Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Clue Arms Race and What You Can Do to Help

In my email this week:
I attended [X] conference where you spoke. I'm sure you've gotten lots of emails since,
No, most people know better.
so I'm sorry for adding to the number. I'm a writer of children's books. I was going through the shelves at my public library and noticed quite a few were from your publishing house.
Oh, you noticed that, did you? Congrats.
I have a few questions for you. Do you know any good agents?
We've just passed amusingly clueless and are headed into hilarious.
Do you know which publishers are best for children's books? Which editor would you suggest at your own house for a quick meeting? I have a mostly-finished dummy and I'd really like to walk someone through it. I realize this probably isn't the normal modus operandi, but I'm a really hard worker and I think I'm pretty talented and I'm talking no more than 15 or 20 minutes of an editor's time. Seems worth it.
I am now trying to howl with laughter and gasp at this person's nerve at the same time, a combination that results in mild choking and then a coughing fit.
Loyal readers, I know none of you are this lost. Would you do me (and all other editors) a great favor and try to impart some of your own wisdom to the newbies you run into out there? I'll take this one, but my weeks would be better (if less full of incredulous hilarity) if more hopeful authors had some sense of how the business works. Much sincere gratitude if you get a chance to do this.


Anonymous said...

We do try, but they think that we're just not as talented as they are, and that it will be different for them. Then they go out and self-publish, and they, along with all their friends and relatives, think it *was* different for them. (There was a great article on this recently in the SCBWI newsletter.)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Plus there all all the folks who swear life is JUST like the movies, and that editors are all dying to say:

"You got Moxy, kid. And I like moxy. You're hired."

*note-- isn't Moxy a kind of soda? Is this where the "bribe the editor" meme got its start? =)

Karen said...

I do my best to advise 'em right here:

Harold Underdown's site is a great place to send people, too:

Editorial Anonymous said...

Haha. I think you're right, Deirdre.
But it's really "You got moxy, kid. So do my stalkers. I hate moxy."

Anonymous said...

Sounds like you should have stayed anonymous EA.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Hmm, what does that mean?
Ready to make a guess about my true identity? You won't be the first one to be wrong this month.

Sylvia said...

Er, I am not anon, but I think s/he simply means at the conference, then you wouldn't have received such an email. :)

Anonymous said...

I'm in the same boat with the first comment.

The newbies who really want to learn tend to do so on their own - or they ask good questions with no arrogance.

But, as a whole, I see a complete disregard for good advice. They tend to be overly confident and think the rules will never apply to them. They scoff at suggestions and go off on their own, determined to go the Don Quixote route.

All they need to hear is one story about someone who didn't go the expected route, and that's proof to them that no one ever should.

sdn said...

i put this page up for the very reason you post.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure these are some of the same people who attend a critique group only once, never to come again, too disappointed in those naysayers who tell them the work isn't ready to submit to an editor yet.

Anonymous said...

It's my impression that this message starts out politely, even though the person is misguided. The writer really doesn't understand how much s/he is imposing. I think more than a few writers send out some messages like this before finding SCBWI, Writer's Market, etc., and then they blush to think back on them later.
Maybe every conference should have a "Just Getting Started? Read This!" tip sheet.

Editorial Anonymous said...

Anonymous, I think that's a grand idea. More than a sheet, though, perhaps a session or an entire track! There's so much to absorb about the industry-- in addition to all there is to learn about writing...

Sylvia, ah, perhaps so. But I meant this missive came in my work email. It's hard to be anonymous at my job or the conferences I attend. :)

That's great. I especially enjoyed the footnotes.

Anonymous said...

I SO agree with Anon 9:05.

Knowing how hard it was for me when I first started writing/querying, I'm always quick to offer suggestions about websites, blogs, etc, to newbie writers and am continually stunned/perplexed by their attitudes.

Without batting an eye they poo-poo such ideas as researching agents on or really taking care in crafting a query letter, acting as if that's what lesser writers (like ME, even though I am published) have to do but THEY are the next JK Rowling or something. It's somewhat depressing, disrespectful, and amusing at the same time.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

Anonymous said...

I agree with anon 5:05. Often I have people asking me questions and I kindly let them go to the front of the line with good inside information and tips. Then... THEY ARGRUE WITH ME!!!!!
Right now I have a total stranger almost stalking me by phoning and phoning and phoning. She thinks I can help her get published. [A rhyming novel by the way!] I keep telling her, that I too am a writer and I too do not get everything I write published. Never have. Never will. And that is a good thing.

cynthea said...

EA, send the newbies to my website and tell them to take my crash course.

Hope Vestergaard said...

A few more attempts to in-clue-cate the clueless...'s%20a%20Critic.pdf

Even when our local chapter inserted these front and center in the conference packet, people did the don'ts. However, editors who knew the sheet was in the packets were able to say, "you should really read that sheet in your packet."

CJ Omololu said...

So did this person spend the entire conference in the bathroom slipping pages of manuscript under the stall doors? Were they paying any attention at all?

I would imagine it would be hard to find a conference, pay to go to it, get yourself there and then still come up with questions like these. Or not.

Anonymous said...

Oh, gosh... had I been lucky enough to have any publishing contacts in my salad days, I'm pretty sure I would have been equally obnoxious and clueless. It took me ten years to develop enough humility (repeated rejection will do that nicely)to look around for some education.

I do remember when my first book came out, and a friend of a friend called and wanted my "advice" on a book he was writing and illustrating. I spent hours with this person, looking at a massive portfolio of completely inapplicable art and attempting to explain what I had been at such pains to learn. As I was trying to wind up, I discovered that the man hadn't even written the text yet. I gently suggested that he join the SCBWI, take a class, join a critique group, so he could learn something about writing... whereupon he reared back, fixed me with a look of amused scorn, and said "Well, I'm hardly worried about my ability to WRITE. After all, I have a GRADUATE degree in Child Psychology."

Four years later, I saw him at an SCBWI meeting, looking humble and eager, poor guy. There may be hope for him yet.

Anonymous said...

Our SCBWI-WI fall retreat has a "pre-retreat" session for newbies, which has helped erase the embarrassing things uneducated new writers do, say, and ask at conferences. I also like the analogy about whether one is ready to play the violin at Carnegie Hall, just because one has held a violin. What does it take to get to Carnegie Hall? Years of practice, practice, practice. Same thing for wannabe children's book writers.

Anonymous said...

Hahahaha! Thanks for cracking me up some of these comments. It is common for a newbie to ask for advice, then actually argue or even start to pity me when I tell them something that conflicts with their own magical plan. I can see it in their eyes: as I am giving real solid advice [that they asked for], suddenly the mood shifts and I can tell they are thinking that I took the stupid long way and they actually seem to start to feel sorry for ME! It's twisted!

Editorial Anonymous said...

I had heard of this sort of thing happening to authors, but I didn't realize it was such a common experience. I guess we're all in the same boat.
I'm so tempted to build a beginner's course in children's publishing. We could call it "Hey You, Jackass: Children's Publishing in 12 Easy Steps"

Wendie O said...

I've begun to run the other way when new writers approach me. (often phoning me at my workplace and wanting to talk for hours. Sorry, I can't spend my day job time doing that.)

With all the POD publishing and self-publishing, a good many writers are proud of spending $20,000 to get a picture book published. (I declined to write a blurb for for one of these, which didn't please the person who requested it at all.) They are so sure that this is the way to go.

After pointing them to and books about getting published and having this information refused, I've begun to simply nod and say tactfully, "Well, some books have a small audience. Maybe that's what you needed to do. But it's such a drag to do all that marketing. Major publishers do all of that for you." (Blank look in response.)

"Money flows toward the author." (blank look)

"Libraries and bookstores won't carry your book unless they get good reviews." (blank look)

You-all are right. They are so sure they have "published" a book. Having no idea that the rest of the country will never hear of this book. Or care.

I had to bite my tongue as a school librarian explained to me how proud she was that Publish America accepted her book. "They only accept about 10% of submissions." (oh really?) It was a Haiku book -- and she spelled her name backwards to make it sound Japanese. I tried not to let her see me wince.

She wouldn't listen to me; she was so busy instructing me about her publisher. (Yes Dave, I should have directed her to Writer Beware, but I get so tired, so very tired of them not believing me.)

What can you do to help? When these people are HAPPY with the product they get.


Elizabeth Fama said...

Saaay...did you doctor that e-mail to be an archetype?

Editorial Anonymous said...

Of course. I can't quote anything I get in my work email without endangering my anonymity. I didn't take liberties with it, though.

Anonymous said...

"Hey You, Jackass": LOVE the title! Sounds like a book to me... high concept, pre-empt. Who wants to write a chapter?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Yes, beginning writers mistakenly think an editor won't understand their dummy or manuscript if they don't walk her through it. But it's also too common for writers -- even experienced ones -- to create a dummy or describe illustrations in gory detail, for fear the editor won't "picture the story properly" otherwise. That would be my A-Number-One pet peeve if I were an editor.

Terry P. said...

I also try to help newbies on my blog, I've even started a new part of my blog called "Mini-Views", which has the sole purpose of experts giving advice to new writers and newly published authors.

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