Monday, April 26, 2010

Children vs Adults

I once read that children books should also be designed to target parents since they are the ones buying the books. I would think that there is some truth to that since parents probably look at content and often times decide for their kids. Do you have any words of wisdom on this?
Yes, that's absolutely something we consider in publishing, especially in picture books.

Picture books are most often bought by the adult for a child. Once you get into books with chapters, it's a more even mix of kids shopping with adults who pay vs adult shoppers alone. But yes, even then, the adult holds the purse strings and may refuse to buy something they disapprove of.

Is it possible to write a bestselling book that by far appeals mostly to adults and leaves children cold (or even creeped out)? Yes. Favorite examples include Love You Forever and The Giving Tree. You may have noticed that many people who are serious about children's books abhor and detest those books for their wildly dysfunctional relationships, but lots of adults get all mushy over them. So the authors (and their estates) can feel in need of therapy all the way to the bank.

Is it possible to write a bestselling book that by far appeals mostly to children and which outrages and disgusts adults? Yes. Favorite examples include Captain Underpants and Junie B Jones. You may have met upright people who abhor and detest these books for their bathroom humor and bad grammar, but lots of children will read them because they're funny. So the authors can feel juvenile all the way to the bank.

But here's what we're mostly shooting for: books that serve children-- their needs, their tastes-- and that will get by the gatekeepers with a minimum of fuss.

A certain amount of sympathy for parents is not out of place-- it's a tough job raising kids; a heroic job. That doesn't make laziness acceptable, and I'm one of many who think that if you know how to discipline your children, no amount of undisciplined-character exposure can undo the training your children get at home. But it does make tiredness acceptable, so I'm sympathetic to parents' preference for shorter bedtime reads.

A huge amount of sympathy for children is always appropriate. Being a child is a tough job; a heroic job. One of the things we fight in slush all the time is people who want to write for children and really don't know much about children at all. (Why do they do this? I would never decide to write for wombats. It perplexes me.)

In terms of audience, my recommendation: Children first, always. Adults advisedly.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The High Cost of Self Publishing

I've written a children's book, which I plan on self publishing as an app. I have a built-in mode of marketing, which should ensure publicity for the book.

What should I expect to pay the illustrator? What are the standard fees asked for by an illustrator in the self publishing arena?
I'm afraid I don't know. I've never worked on a self-published book. Regular publishing pays illustrators thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars, plus royalties. And if we pay an illustrator on a flat-fee basis, even then they'll have a publication credit to point to that can further their career.

Of course, most of the self-published books I've seen weren't professionally illustrated, and that's one reason they sell so badly. If you were thinking of going to someone of professional quality, I don't know what kind of money would tempt them to work on a self-published book.

If you weren't planning on that, you have bigger problems than what you'll pay them.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Warning: Objects in Mirror May Be Less Self-Editing Than They Appear

After editing my manuscript multiple times, I sent it to a professional editor for a final polish. In my submission letters to editors and/or agents, should I mention that I have had my ms professionally edited? Of course, the ms must stand or fall on its own, and I don't expect that mentioning a professional editor will give the ms any special advantage, but are editors/agents interested in knowing that a writer has gone the extra mile to make his/her ms the best it can be?
No. Don't say anything about this... unless you plan not to send your next novel to a freelance editor, and to surprise your publisher with a less-polished-than-the-first-one manuscript. Then we would like some warning.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Quick Answers: Age Groups, Beginning Illustrators, Librarians

I'm about to start querying my novel (workshopped, re-written, etc.) to agents and feel I've put together a pretty good query. But, I stumble over how to define the novel. It's a 55K word urban fantasy with twins that turn 13 in the first chapter. It seems to me that the characters maturity (or lack thereof) plus a few nonsensical elements place it as a mid-grade, but I wonder if the age of the characters make it YA. Is there a sharp line delineating the catagories? Or, perhaps more likely, are there widely accepted defining points that apply to this situation? Should I send out x number of queries calling it a MG, and y number calling it YA and see which fare better?
There isn't a distinct border between the age groups-- or, that is to say, some people's distinct border is different from other people's distinct border, like neighbors who are always arguing about the property line. Take your best guess, and stop worrying about it--if we like what we read, we'll forgive it easily if you think it's MG and we think it's YA. That's a slight tweak in the terminology-- no big deal.

What we don't forgive as easily is if a person thinks their "fictional novel" is for preschoolers or something like that-- some designation that's so far off base that we have to worry about their relationship with reality, and what that will mean for the publishing process. People with low reality IQs are a huge pain in the ass.
I am a childrens book illustrator, however have not yet published my first book. To be completely honest - I don't quite know where to start.
So far my research has shown the first step (after completing your work of course) is sending out query letters. How should an Illustrators query letter look?
If you could offer any advice on how to get started, it would be really be a great help...I just know I have some wonderful illustrations to offer the world!
If what you're trying to sell is a book, then regardless of whether it's text and illustration or a wordless book, your query letter should look the same as any other author's.
If you're trying to get illustration work with samples from your portfolio, then you should be looking up publisher's art submission guidelines and following those. Possibly you can participate in a portfolio review, and you should definitely have a portfolio up online.
Between 1995 and 2000, I wrote four nonfiction series books for two different publishers. Both publishers seemed happy with my work and asked me to do more. However, just at that time, I started moving up in the ranks of my actual full-time paying job in a library. I made the decision to concentrate on my career and my family, with spare time devoted to reading, rather than writing. The writing I have done during the intervening ten years has been professional in nature: book reviews, journal articles, a book chapter, and a book.
Now I am ready to go back to writing children’s nonfiction. I have several projects I am researching for possible books.
My question: how much do I have to explain my hiatus in publishing when I query editors and agents? If I just say I wrote these four books in the late 90s, will they wonder what’s been going on? I don’t want to over-explain, but I also want them to know that the break was my decision, and not because I couldn’t get anything published.
Do explain very briefly that you've been concentrating on being a librarian in the meanwhile. Not only does that give a reason for your past titles being long out of date (and thus less useful to us as comparisons), it also tells us you're a librarian! We like librarians.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Sexy, Sexy Armadillos

The Rejectionist has a little news flash for you: MFA programs may not help you get published.

Let me preface this by acknowledging the truth that Writing of True Genius can elevate any topic, no matter how dull or off-putting to the public's sensibilities. A 500-page novel about the sex lives of armadillos? Great!

Good, now that that's out of the way: You're not a genius.

Have you been Highly Educated in writing? That's wonderful. You've spent years thinking about what makes writing good, and practicing those skills, and caring, and god knows we need more of that. The slush pile blesses your heart.

However, what MFA programs tend to instill in writers is an appreciation for their fellow writers as sole audience, because through all that workshopping, your fellow writers are your sole audience.

Guess what? If you want to be published, writers are not your audience.

Now, this is not an argument for the dumbing-down of literature. I wholeheartedly do NOT want ANYONE to appeal to the lowest common denominator. I want you to appeal to average people, who need books as much as you do (and possibly more). Average people are not stupid, but they're less smart about literature than you are. And that's ok! And you should think it's ok, too.

Average people will happily read a Work of Fine Literature and be AMAZED and CHANGED by the experience, but they won't even pick the thing up if it's about the sex lives of armadillos, you know? (Or working-class alcoholic armadillos in snowstorms.)

If, however, it's tightly plotted and about something people can identify with, then you're on your way to moving the hearts and enlightening the minds of thousands. Your publisher loves you! Your readers love you! And your MFA program can barely recognize you, now that your head is completely out of your butt!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Killer Angels

I was hoping you could look over my query. Feel free to post it on your site if you wish.
I offer the warning in my sidebar because an honest look at what an editor is thinking while reading a query is often NOT what people want. Indeed, some authors' queries are like Roy Schneider dangling red meat over the side of a boat.

Information, however, is power-- and more power to all authors!
Dear Editor,

For seventeen-year-old Nicola Summers, finding her boyfriend Tristan chained to the driveway after being mugged by a street gang was not part of the plan.
No kidding, really? That wasn't part of the plan?

Something "wasn't part of the plan" is a terrible cliche in queries. Still, we might forgive it if it's used acceptably--this isn't. This is akin to saying "Being enslaved by alien Elvis clones was not part of the plan." I think I can safely say that no one has EVER planned for this.
Beaten and knowing the rain is underway, he rejects Nicola’s help.
What? The rain is underway? What does that mean?
Determined, Nicola tries to liberate him, but when the rain arrives and hits his kin, she witnesses the impossible: out of thin air, Tristan sprouts wings.
Oh, you meant "on the way" not "underway". (And I assume you meant "skin" not "kin".) But that sentence would still have been confusing even with the right phrase in it.

"Out of thin air" is another cliche. (Was it really out of thin air? Or... was it out of his shoulders?)
Consumed by an animalistic instinct to protect his identity, Tristan attacks the person he holds most dear and nearly ends her life.
That is not what "animalistic" means.
But after the encounter with her winged-monster-of-a-boyfriend, Nicola’s not sure who to trust with the information—who would ever believe her?
The people who see the bruises? Wounds? Angel dust?

Which makes me wonder, how does he nearly end her life? He didn't try to drown her in a puddle, did he? There must be marks?
She can’t decide whether to pack her bags and move with her mother or finding him.
I know this kind of verb tense inconsistency is an easy mistake to make when you've rewritten something a lot, but it makes it look like you don't understand grammar.
When she seeks answers with the help of her best friend, Tara, Nicola finds herself near a truth that is more terrifying and heartbreaking than anything she imagined.
Just "near" the truth?
First, Tara reveals she is Tristan’s sister.
That doesn't sound terrifying or heartbreaking.
Second, Nicola discovers she is only alive because Tristan unconsciously chose her as his soul mate.
Neither does that. Kinda creepy and stalker-ish, though, since how in heck can she not have a say about who her soulmate is?
And third, he’s dying.
Ah, that's the heartbreaking part, I guess?
Tristan elected staying in his human form
Another verb/grammar problem. For editors, one is a typo; two is Highly Worrying; and three is Oh Hell No.
to prevent his kin of angels from seeing his memories and killing Nicola for what she knows. But how is Nicola supposed to save him when he is dying to save her? TITLE REDACTED, a YA fantasy novel is complete at 90,000 words.
Since when do angels kill people for knowing about them?

We in publishing are getting pretty tired of paranormal romance, including the recent sub-trend in angels, but we do generally tire of trends much faster than the reading public, who are less aware of them.

So you may be able to sell this, even though it's not clear whether you're doing anything markedly different from Hush Hush and Fallen (etc). But this query needs to be clearer and much better proofread, and I'm guessing your novel may need those things, too.

Good luck!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Definitions for the Perplexed: Royalties, Advances, and Earning Out

Royalties on List
The more common book royalty, this is a percentage of the list price. If you are earning a 10% list royalty on your novel (eg), which retails for $15.99 (the list price), then for every book sold you are earning $1.59 in royalties.

Royalties on Net
More common in non-book items like games, stationery, calendars, this is a percentage of the price at which the publisher sold the product. Which takes into consideration the discount at which the publisher must sell products. If you are earning a 10% net royalty on your fancy journal (eg), which retails for $15.99 and is sold to one retail account at 50% off (eg), then for every journal sold you are earning $0.79 in royalties.

The system of royalties and advances is one often criticized. There are many people on either side of the desk (authors, illustrators, agents, publishers) who would like to see a system in place that would benefit themselves more.

Alas, figuring out how to reimburse everyone fairly in an industry like publishing is an impossible feat. Most books don't earn out, and are a loss for the publisher. If the publisher doesn't profit, does that mean the author shouldn't either? Most authors would say no: even the profitless books should profit the author. However, as soon as many authors appear on a bestseller list, their thinking changes. Clearly they're making a bunch of money for the publisher; shouldn't their cut be larger?

Well, there's the thing. If you think that the author should profit even when the publisher doesn't, then you must also be comfortable with the idea that the bestselling books (those desperate few) will profit the publisher more than the author, so that that money can bankroll the failing books on the publisher's list.

Publishers wouldn't mind at all if authors were willing to only profit if the book does well, but since the vast majority of books don't profit, no author or agent who knows the industry is going to agree to that. Which is where advances come in.

An advance is an approximation of what the publisher thinks your book will earn you in royalties in (perhaps) a year. It is an advance payment on those earnings, thus the name. Essentially, an advance is a loan that you don't pay interest on (and would only pay back in cases covered by the contract). It's the publisher gambling that there will eventually be money in that book. As we know, mostly the publisher is wrong. But at least this way the author gets some money out of the deal, even if they never see a dime in royalties.

Advances are subject to the publishing industry's full range of hallucinatory optimism and depressive nihilism, so don't be expecting any kind of "standard range" here. Ha ha! "Standard." Hilarious.

Because an advance is a sort of loan, you won't start earning royalties until your accrued royalties have earned back that advance. Which is where we come to:

Earn out
Joyous earn out. If your book has "earned out", then it has earned back the advance, and the author is starting to get royalty checks. In some wonderful cases, the book may earn out even before publication, based on foreign rights sales alone! Ah, then everyone is happy. Right?

No, of course not. There's nothing like publishing to gather egomaniacs with unrealistic expectations. Which is why you hear some crazy people online saying that if your book earned out, then you should fire your agent because clearly you weren't paid enough. (We pause here for painful laughter, and mild hysteria.) If the book makes money, and the publisher is glad they published it, then you're unhappy? You can only be sure you got enough money if your advance made the book's bottom line negative? Who are you crazy idiots?

Board Book Publicity

Are there publicists who specialize in children's board books? If so can you list a few?
There are publicists who specialize in children's books, and that should be good enough. I can't imagine why anyone would specialize in so narrow a category as board books.

What... brought this question on?

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Value of Critique?

I have a question about conference critiques. At our regional conferences, attendees can pay a little extra ($35) to have one of the editors or agents attending the conference critique up to ten pages of a manuscript. Writers are encouraged to do this--to have their work read carefully by someone in the publishing industry.
My question is this: how seriously do editors take these critiques? I've heard enough different things that it seems the critiques are a crap shoot--some editors take them seriously and do a good job, others blow them off. Are there standards for these critiques? Something the industry adheres to? I'm confused because one thing new writers are always told is not to pay an agent or editor to look at their work, even if they offer to critique it. Are conference critiques different? It just seems silly to spend the money since by attending the conference, you're allowed to submit to the editors or agent anyway, and get your work looked at.
The advice about not paying people to look at your work is to help newbies avoid scam "agents" and "editors", not to help them avoid the legitimate professionals that are invited to conferences. But if all you want is for your work to be looked at, and the editors attending are going to offer to read submissions from the conference, then yes, critiques are a waste of your money.

I wouldn't be surprised to hear that a few editors do blow this responsibility off, as critiques always take a lot of time and mental energy, and the manuscripts presented are sometimes... of a daunting quality. (Though clearly that's a disservice to the conference an editor has agreed to attend; if an editor isn't willing to do the work of a conference, they shouldn't go to them.) There's no industry standard. I do my best with critiques, and every once in a while I suggest a writer submit to me.

But I'm not certain critiques are really that useful to most people, in the end. Sometimes I have market-oriented advice, which is something editors can be good for, but more often the advice I can offer is the sort of thing anyone could get in a writing class.

I'd be thrilled to hear in the comments of readers' experiences with conference critique. But if you're wondering why writers are encouraged to sign up for them, it's financial. Conferences make a meaningful piece of their profit on critiques.