Monday, May 31, 2010

Bios and Nonfiction

I realize that the agent reading the bio of a query wants to see relatedness between the writer and the subject about which they write, so with that in mind - can revealing help or hinder in any way what a prospective agent thinks when weighing the merits of the writer against his/her work? I know it may help if I want to write some legal thriller novels, but I am only interested in the YA and children genres.
If you're writing nonfiction, then yes, we really do want some reason to think that the nonfiction is not full of mistakes copied from Wikipedia, or "facts" revealed to you on a piece of toast by Jesus.

If you're writing fiction, there doesn't need to be any related experience with your subject.

If there is-- if you're writing a legal thriller for teenagers and you have legal experience, or have actually been to juvie yourself, that's just gravy.

If there isn't, just try not to say something weird, like about your advanced degree in grandmotherhood / cookie-baking or how you're writing about teddybears because you have the ability to hear their thoughts.

Saturday, May 29, 2010


Stands for Book Expo America.
Full of publishers and booksellers and authors and some people who want to be one of those things but are kidding themselves.


Everything was packed. The show floor was packed. The ABC dinner was packed. The kidlit drink night was packed. New York was packed, and I fricking hate taxi drivers. There was a line two miles long for the Children's Breakfast, and I had to pull chairs out from under other people in order to conduct the very important meetings I had scheduled with important people. By the end of the week I was communicating mostly in catlike teeth-bared hisses.

I communicated this to one of our marketing people, and she said she had had a related conversation with an author just before the show.

Author: "I want to go to BEA!"

Her: "You just think that."

Friday, May 14, 2010

All Signs Point Toward Needing to Read the Signs

How should the text of signs be formatted in a fiction manuscript? I've seen it in all caps but I am not sure if this is correct. For example -They drove past the rickety WELCOME TO TULSA sign.
You are over-thinking this. If you desperately want to be correct, you could look it up in the Chicago Manual of Style, which is what most people use. But most editors will look benignly on however you format such a thing-- as long as it's clear what's the text of the sign and what isn't, it's fine. The copyeditor will adjust it to the house style later in the process.
In the days of yore, when email was exciting, there were some who'd always advise us to send partials with SASEs. Part of the thinking behind this was to control who got to see your MS. Has that culture of mailing queries and partials completely gone away now?

Of course, I realize that - in theory - once the MS is out of your door, it can always be copied and leak out (say, if you're Dan Brown or J. K. Rowling). But how does the author know her MS was read and rejected? That it didn't drown under the giant swells of other partials?
It seems like you have more than one question.

If one of your questions is "How do I know my manuscript won't be copied or stolen or something?", please refer to the pythons.

If one of your questions is, "Do people still want a partial MS and an SASE?", please refer to individual publishers' submission guidelines.

But to "But how does the author know her MS was read and rejected? That it didn't drown under the giant swells of other partials?", the answer is a question: Did you submit your manuscript to a publishing house that accepts slush? If yes, then assume it was read and rejected. If no, then assume it drowned.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

How Interested Do I Have to Be?

I was just wondering, in that vague kind of unfocused fashion that comes after just having had a full meal, what it takes to be an agent?
A lot. Have you read any agent blogs, or is your interest too vague for that?
Is there a course somewhere to prepare you for it?
Is it merely a discerning eye for good stories? For what will sell?
Yes. PLUS a knowledge of WHERE it will sell. Agents know the differences in publishing tastes between one publisher and another; one editor and another. AND they know the ins and outs of publishing contracts. AND they know industry practices and norms. AND they know the terrain of the modern author's career path, and what's best for them.

If those sound like things you'd like to learn, then you could try interning at an agency.
I'm a writing student at the University of Technology, Sydney, in my final semester and I've always loved editing, have always desired to enter the publishing industry in some fashion (be it as an editor or writer) but I've never considered what is required to become a successful agent, hence my question.
If you could give me tips re: the editing front as well, I would appreciate it. I've tried offering myself as an intern for most of the publishing houses in Sydney (though there are probably several hundred I've missed) to no avail, so tips there would be nice.
Knowing something about writing is a definite plus. But what matters more to people in publishing houses is being acutely interested in CURRENT books, and in what's GREAT and what SELLS.

Have you conveyed an acute interest to the publishing houses you've applied to? Or only a vague one?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Query Redux

In my zeal to share my brand new novel with the WORLD!!! I misinterpreted "cast a wide net" as "query a bunch of agents all at once."

No, I didn't actually do the whole "Dear Agent" with a million email addresses in the "To:" field. That seemed rude to me... I simply googled agents representing my genre, and on Monday I sent 10 queries, on Tuesday I sent another 10, on Weds... etc.

Only problem is, it seems my query wasn't so hot. I'm getting more form rejections than not, a bunch of non-responders, and one kind agent who directed me to the Heroman's guide. I did manage to score one partial request! But it's still pending.

My question is this: Of my sawed-off shotgun approach, there were about five "ideal agents," eight "perfect match" agents, and several "might like it" ones. And I'm thinking if I'd stumbled upon Nathan Bransford's extremely helpful blog sooner, I might've connected with at least one of the first 13. Maybe even more.

Is all this just too bad for me, or would an agent appreciate an introductory "I'm a dumbass, and would you mind if I tried this again" followed by an improved query? Or should I just go to my room with no supper? And if you say, try the "I'm a dumbass" reboot, how long should I wait? A month? Two? Six?
I'm sure some agents will feel you should just wait to query again on your next project. But others will be sympathetic to the humble "dumbass" approach-- as long as it's just ONCE.

So I guess I would suggest trying that, and sooner rather than later. Be sure to offer the agents the option of not responding to the re-query, if that's what their inclination is, so that it's clear that you know they're doing you a favor if they do consider the re-query. And I would also recommend assuring them that if in another month or two THIS query seems foolhardy and amateurish to you, you will NOT be querying a THIRD time.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Without Fear of Punishment... or Publication

Do editors worry when children’s book authors post political trash talk on the internet?
I’ve seen some pretty offensive comments on Facebook and other forums; as a result I’ve passed on purchasing several titles over the last couple of years. I don’t believe in banning books, but I just can’t bring myself to personally contribute to authors I find offensive.
Well, editors are busy people and may or may not find the time to look into what a potential (or currently signed up) author is getting up to on the internet. So perhaps not-- ignorance is bliss.

But I would hope that if any of my authors held political views that they knew would offend major segments of the public (if aired publicly), they would take that under advisement. I don't mean to say that they should necessarily say nothing about their views-- I'm a big believer in free speech, and I doubt that any one of us doesn't hold some belief that would set someone else's hair on fire.

Sane people know that however true and irrefutable their beliefs are, there's no point in bringing them up just anyplace, and in front of any audience. Respectful, reasoned discussions of current topics are a wonderful thing, but there's no point in them if the audience in front of you just isn't listening. And if it's not a respectful, reasoned discussion, but rather an angry, emotional screed, most people will respond by not listening and getting angry about it. Sane people know this.

Crazy people don't know this.
I don't want to work with crazy people. Nobody does.

I don't want anyone to be quiet when they feel it would be untrue to themselves. But I also want my authors to remember that they are ambassadors for their books, just as their publishing house is.

If they aren't interested in being ambassadors for their books, then they shouldn't be surprised if their publishing house loses interest in that, as well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Calamity Jack: a Conversation with Shannon Hale

You may know Shannon Hale from her awesome Newbery-Honor-winning novel Princess Academy. Or maybe from her many other novels, which manage to be both thoughtful and a hell of a lot of fun. Or maybe you know her from that time you thought you were just going to hear another author talk, and ended up laughing so hard you had cross your legs to keep from peeing your pants.

Or perhaps you know her from the fantastically entertaining graphic novel Rapunzel's Revenge, which she wrote with her husband, Dean, with the fab illustrations of Nathan Hale (no relation). If so, you're in luck, because--tada!-- there's a sequel out this spring: Calamity Jack, and there's just as much fairy-tales-meet-the-wild-west hijinks as lit up the first book.

In honor of its release, Shannon and I traded secret passwords and "met" in adjoining airport bathroom stalls.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I enjoyed Rapunzel's Revenge a great deal, so I was thrilled to see a sequel. I particularly admire the pacing, which is often a troublesome thing for writers trying the graphic novel format for the first time. Can you speak to what it was like to transition from novels to graphic novels?

SHANNON HALE: Thank you! I think the key for us was having the right story. We didn't want to take any book idea and try to cram it into that format. We wanted just the right story that would really shine in this medium. The fairy tale was the skeleton, but the Hollywood western really directed the plot and let us have fun with the story.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I think many writers coming from a novel-writing background are accustomed to the support that narration offers. But in graphic novels, the dialogue has to do the lion's share of character building AND plot acceleration. I suppose that could be either difficult or exciting (or perhaps both). What elements do you like best about the two storytelling media?

SHANNON HALE: I do depend a lot on my narrator. I love the third person narrator. It's such a useful tool, and allows for so much language, which is thrilling for me. But the truth is, I get bored easily. I have to switch stuff around to keep myself from getting disaffected with writing. I used a different narrator for my adult books than my YA books, I had a first person diary in Book of a Thousand Days. It is very limiting to lose that narrator entirely in a graphic novel, but it's a good, clean challenge too. Whittling down a story to dialog and captions, then turning over the action of the story to an illustrator is scary and exciting! Luckily we had a brilliant illustrator. Also, we re-wrote a lot, which is my secret weapon in any genre.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Did you and Dean write the manuscript before beginning work with Nathan (the illustrator)? If so, how close to what you'd imagined were the illustrations/scenes? How much did the manuscript change as it came together with the art?

SHANNON HALE: I love the way it worked out. We had the plot outlined and first 1/4 written when we met Nate. We pitched it to our editor and Nate was on board before we finished the script, so we were able to work with him on character designs, as well as write to his strengths. (He loves beasties and creatures!) I think it became a stronger partnership that way than if we'd written in a bubble then turned it over to an unknown illustrator.

Graphic novels are so different than picture books, I think if the author/illustrators don't know each other, it makes it harder to have solid collaboration. We do write all the panel descriptions for Nate, since so much of the action is visual, so the script we send him is twice as long as what ends up actually printed in the book. After we see his art we go through and make lots of changes--striking unnecessary dialog, changing dialog to better fit the mood of the scene, etc.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: What do you think it is about you that attracts you to total doofuses like the main character? Are you proud of the example you're setting for the young people?

SHANNON HALE: I know you don't mean Rapunzel, because she is Kick-Butt Awesome. And no way you mean Jack is a doofus, since he's all kinds of good times, built in the grand tradition of trickster/rogue/Coyote. But in answer to your question, yes, I am very proud. As you no doubt know, we children's authors took a sacred pact years ago to secretly subvert the young minds we so carelessly influence and lead them straight to a Bad Place. My part of this nefarious scheme is to trick my impressionable readers into growing their hair long and using it as a weapon. When the war comes, my army will be well-trained, and ALWAYS ARMED. (or haired)

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: LOL! I'll start growing out my bangs. Do you have any advice for people who want to try writing a graphic novel, or who want to fight crime with hair?

SHANNON HALE: I think there was this idea for awhile that graphic novels were HOT, HOT, HOT and easy to sell. That has not always proven true.

I've never had such gleeful responses to any of my books as I have to Rapunzel's Revenge and Calamity Jack. Parents, who were initially hesitant (there's that idea that comic books are Evil and kids should be weaned off illustrations by age 8), were so excited when their 10, 12, 14 year old non-reader read these books and decided he/she liked to read after all. That kind of feedback is worth a career!

Graphic novels have found a place in the libraries, but many book stores still struggle with where to shelve them (a kids' GN section? on the shelves with regular books? the general GN section?), let alone to sell them. I've been pleased with the success of our books, but they're very expensive to produce, both for the illustrator Nathan Hale (17 hour days, 7 day/week for 9-12 months per book) and the publisher. Less than hoped-for sales have discouraged many publishers, and I've heard of some publishers who are no longer looking at GNs. (I'd be curious to hear your experience with this, E Anon.)

But what that all sums up to is, the graphic novel market is no easier to break into than any other, and perhaps even harder. I think writer-illustrators have the upper hand here. I don't know of any debut author who pitched the script alone and got published. The idea, the hook, the script itself has got to be pretty extraordinary to catch an editor's eye. Still, if you can make it, wow. It's awesome. Based on reader response, I'd be thrilled to do more books like Jack and Rapunzel for the rest of my life.

As for the hair question, I find my own locks woefully flimsy and harmless. But as a child, I was Pippi Longstocking for Halloween and my mom threaded my braids with a piece of hanger to make them curl up. So I suggest pimping out your hair with lethal lengths of wire. Unless someone gets hurt in the process; then I never suggested such a thing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Art Samples: From Your Imagination to Our Recycling Bin

Love your blog! I have a quick question about sending my artwork to editors. There are always several different types of editors: editor in chief, executive, managing, deputy, assistant, just plain editor, and so on. Who is the best person to send my work to so that it doesn't end up in the trash? I am planning on sending my first sample pack to the art director and then send postcard updates to the editor as well.
Those titles mean slightly different things at different houses. Any or all of those people may have a voice in illustration selection.

Realistically, most of your samples WILL end up in the trash. That's why you have to send a lot of them, to a lot of people. A few of them will like what they see and keep the postcard for future reference. If you want to send a more formal sample, like a portfolio, then you need to research each publisher's preferences in receiving portfolios for review.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

To Be Continued! Or Maybe Not.

How does one decide how to split up a story into parts if the book is too long and the story is continuing into another book? Is it OK to end a book with a cliffhanger, or should you always come to some kind of resolution?
It is OK to end a book on a cliffhanger. You should just be aware that if buying your book requires buying two or more books, the publisher is going to weigh their enthusiasm against the higher investment required.

If you're starting a series, consider whether you're writing the type of book that often becomes a series. Genre fiction often carries series. Quiet, literary novels... not so much.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Art of Choosing Illustration

On Thursday, February 11, 2010, In Memoriam, your blog says, "The story suggests some unusually good visuals - animation, in fact - though I have learned I should not bother with illustration before submission for publication." "That is correct."
But on Monday, November 23, 2009, In Which the Cockles of My Heart are Reasonably Tepid, your blog states, "They submit illustrated manuscripts, and the editor doesn't look at them and think, "Well, we'll get that illustrated by someone better." She thinks, "This is essentially done! Awesome!"

It appears it's a double edged sword. I'm curious because I'm a profession video producer. I have produced videos for 8 years now and I have a lot of marketing experience too. I have basically learned that you have a finished project and THEN you pitch it. But I have also included in my submissions a letter stating I'm completely open to having different illustrations done. What say ye?
Professional-quality illustrations are acceptable, and including a note that you're willing to be flexible about them is a good idea. The reason I generally caution against pairing a text with art is that the VAST majority of people have no access to professional-quality illustration, and don't know enough about the CHILDREN'S book industry to know what flys. Do you, for instance, know someone who does great animation for Pixar? Their static art may be a bad fit because they're not used to art being static. Do you know a fabulous cartoonist who appears in the New Yorker regularly? Their cartoons may be a bad fit because they're too adult in flavor.

On top of these considerations, it's just unnecessary! Editors acquire unillustrated manuscripts all the time!

There are some children's book agents -- and others who know our industry well -- who are good at matching art and text. To my readers, my advice is: if you just think you can do this well, you're wrong. The people who can do it well know it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Changes of Heart and Character

I have a book which is now in the hands of a publisher. It was recently submitted so it will take quite a bit of time to hear back about publishing or not. When I submitted the manuscript it included a character that now the creator of the book wants omitted. (I am basically the ghostwriter and the one who submitted the's a long story.) Now what? Do I resubmit a manuscript? Wait for a yeah or nay by the publisher? If the publisher likes the story, do I still have the option of saying the character wants to be omitted? The creator is very attached to his book and refuses to bend on this point. So, does that make the manuscript now void?
No, not necessarily. I mean, it's not one of the main characters, is it?

I'd suggest you wait to hear from the publisher, and if there's interest, let them know immediately about this change. Most likely they won't have a problem with it.

And if they do, then you can assume they wouldn't have wanted the revised manuscript, can't you?

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Black Hole Has "Requested" Your Manuscript

I've had a middle-grade manuscript sitting (or standing, or whatever manuscripts do while they wait) at a small regional publisher for going on nine months now. It was requested last summer just a few days after I queried, and I received an enthusiastic confirmation e-mail a couple of days later. After six months of silence, I sent a brief follow-up to check on the status and got no reply. I've since seen on the Web site that the person to whom I was asked to direct the manuscript is no longer with the publisher. I would assume that when the intern/associate/whatever who was originally assigned the manuscript departs, the manuscript remains viable until I'm notified otherwise. Is it OK to e-mail the managing editor, who originally requested the full manuscript, again? How might I word the e-mail to engender an actual response? I don't want to be a stalker, but this isn't a slush pile situation. They asked for my book.
You're not being a stalker. They ought to respond.

However, one of the staff leaving often means his/her to-read pile is utterly orphaned. (Possibly even orphaned into the recycling bin.) Anyone helping to shoulder the work that staff member left behind is going to have more than enough to do with the already-signed-up manuscripts.

I would suggest you do email the managing editor, but there are no magic words to make this a priority or ensure a response. Meantime, you should be submitting elsewhere. 9 months is ridiculous.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Legend of the 3,000 Word Picture Book

I have written an original legend about an indigenous Chilean girl who saves her people from volcanic destruction. It would make a great picture book; the problem is that it is 3,500 words long! It is written for readers of about 4th grade level. Is there another type of format rather than picture book that would fit something of this length and for this grade level?
Well, that's still too short for a chapter book.
There are some picture books for older readers that have texts of this length. But they're mainly supported by teachers and librarians-- so I would be asking myself how such a topic fits the needs of curriculum. I know they aren't doing South American indians in 4th grade. Why will teachers and librarians want this enough to spend their (smaller and smaller) budgets on it?