Saturday, August 29, 2009

Series Potential? Seriously?

When writing queries for chapter books, is it a good idea to mention "series potential" or plans for subsequent books? I know mentioning sequels when querying MG or YA novels is generally frowned upon, but with chapter books, it seems series are very popular.
It's the same for books of all kinds. Series are very popular-- with readers, with publishers, with authors. Everybody likes a series, because it takes some of the tough decision-making out of reading / publishing / writing, and once they get going, series give you a pretty good return on your money / effort.

"Oh!" you say. "Well then why isn't everything a series?"

[Here we pause to let my readers consider this question for themselves.]

One possible answer is that the author didn't / doesn't want the book to be a series; he/she feels it's complete in itself and doesn't see a way to continue the story past what's already been said.

But the real answer is: not everything is popular enough to be a series. Sorry.

If Twilight had had a readership of 5,000, there would have been no New Moon, Eclipse or Breaking Dawn.

The reason editors don't want to hear about the author's thoughts on their book's series potential is for the same reason we don't want to hear about the author's thoughts on the possibility of getting their book on Oprah: AUTHORS HAVE NO CLUE.

More than that, experience has proven to most editors that the authors who are all excited about writing a series are either:

a) people who are under delusions of the millions of dollars there are to be made in children's books and who are uninterested in the quality of their writing in their pursuit of those dollars, or

b) people who are unhealthily obsessed with their creation and whose last interaction with reality was passing it in the street months ago, when they couldn't quite place where they knew reality from. It looked familiar... did its name start with an "R," maybe, or a "D"?

So we worry that if you've been spending a bunch of time over-enthusiastically plotting out the further adventures of your book, you haven't been spending a bunch of time making your first book the best book it can be.

Write the best book you can. The best book-- one book. If the editor sees the potential for great popularity and the beginnings of a series, she'll suggest the series to you.

UPDATE: Michael reminds me that some types of series (like his Animorphs) are pitched as a series, but as he also points out, that kind of writer can come up with a really catchy idea and churn out a hell of a lot of consistent prose over an extended amount of time (54 books in 5 years, for instance). As I've reminded him, that's not most writers.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Why I Hate Inanimate Objects Almost as Much as Your Dog and Your Grandchild

Before you write a story about a treehouse, from its beginnings as lumber through its nailing-together (ouch!) to its old age, after it has proudly watched its boy grow up,

Before you write a story about a shawl and the old woman it keeps warm through thick and thin,

Before you write a story about a leaf that's afraid to fall from the tree,

Before you write a story about a rock and all the changes it witnesses from its ditch or hill or goddamned outhouse,



When we are writers and have a story in our heads, and begin thinking about how to tell said story, and we ask ourselves "whose story is this?" we look for the character who is most changed by the ACTION of the story, who has the most at stake in the ACTION, or whose ACTIONS have the most impact on the plot.

When we are readers and are looking for a story that will fascinate and entertain us, we are looking for a story in which SOMETHING HAPPENS and in which the main character is someone who can DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

For fuck's sake.

I Can't Think Straight on an Empty Stomach

But in spite of being poor, starving, and driven to the brink of insanity by her job, INTERN still manages to have Insightful Thoughts about the nature of good writing.
You have a future in publishing, you beautiful smartass, you!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

And Then the Sales Fairy Will Sprinkle Magic Sparkle Dust on My Book...

I was wondering to what degree celebrity books are ghost written?
Some are. It's a dead secret which ones. But it's a better bet, usually, that celebrities' enormous egos have prevented them from accepting "help".
I find it hard to believe that Madonna writes her own children's books.
(Rolls eyes) Ahem.
Do publishers actively approach a celebrity asking if they can use their name on a book? Though I would prefer to have my own name on something I've written, I wonder what's involved in getting a celebrity endorsement?
If you mean you're imagining a publisher accepting your manuscript and then approaching a celebrity to take credit for it, you can stop dreaming right now.

Aussie Power

I am an unpublished YA writer from Australia and I want to eventually break into the American publishing market (by which I mean an American Agent/Publisher) due to the fact that the Australian industry is currently in dire straits and the YA industry isn't as big here anyway.
So, my question is: do you think that Editors (or even Agents) would be turned off by a ms that was set in Australia? I'm write mainly urban fantasy/paranormal but I can't just set it in an U.S. city since I've never been over there... What do you think? Is there no hope? Should I try and get an Aus agent and forgot all about my American dreams?
No, there's no inherent problem in setting your story in Australia, any more than there's a problem setting your story in Germany (The Book Thief), Japan (The Great Fire) or Somewhere Else (Dreamhunter, The Arrival). If the only thing that your Australian readers identify with is the Australianism of your work, then that's a problem, but if you've got involving characters and plot, no worries.

Keep Melina Marchetta, Jaclyn Moriarty, Sonya Hartnett, and the many other successful Australian imports to the U.S. in mind, and write.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Kindness of Strangers

Sneaky people have been nominating me for the BBAW awards.
I feel very appreciated. And FYI, I would like a tiara when I win.

(Congrats to Moonrat, who was also nominated!)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

My Work Doesn't Need a Broader Audience! If It's Good Enough for the Voices in My Head, Then It's Good Enough for You!

Hi. I'm a minor mid-list writer. I've been assigned to an editor I'm finding impossible to work with. Is there any tactful way to request a different editor, and is there any chance of a small-time writer being listened to about this? (My writer friends say there is not.)
First, read this post.

Now, your answer:
Is it possible to tactfully request a new editor? Not really.
Is it possible to untactfully request a new editor? Not really.

It is perfectly true that some editors are impossible. It is also perfectly true that some writers are impossible. I know one author who will complain my ear off every time I see him about how hard it is getting his stuff published and then segue directly into how his editor's attempts to make his work marginally saleable are "censorship". (Seriously; I've read it. Marginally saleable.) He orders from the menu; I eat my tongue for lunch.

Per the link above, it is possible to point out to your editor that the changes she's suggested are not ones you are willing to make (after making an attempt to find common ground). But perhaps that's not your problem.

Perhaps your editor has the habit of ignoring you for eons and when she finally calls, she machine-guns a bunch of contradictory notes at you, tosses a laughably unrealistic deadline like a grenade, and hangs up before she can hear your head explode. In that case, it is possible to write her a tactful letter/email letting her know what elements of her workstyle are making doing your job difficult, and telling her what editorial tactics would help you get your end done. Express how much you want to work with her. When that doesn't work, try again.

If that doesn't work, then it is possible to contact her supervisor and detail the chain of communications that have led to this impasse. MAKE SURE you've tried very hard to overcome your/her workstyle differences and the chain of communications backs this up, because if given any choice, her supervisor will side with her. Unless her supervisor was about to fire her anyway (and don't hope for that, because in that case, your book is without an editor and has a squeaky-wheel author, and it's probably going to be cancelled). You MUST come across as calm, realistic, collaborative, and very regretful that you've had to bring the matter to a higher authority.

Part of being a realistic author is knowing that other authors have given you a bit of a bad name in the complaining department. When editors know an award-winning author who is bitterly offended --nay, outraged!-- that you won't publish her 3,000-word picture book biography about the guy who invented thumbtacks... well, you've got an uphill climb. Good luck.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Liar Gets a New Cover

Thank goodness.

Now everyone can go out and buy a great book by a fabulous author.

(Though if I were Bloomsbury, I would be calling the cost of rejacketing the book "marketing money", because they've gotten as much publicity as they could want. Thppt.)

Were-Tigers Have Eaten My Head

My question is, When should a writer approach licensing agents?
Last month I got a small deal from a big house for a fantasy novel about were-tigers. I think that trying to push this as a line of plush toys and baseball caps isn't a terrible idea. At least will cost nothing (to make the approach) and might spark some cross-promotional possibilities. What do I do?
1. When the writer has a fan base for his were-tigers. Until then, licensing agents are laughing up their sleeves at you. So is everyone else.

2. When the writer has sole merchandising rights, as iterated in his contract. Don't try to sell rights that belong to your publisher.

And the Minnetonka Salty Pickle Award Goes to....

I just got my publicity questionnaire from a large house, and I noticed that it doesn't ask questions about specialized publications that might review my book, or specialized awards that my book might be a good candidate for. ("Specialized" meaning specifically related to the topic of the book, as opposed to standard children's lit stuff.) Will they be offended if I share this information? How do I find out if they are willing to follow up on it? Should I give the same info to my editor?
Also, is it normal that the publicity contact would not want to give the author a list of the reviewers who have been sent advance copies?
Ah, awards. It seems like there are more and more out there.
I was recently asked by one of my authors to submit her book to an "award" that, upon investigation, we found to cost $200 to enter and which runs out of some RenFair in West Virginia.

That answer was no.

So your answer is: maybe. There are smaller, more specialized awards out there that we wouldn't mind submitting to (the Giverny, for instance). But it depends a great deal on:

1. How much does it cost to put a book in the running? The Newbery, for instance? $0.00. We just send books to the committee.
Some legitimate awards have entrance fees, but an entrance fee does and should always make me think twice.

2. How many people will hear about the winners of the award? Some "award" winners will be noticed only by the 212 other people who submitted a book for one of the 16 different "awards" certain charlatans are giving out. And when the entrants have each paid $200 to enter, I'm guessing the award's organizer is awarding himself a Bahamas vacation.
I also don't care if a small but earnest group of Rocky Mountain hicks wants to give an award. Know who awards mean the most to? Teachers and librarians. Will they hear about the award?

3. How good will such an award sound if we put it on the book jacket or in the marketing materials? "The Podunk Vermont Award for Excellent Depiction of a Bovine" is not something we want to publicize. "The Willa Award for Women Writing the West" sounds a hell of a lot more like something you'd buy, doesn't it?

So no, they won't be offended, but do phrase your email to them in a way that says you're not trying to tell them how to do their jobs. Something along the lines of "Here are some awards you might want to consider entering my book for. Would you let me know which, if any, you decide to pursue? Thanks much, your author." It doesn't hurt to copy your editor on that correspondence.

It's normal that Publicity wouldn't want to give names of reviewers, yes. But which publications they sent review copies to isn't any secret. They're very, very busy, though. If you just haven't heard from them, in my experience it's because they've sent the book to everybody who counts and they don't understand why you can't just wait to see who does or doesn't review your book.

(I know, the waiting is terrible. Authors and the waiting are a bad combination. Keep yourself busy however you can.)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

In Which I Form an "Opinion"

If your publishing house acquired a debut novelist with radically ambitious marketing ideas (eg: corporate-sponsored book tour; alternate reality game played by fans in real time around the country; basically, any idea that hasn’t yet been proven effective for the book):
1. How likely would you support those efforts?
You pretty much answered your question with "hasn't yet been proven effective".
You must understand that every debut novelist and writer of any sort has a catalog of ideas about what might be done to promote their special book.

Ideas that may indeed be
  • original
  • daring
  • innovative
Ideas that are also almost certainly
  • based on a fundamental lack of experience in selling books
  • moderately or massively expensive, in cash and staff involvement
It can be easy to think that the equation should be as simple as "I have ideas, publishers have money". Doesn't your publisher want to invest in your book?

Yes, your publisher does. But not in any way that might prove a complete waste of money, because people get fired over stuff like that.

Why in god's name would they invest in a tactic they have no reason to think would succeed, when they have other tactics they could spend that very same money on (please note: the only money they have to spend on that book) that will quite likely succeed?
2. If you found the ideas sound and would pledge support, what form of support would likely be offered (contacts/mailing lists, media training, money…)?
Ok, so let's assume you've somehow given the publisher a reason to think a particular tactic would succeed (outside of "it would be so cool" or "it totally worked on my neighbors"). What support would be forthcoming would depend entirely on the idea and how sound we'd found it.
3. If you would deny support to any ideas outside of those previously tested and proven (eg: book review copies, press materials, author page on house website), on what would you base this opinion?
On what would I base my opinion about "previously tested and proven" tactics?!

Wait, wait, back up. "Opinion"?!?

All right, maybe I've misunderstood the question. I am taking a deep breath.
I don't feel I can really help you understand marketing decisions any more than to say that we do need a reason to think a marketing tactic or strategy would work. Not a guess, not a theory, not an opinion. The tactics we use don't always work the way we'd hoped, but at least we were basing them on previous experience, facts, studies, and a realistic understanding of how the book business works. If you can bring some or all of those things to the discussion of radical new tactics, we'll listen.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Yes, We Have No Editors Today

I just came back from the ALA conference and I'm still as confused as ever as to who does what and who talks to who in the world of publishing. I assume that most of the publishing people I see at an event like that are marketing people, but I remember meeting an editor from a small (but quite well-known) children's press who, when learning I was a librarian, said "maybe I'll see you at ALA." To what extent, then, do editors wear different hats and might I see them pop up at these events sometimes? Also, where does an event like ALA rank on your radar screen as far as reaching possible buyers?
Certainly Marketing and Publicity are regular attendees at events like ALA and BEA. Those events are also lousy with editors and other publishing professionals. Both events rank high for us-- they are usually our best chances to connect with the librarian and bookseller communities.

Getting a chance to talk to committed booksellers and librarians--who are or may become movers and shakers in their respective areas-- is of tremendous help to editors, if we can manage a conversation amid the bustle.

Keep in mind that we are continually avoiding twits who think they'll submit a manuscript or pitch a project to us in person, regardless of our submission guidelines. So don't be surprised if editors don't have a badge on or "accidentally" have their badges flipped. If someone we don't know shows up and asks if there's 'an editor' in the booth, we will scan the booth carefully before lying our asses off.