Wednesday

Wading Through

Well, I didn't get questions, so I didn't post any answers.

My slush this week has all been very professional and normal. There haven't been any photographs of grandchildren or novels on gray paper. No one has singlespaced their entries or sent only a page of text. Bravo authors! Of course, I didn't have anything that I accepted, but at least it wasn't because the submission was strange. Most of the submissions just weren't appropriate for the presses. My favorites are the works written for adults but sent to us anyway. Clearly we're a children's press.

Thursday

I need questions. Now.

Tomorrow I post the question of the week, and I thought it would be fun if in the future I had actual questions. As much as I enjoy making up my own, I feel it would be more effective and useful for everyone else if you asked me questions.

Tip of the Week May 25

Tip of the Week: Do not send queries or manuscripts through email to editors.

The only exception would be if you know the editor and have a personal relationship with them. They probably would not mind queries that way. I am happy to get email from authors I am working with or have worked with in the past. I also belong to a critique group and get emails from those authors all the time – often about gossip unrelated to writing. But again, I have relationships with these people. They are not strangers. And we’ve all been taught not to talk to strangers.

Monday

Escape!!

I have officially escaped from my slush. I ran away to Dallas for my little sister's birthday, and I left all of those manuscripts to ferment on my desk. I'm hoping that like fine wine the words on the pages will only improve with age. But, alas I have limited internet access. Most likely, I won't be able to update this again until I get back Thursday. Of course, I also can't get work email -- no author questions like what is the meaning of the squiggle on page 6 of their revision . . .

Friday

Question of the Week May 19

Question of the Week: How do I get an agent?

Getting an agent works the same way as finding an editor. You have to do tons of research to try to find the agent best suited for your work. Now you could go straight to Literary Marketplace or any of the other indexes and just start writing down lists of children’s agents. However, these listings can be vague. Just because an agency says they do children doesn’t mean they do children’s historical fiction. Writer’s Digest’s Children's Writers & Illustrator's Market does have more detail, but it is only put out once a year. You have to be careful to double check that nothing has gone out of date.

So, before you even touch these guides, you want to narrow down your search in advance. How? Well, the absolute best thing to do is to find authors in your genre that you admire and respect. It also helps if they are in the same country. Then, look in the acknowledgement section of their book to see if they mention their agent. You’d be surprised the number that do. This is also an excellent way to discover editor names. This method isn’t perfect, though. Some authors don’t do acknowledgements, and picture books rarely have them. Then I recommend looking at the authors’ websites. Again this is not fool-proof. Some authors just don’t mention it. Then you have two choices, you can give up and query the agents you have been able to uncover, or you can ask the author. Personally, I’m chicken and would never have the guts to email an author through their site. But I encourage braver souls to try. The worst that can happen is that they don’t respond or tell you to mind your own business. In the best scenario you start a fascinating correspondence with a person you admire.

Now, that you have agent and agency names, go to the various indexes to get those agents’ addresses and submission guidelines. Be sure to doublecheck everything on their websites. Every agent has different submission guidelines, so be sure to follow them. You don’t want to be rejected because you didn’t follow directions.

Thursday

Tip of the Week May 18

Tip of the Week: Do not try to get an agent for a book after you’ve been offered a contract.

It’s rude. It’s in bad taste. And it’s stupid. One of the main reasons you want an agent is to get your manuscript in the hands of editors. However, this time you’ve done it yourself. Why would you then want to hire someone for a job you’ve already done? If you’re concerned that you’re being taken advantage of, have a lawyer review the contract before you sign it. Keep in mind that you get one negotiation before the publisher loses patience and yanks the offer. If you have to choose between a slightly higher royalty/advance, and your subrights, go for a higher percentage of subrights with the right to negotiate for them immediately. They can be worth a lot of money. Then go get an agent to handle your subrights. Get an agent for your next book. But don’t get one for this contract with this publisher.

Let every eye negotiate for itself
And trust no agent.
- William Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing

Actually, Shakespeare is wrong. There are lots of trustworthy agents, and you don't always want to negotiate for yourself. Shakespeare was referring to the heart. I doubt he would have said the same when it came to book deals.

I’m not sure why, but recently agents have been popping up in conversations. People have been asking me what I think about agents. Do I like them? Do I work with them? If I was an author, would I want one? The answers are yes, yes, maybe. Agents can be great. I have worked with them, and sometimes they can be frustrating since they can prolong the contract phase, but I would never not work with an author because they were agented. I have known publishers like that. Around 11% of the authors whose novels I’ve edited were agented. The number is so low because, as a small press, we do not receive many submissions from agents. I’m working on changing that. I like agented works. They tend to be farther along in the writing process, requiring less rewrites. However, having an agent does not guarantee we’ll publish it. I’ve rejected agented works in the past and will certainly do it again.

But what you really want to know is whether or not you should get an agent. And that depends on your goals. If you wish to be published by the large houses, you will need an agent. Period. The only exception is if you win one of their contests. It is almost the only way you will be able to have an editor at one of those houses look at your work. For the midsize presses, they occasionally acquire unagented work. I’ve heard stories of both Bloomsbury America and Charlesbridge acquiring work they found in the slush pile. And of course, small presses regularly work with unagented authors. And you do not have to have an agent to be successful. Lila Guzman has 10 books out and an additional 4 under consideration without an agent.

Now, would I personally want an agent? If I ever finish my thesis, (after it’s been filed, etc. and I graduate) I would like to try to get that thing an agent. I do not want to go to the effort of trying to match the book to a particular editor. It will be hard enough finding the appropriate agent.

Current thesis word count: 27,000 words
Goal: 40,000

Wednesday

The Other Slush Pile

One of the bonuses of having a slow Blooming Tree Press week is that I get to catch up on my CBAY Books slush. Yes, I have not one but two slush piles. Blessedly, the CBAY pile is nowhere near as large as BTP’s, but it can stack up. Of course one of the benefits of submitting to either press is that you are in effect submitting to both. Actually, the first book I acquired was initially submitted to Blooming Tree. We had to reject the series because it proved to be too controversial for Blooming Tree, but it was perfect fit for CBAY. That book Book of Nonsense: The Words of Power Trilogy Volume I is now tentatively scheduled for 2008.

Of course, I don’t get to pull all the great manuscripts. Blooming Tree sometimes acquires them first. And stuff that’s submitted for CBAY is considered for CBAY first. It’s only after they’ve been rejected for conflict reasons that they are passed on. If they are poorly written or don’t appeal or fit for either list, they’re just rejected outright.

Current thesis word count: 27,000 words
Goal: 40,000

Tuesday

Light from Above the Slush

We had our weekly staff meeting early this week because my publisher’s daughter is getting married on Saturday. Since we’re between editorial interns, our slush sorting has gotten behind. We use our editorial interns for many tasks, but the most important for me, is the sorting of slush. He/she goes through every submission we receive and logs it. Then after a quick scan, the intern decides whether or not to reject or to pass on to an editor. The intern rejects for various reasons: the submission is inappropriate for our press, it’s not a genre we accept, or it’s flawed in some way – no plot, no character development, etc. Then, if it passes the intern, she/he passes it on to the appropriate editor. I get the true easy readers, some of the mid-grades and YAs. I then read. If I see potential for our press, I ask for the rest of the manuscript. If not, I send the MS back to the intern to reject for the various reasons listed on the form we attach to our submissions. Once I have the full manuscript, and I’ve decided whether to reject or continue, I pass it on to the other editor and the publisher. I do a P&L. When everyone’s read it, we meet to decide if we have a place on one of our lists. If we do, we acquire. If we don’t, I send a personal rejection. I sometimes send personal rejections at other points, too. However, I’m a big baby and hate rejecting manuscripts. I make the intern do most of them.

But, I’ve gotten off track. My point was that since slush hasn’t been sorted, I didn’t receive my weekly dose of queries. I have the week free of slush! Yeah! I can work on requested manuscripts. I can go to dinner with the other editor. I can start to claw my way out of all my slush. I think there might be light finally filtering through the paper. Of course the slush is piling up back at the office. When we do get another intern, I’ll get a deluge of sorted slush. And if the unthinkable happens and we don’t fine one soon, I might have to sort the slush myself. Insert mock shocked gasp here. Maybe I’ll see if the other editor will do it . . .

Monday

Picking Illustrators

There's a bizarre misconception among authors that the editor picks the illustrator for things like picture books or covers. This is not true. An editor may suggest a specific style. They might even suggest a specific illustrator if they've worked with them before. But ultimately, it is the art director that makes decisions on who illustrates. And the illustrator might change. If the publisher, editor and art director don't like the aesthetic vision being created, they may decide to go in a different direction -- like switch from a photgrapic cover to a drawn, etc.

So, don't send me illustration samples. That needs to go to the art director. Don't suggest illustrators for me. That's what the art director does. And feel free to send me an illustrated dummy if you're sending me a picture book -- but only if you are a professional illustrator. In general, it doesn't matter what type of book you're submitting from picture book on up, I only want the text.

Current thesis word count: 26,000 words
Goal: 40,000

Friday

Question of the Week May 12

Question of the week: What is a query letter vs. an unsolicited manuscript?

So, you’ve read our guidelines and know you have to send a query letter. What kind should you send? There are two types of queries: ones that have the first three chapters of the manuscript attached and ones that just have a letter summarizing the project. Personally, I find the last kind of query completely useless. You might be able to write a brilliant summary of your novel, but the novel itself is so bogged down in hyper-realistic detail (you show every moment of every day in the character’s life) that the thing is unreadable. However, that is a personal preference. Some editors don’t want to see manuscript pages unless they are interested in the actual project. Since we’ve got both kinds of editors at Blooming Tree, we accept both kinds of query letters. Just remember, if you’re writing a mid-grade/YA science fiction, fantasy, mystery, or general novel, there’s an above average chance your query is coming to me. I highly recommend you send the first 3 chapters (or 15 pages – whatever is longer) with your query.

An unsolicited manuscript is where you send the complete manuscript without being asked for it. Some houses allow this, CBAY for example. Most houses do not. Even with a complete manuscript you will need some form of cover letter. Every editor differs on what they want in the letter. I personally don’t read them unless I can’t figure out what’s going on in the story. That’s a very bad sign. However, lots of editors read them first. It just depends on personal preference.

Note: All picture books and easy reader books under 1500 words should always be sent as a complete manuscript. Do not send the beginning of picture book like you would send the beginning of a novel.

Crazy Queries

I like editing children’s books; I truly do. But some days I look at the weird stuff in my slush pile and I want to scream. Take all the bizarre examples that turned up this week. I’m not talking about queries with strange subject matter or material inappropriate for Blooming Tree. The queries themselves are just strange. At Blooming Tree, we take only unsolicited queries. You can submit an unsolicited manuscript to a specific editor if you know his/her personal policy, but generally you should send a query. This doesn’t stop people who don’t read our submission guidelines from sending them anyway, but they are the absolute last things read. We are not fond of people who can’t follow the submission guidelines. It does not bode well for a future relationship.

Which leads me to the bizarre queries in my slush pile. This week I got a query with the first 5 pages of the novel. I couldn’t tell anything from it. It wasn’t even the first full chapter. The pages were just enough to show me the person could build suspense, but not enough to show me if they could do dialogue, character differentiation, etc. I found that submission frustrating.

– But not as frustrating as the one that enclosed three chapters from the middle of the book. Initially, it appeared to be a standard query with three chapters attached. Of course, that was until I discovered they were chapters 14, 15, and 16. This led me to many unpleasant thoughts like: What’s wrong with chapters 1-13? What is going on? Why doesn’t this book make sense? What important details am I missing because I haven’t seen previous chapters? This query wins the Strangest Query Ever Received award.

Current thesis word count: 25,000 words
Goal: 40,000

Thursday

Tip of the Week May 11

Tip of the Week: Have email.

Yes, this sounds simple and obvious, but there are people out there who don't have email. Of course, they are probably not reading this. So, go tell them to get email. Then, make sure your email is on everything: cover letter, query, first page of the manuscript, etc. Email is the major form of communication these days. Although my boss at BTP will still phone people to tell them of our interest, I do not. I email. And I only email.

Hello

I've decided to share with everyone the secret hidden world behind books - specifically children's books. I have not, will not, should not ever work in adult titles. All my knowledge comes from the kids' side of things. Still much is the same. Good writing is good writing regardless of the target age range. And contrary to popular belief, writing for kids is not easier. The next time you think so, try to write a Step One Easy Reader. These books need to be under 1000 words, have a plot, show character development, not have a single word over 2 syllables, and have most the words be a three letter constanant-vowel-constanant (like cat) word.

Still, even after that brilliant book has been written, you still need an editor to look at it. And here's where I'll provide tips: the things you've always wanted to know but could only ask when you'd cornered some poor editor in the bathroom at a writing conference. I will post helpful hints for submitting to publishers. I will share (vague and substantially altered to protect the inept) examples of the good, the bad, and the downright strange types of things that turn up in the slush pile. I will astound you with the number of manuscripts even a small house recieves.

And along the way, I will bore you with updates on my creative thesis (a YA novel) for my MA in Children's Lit from Hollins University. I am assuming this will motivate me, not interest anyone else.
Current thesis word count: 24,000 words
Goal: 40,000