbasses: Have you only just realized that you have an imagination? And now you feel all artsy and free and want to inflict it on defenseless children?
(a) You're really rediscovering your imagination, and
(b) That magical ringing in your ears is the rust falling off.

Look, this is not to deride the lovely mid-life crises of certain people which lead them to visit craft fairs and buy ugly jewelry or take classes in "women's intuition". Just, please, stop cooping yourself up at home where there's the unhealthy temptation to "write" something.

Thursday, October 23, 2008


Squirrels? Over. Haven't seen a squirrel in ages.
Currently: Timmy. Every fricking character in slush is now called Timmy, and I can't look at another one.

I know, I know, you can't anticipate how unoriginal you're being when you choose your characters' names or species.

Well, I don't care. Stop it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Who Is Editorial Anonymous?

Possibly the most amusing thing about this blog is the guesses I see about my identity.
And not to discourage the wild guessing, but I would like to just say:

My spelling and punctuation seems to have a British-English bent sometimes. Even so, I am not British.

I am not a man, though I'm curious about what makes some people think I might be.

I am not an agent. See the "Editorial" part at the top of this blog? Clue.

Whatever you may have heard, I am not Lisa Graff or Teen Wolf.

Thank you, that's all.

Regretfully, This Means Nothing

Dear Editorial Anonymous,
Can you translate this from editor-speak to writer-speak? What does it mean when an editor tells you they're turning down your manuscript "with regret"?

Listen, I understand the impulse to parse rejection letters, as pointless as it is. Look, they aren't a pan of gravel in which you might find a flake of gold if you examine every piece of grit. They're hastily-written letters, so what's there is there.

Think of it this way:
option 1: The editor really wants to get something across to you.
Editors are verbal people. If they want to communicate something, they will.

option 2: The editor is not trying the get something across to you. This could be because she just doesn't want to go into why she's rejecting the manuscript, or because she's actively avoiding being blunt enough to tell you why. Either way, editors are verbal people. If they want not to communicate something, they won't.

Frankenstein's Monster, by Igor

Dear Editorial Anonymous:

First off, thanks so much for doing this-- your site is a map for all the people out there picking through the children's publishing minefield-- a resource that is truly appreciated. Please know that I mean it and wasn't just buttering you up--- even though I do have a big, long juicy question for you:::

On the topic of Intellectual Property (which you seem to be addressing lately):

Two years ago I was on a remote beach in Mozambique, camping on the sand, when an idea hit me for an epic middle grade adventure story. I don't use "epic" as self-praise here, the story is big and sprawls across continents. Anyway, it hit like a bolt of lightning and I dropped everything (a novel based on a short story that I had recently won an award for) so that I could immerse myself in it.

As the idea crystallized I told it excitedly to my then girlfriend (we were into the second month of a thirteen month round-the-world trip together, sharing everything). She loved it, felt a deep connection point and became wildly passionate about the characters. Over the next ten months, crisscrossing the tropics in a spirit of joy and freedom, we kicked notes around about this story. It was an incredibly rich time creatively. Still, I always thought of the story as mine--- though I will readily admit that her viewpoints, ideas and characters enriched the story deeply. There is a possibility that at some point it was no longer mine but ours, I'm totally open to that. In fact, in Australia, after months of beautiful note taking we had a fight because I talked about the book as "mine," she told me that ever since that day in Mozambique she had considered it "ours." We settled it, I reassured her that I wouldn't try to take anything away from her contributions.

When we returned to America I began writing the first draft, getting down the bones. I did this alone, at the computer. However, we were living in the same house, when the writing of a particular scene brought tears to my eyes she was right there and I read it to her immediately. As I wrote she was working on other books, sometimes we would talk about the story, sometimes I would show her pages. When the first draft was written she started going through each chapter, one at a time. She would edit them heavily, sometimes as many as three pages of notes for a ten page chapter. She talked about characters, gave ideas, challenged me to not let myself off the hook. Basically the perfect notes to turn a first draft into a second draft. She kept me consistent and she challenged my research. I can say without doubt that her notes pushed me to write better, made the book stronger and brought about a more richly layered product.

Recently we have broken up, which surprisingly hasn't affected the working relationship too dramatically-- but after I published a piece in last month's SCBWI Bulletin and the by-line mentioned "his book" (SCBWI is very generous with by-lines, I didn't write it) she became worried about how our whole thing was defined. I respect that. She has worked hard and doesn't want to be left out in the cold should the book be fortunate enough to get published. At the same time, I have worked on this book endlessly, researched for thousands of hours and put the words on the page. I have a hard time giving up the title of "author." If I were to guess, I would say that in pure time the ratio for hours put in (mine to hers) is somewhere around twelve to one.

We have talked about crediting her as co-creator. We have talked about publishing (yes, I'm with you, should we be so lucky...) under a single pseudonym and explaining on the "about the author" blurb that the name represents both of us and outline our respective roles in that space.

I feel like I can handle both of those options.

So here are a my questions:

1. Is there already a name for the role she has?
Yes: Developmental Editor. She should not get authorial credit as she did none of the writing.

This is not to say that I don't appreciate the importance of her role. She contributed many ideas that you used and that you feel made the book better, and offered criticism that helped you make your book stronger and more fully realized.

This is the work that an editor does, though of course a publishing house's editor likely wouldn't have joined you at such an early stage in the book's development, or had that much time to give your project. (A publishing house's editor would be paid for her work, and expect no credit.)

Let's be clear: the idea for the story sounds like it was developed so communally between the two of you that the idea may indeed belong to both of you. And your ex deserves some credit for that role.

However, if you were the one who did the work of writing the book, then there's your answer. You are the author. Period.

She edited it--but she should not expect any more credit for that than another writer's critique group might get (which is, of course, often zero). I understand that she did that editing because she loves the story and (presumably) loves the body and heart and brains you've given it in written word form. She feels invested in the story, which is good in that it's allowed her to offer the story her creativity, too-- but possibly bad in that it's making her think her creativity in the making of the book is in some way equal to yours. Does she happen to think that it's easy to write a book once you have an idea for it? (It isn't.) Does she think she could have done the same work as well as you did? (It doesn't matter if she could have--she didn't. You. Wrote. The. Book.)
2. If we decide to credit her as co-creator as in: Created by "DICK and JANE" Written by DICK, should we send it out to agents and publishers that way or add that in once someone wants to buy or rep the story?
Truthfully (and my comments above notwithstanding), you can credit her however you like. The publisher probably won't care. And you can decide to share the royalties with her or not as you like.

I would say that the least you should do is to put it in the acknowledgments that her ideas and critique made a tremendous difference to the book-- which gives credit to both the degree and nature of her contribution.

But I would suggest that the fairest, kindest thing to do would be to say "by DICK (and in smaller type) co-creator JANE". Or maybe "by DICK with help from JANE". And perhaps offer her a 1-2% royalty.

But calling her an author (or implying it by putting her name on the cover without a modifier like "co-creator") is a lie.

There's a difference between someone who's chivalrous and someone who's a doormat. Offering her authorial credit and half the royalties is not laying your coat over a puddle for her. It's laying yourself down in the street for her to walk on. But I don't judge. That's the relationship some people want to be in.
3. What would your suggestion be if you were editing the book and I came to you with this little quandary but hadn't yet found any possibly suitable solutions? I realize that at some point I delved into Dear Abby territory, sorry about that. The truth is that I really want to honor her role, while at the same time respecting the fact that I have worked endlessly and put the actual words down on the page.
Writing a book is not like building a skyscraper. In architecture, the person who drew the blueprints gets the credit, not the construction company that put the building together. That's because outside of the blueprints, buildings are mostly built the same way. It's the architect's design that makes the building unique.

Stories are not like that. I'm sure we can all think of some Classics of English Literature that have very little in the way of overall design. We don't read them or laud them for their design--we read them and laud them for their writing.

So while design may be important to a story, it is nothing compared to the work of expressing the story. Stories are more like Frankenstein's monster. It doesn't matter who helped dig up the body parts. The author is the guy who breathed life into them.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A Sigh of Relief

Dear Faithful Readers,
Thank you for sticking with me over the last week and a half as Blogs of Note (which featured me recently) drove thousands of new faithful readers, new idiots, and new flagrant spammers to this site. Today this blog is no longer on Blogs of Note, and most of the tide of pointless links, aimless comments and political gibberish in the comments will, I think, recede.

Thank goodness.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Just Saying No (to Your Editor)

I remember in junior high having to sit through one of those drug use prevention programs. A few horribly chipper thirteen-year-olds had somehow been wrangled into helping. They'd made foot-long construction paper joints (craft skills at work!) and similarly fake-looking cocaine, and they went around the room "offering" them to the class. And we were supposed to gain experience in saying "no" from this.
It would have been hilarious if it hadn't been so painfully stupid.

Saying "no" is not easy. It can be hard, and scary.
People don't need practice saying "no"—they need practice being brave. Let's give that a shot.

Welcome to the Author's version of Choose-Your-Own Adventure!


1. You receive editorial feedback. Editorial feedback you disagree with.
If you fly off the handle in anger, misery, or other emotion and refuse to do anything, go to page 7.
If you give yourself some time to get over your irritation, hurt, and/or outrage and then go back to the editorial feedback to think it through, go to page 2.

2. You still disagree with the feedback.
If you go to the editor and refuse to do anything, go to page 12.
If you sit down and try out the editor's suggestions anyway, go to page 3.

3. You've tried out the editor's suggestions, and you still disagree that they're good for the book.
If you decide your editor's an idiot and can only be communicated with effectively with invective, go to page 9.
If you sit down to think about what issues the editor was trying to address when she made that suggestion, and what possible alternate solutions there might be, go to page 4.

4. You've made a meaningful effort to see things from your editor's point of view, and to think of alternate ways to address the issues she's focused on. And after all of that, you have to come to the conclusion that she's mistaken.
If you write to her and show, not tell her that you've taken her suggestions seriously and given them thought, and tell her why you must politely disagree and why you think the passages under discussion are important the way they are, go to page 5.
If you decide your editor must know better than you do, and decide to buckle under, go to page 7.

5. You hear back from your editor.
If she feels strongly that those changes are necessary and you're going to make them, dammit, because her publisher is paying you, go to page 8.
If she's willing to talk things through with you and bow to your creative vision when she cannot convince you of her point of view, go to page 6.

6. Congratulations, you have a good editor.
Repeat pages 1-6 as many times as needed until publication.

7. Don't be a jackass.
Go back and choose again.

8. Your editor is a jackass.
If you decide that now, indeed, is the time for invective, go to page 13.
If you write to your editor reminding her that the publisher felt your manuscript was publishable when it was acquired, and as willing as you are to discuss changes and try to see things from the editor's point of view, as the author you aren't going to make any changes that you feel are bad for the book, go to page 10.

9. Don't be a jackass.
Go back and choose again.

10. You hear back from your editor.
If your editor seems to have had an apoplectic fit and is cancelling, or on the verge of cancelling, the book, first SHOW NO FEAR (they can smell fear), and go to page 14.
If your editor is very grudgingly buckling under, go to page 11.

11. Congratulations. Repeat pages 1-11 as many times as necessary until publication.
Remind yourself that anyone who behaves as your editor has must have a reputation at her publishing house and in the industry as a jackass. Your polite unwillingness to do whatever she ordered you to will earn you a reputation for integrity, not arrogance.
Invite all of your friends over for a publication party where you will drink champagne and tell everyone you know how much they never want to work with that editor, ever.

12. Don't be a jackass.
Go back and choose again.

13. You're right. But let your crit group witness your invective, not the editor.
Now go back and choose again.

14. You look at your contract for the clause(s) that talk about 'failure to publish' and what happens when you and the publisher have an extreme disagreement about how to publish. You talk to a literary contracts lawyer or your agent. If the book is cancelled, you may not have to pay back the advance you've received. If you do have to pay it back, you can negotiate an arrangement where you only have to pay it back if you are able to sell this manuscript to another publisher, in which case you'll pay the first publisher back out of the advance from the second publisher.

Congratulations! If you've reached step 14, you've weathered one of the most unpleasant experiences the publishing industry can offer, but you've weathered it with a backbone and your creative integrity intact. And you're stronger for it. Go forth knowing that these experiences are few and far between and most editors are not poor excuses for a horse's ass, and that no matter what happens, nobody gets to push you around.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

On Good Advice

Darling Nathan has asked his readers for the worst writing advice they've gotten. My favorite: "Remove all your commas. Editors don't like commas and they pull the reader out of the story."

Haha! Um, also the letter "b". Editors hate the shape of the letter b, and it distracts readers from any word it appears in.

Oh, this is so true, though. It seems like every writer's conference I attend I get asked to confirm or deny at least one piece of ridiculous advice.

Here are your antidotes:

For every piece of advice regarding punctuation, substitute: Read a good book about punctuation. Know what it is for. Know what the rules are. Then ignore them if you like.

For every piece of advice regarding how to write, substitute: Read a lot. Write a lot. Read a lot. Write a lot.

For every piece of advice regarding what to write about, substitute: Write about something you would want to read about.

For every piece of advice regarding who to submit to and how, substitute: There are no one-size-fits-alls. Do your own research. You'll learn a hell of a lot along the way.

For every piece of advice regarding ignoring all the rules, substitute: The rules are there for a reason. Understand the reason before you decide to ignore them. Then feel free.

Good Writer = Like. Good Writer + Chocolate = Love.

My second book has been accepted, the contract's signed, the check's in the mail, and I'm in the midst of tidying up the manuscript for the first round of editing.
However, I've just found out my editor has accepted a position at another house, effective more or less immediately, which means my WIP will be assigned to someone new. *gulp*
Instead of freaking out, I'll attempt to ask an intelligent question:
What can I do to help ensure this new partnership comes off as a successful adoption as opposed to, say, a reluctant stepchild/stepparent relationship?
The first and most important step is to send good chocolates. This will get her attention, even on a hellishly busy day. With the chocolates send a very friendly letter that conveys
1. your enthusiasm at working with her
2. your interest in developing a good working relationship with her
3. the development history of the book with the other editor
4. all of your contact information

Points 1 and 2 can be more the tone of the letter than actual words.

But point 3 should let the new editor know exactly what has happened so far with the manuscript (including what the original editor--and you--felt was the grand vision for the book) so she can feel she knows just where she stands.

I think it's this more than any other thing that gives me a headache about adoptive projects. It's like being forced to start reading a novel in the center of the book, and if you want to read the first half you have to read it backwards, which is just so much damn work. But if you don't read it, the second half isn't going to be nearly as good. So you're feeling damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't, and maybe the best answer right now would be to ignore the adoptive project until the pounding in your head subsides.

The author sending me a informative welcome-to-the-project letter that makes her sound friendly and sane (and with chocolates!) goes a long way toward making me think, "This could work! Hey, this might even be fun!"

Good luck!

Friday, October 10, 2008

How to Write for Trends: Don't.

If there is more publishing in the occult topics right now, does that mean people have a better chance of selling it, or a worse chance? Will we hear there is too much of a topic so editors won't buy it right now? I ask, because I heard that from an agent at a conference several years ago.
Observing a trend in the market is like observing a trend in weather systems. How does a storm begin? When will it end?

Most trends are over in two years or less.
Zombies, for instance? Already dead. Trend timetable: 3 months.
Vampires? Still undead. Trend timetable: who knows?

And it's funny (and unpredictable) the way some trends are over before you can point at them and others build, and build, and build, and just when booksellers are rolling their eyes and wondering when it will finally be over, suddenly it gets really big.

People in the industry and outside of it get a great deal of satisfaction in talking about what started a trend (me included), but it's never really that simple—and whether you think it was Bram Stoker or Joss Whedon or Stephenie Meyer who started the vampire trend, not one of them knew when they were working on their vampires that they would be enormously influential.

So in terms of predicting trends: you can't. And in terms of predicting when a trend will be over: you can't.

But generally speaking, since trends are usually over in less than two years, and it usually takes publishers two years to publish a book, chances are that any trend you see in the marketplace right now is, in publishing, already rotting in its grave. With a stake in its heart.

The Story Is Done! Now All I Need Is Someone to Write the Story!

So, let's say that I have written a fictional book. I've had some friends read it, and while they like it, it certainly needs a "real author's" touch. I think I need some character development, etc. It's kind of like I have the frame work of a house, but need it finished...Any suggestions?
Are we talking about a hypothetical fictional book that needs to be written by someone else? Please take this moment to imagine the hypothetical look on my face.

What you've described is like having a sketch of a house and needing someone else to draw the blueprints, get the permits, pour the foundation, build the house, and paint, decorate, and furnish it.

Now, every once in a while we get submissions from a two-author team wherein one "author" came up with the idea and the "other" author actually wrote the manuscript. And if that's the way people want to do things, and the person who did all the work is willing to split the royalties with the idea person, then, well... whatever.

But you'll have to be the one to find the writer who can write your story well and is willing to split the money with you. DO NOT try to submit an idea to a publisher and expect them to find a writer for it. In an industry that is all about execution (see post below re: pythons), we don't have any time or patience for this.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Stand Still While I Load My Editorial Feedback into This Shotgun

Any advice on receiving revision feedback from an editor over the phone? I had an editor call with her thoughts (and no written follow-up) and was taken a little off-guard. I just tried to listen, grab a pen and take notes and not be argumentative or defensive (on the spot, I didn't exactly agree with what she was saying).
In this case, is it fine to send an email afterward to follow-up on the conversation, just to be sure I'm going in the right direction?
It's fine to say to the editor that you attempted to take notes but are not sure you got all of her comments, and you'd like to be sure you have them all before you sit down to think them over, and would she mind sending you a written copy of her notes. Be sure to imply (or even state) that you aren't going to get started on the revision until you have her notes in front of you.

Personally, I don't know why editors do this. I always send my revision notes in a letter, for these very reasons. Convey to her (pleasantly, professionally) that she isn't getting her thoughts across reliably in this format. It's among an editor's most important skills to communicate.

Clueless? Ask and You Shall Receive

I don't know how sub rights work and I'm too embarrassed to ask my agent or editor! I signed a two-book contract last month and yesterday my agent emailed to say that many foreign publishers are interested in the manuscript. She wanted to know when I’d have the revision done, but I have not yet received my editorial comments from the editor. My question is, does the editor who has NA rights and who does all the initial work to get the ms in shape get any % of sub rights money? Is there any reason he should speed up the editing process just because foreign publishers are asking for it?
Take a deep breath. This is no emergency, nor cause for embarrassment.
Does the editor who has NA rights and who does all the initial work to get the ms in shape get any % of sub rights money?
Nope. If the North American publisher only contracted for North American rights, then that's all they get. All the foreign rights money is split between you and your agent. Of course, it's also up to your agent to sell those rights; the NA publisher won't.
Is there any reason the editor should speed up the editing process just because foreign publishers are asking for it?
Nope. But the answer would be no whether your North American publisher had world rights or not. Foreign rights interest may or may not develop into actual foreign rights deals, and the most important thing to your editor is the publication schedule for his publishing house.

If your agent wants to send the revision to the foreign publishers for review, she'll just have to wait.
I don't know how sub rights work and I'm too embarrassed to ask my agent or editor!
Here's the problem. Mother of god, this is what your agent is for. March yourself into the bathroom right now, look yourself in the eye, and say to yourself, "My agent is my guide and counselor and representative in the crazy world of publishing. She has the information I need to avoid making mistakes and to give me peace of mind. I will not be embarrassed. It is part of her job to educate me, reassure me, and never tell anyone what a newbie I was when I started."

Listen, if your agent is unwilling to help you in the ways that you need help (and for most writers that includes several how-does-publishing-work questions), then you need a better agent.

Ideally, you're also working with an editor who would be happy to answer random questions and show you the ropes, but people with agents should go to that person first.

Everyone is ignorant about the process until they start asking questions. Ask!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

rerun: Copyright, Intellectual Property, and the Threat of Pythons

Old post, new inquiry:
Dear Anonymous,
How safe is it to pitch a book idea?
I'm writing a book but don't want anyone to rip off my idea.
This is a not infrequently asked question. The worry that your manuscripts need protection is pretty unnecessary, but let's go through this once anyway.

I don't send out stories, but if I did: copyright is more trouble than it's worth, and I've heard that the ways of documenting your manuscript via mail are not terribly secure in the legal sense.

This is where your critique group comes in handy. If you have been using a critique group, as you should, you have witnesses. But this is just a safeguard for worriers.

Let me be clear. The chances of your manuscript being stolen while at any of the reputable publishing houses are essentially the same as the chances you'll be killed by a python while riding a streetcar.

...But perhaps you're afraid someone will steal your idea. This is the concern that makes people at publishing houses laugh their espresso out of their noses. Your undeveloped, unrealized idea is intellectual property? Ah, the irony.

In publishing, execution is everything. Say, in 1998, somebody had come to me with the idea for a book about a kid who finds out he's magical and has to go away to school to learn about magic. My response would have been somewhere between "Eh," and "It's been done." Because it had been done. It took JK Rowling to express that idea in a way that was really what the market wanted. Behold the difference between idea and execution.

Ideas are not only a dime a dozen, they're recycled at a rate too fast to track. Write badly, and it doesn't matter how brilliant and original your idea is. Write well, and it doesn't matter how many times before your idea has been done.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Charity Is Wonderful, Isn't It? ...Wait, Whose Charity?

I have a short children's book idea in my head. Although I've yet to submit it...for a couple reasons. I have no clue which publisher to choose... and I'd really like for a portion of the proceeds to go to charity. Yes...I'll play the *my son is sick* card to sell a book. *grin* If it'll help my cause...which is finding a cure for his condition. Any advice would be appreciated!
I don't know what publisher to choose, either. This will be a matter of doing your research, and will have a lot to do with what the book is about.

Don't play the "my son is sick" card. It won't get you anywhere. Publishers get lots of submissions trying to play that card, as well as the "it was my mother's dying wish that this be published" card, the "I'm in prison and can't see my kids" card, and the "I want to write a picture book for my adult daughter telling her to get over the death of her child" card. None of these things has to do with (a) how well written the book is or (b) how profitable it will be.

Publishers also don't find it particularly charming to be told that you want a portion of proceeds to go to a charity, because what you're really saying is that you want a portion of the publisher's profit to go to charity. If you meant you wanted to give your royalty earnings to charity, you wouldn't need to tell the publisher about it.