Saturday, September 27, 2008

It's What Year?

It seems to be the standard among big trade publishers that it takes a full year from the time the art is finished for a picture book to be published. Why is that? What's happening during that time?
So the art comes in (after rounds of sketches) usually somewhere in the middle of the galley process. The designer has too much to do, and it takes her a week or two to scan the art and put it into galleys. Galleys route past the editor, the copyeditor, the production manager maybe, and perhaps a couple other people (like a proofreader or the author), and that takes a week or two or three to pass from desk to desk, gathering comments and waiting for people to have time.

After that round of galleys, there's another couple of rounds of galleys, and each takes three weeks to a month. And then the files are sent to the printer, and you get into proofs, which also have to route. Maybe three rounds of proofs.
The proofs are approved, and the printer takes about three months. The books spend a month (ish) en route via ship from printer to warehouse, and starts shipping. Warehouse to store (or warehouse to wholesaler to store) takes a couple weeks at least and then the larger stores let incoming shipments sit in their backroom for a while before they get around to shelving them.

It's a long damn process. (By the time you see a book in the stores, you have the hardest time remembering that it's new to anybody. And your head is lost in 2010-2011, or maybe the emergencies of 2009.)
The thing that everybody in publishing can remember from when they started in the industry is the surprise they felt as just how much work a simple picture book is to create. Nobody smart enough to last in the industry comes in with the idea that a picture book is easy. But you wouldn't believe how far from "easy" the truth is.


Dear EA,
Have you heard of from Harper Collins? This seems like a step in the right direction toward eliminating slush. Your thoughts?
When I first heard of this, I thought it was a terrible idea. Anyone who's read much of the slush pile realizes that the authors in slush piles are a tremendously mixed group. Some of them are good, experienced writers. Some just need more experience. Some are in the wrong field. Some are bad. Some are awful. Some are functionally illiterate and seem to have found a writing implement by accident. Some are crazier than a sackful of squirrels.

So the idea of making the slush pile public and asking the people in the slush to determine which manuscripts are worth reading sounded to me like asking the guy with one leg and three fingers about how to use a chain saw.

And then I had a look. And damn me, but it seems to be working. Too soon for a final verdict, I think, but I'm fascinated.

Think Early and Think Often

1. Do editors ever google an author, then decide not to work with them based on political beliefs?
What? I doubt it. I haven't.

...Well, I suppose that depends on what you think of as a political belief. If I found out an author was running a rabidly racist or sexist or otherwise deeply offensive website, blog, or organization of some type, then yes, I suppose I would feel that person was not suitable for public life. You'd have to write something beyond brilliant to make me consider stepping into the PR nightmare that could become.
2. Are editors and writers/illustrators overwhelmingly of one party?
I have met quite a few democrats in the industry. But I don't mind what party people align themselves with. The nice thing about book people is that they're thinking people, and as long as you're thinking, you get to vote however you want. The people who drive me crazy are the ones who vote "from their gut".
(I wondered after CWIM blog posted seeking people to join "Writers and Illustrators for Obama." What if I'm not FOR Obama? What if I'm for McCain/Palin, but only because Palin looks like a good shot for a Palin/Jindal ticket in 2012 and because the rest of America just wasn't as excited about Fred Thompson as I was?
Is there a place in children's publishing for National Review junkies, or are we better off just smiling politely, nodding, and acting like we agree when everyone around us assumes that any educated right-thinking human being could ONLY vote Democrat? (or am I extrapolating too much from having lived in university towns most of my adult life?)
Thinking people like to talk civilly and intelligently about issues, and as long as you're ready to do that, you're in the club.

Too Many Cooks Spoil the Broth, Jump Up and Down on Your Cake, and Reprogram All of Your Appliances

Once upon a time, a certain house acquired one of my manuscripts. Five years later, it was published. In the meantime, not one, not two, but FIVE editors had worked on revising it. On the day of publication, NOT ONE WORD of the original manuscript remained. This was no longer the manuscript I'd submitted and no longer the manuscript I loved. I'll leave it to you to guess how much effort I put into promoting it.
The editor(s) are not always right. It's possible to kill the spirit of the author, in the guise of adding all those walnuts. (walnuts, here, is a reference to my post "Cakes and Critics"--EA)
Oh, my sympathies. You hear about this happening. And damn it, editors need to be extra sensitive when they've inherited a project that has already seen a bunch of editorial work and revision.

But also damn it, this is why you, the cook, have to protect your creative work. Do think hard about the comments and suggestions editors offer you. Don't use them if, after that hard thought, you don't believe they will make your book better.

A Quick Query Clinic

I am John L. Manning Jr. I have self published a book that describes happenings at an island in the Pacific, three books about Mars in the not too distant future. This is a synapses is of my new book that I am looking for an agent to help me get published with a publisher that can help me sell this book:
I've been reading Charlene Harris, and was strangely tempted to start this response, "Oh, honey."

Mistake 1: Sincerely, Mr. Manning, do read your query letters looking for misspellings (synapses) and ungrammatical constructions (is a synapses is). This is a bad way to start with editors.

Mistake 2: Don't point out you've self-published in the first sentences of your letter. Don't send your self-published book as a submission instead of regular manuscript pages.

Editors have a strong prejudice against self-publishers (more on that farther down), so try to make your submission look as normal as possible, and just mention the self publishing thing near the end of your letter.

I could mention that if somehow your self-published book was fantastic, it would be ineligible for major award nomination before the trade publisher could get it printed, but fantastic-ness is so unlikely I feel silly for even bringing it up. Or maybe that's my prejudice talking.

Here's the problem with most self-publishers:
1. They think they have a better read on the market than publishers do.
And yet, if you ask them how many of the current children's bestsellers they've read, they'll act like that's hardly important. (I mean, sure, some of the bestsellers are unimportant because they're driven by a celebrity name or something. But a bunch of them are on that list because hundreds of thousands of children are reading them.) And they think there's a chance in hell of getting their book to the market through self-publishing. How many wrong assumptions can you start with?

2. They've decided that most of the work of getting published (which lies in the two areas "submitting like hell and reading any feedback publishers send you" and "writing, and writing, and writing some more so that you get better at it") is too daunting or frustrating or hard on their ego. This book here is perfect the way it is! It's ready for market! Let's go, already!

So the qualities that editors see in many, many self-publishers (without, of course, assuming that Mr. Manning personally has any of these qualities) are: ignorance, impatience, and laziness.

A Night Watchman
This story takes place in any city where there is street crime, street racing, and underground fighting. There is a young man that was in a car accident as a child of 12 and was left with physical limitations. As a teen and young man this man went through years of physical therapy and self determination to gain back what he lost in that accident. Over these years he was lonely because of a speech impairment and self debit because of how people now saw him.
Over the years this man has searched for ways to better himself with medicines that he didn't like and therapies that he didn't enjoy. John did find things that did improve his limitations but he always saw himself how the most judgmental people saw him. He found a technology that he thought would help him get better and when he used this technology he found that there were some side effects.
This technology did help John gain abilities that he never had and he wanted to use these abilities to help out the city that he lived in. He started going out at night with these new abilities to fight the street crime of the city. These abilities that he gained improved and the side effects gave him heightened séances that he was learning to take advantage of. At first these abilities just where available when this technology was in use and John started using it more often than not.
John started to investigate a criminal that has gotten him involved in street racing that grew into what he never imagined. In this venture he gained the most unlikely of friends that got him involved with underground fighting. All of these things helped with John's confidence but when the time comes to abandoning his new friends and turning them in, can he, will he, do the right thing.

I will be ready to send you the entire manuscript in October, but I do have four chapters ready for you to look at now. After reading the first two chapters you will see where the book is going, the two additional chapters will help you to appreciate my writings.
I think that this book would gain a wide showing, because this book has racing, fighting, and even a deep hero. There is action to keep you interested and there are relationships to keep you engaged.
Mistake 3: The voice of your synopsis. It ought to be a preview of the voice of the manuscript, but it's not making me think I'd enjoy reading your prose.

Mistake 4: You haven't finished the book. Don't query people before you finish the book. Look, writing a book is long and hard, and some people never finish. Other people finish, but get the ending all wrong. Don't query people before you finish the book.

Good luck!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Painted with My Own Snark

Dear Book Lovers and Grill Patrons,
At the Book Roast we slice and dice authors for free. If you haven’t dined with us before, stop by to hear about their books. Or jump in the oven and poke them with a meat thermometer to see if they're done. We're open for business the last part of every month to cook up authors from different genres. Authors will pop into the blog throughout the day to answer questions, share a laugh and toss out some insider tidbits. It's an interactive, conversational format. Join in the fun! Also, free books.
September’s menu selection kicks off with an editor and agent roast. We hope to see you there!!!

Editor/Agent Roast
Mon, Sept 8: Evil Editor
Tues, Sep 9: Editorial Anonymous
Wed, Sep 10: (publishing related topic)
Thurs, Sep 11: Moonrat
Fri, Sept 12: Janet Reid
Yes, you read that right. Tuesday will be your chance to tar and feather me over at Book Roast. I hope you'll use the good tar and feathers.

Those Who Cannot Find History with Relatable Characters Are Doomed to Reject It

What is your opinion on the current market for historicals? Is a writer more apt to attract a publisher or an agent with a historical novel?
There's more publishing in occult topics right now. But there's always room for more historical fiction, as long as it's aimed well at its audience. Consider A Northern Light and The Luxe.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

But You're Still One of Us

I've been a good doobee and joined SCBWI, gone to conferences, joined critique groups, gotten an MFA in Writing for Children, read tons, written reams, edited, edited and edited. Yet all I get is rejected, rejected, rejected.
What am I doing wrong?
You're doing all the right things. Unfortunately, one of the right things (for a bunch of people) is collecting rejections and working for years before getting published. Sorry about that.

This is why I hope writers are doing this work because they love writing—because there's no guarantee you'll be published (though working hard and being patient make an important difference), and if you do, there's truly no guarantee that it will ever make up for the time and effort in dollars.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

The Difference Between "Well, I Want to Be Published" and "I Want to Be Published Well"

A recent topic in an illustration group I am a member of has caused a quite a stir. There is a shared and growing unhappiness over print quality of finished, printed picture books vs the artwork (whether digital or traditional) turned in to the publisher. In my short publishing history (2 picture books, 6 kids' graphic novels), each book has been over-saturated and far darker than the original artwork, to the point where light blue skies are suddenly dark purple and subtle shades of grey are harsh and black. I was wondering, as an editor, do you notice a disparity between original artwork and final product?
The tough part for me as an editor is that I may or may not see the original artwork; and even if I do, I'll see the proofs somewhat later, and may or may not remember what the artwork looked like.

It's true that there's not so much that illustrators can do about this-- publishers may be willing to give you consultation over proofs in your contract, but they certainly aren't going to give you approval, which is the only thing that would prevent them from rushing ahead with proofs you don't like, if that's what they want to do.

The thing illustrators can do is to talk to each other about which publishers are screwing up and which aren't. If a publisher realizes that illustrators are going to stay away from them for the crappy quality of their printing, they'll have a motivation to improve.

Whose production quality do you admire? Who's burned you? Comments are anonymous.

Rights For Sale! Get Your Fresh, Hot Rights!

In On Writing by Stephen King, he mentions having sold the paperback rights to Carrie for 400K. Do publishers still sell paperback rights,
Sure they do. For adult bestsellers.
and if they do, can they still get 400K or anything near that much?
Sure they can. For adult bestsellers.
Speaking of sub rights, which ones are the most lucrative?
The ones that are not for children's books.
Ok, I'm being just a teeny bit facetious. But it kinda depends on the book. Some books have good foreign potential, others will do better in paperback than in hardcover. Get yourself a good agent and consider the matter taken care of.

Somebody Agreed to a Phone Pitch?

I've been given an opportunity to pitch an editor over the phone. I'm finding that deciding what to say is even harder than deciding what to write in a query. Any pitch advice?
Don't overthink this. Do your homework: (1) thinking hard about the correct age range and appeal to consumers of your manuscript; (2) researching the publisher and thinking about why your manuscript is right for them. And then, while you are on the phone: smile. We can hear it in your voice. Be pleasant and not pushy. Offer us the manuscript, like a good hostess would offer a choice of beverages. Don't try to sell your manuscript, like a car salesman.

Bear in mind the three things we can get a sense of over the phone-- the topic, the appropriateness to age level, and what you're like as a human being. And bear in mind that those are important things, but they do not include the most important thing: how well you've written this manuscript.

Is That a Statuette in Your Pants, or Are You Just Trying to Impress Me?

I have two related questions. Is there a point in time when an award becomes too old to mention in a query? I won an EdPress Award for children's fiction in 1996, but perhaps that's ancient history.
This is relative to the award's reknown, difficulty in winning, and influence on sales. Having won a Newbery in the 70's isn't jumping-up-and-down exciting, but it's still interesting. Having won your junior high's highest honor two weeks ago for this very manuscript is so unimportant I can't believe you care.
Question two is similar. Are some award nominations too tiny to mention? I assume state award nominations are noteworthy, but would an editor just guffaw if I listed something like the Cochecho Reader's Award nomination or the Gate City Award nomination?
Yes. Worse than guffawing, I would wonder why you're deliberately including material that I, your reader, have no context for and will not understand. It's like introducing one of your characters as a Flxioxan Green Wvbbl and leaving it at that. Just what the hell is a Van Nuys Rotary Club and why would I care that it loved your book?

So what you should do when determining which accolades to include is to consider (1) how many competitors you were up against in the running for this award (actual number), (2) how many judges there were and how close to the publishing or book-buying world the judges were (children's editors, agents, nationally syndicated book reviewers, and members of the ALA committees get 200 points each; published authors, editors and agents outside of children's books, and locally-important librarians get 100 points each; everyone else gets 5 points), and (3) how many sales the honor resulted in (actual number).

Add those three factors up. If you got a number under 2,000, I probably don't care. If you got a number under 1,000, I definitely don't care.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Splendor in the Slush

What kind of manuscripts would make you sit up and take notice? Humor? Emotional impact? Character driven novels? Unusual situations? All of the above? Anything you are tired of seeing and want writers to avoid?
Editors get this sort of question all the time, and it's like a mom asking what color hair we'd prefer her son to have?—how tall should he be?—would we like him to have an accent?

Looking for the right manuscript is like dating.

And just like in dating, there's love and then there's attraction. There's a difference between the manuscript I want for a best friend and confidante and the manuscript I want to spend the next year and a half in bed with.

But what inspires both love and attraction is personal, no matter which editor you talk to. Take a guess at how many different kinds of books there are—that's approximately how many different kinds of editors there are. So are you seriously going to make your son shave his head if I tell you I'm most attracted to bald men?

The first person who has to love what you create is you. After that, you have to raise your manuscript right and teach it good manners. It should know how to play nicely with others. It should be strong, but unafraid to be human. It should know how to offer the best of itself to the people it loves.

Of course (as we've seen) there are a number of manuscripts in slush that only a mother could love. (And there are a thin few that are the literary equivalent of circus freaks.) There are many that are never published, but which would make wonderful matches for many people. But if you can give your manuscript the qualities it needs to be a heartthrob, then it may indeed win the love and adoration of thousands.