Pub Rants

Tagged middle grade

Out Of The Mouth Of Babes

STATUS: Supposed to snow tomorrow. I’ll make it in but I think it will be a lonely day for Chutney and I.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN by Clash

Throughout any given year, I probably give at least 10 talks or workshops at writer’s conferences or other organizations. Plus, with my background in corporate training, I have to say that my public speaking skills are exceptional. And I certainly don’t feel any anxiety or nervous anticipation before any given talk.

That is, until this Saturday. I was tapped to do a talk for area 4th and 5th graders at the CCIRA Authors Festival. (Side note: CCIRA stands for Colorado Counsel International Reading Association.) That morning, I found myself kind of nervous. What an interesting new sensation. After all, with adults, you can fudge a talk; with kids, no way. If you’re boring, they’ll let you know. I also had never given a talk to people this young.

Much to my relief, the talk went great (phew!). Here’s a pic of the 90+ elementary schoolers in attendance (with a sprinkling of adults).

I actually confided that I was nervous and told them I was counting on their questions to carry me through so please don’t let me down. And I have to say, I was blown away by them. They asked the best questions I think I’ve ever received at a talk.

Here’s a sampling of what was asked:
1) What happens if you can’t sell a book to a publisher?
2) How do you know if a writer’s idea is a good one?
3) If Hollywood has bought the film rights, does the author get a share in the profit?
4) Can you publish your book yourself or do you have to have a publisher?
5) How do you decide if the cover art is good?
6) Do publishers show animation for cover concepts?
7) What happens if more than one publisher wants the book?

There were more but this is what I can remember. I’d do a talk for that age group again in a heartbeat.

Fun Facts On NLA Clients—Take 4

STATUS: I have an auction unfolding later this week so busy busy.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DOG DAYS ARE OVER by Florence and The Machine

Kristina Riggle—literally lives on the street one block over from where my husband grew up in Michigan. Talk about a small world…

Sherry Thomas—English is Sherry’s second language. She didn’t start learning English until she was thirteen years old. If you’ve read her, you’ll know she has a beautiful way with language that’s really stunning.

Linnea Sinclair—came to me via a referral from the amazing Deidre Knight. How cool is that for a fellow agent to recommend an author to then to have that author have such a great career? Deidre and I toast it every time we get together.

Helen Stringer—has a gorgeous British accent and a little known fact is that she has a background in film/tv. This doesn’t happen often but she auditioned for and landed the narrator job to read her own novel SPELLBINDER for the audio book version. She’ll be doing THE MIDNIGHT GATE as well. So if you’ve listened to the books, you are actually hearing her. If you haven’t picked up the audio version, I highly recommend it.

The Slow Build

Status: Winter finally decided to show up in Denver. Eight inches of snow and boy is it cold.


What’s Playing on the XM or iPod right now? 1983 by Neon Trees

One of the things I love the most about repping titles in the children’s world is the very different expectation children’s editors have for a debut author.

In the adult world, sometimes a new writer is treated via the spaghetti test. Let’s throw it out there and see if it sticks. If it doesn’t, time to move on.


In the Children’s realm especially for middle grade, there is an expectation that most successful mg titles will be through a slow build. With this in mind, the publisher expects to support the title for the long run. Now it’s not to say there aren’t successful titles straight out of the gate. There are and trust me, editors are excited and happy about that.

The difference is that they understand that an instant success is the exception to the rule rather than the norm. And this is what makes today’s news so cool.


A year and a half after initial publication, Janice Hardy’s first book in the Healing Wars series is now starting to get recognition.

Finally we can share some big news out of the UK. THE PAIN MERCHANTS (the US title is The Shifter) has been shortlisted for the 2011 Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. This is a big deal. We’ve known for 2 months but couldn’t say anything until today.
We also found out that in the U.S., THE SHIFTER is a nominee for the 2011-2012 Truman Readers Award for the state of Missouri.

The coveted state reading lists—landing on one is usually a sign that a title/series is starting to penetrate the reading market—especially for teachers and librarians.

So huge news—and coming quite a bit of time after initial publication. I’m thinking this spaghetti strand is definitely going to stick!

More Neon Trees music on iLike

How Well Did Kristin Predict?

STATUS: I’m heading over to the Tattered Cover to do some holiday shopping. Yay!

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? CHRISTMAS CANON ROCK Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Oh, I think this might be a fun entry. In a press release from Scholastic, the editors created a list of the top trends from 2010 when it came to Children’s books.

And funny enough, in the Nelson Agency newsletter, I’ve been highlighting a lot of what was “hot” in children’s lit throughout the year. I wonder if my predictions in any way line up.

What do you say? Should we analyze it?

To start, here’s the Scholastic List:

1. The expanding Young Adult audience
2. The year of dystopian fiction
3. Mythology-based fantasy (Percy Jackson followed by series like The Kane Chronicles, Lost Heroes of Olympus and Goddess Girls)
4. Multimedia series (The 39 Clues, Skeleton Creek, The Search for WondLa)
5. A focus on popular characters – from all media
6. The shift to 25 to 30 percent fewer new picture books, with characters like Pinkalicious, Splat Cat and Brown Bear, Brown Bear showing up in Beginning Reader books
7. The return to humor
8. The rise of the diary and journal format (The Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Dear Dumb Diary, Dork Diaries, The Popularity Papers, and Big Nate)
9. Special-needs protagonists
10. Paranormal romance beyond vampires (Linger and Linger, Beautiful Creatures, Immortal, and Prophesy of the Sisters)

In looking at all the newsletters from the past 11 months, here’s what I highlighted was “hot” in our newsletter column:

1. February 2010 newsletter—Dystopian YA fiction as hot.
2. March 2010 newsletter—Paranormal YA US titles hot in translation
3. May 2010 newsletter—I mentioned that I’d be attending the BEA YA buzz panel. I didn’t highlight paranormal romance in the newsletter but I did discuss it on the blog, June 2, 2010 entry.
4. October 2010 newsletter—Dystopian YA mentioned again along with YA SF romance.

Not bad! I actually didn’t talk about children’s fantasy at all but I definitely agree that we have seen a lot of myth-based fantasy stories and just recently I blogged about seeing fairy tale inspired stories—which is kind of in that same vein.

A return to humor is news to me so very interesting. As for special-needs protagonists, I can’t say I’ve seen that many but what I have noticed is stories where the main narrator has a sibling with special needs. Tangential but maybe worth mentioning.

In the October newsletter, I also highlighted that editors would like to see the next John Green. That’s humor and the male voice. That’s not mentioned here but I do think that might trend.

After 200 Webinar Pitches…Take 2

STATUS: Heading out early to meet with tax accountant.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? THE SWEETEST TABOO by Sade

Sara was in the office today so we put our heads together on a couple of other tidbits of feedback we gleaned from the all the pitch critiques we did.

Here are a couple of other culprits we discovered while critiquing that would have made us pass had we not being doing that editorial input.

1) Too much emphasis on the world building without giving equal weight or emphasis to the story and the characters in it.

2) Mechanics of the writing was unpolished—as in there were syntax and obvious grammar errors within the pitch itself.

3) Vague descriptions such as: “suddenly a new discovery threatens everything INSERT CHARACTER NAME holds dear.” The problem is that such grand but vague statements don’t tell the reader anything. It’s like saying “this restaurant serves food.”

4) We couldn’t understand the world because the description was unclear. (By the way, we debated whether this fits under “convoluted plot” of yesterday’s entry but we don’t think so it. It feels separate.) You have to choose the right details about your world in the pitch because you can’t explain everything. You can only highlight an element or two that will stand out as unique about the world.

5) Writers who made up a name for a creature or an element but didn’t include any explanation of what it was in the pitch so it didn’t have context. This leads to confusion.

That’s all she wrote folks.

More Sade music on iLike

After 200 Webinar Pitch Critiques…

STATUS: ! I think that exclamation point says it all.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? ISN’T IT ROMANTIC by Rod Stewart

I can unequivocally give my blog readers the #1 culprit of why pitch paragraphs in adult or children’s SF&F query letters miss.

Drumroll please….

Convoluted plot that can’t be followed in the pitch paragraph.

Interestingly enough, in the presentation itself, I gave the missing plot catalyst as the# 1 reason for why we pass. Convoluted description of the plot was #3. I might have to revise that!

Post webinar, most participants got the concept of “inciting incident” or main plot catalyst pretty clearly; it was building the rest of the pitch paragraph that proved tough. I think everyone who submitted a pitch to be critiqued got a sense of just how hard it is to create a good one.

A bit of advice? Your pitch is not something you want to go it alone on. You need feedback and from a variety of sources. If you learn nothing else from that session, take that tidbit away with you.

And because I’m a nice person, I’m going to share my Top 10 list for blog reading edification.

KRISTIN’S TOP 10 LIST OF WHY ADULT AND CHILDREN’S SF&F QUERY LETTERS GET A REJECTION

Reason 10: Generic descriptors of the story

Reason 9: Overkill on World Building details and not enough about the story itself.

Reason 8: Explaining that unlike already published SF&F novels, your work has character development

Reason 7: Popular trends (such as Vampires, Werewolves, or Zombies) with no unique take clearly spelled out in pitch

Reason 6: No mention of or insight into the characters who will be driving the story

Reason 5: The manuscript is 250,000 words (or more!) and this is unpublished, debut author

Reason 4: The work is called SF&F but it sounds more like a mystery or thriller or something else.

Reason 3: Convoluted Plot that I can’t follow in the pitch paragraph

Reason 2: SF&F stereotypical archetypes as the “hook”
–the mysterious object
–the unexpected birthright
–the quest
–the villain that has risen again
–exiled to another planet
–mayhem on spaceship to new planet
–Androids with heart of gold
–The main character as the key to saving the world or species
–the just discovered talisman

Reason 1: No hook—or mention of a plot catalyst that is new or original in this genre

A New Change In The Children’s Realm

STATUS: It’s actually a gorgeous day in Colorado. 70 degrees and we are almost to the end of October! I want to pop out early and take a long walk with Chutney. I’ll work more tonight.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? DO YA by Neil Nathan

When I was out in New York, I was super pleased to hear this little tidbit of news from two editors at two different publishing houses. It used to be that in the children’s realm, an agent could only submit to one children’s imprint at a time under the larger corporate umbrella.

In the adult realm, we never did this. We’d submit to all imprints and just make sure the editors in the same house knew who else had it.

Well, it was considered a no-no in the children’s realm (Sidenote: I often did what I wanted anyway and submit simultaneously if I thought the project was right for more than one imprint. I did get reprimanded a couple of times, but what are they going to do? Not allow me future submissions?)

Anyway, to get back on topic, I’m super thrilled to hear the news because of course I’m not interested in deliberately annoying people. I just thought this rule was rather dumb.

What if I submit to one imprint at let’s say XYZ Children’s and the project moves fast (as in lots of editors interested) but that particular XYZ editor passes on it. Well, now there is no time for me to ping another XYZ editor at a different imprint. I’m already setting up the auction or what have you. Now that publisher is completely shut out of the action even though the project “might” have been a fit for a different imprint and editor.

It bugged me. I never want a publisher to not have the opportunity to participate and now that there is a shift in mindset on this particular topic, it won’t happen.

More Neil Nathan music on iLike

Talk About the Money

STATUS: If I read my latest Publishers Weekly magazine at the same time as getting a pedicure, does that qualify as working? Hey, it’s summer time.

What’s playing on the XM or iPod right now? I AND LOVE AND YOU by Avett Brothers

Last weekend I spoke at my local Lighthouse Writers Litfest. They wrapped up two weeks of celebrating literature and authors with an agent panel at the Tattered Cover in Lodo (which stands for Lower Downtown)—and to be honest, agents doesn’t sound overly celebratory to me but hey, they thought that was the way to do it. Didn’t you know that most of us are full of hot air?

One of the questions asked at the panel was how much of an advance can a writer expect for a debut novel.

Admit it. All of you just perked up your ears. Always, always, writers want to know about the dollars involved. The problem is that this question is really hard to answer. Depending on the novel, it literally could go for any amount of money.

When pressed, which happened of course, the audience wanted to know what was “typical.”

Once again, no such thing but if you hold a gun to my head, I’ll say this:

1. Most debut novels will have advances of under 25k per book. I’d say that’s typical.

2. What a debut novel will get for an advance will depend on genre.
a. Romance novels—5-15k per book
b. YA or MG—10-30k
c. Mysteries & thrillers—Uh, no idea. Don’t rep them. Janet Reid, my friend, can you chime in here? I think you are the Queen of repping this genre.
d. Literary fiction—10-30k
e. Women’s fic—10-30k (are you noticing a pattern here?)
f. SF&F—5-25k

Okay, fine. I told you the money—as long as you realize this list is meaningless, we’re fine.

Have I sold a debut romance author for six figures? Yes. Debut literary author for six figures? Yes. SF&F debut author for 6? Not yet (but I’ve gotten really close…).

Etc. It all depends on how many editors want your particularly debut novel. For my part, I often feel the most satisfaction for selling a debut that took forever to place (and the author was on the verge of giving up hope) and the novel I sold for peanuts that then exploded and just sold and sold.

Now that’s the kind of money I like to talk about.

Bologna Children’s Book Fair—Days 2 Thru 4

STATUS: Currently sitting on a terrace in Florence and drinking wine.

What’s playing on the iPod right now? Nothing at the moment.

I’m back!

A bad internet connection at my hotel made any daily blogging difficult. I actually tried popping up to press room one afternoon as it had been rumored there was free internet there. Alas, that was not so. I’m also on vacation this coming week so I’m going to post a bunch of entries today to get you through the week.

Bologna in a Wrap Up.

1. The “big” book of the fair was a middle grade fantasy called EMERALD ATLAS. From the buzz I heard, there was a large auction in the US for the title at the same time a lot of foreign publishers decided to kick in some good money as well.

On the whole, this was seen as a positive sign that middle grade could make a little resurgence soon as sales have been slow in this arena—despite a lot of editors looking for good MG material.

2. Almost all foreign editors expressed some fatigue in vampires, werewolves, angels, demons, and all things paranormal. Despite that, these titles were still selling like crazy in their territories so I’m not sure what to tell you. I actually got a lot of interest in my fun vampire books as they are a bit different but on the whole, foreign editors weren’t jumping on things paranormal unless it was a ‘big” book.

3. YA is still hot.

4. Foreign editors love Ally Carter. She seems to be the one non-paranormal author who works well abroad. We just found out she is a bestseller in Brazil. How fun is that?

There it is in a nutshell really.