Thursday, November 26, 2009

Never Say Never, Again and Again

As a freelance Illustrator still scraping my fingernails to get noticed by the industry, I’ve created a site that includes multiple styles. I had been told all through art school this was a big No-No to feature multiple styles under the same name. I find this rather frustrating, as I’m sure Editors can appreciate diverse styles to fit story needs… right? Is it better to have one solidified style to ‘brand’ one’s self in the memory of Editors? Or do you appreciate an artist with multiple approaches to solving a children’s text?
I like multiple styles. The designers I know like multiple styles. I don't know what they're teaching people in art school.
I hear people talk all the time about revising manuscripts based on what rejection letters say. If I have received 50 form rejection letters that have no specific connection to my writing, does that mean my work is not worth commenting on, editors are over-worked, or something else entirely?
I would say that's a bad sign. Whether it means you've been submitting something unremarkable or submitting to people who don't take the sort of thing you're submitting, I don't know.
About a year ago I sent out a manuscript to three slush piles of three prominent houses and a couple of other places which shall not be named. Today I was walking through Target and saw MY BOOK WITH ANOTHER PERSON'S name on it. Obviously, it was her book, containing my idea, and a little suspicious that it is out a little less than one year after submitting it. Is this just how the business works? Does my book even have a chance? Should I hope that it is a best-seller so that another publisher wants to pick up my book? Should I get a lawyer? Okay, so not the last, but it is tough seeing a water-down version of my fabulous story on the shelves. Yes, it may be like the Twilight phenomena and we just had the same idea at the same time, but it doesn't make me feel better. The one saving grace is that I like the illustrations and I know that another version is worth publishing. Though the reason I like the illustrations of the woman's book so much is because they are very similar to the illustration that I sent in on my cover letter. I know these things happen, but I feel I need a "pat on the back" and "carry on young grasshopper". I promise I won't be pathetic tomorrow.
First of all, it's unlikely that a publisher could find your idea in the submissions pile and crank out an imitation in less than a year. The book you saw in Target has most likely been underway for a couple years. Likewise, if you sell your manuscript, it will be another couple of years before it comes out. So unless it's a very unusual topic and your approach isn't meaningfully different, there's hope for your book yet.
I write literary fiction, mostly, as well as young adult. But that's beside the point. My question is what does one do with a 15,000 word story--not long enough to be a novel, but not short enough (I understand) to be a short story. Is there any way to sell stories around that length?
Probably not. I mean, Seedfolks is around 11,000 words, but chances are you're not Paul Fleischman. And I can't think of anything that short in YA. I never say never, but that sounds like a bit of a long shot.

10 comments:

cynjay said...

The poster said: "Though the reason I like the illustrations of the woman's book so much is because they are very similar to the illustration that I sent in on my cover letter."

I think this sentence is a sign that this author needs to do some more research. Check the posts on EA and others about submitting illustrations and resources for new authors.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

For what it's worth...

Having multiple styles can confuse some buyers to the point of losing a sale.

Buyers become afraid of choosing the *wrong* style amongst your work and back off fearing they'll pick the least effective.

I saw this when showing my commercial art portfolio around San Francisco. Limiting their decisions actually secured more sales!

Haste yee back ;-)

Anonymous said...

What they teach in art school is that if you are unknown and show too many very different styles, it is hard for art directors to remember and identify you with any particular style (among all the other illustrators' work they see) or to know exactly what they'll be getting if they hire you.

Eilonwy said...

Oh, EA, have you already boxed up your imagination and put it in storage for the holidays? In order to make a 15,000 word manuscript into a YA novel all one needs to do is rearrange the lineation into short chunky paragraphs and present it as a novel in verse. And unlike vampire fiction, even a stake through the cover won't kill the stupid things.

Rose Green said...

There are some shorter YA books out there, but like Eilonwy said, a lot of them are in verse.

Another alternative might be to turn it into a graphic novel--they are also short on word count.

Kurtis said...

Um... for the record, poetry is not just ragged lines of prose. Despite what one billion bad poets want to believe.

sylvia said...

You definitely can find markets for short stories at 11,000. There's a few contests - just a quick glance shows me Prose And Poetry Prizes - The New Writer Prizes Page goes up to 20k.

Also, take a look at Duotrope's Digest - you can narrow down markets by various criteria, including wordcount. I got 97 matches for a wordcount of 11,000 although obviously only a small subset will match your genre.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Ooh..... someone needs to write a vampire novel in 'blank verse!' I bet editors everywhere would snap that up. (evil cackle....)

There are some very good verse novels. I loved Hesse's 'Out of the Dust.' Very few stories actually WORK in verse, and even fewer authors can actually WRITE good blank verse. Especially since blank verse actually DOES have requirements for Metre.... it's alot harder than you'd think.

But, I would be willing
to bet-
that most of the "novels in verse'
that skitter across EA's desk
like dried husks
of last autumns corn, or dessicated
corpses, deserted by rot
are just random strings of prose
sounding clunky, but lacking punctuation -
much like this paragraph.

Tara said...

Would it be possibly to write (or get together with the authors of) a few more in-between-lengths stories, if they're thematically similar enough, and send them in as an anthology of sorts? More Tokyo! than Paris, Je T'aime...

working illustrator said...

About different art styles:

I just saw the children's book Original Art Show at the Society of Illustrators and this theme came up a lot, as pieces for different books by the same illustrators were hung side by side.

Some artists - Jerry Pinkney and Michael Hague come to mind - have a way of pulling every project they work on into a particular way of working.

Others - Paul Zelinsky, Steven Johnston and Lou Fancher - customize their work, sometimes radically, to each individual text.

In movies you see the same thing: Tom Cruise is always Tom Cruise; Gary Oldman is unrecognizable from role to role.

I think the the challenge to the would-be chameleon is properly defined by the first commenter: too much variety makes it hard for art directors to remember you.

It's a marketing problem, essentially, and the solution is, I think, a creative one: when Brian Karas, Paul Zelinsky or Lane Smith work in different styles, there's a connective aesthetic running through the work.

It's all clearly the same artist working in different modes. The same imagination is at work through different visual languages.

EA would probably say - as she often does with writers - that this is something only advanced people can do. That's certainly true, as far as it goes... but I'm assuming that this questioner - or someone else who might read this thread - has the capacity to do that.

I'm assuming that there is such a thing as developing or undiscovered talent, and that discussion of these topics needn't just dead-end under the sign "you're not famous; don't go there."

Scott Magoon is a good example of a a younger artist who does this: Ugly Fish and Luck of the Loch Ness Monster are very different stylistically, but the underlying line and sensibility link them.

If you're a strong enough artist - if your vision is sufficiently developed - you'll be able to work in different styles and media and not lose what makes you distinctive.

But it is harder. And the more variety you to want to show, the stronger your core aesthetic – and the wider your overall skill set – needs to be.