Monday, June 21, 2010

The Future: It's What's for Dinner.

I was shown a Dr. Seuss book on the iPad and had to wonder at the possibilities. As an illustrator I'm attempting to prepare for this brave new world by learning some animation techniques. As things become more digital do you think that this will be,
A) Incredibly useful
B) Kinda handy
C) A waste of time, static images will still be the norm
(A), and sooner than anyone thinks.

The future is not just ahead of us, it's sitting on top of us. It's sneaking up behind us. It's the milk in your cereal and the monster under your bed. The future is here, but soon you will not be here! The future leaves no survivors! All your worst nightmares are about to come true! The future is here for your SOULS!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

High Ho, Sparkles! Away!

The question that I have is about query letters. I know that you need to put in any published work that you have. My question is, what really counts as a published work. My first novel "Redacted" was published by PublishAmerica. I have know come to realize that I got caught up in a trap. So should i mention that in my letters to agents. Or should I just not mention it? It is hard enough trying to get a foot in the door, I don't want to do anything to hurt my chances farther.
Look, you wouldn't put your career as a unicorn trainer on your resume, would you? Even if the High Unicorn Shaman had conferred the title on you? Even if you'd paid a lot for the harness and horn polish?

Self publishing is imaginary publishing. It's as much a career credit as that time you traded your cow for those "magic" "beans".

Don't mention it.

Your Manuscript is Too Appropriate. I Hate Appropriate!

If I've written a YA novel over 100,000 words, will agents/publishers reject it right out simply because of word length before even reading my query? Or if my query is only so-so (which it probably is), could the word count tip the scales for tossing it?
Don't be silly. The Amulet of Samarkand? The Hunger Games? These ring any bells?

...Unless by "over 100,000 words" you mean "200,000 words". If you're going to get into Deathly Hallows / Breaking Dawn territory, you better be J K Rowling or Stephenie Meyer, and I think I would have noticed that in your email address.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Also Included: Photos of the Design I Shaved into My Cat's Fur

I am an aspiring illustrator I am currently putting together a portfolio. Over the past few years I have painted a a few murals in childrens' rooms and for some elementary schools. Would it be inappropriate of me to include pictures of these (original artwork, of course) if I feel that they showcase my talents as an illustrator? Or is it best to stick with book specific artwork? Thanks in advance for your help. Great blog btw.
I suppose if you could manage very good quality images of the murals, that might be ok . . . but if you want illustration work, don't you think you should show us examples of the media we'd be getting from you?

Black Holes: Powerful, Attractive, and Non-Responsive

What are your expectations toward agents who have submitted a manuscript to you? I didn’t have one for my country because authors approach the publishing houses directly but I now have an agent from an established firm. This agent is keen and enthusiastic for my work and always gives good advice. My agent works well with my editor here but, despite the book having received two award nominations, the response is quiet from America. Do you have agents contacting you for follow up or does that bug you. I trust my agent but I am curious cos if it were me, I’d be picking up the phone and going: have you read it yet? Look at this book – it’s fantastic!
Of course agents follow up to see whether I've read it yet.

But there are plenty of editors who simply ignore such proddings (the most well-known and highest-ranking editors are often among them).

Even the most talented agents can't make an editor respond if the editor just doesn't want to. Your agent ought to be able to tell you if she's sent your manuscript to one of the usual suspects, though.

Can I Submit Now? Ok, How About Now? Or Now?

I have submitted an unsolicited picture-book manuscript to a house that accepts these (with a policy of no reply unless there is interest). What do you think would be an acceptable waiting period before submitting a second manuscript?
Just long enough so that they don't clip the two manuscripts together (in which case probably only the manuscript on top would get read). Give it a week to be safe.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Where To Begin?

ok, so im really confused i dont know how to become a professional writer and yes i know my spelling isnt the best, or my grammer but i think i have some great ideas and i hardly understand any of the crap that is on the internet about it. So please can u explain in a simple way how do i get something published or become a known writer, i wanna know now so that im prepared for the future.
I sympathize about there being a great deal of information and advice (sometimes conflicting advice) available about the craft of writing and about the publishing industry. However, there isn't a single best path to published authorship, and the advice you need could fill several blogs-- it's not something I can give you in one blog post. You could certainly start by reading Harold Underdown's The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books.
Good luck!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is Quirky a Good Thing?

Is it ever worthwhile to de-quirk a novel?

My book has one seriously odd character: a home-schooled narrator. The consensus among replying agents, however, is that the voice is just too "quirky". Fair enough, but now what?

Is a complete re-write in order? And a re-query to follow?

Or should I trash the manuscript, hit the bottle, and move on?
Yes, sometimes it is worthwhile to revise this sort of thing.

Quirky can be great-- it can mean charming, funny, unique. But "too quirky"... If you're getting a lot of this feedback, I would start to wonder if what the agents really mean is weird and distancing.

The right amount of quirky reminds people of themselves, their own uniquenesses. Too much, though, and you can lose your audience, especially among kids, who can be pretty judgemental about weirdness in others.

Still there are good examples of very unusual behaviors and world views that absolutely work for the book they're in... Because the author has taken the trouble to make them make sense for that character-- to show us why they have these quirks.

I would suggest that you ask yourself which of your character's quirks are serving the character development enough that it's worth going to the trouble of showing the reader why the character has those quirks... and which quirks you maybe just added for "flavor"-- as a shorthand for character development. I have a hunch that some of those quirks just aren't earning their keep in your story.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Laying Blame Where It Belongs

Just once, I would like to see a reviewer say, "This book was a worthy effort by the author and designer, but was ruined by the publisher's inept design and production decisions."
Is that distinction asking too much? Apparently so; I have never seen it, though it would be accurate in a number of cases.
I'm not certain to what degree reviewers are aware of design and production quality-- one imagines it's somewhere between the public's vast ignorance and the industry professional's close scrutiny. But what books would you posit as examples of such a charge?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Fat Vampire: a Conversation with Adam Rex

You may know Adam Rex from his alien-invasion novel The True Meaning of Smekday (which wins for most hilarious alien). Or from his bestselling poetry collections Frankenstein Makes a Sandwich and Frankenstein Takes the Cake (which win for best running jokes). Or from his very entertaining blog. Now Fat Vampire is about to come out, which wins for Best (Comic) Relief from the Vampire Craze.

To find out more about his newest book, I put on my trenchcoat and met him in a darkened parking garage.

ADAM REX: You're Editorial Anonymous?


ADAM REX: I dunno, I expected someone older, I guess. Isn't this a school night?

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I'm often mistaken for younger than I am. If you guess my age, you'll be wrong.



(awkward silence)

...So thanks for agreeing to this interview. I'm guessing that you saw and/or read a bit of the Twilight oeuvre, and reflected (of Edward Cullen), "What a douchebag!" And perhaps at about the same time you attended a ComicCon and witnessed one or more of the attendees being called douchebags... And you were inspired to write about the true nature of douchebaginess. Am I close?

ADAM REX: No, not even. I haven't seen either of the movies, and I haven't finished any of the books. When a bookstore-worker friend heard I was writing a YA vampire story back in 2007 she insisted I take home a copy of Twilight, and I got about 100 pages in before I decided it wasn't for me and bailed out.

No, I'm just the sorry SOB who decided to start a vampire manuscript a few years ago with no idea what vampires were about to mean to the literary world. I mean, I was aware of Twilight and at least a half-dozen other vampire books/series at the time, but there you are–there are ALWAYS vampire stories, why not another? Now I'm watching the clock and hoping vampires don't entirely wear out their welcome before July, or that they wear out their welcome just enough for people to be ready for my kind of book.

But since you mention it, I did sort of write a treatise on douchebaggery.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I enjoyed the treatise. And I think the time is in fact ripe for a vampire spoof. Fat Vampire made me wonder how many people, if stuck with vampiredom, would really find it made them all brooding and romantically tortured? And how many would just find it to be an enormous pain in the ass?

ADAM REX: That's the gist of what got me started. A big part of the fantasy of vampirism, of course, is the wish-fulfillment of being frozen at the peak of your existence. At the moment we seem to have agreed as a culture that everyone should want to be a teenager again. But, while being a teen had its charms, I actually think I'm a lot happier now. I'm certainly a better person now than I was in high school.

I have to say the impetus for this book actually came when I misread a banner ad. I was in the middle of my morning web-crawl when I saw an ad for some manga or webcomic or something called My Dork Embrace. And I thought, That's great. I bet it's a story about the kind of awkward guy who's never supposed to become a vampire. And a minute later my brain wouldn't let go of it because the art and tenor of the ad didn't really jive with the assumption I'd made, so I scrolled back to have another look at it. And I discovered it's really just My Dark Embrace. I'd misread it. But then I got excited because that meant I could write My Dork Embrace myself, and it would be a good framework to work out some thoughts I'd been having about high school.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: My god, I remember that banner ad-- I misread it the same way! And I was so disappointed when it wasn't My Dork Embrace. The lowercase 'a' in that typeface wasn't very clearly formed.

ADAM REX: Oh, that's funny. It's nice to have corroboration, because I've since searched for that title and I can't seem to determine just what it was the ad was advertising.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: So what about writing this book was a pain in the ass? And what was fun?

ADAM REX: I always enjoy writing dialogue, and I'd do it all day and all night if I'm not careful. Sometimes I have to accept that NOTHING'S HAPPENING and the story will never go anywhere if I can't get my characters to stop exchanging breezy banter.

I also think one of the larger challenges of this book was writing my main female character, Sejal. She becomes something of an Indian Exchange Student Goth Kid–a combination I thought was funny, what with the Goth predilection for pale skin and pseudo-medieval-romantic European sensibilities, but which probably only underscores how little I really know about the subculture. There are probably Goths of all stripes.

Anyway, writing a teenager from India was sort of terrifying–I wanted her to seem genuinely foreign but also instantly relatable to my readers, and I didn't want to appear that I was trying too hard either way, if that makes sense.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I thought she was very well developed—a stand-out character. And the comparison between Sejal and your main character, Doug, helps to underscore your point about it being our mistakes that force us to grow—she’s made hers, and is trying to overcome the aftermath; she's more grown up. Doug is still in the middle of making his (and is going at it with gusto, too, which is a happy thing for the book).
How do you approach character-building?

ADAM REX: I don't have much of a system. I'm afraid I just sort of plow into the story and then revise. Sejal's backstory changed a number of times, and each time it changed I went and rewrote some of her parts to better reflect the person I'd felt she'd become. I often use someone I know or once knew as a kind of personality anchor for a character, but I give myself leeway to go off the map here and there.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: So you do it by feel? That's about what I guessed, though it's not a lot of help to my readers, lol.

ADAM REX: No, it isn't, and yet I do think there's something encouraging in knowing that published authors are just feeling around in the dark as well. When I was a teenager and took my first real stabs at creative writing, I frequently felt like a big faker because I would just write without being entirely sure what I was writing or where it was going. My public school education had not taught me to have much faith in this approach, but the thought of mapping everything out ahead of time was too daunting. Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird saved my life because she explains that she doesn't compose outlines or flow charts or any such thing, either. She dives in and figures it out as she goes along. And she assures her readers that this is the method preferred by every author she's ever known. This was a big deal to me–knowing that, despite appearances, my own amateurish blindfolded plate-spinning might actually be a legitimate means to an end.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Do you have any method to your revision?

ADAM REX: One rule I try to stick to is that if I find myself, just twice, wondering if some passage (or dialogue, or plot contrivance, or bit of drawing) is good enough and then mollifying myself that it is, I'm wrong. I'm wrong and I have to fix it.

Frankly, revision is often what I'm doing when I want to feel like I'm working but I'm feeling shy about charting new territory. There's nothing like rereading twenty pages and changing three adjectives to give you that sickly florescent glow of accomplishment, in lieu of any actual ray of light from the heavens.

What a nice metaphor. I bet it's going to be hard for people to believe that this is the transcript of a face-to-face meeting between the two of us in a darkened parking garage and not actually some protracted email exchange.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: Shh, let’s preserve the illusion. What was the editing process like for this book (if you don't mind talking about it)? Was it different at all from the process for Smekday?

ADAM REX: I had the same great editor (Donna Bray) on each, but there were differences. In Smekday Donna pointed out, quite rightly, that an entire middle section sucked and, later, that the entire second half could be tightened up quite a bit. In fact, given the clarity of hindsight, I wish I'd really done as she asked and tightened it up a bit more. According to Donna Fat Vampire was, comparatively, a cleaner manuscript. She asked me to clarify and strengthen the motivations of a couple characters but there were no big plot rewrites. I think in general she always has to nudge me in the direction of being more forthcoming, as I tend to err on the side of being a little obtuse and vague. I've already read a review of Fat Vampire online that confesses not to understand what actually happened at the end of the book. Whoops.

EDITORIAL ANONYMOUS: I followed the ending, but readers will have to pick up the book to decide what they think.
Finally, do you have any advice for budding writers? Or budding vampires? Or budding douchebags?

ADAM REX: There's a joke in there somewhere: What's the difference between a writer and a vampire? One of them leads a pallid, lonely existence, sucking dry both loved ones and strangers alike in his ghoulish quest for immortality, and the other one is a vampire. Ha ha.

I don't know if I have anything new to say to writers. As someone who not long ago was an illustrator who wanted to write and is now the author of his first major work without any illustrations whatsoever I am still in equal parts exhilarated, bewildered, and frightened by writing. I've been doing this just long enough to suspect that those feelings are not supposed to go away. But to answer your question: read as much as you can, and read critically. Live frugally. Marry someone with insurance. Find your own voice, or failing that mimic your favorite authors so blatantly and with such conviction that the costume of their style gets humid and itchy and you can't wait to be rid of it. All that, and write more.

To the aspiring douchebag I can only say, you're too late–the market has reached saturation. Buy low and sell high, man.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why You Want the Intern to Read Your Manuscript

From the intern over at Bookends Lit. She's right!

The editors and agents who are Established and Experienced and who you Really Want to Read Your Manuscript? They skim and discard the slush so fast it would make the faint-of-heart weep. An enthusiastic intern (with smart opinions) can make us actually read the whole manuscript.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

How to Know What You're Doing

Brenda Bowen ( visited us at Dreamworks studios today. She shared her brilliant insight on how to get children’s books published. One of the things she said was that most agents right now don’t want to see rhyming stories. But she also elaborated by saying that there is a difference between real poetry and simply rhyming, and the former has a better chance if you really know what you’re doing. Do you concur with her advice, or do you have any additional thoughts on the topic? Thanks dude.
I absolutely agree.

There are a lot of people who know very little about children's books and about writing poetry and who nevertheless don't see any problem with that and send us AWFUL manuscripts.

They can't remember many children's books outside of Goodnight Moon and Dr. Seuss, and so they figure most children's books are poems. But they aren't.

They don't read much poetry themselves, and so they figure the only thing that makes a poem poetry is that the last words in each line rhyme. But it isn't.

Brenda's advice can also be summarized in broader terms:

If you've done your own taxes, don't assume you're ready to work for the IRS.
If you've carved a turkey, you still really shouldn't try to perform brain surgery.
And if you don't know a damn thing about children's books, go ahead and assume that includes not knowing how to write them.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

3 Questions: Following Up, Giving Up, and Saddling Up

I am in the process of submitting my manuscript for my second children's picture book to agents. I got a solid referral to a high-profile agent. The referral came from one of the agent's award-winning illustrators. I sent my letter and submission but haven't heard anything back after about two weeks. Should I follow-up? If so, should I follow-up with e-mail, or snail mail?

I would like to resume submitting my ms to other agents if he's not interested, and one agent had suggested revisions, so I don't want to keep her waiting.

What should I do?
A couple weeks is a very short time for most agents, so it would be nice if you'd give him a little more time before emailing to follow up.

Unless you told him that it was an exclusive submission, though, I would not wait to continue submitting elsewhere.
I have written what I think to be the cutest little children's picture book on boogers. However I keep getting rejected. With books like Captain Underpants, I thought my rhyming book would be at least acceptable material for a picture book, kids love things funny and gross. One potential agent even said it was "cute". Should I scrap the project all together?
Wow, an agent said it was cute?

I'm sorry, sometimes the sarcasm just comes out before I can stop it. When you've gotten a few more rejections, you'll start realizing that a lot of the soft words agents and editors use to cushion the blow are about as meaningful as feathers. The flip side of this is that a lot of the hard words that deliver the blow are meaningless, too. A rejection, whatever the words used, means nothing more than "no".

I can't tell you why your particular manuscript is getting rejected. Possibly agents are worried that since picture books are bought far more often by parents than are chapter books (Captain Underpants rose to popularity on the spending habits of children), the topic is too likely to foster bad behavior and conversation no one wants at the dinner table. Still, there are examples-- David Greenberg's Slugs-- of picture books that manage to be popular and disgusting. So perhaps your rhyme is not as solid as it needs to be?

Yes, after a certain number of rejections, it's probably time to put that manuscript in a drawer somewhere... but it's a pretty big number. Good luck with it.
I have a question that I'm thinking you could answer. I have a cowboy poem that is Christmas oriented. I envision it in a children's book format, although the poem itself is equally appealing to adults. So, what I'm thinking is a few lines of the poem on a page along with an illustration. My question I guess is will this work, and if so, how do I go about submitting something like that and to whom?
I cannot tell from this whether it will work. You'll need to read a bunch of picture books, and read about picture book page counts to be sure you have enough action to carry the poem through a standard picture book length.

As for who you should submit to and how, this is research you need to do. I'm sure there are authors in my readership who have some ideas-- and authors (and agents) generally know more about publisher submission guidelines and various publisher tastes than editors do. But market research is an important learning process for new authors, so you need to do this work. Good luck, partner.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Query Critique: Knowing Your Reader

I am a first-time writer and have done quite a bit of research about how to write a query letter, but without feedback I feel like I am throwing darts blindfolded. I've found your posts dissecting others' queries very helpful. Please let me know what you think of this query letter. I sacrifice it on the alter of your expertise and your readers' thirst for blood. Or education.
Ok. But what about MY thirst for blood?

Maria Black’s 2,477-day normal streak is destroyed by a song.
Intriguing first line.
She hears the latest single from rock star Sam Montgomery on the radio and begins to fantasize about him.
Um... bit of a let down? Fantasizing about rock stars is among the most normal things for teenage girls.
When Sam and Maria meet and learn that they have each been dreaming of the other,
Oh! Is that what's going on? Clearer sooner, please.
they choose to accept their extraordinary friendship. But only Sam is willing to question its meaning. If Maria lets herself believe there is a larger purpose in their seemingly fated friendship and affair,
Affair? I thought it was a friendship?
she would also have to question whether there is a reason why she has the phoenix-like ability to burst into flame and fly.
Ah... what? Is this flaming/flying before or after she breaks her "normal" streak?? Do you think you should maybe lead with this element?
And Maria is not interested in posing questions that don’t have answers.
How can she not be interested in why she is BURSTING INTO FLAME? Your readers are.
Flight is a 72,000-word novel. Readers who enjoy Paulo Coelho’s literary fabulism—grounded in the real world but seasoned with fantastical elements—will enjoy this book. As will those that like Jeanette Winterson’s playful wielding of language and strong female protagonists. This is my first novel. I am happy to send the complete manuscript upon your request.
This part is just right-- except that you're referencing adult writers! Readers who enjoy Paulo Coelho and Jeanette Winterson will NOT enjoy this book because mostly they read adult fiction. If you don't know some YA writers to compare your book to, WHY THE HELL NOT?
Many thanks for taking the time to read my query. I look forward to hearing from you.