Getting published is a real be-yatch! Hear about my ups, downs and a few random rants in between.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Wait, You Mean I Still Have To Work?!

Let me get this straight. Signing a book deal doesn't mean I can quit my job?

Man, I feel so jipped!

So popping into my supervisor's office and yelling, "Psych! Girl, you know I was joking about quitting,right?" is probably not an option?

I'm kidding, of course. But since Jay boldly asserted that he indeed does have millionaire author dreams, I thought I'd make a leettlle confession too....

Hell yeah, I'm trying to get paid!

And I don't mean, money to supplement my current income. I mean I want writing advances, royalties, whatever to BE my income.

I stand by my statement - no one gets into writing to become rich. The whole starving artist reference is not just for painters - it's for all us poor saps who happen to be right-brained and too creative for our own good.

Sure, we'd like to settle down into comfortable, stable jobs. But dammit we just can't. Believe me, I tried!

Still, when I made a conscious decision to jump back into writing it was not with the goal to write AND keep a regular full-time job. Un-ah.

The thing is, I think writers are so aware that it's a hell of a grind to become a money-making author that we squash our desire to reach that goal. Or we keep it on hush at the very least.

Thousands upon thousands of books are published every year. The odds of getting published are already pretty damn steep. So add in wanting to make a living from it - a living above the poverty level - and dammit, you're just talking crazy.

But Jay, you've called me out with your comment. I've been afraid to admit, that yeah, I want to be one of those rare few that makes a good living from writing. If it's writing novels and contributing to magazines, fine. If it's novels and speaking engagements, that's cool too.

Bottom line, I expect to one day walk away from my 9-to-5. It's not so much that I think making a living from writing will be easier. Quite the contrary. I'm well aware of the grind I'll have to maintain to make even as much money as I make as mid-level civil servant. Forget trying to climb to my corporate financial pinnacle.

But that's fine with me. I've been on the grind for the last 15 years for non-profits, government departments, PR agencies and corporations. Grindin' is a way of life for most of us.

What I'm saying is, I'm committed to leaving one grind for another because for the first time that grind will benefit me!

If I'm going to put in 60-hour work weeks, late nights and long hours, who better to do it for than myself? And I've already done it, so it won't be new.

Three years ago when I decided to freelance, I was working longer hours in my home office than I had ever worked at my corporate gig. My husband would come to the office and ask if I planned on coming out at all that day. I was obsessed with querying and pitching editors with article ideas.

Then I wrote my first novel and my obsession turned to querying agents.

Between December '04 and June '05, I was working my full-time job, doing marketing part-time for a spirit company, revising my novel and querying agents. By the way, I have two kids and I coach a cheer squad nine months out of the year.

Oh yeah, I'm totally Type A! Which is kind of beside the point since there is no help for us chronic multi-taskers.

The truth is, if I can do all of those things simultaneously?

Then hustling for paid school visits, hawking my books and writing new ones - psssh, all in a day's work.

And if after all that I end up clearing $30 or $40,000 a year - it's all good.

And if by some stroke of good fortune (combined with me working my ass off) I happen to one day hit six-figures or seven - I won't be mad. But that's the hidden goal. The goal I don't speak of aloud...often.

Maybe it sounds crazy or incredibly ambitious.

Setting out to write a book is no less sane to some. Believing you'll ever get it published, even more ludicrous.

But, sanity is overrated anyway.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The F-Word

Fellow writers,

One day, you'll be minding your own business and your agent will drop the F-bomb.

Shock, amazement and utter bewilderment will course through your veins as you try to figure out what could have possibly brought discussions to this crossroads.

Yes, I'm talking about Film rights. The elusive, tempting creature that lurks on the edges of the publishing industry luring wannabe scribes with its call of cash and instant stardom...well, at least stardom for your characters.

Since writers have no control over where film rights discussions go, let's acknowledge that it's all the more appetizing because we know so little of it.

The F-word isn't complicated...for the writer. Someone wants to option your book for a movie? Great. More money, more exposure.

Fact is, the movie may never get made.

If it does, you'll likely lose most if not all creative control over the characters you conceived. And you probably won't score a cameo in the film.

Who do you think you are, Stephen King?

If the movie sucks, most readers know that a bad movie doesn't mean the book was bad.

So, ya' know, film rights is not exactly selling your soul to the devil. All-in-all not a bad deal for us potential mid-listers.

Matter of fact, selling the film rights may be the only thing a writer doesn't lose sleep over.

No writer I know went into this with dreams of making millions. We're nothing if not realistic. We quickly learn we'll have to hustle for our money.

Isn't that all querying an agent or publisher is anyway? A hustle to get your grind on?

So, film rights are the gravy. The unexpected perk at the end of a long year of late nights, scribbled notes while driving, midnight visits from your characters while you're slumbering and squirrling yourself away from the real world into your own.

What's scary about film rights is the stratosphere it thrusts you into. Suddenly, the activity you love doing, has become a new type of commodity - multi-media, baby.

The mere utterance of the F-word brings about the realization that, by god, you may make a living out of this writing thing, after all.

But when your writing becomes a commodity it becomes that much harder to ignore the fact that it's a business.

And this is something I knew from the word go.

The first thing I did when I began freelancing three years ago was to incorporate my business, CHY Communications. From opening a business account to creating quarterly business statements to keep up with the income (what little there was) and the expenses (stamps, copies and ink really add up), I formalized my talent.

Some days I was probably the only one who valued that my writing was indeed worth the trouble of calling it a business.

But it had to be done.

Think like it's a business and you won't be giving it away!

Still, keeping the creative side and business side separate are difficult when negotiations for the rights to things that were once exclusively mine, reaches publishers and film agents.

On one hand, I'm near ecstasy that a publisher sees my characters like I do. Sees the potential of my talent.

On the other, I'm now painfully aware that if I'm going to make a living from this, being grateful that a publisher wants to purchase my work is hardly playing hard ball.

Not a bad dilemma to have, but one worth opening for debate.

How hard do you push the business end when there are still bridges to be built with your new editor?

How far into the future, dare you look, when kinks remain, like that unsold mss that is suddenly worth a wee bit more now that a credible source or two recognizes your ability to spin a good story?

I know that agents are for playing hardball.

And I'll gladly hide behind mine as she works to ensure I'm not doomed to remain with one foot in novelist land, the other firmly stuck in my "real" job, where I'll probably quickly become known as that PR chick with XYZ Company that writes books.

But I'll admit, the mere thought of pushing the envelope to guarantee that writing can one day pay my bills makes me feel greedy and a little money hungry.

Nothing I'm losing sleep over, but certainly a seed that's rooting in the back of my mind.

So I sit, anxiously, somewhere between embracing the grind that will soon come with having to market my own books, and remembering why I write, in the first place.

And it sure ain't for the film rights...it's for the love of it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Drawing A Blank

Dorchester Publishing is about to start a new speculative romance line. Spec romance is new to me. But I have a little time on my hands before having to dive knee-deep into revs on DRAMA. So, what the heck, right?

An idea came to mind. I noted it out, started to get really excited about it and got as far as the synop and a page of chap 1. Then I drew a blank.

The synop wasn't polished. But I felt like I was stepping on my own toes by screwing and chopping paragraphs. It's why I moved on to start the first chapter.

But by page two of the chapter, I just lost interest.

Literally, my interest went from 60 to O in a breath.

I sat staring at the screen, mustering the gusto to keep at it. The story idea was pretty cool - way out of my realm because it was a futuristic romance - but not a total stretch for the genre. But nothing, zilch.

P's mind has left the building!

For years, I wrote whatever I was told to write for clients. I've written full-scale marketing materials for industries ranging from hospitality to wireless technology. Give me a few tid bits of fact and I can spin those suckers into a good story or an informative article.

So why the sudden creative crash?

Even as I stared at the incomplete sentence on the screen, I knew.

In three years (or less if my agent can make it happen) I want to be a full-time author. No more "day time" gig. But, if I'm going to do it and not have writing turn into the drudgery of some of my other career choices, I've got to really want to create a story, develop characters I care enough about to speak for them.

For whatever reason, maybe it was struggling over the synop. Maybe it was doubt that some of the futuristic elements left questions I couldn't yet answer. Or maybe, I felt myself jumping into something too soon after the Offer.

Sorry, just feels like that should be in caps.

But for whatever reason, the wind left my sails before I could get the boat going.

My mind is a wonderfully, white-slated blank.

For the first time in three years I'm not fretting over if the manuscript is just right. Or if I should start a new manuscript to get more under my belt.

My first three manuscripts (my onlys) were 100% organic. I saw the characters in my head as clear I can see my hand in front of my face. The stories wrote themselves.

Corny? Hokey?

Maybe.

But true.

Call it a quirk, a flaw or just P being P, but I can't manufacture a story.

I guess this means I won't be doing a lot of books on spec or packaged deals. That may hurt my pockets in the future. An author can't live off one advance every few years.

And muses are fickle, little curious creatures.

But, I trust this will all work itself out.

I have a million, well not a million, but plenty of story lines for my current Del Rio Bay Clique characters from DRAMA. And a few ideas in mind for a sequel or two to my third book, BAD, BAD CHICK.

Hmmph...maybe the slate isn't as blank as I thought.

Okay, nevermind, go back to what you were doing. I just had this idea...

Thursday, February 16, 2006

A New Author Has Entered The Room

Please, please, no applause. No applause.

Well...okay, maybe a smattering.

If it sounds like I've lost my mind, perhaps it's because I have.

That's about as close as I can come to describing what it feels like to go from, "Gosh, I wonder when my book will sell. IF my book will sell." to having three publishers seriously consider it before a fourth comes in and konks me over the head with their big ol' check and drags me back to their publishing lair.

I've done this for free (reluctantly, but did it to build up my clips four years ago), for peanuts (blah on all those pubs who think paying a writer .02 or .05 per word is actually PAY)and now and then for some fairly decent cheese (Sweet 16, Girl's Life and Upscale, some of my most steady and well-paying freelance gigs).

But now, someone is seriously going to pay me real money to do what I LOVE doing - making up stories!

I tell you, only in America can a little girl from Kansas grow up to become the Queen of Oz...oh wait, sorry. Wrong story.

I meant to say, only in America, can a grown woman re-live her teen years over and over through characters that only exist in her head.

Ahhh...I love this country.

Yes, it's official. Kensington Books has offered me a two-book deal and will use my books to help flesh out their new YA line.

SO NOT THE DRAMA, my first book, is tentatively scheduled for a Spring '07 release. Hoping that won't change...but, ya' never know with these things.

I am tap dancing on clouds, right now.

Insanely euphoric.

One of those, it should be a crime to feel this good, kind of vibes.

Even Bad P is grinning sheepishly, mea culpa-ing because she was freaking last week about having to wait on word.

2006 is shaping up to be a not so shabby year.

Keep this momentum up and I may lose my head and go all "I'd like to thank the Academy" on you.

Nah, I'll save that for the acknowledgements page.

Forgive my nattering. Clearly, I'm still shell-shocked.

But there's nothing like my 9-5 civil's servant job to put life back into perspective. Give me a much-needed reality check.

Let me go let some resident tear me a new hole because the bus was ::gasp:: three minutes late, today.

That'll teach me to think I'm some hot shot author!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Dark Horse Emerges

So I'm minding my business, trying to tie up some work so I can get out of the office by noon.

Princess Bea, who's at work with me due to a minor daycare health crisis, is tearing through my office like a tornado, leaving trails of cereal from the conference room to my desk, throwing discs out of my desk drawer like they're frisbees, and screaming at the top of her lungs anytime I pick up the phone.

:::sigh::: It looked to be a very lonnngggg day.

Then...::ring, ring::

Anytime my phone squawks, it's someone wanting something!

Why, oh why, can't all people just email? At least I can answer those when I get good and ready.

Ahh but it's one of those goodly calls.

My agent, on a hot streak since last Friday's news, calls to say that a new publisher has emerged with interest in my mss.

This is totally unexpected!

Well, not totally. After all, I knew which publishers had the mss. But,was assuming she was calling to give an update on Publisher A and B.

This sudden contender is not just calling to relay that they're "interested," either. They're coming at us, guns on blaze, talking...dare I say it aloud?

Offer! She's talking about a possible offer. A two-book deal no less.

I was, AM, genuinely excited!!

I've banished Bad P to a corner. I don't want her ruining the euphoria of this latest piece of progress.

Still, I can barely get my mind around this because everytime it starts to think about how wonderful this is, how incredibly fulfilling it is to move to the next step in this process, Bad P tries to speak up.

She's pouting, worried about what if's.

What if's should be saved for book plotting, not great news.

Today, there is calm in Neurotica. Not just because Bad P is in a time-out. But because over the last four months I've really learned to obsess less...about writing.

Now with Publisher C, not just in the race, but taking the lead, my mind is oddly at ease.

Rest assured, I have plenty to obsess about outside of getting published. There's losing weight, planning a big press event at work and preparing my squad for last Saturday's competition (we came in 3rd out of six).

The good news for my agent, is she can do what she does while I obsess over these other things.

But who knows, this new calm may lead to a whole new non-obsessive me.

Yeah, right!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Welcome to Neurotica

My agent called today.

The manuscript has made it to the "sharing it around the office" stage at two major publishers.

Yay, you say?!

Oh, yay it would be for most. But you're now in Neurotica, better known as inside P's head.

In Neurotica, good news is always viewed with a healthy dose of - oh my God, what if...

Don't tsk or shake your head. I've always been like this. I can't take your pity for my flaws. For my inability to control my comeptitive streak, yes, but not for my neurosis.

On the outside I'm confident and brimming with - well of course they wanted to read it-bravado. Inside? 'Nother story.

So as my agent is sharing this with me, my heart is pounding excitedly and I'm saying all the right things an author should say when they hear that two editors "really love" the story.

But while I'm yapping, here's the conversation going on in Neurotica - because in my head, I can hold a conversation with you and myself, simultaneously. Call it a talent.

Good P - Oh my God, they both want to read it. This is better than...no not sex. But more exciting than...not the birth of the princesses. This is awesome!

Bad P - Damn, now they have to get the thumbs up from others? Why couldn't we have just submitted to the Ed Director? VP or something? Grrr...

Good P - Can you believe, after all the hard work we've put in, our girl is finally making some headway in the publishing game?

Bad P - Why is it taking so lonnngg? Doesn't anyone recognize how great we are, already? Have you seen some of the drivel on the shelves. Our drivel is as good as any of that!

Good P - Patience, P. Ooh did you hear that? Our agent said she thinks she may hear back more as early as next week?

Bad P - So all weekend I'm left to obsess over this? Great! And then what if they don't read it? You know it's always "next week," or "tomorrow."

Good P - These are two powerhouse publishers. We're rolling with the big dogs, now!

Bad P - God, they're such different houses. How in the world did both of them like the same manuscript? Are we getting Punk'd?

Good P - Everyone doesn't breakthrough on their first try. Think of it like a Grammy or Oscar nod - it's an honor just to get a nom.

Bad P - Are you serious? We'll never quit our day job with you spouting that crap! Sales, girl. All we're worried about are sales!

Good P - Let's reward ourselves with a weekend off. Soak in the joy of reaching the next step.

Bad P - No! Ten pages tonight and at least 15 more before the weekends out. Chop, chop! These manuscripts ain't gonna write themselves. Gotta get ready in case they say no!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

SCBWI Hangover...looking for my next fix

The conference is over. My NYC-high has passed and I basically crashed and burned Monday.

But I'm feeling better, today. Up at the godforsaken hour of 4 a.m. because Princess Bea toddled into the room wanting to snuggle. If snuggling consists of someone kicking and scratching the crap out of you.

No doubt I'll be a ragged mess in a few hours, when I'm really supposed to be awake.

But since I'm up, I wanted to confess something on behalf of fellow writers.

We are total information whores. If we're not writing about something - dissecting the topic and putting it back together neatly- we're reading about something! The Internet is where we get a quick fix and bookstores are like our crack houses.

I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Miss Snark. The reader, an author already represented by an agent, asked about approaching editors at conferences. Miss Snark remarked she didn't get why an agented author would bother to attend the conference, since the primary purpose of attending is to meet/network/hog tie and kidnap yourself an agent or editor.

Just jokes, people!

Hog tying is inefficient. I prefer handcuffs.

Miss Snarks' insight is always witty, fun and most importantly, informative. But, oh Snarky one, I have to put my .02 cents on the table on this one.

I'm agented and recently attended the SCBWI Mid-Winter. I did so, because, I, like many writers, am an information whore.

We have an urgent need to inform ourselves of every little detail and process of publishing. Thinking that, somehow, being in the midst of all of this information will propel us into print.

We can't help oursevles.

It's a sickness.

Some of us get help for it. Others (like myself) write about it. Because dissecting it, discussing it and reviewing that discussion are strange forms of therapy.

Because I have an agent, I made sure to let her know I was attending, made an appointment to meet with her when I got in town (a quick Friday afternoon, hello, nice to finally meet you in person deal) and asked, point-blank, was there anything she wanted me to get out of the process?

I didn't approach any of the editors. The sessions were short and the program moved along too fast for much one-on-one time. Still, I found hearing, first-hand, the likes and dislikes of Knopf, Atheneum and Harcourt empowering and just plain interesting.

I have no plans to tell my agent how to do her job (she's doing a bang up job w/o my advice) or pass along any hints like, "Hey, Erin Clark and I have the same taste in shoes, maybe you should send her my mss."

But I believe conferences are still attendance worthy, even for the agented.

If nothing else, if the agent thing doesn't pan out, I'll have a small library of info to jump start the next leg of submissions and that editor handcuffed to my desk.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

P's Perspective: Final notes & Series Workshop

So my 20-month old just kicked the PC and clicked it off in the midst of my post. And I'm starting over from scratch.

How many of us know the pain of having to re-write an email or blog from scratch? Obviously the original post was perfect. The second time around it's purely functional!

So I'll get right to it...

Francine Pascal's CREATING THE SERIES workshop was relatively insightful, though it would have been nice to have some solid points to follow. It was obvious she wasn't quite as comfortable leading such a large group - she indicated as much several times both today and yesterday in her keynote.

So, perhaps things would have been a little more structured if she had been dealing with the 20 or so people she had originally expected, versus the 50+ in the room.

Unfortunately, because she didn't offer any hard and fast rules to follow, my notes are a tad scattered.

What was kind of funny, was twice she made a comment that made it clear she wasn't about to disclose any real idea nuggets that any of the attendees might take and create a series from. I'd have to say it was the first time I heard any writer vocalize, plain and clear, "Hey, we're all competitors here, so I'll share but not too much."

What she did share with us was the original proposal she created for the FEARLESS series. And she read from the original proposal for the SWEET VALLEY HIGH series. Both helped to emphasize that if you are proposing a series how in-depth your proposal should be, so the publisher visualizes the world you're offering.

Her advice was geared toward the writer proposing a series that someone else will write, because the focus was on how to develop the proposal vs. how to churn out the books.

Now, here's what's interesting...and I hope I'm not the only one who felt like "duh" when I heard it.

An attendee voiced that she had a series idea but that an agent, publisher or some industry insider told her not to mention that it was a series. Instead make the book stand alone and then mention there's a "possibility" of this being a series.

We've probably all heard that.

Francine's answer was what made me feel like an idiot - for not realizing it on my own.

Francine told her - what you're talking about is a sequel, not a series.

She said Paula Danziger's AMBER BROWN books were not series books but sequels, and prequels and sequels to the sequel.

When asked what was HARRY POTTER, she conceded it was a series, although not in the traditional packaged sense like SWEET VALLEY. I should point out that she hemmed and hawed a bit before calling it a series. I think because she really was talking packaged series. Naturally HP is not.

Her definition of series - an entire fictional world brought down to your characters. Different characters are in front of the lens within any given book - even if there may be one MC that appears each time. And these books come out at a much faster rate.

Also, series work is propelled by a theme. SWEET VALLEY HIGH's theme was love and relationships. It was the common thread throughout each book and each book took place at the high school.

Being dead honest, I really did not think about the difference until she pointed it out.

I get that there are other series out there and that multiple authors write them. Still, it did not occur to me that certain books are better defined as sequels. I think I kind of used the terms interchangeably.

Anyway, some actual notes:

*She sold SVH via a proposal that outlined each character with background, the "bible" of settings within the world of Sweet Valley and plot points for books 1-6.

*She discussed seeding and how she'd weave enough about each character in one book, while leaving just enough mystery so that there would be more to discover in the next.

*Her process for SVH was very structured because she was sometimes churning out 5 or 6 books a month!!!

*She said that once the series grew in popularity she used movies, newspaper clippings and her own experiences to help develop plot points

*FEARLESS was a series she proposed with no intent of ever writing because she said it was not really the type of writing she did.

Her advice: Putting a character's entire worth into a two lines is a powerful way to sell a series concept.

Example: Gaia is a 13 year old born without the fear gene (FEARLESS)

Finally, even though I was so ready to go home, I did stay for Nikki Giovanni's closing key note. Glad I did.

Nikki is a really no holds barred speaker. I've heard that before. But seeing it for myself was still quite amazing.

Her keynote was tied in with her new book, ROSA, about Rosa Parks. She spoke candidly about the civil rights movement and how some elements of the book came together based on her own talks with Rosa Parks and the Illustrator's visits to Montgomery, Alabama.

There were lots of shocked gasps and I could feel more than a few people cringe as she spoke about Emmet Till and the state of his body after being beaten.

Like I said, powerful, candid and no rules apply.

I'd recommend this conference. It was pricey (my check book is still hollering uncle) and exhausting (and this without me going out drinking and cavorting). But the information will serve me well as I move forward in my journey to publication. And I hope it helps others!

So who's on deck next? Anyone going to the SCBWI Summer con?

Quiet Morning at Mid-Winter

The body has said "enough sleep." So I'm up yet not quite rarin' to go. Still need to pack and get the girls up and shuttle them over to my parent's room.

In order to all of this, I will not be attending the agent's panel this morning "AGENTS DISCUSS THE MARKET."

I could be wrong, assuming that this is similiar to the Publisher Panel, only from the agent's POV. But I don't think I'm too far off. Perhaps Stephanie or Amy - my fellow blue borders - are being good little writers and attending. So we can get the scoop from them later.

Thanks to Pam who posted that JUST IN CASE is by Judith Viorst. This is a PB put out by Atheneum, for those who'd like to see what Ginee Seo meant by Atheneum PBs are a bit quirkier than average.

Since today will be a much shorter day, I'm also hoping Stephanie and Amy are attending different workshops so we may all get a good look into what was shared. I was really curious about the Contract Basics workshop. But being a total author groupie, couldn't pass up attending Francine Pascal's workshop.

Speaking of groupies - last night in the lobby, we were trying to catch the elevator and Nikki Giovanni walks by us, deep in conversation with a companion. My mom, recognizing her right away says, "Hi," in one of those "I know you voices." You know, the one that's high-pitched with recognition.

Nikki said "Hello" back in that, thrown off for a second, do I know her way.

My mom was so pleased to have seen her and Princess A (my oldest daughter at age 11) teased me and my mom for getting so excited about seeing authors and poets.

But I'm so not the star struck type. George Clooney or some singer could walk by me and I'd casually mention, "Hey wasn't that George Clooney?" or "Mariah Carey?" But I wouldn't be fazed by it at all. No autographs for me. I'd just end up losing whatever it's written on.

I told my daughter, for me, it's a combination of 1) my love of books and reading, 2) authors never get the rock star treatment, but deserve it and 3) most times you may not even know what your fave author looks like. They could step on your foot in passing, apologize and still you may not place their face in that quick exchange of time. So it's kind of cool when you do recognize them.

But primarily #1 is why I get all giddy seeing my favorite author. Yeah, I love lots of music and movies. I'm a pop culture geek! It's part of our religion to know bits of useless info about all genres of entertainment.

But nothing makes me feel the way reading a really good book feels. So it's part awe and part gratefulness I feel towards authors and why I go all teen groupie when I see them.

Don't worry, I'm not chasing Francine down in the halls or anything. But it's just really cool to see the author of books that had me squirreld away in a corner daydreaming my weekends away.

Ahh the Princesses are awake (reluctantly so for the oldest), time to motor.

-P

Saturday, February 04, 2006

P's Perspective: Publisher Panel - State of the Union

Hey it's me. Got a second wind - sort of. I've had some dinner and not feeling quite as cranky. But lord, I'm tired. Typing with a two year-old in your lap is no picnic either. But had to report on the state of the union as seen through the eyes of the presidents of Penguin Books, Random House and Scholastic.

Even though I seriously considered dipping out before the conference ended today, I knew it would be highly irresponsible of me to miss the powerhouse publishers talk about what they saw and thought about the current state and future of children's publishing.

So the highlights from their mouths to my ear to you:

Doug Whiteman, Penguin

- Despite MG and YA being the growth area for the last few years, really believes the PB slump is coming to a near end

- Because he feels teens are more sophisticated he is unapologetic for pushing the envelope on some topics especially when it leads to first time readers picking up a book

- Says that publishers need to make an extra effort to get better at the marketing of books and stop relying so much on the retailers, libraries and schools to do this.

- Specifically he felt guerilla marketing and wider use of the internet, podcasts, blogs and the like will be the new future of marketing for the children's market

- Confident that e-publishing will have an impact on children's publishing. Not necessarily today or tomorrow but soon.

- Believes that the iPod craze will facilitate this move forward in marketing techniques.

Chip Gibson, Random House

- Will soon be intro'ing a Christian book imprint as part of Golden Books

- Agreed that the rebound of the PB is coming soon.

- Agreed that a new wave of marketing is on the horizon

- Said that the new focus of pubs will be the low-end retailer (i.e. The Dollar Store)

- Felt that publishers had to do whatever it takes to compete with the noise (video games, MP3 players etc..)

- Says Random House is already looking at how they will handle the future of e-publishing as it relates to rights, royalties and format.

Lisa Holton, Scholastic Inc.

- Believes we need to protect the beauty of reading

- Emphasized that we will always write for the avid reader but that we need to also understand who the new readers are and reach them

- Scholastic is interested in focusing outside of the narrow band of regular readers, because otherwise we are losing an audience. Relayed an experience about going to a Title I school and having a large number of children who could not afford the $4 books. Scholastic has $2 books available but not enough to serve the school. Thus their interest in ensuring all kids have access to books.

- Also in this example she indicated they found that 67% of the kids read below profeciency level. Thus, Scholastics interest in trying to identify readers who are older yet not able to read up.


The topic of rights to e-pub was a hot topic. Lots was said but the bottom line - there is still no definitive outlook on how this would be handled if say a reader could download a book or chapter and put it on a device like an iPod.

Clearly there are discussions being had. The publishers are concerned that if they do not act fast enough, agents will see this as a separate right that they can negotiate without the publisher.

No one said it, but the unspoken was they do not want a Napster debacle on their hands like the music industry experienced.

P's Perspective: Samantha McFerrin

Right off the top, I'll let you know. Harcourt Children's Books does not accept submissions from agents or authors that have not been previously published by Harcourt!

They do not read unsolicited manuscripts.

Still, the following info may be helpful in the future:

Samantha looks for books with:
Heart
Emotional punch
Good endings

She's currently looking for
MG
YA Fic
High quality poetry collections

NO Early Readers

Advice to writer/Illo teams: Okay to submit as such, but be prepared for Harcourt to like one over the other. In other words, coming in as a team doesn't guarantee you'll be taken as one.

P's Perspective: Editor, Ginee Seo

Ginee Seo of Atheneum certainly gave me hope that the entire publishing world has not gone commercial. Her list has some really good literary books out there. The imprint is only 6 months old.

Atheneum is author-driven and award-driven. Their books are more cutting edge and their PBs quirkier than average.

Examples:
TOTALLY JOE by James Howe
SIGN OF THE RAVEN by Julie Hearn
INEXCUSABLE by Chris Lynch
JUST IN CASE (forgot author) - This was the only PB she had on display

Interesting tid bit:
Ginee helped launch SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS while at HarperCollins

What she's looking for...character and voice moreso than plot. The second editor of the day that said "plot can be fixed, voice cannot."

Ginee likes the book that's "hard for you to write." As an example, INEXCUSABLE is about date-rape from the date-rapists POV.

She dislikes query letters but they are still required. So be short and to the point in your query. Show her the flavor of your writing and she likes to know that you have some knowledge about what Atheneum publishes. Include any info on relevant awards you may have received or if you're friends with an author who has high praise for the book.

Warning of the day: Leave out any marketing talk in your query. It's all about the story!

2-3 month turn around on submissions

2nd editor of the day who said "Feel encouraged should an editor give you a personalized rejection with feedback (minimal or not)."

From Atheneum's perspective following trends is a no-no.

Favorite quote: "Write the book that you want to write" and worry about who likes it and categorization later.

For Illos:
- Send letter with your professional background
- Sample Illo (color xerox copy)

Warned that a writer with Illo partner can be a tough sell because the publisher likes to choose their own Illos.

P's Perspective: Editor, Erin Clarke

The sessions with editors were very short. I found this to be refreshing. Us writers have a tendency to obsess (just a wee bit). Had the sesions been longer than 30 minutes people would have likely started asking specific to their own projects. So the 30 minutes kept it to the basics, allowing for a short burst of intense, specific info.

According to Erin, Knopf puts out 75 books annually
PB, MG, YA (fic and non-fic)

They are an author-driven house who likes to maintain a longer-term relationship with its authors.

- Books should be more along the literary side

- She likes books that will have an impact on children's lives

- They do not print many series or young chapter books, though are looking to acquire more of the latter

- She doesn't like to limit herself to one genre or style

- She's currently acquiring for the Spring and Summer '07 list

- Among other things, she's looking for young, fun, accessible non-fic

- The 3 things she wants to see in submissions:

Strong Voice - she wants to be drawn in immediately. Used the book "BOOK THIEF" as a good example.

Good Beginning - Says this is key to getting an editor to read beyond the first few pages. Used "CAUSE" by Tonya Bolden

Description - of the setting, characters or a situation. Used "CORNEILA & THE AUDACIOUS ESCAPADES OF THE SOMERSET SISTERS"

Quote that sums it up: What she's looking for is "good writing, good writing, good writing."

Once again she pointed out that plot can be fixed, voice cannot.

For PB:
She commented that economy of words is key but they should leave space for Illos to tell the rest of the story.

She chooses PB that have the potential to be read over and over

What NOT to submit:
Fantasy
Rhyming PB

Submitting to Erin

*Wants to see entire PB mss (no query)

*Synops are optional.

*Wants query and first few chapters

*NO email submissions

*NO discs

*If you have a web address, feel free to put the URL in query so she can visit it

* Cover letters should be VERY brief. She doesn't take much time reading them.

* Include SASE

Looking at a 6 month turn around time

She won't read beyond the first chapter if it doesn't touch her.

Says that if an editor gives you feedback in a rejection you should be encouraged. But if they send you a form, it's merely due to lack of time to answer all of the many submissions in a personal manner.

Greetings from SCBWI Mid-Winter: P's Perspective

With the scent of Halal kababs and Gyros in the air, literally since there are at least four carts right near the hotel, the children's writers have converged on New York with a quiet buzz.

The first day of the Mid-Winter was info-heavy, fast-paced and very well organized. I haven't hooked up with anyone from Verla's or the Yahoo Chick Lit groups (bummer) because I'm finding it tough to show my girls around NYC and juggle conference attendance. It's been a full day.

I've been taking notes all day long and have much to share. Hope you find the information helpful. I've broken it down into different posts to make reading easier. Also, you might find you're more interested in one aspect of the conference over the other.

So here it goes....

Keynote David Almond

I found David Almond's opening keynote inspiring. He hit the writing process on the nose - the insecurity, frustration, joy - all of it.

The highlights of Almond's talk this a.m.:

- Reminded us why we write - because it's our ability to imagine no matter what the situation; to envision a world the way we want it to be.

- He boiled writing down to taking a mes of "stuff" and being able to turn it into nice, neat little stories of lined sentences.

- Asked writers to embrace the "Messiness" of our imaginations

- Almond's perspective (one, which I agree) is that you can't really plan a story. He pulled out a notebook with pages covered from top to bottom in incoherent scribbling to prove his point. He said that's his only process.

- When discussing what it takes to be a writer, he pointed out that we must be "daft" to think we can do it - it's why we're writers. Because we ask ourselves "How do I dare think I can do this?" yet we still pursue the profession.

- To be a successful writer you must "dare to be stupid."

- Said our objectives as writers is to stir up our reader because children read with their bodies and senses vs. their minds.

- He touched on feeling envy and bitterness towards published authors after many years of being rejected (his first book took 5 years to write and was rejected by 33 publishers)

- He retreated from that bitterness and came back with a new perspective on writing and things took a turn soon after

Almond Advice On...
- Rejection "No is just no - nothing more."
- Plotting "Take an an object, any object and ask what can I do with that?" then go from there

His final message: TRUST YOUR IMAGINATION

My fave quote: "The more you use your imagination themore it gives you."

More to follow...