Sunday, March 6, 2011

Open Thread

Comment moderation is temporarily turned off-- so ask your questions, start discussions... talk to me, and talk to each other!


Sam Hranac said...

Ed Anon must be verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves.

etlhoy said...

I have been enjoying the phenomenon of, and I have been wondering where that lies on the spectrum of self-publishing. I know several of the more successful authors have had their books subsequently published, so it doesn't seem to mess with the rights, etc. Is that correct? I wouldn't think to try it as a path towards publishing, but it is an intriguing format, and I think it might be fun to try to tell a story that way. If I did, would it cause trouble with my credibility or my chances to get that story published later?

Elizabeth Coon said...

Here's my off-topic question: What's your experience with tattoos in the publishing industry? I'll soon be graduating college and I plan on working my way into publishing, but I also want to get a tattoo (on my arm, so it might accidentally be visible at times). I know it depends on the office usually, but I was wondering what your company's policy is, and if that is typical of the industry.

CaraD said...

Hi EA! How are picture books that are "fractured fairy tales" doing these days? I know folktales aren't being looked at but I sometimes still see books like PONYELLA by Laura Numeroff (Jan. 2011) being published. I recently wrote one I think has potential about pirates but wonder if any editors or agents will be interested.

Anonymous said...

Oh joy-- I came here wanting to ask the Anonymous One a question and she is open to them! (Or other people are.)

I'm looking for an agent. So I'm reading listings. I see a whole lot of agents who graduated from college nine months ago, and list themselves as "editorial agents". Can anyone tell me what's up with that? What qualifies a young person with no editorial experience to edit manuscripts?

I know what an editorial agent is-- am just wondering why these agents think they should be them.

Elizabeth, if I were you I'd just get the tattoo in such a location that it could be revealed to others only on a need-to-know basis.

Anonymous said...

@Elizabeth Coon

My editor has a tattoo on her wrist. She's a senior editor at a Big Six publisher. I don't think it's an issue.

Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

I'm a freelance illustrator represented by a big agency(in terms that they represent a large number of illustrators). It turns out they're too large and too busy to devote any time to individual promotion, but this falls short of what I expected when I signed up with them two years ago. I was hoping for more
personal direction. The work they find for me is not very inspiring if I
may say so, and it usually takes them more than 3 months to pay for any
work I do for them (counting from the date I invoice). Is this normal?

Recently I've written and illustrated a picture book (I had the industry
standards in mind when I planned it: 32 pages, colored ends, a dummy with
sketches etc). I would really like to send a query to a few publishers,
but I know it's not really proper etiquette when one has an agent. I am
also thinking I should offer the project to my agent first, but I'm afraid they won't try too hard to sell it. If I go down that road, how much time does it usually take to get feedback when sending a picture book query through an agent? Or should I just break my contract with them and start querying on my own?

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Anonymous at 3:45, you raise a good point-- it sucks to be bound to an agent who won't submit your work. Chances are the wording on your contract forbids you to submit it on your own. I found myself in that bind once.

My advice would be to get out of the contract by whatever means are legally available to you. (Read through the contract to see what's required.) But don't query your material till you've done so.

Elizabeth Coon said...

Thanks everyone! I know it seems like a silly question, but I couldn't stop worrying about it. :P

Anonymous said...

Hi EA -

Do you have any preference with working agented or unagented authors / illustrators, or does it all depend on the actual personalities involved?

Thanks for having 'open thread'!

Tami said...

Thanks for the open thread.

I have a dilemma regarding ebook publishing. I am a seasoned graphic designer/illustrator trying to break into the kidlit industry with an author/illustrator picture book.

I'd just begun sending out dummies of my book to potential agents when I was contacted by a publishing company specializing exclusively in ebook apps for the iPad. They had seen my work at a regional SCBWI event and wanted me to submit any manuscripts/dummies I happened to have for their review and possible acceptance. They went on, in that initial conversation, to say that if the app sold large numbers, it would make it potentially appealing to traditional publishers.

I'm a total noob at this (a key reason I was seeking an agent!) and don't want to miss the chance of my book being something really wonderful. Although I'm not afraid to embrace new technologies, I believe traditional publishing is better for many reasons. I know a good editor is worth her weight in gold and can do to a good MS what a good Art Director can do with a bunch of disparate pieces of art and copy.

Here's the question. If I submit to this app publisher, and they accept and publish my PB, will that completely shoot down any chances of it getting published as a traditional, printed book? Should I just stick it out and see what turns up with my submissions to agents?

Editorial Anonymous said...

elthoy, in any self publishing (or any situation at all) in which you don't sell/sign away the rights, then the rights are still yours, the author's.
I don't know anything about podio myself, and the real question is what legal arrangement is involved, and how quickly you could take your work off of podio if you were able to sell the rights elsewhere.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Elizabeth, like other commentors, I think the attitude to the odd tattoo in the workplace has gotten very understanding.
A significant amount of ink, or tattoos in very obvious places (covering your forearms, or on your face/neck, eg) may still put some people off.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Cara D,
Just like other picture books these days, you need a HOOK. 'Fractured fairytale' is not a hook. Ponies is a hook.

Pirates? Maybe. Many people in publishing (and in bookselling) are pretty tired of pirates, but if it could be published at the same time as Pirates of the Caribbean 5 or 6, you might find someone interested.

Editorial Anonymous said...

re: editorial agents
I'd be a little hesitant to sign up with someone that new, too. But a lot of both agenting and editing is self-taught... so I would want such an agent (if he/she were interested in my novel) to send me his/her edits (or a meaningful editorial letter) BEFORE I signed up, so that I could see whether we were on the same page, and so that I had a written record of his/her feedback just in case later that feedback changed unexpectedly.

The upside is that any editorial agent is going to work with you BEFORE submitting, so if in the editorial process everything falls apart, it's unlikely to hurt you or your manuscript. Get back on the horse and find another agent.

Editorial Anonymous said...

re: illustration agencies:
I don't know what's normal, sorry.

re: how much time does it take
There IS no "normal", sorry.

My impression is that some illustration agencies really only offer a big group website, and not particular help with submitting projects. You may want to break your contract, and find a children's book agent.

kellion said...

I've heard from agents that the MG market right now is soft. Is it because library sales are down? And arre editors are buying fewer books, or are agents less interested because the advances are so much lower than YA these days?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Kellion, the population bulge in YA is gradually ending, and so I would expect the publishing bulge in YA to normalize soon, too.
"Soft" is such a relative term. A while back people spoke of the plush market as going soft, and in that situation they meant OH HELL NO. NO MORE PLUSH.
But when agents talk about MG or picture books being soft right now, all they mean is that there are rarely any feeding frenzies over them. Are publishers still buying those categories? Yes, of course.

Anonymous said...

One prevailing sentiment among writing forums is to hold off submitting until your book represents the best that it can be.

But what does that mean when there is no objective standard by which to measure your book?

Dancing Duck said...

EA, thanks for answering my question about editorial agents.

Can I ask another question, please? And this time I'll give myself a name to reduce the number of anonymati:

Say I'm querying agents and already have serious interest in the manuscript from a big 6 publisher. (The only publisher who's seen the ms.) Do I mention the editor's name, or is that, like, namedropping and so uncool?

Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Anon at 12:31:
That may be the prevailing sentiment because so many of us have learned the hard way about thinking a MS is done, sending it off and then realizing, "Oh no! It needs more work."

For me, I now (after having an agent point out a plot hole that should have obvious to me) go through at least two rounds of beta readers before I hit send. Yes, there may be no objective standard, but I find it essential to show my work to as many critique partners as possible. I don't want the agent to be the one who finds mistakes I overlooked.

I hope that's helpful. I think a MS is done when all your critique partners start giving you only nit-picky feedback. Best wishes to you!

Anonymous said...

I have attended several SCBWI conferences where attendees can submit to those editors who spoke/workshopped. My question is: do those editors actually read the conference submissions or are they pretty much read by interns/editorial assistants that would be reading anyway if I submitted to slush.

nw said...

EA, have you noticed any difference in the way you read submissions now that there are e-readers? My agent sent me a rejection recently which made it obvious that the editor hadn't looked past the first chapter or two. Of course I don't expect a thorough read from somebody who isn't interested, but I wondered if in the days of paper manuscripts, she might have leafed through just to see where the book was heading. Do e-readers lead to more linear reading of manuscripts, do you think?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Dancing Duck,
No, it's cool. I mean, don't just say you "have interest"--any agent will want to know just what that means.
If it means you have an offer, then bear in mind that you are running the risk of signing on with an agent who only wants to do the deal and isn't that into your writing.

Editorial Anonymous said...

"I have attended several SCBWI conferences where attendees can submit to those editors who spoke/workshopped. My question is: do those editors actually read the conference submissions or are they pretty much read by interns/editorial assistants that would be reading anyway if I submitted to slush."

Impossible to tell. I know editors who have an assistant (someone they trust) read things; I know editors who read such submissions themselves.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I suppose it's possible, but in my experience, no.
Every editor I know reads just up to the point when she is sure she isn't interested, and that's it. We may go to the synopsis to see if it looks like it gets more interesting later.

I hope you aren't like one of our recent submitters, who sent as sample chapters 45, 46, and 47. If your manuscript only really gets GOOD halfway through the book, there's a much bigger problem than ereaders here.

nw said...

Thanks. No, it wasn't a question of where it got good, it was a question of knowing what kind of book it was. (The synopsis and TOC also should have made that clear, but . . . whatever.)

Anonymous said...

What do you do when friends of friends/complete strangers want to "sit down and talk about writing." Normally, I like to be helpful, but I don't have time for this right now. Is there a way to be helpful and polite without actually doing the "sitting down"? I can't honestly suggest that people read Writer's Market (didn't find it helpful.) Explaining what is helpful would take forever! Maybe I'll suggest this blog and they'll read my comment--problem solved!

Anonymous said...

to 11:07 -

I have a short list of books/websites that I will pass on to people. Interestingly, I have yet to get any follow up questions after I do this, I think because most people aren't as serious about doing the work as they'd like to believe and they don't want to admit they didn't look at the material.

Or you could try what a friend of mine does: she says she will give someone 20 minutes on the phone - and after that she starts charging.

Or someone else I know simply states an hourly consulting rate upfront. She started this as a ploy to simply repel people, but actually got a few takers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks 11:55. I like your idea of the books and Web sites--and I'm not surprised at the response you've gotten. I once spent a long time at a party telling a guy (who asked) about the many resources available to aspiring children's book writers (such as children's books themselves!) Once he learned how he could pursue his goal, he dropped it. I don't get it.

Dancing Duck said...

Thanks, EA. I mentioned it in about seven query letters and got one instant form rejection (no responses otherwise), which made me wonder if maybe I'd done something really rude.

Anonymous said...

anon 12:21 - "Once he learned how he could pursue his goal, he dropped it. I don't get it."

This has happened to me so many times. I think most people who claim to want "advice" want one of two things:

- either they want some kind of magical free ride [personal contacts handed out or for me to take their work and submit it - ie, get it published - for them]

- or they just want their ongoing pipe dream of how one day they will be an author enabled and fostered. I once was informed by a woman [who had eagerly asked me how to get into books] that she was going to wait until after her kids grew up. Her youngest was a one year old.

Side rant: It is amazing to me how many advice-seeking "illustrators" I meet who not only have no portfolios, have no interest in putting one together! Or "writers" who dead seriously ask me if they really need to write out the whole book or if "just the idea is enough". Or people who say that children's books are their ultimate dream job - yet know nothing about either current or past books, authors or illustrators. I am dumbfounded by people who claim to want to be in a profession that clearly BORES them!

Editorial Anonymous said...

And a profession that they belittle even as they aspire to it.

I think a lot of people think writing and illustrating is like being on vacation-- very little effort. Which is the appeal.

Venus said...

I have noticed a large amount of agents saying they aren't interested in sci-fi and/or fantasy, however this seems to be a "trend" that isn't going away any time soon and I don't fully understand the aversion to it. I mean, sure dystopian might not always be popular, but since Harry Potter I haven't seen this genre disappearing either. Have you noticed this with editors as well (the dislike of these genres) or is it something that is happening only on an agent level? I get that not everyone likes sci-fi and fantasy, but clearly the kids like it, so what's the deal?

e.lee09 said...

Yes! I came here needing some advice, lucky me.

I had the opportunity to send a manuscript to an editor who usually doesn't accept unsolicited ms because I attended a SCBWI conference and I had a little sticker thingy I could put on my submission that supposedly got it through to the editor. My question is - it's been 4.5 months and I haven't heard anything back. I have no way to contact him because any future correspondence wouldn't have that magical little sticker on it to avoid the trash bin. So what do I do? Is there any way to get through to a big publishing house and find out the status of a manuscript. Or should I wait 6 months before I do any sort of inquiry? And if I haven't heard anything by 6 months, is there anything I can do then?

Editorial Anonymous said...

I see the dislike of fantasy and scifi among about as many editors and agents as I see it in readers.
This isn't a professional thing, it's a personal thing. No matter what genre is currently hot, you don't want an agent or editor who just doesn't personally enjoy it.

Editorial Anonymous said...

You could try to find out his email and send him a polite reminder, but there isn't a great deal else you can do. Except, of course, continuing to submit elsewhere!

Anonymous said...

Anon 12:21 and Editorial Anonymous. I think I know deep down that this is often what's going on and why it bothers me so much. I work really hard at this, with often heartbreaking results (even being a published author with an awesome agent.) For someone to think it's easy is frustrating.

On a positive note, I love writing children's books. My family understands and supports the sacrifices and I'm very grateful for that.

Politely Perplexed said...

If an agent or editor gives you positive feedback and critiques to your partial, but doesn't ask to see more, is it okay to send an email thanking them?

I honestly appreciate the feedback. Also, they made an assumption about the direction of the story that was way waaay off, and I wanted to let them know... who knows, maybe it would change their mind about asking for more.

The thing is, I don't want to become a pest, and I know agents/editors aren't interested in email correspondence with me.

What's proper etiquette here? Do I thank them and politely mention the story isn't what they thought it was? Or do I just do nothing?

(The reason their assumption about the story was off is because I was able to submit without a query. Lucky me, but they assumed from the first pages that the story was going in a certain direction, and didn't have the query to get the whole picture...)

Help please :)

Dancing Duck said...

Politely Perplexed, you're asking two different questions.

Thank them for the useful feedback, absolutely. If that's your only motive for getting in touch.

Tell them the story isn't going where they think it's going-- I wouldn't bother. If they'd been intrigued enough by it they'd have asked to see more so they could find out. Maybe in your revision, you can make it clearer where the story's going, for the next person you submit it to.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Yes, it's fine to thank the editor. You could perhaps point out that the manuscript was going a different direction in an oblique way-- as in, thank the editor for making you realize that the manuscript's beginning was setting up a false expectation, and and let him/her know that you'll be tweaking the beginning to better represent the direction of the book.

Deirdre Mundy said...

I've found that people don't actually want to know about the REALITY of writing. It's too much of a 'downer.'

As in "Well, my WIP is now in the revising stage, and after that I'll send it out, and hey! This one is really good! So maybe in the next 5 years or so, I'll have a book out!"

Also, people get really upset that even PB writers (which I am not) work on their books for months or years at a time. That just because it's 500 words doesn't mean that you can spend 20 minutes and then poof! Fame and wealth!

(It's always worse around this time of year b/c of the Dr. Seuss celebrations. I mean, how hard can it BE to write like Seuss? All he did was make up a bunch of rhyming nonsense! Look! I can do it too!

The caliphanator of gingamazoo
Has a sploogarupone and six gimmyguys too
And he never would donate them all to my zoo
So I'll just have to go out and steal them.......

See! Look! I can make up words and rhyme! My gosh! I'm a genius! Give me money!


Uh, yeah. So I've found that when someone asks about writing for kids, and you actually give a reply based on REALITY, it makes you...unpopular.

Anonymous said...

Deirdre Mundy said...

"So I've found that when someone asks about writing for kids, and you actually give a reply based on REALITY, it makes you...unpopular."

Thats the beauty part! I used to actually encourage people, which made me wildly popular amongst the deluded. Then I changed my ways and instead would start immediately talking about RESEARCHING publishers/books/market, and laugh inside as I watched their eyes glaze over. Most couldn't get away from me fast enough.

That was the test. Only about one out of twenty people will get excited about being told plain facts about publishing, and those are the only people that I think would have enough gas in them to actually pursue this business.

politely perplexed said...

Thanks guys :)

Anonymous said...

After The Slush Pile:

Hi EA -

What would some general advice be for someone who is not trying to 'break in', but in the midst of building and maintaining a career? Once you actually start getting published, there is much less in terms of advice resources out there, since most advice and books are aimed at newcomers. In this void, the author-on-author rumor mill is alive and well. I think most people find staying in is as hard as getting in, just as mystifying, and many authors will whip one another up into frenzies - for instance: book trailers made out of fear, etc.

Any thoughts?

And thanks for having this 'open thread'!


mr/ds said...

I'd love to hear an editor's point of view about the deep discount clause. My agent says it's normal for publishers to cut royalties in half AND switch from list to net on books sold at 50% of cover price or less (which would be all books sold through Amazon as well as special sales).

It seems to me that doing either one or the other would cover the loss of income to the publisher. Doing both seems like double dipping at the author's expense. But what does it look like from the publisher side? Is this practice justified?


Editorial Anonymous said...

I wish I knew more about this issue, and I'm not sure who I can trust to give me a really straight answer. What I know is that some publishers switch to net and don't cut the royalty (but the royalty is a flat royalty, without escalations). And I know that when this practice started, there were fewer high-discount sales than there are now.

I am not certain that the clause is truly fair to authors in the current market, but how to make it fair is not necessarily a simple thing.

It's very likely that your agent knows more about what's common across houses than I do.

I think before the industry clears this issue up (which it might have, in perhaps the next decade), the digital book market will make these questions moot--and give us a whole other set of injustices to worry about.

mr/ds said...

Thanks! And . . . eep.

Literaticat said...

To be far, MR/DS, I am sure your agent didn't say she LIKED it, or that she accepted it without ARGUING... I am confident that she said that, as irritating a clause as this is, sadly, it is not unusual.

We are NOT going to be able to get publishers to not give special breaks to people who buy in bulk non-returnable (who we'd hope would be the only people who would be getting those prices).

I assume that it changes to net at this point because the retail price is moot -- these are NOT sales direct to consumers, nor are they sales to retail stores who get a 40-45% discount and then mark the book up to retail price, but can also return them.

Instead, they are probably to things like special book clubs, and purchasers like this are either not selling the books at all, or have subscription-based somethings, or have totally different rates anyway, and so are not selling the book the way a bookstore does at retail price, AND they can't return them. So net makes sense actually.

Why it is often CUT IN HALF is another story. I imagine it is the same reason paperback royalties are cut in half, theory being because you are selling so many more at the lower price, and the profit margin is thinner? I know. It is headache inducing.

What your agent endeavors to do is have the point at which'deep discount' kicks in set as high as possible, and try to specify that certain online retailers don't count under this clause.

mr/ds said...

Oh, you agents always stick up for each other.

No, seriously, I'm not sure what that sounded like, but I was in no way impugning my agent, who happens to be fantastic. What I meant was, "An expert (MY AGENT) tells me this is usual, so how do you, EA, explain this from the publisher's point of view?"

I just thought there might be some explanation, other than the one given in the recent SCBWI newsletter (which was basically, "because publishers are cheating authors").

Anonymous said...

What if Stepnen King were to write a picture book. Think he could pull it off? Or what if Beverly Cleary had tried her hand at horror? Both authors have gobs of writing talent. And both found their writing voice and used it.

Should an author beat himself up trying to write a gritty crime novel if he's best at using his words to paint a beautiful scene? Should a YA author push herself to shorten her sentences and chapters to make a chapter book?

Do you think we are meant to write one kind of story the best and everything else is just so-so?

The Storylady said...

I have a question: Is it okay to submit more than one manuscript at a time to a publisher? I have three that are very different from each other, but all three also seem like possible fits for a particular publisher. They may like just one, but they may like all three. They would be in separate envelopes under separate cover letters.

Editorial Anonymous said...

I think that's true for some writers, but not for all. there arer plenty of examples of writers who've written well in more than one genre. Carl Hiassen? Annie Barrows? Peter Abrams? MT Anderson? Emily Jenkins? The list goes on.

Deirdre Mundy said...

So, about thaqt 'wrong pond' thread below--- I think one reason it's hard for foreign PBs to break into the US market is that, frankly, foreign PBs are often quirky by US standards.

I say this as someone who LOVES quirky. My kids and I recently discovered "Egg Drop" by Mini Grey, and we all think it's HILARIOUS. I tried describing the plot to other people, and they think it sounds awful! I mean, here's this brilliant little egg who has a great imagination and wants to follow his dreams...... and it ends badly. Horrifically. Hilariously.

But apparently the book was a huge success in the UK--- so I think picture books really do vary alot by culture, and while there IS room for homegrown quirkiness like "The Stinky Cheese Man" and Foreign humor like that one about the Wombat, it's really a niche market over here.

Probably because the number 1 purchasers of picture books are grandmas, who want something sweet that is essentially a 32 page Hallmark card.

(But Egg Drop really is awesome! Read it! :) My three year old son thinks it is NEARLY AS GOOD as "I, Crocodile" and "Captain Raptor"...... which, coming from him is a HUGE ENDORSEMENT.)

Editorial Anonymous said...


The accepted etiquette is to send one manuscript, wait for an answer, and then send the next. So if publishers realize that you are peppering them with multiple manuscripts, they are likely to be irritated. But if you are submitting to the slush pile at most houses, then you may have to wait some months to get a response, and so I sympathize with your impulse to submit more and sooner.

Here's the way to do that: if you are submitting to the slush pile, more than one person may be going through those manuscripts, and so if you wait a week or two between submissions, the publisher may NOT realize they're all from you.

Still, I have to suggest that as great a fit as your manuscripts may be for this publisher, if you think about the manuscripts' hooks and marketability, you'll probably find that there's ONE that you should lead with.

The Storylady said...

Thanks for the advice, EA. There are only a couple of publishers that are large enough and have a broad enough range that I think all three of my manuscripts are possibilities. I just hate to think I have to wait 18 months to get all three in front of them.

Ishta Mercurio said...

I have a question that's kind of related to Storylady's. I recently attended a SCBWI conference in which I was "in the room" with 5 editors: two at critique tables ans three at breakout sessions. I've been told that I have an opportunity to submit to all of these editors, but two of them are from the same imprint at the same house.

I'm assuming it would be impolitic to sub two different manuscripts to them, one to Editor A and one to Editor B? (We're talking picture books, just so no-one is wondering why I don't have an agent doing this.)

Equally, when submitting manuscripts generally, is it impolitic to send two different manuscripts to two different imprints within the same house?

How about the same manuscript to two different imprints within the same house?


Deirdre Mundy said...

Off topic, but it's an oopen thread after all.

Is anyone else saddened by Diana Wynne Jone's death? I'd fallen into the trap of thinking she'd keep writing forever, I guess. I'd say that she was an influence on my writing, except that, honestly, I'll never be on the same planet as she was.

She's one of the authors who's worth rereading again and again - preferably with cozy chair and a nice cup of cocoa so that you don't have to get up until you're done.

I wished she had lived at least a few more years, so she'd still be writing when I introduced her books to my daughters.

She was one of the greats -- between her and Jacques, it's been a hard year for my childhood favorites.

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