Questions of the Week October 14

I was going to a different question of the week, but this one was related to yeseterday's tip, so golly-gee-whiz, I'm going to do it instead.

What do you think of author's hiring publicists?

Like everything else related to the publishing side of writing, hiring a publicist is a business decision. You have to decide if the expense (the publicist) is going to be worth it. If you think the publicist will garner you some prime exposure which will increase your book sales to the point that royalties will stay cover his/her fee, then a publicist is worth it. They are the ones with the contacts, and they will make sure that your publicity does reach your demographics. A good publicist is worth every penny they charge -- but only if their great publicity results in sales.

However, if you are in a niche not served by traditional media, or if you are already reaching your demographic, or it's a fanatically loyal group familiar with you, you simply may not need one. An example would be if the person who invented Neopets wrote a book on the subject. Neopets has a website with millions (I don't think I'm exaggerating) of users. A simple banner ad on the main pages would probably suffice and nicely sell out an initial print run of 100,000.


Tip of the Week October 13

Do not get your hopes up to high.

This is just as true for published as it is for unpublished writers. I am not saying that you send off your manuscript and immediately sink into The Pit of Bottomless Despair. What I am saying is to not assume that the manuscript is going to result in a 10 book deal.

By the same token, do not expect your publisher, regardless of the size (although I find this to be true of large more than small) to make a huge marketing push for your first (or even your third) book. They may have massive resources, but they are limited, and like everyone else, they prefer to sink them into sure things -- like Harry Potter. It is very rare for publishers to rent you a bus with your book's jacket art on it and haul you around the country. (Scholastic did it for The Land of Eloyn's author, but, again, unusual.) Instead, expect to have to send your own postcards and schedule your own book-signings.

No one said writing was glamourous -- and if they did, they are clearly living in a parallel universe.


Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow, etc., etc.

Well, the Muse Online Conference officially ends today. Although I won't miss the hundreds of email jamming my inbox, I will miss seeing non-stop discussions on everything books. I like it when like-minded people are able to gather and share ideas. It's probably why I like blogging so much.

This is something we could get to show we'd attended. Maybe not as good as a t-shirt, but I still think it's fun. It's hard to see, but there's a little "I was there" tatooed across North America. It made me laugh. And in these rocky pre-wedding disaster filled seas I currently am trying to float through, it's all that I ask.


Who are you?

Recent discussions about the SCBWI and my participation in the Muse Online Conference has made me think about the people who write for children. Now in terms of writing styles, there are two kinds of writers: the polished and the unpolished.

Polished writers are those that have been doing it for a while. They have taken classes or have a great critique group. They know how to turn off their internal editor for that first draft, but they also know to listen to it during rewrites. They're the people with agents and/or they're the ones submitting to various houses.

Unpolished writers are a little newer at the craft. They still make stylistic mistakes or aren't quite able to pull off a convincing character or plot. They've yet to find the critique group or mentor to take them in hand and help them learn the subtle craft of writing.

Although these writers are at two different points stylistically, they can still be served by the same advice. A good writing book is just as useful to an experienced writer as to a novice. Yes, the experienced writer might know many of the tricks of the trade, so to speak, but it never hurts to be reminded. You could say that despite being two different types of writers (polished and unpolished) they are still one market with similiar needs.

However, when you come to published and unpublished authors you have two completely different markets. The needs of a published writer are vastly different from those of the unpublished. The published author has theoretically broken in. They are now interested in things like book promotion and school visits. They want to know how to follow up that first contract with a second. They don't want to know about how to format a manuscript or to write a query letter. Yet, these are the very things an unpublished author needs to know.

And that made me wonder about this blog. Up until now, I've been doing a hit or miss smorgasbord of whatever struck my fancy. But what if I've been talking about how to build an effective viral marketing campaign and everyone really wants to know how to meet an agent? So in order to better know my market, I am doing that ever popular market research thanks to a simple poll. Basically, I want to know if you're published or not. This doesn't mean that I will stop writing about manuscript formatting just because 95% turn out to be published. The minority need information too. I just probably won't write about it as often. For my quick and easy poll, please click one of the buttons below:

What kind of writer are you?

Published (or under contract)
Published in a different genre, but unpublshed in kids.
Not a writer at all (although if you're a reviewer or blogger, technically you are a published writer)

View Results

Make your own poll


Stats and rankings and bears, oh my!

Now, I have before commented on my obsession with watching my blog stats. Very nice people like Gregory K always remind me that I'm insane and need to get a grip, but I still find myself tracking my stats compulsively. And with pretty graphs like this:

who can blame me? Look at all the colors!

But I've now been made aware of yet another stat I need to be tracking: rankings. I have to thank Fuse #8 for her post here about Lyn Gardner's post. It has opened my eyes to new numbers to obsess over. So, I decided to check the rankings on some of the books I edited. Here they are. Drum roll please.

Summer Shorts 609,727 (Sweet.)
Kichi in Jungle Jeopardy 2,077,429 (Oooh, I'm kicking Kichi's little dog rear.)
One Eyed Jack none (?? what's with that?) Paula's done a good job of taking advantage of Amazon's promotional tools for authors.
Lyranel's Song none (another? what is the deal?)

Since Amazon ranking means, well, nothing to me I can't really say if these are good or not. Obviously being number 1 would be better, but has Summer Shorts really sold 4x more than Kichi? Who knows. I like the suggesstions that the ranking is determined by a random number generator.

Conference Presenting

Well, the first day of the online conference is over. Ideas and knowledge have been flying around the web at the rate of around 800 emails a day. (For once I am not exagerating. I believe I got over 800 emails from the conference board yesterday.) Alas, only one of those were for me. I like to think that my course notes were so thorough that no one has any questions. However, I think it's more likely that with my last name being in the second half of the alphabet that most people just haven't gotten to me yet. There's so much good stuff ahead of me.

I also discovered that many of the presenters are doing excercises, so I thought up one too. I'm sharing with you all because some of you might like to join in. I'm having my people write me a full-blown query (letter, plot summary, first 15 pages) and I will take three of the most instructive ones to show what does and does not work. I've decided to do the same thing here on the blog. So, if by next Wedensday you can draft a query letter you would like me to review, send it to this email address: with the words MADELINE SMOOT Practice Query in the subject line. Attach your query as a single .doc or .rtf attachment. And I'll look it over. I won't send you comments on all of them. I'll just again choose 3. So, if you send a query you can't mind my posting parts of it. Don't send that super-sensitive idea you won't let anyone see. Also, these are practice queries. I'm not going to ask to see the full manuscript regardless how wonderful the query is. Just thought I'd mention it.


The Wedding that Ate My Life

Everyone told me it would happen, but I swore it wouldn't, but it has, so now I'm sad to say, my wedding has overrun my life. Every moment of the day seems to be devoted to some wedding detail. From bridal portraits to wedding favors, I seem to be sucked into a bottomless pit of wedding.

"And this affects me how?" you're wondering. Well, until further notice I"m having to suspend my reading of all slush from all houses. I've already taken all mine back to Blooming Tree where it's being distributed amongst everyone else (adult editors included for the YAs), and my CBAY submissions are accumulating into a nice pile, a nice tall pile, all unpoened. With this backlog accumuating it will be months before I can get through everything. If this will be a problem, feel free to withdraw your manuscript from consideration. I promise not to be offended. I feel my response time has gotten abysmally long since I've overextended myself. I understand.

Also, to be fair to those I've already recieved, there is a brief moratorium on CBAY submissions. I will not be accepting any general manuscripts, only ones for the Ghost Anthology and only ones labeled as such. Everything else will be returned unopened. As soon as I've caught up on the backlog, I'll open CBAY back up.

Thanks for the understanding.

19 days until the wedding.


Questions of the Week October 7

Sorry this is a day late. I had a dress fitting during my blog time.

Question on point of view: A previous post reminded me of a book I read by Gail Carsen Levine - Fairy Dust and The Quest for the Egg. I found this book truly entertaining and well written, but did notice the viewpoint shifted around all the time. We could see into basically everyone's mind. What do you think of this writing style?

Now this one is more a matter of personal taste than anything else. I personally prefer minimal shifts in point of view. I tend to find them distracting, and if done poorly, shifts in point of view can make the work confusing. However when done well, seamless changes in point of view can be fun to read.

How is it chosen which books are turned face-forward on the shelves at the bookstore? Is this a paid thing? The shelver's choice? In your opinion, how does this impact sales?

On the whole face-outs on your normal shelves are determined by space. If we've just pulled a bunch of books for returns, we have more space and more face-outs. Books are picked based on thickness and quantity. Also older books and hardbacks are given priority. There are also special shelves that are reserved for specific books. Some of these books are picked for promotional reasons; others are paid. I'm thinking here of special shelves in the business book section. I don't think this is as common in the kids' area. I don't know for sure.


Tip of the Week October 5

The Tips are back! Along with questions. I have a fun one for tomorrow. Now, on with the tip . . .

Tip of the Week: Get a decent publicity photo taken.

It's a simple thing. Stand in front of a solid back drop and wear a solid, collared shirt. Get your friend or your spouse or a professional photograher or someone to take at least 1 roll of photos or if using a digital camera a minimum of 36 of the highest resolution shots. Pick the best one, and voila!, you have a headshot. This useful little photo can now be used on all sorts of promotional material such as press packets, school visit brochures, websites, and the like. What they should not be included with are your submissions. As an editor, I don't care what you look like. I care about your writing.

Larklight was a Lark

This is the last book I get to read for a while, so I'm glad I read one with a bang. Actually, several bangs. Explosions and gunshots happen throughout the book. Part old-fashioned space opera, part pirate tale (set in space) the book follows two Victorian-era kids as they flee from crazed alien spiders determined to kill them. If you are sitting there going Victorian-era children in space, how?, the anwer is quite simple. Newton, in this book, has discovered not only the laws of gravity, but also during his alchemical studies came across a formula that allows for space flight. And of course, the space that they find is the kind they expected to find in that period -- not our vaccum void, but an ocean of space teeming with life. In fact, space is very much an ocean with the British Royal Space Navy protecting all of Her Majesty's extraterrestial holdings.

A great story with lots of Victorianisms and real people from history thrown in for fun, I highly reccommend this book. After all, you may have already read some of Phillip Reeve's other works. He did the Mortal Engines series although come to think of it I think the series has it's own name -- Hungry City Chronicles or something like that.

Reminder for Online Conference

I just wanted to remind you all that the free online writing conference starts next Monday. I am one of the many dazzling presenters they have this year. If you are interested in "attending," I believe that they are still accepting registrations. It looks like there are lots of good things being shared this year. If I wasn't so bogged down with the wedding, I'd probably be trying to be at nearly all of them.

23 days to W day.


Another new book

This is not turning into a review blog, but instead of writing on my thesis last night, I got excited and read the new Dianna Wynne Jones book. I'm a big fan of Jones's books. My all-time favorite is Howl's Moving Castle. The blatant subversion of classic fairy-tale convention is wonderful. And any author who dreams up a world where the people have been forced to live like a Lord of the Rings theme park like the characters of Darklord of Derkholm has just the right sort of twisted sense of humor. So, I was thrilled when I found a new Jones book on one of our display tables. And then my heart fell. It was a Chrestomanci novel. I'm not a huge fan of the loosely-related Chrestomanci novels. This probably has something to do with my reading them out of order. That and I find The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant (or something like that), the book you should read first, hard to follow. Still, this one was good! I stayed up until 1 finishing it. Now, it probably won't make much sense without having read Christopher Chant book or the book about the character Cat called Charmed Life. Still, it was well done without the confusing world-hopping prevelant in the other books. There are also plenty of strong characters both male and female. Long and the short, if you can get through the first two books, this book is highly enjoyable. And if that's not just a glowing endorsement, then I don't know what is.

25 Days until W-Day

The countdown has begun.


I'm Baaaaaack!

Well, I think I will start having time to blog again. My life has sunk into never-ending wedding nightmares as my wedding disaster approaches. It's a Masquerade ball. People don't won't to wear costumes. It's in Austin where I live. No one wants to travel. And despite my family's assertions, I did not do everything humanly possible to make my wedding as inconvenient as I could. It's on a Saturday. I gave everyone a 14 month warning. I'm ready to scream.

So, to distract myself, and because I can check books out of Barnes & Noble like it's my own personal public library just without vomit and boogers stuck between the pages, I've been doing a lot of reading. Here's some of the new stuff I've been devouring:

  • Fairest CoverFairest
    Read this. Set at the same time as Ella Enchanted Levine now takes on Snow White's fairy tale. However, like she did with Cinderella, Levine adds lots of twists. For starters, Snow White is ugly, and she doesn't let you forget it. Since this isn't really a sequel, it can be read before or after Ella.

  • Fairest CoverTanglewreck
    A tangled wreck of a book. Besides being plain boring, I also found it hard to follow. The science fiction/science fantasy relies on a fair amount of physics that I don't think the average 8-12 year old has been exposed to. I know my school system didn't give you physics until the 11th grade. And the whole using twins as teleportation thing was just a little far-fetched even for my extremely easily suspended disbelief. Even looking past all that, the story itself was uncompelling enough that I didn't care if the characters succeeded or not. I wouldn't have finished the book except that all mine were still packed.

  • Fairest CoverRiver Secrets
    Beautifully written book. You must read it, but only after you read Goose Girl and Enna Burning. Otherwise, this book might not make much sense to you. I am a huge fan of Shannon Hale, both her books and her blog. I could write volumes on this book, but Fuse #8 did such a fantastic job right after ALA. I had to wait all the way until the release of the book to read it. I begrudge you lucky people who got the ARC.

  • Fairest CoverLooking Glass Wars
    Now there has been a lot of hype surrounding this book. Penguin has offered me free copies multiple times both for me to review and to offer in the form of a contest on this site. I didn't want to commit to reviewing since this would certainly not count as a "real" review, and I was to busy to try to institute another contest. However, any publisher who would like to start sending me prize material say in November, I'll be free to run lots of contests starting then. Just thought I'd mention it. Anyway, so I was curious about this book that Penguin clearly wants to see become a huge seller. Did it live up to the hype? Yes, and no. It is a good book. I would reccomend people reading it. I would even reccomend buying it although I don't plan to do the same. (My space is so limited these days.) However, when I finished the book, I just kind of went, "Oh." It wasn't that I didn't like it because I did, but I sitll felt a little let down. I'm finding myself at a loss for words to describe it. I'd be curious to see how others reacted. The book left an opening for a sequel, and I'd be curious to see what (if anything) the author does with it next.

  • Fairest CoverThe Book of Lost Things
    I read this as an ARC, but I thing that it has been released now. Although technically not a children's book, there's no reason why an 11 & up couldn't read it. However, I understand why they chose to market this as an adult book since there are some adult undercurrents such as a key character who may or may not be gay. The character is an 11 (or 12) year-old boy who loses his mother to illness and resents the stepmother and new half-brother that replace her. He gets himself sucked into a secondary world where the fairy tales are real but have strange, ominous twists to them.

  • Fairest CoverPetite Rouge
    I know; I know. This is a picture book. I have to tell you that looking at them 3 days a week has got them growing on me. Nicely done rhymes and Cajun flair and twist on Red Riding Hood. There's even a nice glossary for all of you not marrying someone of Cajun descent. I like most of the illustrations, but I just think it's odd that Petite Rouge is a duck. Nothing in the text implies that she is, so I'm not sure why the illustrator decided to make her a duck. Ah well. Artisitic license I suppose.

  • Fairest CoverKnuffle Bunny
    Yes, I know this has been around forever and has a Caldecott Honor and everything, but I only just discovered it. I like the story, but I love the illustrations. The color drawings on top of the black & white photos are just brilliant. Very, very cool book.

And that's it for now. I work tomorrow at the store, and we'll see what I bring home then.