Sunday, February 27, 2011

March Madness Open Thread

OK so I am done with February. I know there are a couple days left, but I can't take it anymore, I'm calling it a wrap. 

Also I want to amuse myself, and I'll be away from home when March actually begins. SO. I call upon you, dear readers, to divert my attention with whatever you like. Agentish questions for me to answer.  Funny pictures of animals. Good news.  Jokes.  And more agentish questions for me to answer!

I'll handle questions in the comments, unless they require a LONG answer, in which case, I'll do a post about them. 

Forward, March!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Thank you

Thank you everyone for your wonderfully warm condolences and for posting your memories of LK Madigan. It has been really amazing to see how much she touched so many people - a fact that I knew intellectually, but didn't really process until I was able to see the flood of posts from all corners of the writing and reading world.

Lots of folks have asked how they may help Lisa's family.

A trust fund has been established to benefit Lisa's son; donations may be sent to the Nathan Wolfson Trust, c/o Becker Capital Management, 1211 SW Fifth Ave., Suite 2185, Portland, OR 97204.

Her husband Neil posted this info on her blog; I know that any donations would be extremely appreciated.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

A Very Sad Day

I'm heartbroken to report that my beloved friend and client Lisa (LK Madigan) passed away this morning.

Lisa was not only a dear friend but a truly remarkable writer. I had the great privilege to help bring two of Lisa's books into the world, and I hope that through those stories, many many more readers will have a chance to be touched by Lisa's brilliance, humor, heart and generosity of spirit in the years to come.

I know that many of you knew Lisa, at least online or through her books, and had her in your thoughts during her illness. She cared deeply about her readers and her community of writers, and I feel certain that your support and good wishes meant, and continue to mean, a great deal to her and to her family. And to me, as well.

Plans for a memorial will happen in the coming days and weeks. Meanwhile, I think that Lisa would encourage you all to give great big hugs to your friends and family, and follow your dreams, as she did.

Thank you all so much, and please take care of yourselves.



For more about LK Madigan, please visit her blog.  For the adorable story of her first book deal, go here. For the possibly even more adorable story of her long-awaited Mermaid Book, go here.  For the entries where she memorably channeled Tim Gunn, go here.  For an interview where she dishes about the Morris Award and more, go here.

To buy FLASH BURNOUT or MERMAID'S MIRROR, follow the links or visit your local independent bookstore.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Crafting the Editor Submission List

I often get asked how agents create editor submission lists. I can't speak for everyone, of course, but from where I sit this is almost like a puzzle or game, and while I enjoy doing it, it is not always exactly simple.

First you must know that an "imprint" is a division within a large publisher. Various imprints specialize in either different styles of book, or a particular editor's own aesthetic. Like, for example, Simon Pulse is almost always going to be highly commercial, edgy YA fare. Puffin is almost always going to be paperback reprints. Little Simon is always going to be board, pop-up, novelty and picture books for the PreK-K crowd. Arthur A Levine books might be anything from Picture Books to YA, but will almost always be special, literary books with something of a timeless feel.

You can get to know the types of books each imprint publishes by looking them up online of course (here's a list of all Penguin imprints with each one's history, and here's a list of Harper childrens imprints) - but to my mind, nothing beats spending a lot of time in the bookstore or library and keeping your eyes peeled for the publishers colophon (fancy publishing word for logo) on the spine. You will see, as you read more and more and pay attention to who publishes what, that most imprints really do have their own discernible style. 

Here are some examples of children's and YA imprints, by publisher.*
Macmillan - includes FSG, St. Martins, Feiwel&Friends, Holt, Roaring Brook, Tor among others

Penguin - includes Dial, Dutton, Putnam, Viking, Razorbill, Puffin, among others

HarperCollins - includes HarperTeen, Katherine Tegan Books, Rayo, Balzer&Bray, among others

Random House - Knopf, Bantam/Delacorte/Dell, Schwartz&Wade, Wendy Lamb Books, RH Kids, among others

Simon & Schuster - Atheneum, McElderry, Little Simon, Beach Lane, Pulse, among others.

Scholastic - AAL, Scholastic Press, Orchard, among others. 
Then there are places that I consider "one-and-done", where the editors seem to work together more and don't really have significant divisions, including Candlewick, Bloomsbury/Walker, Chronicle, Egmont, Hyperion, Little Brown, Flux, Sterling, Sourcebooks etc. They might have different lines for different types of books (like Sourcebooks Fire YA line, Little Brown's Poppy line or Candlewick Sparks early readers) but those don't quite constitute their own departments with their own dedicated staff.
Within each imprint there may be anywhere from one to a couple to a conference-room-ful of editors. Every one of those editors have different tastes and specialties.  There may be only one editor at an imprint who likes fantasy, or nonfiction, or whatever it is, or there may be several. We want to target the book not just generally ("This seems like a Knopfy kind of book") but also specifically (Who at Knopf is looking for a book like this? Whose taste would this suit? Who has something too similar in tone already?). That is why it is so important for an agent to know not only the style of each imprint, but the tastes and preferences of as many editors within each imprint as possible.

Some publishers allow simultaneous submissions to multiple imprints, some do not. But actually, even when it is theoretically allowed, it is not a practice I am personally fond of. Unless there is some pressing reason to submit a project to two imprints at once, they both won't be able to offer, so I feel like that can just cause bad blood and political wrangling that is not worth it.

Still, even if one can only submit to one editor at an imprint at one house at a time, that is still a lot of imprints, right?? RIGHT???  Welllll... not exactly. Because we also have multiple PROJECTS going out at once. I personally try hard not to send two projects to the same editor at the same time because I don't want to "burn them out" (though frankly sometimes it is just unavoidable). This might be my own personal issue - I feel like it is really hard for anyone to seriously consider two projects at once. What are the chances that they are really going to buy both of them?  My projects have enough competition from the outside world, thanks, I don't need to create my own competition.

I also hate to send the exact same kind of project to an editor in quick succession. I feel like, if they reject a paranormal romance from me, and then the following week I come back to them with another paranormal romance, that is likely to elicit a big sigh.

And, if you are talking about a non-debut author, they might have existing relationships with certain houses or editors. Perhaps their editor moved to a new publisher... Or perhaps their publisher declined to make an offer on a certain manuscript... these scenarios can certainly affect the list.

As I am sure you can see, that means that the available-editor list is getting smaller and smaller. Let's say I have two fun fantasy projects going on at the same time, and I don't want to repeat any editors. One of them might go out to 8 editors and sell right away (yay!) but the other one goes out to a different 8 and doesn't. I end up going a second round of editors, or even a third. Eventually I am going to run of editors. And if during that time another big fantasy project comes along, but I still have project B out with a bunch of folks, and I just sent project A out not so long ago... Yeah. Gets a bit intricate.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to my list-making hidey-hole!

*ETA: this list of publishers & imprints is for example only, and is by no means exhaustive. And I am referring only to USA children's book publishers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

How Slow Can You Go?

At the writer's conference over the weekend, I dazzled (or possibly terrified?) attendees with stories about just how long some books take from the point of selling them to the time they actually appear on bookstore shelves.  Especially picture books (though all aspects of publishing can be slow.)

I know folks who have waited 3, 5, 7 or more years for a bought-and-paid-for book to be published, because the publisher couldn't choose an illustrator, or the chosen illustrator had other things on their plate, or the first (two) editor(s) left the company, etc etc. You just never know how long a book will take and it depends on numerous variables that are mostly totally out of the author's control.

Quick example from one of my own clients. Keep in mind that none of these is especially slow or unusual. I just think it is interesting because the one I sold first is coming out last:
  • In early 2008, I sold a picture book called OVER AND UNDER THE SNOW by Kate Messner. It will be on shelves in time for Christmas of 2011. (4 years, 1 editor)
  • Some months later, in Spring 2008 I sold a chapter book called MARTY McGUIRE by Kate Messner. It will be on shelves this coming May, 2011  (3 years, 3 editors)
  • Some months later still, in Summer of 2008, I sold a middle grade novel called BRILLIANT FALL OF GIANNA Z. by Kate Messner. It came out in hardback in early Fall 2009, won the EB White Readaloud Award in spring 2010 and appeared in paperback in Fall 2010. (1 year, 1 editor)
Anyway, after the presentation a nice man came up to me and asked a question. "Why, in this age of modern technology, do books take so darn long to come out?"

At first I will admit that I was a bit brusque with him. "That's just the way it is. Because." I said. But really, there are lots of reasons, and I know some of them. So I thought it might be nice to share them with you so that man will not think that I am always such a big meanie.

The Joy of Sketch

I love illustrators. But they are involved in the making of a book, that book will always take longer than a novel. Why? I guess because they are making great art by hand, that's all, what do you want, sheesh!

Anyway, once a short-list of illustrators is chosen and one accepted (a process that in itself might take an age, as many illustrators might say no for any number of reasons), it will probably take six months to a year for an illustrator to finish a book. Now imagine that there are three books in line ahead of yours, each of which has to go through sketches, and changes, and final art, and changes, and the illustrator sometimes is allowed to get up from his easel and eat, too. And once all the art is done, the book still has to be properly put together, so it will be done early enough (see below).  It all adds up, yeah?

Life Gets in the Way

Have I ever mentioned that pretty much every step of the way to publication takes a long time and input from multiple people?  Well, at least one of those people is always on her honeymoon, on maternity leave or at a conference. Fact.

Timing, Timing, Timing

Each publisher will have their own timeline of when things should be done. But in general, your book will be in fully copyedited and ready-to-go form 8 months (or even more) from publication date, to prepare for bound galleys that can start appearing anywhere from 4 to 6 months (or even more) early. Why should the book be ready so early? Well, maybe so that you can get blurbs from great people in time for them to make it onto the finished book. And so bookstores, who order quite early, can see the book first, all the better to fall in love with it and order lots. And so that reviewers can read it and write intelligent reviews. And so that librarians, booksellers and other big-mouths have a chance to get their hands on a copy, read it and start buzzing about it, of course

The calendar matters, too. If you have a poetry book, it might be a good idea for it to come out in early March to take advantage of the fact that April is National Poetry Month.  If you have a Get Ready for School book, it is a good idea for it to come out during the summer, to take advantage of First Day of School displays. All of this seems obvious, right? But just how many poetry books can one small publisher crank out in March?  This brings us to...
Juggling to Fit the List

As the months pass, your season will begin to actually hover on the horizon. "Spring 2012" (or whatever) are words that have beat a tattoo on your heart for the past year. But what the publisher meant by "Spring 2012" when they said it back in Spring 2010 might have been more like "Oh, Spring 2012, or so, we'll see how it goes when the time comes."

Yes, your date is subject to change. This is (probably) not because everyone hates you.  Rather, when the time comes, the good folks in charge at the publisher will actually take a hard look at what is on the upcoming schedule for all the imprints at the publisher. They want their lists to be dynamic, full of books that are different enough that each will make a splash, not too heavily weighted toward one type of book. So if they feel that two books on the list might compete with one another to the detriment of either, one of them might get moved.  Like for example, if they realize, OH HELLO, we have two realistic middle grade dog stories slated to release within a month of one another, yeah, it is very possible that one of them will get moved to a later date.

This is not a bad thing. How pissed would you be if your charming THE DOGS OF CAMP FRISKY that you spent a year writing came out a month after Suzie Q. Author's THANK DOG IT'S FRIDAY, from the same publisher? All the bookstores who ordered from a catalogue chose Suzie's book over yours (because they don't need two different new dog books at the same time, and hers was first in the catalogue), and the publicist pitched both books to media but people went for the first one, so your book was in no stores and nobody was talking about it and Suzie won the Schipperke Fanciers Book Prize and you got screwed?  QUITE pissed, I imagine.  So let the publisher move things around if they need to, to maximize opportunities for both books.

So you Sold? So What. 

I know, I know. Getting a publishing deal is really big. It will change your life FOREVER and nothing has ever been as important and OMGYAY the universe has a new axis around which to spin. Right? 

But the thing is, from the publisher's perspective, this is a cool book, and yeah, they are happy, but guess what? They have lots of cool books that they are happy about. Like... LOTS of them.  You have to get in line, because only so many can come out each season, or they risk getting completely lost in an already way overcrowded field.

Get some perspective. Your book isn't the most important, it is just the most recent. And, as we've seen above, it isn't coming out for at least a year and more likely a couple of years. So, no matter how excited the editor is that she got to buy your book, as soon as the celebratory mini-bottle of champagne is done being quaffed, she has to return to her regularly scheduled programming: dealing with fires that need to be put out RIGHT NOW for books that are coming out way sooner than yours.

Yes. Lots of extremely busy people in a far-off metropolis are ignoring your baby. I bet it makes you feel like one of those moms on Toddlers and Tiaras. Don't you worry, Mama, your little princess will have her time to shine! Just not quite yet. This is where yogic breathing and making a pretty new baby  writing a great new book will come in handy.
Make sense?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Conference Wrap-up

I had a terrific time at SCBWI's upstate NY "Cabin Fever" conference in Syracuse NY.  Home of the world's largest snowplow. (No, really). The icicles were sharp, the snow was swirling, but the company was totally delightful. Thanks to superstars Amy Emm and Ellen Yeomans for the hard work and kindness!

My talk was fun, but I totally ran over time and could have gone for another hour probably with Q&A. For those who are curious, here are the topics I covered in AGENTS 101

1. Who the hell I am, anyway, and what kind of books I represent

2. What is "trade publishing" and how does it differ from educational markets and others? What are "the big six" publishers?

3. How is has the recession, etc, affected publishing?

4. What does an agent even do? How do they help authors navigate the publishing world?

5. How do you get an agent?  How to do the research, a bit about queries, synopses, publication credits, personalization, submission guidelines and the like.

6. On rejection, and what "subjective" really means.

7. Why it is a terrible idea to compare your path to others, how each book has its own way of being sold and published. I had copies of about ten of my books up there and I gave the unique circumstances and timeline of each, bumps along the way, and gave the "shock-and-awe" portion which is how very long it can take for some books to make it to print.

8. MYTHBUSTERS!  I gave each participant a quiz in their handout - 20 myths that I hear over and over from published and nonpublished writers alike - and went through each one and busted them. (Some came from my summertime Mythbusters blog post, some were new.)

and then Q&A!  I got one very interesting question that I have never addressed here, which I hope to get to in the coming days.

Anyway... now I have a train to catch, the real world awaits. But thanks again, Syracuse!  MWAH!   *waves*

Friday, February 04, 2011

Agents 101

Hey all -

Time for you to give me some advice.

Next week, I am doing a talk at an SCBWI event in Syracuse. It is to be on the topic AGENTS 101 - as in, questions and issues that an absolute newbie would bring up, along with some stuff for people who have been around.  It will be a mixed crowd, probably mostly unagented.  (But I am actually guessing about that a bit.)

I've given similar talks before and felt that maybe I was going over people's heads a bit, so this time I want to have an outline of topics and thoughts at hand that I can choose from, so that I can make it a bit more interactive and don't either bore or bewilder the majority.  (Possible anyway, but.)  In other words, I can say, "OK, who here knows what an agent does." - and if only two people out of a hundred raise their hands, that would be the place to start.

So I'd like you to give me ideas of topics to cover. What would you have liked somebody to explain to YOU when you were a newbie?  What have you always wanted to know, but were afraid to ask?  No question or topic idea is too silly -- and even if you are repeating other people, that is OK, I am interested to see how much certain things come up.

Thanks in advance!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011


Hot Cocoa & Jammy Time           
It is the first of February which means it is time for a brand-new OPEN THREAD. Feel free to ask agentish (or any other) questions in the comments to this post.

I will likely be snowed in for a day or two so I'm curled up with manuscripts and hot cocoa, and I'll take breaks to answer. Short answers will be in comments, long answers may make the blog.

And if you're going outside in this weather, dress warmly, drive slowly, play nicely and don't stay out too long.