Monday, November 22, 2010

But What About the Second Week of April?

I get questions from clients and non-clients alike all the time, wanting to know what "good times for subbing" are, or suggesting that there is a time when "publishing grinds to a halt." Once again it came up on the last Open Thread: "The end of the year is typically a busy time for all of us, but, in general, is there a better time of year to query agents?"

Since I am on my way to a holiday, this seemed like an apt time to revisit the question.

The fact is, yes, of course, lots of people go on vacation in August, and the week of Thanksgiving, and the time between Hanukkah and January 4 or so. This is true in publishing as well as pretty much every other profession.  I'm not quite sure why this is surprising to anyone.

However, when you are just querying agents, it doesn't matter when you do it.  You are (usually) submitting unsolicited material, aka "slush", which most agents read in whatever spare time they can muster, in the order in which it is received. So what the hell, who cares when you query an agent? When your material is ready, send it out and get in line. If you wait until a good time, you'll be waiting till the crack of doom.

The only exception to this is the rare agent who takes a query holiday where they are closed to submissions entirely - if that is the case, though, it should be clearly posted on their website.

The other side of the coin: When I am subbing material to editors, I am usually pitching it to them in person (or via phone or email) first, and so generally avoid the week of Christmas/New Years, the last two weeks of August, and any time when there is madness like BEA or Bologna going on. This is partly because I don't want my material to get lost in the shuffle... and partly because I am too busy during those times!

But if I avoided all the federal holidays, all the Jewish holidays, all the Christian holidays, all the book fairs and conferences and scbwi events and and and... dude, I'd have like two non-consecutive viable weeks per year in which to submit.  The fact is, publishing is a very slow business. Very. Very. Slow. As far as publishers go, it takes many people to make an offer, and to make a real book, and at least one of those people is ALWAYS on vacation or at a conference.

That said, I have gotten offers from publishers in the doldrums of August, and the week before Christmas, and at night, and on weekends, too. And I have offered representation to people during all those times.  I've offered representation to people while I was vacationing in Hawaii. I've rejected people from airplanes (and I am sure I will do it again today!)

Do prepare, of course, but don't overthink it. When you are ready, press "send."

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Do You Even NEED an Agent?

Q: What are some of the pros and cons of skipping the agent and working directly with the publisher?
Look, you don't need an agent at all, if:

If you already have a lot of good contacts in the book world and know how to make even more.

If you don't mind taking a great deal of time and energy doing research, sending your work out to people and following up on it.

If you have a lot of knowledge of the market - what is selling, and to whom, and how much money they are paying for it.

If you are superb at self-editing and self-promoting.

If you know what good contracts look like & have a good literary attorney.

If you understand why subrights are important and how to exploit them.

If you are good at negotiation and awesome at asking for raises.

If you don't mind chasing down money from stubborn tightfisted companies.

If you are excellent at sticking up for yourself even in extremely tense or fraught situations.

HOWEVER, I find that most authors, while they might be able to do all or most of those things if they really wanted to, prefer to spend the bulk of their time... well, writing.  That is where an agent comes in handy. We do all that stuff so you don't have to.

Obviously, this is my perspective, and it would be; Surprise surprise, the agent thinks you should have an agent.  But I am curious - what do YOU think are the "pros and cons" of having an agent or not?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Open Thread, November

Hey kids! I'm starting a new Open Thread for November. I am hoping that awesome threaded comments will make the answers easier to read, huzzah!

So if you have agent-type questions (or any other questions, by gum) go for it. I'll either answer in the comments, or if the answer is getting to long, will address it in the blog.

OK.... GO.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Illustrator's Portfolio

A version of this appeared long ago on my former blog, but since that is closed to the public now and I've gotten the question several times, seems like it is time to "upcycle" the post. :-)
Q: WHAT makes a good portfolio for an aspiring children's book illustrator?
Content: There is a big difference between picture book illustration work and editorial work. You are not drawing posters or advertisements here, you are trying to tell a story over 32 or more pages. It has to be attractive and have a sense of whimsy, sure, but it also has to be kid-friendly and coherent. With that in mind, you should make sure your children's illustration portfolio includes the following:

* Children - Kids playing, kids fighting, kids mad, kids glad, cute kids, silly kids, bashful kids, wistful kids, whatever. Kids being as kid-like as possible. IF you can't draw good kids, you are probably in the wrong line of work.

* Animals - Bunnies, bears, moles, frogs, cats and dogs are often the subjects of children's books. You might consider small spot illustrations of a number of different creatures, or a larger scene with several included. If I were making a portfolio, I'd do some animals in a "natural" way (deer in a field), and some in a "personified" way (ie, a badger going to school, or a porcupine drinking tea.)   ETA: Yes, you can also include fantasy animals / monsters or similar, if that suits your style. I am not suggesting that everyone try and draw like Wind in the Willows. :-)

* B&W sketches as well as color paintings, because you might be able to do B&W interior art for chapter books in addition to picture books.

* Movement - Dancing, swinging, playground games - nothing is worse than "static" looking pictures. Even a simple portrait should have some movement - a leaf skittering by, a swing in the hair, gleam in the eye and sass in the way the subject is posed. You get the idea.

* Character Transitions In other words, multiple images that are part of a set with the same character doing different things.

* Actual Spreads If you haven't actually illustrated any children's books, you might consider doing a scene or two from a famous old fairy tale.

Again, a picture book isn't just 32 snapshots of random pretty images. Art directors and editors need to be able to tell that you can tell a whole story with no words, and follow a character and narrative thread through from the beginning of a book to the end.

Format: I think that aspiring children's book illustrators should have a clean, attractive, well-designed website that showcases their work. The illustrations have to be easy to find and link to directly.  You should also have a good-quality paper versions of your pieces to show people. Though the web will get used more, you just never know when you'll need that old-fashioned paper!

If I were you, I'd also have postcards made of some favorite pieces, including your name, contact info, website, and agents info if applicable, for you to leave with people. Your agent, once you have one, may have specific requests in terms of style, formatting or wording for your cards.

Any other tips to add?