Saturday, January 30, 2010

Your Wish Is My Command

For Nancy, who asked for more kittens on this blog:
more kittens.

and for Michael, who asked for more nudity:
naked kittens.

This blog is basking in the support and interesting suggestions from the previous post.
Particularly interesting is a couple suggestions that I might try blogging while drunk (with alcohol, one supposes, rather than the drunk-with-righteous-indignation that you're all quite used to by now). Since the line between drunk and asleep is almost non-existent for me, that's less likely to happen. I shall, however, take those suggestions as meaning the writers wouldn't mind having a drink with me. The feeling is mutual.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Remastered! in 3D! with 30% More Pointed Advice!

Can you believe this blog turns three years old in February? In blog years, that's what-- like, 50?

And as much as this blog would like to be a bouncy young thing, it's actually hugging its hot water bottle and trying to shake a touch of the winter blues.

So it's time for some reader feedback.

What would you like to see on this blog in year 4?
What do you like about the way this blog comports itself already, and what elements would be welcome additions to its repertoire?

Remember, reader participation is to blogs as sunshine and vitamins are to people. And this blog is really looking forward to springtime.

This blog promises to consider all suggestions, right after its nap.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How to Complain About Your Publisher in Public

In terms of freedom of speech, which I support in every form: complain any way you want.

In terms of smart career advice and behaving like a professional: DON'T.

In the many comments about the Magic Under Glass cover, a few people have wondered about the author's relative quiet. It seems there are two very different questions, though:

Some people seem to be asking "Why wasn't the author the very first to object publicly to the cover?"

When you, as an author, form a professional business relationship with a publisher (ie, contracts, signatures, money changing hands), the publisher expects you to act professionally. What that means is that in most cases, you should take a 'no comment' approach to the publisher's mistakes, in the same way that the publisher will take a 'no comment' approach to your mistakes, if you make any.

If a newspaper article runs about the time you accidentally showed up at your job clothed only in tequila, your publisher will not be happy. But to the public, its response will be 'no comment'. You are its business partner, and short of canceling your contract, that's not going to change. So your publisher realizes that if it became one of the people publicly objecting to your behavior, that would not help the situation. At all.

And the same goes in reverse. I would say that the only time it would be smart to publicly distance yourself from your publisher is when/if it has done something that will cause continuing public outrage and bad feeling even after it makes an attempt to mitigate its mistake. You may have noticed that much of the outrage and consternation about the cover is dying down now that Bloomsbury has capitulated. This was not one of those times.

So while I, like you, am curious what the author's personal feelings about all this are, I don't feel she should have felt any pressure to share them with the world.

If your publisher does something so outrageously offensive or stupid that other publishers (the other publishers you would be going to if your current publisher relationship soured) want to distance themselves from it publicly, then THAT is your invitation to excoriate your publisher on your blog and twitter and to burn them in effigy on your front lawn. Not before.

And you should take comfort in knowing that unless you decide to start habitually showing up for school visits clothed only in tequila, your publisher will let you deal with your mistakes your way.

But some seem to be asking, "If the author has no problem with her cover (if in fact that's so, and she's not just being discrete), what gives other people the right to find it objectionable / racist?"

Excuse me? The author is not the arbiter of what cover matches her text when there is an obvious contradiction. No one, absolutely no one, would describe the model on the cover as "dark-skinned", which is how the author described her main character.

One of the problems we have with racism today is that a fair number of people think that racism can only be deliberate. As in, it doesn't matter if something you say or do is racist. If you didn't mean it to be racist, then it's not.
For the record, and I hope we're all really listening: THAT IS INCORRECT.

And also for the record: those of us who objected to the cover were not objecting on the author's behalf. We were objecting on the readers' behalf. And especially on the minority readers' behalf, because some of us understand how excruciating and demoralizing it is to children to be made to feel that they are the wrong color. This is a question completely outside of the author's participation or non-participation. No matter who approved or disapproved that cover, no matter what was meant or not meant, that cover on this book was wrong.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

New Year, New Season, Same Old WTF

Dear Bloomsbury,

I don't understand you. Considering the quality of your fiction and the covers on your books, I have to guess you have great editors and great designers.

You certainly have great authors. So why do you keep doing this to them?

The main character of this book is described as far-eastern, and dark skinned. She is a "trouser girl" in this alternate Victorian England. Reading the book, I assumed that was a reference to traditional Thai styles of dress.

Here's the cover.
Bloomsbury, something is wrong in your house. Something that makes you think your Caucasian readers (and no argument, they're the majority) wouldn't be interested in reading about anyone of another color. And something that makes you feel it's ok to make your minority readers feel marginalized; to make them feel that whatever they look like, they ought to be white.

Now, I realize that very likely this cover may have been finished and paid for (and a good cover shoot costs a LOT, I sympathize) even before the Liar kerfuffle. Which would mean that it was before you had that shining opportunity to learn something. Which would also mean that you had more than 6 months to fix this.

This writer is talented, and she's innocent. But I don't know how to support her without also supporting you, Bloomsbury. As writers become more aware and wary of you, though, they are going to start realizing that as talented as you are, you're quite a long way from innocent.

Editorial Anonymous

New Books

Well, old and new. But time for some new colors!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Definitions for the Perplexed: "Issue" Books

If you write a book to help parents and kids deal with something everyone experiences (like bedtime), not everyone who experiences that thing will buy your book. This is obvious, right? Some of them will buy your book. Not all of them.

Good. So the next thing to realize is that if you write a book to help parents and kids deal with something only a few people experience (like the death of a loved one, or synesthesia, or satanic ritual abuse), not everyone who experiences that thing will buy your book. Some of them will buy your book. Not all of them.

This is what publishers call an "issue" book: a book for a particular situation/problem in readers' lives-- one which does not affect all people.

Because the audience for such books is narrowed by the number of people who are affected, and further narrowed by the fact that not all of those people will buy the book, "issue" books have very limited sales potential, and thus very limited appeal for publishers.

You may feel you are doing a public service in writing a picture book about little Samantha's ageusia. You may be frustrated by the unjust lack of books your child's kindergarten teacher can use to explain to the other children that when Timmy beats up on them, it's really a just another of the ways God makes us all special and different.

But publishers have warehousing costs, in addition to many kinds of overhead. They are in the business of providing only those public services that serve more than a tiny fraction of the public, and only those services the public will pay for.

Thanks to Mary O'Dea for the link!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Announcing... Children's Book Publishing 101: the Online Course!

Children's Book Publishing 101

Ever wonder how a children's book gets published? Bank Street College Children's Librarian Lisa Von Drasek will tell you in this exciting overview of children's book publishing. What does an editor do? Do I need an agent? Is there a market for my idea? How do I submit my manuscript? What is a book proposal? What is the deal with self-publishing? We will follow the process of children's book publishing from manuscript to bound book in the bookstore.
Please note: This course is an introduction only. Manuscripts will not be reviewed.

Prior to earning her MLS, Lisa Von Drasek was a children's book buyer and worked at publishing houses in Sales and Marketing. In addition her work as the Bank Street College Children's Librarian, she has been a children's book reviewer contributing to Kirkus Reviews, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Barnes and Noble Review, Nick Jr., and The Bark. Her essays have appeared in Knowledge Quest, Library Journal, Teaching K-8 and Library Sparks. She blogs at EarlyWord Kids. Ms. Von Drasek earned an MLIS from Pratt Institute, and her BS from Skidmore College.

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!

Publishing Myths: General Guidelines and Good Advice

Winner for best cloud-sourced myth(s):

It don't mater how bad you're speling or grammer is, or how illegibly formatted your submission. As long as you have an idea that's the new Harry Potter or DaVinci Code, publishers will send your book to a ghost writer to be written, slap a celebrity's name on it as "author", and give you all the money. Or none of the money.

Alternatively: it doesn't matter how unsalable your idea is if your writing is limpidly beautiful and lyrically whatever. It's only about Art. Who cares how many books we can sell?

Alternatively again: it doesn't matter how beautiful your writing is, because it's only about money. Publishers are actively rejecting most slush manuscripts as "too good" and only publishing cliche-ridden drivel because that's the only thing that sells.

Only the young and vivacious get published. Publishing isn't just a popularity contest in terms of your manuscript, we're also looking ahead to the interviews you'll have to do in a bikini. So wax now.

You must get rejected 26 times. L'Engle, Seuss, Grisham, Karen Jay Fowler... all the best writers have been rejected exactly 26 times. (No doubt this number is because of some secret cabal in publishing.) If you get a 27th rejection, though, it means you're crap.

Once you are published, it's easy-peasy to get all your friends, family members, and crit group partners published, too. Once you're in the secret club, you can recommend up to 26 new members per month. (No, of course your editor won't mind the influx of recommended manuscripts--she's doesn't have to read them, just put them on the secret order's altar and read the secret fortunetelling bones over them.)

Moreover, this is really the only way to be published, since publishing houses go to any lengths to avoid reading submissions. This includes giving false addresses (ha, Candlewick is located in "Boston"! Honestly, who would fall for that?) and simply moving away from old buildings once they become heavily impacted with piles of slush.

Finally, if you earn out your advance and make your publisher glad they worked with you, you clearly didn't get paid enough. Fire your agent, so that at least someone will have learned their lesson.

Thanks to Sam, Chris, Merry, Tricia, Literaticat, Carol, Michael, Vonna, Hope, and A.L.!

P.S.: Anonymous, the secret society of bloggers (led by Nathan Bransford and Literaticat) is factual. This was a MYTHS contest.