Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Things to Do While I'm in LA

101 Reasons to Stop Writing's guest blogger tells us just how reasonable the recent Forbes article "How Amazon Could Change Publishing" is. Nice to see someone with "sir" in their name isn't above describing the reason a book isn't published as "shitness".

Literaticat, otherwise known as a children's bookseller and a rather up-and-coming agent, asks for questions. Go on, then.

Nevermind about my failure to blog much in the last week; go bother Nathan Bransford about his last post being from Friday.

Editorial Ass points us to a video that alternately amuses me and gives me a headache.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Making Up for Lost Time

Ok, I have some catching up to do. The backlog that occasionally overwhelms all editors (even compulsive ones like me) struck this spring. Happily, I've fought it out and will not be joining the ranks of the permanently backlogged (like some people I know, and feel for).

First off: you wanted to know what happened to the manuscript I was all excited about in early November: I showed it to a few other people here, and some of them said "eh" (they were wrong, obviously) and some of them had questions. I asked the author for a rewrite, and got it. It was even better! I took the rewrite to an acquisitions meeting, and there was again a small (and wrong-headed) percentage of "eh," but happily no one listened to the nay-sayers and I prevailed! I acquired it last month. And now it is mine, mine... mwah-ha-ha!
Now I move on to plotting the eventual downfall and subjugation of all readers to its charms. And it needs an illustrator. That, too.

Next: the Poetry Contest! Only two months late! Grand prize winner gets swag mailed to him/her from BEA.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Book Buyer Blogs: Voodoo Curses and Refreshments

Beyond the book itself, the rep's thoughts, and sales history (if any), what influences your buy? How much does a marketing plan, for example, sway your other instincts?

Remember, for frontlist we are buying six months or so in advance, so the only thing I really have to go on is the catalogue copy and rep. If it is a book that the pub has dedicated a large marketing budget to, that will be part of the rep's pitch. He might say something like "we're tremendously excited about this one, it is our lead title, we've had great reads from booksellers, so-and-so and so-and-so blurbed it" in which case, I'll probably get a stack. Or, "this might look dumb, but trust me, it is gonna be everywhere," and then I'll probably get a couple.

Post-publication, you are guaranteed brought in if you have a glowing review in the New York Times, my city paper's book section, NPR or Oprah. Also, post-publication, if a staff member reads it and is handselling it, I'll keep a stack. And if you are a local author and mensch, same.

For an author with a history, what (if anything) helps to overcome a lower sales history?

It is better to be a brand-new author with nothing but fresh-faced innocence, a big grin and a shiny new book, than to be a ho-hum writer with a few books that have lousy-to-meh sales histories. A new book has nowhere to go but up, and optimism from the pub can be high. It is much tougher to get excited about something that feels shopworn.

In my opinion, the only thing that will overcome a history of meh sales is a breakout book – either get a big promo push from somewhere, you gain a fan with an NPR show, you get a movie deal, you write a different kind of book, or you just somehow catch the zeitgeist. It certainly happens, all the time, but it is tough to predict what book will be the breakout, or why. Perhaps the why/how of a breakout is a question for the editorial side -- though I suspect that if anyone knew the answer to that, they'd be too busy counting their gold coins to read and respond to blogs.

What is involved in the decision to place a certain title cover-side-out instead of just shelving it (showing only the spine)?
Sort of in this order: Newness, Quantity, Space, Cover Hotness, and Personal Preference. We tend to try and face out everything that we have more than three copies of. This is hardly a science – sometimes we just need to fill some space. While it is a fact that all books sell better on a shelf with lots of face-outs, sometimes and in some sections, there is just no room.
What is the average time that a title remains that way?
Until we need more room on the shelf, or something cuter and newer comes along, or we sell down too far. One book does not a faceout make. [EA clarifies: a single copy of a title rarely gets placed face-out because it sits too far back on the shelf and is shadowed. And, understandably, booksellers want to promote most prominently the books that are taking up the most space (or money) in the store.]
What is the busiest time of year for books to be bought/sold?

Christmukkah is the busiest time from the retail end, of course. October is usually the busiest time for the events people. May is pretty crazy for buyers. Summer is dead for everyone, in my experience, though the store does pretty well with paperbacks and required summer reading.

How are author signings arranged at stores? Does it have to be through the agent/publisher or is it bad if the author tries to manage that him/herself?
The "big six" publishers – Random House, Penguin, Harper, Simon, Hachette, Macmillan – and to a lesser extent, HMH, Scholastic and Candlewick on the kid's side -- typically set up author tours through their in-house publicists and our events coordinator. If you are an author with one of these publishers, please please speak to your publicist and get the OK from them before you approach any bookstore. It is profoundly annoying for all when an author and publicist are working at cross-purposes to one another. This is a quick way to end up with no event, and booksellers and publicists with grudges against you.

If you are local, or with a smaller pub, you should still ask the publicist, but you will probably end up setting it up yourself. (Advice about that is too long to go into here, and in any case can be found all over the net.)

Not exactly up your alley but is it bad to bring treats/food for either the employees or potential customers at a books signing?

I like to have treats at events, but every bookstore probably has different ideas about that. I would ask the events person, make sure they allow food, and that way they'll be prepped and have a table ready for you.

Remember, make it NEAT food, nothing that will get ground into the carpet, and light/clear beverages (white wine, sparkling water) only. As far as yummy treats for the staff – always appreciated, in my experience. We make minimum wage and are hungry!

What happens when someone (not me) calls up and special-orders a book (not mine) that's not on the shelf and then doesn't pick it up? Does that book (again, not mine) end up just being shelved? Or does it go back to (not my) publisher?

Someone places the order, someone else receives the order, someone calls you and finds a place to put your order on the hold shelf. There it stays for a week or two, while we spend staff time calling you and reminding you. If you don't pick it up or refuse it, it goes in a box under my desk. When I have time, I look through that box and decide what stays. 95% of the time, these books get sent back to the publisher.

If this is a short-discount or non-returnable title, you also get a voodoo curse put on you.

If you'd like to know a couple of GOOD ways to get your book into the store -- with no voodoo curses -- I can tell you...

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

A New Game!

A while back there was an essay in the New York Times Book Review about how the number of readers is falling... while the number of authors is rising. The essay mentioned a few titles from iUniverse, everybody's favorite vanity press that lies to people.
It occurred to me that I've never been to iUniverse. So I checked it out. (And it's a good thing I did, because I'm a little bored with substituting ninjas.) Oh, it's awesome. Full of classic tales like My Life Miracle, which reminds me of the way my cable service abbreviates movie titles (Sister Travel Pants. Just makes you want to go, "Hi! I'm Sister Travel Pants. This is my husband, Papercup Mixmaster, and our beautiful son Laughing Gas Alligator!")

I couldn't help feeling some of the titles could have used a subtitle, though. So in this game, we provide the subtitle. Some candidates:

1. ...And the Little Bags You Need to Scoop Them Up With
2. ...I'll Get the Whip and My Fur Handcuffs

3. ...And Then the Morning Again... In Fact, You Can Pretty Much Count on a Whole Bunch of Days After This One. Billions, Maybe. With Mornings and Nights and Afternoons--Ooo! I Forgot About the Afternoons! Um... What Was My Point?

And here's one I haven't come up with a subtitle for. I keep getting caught up in the description. (I hope that you, my readers, appreciate this gift.)

"There are times, when you just can onot say what you would like to say. And, there are times when life can simply frustrate you withwe ignorance of your fellow human beings. This book will help you verbalize how you feel, without saying a word!
Please buy this book. It will help you from having stress, heart attacks and strokes. Telling people how you feel, is therapy! Situations in life can make you crazy. But do not let this happen to you. Just buy the book, and tell the person that needs to be slapped, to read a particular page."

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

If I Had a Hammer, I'd Hammer This Message Into You

Depressed, North Wind confided in his Siblings; “I was blowing around my favorite places on Earth and looked down, I mean really looked; she’s sick you guys, and it’s frightening, we have to think of a way to help heal our precious Planet Earth, what would we do without her; there is nowhere else to go?
Annie, a young girl, made from recyclable trash is a creation of the Winds because of their worry over the many environmental illnesses Earth is suffering from. Their plan: have Annie come to Earth and visit schools around the world to teach the children about these issues and how to tackle them one at a time; but which problem should they tackle first?

Which problem should we tackle first, indeed.
Children are just like unformed pieces of wood, aren't they? Just waiting for the chisels and planes and hammers and nails of the well-meaning adults around them? Or maybe they're like those pedal-operated trash cans: just step on a lever, their heads pop open, and a sign reads "Dispense Knowledge Here."

Except wait. That's almost the exact opposite of what I think.

Here's what I think: Children are people. They aren't people-in-training. Isn't it adorable the way they think they have minds of their own? No, it isn't. They do have minds of their own.

People (of any age) do not appreciate the funnel-to-gullet method of learning a lesson. Which is why I am firmly of the school of telling a story because you love the story, rather than loving the lesson that's carrying the story around like emotional baggage.

I would recommend you take a big step back from this message. No one here--no one!--is going to argue that it isn't a good and important message. I'd just argue that you'll catch more flies with honey than with a sledgehammer.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Word to the Wise (and Enamored of Snark)

Every once in a while it occurs to me that my readers may not be reading the same blogs I am. So it's good to check.

Surely you're aware of Janet Reid (and if you don't know who she is, I'm not going to tell you) and Query Shark?

Via The Longstockings, test your typeface-awareness (and see if you can beat my score!): type test

Shelftalker, at Publisher's Weekly: the blog of a children's bookseller.

Favorite quotes this week:
“Teen books are like adult books, without all the bullshit.”
— H. Jack Martin, assistant coordinator of young adult services at New York Public Library

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs."
— Stephen King

Friday, May 2, 2008

KidLit News: Know Where I'll Be Next Weekend?

Children’s Book Week launches in NYC with an event for kids in the Bryant Park Reading Room on Saturday, May 10. Join National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Jon Scieszka, with help from Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, and Franny K. Stein, in welcoming 10 local authors and illustrators to read from their books. Book signings will follow each presentation. Clifford the Big Red Dog, Curious George, and Franny K. Stein will spend time with kids throughout the afternoon.
Don't forget to get the kids you know to vote for the Children's Choice Book Awards!

And over at Chris Eldin's, it's Author's Week
"A week of contests and fun and free books! Author's Week will be held on my blog from May 3 through May 9. Festivities will kick off on Saturday May 3 with an Oldies but Goodies Contest. I will have funny questions about the following authors who have supported my promotions in the past (cool prizes also!!)"

The Sweetest Berries Come with an Assful of Thorns

Why aren't teachers consultants to Book Publishers? We read a gazillion books a year - at LEAST four a day, and more at night and on the weekends. We nowwhat kids like, what they laugh about, what they cry about, who they are interested in, and what works and what doesn't. We are in the school library, the public library, the used bookstores, the yard sales and Barnes and Noble looking at books. Honestly, shouldn't WE be the ones hunting through the slush piles?

Sometimes teachers are consultants to publishers. But I'm surprised to hear that you think you have the time to read our piles of slush. I know some teachers who are as dedicated as you describe, and they work as much as I do (or more!).

The people who do tend to have the time, and the knowledge, are experienced booksellers. It's true they know less about children than teachers, but they're more likely to have an eye on the market as a whole, and they know more about what sells. And that's important. If you can't sell a book, you're never going to have the chance to share it with a child, no matter how appropriate to children it is.

But heck, if you want to read slush, write to publishers in your area and send them your resume. Make a case for why you're qualified to judge submissions. If you ask me, people who read slush should not only have a whole bunch of experience with children's books, they should:
1. read all age groups of children's books. If you don't read YA, how will you judge the YA manuscripts you get?
2. read what's current. If you don't know what's new and exciting in different age groups, you won't know which manuscripts are copycats, and which are breaking fresh ground.
3. be extremely hopeful. People who you can bury under a kitchen's worth of slush, and who will still say (muffledly) "I think I see something!"

Slush is a dirty job. Struggling through those piles takes intelligence and resilience and a sense of humor. You have to be the sort of person to whom grammatical mistakes, bad rhyme, and self-indulgent treacle are torture, and then read piles of grammatical mistakes, bad rhyme, and self-indulgent treacle. There are sweet and wonderful things to be found, for the sharp of eye, but it's like throwing yourself in a briar patch because you know there's a single blackberry in there. If you're crazy enough to want to do it ...well, come join the club.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Pythons Attack!

Today I was reading a children's blog and came across a story that had the same title as mine and plot as mine. The plot line may not be unique, however, it is a true story that happened to my sister's and I. The only difference in the story is that she used chickens as character and I used people. I feel that this author stole my idea. What should I do? How do I prove that the idea was mine first?
How do you mean she "stole" it? Do you think this author saw your own writing and took the title and plotline? That would be unethical, but also could be very hard to prove. (Aren't you using a critique group? They improve your writing and they provide witnesses.)

...Or do you mean that somehow the same idea for a children's book occurred to you both? In that case she's done nothing wrong, even if the idea came to you first.

Some people seem to think their ideas are equivalent to intellectual property. And it's true that some ideas are. Let's look at some examples.

1. Here's a guy who has an idea for a flying car. He hasn't built a flying car. His idea is that it will be aerodynamic and red with sparkles.

2. Here's another guy who has an idea for a flying car. He hasn't built a flying car. His idea is a detailed plan for the engineering and construction of a flying car--a set of complete blueprints which, if executed in physical form, would produce a real flying car.

One of these guys has intellectual property. The other has a daydream.

1. Here's a guy with an idea for a story. He hasn't written it down. His idea is that it will be about a girl, a pumpkin, and a fairy who makes fantastically uncomfortable shoes.

2. Here's another guy with an idea for a story. He hasn't written it down. His idea is a completely formed, sentence-by-sentence expression of a story about a girl, a pumpkin, and a fairy who makes fantastically uncomfortable shoes.

One of these guys has intellectual property. The other has a daydream.

You may have recognized that plotline. It didn't belong to the Brothers Grimm when they wrote it down, and it doesn't belong to either of these hypothetical guys, either. It's just a plotline.

The plotline of a group of orphans who explore new places on their own—and thwart criminals—does not belong to Lemony Snicket or Gertrude Chandler Warner or Trenton Lee Stewart.

The plotline of a boy who finds out he has extraordinary abilities and has to go away to a school for those abilities—and vanquish evil—does not belong to J. K. Rowling, or Jane Yolen, or Rick Riordan, or Trenton Lee Stewart ...or fricking anyone else.

An idea is just an idea until it is developed and expressed. If it's a car idea, it needs to be expressed in blueprints. If it's a story idea, it needs to be expressed in words.

As I've said before, in storytelling, as in pretty much everything, expression makes all the difference.