Sunday, December 28, 2008

Enormous Can of Worms (Can Opener Included!)

As I've only been in this country a few years, I'm still discovering which books are considered quintessential American children’s books. Often I’ve heard about books on your blog, which I’ve then gone on to read. Since there’s only so much I can gather from your header pic and because I trust your opinion, I wonder if, at some point, you’d be interested in ‘gifting’ your readers with a list of books you consider essential reading? Perhaps separate lists for PB, MG, YA? I imagine there are many readers and authors out there who would appreciate that.
This is an impossible task. This is akin to trying to walk over every inch of a mountain and still make it to the top in a day. Two years later you could still be in the foothills.

And I know no matter how thoughtful and diligent I was about such a list, inevitably I would leave something obvious out like The Invention of Hugo Cabret or Where the Wild Things Are and when the omission was pointed out to me I would feel like an idiot.

And! Let it be remembered that it is impossible to read all the good books. It was only a few years ago that I finally read The Giver, and fine, I'll go on record and admit I've still never read The Bridge to Terabithia. So you can quickly get into the quicksand of the difference between "read this and understand it before you go any further" vs. "you ought to at least have heard of this one".

But hell, why not? Now's a good time for quicksand projects.

However, I will only attempt this if it can be a joint undertaking with my readers. And if my readers will understand that I'll add their suggested titles only if they fit my personal, subjective sense of "required reading". (Otherwise readers' suggestions, none of which will be bad, will stay in the comments-- so read those, too. Readers-- feel free to make a short argument for your recommendation.) There are, after all, piles of books that you and I can both agree are wonderful and important in some way, but which I may not choose to put on the required reading list.

Oh, heck. What have I gotten myself into?

All the fairy tales (Grimm, Anderson, etc), and you wouldn't go wrong reading the works of the Opies.
Alexander and the Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Day
Amelia Bedelia
The Big Orange Splot
Brown Bear Brown Bear What Do You See
The Cat in the Hat
Click Clack Moo
Curious George
Dr. De Soto
Fancy Nancy (I choke on this book, but you must know about it)
Frederick (or possibly Swimmy; something by Lionni)
Frog and Toad (Lobel)
The Giving Tree and Love You Forever (and may they both be a lesson to you)
Good Night Gorilla
Goodnight Moon
Harold and the Purple Crayon
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Knuffle Bunny (and frankly you wouldn't go wrong reading the whole Willems oeuvre)
Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse
Little Bear (Minarik)
The Little Engine That Could
Make Way for Ducklings
Miss Nelson Is Missing
No, David!
The Polar Express (and maybe some more Van Allsburg)
The Seven Silly Eaters
Show Way
The Stinky Cheese Man (and Other Fairly Stupid Tales)
The Story of Babar
Strega Nona
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The Three Pigs
The Very Hungry Caterpillar
We're Going on a Bear Hunt
Where the Wild Things Are
William's Doll
Winnie the Pooh

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Alabama Moon
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Anne of Green Gables
Are You There God It's Me Margaret
The Bad Beginning
The Black Cauldron
The Bridge to Terabithia
Catherine Called Birdy
Charlotte's Web (and probably also The Trumpet of the Swan and Stuart Little)
Danny Champion of the World (or maybe The Witches-- at least something by Dahl)
Ender's Game
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler
The Giver
Harry Potter
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
Island of the Blue Dolphins
Julie of the Wolves
The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe
Little House in the Big Woods
A Long Way From Chicago
Ordinary Jack
Out of the Dust
Over Sea, Under Stone
The Phantom Tollbooth
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Saffy's Angel (or something by McKay, dammit)
The Search for Delicious (or maybe Tuck Everlasting)
The Tale of Despereaux (hurp!)
The Toys Go Out
The Watsons Go to Birmingham
The Wee Free Men
The White Mountains
The Witch of Blackbird Pond
The Westing Game

Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian
American Born Chinese
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing
The Book Thief
Catcher in the Rye
The Diary of Anne Frank
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks
The Ear The Eye and the Arm
The Golden Compass
The Hero and the Crown
I Am the Cheese
King Dork
The King of Attolia
Looking for Alaska
Lord of the Flies
The Lord of the Rings
A Northern Light
The Outsiders
The Rules of Survival
To Kill a Mockingbird
Ok, Twilight, but for reference purposes. Feel free to read half of it.
Watership Down
A Wrinkle in Time

Let us also say for the record that people who are interested in Children's Lit in a pure sense can concentrate on catching up on the classics.
But those people interested in being published now should read one book that's topping the charts now for every classic they read. (Which "chart" you use should vary. Read the bestsellers; read the Mocks; read the books that get four starred reviews and sell 3,000 copies; flip through the books that Target carries.)

What Goes Good with Good Advice?

My situation: I had two agents request full manuscripts of my first YA Novel. Agent One said sheʼd like to see a revision and named specific issues to address. Agent Two said the writing was strong but he did not connect with the manuscript enough to offer representation but would like to see more of my work. Both are well-respected agents at top agencies. I could envision working with either of them. Iʼve completed the revision of my first novel and my second novel is also ready for submission. My question: Is it okay to send Agent One the revision and Agent Two the new novel simultaneously?
And, should I keep sending queries to other agents after Iʼve submitted to either of the above two agents?

The thing you don't do is send the revision based on Agent 1's comments to anyone else until Agent 1 has looked at it and/or had at least a couple months to respond. You can keep on sending the original of the manuscript to other people, but once you've taken someone's creative input and decided it makes the manuscript better, it's respectful to give that person the first shot at the results of their good advice.

Self-Publishing for the Self-Aware

So, I wrote a YA novel. Revised the crap out of it (repeatedly). Started querying it, got mostly rejections. Revised query, sent it out some more, and got more rejections (or just no response). Repeat, repeat, repeat. This is nothing new for me, as I've trudged down this road with two previous novels. The difference now is that I'm still in love with this one. I just want it to be read. Now, we know how you feel about self-publishing through outlets like iUniverse and such, and truthfully, I feel the same way. No distribution, no go. But what about on a personal website (after, of course, I've run through the rest of my agent prospects and been soundly rejected)? Teens do a lot of reading at the computer, anyway, and if even ten kids read it and enjoyed it, I'd be happy. And the Internet can be its own distribution if you work hard enough to get the word out. I have a few promotional ideas, and yes, the endeavor would cost me a bit, although the fruits of that would go to the reader (and hosting service) instead of a vanity press. I'm willing to spend the money. The only drawbacks I can think of: the possible regret in ten, twenty years when I cringe at my early work, as we all do; and utter failure to get even one person to read it. I'll have other novels ready to query within the next six months, so it's not like I'm focusing all my energy on this one. And maybe I should just let it go...or maybe I should follow my instincts and put it out there for the readers to decide. Your thoughts?
If you'd really be happy for just a couple people to read it, don't want any money out of it, and are willing to work to get it out there... then yes, I think the internet is perfect for you.

If you go into any form of self-publishing (from vanity presses to running a blog like this one) with the understanding that it's your time/money you're investing, it's extremely unlikely you'll ever make them back, and you're just doing it because you want to share something with people, then that's fine.

My sincere good wishes in finding your readers.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

I Only Take Exclusive Submissions. Exclusive of Squirrels.

Every once in a while I submit something to an editor who wants exclusive submissions. I usually say in my cover letter that it's an exclusive submission for 3 months. I've read that after the 3 months expire I should send another letter, notifying the editor that my submission is no longer exclusive.

I lean toward thinking this would be just another envelope to be opened by some underpaid assistant. Would any editor read my three-months-are-up letter and think, "How I regret missing this deadline! I must dig through my slush pile to find the unsolicited manuscript of this totally unpublished author, before someone else snaps it up!"?
You're probably right.
But suppose I don't send a letter. Six months later the editor picks up my submission. She looks at the cover letter and realizes it's no longer an exclusive submission. Have I committed some dreadful faux pas?
Not in that case. At the same time, there's no harm in sending such a letter on the off chance that the editor is reading your manuscript just now, or has read it and wants to ask for a rewrite (and is formulating her thoughts first).

And if she is in fact in the process of showing it to her colleagues in preparation for acquisition, she'll be damn glad you reminded her of the three-month mark.

Bottom line, yes, sometimes being courteous makes a difference, and sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes being discourteous makes a difference, and sometimes it doesn't.

But you never know which one it'll be until it happens. Which "makes a difference" situation do you want to be in?

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Collected Works of --What Do You Mean, 'Term of Copyright'?

I would like to ask a question regarding submitting previously published, humorous newspaper articles for (possible) book publishing.

My father was an editor of the Savannah Morning News and wrote a humorous column for the Sunday Op Ed page. Since he has passed away, everyone that knew him has been urging me to get a book together of his pieces- Yes, it's regional, southern. No, he never wrote a book...though he won numerous UPI and AP awards and placed over and above Lewis Grizzard a time or two.

What I'd like to do is put his "best of" articles together, perhaps with some (personal) photography or cartoons drawn by the newspaper's artist about my father.

So, my question is this- should I query (some) publisher with these articles (copied) or simply present this idea in my own pen?
I would suggest that you tidy them up so that they're professional-looking and easy to read. That may mean transcribing them into word docs so that they'll print cleanly, but do keep all of the marks that it was an article-- headline, author, newspaper and pub date at the top. (And if you happen to be one of those people who can't transcribe anything without adding typos, have somebody else proof it.) Be sure to include in your cover letter some non-anecdotal proof of your father's popularity (numbers speak loudest). Make sure your father's arrangement with the newspaper hasn't left the publication rights in their possession, rather than yours.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Your Submission, Starring The Manuscript You Wrote in College

A thousand years ago when I was in college I entered and happened to win a literary competition at my (tiny) university. The prize was publication in the university's literary magazine. The circulation of the magazine has got to be under a thousand, and it only came out annually. (Or, at least, this was true then and I assume it still is.) There was no payment, nor was there ever any discussion of what rights they had and what rights I retained. No mention of anything like copyright was made in the fine print of the "magazine" itself. I'm not asking whether I can claim this as a publication credit. I know better than to try that. But for years, I've never done anything with this story again, even though I think it's a pretty good one, because I'm not sure what I can actually offer, and I'm afraid that trying to convey the situation will make me come off as amateurish. Can I safely submit the story without ever mentioning its "publication" history, tacitly selling first North American rights or whatever?
You should be honest about its publication history. But as you gave that college publication no rights, they have no rights. (You may want to write to them to make sure they understand this, though.)
Will mentioning that it's previously "published" make it undesirable because it's a reprint?
It wouldn't to me, but I can't speak for everybody.
Worse, will it make me look like I'm trying to pass off my small time college lit mag as a real credit?
This will simply depend on how you present the information. If you're just letting editors know the history of the piece, that's fine. If you're boasting that it was in a college magazine, that's eye-rolling. It's the difference between a footnote and a headline.

In Your Manuscript's Next Life, It Will Be Agented

On a day last May, I made up a picture book story along the lines of Miss Spider’s Sunny Patch cartoon and the Froggy books when I walked my daughter to school. She had the original concept and I asked her questions to build upon the story. I thought it was cute and when I got home I wrote it down. Subsequently, I entered the Spoonful of Stories contest by Cheerios, but alas, I didn’t final. I have since written six more stories involving these characters. Would it be improper to submit the series idea in a query?
Would it be bad karma to send all of them in one envelope to live in your slush pile?
Yes. One at a time, and after your critique group has looked at them, or I would worry this is more "cute story" or "isn't my child imaginative" than it is "good writing".
Or should I just file it under, ‘great moments shared with daughter’?
Maybe. It's good to keep this in mind whatever happens. The really enjoyable parts of your job, whether author, illustrator, or editor, are the creative parts. It's worth it to wade through the rest of it in order to share the creative parts with other people, but if all you end up with is the creative parts... that's not so bad, is it? And you've earned some good karma with your kid.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Your Identity, for the Internet

I am getting ready to query a middle-grade novel, so I thought I should have something up for a website. What sorts of things should an unpubbed writer include on her site, if she should mention a website at all in her query letter?
Not your WIPs. Those are a secret, because they're special, right?

Your website, in the very lucky event that an editor decides to look you up, should tell the editor more about who you are as a person-- your other pursuits, anything that makes you particularly well suited to write for kids, your sense of humor, that sort of thing. Your website is a chance to make the editor think, "I like this person. She seems pleasant and fun, and not needy, neurotic, or crazy. I might enjoy working with her."

Careful with the clip art. A sampling of uncohesive art styles can make your website look messy. Good visuals to include might be the covers of published books you're reading and enjoying-- and make them recent pubs, ok? We like to see that authors are keeping up with the industry.

Once you're published, put each of your own books up with their reviews, the price and publisher. Link to IndieBound as well as Amazon and B&N. Point local readers to your local bookstore. Talk about the events you do with kids.

Put Another Slush on the Fire, Babe, and Come and Tell Me Why You're Leaving Me

I really enjoyed your Kitchen Full of Slush post. I’m curious as to what happens to the piles of slush? Specifically, how do you keep them and respond in chronological order? With that many submissions it seems insurmountable.
That would be telling.
Different houses, different methods, of course.

Perhaps the editorial staff sits down Friday afternoons for a concentrated hour or so of reading, while they pass a flask around.

Perhaps the publisher gets a freelance reader (or readers) to address some (or all) of the slush and pass the good stuff to the editorial assistant, who doles it out among editors according to topic and taste.

Perhaps the interns shovel it into a smallish, forgotten room (whose original use is now lost to memory), and take turns jumping into the pile like school children into autumn leaves.

Or perhaps it's stacked tidily, labeled with the date, and tied with twine into turfs, to await April 31st.

(Ok, I feel the need to explain my title line, for those of you who aren't inveterate muppet fans.)

Friday, December 19, 2008

Just in Time for the Non-Denominational Holiday of Your Choice

Pickled Pixel Toe T Shirts

Etsy's Bookish Gifts

Everyone's a Librarian at Heart

What a Tasteful Coffee Table Book! But How Does It Taste?

This question may seem only vaguely related to publishing, but here goes. Are publishers of children's books aware of the new Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act that will require any product for kids under age 12 to be tested by third party labs for lead content?
Are book publishers going to send off samples of books to be tested for lead as the law requires?
Many small to medium sized US businesses that make toys, apparel, science products, home decor, etc for kids are in an uproar right now. Wondered if you had any inside scoop on the publishing industry's reaction.
No uproar in my neck of the woods. Some sighing, sure, because the new law seems a teeny bit stringent in terms of age range (how many readers of Spiderwick, for instance, also chew on the books?). Some mild grinding of teeth, because lots of book-plus products are going to have to have a "CHOKING HAZARD!" label attached to them, and we know that puts consumers off-- even when it's a darling horse necklace for a 10-year-old girl who would never think of trying to eat the damn thing. And of course the testing is going to add some time into every one of our book schedules.

At the same time, most children's books are not in any danger of lead contamination, so we know they'll pass testing. And we get that the law's goal is to make everything safer for children. Who can feel too bad about that?

I Am Queen of the Wild Things! That's "Mom" to You.

You talk about "strange" writers and some you can tell right off the bat that maybe they have birth defects of the membrane or something of the sort. I write under a pseudonym. The pseudonym is [redacted]. There are a variety of reasons I do this none of which you will be interested in. Nevertheless, in your experience, if somebody sends in manuscripts under a name that is obviously a pen name and a slightly strange one too, does that make you view the manuscript any differently?
Why wouldn't you want your editor to know your name? What name would the publisher put on the contract? Under what name would they file the book for copyright?

A pseudonym is what you put on the book. If you want to go full-on Lemony Snicket or Pseudonymous Bosch, the marketing department too can use only your pseudonym. But you can bet Daniel's and Avi's editors know their real names.

Those authors are perceived as "quirky". If you really, really, really don't want to tell anyone your name, that's going to be perceived as "wacko".

So let's assume you can somehow figure out the legal ramifications of having your work copyrighted to somebody who doesn't exist and having your checks made out to someone who can't open a bank account. As you may have guessed from this blog, editors treasure and adore the sweet, stable, wholly-in-their-right-mind authors.

We meet lots of people under the mistaken impression that they need to be bizarre to be seen as original. That being imaginative is an excuse for being impossible. That being an artist is a substitute for being honest.

No. The unbridled freedom of your creativity does not give you license to behave like a total weirdo. Feel free to wear your wolf suit when you go visiting the wild things. But if you expect any damn dinner, you'll put some pants on.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Submissions Volume Explained

I'm Your Sister's Bikini Waxer's Ex-Boyfriend's Dry Cleaner. So You Won't Mind Doing Me a Favor.

A senior editor at a very top house has my manuscript (adult) that she requested. We had a personal connection (her stepmother was a teacher of mine). She's had the ms for about two months. Do you think my unagented ms will get a good read eventually? (I assume the ones you were talking about were all unrequested. Thanks for the visions of slush that have now filled my imagination!)
The answer is maybe.

Everyone in publishing (and especially in children's publishing) accepts it as part of their job that friends of colleagues, second cousins of friends of colleagues, and hairstylists of second cousins of friends of colleagues will use their "personal connection" to force an editor to deal with their manuscript (rather than an editorial assistant or intern). We don't accept it cheerfully, but we accept it. The world is all about relationships.

We also know that a personal connection is no guarantee at all that the manuscript will be better than the usual run of slush, and indeed it's often worse-- because the people who try this end-run are usually the rank beginners who not only know nothing about the industry, they also come with a bunch of wildly wrong assumptions about it.

Now, I'm not assuming you're one of these people. They don't find their way to my blog, because they don't see why they should be interested in publishing before they get published. You seem quite stable (and are certainly literate enough, from your letter).

But you should know that it is through this lens of apprehension and mild resentment that your manuscript is likely to be read. If it's simply terrific and grabs the editor from page one, then your road ahead may be clear and golden. But if not, the editor may only read the couple of pages that will allow her to write a letter that shows she did look at the manuscript before rejecting it.

Now, I know, sometimes it seems like there aren't hurdles in your path to publication as much as mountains. I know, following the rules of submitting to publishing houses and agents sometimes seems like an enormous waste of time. But breaking the rules is equally so.

I post about the slush to try to convey to people why there are so many roadblocks set up in the way of hopeful writers: because many hopeful writers are simply delusional about what might get published.

It's like there's a mob of thousands outside your office, and you know from experience that a good half of them are loonies. And a spare few are people you would be thrilled to work with. How do you sift through them? Ask the crazy people to raise their hands? Ask the "good writers" to raise their hands?

No. You're going to have to interview them each in turn, and it's going to be a lot of work. And it doesn't help that there are a few of them waving their arms and calling, "I knew your ex-manicurist's rabbi!"

Friday, December 12, 2008

rerun: The Kitchen Full of Slush

While we are on the topic of slush and what part of it is worthy of Slush and Punishment, I thought it would be useful to go back to the Kitchen of Slush, which is a visualization exercise from the very early days of this blog.

The fundamental lack of understanding about how much slush there is feeds many, many of the most common mistakes writers make--mistakes that hurt their chances of getting published, and often hurt their morale.

First, you need to realize that you do not know what a pile of 15,000 manuscripts looks like.

Let's say you have a table that seats four. Imagine that in your kitchen at home. 1,000 manuscripts would cover that table in piles that would teeter. Tall piles. Take a moment to picture that.

Now fill the floorspace underneath and around the table with 4,000 more manuscripts. There is no room for chairs anymore. You can't reach the manuscripts in the middle of the table.

1,000 manuscripts fill your counter space; another 2,000 stuffs all your cupboards and shelf space. There is no longer any room for the coffeemaker or toaster; all of your food and crockery has been displaced to the living room. You cannot close the doors on your cupboards because of all the manuscripts spilling out of them. The kitchen is no longer about eating or cooking or anything but manuscripts.

The remaining 7,000 manuscripts cover all the remaining floor space in thigh-deep drifts. You cannot enter the room now. You can only reach those manuscripts at the doorway. Your kitchen is now less a "room" than a tank of paper.

Good. Keep that image in mind. Now imagine that you read 15,000 manuscripts last year, and a good 50% were so inappropriate, illiterate, or crazy that thoughts of the hard work you did in college and the enormous debt you're still carrying from attending that schmancy institution made you nigh-suicidal. The cause of literature seemed futile and meaningless. You might as well hole up in a shack in Montana, awaiting the end of western civilization and stockpiling Joyce.

Now imagine that another 47% were just poorly-written, or aimed at the wrong age level, or derivative of much better (and better-known) writers, as well as having several concept/plotting/arc issues. If asked to say what was wrong with any of these, you would first have to think hard about how to prioritize the problems you saw, and then think hard about how to put them nicely. (Editors are picky, critical people, but they're also nice people. They don't want to hurt your feelings.)

The last 3% were nice, but manuscripts that no consumer was going to spend her money on when she's got so many other choices.

Which left you with 0.02% --3 manuscripts from 15,000-- that were worth publishing and ended up paying you back for the time it took to read them. (As well as, of course, the tens of thousands of dollars it took to publish them. Let's not forget about that.)

Did those 3 manuscripts pay you back for the time it took you to read the 14,997 other manuscripts in slush? No. Why do you have to read another 15,000 this year, when you have more than enough work to do (and agented manuscripts to acquire) to completely fill your 50-hour work weeks?

That's a good question.

And yet we do keep reading. Maybe it's 'hope springs eternal,' maybe it's the thrill of the chase. Maybe we're nuts.

Now see if you can answer some of these commonly asked questions yourself:

1. "Why is it so hard to get published?"

2. "Why are decline letters so impersonal?"

3. "How can some publishers decide not to reply at all unless they're interested in acquiring?"

4. "Why does every publisher have to have a different set of submission guidelines?"

5. "Why are they so slavishly attached to their submission guidelines?"

6. "How can they be so perfunctory about something that means so much to me?"

Slush and Punishment entries are inspired by the bottom 50% percent-- the stuff anybody with an iota of taste, good sense, or sanity would know is not publishable. The "grey" area that has been recently mentioned in the comments is the top 50%. It's "well... maybe" territory.

But what each of you is striving for is really the top 3%-- the manuscripts that are almost sure to be published, if they find the right editor and the right house.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

It Can't Really Be That Bad, Can It?

My Slush and Punishment posts are not real submissions, no. It would be both unethical and unprofessional for me to post the submissions sent to my publisher on this personal blog.

However: they are very closely and faithfully patterned on real submissions I have seen. This is the thing I want to bring across: I am not exaggerating for humor --or for any other purpose.

The truth that I want to offer my readers is: a fair portion of the slush is this nuts. This wrong-headed. This mind-bogglingly bad.

Sometimes at my desk I worry that I'm being too jaundiced; too skeptical of random authors who find my name somewhere and get past our receptionist; too impatient with the bizarre but well-meant drivel that finds its way to my desk in spite of our very fine interns.

But the point is not whether I am a hopeless curmudgeon or not. The point for you, sweet readers, is that every editor has waded through the same jaw-dropping crap, and is as wary of strange writers as I am, for good reason: as wonderful as many writers are, some writers can be damn strange.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Slush and Punishment: Fairy Toilets?

Fairy Isabelle can't get the boy fairies to put the fairy toilet seats down! How will she convince them that this is the only polite thing to do? As someone famous once said, speak quietly and carry a big wand!
Seems to me the wands are part of the problem.

Slush and Punishment: Me and My Rhyming Dictionary

Robert was a sweet little mutt.
His favorite food was cashew nut.
Eating it had given him a bit of a gut.
He didn't like to get in a rut.
When he was proud he would sometimes strut.
He had a sweet little tail growing out of his butt.
When his mother would call him, he would say, "What?"
I am doing my deep breathing and reminding myself that rhyming dictionaries, and yea, even the English language, do not have feelings.

Slush and Punishment: Love Potion No. K12

Exposed to more and more television and media aimed at all ages, children are falling in love earlier and earlier. And that's wonderful! My story about a love-struck bunny who follows her crush home, leaves him anonymous notes, and steals things from his desk at school is perfect for kindergarteners experiencing their very first "true love".
This "love" sounds suspiciously like the kind that takes long-distance photographs and leaves dead things on your doorstep.

Slush and Punishment: Ta-Ta, Ta-Tas!

Dear Editor,
Are you a mother? Did your child ask for breastfeeding in public places? Did you not know how to wean him/her? In Ta-Ta, Ta-Tas, little Jimmy learns that there are lots of good snacks that don't come in mommy's blouse and how they can have emotional comfort just like mommy's sweet ta-tas.

Chicken Little Gets a Time Out

I will admit that I sometimes enjoy being mildly alarmist. Still, recent events notwithstanding, some of my recent posts ("Panic", "Hindenberg") may have been counter-productive to those readers actually inclined toward hysteria. As Janet Reid reminds us, it is not the time to start dreeing your weird.

(Well, ok. For the people who have lost their jobs just before the holidays, probably it is.)

But for those of us still at sea on the great ship of publishing, this economy is not our iceberg. We've just hit some really choppy water. Work will likely be harder in the immediate future. We'll feel particularly bad about those colleagues we know who are out on their butts. There will be more drinking in publishing circles (marginally, as we've already set a pretty high bar for ourselves).

However: we will get through this. If you find wailing through the streets personally cathartic, though, feel free.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

What's the Difference Between Publishing and the Hindenberg?

Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn't it?

Not today.

Random House, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Simon & Schuster--the news keeps coming in. Publisher's Lunch is calling today "Black Wednesday". Resignations, layoffs, fracturing of houses...

For those of you inclined to worry, I still have a job.
But some people don't. Raise a glass to them tonight.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Spam, spam, spam

There's something about Monday mornings. Last Monday I had something like 50 sex-spam comments added to this blog, and this morning it was over 100. I'm afraid I'm going to have to start mediating the comments, which will mean your comments won't go up automatically.
If you meet a spammer, kick him for me, ok?

Synopsis: The Little Princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

The wealthy and handsome Captain Crewe deposits his beloved daughter Sara at a London boarding school. The stern headmistress of the school, Miss Minchin, resents Sara from the first day of class. But not only is Sara clever, she is also uncommonly good, and gifted with the ability to tell stories that win her a fiercely devoted group of followers and the nickname Princess Sara. During Sara's birthday party, Minchin discovers that Captain Crewe has died of brain fever and left Sara penniless. Enraged, Minchin strips Sara of her finery and forces her to become a maid-of-all-work. Sara invents a fantasy-life she calls "the magic" that warms her despite the bitter cold. Someone leaves her secret gifts that make her believe ever more strongly in the magic. Her benefactor is the school's mysterious new neighbor -- Captain Crewe's business partner, who has been searching the globe for little Sara. He adopts her, and she becomes Princess Sara once again.

It's ok to start your synopsis a little further into the story than the manuscript does, if the problem comes later. You couldn't skip over the very beginning of Hatchet, of course. But here, the beginning is all prologue to Sara's fall from privilege and how she makes the best of it-- with goodness, imagination, and spirit-- and how she finds a happy ending in spite of her misfortunes and enemies. For a short synopsis, start with the problem.