Saturday, February 28, 2009

Thank You for Your Patience

No, I haven't forgotten about the evil first pages clinic.
There's a new one up now; I'll get to everybody in the queue eventually.

Please note, however, that with the queue currently at 85 first pages, and me getting to them at a rate of maybe two or three per week, I have enough to last me the next seven months.

I'm not complaining. That's just going to call for Patience-with-a-capital-P from the later submitters, so be warned.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Strippable

Ooo, that sounds dirty. Will there be pole-dancing involved?

No. We're still on the topic of returns. Sexy, sexy returns. Yes, I'm being ironic.

Now, I do not offer the following explanation in an effort to further undermine authors' delicate self-esteems. What you're about to read is just another fact of the industry, and should not be taken as a judgment of your books.

Some paperback books are quality (or trade) paperbacks, and some are strippable.

How can you tell? It's simple. Is there a barcode on the inside front cover of your paperback? Does it have a little triangle with an "S"? Then it's strippable.

"Strippable" means that the publisher values this physical book very little. (This is not a reflection of how the publisher values the contents of the book, or the author.)

If a bookstore wants to return a strippable book, the publisher's attitude is essentially, "Oh, just throw it away."

To get credit for the return, and to be sure the book is not re-sold, the bookseller is asked to tear the front cover off the book and return just the front cover to the publisher. The bookseller will simply throw away the rest of the book.

Several of you have uttered screams of anguish and run off to check your own paperbacks for this designation. But it's really not a matter of high drama. The barcode above, for instance? Comes from this book.

The thing is, the chances of being able to refurb a damaged paperback are veryveryvery small. And if the publisher is printing a gazillion copies of the paperback whenever they go to press with it, those individual copies represent essentially pennies to the publisher... which is far, far less money than the cost of having the warehouse staff process a returned book. It's cheaper to just trash the thing.

Sad but true. But if it's good enough for Madeleine L'Engle, then it's good enough for you.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Damages, Hurts, and Refurbs

Alas, dreaded returns. Someone in an inventory office or bookstore backroom somewhere has decided to return your book to the publisher.

Maybe this is because it didn't sell. Or maybe because it got damaged in shipping, or on the shelves, or in the mouth of a busy toddler. Maybe someone on a ladder dropped it from a height of some feet onto one of its corners. Maybe the diecut in the jacket ripped. Maybe it's dirty.

One way or another, it's back in the publisher's warehouse.

If it's in perfectly salable condition, then it's put back into warehouse inventory and sold again.
But maybe... maybe it's damaged.

Damaged means there's something about it that's not salable. Damaged books go to a separate section of the warehouse, awaiting sorting into hurts and refurbs.

Refurbished books are ones that have a fixable problem. The most common type of refurbishment is putting a new jacket on the book. Publishers routinely print a few hundred extra jackets for this purpose. The Hachette warehouse, for instance, refurbishes about 4 million books a year.

Hurts are not fixable. They are a loss, and go to the pulper.

When a publisher talks of having books pulped, they don't mean the books are reduced to paper pulp. (At least, not yet.) In warehouse terms, being pulped means the books are shredded in an industrial shredder and the shredded material is packed into bales and sent to a recycling mill.

It's a little dismaying to consider that the cardboard boxes your books are shipped in may have been made out of dead books.

Quiz Time!

We all know about the big publishers (many of which don't even take submissions), but do you know of any good small publishers that put out reputable children's books?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: CMYK

"Four-color printing?!" you say. "I don't want four-color printing! My book has more than four colors in it!"

No, actually it doesn't.
CMYK stands for cyan (blue), magenta (red), yellow, and black. Those of you who remember your preschool color-mixing will recall that you can create all the other colors (or, technically, a hell of a lot of them) with blue, red, yellow, and black.

These are the four colors meant when we talk about four-color printing. CMYK printing is the norm.

That's not to say that I haven't worked on books that were not printed in CMYK.
Sometimes a book will call for a special color-- for instance metallic ink on the jacket-- or, as in the case of Chris Barton's book on the brothers who created day-glo colors, the book requires specific colors that you cannot achieve with CMYK.
Nickelodeon's orange? That's a special color. Gap's blue? Special color. Starbucks' green, Barbie's pink... these special colors are usually achieved with Pantone colors. They cost a bit extra.

Here's a color game: Kitten's First Full Moon was expensive to print. Have you wondered how they achieved such a rich black and white look? How many unique colors do you think went into the printing?Answer: seven!

Definitions for the Perplexed: Advances

The publisher has been through its rounds of proofs, and has given the printer the go-ahead to print the entire run of books.

Now we take a symbolic pause, to represent the three months or so the printer will take for this.
(No, printing even a gigantic run of books is the work of days, not months. But it goes in a queue behind hundreds of other books.)

Finally! The books are coming off the presses, all bound and whole and new! Real books!

Most of them are loaded onto giant pallets and sent down to the sea, to be put on a ship across the Pacific. This, the main shipment, will reach the publisher's warehouse in about a month, and then the warehouse will start filling orders to bookstores.

But a couple hundred copies are sent air-freight to the publisher, and these are advances, because they come in advance of the main shipment. They are for marketing. As with ARCs, they represent an extra cost to the publisher (because books are heavy, air-freighting them is not cheap). So, again, please do not make any assumptions about how marketing's advance copies should be shared with the outside world. They have many clamoring sales people who need a copy, and of course reviewers and magazines and places like that to send the advances.

Your editor may get a couple advances to send to the author and illustrator. But the gratis copies mandated in your contract will not come out of the advance shipment. You will have to wait till the main shipment is in the warehouse, and then you may need to remind the publisher to send them (if you want it to happen promptly).

Now, advance copies are not to be confused with copies advanced, which, I recognize, is asking a lot of the uninitiated.

Copies advanced refers to the sales of the book in its first three months. This is a bit of a thermometer for how the book is being received in the marketplace, but how that thermometer is read varies a great deal from house to house, so I won't get into any speculation here. If you have a conversation with your editor and this term comes up, ask her what practical significance those sales numbers have at her house.

Definitions for the Perplexed: F&Gs

Now, if we're talking about a novel, very likely the marketing department has nabbed galleys with which to make an ARC.

If we're talking about a picture book, though, that does not happen. Galleys are not representative enough of the final book to make good marketing materials.

In many cases, a picture book will simply be put on an early enough production schedule so that marketing can use advances. But sometimes, they'll have the printer send over a bunch of F&Gs.

F&G stands for folded and gathered.
F&Gs are the same sheets the printer is sending the publisher as proofs, but instead of sending the printed sheets straight off the press, the printer has begun (but not finished) the process of putting the book together.

When putting a book together, after the printer has printed the sheets of paper that will go into the book, those sheets are folded where the paper will butt up against the binding, gathered into signatures, and bound.

The most expensive part of any hardcover book, though, is the binding, so for the purposes of marketing materials, they skip that last step.

What you end up with looks like this:

This is an F&G.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: ISBNs

ISBN stands for International Standard Book Number.

Up until a couple of years ago, all ISBNs were 10-digit.
Let's take the ISBN for How Do Dinosaurs Say Goodnight:

The first digit tells you what language the book was published in. A zero or a one means English. (The ISBN for Bonne Nuit Petit Dinosaure is 2-0705-5568-2. The first digit, a two, means it's in French.)

The next four digits tell you the publisher. 5903 is one of the codes for Scholastic.

The next four digits are a random series of numbers, unique to the book.

The last digit is a check digit. In any computer set up for ISBNs, the computer can run through a mathematical calculation using the check digit to be sure there isn't an error in the previous series of numbers.

(If you're curious, you multiply the first digit by ten, the second by nine, the third by eight, the fourth by seven, the fifth by six, the sixth by five, the seventh by four, the eighth by three, the ninth by two. Then add all those products together. In the case of 0-5903-1681-8, you'd end up with 190. Then you ask yourself how much you would have to add to 190 to make it a multiple of eleven. The answer, and thus the check digit, is eight.)

(If the answer were ten, then the check digit would be the letter X.)

A couple of years ago, it started to look like we might run out of unique ISBNs, so the whole world switched to 13-digit ISBNs, which was accomplished by keeping all the 10-digit ISBNs, but adding 978 at the beginning. (Of course this necessitated a different check digit.)

The barcode shown here has two parts. The big barcode will tell a scanner the ISBN, which you'll see printed in its 10-digit form and 13-digit form above the barcode, and in its 13-digit form again under the barcode.
The little barcode will tell a scanner the price. You'll see the price printed twice above the little barcode: once with a $ in front of it, and once with a 5 in front of it. (5 is code for US dollars.)

Definitions for the Perplexed: PPB

PPB stands for paper, printing, and binding. It is a dollar amount. It is also called the unit cost.

PPB is the cost only of the physical book: how much money (per book) we will have to spend on the paper, the printing, and the binding process.

A PPB for an average-sized, 32-page picture book, printing in four-color, and with a print run of more than 10,000 copies will often be about $1. As soon as you want spot UV or deboss or a funny size or the page count starts running up, you're adding on to that cost. If you want pop-ups or a sound chip or some hoo-ha like that, those will really cost you.

Things not included in the PPB:
The cost of shipping the books from China to the US.
The cost of shipping the books from the dock to the publisher's warehouse.
The cost of shipping the books from the publisher's warehouse to stores.
The cost of running a publisher's office.
The editor's salary.
The designer's salary.
The production manager's salary.
The marketer's salary.
The publicist's salary.
The many sales staff's salaries.
The costs incurred in the process of editing (eg, a fact-checker, a proof-reader, a copyeditor)
The costs incurred in the process of design (eg, buying new fonts).
The costs incurred in the process of marketing and publicity (eg, making displays, paying for advertisements).
The cost of free books to send to reviewers, etc.

...And several other things I've forgotten. Wondering where all the money between your PPB and your retail price goes? It's not into the publisher's pockets.

Authors and illustrators don't make a lot of profit on books, but neither do publishers.

There are some industries where a 50% profit margin is expected. Ha-ha! In publishing, we're aiming for around 10%.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Proofs

So once the galleys have been around and around enough to have worked out all the kinks, the designer will create a version of galleys that incorporates the guidelines the printer (which is usually in China) will need in order to know where to cut the pages (etc). This last set of galleys are called mechs, short for mechanicals. These are sent to the printer, and the next thing the publisher will see is proofs.

Proofs are an example of the book, printed on the big professional printing presses (but not bound), and this is our chance to make sure the alignment of the printing, the page trimming, and the color is correct. It is not the time to decide you like the word "harassed" better than "irritated" on page 42. Changes to the text will require your publisher to send a whole new digital file to the printer, add another round to the proofs, and the printer will charge the publisher more money. Like, hundreds of dollars, potentially.

When To Suggest Changes in the Bookmaking Process:

One sincerely hopes that you've made any big, plot-type changes in the draft/revision process with your editor. Which comes before galleys.

Once you're in galleys, the important thing to remember is that every change to entire blocks of text has to be made, checked, and finessed by design and CE (copyedit) to be sure there are no widows (a lonely line at the top of a page), orphans (a lonely line at the bottom of a page), lines that are too loose or tight (ie, in the spacing between words), and no text accidentally left out or duplicated. It's a lot of work, and for people who already have a lot of work to do. The designer and copyeditor will feel like killing someone, and since the author is not nearby, they'll focus on the editor.

1st galleys:
Fixes to the spelling/punctuation? Lay it on! Let's get everything right.
Stuff accidentally left out, etc? Great, that's what first galleys are for.
Fiddling with word choice? Sure thing. Just not too much of that, ok?

2nd galleys:
Fixes to spelling/punctuation? Oops, we missed that. Thanks for noticing.
Other issues? Try to minimize this, huh? That's what 1sts were for.

3rd galleys/Final Corrections:
See the term "final corrections"? Yeah, this had better be the last little bits.
Ideally, this is not a chance to make changes, but simply to be sure the changes from 2nd galleys were made as intended.

Leave it alone! (Though text changes in mechs are still better than text changes we have to make in proofs.)

1st proofs
Color corrections? Great! That's what proofs are for.
Text changes? These had better just be correctness changes (in the event we missed a typo in galleys), not stylistic ones.

2nd proofs
Color corrections? This had better be important.
Text changes? No.

3rd proofs
Changes of any kind: What are you, fucking nuts?

Definitions for the Perplexed: ARCs

The marketing team will send the advance reading copy (ARC) to reviewers and booksellers so that everyone has a chance to see what they think of the book before it's officially released. I can recall reading the first Harry Potter in ARC form.

Because marketing grabbed the first galleys in order to make the ARC, ARCs are sometimes called bound galleys, or galleys for short.

This gets a little bit confusing, because often if a bookseller or marketer speaks of a galley, they mean an ARC. But if an editor or designer speaks of a galley, they mean the print-outs routing around the offices.

The author and illustrator will be exposed to both kinds of galley, and will need to keep them straight.

Another thing to remember about ARCs is that they're expensive. Now, if you've ever seen one, you'll have a hard time believing this. They're paperback. They're on cheap paper. There are no special effects like shiny foil or embossing or whathaveyou. The binding is the crappiest kind of glue, which will fall apart after two or three readings.

But the reason they're expensive is that the publisher prints so few of them. A normal hardcover book gets a print run in the thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of units, and has a PPB of between $1 and $2. An ARC (however crappily-made) has a print run in the hundreds, and has a PPB of three or four times that.

So galleys are not like buckshot loaded into a shotgun, meant to be fired in the general direction of marketing opportunities. They are sent to the people who will very likely make a difference in the sales numbers. Try to remember this before you suggest that your publisher send you a couple hundred to pass out to your friends.

Definitions for the Perplexed: Galleys

Once upon a time, printers used printing presses that really pressed a sheet of paper against rows of inked type. (If you have no idea what I'm talking about, google it.) The individually-cast letters of the alphabet, made out of lead, were carefully set in rows to make the words and sentences and paragraphs that would be printed.

These rows of loose type were arranged in a wide, shallow, wooden box called a galley, after the wide, flat sailing vessels.

It is from this antique way of printing that we inherit several terms, galley among them. (Also leading, the space between lines of type, and kerning, the space between letters.)

Nowadays when we say galley we mean the first earnest effort (ie, not the cast-off) of the designer to lay out the text and illustration of a book.

Galleys are printed out for routing among the publisher's staff on the designers' office printer. The color is not great. There are typos. The designer has forgotten to add the author's bio on the back flap. The copyeditor hasn't gotten her hands on it yet. Etc.

Now we reach a crossroads.

The editorial, design, and production team will continue on with three or four rounds of galleys to gradually fix all the errors, omissions, and disagreements before sending the book to the printer.

The marketing team, though, will grab the very first layouts --if it is a novel-- and whisk it off to a printer to produce ARCs (advance reading copies).

Definitions for the Perplexed: Cast-off

Let us begin at the beginning.
Well, actually, let us begin somewhere in the middle.

When the designer has the text and the art for a book (or just the text, if there will be no important art presence), she goes into her fancy design software and lays out the text and the illustration together in approximately the way it will appear in the book.

I say "approximately" because she isn't going to spend a bunch of time finessing the details--this is just the cast-off (or prelim layouts). In a longer book, she won't do more than a few pages.

Then she'll show this to the editor, so that they can make some decisions together: what typeface will suit the book's mood and function best? How are the illustrations or chapter heads going to be treated? Do they like this little ornament on the page edge, or would this one be better? etc. Different book, different questions.

Authors and illustrators often won't see a cast-off, and in some books' cases, a cast-off doesn't happen. In those cases, the designer goes straight to galleys.

The Joy of Layoffs

Know how editors have too much work and too little time?

Well, if your editor is at a house that laid off some of her colleagues, that house might have canceled some projects.

But more likely, the house just gave the remaining editors even more titles to look after.

So if you're not hearing from your editor even more than usual, it's because she's paralyzed by workload panic and hiding under her desk.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed

Pubrants recently blogged about co-op, which is a fine publishing tradition that bugs the hell out of everyone except B&N and Borders.

It would not have occurred to me to blog about co-op. But the comments found the topic fascinating! Which makes me wonder what other publishing terms you guys would find interesting. PPB? P&L? Advance sales? Sell-in? Earn-out? Bookscan? Refurbs?

The mind boggles. Can you really be interested in this stuff?

Agents and "Agents"

Do publishing houses that require submissions to come through agents read all agented submissions, even from agents who are new in the business and who may not be known to the editor? Or do editors see a package that claims to be from an "agent," check it against some actual or mental list, and discard it if they do not recognize the name? I imagine, of course, that some agents command more attention than others, but do all agents, even unknown ones, at least get their client's foot in the door?
Yes and no.

I do sometimes check agents against the list called Preditors and Editors, if the agent is sending me unapologetic dreck of genres my house doesn't even publish. (Major red flag.) That is bullshit agenting, whether the agent is legit or scamming.

Likewise when we get something through the front desk beginning, "Dear Editor." Agents are supposed to be doing their damn homework and knowing who to send a manuscript to at a particular house. "Dear [Publishing House]" means that the agent knows zipola about the industry, and even less about being a good agent.

And simply claiming to be an agent is not enough. We've seen enough jackass authors pretend to be their own agents that we're well wise to that trick. Also if you're pretending your lawyer is your agent. (No, he's not.)

But in general we try to reply courteously to agented submissions, even if we haven't heard of the agent. The unknown ones are certainly low-priority, though.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Living Is Optimism

Hi! I have a question, and I'm not trying to be funny, I swear. I've noticed that editors often use words like "tomorrow" and "by Friday" and "next week" (in reference to when I should expect an offer, or a production schedule, or a set of proofs, or whatever). It virtually never does come tomorrow or Friday or next week, and generally, these promises are followed by months of radio silence.
I know editors are insanely busy, but what puzzles me is, if things always take a great deal longer than expected, why do they keep on specifying "tomorrow" or "by Friday" or "next week"? Why don't they say "sometime in the next three months" if that's what's most likely?
I know all about this, having been guilty of it myself. And I look at my coworkers, and see a lot of myself in them. So in the spirit of self-awareness, I'm going to share something really true about editors:

1. Editors are almost always smart people who know how they want the world to be.
2. There's a little OCD running around in the make-up of many editors, and plenty of over-achiever-ship.
3. Editors are constantly saved and undermined by their optimistic natures.

So we know clearly what we think we ought to be able to promise people (point 1), and we very much want to promise it to them (point 2), and we will promise it to them (point 3).

And to be fair, we come through on a lot of our promises-- but we come through most on the promises to the projects that are not only signed up but whose late schedules/emergencies are screaming like hungry children.

The promises we do not come through on nag at us and make us feel guilty. I understand your plea for realism in projected dates, but realistically? If I told someone I would get back to them in three months, my brain/workstyle would categorize that task as too far in the future to keep track of, and forget about it entirely. If I told someone I would do something in three months, it would not happen.

And I suppose that when I think hard about how long everything takes--and how fast it all goes by for me (it's February?! Where did January go? Where, for that matter, did November and December go?! It still feels like fricking October to me!), the truth is that I'm a little terrified that if I started being honestly realistic with myself, I would realise that this is an impossible job; a treadmill that will always go a bit faster than I can run; a black hole in my life that is sucking everything-- including eating and sleep, not just hobbies and any kind of outside life-- into itself.

So I'm not going to. I'm at work this morning, and I'm glad to be. I have a challenging, creative job in children's books--doing something that matters to me. I'm going to follow through on at least one promise today. And deal with at least three emergencies. And try like hell to get back to several agents.

And if my best is never, not once in my whole career, quite enough, I will at least know that I did my best, all the time, and that is enough.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Norrell

In your experience which is better: two shorter fantasies that follow a similar time line, each complete in themselves (a sci-fi example would be Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow), or a great fat novel that included all the story lines at once?

I've read that publishers want to know they'll have more than one book out of an author, but from the stuff I see on the shelf lately it seems big books are quite popular too. (I ask, of course, because I'm working on a project that has reached the point when I have to choose which way I'm going).
I think that preference is going to vary per editor and house. More likely, the editor will prefer two books (more revenue), but in terms of what you write, you shouldn't base this decision on what a hypothetical editor wants. Do what will serve the story and your audience best.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Goddamned Poets. Always Thinking They're So Artistic and Poetical... Why, In My Day...

I was wondering if I could pick your big brain about novels in verse...Specifically YA novels in verse. I have only just discovered them and have read some knockouts. (I Heart You, You Haunt Me, Far From You, and What My Girlfriend Doesn't Know).
What are your feelings about novels in verse? Is there a market for them right now?
They're cool, but can be harder to sell. A wide segment of the population is vaguely (or even pointedly) suspicious of poetry. This makes little sense to me personally; I think poetry is wonderful. But you can't discount it.

Some people look at poetry and see that it can serve a more focused approach toward language; it can be fun; it can be beautiful; it can be moving; and as it takes up more space than it does time, it can be very accessible to kids who don't want to sit through a whole novel.

But other people don't know what to think about poetry. Why doesn't it just speak and/or format itself like normal writing? (Is it because the author is pretentious and thinks she's better than me?) Why is there all this damn white space on the pages? (Is it because the author is lazy and didn't want to write a whole novel?) Why is some of this stuff so oblique, forcing me to think about it or even guess at what it means? (The only reason an author would want to say something in a way that the reader can't follow is if the author doesn't like the reader, right?)

So many people end up suspecting (or even feeling quite sure) that writers of poetry are pretentious, lazy jerks who dislike the people who read their poetry. These people need a gentle welcome to the idea of a novel in verse.
How edgy can they be?
YA is getting edgier and edgier. As long as it's not edgy for the sake of edgy, I say go for it.
Should they be in first person?
Who cares?
What is the general word count?
Ask Amazon.
How do I format the thing when Word wants capitals and proper punctuation?
Good question. Do your best.

As Ursula Nordstrom Said, "No, I Don't Have Any Children. But I Was a Child, and I Haven't Forgotten a Thing."

In Fear and Loathing in Children's Books you made a comment about writing for the group you identify most with, and the need to recognize where that is as quickly as possible. Could you expand on that? And what about people who write for more than one age (especially as their children pass through those ages they're writing for)? Is that an example of reading producing like? (Assuming here the writer is reading to his/her children.)
Some authors seem to have a fairly specific internal age; very likely it's the age they remember best from their own childhoods. When they write for this age, it sounds right; it feels right. Their characters' thoughts and speech and action feel inimitably their own, which comes both from the author's deep empathetic connection to the characters, and from the respect that empathy engenders.

There are other authors who seem to have vivid memories of a great deal of their childhoods, and can write empathetically and respectfully for a wide range of ages.

And then there are authors who, no matter how much they love their own children, cannot truly remember what it was like to be a child at all, and so should not be writing for children. This state leads to the earnest, kind, well-intentioned, and utterly disrespectful talking at children rather than to them.

People who remember childhood well not only remember how they thought and felt at a particular age; they know that in a profound way, children and adults are equals.

Because we are all equally human.