Sunday, September 26, 2010

This is Your Book with Guns

Q: Is it okay for characters in YA novels to use guns? My story takes place in the future and several of the teenage characters have and use guns. I'm in the middle of revising, so it wouldn't be impossible to replace the word gun with some imaginary weapon from the future but I feel like that's a cop out. We hunted (bad choice of word?) down a librarian in the YA section to ask what she thought and she said it was fine, but her coworker overheard and they ended up disagreeing! Can you shed any light on this?
Once you throw firearms into the mix in a children's book, you're potentially upping the age level and cutting out a certain percentage of your audience. Not to say that it is verboten in YA, but the 10-12 crowd that very often reads up to YA might not get the chance to read it, some parents and other gatekeepers will be distraught about it, and if there is a "mature" YA section in the bookstore or library different from the other YA, the book may well be relegated to it. Plus the book might not make it into curriculum, book fairs and school libraries if there is a lot of gunplay.

So I think you have to decide, and this is something that only you will know: in the story that you are telling, are guns really necessary? If they are, really and truly, then you've gotta leave them in. If you're telling a story about gangsters or child soldiers or a school shooting or hunting (and probably a few other topics) it would absolutely not make sense to not have guns.

That said, I'd also urge you to check out how some other authors have handled the problem. Anthony Horowitz's teen spy Alex Rider for example (though those books are more 10+ rather than teen), is in MI6 like James Bond. However, they make a point of NOT giving him a gun, but rather all kinds of more-awesome gadgets that are a bit more kid friendly, like explosive gum,  metal-melting zit cream, and the like - plus he knows martial arts and uses at-hand objects such as sporting equipment, along with cunning, to disable or capture his enemies.  In Ender's Game, though the kids are in fact using real weapons, they think they are essentially playing a game... and they aren't "guns" as we know them anyway. (That's another thing - how far in the future are we talking? If it is super far into the future, surely they'd have something more high-tech than a plain old gun... so 19th century!)

Anyway. This is all a long way to say, if you need them leave them in. But if you aren't sure, try taking them out and see what it sounds like. Doesn't hurt to TRY, right? You can always put 'em back.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Open Thread, September

It's that time again, kids. Open Thread time!

While I am getting ready for tomorrow's YA EXTRAVAGANZA (are you coming?), this is your chance to ask whatever agentish or bookish questions you like, give commentary, tell me some interesting facts or stories, show cute animal pix, or whatever.

Short answers will be provided in the comments, long answers might find themselves fodder for the blog.

I want to hear from you, so go to it!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


All the great new Fall books are starting to pop up in stores, including some books of mine! These titles all have October "on sale" dates, but... they are in fact all available now.  So I decided, why wait to brag?  Get your paws on them, you won't be disappointed. 

Now I present OCTOBER RELEASES, in alphabetical order by author, with no further ado, this time I mean it:

DRAW THE DARK by Ilsa J. Bick,  Carolrhoda Lab  Christian's parents disappeared when he was a little boy, and ever since hes drawn and painted obsessively, trying to remember his mother. The problem is, Christian doesn't just draw his own memories. He can draw the thoughts of those around him. And the things he draws...they tend to die.


MERMAID'S MIRROR by LK Madigan, Houghton 
Lena has lived her whole life near the beach - walking for miles up and down the shore and breathing the salty air, swimming in the cold water, and watching the surfers rule the waves - the problem is, she's spent her whole life just watching. Yet something lures Lena to the water ... an ancient, powerful magic. *starred review, Booklist* 

MAGICIAN'S MUSE by Linda Joy Singleton, Flux
In the thrilling climax to The Seer series, Sabine's psychic abilities, sleuthing skills, and courage are pushed to a dangerous edge as she deals with the mysterious disappearance of her ex-boyfriend Josh, a new threat against her boyfriend Dominic, evil magicians--and a coldblooded murder.


In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say that I was not the agent for either one of these delightful picture books. The business of picture book making can be glacially slow, so though they are both brand-new in stores, they were actually sold to their respective publishers many years ago.  That means you won't find them in my Sidebar o' Sales. But I love the books a lot, and the authors are clients now, so I am very happy to promote them in whatever small way I can. 
HALLOWILLOWEEN - Nefarious Silliness from Calef Brown (Houghton) Welcome to the spooky side of #1 NYT Bestselling author/illustrator Calef Brown's imagination, where things are just as scarily silly as they seem.  SLJ says, "Brown's playful collection of poems and paintings is likely to inspire as many giggles as it does shivers. *Starred reviews from Kirkus and SLJ*

 I AM THE DOG by Daniel Pinkwater (HarperCollins)
Jacob is the boy. Max is the dog. Until they decide to change places.
Now Jacob gets to eat kibble, chase squirrels, and snooze, just like a real dog. Max brushes his teeth, goes to school, and plays video games, just like a real boy. The question is: Who has the better deal?
This is hilarious, a boy-and-dog escapade that's sure to set tails a-wagging! Illustrated by Jack E. Davis

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Options! Options! Options!

Q: How about getting out of a never-ending option clause? Say you've gone directly to a publisher. Say that publisher keeps putting an option clause in the contract that says they get first look at your next book. Said Publisher refuses to take this clause out, and Little Known Author has very little bargaining power. Is there any way out of this situation? Or is it best to just suck it up, write another book, and query some agents?
This is going to be a long one, I apologize in advance. But it is important, I swear.

Probably not everyone reading this knows what an Option clause is, so a quick definition. The Option clause (frequently just called "option") is part of the contract that essentially says that the publisher has x amount of time to look at the author's next manuscript exclusively.

I try to remove the option from contracts whenever possible. Some publishers insist on keeping it in their contracts. Seems silly to me personally, I mean, I always try to give the current publisher first crack at a next book unless there is a pressing reason not to. It is only polite... and I don't like being contractually obligated to be polite.

I do understand the publisher's perspective. They are making an investment in publishing you, and they want the opportunity to be the ones to grow your career. After all, if they liked your writing enough to buy it the first time, they may well like the next book just as much, publishing more books from you will help the sales of the first one, and why should they spend all this time and effort and money to publish you if you're just going to run away with the next book?  I get it. Don't always agree with it, but I get it.

That said, there are some option clauses that are onerous. The good news is, even if a publisher will not remove the clause, they will often adjust it... and yes, probably even for a small-potatoes author with no agent.  Personally, I do my best to remove the option, and if I can't remove the option, I try to make the terms of the option as narrow as possible.

For example, if you have written a YA novel set in a Victorian Steampunk version of the Old West, you don't want the option to be for the next book of any kind that you write. I might say that the publisher only has an option on "your next work of YA fiction set in Victorian Steampunk Old West" or "YA set in the same world" or "with the same characters." That is fair, I think, as it would naturally make sense and be for the best if the same publisher can publish what could be considered a sequel or companion book to book 1.  But this way, if you write some totally different contemporary YA, or a Middle Grade, or nonfiction, or anything else, you aren't required to give them a brief exclusive (though you still can if you want, and it is probably polite to do so if you have a good relationship with your editor).

I also make sure that the option time limit is as short as possible (30 days is ideal, NOT 90 or 120 days or anything else). And I ask to be able to turn in a proposal/sample chapters, not an entire manuscript. And I make the date I can submit be either anytime, or anytime after delivery of the first book... NOT AFTER PUBLICATION OF THE FIRST BOOK. That could keep you hemmed up for a year or more.

Also, sometimes there are nasty bits of the clause that might say, essentially, "if we make an offer but you go elsewhere, you are not allowed to take less money than we offered you" or maybe "if you turn down our offer or we don't make an offer but somebody else does, you have to come back to us first before accepting any other offer." NO. NO. UNACCEPTABLE. If you've given them an exclusive and they make an offer and you accept it... awesome!  If they decline to make an offer at all, too bad for them.  If they decline to give you the offer that you want to see and won't negotiate, you can say no, and that is the end of it.

One (invented) example of an onerous option (there may be more text or different problems than this):
Publisher shall have the first opportunity to read and consider for publication the Author's next work, for a period of 120 days from receipt of the complete manuscript, such time period not to begin before 60 days from the publication of the Work which is the subject of this agreement. If Author and Publisher cannot agree to terms for publication of said next work, the Author shall be at liberty to negotiate with other publishers, provided that the Publisher be given the option to obtain the rights to next work by matching terms which Author shall have obtained elsewhere.
One (invented) example of a decent option (there may be more text than this, but these are the basics):
Publisher shall have the first opportunity to read and consider for publication either the complete text, synopsis, or specimen chapter from the Author's next realistic YA novel set in the same world as the Work that is the subject of this agreement, for a period of 30 days from receipt of proposal of said next work, on terms to be negotiated. If the Publisher and the Author are unable to agree terms for publication, the Author shall be at liberty to enter into an agreement with another publisher.
So quick recap. You are given a contract with an option clause in it:
You may ask to have this clause removed. If they won't remove it:
* SHORT time limit on option clock (30 days max is ideal)
* Try to specify that you can turn in proposal or sample, not completed ms. & narrow down the type of book that is covered.
* Time limit starts whenever you turn in proposal, or if not, within x time after DELIVERY of first book, not publication
* If they say no, or the option clock runs out, your obligation is complete.
Remember - if you've done your best to create a good next book or proposal, and you've given your current publisher a decent crack at it according to the rules and spirit of the contract, you are done. If they take too long, you are allowed to go elsewhere. If they give you a terrible offer, you are allowed to say no. Just because you have an option doesn't mean you are REQUIRED accept any offer.

And if all this is too late for you, or you don't know what I am talking about and all this stuff gives you a splitting headache... it's probably a good idea for you to write another book and query some agents.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

To Multi-book, or Not to Multi-book

Q: What about two-book deals? How finished does a sequel or tie-in need to be and how likely is it that a debut author can get one?
There are great reasons to sell a book in a two-book or multi-book deal:

* You get a guaranteed next book for the same amount of money, even if the first book just does "meh".

* You get more time for the publisher to "build" you -- if they've made an investment of time and money, they are expressing faith in your future and longevity, and the hope and expectation is that they will try to make sure that you do well enough for them to make some dough, at least.

* There is a sense of security that comes with knowing that this book is sold already. Some authors thrive with this knowledge. And some authors work best under a deadline.

There are great reasons NOT to go for a multi-book deal:

* You are locked in to having sold the second book for the same amount of money, even if the first book does phenomenally well. You may deserve a lot more money for book two, but the book is already sold.

* If you don't get along with the publisher, or don't agree with how they are handling your career, or think the book is being published badly... you are stuck for another book, with an potentially expensive and hassle-filled nightmare if you want to get out of the contract.

* There is a sense of excitement and freedom knowing that you don't have a contract for the next book. You could do anything you want! Some authors work better if they "stay hungry" and free in this fashion. And some authors panic under a deadline.

Maybe half of the deals I make are multi-book deals, and many of my debut novelists sold in a multibook deal. Sometimes these are series or sequels, though just as often book 2 is an entirely new book.  Whether we go in the multi-book direction depends on the author, the book, the desire of the publisher, if the book lends itself to a series or sequel, if there is competition, etc.

The good news is, the most I've ever had at this stage is a paragraph or brief synopsis describing what book 2 might be. In some cases, in fact, I have had absolutely nothing, but the publisher was ready to make a commitment to the author even without an idea for book 2.

As in so many aspects of this business, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. This is something to discuss with your agent or editor when the time comes.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Secret Ingredient is ELF

@DelilahSDawson Note to self: When you change the char's name from Tom to Jimbo with a blanket Find & Replace, you get a lot of Jimboomorrow.
That tweet from Delilah made me remember a story I meant to tell you guys!

So one of my clients wrote a manuscript. At a certain point, he decided that the "trolls" in the book should really be "elves"... and the use of Word's "Find & Replace" feature created some hi-larious mistakes.

Characters found themselves "selfing around" instead of strolling.  Trolleycars because "Elfeycars". A plate of sweetrolls became "sweeelves" - and you need a lotta coffee to wash those bad boys down, believe me.

These mistakes did not get caught until the book was almost printed, because, though they were all changed in the first pass, there was a mix-up with the versions. Whoopsie! So if it wasn't for some late-breaking intervention, there was a very real possibility that you'd have been trying to work out a good recipe for sweeelves while reading this book.

The point I am making might sound silly, but it can't be repeated often enough: Those little shortcuts and conveniences the computer lets you take with your manuscript can be handy and great, but you'd better not take for granted that they've worked properly. And when you think you are done re-reading, try taking a break, and re-reading again.

ETA: My sister sent me this episode of Radiolab- the first segment discusses innocent copyediting errors that lead to bigger unexpected problems. (Funny... but not for the person who loses their job over it)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Link & Small News Roundup

Welcome to Friday Five, evening edition!  HOW did this week go by so quickly?

1) The dog is now called Moxie.  It's a lot easier to say than Macadamia was. And easier to yell, which is good, since she has learned to take flying leaps onto my desk.  (Her formal name is Edith Macadamia Bouvier, if you must know, but Moxie will do for short.)

2) Last week (ish) my client Kate Messner wrote a terrific guest post on a blog about how she finds the time to write. And people? If don't believe that it can happen for you, if you think dealing with your job or your kids is too exhausting and you'll never be able to do all that AND write a book... you should definitely look to Kate as an example. She is a 7th grade teacher, a mom of two, and I just sold her twelfth book. If she can do it, you can do it.

3) But maybe–just maybe–you don't really want to do it. John "not my client" Scalzi has a terrific post up called Find the Time, or Don't.  To paraphrase, if you really wanted to be a writer, you'd find the time to write.  If you DON'T find the time to write... that's fine. Don't be a writer. No biggie, right?

4) All this shop talk making you hungry? Have some lemon pudding cake.  Nommity nom!  Now I have a ton of reading to do and can't stand around in the kitchen, so who is gonna bake it for me? 

5) This video made me crack up. But it contains salty language. You've been warned. "What is wrong with books?"

!!!!!!! [BESTIE x BESTIE  1] !!!!!!! from Dean Fleischer-Camp on Vimeo.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Breaking Waves anthology

The BREAKING WAVES e-anthology is here!  Fiction, poetry, essays, and fabulousness!

This anthology is co-edited by my client Tiffany Trent and features work by both Tiffany and another client, Patrick Samphire, as well as Hugo & Nebula award winners & luminaries like Ursula K. LeGuin. Wow! Most importantly, though, all profits from BREAKING WAVES go to support ongoing clean-up efforts in the Gulf. 

Fans of Tiffany's HALLOWMERE series should note that there's a special Hallowmere story in the antho that you will not find anywhere else.  Download it!

Monday, September 13, 2010


So, if you follow me on Twitter or Facebook, you've no doubt noticed that as of yesterday, there has been a new addition to the household. Meet the extra-adorable MACADAMIA!

I didn't give her that name, she came with it. Though the vet wrote "MACEDONIA" on her paperwork. I am thinking that she'll need to be something a little easier to call soon, probably "Maggie".  She is about two years old, very sweet-tempered, doesn't spook, is good with other dogs and people, is busting with personality AND is housebroken. (She doesn't really come when she's called... but that is mostly because she doesn't really have a name yet!)

The thing is... Macadamia-or-whatever-her-name-is, is a foster dog. The rescue organization I am working with saves dogs like her from being destroyed in high-kill shelters in Georgia, gives them vet treatments and finds them nice adoptive families in NY. That means that she is only with me till she finds her "forever home" somewhere.

If you are in NY and in the market for a pup, take a look at Perfect Pets Rescue.  They are nice folks, and very nice dogs. Maybe you can foster!  Or you can adopt... maybe you'll even be a home for cute little whats-her-face!  :-)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Frontlist, Backlist, Midlist

Let's talk about a dirty word.

MIDLIST. Some published authors seem to be quite worried about being called "midlist". But kids, I've got news. Almost everyone is "midlist", unless you are super of-the-moment and hot, or famous and old. I think it's time for a vocab lesson.

Frontlist: Booksellers and publishers use the term "frontlist" to describe all the brand-new books this season, the books that are in the catalogue but have never been in the store before. These titles have no sales history yet, and everyone is very excited about them because they are NEW and SHINY and ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!  (Yes, if an old title is reissued in a brand-new format, it is frontlist again).

Once books stop being imaginary and/or brand-spanking-new, they are no longer frontlist and they will start getting returned if they aren't selling. For grownup books, this is about an eight week window. Kids and teen books have a bit more time, generally until the next season's books come in, so four to six months, or maybe even up to a year if there is room on the shelf.

Backlist: Booksellers and publishers use the term "backlist" to describe the books that have been out for a while, the paperbacks, the perennials. Books that are no longer frontlist become backlist or go out of print. Titles that have earned out, and that sell for years after they've come out, or for lifetimes, or even for millenia, stay backlist. Flashy NYT bestsellers or trends be damned, backlist is where the consistent money is. A deep backlist allows publishers to survive. You might hear an editor say something like "this will backlist well" -- they mean that this is a title that may not do amazing numbers, but that they expect it to stay in print and sell steadily for many years to come. This is a very good thing.

"Midlist": This isn't really a term that booksellers traditionally use in the same way as frontlist or backlist. It is instead most often a pejorative, probably first used by a smart-ass, meant to sound like those terms, but really it just means "not hot", "meh", "Johnny Average."

I think this is something authors ought to reclaim. Look, unless you are superfamous and dead (Hemingway, Poe, Faulkner) or superfamous and filthy rich (Patterson, King, Rowling) or people who read the New Yorker and wear ironic glasses talk about your ass (Gladwell, Foer, Franzen), or you are on the NYT bestseller list right now or soon (Steifvater, Clare, Hopkins, Marr) ... YOU ARE PROBABLY "MIDLIST".  Yes, you!  AND YOU!

And yes, that probably means your book.  Get over it.  It shouldn't be an insult.  It means you are normal. You haven't hit the bigtime, nor are your books being read by generations of schoolchildren, nor do people in other countries, or even other counties, know your name... and that's OK.  It's Normal. Normal. Normal is not bad.