Pub Rants

Category: editors

The HMH Hold Is Not For Children

STATUS: Happy Turkey Day! I’m out for the rest of the week so back to blogging on Dec. 1.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? GETTING BETTER by The Beatles
(Seriously, this is what is playing currently at the moment…)

As to yesterday’s news….

This morning, I did get a chance to talk to an Editorial Director at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Children’s.

She mentioned that the hold did not apply to the children’s division and that she had acquired something just yesterday.

So a little good news on that subject.

As for the hold in the adult realm and how long it will last, I have not uncovered any new information beyond the rumors flying around. If I do discover info from a reliable source, I’ll pass along.

Have a great holiday and see you back here on Monday.

A Hold On Acquisitions

STATUS: Harbinger of bad news I’m afraid.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? O HOLY NIGHT by Paul Potts
(I haven’t transferred the holiday music to the iPod yet but this one was still on there from last December.)

Ack! Computers. I can deal with it. Ack! Publishers. I don’t want to deal with this. This just off the news wires folks. This is the first time I’ve seen this. Now, granted, I’ve only been in publishing for the last 7 years so really, just a baby amount of time, but I’m talking with some agent friends who have been around for a lot longer and it’s the first time they’ve seen this as well.

This might be an interesting ride over the next 6 months…

From Publishers Weekly
Article by Rachel Deahl

[excerpt]It’s been clear for months that it will be a not-so-merry holiday season for publishers, but at least one house has gone so far as to halt acquisitions. PW has learned that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has asked its editors to stop buying books.

Josef Blumenfeld, v-p of communications for HMH, confirmed that the publisher has “temporarily stopped acquiring manuscripts.” The directive was given verbally to a handful of executives and, according to Blumenfeld, is “not a permanent change.” Blumenfeld, who hedged on when the ban might be lifted, said that the right project could still go in front of the editorial review board. He maintained that the decision is less about taking drastic measures than conducting good business.

Here’s the link to the full article.

In The Children’s Realm

STATUS: Computer stuff is ongoing and will spill into tomorrow. Oh Joy. (Love the new monitor though!)

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ON THE RADIO by Donna Summer

Because I promised to share my notes (and I only have about 10 minutes to blog), here is what I have scribbled down from the children’s editors I talked to. In no particular order:

–Looking for contemporary stories with a paranormal element. Contemporary main story with just a touch of paranormal.

–voice and character driven fiction (isn’t that what all editors want?)

–a family-oriented story with complicated relationship between main character and parents or main character and siblings etc.

–gritty fiction

–novels where the reader watches while the main female protagonist makes bad choices or learns to survive

–quirky funny, outcasts, dark but weirdly funny

–MG fantasy

–literary voices in YA or MG, well-crafted stories

–more Meg Cabot-type stuff

–hip or hot topics

–MG or YA with boy protagonists

Still Room For The Debut

STATUS: Ack! A radio station in Denver is playing Holiday music 24/7. It’s not even Thanksgiving folks! That’s just wrong.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ANNIE’S SONG by John Denver

So tonight, I had great intentions of going through my notes and highlighting all the other bits of information about what editors are looking for.

Guess where I left my notes? At the office. Guess where I’m sitting right now? In my living room at home. Yep, just another moment of brilliance….

But this I can say without any notes. Every editor I talked to this past week (and I was at all the major houses) spotlighted a debut author on their 2009 list. All these editors were excited about these new authors and I don’t think that sentiment has disappeared.

Every person I know in publishing lives for that moment when we dive into a requested full manuscript and we realize we are reading something special.

In fact, despite account orders being generally down across the board, I have a debut author launching in 2009 and orders were actually up from the projections for that title.

So I wouldn’t spend time lamenting the current condition of the publishing industry (although there is a lot of grim news).

I would be concentrating on writing the best freaking novel you are capable of writing because lots of debuts astound the market. Just ask David Wroblewski.

Maui Reunion

STATUS: It’s raining like crazy in NYC right now.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? CRUEL TO BE KIND by Letters To Cleo

It might be completely odd to be writing about Hollywood while I’m out here in New York but tonight we did a little Maui Writers Conference reunion at D’Or. Hollywood producer Michael Palmieri was in town and so gathered a bunch of us who connected while out in Hawaii.

It was a small group that also included Jeff Kleinman, Folio; Marcia Markland, Thomas Dunne Books; Robert Guinsler, Sterling Lord Literistic; and Neil Nyren, Putnam.

What did we talk about?

1. Depressing news from Hollywood that Studios were closing their Indie branches and laying people off. Yuck. Studios are only focused on family films (four quadrant target and yada, yada). Sigh. Also, studios are choosing to make known series (think Desperate Housewives) in local markets with local actors rather than footing the cost to export. This makes a huge difference in earned residuals here in the states.

2. Penguin group is celebrating a record number of bestsellers (38!) and thrilled about the success of HBO’s TRUE BLOOD and Charlaine Harris’s books all landing on the bestseller lists. It helps all the departments when there is big stuff like that going on.

3. Accounts are cutting back their orders across the board. Something like 10% down over last year. Borders significantly (even though they’ve promised to reorder in the near future but who knows if that will happen). Orders are down even for the big name sellers. (Yes, such depressing news makes it that much harder to sell a debut.)

4. Newspaper reviews are disappearing faster than you can say boo and that’s really going to hurt those wonderful literary projects that need the review-attention to really gain momentum. Yes, there are online blogs and review sites but ultimately, they haven’t proven to carry the same weight.

5. Sales of perennial nonfiction projects (history, narrative nonfiction with known journalists) are still selling well. (And as an aside, a lot of editors this week have mentioned that they are still looking for that good memoir—in the adult and children’s world—which was surprising.)

6. Flip flops are not good footwear in New York City (don’t ask, we got sidetracked!)

Creep Factor Anyone?

STATUS: Back at my hotel early enough to blog.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? SO MUCH TO SAY by Dave Matthews Band

Sorry for the radio silence yesterday. I flew in to New York on Sunday and it’s been a whirlwind of meetings.

I have to say that the mood is a little somber in publishing. I heard a rumor of some layoffs at Random House which did indeed happen. I think people in general are nervous about the economy and that’s no less true in publishing.

However, there’s still lots to get excited about. I had lunch today with two editors from Little, Brown Children’s and even though we did spend a good portion of the lunch lamenting the loss of MY SO CALLED LIFE (Gosh, I loved that show and I’m so glad I’m not the only geek missing it…), we did spend some time talking about what we’d love to see.

Both editors are convinced that werewolves might be the new vampires (and that Zombies are almost over). Never thought I’d put those things in a sentence together! And although paranormal, vampires, and werewolves have been hot in the adult market, the children’s field hasn’t really caught up and there might be lots of room for that. I can see it.

We all agreed that we’d love a story that could creep us out. Horror hasn’t been hot in children’s for a long time and the timing just might be right for that. This summer I looked at a YA horror that I really, really wanted to work but the writing/story just wasn’t quite there yet.

And here’s an interesting tidbit. I just sold a steampunkish fantasy in the adult world earlier in the year (SOULLESS) and these children’s editors could really see a steampunk YA working… (yeah, you probably saw that recent Scott Westerfeld deal too…)

I was at a couple of other children’s publishers yesterday and let me tell you, all the editors eagerly asked if I had anything for middle grade right now (which, sadly, I don’t). Lots and lots of room in the MG world.

In the adult world at Little, Brown, one editor mentioned that she would really love to see a big woman-written and women-oriented thriller. A literary thriller wouldn’t go amiss either.

I’m sensing a theme….

P&W’s Interview With Editor Chuck Adams, Algonquin

STATUS: TGIF and I’m off to take my nieces birthday shopping. Can’t wait to see what the hottest things are for the under-15 set.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? WHY CAN’T I BE YOU? by The Cure

Links are fixed! Sorry about that.

I have to say that the interview series done by Jofie Ferrari-Adler for Poets & Writers is just hands down the best I’ve ever seen. Jofie just has a way of pulling the great stories out of long-time publishing folks that as a reader, you feel like you are absolutely getting the most inside look at the industry that you can.

And his interview with Chuck Adams does not disappoint.

Here is a venerated editor who has edited nearly 100 books that have gone on to become bestsellers and yet, as Jofie mentions, “like many editors of a certain age (and pay grade), Adams was rewarded for his years of service with a pink slip.”

Hard to believe, isn’t it? But Mr. Adams gives wonderful insight as to why that had happened and how much he enjoys being at Algonquin. Chuck Adams is also the editor behind the mega-successful WATER FOR ELEPHANTS and he tells the story behind that acquisition. That, in and of itself, is a good education about this biz.

Other Highlights:

Jofie: Let’s talk about agents. There are a lot of them, and I’m curious about the factors that you would look at if you were a writer, knowing what you know, and had your pick of a few.

Chuck: I would want them to ask certain questions. (click here to read on). He also highlights two young agents that should be on everyone’s radar (and one is a friend—waves to Dan).

But here’s my favorite quote from the interview. You’re preaching to my choir, Chuck, as so many people like to turn up their literary noses at commercial fiction.

“There’s a tendency of publishers to pooh-pooh books that are really commercial. You get this at writers’ conferences sometimes. “Oh, how can you edit Mary Higgins Clark?” People just shiver because they think she’s not a great writer. I’m sorry, she’s a great storyteller, and she satisfies millions of readers. I’m all for that. Again, Harlequin romances—give me more of them. A lot of good writers have come out of Harlequin romances: Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, Barbara Delinsky, to name three right there. I think literary fiction is great, and the ideal book is one that is beautifully written and tells a great story, but if it’s just a great story that’s written well enough to be readable, that’s good too.”

Even Legendary Editors Are Still Learning


What’s playing on the iPod right now? HOW SWEET IT IS (TO BE LOVED BY YOU) by James Taylor

I’m running out the door for the weekend (and I’ve got 15 minutes to pack) but an editor friend sent this little note my way:

Del Rey has recently started a big group blog, a sort of a hub for SF/F news and all things geeky; and Betsy Mitchell has been writing a series for it that gives a little bit of insight into the editorial trenches – I thought possibly it might be of interest to your readers? Here’s the most recent post.

It is nice to know that even the legends are still learning.

And I agree. You might want to click around a bit on this blog. Enjoy!

Do You Look At Rejections?

STATUS: Totally celebrating. Instead of 300, I only have 60 emails in my inbox. It’s the small things in life.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ZOOT SUIT RIOT by Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

This month I’m putting several projects out on submission and I just read a discussion about this on the Backspace chat forum so it seemed like a good topic to bring up.

If you are an agented author with a project on submission, do you request to see your rejection letters?

At my agency, my clients don’t really have a choice (or at least I never really gave them one). When a rejection letter arrives, I immediately forward.

Why? Well, for several reasons.

I, in general, believe that an author has the right to see any communication regarding their project. It is, after all, their work.

Besides, if I don’t forward it right there in then, it’s unlikely I’m going to remember to send it later on. We do everything electronically here and yes, I do save the email letter in the client’s file but I almost never look at it again once a letter comes through. I know some agents wait until all the responses are in and then send them on but I think that would drive me crazy—like work hadn’t been completed or worse yet, I’d forget to send the letters at that point in time. Better to forward right away for my general peace of mind. Now I realize that it might not cause peace for the author so I always forward with commentary—either an encouraging note, or some inside insight to the editor and why he/she personally might have passed etc.

If editor feedback is helpful, I ask that the author to keep it in mind. If it’s not, I say just roll with it. Rejection is a part of the publishing game and I think in the long run, it’s in an author’s best interest to develop a thick skin. If the rejections in the submission stage bother you, just imagine how hard it will be to take a bad review?

Buck up and deal with it. It’s not personal (though it feels so). It’s simply a part of being a writer. Now of course, any client can call and bemoan the letter. I’m okay with that as that is a normal, human response. Or write a venting email to me about the editor’s lack of vision. That’s just fine too. If you can’t vent to your agent, who can you vent to?

Luckily, as of late, I’ve sold just about every project and for clients, rejections are so much easier to take when there is an offer already on the table. Funny how that works.

And if you are a writer who hasn’t reached the agent and the publisher submission stage and may still be looking for that elusive agent, then rejections just signal that you are in the game.

Considering that 90% of the population wants to write a novel but never have the guts to go for it, being in the game is a huge thing. Even though it sucks, rejections are a badge of honor. A rite of passage for when the publishing day finally arrives. Every published writer has a story of a rejection.

You can’t tell a good keynote speech without it!

Straight From An Editor’s Mouth

STATUS: Slowly working through emails, negotiations, contracts and whatnot. I’m particularly fond of the whatnots (aka the chocolate jar).

What’s playing on the iPod right now? ROCKY MOUNTAIN WAY by Joe Walsh

The week before last, I posted a blog entry on a crisis averted in the publishing world when the ARC of my author’s book (instead of the corrected final proof) was submitted to the printer for the actual publication.

And how wonderful the editor was in terms of getting right on that, trashing the initial print run, and getting the book done right (Kudos J! You know who you are!)

Well, as I mentioned then, it’s rare occurrence but it can happen. An editor friend couldn’t help but share her story. She asked to remain anonymous so I’ve respected that request but otherwise, here is her story in full. She works at one of the major houses in New York.

Hi Kristin–Was just reading your blog. Hope you’re enjoying Maui. I’ve attended and they always do throw a good party. And it’s Maui…

I got a laugh out of your story about your author’s finished book being the ARC version. Well, not a funny ha-ha laugh, because that really sucks for her and her publisher but more a knowing laugh. When I was a 23-year old assistant editor, my executive editor boss got fired and I wound up taking over a bunch of her books. One was a book by a medium-size celebrity who was nonetheless a major-sized headache. After I’d been on the case for a couple months, the celebrity’s paperback comes out. I get the usual three hot-off-the presses copies from the bindery, send one to the author, one to her extremely powerful agent, and stick the third on my shelf. I think nothing of it for a couple hours until I’m taking a phone call, my eyes wander over to my shelf, and I realize that–holy f**king shit!–the printer HAD MISSPELLED THE AUTHOR’S NAME ON THE SPINE! I leap out of my chair, seize the book in my trembling hands, and run down the hall to the managing editor’s office, whereupon I thrust the book at her, point to the spine and burst into tears.

God bless her, she kept her cool, but it was a MAJOR error. We wound up having to pulp something like 40,000 paperbacks at 65 cents apiece. We were lucky that I’d noticed early and the books had only shipped to the warehouse, not to the stores, or we would have had to recall those and lose the shipping money on them. I then had to call the high-maintenance author and her extremely powerful agent and explain the situation, but since none of the copies had gone out, they weren’t too perturbed; and interestingly, neither of them had noticed the error on the spine when they received their copies. Still, it was probably the most freaked out I’ve ever been in my entire career, and that was 10 years ago!

Feel free to share the story, just to show that publishers do screw up sometimes, but we always try to make it right in the end! Would be great to see you if you’re back in NYC sometime soon. Really do want us to have a book together!