Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cheers to the Blue Board

Every time I go to a writers conference, I give the same advice to newbie kids book authors:

Read read read. Have patience. Don't follow trends. Join SCBWI if you are able. And FIND VERLA KAY!


Don't know what that last one means?

Verla Kay is a writer. You can find her books in libraries and bookstores near you. But she is also an extremely generous kid's book maven who started and maintains (with the help of a handful of hard-working moderators) simply THE BEST resource for children's book writers on the web. It's a message board extraordinaire, filled to bursting with extremely knowledgeable writers, illustrators, and yes, agents and editors and kids book experts of all types and at all levels who are game for dishing, advice, and general camaraderie. We in the know call it the Blue Board, or Verla's, or "verlakay."

I really shouldn't even be telling you this because it'll probably cause an influx to the board but... you're all nice folks, yes? And you are really serious about being children's book writers? And you're all very respectful of one another? Because that is what flies at Verla's.

What doesn't fly? Trolling. Spam. Flaming. Political or religious convos. You'll certainly be able to get writing advice, or a chance to share your query, or publishing insider info. You'll be able to discover average agent response times, or conduct an informal poll about tween slang. You may get a little boost of inspiration when you're feeling low, or even indulge in erudite discourse about literary themes... but you'll never get into a flame war, because it simply is not allowed to happen there. Personally, I find that extremely refreshing, and so for me (and for lots of similar-minded people) Verla's is a bit of a sanctuary.

I've been on the boards since March 2007 -- well before I became an agent (though I was already interning for an agency). I've checked in pretty much every day during those five years, except the rare days when I had no computer access. In fact, though I probably shouldn't admit to this, according to the stats, I've been logged in for a whopping 59 days. Yikes! (But that's because some days I stay logged in all day on one screen and check in a bunch and read a million topics... other days I just scan quickly to see if anything is new. But I always look. And there is invariably something there every day that I find interesting, or that brings a smile.)

There are many reasons to LOVE THE BLUEBOARD... not the least of which, for me, is that I have a ton of clients at least partly because of it. We MIGHT have met another way, if the Blue Boards didn't exist... but it would have been tougher. LK Madigan, Kate Messner, Daniel Pinkwater, Jackie Dolamore, Tara Kelly, to name a few... these amazing and brilliant talents were among my first batch of authors to sign, and while I met some of them on LiveJournal too back in the day, I know I can trace much of our early relationship right back to Verla Kay's message board or chat room.

Not because I was creepily hanging waiting to snag people based on their posted query letters, or anything like that... it isn't like those "modeling agencies" that hang out at the mall looking for tweens!  Joining the Blue Boards won't get you "discovered" -- it just isn't like that. Rather, it's a place to be genuinely engaged with awesome writers, have great conversations with them, and develop mutual respect and trust.

I'd say that the OVERWHELMING majority of the queries I get from Verla Kay members are in the top 10% of all the queries I read. Verla Kay members are also 90% more likely to follow submission guidelines. Were those  totally made up statistics? YES, but they made the point. Verla Kay members are not chumps off the street - they are more likely to be serious business, and I, for one, take them seriously. (Which is why, if you are a BlueBoarder, you should definitely mention it when you query me!)

So I said I have tons of clients because of the Blue Board... but the truth is, I also have loads of friends because of it, both in real life, and "virtually." Even when I was in Italy last week, I met BlueBoarders, and it was like we were old pals even though we had never met one another before. It was pretty awesome, not gonna lie!

OK, OK, I GET IT JENNIFER, YOU LIKE THE BLUE BOARD.

I do. And I think you might, too. Join us, won't you?

And don't forget, the more thoughtfully and constructively you post, the more of the message board you see... So be nice, and join the conversations! :-)

Friday, March 30, 2012

Putting Reversion Before the Horse

darrellcurts asked: I know I am getting way, way, WAY ahead of myself considering I do not have an agent or publisher but, how long should an agent and/or publisher contract run? What should be the thresholds for rights reverting?

I can’t speak for all agency agreements, but ours is open-ended - in other words, it lasts until either the agent or the author terminates it. Other agencies may do a year-by-year agreement, or book-by-book. And even after termination, the agent who sold your book is generally the agent of record for that book as long as it is in print.

Publisher contracts vary. Most domestic book contract terms are “for the life of the book” — the book considered out of print if sales fall below a certain number of units sold. Let’s say, totally arbitrary example, “if sales of less than 250 units, in any format, in two consecutive accounting periods, and publisher has notified author they do not intend to reprint.” kind of thing (those numbers btw, totally made up, every publisher is different.)

Some other types of contracts - say, subsidiary rights such as foreign language, apps, audio — or permissions (like a test company wants to use an excerpt of the book on the SATs) may be for a set period of time - such period varies, perhaps 5 or 10 years, depending, and they have to get permission again if they want to keep producing it past that window of time.

What SHOULD be the thresholds for rights reverting? When the publisher is not printing new copies of the book, the book is no longer selling, and nobody is making money off it. In MY opinion, at that point, rights should be reverted easily. Sadly, some publishers are real pains on this subject and want to cling to the rights even after the clearly defined threshold has been crossed, and make you wait six months or more, then say ‘no no we are going to make an ebook you can’t have the rights back’ etc etc… NOT THAT I AM BITTER OR ANYTHING. *cough*

Sunday, March 11, 2012

New ASK AGENT Situation

Hey there kids --

So as you may have noticed, I didn't do an open thread this month. (You may also NOT have noticed, in which case I feel slightly awkward bringing it up! But oh well).

There are a few reasons, but the most important is, the comments on this blog are being wonky as heck, I have tried fixing a dozen times, and I don't have the time or energy to figure it out, so... ugh. The way we had it set up before just isn't working anymore.


THEREFORE, I have decided to resurrect my long-dormant Tumblr account for a sort of "running ask agent."

I can't promise to answer everything -- but I will take a stab at most things. And particularly fascinating questions, I may bring over here to the blog to spend more time answering.

So. Agentish, bookish, or life questions for me?  ASK ON THE TUMBLR.

PIECES OF US by Margie Gelbwasser

This book was officially released a couple days ago when I was out of town, so I am glad I finally get to sit at my desk and tell you about it. Because it is pretty amazing.

PIECES OF US is a dark, gritty realistic YA that pulls no punches. The story follows four kids, two sets of siblings from very different but equally messy backgrounds, who spend summers together.

At home in Philly, Alex is angry. Angry at the dad who offed himself rather than stay around; angry at the mom who goes from one guy to the next without a thought for her family. Alex may be a player and a bully, but his little brother Kyle will do anything for his approval.

At home in the suburbs, Katie is Miss Popularity, the golden girl that everyone expects too much of, the one who will always be the prettiest and best in her parents eyes, and everyone else's. Her shy little sister Julie just wants a bit of the attention that Katie gets so easily.

But during their summers at a bungalow colony in Upstate New York, all four teens have a chance to leave their old identities behind. They can be anything here.

Here, no one knows the truly disturbing nature of Kyle and Alex's dysfunctional relationship. No one knows that the girl Katie pretends to be is a lie. Julie never worries that Kyle is only spending time with her to get to her prettier sister. And the secrets that are threatening to destroy each of them seem safe.

But secrets have a way of getting out...

Buy PIECES OF US here, or at your local bookstore!

Visit author Margie Gelbwasser's website