Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Nonfiction' Is Like Reality TV Shows, Right? And 'Creative Nonfiction' Is Like Fox News

(1) How is publishing different for nonfiction children's books? (For example, a science topic for middle grades)
It's SO different! It's furrier, for one thing, and sometimes it's purple!
Ok, so I didn't really understand the question.  There aren't a lot of differences, aside from submission (see below) and the need for fact-checking.  Were you thinking of something else?

(2) I know for adult nonfiction, authors are not expected to write the whole book before submitting. Is that true of children's books as well or do editors expect the complete manuscript?

If it's chapter-length nonfiction, then yes, usually those are sold based on sample chapters and an outline.
(3) Are nonfiction titles a harder sell to publishers/bookstores?
They certainly can be.  Some nonfiction sells great---The Dangerous Book for Boys, for example.  But a lot of nonfiction (especially chapter-length nonfiction) only does well if it's very well supported by teachers and librarians, and as you may have heard in the news, they have NO MONEY TO SPEND ON BOOKS right now.  But that's ok, because we didn't want those kids educated anyway.  Who cares if they'll be old enough to vote soon?  Most adult Americans NOW don't know what "nonfiction" means, and everything's just fine, right?

Friday, February 25, 2011

She Introduced Me to OkCupid, and It Was Love At 539th Sight!

There’s a new service designed to help you find qualified authors at no cost to you.
Their books are properly packaged so you can review their project in 3 seconds or less.
It’s been called the “eHarmony” for Agents & Authors It is the step between the author’s computer at home and the agenting world. I’m a Literary Agent Matchmaker and I’m here to help you. I invite you to take a quick peek at my website where you'll find a dedicated page for Agents like you. Be sure to sign up for our fre.e Hot List to get notified about projects from qualified authors in your genres.
I'm confused.  Is this an agent to help you find an agent?
So, you pay this person $1,000 to suggest agents to you (but no guarantees), and then the agent helps you get a publisher? How many middle men do we need?
Isn't this like paying a matchmaker to recommend an internet dating service?

There are so many things that I don't understand.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That's Not a Stranger in the Bushes. That's Santa!

I am a French author. I work with a dozen publishers in France and some of my books are translated into Spanish, Chinese, Korean, etc.. But not in English! I just moved to Ireland and I would like to see my books here. How do I do? Do I find an agent to translate and publish my books? In France the agents do not exist, I contacted the publishers directly and they deal themself for the foreign rights ...
The question is really: whose rights are these?

If the foreign language rights belong to your French publisher, how did your French publisher show your books to Spanish, Korean, and Chinese publishers without having shown them to US and UK publishers?  That seems extremely unlikely to me; it seems far more likely that the US and UK publishers simply weren't interested.  Some books, whether because of art style or topic or treatment, just don't translate to certain other book markets.  For every Everyone Poops, there's a Santa Through the Window.

If the foreign rights are yours, then you could get an agent to represent the foreign rights.  Readers, any agent suggestions?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Once Upon a Time, a Chipmunk and a Penguin Went to a Motel Room

I'm finishing an illustration-only book. It was intended for children, but it's suitable for all ages. 
Please refer to this post.
So would it be considered a children's picture book because it meets the page-count criteria, or could it be stretched to the novelty category and submitted to agents that don't accept children's fiction? It seems to me that novelty can be a tough sell, but aren't consumers more likely to purchase a novelty/gift book than, say, a fifteen-dollar picture book? I ask that realizing your answer most likely is that it depends on the pictures, but feel free to surprise me here.
It depends on the pictures---and the topic. 

There is a core audience for your book.  I'm guessing, from your question, that the topic or treatment is somewhat adult, and the only reason you think it might be a children's book is the format.  I don't suppose you've seen Baby, Mix Me a Drink?  Or Furverts?  Those are both board book formats, a format associated with infants and toddlers.  Does the format make them for that audience?  OH HELL NO.

Of course, there are some picture books published every year by children's imprints for which the audience is really adults.  The ones who skate that line in an acceptable way are usually light-hearted life advice, like: "if you love someone, set them free."  They are bought as graduation gifts (see Walk On or Oh The Places You'll Go).  The ones that don't are usually dreadful and sometimes psychotic life advice, like: "if you love someone, let them chop you down to a stump."

But graduation gifts is a difficult niche to publish into---more difficult than adult novelty books. 

Figure out who your audience is.  Good luck!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Give a Gift

My question is about etiquette. I don't know how often it comes up, but you're the only person I can think of to ask.
I've known Editor X since I was very young. He was a long-time friend of one of my parents before my parent passed away, a few years back. He is absolutely enormous in the New York publishing world.
I've wanted to be a fiction author professionally since I was a child, and it has nothing to do with the connection. I didn't even register how well-known Editor X is until recently, when I Googled his name to find contact info. I've been grieving quite badly over my parent and have been keeping myself to myself, but it was time to reach out. As a result of my Googling, Editor X and I have re-kindled our friendship.
To my good fortune, I signed a contract with an independent publisher last year and the novel will be released in a small run some time in the 3rd quarter of this year.
I know I am extremely lucky in both regards and wouldn't change any of it for any amount of money.
Is it appropriate to send Editor X an advance copy of my novel as a gesture of friendship? How do I make it clear that I sent it because he loves books, not because he has connections? My friendship with him is very important to me, and I want to make it on my own, so perhaps I shouldn't send it at all. But maybe he'll be offended that I didn't think of him when gifting copies...! What do I do?
You're probably over-thinking this. Editor X will not expect you to send him a free copy of your book; if you decide not to, he won't be offended. All editors know how many friends authors have, and know you can't possibly give all your friends free copies.  (Also, would it kill them to support their friend and BUY the book?)

If you do want to send him a copy of the book, I would suggest carefully wording the note you send with it to communicate that you don't expect him to read the book; that you understand how many books and manuscripts are always waiting in line for attention from people in the book business.  (Both books we need to read for our jobs, and ones we just want to read, when we get the chance. My when-I-get-the-chance pile must be around 30 books high right now.)  Reference your friendship as the motivation for sending it, and that will be enough.

Then: be a good gift-giver and never ask him if he got around to reading it. I know, some people have a tremendously difficult time giving gifts without also giving the obligation to enjoy the gift and report back on that enjoyment. As well-meaning as those people are, and as much as I love them, I don't want another "gift" from them ever again. These are alligator presents.  True generosity comes without obligation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Quick Answers: Freelance Editors, Trends, and Overthinking

When an agent or editor asks for a synopsis or the first ten pages to be pasted in the email, should I double space as if it's a hard copy, or is there a preferred method for email formatting?
This is another case of overthinking submissions.  Do whatever makes it easily readable, and leave it at that.
I’ve heard that publishers are currently looking for vampire and action manuscripts. I’m not interested in placating a fickle trend, but I am curious as to whether or not you think the recent downturn in the publishing industry might be leading to a significant (long-term) shift in what sells.
Let me congratulate you on not writing to trend.  But the answer to your question is no.
I have written a novel (fiction/semi-romantic). I would like to find someone professional who would read it and tell me how to proceed from this point. If you have any specific advice it would be greatly appreciated.
Some people do hire freelance developmental editors, but I think you could probably get as much help from a good critique group.   Readers, do you have thoughts?  Or recommendations of freelance editors?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Welcome to the Booby Hatch

I'm a Picture Book Illustrator but this past Spring a story began to form in my brain (sounds painful right and it was:)
I began by sketching it out in storyboard fashion. I thought I had a vision of how the story would go, how many pages it might take to tell it, the type of art (sketchy b/w) I would need, the limited wording I wanted to use.
Well, after a while I realized I had far too many sketches for any pic book I have ever seen. I stopped, thinking perhaps it best to put down the words on paper that were going through my head as I drew.
That made it worse, because my vision for the book was completely thrown by the amount of writing I was doing. This was NOT what I had planned. It was suppose to be simple, few words, perhaps a speech bubble here and there, thought bubbles for the dog character. Now, words were flowing to match the number of images and I found myself panicking.
Now, I really don't know what I have here. Is it the quirky sort of pic book I had planned, no. Is it a story book, no. Is it a graphic novel, maybe but how do I tell. Is it a mid grade novel, can't be, I'm not a writer!!!
This is the time for a good critique group.  They will help you sort out which things are working best about the project, and you'll be in a better place to decide its shape from there.
How do writers sort this out and is it normal or at least common for a writer to begin a work and then have it take over? Do Authors always know what sort of manuscript they will end up with or is it sometimes a surprise even to them?
Of course it's a surprise sometimes.  These are creative endeavors; they are supposed to have some life of their own.

Lastly, when the story starts talking back to you and you to the story, is it time for the jacket and wagon?
If that's your definition of crazy, every SCBWI conference is a looney bin.  You have a LOT of company.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quick Answers: Cold Medicine, Reincarnation, and Newspaper Copyright

What genre would reincarnation fall into?

Under the influence of cold medicine, I cranked out what I think is a cute picture book (text only, no art, but I'm still taking cold medicine so watch out). I am not new to writing, but am new to writing for kids. Specifically, I would like to learn more about rhyme, verse and poetry in picture books.

I've found a lot of references to how bad most writers are at it, but not a lot of ideas/advice on how to evaluate or improve.

Do you have any thoughts? I would like to figure out a) how bad my verse is and b) how to fix it. (I do assume it must be awful because I am high on drugs.)
Readers, to the comments!  I'm sure you have some great resources.
I'm interested in knowing if I can legally use feature stories I wrote that were already published by a community newspaper I work for. I understand that after 90 days, the stories legally belong to me and that I can rework them and sell them to magazines, trade journals, etc. for additional publication.
Does this sound correct?
Who do you understand this from?  The newspaper?  Because if it's not the newspaper (or more specifically the contract you signed with them), it doesn't mean a thing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Unrealistic Expectations? Unrealistic Expectations, Party of Four?

I am a working writer (film) and director.
I have written a children's book. People seem to really like it, 
"People"?  You mean like your neighbors and friends and plumber and stuff?  They don't know anything about children's books.
and of course I want a good illustrator and want it published.
I was thinking of getting an pro illustrator myself and presenting it to editors in it's completed form--is this crazy? 
I imagine editors want to be part of that process, but also fear a hack artist getting assigned to it.
Well, get a good editor.
Also, isn't writing children's books like opening a restaurant--something that everyone wants to do but almost nobody really succeeds at?
No, no.  It's worse than that.

Writing children's books is like singing-- something EVERYONE, even the ones who don't know how to cook, think they can do acceptably.  I swear to god, if you started stopping people on the street and asking them if they had an idea for a children's book, 99% of them would say yes.  This is why editors don't generally admit to what they do when speaking to strangers.

For restaurants, there are three categories: people playing with the idea of opening a restaurant, people trying to run a restaurant, and people running a successful restaurant.

For children's books, there are four categories: people playing with the idea of writing a children's book, people trying to get a children's book published, people who have gotten a children's book published, and people publishing successful children's books.  As much failure as there is in restaurants, there is much, much more in books.

However: there are many things you can do to lessen your chances of failure, and among them are writing a great deal, reading a lot of children's books, and finding out as much as you can about the business. 

I mean, who is more likely to run a successful restaurant-- the person who has pipe dreams of serving his grandmother's recipes to other people, or the person who has practiced running a restaurant, investigated how other restaurants are run, and educated themselves about the business of running a restaurant?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Poetry? There's an Ointment for That.

I've been wondering: I've written a picture book text in unrhymed verse, although the format is in verse, due to the rhythm. How to I query on this? And what would be the format of the text? In regular paragraph form? Or in verse form? Can you advise me on that?
I love poetry.  I browse the children's poetry section at bookstores, and I read poetry in my spare time.

I'm not the only one, either.  Plenty of editors enjoy good poetry.  And it is for this very reason that most editors HATE poetry in query letters.

I'm not implying that your poetry isn't good.  I just want to bring across what you're up against.

The mild bludgeoning the English language gets in prose when in the hands of some writers becomes a cheerful disemboweling when the same people attempt poetry.  Every editor has seen a great quantity of this sort of thing.  It's terrible to watch the language we love be dressed up in quaint and merry bells and then flayed alive.

So seeing 'poetry' or 'verse' in a query letter, especially when what's being pitched to me is a picture book, not a poetry book (and thus not something that absolutely must be poetry), has, after much experience, come to give me the feeling of incipient hives. It is often the precursor of a manuscript that cares more about being poetry than about having a sales hook or any compelling content, and indeed often fails at all three.

In consideration of this justifiable prejudice among editors, and because your verse is not rhyming, I would strongly suggest that you not mention that your book is in verse when you query it.  If it works to format it in paragraph form, go ahead and do that, too.  And once you've taken the lyricism of your writing out of the query letter's equation, if you can't think what makes your book good competition for the many other picture books out there, then that's when you know you've got a problem.

Good luck!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Waiting Is Not the Hardest Part

An editor at a conference asked me to send my YA manuscript for consideration, which I did. My original plan was to start with queries to agents, beginning with someone who expressed interest. However, I am waiting on that since I would really like to work with this editor and don't want to throw up any roadblocks. What I am wondering is: How long should I give the editor before I start my query process to agents?
 Zero time.  Start now.  You don't want to send out your manuscript to a bunch of editors while you are sending it to agents, because that's your future agent's job.  But sending the manuscript to one editor who you made contact with at a conference and who requested it is not going to ruffle any agent's feathers.  And if the editor expresses interest and by that time you have an agent, the editor will not be unduly annoyed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Quick Answers: Poetry vs Picture Book, Chapter Book vs Novel

Thanks for sharing all your comments and tips with us. I have just begun the process of trying to find an agent to represent my work - picture books written in rhyme. I have heard that some agents and editors will not even manuscripts for rhyming picture books, perhaps partly because they are overdone and partly because often they are not done well. I assume all I can do as an aspiring writer is to send my manuscripts to those who don't include "rhyming picture books" in their lists of what they are NOT looking for. But what if they specify that they aren't looking for "Poetry"? This is what I need clarified for me. Does "Poetry" mean an actual book of poems (Whitman, Silverstein, etc.) or does my rhyming picture book fall into this category as well?  
Well, it shouldn't mean that.  Probably in some cases it does actually mean that, but I think you have to take them at their word and submit it as a picture book. 
I was wondering if the query letter is any different for a chapter book vs. a regular novel. I know that with picture books, you are supposed to include the complete text of your entire manuscript in your query, but would you do that for a chapter book that is around 7,500 words (if you were intending it to have a lot of pictures)? Or would I follow regular query standards for this type of chapter book?
I haven't seen this question directly addressed on any industry blogs, perhaps because there really is no difference so people don't make mention of it. I appreciate everything you do with your blog and I hope everything is going well at your agency.
A.  I am not an agent.  See the "editorial" at the top?
B. Do not include the complete text of your picture book manuscript unless that's what the publisher's/agent's submission guidelines ask for.  There are no industry-wide rules.  Wishfully thinking that there are is just going to get you into trouble.

C. A chapter book is a short novel for short people.  Treat it like that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quick Answers: Blurbs, Library Credits, and Print Runs

If I'm shopping a fiction manuscript to an editor (or agent), how helpful would it be, really, to include a quote from a multi-published, bestselling queen/king/first lady/high priest of the genre? Assuming the writing is solid but you're on the fence about, say, content and marketability, would having a cover blurb in hand for a non-contracted novel sway you in any way? Can a blurb sell a book to the industry pros?
And if that bestselling author has had a policy of not providing blurbs for a while but is making an exception, should that bit of information be included in the query or would it come across sounding too hard-sell and desperate?
If you've got a blurb from one of the big writers in the genre, yes, that carries weight.  It still might not sell the book to an editor who just doesn't like it, but it might really make a difference to an editor who's on the fence. 
The other day, someone told me that authors get some sort of credit that translates into a payout when readers check out their books from the library. I've tried to do a google search but was unable to find anything useful (at least in regards to the US). Do you know if this is true and how this works?
This may be true for digital books; I'm not very familiar with how that works at libraries.  But regular books?  That's RIDICULOUS.   Libraries buy books the same way everybody else does: they pay for THAT COPY and that copy only.

UPDATE: As many many of my readers have informed me (who knew I had such an international audience?), there IS a way for libraries in Canada, Australia, Germany, and the UK (and maybe other places) to pay royalties to authors.  The system (which you can learn more about in the comments) sounds so common-sensical that I can't believe we don't do it in THIS country.
Thank you, my readers, for the enlightenment!
What is a good-sized print run on average? I've been given a very rough figure of 15,500. Is this a good figure?

That's just fine.  Bear in mind, though, that until the figure stops being "rough" it's essentially hypothetical.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is Your Work Worth Money?

I've been sent a proposition and have been pulling my hair out for a couple of days deciding what to do. A friend directed me to your website and I knew you'd be the right person to ask!

I am a professional illustrator, although currently unpublished. I've sent in portfolios to publishers and had reasonably positive feedback so far - many of my submissions have been kept on record for future use. However, I've recently been contacted directly by someone looking for an artist to illustrate their poetry (it's fun and quirky in style and I believe I could compliment it well with my art). I'm not quite sure whether they intend to self-publish or submit the "final work" to an actual publishing house...either way, though, I've read time and time again that author/illustrator duos will NOT be accepted by publishers, regardless. Is this always the case? Even if the art is of a very high quality? I'm feeling a little out of my depth as this situation is all new to me and I'm not aware of the standard expectations of the illustrator either through a publishing house or in a self-publishing situation. Any information you can enlighten me with would be very, very welcome!!

If it's going to be self-published, sure, go for it. Be sure you get paid in advance.

If it's for submission to a publisher, DON'T DO IT. Publishers want to choose the illustrator.

Yes, if the art is of very high quality, the publisher may accept something already illustrated.  THAT'S NOT YOU.  I'm talking about Jerry Pinkney or Kadir Nelson or Marla Frazee or somebody whose art is exemplary and in high demand.

I don't mean to be unkind.  The fact that your samples have been put on file means they are better than the average art submission, and you may have a wonderful career ahead of you.  It does not mean, however, that your art is of very high quality.  You are an unproven artist in a competitive field.  Do everything you can to project professionalism-- including not giving your art away.  And that's what you would be doing if someone convinced you to illustrate their manuscript on spec.  Chances are high that it would be wasted effort.