Questions of the Week October 14

I was going to a different question of the week, but this one was related to yeseterday's tip, so golly-gee-whiz, I'm going to do it instead.

What do you think of author's hiring publicists?

Like everything else related to the publishing side of writing, hiring a publicist is a business decision. You have to decide if the expense (the publicist) is going to be worth it. If you think the publicist will garner you some prime exposure which will increase your book sales to the point that royalties will stay cover his/her fee, then a publicist is worth it. They are the ones with the contacts, and they will make sure that your publicity does reach your demographics. A good publicist is worth every penny they charge -- but only if their great publicity results in sales.

However, if you are in a niche not served by traditional media, or if you are already reaching your demographic, or it's a fanatically loyal group familiar with you, you simply may not need one. An example would be if the person who invented Neopets wrote a book on the subject. Neopets has a website with millions (I don't think I'm exaggerating) of users. A simple banner ad on the main pages would probably suffice and nicely sell out an initial print run of 100,000.


Tip of the Week October 13

Do not get your hopes up to high.

This is just as true for published as it is for unpublished writers. I am not saying that you send off your manuscript and immediately sink into The Pit of Bottomless Despair. What I am saying is to not assume that the manuscript is going to result in a 10 book deal.

By the same token, do not expect your publisher, regardless of the size (although I find this to be true of large more than small) to make a huge marketing push for your first (or even your third) book. They may have massive resources, but they are limited, and like everyone else, they prefer to sink them into sure things -- like Harry Potter. It is very rare for publishers to rent you a bus with your book's jacket art on it and haul you around the country. (Scholastic did it for The Land of Eloyn's author, but, again, unusual.) Instead, expect to have to send your own postcards and schedule your own book-signings.

No one said writing was glamourous -- and if they did, they are clearly living in a parallel universe.


Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow, etc., etc.

Well, the Muse Online Conference officially ends today. Although I won't miss the hundreds of email jamming my inbox, I will miss seeing non-stop discussions on everything books. I like it when like-minded people are able to gather and share ideas. It's probably why I like blogging so much.

This is something we could get to show we'd attended. Maybe not as good as a t-shirt, but I still think it's fun. It's hard to see, but there's a little "I was there" tatooed across North America. It made me laugh. And in these rocky pre-wedding disaster filled seas I currently am trying to float through, it's all that I ask.


Who are you?

Recent discussions about the SCBWI and my participation in the Muse Online Conference has made me think about the people who write for children. Now in terms of writing styles, there are two kinds of writers: the polished and the unpolished.

Polished writers are those that have been doing it for a while. They have taken classes or have a great critique group. They know how to turn off their internal editor for that first draft, but they also know to listen to it during rewrites. They're the people with agents and/or they're the ones submitting to various houses.

Unpolished writers are a little newer at the craft. They still make stylistic mistakes or aren't quite able to pull off a convincing character or plot. They've yet to find the critique group or mentor to take them in hand and help them learn the subtle craft of writing.

Although these writers are at two different points stylistically, they can still be served by the same advice. A good writing book is just as useful to an experienced writer as to a novice. Yes, the experienced writer might know many of the tricks of the trade, so to speak, but it never hurts to be reminded. You could say that despite being two different types of writers (polished and unpolished) they are still one market with similiar needs.

However, when you come to published and unpublished authors you have two completely different markets. The needs of a published writer are vastly different from those of the unpublished. The published author has theoretically broken in. They are now interested in things like book promotion and school visits. They want to know how to follow up that first contract with a second. They don't want to know about how to format a manuscript or to write a query letter. Yet, these are the very things an unpublished author needs to know.

And that made me wonder about this blog. Up until now, I've been doing a hit or miss smorgasbord of whatever struck my fancy. But what if I've been talking about how to build an effective viral marketing campaign and everyone really wants to know how to meet an agent? So in order to better know my market, I am doing that ever popular market research thanks to a simple poll. Basically, I want to know if you're published or not. This doesn't mean that I will stop writing about manuscript formatting just because 95% turn out to be published. The minority need information too. I just probably won't write about it as often. For my quick and easy poll, please click one of the buttons below:

What kind of writer are you?

Published (or under contract)
Published in a different genre, but unpublshed in kids.
Not a writer at all (although if you're a reviewer or blogger, technically you are a published writer)

View Results

Make your own poll


Stats and rankings and bears, oh my!

Now, I have before commented on my obsession with watching my blog stats. Very nice people like Gregory K always remind me that I'm insane and need to get a grip, but I still find myself tracking my stats compulsively. And with pretty graphs like this:

who can blame me? Look at all the colors!

But I've now been made aware of yet another stat I need to be tracking: rankings. I have to thank Fuse #8 for her post here about Lyn Gardner's post. It has opened my eyes to new numbers to obsess over. So, I decided to check the rankings on some of the books I edited. Here they are. Drum roll please.

Summer Shorts 609,727 (Sweet.)
Kichi in Jungle Jeopardy 2,077,429 (Oooh, I'm kicking Kichi's little dog rear.)
One Eyed Jack none (?? what's with that?) Paula's done a good job of taking advantage of Amazon's promotional tools for authors.
Lyranel's Song none (another? what is the deal?)

Since Amazon ranking means, well, nothing to me I can't really say if these are good or not. Obviously being number 1 would be better, but has Summer Shorts really sold 4x more than Kichi? Who knows. I like the suggesstions that the ranking is determined by a random number generator.

Conference Presenting

Well, the first day of the online conference is over. Ideas and knowledge have been flying around the web at the rate of around 800 emails a day. (For once I am not exagerating. I believe I got over 800 emails from the conference board yesterday.) Alas, only one of those were for me. I like to think that my course notes were so thorough that no one has any questions. However, I think it's more likely that with my last name being in the second half of the alphabet that most people just haven't gotten to me yet. There's so much good stuff ahead of me.

I also discovered that many of the presenters are doing excercises, so I thought up one too. I'm sharing with you all because some of you might like to join in. I'm having my people write me a full-blown query (letter, plot summary, first 15 pages) and I will take three of the most instructive ones to show what does and does not work. I've decided to do the same thing here on the blog. So, if by next Wedensday you can draft a query letter you would like me to review, send it to this email address: with the words MADELINE SMOOT Practice Query in the subject line. Attach your query as a single .doc or .rtf attachment. And I'll look it over. I won't send you comments on all of them. I'll just again choose 3. So, if you send a query you can't mind my posting parts of it. Don't send that super-sensitive idea you won't let anyone see. Also, these are practice queries. I'm not going to ask to see the full manuscript regardless how wonderful the query is. Just thought I'd mention it.


The Wedding that Ate My Life

Everyone told me it would happen, but I swore it wouldn't, but it has, so now I'm sad to say, my wedding has overrun my life. Every moment of the day seems to be devoted to some wedding detail. From bridal portraits to wedding favors, I seem to be sucked into a bottomless pit of wedding.

"And this affects me how?" you're wondering. Well, until further notice I"m having to suspend my reading of all slush from all houses. I've already taken all mine back to Blooming Tree where it's being distributed amongst everyone else (adult editors included for the YAs), and my CBAY submissions are accumulating into a nice pile, a nice tall pile, all unpoened. With this backlog accumuating it will be months before I can get through everything. If this will be a problem, feel free to withdraw your manuscript from consideration. I promise not to be offended. I feel my response time has gotten abysmally long since I've overextended myself. I understand.

Also, to be fair to those I've already recieved, there is a brief moratorium on CBAY submissions. I will not be accepting any general manuscripts, only ones for the Ghost Anthology and only ones labeled as such. Everything else will be returned unopened. As soon as I've caught up on the backlog, I'll open CBAY back up.

Thanks for the understanding.

19 days until the wedding.


Questions of the Week October 7

Sorry this is a day late. I had a dress fitting during my blog time.

Question on point of view: A previous post reminded me of a book I read by Gail Carsen Levine - Fairy Dust and The Quest for the Egg. I found this book truly entertaining and well written, but did notice the viewpoint shifted around all the time. We could see into basically everyone's mind. What do you think of this writing style?

Now this one is more a matter of personal taste than anything else. I personally prefer minimal shifts in point of view. I tend to find them distracting, and if done poorly, shifts in point of view can make the work confusing. However when done well, seamless changes in point of view can be fun to read.

How is it chosen which books are turned face-forward on the shelves at the bookstore? Is this a paid thing? The shelver's choice? In your opinion, how does this impact sales?

On the whole face-outs on your normal shelves are determined by space. If we've just pulled a bunch of books for returns, we have more space and more face-outs. Books are picked based on thickness and quantity. Also older books and hardbacks are given priority. There are also special shelves that are reserved for specific books. Some of these books are picked for promotional reasons; others are paid. I'm thinking here of special shelves in the business book section. I don't think this is as common in the kids' area. I don't know for sure.


Tip of the Week October 5

The Tips are back! Along with questions. I have a fun one for tomorrow. Now, on with the tip . . .

Tip of the Week: Get a decent publicity photo taken.

It's a simple thing. Stand in front of a solid back drop and wear a solid, collared shirt. Get your friend or your spouse or a professional photograher or someone to take at least 1 roll of photos or if using a digital camera a minimum of 36 of the highest resolution shots. Pick the best one, and voila!, you have a headshot. This useful little photo can now be used on all sorts of promotional material such as press packets, school visit brochures, websites, and the like. What they should not be included with are your submissions. As an editor, I don't care what you look like. I care about your writing.

Larklight was a Lark

This is the last book I get to read for a while, so I'm glad I read one with a bang. Actually, several bangs. Explosions and gunshots happen throughout the book. Part old-fashioned space opera, part pirate tale (set in space) the book follows two Victorian-era kids as they flee from crazed alien spiders determined to kill them. If you are sitting there going Victorian-era children in space, how?, the anwer is quite simple. Newton, in this book, has discovered not only the laws of gravity, but also during his alchemical studies came across a formula that allows for space flight. And of course, the space that they find is the kind they expected to find in that period -- not our vaccum void, but an ocean of space teeming with life. In fact, space is very much an ocean with the British Royal Space Navy protecting all of Her Majesty's extraterrestial holdings.

A great story with lots of Victorianisms and real people from history thrown in for fun, I highly reccommend this book. After all, you may have already read some of Phillip Reeve's other works. He did the Mortal Engines series although come to think of it I think the series has it's own name -- Hungry City Chronicles or something like that.

Reminder for Online Conference

I just wanted to remind you all that the free online writing conference starts next Monday. I am one of the many dazzling presenters they have this year. If you are interested in "attending," I believe that they are still accepting registrations. It looks like there are lots of good things being shared this year. If I wasn't so bogged down with the wedding, I'd probably be trying to be at nearly all of them.

23 days to W day.


Another new book

This is not turning into a review blog, but instead of writing on my thesis last night, I got excited and read the new Dianna Wynne Jones book. I'm a big fan of Jones's books. My all-time favorite is Howl's Moving Castle. The blatant subversion of classic fairy-tale convention is wonderful. And any author who dreams up a world where the people have been forced to live like a Lord of the Rings theme park like the characters of Darklord of Derkholm has just the right sort of twisted sense of humor. So, I was thrilled when I found a new Jones book on one of our display tables. And then my heart fell. It was a Chrestomanci novel. I'm not a huge fan of the loosely-related Chrestomanci novels. This probably has something to do with my reading them out of order. That and I find The Nine Lives of Christopher Chant (or something like that), the book you should read first, hard to follow. Still, this one was good! I stayed up until 1 finishing it. Now, it probably won't make much sense without having read Christopher Chant book or the book about the character Cat called Charmed Life. Still, it was well done without the confusing world-hopping prevelant in the other books. There are also plenty of strong characters both male and female. Long and the short, if you can get through the first two books, this book is highly enjoyable. And if that's not just a glowing endorsement, then I don't know what is.

25 Days until W-Day

The countdown has begun.


I'm Baaaaaack!

Well, I think I will start having time to blog again. My life has sunk into never-ending wedding nightmares as my wedding disaster approaches. It's a Masquerade ball. People don't won't to wear costumes. It's in Austin where I live. No one wants to travel. And despite my family's assertions, I did not do everything humanly possible to make my wedding as inconvenient as I could. It's on a Saturday. I gave everyone a 14 month warning. I'm ready to scream.

So, to distract myself, and because I can check books out of Barnes & Noble like it's my own personal public library just without vomit and boogers stuck between the pages, I've been doing a lot of reading. Here's some of the new stuff I've been devouring:

  • Fairest CoverFairest
    Read this. Set at the same time as Ella Enchanted Levine now takes on Snow White's fairy tale. However, like she did with Cinderella, Levine adds lots of twists. For starters, Snow White is ugly, and she doesn't let you forget it. Since this isn't really a sequel, it can be read before or after Ella.

  • Fairest CoverTanglewreck
    A tangled wreck of a book. Besides being plain boring, I also found it hard to follow. The science fiction/science fantasy relies on a fair amount of physics that I don't think the average 8-12 year old has been exposed to. I know my school system didn't give you physics until the 11th grade. And the whole using twins as teleportation thing was just a little far-fetched even for my extremely easily suspended disbelief. Even looking past all that, the story itself was uncompelling enough that I didn't care if the characters succeeded or not. I wouldn't have finished the book except that all mine were still packed.

  • Fairest CoverRiver Secrets
    Beautifully written book. You must read it, but only after you read Goose Girl and Enna Burning. Otherwise, this book might not make much sense to you. I am a huge fan of Shannon Hale, both her books and her blog. I could write volumes on this book, but Fuse #8 did such a fantastic job right after ALA. I had to wait all the way until the release of the book to read it. I begrudge you lucky people who got the ARC.

  • Fairest CoverLooking Glass Wars
    Now there has been a lot of hype surrounding this book. Penguin has offered me free copies multiple times both for me to review and to offer in the form of a contest on this site. I didn't want to commit to reviewing since this would certainly not count as a "real" review, and I was to busy to try to institute another contest. However, any publisher who would like to start sending me prize material say in November, I'll be free to run lots of contests starting then. Just thought I'd mention it. Anyway, so I was curious about this book that Penguin clearly wants to see become a huge seller. Did it live up to the hype? Yes, and no. It is a good book. I would reccomend people reading it. I would even reccomend buying it although I don't plan to do the same. (My space is so limited these days.) However, when I finished the book, I just kind of went, "Oh." It wasn't that I didn't like it because I did, but I sitll felt a little let down. I'm finding myself at a loss for words to describe it. I'd be curious to see how others reacted. The book left an opening for a sequel, and I'd be curious to see what (if anything) the author does with it next.

  • Fairest CoverThe Book of Lost Things
    I read this as an ARC, but I thing that it has been released now. Although technically not a children's book, there's no reason why an 11 & up couldn't read it. However, I understand why they chose to market this as an adult book since there are some adult undercurrents such as a key character who may or may not be gay. The character is an 11 (or 12) year-old boy who loses his mother to illness and resents the stepmother and new half-brother that replace her. He gets himself sucked into a secondary world where the fairy tales are real but have strange, ominous twists to them.

  • Fairest CoverPetite Rouge
    I know; I know. This is a picture book. I have to tell you that looking at them 3 days a week has got them growing on me. Nicely done rhymes and Cajun flair and twist on Red Riding Hood. There's even a nice glossary for all of you not marrying someone of Cajun descent. I like most of the illustrations, but I just think it's odd that Petite Rouge is a duck. Nothing in the text implies that she is, so I'm not sure why the illustrator decided to make her a duck. Ah well. Artisitic license I suppose.

  • Fairest CoverKnuffle Bunny
    Yes, I know this has been around forever and has a Caldecott Honor and everything, but I only just discovered it. I like the story, but I love the illustrations. The color drawings on top of the black & white photos are just brilliant. Very, very cool book.

And that's it for now. I work tomorrow at the store, and we'll see what I bring home then.



I'm suffering from Sporadic Internet Accesibility and the related Blog Withdrawl Syndromes. Very sad. I shall only be able to post every now and then for the next week as we try to get the old house saleable. So, no editing, only painting and carpet shampooing and packing and other delightful activities.

Oh, and as a follow-up to the Summer Shorts Contest, I have now notified my 1 Grand-Prize, 5 Winners and 9 Honorable Mentions. Everyone else, thank you so much for entering. I hope to see all of you again when my next contest roles around. I think we'll have to do something monumental when my picture book (actually written by me! comes out next year. I'm thinking something mind-blowing, never-been-done-in-the-history-of-book-contests kind of contest. I should start brain-storming now.


We came; we saw; we signed books.

We had a delightful Summer Shorts release party. It was fun getting to see local authors and illustrators - many who I've never even met before. I had a great time, and I hope everyone else did as well. Here are some pictures from the event. Unfortunately my digital camera is not real good these days. They come out all blurry. Fortunately, I took backups with a little disposable. But I haven't gotten those developed yet. So, you'll just have to endure these.

Here's the crowd settling in.

And here's the authors and illustrators (and me) with some of the contest winners.

And the best thing of all? I got my own book signed. I always try to get the books I edited signed. So far I'm only missing one in my collection.


Question of the Week September 8

I read in an article that tag line should be of the format 'said Jack.' rather than 'Jack said.' Here is the article. What are your thoughts?

Ridiculous. I’ve never heard anything like that before, and no one else here has either. Actually, this has provided us with a good laugh. No one is going to reject your manuscript because you put Jack said. I have never consciously noticed the order of tags before. Now that I think about it, I both write and edit using both ways. For instance:
“We’re going up there,” Jack said.
“But I don’t want to,” said Jill. “I don’t want to carry that stupid pail of water all the way home.”
Mary and her lamb rolled their eyes. The twins had this fight all of the time.
I feel varying the saids adds variety. But as a general rule don’t worry about word order like that. Write whatever comes naturally and flows best with the story. Personally, I would go with the said Jack if I had to choose, but putting Jack said does not show a lack of professionalism.

However, everything else in that article was spot on, dead right, the way to go. Use correct punctuation? You’d better. Don’t have to many strange tags (tags other than said and asked)? Check. Again, your manuscript probably won’t get rejected solely because you use lots of strange tags, but it will prolong your editing.

Of course, if someone has actually been told differently in the past I'd love to hear it. Also I'd love to know the reason for their side on the great "said Jack vs. Jack said" debate.


My Life of the X or maybe Y or even Z List

I am a fan of Kathy Griffin's Life on the D-List show. I especially like the part where something strange or depressing happens at an event and Kathy then points out that she can't imagine that sort of thing happening to Nicole Kidman or some other A-lister.

I'm having a Z list moment. Yes, Z. I can't even imagine a fourth tier publishing house having these kinds of problems much less a house like Harper Collins or and editor like Arthur Levine.

Here goes. As of yesterday, Summer Shorts no longer shows up in the Barnes & Noble system. Yep, it's gone. If you look online at like Amazon or, it appears to be out of print. Yes, my book that has been out 5 weeks is now apparently out of print. This happens because they haven't entered in our data into their system. It doesn't matter that we've sent the data twice now. But this kind of thing happens every now and then. Okay, every book, so I've gotten used to it. I still find it disheartening and depressing, but those are the kicks.

But what really gets me down is finding out that my wonderful fabulous Summer Shorts party that I've worked hard on, admittedly I haven't killed myself over it, but I have worked hard, has now been relegated to a half hour time slot. When I planned it, I very cunningly chose to schedule it right after the monthly local SCBWI meeting. This way all those folks can stay and mingle and up our attendance. So, my party is set for Saturday at 1. What wasn't set at the time was a tasting/book signing for the Fearless Food Critic's Austin book. That's now been scheduled for 2 (at least according to the store manager, who admittedly could have gotten the time wrong.) You know that with catering they are going to want at least a half hour to set up. And that leaves me 30 minutes. Well, we can certainly take pictures, sign books, and read our winning kid's essay in 30 minutes, but I have to admit that I had kind of hoped for, I don't know, at least 45. Oh well, we'll start the minute SCBWI is over, so if you plan on coming, you might want to arrive slightly early. And remember, feel free to bring the kiddies. After all it's a book for them. Oh, of course that's assuming the book arrives. That's up in the air too.

Somedays I wonder why I even bother.


Tip of the Week September 6

Tip of the Week: Keep track of all of your submissions.

And by track, I mean in something like a spreadsheet even if it's a handwritten one in a columnar ledger. You need to remember who you sent a manuscript to, when you sent it, and their response. Part of this is so that one of your manuscripts won't languish for years in someone's slush pile. We won't name names. Okay, probably mine. You have no idea how easy it is for a manuscript to slip through a crack. Literally. Yesterday while packing for the Great Move, I found a 17 month-old manuscript hiding between my file cabinet and a book case. Also, you need to know where you've sent the stuff. Unless an editor or agent specifically asks to see a rewrite of that particular manuscript, you don't get to send it to them again. Nothing is more annoying than getting an unasked for rewrite of a suspense manuscript when the main reason you rejected it was because you already had acquired 12 suspense manuscripts for the next 3 years. And finally, the nice little chart of your submissions will help you to visualize your submission process. Do you always submit to the same places but only recieve form letters? Try somewhere else. You get the picture.

Viral Marketing at its Best

Yesterday, I send out a plea for contest entrants, and I must say that my fellow bloggers have done a great job responding. Through my stat tracker I was able to see how one person would pick up my post, and then another would, etc. This is the very definition of viral marketing where like a virus, an idea is spread from one person to the next. I know. I know. Awful imagery, but then again I'm not the businessman who came up with the term.

And that leads me to my Viral Marketing Award of the Day. One person posted about the contest only to have it show up on no less than 13 other blogs. And the honor of being most Viral goes to . . . (insert drumroll) . . . K. Pluta! Yeah, K! K is one of my authors, a Blooming Tree assistant editor, and a general all around great gal. You can find her on the web at her blog here. Apparently on Livejournal, when you post all of your friends can duplicate your post on their blog as well. Tricky. Anyway, thank you K.

And thank you to everyone else who's been spreading the word. But, please, please don't stop. I would love to see more entries.


Update on contest

I just checked my email, and I have so far had zero, zilch, rien, nada, no one enter the Summer Shorts contest. I'm feeling unloved. So, if you know any child at all who can string together 4 sentences, their chances of winning right now are really good. And hey, they'll get a free book. It's good. It's worth having. I swear.

I'm reposting the info. For a printable pdf, click here.

Let the games begin

I officially started to move today. Yippee. In the past this would have meant that a bunch of burly movers would have come over, cleared the old house, dumped it in the new house, and Tadah! we would have been done. But, oh no, we're not being that simple. For starters, we still haven't bothered to turn the gas back on, so no one is actually going to live at the new house quite yet. What should be going over there now are things like books, my slush pile, things I don't need everyday or right this minute. What's actually there are things like all my shoes, my backup discs for my computer that I needed when my external hard drive decided to not work, etc. Life is a bit of a mess.

But not as big of a mess as the explosive, and I mean Explosive, diarrhea one of my dogs had all over the utility room. And of course they walked in it and then left tracks all the way to the back door when my fiance let them out. Disgusting does not begin to cover it. It has been a spectacular day. I've been up 2 hours.

However, you are probably wondering what all this has to do with writing. Admittedly, not much, but my reading of the slush pile has been affected. Since you may have noticed that I moved most of it to the other house, my slush is officially on hold until life has calmed down somewhat - and when it is accessible again. I would therefore reccommend holding off sending me stuff for about a month. Also, if you haven't heard from me yet, you probably won't for another 3 weeks. And (I'm crossing my fingers that this doesn't happen) there is always the possibility with any move that something is going to be misplaced. Although I've taken great pains to round everything up, there's always the chance something isn't where I expected and will get thrown in a box willy-nilly. If after a few months you fear this has happened to you, send me a note to let me know.

On an amusing note, I stacked my slush up in its boxes and my two piles combined are half as tall as me. I'm average height. So, you can see that I will have some intensive reading to do when all this over. I'll just be glad that it's all over.


Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Specifically, they were wondering where yesterday's Question of the Week was. It's very simple. I didn't have a question; therefore, no question of the week. Mystery solved. I also spent the morning run around like a madman and the afternoon/evening working at the bookstore. The glamour that is my life never ends. I'm just now opening my laptop to do things like type here, check email, etc. And one of the things I discovered that I missed was BlogDay 2006. It was remiss of me, but I plan to make up for it next year. Until then, I must thank Jen Robinson for alerting me to the event and for the nice little blurb she gave the blog. If you have never discovered her before, now would be an excellent time to mosey on over to her page and have a little look-see. You won't regret it.


Tip of the Week August 31

Editors (and publishers and agents) are people to.

Yes, this cannot be stressed enough. Despite our debonair and exciting lives, we are merely mortals like everyone else. We have lives away from books and writing. Well, at least I hear some of us do. And we have feelings, too. If you stab us repeatedly with a ball-point pen, doth we not bleed?

I mention this because I saw a wonderful article on Publisher's Weekly today about the worst places people have been pitched story ideas. Click here to see it. Hillarious and so very bad and sometimes creepy. My stories are so much lamer although I did have someone pitch me something while I working in the book store the other day.

I also mention it because despite our thick skins (editors can make authors look like they're clad in the tiny layer of skin a garden snake sheds), we still can get brought down by the things people say. For instance the question: Why haven't you worked on any of the things that win awards? Don't you pick good manuscripts? is wrong on so many levels. And it won't predispose me towards your work.



Now, all of you know about our release party for Summer Shorts. It's September 9 for those of you who might have forgotten. What you didn't know was that in conjuction with our local Barnes & Noble we're having a writing contest for kids. It's called What I did on my summer vacation. No, seriously. The book is all about what kids did during the summer, so we thought we'd lovingly embrace the old cliche and have kids write about their summers. The only problem is that all the kids back here have already gone back to school and it turns out that the last thing they want to do is write an extra paragraph. So, we're opening the contest up to everyone around the nation (and the world for that matter). Now obviously if the kid who wins lives in Alaska, we won't be able have them personally read their essay. However, I will read it for them. They will still get their book.

So, if you are someone who works with kids who read, like say a librarian, please let your kids know about this. (And as an added incentive, I'll get an additional signed copy donated to the winning kid's library.) For a printable pdf, click here.


Question of the Week August 25

How important do you think author websites/blogs are and at what stages in a career? Pre-publication and post-publication? How does an author build a fan base for a blog or website? Also, what are the best ways for an author to advertise/publisize? Are there any good websites with this type of information?

This is the question we sort of discussed last weekend. After looking at everyone else's opinion, here's mine.

Get a website. If nothing else, reserve the domain name - your name if possible - right now before someone else does. Yes, there are actually people who do things like reserve other people's and companies' names in the hopes of selling the domain rights to them later. There are lots of services that will allow you to reserve your domain name for a few dollars a year without having to pay for web hosting. I use Yahoo! for that sort of things. Then, once you are ready to have a site, you've at least go the name.

When designing the site, you should keep a few things in mind. If you plan to use the site primarily for promoting to adults like librarians and teachers, then you can have a simpler site with less interactivity. However, if you plan to have a site you would like kids to regularly visit, you have to up the stakes. I found a wonderful article that discusses that here on Candy Gourlay's blog.

Finally, if you would like to start blogging, feel free to do so. There are lots of places like here on blogger or on live journal where you can try it out for free. Although you can use a blog for promotional purposes - I have been known to post updates on books and the like on mine - I would primarily reccommend you blog for fun. And after all, it is fun.

As to promoting a website/blog, if you google "promoting a blog" you get some normal and some downright wacky reccomendations. Some, like printing your web address/blog address on everything you print (business cards, postcards, etc) are just common sense. When I started my blog, my goal was to improve the quality of slush submissions by alerting people to all the little, stupid mistakes that can torpedo your chances of making it past a reader. My great method of advertising was to email everyone I knew and to let them know about the site. However, I didn't find my readership particularly grew until other bloggers found me. The web is a lovely example of word of mouth. It's not something you can exactly control although viral marketing methods try. You just have to let others know you exist by doing things like posting on people's comments sections or submitting to different carnivals. And again, you should be doing it not with advertising in mind, but because it's fun to comment. Like everyone else, bloggers can tell when you are commenting because your interested or your commenting because you're trying to get your name out. Comment because you want to. After all, as Greg K likes to remind me everynow and then, our blogs are ultimately for ourselves and for own satisfaction. We're not selling ads or even books from them. Even if no one ever looks at it, there is a certain satisfaction in writing on them, just for the sake of writing on them.


Question of the Week August 25

What do you think is the best way to approach out of area bookstores about signings? For example, if an author will be traveling somewhere and would like to look into a book signing, is the best way via a phone call, email, letter?

Well, according to my experts, there is no good way. Bookstores are reluctant these days to book any children's booksignings whether they are in or out of area. It seems they don't think anyone comes to them. The bookstores then feel embarrassed and they are left with extra stock on hand that they can't return for 90-180 days. If you want to do something at a bookstore, you'll have to sell it to them as an event. For younger readers you can do a story/activity time. For older readers, you can do a reading or a writing workshop. If possible, try to have the local SCBWI sponsor you in some way. This will at least get your visit publicized to its membership.

Once you've decided they program you would like to pitch to the store, call and ask for the manager for small stores or the Community Relations Manager/Specialist for large independents and chains. They may not be able to speak with you right then, but you can schedule a time to talk. Then pitch them the idea. The worst they can do is say no. Also, be sure to try and schedule at least 3 months in advance. This will guanrantee that you will make any promotional or advertising material the bookstore produces.

School visits, which isn't specifically quoted in the question, but the person also asked about those, work in a similiar manner. After you have researched the districts and private schools in the area you will be visiting, you just need to start cold-calling librarians. Have a prepared script, but don't be afraid to deviate from it. Also, follow up any somewhat positive leads with a mailing of either a brochure or letter with brochure.


Tip of the Week August 24

Tip of the Week: Grow a four-inch, bullet-proof, scaly, steel armor-plated skin.

Now this is true in many facets of life, but especially in publishing. You've got to be able to withstand the rejections, the edits, and the heart breaking moment when a librarian or bookstore owner goes, "I'm sorry, you're who? I've never heard of that book."

So you want to be an editor . . .

Ever thought about becoming an editor? Well, Cheryl gives an excellent little lecture on how to do it here.

One of the things she talks about is interning. And, oh, what a small world, I'm looking for an editorial intern now. Do you know someone in Austin who might be interested? Have them contact me.


It's a Party!

A F Cover Make your summer last just a little while longer.

School may have started, but the heat outside makes us think summer still plans to stay. Come help us celebrate a never-ending summer at our book release party for Summer Shorts, Blooming Tree Press’s newest short story anthology. In our book kids enjoy the heat while on vacation, at home, or even on different worlds entirely. So bring your kids and your flip-flops while we share our summer fun with you.

What: Summer Shorts Release Party
Where: Barnes & Noble Westlake, 801 Capital of Texas Highway, Austin
When: September 9 at 1 PM
Who: You

Seriously, if you are even near the Austin area that day, please come. I would love to meet some fellow bloggers. Come say "hi" and meet some other folks. Not only will Summer Shorts authors be there, but some of the ones for CBAY should be dropping by as well.

Moving on Down the Road

Moving is not fun. I do not like it. It is a lot of work. I spent all of yesterday sorting my clothes so I could finally get rid of the stuff I don't wear/can't fit. Today I had to pack all my fabric. Tomorrow before I head to work I get to order my invitations for my wedding and then pack my office. Joy. So if you wonder where I've been or why I haven't been responding, that's why.

On a happier note, I would like to thank everyone for their opinion on author websites. I know it helped me formulate my response for Friday, and I hope it will help those of you trying to decide to join the net.


Weekend Dialogue: What is your take on author websites?

I am sort of co-opting a Question of the Week for this. Someone was wondering about when was a good time for an author to get a website. I'll post the question and my answer on Friday, but until then I thought it would be interesting to hear from others about their opinion. Some peope I would specifically like to comment would be Alan, Greg and Greg K (if they happen to read this) because each of you started your blog at a different point in the process. Alan did his after publication, Greg did his Septina stuff before publication but after aquisition, and Greg K was fibbing before Levine acquired him.

I would also love to hear from everyone else including regular readers and librarians about what kinds of author websites they like, and if they frequent any unpublished authors sites or blogs.

My enquiring mind wants, no, needs to know.


This is officially my 100th post. So to commemerate this historic event I felt I should give some sage and wonderful wisdom about writing or publishing that I have acquired over the years.

Of course, I can't think of anything.

Dum, de, dum, dum.

Oh, wait, I've got it.

Unless you are at the end of your work, never write down everything in your head. Always leave a little something like the next plot point or an interesting character detail in your head. (Now, if you think you might forget it, make a note. I'm not saying you should lose this idea.) What I mean is that you shouldn't write until the inkwell's dry. Leave a little something in your mind for the ol' noggin to chew around on. You'll be amazed the next day with what it will come up with. Your story may take a whole new direction. I know mine have.


When the System Breaks Down

Today is Friday; so this sould be a Question of the Week post. I have a great question that I would like to post. There's just this little tricky issue of my not knowing the answer. I know. I know. It turns out I'm not all knowing. I hope this doesn't destroy anyone's world view. But alas, I am as human as the next editor although I'm sure you'd already gathered that from my copious typos, misspellings, etc. So, I have emails to those mighty bookstore bookers who can answer it. In case you're wondering, it's about booking out of area book signings.


Tip of the Week August 17

Once your book is sold, it is no longer about you. It is about everyone else.

This is another word of wisdom that comes to me through the experiences I've had with my wedding. As I learned early on, my wedding is about everyone but me. And like my wedding, your book, once it's been acquired by a publishing house is about everyone else but you. Before that point, it's just about yourself. You write whatever you want. It can be intensely personal. But after sale, it becomes about everyone else's needs. The editor has requirements. The publisher needs you to fit a market. Your readers want you to meet certain expections typical of your chosen genre. The moral of this tip is to enjoy that original time before your work sells. It's the last time your work is truly your own.


Where does all the time go?

I have discovered that this whole "job" thing in a "work environment" is seriously affecting my free time. Back in my lacksidasical (I'm pretty sure that's not even kind of spelled right) days of working from home. I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I miss my flexible schedule. But sadly, I now have much less time to read and blog. Of course, when I say read, I mean read other books being put out in the market. I still make time for all my slush. Actually, I think I'm down to maybe 20 manuscripts. That's like only 2 stacks and I can see over both! Now, I say this knowing full well that when I go to editorial tonight, I'll probably get 50 more, but still it's a feeling of accomplishment.

But what I feel has suffered the most is my blog. I have so much to tell, but so little time to write it. So now I'm going to do kind of a summary of everything I wanted to say these past 2 days. Here goes.

I may not be reading as many books, but I have read some noteworthy ones that I feel you should know about, like:
  • A F CoverArtemis Fowl: The Lost Colony
    The latest is the Artemis Fowl series, and in my humble opinion, the best since the original Artemis. I am not turning this blog into an "I love Colfer" blog, but I can't help it if he's put out some dynamic and wonderful books this year. For the first time in the series, Artemis finally meets his intelectual equal -- someone who could finally even outwit Artemis himself. And she, yes she is two years younger. I will not say another word because I don't want to spoil the book. After all, I didn't give away anything that's not on the jacket. However, if you truly want a magical experience, don't even read the jacket. Just trust me and pick up the book sight unseen and read it. It'll come out September 15.

  • D C CoverThe Death Collector
    Okay, so I haven't actually finished this one yet, but I have high hopes. Any book that starts with the sentence, "Four days after his own funeral, Albert Wilkes came home for tea," has a lot to live up to, and so far it has. I still think the first Bartimeaus book has the best first page (and a half) ever written, but this ranks up there as one of the greatest first sentences. How could you not read the next. I'm hoping the book stays just as good.

And finally, here's a book I didn't like. Don't read it.
  • U M CoverUlysses Moore: The Door to Time
    This book was a first for me. I'd never before read a 200+ page prologue. And that's what this book was. The time travel hinted at in the title? Yeah, well that happened in the last chapter. The LAST chapter of the book. It's one thing to leave your reader with a cliffhanger so they'll read the next book. It's another to make your entire story BE in the next book. As a reader, I was annoyed. I waded through the entire book to reach no climax and have nothing resolved. Like I said, the real adventure hasn't even begun. As an editor, I was appalled. Shouldn't someone have pointed this out to the author?

Well that's my rant for today. I am off to write my lecture for that online conference I'm presenting at. I had thought it was due today since I thought today was the 15. My computer has informed me that I'm wrong, and that it is actually the 16 and that I'm late. Wonderful. Just freaking wonderful.


Got a novella?

In our writing journey, many of us have found ourselves stuck with those pesky stories that turn out to long to be a short story and to short to be a novel. We try to cut, but then the story doesn't make sense. We try adding words, but the results are a work that drags. We are left with (publishing-wise) an unviable manuscript.

But do not despair. There is now a place for those poor homeless novellas -- the Miami University's Novella Contest. Now, they aren't specifically geared towards children's, but based on last year's winner, I think a YA stands a chance.

Break out those novellas. It would be nice if they could finally find a publishing home.


(Belated) Question of the Week August 14

What 'bad' language is appropriate for kids at what ages? For example, are words like sucked and crap OK for middle grade books? I mean, I think the kids use these words, but does that mean it's OK to put them in print for that age group? Will parents not buy books because of this? Some of the YA stuff I've seen is downright raunchy when it comes to language, and it surprises me that parents buy it for their kids.

This all depends more on your press’s tolerance for bad language than on the market’s. On the whole, traditional bad language is really just lazy language. They’re the words we use when we can’t be bothered to think up a more descriptive way to put things. For instance, when I drop a box of books on my foot, the word that comes to mind is “shit” because the pain in my foot momentarily distracts me from higher verbal abilities. So, to apply this to world of fiction, characters might use curses in dialogue but everything of a more expository nature should limit the use of bad language in favor of more descriptive (and interesting) figurative language.

As to the difference in midgrade and YA cursing, a lot of that has to do with the difference in intended markets. Older readers are supposed to be able to handle more complex issues. I’m not sure why, but cursing is considered a complex issue. In my opinion there’s very little complex about it. They’re simply words polite society does not like. Since polite society does not like to see a nine-year- old curse, those words are not in their books. As a society, we don’t care much if a teenager curses, so we allow those words in books for the YA market.

My take on the whole subject, is like sex, violence, rock ‘n roll, etc, the cursing had better be germane to the story. Just adding curses so that your YA seems “edgy” doesn’t cut it for me. The cursing needs to be natural to the story and a natural extension of what you are trying to get across. Don’t just curse for the hell of it. (Ah, that was fun.)


A Quick Jot

Sorry about the delayed questions of the week. We had to do a mini-move (of mostly my books -- boo) into storage. And now I have a wedding and stuff to go to, so I don't even have time to do them now. However, do not fear. The Q of W will go up tomorrow or Monday morning at the latest.

Until then, I leave you this thought: With book returns averaging a 30% rate and some distributors using return credit to justify never paying publishers, will the book industry be able to sustain itself using the current business model? If you have no idea what I'm talking about, read this article which should help better explain. This is an important issue not just for publishers, but for everyone involved in the publication process -- including illustrators and authors. If the houses go down, and this can affect even the big ones, we all go down. Some houses, like Ten Speed Press (with their children's imprint, Tricycle) already have sales policies more in line with nearly every other retail industry. However, I doubt these apply to their distributors and major booksellers.


Tip of the Week August 10

Tip of the Week: Do not be afraid of your local booksellers.

Now this tip is actually something I knew before yesterday, but it got reiterated during my Barnes & Noble orientations. So, let me repeat: Do not be afraid of your local booksellers. They like local authors. They support local authors. And the local bookstores, even the large chainse, like to meet and know local authors. It helps all bookstores, even chains, seem more like a part of their community. If your book is published, but you can't find it on the shelf, ask about it. If you can find your book, see about arranging a story time or book signing/reading/presentation. I suppose the store might say no, but that's the worst that can happen. It never hurts to ask.

Good Day

I like good days. Despite being too tired to stay up and post last night, yesterday was a good day. For starters, my new job at Barnes & Noble has these novel things called benefits! I have never in my entire professional career worked at a place where my employer provided me health insurance. For that matter, I've never worked at a place with more than 6 other employees except when I interned in college. The big mean corporations may be evil, but they do have healthcare. I'm even going to up my hours so I can qualify sooner.

And in even bigger news, the author copies for Summer Shorts arrived! They are gorgeous. They are lovely. I spent nearly ten minutes just staring at it and flipping through the pages without reading it. That was the most stressful book I have ever (and hopefully will ever) work on, and now it is here! The author copies -- I'm talking about the ones stipulated in your contracts -- will go out next week. The rest of the books will come in 10 days from now. That's when all of you who ordered extra copies will be mailed out. And we've started receiving orders from stores.

It was a fantabulous day.


The Amazing World of Amazon

There's so much you can do on the internet these days, specifically on Amazon. You can buy just about anything, chat with authors on their plogs, and sell your old books. Today I listed a bunch of my books. It turns out that over time I have managed to get duplicates of a lot of stuff and I have some books that I started, but I'll never, ever finish. I've managed to already sell one whole book. I decided today was a success.

Of course, my participation in the used book market got me thinking about it. I actually don't have much against it. I like to see books being loved by multiple people. However, I understand publishers' concerns. And authors shouldn't be real thrilled about it either. Pretty much no one makes any money off used books except the person selling them. And although remaindered books at least help a publisher cut costs, they don't tend to make money for authors. It's all a blurry mess. So, what's my take? I think that I'll remember to take into account that a certain percentage of my books' potential readers will be reading second-hand (and for that matter library) books, and I'll make my print runs accordingly.


Never a Dull Moment

Well, it's somewhat official. I move in two weeks. This may make my posing somewhat erratic. I know if will affect my reading of The Slush. I have a house to pack and stuff to drop off at Goodwill and all. I'm also starting a second part-time job. In my quest to understand every facet of the book selling industry (and to lean the name of a lot of buyers), I start my new job at Barnes & Noble on Wedensday. I'm excited to get to interact with readers on a regular basis, and that 30% discount won't be half bad. So, it will be an exciting, action packed next few weeks.


Question of the Week August 4

You say that you have to consider the market when you acquire a book. I read somewhere that this involves a P&L. What is a P&L and how does it help you decide to acquire a book?

The sad truth is that a P&L does not help an editor and the publisher decide if a book can be acquired; it makes the decision. P&L stands for profit & loss. It’s an accounting spreadsheet (mine is in Excel) that we enter relevant data into. We approximate sales and expenses, and then the various formulas calculate whether or not a book will be profitable. It does not take into account overhead, so conventional wisdom says that a small publisher needs to have a profit margin of 30 to 40% per title to stay going. This can be difficult to do since a publisher receives less than 35% of the cover price. Factor in a 10-12% royalty, the cost of printing and shipping, and a 30% return rate, and making even a 20% profit can be difficult.

So even a brilliant book that an editor absolutely loves will end up rejected if the editor can’t prove through the P&L that the market will support the book.

Question of the Week August 4

Question #1

Well, this question doesn’t have that much to do with writing, but I thought it was fun so I’m going ahead and making it the first question of the week. Here it is:

If you could work with any author, who would you pick?

For starters, I wouldn’t want to work with just one author. Although there have been successful publishing houses based on the work of just one author, the best have a complete list. So here’s who I’d like on my imaginary perfect list in no particular order:
  • Robin McKinley – she does beautiful work
  • Dianna Wynne Jones – a fantasy icon
  • Garth Nix
  • Shannon Hale – amazing writing that sings
  • Elise Broach – gifted mystery writer (I just read her amazing new YA) and she does picture books too
  • Chris Van Allsburg – okay, so he’s more of an illustrator with almost wordless picture books, but the ones with words are just as amazing as the ones without
  • Ludwig Bemelmans – yes he’s dead, but it still would have been neat
  • Eoin Colfer
  • Alan Silberburg – I say this not because he reads my blog, but because I would have acquired Pond Scum in a second. It has my twisted sense of humor.
  • Vivian Van Velde
  • Chris Wooding

I’m sure there are lots of others, but these are ones I can think of off the top of my head.


Ways to Avoid Your Job

Thanks to Lynn at Hypothetically Speaking I have now discovered another fantastic Way to Avoid My Job. I am now in the process of logging my entire personal children's library into the Library Thing database. It's a neat site where you can put your books in, see who else has your stuff, etc. It even let me put these little widget things on the sidebar of my site. If you scroll down far enough you, can see some books I reccomend or need to read or have grabbed in ARC form. I have rationalized this putting off of writing rejection letters with the theory that I wanted to catalog all of my books before I moved. And this is definitely faster than entering the stuff in Excel. I've kept my library public, so if you click on one of the links over the book pictures, you can see what I've entered in so far. I think I'm going to exceed the 200 limit, and I'll have to get a paid account.

Accepting Rejecting

I hate rejecting stuff. It’s not fun. It’s upsetting, and I feel bad every time I have to do it. At least when something is poorly written, I feel like I have a good excuse. After all, as much as I want to, I can’t publish everything I’ve been sent.

So, I have to reject stuff, and I have to accept that I have to reject stuff. And in general I have. Then, I get something that I like but still have to reject, and I have to start the whole acceptance process over again. It’s what I’m doing today. I have to reject some pretty good manuscripts not because of their content or writing, but because they are in a part of the market that, after long hard thought and consultation, Children’s Brains Are Yummy Books has decided not to enter for the time being. And normally I would then kick these books over to Blooming Tree for consideration, but BTP has already filled its lists for these types of books for the foreseeable future. I can’t find a place for these good (potentially strong mid-list titles), and so I’m forced to reject.

It breaks my heart.


In a World Obsessed with Looks . . .

Yesterday, I randomly decided to look at my blog on Internet Explorer. I have a Mac so normally I use Safari as my web viewer; however, I realize most people use Internet Explorer so I wanted to see what my blog looked like over there. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that the two nice columns I’m used to seeing were missing over on IE. Instead, everything on the site was centered with my sidebar at the bottom. I then decided to look at other sites to see if they were also affected. Gotta Book looked like my blog, but Fuse #8 was it’s normal fabulous self. It was strange. I’m just hoping the oddness was caused by my IE being an older, outdated version.


Slogging Through the Slush

Last night, I read the slush I received for CBAY. Most of what I got were fiction picture books. I am not opposed to publishing fiction picture books at some point, but right now, I am looking for non-fiction picture books as opposed to fiction. A fiction picture book is going to have to be phenomenal for me to seriously consider it. You have been warned.

On a different note, one of the authors informed me that the submission was a multiple submission. I don’t mind simultaneous submissions. I think it’s silly to not submit to 3-5 publishers. It just takes to long to hear a response to wait for each publisher to look at your manuscript one at a time. However, the way the author informed me rather irked me. I have provided it almost verbatim. I hid some identifying details.
    PS: I’ll probably send this novel to a few other publishers too. They’re fresh from re-edits, and I feel I’ve spent too many years waiting for one person a time to send me a rejection. Not that I believe they deserve rejections!
They’re so many things wrong with this. First off, it’s in a casual PS. It ruined the whole professional tenor of the rest of the cover letter. Next off, the author implies that I’m going to reject this. The last sentence tries to take it back, but it’s already to late. I now feel the author has no confidence in the work and expects a rejection. It’s hard not to oblige. Finally, it’s just such a strange way to word it. What’s wrong with the sentence: This is a simultaneous submission?


My Not-So-Conventional Review of Eoin Colfer’s Half-Moon Investigations

Half Moon Cover I don’t normally do book reviews, but I mentioned school visits this weekend and that made me think of Eoin Colfer. Now I didn’t see him in a school visits per se. Our local large independent, Bookpeople, brings children’s authors in for signings during the week, and local schools use it as a field trip to see authors for free. Colfer was supposed to be pushing his new book, Half-Moon, but mostly he talked about growing up. He didn’t discuss any of his books or writing or being an author. It was actually kind of stand-up for a midgrade audience. It was really strange yet funny and good, just like his new book.

I’m going to say now that this isn’t going to be a traditional review. I don’t plan on having any summaries or spoilers. Well, that’s not true. I do have one spoiler -- Half-Moon Investigations, as you might guess, is a mystery. And this may surprise you, but Half-Moon does end up solving his mystery in the end. I apologize if this ruins the book for you, but it had to be said. Of course, I have never read a mystery book where the mystery wasn’t solved in the end. Although I would be curious to see one, I doubt I would find it satisfying. Unsolved mysteries are somehow anti-climactic to me. It’s why I’ve never liked the TV show by that name.

But I digress. I really liked Half-Moon. This and Shakespeare’s Secret are the two best non-series kid mysteries I’ve read in quite a while. Both are true mysteries with clues and red herrings and everything. Their authors do not cheat to get their protagonists to solve the mystery. Unlike some other children’s supposed mysteries, the kids in Half-Moon actually solve their mystery themselves with only minimal adult intervention. They’re traditional, well-done mysteries. And that’s what I like about them. Really good children’s mysteries are hard to find. I’ve been dying to find a good children’s mystery to publish. Most children’s mysteries are sloppy with the characters relying more on chance than actual reasoning to solve the mystery. I appreciated how Colfer did not take the easy way out for his characters. He makes them work for every clue and every conclusion. When Half Moon solves his case, it’s all the more satisfying knowing he had to do it all himself.

And that concludes my not particularly detailed review. Read the book.


Summer may be over, but Summer Shorts are here to stay.

Summer Shorts CoverIt's official. A release date has been set. Summer Shorts will finally be releasing on August 22. From that day on, booksellers will be able to order and sell the book. The authors will be able to have the book for school visits. As for summer reading, the book ended up missing it's peak selling time. Stupid printers and slow graphic designers. Oh well. There's always next summer. This will give us time to get people to put us on their 2007 Summer Reading Lists.

If you are in the Austin area (or are willing to come here) and would like to participate in our release party, let me know. Email me here or (if you're an SS author/illustrator) use my Blooming Tree email.

On a related note, I will now be able to do the often talked about but rarely seen editor visits. Similiar to an author visit, an editor visit encompasses visiting schools and explaining the book publishing process. I've never quite done one before. All the visits I've done in the past were small writing workshops. Also, now I have a book I can hawk, too. For some reason, kids have more interest in you if you have a book with your name on it. Weird. So different from adults. (That last sentence should have been read just dripping with sarcasm. If you didn't read it that way, try again.)


Weekend Dialogue: Who are the great children's playwrights?

I am in a play for children. It's done by a non-profit, Austin Summer Musical for Children. The group puts on a play geared for children under the age of 8. All performances except one are free, and we do ten of them (plus that one fundraiser night for a total of eleven) over 2 weekends. If you are in the Austin area and have kids about the right age, come out and see us. We've seen only smiling faces, so apparently the kids are having fun.

Since this non-profit works solely off donations and grants, it does not have the budget to license children's musicals like School House Rock. Instead, they have a script committee that writes the show each year. Despite never having written or edited a children's play before, I'll be joining this committee for next year. And that got me thinking. Plays are one of the forgotten branches of children's literature. Very little scholarship is done on it, and people almost never think of it when they are considering creative projects. My school where I'm getting my MA (or at least will get if my thesis meter ever moves again) has never offered any kind of class dealing with plays for children. They've offered several on children's films, but these aren't quite the same.

So, my questions is: Who are the great children's playwrights? Who are those people creating great shows for children's audiences? What kinds of plays are they writing? What age do they target? Sadly, I know so little on the subject, I can't name a single one. I look forward to being enlightened by you all. Use the comments link below to express your opinion.


Questions of the Week July 28

Question #1:
What is the market standard for signing a contract once an editor has given a verbal acceptance of a manuscript? Does it take months after the acceptance or should it occur immediately?

It varies. If you have an agent and the publisher and agent haggle, then it can take months. Unless I have a personal relationship with an author, I will not work on a manuscript while it’s in the process of being acquired. Once I’ve offered for it, I don’t look at the work again until I have a signed contract. Now, how long should it take for the author to receive the contract? It should occur quickly, especially if you do not have an existing relationship with the publishing house. You are doing to much work revising to hope the contract will be something you can live with.

Question #2:
In lots of the reading I've done on writing, the author says to avoid adjectives and adverbs like the plague. I understand much of this is from a show don't tell perspective. Yet in much of the reading I do, I still see plenty of adjectives and adverbs. What are your thoughts on this and when is it OK for the author to use these? I guess what I'd like to see from you if possible are some examples when you feel it is OK to use adverbs.

It is completely impossible to write without using an adverb every now and then. (See? I did it right now.) On the whole though, I try to avoid adverbs (not so much adjectives) as much as possible. Adverbs are vague and most of the time are either unnecessary or a more specific description can be used. The exception to this would be dialogue. We use adverbs all the time when we speak, and to not use them in your dialogue could be awkward. I can’t give any specific examples because every adverb has to be taken on a case-by-case basis.

My advice is to not worry about adverbs while writing your first draft. Fill that thing full of them if they come naturally to you. Then, when you go back to edit, look at all your adverbs carefully. Are they necessary? Is there another more specific way to say the same thing? If so, cut the adverbs. If not, leave them in. Adverbs alone will not sink a good story.


A Comic About Editing?

Publisher's Weekly has a comic about being a children's picture book writer. I like this week's because the character has to edit. See today's Tales from the Slush Pile for a little laugh.

Do Teens Read Online Fiction?

One of our fellow bloggers, L. Lee Lowe, has decided to perform a little experiment to see if in fact they do. He's written a novel that he will be publishing online. According to him:

The novel will be serialized in weekly instalments for the next 38-40 weeks. Thereafter the entire novel will be available as a free PDF download.

I'm assuming he's got some kind of tracking or something to know if it's being read. In the spirit of word-of-mouth publicity, I'm letting all of you know about the little experiment. I'm curious to know about his results and what he learns. If you would like to see the experiment, click here. The next chapter should be debuting tomorrow.

I hope Lee will let us know how his experiment goes.

Tip of the Week July 27

Tip of the Week: Do not overextend yourself.

This advice is just as true for writers as it is to marathon runners and stockbrokers. You do not want to write yourself to exhaustion. And I don't mean just physical exhaustion. I mean to the point that you hate your characters so much that you want to kill them all off in book 4, not because it's germane to the story, but because it would just be so gosh-darn fun. It's when you've promised to write 7 reviews, 2 magazine short stories, and to get that novel rewrite to your editor all in the same week. It's when you sign a book deal for a 8 book series when you've only planned out the first 2 books. Overextending yourself can drive you insane and push your stress level to new, unfathomed heights. You know your limit. Listen to it. When you find yourself reaching it, pull back. If you find you're going to miss a deadline, give your editor or publisher lots of advance notice, and then just deal with it. Trust me. Your characters (and editor) will thank you later.


The Vacation is Over

My sister has gone, and my pseudo-vacation is over. It is back to the grind, or rather the slush pile in this case. I've been perusing my potential fare, and so far I have nothing bad to report. Oh, there's a ton, and I think it might bury me alive, but none of it is improperly formatted or submitted in a bizarre way. Bravo! I think I may be getting through. At least, that's what I like to think. I'm sure it's just coincidence.


And now a quick note from your friendly publishing liason . . .

There’s a reason the cliche is “don’t shoot the messenger.” Historically, whenever they brought unwanted news, they tended to wind up dead.

Well, I’ve never been shot at, but I have gotten flamed and yelled at in my career. As an editor, I often have the unpleasant task of delivering bad news. I’m the one that sends rejections. I’m the one that gets to tell an author all the things wrong with a manuscript. I’m the one that gets to tell authors when their books are delayed. It’s not fun. I don’t like doing it, and I don’t enjoy bearing the brunt of authors’ justified or unjustified ire. Most of the time I can’t personally control whatever has happened. I can’t even always control what we accept or reject at Blooming Tree. There are some books that we can’t take for various reasons, and other books that we have taken that I don’t personally have any real interest in. The only bad news I can control are the critiques I give manuscripts. And ironically, I don’t tend to get many complaints about those.

So, all that about messengers having been said, I have a message. I do not know when Summer Shorts will be released. As you all know, at this point it has missed it’s original release date by a few (massive understatement) days. Trust me. I’m as eager to learn as the rest of you. As soon as I have a date, I will let the whole world know, both here on the blog and by email.

Thank you for your time. I’ll now duck the flaming arrows I can feel aimed at my head.

Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature

Big A little a has posted the Fifth Carnival of Children's Literature. It's a neat collection of articles and reviews that have been posted on people's blogs. If you want to see a wide range of children's literature postings, that's the place to be.


Weekend Dialogue: What was your worst school visit experience?

Yesterday I attended our local SCBWI monthly meeting. We had a lovely speaker, Liz Scanlon, who discussed school visits -- how to plan them, how to present them, how to make some money on them. It was interesting and fun, and it got me wondering. What are people's worst school visit stories? My first book doesn't come out until 2007, so I've only done a marginal number of school visits. So, far my worst story is when the embarrassed middle schoolers wouldn't share the parodies of fairy tales that they had written.

But, I'm sure there are people out there that have had nightmare visits. Ever had a child come up to tell you that they love you but been so excited that instead of a hug they threw up on your shoes? That kind of thing. Share your inspiring stories so that all the future school visitors will be properly terrified. Use the comments link below.


Celebrate Good Times!

Ah, the festival season is upon us. The time when all those cute litte authors and publishers bombard the common folk with their books and witty repartee. Publisher's Weekly notified all of us about all of them yesterday, and Miss Snark has kindly republished it in it's entirety here.

On a more serious note, book festivals are an excellent time to network. Published authors need to be trying to get themselves affiliated as actaul speakers. These are great places to sell books. Unpublished authors need to be going to meet the published authors and to pick up publishers' catalogs. These can really help you see the types of books each publisher puts out. And finally, you never know what agent or editor you might happen to meet at one of these things. I got my first editing job through a person I met at the Texas Book Festival (held last weekend in October).

Question of the Week July 21 (#2)

If a character has an accent, should his or her dialogue be written with an accent? Or should it just be stated that he or she has the accent and then have the dialogue look normal?

There are lots of thoughts on this question. It’s tricky, and people tend to be passionate about their opinion. On the one side, you have the camp that would like the authentic accent spelled phonetically every time the character speaks. An example would be the character Jim in Huck Finn. There is a fairly small group advocating this type because this it’s very hard to read. Some dyslexics find it almost impossible, and those of us (like me) who didn’t learn (although were taught) phonetics can’t read it at all.

The next group advocates not using the accent at all. This would be like in the question, where the author mentions the person has an accent, but then never really refers to it again. This method isn’t perfect either since you can lose some of your character’s flavor.

What I personally recommend is the middle ground. This is where you choose some words that are distinctive of your character’s culture, and these are the words you use to highlight your character’s accent. For example, a Spanish child might call her aunt “Tia.” The child might be American in all ways except that she was born in Madrid and moved here in ninth-grade, so she speaks Spanish at home and English with a mild Spanish accent. These little bits of Spanish might drop themselves into her everyday conversation. And this works even if your character’s accent is not derived from a foreign language. Say you wanted to have an older Southern woman. She could call everyone “Dahlin’” while the rest of her dialogue is still spelled correctly.

And finally, there is a lot you can do with word order and word choice. The British speak a comparatively more formal English when speaking Oxbridge style. You can convey a British accent without spelling color “colour.” And people who find English to be a second language often do not have their word order quite right. “I speak the English good, yes?” is a stereotypical sentence, but it illustrates my point.

To see a good example of how to handle an accent in this style, I would recommend looking at any of the Agatha Christie books that feature Hercule Poirot. His English is always spelled perfectly, but there is a distinct French accent to all his dialogue. He occasionally uses French, and at his “most foreign” as she puts it, he chooses to mis-word his sentences. I know this is not a children’s example, but since the character deliberately manipulates his accent in various novels – all without resulting in bizarre spellings, I felt this was the most instructive example.

To see the varying ways other authors have dealt with character accents in children’s literature, look at some of the following:
  • Fleur and Viktor in Harry Potter 4
  • The various faerie factions in Artemis Fowl all have their own ways of speaking.
  • They have southern accents in Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry.
And I’m sure there are many more. These are just the only ones off the top of my head. Feel free to suggest some great characters with readable accents. Use the comments link below.

Question of the Week July 21 (#1)

As an editor, where do you feel the right home for memoirs of childhood is? Are these usually destined for self publishing or possibly university presses in the area surrounding the events? Specifically, the memoirs would be surrounding a boy growing up between the 1930 to 1950 timeframe. Also, can you suggest any remarkable memoirs worth reading?

First off, the right home is at an adult press. Memoirs, even ones concerning childhood, are inherently written in a tone and style appropriate for the adult market. Children’s book, even non-fiction tend to be more immediate and less reflective than the average memoir. And there are presses out there other than UPs and self-publishers that do memoirs. Unfortunately, I’m not familiar enough with the adult market to know which they are. However, any of the various Literary Marketplaces type publications should be able to point you in the right direction. Finally, I don’t read much memoir so I can’t suggest any complete novel length work, but for a good smattering of memoir styles I recommend Modern American Memoirs by Cort Conley and Annie Dillard as a good anthology of memoir excerpts. Perhaps someone else could suggest some good memoirs. Use the comment link below.


Tip of the Week July 20

Get thee to a good critique group.

Critique groups can be wonderful, informative gatherings, or they can be the spawns of the devil. What they are suppossed to be is a group of like-minded writers helping one another bring their manuscripts to fruition. They are really the first thing that should see a manuscript. It shouldn't be an editor or agent. It needs to be your writing buddies.

The problem, though, is finding a good critique group. It almost always takes a few tries before a good group -- where everyone feels comfortable -- emerges. And then you have to keep that group going. But when successful, critique groups are the greatest writing tools you can find.

Where can you find people to start a critique group? Well, I recommend the SCBWI as a good starting place. There are also some online groups and communities. You could always try there. Feel free to add suggestions of other good ways to find people for a critique group.



I have been informed that I have been remiss in forgetting to include booksellers and librarians in list of people that can request review copies. I'm remedying that now. Librarians, you can go here to requests books. Booksellers, your form is here.



I have discovered I am being syndicated. It was a little bit of a shock. I use StatCounter to track my visitors. It’s how I discovered that other people had posted about me on their sites. Yesterday, I clicked on a link expecting just to see another mention. Imagine my surprise when I got to Jacket Flap here and discovered my entire blog had been reproduced. I was flabbergasted. I was floored. I was flattered.

Now most of you whose blogs I follow closely – look at every day or so – are already syndicated on this site, so it’s no big deal to you. But, I’m new to blogging and hadn’t realized people did that. I mean bloglines are one thing, but this was something new and foreign to me. I think it’s cool. The site’s a huge aggregate of children’s literature related blogs. It’s neat to find all of them in one place.

That being said, nobody is allowed to start reading my blog over there instead of my actual page. I can’t track people reading my blog there, so I won’t know if anyone is actually looking. I would be very sad if loyal readership appeared to drop back into the single digits. I really like knowing there are at least 10 of you out there seeing my blog. It gives me hope for my slush pile. I have decided that I shall allow my readers to use the links on this site, but that is the extent of my generosity. Unless of course, you want to read all of my postings twice. Then, you may peruse my musings on that site at your leisure. They keep more posts up at time than blogger does.

Review Requests Update:
For those of you a bit floored by all the stuff you have to email me to get a free review copy of Blooming Tree Press’s books, I have finally got the form to work. You can now look at the catalog here and then fill out a form complete with blanks and radial buttons. It’s much easier.


Review Requests

It has recently come to my attention, that many of you out there like to review books on your blogs. Being the enterprising editor that I am, I thought perhaps, just maybe, some of you out there might like to review some of our books here at Blooming Tree Press. So, I have formed a handy, dandy way for you to request books to review. Click here and you will now be able to peruse our most recent books. Then there are instructions on how to email me to get the books. I'm trying to build a form, but I have yet to successfully recieve the information in my email. Until I do, we'll have to stick with this.

There's just one little condition. If you request a book, you really do have to review it. You can give an honest review -- we're not asking for fluff. We just want to see you publicize the book in some way. We're not just giving free books out for fun, you know. Also, books will be shipping media mail. It saves us money, and hey! the books are free. Happy reading (and reviewing!)

Thaaaank You! (Kiss, kiss)

I want to thank all of you for the most successful Weekend Dialogue ever! We've never had so much discussion and commentary on this site! Yee-haw.

Administratively, we're going to make a small change to the way the blog runs. As you may have noticed, there is a new link to the right. It is the new Questions Link! Yeah! If you have a question that is unrelated to any of the current posts, email it to me there. I'll then add it to the Questions of the Week (yes, questions, I'll probably never have just one again) list.

On a different note, I am working on today's post. But, it's requiring me to build a whole web-page from scratch, so I might not get it up until tomorrow. I also have to get permission to put it up. I might get denied. I'm betting that I won't. And for some of you, hopefully, it will be worth the wait. And if that isn't the worst kind of tease . . .


Weekend Dialogue: What are the best books to read aloud?

This is more for the picture book folk out there although it's germane to novelists as well. After all, you often read excerpts of your work at school visits and booksignings. And before you submit anything, you should always read it out loud to either yourself or someone else. You'd be amazed at the number of missing words you find. Reading aloud also finds and fixes stylistic errors. So, reading your own work is always very important.

But what is the best book in general for reading aloud? I ask because I read to a group of 30 toddlers this morning. I'm in a small children's play, and we had gone to a local bookstore (in costume) to sing and interact and read to the children. I read some variation of The Little Engine that Could, and my partner read the Ferdinand bull story. I can't think of its actual title. The books were both poor choices. The kids got squirmy, even with interactive questions. My book was long and repetitive, and the kids did not enjoy the repetition. They flat out found the Ferdinand story boring. I was surprised because they are both classic picture books. I didn't select our books, but I wouldn't have thought we would have any difficulty reading them. And no, it was not our abilities. I have been onstage since the age of 3. I've done successful school visits. The books just weren't fun.

So what do you think the best read aloud books are? Use the comments link below to respond. Oh, and be sure to say what age the book should be read to. After all, a good read aloud to a 3 year old is not the same as one for a 13 year old.


Question of the Week July 14 (#2)

What do you think about first person thoughts in a third person book? For example: I need to go to the bathroom, Joe thought. Let's say Joe is a main character and we have insight into his thoughts. Is this a style to avoid?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Of course, this is a subjective thing and a personal preference on my part, but I cannot stand it when characters think. Now, that just sounds wrong, but you know what I mean. I am not knocking introspection, only the kind of character thinking as shown in the example above.

There are lots of reasons for avoiding this, but here’s the major one: Most third person stories are written from a very close point of view. They are almost first person stories of the main character. When this happens, you don’t ever need to say, “he thought,” because everything that isn’t another character’s dialogue is a direct observation or thought of the main character.

The other reason is that writing, I need to go to the bathroom, Joe thought., has the author telling not showing, using summary instead of scene. Both are no-nos.

Here is the exact same information (Joe has to pee) conveyed without Joe consciously thinking:
    The rest of the class raced ahead to the mummies, but Joe stayed behind, peering at the museum map. Where was the bathroom? The toes on his right foot began to twitch. He started having trouble standing still. He needed to find a bathroom, any bathroom, even a girl’s bathroom. Now.
There’s a much greater sense of urgency in this example, but more importantly we are with Joe in the moment. It’s not the more clinical abstract “thought.”

Question of the Week July 14 (#1)

Can I ask what "accepting queries" means in the book publishing word? I mean, I understand that query is a question, but there seems to be more involved here.

In the book publishing world, a publishing house wants a query when they don’t want a full on manuscript. Queries take up less space, thus making the slush pile look less intimidating. Queries also allow editors to weed out topics that they are not interested in. Nearly every non-fiction book that has ever hit the market place, originated as a query. The author simply writes a letter to the house discussing the topic and the focus of the topic he/she plans to pursue. The author includes credentials so the editor will know this PhD in Biochemistry will probably get his/her book on DNA right. Then, with little fuss, the editors pick which non-fiction topics they are willing to pursue. They contact the authors for outlines. They offer contracts. The book gets written. It works the same for most non-fiction magazine articles.

Fiction queries are a bit different. Here the author is selling not just a topic, but a story idea, characters, and their own writing ability. All fiction queries begin with an enticing summary of the book similar to the jacket copy you find on published books. They then mention the author’s publishing credits, if any, and a polite request to send the rest of the book. And this is where all fiction queries cease to be similar. There are other optional things that you can add to a fiction query. Some people include a page long book summary, a chapter by chapter book summary, and/or the first 3 chapters of the novel. Most publishers in their guidelines will tell you how much of a query they want. If the guidelines just say to “query,” then I recommend sending the query letter, a one page book summary and the first 3 chapters (or 15 pages whatever is shorter.) Just be sure your sample pages are logical and don’t end in the middle of a sentence. These first fifteen pages are the most important part of the query. You may be able to write a brilliant letter, but if the first three chapters are boring or have stylistic problems, the editor will not ask to see more.

One small note: Never, ever query a picture book or an easy reader or any manuscript under 2000 words. There is no point. Just go ahead and send the whole thing in.


Blurbs about others.

I like to see it when other people make the news, so when my friend got another mention in Publisher's Weekly's e-newsletter thing I just had to share. The article is about the Association of Bookseller's for Children (or the ABC). And I quote:

And some news from the ABC board. The departure of Nicole White from Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, Calif., meant an opening on the board of directors. Topher Bradfield from BookPeople in Austin, Tex., who recently spearheaded the Camp Half-Blood event for Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians books, has been appointed to fill that slot. (bold is mine)

So, yeah Topher! Congratulations on your like third mention in a month.

On a related note, all of you with even the least bit of interest in getting your kid's book published should have a subscription to Publisher's Weekly. It has all sorts of info with interesting book reviews, gossip of who is now working where, and the like. Of course, I am too cheap to actually pay for the magazine, but they have lots of free e-newsletters that you can subscibe to, including one devoted to the children's market. To get a free e-subscription, click here.

On a completely unrelated note, I have three, yes three questions that have been asked for Question of the Week. I have decided to answer 2 of them and leave one back in reserve just in case I don't get any next week. So, tomorrow will be double your pleasure, double your fun-filled factoids.