Friday, April 8, 2011

My First App

I have a dilemma regarding ebook publishing. I am a seasoned graphic designer/illustrator trying to break into the kidlit industry with an author/illustrator picture book.

I'd just begun sending out dummies of my book to potential agents when I was contacted by a publishing company specializing exclusively in ebook apps for the iPad. They had seen my work at a regional SCBWI event and wanted me to submit any manuscripts/dummies I happened to have for their review and possible acceptance. They went on, in that initial conversation, to say that if the app sold large numbers, it would make it potentially appealing to traditional publishers. 

That's probably true.  But what are the chances of it selling in large numbers?  That's the question.
I'm a total noob at this (a key reason I was seeking an agent!) and don't want to miss the chance of my book being something really wonderful. Although I'm not afraid to embrace new technologies, I believe traditional publishing is better for many reasons. I know a good editor is worth her weight in gold and can do to a good MS what a good Art Director can do with a bunch of disparate pieces of art and copy.

Here's the question. If I submit to this app publisher, and they accept and publish my PB, will that completely shoot down any chances of it getting published as a traditional, printed book? Should I just stick it out and see what turns up with my submissions to agents?

If you think that your book is going to change significantly in the editing and design process, then you probably don't want to publish it as an app first.  

If you do decide to publish your book as an app, don't hand over your creative property to someone unless they can show you an app they've done before that you think is cool.  Lots and lots of people are trying to make apps.  Some of them suck at it.  Be warned.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Sail to Every Wind

I know that this is outside your field, and you may not be able to comment on publisher policies, but I'm dying to hear your reaction to the decision by HarperCollins to limit ebooks licensed to libraries to 26 checkouts over the life of the book.  As an aspiring writer and a librarian struggling to try to get as many books as I can for my kids on my tiny budget, I can see both sides, but us librarians...we feel a little bit picked on.  Would love to hear your thoughts!

I, too, see both sides.  The system they have set up in much of the British Commonwealth seems like what this country is going to have to move towards eventually... or maybe there's some other system that will work better.

The real answer, I think, is that whatever Harper is doing now, they will probably not be doing two years from now.  The entire publishing industry is in flux.  We are trying to figure out ebooks, and there's truly no way to know for sure how they will end up being sold, checked out, borrowed, etc.  We are in the exciting and extremely frustrating period between publishing models, when the only thing to do is experiment.

Monday, April 4, 2011


Thank you for your informative blog which, you wouldn’t be able to tell from my last behavior, I have read in full. Of course, just when I should be able to follow your advice to the ‘T’, I had a bit of a brain freeze, I guess. I sent off my submission, synopsis, and all to an agent and editor and forgot most of what I learned. No excuse, really. I don’t know what I was thinking.

#1- I sent an early version that had only one difference, but it was big. A paragraph from Chapter 4 had not been moved to Chapter 1. This paragraph sets up the suspense for the book in an earlier time frame. Since I only sent chapter 1-3, that is kind of big.

#2- I sent my outline instead of my synopsis. This will be obvious since it tells the whole story, and not too imaginatively either. Yikes!

#3 – Then, when I got home from the post office, I saw the SASE I meant to include, sitting on the kitchen table where I left it.

Now, I’m not really an idiot, although it sounds like it. And, OK, I feel like one. I’m wondering if I should just let it go. I have the urge to resubmit, because I made a mistake, and oh well, that happens. I do want to put my best foot forward, however, and I think I have a really good book. I also don’t want the people I sent the book to, to waste their time trying to figure out ‘what the heck?’ Right? Then, again, I wonder, geesh…is sending it again another dumb move?

Do you think I should resubmit, or does this kind of stuff happen. Are agents and editors very understanding of an author’s bad day, I guess?
Go ahead and try resubmitting.  If you can make the explanation in your cover letter sound like you sound here--ie, human, humble, and with a sense of humor--and not like someone who might be perennially scattered of mind and disorganized, then you stand a fair chance of being forgiven.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Planning For the Future, Ha Ha

Say an author has reached that happy place where multiple editors are interested in purchasing her debut novel. Would it be viewed as peculiar if the author wanted to interview each editor to find "the best fit" -- dollar signs aside? 
Not at all.  This doesn't always happen, but it happens often enough.  And the editors involved are usually really pleased when it does--it says you value our part in this process as well as the check we'll cut you.
Also, if, for instance, the debut novel were a Middle Grade and the author has hopes to one day move into the YA market, is it best to find an editor who handles both? Or is it enough to go with an editor whose publishing house handles both?
Publishing being what it is today, it's more important to give this one book the best publication it can have than what will happen after.  Success has a way of sorting itself out--and the market (and your publisher) may be different when you start in YA than it is now; things are so volatile in publishing.  Do the best you can for this book.  When (if) you write a YA novel, do what makes most sense for THAT book THEN.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sitting On Your Hands Is Never Part of Your Job

I submitted some work to a major U.S. publisher almost a year ago. A few months later, I received a personalized, lengthy, warm email from an editor who indicated she liked my work but that she wasn't ready to take on the project at that point. She did suggest some changes and invited me to send it back to her. I revised and re-submitted. A few months went by and I emailed her again to check the status. She replied that she hadn't yet had a chance to get to it. A few months later, I emailed again. She wrote back: "I need more time to review this submission." And it's been a while since then...How do I interpret this? Is my story just collecting dust under her desk when I could be actively sending my work elsewhere? 
 Or might this mean that there may be some genuine interest and that I should just be patient?
I don't know how many times I've gotten variations on this question.  DO be patient.  And DO keep submitting elsewhere.  The changes that she asked for should be exclusive to her... for maybe six months, to be generous.  Until then, keep submitting the previous draft elsewhere.  After that, submit the revision (assuming you think it's stronger) elsewhere.

Editors can take a goddamn long time to just LOOK at something, at which point they may be very excited about it.  An interminable wait may not mean that nothing's ever going to happen.  But you should NOT be waiting for that day (if it ever comes) to KEEP SUBMITTING.  


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Sound of Failure Calls Her Name

One prevailing sentiment among writing forums is to hold off submitting until your book represents the best that it can be.
But what does that mean when there is no objective standard by which to measure your book?

Set the damn thing aside for awhile.  It is SO easy to be SO excited about something you've just finished, or SO tired of working on it that you just want to start submitting.  Give it a little time in the cask to age, and then look at it and see if it's still exciting... or still tiresome.  Most likely, you'll notice a few things that need tweaking, and then it'll be ready. 

A crit group--a good one--lets you see your manuscript the way your reader will.  A crit group will point out that an important bit was unclear in chapter 1, and you'll be able to avoid the confusion that might make an editor give up on your book too soon.  A crit group will tell you your spelling isn't terribly consistent.  A crit group will nudge you to develop your characters more, or to cut the chapter in which nothing happens.  A good crit group saves the editor the large and time-consuming broad-strokes editing that may make the difference between something she can commit to and something that is just too rough.

Is your spelling crap? Do you tend to confuse homophones? If you can't trust yourself to clean the manuscript up, get someone else to do it who can. Lots of little mistakes like that make you seem kind of illiterate, when in fact you may simply be dyslexic.  Unless you sometimes lose your hairbrush in your hair, you know that first impressions make a difference.  The best writers to work with are the ones who know their weaknesses and their strengths, and work to ameliorate the one as much as they work to showcase the other.

Once you have checked these things off, it is time to remind yourself that:

It's time to try the book out on people and submit it.  Maybe it's not PERFECT.  So what.  Keep working on other things, and keep learning. If you let yourself be the kind of person to fuss over one manuscript for ages without working on anything else or submitting anything, (a) editors are going to hate you, and (b) you're going to hate yourself.  Failure to be published is not nearly as soul-crushing as failure to even try.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Rough Draft Is In Swedish

I'm an American author whose book is set in a foreign country. I've received an offer from a publisher in that country. They want to translate the book, and publish it there. This is great news, but the market is very small. I also want to publish in the US, not just because it is a bigger market but also because it is my home. Should I hold off on accepting the foreign offer until (if!) I can work something out with a US publisher? If I do go ahead and publish abroad, then can I revise the MS for a US publisher or is it set in stone and unrevisable once published?

If it's a very small market, your US publisher may not mind your having sold the rights already.  And more and more, agents seem to be going after foreign sales for their clients, so publishers are a bit more accustomed to not having a lot of foreign rights for novels.  So that's unlikely to be an issue.

As for revision, every translation fiddles with the exact phrasing of the text--if it doesn't then the translation won't sound natural to native speakers.  So some differences between the English and other language editions are expected.  

So if there were some way for you to be sure you weren't going to do very much revision (for instance if you've decided already that you're going to be inflexible and hard to work with--which I assume is not the case), then there would be no problem.  But imagine your US editor has a bunch of suggestions that get you really excited and that (for instance) change the ending completely. 

There probably still wouldn't be a problem with copyright between the two editions, but how would you feel about that scenario?  Would you want two very different versions of your story out there--when one of them might end up feeling to you like a beta version and not the story you most want to share with readers?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Do I Need an Agent?

Do you have any preference with working agented or unagented authors / illustrators, or does it all depend on the actual personalities involved?
It's about the personalities, and the skill sets.

If you're the kind of person who has little hissy fits throughout the bookmaking process--hissy fits you feel you must share with your colleagues (as opposed to the more recommended sharing with your friends/family), you need an agent. Agents can offer you a sympathetic ear if your process involves venting before finding a way to compromise.  Your publisher will get tired of you quickly if THEY have to babysit.

If you're the kind of person who is always, always behind deadline, you need an agent.  An agent can keep reminding you, cajoling you, nagging you, whatever you need.  Again, this is just part of some people's process.  But your publisher doesn't have the time to do this, and so your book will be late, and the publisher will be unhappy.

If you're the kind of person who thinks you're just going to show the contract to your husband, who is a lawyer, you need an agent.  There are as many different kinds of lawyers as there are doctors.  Bringing a publishing contract to a tax or estate or criminal lawyer is akin to taking your foot problem to a cardiologist.  YOU'RE GOING TO GET BAD ADVICE.  The frustration this will cause your publisher is not worth it... to the publisher.

If you are the kind of person who doesn't know how to negotiate, and ends up agreeing to a crappy first offer, or alternatively thinks you're going to negotiate a $10,000 advance up to $100,000, you need an agent.  An agent knows how to negotiate and what's reasonable to expect in the market.

If you want to be published at any of the houses that don't accept unagented submissions, or even at many of the ones that do, you need an agent.  An agent knows not only the publishers, she knows the individual editors and which ones will respond best to your manuscript. 

And let's not forget that if you want a guide through the booby-trapped and pathless jungles of a publishing career, you need an agent.

However, if you are an intrepid explorer yourself, of a patient and workmanlike nature; if you enjoy the research involved in plotting your own path through publishing, and are flexible about learning more as you go along, then you may not need an agent.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Open Thread

Comment moderation is temporarily turned off-- so ask your questions, start discussions... talk to me, and talk to each other!

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Big Fish, Small Pond? Or Big Fish, Wrong Pond?

So, the last time I emailed you, I had the hype but not the trophies. Now I’ve got both. Why is it that American editors ignore writers from New Zealand who aren’t Margaret Mahy or Joy Cowley. Down under, our buyers (readers) are piranhas. But, unfortunately for NZ authors, they are tiny piranhas.

I also review the YA books which that come out of the US and the UK and most of it, which, yeah, I know, sells, is actually formulaic which my students (I’m a high school teacher) turn their noses at – preferring to read ADULT literature.

Is this a ‘mam, this is a gentlemen’s club…’ kind of thing? Cos it sure does feel like it.
If you mean actual 'gentlemen', then no. The majority of publisher staff is female. 

If you mean 'we just don't like New Zealanders', then no. We're seeing a lot of very talented and very profitable novels coming from the southern hemisphere, and there's no prejudice that I'm aware of, unless it's a prejudice for Australia/New Zealand, not against.  (And while I realize that Australians and New Zealanders do not see themselves as in the same category, to US publishers, you are.)

If you mean 'Americans are just stupid and you can't sell anything smart to them', well, I can't say for sure, can I? We certainly can't match you for sheep jokes.

With an award under your belt and great reviews, I would start to wonder if your agent is sending the book to the right people.  Authors over here sometimes have to leave their agents because things just aren't working out.  You may be in that position, too.

At the same time, sometimes a book that can make a big splash in a smaller publishing market would be in danger of disappearing in a larger one.  Without having read your book, I can't hypothesize, but good luck.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

At Least It's Not My Beautiful Mommy

Anonymous, you’ve put so much effort into warning about the perils of self publishing. Why bother? Considering none of them would even make it through into the real world of publishing anyway (therefore not affecting you)why are you so passionate about the subject? 
I feel bad for people who are taken in by vanity presses and who end up repaid for their money and effort only in frustration. 
Wouldn’t trashy self published books actually make what you do look better? 
Most of my books look awesome whatever you put them next to.
You don't actually need the horribly bad contestants on American Idol to make the honestly talented contestants shine.
I agree most people should not attempt to self publish, but publishing companies have also put out some pretty crap books.
Well, that's the truth.  But at least no one was deliberately swindled over those books.
I know because my daughter has devoured many thousands of books since the age of two (she was a very early reader), some of which have either bored her to tears or she has found mistakes not picked up by professional editors. In fact over time she has found quite a few and from the age of three she refused to read any books which had mistakes. At age ten she has over a thousand books (yes, one is a self published book that she refuses to part with.) Strangely enough it is the only book with mistakes she wants to keep because she said “at least it’s interesting”. The content would never be endorsed by a mainstream publishing company but this piqued the interest of child who tends to think outside the box. So to each his own.
I absolutely agree. Everyone is welcome to make as many mistakes as they like.  But for those who would rather not make a mistake, a word to the wise is a simple kindness.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

There's a Signpost Up Ahead

A well-known agent sent out my novel to 9 publishers 3 months ago and says she has not heard a peep since. How long does this process normally take? 
1. There is no "normal".
2. Forever.  Or at least it seems like it.  If your agent is well-known, then he/she should be able to tell you what's normal for the editors he/she submitted to.
I know things things vary, but realistically, wouldn’t I have had at least 1 rejection by now?
You're traveling through another dimension -- a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call "Publishing".

Sunday, February 27, 2011

'Nonfiction' Is Like Reality TV Shows, Right? And 'Creative Nonfiction' Is Like Fox News

(1) How is publishing different for nonfiction children's books? (For example, a science topic for middle grades)
It's SO different! It's furrier, for one thing, and sometimes it's purple!
Ok, so I didn't really understand the question.  There aren't a lot of differences, aside from submission (see below) and the need for fact-checking.  Were you thinking of something else?

(2) I know for adult nonfiction, authors are not expected to write the whole book before submitting. Is that true of children's books as well or do editors expect the complete manuscript?

If it's chapter-length nonfiction, then yes, usually those are sold based on sample chapters and an outline.
(3) Are nonfiction titles a harder sell to publishers/bookstores?
They certainly can be.  Some nonfiction sells great---The Dangerous Book for Boys, for example.  But a lot of nonfiction (especially chapter-length nonfiction) only does well if it's very well supported by teachers and librarians, and as you may have heard in the news, they have NO MONEY TO SPEND ON BOOKS right now.  But that's ok, because we didn't want those kids educated anyway.  Who cares if they'll be old enough to vote soon?  Most adult Americans NOW don't know what "nonfiction" means, and everything's just fine, right?

Friday, February 25, 2011

She Introduced Me to OkCupid, and It Was Love At 539th Sight!

There’s a new service designed to help you find qualified authors at no cost to you.
Their books are properly packaged so you can review their project in 3 seconds or less.
It’s been called the “eHarmony” for Agents & Authors It is the step between the author’s computer at home and the agenting world. I’m a Literary Agent Matchmaker and I’m here to help you. I invite you to take a quick peek at my website where you'll find a dedicated page for Agents like you. Be sure to sign up for our fre.e Hot List to get notified about projects from qualified authors in your genres.
I'm confused.  Is this an agent to help you find an agent?
So, you pay this person $1,000 to suggest agents to you (but no guarantees), and then the agent helps you get a publisher? How many middle men do we need?
Isn't this like paying a matchmaker to recommend an internet dating service?

There are so many things that I don't understand.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

That's Not a Stranger in the Bushes. That's Santa!

I am a French author. I work with a dozen publishers in France and some of my books are translated into Spanish, Chinese, Korean, etc.. But not in English! I just moved to Ireland and I would like to see my books here. How do I do? Do I find an agent to translate and publish my books? In France the agents do not exist, I contacted the publishers directly and they deal themself for the foreign rights ...
The question is really: whose rights are these?

If the foreign language rights belong to your French publisher, how did your French publisher show your books to Spanish, Korean, and Chinese publishers without having shown them to US and UK publishers?  That seems extremely unlikely to me; it seems far more likely that the US and UK publishers simply weren't interested.  Some books, whether because of art style or topic or treatment, just don't translate to certain other book markets.  For every Everyone Poops, there's a Santa Through the Window.

If the foreign rights are yours, then you could get an agent to represent the foreign rights.  Readers, any agent suggestions?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Once Upon a Time, a Chipmunk and a Penguin Went to a Motel Room

I'm finishing an illustration-only book. It was intended for children, but it's suitable for all ages. 
Please refer to this post.
So would it be considered a children's picture book because it meets the page-count criteria, or could it be stretched to the novelty category and submitted to agents that don't accept children's fiction? It seems to me that novelty can be a tough sell, but aren't consumers more likely to purchase a novelty/gift book than, say, a fifteen-dollar picture book? I ask that realizing your answer most likely is that it depends on the pictures, but feel free to surprise me here.
It depends on the pictures---and the topic. 

There is a core audience for your book.  I'm guessing, from your question, that the topic or treatment is somewhat adult, and the only reason you think it might be a children's book is the format.  I don't suppose you've seen Baby, Mix Me a Drink?  Or Furverts?  Those are both board book formats, a format associated with infants and toddlers.  Does the format make them for that audience?  OH HELL NO.

Of course, there are some picture books published every year by children's imprints for which the audience is really adults.  The ones who skate that line in an acceptable way are usually light-hearted life advice, like: "if you love someone, set them free."  They are bought as graduation gifts (see Walk On or Oh The Places You'll Go).  The ones that don't are usually dreadful and sometimes psychotic life advice, like: "if you love someone, let them chop you down to a stump."

But graduation gifts is a difficult niche to publish into---more difficult than adult novelty books. 

Figure out who your audience is.  Good luck!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

How to Give a Gift

My question is about etiquette. I don't know how often it comes up, but you're the only person I can think of to ask.
I've known Editor X since I was very young. He was a long-time friend of one of my parents before my parent passed away, a few years back. He is absolutely enormous in the New York publishing world.
I've wanted to be a fiction author professionally since I was a child, and it has nothing to do with the connection. I didn't even register how well-known Editor X is until recently, when I Googled his name to find contact info. I've been grieving quite badly over my parent and have been keeping myself to myself, but it was time to reach out. As a result of my Googling, Editor X and I have re-kindled our friendship.
To my good fortune, I signed a contract with an independent publisher last year and the novel will be released in a small run some time in the 3rd quarter of this year.
I know I am extremely lucky in both regards and wouldn't change any of it for any amount of money.
Is it appropriate to send Editor X an advance copy of my novel as a gesture of friendship? How do I make it clear that I sent it because he loves books, not because he has connections? My friendship with him is very important to me, and I want to make it on my own, so perhaps I shouldn't send it at all. But maybe he'll be offended that I didn't think of him when gifting copies...! What do I do?
You're probably over-thinking this. Editor X will not expect you to send him a free copy of your book; if you decide not to, he won't be offended. All editors know how many friends authors have, and know you can't possibly give all your friends free copies.  (Also, would it kill them to support their friend and BUY the book?)

If you do want to send him a copy of the book, I would suggest carefully wording the note you send with it to communicate that you don't expect him to read the book; that you understand how many books and manuscripts are always waiting in line for attention from people in the book business.  (Both books we need to read for our jobs, and ones we just want to read, when we get the chance. My when-I-get-the-chance pile must be around 30 books high right now.)  Reference your friendship as the motivation for sending it, and that will be enough.

Then: be a good gift-giver and never ask him if he got around to reading it. I know, some people have a tremendously difficult time giving gifts without also giving the obligation to enjoy the gift and report back on that enjoyment. As well-meaning as those people are, and as much as I love them, I don't want another "gift" from them ever again. These are alligator presents.  True generosity comes without obligation.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Quick Answers: Freelance Editors, Trends, and Overthinking

When an agent or editor asks for a synopsis or the first ten pages to be pasted in the email, should I double space as if it's a hard copy, or is there a preferred method for email formatting?
This is another case of overthinking submissions.  Do whatever makes it easily readable, and leave it at that.
I’ve heard that publishers are currently looking for vampire and action manuscripts. I’m not interested in placating a fickle trend, but I am curious as to whether or not you think the recent downturn in the publishing industry might be leading to a significant (long-term) shift in what sells.
Let me congratulate you on not writing to trend.  But the answer to your question is no.
I have written a novel (fiction/semi-romantic). I would like to find someone professional who would read it and tell me how to proceed from this point. If you have any specific advice it would be greatly appreciated.
Some people do hire freelance developmental editors, but I think you could probably get as much help from a good critique group.   Readers, do you have thoughts?  Or recommendations of freelance editors?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Welcome to the Booby Hatch

I'm a Picture Book Illustrator but this past Spring a story began to form in my brain (sounds painful right and it was:)
I began by sketching it out in storyboard fashion. I thought I had a vision of how the story would go, how many pages it might take to tell it, the type of art (sketchy b/w) I would need, the limited wording I wanted to use.
Well, after a while I realized I had far too many sketches for any pic book I have ever seen. I stopped, thinking perhaps it best to put down the words on paper that were going through my head as I drew.
That made it worse, because my vision for the book was completely thrown by the amount of writing I was doing. This was NOT what I had planned. It was suppose to be simple, few words, perhaps a speech bubble here and there, thought bubbles for the dog character. Now, words were flowing to match the number of images and I found myself panicking.
Now, I really don't know what I have here. Is it the quirky sort of pic book I had planned, no. Is it a story book, no. Is it a graphic novel, maybe but how do I tell. Is it a mid grade novel, can't be, I'm not a writer!!!
This is the time for a good critique group.  They will help you sort out which things are working best about the project, and you'll be in a better place to decide its shape from there.
How do writers sort this out and is it normal or at least common for a writer to begin a work and then have it take over? Do Authors always know what sort of manuscript they will end up with or is it sometimes a surprise even to them?
Of course it's a surprise sometimes.  These are creative endeavors; they are supposed to have some life of their own.

Lastly, when the story starts talking back to you and you to the story, is it time for the jacket and wagon?
If that's your definition of crazy, every SCBWI conference is a looney bin.  You have a LOT of company.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quick Answers: Cold Medicine, Reincarnation, and Newspaper Copyright

What genre would reincarnation fall into?

Under the influence of cold medicine, I cranked out what I think is a cute picture book (text only, no art, but I'm still taking cold medicine so watch out). I am not new to writing, but am new to writing for kids. Specifically, I would like to learn more about rhyme, verse and poetry in picture books.

I've found a lot of references to how bad most writers are at it, but not a lot of ideas/advice on how to evaluate or improve.

Do you have any thoughts? I would like to figure out a) how bad my verse is and b) how to fix it. (I do assume it must be awful because I am high on drugs.)
Readers, to the comments!  I'm sure you have some great resources.
I'm interested in knowing if I can legally use feature stories I wrote that were already published by a community newspaper I work for. I understand that after 90 days, the stories legally belong to me and that I can rework them and sell them to magazines, trade journals, etc. for additional publication.
Does this sound correct?
Who do you understand this from?  The newspaper?  Because if it's not the newspaper (or more specifically the contract you signed with them), it doesn't mean a thing.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Unrealistic Expectations? Unrealistic Expectations, Party of Four?

I am a working writer (film) and director.
I have written a children's book. People seem to really like it, 
"People"?  You mean like your neighbors and friends and plumber and stuff?  They don't know anything about children's books.
and of course I want a good illustrator and want it published.
I was thinking of getting an pro illustrator myself and presenting it to editors in it's completed form--is this crazy? 
I imagine editors want to be part of that process, but also fear a hack artist getting assigned to it.
Well, get a good editor.
Also, isn't writing children's books like opening a restaurant--something that everyone wants to do but almost nobody really succeeds at?
No, no.  It's worse than that.

Writing children's books is like singing-- something EVERYONE, even the ones who don't know how to cook, think they can do acceptably.  I swear to god, if you started stopping people on the street and asking them if they had an idea for a children's book, 99% of them would say yes.  This is why editors don't generally admit to what they do when speaking to strangers.

For restaurants, there are three categories: people playing with the idea of opening a restaurant, people trying to run a restaurant, and people running a successful restaurant.

For children's books, there are four categories: people playing with the idea of writing a children's book, people trying to get a children's book published, people who have gotten a children's book published, and people publishing successful children's books.  As much failure as there is in restaurants, there is much, much more in books.

However: there are many things you can do to lessen your chances of failure, and among them are writing a great deal, reading a lot of children's books, and finding out as much as you can about the business. 

I mean, who is more likely to run a successful restaurant-- the person who has pipe dreams of serving his grandmother's recipes to other people, or the person who has practiced running a restaurant, investigated how other restaurants are run, and educated themselves about the business of running a restaurant?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Poetry? There's an Ointment for That.

I've been wondering: I've written a picture book text in unrhymed verse, although the format is in verse, due to the rhythm. How to I query on this? And what would be the format of the text? In regular paragraph form? Or in verse form? Can you advise me on that?
I love poetry.  I browse the children's poetry section at bookstores, and I read poetry in my spare time.

I'm not the only one, either.  Plenty of editors enjoy good poetry.  And it is for this very reason that most editors HATE poetry in query letters.

I'm not implying that your poetry isn't good.  I just want to bring across what you're up against.

The mild bludgeoning the English language gets in prose when in the hands of some writers becomes a cheerful disemboweling when the same people attempt poetry.  Every editor has seen a great quantity of this sort of thing.  It's terrible to watch the language we love be dressed up in quaint and merry bells and then flayed alive.

So seeing 'poetry' or 'verse' in a query letter, especially when what's being pitched to me is a picture book, not a poetry book (and thus not something that absolutely must be poetry), has, after much experience, come to give me the feeling of incipient hives. It is often the precursor of a manuscript that cares more about being poetry than about having a sales hook or any compelling content, and indeed often fails at all three.

In consideration of this justifiable prejudice among editors, and because your verse is not rhyming, I would strongly suggest that you not mention that your book is in verse when you query it.  If it works to format it in paragraph form, go ahead and do that, too.  And once you've taken the lyricism of your writing out of the query letter's equation, if you can't think what makes your book good competition for the many other picture books out there, then that's when you know you've got a problem.

Good luck!

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Waiting Is Not the Hardest Part

An editor at a conference asked me to send my YA manuscript for consideration, which I did. My original plan was to start with queries to agents, beginning with someone who expressed interest. However, I am waiting on that since I would really like to work with this editor and don't want to throw up any roadblocks. What I am wondering is: How long should I give the editor before I start my query process to agents?
 Zero time.  Start now.  You don't want to send out your manuscript to a bunch of editors while you are sending it to agents, because that's your future agent's job.  But sending the manuscript to one editor who you made contact with at a conference and who requested it is not going to ruffle any agent's feathers.  And if the editor expresses interest and by that time you have an agent, the editor will not be unduly annoyed.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Quick Answers: Poetry vs Picture Book, Chapter Book vs Novel

Thanks for sharing all your comments and tips with us. I have just begun the process of trying to find an agent to represent my work - picture books written in rhyme. I have heard that some agents and editors will not even manuscripts for rhyming picture books, perhaps partly because they are overdone and partly because often they are not done well. I assume all I can do as an aspiring writer is to send my manuscripts to those who don't include "rhyming picture books" in their lists of what they are NOT looking for. But what if they specify that they aren't looking for "Poetry"? This is what I need clarified for me. Does "Poetry" mean an actual book of poems (Whitman, Silverstein, etc.) or does my rhyming picture book fall into this category as well?  
Well, it shouldn't mean that.  Probably in some cases it does actually mean that, but I think you have to take them at their word and submit it as a picture book. 
I was wondering if the query letter is any different for a chapter book vs. a regular novel. I know that with picture books, you are supposed to include the complete text of your entire manuscript in your query, but would you do that for a chapter book that is around 7,500 words (if you were intending it to have a lot of pictures)? Or would I follow regular query standards for this type of chapter book?
I haven't seen this question directly addressed on any industry blogs, perhaps because there really is no difference so people don't make mention of it. I appreciate everything you do with your blog and I hope everything is going well at your agency.
A.  I am not an agent.  See the "editorial" at the top?
B. Do not include the complete text of your picture book manuscript unless that's what the publisher's/agent's submission guidelines ask for.  There are no industry-wide rules.  Wishfully thinking that there are is just going to get you into trouble.

C. A chapter book is a short novel for short people.  Treat it like that.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Quick Answers: Blurbs, Library Credits, and Print Runs

If I'm shopping a fiction manuscript to an editor (or agent), how helpful would it be, really, to include a quote from a multi-published, bestselling queen/king/first lady/high priest of the genre? Assuming the writing is solid but you're on the fence about, say, content and marketability, would having a cover blurb in hand for a non-contracted novel sway you in any way? Can a blurb sell a book to the industry pros?
And if that bestselling author has had a policy of not providing blurbs for a while but is making an exception, should that bit of information be included in the query or would it come across sounding too hard-sell and desperate?
If you've got a blurb from one of the big writers in the genre, yes, that carries weight.  It still might not sell the book to an editor who just doesn't like it, but it might really make a difference to an editor who's on the fence. 
The other day, someone told me that authors get some sort of credit that translates into a payout when readers check out their books from the library. I've tried to do a google search but was unable to find anything useful (at least in regards to the US). Do you know if this is true and how this works?
This may be true for digital books; I'm not very familiar with how that works at libraries.  But regular books?  That's RIDICULOUS.   Libraries buy books the same way everybody else does: they pay for THAT COPY and that copy only.

UPDATE: As many many of my readers have informed me (who knew I had such an international audience?), there IS a way for libraries in Canada, Australia, Germany, and the UK (and maybe other places) to pay royalties to authors.  The system (which you can learn more about in the comments) sounds so common-sensical that I can't believe we don't do it in THIS country.
Thank you, my readers, for the enlightenment!
What is a good-sized print run on average? I've been given a very rough figure of 15,500. Is this a good figure?

That's just fine.  Bear in mind, though, that until the figure stops being "rough" it's essentially hypothetical.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Is Your Work Worth Money?

I've been sent a proposition and have been pulling my hair out for a couple of days deciding what to do. A friend directed me to your website and I knew you'd be the right person to ask!

I am a professional illustrator, although currently unpublished. I've sent in portfolios to publishers and had reasonably positive feedback so far - many of my submissions have been kept on record for future use. However, I've recently been contacted directly by someone looking for an artist to illustrate their poetry (it's fun and quirky in style and I believe I could compliment it well with my art). I'm not quite sure whether they intend to self-publish or submit the "final work" to an actual publishing house...either way, though, I've read time and time again that author/illustrator duos will NOT be accepted by publishers, regardless. Is this always the case? Even if the art is of a very high quality? I'm feeling a little out of my depth as this situation is all new to me and I'm not aware of the standard expectations of the illustrator either through a publishing house or in a self-publishing situation. Any information you can enlighten me with would be very, very welcome!!

If it's going to be self-published, sure, go for it. Be sure you get paid in advance.

If it's for submission to a publisher, DON'T DO IT. Publishers want to choose the illustrator.

Yes, if the art is of very high quality, the publisher may accept something already illustrated.  THAT'S NOT YOU.  I'm talking about Jerry Pinkney or Kadir Nelson or Marla Frazee or somebody whose art is exemplary and in high demand.

I don't mean to be unkind.  The fact that your samples have been put on file means they are better than the average art submission, and you may have a wonderful career ahead of you.  It does not mean, however, that your art is of very high quality.  You are an unproven artist in a competitive field.  Do everything you can to project professionalism-- including not giving your art away.  And that's what you would be doing if someone convinced you to illustrate their manuscript on spec.  Chances are high that it would be wasted effort.

Monday, January 31, 2011

The Minnetonka Salty Pickle Award Strikes Again

I know you've said it before: if it's self published, don't mention it. Self publishing is imaginary publishing. But what if that imaginary-published book won a not-imaginary award? Can you mention it then? If so, do you mention that it's self-published or do you just say something along the lines of "My book, TITLE, won the 2010 Real Award,"?
Yes, that would be fine. Congratulations! But before you skip off to put that in your query letter, are you sure the award isn't imaginary?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Does the Gold Medalist in Swimming Need to Know Gymnastics?

Do you think editors and agents have different (lower) standards for writing that's submitted by an author-illustrator as opposed to someone who's "just" an author?
As you can imagine, I am a writer who can't draw a cube.
Some of the feedback I get from my agent has really challenged me to reach for something a lot higher with my writing. Then I see some books that are being published, and it's like they got some kind of pass. I feel like if I sent my agent a story like that, he'd send it right back to me and wouldn't even consider showing it to publishers.
Are the standards different for an author-illustrator if the art is good enough to sell an otherwise lackluster story?
If a submission wins me over partly with writing and partly with art, should I think less of it than the submission that won me over solely with writing? Both verbal storytelling and visual storytelling are talents, and both are strengths in a book.

So the answer to your question is yes, in some cases it's ok that the writing isn't as wonderful as in other manuscripts since there's such strength in the art.

It's not ok to feel these people got a pass-- they still had to submit something powerful. Just like you do. If you sent me a manuscript whose development of setting was non-existent but whose plot-development and characters were wonderful and made the manuscript worthwhile all by themselves, it would be ridiculous for me to reject it, right? Just because your strengths aren't what some other people's strengths are?

Don't think of yourself as being in the same race with author-artists-- think of yourself as being in the same Olympics. If you both end up on the winners' stand, it will be for different skills, but your accomplishments will both be worthy of the honor.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Query Clinic: The Amaranth Guardian

I started querying about a month ago and I've gotten seven rejections so far. I've only been querying agents who I thought suited the genre, but I feel discouraged now that only one agent was willing to request sample pages. Before I send out any more queries, I was hoping you could dissect my letter, publicly and harshly if you so wish. I wonder if agents are discouraged by my saying it's the first of a series....

Dear X,
Kai Kirin is just like any other student at the Academy, a school from a parallel universe that trains lost and abandoned children in the ancient art of cylo. Like the others, Kai has been sheltered from the tribal warfare that has devastated his world since the fall of the last Demon Empress, Ubella. But unlike the others, Kai has been sent on an unusual assignment that will bring him to our world to find Kanna Burke, a young girl who possesses the legendary power to undo all of Ubella's black magic. Kai must retrieve Kanna and her family, to protect them from those who would use Kanna as a weapon. However, Kai will soon find that Kanna Burke is very reluctant to come under his protection.
Ok. So this is what people are talking about when they use "fantasy" like it's a bad word. Some fantasies do the hard word of world-building in a way that invites the reader in and gives them action and character development to keep them interested while the many ways in which this world is different are revealed, gradually, at a pace that makes sense to the reader.

And other fantasies drop a half-ton of unfamiliar details on the reader like a piano onto a cartoon coyote. I have a suspicion this may be one of those fantasies.

Also, I would ask you to consider whether it's really, truly important that the main character come from another dimension. Because if she could just come from another area of that dimension, you wouldn't need the idea of parallel dimensions in a story that's already heavy on unfamiliar ideas.
For her own good, Kai forces the obstinate girl back across the portal into his world along with her father and stepbrother. But when the remote to bring him home snaps in half, he finds himself not at the Academy, but in a dangerous territory far to the south. The small group of unhappy travelers must make their way north through warring states and cursed territories, avoiding dangerous militias, assassins, and the dreaded creatures known as Changelings. The long journey back to the Academy will soon change everything he believes.
Amaranth Guardian is a character-driven fantasy adventure novel centered on a group of teenagers who must put aside their differences and collaborate in order to survive in a world of chaos. Each character is an unlikely hero, full of fear and cockiness but also full of power that they don't yet understand. Kai, in particular, lives with the knowledge that he himself may be part Demon.
a. "Fantasy adventure novel" is about two words too long.
b. You know there was a recent YA fantasy published called The Amaranth Enchantment, right?
c. Move or cut that last sentence.
The story does not talk down to teens, but rather reflects their unique experiences: the feeling of suspended identity, the fear of responsibility, and the exciting sense of discovery that are central to the transition to adulthood.
Amaranth Guardian is complete at 142,700 words and I am now seeking representation for it. It is the first in a series and I am currently in the process of writing its sequel, Amaranth Prison. In addition to the above synopsis, I have included the first two chapters of my manuscript in the body of this e-mail. If you would like to request further materials, please e-mail me back. Thank you for your time!
This query is giving the impression that your manuscript may be overly dense and difficult to follow, and written with a great deal more tell than show. If you know how to fix that in the query, then your manuscript is probably ok.

If you're not sure how your query is giving those impressions, though, I would recommend taking a hard look at your manuscript for revisions, too.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Heroism of Revision

I am an author with a wonderful agent but I have a question that would be better answered by an editor, and I'd like your input.

My debut novel has been on submission since the beginning of the year. In our first round of submissions the first 'no' came with a very thoughtful, detailed email from the editor that made a number of suggestions about revisions and a request to see the ms again if I made them. At the time, my agent and I felt that since there were other editors reading we should just put those thoughts aside. However, more rejections came in, including some that brought up some of the same issues that first editor had discussed. Two more of the editors who said no said also they would look at the book again, if revised.

So I did the revisions. Not every single thing, mind you, but the major ones. And after some back and forth about them with my agent, she came up with a new list of editors to submit too, including the three who had been willing to see the revised ms.

Here's my question: as an editor, how do you generally feel about an ms. that has been revised this way? Is it something you're more likely to like, now that some of the problems you had with it are fixed, or if you really didn't love it at first then you'll never really love it? The second one is my big fear -- that if these editors really loved the book, they would have bought it first, and then had me make changes. But I don't know if I'm just being negative.
You're just being negative. You know what editors love? Great manuscripts. You know what editors ADORE? Great revisers. Oh dear god, how I adore great revisers.

Also, I've gotten a surprising amount of flak (mainly from non-writer friends) about my willingness to do this kind of overhaul. As a journalist by trade, I'm used to rewriting things based on other people's input (and, honestly, sometimes having them change it to something unrecognizable without telling me, which thankfully doesn't seem to happen in the fiction world). I figured I don't have to make any changes I don't like, but they don't have to publish it, either. What's your response to people who think someone who revises for editors is somehow debasing their work? Because people really do seem to think that.
Morons everywhere think they have a right to an opinion. You tell them that if they think listening to the advice of professionals (advice that you, the author, agree with) is debasing your Art, then they must be under the impression that everyone who picks up a pencil is a Great Artist from that moment on. You know what? When you're Maurice Sendak or Pablo Picasso or are otherwise making a ton of money just to exhibit your work, not sell it, then you are a Great Artist. Until then, you have something to learn. And if you don't think so, then you are never, never going to get beyond being anything but a Great Pain in My Ass.

(Ok, sure, you can be a pain in the ass and crazy and impossible to work with and maybe still a great artist, like Van Gogh. But do you really want your Art to wait to be appreciated until after you're dead? No, I didn't think so. We learn to play nicely with others in kindergarten, and some of us remember that lesson.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Quick Answers!

I have a fantastic story and concept for a series of childrens picture books. I have several books in rough draft and one completed. Do you recommend that I complete the other books and consider them all a single transcript or just submit the first picture book (20 page) with a reference to the series?
First book only. Please see the tag 'series and sequels' in my sidebar.

I was hoping you could answer my question as I've searched around and haven't been able to find an answer. I submitted my story to a few online critique groups in hopes of getting it polished up for submission. I've been a bit paranoid about submitting since I found
all these publishing and agent blogs online. But after getting my critiques back, no one could agree, on anything. And it was pretty split down the middle on who liked and didn't like it as a whole. I'm just curious, that if I'm getting such a wide range of comments, could it mean that this story is lost cause? Or do I need to seek out some other readers?
Well, here's the helpful thing about the people you meet in critique groups: They're showing you what they're writing. That means you can tell if some of them are really not such great writers, and so possibly not fantastic judges of writing, or if they have a lot of opinions about picture books but don't write / read picture books themselves. Maybe you should try some more crit partners before you decide one way or another.
I had part of a ms critiqued at a conference recently. The editor liked it and asked to see the full. Between the time I submitted this ms for critique and the actual meeting (about 4 months) I decided to revise the story. I explained that to the editor at the critique session and she said she was looking forward to seeing it when it was done. Within a month’s time of the critique meeting I submitted the revised ms to my agent for review. He made some good suggestions which I followed. I resubmitted a few weeks later and now agent has told me he doesn’t have time to reread it again for several months. What do you think of that, and should I be concerned that if I wait too long to get the ms back to interested editor that that interest will wane?
Several months? Um, yeah. Send that to the editor now.

Friday, January 21, 2011

What Is This Publishers Marketplace You Speak Of?

I am currently searching the 'net for agents in the children's books (picture book genre). A few terms I've noticed in particular begs to be further defined. When an agent specifies "Picture Books (by an author/illustrator)" or "picture books by author/artists" are they saying they want the author to also be the illustrator?
Yes. This is because there's very little money to be made, usually, for picture book authors. Agents get a small percentage of that little money, and many of them just feel it isn't enough.
Or would I be okay just sending in the query as the author minus the art skills?
Not to those agents. But there are others who rep picture book authors.
Also, when an agent (that accepts picture books) explains their submission requirements for a variety of genres (ie novelists send in first ten pages) but leaves out the details for picture books, what should one do? Send in the picture book manuscript?
One should look up that agent's sales in Publishers Marketplace and see whether they represent picture books at all.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Out of Print, But Still Fighting

I had a picture book published in 2006 which is now out of print and the rights have been returned to me. Is it okay to submit this to other publishers, and if yes, then when is it okay to do this? And if I can submit this do I mention its previous publication? Thanks for your help.
Yes, you mention its previous publication. The editor will find out anyway when she does her acquisition research, and she will be pissed if you've failed to tell her this yourself.

Here's the thing about books that have gone out of print: most of them are out of print for a very, very good reason. It may be a painful reason, and it may be a reason that makes no sense to you, but it is still a GOOD reason: NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE WERE WILLING TO BUY IT.

If this is the reason that your book is out of print, then no publisher is going to bring it back into print within a couple of decades of its original publication. If this is not the reason your book is out of print, then be very clear in your submission to other publishers about what you think the real reason is. Be clear, and be convincing, because you're fighting a counter argument from the market, and publishers listen to the market.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Foreign Rights: Not for the Faint of Heart

In 2006 I had a mid-grade novel accepted for publication and the publisher and I agreed a sequel would be a good idea so I got onto writing that and submitted this at the beginning of 2008. The first book came out late 2008 and the sequel was scheduled for 2009. Then the recession hit and the publisher reduced their list and pulled the plug on the sequel. I get regular queries from readers about when the second book is coming. This year I discussed the possibility of getting both books published overseas and the publisher returned international rights to me while retaining local regional rights to the first book. Now I want to query both books to the US and UK but I’m not quite sure how to go about this. Do I send/query the first book in its final form or as a manuscript?
Depends on whether you think its published Australian form does the book proud in the US market. Some Aussie publications do, and some don't. Sometimes I see books published in foreign countries and the cover style is so far off from what would work for us here that it inspires a strongly negative reaction even though I know that this reaction is irrational and unfair to the book. If you don't think its published presentation is stunning, send it as a manuscript and include a page with its Aussie cover and publishing info. Be prepared to answer the question "Why didn't the Australian publisher submit this to us for foreign rights?" In fact, do you know that the Australian publisher didn't? Generally we don't like being sent the same thing we said 'no' to a year ago by someone else.
If they were interested would publishers keep it in its first published form?
Unlikely, but possible.
Am I doomed? Is there hope? I would greatly appreciate any advice you could give me on this non-run-of-the-mill problem.
With the economy in the state it is, there's a little more doom running around than there used to be, but no, you're not out of the race yet. Still, this is going to be tough going, so be sure you want to spend this effort on this book, rather than investing it in writing a new book.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Unsolicited Recycling Bin

Are editors reading unsolicited picture books anymore? I used to get those rejected mss. back in my thoughtfully provided SASE. If I'd put a hair between pages 2 and 3, I at least knew (if the hair was missing) that someone had shuffled the paper. Now editors are responding "only if interested." My question is--are most editors simply unloading all these unsolicited mss. right into the circular file?
I realize you can only tell me for sure what's happening at your house. But you do communicate with other members of the editorial species. Have you heard anything? Say, for example, "Yahoo! I don't have to read manuscripts about Willimena the Wave anymore."
I'm a well-published pb author who doesn't want to give a piece of my paltry advance to an agent. But if my suspicion is true, I'm thinking I'm going to have to--just to get a pair of eyes to glance at the first paragraph or so of my mss.
Please tell me that this is just one of those paranoid thoughts that afflicts insomniac authors, and that someone (the janitor?) is reading those piles of unsolicted pbs.
The houses and editors who say they take unsolicited submissions are still reading them. There's really not a reason in the world for them to lie about that. There are fewer and fewer of them these days, so an agent really isn't a bad idea. But processing slush is a lot of work, and we aren't doing it just for the upper-body exercise.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Skippyjon Jones and the Audience Participation

I'm delighted but baffled by the success of the Skippyjon Jones books. The rollicking plots and language seem to barely sit still on the pages. I speak both English and Spanish yet I still need to read the books several times to get a handle on reading them aloud to my kids. I could be wrong but I imagine that this is the case for most people the first time they read one of these stories. I searched your blog for your thoughts on it but I'm just not quite satisfied. Why do you think people are attracted to the writing in the Skippyjon Jones books? Thank you for taking the time to read this message.
THIS is a case for the COMMENTS! Readers, chip in.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Past Is Not Dead. It's Not Even OMG, Justin Beiber!!!

I have a question about using famous names and brands in works of fiction.
If a character is a huge fan of, say, Rod Stewart, or the specific show The Twilight Zone or the Detroit Lions football team, is it legal to namecheck the real band/show/organization?

I wouldn't make Rod Stewart a character, but he would be the object of a character's fandom. (Maybe not the most marketable example, I just realized. Anyhow.). Could I quote his lyrics?
Bits of them.

Or quote from a real movie or tv show?
Short quotes.

It feels kind of cheesy to me when writers make up a fake famous person but now that the issue has come up in my own writing (which I hope to publish) I wonder if it's done for legal reasons.
Sometimes, but more likely (as in your Rod Stewart example) it's for the reason that you're writing for people to whom the 1990s are history. The past may not be dead, but the present has a really short attention span. Why date your book to its detriment?

Still, unless your plot hinges on the use of a particular artist / song / movie / tv show, this is not the sort of thing that will stop your manuscript being acquired. You may need to have a conversation with your editor (and maybe the publisher's legal department) about this, though.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Credit Management

I have two questions related to an article I read recently. The article, which can be found at, suggested that new children's book writers spend time getting published in "magazines, e-zines, websites, community parenting publications..." in order to build credits that will "speak to my professionalism". Let me illuminate my background a bit before detailing my questions.

My writing experience thus far comes from my profession as a full-time Youth Director. I have written an article for our church newsletter every month for the last four and a half years. I also write and deliver sermons four to five times a year. I have consistently received rave reviews over my writing, have often heard that people forward my articles/sermons on to others and have been told countless times that I am able to make complicated theological matters understandable (and enjoyable!) to the very young. I often write in allegories or use everyday objects or situations to explain difficult concepts. It is my community's passionate reaction to my writing style accompanied by my love of learning and children's literature which has prompted me to research the idea of writing books for children.

That background having been established, my two questions are as follows: One, would my writing experience thus far equate to the credit building that the article mentioned above recommends? And two, if it does not, how does one write children's stories for magazines, e-zines, newsletters etc. effectively without even an illustrator?
1. No. It's better than "my grandchildren love my stories," but not a lot better. A magazine editor has to find material that is not just better than the average free sermon-- she has to find material that people want to PAY for. That's what your credentials are supposed to bring across: a history of creating work that people will pay for, on the deadlines of the people who publish such work.

2. Well, how would you write a children's story for a book without an illustrator? If you do not know the answer to this question, I would strongly suggest that you do not know how to write a picture book yet. Please find your local SCBWI and take some classes.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Choose-Your-Own-Illustrator! or Don't. No, Really, Don't.

I'm wondering about the order of events editors go through when acquiring a picture book manuscript. Do they talk to illustrators before they acquire the text?
Very occasionally.
Is identifying possible illustrators part of the acquisitions package they present to the powers that be, or does all of that come after the manuscript is acquired?
What do editors think about as they try to make a good match between the text and pictures?
Audience, first. This might be a consideration along the lines of 'this manuscript is going to appeal to baby shower gift-givers, so the art had better be soft and sweet' or 'nobody knows who this author is, so let's get someone with a name to illustrate.'

Then you think about the stand-out qualities of the manuscript and try to find good visual translations for them. Some texts have a lot of leeway in the way they're interpreted by the artist--they could be a match for a number of different art styles. But a historical topic probably won't be a good match for a very modern artist. A book about watching the incremental changes in nature will support lovely but static art, whereas a book about dance asks for art that is dynamic and has a sense of drama. As many different kinds of manuscripts as there are, there are that many different ways for art to partner text.
Do they consult with the art director?
Depends on the editor and the house.
How do they approach illustrators? Do they show them the manuscript and ask for an few sketches before committing?
Mostly we just show them the manuscript. We can tell from the artist's online portfolio that they could do a fine job. If we happen not to be sure, we may ask artists for a sample piece, for a small fee.
It seems like an exciting, yet really difficult process to come up with the perfect combination. But maybe that is why you guys are the editors, and why the writer, in general, should just stay out of the way.
Without putting too fine a point on it, yeah. If you go to a publishing house that does its design work well, then you're going to people who have more experience than you do in determining what the strongest parts of your manuscript are, how to articulate those qualities, and how to find the artists who will make those qualities stronger still--who will make the book shine.

This is an understanding lacking in the many people who send us manuscripts illustrated by themselves or their close friends or neighbors. Some people in possession of an uncut diamond would take it to a jeweler, and some would take it to the first person they can think of who owns a hammer.

These are people who think that art is no more than the clothes a story wears, and since they happen to have the literary equivalent of a supermodel on their hands, this book will look good in anything, even if the illustration they can manage is the artistic equivalent of a shag carpet muumuu.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

To Be Continued (We Hope)

I promise this is not a query. I need advice on how to split a long, continuous story up into more than one book!
I recently completed a middle grade novel that took on a life of its own and decided to segue directly into a second book. In the sequel, the kids in the fist book must travel to King Arthur’s England to find a spell book and stone to break a spell cast by Merlin’s son in the first book. At the end of the first book, the main characters have resolved some things and are safe, so it sort of ends that “chapter” of the story, but they are in hot pursuit of another character and don’t have time to stop and celebrate.
Is it OK to have the book end at the beginning of the next story (they all arrive safely and are sitting by the sea in England) or does there have to be some more concrete ending to the first book (they are all ready to travel on to the next adventure, but sit around smiling and patting each other on the back before they go?)
It is too long to be one book (41,500 words.)
Surely you have read some books / series that do this? More than a couple, one hopes?

I just want to pause and remind everyone that my advice all alone is not useful to you. If you haven't familiarized yourself enough with children's books and with the craft of writing to have some good sense of your own, no matter how good my advice is (and I do my best), you won't be able to avoid misapplying it.

Good, now that that's out of the way: before you go rushing off to work on book 2 or 3 or 17, put all your effort into making book 1 as awesome and polished and whole as you can do. How to do this varies per book, so you have to use your own good sense in making this story the best it can be before your characters set off into a sequel.

If you can't get an editor excited about book 1, the ending to your series is going to come even sooner than you thought.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Monday, January 3, 2011

50 Ways Not To Leave Your Agent ... or, How To Have a Bad Breakup

Slip out the back, Jack
Under-communicate. Don't talk to her about any concerns you have; instead, the breakup should come as a total surprise to her. If you have luck on your side, you may let her know on the same day that she gets an offer for your manuscript from a publisher. For the coup de grace, hire another agent before you fire her.

Make a new plan, Stan
Over-communicate. Send the agent partial first drafts so that she can see your writing before it puts on its makeup in the morning.  Send threats, rants, and complaints directly to your publisher, without telling your agent first, so that you look like an unstable mess and she looks like she has no idea what her authors are up to.

You don't need to be coy, Roy
Have little concept of personal boundaries. Call her on her cell phone, crying, in the middle of the night. Talk to her about every problem you've ever had. Let her know how dysfunctional your family relationships are, and then tell her she's like a sister to you.

Hop on the bus, Gus
Once she's sold several books for you, fire her. After all, now you know the editors, so what do you need an agent for? Alternatively, while she's still your agent, go behind her back and sell books without her, and without ever talking to her about it. She's just a stepping stone, so step on her.

Just drop off the key, Lee
After she's fired, ask that her name be removed from your finalized contract so that she won't get her share of the royalties. (It won't work, but go ahead and try it. She won't be upset at all.) Then go on discussion boards and say nasty things about her. A classy agent can't and won't do this in return, so you're safe saying pretty much anything.

I know my readers are too smart and too kind to do any of these things. But it's still useful to know that they happen; that these are the treacherous seas that agents have to navigate. As true as it is that there are not-so-good agents who serve their clients poorly, there are plenty of wonderful agents who get bitten badly for their trouble.  I know the publishing industry can seem brutal, callous, and cruel. Just remember that you don't have to be.

How to Leave Your Agent

I have decided to move on to another agency. Long story short: I have lots of agents who were chomping at the bit to work with my book proposal. I went with one, it didn't work out, a year later I have decided to move on and go with another agent. One agent told me she would need a list of the submissions and responses. I'd like to have that list too, just for my own records.
My current agent told me she'd work on getting that list and it's been 2 months now and still no list. I am sending her one last email requesting it, but I don't know what else I can do! Is this normal? It doesn't seem very professional.

I hope that the first thing you did was to have a conversation with your agent about what is bothering you, to give her a chance to address the problem.

Assuming you did, and things have not gotten better, then it is time to politely tell her that you think there should be a parting of ways. Look at your agency agreement to see if this needs to be done in writing, and in what sort of time frame. Agency agreements can vary quite a bit, so be sure you're following the terms in yours.

Next, stop flirting with other agents until after your current agent knows she's history.  You may not be able to see it, but it's still very possible that she is working on your behalf even as you are making plans to break up with her.  That's not cool.  As soon as you were sure you wanted out, you should have informed your agent.

Regarding the submission info, perhaps there's been some miscommunication?  Ask again, insistently but nicely. If she steadfastly refuses to give you any information about submissions, then... I'm sorry. You can't make her give it to you.  Perhaps she never sent it out at all.  But perhaps if she understood that you want that info because you are leaving her, she would understand why you need it, now.

If not, that is a shame.  Sometimes as hard as you try to be friendly and professional and to act with grace and courtesy, others will not.  Your next agent will just have to be willing to pick up the pieces.

Trend Watch: Persephone Is the New Zombies/Vampires

Well, I certainly wouldn't have predicted this one. We're seeing a lot of YA Persephone retellings. Maybe this is in part due to the greek myth renaissance effected by Mr. Riordan? I don't know. Maybe it's the appeal of the underworld? I just hope it's not some nasty subconscious preference for kidnapping/rape stories. Whatever it is, between the undead, the walking dead, and the actually dead, there's a hell of a lot of dead going around. Makes me a little wistful for the wizards and pirates.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

How to Respond to Copyeditors' Marks

What prissy, manual-of-style-snorting psycho with an OED up her butt made all these marks on my manuscript? With the exception of a few typos, those quote-unquote errors are in fact my quote-unquote writing style, dammit. Has the copyeditor ever heard of colloquial speech? If not, I'd be happy to introduce her to some choice examples. Just give me her phone number.
Your author

This is a common and understandable reaction to copyediting. It is not the correct reaction. But perhaps your editor, overburdened as she is with titles and bureaucratic hoo-ha, has forgotten to let you know what your response to the copyediting process is supposed to be.

When the copyeditor marks everything that could conceivably be called an error and questions the niggliest little things, she is doing her job.

She does this so that author and editor can be sure that any non-standard choices that were made in the writing of the manuscript were made deliberately, for the right reasons. Your role is to stet every instance in which the copyeditor thought maybe this might have been a mistake... but in fact you know it wasn't. Of course your role is also to ask yourself if occasionally your non-standard choices are getting in the way of your writing's clarity, and to agree to the changes to the actual mistakes that are inevitably in your manuscript somewhere.

In this way, you and your editor can go forward with publication in the sure and certain knowledge that when readers gripe about your bad grammar on page 57, or the egregious typo on page 104 (as they will, regardless of the perfection of your manuscript, trust me), it will be the complaining reader who has screwed up, not you. Isn't that reassuring knowledge? And it's because the copyeditor is such an obsessive-compulsive pain in the ass.

So when you get a manuscript back full of little red or blue marks and comments that you find persnickety and annoying, remember the peace of mind the copyeditor is offering you. You don't have to agree with everything she marks (even she may not). You just have to take a little time and check.



In other words, I'm still here.
But I don't have the plentiful half-seconds of free time I used to have. Once upon a time I did things other than work and thought of my publishing house as the place I visited, and my apartment as the place I lived. But that was back in Episode IV.

The rebellion, however, is not dead.