Friday, December 25, 2009

Publishing Myths Contest!

I read with great interest about Ally Condie’s recent 7-figure deal with Dutton. It has us aspiring writers all in a kerfuffle. In online writer’s forums, the skinny is that Ms. Condie, like Stephenie Meyer, is Mormon, a graduate of BYU, and mother to three children. This has spawned speculation that the upper echelon of publishing is comprised of a “Mormon Mafia” of BYU alumni. Will my odds of getting published improve if I move to Provo, convert, and squeeze out another kid?
HA HA HAHAHGAH AHAHA HSNORTHAHA! Oh, whew. There should be a class at the gym that's just rolling around on the floor while guffawing.

That's fabulous, and a terrific kick off to our new year's contest:

Points will be awarded mostly for humor, but having some slight connection to reality or some vaguely believable "proof" will make for the strongest contenders. Ideally, I'd like to see several of these myths go on to long, anonymous lives on the internet where they will be passed from newbie to newbie like a cold in a preschool.

Entries should be posted in the comments here, by January 1st.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last Minute Miscellany

Question: Is it better to be published by a small independent (real) publisher with little to no physical distribution (POD/ebook) or remain unpublished, at least for the short term?
To most publishers, this is essentially the same thing. Whereas self publishing often counts against a writer (as indicative of a tenuous grasp on reality), this kind of publishing just doesn't count at all.

What makes a difference to trade publishers is activity in the marketplace. How many books are you going to sell POD or as an ebook? Anything under 500 is essentially equivalent to zero.
When it comes to an author/illustrator's dummies, should they be full-sized? I've searched for an answer online and have found several conflicting answers. Some people claim they absolutely have to be full size while others insist they just need to be big enough to be readable. As someone preparing their first complete package to send into the dreaded slush, I'd like to be as accurate as possible. I don't want something as simple as the size of my dummy derailing my chances.
There's no rule. Just don't go bigger than 8.5 x 11, or if you're doing spreads 11 x 17. Whatever size the finished book is going to be, making the dummy a size small enough to handle and large enough to read is beneficial at the submission stage.
Suppose a book has not been picked up nationally by Barnes & Noble. But then people start saying that they've seen it on the shelf at their local Barnes & Noble. What does this mean? Has the manager special ordered it, and if so, why? (Reviews? Strong indie sales? or what?)
Could be any of the above, or something else-- for instance local interest (local author or topic). Every B&N buyer has a little latitude to stock their store in a location-specific way.
What does one do after making a terminally stupid mistake with a well-known editor, which has most likely resulted in blackballing by the entire industry? Is there any way for the repentant author (and also very talented, I offer, as one of said author's readers) to redeem his- or herself? Does he or she have a chance to be read and loved by an editor, or would it be better to find some other trade...say, fishmongering?
Without knowing what sort of transgression you're talking about, I can't say. But let me refer you to How To Get Black Balled.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Tell If Your Sales Rock... or Don't

Is there an average number of copies a picture book needs to sell before it's considered a success? How about a MG or YA novel? Or can a book's success be more accurately judged by whether it has earned back its advance? Or simply sold out its first printing? Please do not infer from this question that I've spent a lot of time lately staring at my royalties statements, as book sales mean not half as much to me as the smiles of my readers blah blah blah etc.
You can think of a book's success as based on sales numbers. Certainly a book earning out its advance is something to be desired, but the advance and the print run are linked, and the print run is an idea of how many books the publisher hopes to sell in approximately a year. So the advance comes back to sales numbers, too.

Past that, though: No, there isn't an industry average for any type of book. Sales goals vary widely publisher-to-publisher and within publishers book-to-book. The thing to compare your sales to is the first print run.

1st year:
sales are 1/2 or less of the first print run: This is a disappointment to your publisher. If the book was a small investment, the attitude in the office may be "ah, c'est la vie"; if the book was a very large investment, the attitude in the office may be "whose mistake was this, dammit, and whose neck is corporate going to wring?"
sales are around 3/4 of the first print run: Publisher response may range from "that's not so good" to "hey, that's not so bad".
sales are approximately the first print run: Publisher response ranges from "nice work" to "go us!".
sales are above the first print run: Publisher response ranges from "that's great" to "OMFG! Wearegeniuses!!".

2nd year:
sales bottom out: with the exception of a few very topical books, this is not expected and not appreciated.
sales dip, but are above 1/3 of the first year's sales: that's pretty normal.
sales are close to the same as the 1st year: awesome.
sales are above the 1st year sales: holy shit! quick, how did we do that? do it again!

5th year:
book is still in print: congrats. have a bottle of champagne, because this is getting less common.

10th year:
book is still in print: congrats! have a case of champagne, and invite all your friends over.

20th year:
book is still in print: shh. stop celebrating, you'll just make the other authors bitter and envious.

(Also note that if your book's sales were not quite as high as your publisher hoped, but the book got some very positive review attention, that may still be chalked up as a "win".)

Let us remember, however, that one of your rights and privileges as someone not working in a publisher's padded cells is to distance yourself from the capricious mood swings, self-congratulation, and finger-pointing of the industry. Unless you fought your publisher through every step of the book-making process or in a fit of hubris took an advance that no book without an endorsement from God himself would ever earn back, then you can at most take a small fraction of the blame for a book's failure.

And unless the publisher is run by total jerkwads to whom panic and recrimination are as the air they breathe, your book's sales history will eventually be viewed with equanimity and perspective.

So as long as your books don't tank over and over again, things are probably just fine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quick Answers

Hello, I have been writing a novella for a few months now. I did not intend for it to be a novella (I was actually not sure what I wanted it to be when I started) but for the story I have in my head that is about the length it will end up as. Is there any publisher that takes them, or is it an unmarketable sort of book? If I decide to submit to agents, should I call it a novella or a short novel?
That is a pretty tough sell, but I don't think it matters what you call it. Tell them the word count, and they'll know what the challenge is.

I'm writing a picture book in which much of the humor will be in the illustrations. They will contain clues, visual jokes, and information key to the story but not mentioned in the text. How do I indicate that? I know it isn't my job as the writer to tell the illustrator what to draw, but the text alone is only half the story and less than half the humor.
Notes about the illustration should be confined strictly to those things that are essential in order for a reader to understand the manuscript.

I am basically wondering about the differences between photo shoots and stock photography in YA covers. Is there a way to determine which method will be used?
The book's budget.
Is one more effective than the other?
Not necessarily. Photo shoots usually get better results, but some stock photography designs are very successful.
Also, there was another author who had told me that a lot of the covers where partial features are shown (a chin or a forehead) are publishing company employees. Do you know if this is true?
It's certainly true that photo shoots are a heck of a lot less expensive if you don't also have to pay a model.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Self-Publishing and Editing Careers

I read your recent entry about self-publishing (and the links therein) with some interest. I currently work as an editor at a vanity publishing company. As far as I can tell, it's a relatively honest and professional one, but it's still a vanity publishing company. Will having this on my resume hurt my chances of eventually getting a job in the real publishing industry? It's frustrating to work with books that are accepted regardless of quality, but hey, the job market's tough right now, and this is a better use of my English degree than waitressing.
It might... I suppose it depends how you spin it. It's certainly understandable that you want to do something of the editing sort while you look for a job in trade publishing. Most people in editorial won't consider vanity publishing as actual publishing experience, though. If you stay caught up with what's on the market now and can prove that to a publisher, it may not count against you. It might be smart to come with a couple jokes about self-publishing, just to set the tone.

How many self-publishers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: The lightbulb doesn't need to change; it's just the wrong-headed publishing industry that expects lightbulbs to shed light.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Editor? What Editor?

When the SCBWI newsletter reports that an editor has moved to a new company, I consider it worth approaching that editor with a Query, etc. but first I want to research what books the editor has worked on to see if my MS falls within that person's tastes. I find it hit and miss when researching editor names on the web. Could you please recommend a source of information that tells what books specific editors have worked on?
I wish there was one. The editors at Candlewick have lists online of some of the books they've worked on, and Publisher's Lunch will tell you a few of the books most editors have worked on, but there's no official record or growing wiki. Editors mean to stay in the background, and we do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Agents Old and Agents New

I read your blog regularly, and it's been a tremendous help to me in learning about the industry. I finally received an offer of representation after months of querying, but I have a question about dealing with multiple offers. I've read a few posts on your blog that have touched on this topic, but mine has to do with young, inexperienced agents. Is it wise to go with an agent who's brand new, no clients, but comes from a very reputable agency? Or should I always go with the more experienced agent? I'm also young and new and all that, and I firmly believe in the mantra that everyone has to start somewhere. On the other hand, I want to make sure I'm giving myself the best possible chance to get published.
I would be hesitant to sign up with any new agent who wasn't with an established agency, but if your choice is between a hungry, energetic, and ambitious young agent who has an established agency to mentor him/her in the business and an experienced agent who has a record of great sales and great service to his/her authors, I'd say the choice has to come down to personality. Because either could be great for you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Self Publishing' meets 'Never Say Never'

I have self published 8 children's books. Three poetry anthologies and 5 chapter books. They have sold a total of 20,000 copies. The books are selling in and around my own city and in vacation areas that I frequent regularly. Now I would like to submit these books to a publisher. Should I divulge the sale's figures or just keep them to myself.
Yes. Let's see, 20,000 divided by 8 is 2,500. Those are certainly good numbers for self-publishing, so you may have a chance.

Don't send all 8 books in a big pile. Choose houses and editors that will be best for single titles, and send that title alone. Specify that title's sales figures. If there's serious interest, then you can mention the other ones.

Consider printing out the manuscripts on plain paper. An obviously self-published work is often a bit of a turn-off for editors, so make your submission look as normal as possible.

Get your manuscripts and cover letters proofread. (The term "sales figures" does not have an apostrophe in it. Putting an apostrophe in a plural is a pet peeve of many editors, and is a bad way to start.)

Good luck!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Subtle Art of Form Rejections

I've been struggling to get work published for a year now. Patience is not my strongest attribute, but this process has me improving radically. I feel blessed to have gotten two short stories published this year. I often ask myself, if I'd not gotten a single acceptance this year, would I have had the heart to continue trying? It is the acceptances and the rejections with personal comments that keep me going. I get those on my short stories, but not so much from my agent queries.
For my novella I have gotten fifteen some odd form rejections from literary agents. I'm not sure whether to count the one-liners ("Not for me, thanks") as form or as personal, but either way they are not helpful to me. My question is, how does an author figure out if rejections are due to: agent not interested in novellas (word count), weak query, manuscript has a weak opening, weak writing, silly premise, etc, or that the project is altogether unsellable?
"Not for me, thanks."
This rejection is usually an indication that the query was typed on the wrong kind of paper or using the wrong typeface. Possibly you put a staple in one of the forbidden zones, or, if it was an email, the agent could tell you would have put a staple in it if you could have. Resubmit without using any kind of paper, typefaces, or staples (hypothetical or otherwise). And don't use those stupid shaped paperclips; I hate them.

"Not for me, thanks"

Notice the absence of a period. This rejection, slightly abbreviated, means your word count was between 1 to 2,000 words too short. If the final 's' had been left off, it would mean your work was up to 100,000 words too short. This word shortfall should be made up mostly in adjectives and adverbs, and in changing all active verbs to passive voice. Then resubmit.

"Not for, me thanks."
Misplaced comma: This means punctuation and/or grammatical problems. The agent wants you to see a freelance editor and then resubmit. If the comma is placed between 'not' and 'for', it means the agent wants you to resubmit on perfumed paper.

"Thanks, not for me."
The transposition of clauses is a sure sign that the agent thinks you're approaching your story from the wrong POV or even the wrong sequence of events. Try rewriting your story backwards, from the point of view of the main character's toaster. Then resubmit.

"not for me thanks."
Lack of capitalization is a subtle and often-missed hint that your concept/premise is lacking in marketability, or alternatively that you have no platform. The agent wants you to revise your manuscript to include more dinosaurs, sparkles, or crime, or alternatively to commit a high-profile crime involving sparkly dinosaurs.

"Not for me, thnaks."
Word is misspelled: This rejection was typed with the agent's nose as she beat her head against her keyboard.

I know how desperately authors want to know what it is they need to fix. But no matter how you parse it, a form rejection will not tell you: the answer is not there.
Agents are under no obligation (professional, social, or otherwise) to tell you why they're saying no, and if they don't tell you, you can't use rejection ouija to figure it out.

Take a deep breath. Keep writing, reading, attending conferences, and visiting critique groups. Keep trying. And when you get a form rejection, remember that this is a sign that you should lift your shoulders and then drop them again in what is known as a 'shrug'. Then move on.