Monday, July 13, 2009

Quick Answers (My Favorite Kind)

I am embarrassed to be asking this, but I recently heard someone use a publishing term and realized I may have been pronouncing it incorrectly for a long time. Those early copies of books that publishers send out for reviewers to read, are the A.R.C.s? Or are they arks?
They are written ARC or A.R.C., and they're pronounced both "ark" and "ay-ar-see". They're also called galleys.
My family spends an inordinate amount of time at the library (2-3 times per week) and since our library has a great acquisitions budget and tons of new books, we get a pretty good sampling of New Stuff Out There. And we notice a subclass of really annoying book cover design and want to know why? Why does the industry think that novels with absolutely NO FLAP COPY are a good idea? I can see leaving off the dust jacket for a library book--maybe it cuts down on cost, or maybe it just gets too thrashed. I can't see what is wrong with putting a short summary on at least the back of the book, saying what it is about. Sometimes there is nothing, sometimes there are endorsements for other books on the back (which kids actually don't care about), and sometimes (rarely) there is a 3-sentence paragraph from the middle of the book that tells absolutely nothing about it. Like, you can't even tell what genre it is. Nearly all of these are midgrade novels, and the majority of them are from Random House (although there are others as well).

Nine times out of ten my kids can't figure out what the book is about, and so they slide it right back on the shelf where it came from. I look at the Library of Congress info sometimes, but it still doesn't take the place of flap copy. Is there some kind of secret marketing reason for this?
Yes. Idiocy.
I had a YA manuscript shopped by a former agent. The editors who saw it generally liked the writing and the plot, and asked her to send more work by me their way. They turned it down pretty universally because they did not connect with the MC.
In retrospect, I wonder if I made a mistake when I wrote the story in 3rd person POV, seeing as this manuscript was YA and that's the preferred viewpoint in the genre.
If I rewrite this in first person -without- major plot changes, can I submit it to these editors again? I did not receive any revision requests.
No. Send it to new editors. Send new work to the old editors.
If you have the time I'd love to get your opinion on the Russian Federation ruling against a book reviewer. The original article is here.
I can't decide if it's hilariously stupid or weepingly stupid.
I am new at the children's writing process, and I have a question. I am looking to hire a children's book editor, agent, and illustrator. I am not sure where to go and how to hire someone. Do you have any advise?
Yes. Stop that.
If you want an agent, then you want to sell your book to publishers. Which means hiring an illustrator is a bad, bad idea. And only hire an editor if you really think you need one, because the publishers you'd like to work with have editors on staff who will be disinclined to work with you if the freelance editor has taken the book in a direction they do not want. (Of course if you just need an editor because you have no grasp of English grammar or punctuation, feel free. It doesn't seem like that's the case, but do note that it's "advice." "Advise" is a verb.)
My folktale novelization is clocking in at an intimidating 140,000 (it is a long, involved folktale to begin with). I know this is "too long" for YA, especially for a first book.
I expect I'll get a form rejection for mentioning that word count, so my question is, do I submit anyway and see if the writing sells it, or should I pitch it as a two-book set? Without revision for that purpose the first book would not (IMHO) be satisfying on it's own.
Should I just finish some other (shorter) novel first and try for the longer one as a second book? (I'm only being slightly sarcastic. I do have other ideas that are less involved than this one and should be shorter.)
Starting with something shorter might work better, truthfully. But you can try submitting it without a word count if you really want to. I know that unless the writing knocked me on my ass from page one, I would seriously doubt that all those words are necessary. And maybe not even then.
I'm a recent convert to your blog and love reading both your thoughts and the responses of the anonymati. You may not want to spend time on this topic, but I just had to share the following quote from a recent Newsweek article singing the praises of Kindle (March 30, 2009, "Curling up with a Good Screen," by Jacob Weisberg).
"In the future, it [Kindle] could become the only publisher a bestselling author needs. In a world without the high fixed costs of printing and distribution, as the distance between writers and their audiences shrinks, what essential service will Random House and Simon & Schuster provide? If the answer is primarily cultural arbitration and editing, the publishing behemoths might dwindle while a much lighter-weight model of publishing emerges."
Ugh, after following your blog, I can only imagine how much crappy writing is going to get "published" if we "shrink the distance" between writers and audiences! Please, please, please, give us editors who will wade through all that for us!!! Hooray for what you do, and here's hoping you can keep on doing if for a good, long time.
Regardless of the fact that statements like the one quoted above sometimes make me want to ululate in despair, the fact is that when we "shrink the distance" between writers and audiences, it means those most inclined to self-publish will be able to be ignored just as completely and at shorter range. There will still be a place for talented writers and the editors who help stop the rest of them from drawing attention to themselves. Possibly it will be an even brighter future, where the authors who are sure they don't need the interference of an editor can find out for themselves just how much the public appreciates the unedited them.


Sarah Laurenson said...

I have to say that the idea the Kindle and its ilk will replace traditional publishing sort of (in a complete kind of way) leaves the economically disadvantaged without books. What are we planning on doing? Supplying all kids with an e-reader? Who thinks up this crap? People with more money than sense? Why bother with the have-nots - do they even read anyway, eh?

Sorry. Rant over.

Sarah Miller said...

In retrospect, I wonder if I made a mistake when I wrote the story in 3rd person POV, seeing as this manuscript was YA and that's the preferred viewpoint in the genre.

I'm puzzled by this remark. YA is a genre? With a "preferred viewpoint"?

Anonymous said...

This one makes me sad, because of the amount of work that's already been done.

QUOTE: " intimidating 140,000 ... I expect I'll get a form rejection for mentioning that word count, so my question is, do I submit anyway and see if the writing sells it, or should I pitch it as a two-book set?..."

My thoughts:

* If "writing" were the only reason for an editor to buy something, or an agent to take it on, I'd have an agent and a book deal. In my case, I am continually, unrelentingly praised for my "amazing writing" yet no one wants my damn book(s).

* 140,000 words is looooong. It just is. There's no way around that. Unless you are a cousin of Stephenie Meyer and have created a new brand of Edward Cullen for screaming teens, it's going to be a tough sell all the way around. You are forgetting that it has to sell all the way up the publishing chain. First to an agent, then to an editor, then to other editors at the house in an acquisitions meeting, then to the houses' profit and loss people. And then to the marketing department. All this before it gets to a bookshelf.

The more out of the box (too long; too whatever) a manuscript is the harder it is for all these people to agree. Lack of agreement means you don't sell the book.

* the thing about it needing to be a stand alone book is that it should read like one. Reading like a stand alone book often means it shouldn't be the weight and heft of a phonebook.

If you can't edit it down, I honestly don't know what to tell you. Though, you'd be surprised, what you CAN edit out and never miss from a book. Get some distance from the book. Come back to it in a month and see what you can cut.

Good luck.

Editorial Anonymous said...

You're right, Sarah M-- that should be commented on, too.

There are plenty of third person POVs in YA, and YA is an age group, not a genre.

I'm with you, Sarah L.

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Shrinking the distance between author and reader is a pothole-riddled road, indeed. Recently, I've heard people complain about bad grammar, poor spelling (perhaps typos) and redundancy in language that are making it into published books. I saw this happening in newspapers where I used to work as a features reporter. As papers downsized, the staff shrunk and so did time for writing, editing and copy-editing. Result--glaring mistakes.
This trend in publishing, which I know is economically driven, doesn't serve literature or literacy.
I still recall the actions of a young man attending a university writing class. The instructor pointed out in critique that the man needed to fix spelling and grammar. That incited the man to gather up his books and announce that such work was done by copyeditors, not writers. He left and never returned.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Kindle is just ALL AROUND bad for kids --

1. Expensive

2. Not sturdy enough to trust your kids with

3. Not browsable in the same way a bookcase is. You can't lay 3 PBs out side by side, flop on your stomach, and study them all simeltaneously. You can't pluck a book from Mom and Dad's shelf and read something you never would have chosen on your own. You can't look up at row upon row of books and think "When I'm bigger, I'll read that one."

Of course, kids will also be spared the disappointment of a Kindergartener I once babysat. He picked up a copy of Clancy's "The Bear and the Dragon" (because he could read the spine) and was VERY disappointed that there were no pictures of bears OR dragons inside......

Anonymous said...

Good point, Sarah Laurenson. In the case of Kindle, though, it's not just the economically disadvantaged that would be without books. It would be every person outside the U.S. of A.

As for the Russian reviewer/author fiasco:

"Some have even suggested that if a book reviewer can be sued, a reader who did not like a book can sue the author for making a bad quality product."

Sometimes I wish we could! Especially when the book in question is riddled with typos, grammar mistakes, and plot holes. Not liking a story is one thing... but having to put up with things that are just wrong and detract from the overall quality of the product is another.

Sandy said...

I completely feel the pain of the person who asked the second question about the books without summaries on the back cover. As a librarian, this is completely frustrating! So frustrating that, if I knew the book didn't have the summary when I selected it, I might not have selected it at all. I taught my students to read the back of the book (and the first five pages) to see if it sounded like something they would like to read. Without that summary, they have no clue what to expect.

Honestly, it's beyond idiocy.

Anna C. Morrison said...

I have a friend who self publishes, and even though I enjoy her story ideas, her grammar leaves a lot to be desired. I wonder if the novelty of self publishing will wear off after people realize they really do need an editor.

Abby said...

Ohhh, I so agree about putting flap copy on library bindings. When buying books for my collection, I want the sturdier bindings but no plot summary often means that no one is going to pick it up. Sigh.

none said...

I suppose that if the Kindle did become the book-reading device of choice, the price of secondhand books would plummet. That would be a bonanza for us paper-loving folk!

And yes, let's have information about the book on the cover. Not reviews. And certainly not reviews for a previous book!

Joelle said...

This is for the person with a 140K book. The book my agent sold was 93K (YA). The first thing my editor did was say, "You need to cut 75 pages. There's a lot of repetition." I thought it would kill me before I started, but guess what? Yep. No problem to cut it because there was a lot of repetition.

The next round of edits came and my editor said, "You need to cut 65 more pages." Seriously. I thought I'd never be able to do it. Guess what? Not as easy as the first cut, but not as hard as I thought it would be.

The thing to remember here is that when we sold her this book, I thought it was as good as I could possibly get it and I did not think there was ANYTHING that could be cut. As my agent read it, I was so worried he'd ask me to cut it because I just KNEW there wasn't anything unimportant in it! Alas...I ate about 40K words!

My guess is there's a lot to cut in your book and instead of trying to do it all at once, try cutting 50 pages. Then see where you're at. Then maybe cut another 50.

If you're looking at it now and seeing that it absolutely can't be cut, what about dividing it into two books, but making sure they each have a beginning, middle, and end. Then you can try selling the first one (without mentioning the second one until you have an agent or editor excited about the first one). If it were me, I'd try cutting first and this second. Good luck!

working illustrator said...

"In the future, it [Kindle] could become the only publisher a bestselling author needs."

The key word here is 'bestselling.' For those of us without six hundred thousand Facebook fans and an army of dedicated blogers, publishers will still be necessary not only for editing but also for marketing, distribution, sub-rights and international sales and all the rest.

Stephen King apparently hasn't been seriously edited for years and his readers don't seem to mind. Why keep not cut out the middleman if you're him?

Sarah, BuffySquirrel, rest easy. I went to a great Authors Guild talk last week and everyone agreed that the Kindle isn't going to replace paper.

It will supplement paper, especially for stories that suit its particular ability to deliver content to readers. It will trigger some kind of evolution of content to suit its nature, but books will continue to be made and read, however much the business model around them changes. Picture books are much less likely to be impacted, since their use, as Deirdre points out, has a strong tactile and material component.

I'm much less concerned about the continuing role of the editor than I am about that of another publishing professional: the designer.

I know most people here are writers and think of text as text, but spare a thought for the high art of the font-choosing, leading-adjusting, paper-selecting typomaniacs in charge of your book's appearance and physical form. They don't just lay display type over illustrations in picture books... their Caslons and Bodonis and Garamonds give your novel its visual soul and your middle-grade chapter book its white-space lung capacity.

They, much more than editors, will be the first-wave losers in Kindle world since they - unlike editors - are largely crafters of physical objects. The Kindle currently treats text as pure text, without any of the attributes that designers lavish their art on. As the print list shrinks, so will the designer's sphere, unless the digital realm can find some way to absorb them.

That could happen, of course, but we're not there yet. I hope we get there.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Kindle is an expensive dead end. The future is in cellphone literature. Most children already own cellphones, and are quite comfortable sitting around reading text on them all day long anyway. Why not target them? In countries where this penetration is even more complete (esp. Japan and S. Korea) there are already so many novels written in and distributed over this medium that they have come to comprise a distinct genre all of their own. I needn't elaborate on the liberties that have been taken with grammar and spelling in these novels. You may imagine them, have a wee shudder over the inferiority of the benighted successor generation, and get over it.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Anon-- Cellphone lit would also be great for people in the developing world--- Cell phones are becoming ubiquitous and cheap--they're a very democratic technology...

And for those kids who have to run 10 miles each way to school, carrying their books on a cellphone might be a huge improvement!

ae said...

When it comes to travel and book stacks, Kindle and Sony are a blessing!

Word Verification: Scids -- A little bit more than in too much to carry.

Example: I have scids of books to read over vacation. So I'll take my kindle reader along for the ride. Scids.

Anonymous said...

I think all that's left to say is that I must find a way to work the phrase "uluate in despair" into everyday conversation. Brilliant.

kittypye said...

A footnote on the Russian case...When the review first came out, the plaintiff wrote a response that his own journal wouldn't publish because they were afraid of a libel suit! So he published it anyway on his website, changing one letter of the reviewer's name. She sued and lost; he sued her and won. Meanwhile, the reviewer's journal is embroiled in legal battles having to do with freedom of the press, prompting it to start an alternative site on LJ. Oh, and the plaintiff is related to the former leader of Dagestan.

If you read Russian, you can find details, including some of the legal documents, at

Anonymous said...

everyone needs an editor. shelby foote needed an editor. if god wrote books, *god* would need an editor.

Sarahlynn said...

"There will still be a place for talented writers and the editors who help stop the rest of them from drawing attention to themselves. Possibly it will be an even brighter future, where the authors who are sure they don't need the interference of an editor can find out for themselves just how much the public appreciates the unedited them."

All I'm hearing in my head is The Shack, The Shack, The Shack, The Shack and I'm beset with painful shudders.

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