Monday, October 26, 2009

Once More With Feeling

What exactly does "not immediate" mean?
I'm guessing you got that in a rejection letter. I would take it as meaning the editor wasn't feeling your manuscript in some important way-- whether it was not feeling the tension or not feeling a connection to the main character (or maybe something else). One way or another, you weren't convincing this particular reader that there was something meaningful at stake in your story.

Always bearing in mind that this editor may not be representative of your true readership, I would take this as a chance to ask yourself if in fact you are feeling the high stakes of the story you've written, or if you've only put the stakes into the plot without putting them into the telling.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Second Chance, or a Chance to Make the Same Mistake Twice?

Speaking of republishing books from a couple of posts ago, how often does that happen in your business? For example, I searched for a long time for a "no longer published" children's book, The Green Machine by Polly Cameron, and I always found super expensive copies for sale. It seemed that people were always searching it out and willing to pay big bucks. My 3 kids love it (obviously that's hardly enough for a reprint), but at what point does someone figure out to put it back into the rotation? Would the author, if they were still alive, have to put it through the query system again? Or does the publisher own it? This applies to any reprint of a currently out of print book. I'm tempted to check a copy out from our library and "lose it." Only tempted, don't report me.
This does not happen a great deal. There have been some recent reissues, notably from New York Review of Books, but they are almost entirely books that were originally published more than 50 years ago. I see a number of submissions from authors whose books went out of print in the 1980s or 90s, and that's too soon.

Listen, I know that there are some honest-to-goodness great books that are out of print--even books that went out of print within a couple years of publication!--and here's what you have to know: that happens all the time.

It's a fact of publishing. No matter how great the text, the art, the cover, the title, etc, sometimes a book just doesn't speak strongly enough to enough people to survive in the marketplace. If you and I and a couple hundred other people recognize its sterling qualities, that's simply not enough people. (Of course, once books go digital, everything will be able to be in print forever. I'm looking forward to that element of digital books.)

Publishers, reviewers, and booksellers know that however wonderful a book may be, almost all books that go out of print do it for a good reason: they can't sell enough copies.

For this reason, publishers are highly unlikely to republish something that's gone out of print within booksellers' and reviewers' (long) memories. The reissue won't get review attention and won't get bookseller support.

In terms of the rights, the author may have the rights back, if their contract has the standard out-of-print language and they have remembered to request the rights be reverted to them. If the author has not, then the publisher may still have the rights.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does My Manuscript Need to Be Illustrated? FOR THE LAST TIME: NO

Hi, I was reading your blog about basic picture book contruction - which I understand and find very helpful in sharing with writers who want me to illustrate their books. What I am wondering is, if they ask me to prepare their layouts with their text so that they can shop them to editors/publishers, do I lay their books out so that pages 2 and 3 are on the same layout or so that pages 2 and 31 are on the same sheet? Thanks so much for your time and any assistance you can provide!
The answer you asked for: 2 and 3 are on the same spread.

The answer you didn't ask for: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?! Publishers do not want to receive manuscripts that are already illustrated. Publishers want to choose the illustrator themselves.

I have made peace with the fact that you cannot stop some authors from thinking they are artists and can illustrate their own work.
But you can stop authors who think their work needs to be illustrated by someone else before they submit it.
Publishers do not want to receive manuscripts that are already illustrated.

You are either ignorant of this fact (and possibly doing this work on spec, in which case: get yourself out of that situation ASAP!), or you're taking advantage of ignorant authors when you take their money for doing something that will not help their manuscript get published and more likely will hurt its chances. Whichever it is, STOP.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Way Too Much Information

I've just gotten back from another horribly awkward author event.

I should start by saying that most of the times I've heard authors give talks, it's been fine-- sometimes even legitimately entertaining (or in Shannon Hale's case, peeing-your-pants hilarious).

But as should not be a surprise, I've attended a lot of author presentations over the years, and sometimes it's hard not to leave them wondering just what is wrong with certain people.

Over-sharing seems to be a trait slightly more common among authors than other groups, and if you want to be a really good, professional author who never makes his/her editor want to crawl into a hole in the ground for letting you out in public, please, be aware of the danger.

Today, a list of questions to ask yourself before you say things in front of an audience:

1. Is it something you might reasonably share with a therapist?
Then it is not appropriate for the public. The public is not your therapist. Remember that.
2. Is it something you found out or experienced while wearing a hospital gown?
There's a reason for doctor confidentiality. That's right, it's for OUR benefit, not yours.
3. Is it something that might nauseate people who have just taken a bite of something squishy?
If it's not fit for dinner-table conversation, it's not fit for public speaking. Yes, even if there's no eating going on. Please try to remember that many of the people you speak to will have very strong imaginations. Don't make us regret that.
4. Does it concern parts of your body that are, in all public situations, covered by clothes?
EW, EW, EW, EW, EW. See above re: imagination.
5. Is it something that could be reason for your arrest if a policeman were present?
You are making us ACCOMPLICES, you CRAZY DIPSHIT.
6. Does it concern something you only ever (or only should ever) do in the bathroom?
MOTHER OF GOD, why do I have to point this out?!

This public service announcement has been brought to you by People for the Ethical Treatment of Audiences. If I never have to hear about another author's bitter family baggage, inappropriate hair issues, gory surgery details, unusual lingerie choices, or interstate crimes, I will be a happy, happy person.

Contracts and Excuses

I received a phone call mid-July from an editor who wants to buy one of my PB stories. We are now mid-October and the contract hasn't come through yet. I've sent her a couple gentle e-nudges and her reply has basically been: "Your contract is the next one on my list." She seems excited about this project but I'm left wondering what the delay is about. Being a larger publisher, could it be she's just swamped with work and I need to keep being patient? Is this three-month interim a warning signal that all is not well with the fate of my next PB? Or might they still be hammering out details like who the illustrator will be (as I suggested someone who was different than their initial plan)? What should my next step be?
It's always possible that she's swamped with work-- more than that, the only editors these days who are not swamped are the ones who are out of work. However, this is not absolutely an excuse.

I attempt to get my contracts requested within the same week of finalizing a deal, because otherwise I will completely forget to do so. But there are a lot of different workstyles in the industry, so who knows? Maybe it's right there on her to-do list and not in danger of being forgotten.

However. Three months is about as long as I would wait for an editor to start work on a contract, because once it goes to the legal department, it can take another month or three to arrive on your doorstep in signable form. It is unreasonable to expect authors to wait that long for their on-signing payment. Six months with no money? Meanwhile the editor is drawing a monthly paycheck.

You should be in touch with her and say in the most positive tones how much you appreciate her enthusiasm for the project, and how much you have been looking forward to working with her, but that if she truly hasn't the time to offer this project or the house itself hasn't enough enthusiasm, then you really feel you should find the manuscript another home. Always, always project the impression that you can sell something elsewhere. Even if you're sure you can't. If you let an editor know that her house is the last chance for your manuscript, you're inviting the editor to wonder if she's made a mistake and really no one is going to want this book.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Innovative and Different (from the couple dozen children's books I've read)! Wildly Popular (with the neighbor kids)!

I have recently published a new children's book format I call Coloromics. A coloring and comic book format published as one book. Since the release of the Coloromic Books the featured cartoon characters have generated a great deal of readership popularity amongst kids. A week ago a professional critic's review was featured in a national comics and kid's entertainment magazine and my book received a 3 star rating. The review stated that my written words displayed a subtle wit and that my artwork brings charm to the pages. The story is simple but can be read over and over again. The story is fun and entertaining and evokes memories of characters such as Bugs Bunny confronting Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam and ultimately getting the upper hand over his protagonists. What would be the best course of action in regards to submitting an already popular book published in one format in the hopes of publishing the same storyline and illustrations inside a children's picture book? The existing Coloromic Book consists of 32 pages with covers. The critic's words appear to describe exactly what one would hope for regarding a children's picture book review. Do publisher's accept content that may already be available in another format for kids? Should I send a manuscript with the illustrations or just submit the published book and attach the critic's magazine review?
Some pertinent facts:
  • The comic book industry is kind of a separate thing, and the opinions of a critic in that industry will hold little weight with a children's book editor.
  • Comics that are black and white and meant to be colored are, while not common, not groundbreaking either.
  • The industry is having an extreme doodle-activity-book moment, but do not confuse that popularity with the less exciting activity of coloring in someone else's art.
Do not send a publisher your previously published (or was it self published?) book. If it was published, then did you not sell the publication rights to the publisher? If so, they belong to the publisher now, fyi.

But let's say the rights are in your possession. If you think there is an opportunity for reuse of the material in a NEW format, then you need to be very clear with the people you are submitting to WHAT that new format would be. That's the thing to bring across, and sending them a copy of the OLD format will do exactly the opposite. (Do, of course, be clear with them about the other edition of the material that's on the market.)

Also, what's "a great deal of readership popularity"? In numbers, I mean. 100? 200?
Numbers that low are not "a great deal". Include actual sales figures so that the editor knows just what you're talking about, or she'll assume you're exaggerating like crazy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Not to Wear or Mention in a Query Letter

I have written a YA book that I'm about to pitch to agents. Here's my dilemma. I have enjoyed a very small degree of celebrity as a participant on the TLC's very popular WHAT NOT TO WEAR, and my episode has been a popular, often-aired one for almost two years. (It has tended to be aired on significant Fridays like Easter, the Presidential election night, and New Years).
It doesn't matter; no one knows your name well enough to recognize it on a book.
I have been hemming and hawing about whether to include this factoid in my query letter to agents.
No. Tell the agent you sign with after you sign. She'll be amused by this bit of trivia.
I figure that the thought may cross agents minds that teenage and adult women who watch WNTW (there are a lot of them, and this is basically the demographic of my target audience) may be slightly biased towards buying my book, should it be published. I've read a lot of blog posts discussing the importance of self-promotion and having an established fan base in a market in which authors are expected to bear this burden to a great extent.
I don't know which episode you're referring to, but I can't think of an episode of that show that hinged on the promotability of the victim. Kind of the opposite, you know? Most of them are about how much help the victims need?
You may indeed be a very promotable person, but I don't think this brush with fame is much of a stepping stone. (Of course the agents who read this blog are welcome to express differing opinions, if there are any.)
All media time helps, right? Should I keep this biographical detail out of my query? Let it be stated that this book has nothing to do with makeovers, fashion, or anything of the sort. Thanks! I'd be laughing now, if I were you. :)
Good luck with your search!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stupid Thermometer! Stop Being Sick!

An author speaks out at The Rejectionist: here

This post has some good points, so please take this as a very mild rebuttal:

point 1. The Kindle Will Not Save You
We know this. At least, those of us who actually use the interwebs to listen to music and watch TV and stuff like that-- we know it. Very soon people will be paying very little or nothing for the books they read.
Nothing is a problem, obviously. One of these days, America is going to have to get over its cultural idea that stuff should be dirt cheap as a norm (and ideally free). Because when it comes to basics that are not as wildly overpriced as Jimmy Choos-- for instance food, and books-- you get what you value. The more you go to Amazon rather than your local bookstore, the less likely you'll have a local bookstore. The more you buy cheap processed food, the less likely you'll have good food to choose from.
YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on.

point 2. Stop Giving James Frey Money
Yeah, I totally agree. But to everyone not in the publishing industry: stop buying James Frey's books! If hundreds of thousands of people weren't willing to pay for that shit, publishing would not publish it.
YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on.

point 3. You Need to Spend Money to Make Money
Speaking as one of the direly underpaid, I say: huzzah!
But (ahem), weren't you the person just a paragraph or two earlier who was reminding us that we will shortly have no money to pay anyone?
Did I lose the thread of your logic? Or did you?

I agree that publishing is in some ways stupid and screwed up. Some of those ways are publishing's own fault. But some of those ways are not publishing's fault. I would sincerely appreciate it if people of all kinds would stop feeling that publishing shouldn't care how screwed up the tastes and buying habits of the consumer are and just publish good stuff-- of course we care! Consumers write our paychecks!
The market has a sickness, it's true. But before we can do anything about it, you've got to stop blaming the thermometer for the fever.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Driver Who Gets the Car Stuck in a Ditch Does Not Get to Ask Me if I Enjoyed the "Trip"

I recently re-read The Little House in the Big Woods. I love Laura as a character, but I was struck by how plotless the book is. It has a structure--that of the year. And it has a sort of Robinson Crusoe charm, as we learn how to do everything from skinning a pig to making maple sugar. But what about plot? How important is plot in a book for grade-school age children?
A plot is a good idea.
Is it possible to create a charming and readable book without a plot? Yes, if you're talented enough. Is it possible to create a charming and readable book without a plot and in which practically nothing happens? Ditto.


a. Let's remember that we're talking about Advanced Writing here, so please please PLEASE do not assume you can write your very first book without a plot or occurrences of any kind. Probably not your second, either. And maybe none of them.

If you construct a car, people are going to expect to see it go someplace. If you create one of the most fascinating and beautiful cars ever, then maybe people won't mind if you don't create it with an engine and they can only watch it sitting there for 300 pages.

b. When you decide to think about other books in comparison to the book you are trying to sell DON'T COMPARE IT TO BOOKS THAT WERE PUBLISHED MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS AGO PLEASE YOU ARE KILLING ME. Such decades-old books are still selling partially because of their writing... and partially because they're old and "classic" and adults (aka 'people with money to spend') remember them fondly from their own childhoods. Not because people would necessarily choose them over new books if those classics were new themselves.*

*please note I have nothing against the Little House books and reader outrage and/or allegations of slander are unnecessary. Certain other "classics", however...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reissuing a Classic... or Not

I had cause yesterday to recall a favorite book of mine as a child, and wondered if you were familiar with it. I was delighted to find the entire book was available (free) online, and was actually a creation of the same person responsible for "Little Black Sambo". I wonder what chance this classic tale might have in today's marketplace?
I'm just one person with one opinion, so please take this as such: Not a chance in hell.

A story meant to scare children away from open fires? In which the little girl's head is burnt off. And then her head is replaced with a kettle. And then the kettle is replaced with a doll's head, through the timely intervention of Santa Claus. And then she lives happily ever after (though thereafter terrified by open fires, and probably in need of a lot of expensive therapy)?

I think that to most of today's consumers this story will seem one or more of the following:
  • pointless
  • terrifying
  • inexplicable
  • unnerving
  • draconian
  • batshit crazy
However, this is an opportunity to remember that children are not nearly as easy to horrify as many parents are.

And to remember that the stories adults are likely to think of as pointlessly wacky because the stories are so far out of our cultural norm are fascinating to children for the very same reason. Children know it when they're looking at a story that's different from others, and children are hard at work every day trying to figure out what rules and ideas the world is made of. They naturally know that the exceptions define the edges of the rules, so everything that's markedly different is a possible key to the shape of the world.

And, to return to your question, as with Little Black Sambo (which I am likewise not a fan of), if there are enough people who remember this story fondly from their childhoods, then it could perhaps be republished. Who knows?

An Offer Is In, and the Clock Starts Ticking

A few months ago, I subbed a PB manuscript to a half dozen publishers. An assistant editor at one of the publishers contacted me to let me know they may be interested (she's passing it up to the to the head honcho). It's a very small, but reputable, house. With some luck, I'll get an offer from them. I imagine that if I had an agent, at that point he or she would contact the other publishers where the manuscript was subbed to give them a chance to offer or pass. Would it be ok for me, an unagented slush pile warrior, to do it for myself?
Yes. Get in touch with them to let them know you've received an offer from X house, and you'll need a response by X date (within a week of receiving the first offer). That's all you need to say, but if you want to grease the wheels with some flattery ("I'd still love to work with your house, etc"), that's also among the things agents do.