Friday, December 25, 2009

Publishing Myths Contest!

I read with great interest about Ally Condie’s recent 7-figure deal with Dutton. It has us aspiring writers all in a kerfuffle. In online writer’s forums, the skinny is that Ms. Condie, like Stephenie Meyer, is Mormon, a graduate of BYU, and mother to three children. This has spawned speculation that the upper echelon of publishing is comprised of a “Mormon Mafia” of BYU alumni. Will my odds of getting published improve if I move to Provo, convert, and squeeze out another kid?
HA HA HAHAHGAH AHAHA HSNORTHAHA! Oh, whew. There should be a class at the gym that's just rolling around on the floor while guffawing.

That's fabulous, and a terrific kick off to our new year's contest:

Points will be awarded mostly for humor, but having some slight connection to reality or some vaguely believable "proof" will make for the strongest contenders. Ideally, I'd like to see several of these myths go on to long, anonymous lives on the internet where they will be passed from newbie to newbie like a cold in a preschool.

Entries should be posted in the comments here, by January 1st.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Last Minute Miscellany

Question: Is it better to be published by a small independent (real) publisher with little to no physical distribution (POD/ebook) or remain unpublished, at least for the short term?
To most publishers, this is essentially the same thing. Whereas self publishing often counts against a writer (as indicative of a tenuous grasp on reality), this kind of publishing just doesn't count at all.

What makes a difference to trade publishers is activity in the marketplace. How many books are you going to sell POD or as an ebook? Anything under 500 is essentially equivalent to zero.
When it comes to an author/illustrator's dummies, should they be full-sized? I've searched for an answer online and have found several conflicting answers. Some people claim they absolutely have to be full size while others insist they just need to be big enough to be readable. As someone preparing their first complete package to send into the dreaded slush, I'd like to be as accurate as possible. I don't want something as simple as the size of my dummy derailing my chances.
There's no rule. Just don't go bigger than 8.5 x 11, or if you're doing spreads 11 x 17. Whatever size the finished book is going to be, making the dummy a size small enough to handle and large enough to read is beneficial at the submission stage.
Suppose a book has not been picked up nationally by Barnes & Noble. But then people start saying that they've seen it on the shelf at their local Barnes & Noble. What does this mean? Has the manager special ordered it, and if so, why? (Reviews? Strong indie sales? or what?)
Could be any of the above, or something else-- for instance local interest (local author or topic). Every B&N buyer has a little latitude to stock their store in a location-specific way.
What does one do after making a terminally stupid mistake with a well-known editor, which has most likely resulted in blackballing by the entire industry? Is there any way for the repentant author (and also very talented, I offer, as one of said author's readers) to redeem his- or herself? Does he or she have a chance to be read and loved by an editor, or would it be better to find some other trade...say, fishmongering?
Without knowing what sort of transgression you're talking about, I can't say. But let me refer you to How To Get Black Balled.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to Tell If Your Sales Rock... or Don't

Is there an average number of copies a picture book needs to sell before it's considered a success? How about a MG or YA novel? Or can a book's success be more accurately judged by whether it has earned back its advance? Or simply sold out its first printing? Please do not infer from this question that I've spent a lot of time lately staring at my royalties statements, as book sales mean not half as much to me as the smiles of my readers blah blah blah etc.
You can think of a book's success as based on sales numbers. Certainly a book earning out its advance is something to be desired, but the advance and the print run are linked, and the print run is an idea of how many books the publisher hopes to sell in approximately a year. So the advance comes back to sales numbers, too.

Past that, though: No, there isn't an industry average for any type of book. Sales goals vary widely publisher-to-publisher and within publishers book-to-book. The thing to compare your sales to is the first print run.

1st year:
sales are 1/2 or less of the first print run: This is a disappointment to your publisher. If the book was a small investment, the attitude in the office may be "ah, c'est la vie"; if the book was a very large investment, the attitude in the office may be "whose mistake was this, dammit, and whose neck is corporate going to wring?"
sales are around 3/4 of the first print run: Publisher response may range from "that's not so good" to "hey, that's not so bad".
sales are approximately the first print run: Publisher response ranges from "nice work" to "go us!".
sales are above the first print run: Publisher response ranges from "that's great" to "OMFG! Wearegeniuses!!".

2nd year:
sales bottom out: with the exception of a few very topical books, this is not expected and not appreciated.
sales dip, but are above 1/3 of the first year's sales: that's pretty normal.
sales are close to the same as the 1st year: awesome.
sales are above the 1st year sales: holy shit! quick, how did we do that? do it again!

5th year:
book is still in print: congrats. have a bottle of champagne, because this is getting less common.

10th year:
book is still in print: congrats! have a case of champagne, and invite all your friends over.

20th year:
book is still in print: shh. stop celebrating, you'll just make the other authors bitter and envious.

(Also note that if your book's sales were not quite as high as your publisher hoped, but the book got some very positive review attention, that may still be chalked up as a "win".)

Let us remember, however, that one of your rights and privileges as someone not working in a publisher's padded cells is to distance yourself from the capricious mood swings, self-congratulation, and finger-pointing of the industry. Unless you fought your publisher through every step of the book-making process or in a fit of hubris took an advance that no book without an endorsement from God himself would ever earn back, then you can at most take a small fraction of the blame for a book's failure.

And unless the publisher is run by total jerkwads to whom panic and recrimination are as the air they breathe, your book's sales history will eventually be viewed with equanimity and perspective.

So as long as your books don't tank over and over again, things are probably just fine.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quick Answers

Hello, I have been writing a novella for a few months now. I did not intend for it to be a novella (I was actually not sure what I wanted it to be when I started) but for the story I have in my head that is about the length it will end up as. Is there any publisher that takes them, or is it an unmarketable sort of book? If I decide to submit to agents, should I call it a novella or a short novel?
That is a pretty tough sell, but I don't think it matters what you call it. Tell them the word count, and they'll know what the challenge is.

I'm writing a picture book in which much of the humor will be in the illustrations. They will contain clues, visual jokes, and information key to the story but not mentioned in the text. How do I indicate that? I know it isn't my job as the writer to tell the illustrator what to draw, but the text alone is only half the story and less than half the humor.
Notes about the illustration should be confined strictly to those things that are essential in order for a reader to understand the manuscript.

I am basically wondering about the differences between photo shoots and stock photography in YA covers. Is there a way to determine which method will be used?
The book's budget.
Is one more effective than the other?
Not necessarily. Photo shoots usually get better results, but some stock photography designs are very successful.
Also, there was another author who had told me that a lot of the covers where partial features are shown (a chin or a forehead) are publishing company employees. Do you know if this is true?
It's certainly true that photo shoots are a heck of a lot less expensive if you don't also have to pay a model.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Self-Publishing and Editing Careers

I read your recent entry about self-publishing (and the links therein) with some interest. I currently work as an editor at a vanity publishing company. As far as I can tell, it's a relatively honest and professional one, but it's still a vanity publishing company. Will having this on my resume hurt my chances of eventually getting a job in the real publishing industry? It's frustrating to work with books that are accepted regardless of quality, but hey, the job market's tough right now, and this is a better use of my English degree than waitressing.
It might... I suppose it depends how you spin it. It's certainly understandable that you want to do something of the editing sort while you look for a job in trade publishing. Most people in editorial won't consider vanity publishing as actual publishing experience, though. If you stay caught up with what's on the market now and can prove that to a publisher, it may not count against you. It might be smart to come with a couple jokes about self-publishing, just to set the tone.

How many self-publishers does it take to change a lightbulb?
Answer: The lightbulb doesn't need to change; it's just the wrong-headed publishing industry that expects lightbulbs to shed light.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Editor? What Editor?

When the SCBWI newsletter reports that an editor has moved to a new company, I consider it worth approaching that editor with a Query, etc. but first I want to research what books the editor has worked on to see if my MS falls within that person's tastes. I find it hit and miss when researching editor names on the web. Could you please recommend a source of information that tells what books specific editors have worked on?
I wish there was one. The editors at Candlewick have lists online of some of the books they've worked on, and Publisher's Lunch will tell you a few of the books most editors have worked on, but there's no official record or growing wiki. Editors mean to stay in the background, and we do.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Agents Old and Agents New

I read your blog regularly, and it's been a tremendous help to me in learning about the industry. I finally received an offer of representation after months of querying, but I have a question about dealing with multiple offers. I've read a few posts on your blog that have touched on this topic, but mine has to do with young, inexperienced agents. Is it wise to go with an agent who's brand new, no clients, but comes from a very reputable agency? Or should I always go with the more experienced agent? I'm also young and new and all that, and I firmly believe in the mantra that everyone has to start somewhere. On the other hand, I want to make sure I'm giving myself the best possible chance to get published.
I would be hesitant to sign up with any new agent who wasn't with an established agency, but if your choice is between a hungry, energetic, and ambitious young agent who has an established agency to mentor him/her in the business and an experienced agent who has a record of great sales and great service to his/her authors, I'd say the choice has to come down to personality. Because either could be great for you.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

'Self Publishing' meets 'Never Say Never'

I have self published 8 children's books. Three poetry anthologies and 5 chapter books. They have sold a total of 20,000 copies. The books are selling in and around my own city and in vacation areas that I frequent regularly. Now I would like to submit these books to a publisher. Should I divulge the sale's figures or just keep them to myself.
Yes. Let's see, 20,000 divided by 8 is 2,500. Those are certainly good numbers for self-publishing, so you may have a chance.

Don't send all 8 books in a big pile. Choose houses and editors that will be best for single titles, and send that title alone. Specify that title's sales figures. If there's serious interest, then you can mention the other ones.

Consider printing out the manuscripts on plain paper. An obviously self-published work is often a bit of a turn-off for editors, so make your submission look as normal as possible.

Get your manuscripts and cover letters proofread. (The term "sales figures" does not have an apostrophe in it. Putting an apostrophe in a plural is a pet peeve of many editors, and is a bad way to start.)

Good luck!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Subtle Art of Form Rejections

I've been struggling to get work published for a year now. Patience is not my strongest attribute, but this process has me improving radically. I feel blessed to have gotten two short stories published this year. I often ask myself, if I'd not gotten a single acceptance this year, would I have had the heart to continue trying? It is the acceptances and the rejections with personal comments that keep me going. I get those on my short stories, but not so much from my agent queries.
For my novella I have gotten fifteen some odd form rejections from literary agents. I'm not sure whether to count the one-liners ("Not for me, thanks") as form or as personal, but either way they are not helpful to me. My question is, how does an author figure out if rejections are due to: agent not interested in novellas (word count), weak query, manuscript has a weak opening, weak writing, silly premise, etc, or that the project is altogether unsellable?
"Not for me, thanks."
This rejection is usually an indication that the query was typed on the wrong kind of paper or using the wrong typeface. Possibly you put a staple in one of the forbidden zones, or, if it was an email, the agent could tell you would have put a staple in it if you could have. Resubmit without using any kind of paper, typefaces, or staples (hypothetical or otherwise). And don't use those stupid shaped paperclips; I hate them.

"Not for me, thanks"

Notice the absence of a period. This rejection, slightly abbreviated, means your word count was between 1 to 2,000 words too short. If the final 's' had been left off, it would mean your work was up to 100,000 words too short. This word shortfall should be made up mostly in adjectives and adverbs, and in changing all active verbs to passive voice. Then resubmit.

"Not for, me thanks."
Misplaced comma: This means punctuation and/or grammatical problems. The agent wants you to see a freelance editor and then resubmit. If the comma is placed between 'not' and 'for', it means the agent wants you to resubmit on perfumed paper.

"Thanks, not for me."
The transposition of clauses is a sure sign that the agent thinks you're approaching your story from the wrong POV or even the wrong sequence of events. Try rewriting your story backwards, from the point of view of the main character's toaster. Then resubmit.

"not for me thanks."
Lack of capitalization is a subtle and often-missed hint that your concept/premise is lacking in marketability, or alternatively that you have no platform. The agent wants you to revise your manuscript to include more dinosaurs, sparkles, or crime, or alternatively to commit a high-profile crime involving sparkly dinosaurs.

"Not for me, thnaks."
Word is misspelled: This rejection was typed with the agent's nose as she beat her head against her keyboard.

I know how desperately authors want to know what it is they need to fix. But no matter how you parse it, a form rejection will not tell you: the answer is not there.
Agents are under no obligation (professional, social, or otherwise) to tell you why they're saying no, and if they don't tell you, you can't use rejection ouija to figure it out.

Take a deep breath. Keep writing, reading, attending conferences, and visiting critique groups. Keep trying. And when you get a form rejection, remember that this is a sign that you should lift your shoulders and then drop them again in what is known as a 'shrug'. Then move on.

Friday, November 27, 2009

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

I just found out my cousin is close friends with a high-ranking editor at a major house. As an aspiring author, I'd love to believe this could be useful one day, but I imagine there are a bajillion writers within a few degrees of every editor. How do you feel about friends and friends of friends in search of book deals? Is it business as usual, or is it all terribly awkward? Is there anything you wish authors knew about networking in publishing?
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.

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!"

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Never Say Never, Again and Again

As a freelance Illustrator still scraping my fingernails to get noticed by the industry, I’ve created a site that includes multiple styles. I had been told all through art school this was a big No-No to feature multiple styles under the same name. I find this rather frustrating, as I’m sure Editors can appreciate diverse styles to fit story needs… right? Is it better to have one solidified style to ‘brand’ one’s self in the memory of Editors? Or do you appreciate an artist with multiple approaches to solving a children’s text?
I like multiple styles. The designers I know like multiple styles. I don't know what they're teaching people in art school.
I hear people talk all the time about revising manuscripts based on what rejection letters say. If I have received 50 form rejection letters that have no specific connection to my writing, does that mean my work is not worth commenting on, editors are over-worked, or something else entirely?
I would say that's a bad sign. Whether it means you've been submitting something unremarkable or submitting to people who don't take the sort of thing you're submitting, I don't know.
About a year ago I sent out a manuscript to three slush piles of three prominent houses and a couple of other places which shall not be named. Today I was walking through Target and saw MY BOOK WITH ANOTHER PERSON'S name on it. Obviously, it was her book, containing my idea, and a little suspicious that it is out a little less than one year after submitting it. Is this just how the business works? Does my book even have a chance? Should I hope that it is a best-seller so that another publisher wants to pick up my book? Should I get a lawyer? Okay, so not the last, but it is tough seeing a water-down version of my fabulous story on the shelves. Yes, it may be like the Twilight phenomena and we just had the same idea at the same time, but it doesn't make me feel better. The one saving grace is that I like the illustrations and I know that another version is worth publishing. Though the reason I like the illustrations of the woman's book so much is because they are very similar to the illustration that I sent in on my cover letter. I know these things happen, but I feel I need a "pat on the back" and "carry on young grasshopper". I promise I won't be pathetic tomorrow.
First of all, it's unlikely that a publisher could find your idea in the submissions pile and crank out an imitation in less than a year. The book you saw in Target has most likely been underway for a couple years. Likewise, if you sell your manuscript, it will be another couple of years before it comes out. So unless it's a very unusual topic and your approach isn't meaningfully different, there's hope for your book yet.
I write literary fiction, mostly, as well as young adult. But that's beside the point. My question is what does one do with a 15,000 word story--not long enough to be a novel, but not short enough (I understand) to be a short story. Is there any way to sell stories around that length?
Probably not. I mean, Seedfolks is around 11,000 words, but chances are you're not Paul Fleischman. And I can't think of anything that short in YA. I never say never, but that sounds like a bit of a long shot.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Manuscripts Roasting on an Open Fire, Jack Daniels Nipping at My Nose...

I'm just getting ready to buckle down and send out a bunch of queries for my middle grade manuscript, but it suddenly occurred to me that this time of year might be the worst time to try to get agents and editors' attention. As the holidays approach, do agents and editors tend to push stuff off their desks to clear the decks for their time off, and therefore reject more than usual?
Or do they store up queries and manuscripts, knowing they might have more spare time to read over the holidays?
Or does it just not matter?
Look, you have to try to remember that there are tons of different editors, and they're not all using the same brain. There are about as many different workstyles as there are editors. So some of them will do one of the things you've mentioned above, and some will do other things you haven't even thought of. I plan to burn all my outstanding reading in a bonfire while cackling / singing christmas carols.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Language of Rejection: Not Always Meant for Translation.

As a long time children's book illustrator and now aspiring writer, I have approached a few literary agents that I feel would be a good match for my work. I recently got a very nice rejection letter from a new agent that said my PB manuscript had a "clever sensibility" to it, but that she did not "connect" with my illustration style, therefore it was a "no". I've been scratching my head trying to figure out what "clever sensibility" means...a polite way of saying your story is just okay but not great?
Maybe this would make more sense to me if I'd seen the manuscript, but I think chances are strong that this is just gibberish.
Could you please interpret this rejection letter to me... Sometimes I don't know what this kind of letters really tell... They like your work and in the future want to know what you are doing, or simply is a nice form of rejection, like when a girl friend says its me not you? This is the rejection letter: Dear X, Thank you for your enormous patience with me while I've reviewed your various projects and discussed them with a colleague here. Your writing style is intriguing and lyrical, intense and evocative, but in the end, I'm afraid we found these stories too ephemeral or elliptical thematically--or at least, we found that we lack a vision for publishing and promoting them--so I must say no with regrets.
Translation: "Your writing is good; what it's not is marketable. But maybe I'm wrong? Who knows."

Monday, November 23, 2009

In Which the Cockles of My Heart Are Reasonably Tepid

I've noticed that most MGs that have sold recently have NOT been 'school stories'. (At least what's listed at Pub. Lunch) Does that mean 'school stories' are history? Or maybe they are being bought but not reported? Any ideas?
I don't know what you mean by "school stories". A story in which the characters are in school? But that's... most of them. I'm confused.
Normally, if I get a rejection, I put it in my pile and go on, but I received one recently that makes me wonder. If an editor takes the time to point out exactly what does and doesn't work for her in a picture book, and says that it's close, but "not quite there yet", does that mean that she would be open to considering a revised version with those changes implemented? I know "no means no" is the general rule, but it seems like an awful lot of time on the editor's part if she doesn't want to see it again. And if she doesn't want to see it again, I don't want to come across as overly aggressive by sending a revision or emailing her to ask.
No means no. Invitations to resubmit are always explicit. You should take this as encouragement, though-- your manuscript clearly warmed the cockles of the editor's heart enough for her to want to take the time to give you feedback. Most of the time, speaking personally, my cockles are not that warm.
As a children's book illustrator with an agent, what should I be expecting from the relationship? I recently accepted representation with a great agency, but I'm not sure what I should be expecting as I don't currently have ambitions with submitting my own projects. Is she involved in my self promotion to help me get new work, or does she just help me with the issues that come up (contract, negotiation, etc) after I bring in projects on my own? As an editor, does it make a difference to you if an illustrator is agented or not?
This varies from agent to agent, and you should be asking your agent these questions. You should really have asked before you signed with her.
As an editor, no.
I was interested in your explanation of the fact that the author of a picture book manuscript should not expect to have any say in the illustration of their book. My question, then, is how an author/illustrator gets a book published. Is that situation always one where the person has an established presence as an illustrator? Do they submit the manuscript and not mention their hope to illustrate until after they have a publisher? Or maybe they're always established authors, and have a relationship with their publisher that allows them to present the idea? I can think of a lot of ways for such a deal to come about, but what's the typical scenario?
They submit illustrated manuscripts, and the editor doesn't look at them and think, "Well, we'll get that illustrated by someone better." She thinks, "This is essentially done! Awesome!"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Self Publishing

Janet Reid has done a fine job of covering the Harlequin brouhaha, so I needn't go over it again here.
And the SFWA has helpfully delineated the differences between vanity, subsidy, and self-publishing.

Let me just get this out of the way: There's nothing wrong with self-publishing. Not intrinsically. And a very small and extremely lucky and persistent percentage of self-publishers manage to sell their self-published works in enough quantity to make a profit. In a few extremely rare instances they sell well enough to be picked up by a trade publisher.

But there IS something wrong with self-publishing presses: They're shitheads.

Self-publishing presses reliably tell their marks ahem, clients all the things that will happen: their book will have an ISBN. It will be available through Amazon. It will have "distribution".

What they do not tell their clients are all the things that won't happen: It won't be available at both national wholesalers. Even if it is, it won't be available on a returnable basis to bookstores. It won't be available at a normal trade discount to bookstores. It won't have been edited, designed, or illustrated in a professional manner, which is what the book-buying public expects.

Which means it won't have a snowball's chance in hell of placement in bookstores, and 999 times out of 1,000 it won't have a snowball's chance in hell of selling. Period.

If self-publishing presses were educating their clients about all of that, I would have nothing at all against them. But education would cut into their profits. So they won't.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Look, Jane, look! Look at my book!

I have written a caption picture book (no illustrations) and was curious if I should use the word "caption" in my queries to identify it as such. Also, should I mention the word length (under 500 words)?
As the term "caption book" is more common among educators than other people, I would only recommend using it only if you are submitting to an educational publisher. Otherwise, call it a 'leveled reader' or a 'beginning reader'.

There are very specific guidelines for vocabulary, line length, sentence length, etc. in leveled readers, so I hope you know what you're doing. I'm sure beginning readers of every kind look very easy to people unfamiliar with them, but creating an honestly entertaining text for children who are still sounding out words is HARD. Current favorite: The Cat On the Mat Is Flat

Yes, do include the word count.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Shnookiedoodlepoo and the Diaper

I'm wondering if it's important to have a super great title for my manuscript when I submit it to the slush pile. Should I spend a great deal of time and energy to get it just right, or do the majority of titles get changed along the way anyway?
Great title:
Ooo, that's catchy. Maybe the editor will take a little peek right now, instead of days or weeks from now.

Ok title:
Manuscript gets in line. No special treatment.

Bad/cliched title:
Without realizing it, the editor keeps sifting manuscript to the bottom of the pile. Months go by. Eventually, editor reads it and maybe realizes it's great! It just needs a new title. No problem.

Horrifying title: No answer because the editor didn't want to touch the manuscript long enough to reject it.

If you can come up with a super title, then do-- it can encourage prompt responses.

But do not overthink this, and if you aren't good at recognizing the difference between an awkwardly overwrought title and something that sparks reader interest (and many writers are not!), go ahead and give your MS a blah, vanilla-flavored title that can be easily changed and that at least won't hurt it during submission.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Go To Your Happy Place: Your Writing Desk

I’m an aspiring author with one magazine credit and a fabulous agent. I’ve recently had some good news, an editor from a major publishing house is interested in my manuscript (the joy, the terror). She’s currently circulating copies to her colleagues and I’m waiting for news and trying not to hold my breath. I’ve had a lot of positive feedback from other editors (via said fabulous agent); however, the outstanding concern is that the manuscript might not be long enough for the age group (I aimed it at 8-12, though some publishers felt it would be better as a 9+). The manuscript is 32,000 words long. I do know this is short, however it felt like the natural length for this specific story. It’s a long preamble, but I would love an editor’s honest take on this situation. Is a short story just too costly to print? are they unpopular/unsaleable? or are they trying to let me down easy? I’ve indicated that I’d be more than happy to write more (provided it was more that added to the story, not just more words to bulk out each chapter), and that I would be thrilled to have an editor’s opinion/brainstorming power to help me with some ideas. Besides that, is there anything I can do?
No, that's the right approach to take. In your position, I would assume that those editors who simply rejected it on the grounds that it's too short didn't have any particular ideas (or at least, ones they wanted to share) for how it might be longer.

It's possible you will find an editor who will be willing to publish this at its current length (it's on the short side, but I can think of shorter things published for middle school), or you will find an editor who's interested in brainstorming ways to make it longer.

If I were you, I would be thinking hard now about how you might make it longer (in a way that, as you say, serves the story rather than just padding it). If you're feeling stuck, ask your agent what she feels are the primary strengths of the manuscript and then concentrate on what you could do to develop those more.

Waiting and worrying are probably the couple of worst things for authors, but the good news is you have something to do that prevents both of them! That is: writing.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

November Love/Hate

Know what I love? The way when a lot of people donate a leeetle money to a good cause, it becomes a LOT of money for the cause.

Know what I hate? Adam Rex's moustache.

HERE, the fantabulous Bridget Zinn auction is going on. Bridget, you'll recall, got a book deal and a cancer diagnosis in the same month. She's doing ok, but her treatment is hellishly expensive. Happily, she has lots of fellow children's book people who don't know her and yet who care about her.

HERE, Adam Rex is raising money for schoolchildren. Last year he raised a bunch of funds for Philadelphia schools; this year it's Tucson schools. (And you have the option of donating to schools in YOUR immediate area.) Please, donate some money and help us make him shave.

(What I love most: that the community of children's book people is so generous. You, my readers and your friends and colleagues: you're awesome.)

Suggestions Are Welcome! Demands... Not So Much.

I have a quick formatting question. If I want to set something off in my manuscript with a different font, how do I indicate that in my manuscript? I am going to have as part of my manuscript pages from another book and letters from characters in between chapters (not unlike Sarah Prineas did with THE MAGIC THIEF). Should I add something (a footnote? a note in brackets?) to indicate that this should be formatted differently?
A note in brackets phrased as a suggestion is acceptable. That's the designer's job, you know.
And out of curiosity--how would an author format a manuscript that needed some form of special illustration, like the comic book inset in Markus Zusak's THE BOOK THIEF or the ink blots and scribblings MT Anderson's OCTAVIAN NOTHING?
As a suggestion, again. That's money the publisher would have to spend on illustration.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You Promoted Your Book and I Don't Bitterly Regret Coming! Win/Win.

The trend to over-share might be in part because for authors there can be quite a bit of fear-driven pressure [from peers and self] to be doing what the most visible authors are doing. And as many commenters have pointed out, some very visible authors fall into the category of internet over-share in terms of anything goes personal information. Some put out a lot of information very naturally, and some really very entertainingly - but others I suspect may be acting somewhat out of character in order to try to meet a perceived expectation [besides maintaining blog posting volume]. These can be our most prominent examples.
Actually, all of the examples I've witnessed were in person, at publisher-organized events. AND several of the worst offenders were very established writers who could easily have refused to do events. I think some people just have no damn filter.
In terms of the dangers of speaking over-share, when people ask authors to speak they often don't have any kind of request for a particular topic or theme, and we are just expected to do 'our talk'. I've seen authors talk about all sorts of things, more and less successfully. So besides what not to say [which IS helpful!!], what would you give as advice for an author wondering what exactly to really focus on when asked to give a general talk?
Well, the reason authors usually aren't given a topic or theme is because nobody else but you knows what you can speak entertainingly about. You could speak about eggplants and how they were clearly never meant for consumption. You could speak about your first meaningful experience of the power of storytelling (as long as you aren't breaking any of the rules). You could speak about publishing's pitfalls or writing's ecstasies or vice versa. You could even speak about your book, if you really want to.

The trick is just to find something that you want to talk about and other people want to hear. Still, if all you can manage is to avoid speaking about something your audience finds uncomfortable, disgusting, inappropriate, weepingly dull, or nightmare-inducing, I say: that's a job well done.

Monday, November 16, 2009

No Excuses

I’m a professional illustrator, I’m from Italy and I work in the UK as a video game artist. I usually just write short stories, nothing too complicated o convoluted. I tend to get bored pretty easily so I’m not exactly the kind of person who can manage to stick to a novel for a decade. (I usually write in Italian so please don’t take my English as an example) So, I recently wrote two short books. The first one is a collection of my grandma’s recipes. I know it’s not something that will change the course of literature, but honestly my initial purpose was purely emotional. I have been told people don’t live forever so I just wanted to gather all her recipes before, well, it was too late, so to speak. Then I realized that maybe a book about the recipes of an elderly Italian woman could have some commercial relevance, at least in Britain. After all the entire kingdom is famous worldwide – as admitted by its own inhabitants - for its not-exactly-top-of-the-range food. Italy on the other hand is famous for the opposite reason so I figured that someone might be interested in it. Anyway, the book is written in a humoristic style, there are a few anecdotes about my grandma’s life and persona (they’re relevant because both vital parts of her cuisine) and as opposed to most cooking books I planned to include a few of my own illustrations rather than the usual photographs of pasta and meatballs.
I'm a children's book editor, so please bear in mind that I'm no expert in food publishing for adults. The things I am thinking now are (and anyone actually in food publishing, feel free to correct me):
  • There are a TON of Italian cookbooks available in English already. You have some heavy competition.
  • People are more likely to buy a cookbook for its ease, its appetizingness, its novelty, or its personal charm than its type of cuisine.
  • So that means not only must the recipes be excellent, the stories must be very charming.
  • And it means the publisher who picks this project up probably will want pretty pictures of the food. But they can handle that photo shoot.
Assuming that the stories are charming enough to make people want to spend some time (and money) on the book, this is an excellent example of a situation in which getting your work edited in advance of submission might be very good for it. Your English is a little bit rocky, and so getting a freelance editor to clean it up for you might help the publisher to whom you send it to see its potential.
The second work is a 500 words picture book. Being an illustrator I couldn’t help picturing the story in my mind in images first, the words came after or at least simultaneously. Let’s say that initially the plot was just an excuse to put together a consistent series of colourful images I would have fun working on, and that at the same time could entertain my toddler girl.
Since I’m not a book illustrator (if we don’t mention the pointless Repair Your Car by Yourself which I illustrated when I was seventeen and for which I wasn’t even credited for) I did some research and I learnt (from you, btw) that editors don’t like authors to submit manuscripts that are already illustrated (or at best they don’t care if they are).
Hence my questions:
Does the same “rule” apply when an author-illustrator submits a manuscripts with his own pictures?
Maybe. Since you are paid for your illustrations, there's a chance that your art is professional enough for you to be considered as an author/illustrator. But the part where you say "Let’s say that initially the plot was just an excuse to put together a consistent series of colourful images" is a big red flag. I've gotten submissions that started as a colorful (but unconnected) series of images, with a text that tried to connect them with something approaching a narrative. Tried and failed. Anytime you're doing something in your bookmaking "as an excuse" for something else in your bookmaking, I strongly suggest you rethink whether there is any excuse for it.
Is it likely (on the unlikely assumption the story is accepted) that the book might get published but illustrated by another artist? To be honest it would be really awkward to be a professional illustrator who gets published for something he did primarily for fun that eventually gets illustrated by someone else.
It's possible, yes. If you couldn't stomach that and are unwilling to consider that option, make that clear in your cover letter.
Does the fact that the story is closely linked to the images decrease the chances of it being published? (assuming the story is good enough but maybe the style is somehow wrong etc.).What I mean is, does the rejection of the illustrations usually imply the rejection of the manuscript in its entirety in this case?
If you say in your cover letter that you'd be willing to consider someone else illustrating your story, then the editor will bear that in mind.
I’m finishing all the illustrations anyway, but do you think in general, when it comes to picture books, an author/illustrator should submit only sketches?
An author/illustrator should submit mostly sketches and a couple pieces of finished art. This is because (a) the art will almost certainly not be accepted just the way you originally envisioned it--that's why publishers expect to see sketches before final art. And (b) we cannot assume what qualities will carry over from an artist's sketches to their final art, and what qualities will only show up in the final art. So you have to send samples.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Overzealous Is Your Middle Name (Which Makes You Just Like Most Authors)

I submitted three chapters and a synopsis to two editors I met at a very small regional SCBWI event. When I sent the 3 chaps, thinking I had a minimum of 4-6 months wait ahead of me, I was aware my MS still needed a last copyedit and a proofread. When Editor A requested the full MS, only three weeks later, complete with scribbled smiley face on her note to me, I was elated.... and horrified to find my story wasn't as ready as I thought. The second half (at least) had some serious issues which suddenly became glaringly obvious to me now that someone actually wanted to see the full. I'm sure I made a complete gaffe of the situation: I sent Editor A the first half of the MS, and explained what had happened, with an assurance I was committed to fixing the issues. Editor A quickly rejected my half MS with a form letter. No real surprises there, I guess, a sharp rap on the knuckles, and a hard lesson learned.

Ah... well, I can't speak for all editors, but if I had the first half of a novel and was really excited about it, I would let the author know that I'd love to see the rest when it was done.
Unless it was about vampires, zombies, or angels. Only manuscripts ready to be sent to the printer can have those in them right now. Damned angels.

At the same time, you're right, you shouldn't be submitting a novel that isn't finished, so I'm glad you're taking this as a lesson.
I'm wondering what's the best way to handle Editor B: just to send her a letter and withdraw my MS from consideration at this point? I don't want to waste her time. But I'm not expecting that she will request the full. And I don't want to come across as Stupidity Exhibit A to someone whom I admire. How is an author, if she's silly enough to be there, expected to handle this kind of situation? Talk about arguing for one's limitations....
Let her know that you feel you've noticed a couple problem areas and want to send the manuscript to her once it's really as good as you can make it. She should appreciate that. And give her an idea of how soon that might be: a month? A couple months? I don't mean to pressure you, but we like people who have a new book every year or two.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

You Don't Hate Me! You Really, Really Don't Hate Me!!

Do good reviews matter? If one's first book sold few copies, but received excellent reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, VOYA, and others, will a publisher take that into consideration when deciding whether to offer a contract for a second book?
Yes. As long as we're in agreement about what "excellent" means.

I know some authors who think the world is ready to crack open and give them an oyster the size of Hong Kong if a reviewer simply refrains from impaling their book on a bloody spike.

Most really glowing reviews are starred reviews, and that's what really makes a difference to how ready I am to overlook bad sales history.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In Which I Am Proud of My Bruises

Do you know why some really, really prominent children's books - like the last volume of a certain boy wizard series - are edited so badly? I'm certainly I'm not the only person who read through the last few installments of Harry Potter thinking OH MY GOD CUT CUT CUT!!!!
The obvious explanation is that a bigshot author can demand their immortal prose be left untampered with, on threat of decamping to a different publisher.
Yes, in large part.
Another still more depressing possibility is that the publishers just don't care and skip the editing process in order to get the big-name book out there bringing in all that lovely money as soon as possible.
Yes again.
But if the latter, that seems short-sighted, as a well-edited book is surely more likely to stand the test of time and keep making money for the publisher in future (if, of course, that publisher retains the rights - if not, maybe they don't care.).
It's certainly difficult to imagine that Bloomsbury couldn't find someone competent and willing to work on HP. Was there some poor editor weeping in her office over being prevented, by authorial ego or sales department supremacy, from doing her job properly?
Yes, that's possible. There are also a few editors who, unfortunately, just don't really give a crap.

I agree with you that there are further books in certain series that could have done with a sh**load of editing beyond the editing I know they received. (Never assume they weren't edited at all--they were.)

But I'd like to say a couple things about the short-sightedness of publishing, to provide some context, without actually defending it.

For one thing, for 99.99% of books, publishing is about the now. Being able to sell 500,000 copies now is the very best most books can ever hope for. Trying to create a book 'for the ages'--a book that will last past the author's own lifetime, nevermind just making it to two years from now-- is playing with such long odds it's ridiculous. That's a fact of the industry, and something to bear in mind.

It's also worth remembering that as long as the first book in a series is in good enough shape to keep hooking readers, it doesn't matter so much how badly plotted, excessively adverbialized, and padded with filler the last books are. Readers will still want them. That's a fact of the reading public.

So yes, sometimes authors prevent editors from doing their jobs. Sometimes publishers prevent editors from doing their jobs. Sometimes editors just don't do their jobs. And sometimes it's a combination of all three.

It takes a lot of fight to be a good editor. And it also takes knowing what fights are worth fighting.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Assistant- Associate- Senior- Executive- Editor -in Chief -ial Director etc etc

Could you explain exactly what an Editorial Director does? Where does she fit in with the general hierarchy of a publishing company? (I assume she is more senior than a Senior Editor, but is there anyone more senior than her?) Does an Editorial Director have to go through a committee to acquire, just like everyone else, or is she more autonomous?
Ha-ha! I will never tell. The industry is conspiring against you to make this information inaccessible!

Ok, I don't mean that. But I can't tell you the answer, because what an editorial director does, how she fits in the hierarchy of the company, and how she acquires will vary unpredictably from one house to another.

So if I told you what "editorial director" means at my house, my colleagues might be able to figure out which house I work for. Every company uses titles to suit their specific needs and interprets titles according to bureaucratic whim. There's no communal chart for what a particular title means in publishing.

Perhaps some of my publishing readers could give anonymous examples in the comments of what "editorial director" means at their houses.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Importance of Community and Research

I have a sister who has written 3 tween girl books. She recently sent me a contract she received from an agency for my review. In researching this agency it was not hard to uncover that it is a fee based scam sort of operation. I would love for my sis to have a real opportunity to get some healthy and professional critique on her writing. Unfortunately my rolodex is a little thin on literary industry folks. What's the best way to obtain information on reputable children's/ tween freelance editors that I could hire to work with her?
She should join the SCBWI to start with-- that will put her in contact with a whole community of people whom she can ask for advice. My readers may have suggestions in the comments, too.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

How to Illustrate for Children? Oh, That's Simple.

I'm currently studying Illustration at the Arts University College at Bournemouth in my second year. I've been given a brief where I need to design 5 rough ideas and 3 final images for a children's book. The brief is that I've got to pick 5 religions and pick one section from their story about creation and illustrate it for a child. I've been given no text as of yet so I need to be mindful that the text will take up at least a third of the double page spread I've got to design for each image.

And so as I was reading through your blog and all your posts, i was wondering whether you had any advice about how I should go about this and if you could give me some information about what's successful in the realm of children's books.
I don't know how to answer this. For one thing, I'm an editor, not an art director. And for another thing, it sounds like you don't know what your question is. Which part of this assignment are you confused about? If it's the whole assignment, you should talk to your teacher.

I'm sorry not to be more help, but specific questions engender specific answers.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Fragile: Contains Dreams. Please Do Not Bend, Fold, or Crush.

Do children's book editors know that they hold children's book author's dreams in their hands?
Yes. But long acquaintance with the slush pile has convinced us that we are also holding authors' crack-induced fantasies and psychotic delusions in our hands.

Also: No.

Here's the thing we'd like more authors to be aware of: we don't hold your dreams in our hands. You do.

What we hold in our hands--what you've sent us-- is your work, not your dreams.

Any reasonable person expects to work hard to make their dreams come true, right? Getting rejected and writing and rewriting and writing some more and getting rejected some more is all part of that hard work.

No editor should be able to crush your dreams by telling you the piece of your work they looked at wasn't good enough. Because it's just one piece of your work! And you have lots more, right?

When you receive a rejection letter and feel your dreams being crushed, BE AWARE: it's you crushing your dreams.

That's what happens when you forget that dreams are achieved through your hard work, and not through the miraculous intervention of others.

We are not your fairy godmothers; we are your colleagues. We will be so grateful if you will treat us as such.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Once More With Feeling

What exactly does "not immediate" mean?
I'm guessing you got that in a rejection letter. I would take it as meaning the editor wasn't feeling your manuscript in some important way-- whether it was not feeling the tension or not feeling a connection to the main character (or maybe something else). One way or another, you weren't convincing this particular reader that there was something meaningful at stake in your story.

Always bearing in mind that this editor may not be representative of your true readership, I would take this as a chance to ask yourself if in fact you are feeling the high stakes of the story you've written, or if you've only put the stakes into the plot without putting them into the telling.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Second Chance, or a Chance to Make the Same Mistake Twice?

Speaking of republishing books from a couple of posts ago, how often does that happen in your business? For example, I searched for a long time for a "no longer published" children's book, The Green Machine by Polly Cameron, and I always found super expensive copies for sale. It seemed that people were always searching it out and willing to pay big bucks. My 3 kids love it (obviously that's hardly enough for a reprint), but at what point does someone figure out to put it back into the rotation? Would the author, if they were still alive, have to put it through the query system again? Or does the publisher own it? This applies to any reprint of a currently out of print book. I'm tempted to check a copy out from our library and "lose it." Only tempted, don't report me.
This does not happen a great deal. There have been some recent reissues, notably from New York Review of Books, but they are almost entirely books that were originally published more than 50 years ago. I see a number of submissions from authors whose books went out of print in the 1980s or 90s, and that's too soon.

Listen, I know that there are some honest-to-goodness great books that are out of print--even books that went out of print within a couple years of publication!--and here's what you have to know: that happens all the time.

It's a fact of publishing. No matter how great the text, the art, the cover, the title, etc, sometimes a book just doesn't speak strongly enough to enough people to survive in the marketplace. If you and I and a couple hundred other people recognize its sterling qualities, that's simply not enough people. (Of course, once books go digital, everything will be able to be in print forever. I'm looking forward to that element of digital books.)

Publishers, reviewers, and booksellers know that however wonderful a book may be, almost all books that go out of print do it for a good reason: they can't sell enough copies.

For this reason, publishers are highly unlikely to republish something that's gone out of print within booksellers' and reviewers' (long) memories. The reissue won't get review attention and won't get bookseller support.

In terms of the rights, the author may have the rights back, if their contract has the standard out-of-print language and they have remembered to request the rights be reverted to them. If the author has not, then the publisher may still have the rights.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Does My Manuscript Need to Be Illustrated? FOR THE LAST TIME: NO

Hi, I was reading your blog about basic picture book contruction - which I understand and find very helpful in sharing with writers who want me to illustrate their books. What I am wondering is, if they ask me to prepare their layouts with their text so that they can shop them to editors/publishers, do I lay their books out so that pages 2 and 3 are on the same layout or so that pages 2 and 31 are on the same sheet? Thanks so much for your time and any assistance you can provide!
The answer you asked for: 2 and 3 are on the same spread.

The answer you didn't ask for: WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS?! Publishers do not want to receive manuscripts that are already illustrated. Publishers want to choose the illustrator themselves.

I have made peace with the fact that you cannot stop some authors from thinking they are artists and can illustrate their own work.
But you can stop authors who think their work needs to be illustrated by someone else before they submit it.
Publishers do not want to receive manuscripts that are already illustrated.

You are either ignorant of this fact (and possibly doing this work on spec, in which case: get yourself out of that situation ASAP!), or you're taking advantage of ignorant authors when you take their money for doing something that will not help their manuscript get published and more likely will hurt its chances. Whichever it is, STOP.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Way Too Much Information

I've just gotten back from another horribly awkward author event.

I should start by saying that most of the times I've heard authors give talks, it's been fine-- sometimes even legitimately entertaining (or in Shannon Hale's case, peeing-your-pants hilarious).

But as should not be a surprise, I've attended a lot of author presentations over the years, and sometimes it's hard not to leave them wondering just what is wrong with certain people.

Over-sharing seems to be a trait slightly more common among authors than other groups, and if you want to be a really good, professional author who never makes his/her editor want to crawl into a hole in the ground for letting you out in public, please, be aware of the danger.

Today, a list of questions to ask yourself before you say things in front of an audience:

1. Is it something you might reasonably share with a therapist?
Then it is not appropriate for the public. The public is not your therapist. Remember that.
2. Is it something you found out or experienced while wearing a hospital gown?
There's a reason for doctor confidentiality. That's right, it's for OUR benefit, not yours.
3. Is it something that might nauseate people who have just taken a bite of something squishy?
If it's not fit for dinner-table conversation, it's not fit for public speaking. Yes, even if there's no eating going on. Please try to remember that many of the people you speak to will have very strong imaginations. Don't make us regret that.
4. Does it concern parts of your body that are, in all public situations, covered by clothes?
EW, EW, EW, EW, EW. See above re: imagination.
5. Is it something that could be reason for your arrest if a policeman were present?
You are making us ACCOMPLICES, you CRAZY DIPSHIT.
6. Does it concern something you only ever (or only should ever) do in the bathroom?
MOTHER OF GOD, why do I have to point this out?!

This public service announcement has been brought to you by People for the Ethical Treatment of Audiences. If I never have to hear about another author's bitter family baggage, inappropriate hair issues, gory surgery details, unusual lingerie choices, or interstate crimes, I will be a happy, happy person.

Contracts and Excuses

I received a phone call mid-July from an editor who wants to buy one of my PB stories. We are now mid-October and the contract hasn't come through yet. I've sent her a couple gentle e-nudges and her reply has basically been: "Your contract is the next one on my list." She seems excited about this project but I'm left wondering what the delay is about. Being a larger publisher, could it be she's just swamped with work and I need to keep being patient? Is this three-month interim a warning signal that all is not well with the fate of my next PB? Or might they still be hammering out details like who the illustrator will be (as I suggested someone who was different than their initial plan)? What should my next step be?
It's always possible that she's swamped with work-- more than that, the only editors these days who are not swamped are the ones who are out of work. However, this is not absolutely an excuse.

I attempt to get my contracts requested within the same week of finalizing a deal, because otherwise I will completely forget to do so. But there are a lot of different workstyles in the industry, so who knows? Maybe it's right there on her to-do list and not in danger of being forgotten.

However. Three months is about as long as I would wait for an editor to start work on a contract, because once it goes to the legal department, it can take another month or three to arrive on your doorstep in signable form. It is unreasonable to expect authors to wait that long for their on-signing payment. Six months with no money? Meanwhile the editor is drawing a monthly paycheck.

You should be in touch with her and say in the most positive tones how much you appreciate her enthusiasm for the project, and how much you have been looking forward to working with her, but that if she truly hasn't the time to offer this project or the house itself hasn't enough enthusiasm, then you really feel you should find the manuscript another home. Always, always project the impression that you can sell something elsewhere. Even if you're sure you can't. If you let an editor know that her house is the last chance for your manuscript, you're inviting the editor to wonder if she's made a mistake and really no one is going to want this book.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Innovative and Different (from the couple dozen children's books I've read)! Wildly Popular (with the neighbor kids)!

I have recently published a new children's book format I call Coloromics. A coloring and comic book format published as one book. Since the release of the Coloromic Books the featured cartoon characters have generated a great deal of readership popularity amongst kids. A week ago a professional critic's review was featured in a national comics and kid's entertainment magazine and my book received a 3 star rating. The review stated that my written words displayed a subtle wit and that my artwork brings charm to the pages. The story is simple but can be read over and over again. The story is fun and entertaining and evokes memories of characters such as Bugs Bunny confronting Elmer Fudd and Yosemite Sam and ultimately getting the upper hand over his protagonists. What would be the best course of action in regards to submitting an already popular book published in one format in the hopes of publishing the same storyline and illustrations inside a children's picture book? The existing Coloromic Book consists of 32 pages with covers. The critic's words appear to describe exactly what one would hope for regarding a children's picture book review. Do publisher's accept content that may already be available in another format for kids? Should I send a manuscript with the illustrations or just submit the published book and attach the critic's magazine review?
Some pertinent facts:
  • The comic book industry is kind of a separate thing, and the opinions of a critic in that industry will hold little weight with a children's book editor.
  • Comics that are black and white and meant to be colored are, while not common, not groundbreaking either.
  • The industry is having an extreme doodle-activity-book moment, but do not confuse that popularity with the less exciting activity of coloring in someone else's art.
Do not send a publisher your previously published (or was it self published?) book. If it was published, then did you not sell the publication rights to the publisher? If so, they belong to the publisher now, fyi.

But let's say the rights are in your possession. If you think there is an opportunity for reuse of the material in a NEW format, then you need to be very clear with the people you are submitting to WHAT that new format would be. That's the thing to bring across, and sending them a copy of the OLD format will do exactly the opposite. (Do, of course, be clear with them about the other edition of the material that's on the market.)

Also, what's "a great deal of readership popularity"? In numbers, I mean. 100? 200?
Numbers that low are not "a great deal". Include actual sales figures so that the editor knows just what you're talking about, or she'll assume you're exaggerating like crazy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

What Not to Wear or Mention in a Query Letter

I have written a YA book that I'm about to pitch to agents. Here's my dilemma. I have enjoyed a very small degree of celebrity as a participant on the TLC's very popular WHAT NOT TO WEAR, and my episode has been a popular, often-aired one for almost two years. (It has tended to be aired on significant Fridays like Easter, the Presidential election night, and New Years).
It doesn't matter; no one knows your name well enough to recognize it on a book.
I have been hemming and hawing about whether to include this factoid in my query letter to agents.
No. Tell the agent you sign with after you sign. She'll be amused by this bit of trivia.
I figure that the thought may cross agents minds that teenage and adult women who watch WNTW (there are a lot of them, and this is basically the demographic of my target audience) may be slightly biased towards buying my book, should it be published. I've read a lot of blog posts discussing the importance of self-promotion and having an established fan base in a market in which authors are expected to bear this burden to a great extent.
I don't know which episode you're referring to, but I can't think of an episode of that show that hinged on the promotability of the victim. Kind of the opposite, you know? Most of them are about how much help the victims need?
You may indeed be a very promotable person, but I don't think this brush with fame is much of a stepping stone. (Of course the agents who read this blog are welcome to express differing opinions, if there are any.)
All media time helps, right? Should I keep this biographical detail out of my query? Let it be stated that this book has nothing to do with makeovers, fashion, or anything of the sort. Thanks! I'd be laughing now, if I were you. :)
Good luck with your search!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stupid Thermometer! Stop Being Sick!

An author speaks out at The Rejectionist: here

This post has some good points, so please take this as a very mild rebuttal:

point 1. The Kindle Will Not Save You
We know this. At least, those of us who actually use the interwebs to listen to music and watch TV and stuff like that-- we know it. Very soon people will be paying very little or nothing for the books they read.
Nothing is a problem, obviously. One of these days, America is going to have to get over its cultural idea that stuff should be dirt cheap as a norm (and ideally free). Because when it comes to basics that are not as wildly overpriced as Jimmy Choos-- for instance food, and books-- you get what you value. The more you go to Amazon rather than your local bookstore, the less likely you'll have a local bookstore. The more you buy cheap processed food, the less likely you'll have good food to choose from.
YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on.

point 2. Stop Giving James Frey Money
Yeah, I totally agree. But to everyone not in the publishing industry: stop buying James Frey's books! If hundreds of thousands of people weren't willing to pay for that shit, publishing would not publish it.
YOU VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. You shape the world with what you are willing to spend money on.

point 3. You Need to Spend Money to Make Money
Speaking as one of the direly underpaid, I say: huzzah!
But (ahem), weren't you the person just a paragraph or two earlier who was reminding us that we will shortly have no money to pay anyone?
Did I lose the thread of your logic? Or did you?

I agree that publishing is in some ways stupid and screwed up. Some of those ways are publishing's own fault. But some of those ways are not publishing's fault. I would sincerely appreciate it if people of all kinds would stop feeling that publishing shouldn't care how screwed up the tastes and buying habits of the consumer are and just publish good stuff-- of course we care! Consumers write our paychecks!
The market has a sickness, it's true. But before we can do anything about it, you've got to stop blaming the thermometer for the fever.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Driver Who Gets the Car Stuck in a Ditch Does Not Get to Ask Me if I Enjoyed the "Trip"

I recently re-read The Little House in the Big Woods. I love Laura as a character, but I was struck by how plotless the book is. It has a structure--that of the year. And it has a sort of Robinson Crusoe charm, as we learn how to do everything from skinning a pig to making maple sugar. But what about plot? How important is plot in a book for grade-school age children?
A plot is a good idea.
Is it possible to create a charming and readable book without a plot? Yes, if you're talented enough. Is it possible to create a charming and readable book without a plot and in which practically nothing happens? Ditto.


a. Let's remember that we're talking about Advanced Writing here, so please please PLEASE do not assume you can write your very first book without a plot or occurrences of any kind. Probably not your second, either. And maybe none of them.

If you construct a car, people are going to expect to see it go someplace. If you create one of the most fascinating and beautiful cars ever, then maybe people won't mind if you don't create it with an engine and they can only watch it sitting there for 300 pages.

b. When you decide to think about other books in comparison to the book you are trying to sell DON'T COMPARE IT TO BOOKS THAT WERE PUBLISHED MORE THAN TWENTY YEARS AGO PLEASE YOU ARE KILLING ME. Such decades-old books are still selling partially because of their writing... and partially because they're old and "classic" and adults (aka 'people with money to spend') remember them fondly from their own childhoods. Not because people would necessarily choose them over new books if those classics were new themselves.*

*please note I have nothing against the Little House books and reader outrage and/or allegations of slander are unnecessary. Certain other "classics", however...

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Reissuing a Classic... or Not

I had cause yesterday to recall a favorite book of mine as a child, and wondered if you were familiar with it. I was delighted to find the entire book was available (free) online, and was actually a creation of the same person responsible for "Little Black Sambo". I wonder what chance this classic tale might have in today's marketplace?
I'm just one person with one opinion, so please take this as such: Not a chance in hell.

A story meant to scare children away from open fires? In which the little girl's head is burnt off. And then her head is replaced with a kettle. And then the kettle is replaced with a doll's head, through the timely intervention of Santa Claus. And then she lives happily ever after (though thereafter terrified by open fires, and probably in need of a lot of expensive therapy)?

I think that to most of today's consumers this story will seem one or more of the following:
  • pointless
  • terrifying
  • inexplicable
  • unnerving
  • draconian
  • batshit crazy
However, this is an opportunity to remember that children are not nearly as easy to horrify as many parents are.

And to remember that the stories adults are likely to think of as pointlessly wacky because the stories are so far out of our cultural norm are fascinating to children for the very same reason. Children know it when they're looking at a story that's different from others, and children are hard at work every day trying to figure out what rules and ideas the world is made of. They naturally know that the exceptions define the edges of the rules, so everything that's markedly different is a possible key to the shape of the world.

And, to return to your question, as with Little Black Sambo (which I am likewise not a fan of), if there are enough people who remember this story fondly from their childhoods, then it could perhaps be republished. Who knows?

An Offer Is In, and the Clock Starts Ticking

A few months ago, I subbed a PB manuscript to a half dozen publishers. An assistant editor at one of the publishers contacted me to let me know they may be interested (she's passing it up to the to the head honcho). It's a very small, but reputable, house. With some luck, I'll get an offer from them. I imagine that if I had an agent, at that point he or she would contact the other publishers where the manuscript was subbed to give them a chance to offer or pass. Would it be ok for me, an unagented slush pile warrior, to do it for myself?
Yes. Get in touch with them to let them know you've received an offer from X house, and you'll need a response by X date (within a week of receiving the first offer). That's all you need to say, but if you want to grease the wheels with some flattery ("I'd still love to work with your house, etc"), that's also among the things agents do.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

ENOUGH, for the love of mike!

As much as I love this blog, and look forward to its posts, I REALLY NEED A FRICKING BREAK FROM THE "FUTURE OF PUBLISHING" TALK. Seriously, that and "How Much Publishing Sucks Right Now" are all people talk about.

I don't need to read any more of these articles, and neither do you.
A quick overview:

1. Publishing is a somewhat crappy business. Which makes it PRETTY MUCH LIKE EVERY OTHER BUSINESS.
2. Publishing has a future. NO ONE KNOWS WHAT IT WILL BE.

So everyone can stop

Thank you.

Lyrics and Poetry: Not Exactly the Same Thing

I have just found your blog via Dani Jones's clever article which stopped me looking for an illustrator, but now I have another question which you may or may not be able to answer.
I am a music teacher and work a lot with early years, mums and babies, and pre-schoolers, in Scotland. I have a few ideas that I usually put into song rather than write them down but I think they could maybe work as rhyming picture books.
The question is, if I have a good tune that makes a book fun to sing as well as say, is there are place for notation (or even a suggestion that this should be sung rather than said) in a children's picture book? I know that Julia Donaldson has done this with The Snail and the Whale, but I don't know how recommended it is, if you are not Julia Donaldson, and haven't already written The Gruffalo.
Once upon a time, music was part of every educated child's upbringing, because with no TV or video games or children's books, evenings were really, really dull. And music continued to be a part of most children's upbringings for several decades past that time.

But no more. Most young parents today do not know how to read music. That's your answer.
Do you know of any publishers who are particularly into fusing song and poetry?
Sometimes the tune is what makes the rhyme work. Does that mean I haven't written the rhyme well enough?!

Ahem, I mean: Perhaps that's subjective. Lots of lovely songs which I personally enjoy have lyrics which only work with the music and particular expression of the singer. That doesn't make those lyrics bad.
But if you mean, does that make those lyrics a bad text for a picture book, the answer is yes. They may be good lyrics, but they're bad poetry.
I suppose it should be able to stand on it's own, like a very good leonard cohen song, as a spoken poem/story, and if/when you happen to hear it sung it's a separately effective experience.
Ultimately, is it better, as with illustrators, to leave such ideas out of initial manuscripts when you send them?
I'm afraid so. Sorry.
Of course, we're all looking toward the digital book revolution, and once that happens, it will be much easier to combine recorded music with illustrations. And then your lyrics can remain lyrics. So perhaps you only need to let it wait a few years.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Characters on the Web, and Other Preemptive Publicity Attacks

So, I follow quite a few authors (and wannabe authors) on Twitter. One of them just Tweeted a link to her new web site, which is from the POV of her main character (of an unpublished book for which she is unagented). The site is professionally done and looks great, but I'm wondering how smart it is to have (and promote) a site for something that a. readers can't even buy yet, b. readers may never be able to buy, and c. potential agents might see.
This is not a bad thing. If she's writing a blog from the POV of her main character and gets a good-sized readership, that may help quite a bit in getting a book deal. Even if it's just a website and there is no proven readership, having a good-looking site promoting a book is a Good Sign to editors and agents-- it shows this is someone who is decent at promoting herself and is proactive about it. We like those qualities.
My WIP incorporates blog entries as part of the storyline, and so obviously I've been toying with the idea of registering the domain name and posting teaser blogs that tie into my WIP. I've always held off, though, because I wasn't sure how agents/publishers would react to that. What are your thoughts on this? Should people with finished manuscripts yet no agents or contracts be registering domains and creating online personas to reflect their characters?
As long as you're sticking to teasers (ie, you're not posting a major part of your book online for free), there should be no problem. (And, you know, some people do post all of their book online and get away with it.) It's never too early to make a good impression on the editor or agent who googles you.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Grief Is Worth Sympathy. It Is Not Worth Publication.

Ok, Miss Anonymous, I have been writing a children's book for the last 10 years. Picking it up and putting it down. Reason being is because I traveled a lot and really found it hard to focus. Dedicated to my Grandfather who was a writer in his hay day. He became ill and 2 days before my flight to see him, he pasted.
I don't want to be mean about this, but my first piece of advice to you is to carefully proofread anything you send to an editor. Your second sentence was a fragment, but I was going to let that slide as possibly stylistic. But your third sentence is ungrammatical / repetitious: "reason being is because". Your fourth sentence is a fragment, too. And you mean passed not pasted. That kind of trouble with the past tense raises an editor's eyebrows.
He knew I had the book written and knew what it was about but I was going to read it to him myself. Anyway. I went to a convention when I came back home. Spoke to agents, publishers, and editors. My picture book is to long.
Too, not to.
And with the grief i couldn't pick it up to chop the extras. I have a friend who is a pretty well known author of adult books. Also contacts inside Random House. But I have no real help.. I need to get this beautiful book on the shelf for the children and for my grandmother. It really is a good book. I know every says that but i promise, who ever has read it, has loved it. So where to now? I looked up fees for an editor and it was an outrage amount per page. Its been edited by a college professor as a favor but not edited by a children's book editor. So its not bad, its just to long. I'm in no man land. Its really a good book.
Everyone, not every. Whoever is one word. Outrageous, not outrage. It's, not its. No man's land not no man land. Etc.

Ok, now for the advice you asked for:
Join the SCBWI and find a critique group. Ask them where/how they would recommend cutting the text down.

And a bit more advice you didn't ask for:
I sympathize about your loss. However: You do not need to get this published for your grandmother. She can read it just fine right now.

Also, take my advice and do not mention your grandparents as any kind of motive when you submit this to editors and agents: we've all seen many, many submissions whose main reason for being was someone who was dead, or dying, or sick, or some other misfortune that meant the submitter HAD to get THIS manuscript published SOON in that person's memory/to ease that person's pain. Those submissions have been uniformly not for anyone else. We have to be able to sell a book to a LOT of people, remember?

Do not be surprised if the people at the SCBWI suggest you should try writing something else: part of becoming a good writer for children is practicing, and practicing some more.

If you want to be a good writer for children, welcome to the industry. It's a lot of work.
But if the only thing you care about is this one manuscript, then I doubt the work it will take will be worth it to you.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Aaaaargh, Indeed

Whenever I stroll through my local shopping mall, it always amazes me how many poor quality children’s books have made it out there in the market place. I see rhyming books without correct meter; and picture story books with poorly written, disjointed story development and little incentive to keep turning the page. How do these people get published, when most of your dear readers spend their time revising and rewriting ad nauseum, and still don’t get a look in? Aaaaargh!

1. Some publishers have no shame. Some of us feel we owe children our best, and that products of all kinds for children should be good for children, but others of us are happy to let children play with the literary equivalent of a Choke-On-Me Elmo (now with Sharp Edges!). They publish blunt traumas to the imagination in the form of books, because they know:

2. Many members of the public have no sensitivity to the difference between good writing and bad, and will spend their money on anything colorful and cheap. Which provides certain publishers with no motivation to do anything but:

3. Pay nothing, or next to nothing, for text. A bunch of those terrible texts you see never touched the slush pile. They were banged out in-house by an overworked editor who knew NO ONE cared how bad or good the writing was, or was farmed out to a freelancer who was paid so little they seriously weren't going to spend more than an hour on it.

In a free-market economy, the good and the bad of it is: people vote with their wallets. And publishers, which are businesses, listen to those votes.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Publicists for Everyone!

Have you done any pieces on published novelists and hiring your own publicist? I have chatted with the one from he publisher, she's doing fine, but only locally, and I am trying to get outside New York to promote. A friend paid $5000 to promote her first novel, but less than a decade later has six novels and two movie options, so she's doing well. But it seems to be the area I have found the least on. And it's a high end vampire novel, so this is the year to promote.
Your publisher can suggest freelance publicists, and then I would suggest talking to the publicist about what publicity opportunities she sees for your book.

You're right that for a vampire novel, now's the time. But speaking in more general terms, I know an author who is still quite grumpy about the money she spent on a publicist because it did not result in the sales she expected it to. Ask the publicists about previous campaigns they've worked on, and how they've affected sales. (Approximately, that is. No publicist can say for certain how many book sales are attributable to their efforts, but if the books are comparable to yours and their sales never went above what your goals are, then you'll know something.)

And you may want to ask this guy-- he'll know more about it than I do.