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.

Editors Down Under?

I'm a nearly brand new graduate planning to take a publishing course next year. I'm very excited about this, and have been idly day-dreaming future plans (and not-so-idly thinking of a way to get my relations to stop asking me what I want to be when I grow up.) The trick is, I'm from New Zealand. I'm happy where I am right now, but I'd like to travel eventually. My question is, what kind of experience would I need in publishing in New Zealand in order to get a job somewhere like, oh, let's just choose a city at random, New York? I hope to work in YA on the editorial side (but who knows what I will enjoy) and ideally would leave the country with three or four years' experience, always providing I hustle my way into a job soon enough. I know I'd need to be caught up on what's popular and so forth - books from the USA tend to get here anyway - but would there be any particular barriers to shifting locations dramatically like this?
Because there's so much crossover between publishing in the US and Australia/New Zealand these days, I wouldn't expect it to be a problem. As long as you get 3-4 years of editorial experience and are well-read in the US market, then you should stand as good a chance as anyone. Of course, "as good a chance" is not as good as it was a couple years ago. Lots of good people are on the streets since December, so competition for editorial jobs is steep.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

You Tell Me!

In your opinion, what is the best site to find out about local conferences and conventions (children's of course)? Which is your favorite convention?
I don't know. But maybe my Anonymati do? Readers, I call you to the comments!

Why Is It So Hard to Get an Agent? Because It's Supposed to Be.

Why is it that cover art (meaning not photographs) is getting less popular? Personally, I find that I'm less likely to get a book if it has a photograph cover. Photo covers seem to be getting way more popular.
I think this is one of those publishing pendulum things. Right now, photographic covers (especially on YA books) are more popular with readers. But I think that may change. I'm a fan of both approaches.
Are you personally more likely to get a book sent to you from an agent or one sent to you without an agent? Or do you really care about that?
I can't speak to how likely I am to be sent one or the other without revealing something about my publishing house-- it's different at different houses, you know. I can say that I acquire more from the agented submissions than from unagented, because that's true of everyone. But it's not because I care whether someone is agented or unagented-- it's because agents are (largely) doing their jobs and sending me a higher percentage of manuscripts I might acquire.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

You Are the Book Creator! But You're Not the Book Seller.

I'm working on a series of children's books -- 3 are finished, 3 in 'final draft' and ideas/outlines for 3 more are done. In the process of submitting work to agents (with query letters, etc.) none of the advice books clearly state where the illustration comes in. Do I have to contact one first (one of your posts says no), or note in the letter "to be illustrated in the style of..." and list some the are close to the creative direction I want?
The publisher will want to choose the illustrator. And the illustration style. Not you. You'll be the least disappointed if you don't go into the submitting process with any expectation that you'll have a say in the illustration.

I'm not saying that's ideal-- I personally try to involve my authors in the illustrator choice-- but some editors do not. And some authors know very little about what illustration style will serve their book best in the marketplace.

If you want your book to be entirely under your control, then that's what self publishing is for. If you want your book to have the benefit of a team of people who know the industry and how to sell books, that's when you submit it to publishers.

Publishers are sensitive to the difference, you know. Every one of us knows at least a couple authors who feel they should be in charge of every little thing, and who resent the interference of their editor, their designer, their marketing department... etc. And every one of us doesn't want to work with those people ever again if we can help it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Shorter, Longer, and Never

Say a person has a fun middle grade book, but decided to break it into many picture books instead. Both make the author happy. The author isn't sure which format would make agents and publishers happy. Should author mention it in any way in a query? Like..."This picture book is first in series of many episodes with this character..." in hopes that they could assume it could be changed into a chapter book? Probably not, right?
I can't quite get past your first sentence.
You broke your middle grade manuscript into many picture book manuscripts?

Point 1. Picture books are not just shorter.
They're for a younger audience. Which means the writing and pacing and voice are different. I got a picture book manuscript just last week that clearly had chapter book voice and pacing. The author wanted to do a series of picture books. I said no, and I wondered if the author knew how to write for either age group, since she doesn't seem to see a difference between them.

Point 2. Middle grade books are not just longer.
If your middle grade book was that easily chopped up into picture book-length stories, it must have been a hell of an episodic book-- a collection of short stories, in fact, rather than a cohesive narrative.

Obviously, I can't tell for sure about your work, since I haven't read it. But from this description, I would have strong doubts about it working as a picture book or as a middle grade novel. Take it from me, they are not equal possibilities for anyone's manuscript. One or the other age group is going to work better, and you will be a stronger writer when you figure out which one.

By God, I Love This Article

For those of you who deplored my use of the f-word earlier, this article may be a little tough to get through.

But it is such good advice. Editors of all stripes know just what this guy is talking about, because we get pressured, wheedled at, and begged to read manuscripts all the time with the same selfish discourtesy behind it and the same lack of interest in an honest answer, however hard we try to put the feedback we've been asked for kindly.

Some of you, I know, will have a hard time with this article, because of his free hand with the swear words. If that's you, try cutting and pasting the article into a word document and using find-and-replace to delete all the instances of "fucking", change "asshole" to "jerk" and "shit" to "crap". Then read it, because it's worth reading.

And, because I doubt this article is really news to any of my faithful readers, feel free to pass it along to the less clued-in out there.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Definitions for the Perplexed: Merch and/or Ancillary

Crocodile Creek, MerryMakers, Inc., and Manhattan Toy Company design plush toys for children’s book publishers. When do publishers decide to introduce this type of product? What percentage of sales goes to the author and/or illustrator?
Often, those makers approach the publisher, not the other way around. If a publisher does approach a toy company about a plush add-on, it's NOT when the book is newly out. It's when the book clearly has a significant fan base. Did you sell 50,000 copies last year? Great, have a doll. The plush market is not strong right now, nor has it been for the last several years, so getting a plush to go with your book is extremely unlikely.

Lots of authors have visions of sugar plums and merch subrights dancing in their heads when their book comes out. Whether it's a doll, or apparel, or whatever. Do yourself a favor and let go of those ideas. I've known a couple authors who spent the couple of years following a book publication doggedly trying to scare up interest in merch rights, and were bitterly disappointed. Because they did not have the huge fan base that would make merchadise manufacturers interested.

In terms of how much of that money the author gets, it says how much in your contract, in the subrights section. Some publishers don't separate merch rights and ancillary rights, but in case your contract does, ancillary is any non-book but still paper-based product. (Like stationery, or cardboard stacking blocks.) Merch is any non-book and non-paper based product. (Like a wading pool or pillow cases or hats or furniture.)

One of my illustrators was found to be in breach of contract over these subrights a few years back. If you take money from a wall-hanging manufacturer for the use of your illustrations-- illustrations for which you previously sold merch rights to your publisher-- I can tell you, our lawyers will be interested.

Read your contract and understand it. Please, people.

Definitions for the Perplexed: High Concept

What exactly does an editor mean when he/she says they are looking for "high concept" picture books?
Basically, it means she wants a hook. She wants to be able to describe what will appeal to consumers about the book in just a sentence or two.

I, like many editors, wish more writers had a better grasp of what makes a hook and what doesn't. If writers were only sending us picture book manuscripts with hooks, we'd get a hell of a lot fewer pointless vignettes, heavy-handed lessons, nostalgic meanderings, and stories of any kind that no child will be interested in.

At the same time, some of us recognize that you can't tell writers that all you want are high concept submissions, because some of the great picture books out there are not high concept.

Skippyjon Jones
, for instance. What's awesome about that book is its read-aloud quality and humor, and for clarity's sake I need to bring across that those are not high concept. Read aloud quality and humor are, indeed, hooks, but they are the kind of thing that no editor is going to accept from an author in a query letter. Because they're among the most subjective things there are.

If you can think of a snappy way to describe what's cool and fun about your manuscript, that's query letter gold. Just as long as your description doesn't include subjective descriptors like lovely, charming, funny, lyrical, wonderful, etc, etc, etc. EVERY writer thinks their writing is good, so we don't automatically believe claims of that sort. Tell us your book is about dinosaurs AND bedtime, and we'll believe you may have a hook.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Submissions and SASEs

If I sent a submission to a publisher and they liked my work and wanted the whole manuscript, is it necessary for me to send a self addressed envelope? Wouldn't they just contact me themselves? This is sent in mind that I don't want my submission back.
If you clearly mark your cover letter (eg, CAPS and bold. Don't assume that someone's going to read the cover letter) with the fact that you have omitted a SASE because you don't want your manuscript back and do not expect a response if the answer is no, then publishers should be ok with that.
Don't most publishers have a certain time limit for response?
Not if you don't include an SASE and the answer is no.
If the answer is yes, well, it varies a great deal by publisher how long it might take them to respond. Check submission guidelines to see if they say how long to expect to wait.
Couldn't I just wait until the time limit has past and assume that they were not interested if I haven't heard from them. I am asking as I haven't figured out how to get stamps from the country that I want to send to, to put on a self addressed envelope.
Yes, you could. That's a pretty healthy attitude, too, which is why publishers will not assume you have that attitude unless you're very clear about it. Some submitters are wringing their hands from the moment they drop something in the mailbox, and if they don't hear from a publisher in the time they think they should, they'll be on the phone to them. Which we do NOT want.

I Also Know Nothing About Music Producing, or Arboreal Maintenance

I am in love with a specific show ( which shall not be named) and wrote a script for it. I understand that it is not acceptable to create a spec script for the show that you want to write for, however the show that I am speaking about, is not looking for writers. The same group of guys write it,and produce it under their own production company, they are one of those people who only do the work that they create themselves. However I had a good idea, and at the risk of sounding like any other "writer", wanted to showcase it. I do not want to write for the show, I just had an idea for an episode. The writers have stated in interviews that they are running out of ideas, and the show has been comissioned for 2 more episodes, and also a movie! So does it count as being a "query letter" or a spec script"?My main concerns are that if I write a letter to them outlining the script that I had written, then they would use it as their own, or completely refuse to use it due to legal reasons as opposed to disliking the material itself. Also do you find that the UK does things differently? I read in a seperate blog that US is big on spec scripts but not the UK ( I live in Canada).
I Realize that I may have bombarded you with questions but have searched endlessly and found nothing that would answer my questions.
Unfortunately, I am a children's book editor, and so I know nothing about TV/movies. Good luck figuring this out.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

An Offer of Representation!!

It's overwhelming, isn't it? And so exciting! After all the work and hope and despair and sweat and tears and despair and booze and chocolate and despair SOMEBODY LIKES YOU THEY REALLY REALLY LIKE YOU!

Except wait.

Because what if other people like you, too?

I see this very thing happen occasionally as an editor, too. Every once in a while I get in touch with an unagented author and say, I want your book! I will give you this money!

And the author replies in like TWO SECONDS with something along the lines of "YES! YESYESYES YESYESYES YESSEYYS YEYEYS YSYEYY ERYEY EYIEL DMMG TNZBNIE!"

And I think, "Oh, yikes. No questions about escalations? No polite query about a slightly higher advance? No discussion of where I see the book development going? I would hate to think what would have happened if I were the type of editor to abuse such trust. You, sweetheart, need an agent and some Ritalin, stat."

Enthusiasm is a wonderful, wonderful thing and possibly the only thing this stupid industry runs on. But still, do everything you can to BE CALM and think things through. Please. Because I like you.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

It's a Secret

I know you love your agent blogs. But have you seen this one? It's at the Absolute Write Water Cooler, so *technically* it isn't a blog, but it's not like she's up to much that's different from what happens here. And agent extraordinaire Laughran has been answering pages and pages of questions. Have fun in the previous pages.