Sunday, January 3, 2010

Publishing Myths: Cover Photos and Pornography

We had some fantastic contenders in the contest, but in the end, one in particular stood out for its exemplary combination of absurdity and near plausibility. Its straight-faced reporting put it over the top.

The Mormon Mafia myth is a great one. Thanks again to the original questioner for the terrific start to our contest, and for all those who helped to bolster that particular myth in the comments. I see a bright (or should I say murky?) future for this urban legend. In fact, the number of Mormons who found their way here to comment could be taken as further proof that Mormons are overrunning children's publishing. But shh. That's a myth.

Winner for best myth:
Many people don't realize that, after the publication of the 1986 Meese Report on pornography, and following its recommendations, the U.S. Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, ruled that it was illegal to publish photographs of minors on the covers of books. It was a side ruling of a challenge brought against Sarah, Plain and Tall. Though the initial suit failed to bar the book from Louisiana public schools on account of its allegedly promoting white slavery and mail order brides, the wide-ranging discussion among the justices did lead to a determination that photographs of actual children on the covers of books that deal with mature subject matter could constitute a form of obscenity, under a strict construction of the statutes. This is why, to this day, almost no YA or MG novels include full-face photographs of minors. The back-of-the-head or from-the-eyes-up photos common on today's novels reflect a careful compromise by art directors to avoid any potential legal challenges.

Honorable Mention:
You need to use a "magic word" in your cover letter or your manuscript will NOT get read. It's OK to work it into the text or just add it at the bottom like a salutation, but it had BETTER be there.

Why? Because editors (and increasingly, agents) scan the cover letters using computer software to help filter out the amateurish stuff. They know anyone who's put a serious effort into attaining a level of professionalism and deserve a serious read will have learned the "magic word" (which is really a three-word phrase) at a conference or a workshop or by corresponding with published authors.

Using the phrase doesn't guarantee publication or representation, but in most cases with publishers and maybe fifty percent of agents, especially the bigger agencies, without it, your manuscript won't even get read. You'll just get that form rejection, if you even get that. If you do use the word you'll always get a personal letter, even if it's a rejection.

I myself used it by dumb luck in my plot synopsis, before I even knew about it. By the time my agent found out, it was too late--papers were already signed.

It's not really that secret any more -- just google "editors shibbolleth" and it'll come up on some blogs, although it tends to get disappeared as quickly as it appears, whenever I do a search I see the right answer somewhere on the first page. I would just tell you what it is, but I'm sure EdAnon as an editor would not appreciate it. However I've noticed she often includes parts of the phrase in the "Captcha" word verification for leaving comments, which always makes me smile.

Thanks to Matt and Kurtis, and to everyone for playing!


Kurtis said...

It is indeed an honor to be mentioned. Fun contest, thanks for hosting! And excellent mythmaking, Matt. I particularly love the specificity of it.

P.S. the three word phrase is "next Harry Potter."

Merry Monteleone said...

These are great! Thanks for the fun over the break, EA - it was a ball to read all the amusing new myths.

Anonymous said...

Huzzah! It was a great contest and these are deserving winners (in fact, while reading Kurtis's, I had to keep reminding myself that I was reading an entry in a myth contest).

Elizabeth said...

Hilare. The winner is almost plausible, and that is just really sad.

Chris Eldin said...

THis was a lot of fun! Thanks for the jocularity!!!

Yat-Yee said...

So much fun. Thanks, Matt and Kurtis all you crazy, creative people.

Emerging Writer said...

Thanks for posting these. The magic word/phrase made me laugh out loud

Christine Tripp said...

It was a lot of fun checking in and reading everyone's excellent Myth's, thanks to all for the laughs over the loooooong holiday.

ae said...

Very fun! Congrats to the winners... and the players for being so nuttily inspiring. A nice way to start the decade and work week.

Deirdre Mundy said...

OK--- new challenge-- lets see if anyone can get a book banned from their YA section as 'porn' because it violates this myth! :)

(Try to pick a really innocuous one, so everyone will be confused when it shows up on the banned book list! Sure, banning books is bad and all, but the author will get a sales boost!)

Actually, do authors ever PURPOSELY include elements in their books as an attempt to get them banned? I mean, one borderline scene could get you ACRES of free publicity.......

hart said...

That second myth is so plausible, I found myself rushing to the end to see what the magic words were.--Hart

(are you sure you won't share that phrase?)

Christine Tripp said...

Deirdre, not sure this will count (as I think the Novel was MG) but you can get a porn classification (and start the banning rolling) by using the correct term for a dogs bits and pieces:)

Deirdre Mundy said...

ooh! That's right! I'd forgotten about 'The Higher Power of Lucky!'


I am totally going to sit down and write something bannable, right now! :) I can even mention it in my cover letter, so the publisher will know the book's sure to be profitable. They'll be so swept away buy the potential $$$$ I won't even have to revise! Or even spellcheck!!!!!!!!

WV: remons- rancid lemons? Or reggae demons?

Christine Tripp said...

Excellent strategy Deirdre:_
Or... if you feel so inclined, a pic book can also get a ban/semi porn buzz going, and after all, a pic book can be knocked off in a week (to keep the myth's going)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Christine-- ACTUALLY, since everyone knows that PBs don't have to be original (because kids are too young to recognize blatent rip-offs) I'll just write

"Cousin Robert's Wedding" and make it about two male Penguins who are raising a child together and so decide to get married!!!!! The Penguin theme will be SO popular that Berkeley Breathed will volunteer to illustrate it for me, and I can ride to fame on "Mars needs Moms"'s success.

Dude... I am so brilliant, I bet EA will contact me and go-unanonymous to sign me, even though she hasn't read the book yet! I'd better go get a makeover so I'm ready for the jacket pic!

After all, Penguins are the new squirrels!!! ;)

WV: entjac--- a violent crime which occurs in the forests of Middleearth. Of course, the ents aren't very good for a hasty getaway......

Christine Tripp said...

um.... sorry Deirdre, the penguins have been done already:)

Lissa said...

"The back-of-the-head or from-the-eyes-up photos common on today's novels reflect a careful compromise by art directors to avoid any potential legal challenges."

This made me laugh so hard.


Anonymous said...

Wow, that's a convincing myth! I landed here via search, and skipped directly to the book covers myth without reading the introduction. Had to read it a second time to realize I'd nearly been taken in.

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