My Not-So-Conventional Review of Eoin Colfer’s Half-Moon Investigations

Half Moon Cover I don’t normally do book reviews, but I mentioned school visits this weekend and that made me think of Eoin Colfer. Now I didn’t see him in a school visits per se. Our local large independent, Bookpeople, brings children’s authors in for signings during the week, and local schools use it as a field trip to see authors for free. Colfer was supposed to be pushing his new book, Half-Moon, but mostly he talked about growing up. He didn’t discuss any of his books or writing or being an author. It was actually kind of stand-up for a midgrade audience. It was really strange yet funny and good, just like his new book.

I’m going to say now that this isn’t going to be a traditional review. I don’t plan on having any summaries or spoilers. Well, that’s not true. I do have one spoiler -- Half-Moon Investigations, as you might guess, is a mystery. And this may surprise you, but Half-Moon does end up solving his mystery in the end. I apologize if this ruins the book for you, but it had to be said. Of course, I have never read a mystery book where the mystery wasn’t solved in the end. Although I would be curious to see one, I doubt I would find it satisfying. Unsolved mysteries are somehow anti-climactic to me. It’s why I’ve never liked the TV show by that name.

But I digress. I really liked Half-Moon. This and Shakespeare’s Secret are the two best non-series kid mysteries I’ve read in quite a while. Both are true mysteries with clues and red herrings and everything. Their authors do not cheat to get their protagonists to solve the mystery. Unlike some other children’s supposed mysteries, the kids in Half-Moon actually solve their mystery themselves with only minimal adult intervention. They’re traditional, well-done mysteries. And that’s what I like about them. Really good children’s mysteries are hard to find. I’ve been dying to find a good children’s mystery to publish. Most children’s mysteries are sloppy with the characters relying more on chance than actual reasoning to solve the mystery. I appreciated how Colfer did not take the easy way out for his characters. He makes them work for every clue and every conclusion. When Half Moon solves his case, it’s all the more satisfying knowing he had to do it all himself.

And that concludes my not particularly detailed review. Read the book.


Summer may be over, but Summer Shorts are here to stay.

Summer Shorts CoverIt's official. A release date has been set. Summer Shorts will finally be releasing on August 22. From that day on, booksellers will be able to order and sell the book. The authors will be able to have the book for school visits. As for summer reading, the book ended up missing it's peak selling time. Stupid printers and slow graphic designers. Oh well. There's always next summer. This will give us time to get people to put us on their 2007 Summer Reading Lists.

If you are in the Austin area (or are willing to come here) and would like to participate in our release party, let me know. Email me here or (if you're an SS author/illustrator) use my Blooming Tree email.

On a related note, I will now be able to do the often talked about but rarely seen editor visits. Similiar to an author visit, an editor visit encompasses visiting schools and explaining the book publishing process. I've never quite done one before. All the visits I've done in the past were small writing workshops. Also, now I have a book I can hawk, too. For some reason, kids have more interest in you if you have a book with your name on it. Weird. So different from adults. (That last sentence should have been read just dripping with sarcasm. If you didn't read it that way, try again.)


Weekend Dialogue: Who are the great children's playwrights?

I am in a play for children. It's done by a non-profit, Austin Summer Musical for Children. The group puts on a play geared for children under the age of 8. All performances except one are free, and we do ten of them (plus that one fundraiser night for a total of eleven) over 2 weekends. If you are in the Austin area and have kids about the right age, come out and see us. We've seen only smiling faces, so apparently the kids are having fun.

Since this non-profit works solely off donations and grants, it does not have the budget to license children's musicals like School House Rock. Instead, they have a script committee that writes the show each year. Despite never having written or edited a children's play before, I'll be joining this committee for next year. And that got me thinking. Plays are one of the forgotten branches of children's literature. Very little scholarship is done on it, and people almost never think of it when they are considering creative projects. My school where I'm getting my MA (or at least will get if my thesis meter ever moves again) has never offered any kind of class dealing with plays for children. They've offered several on children's films, but these aren't quite the same.

So, my questions is: Who are the great children's playwrights? Who are those people creating great shows for children's audiences? What kinds of plays are they writing? What age do they target? Sadly, I know so little on the subject, I can't name a single one. I look forward to being enlightened by you all. Use the comments link below to express your opinion.


Questions of the Week July 28

Question #1:
What is the market standard for signing a contract once an editor has given a verbal acceptance of a manuscript? Does it take months after the acceptance or should it occur immediately?

It varies. If you have an agent and the publisher and agent haggle, then it can take months. Unless I have a personal relationship with an author, I will not work on a manuscript while it’s in the process of being acquired. Once I’ve offered for it, I don’t look at the work again until I have a signed contract. Now, how long should it take for the author to receive the contract? It should occur quickly, especially if you do not have an existing relationship with the publishing house. You are doing to much work revising to hope the contract will be something you can live with.

Question #2:
In lots of the reading I've done on writing, the author says to avoid adjectives and adverbs like the plague. I understand much of this is from a show don't tell perspective. Yet in much of the reading I do, I still see plenty of adjectives and adverbs. What are your thoughts on this and when is it OK for the author to use these? I guess what I'd like to see from you if possible are some examples when you feel it is OK to use adverbs.

It is completely impossible to write without using an adverb every now and then. (See? I did it right now.) On the whole though, I try to avoid adverbs (not so much adjectives) as much as possible. Adverbs are vague and most of the time are either unnecessary or a more specific description can be used. The exception to this would be dialogue. We use adverbs all the time when we speak, and to not use them in your dialogue could be awkward. I can’t give any specific examples because every adverb has to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

My advice is to not worry about adverbs while writing your first draft. Fill that thing full of them if they come naturally to you. Then, when you go back to edit, look at all your adverbs carefully. Are they necessary? Is there another more specific way to say the same thing? If so, cut the adverbs. If not, leave them in. Adverbs alone will not sink a good story.


A Comic About Editing?

Publisher's Weekly has a comic about being a children's picture book writer. I like this week's because the character has to edit. See today's Tales from the Slush Pile for a little laugh.

Do Teens Read Online Fiction?

One of our fellow bloggers, L. Lee Lowe, has decided to perform a little experiment to see if in fact they do. He's written a novel that he will be publishing online. According to him:

The novel will be serialized in weekly instalments for the next 38-40 weeks. Thereafter the entire novel will be available as a free PDF download.

I'm assuming he's got some kind of tracking or something to know if it's being read. In the spirit of word-of-mouth publicity, I'm letting all of you know about the little experiment. I'm curious to know about his results and what he learns. If you would like to see the experiment, click here. The next chapter should be debuting tomorrow.

I hope Lee will let us know how his experiment goes.

Tip of the Week July 27

Tip of the Week: Do not overextend yourself.

This advice is just as true for writers as it is to marathon runners and stockbrokers. You do not want to write yourself to exhaustion. And I don't mean just physical exhaustion. I mean to the point that you hate your characters so much that you want to kill them all off in book 4, not because it's germane to the story, but because it would just be so gosh-darn fun. It's when you've promised to write 7 reviews, 2 magazine short stories, and to get that novel rewrite to your editor all in the same week. It's when you sign a book deal for a 8 book series when you've only planned out the first 2 books. Overextending yourself can drive you insane and push your stress level to new, unfathomed heights. You know your limit. Listen to it. When you find yourself reaching it, pull back. If you find you're going to miss a deadline, give your editor or publisher lots of advance notice, and then just deal with it. Trust me. Your characters (and editor) will thank you later.


The Vacation is Over

My sister has gone, and my pseudo-vacation is over. It is back to the grind, or rather the slush pile in this case. I've been perusing my potential fare, and so far I have nothing bad to report. Oh, there's a ton, and I think it might bury me alive, but none of it is improperly formatted or submitted in a bizarre way. Bravo! I think I may be getting through. At least, that's what I like to think. I'm sure it's just coincidence.


And now a quick note from your friendly publishing liason . . .

There’s a reason the cliche is “don’t shoot the messenger.” Historically, whenever they brought unwanted news, they tended to wind up dead.

Well, I’ve never been shot at, but I have gotten flamed and yelled at in my career. As an editor, I often have the unpleasant task of delivering bad news. I’m the one that sends rejections. I’m the one that gets to tell an author all the things wrong with a manuscript. I’m the one that gets to tell authors when their books are delayed. It’s not fun. I don’t like doing it, and I don’t enjoy bearing the brunt of authors’ justified or unjustified ire. Most of the time I can’t personally control whatever has happened. I can’t even always control what we accept or reject at Blooming Tree. There are some books that we can’t take for various reasons, and other books that we have taken that I don’t personally have any real interest in. The only bad news I can control are the critiques I give manuscripts. And ironically, I don’t tend to get many complaints about those.

So, all that about messengers having been said, I have a message. I do not know when Summer Shorts will be released. As you all know, at this point it has missed it’s original release date by a few (massive understatement) days. Trust me. I’m as eager to learn as the rest of you. As soon as I have a date, I will let the whole world know, both here on the blog and by email.

Thank you for your time. I’ll now duck the flaming arrows I can feel aimed at my head.

Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature

Big A little a has posted the Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature. It's a neat collection of articles and reviews that have been posted on people's blogs. If you want to see a wide range of children's literature postings, that's the place to be.


Weekend Dialogue: What was your worst school visit experience?

Yesterday I attended our local SCBWI monthly meeting. We had a lovely speaker, Liz Scanlon, who discussed school visits -- how to plan them, how to present them, how to make some money on them. It was interesting and fun, and it got me wondering. What are people's worst school visit stories? My first book doesn't come out until 2007, so I've only done a marginal number of school visits. So, far my worst story is when the embarrassed middle schoolers wouldn't share the parodies of fairy tales that they had written.

But, I'm sure there are people out there that have had nightmare visits. Ever had a child come up to tell you that they love you but been so excited that instead of a hug they threw up on your shoes? That kind of thing. Share your inspiring stories so that all the future school visitors will be properly terrified. Use the comments link below.


Celebrate Good Times!

Ah, the festival season is upon us. The time when all those cute litte authors and publishers bombard the common folk with their books and witty repartee. Publisher's Weekly notified all of us about all of them yesterday, and Miss Snark has kindly republished it in it's entirety here.

On a more serious note, book festivals are an excellent time to network. Published authors need to be trying to get themselves affiliated as actaul speakers. These are great places to sell books. Unpublished authors need to be going to meet the published authors and to pick up publishers' catalogs. These can really help you see the types of books each publisher puts out. And finally, you never know what agent or editor you might happen to meet at one of these things. I got my first editing job through a person I met at the Texas Book Festival (held last weekend in October).

Question of the Week July 21 (#2)

If a character has an accent, should his or her dialogue be written with an accent? Or should it just be stated that he or she has the accent and then have the dialogue look normal?

There are lots of thoughts on this question. It’s tricky, and people tend to be passionate about their opinion. On the one side, you have the camp that would like the authentic accent spelled phonetically every time the character speaks. An example would be the character Jim in Huck Finn. There is a fairly small group advocating this type because this it’s very hard to read. Some dyslexics find it almost impossible, and those of us (like me) who didn’t learn (although were taught) phonetics can’t read it at all.

The next group advocates not using the accent at all. This would be like in the question, where the author mentions the person has an accent, but then never really refers to it again. This method isn’t perfect either since you can lose some of your character’s flavor.

What I personally recommend is the middle ground. This is where you choose some words that are distinctive of your character’s culture, and these are the words you use to highlight your character’s accent. For example, a Spanish child might call her aunt “Tia.” The child might be American in all ways except that she was born in Madrid and moved here in ninth-grade, so she speaks Spanish at home and English with a mild Spanish accent. These little bits of Spanish might drop themselves into her everyday conversation. And this works even if your character’s accent is not derived from a foreign language. Say you wanted to have an older Southern woman. She could call everyone “Dahlin’” while the rest of her dialogue is still spelled correctly.

And finally, there is a lot you can do with word order and word choice. The British speak a comparatively more formal English when speaking Oxbridge style. You can convey a British accent without spelling color “colour.” And people who find English to be a second language often do not have their word order quite right. “I speak the English good, yes?” is a stereotypical sentence, but it illustrates my point.

To see a good example of how to handle an accent in this style, I would recommend looking at any of the Agatha Christie books that feature Hercule Poirot. His English is always spelled perfectly, but there is a distinct French accent to all his dialogue. He occasionally uses French, and at his “most foreign” as she puts it, he chooses to mis-word his sentences. I know this is not a children’s example, but since the character deliberately manipulates his accent in various novels – all without resulting in bizarre spellings, I felt this was the most instructive example.

To see the varying ways other authors have dealt with character accents in children’s literature, look at some of the following:
  • Fleur and Viktor in Harry Potter 4
  • The various faerie factions in Artemis Fowl all have their own ways of speaking.
  • They have southern accents in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
And I’m sure there are many more. These are just the only ones off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest some great characters with readable accents. Use the comments link below.

Question of the Week July 21 (#1)

As an editor, where do you feel the right home for memoirs of childhood is? Are these usually destined for self publishing or possibly university presses in the area surrounding the events? Specifically, the memoirs would be surrounding a boy growing up between the 1930 to 1950 timeframe. Also, can you suggest any remarkable memoirs worth reading?

First off, the right home is at an adult press. Memoirs, even ones concerning childhood, are inherently written in a tone and style appropriate for the adult market. Children’s book, even non-fiction tend to be more immediate and less reflective than the average memoir. And there are presses out there other than UPs and self-publishers that do memoirs. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with the adult market to know which they are. However, any of the various Literary Marketplaces type publications should be able to point you in the right direction. Finally, I don’t read much memoir so I can’t suggest any complete novel length work, but for a good smattering of memoir styles I recommend Modern American Memoirs by Cort Conley and Annie Dillard as a good anthology of memoir excerpts. Perhaps someone else could suggest some good memoirs. Use the comment link below.


Tip of the Week July 20

Get thee to a good critique group.

Critique groups can be wonderful, informative gatherings, or they can be the spawns of the devil. What they are suppossed to be is a group of like-minded writers helping one another bring their manuscripts to fruition. They are really the first thing that should see a manuscript. It shouldn't be an editor or agent. It needs to be your writing buddies.

The problem, though, is finding a good critique group. It almost always takes a few tries before a good group -- where everyone feels comfortable -- emerges. And then you have to keep that group going. But when successful, critique groups are the greatest writing tools you can find.

Where can you find people to start a critique group? Well, I recommend the SCBWI as a good starting place. There are also some online groups and communities. You could always try there. Feel free to add suggestions of other good ways to find people for a critique group.



I have been informed that I have been remiss in forgetting to include booksellers and librarians in list of people that can request review copies. I'm remedying that now. Librarians, you can go here to requests books. Booksellers, your form is here.



I have discovered I am being syndicated. It was a little bit of a shock. I use StatCounter to track my visitors. It’s how I discovered that other people had posted about me on their sites. Yesterday, I clicked on a link expecting just to see another mention. Imagine my surprise when I got to Jacket Flap here and discovered my entire blog had been reproduced. I was flabbergasted. I was floored. I was flattered.

Now most of you whose blogs I follow closely – look at every day or so – are already syndicated on this site, so it’s no big deal to you. But, I’m new to blogging and hadn’t realized people did that. I mean bloglines are one thing, but this was something new and foreign to me. I think it’s cool. The site’s a huge aggregate of children’s literature related blogs. It’s neat to find all of them in one place.

That being said, nobody is allowed to start reading my blog over there instead of my actual page. I can’t track people reading my blog there, so I won’t know if anyone is actually looking. I would be very sad if loyal readership appeared to drop back into the single digits. I really like knowing there are at least 10 of you out there seeing my blog. It gives me hope for my slush pile. I have decided that I shall allow my readers to use the links on this site, but that is the extent of my generosity. Unless of course, you want to read all of my postings twice. Then, you may peruse my musings on that site at your leisure. They keep more posts up at time than blogger does.

Review Requests Update:
For those of you a bit floored by all the stuff you have to email me to get a free review copy of Blooming Tree Press’s books, I have finally got the form to work. You can now look at the catalog here and then fill out a form complete with blanks and radial buttons. It’s much easier.


Review Requests

It has recently come to my attention, that many of you out there like to review books on your blogs. Being the enterprising editor that I am, I thought perhaps, just maybe, some of you out there might like to review some of our books here at Blooming Tree Press. So, I have formed a handy, dandy way for you to request books to review. Click here and you will now be able to peruse our most recent books. Then there are instructions on how to email me to get the books. I'm trying to build a form, but I have yet to successfully recieve the information in my email. Until I do, we'll have to stick with this.

There's just one little condition. If you request a book, you really do have to review it. You can give an honest review -- we're not asking for fluff. We just want to see you publicize the book in some way. We're not just giving free books out for fun, you know. Also, books will be shipping media mail. It saves us money, and hey! the books are free. Happy reading (and reviewing!)

Thaaaank You! (Kiss, kiss)

I want to thank all of you for the most successful Weekend Dialogue ever! We've never had so much discussion and commentary on this site! Yee-haw.

Administratively, we're going to make a small change to the way the blog runs. As you may have noticed, there is a new link to the right. It is the new Questions Link! Yeah! If you have a question that is unrelated to any of the current posts, email it to me there. I'll then add it to the Questions of the Week (yes, questions, I'll probably never have just one again) list.

On a different note, I am working on today's post. But, it's requiring me to build a whole web-page from scratch, so I might not get it up until tomorrow. I also have to get permission to put it up. I might get denied. I'm betting that I won't. And for some of you, hopefully, it will be worth the wait. And if that isn't the worst kind of tease . . .


Weekend Dialogue: What are the best books to read aloud?

This is more for the picture book folk out there although it's germane to novelists as well. After all, you often read excerpts of your work at school visits and booksignings. And before you submit anything, you should always read it out loud to either yourself or someone else. You'd be amazed at the number of missing words you find. Reading aloud also finds and fixes stylistic errors. So, reading your own work is always very important.

But what is the best book in general for reading aloud? I ask because I read to a group of 30 toddlers this morning. I'm in a small children's play, and we had gone to a local bookstore (in costume) to sing and interact and read to the children. I read some variation of The Little Engine that Could, and my partner read the Ferdinand bull story. I can't think of its actual title. The books were both poor choices. The kids got squirmy, even with interactive questions. My book was long and repetitive, and the kids did not enjoy the repetition. They flat out found the Ferdinand story boring. I was surprised because they are both classic picture books. I didn't select our books, but I wouldn't have thought we would have any difficulty reading them. And no, it was not our abilities. I have been onstage since the age of 3. I've done successful school visits. The books just weren't fun.

So what do you think the best read aloud books are? Use the comments link below to respond. Oh, and be sure to say what age the book should be read to. After all, a good read aloud to a 3 year old is not the same as one for a 13 year old.


Question of the Week July 14 (#2)

What do you think about first person thoughts in a third person book? For example: I need to go to the bathroom, Joe thought. Let's say Joe is a main character and we have insight into his thoughts. Is this a style to avoid?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Of course, this is a subjective thing and a personal preference on my part, but I cannot stand it when characters think. Now, that just sounds wrong, but you know what I mean. I am not knocking introspection, only the kind of character thinking as shown in the example above.

There are lots of reasons for avoiding this, but here’s the major one: Most third person stories are written from a very close point of view. They are almost first person stories of the main character. When this happens, you don’t ever need to say, “he thought,” because everything that isn’t another character’s dialogue is a direct observation or thought of the main character.

The other reason is that writing, I need to go to the bathroom, Joe thought., has the author telling not showing, using summary instead of scene. Both are no-nos.

Here is the exact same information (Joe has to pee) conveyed without Joe consciously thinking:
    The rest of the class raced ahead to the mummies, but Joe stayed behind, peering at the museum map. Where was the bathroom? The toes on his right foot began to twitch. He started having trouble standing still. He needed to find a bathroom, any bathroom, even a girl’s bathroom. Now.
There’s a much greater sense of urgency in this example, but more importantly we are with Joe in the moment. It’s not the more clinical abstract “thought.”

Question of the Week July 14 (#1)

Can I ask what "accepting queries" means in the book publishing word? I mean, I understand that query is a question, but there seems to be more involved here.

In the book publishing world, a publishing house wants a query when they don’t want a full on manuscript. Queries take up less space, thus making the slush pile look less intimidating. Queries also allow editors to weed out topics that they are not interested in. Nearly every non-fiction book that has ever hit the market place, originated as a query. The author simply writes a letter to the house discussing the topic and the focus of the topic he/she plans to pursue. The author includes credentials so the editor will know this PhD in Biochemistry will probably get his/her book on DNA right. Then, with little fuss, the editors pick which non-fiction topics they are willing to pursue. They contact the authors for outlines. They offer contracts. The book gets written. It works the same for most non-fiction magazine articles.

Fiction queries are a bit different. Here the author is selling not just a topic, but a story idea, characters, and their own writing ability. All fiction queries begin with an enticing summary of the book similar to the jacket copy you find on published books. They then mention the author’s publishing credits, if any, and a polite request to send the rest of the book. And this is where all fiction queries cease to be similar. There are other optional things that you can add to a fiction query. Some people include a page long book summary, a chapter by chapter book summary, and/or the first 3 chapters of the novel. Most publishers in their guidelines will tell you how much of a query they want. If the guidelines just say to “query,” then I recommend sending the query letter, a one page book summary and the first 3 chapters (or 15 pages whatever is shorter.) Just be sure your sample pages are logical and don’t end in the middle of a sentence. These first fifteen pages are the most important part of the query. You may be able to write a brilliant letter, but if the first three chapters are boring or have stylistic problems, the editor will not ask to see more.

One small note: Never, ever query a picture book or an easy reader or any manuscript under 2000 words. There is no point. Just go ahead and send the whole thing in.


Blurbs about others.

I like to see it when other people make the news, so when my friend got another mention in Publisher's Weekly's e-newsletter thing I just had to share. The article is about the Association of Bookseller's for Children (or the ABC). And I quote:

And some news from the ABC board. The departure of Nicole White from Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., meant an opening on the board of directors. Topher Bradfield from BookPeople in Austin, Tex., who recently spearheaded the Camp Half-Blood event for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians books, has been appointed to fill that slot. (bold is mine)

So, yeah Topher! Congratulations on your like third mention in a month.

On a related note, all of you with even the least bit of interest in getting your kid's book published should have a subscription to Publisher's Weekly. It has all sorts of info with interesting book reviews, gossip of who is now working where, and the like. Of course, I am too cheap to actually pay for the magazine, but they have lots of free e-newsletters that you can subscibe to, including one devoted to the children's market. To get a free e-subscription, click here.

On a completely unrelated note, I have three, yes three questions that have been asked for Question of the Week. I have decided to answer 2 of them and leave one back in reserve just in case I don't get any next week. So, tomorrow will be double your pleasure, double your fun-filled factoids.

Tip of the Week July 13

Tip of the Week: Future father-in-laws do not make good party planners.

Now at first glance this does not appear to be a writing tip. I appear to be about to ruminate on the difficulties of letting my future father-in-law plan the rehearsal dinner phase of my wedding. But first glances are decieving.

Just as my future father-in-law does not know enough about my wedding party to make all the ultimate decisions about my rehearsal dinner, your agent or editor or critique buddy ultimately does not know enough about your manuscript to make the final decisions concerning its form. Agents, editors, and critique buddies are there to guide you and to make suggestions. They are there to make your manuscript better than you dreamed possible. But in the end, the manuscript is yours. You are the one who has to decide whether or not to make the changes. I'm not saying to lightly disregard your critiquer's input, especially if it's an editor or agent. We are paid professionals, who contrary to popular belief, know what we are doing. The suggestions made are not for our entertainment or to see how many hoops an author will jump. But if you just do not agree with the direction being offered, you don't have to take it. It's a closely guarded secret, but the truth is, you can say no. You had better follow that no with a nice long explanation of why you feel this way, but you can say no. Your work is yours, and you should never let anyone change that.


Happy Buried Editor's Birthday

Today is the National Holiday known as The Buried Editor's Birthday. It is a day of great rejoicing and general merriment. On this historic occassion, riots have been known to start when bookstores run out of the books she has edited. You should see the official BEB color (beige) prominently painted on buildings all over your town. You may have thought their color choice was based on a neutral, but no, they are actually honoring me. Since you have now been officially notified of its existence, you should immediately take the rest of the day off from work, find a good book (preferably one I edited -- I reccomend Lyranel's Song if you've got a while, Little Bunny Kung Fu if you don't) and read for the rest of the day. If your boss complains, simply inform him/her of The Buried Editor's Birthday National Holiday. He/she should understand.

I shall not be posting anymore today since I will be taking my own most excellent advice. And if you are wondering what to get that certain editor who has everything, I reccommend brilliant Newberry award quality manuscripts for her to acquire. But, if that isn't readily available, cheesy ecards work to. (Just don't give my computer a virus. My whole life would come crumbling to pieces and I would be standing there in the pouring rain howling up at the sky like in that movie I can't think of the name of and that would just be, well, sad.)

Oh, and if you are wondering, in Septina speak, I am now 3x7+7.

Have a Happy Buried Editor's Birthday!



Where the Real Books Are

Whenever I explain to people what I'm pursing a masters in or what genre I edit, I inevitably get the question, "Why? Why do you do kids' books when you could be working on real ones?" Well, since I know they don't think I'm producing imaginary books, I assume they want to know why I prefer children's books over adult.

I'd like to start by saying that I like adult literature. There are plenty of great adult authors like Jasper Fforde or Agatha Christie. I can appreciate classics like Jane Austen or Chaucer. I'll read Mallory's Morte d'Arthur in the original Middle English. For fun. But whenever I go into a bookstore it's not the adult section I head for. It's the kids.

So that leads us back to the original question: Why do I prefer kid's books? For me it's simple. Kids books move. They flow. They stay on track and don't lose focus. That doesn't mean they can't have subplots or consist of complex narratives. Diana Wynne Jones writes some of the most complicated books in any type of fiction -- adult or child. Archer's Goon is a structuralist's dream while Fire & Hemlock is thematically masterful. The difference though is that children's books have tight writing. The author does not deviate onto a barely relevant tangent. Despite the trend toward longer books, children's authors are still limited to shorter word counts than adult authors. There is a greater incentive in a children's book to make every word matter.

And children's books can be a huge challenge. It's hard to make a 2000 word picture book have the same emotional impact on its reader as a much longer work like War and Peace. But the best picture books do impact their readers and cause emotional reactions. No one can truly read all of Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day without feeling even the tiniest bit sorry for Alexander. Then there are Easy Readers, which are the hardest books for any age to write. If you ever feel the need to frustrate yourself beyond belief, take a first grade word list and try to write a compelling 800 word story with action and character growth. The people that can do this are true geniuses. And those of us editing them can be a bit of a miracle worker too, if I do say so myself.

Children's books are no longer the red-headed stepchildren of literature. Compelling academic research has been done on the genre bringing it into the mainstream tenure-tracked disciplines. And despite your personal views on Harry Potter, his books spent so much time at the top of the NYT Bestsellers list that the adult works couldn't even compete.

So, the next time an adult author or editor wants to know when I'm going to start working on "real" books, I won't feel slighted. I'll condescendingly ask, "When are you going to?"

As always, leave your thoughts and comments on kiddie lit in the comments section. Use the link below.


Oh Happy Day! (Again.)

I have just had the most marvelous, spectacular news courtesty of Mindy Hardwick. She has enticed and encouraged some of her fellow classmates (or maybe it was students) in the Vermont MFA to submit to my ghost anthology. (Girlish shriek of glee.) I was beginning to think I was going to have to close the coffin on that one, so to speak, due to the absolute lack of submissions. I've only gotten, like 6. But, this gives me hope. So, in the spirit of reviving this project, I am going to repost the guidelines and tell all of you to ingnore the submit by date. For right now, I'm going to leave it open. Don't worry, when I decide to stop accepting submissions for the project, I'll give a 6 weeks head up.

Write those ghost stories. Submit those ghost stories. I vant to see them all. Wa ha ha ha.


Weekend Dialogue: How often do you write?

Everyone writes in different ways. Some write every day; some every few months. I personally write in spurts. I might spend six hours churning out 5000 words and then not write anything for a few weeks. So, what do you do? What works best for you? I know lots of people that are always curious about other writers' habits. I thought this would be a good forum for discussing them.

Use the comments link below to post.



The First Online Conference Ever (at least I think)

I have just been accepted as a presenter at the Muse Online Wrting Conference that will be held in October. I don't know yet what I'll be speaking on, but you may assume that it will be my usual articulate blather. I, of course, encourage everyone to see me. And this will be the best conference I will ever have to have attended. I can sit in my house and not leave the couch while sharing my nuggets of wisdom. It'll be a more intensive version of what I do now.

On a serious note, I do think these ladies have come up with a pretty cool idea. This will allow anyone with an internet connection to participate. Distance isn't an issue and it allows them to get a huge variety of speakers. And best of all, it's FREE!

So, below is the PR thing they gave me. I'll give you more information about what I'll be speaking about and whether or not I'll have a critique session as I find out more information.

The Muse Online Writing Conference

Lea Schizas, Editor of The Muse on Writing, and Carolyn Howard-Johnson are sponsoring a virtual writers' conference on October 9th - 13th 2006 -- very possibly the first. This conference offers writers -- published or not --  who have not been to a conference, to mingle with some of the publishing world's personalities, to pose questions and learn from them, and to partake in many of  the F~R~ E~E online workshops we will be hosting: 

Bookmark the site: here. 
and come back often to see the newest presenters and workshops. Shel Horowitz just accepted our invitation and we already have dozens of others. Carolyn will be presenting on both book promotion and the craft of writing, specifically "Writing Sparkling Dialogue in 10 Easy Steps."

[And of course, who would want to miss The Buried Editor? She'll be the toast of the talks.]

To check on the growing faculty and workshop session, go: here.

Question of the Week July 7

Can you talk a little about how you feel (if at all) that the children's market has changed in the last 20 years or so? Has the bar been raised for authors? I ask because it seems that the recent stuff I read (let's take The Lightning Thief for example) puts a hook in right at the very start - almost the first line of the first page. Older stuff I read (for example The Hero and the Crown) does not have a hook nearly so soon in the book. Have requirements changed? Have kids interests changed? Are there just so many more authors out there now such that this hook is required for agents/editors to get past the first page?

I’m going to have to start this answer by admitting some embarrassing things about myself. Twenty years ago, I was eight. I read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and other old series books put out by the Stratemeyer Syndicate, and that was about it. At ten I moved onto Agatha Christie and read some Sweet Valley Twins and Babysitter’s Club stuff but that was as close to the kid section as I got. Except for the classics and whatever we read in school, I was firmly entrenched in the adult section by the age of 12, and I never looked back. I did not rediscover children’s books until I was 20. So, in the 8 years I’ve been reading children’s books (and in the four years I’ve studied them) not all that much has changed. Kids still want books that interest them and that mirror their lives. Where we used to have protagonists playing in the corn fields, the characters now role play on computers. But the books themselves haven’t changed that much.

That doesn’t mean that children’s books haven’t evolved. For instance, the authorial commentary that CS Lewis delightfully inserts into his Narnia novels cannot be done in today’s books. Partly this is because those kinds of inserts are so darn tricky to achieve. Lemony Snicket does it well in his series, but the authorial comments in The Tale of Desperaux come off condescending towards the reader. In another example, lists are now taboo. Charlotte’s Web has lists of things all over the place especially in descriptions of scenery. That doesn’t happen these days. Lists are boring and are examples of telling not showing. Modern editors and readers don’t tolerate long lists. So, there have been some stylistic changes in children’s books.

But fundamentally, the requirements for a good children’s book have not undergone drastic changes. Good kids books have always had a hook at the beginning. This could be something as dramatic as the call to action experienced in The Lightning Thief or something more simple lime Marmee’s eminent arrival at the beginning of Little Women. As long as there is something of interest that sucks the reader in, a book has a hook. In the examples in the question, the hero is having a sword fight with his gorgon math teacher in Lightning Thief while the hero in The Hero and the Crown wonders who originally told her that her witch mother turned her face to the wall and died when the hero was born a girl. One hook may be more dramatic, but both inspire the curiosity of the reader to keep turning the page. Editors and agents are still looking for that hook because in the end they’re readers too. Just like the end consumer, editors and agents don’t want to keep reading a book if it isn’t catching their interests.


Tip of the Week July 6

Tip of the Week: Do not take rejections personally.

I know I’ve hinted at this before, but it bears repeating. Rejections are not personal. The editor or agent is uninterested in something you wrote, not in you personally. There are lots of reasons to reject a manuscript. They can be boring mundane things beyond both the author and editor’s control. Market conditions, number of places left on the list, budget constraints, even staff turnover can result in a dreaded rejection letter.

Other things are more within the editor but not the author’s control. The editor may recognize good writing and style, but the submission is in a genre the editor doesn’t publish or like. The editor may not like books written in second person. These are subjective reasons that an editor may use to reject a work, but again these are not personal slights and do not comment on the quality of the author’s writing.

And then there are things author’s do to earn rejection letters. They send manuscripts to a house that doesn’t publish their genre. For example they send a non-fiction autobiography to a fiction house. They send unpolished stories with stagnant characters, little or no action, or a PB manuscript with only enough text for a 5 page book. But even then, these rejections are not personal. Many times you might still get a note from the editor complementing your tone but highlighting your lack of plot. There’s no reason to give up hope or abandon the manuscript. It’s still fixable.

But the worst rejection is an impersonal form letter. By its very definition, this is not a personal slight against you or your work. It means that your work has suffered from one of the three conditions listed above. However, you know your manuscript is experiencing some sort of problem when you’ve sent it to appropriate houses and all it gets is a form letter. That is when it is time to take a more proactive approach. It’s time to get feedback. Join a critique group or register for a critique slot at a conference. If you become really desperate, hire a book doctor type or freelance editor that specializes in your book’s field. However, I think paying for professionals should be a last resort. Always try the free peer critique services first. And then, maybe those rejection letters will start being replaced with acquisition emails and phone calls.


I have a dilemma.

I have a monster sized, what do I do, how can I even attempt to decide dilemma. In what order do I read my slush?

Now, normally, this is a no-brainer. I try to read my slush in the order that it arrives in my hot little hand. Since it lives in piles, that means I read the bottom stuff first. This seems fair, and it keeps the older ones from languishing to long in the pile. It's when I deviate from this system that I start having slush take 4-6 months to get read.

So, what's the problem? I got all those slimy little picture book manuscripts oozing all over my desk. Now picture book manuscripts are more difficult to evalutate. If they have any merit or potential at all, I have to do mental dummies, evaluate language, determine markets, etc. For novels, I have to like it and evaluate the market. Period. Easy readers are actually the worst. Those I have to count number of syllables in the words, number of words in the sentences, figure our how many sentences per page, and the list goes on. Fortunately, I've only received 1 ER slush in my whole career. Let's keep it that way.

But I digress. Back to the picture books. They require me to do more work if I like them. But most the time I don't. And they're so much smaller and easier to carry than novel manuscripts. And so I'm tempted to put off my big novel slush for the picture book slush.

It's a quandry. Do I stick with being fair and lug those novel manuscripts to my rehearsal tonight, or do I just sneak a few of those pesky PBs? What to do.


Happy Fourth!

Happy Fourth to all of you who don't work from home, so you actually get things like weekends and holidays. Lucky ducks. At least I get to work from my air-conditioned home today. Tomorrow it's back to the unair-conditioned job site.

I haven't gotten a chance to get around to any of my slush today. It piles over my head. Well, that's an exageration, but I got a large amount of slush last week, all of which appears to be picture books. I have reconciled myself to the picture books, but if you want to read me having a mental break down over them, go to my other blog. I kind of snapped. I've decided to use that site for all my negativity, and this site for positive and instructional musings. And what did I learn from all those picture books? That people don't read guidelines. Please, please, read a press or agen'ts submission guidelines before sending a manuscript. If a press (like Blooming Tree) specifically says not to send picture books, don't waste your postage sending picture books to them. By rights, I should just reject all of them out of hand, but I won't. I'll look through them. But I can guarantee my mood won't be real good. It's a dangerous condition.

So have a wonderful holiday. In a bit, I'm off to see the fireworks, and I don't mean the ones I experienced when I discovered how many picture book in my slush. I'm going to the big park and watching the pretty lights in the sky. See, I can take a break too.


Leaching Out Across the Web

Now, for a moment of blatant self-promotion.

I have expanded the Buried Editor's web presence. It wasn't enough for me to be found here in the blogger domain, no I must go further and farther abroad. I now have a MySpace account. I'm not sure exactly why I bothered getting one, but maybe once they start letting me post, I'll see the fruits of expanding my horizons.

I have also built the Buried Editor its own website found at Now I can be snarky and independent on yet another site. I don't plan to update this much, but it does have writing samples if your curious to read what I write. Also, my rates are there should you want my beautiful visage to shine at your groups next conference. My conference rate is a phenomenal sum: $0.00 plus you have to pay for my travel, room and board. I'm happy to give up my time, but I ain't going out-of-pocket. Of course, if you wish to pay me, I would never object . . .

I'm compiling a FAQ for that site, so if you've got a burning important issue, you should get that checked. But if you've got a writing or editing or general Buried Editor question, email it to me. You've got a week before I'm putting them up.


Weekend Dialogue: What are your hidden gems?

I'm in the process of packing up all my books so I can move. Since I aspire some day have a home with every wall covered in shelves holding books, I have acquired quite a collection. My fiance does not share this vision. It can be a bit of an impasse.

As I was packing the books, I came across some of my gradfather's old college textbooks from the 30s. They were fascinating. I didn't even realize I had them. One of them had an interesting essay on the modern life of a college freshman. I couldn't help but laugh as I read it. My freshman year (or first year as we were called) couldn't have been more dissimiliar.

The old books got me thinking. Do I have any writing gems like these hidden in my files? I have only been writing for 6 years, but already I have notebooks and notebooks of stories, story ideas and research squirreled away. I wonder what kind of good ideas (and not so good ideas) are hidden away in those files. I don't have time to search now, but I hope to go through them as soon as I move.

What about you? Do you have hidden gems? If so, what are they? Perhaps it's something as simple as a picture that always inspires a different story. If you're comfortable enough, share your gems with everyone by using the comments link below.


Final Day of the BEOWWMW

We have reached our final day. I figured we could end the same way we started: writing. So, here's our final writing excercise.

Go write. Write a short story. Work on your novel. Envision a picture book. Whatever. Just stop reading this and apply some of the things we discussed this week.

And remember, if you have any questions, comments, or just plain interesting things to share, let your friendly buried editor know.