Tip of the Week August 31

Editors (and publishers and agents) are people to.

Yes, this cannot be stressed enough. Despite our debonair and exciting lives, we are merely mortals like everyone else. We have lives away from books and writing. Well, at least I hear some of us do. And we have feelings, too. If you stab us repeatedly with a ball-point pen, doth we not bleed?

I mention this because I saw a wonderful article on Publisher's Weekly today about the worst places people have been pitched story ideas. Click here to see it. Hillarious and so very bad and sometimes creepy. My stories are so much lamer although I did have someone pitch me something while I working in the book store the other day.

I also mention it because despite our thick skins (editors can make authors look like they're clad in the tiny layer of skin a garden snake sheds), we still can get brought down by the things people say. For instance the question: Why haven't you worked on any of the things that win awards? Don't you pick good manuscripts? is wrong on so many levels. And it won't predispose me towards your work.



Now, all of you know about our release party for Summer Shorts. It's September 9 for those of you who might have forgotten. What you didn't know was that in conjuction with our local Barnes & Noble we're having a writing contest for kids. It's called What I did on my summer vacation. No, seriously. The book is all about what kids did during the summer, so we thought we'd lovingly embrace the old cliche and have kids write about their summers. The only problem is that all the kids back here have already gone back to school and it turns out that the last thing they want to do is write an extra paragraph. So, we're opening the contest up to everyone around the nation (and the world for that matter). Now obviously if the kid who wins lives in Alaska, we won't be able have them personally read their essay. However, I will read it for them. They will still get their book.

So, if you are someone who works with kids who read, like say a librarian, please let your kids know about this. (And as an added incentive, I'll get an additional signed copy donated to the winning kid's library.) For a printable pdf, click here.


Question of the Week August 25

How important do you think author websites/blogs are and at what stages in a career? Pre-publication and post-publication? How does an author build a fan base for a blog or website? Also, what are the best ways for an author to advertise/publisize? Are there any good websites with this type of information?

This is the question we sort of discussed last weekend. After looking at everyone else's opinion, here's mine.

Get a website. If nothing else, reserve the domain name - your name if possible - right now before someone else does. Yes, there are actually people who do things like reserve other people's and companies' names in the hopes of selling the domain rights to them later. There are lots of services that will allow you to reserve your domain name for a few dollars a year without having to pay for web hosting. I use Yahoo! for that sort of things. Then, once you are ready to have a site, you've at least go the name.

When designing the site, you should keep a few things in mind. If you plan to use the site primarily for promoting to adults like librarians and teachers, then you can have a simpler site with less interactivity. However, if you plan to have a site you would like kids to regularly visit, you have to up the stakes. I found a wonderful article that discusses that here on Candy Gourlay's blog.

Finally, if you would like to start blogging, feel free to do so. There are lots of places like here on blogger or on live journal where you can try it out for free. Although you can use a blog for promotional purposes - I have been known to post updates on books and the like on mine - I would primarily reccommend you blog for fun. And after all, it is fun.

As to promoting a website/blog, if you google "promoting a blog" you get some normal and some downright wacky reccomendations. Some, like printing your web address/blog address on everything you print (business cards, postcards, etc) are just common sense. When I started my blog, my goal was to improve the quality of slush submissions by alerting people to all the little, stupid mistakes that can torpedo your chances of making it past a reader. My great method of advertising was to email everyone I knew and to let them know about the site. However, I didn't find my readership particularly grew until other bloggers found me. The web is a lovely example of word of mouth. It's not something you can exactly control although viral marketing methods try. You just have to let others know you exist by doing things like posting on people's comments sections or submitting to different carnivals. And again, you should be doing it not with advertising in mind, but because it's fun to comment. Like everyone else, bloggers can tell when you are commenting because your interested or your commenting because you're trying to get your name out. Comment because you want to. After all, as Greg K likes to remind me everynow and then, our blogs are ultimately for ourselves and for own satisfaction. We're not selling ads or even books from them. Even if no one ever looks at it, there is a certain satisfaction in writing on them, just for the sake of writing on them.


Question of the Week August 25

What do you think is the best way to approach out of area bookstores about signings? For example, if an author will be traveling somewhere and would like to look into a book signing, is the best way via a phone call, email, letter?

Well, according to my experts, there is no good way. Bookstores are reluctant these days to book any children's booksignings whether they are in or out of area. It seems they don't think anyone comes to them. The bookstores then feel embarrassed and they are left with extra stock on hand that they can't return for 90-180 days. If you want to do something at a bookstore, you'll have to sell it to them as an event. For younger readers you can do a story/activity time. For older readers, you can do a reading or a writing workshop. If possible, try to have the local SCBWI sponsor you in some way. This will at least get your visit publicized to its membership.

Once you've decided they program you would like to pitch to the store, call and ask for the manager for small stores or the Community Relations Manager/Specialist for large independents and chains. They may not be able to speak with you right then, but you can schedule a time to talk. Then pitch them the idea. The worst they can do is say no. Also, be sure to try and schedule at least 3 months in advance. This will guanrantee that you will make any promotional or advertising material the bookstore produces.

School visits, which isn't specifically quoted in the question, but the person also asked about those, work in a similiar manner. After you have researched the districts and private schools in the area you will be visiting, you just need to start cold-calling librarians. Have a prepared script, but don't be afraid to deviate from it. Also, follow up any somewhat positive leads with a mailing of either a brochure or letter with brochure.


Tip of the Week August 24

Tip of the Week: Grow a four-inch, bullet-proof, scaly, steel armor-plated skin.

Now this is true in many facets of life, but especially in publishing. You've got to be able to withstand the rejections, the edits, and the heart breaking moment when a librarian or bookstore owner goes, "I'm sorry, you're who? I've never heard of that book."

So you want to be an editor . . .

Ever thought about becoming an editor? Well, Cheryl gives an excellent little lecture on how to do it here.

One of the things she talks about is interning. And, oh, what a small world, I'm looking for an editorial intern now. Do you know someone in Austin who might be interested? Have them contact me.


It's a Party!

A F Cover Make your summer last just a little while longer.

School may have started, but the heat outside makes us think summer still plans to stay. Come help us celebrate a never-ending summer at our book release party for Summer Shorts, Blooming Tree Press’s newest short story anthology. In our book kids enjoy the heat while on vacation, at home, or even on different worlds entirely. So bring your kids and your flip-flops while we share our summer fun with you.

What: Summer Shorts Release Party
Where: Barnes & Noble Westlake, 801 Capital of Texas Highway, Austin
When: September 9 at 1 PM
Who: You

Seriously, if you are even near the Austin area that day, please come. I would love to meet some fellow bloggers. Come say "hi" and meet some other folks. Not only will Summer Shorts authors be there, but some of the ones for CBAY should be dropping by as well.

Moving on Down the Road

Moving is not fun. I do not like it. It is a lot of work. I spent all of yesterday sorting my clothes so I could finally get rid of the stuff I don't wear/can't fit. Today I had to pack all my fabric. Tomorrow before I head to work I get to order my invitations for my wedding and then pack my office. Joy. So if you wonder where I've been or why I haven't been responding, that's why.

On a happier note, I would like to thank everyone for their opinion on author websites. I know it helped me formulate my response for Friday, and I hope it will help those of you trying to decide to join the net.


Weekend Dialogue: What is your take on author websites?

I am sort of co-opting a Question of the Week for this. Someone was wondering about when was a good time for an author to get a website. I'll post the question and my answer on Friday, but until then I thought it would be interesting to hear from others about their opinion. Some peope I would specifically like to comment would be Alan, Greg and Greg K (if they happen to read this) because each of you started your blog at a different point in the process. Alan did his after publication, Greg did his Septina stuff before publication but after aquisition, and Greg K was fibbing before Levine acquired him.

I would also love to hear from everyone else including regular readers and librarians about what kinds of author websites they like, and if they frequent any unpublished authors sites or blogs.

My enquiring mind wants, no, needs to know.


This is officially my 100th post. So to commemerate this historic event I felt I should give some sage and wonderful wisdom about writing or publishing that I have acquired over the years.

Of course, I can't think of anything.

Dum, de, dum, dum.

Oh, wait, I've got it.

Unless you are at the end of your work, never write down everything in your head. Always leave a little something like the next plot point or an interesting character detail in your head. (Now, if you think you might forget it, make a note. I'm not saying you should lose this idea.) What I mean is that you shouldn't write until the inkwell's dry. Leave a little something in your mind for the ol' noggin to chew around on. You'll be amazed the next day with what it will come up with. Your story may take a whole new direction. I know mine have.


When the System Breaks Down

Today is Friday; so this sould be a Question of the Week post. I have a great question that I would like to post. There's just this little tricky issue of my not knowing the answer. I know. I know. It turns out I'm not all knowing. I hope this doesn't destroy anyone's world view. But alas, I am as human as the next editor although I'm sure you'd already gathered that from my copious typos, misspellings, etc. So, I have emails to those mighty bookstore bookers who can answer it. In case you're wondering, it's about booking out of area book signings.


Tip of the Week August 17

Once your book is sold, it is no longer about you. It is about everyone else.

This is another word of wisdom that comes to me through the experiences I've had with my wedding. As I learned early on, my wedding is about everyone but me. And like my wedding, your book, once it's been acquired by a publishing house is about everyone else but you. Before that point, it's just about yourself. You write whatever you want. It can be intensely personal. But after sale, it becomes about everyone else's needs. The editor has requirements. The publisher needs you to fit a market. Your readers want you to meet certain expections typical of your chosen genre. The moral of this tip is to enjoy that original time before your work sells. It's the last time your work is truly your own.


Where does all the time go?

I have discovered that this whole "job" thing in a "work environment" is seriously affecting my free time. Back in my lacksidasical (I'm pretty sure that's not even kind of spelled right) days of working from home. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I miss my flexible schedule. But sadly, I now have much less time to read and blog. Of course, when I say read, I mean read other books being put out in the market. I still make time for all my slush. Actually, I think I'm down to maybe 20 manuscripts. That's like only 2 stacks and I can see over both! Now, I say this knowing full well that when I go to editorial tonight, I'll probably get 50 more, but still it's a feeling of accomplishment.

But what I feel has suffered the most is my blog. I have so much to tell, but so little time to write it. So now I'm going to do kind of a summary of everything I wanted to say these past 2 days. Here goes.

I may not be reading as many books, but I have read some noteworthy ones that I feel you should know about, like:
  • A F CoverArtemis Fowl: The Lost Colony
    The latest is the Artemis Fowl series, and in my humble opinion, the best since the original Artemis. I am not turning this blog into an "I love Colfer" blog, but I can't help it if he's put out some dynamic and wonderful books this year. For the first time in the series, Artemis finally meets his intelectual equal -- someone who could finally even outwit Artemis himself. And she, yes she is two years younger. I will not say another word because I don't want to spoil the book. After all, I didn't give away anything that's not on the jacket. However, if you truly want a magical experience, don't even read the jacket. Just trust me and pick up the book sight unseen and read it. It'll come out September 15.

  • D C CoverThe Death Collector
    Okay, so I haven't actually finished this one yet, but I have high hopes. Any book that starts with the sentence, "Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home for tea," has a lot to live up to, and so far it has. I still think the first Bartimeaus book has the best first page (and a half) ever written, but this ranks up there as one of the greatest first sentences. How could you not read the next. I'm hoping the book stays just as good.

And finally, here's a book I didn't like. Don't read it.
  • U M CoverUlysses Moore: The Door to Time
    This book was a first for me. I'd never before read a 200+ page prologue. And that's what this book was. The time travel hinted at in the title? Yeah, well that happened in the last chapter. The LAST chapter of the book. It's one thing to leave your reader with a cliffhanger so they'll read the next book. It's another to make your entire story BE in the next book. As a reader, I was annoyed. I waded through the entire book to reach no climax and have nothing resolved. Like I said, the real adventure hasn't even begun. As an editor, I was appalled. Shouldn't someone have pointed this out to the author?

Well that's my rant for today. I am off to write my lecture for that online conference I'm presenting at. I had thought it was due today since I thought today was the 15. My computer has informed me that I'm wrong, and that it is actually the 16 and that I'm late. Wonderful. Just freaking wonderful.


Got a novella?

In our writing journey, many of us have found ourselves stuck with those pesky stories that turn out to long to be a short story and to short to be a novel. We try to cut, but then the story doesn't make sense. We try adding words, but the results are a work that drags. We are left with (publishing-wise) an unviable manuscript.

But do not despair. There is now a place for those poor homeless novellas -- the Miami University's Novella Contest. Now, they aren't specifically geared towards children's, but based on last year's winner, I think a YA stands a chance.

Break out those novellas. It would be nice if they could finally find a publishing home.


(Belated) Question of the Week August 14

What 'bad' language is appropriate for kids at what ages? For example, are words like sucked and crap OK for middle grade books? I mean, I think the kids use these words, but does that mean it's OK to put them in print for that age group? Will parents not buy books because of this? Some of the YA stuff I've seen is downright raunchy when it comes to language, and it surprises me that parents buy it for their kids.

This all depends more on your press’s tolerance for bad language than on the market’s. On the whole, traditional bad language is really just lazy language. They’re the words we use when we can’t be bothered to think up a more descriptive way to put things. For instance, when I drop a box of books on my foot, the word that comes to mind is “shit” because the pain in my foot momentarily distracts me from higher verbal abilities. So, to apply this to world of fiction, characters might use curses in dialogue but everything of a more expository nature should limit the use of bad language in favor of more descriptive (and interesting) figurative language.

As to the difference in midgrade and YA cursing, a lot of that has to do with the difference in intended markets. Older readers are supposed to be able to handle more complex issues. I’m not sure why, but cursing is considered a complex issue. In my opinion there’s very little complex about it. They’re simply words polite society does not like. Since polite society does not like to see a nine-year- old curse, those words are not in their books. As a society, we don’t care much if a teenager curses, so we allow those words in books for the YA market.

My take on the whole subject, is like sex, violence, rock ‘n roll, etc, the cursing had better be germane to the story. Just adding curses so that your YA seems “edgy” doesn’t cut it for me. The cursing needs to be natural to the story and a natural extension of what you are trying to get across. Don’t just curse for the hell of it. (Ah, that was fun.)


A Quick Jot

Sorry about the delayed questions of the week. We had to do a mini-move (of mostly my books -- boo) into storage. And now I have a wedding and stuff to go to, so I don't even have time to do them now. However, do not fear. The Q of W will go up tomorrow or Monday morning at the latest.

Until then, I leave you this thought: With book returns averaging a 30% rate and some distributors using return credit to justify never paying publishers, will the book industry be able to sustain itself using the current business model? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read this article which should help better explain. This is an important issue not just for publishers, but for everyone involved in the publication process -- including illustrators and authors. If the houses go down, and this can affect even the big ones, we all go down. Some houses, like Ten Speed Press (with their children's imprint, Tricycle) already have sales policies more in line with nearly every other retail industry. However, I doubt these apply to their distributors and major booksellers.


Tip of the Week August 10

Tip of the Week: Do not be afraid of your local booksellers.

Now this tip is actually something I knew before yesterday, but it got reiterated during my Barnes & Noble orientations. So, let me repeat: Do not be afraid of your local booksellers. They like local authors. They support local authors. And the local bookstores, even the large chainse, like to meet and know local authors. It helps all bookstores, even chains, seem more like a part of their community. If your book is published, but you can't find it on the shelf, ask about it. If you can find your book, see about arranging a story time or book signing/reading/presentation. I suppose the store might say no, but that's the worst that can happen. It never hurts to ask.

Good Day

I like good days. Despite being too tired to stay up and post last night, yesterday was a good day. For starters, my new job at Barnes & Noble has these novel things called benefits! I have never in my entire professional career worked at a place where my employer provided me health insurance. For that matter, I've never worked at a place with more than 6 other employees except when I interned in college. The big mean corporations may be evil, but they do have healthcare. I'm even going to up my hours so I can qualify sooner.

And in even bigger news, the author copies for Summer Shorts arrived! They are gorgeous. They are lovely. I spent nearly ten minutes just staring at it and flipping through the pages without reading it. That was the most stressful book I have ever (and hopefully will ever) work on, and now it is here! The author copies -- I'm talking about the ones stipulated in your contracts -- will go out next week. The rest of the books will come in 10 days from now. That's when all of you who ordered extra copies will be mailed out. And we've started receiving orders from stores.

It was a fantabulous day.


The Amazing World of Amazon

There's so much you can do on the internet these days, specifically on Amazon. You can buy just about anything, chat with authors on their plogs, and sell your old books. Today I listed a bunch of my books. It turns out that over time I have managed to get duplicates of a lot of stuff and I have some books that I started, but I'll never, ever finish. I've managed to already sell one whole book. I decided today was a success.

Of course, my participation in the used book market got me thinking about it. I actually don't have much against it. I like to see books being loved by multiple people. However, I understand publishers' concerns. And authors shouldn't be real thrilled about it either. Pretty much no one makes any money off used books except the person selling them. And although remaindered books at least help a publisher cut costs, they don't tend to make money for authors. It's all a blurry mess. So, what's my take? I think that I'll remember to take into account that a certain percentage of my books' potential readers will be reading second-hand (and for that matter library) books, and I'll make my print runs accordingly.


Never a Dull Moment

Well, it's somewhat official. I move in two weeks. This may make my posing somewhat erratic. I know if will affect my reading of The Slush. I have a house to pack and stuff to drop off at Goodwill and all. I'm also starting a second part-time job. In my quest to understand every facet of the book selling industry (and to lean the name of a lot of buyers), I start my new job at Barnes & Noble on Wedensday. I'm excited to get to interact with readers on a regular basis, and that 30% discount won't be half bad. So, it will be an exciting, action packed next few weeks.


Question of the Week August 4

You say that you have to consider the market when you acquire a book. I read somewhere that this involves a P&L. What is a P&L and how does it help you decide to acquire a book?

The sad truth is that a P&L does not help an editor and the publisher decide if a book can be acquired; it makes the decision. P&L stands for profit & loss. It’s an accounting spreadsheet (mine is in Excel) that we enter relevant data into. We approximate sales and expenses, and then the various formulas calculate whether or not a book will be profitable. It does not take into account overhead, so conventional wisdom says that a small publisher needs to have a profit margin of 30 to 40% per title to stay going. This can be difficult to do since a publisher receives less than 35% of the cover price. Factor in a 10-12% royalty, the cost of printing and shipping, and a 30% return rate, and making even a 20% profit can be difficult.

So even a brilliant book that an editor absolutely loves will end up rejected if the editor can’t prove through the P&L that the market will support the book.

Question of the Week August 4

Question #1

Well, this question doesn’t have that much to do with writing, but I thought it was fun so I’m going ahead and making it the first question of the week. Here it is:

If you could work with any author, who would you pick?

For starters, I wouldn’t want to work with just one author. Although there have been successful publishing houses based on the work of just one author, the best have a complete list. So here’s who I’d like on my imaginary perfect list in no particular order:
  • Robin McKinley – she does beautiful work
  • Dianna Wynne Jones – a fantasy icon
  • Garth Nix
  • Shannon Hale – amazing writing that sings
  • Elise Broach – gifted mystery writer (I just read her amazing new YA) and she does picture books too
  • Chris Van Allsburg – okay, so he’s more of an illustrator with almost wordless picture books, but the ones with words are just as amazing as the ones without
  • Ludwig Bemelmans – yes he’s dead, but it still would have been neat
  • Eoin Colfer
  • Alan Silberburg – I say this not because he reads my blog, but because I would have acquired Pond Scum in a second. It has my twisted sense of humor.
  • Vivian Van Velde
  • Chris Wooding

I’m sure there are lots of others, but these are ones I can think of off the top of my head.


Ways to Avoid Your Job

Thanks to Lynn at Hypothetically Speaking I have now discovered another fantastic Way to Avoid My Job. I am now in the process of logging my entire personal children's library into the Library Thing database. It's a neat site where you can put your books in, see who else has your stuff, etc. It even let me put these little widget things on the sidebar of my site. If you scroll down far enough you, can see some books I reccomend or need to read or have grabbed in ARC form. I have rationalized this putting off of writing rejection letters with the theory that I wanted to catalog all of my books before I moved. And this is definitely faster than entering the stuff in Excel. I've kept my library public, so if you click on one of the links over the book pictures, you can see what I've entered in so far. I think I'm going to exceed the 200 limit, and I'll have to get a paid account.

Accepting Rejecting

I hate rejecting stuff. It’s not fun. It’s upsetting, and I feel bad every time I have to do it. At least when something is poorly written, I feel like I have a good excuse. After all, as much as I want to, I can’t publish everything I’ve been sent.

So, I have to reject stuff, and I have to accept that I have to reject stuff. And in general I have. Then, I get something that I like but still have to reject, and I have to start the whole acceptance process over again. It’s what I’m doing today. I have to reject some pretty good manuscripts not because of their content or writing, but because they are in a part of the market that, after long hard thought and consultation, Children’s Brains Are Yummy Books has decided not to enter for the time being. And normally I would then kick these books over to Blooming Tree for consideration, but BTP has already filled its lists for these types of books for the foreseeable future. I can’t find a place for these good (potentially strong mid-list titles), and so I’m forced to reject.

It breaks my heart.


In a World Obsessed with Looks . . .

Yesterday, I randomly decided to look at my blog on Internet Explorer. I have a Mac so normally I use Safari as my web viewer; however, I realize most people use Internet Explorer so I wanted to see what my blog looked like over there. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the two nice columns I’m used to seeing were missing over on IE. Instead, everything on the site was centered with my sidebar at the bottom. I then decided to look at other sites to see if they were also affected. Gotta Book looked like my blog, but Fuse #8 was it’s normal fabulous self. It was strange. I’m just hoping the oddness was caused by my IE being an older, outdated version.


Slogging Through the Slush

Last night, I read the slush I received for CBAY. Most of what I got were fiction picture books. I am not opposed to publishing fiction picture books at some point, but right now, I am looking for non-fiction picture books as opposed to fiction. A fiction picture book is going to have to be phenomenal for me to seriously consider it. You have been warned.

On a different note, one of the authors informed me that the submission was a multiple submission. I don’t mind simultaneous submissions. I think it’s silly to not submit to 3-5 publishers. It just takes to long to hear a response to wait for each publisher to look at your manuscript one at a time. However, the way the author informed me rather irked me. I have provided it almost verbatim. I hid some identifying details.
    PS: I’ll probably send this novel to a few other publishers too. They’re fresh from re-edits, and I feel I’ve spent too many years waiting for one person a time to send me a rejection. Not that I believe they deserve rejections!
They’re so many things wrong with this. First off, it’s in a casual PS. It ruined the whole professional tenor of the rest of the cover letter. Next off, the author implies that I’m going to reject this. The last sentence tries to take it back, but it’s already to late. I now feel the author has no confidence in the work and expects a rejection. It’s hard not to oblige. Finally, it’s just such a strange way to word it. What’s wrong with the sentence: This is a simultaneous submission?