Pub Rants

Category: Publishing/Publishers

Children’s Scoop Continued

STATUS: Tired and ready for bed. Folks. As a reminder. Most editors do not accept unsolicited queries/submissions and if you are interested in getting your work out there, your best bet is to research and target agents to submit your work.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? not listening at the moment

It’s late so I only have time for a quick blog entry. Today I had lunch with Wendy Loggia from Delacorte (a children’s imprint at Random House).

We ate at the yummy Ruby Foo’s on Broadway (which is an editor hang out by the way). You can always spot publishing folks here around lunchtime because of the close proximity to the Random House Building.

Wendy mentioned that she would love to see a MG or YA mystery (think a modern Joan Lowery Nixon-type author who can reinvent something fresh).

Hum… seems to be a common refrain that I’m hearing from various editors.

She also mentioned that although she personally loves these types of stories, they’ve seen a lot of Hollywood-type books or stories revolving around a famous character or a pop star. Booksellers are starting to glaze if sales reps try and pitch a new story that includes one of these elements.

Wendy also asked if I could remind my blog readers that the Delacorte Contest for first middle-grade novel and first YA novel. These contests are just about to open.

And here’s an interesting insider tidbit. The Delacorte editors (all of them—including the publisher and the editorial director) do a fun, bring-your-own-lunch meeting every Friday during the contest just to read the contest submissions. So, entries aren’t schlepped off to the editorial assistants. All the editors do read the entries and vote. They might not pick a winner every year but if they do, that winner is published. If you look at some of the past winners, you can see that the contest has launched several careers.

It might be a fun possibility if you are interested in that sort of thing but note that it’s the standard RH boilerplate contract so keep that in mind.

What They [Editors] Want (cont.)

STATUS: To be honest, I’d love a nap before my evening commitments commence. Unfortunately I have to leave in about 45 minutes so that’s not going to cut it.

My tireless author Cheryl Sawyer, however, is running an amazing contest where participants get to create their own Shakespearean love sonnet for a significant other—not unlike what Prince Rupert does for Mary Villiers, Duchess of Richmond, in her novel THE WINTER PRINCE.

Fresh Fiction writes:
“History comes alive under the deft hand of Ms. Sawyer. She interweaves the vibrant history of the English Civil War with the love affair of Prince Rupert and Mary, giving the tale added poignancy. Fans of Philippa Gregory need look no further for an excellent historical novel.”

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BLUE by The Jayhawks

I had a chance to review some of my notes from yesterday and I realized I had left out a few things.

The Penguin Group is looking for Teens dealing with Faith stories (stuff that can crossover into the CBA market).

However, it doesn’t have to be just Christian. In can be any story where a teen is struggling with teen life and staying true to his/her religion. However, the editor was sure to stress that she’s not looking for conversion stories or anything preachy. Just heartfelt narratives were teen life conflicts with staying true to one’s beliefs.

And RWA members will love this tip. Penguin would love to see romance stories for the young adults. Dreamy heroes and happy endings very welcome.

And Penguin is still game for Chick lit with sassy main female protagonists (action-adventure works well).

Melanie Cecka at Bloomsbury Children’s shared a very inspiring story of signing a debut author (sans agent) from a recent writers’ conference she attended.

I know it sounds like a myth or a publishing urban legend that an editor plucks a manuscript out of a critique session and voila, it’s gets published.

Well, in this case, it was true. So hey, it still happens.

She also mentions that she has seen a lot of middle-grade works that showcase a plucky third grade girl. It’s potentially overdone at the moment, and she’s not really looking for that.

However, if it were a plucky third grade boy (Think a contemporary Tales Of A Fourth Grade Nothing), she would be very game.

What They [Editors] Want

STATUS: Having a great time in the Big Apple. I’m calling this my “children’s tour.” I’m only meeting with editors for teen and middle grade stuff. So if you write for the adult market. Sorry. You’ll just have to wait for my June trip for Book Expo. Then I’ll be meeting with a variety of editors.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? RADAR LOVE by Golden Earring

Today I was at the Penguin Children’s Group all day. I spoke with many different editors but it’s Karen Chaplin and Jennifer Bonnell who gave me the lowdown for what they wish they had in their acquiring hands right this minute.

Ready? Grab a pen.

1. Paranormal YA that’s not vampires or werewolves.

2. A YA psychological thriller (we couldn’t even come up with comparable examples that’s how unusual it seems to be.)

3. Middle grade mysteries

4. Boy middle grade ANYTHING

Sarah Shumway at Dutton Children’s mentioned that she’s been paying special attention to this:

She’s been receiving great pitches but then when the manuscript comes in, the characters or the writing isn’t developed quite enough so she passes.

Or

She’s receiving manuscripts with good characters and solid writing but there’s not enough of a hook to make it stand out and so she passes.

Penguin Sales reps want to be able to sum it up in one sentence.

I’ve said it before but it’s worth repeating. Never underestimate the importance of high concept for young adult projects.

More tips and inside scoop tomorrow.

Fiction Mirrors Life

STATUS: Spent some time on the phone with tech people trying to figure out why I was receiving emails but not able to send. Fun that was not!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THAT GIRL by Stevie Wonder

On Sunday, I went out to dinner with my husband and a couple of his friends that he’s known since grad school. One of the former school chums brought her 15 year old son to dinner with us (who, by the way, was only 7 last time we saw him—sheesh time flies).

He probably thought I was the biggest dork on the planet but he was very kind when I peppered him with questions about his current teen life.

So this is what I discovered.

He likes hip-hop—be it with graphic lyrics or not.

He plays rugby (they have that sport in high school?) but liked that I play Ultimate Frisbee and he might want to give that a try.

He calls himself “preppy.” ( I hadn’t heard that term in a while!)

His best friend calls himself an “EMO.”

First time I’d ever heard the word but I guess this is quite the rage at the moment in high schools (and yes, I did start feeling a little ancient). “Emo” is short for “emotionals.” According to him (and yes, I understand that one source is hardly scientific), EMOs like to wear tight jeans (really straight leg), color their hair (but they don’t always have to), and like to listen to death metal or something that might be similar (that was a little fuzzy for me and the bands he named weren’t ones I recognized).

I felt like I had been given a peek into a secret world.

Then last night I was reading a partial that I had requested and boom, what did I see in the sample pages? A reference to EMOs.

I felt cool for about 10 seconds.

But I highlight this story to point out one thing. If you write contemporary young adult, you’d better know what’s going on in the young adult world. Teen readers can spot a fake or a preachy adult in a New York minute.

And as an agent who reps YA, I need to know what’s going on in the contemporary YA world too.

So, I see more dinners with my friends’ teenage kids in my future. As for the tween set, my nieces have got my back….

Market Savvy

STATUS: I’m battling myself to not leave the office early. It’s 70 degrees out. Must go to Park. Must take Chutney for a walk RIGHT NOW. No, I must be good and wait until at least 4 o’clock when it might be reasonable to pop out early to enjoy the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? FALL ON ME by R.E.M.

I have to say that I really enjoyed reading the discussion in the comment section of last Friday’s blog so a quick thank you to all who chimed it.

It’s clear to me that writers who have considered the question of market will not run into a problem when querying a work—even if it’s not clear exactly where the work might fit.

Writers who understand and have analyzed the issue will figure out how to label it (literary fiction in an SF setting for example) or decide to not even try and really focus on the storyline in the query.

It’s hard to explain the issue of market savvy versus not when I can’t share a real query letter received that so exemplifies when it misses. The closest example I can give is that when writers miss, it’s usually because they describe the work in an odd manner so it ends up sounding like some strange cross between nonfiction and fiction (my work is women’s fiction that embraces many principles of psychological self-help that will really help readers). Or something like that.

That’s when Sara and I end up shaking our heads in wonder about the aspiring author’s cluelessness regarding the market. If I want psychological self-help, I’ll read a nonfiction book for it. I don’t read a novel to get those principles. I’m much more interested in the story unfolding and how the characters will grow and develop (and if those psychological self-help principals are subtly interwoven so I don’t notice it but it does enhance the story, all power to the writer—but it doesn’t need to be highlighted in the query.) Did I explain that well?

But I do agree that sometimes the most interesting and original fiction can come out of the exercise of writers bending the genres. I personally love that.

Several years ago when I first shopped Shanna Swendson’s ENCHANTED, INC., we were in a little quandary about what to call it.

Was it paranormal chick lit? Or was it fantasy? We ended up calling it paranormal chick lit for submission but in truth, that wasn’t quite right. Maybe today I’d call it lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy (and how many descriptors can I put on that?). That’s actually more accurate but three years ago, nobody in publishing was calling stuff “lighthearted contemporary urban fantasy” so we opted for the first option.

It can be annoying but we do have to name things when going on submission.

And I personally like to hear how writers consider their own work (even if it ends not being completely on target). It can be very telling about how writers perceive themselves, what they want from the work, their career, their style, their direction etc.

Knowledge is Power?

STATUS: Spring in Denver. It’s Friday! I should pop out early. On Monday, it’s going to be 70 degrees. How could I possibly work? Time to take the laptop and hit the park.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? LOVE IS STRANGE By Mickey & Sylvia
(and yes, that’s from the DIRTY DANCING soundtrack)

So this morning, Sara and I got into a big discussion about why it might be important for authors to know where their books fit in the market.

Certainly it’s the agent’s job to understand that (and some would argue—more so than the writers) but why are we, as agents, adamant that writers should to?

Well, we had a lively discussion because we wanted to tackle the concept from all angles. Should that responsibility be lifted from the writers’ shoulders? But then we delved into our query letters and what a difference it makes when writers do demonstrate that knowledge.

I hate to harp on all the queries we receive because isn’t that a dead horse. No need to keep beating it, but ultimately we decided that when writers have that market knowledge and use it correctly, it makes a difference in terms of helping your query letter stand out.

So, here’s our list of why writers should know where their books fit in the market.

1. Knowing clearly demonstrates your publishing professionalism

Right or wrong, we are suckers for that. I want to work with writers who are savvy about the world they want to be a part of. Call me crazy but the more you know as a writer, the easier my job is to help you get published.

2. Here’s a surprise that came up in our discussion. This might be a big assumption and a strange bias but we both agreed with it. Knowing shows that you are a reader and we naturally assume that folks who are good readers will potentially be good writers.

You’d be amazed at how many people I talk to who are “dying” to write a novel and yet don’t read on a regular basis. I’m not certain I get the disconnect there.

3. Not knowing shows your ignorance (and I don’t mean these people are stupid—just that they are lacking in knowledge).

Now, we understand that there will always be people who don’t know what they don’t know and that’s not a reason to dismiss the query letter. We will still read and consider it but right there, we now expect the writing in the query to rise above the standard to compensate.

Is that fair? Probably not but I’m just trying to tell you how it is. If a writer doesn’t know the genre or the book’s place in the market, it would be better to not even try and label it rather than mislabeling or doing so with a strange genre assortment.

Let the story speak for itself by writing a darn good query letter.

Literary Can of Worms

STATUS: Just got news that my author Linnea Sinclair’s GAMES OF COMMAND has hit the extended USA Today Bestseller list. No, it wasn’t the top 50 (that would be really exciting) but it’s a start—especially after being out on the shelves for only one week.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? MY HOMETOWN by Bruce Springsteen

I just had to chuckle when reading the comments from yesterday’s blog. Who knew what can of worms I was opening by simply trying to define what is literary for edification.

Where in my post do I denigrate genre writers? Simply because I mention that “literary” writing is usually recognizable or defined by level or art of the writing doesn’t mean that genre writers don’t also achieve that. It’s simply that the industry doesn’t DEFINE them as literary. Folks, I don’t make the rules. I simply try and point out that they exist. That there is an expectation an editor has if I pitch a work as literary fiction. They are expecting whatever it is they consider to be literary—and in the way I took a stab at defining. (Mitchell, Robinson, Roth or whoever you put on that list.)

In fact, I posit that there are many terrific literary writers who write genre fiction (Dan Simmons, Diana Gabaldon, and Anne Rice immediately pop to mind) but that’s not how they are labeled in the industry.

They are labeled science fiction/horror or historical fiction (or as some would argue for Diana’s earlier works, romance), or fantasy despite the literary quality of the writing. Do I think that’s fair? No. But it’s the truth in this industry.

That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Still, I love when blog posts spark discussion because it has long annoyed me that literary genre writers don’t get the credit they often deserve simply because they don’t happen to write what is “traditionally” considered literary.

Defining Literary

STATUS: I accomplished a ton of stuff today. I powered through a lot of client reading, which was great. I usually don’t get to read during the day.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? THE MUSIC OF THE NIGHT by Michael Crawford (from Phantom of the Opera)

Nothing dooms a query faster than mislabeling the genre of your work. If a writer has a serious tone for his/her query with a lot of darkness only to wrap it up with “and this would be a perfect fit for the chick lit market,” I’m understandably going to be confused.

Or better yet, the queries that highlight that the work is every genre under the sun, including the kitchen sink, because then all bases are covered. (i.e. My work is a mystery, women’s fiction thriller that will also appeal to young adults—or what have you.) That’s problematic as well because it’s clear that the writer doesn’t have a clear vision of the market.

But nothing is tougher than trying to figure out whether your work is literary or not.

I wish there were a quick and dirty definition I could give you but there’s not. It’s often like porn. I know it when I see it. It’s pretty clear.

I can at least make a stab at defining it though. The term literary refers to the level and quality of the writing. The language itself is art. It also refers to the level of complexity in the story. So works like THE CLOUD ATLAS or GILEAD are definitely literary.

The writing itself has a beauty that’s palpable. Now, these works can also tell a good story (which both do by the way) but when you sit back in awe at the tightness of the writing and the sheer scope encompassed, then you know it’s literary.

Commercial fiction can certainly have literary leaning. Works such as COLD MOUNTAIN and SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS come to mind. Jane Smiley (THOUSAND ACRES) and Jodi Picoult (MY SISTER’S KEEPER) also strike me as walking that fine line between the two but ultimately I would call their stuff commercial. (Okay, I might really say commercial fiction with a literary bent to show that the writing is above the ordinary.)

And yes, folks might disagree with me—hence the dilemma between what is literary and what is commercial.

Editor Dance

STATUS: TGIF. And all three contracts concluded! And here’s some irony for you. Even after yesterday’s blog, I got a person who called me today about their screenplay and how it was guaranteed to generate some cash. Sigh.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? BELOVED WIFE by Natalie Merchant

Today I received yet another email that an editor was leaving his/her house. This one, however, didn’t specify a new home. Oh no, another good editor bites the dust.

This is the third email I’ve received in the last two weeks.

It’s no secret that the publishing world has a “use ‘em till you lose ‘em” approach because being an editor (and don’t laugh) is not a glamorous job. They deal with long hours (non-commiserate and non-commensurate! pay), lots of demands (from agents, authors, their bosses), and books that tank (in sales numbers) despite their love and tender care.

And no, it’s not all bad. Sometimes they find a gem, have an exciting auction, see a sleeper book fly off the shelves but for the most part, it’s just hard, hard work. And it wears them down.

And it’s so sad when I get the news of a departure. Someone I liked. Enjoyed working with. Knew their tastes and what would work for them. Now I’ll have to scout out whoever fills their shoes. See who gets added to the dance card.

This month I’m lucky. None of these editors had any of my authors’ books. Next month might be a different story.

Potpourri

STATUS: Amazed. It’s snowing in Denver. AGAIN. This is the 8th snowstorm in a 7-week timeframe. 3-5 inches predicated and it’s snowing like crazy at the moment. I should have a Snow Patrol song on the iPod for today instead!

What’s playing on the iPod right now? COUNTING BLUE CARS by Dishwalla

Michael Bourret at D&G has a terrific little essay on Judith Regan and about what publishing is missing without her—for good or for bad.

For full disclosure, I only interacted with Judith once. She was attentive and courteous. She didn’t end up buying my book (I sold it elsewhere) but I had no complaints. From her reputation, I must have caught her on a good day. Big smile here.

Gawker takes a nice poke at deals posted on Deal Lunch via Publishers Marketplace. A little sly commentary on what sells.

The Man in Black is hosting one wacky contest by making entrants create a contest so wacky as to win an ARC of his debut thriller THE MARK.

And I just discovered another agent who has joined our blogging ranks. Lori Perkins is the Agent In The Middle. She’s been expounding on marketing so if you’re interested, you might want to check it out.