Sunday, March 28, 2010

It's As Easy As 1-2-3. Unless You're Crazy.

I am searching for information on how to submit/send a manuscript to a Publishing House(s).
I have written a whimsical,magical Children's Picture Book. I love the book and I think the query letter is ready to go!
I have the 2010 Writers Market Guide, and I can find who does and who does not accept what and when! I can't find how to physically mail the manuscript to those publishers that specify:'Send query and manuscript'.
I need some very basic info e.g. Should the manuscript be loose? Does it go in a folder, or an envelope, or an envelope inside another envelope? Where should the writer's name be written on the manuscript? Are there specific rules somewhere? Is this a secret club?
I think writing the book was the easy part! What do I need to do to accommodate editors?
I need an on-line class called: "Get Me To The Post Office with the Correct Folders, Envelopes and Stamps!"
I don't even like asking you to respond to such elementary questions. Is there a book called Envelopes and Manuscripts For Dummies?
First: Calm down.

Second: Remember that you're sending business correspondence. Look at the publishers' submission guidelines, and obey them. Past that, make what you send us simple, straightforward, easy to read, and no-frills. Interact with publishers like a fellow professional, and you won't go wrong.

The reason there seem to be a lot of "rules" out there is that we get correspondence from a hell of a lot of people who think they're sending their manuscript:

a. To people who should be flattered and grateful for the 9,574th piece of slush to arrive in the office this year (rather than feeling a much more likely ambivalence). No, they didn't send us an SASE or read our submission guidelines, but we should still be willing to spend $18 to put their oversize original art in the mail back to them. And if not we should be willing to listen to lengthy tirades in which they threaten us with legal action.

b. To the fairies. Which is why it's printed in Curlz, bound in ribbons, and shipped with a pound of loose glitter in the box.

c. To their 5th grade teacher, who was SO IMPRESSED when they turned in their report with their own "illustrations", and bound in a plastic folder. We will be impressed by plain paper, and no illustrations. There is no A for effort in publishing--what you're selling us is the writing, and any attempt to distract from that is very, very transparent.

d. To a class of kindergartners. Which is why the cover letter launches into a gooey exploration of the kinds of dreams unicorns probably have, rather than telling us directly what the manuscript is about and why you think we'd want it.

e. To god knows who. I haven't the faintest idea who people think is on the other end of submissions that include stuffed animals, baked goods, clothing, dental molds, intimate photos of themselves, q-tips, five kinds of rice, or a bunch of pressed insects.

Third: Now go to the post office.

Multiple Personalities Unite!

I'm having a writer's identity crisis. Highlights accepted and will be publishing an easy reader story of mine, an editor is considering my middle grade historical, and I've written a YA murder mystery and am presently writing a YA dystopian sci-fi. I am not so confident that I think that I can do it all. But I do love it all. Should I follow only what I've had success in? Or should I write stories that I love and embrace my split personality?
If you haven't been writing very long, then I recommend you write what you love, and write a lot of all of it.

If you have been writing for a while, then my experience is this: some writers really do write for all kinds of age groups successfully. If you're one of those, congratulations.

And other writers, having written all the genres and age groups that they love for some time, look back on that writing and realize that while they love all those genres and age groups equally, their writing has been strongest in one or two of them.

It's easy to love what you're working on now, or have recently finished. But the manuscript you're still really proud of after you've written several more can tell you something powerful about who you are as a writer. And if you figure that out, congratulations indeed.

Fear Is So Old-Fashioned, Right?

I'm curious of how the horror genre is holding up in the children's market. Is there room for another R.L. Stine, or is that era past? If not, who would be the best publisher to approach with a middle-grade horror story? Any ideas?
Is that era past? Have you not noticed the hordes of zombies currently overrunning the shelves?

Horror, like any genre, is fairly perennial. Little Brown is doing very well with its Cirque du Freak series. Simon & Schuster just got a Printz Honor for Monstrumologist. Harper could certainly be doing more with the popular Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark series, but maybe they're satisfied with those sales. Etc.

I would suggest you do some more market research, and try one of the few publishers who don't currently have a strong horror title or series on their list. And then try the rest of them.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

It's an Auction! Or Not.

You have said never to call an editor to check on the status of your query or manuscript submission. Other editors and editorial assistants have said the same thing. Just. Don't. Call. I understand this.

But what does the aspiring author do when a manuscript on multiple submission garners an offer from one publishing house? Presumably they will want to hear back within a reasonably short time frame, and yet, mailing status checks and "Just so you know, I've had an offer/serious interest from another house looking at this manuscript that I sent you a while back," letters and waiting for a response on those can take a WHILE. (Especially if you're mailing things from Canada to the US, as I am. Snail mail is not far off.)

How does one go about this without making an interested publisher wait too long, angering the other editors who might be considering her work, and calling anybody?
The question is whether you've submitted to a slush pile or not. (For clarity, I am not talking about whether you put an editor's name on the submission-- most of those end up in the slush pile, regardless.)

If you submitted to the slush pile, don't bother informing other publishers. The chances that they know where your manuscript is, much less have read it yet, are fairly infinitesimal. (Sorry. This is one of the reasons people get an agent.) Just go with the offer you've got, if it's reasonable, or if it's not, say no.

If you have submitted to an editor (i.e., because of a relationship with the editor, or because you attended a conference at which she spoke and she offered to read submissions following the conference, or some other reason), then it would be acceptable and prudent to email that editor and let her know you have interest elsewhere.

Meanwhile, let the publisher making the offer know that you just need to check in with the other people who have the manuscript, and then you'll get back to them. If you don't hear back from the other publishers within a week, you should go ahead with the offer on the table. If any of the other publishers do want to enter bidding, they should be willing to get an offer on the table in a matter of days, not weeks.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Creative Thinking and the American Publisher

I have had published an epic historical novel which has received rave reviews, enjoyed time on the best seller list and has just been nominated for New Zealand's children’s book awards (in the YA) section.
My wonderful NYC agent has been working very hard to generate interest in the US but, though it’s been out since late May 2009, there hasn’t been any takers. In a recent email he told me this:

"The reason it hasn’t hit to this point (and it’s rare that one issue comes up as often as this has, to the point that I can really look at it and say THIS is why), is because, unlike in NZ where Penguin (smartly) published it on the adult list but still pushed it to the Young Adult market, in the US the lists are very compartmentalized. If you recall, Disney (Hyperion) wouldn’t even LOOK at [it] because [main character] was over 17 when it began. And that’s the problem—it’s a YA book with characters older than the American YA market typically deals with. Now, mind you, they are behaving like teenagers, and this is a totally marvellous coming-of-age story. He just happens to be 21 instead of a teenager. And that shouldn’t matter, but it clearly does."

My question to you is this: wouldn’t an editor look very hard at a submission of a book (by an agent for an established author*) which has ALREADY been edited and polished with all the work done, is a best seller, has had and continues to have rave reviews and has been nominated for a national book award? My agent also made the comment that more submissions go to children’s editors than the adult section and that there are more submissions than editors which is why it takes a long time. I’d be interested in your thoughts about the ‘compartments’ comment.
Well, it's tricky. It sounds as though you've written a very good book. But you've also put your characters in an age demographic that buys very, very few novels-- they're mostly buying textbooks and using the college library.

Still, it sounds like a question of the correct marketing to me. Penguin NZ may have had the right idea-- something like this might be better aimed at adults with the hope that it will cross down to teens (perhaps with the help of the Alex Awards). So maybe it's about finding the right adult publisher who sees how to aim it at both markets. Or maybe it's about finding the right children's publisher that has some guts and wants to take a chance on this.

Either way, though, this book is going to call for some creative thinking at its publisher. Good luck!

Quick Answers: Adults, Nuclear Arms, and Movies

My MG manuscript has been rejected by 30 agents (mostly at the query stage, but a handful at the full stage). The only agent who is excited to represent it is a top notch adult agent with only a few sales in children's. Should I be worried? What do you think of adult agents moving into children's in general? Are they as likely to be successful as any other newbie agent on the scene?
An experienced adult agent is probably a bit more likely to be successful than a complete newbie agent. But the current rush into YA by agents who don't know the market and don't read YA doesn't particularly thrill me-- or anyone else who thinks children's books are worth our time as well as our money. I would ask that agent careful questions about what books he/she thinks are competition, and which publishers would be interested and why.
Would there be a market for a book that is 1/2 fiction and 1/2 non-fiction, alternating chapters. Basically, splice together a 40-50k word non-fiction work with a novella about the same subject (i.e., narrative non-fiction about nuclear arms spreads and fiction story about arms dealer that finds himself brokering a North Korean nuke to Al Qaeda).
I don't know what "nuclear arms spreads" means as a topic, but leaving that aside, this sounds like a perplexing problem for a publisher. What title/image do you put on the cover to convey this mixed content to the reader? More importantly, where would such a thing be shelved, when bookstores have sections for fiction and nonfiction? I think you're making things unnecessarily difficult for both of these books by forcing them to cohabit.
Hi, my name is Jennifer and a new writer for children books. Recently, I wrote a couple of them and I am thinking to look for a self publish method (but I have not done anything yet to contact book agents and editors, etc., because I am afraid of a long, awful period of waiting in-line to get attention. ) The reason that I want it faster is because my stories are also a movie script and now I am working with a foreign investment for the production, and I suppose publishing a book is a better way to protect my rights and contents rather than just registered them in WGA. So, is it a good idea? Then I have a second question: if I go to self –publishing first, do I have a chance to go to mainstream publishers later and how?
Self publishing is not the way to protect your rights. You should do some more reading about self publishing: what it does, and what it does not do.
But publishing-- trade publishing, not self publishing-- can be a way of nailing down the content so that a studio doesn't feel they have free license to change everything about your story in production. So I do recommend you choose: which do you want this to be first: a movie, or a book? Once you choose, put your efforts in one direction, rather than in both.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

To Boldly Give Advice No Man Has Given Before

I recently ran across a very strong "submit straight to editors" blog post. In the post, the writer argued that you should always submit to editors first and get an agent after you have a contract in hand. He argues that none of the agents who take writers without a contract are good, and in the comments he says that writers should submit to publishing houses directly even if they have a clearly stated "no unagented submissions" policy. As an editor, what is your take on that?
The post is here, if you're curious.
Some of what he says I agree with.
Can you get published without an agent? Yes, certainly.

And some of it I do not.
Is an agent a crutch for weenies who want someone to take care of them? No. Agents don't like weenies any more than the rest of us do.

Do real (ie, non-scam) agents read slush? Hell yes, they do. I know some of the best agents around and they read queries from unknowns and take on writers who have never been published before.

Finding the right agent for your expectations and workstyle is important. Having no agent can be better than having the wrong agent. But if you can find an agent that's right for you, he/she can open up all kinds of doors for you and make your career. I've seen it happen.

To comment on his points in order:

1. Wrong. An agent is not your employee. He/she is a service vendor, and you are his/her client. In the same way you can be a client of a law firm, you are a client of an agency. The agents are employed by the agency, not by you.
An agent's job IS to sell books. Whether or not the agent's job is to help you rewrite is up to individual agents; it is a job in which there is much latitude for self-definition.

2. Correct. Anyone asking for money up front is screwing with you.

3. Editors do need new books. But no, if they don't read a slush submission that turns out to be the next Dan Brown or if they read it and reject it, they will not be fired. At the houses that do not take unagented submissions, there is no pressure to read unagented submissions. NONE.

4. This is true. And another thing a form rejection can mean is "We said we're not taking unagented submissions, and call us crazy, but WE MEANT IT. We didn't even glance at this submission before rejecting it."

5. Certainly there are crap agents out there, but there are also fantastic agents who take on new clients who have never published and never submitted to publishers. Agents I know; agents whose clients are among the best-known and the least-known writers.

6. Yes, books do sell themselves. No matter how much I like an agent and respect his/her taste, I won't acquire something I don't think I can shape for the market and that my publisher can sell. But an agent I know and respect can get me to take a quicker and a more thoughtful look at something that might otherwise have sat around for months before I glanced at the first page and rejected it.

7. It's true that we don't really know what we want until we see it, but good agents have an idea of our personal tastes and can make a hell of a better-educated guess about the best editor for your book than you can.

8. HA HA HA. I suppose he feels the same way about me, an editor who blogs. Here's what I've seen: the publishing professionals who take time out of their days to share their time and experience in an open (or semi-open) forum like a blog are the hardcore-- committed to their jobs, committed to the community of book professionals. We are the ones in the office on the weekends; the ones that go the extra mile for our authors as well as for the strangers we interact with on our blogs. My coworkers think I work too much, and they're working damn hard themselves.

9. Sure. But see #4.

10. See #5.

11. Which is why you probably shouldn't go with a new agent unless that agent can tell you how they know what contracts should be like from an author's perspective, or is backed up by a larger agency that understands contracts and can tutor him/her.

I do admire that with a simple click (visa, mastercard, amex, discover) he's found a way to profit from this profitless advice.

But don't listen to me: Clearly I spend all my time blogging rather than doing my job. And clearly a "bestselling" writer of TV novelizations knows more about agents and the book business than I would.

I can only tell you that if I ever decided to write short stories about Smallville or Roswell or Star Trek the Next Generation, I agree: I certainly would not show them to an agent.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake

A friend/colleague attended some vaguely hippie-sounding conference/retreat recently in California, where she ran into Gary Schmidt, who is all kinds of awesome. If you haven't been reading Mr. Schmidt's books, you may want to continue to avoid them for fear his awesomeness won't inspire you as much as give you a huge insecurity complex.

Unfortunately, Mr. Schmidt got up in front of the group of aspiring writers and told them that he hated the word "hook". Mr. Schmidt, if you're reading this, you know I love you. I'd rank you in the top ten novelists working in children's books today. But you're giving me such a headache.

I know, there's a lot of confusion about what qualifies as a hook. And if that's where you're coming from, ok, I sympathize. I hate terms that have no useful definition as much as the next dictionary-reader.

So here you go:

hook / noun : the reason people will read your book.

No, really. That's what it means. Go back and read it again if you have to.

Now, in the case of writing like Mr. Schmidt's, the hook--the reason people will read his work-- is that it's brilliant, and there are lots of people willing to tell readers it's brilliant.

Writers like Mr. Schmidt (or Mr. Anderson, or Ms. Anderson, or Ms. Lockhart, or Mr. Alexie) don't need to worry much any more about hook, because once a wide segment of the book community realizes that whatever these writers write will be worth reading, such writers have hook at their fingertips.

So Mr. Schmidt, you're doing new writers a terrible disservice when you tell them it's ok to dislike and disregard 'hook'.

You are, in fact, sounding a great deal like certain French princesses, who when informed of the peasants' concerns about lack of bread hook responded, "Bah, 'bread' 'hook'. I never worry about bread hook, and neither should those peasants aspiring writers. If they are so hungry trying to be published, let them be published because they are acclaimed writers like me."

Fortunately for you, writers are a hell of a lot more optimistic than your average French peasant, and they'll get all the way home intending to eat their cake before remembering that they don't have any of that either.

Consider this before you advise people against the importance of hook. And before you go to your next writers' conference, take my advice and check for guillotines.

Possibly Some of the Best Advice Ever

From the consistently entertaining Rejectionist. I feel bad enough about being a bad blogger lately; why does le R have to rub it in with awesome posts?

This advice goes for getting yourself an editor, too.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Not Dead or Dying

Worried about you, EA‏. Give us a sign if you have a chance.
Still alive. I know, I'm being a bad blogger-- but a good editor. Getting stuff done. Being my alter ego.
Thanks for the concern! And the patience!