Final Picture Book Submission Reminder

Remember, today is the absolute last day to submit your picture book to CBAY Books. After today, we are going to close submissions again for a little while (specifically until we've responded to all of these.)

If you are planning to submit, be sure to read the submission guidelines, and then drop your manuscripts our way.


A Little Barnes & Noble Love

I know it seems a little bit like I've been knocking Barnes & Noble all week. In reality I've been railing against the returns system prevalent in our industry and Barnes & Noble happens to be a part of it. For better or worse, Barnes & Noble is the most visible retailer out there right now, and so its name factored into my discussion more than it would have otherwise.

But when it comes to Barnes & Noble in other respects, I am quite fond of them. They are, by far, my favorite chain and one of my preferred booksellers in general. I would not have put in 20-32 hour weeks when I worked there if it was otherwise. (In fact I wouldn't have worked for them in the first place if I hadn't liked them. The picture is of me with some of the author and illustrators and contest winners when I edited Summer Shorts. We are at, yes, Barnes & Noble.)

And let's face it, Barnes & Noble is CBAY's bookselling best friend. With the exception of BookPeople and Powells, no other bookstore has carried CBAY books on their shelves as consistently as Barnes & Noble. And although I love my indies, B&N has a greater nation-wide reach.

So, I thought I'd throw a little love Barnes & Nobles way, and they have made it so very easy. When I was perusing all the different bookstore sites to check the information on CBAY's upcoming debut teen novel, Dry Souls, I discovered that B&N already has the book discounted when no one else does. I would like to encourage you to head on over there and pre-order now while it's 10% off. I have no idea how long that will last. They've never done it for one of my pre-orders before.

And just so you'll be tempted, I have a pdf of the first 5 chapters (nearly 20% of the book!) for you to whet your appetite on. I've read it in iBooks and Kobo on my iPad, and it should work on the Kindle and Nook, and of course on any computer. To download this free teaser, click here.


Returns from the (or my) Perspective as a Bookseller

Yesterday I talked about how returns can be not so good for the publisher (any publisher, not just me). Today we'll talk about how returns are not always so good for the bookseller either.

Don't get me wrong. There are some serious pros from a bookseller's perspective for keeping the returns model. And since in my other line of work I am a bookseller, I can tell you what those are. (And I can even sympathize and agree with them.)
  1. Reduction of Risk -- this is a biggie, and it's going to be a hard one to convince booksellers to give up. When a bookseller orders a book knowing that he/she will be able to send back unsold copies, it pretty much eliminates the risk. Yes, there are costs for the bookseller to doing returns (I'll talk about them below), but in general they vastly outweigh the risks of being left with stock you just can't get rid of (even with sales).
  2. Allows Optimism -- Say you're a bookseller who has read the ARC of a book and doesn't particularly like it. You think it might do okay at your store, so you order a copy or two for the shelf. Then the publisher's sales rep comes in all bubbly about that book. You may not like it but they are expecting x number of star reviews and they're going to do y number of marketing things and be on z number of talk shows, and in the end the rep convinces you to take a 12 book dump. Because of your reduced risk above you can buy this dump even if you don't think that book will do all that great. And if your gut turns out to be right, you just return those extra 10 books back. (All right, this pretty much has never happened at our store because I work for some astute buyers. However if there is a doubt in their mind, they do err on the side of over rather than under ordering because they know they can return.)
  3. Allows Events to Have Enough Books -- And this is the only part of the returns system where the bookseller and the publisher in me agree. Books ordered specifically for an event should be returnable. Period. You never, ever want an event with too few books. I've worked events like that as both a bookseller and once as a publisher, and it is just a nightmare for all involved. You end up with missed sales, unhappy customers, unhappy authors, and stressed out bookstore and publisher staff. In this case returning the books is worth any loss on both sides.
  4. Take Orders without Prepayment -- Right now you can place an order at most bookstores for a book they don't have in stock without prepaying as long as the book is returnable. Why can't you do this for nonreturnable books? Because a majority of books that are special ordered for customers are never picked up or are rejected when the book arrives. Of course, I have a pretty simple solution for that dilemma, but it would probably reduce the number of people placing special orders to those who actually want the book.
Those pros I just listed are pretty powerful, but don't think that bookstores are in the returns system cost free. There are:
  1. Shipping costs -- most bookstores pay their own shipping to return books. (I don't know about B&N. When I worked there I was not in receiving but on the floor. I pulled returns, but didn't box them up.) Shipping books ain't cheap.
  2. Labor costs -- employees have to physically get the books off the shelf to return. At B&N we were expected to spend a minimum of 25% of our week "zoning" which meant going through bookshelves with a scanner listening for the little ding that told us a book was marked for return. We were also supposed to be alphabetizing and making sure the book belonged on that shelf, but nearly all of us just ended up in a zone that glazed over and listened for the return. At the indie I'm at, we have an employee solely dedicated to returns.
  3. Loss of profit -- This is the biggest drawback for a bookstore especially the independents. (Barnes & Noble buys differently. It also returns differently. When I did my post yesterday, I did a generic bookstore, not B&N. I actually lose more on a B&N return than one from anyone else. However, my issue is not with B&N, but the returns policy of the industry in general.) When most bookstores purchase directly from a publisher or distributor, they receive a 47% discount (unless there is a promotion). I'm not divulging a trade secret. You can find this discount in every catalog and publisher website out there. This is actually just barely enough for a bookstore to turn a profit. It's one of the reasons so many are now going under. Many bookstores have greatly expanded their remainders and sideline (gift things) sections because these items are purchased at a greater discount. (Oh, and look, not surprisingly, these things are non-returnable.)
So, really in the end the only people truly profiting from this are the sales reps (who keep their commissions regardless) and the shippers (like FedEx) who are moving all these books back and forth. And I can't really blame the sales reps for working the system. After all, they've seen their numbers greatly reduced, their pay and commissions cut, and their workloads greatly increased. *

But my big question for us all -- authors, publishers, and booksellers alike -- to ponder is:

Why if returns are bad for publishers and not that great for booksellers, does the returns system persist?

Eric over at Pimp My Novel has a theory on just this issue.

What do you think?

*(Again, all of this is my personal opinion and was reached by observation in the bookstores I've worked at. I have not had long heart-to-hearts with buyers on this topic, and I've done a total of 0 research on it from a retailer's perspective. And the store I'm at has a great kids' buyer. Although rates for a particular book vary, the return rate for our section (excluding events, off-site bookfairs, and Christmas catalog books) appears to me to be in the 5% range. We do not over-order bestsellers for display purposes, and many of our books remain on our shelves past the returns period. When they still don't sell, we mark them down. The primary way BookPeople clears space in the kids' section for new books is by selling the existing inventory, not returning it.)


The Secret Loss of a Returned Book

If I was a paranoid person, I might think Barnes & Noble had it out for me. Now in reality, the powers that be at B&N haven't the faintest idea who I am. I am just one or two pages in the NBN catalog -- pretty much indistinguishable from every other publisher in there. And from Barnes & Noble's perspective, they actually probably like me. After all, for the two books I put out in 2010 (Book of Maps & The Necropolis), they purchased nearly the entire print run of each. (In fact for Book of Maps, they originally ordered 3x the print run before I pointed out to NBN how unrealistic that was.) And in any other industry, that would be it. I'd pay my authors their royalties and take my remaining money to the bank.

But this is the book industry, and unlike literally every other industry on the planet, we allow returns.

And this is why I become paranoid about Barnes & Noble's intentions. Because although they bought nearly the whole print run of Book 3 of both The Sacred Books and the The Forgotten Worlds Series, they didn't buy any of 1 or 2. You can probably guess how many casual shoppers randomly buy the third book in a series. And since I know my sales numbers for book 2 (a reasonable forecast of sales for book 3), I can tell returns are going to be somewhere in the 85% range. If I'm lucky.

Large scale returns for me are, to put it bluntly, devastating. It would be cheaper for me to print books and toss them directly into a recycle bin or a bonfire or use them to build furniture than it is for me to sell a book and have it returned. Let's do the math:

Say I have a book that retails for $1.00.

That book sells to a bookstore at a discount that we'll say is 50%. (Discounts to people who buy from NBN vary from 47-60%, but 50 is the easiest number to use.) From there it goes to the store shelves. Yeah! On my end I've gotten $0.50. My distributor takes its cut of (this is not the actual number since I legally can't disclose that but an approximate that again is easier to do the math with) of 20% or $0.10 and my author (again this varies but we'll average for ease) gets 10% of that $0.50 or $0.05. I'm now down to $0.35 which after factoring in the cost of printing the book drops to $0.10. I then spend half of that in marketing, and finally I'm left with 5 cents.

(You may have noticed that the author and publisher make the same amount. This is intentional. Authors are considered an equal partner in each book.)

So far everything is looking good for all involved. The bookstore is getting to sell at a 100% markup, the distributor is getting its cut for its hard working sales force, and the author and I are equally sharing the profits. Great.

But then 90 days pass and the bookstore can return any unsold stock. The bookstore employee pulls the book from the shelf and returns it to NBN. Since they get a full credit, I have to give the bookstore back $0.50 for that book. But wait! I only actually got $0.35 for that book. I had to give $0.10 to my distributor and $0.05 to my author. Well, my author isn't going to get to keep that money. We're partners so if the book doesn't sell, neither of us gets anything. That royalty gets credited back to me. (However, if a royalty check has been paid, the author does not send me money back. That check just acts like another advance that has to be earned out. An author never, ever sends me money except for books that he/she buys directly from me.) However, my distributor keeps the money I paid it.

So, to make a long story short, instead of making 5 cents on that book, I have lost 10. If we were talking about one of my real $16.95 hardcover books instead of this hypothetical book, that would mean that instead of making $0.85 on that book, I've lost $1.70.

Let's extrapolate that out. Pretend my print run was only 100 books, of which a bookstore sells 15 and returns 85. On the 15 books, I make $12.75. On the returned books, I lose $144.50. That means on that initial 100 book sale, I lost $131.75. In fact in order to break even on sales with returns, no more than 33% of the books can be returned.

The industry average is around 30%. So, for most books, most publishers are breaking even or turning small profits. With a hundred book sale and the industry return rate, I could make $8.50 on my book.

However, I will not be getting the industry average. My return rate is going to be much higher guaranteeing me a loss. And even if I do eventually sell all of those books again and never receive another return, I will still never recoup all of those return expenses unless I print more books at the same print rate. After all, it takes two books' sales to recoup the loss of one return. And since I had printed what I had projected would be the lifetime sales for those two books, there will be no other print runs. By buying my entire print run and then returning most of it, Barnes & Noble has guaranteed that those two books will never be profitable (or even break even) for me.

See. They totally have it out for me.*

*All right. I know Barnes & Noble doesn't have it out for me. They had no way of knowing what my print run was or that they'd bought it out or what the returns on the book would be. I doubt anyone ran sales numbers on the previous books, so the buyer and my NBN sales rep would have just placed an order for the amount they normally order for new midlist books. (The same size order they would have placed with say Harper or Random.) The fact is, I hadn't expected B&N to pick up these book for nation-wide store shelves when they hadn't picked up the first 2. I had figured it would just carry them online and in a few regional markets. The fact that they are now starting to pick up my books more consistently means that I have made adjustments to this and to advance marketing practices. They won't catch me by surprise like this again. However, it is much more fun to play paranoid than to admit I wasn't prepared for a chain pick-up.


Publisher Math

So, I had planned on doing a long detailed rant on why returns were killing publishers (specifically me) that was filled with glorious numbers and might help authors and aspiring authors better understand a less well-known aspect of the book business. However, before I started, I ran across this charming post about Bookseller Math. I decided to put off the returns post until tomorrow and instead write a companion post called Publisher Math. I present it now:

Publisher Math
By Me

Like booksellers, publishers are inundated by numbers all day long -- and I'm not talking about sales or returns figures or that number on the bottom of a P&L that determines whether or not a book should be published. (And yes, all books no matter how brilliant, all come down to that single number in the end.) I mean that we also have our own mathematical way of looking at the world. If life were a university, then all the people in the publishing field would have to take a year long comprehensive course entitled Publishers' Math 101. The units would include:
  • Statistics (Law of Averages) -- As you learn in statistics everything tends to trend to the middle of the pack. (Hence the infamous bell curve in grading.) You may have a few bestsellers and a few real duds, but most books fall somewhere in the middle. And for publishers this means you always have to remember the Law of Averages. What would the "average" reader like? What does the "average" kid prefer? What will the "average" sales be every month? What are the books "average" shelf life? Is it any wonder that many books in the marketplace are what we consider to be average?
  • Trigonometry -- When I take my sales numbers and have Excel make fancy graphs, they always create pretty little sines and cosines. Like waves, sales have troughs and peaks. Have a particularly successful marketing push? Get a peak. However, it's always followed by a trough. Always.
  • Negative numbers -- The amount a publisher makes after returns come back. See tomorrow.
  • Fractals -- Put simply, a fractal is something that when broken into smaller pieces, those smaller pieces look remarkably like the whole. Because of this, fractals are considered "infinitely complex." Is there a better way to describe what an outsider sees when they look at the publishing industry than infinitely complex?
  • Chaos Theory -- Although most evident during large trade shows like BEA or ALA, chaos can invade at any point in the publishing process. And sometimes even the smallest things (an extra dash in the ISBN of an ARC) can grind everything into a screeching halt.
  • Zero-sum -- What a publisher feels like at the end of a book's life (especially with a book with high sales but high returns). You haven't really lost much but it doesn't feel like you've gained much either.
Publisher Math can be a hard thing to sit down and face. Like Bookseller Math, it can be full of low percentages and negative numbers. It's actually a wonder, after running the numbers, that there are any publishers at all.


Sublime Submissions

Normally submissions are great inspiration for the blog. I get all sorts of weird and wacky things when submissions are open, like that time the person submitted his/her entire manuscript on purple paper (because purple was a Blooming Tree color?) or the individual that packaged his/her submission with a handful of glitter.

Ah, memories.

But this submission round I so far find myself curiously lacking instructive submissions. Every one I've seen has been professional with well written cover letters and a decided lack of quirkiness.



Heartfelt Thank You

Last week I asked for your opinion concerning a couple of different cover options for The Book of All Things. I had hoped I would get maybe 10 responses. Much to my surprise, I had 45. Since I had never planned on making the results secret (I didn't realize the poll wouldn't show results), here is the clear winner:

With 34 votes (76%):

The other covers received 5 votes (11%) and 6 votes (13%) for the Rainbow and other cover, respectively.

So, thank you in helping us out. Also to those 7 of you who went above and beyond to post your actual comments, I'm very appreciative for the feedback.


A Small Note About Rejections

Although CBAY is still accepting picture book submissions through the end of the month, we will begin contacting the people whose submissions we've already read starting tomorrow.

That means that starting tomorrow, some people will begin to receive rejection letters.

Yes, the dreaded rejection letter.

Unfortunately, the reality is that most submissions will have to be rejected. We're looking for 1, maybe 2, manuscripts at this time, and we've already received 20 or 30 times that. And submissions have only been open for 2 days.

With that having been said, please keep the following in mind. (And this is true of any rejection letter you may ever receive either from me or anyone else):
  • Do not take it personal.
    Form letters, especially, are the most impersonal thing you can get. However, most of the time what they say on them -- that "Your manuscript does not meet our needs at this time" -- is literally what they mean. I've personally read every submissions so far, and I can tell you that not a single one of them is irredeemable. In fact there are several good stories out there that will still be receiving form rejections simply because they either do not fit in with our list or was a short story manuscript instead of a picture book manuscript. There was nothing wrong with the writing or style. They just literally don't "meet our needs at this time."
  • Do not be insulted by a form rejection.
    I did the math the other day. A form rejection takes 2-3 minutes to do. A short personal rejection can take 15 minutes or more. So, let's say pick a number and say I (well, Intern) have 100 rejections to do. Even with a form rejection, that's going to take us 300 minutes or 5 hours to get out. Personal rejections would take at a minimum 25 hours. We don't have 3 work days to dedicate to rejection letters. It's just not feasible. So, as depressing and soul-sucking as form rejections are for both us and you, it's a necessary evil. Pretty much all publishing houses eventually have to succumb to them.
  • Do not let them deter you from writing.
    Like I said above, a rejection letter does not mean you can't write or will never get published. It just means that that particular work is not right for that editor or agent. Keep looking for that perfect match. Do not give up. (Personally, I don't know a single author who has never received a single rejection for something. I know I have.)
I know rejections are a miserable occasion, and although you might not believe it, we dislike them just as much as you. No one likes to disappoint others. However, it's one of the reasons we are going to try to start getting them out so quickly. We don't want you sitting around waiting on us when you could be submitting your work to someone else.


In 3, 2, 1...

Let the countdown officially begin. Tomorrow at midnight exactly, CBAY will briefly open submissions again for the first time in three years. Three years! I know accepting submissions is a commonplace thing at other publishers, but it's been so long for us that this has turned into a pivotal, logistics-meeting inspiring kind of event. We're excited and nervous and upbeat about the coming avalanche. Personally, I have goose bumps.

For the first time in quite sometime, I will once again be covered in slush even if it is all of the electronic variety.

So, I want to wish all of you submitters luck, and to tell you not to be to stressed about the whole thing. Take a deep breath and hit send. We'll be eagerly waiting to look at it over here.


Rock the (Cover) Vote

Earlier this week I said that I was working feverishly on various projects to get them done before submissions started. One of those projects is the cover for the fourth in the Sacred Books Series, The Book of All Things.

I have developed various covers, one of which is my favorite, and one which is the author's. They are not the same.

So, I could now use a little help from all of you. Below you will find the top three cover options (so far). Look at the covers, click them to see them full size, and then ask yourself, "Which book is the one I would want to buy?"

After that, please vote in my cover poll below. The more input I get, the more statistically significant the outcome. So vote! Show your friends and family and have them vote!


Basic Black

Rainbow Connection
Heavy Metal


Checklist for Submitting

The final days are approaching until we start picture book submissions. Based on some of the questions and emails I've been getting, I can tell that people are starting to get nervous. To help reduce some of that stress, I've compiled a handy little checklist to go through before you hit the send button submitting your manuscript to us. Admittedly, this list is geared for this particular submission, but you can use it for just about any submissions (both online and off) that you make.

For a printable version you can check off yourself (that does not have my colorful commentary of each item), click here.

Checklist for Submissions
(As compiled by the Buried Editor)

Cover Letter:
  • Correct Editor/Agent Name and spelled correctly -- getting this wrong will get our backs up every time
  • Correct Publishing House/Agency and spelled correctly -- ditto
  • Correct Address/Email address -- or it might not get to us at all
  • Formal salutation -- remember, this is a professional introduction
  • Introductory paragraph providing context (why you are submitting, where you met editor, etc.) -- tell the truth, after all we don't really care that much, this just helps us jog our memories
  • Pitch paragraph(s)
    • Title of manuscript -- amazing the number of people that forget this
    • Manuscript’s genre -- useful
    • Age range for manuscript -- granted, we can tell when we read the manuscript, but this helps us in the beginning know whether or not its even something we are looking for and whether or not you know
    • Summary of manuscript -- this is where you really sell us on the work
  • Series paragraph (optional)
    • Title of series -- a bad tentative title is better than nothing
    • Projected number of books in series -- if you're working on an extended plot series (think Harry Potter) you should know, otherwise, the number you want to write
  • Biography paragraph
    • Publishing experience -- do not list every instance. Send a CV for that. Hit the relevant highlights here
    • Relevant education
    • Trade organization memberships (SCBWI, etc.)
  • Thank you for allowing submission/Request to send manuscript if a query -- word politely, after all there's no point in alienating the editor/agent by demanding
  • Signature -- remember to actually sign a physical letter (I forget all the time!)
  • Your correct contact information
    • Email -- if it's wrong I won't be able to reach you
    • Phone -- ditto
    • Website -- if you have one. If you don't, it's not necessary.
    • Blog -- if you have one. If you don't, it's not necessary.
    • Address -- optional in electronic submissions
  • Proofread letter -- missing words in letters happen, but it can be annoying and make for strange sentences
    • Spell-check -- computer should do it, but always double check
  • Have someone else read & critique letter -- you will never find all of your own errors. This is very important to have someone who is honest with you do this
    • Professionalism -- making sure it isn't too casual
    • Coherence -- nerves can come out in writing leading to odd sentences (or sometimes a word is missing or its homonym was used)
    • Interesting portrayal of pitch paragraph(s) -- did it interest your reader. If not, it probably won't interest me either.
  • Formatted Properly -- seriously, folks do this right. It's such a little thing but so frustrating when wrong. And it makes the things very hard to read.
    • If printed or attached as document:
      • Double spaced
      • 12 point font (Arial, Times)
      • 1 inch margins
      • Paginated
      • Last name and manuscript title on every page (use header/footer function)
      • White paper/black type -- never, ever change this. I never want to see purple paper submissions again.
    • If included in body of email:
      • Single spaced
      • Double spaced between paragraph
      • No tabs
      • Standard font and sizes
      • Black type -- Green on white is almost impossible to read. Letters typed in green are going straight in the trash.
  • Contains title and pen name if different from author -- again, amazing numbers of people forget to put in the title
  • Does not contain strange page breaks or break text up into specific pages (especially important for picture books) -- This means don't tell me that "Stop!" is on page 1 and "In the name" is on page 2 and "of love." is on page 3. Simply write, "Stop! In the name of love"
  • Gripping beginning -- or I might not read on
  • Compelling middle -- to keep me reading
  • Conclusive end -- cliff hangars are one thing, but just leaving me dangling is uncool
  • Good strong characters -- weaklings need not apply
  • Shows not tells -- when appropriate. Obviously, some summary is occasionally needed, but it's more interesting to read scenes.
  • Consistent internal logic throughout story -- if your characters live in a world that never invented contractions do not suddenly have them "can't" and "won't" all over the place (unless of course they have just discovered contractions in a momentous scene)
  • Manuscript has been proofread -- again, missing words make for strange stuff
  • Manuscript has been critiqued -- you don't generally want to send something you just finished the night before no matter how brilliant you currently think it is
  • Manuscript has been revised -- at least consider your critiquer's advice although you don't have to take it
  • Manuscript has been sitting on your computer long enough and just needs to make its way into the world now. What are you waiting for? Send it! -- there's such a thing as too much revision. At some point you have to send your manuscript away and see what happens!


Submission Questions

Just think, in only 5 days (5 days!) our submission period for picture books will begin. We’ve been bracing ourselves getting very excited over the prospect of all of those submissions. We've also been getting some great questions that I want to share with you today.

If I'm submitting several books in a series, should they all go in one email or still be submitted in separate emails?

Actually, if you have several books in a series, you only really need to submit the first one. After all, if we don't like the first one, we probably aren't going to be to into the rest of the series, especially if they build on one another or are interdependent. What you should do for that first one though is make sure you include in your cover letter that it is the first in a series and then describe the series a bit.

However, if you would still like to send multiple books, be sure to send them in separate emails. With the dummies this is essential to make sure the emails don't get to large and don't come through, but even with the manuscripts we prefer that they be separate for internal housekeeping reasons.

Can I submit early?


Really, there would be no point. We're not going to look at them before the 15th. In fact, this week is a busy week to ensure that we will have time to start processing through the submissions next week. Also, we're trying to keep that email open for questions right now. If a bunch of submissions start coming in, those questions are going to get lost.

Can I submit more than five?


Seriously, if you can't narrow it down to five, you aren't being discriminating enough. Have a trusted, yet honest, friend help you. I really should only be asking for 1 or 2, but I'm aware that what I think is your best isn't what you may think is your best. So, I'm giving you the benefit of a few more submissions. After all, picture books are short and can be gone through pretty fast.

I don't have a completed dummy, but I am a professional illustrator interested in illustrating my own book. What should I do?

In that case, submit with the authors and do a regular manuscript submission (Subject line: Fantasy or Science Fiction Picture Book Submission), but attach a sample illustration from your book instead of a dummy. Illustrations should be high resolutions jpgs, gifs, or pdfs.

My dummy does not contain any color illustrations. Can I still submit it?

Obviously if you are never planning on black & white or spot color illustrations, you do not need to change your plan now. My request for a color cover and at least one full color illustration is to get an idea of your style, not because I am only considering color picture books. I'm willing to look at any illustrative style or medium or color palette. The more complete the dummy, the better sense I will get, but I can still work off rough but comprehensive sketches. However, again, please have at least the cover and one illustration complete. It's hard to visualize your water color style if all I see are pencil sketches.


Status Update Requests

Yesterday I told you to not bother an editor/agent about the progress of your manuscript in the slush system. However, if you haven't heard from them within their stated response time (for me three months), you can follow up.

Keep in mind though, that you need to be polite and nonobtursive. Remember to not make demands or accuse the editor of laziness or slowness. (Admittedly no one has ever done that to me personally, but I have seen ones that other people have received. And let me tell you, nothing inspires someone to immediately go look up and accept your manuscript than an accusatory email. Wow, I could literally feel the sarcasm dripping from my fingers as I typed that last sentence.)

Instead, send a small polite email that tells your name, the day you submitted, the manuscript name, and politely, politely, request a status update.

If you do that, you won't offend anyone, and you'll get the info you are dying to receive.


A Small Post About Etiquette

As everyone knows, there is always a polite way to go about doing things. In this age of reality shows where screaming makes you famous and atrocious behavior makes you money, this concept is sometimes forgotten. However, there are people (like say me and every other editor and agent on the planet) who appreciate courtesy. In fact, it will make you look more professional than the rude louts we all cringe at having to deal with. So, in that spirit, I have compiled a small list of polite things to consider when making an electronic submission.
  1. If you are doing multiple submissions, you need to send multiple emails.
    I am not saying you can't do a simultaneous submission if the editor/agent doesn't require exclusive submissions. That's fine. What I am saying is don't use the exact same "Dear Editor" email and then type a bunch of different editor emails into the To or Bcc field creating a mass email. For one thing, we can tell when this has happened, even when you use the Bcc field. (It's pretty obvious.) For another, it means that you haven't taken the time to personalize the email to anyone which means you probably haven't bothered to learn if your manuscript is even a good potential fit for the editor's list. You can use chunks of your cover letter for every editor (the pitch and bio paragraphs won't change much), but otherwise you should carefully consider each person you submit to, and make slight changes to suit that editor. Just as you shouldn't make xerox copies of a cover letter and stick it in a bunch of submission envelopes, you shouldn't send carbon copies of your email cover letter. Besides being kind of rude, it makes you look lazy.
  2. Do not make demands.
    Unfortunately for submitters, editors are the ones with all the power. (And let's face it, most of us only have a little bit compared to the Senior Editors or Editorial Directors or Publishers or other departments like Marketing that have a say in acquisitions. Very few have my luxury of owning the whole show.) We decide what is printed, when, and in what format, and our decisions are controlled by market forces as much as they are by our own tastes. This means that authors are in no position to make demands. Besides being annoying, they make you look clueless.
  3. Do not tell me that passing on your book would be stupid or the greatest mistake of my life.
    Do I really have to explain this one? No one, including me, likes having their intelligence doubted. It almost instantly puts a person in a negative mood no matter how much they try to resist it. Why would you want a person who is about to read your manuscript to now be in a less than stellar mood? And let's face it. I've done (and will do) many stupid things in my life, but passing on a manuscript has never even come close to making the top 1000.
  4. Do not lie to me.
    Lying makes you untrustworthy, and no one wants to do business with someone they can't trust. So, don't tell me that I critiqued you at a conference and asked for the manuscript if I didn't. Don't tell me your manuscript is under consideration with XYZ editor at ABC house if it's not. I will know if you're lying. Trust me.
  5. Do disclose if you are doing a multiple submission.
    They're fine with me, just tell me you're doing it. Also, let me know if it's under consideration at another house (an editor has told you he/she is considering it) or another house has offered for it. Although if you do have an offer and are submitting to me in the hopes of starting a bidding war, don't bother. I don't do bidding wars or participate in auctions. Finally, let me know if you are agented. (Because from that moment on I'll need to be talking to him/her not you.)
  6. Do not email asking for progress on your submission.
    If your manuscript is being seriously considered, you will know because I will email you. If you haven't heard from me within the three month waiting period, it's because I haven't gotten to your story yet and therefore have nothing to report. I can guarantee that will mean that your story will move to the bottom of the metaphorical pile, lengthening response time. Of course, that is just for annoying emails during the three month period I have said it will take to go through manuscripts. After the three months are up, it is fine to ask for a status update. We'll discuss how tomorrow.


My Baby Has Croup

Now normally croup involves an annoying cough and is easily treatable. Sometimes, however, it involves vomiting, coughing, paleness, and an asthma-like wheeze (that's what I though it was) that does not stop for anything, and at 2:30 in the morning requires a trip to the ER. My child, of course, had the second one.

He is now absolutely fine thanks to the wonders of modern medicine and modern steroids. In fact, contrary to the doctor's predictions, he slept all of last night without a single wheeze or cough, and the croupy cough has in fact entirely disappeared.

I, on the other hand, did not sleep much at all choosing instead to sit in his room waiting for the moment when his breathing would become bad enough that I would have to stick his head in the freezer. (An actual remedy for croup. I am not making this up.) Fortunately that moment never came.

The result of all this is that I have (to all appearances) a healthy, rested toddler, and a zoned out Mama who not only can't remember what I planned on talking about today, but also can't think of something in it's place. I will resume discussing whatever it was I was discussing when I can once again remember what that was.

Ah, first time parenthood.


Electronic Cover Letters (Part 2)

Like I said yesterday, the body of your electronic cover letter should be exactly the same sort of thing that you would put in a traditional hardcopy cover letter. Let's review what the content of each of those paragraphs should be:
  1. Introduction
    This paragraph is where you set the context for your submission. Did you meet the agent at a conference? Are you responding to a manuscript call? Were you referred by someone else? What this is not the place for is explaining how this book was written for your child/grandchild/niece or to explain that these are the true exploits of your most amazing and adorable cat. No matter how true these things may be, I don't need to know them, and they will mark you as an amateur.
  2. One-Two paragraph pitch
    The next one or two paragraphs should be your pitch of your book. Like a published book's jacket copy or a written, more detailed elevator pitch, this is a teaser that gives the overall major plot arcs of the story, a feel for the major characters, the genre and age range of the book, the themes you tackle, possibly the setting (if important), and anything else you feel is important and will help set your book apart from the other comparable books out there. You are not quoting or paraphrasing the text, merely summarizing, but if possible you should still try to convey your voice -- your own distinct writing style that makes your writing sound like you.
    (*NOTE* These are very difficult to write but extremely important to get right. If this paragraph(s) does not interest the editor/agent reading it, there's a very good chance the rest of the letter and your manuscript will not get read either. This is not to paralyze you into incapacitating writer's block inducing fear, but merely to make you aware of the importance of a good pitch.)
  3. Series pitch
    If you see your book as the beginning of a series, this paragraph is the place to tell me about it. However, if you don't see this as a series (and despite the tale bookstore shelves may tell, not every book is the first in a series), do not suddenly try to develop one for your cover letter. Just skip on to the next paragraph. Besides, if your editor/agent ends up seeing it as a series, they will be happy to tell you. You'll then be left with the pesky little detail of trying to think one up. Worry about it then.
  4. Biography
    This is the place to tell me a little bit about yourself. But be professional here. I would like to know if you have a PhD in literacy or an MA in Children's Literature. I don't want to know that you've been reading children's books since you were a child. Also, this is the place for any professional associations that you belong to like SCBWI, Writer's Leagues, etc.
  5. Conclusion
    Since we are discussing cover letters for unsolicited manuscripts (and yes, answering a manuscript call is still technically an unsolicited manuscript), you would then thank the agent/editor and sign the letter. However, if we were discussing queries, this would be the place to politely ask to submit the manuscript.
Format-wise, the body of your email should look the same as a regular business letter: single spaced paragraphs with no indent and a double space in between. Do not use strange fonts or sizes. They will not make your email stand out, but merely make it annoying.

For a great discussion and annotated query letter, see Brooklyn Arden's post from a year ago. Although a query letter, all of the pertinent information is the same. I greatly admire this editor, and if you don't already follow this blog, you should consider doing so. She is a great resource of information.


Electronic Cover Letters (Part 1)

In this day and age of electronic communication almost completely overtaking all other forms, I feel that electronic submissions are only going to become more and more common. As more agents and editors want files they can read on-screen (either on readers at home or on computers at work), more and more authors will be emailing instead of mailing submissions. This means we need to discuss electronic submission formats and etiquette. To that end, I'm going to devote the rest of this week to this very subject.

First up, let's discuss the electronic cover letter.

Now, in a traditional hard copy submission, you would place your cover letter on top of your manuscript. It would look like a standard business letter with the date, contact information, and the actual content of the letter. Obviously, an electronic letter is going to differ in several ways:
  • You don't need to date it or include your email or mailing address of the recipient.
    All of these things are going to be automatically included in the email anyway.
  • You are going to need to have a subject line.
    This line can easily be overlooked when you are busy worrying about the contents of your email. However, having a No Subject email is the surest way to have it deleted by the recipient unopened. If (like me) the editor/agent is specifically asking for a particular subject line, use it. Otherwise, here are some potential ones:
    • Requested Submission -- The best one, but it had better be true.
    • Submission from XYZ Conference Attendee -- For people who met an agent/editor at a conference and were invited or told to submit online.
    • Picture Book Submission, Teen Romance Submission, etc. -- No harm in naming it what it is.
    • Unsolicited Manuscript Submission -- Probably what most submissions are, but avoid using this unless specifically told to.
  • You will need to address the email to someone.
    I don't mean the To: email line here. I mean that you will need to start your letter to Dear ____. This is a formal business email. Do not just start typing away as if this is a casual acquaintance.
  • You will need to sign your full name.
    Again, this is a business email. Sign it "Sincerely" or "Thank you again" or something else appropriate with your full name. You are not just dropping them a line. You are approaching a potential business contact.
  • Add full contact information after your name.
    This includes your phone number, website, and blog(s) if you have one. You can put your address if you like, but most likely the person will either call or reply to the email. You do not need to put your facebook or twitter links here. Even though editors and agents realize what great marketing tools these are, they are a more casual form of communication than websites or blogs. I would only have these if you have thousands of followers and you specifically mentioned them as potential marketing tools in your cover letter.
After you've worried about all this small stuff, you'll need to actually write the cover letter content. This should be the same thing you would put in a regular hardcopy cover letter. But, for folks who would like a refresher, we are going to discuss what that should be tomorrow.


New Year, New Goals

Ah, a new year is upon us. And like everyone else, I have some resolutions specifically for CBAY. And I figure if I post them, that gives me some accountability (and makes it harder for me to have already forgotten them a week from now).
  • Get all of the backlist and frontlist titles made into ebooks. So, far only the Book of Nonsense has been started on the ebook journey. My goal is to have all of the backlist made by April, and the frontlist as the books come out.
  • Exhibit at TLA. Okay, so this one is kind of a cheat since I technically decided to do this a few days ago. But it still is going to require a fair bit of planning and work, so I'm going to include it.
  • Get all those websites up. I know Forgotten Worlds. It's coming. I swear.
  • Respond to submissions within 3 months. This one is going to be the hardest of all. Even with Intern and the form letter already written, it's going to take a while to work through all of the submissions I suspect I'll be getting in 2 weeks. I'm going to try though.
Now that I've got my list up, it's time for you to make your writing oriented list. I know you can do it.

Happy New Year!