Ever wonder what literary agents consider to be proper query etiquette?** Or how literary agents decide on their strategies for submitting a manuscript?*** Or what causes literary agents to break up with an author?****
The answers to these questions and others have been generously and anonymously answered by several literary agents. Click here for more inside publishing skinny.
*Heck, it’s been a while since I posted anything beyond the occasional photo or brief update. But I’ve good cause for my semi-silence. True confession time: there’s major behind-the-scenes stuff going on, so semi-silence feels safer. If all works out as planned, it will be wonderful and life-changing. But right now… well, think of me as a plant growing roots before sending out fresh green shoots. What’s going on beneath the surface is far too tender for public consumption.
** One agent’s answer: “Be professional; your query is like a job application, so be sure to highlight what makes you and your books special. Follow the guidelines (I know there are a million agencies and they each have their own guidelines, but it is really worth your time to do the research)….” Read more answers.
*** Another agent’s answer: “First question is: do I know any editors who are specifically looking for this thing? After that, it’s a matter of balancing editors’ tastes with imprints’ general style while trying to make sure it’s not too similar to something they just published or (worse) just bought….” Read more answers.
**** A third agent’s answer: “I think the word “split” is a bit too euphemistic, you’re talking about getting fired. Agents sometimes get fired and so do clients. What necessitates it is the sort of thing you would expect. If I can’t help you as an agent, then there’s no use in wasting either of our time. If you write a bunch of projects I don’t think I can sell, and you don’t agree with any of my comments or advice, there’s just no use in us continuing to work together. It doesn’t mean I’m a bad agent, or you’re a bad writer, it just means circumstances may have changed, and where we used to agree on most things and now we don’t….” Read more answers.
Photograph: the view out my window after winter storm Nemo visited Brooklyn.
It probably won’t surprise any regular visitors to this blog that I’m passionate about publishing in all it’s forms. So here’s a quick round up of recent news and links that I found worthy or interesting. Enjoy!
1. First off, I must admit that I’m excited about the iPad. I’ve had so much fun programming apps for the iPhone that I look forward to seeing what I can for the iPad. I’m also pleased that my iPhone apps will run on the iPad, though I may eventually want to update them to take advantage of the larger screen.
Now that it seems that there’s a device that can showcase full-color e-books, one of my first intentions is to create a digital version of THE BOOK OF GODDESSES. I’ve ordered one and look forward to having it in my eager hands on April 3rd. I think that there’s all sorts of Brave New World possibilities for book designers here, though I must admit to a Luddite fondness for the pleasures of the printed page. In the meantime, here’s some information about creating e-books for the iPad in InDesign — much easier than creating iPhone apps for sure. And here’s an inspiring article about the book design opportunities offered by the iPad.
2. I’m still in decompression mode after the whirlwind of activity involved in Mary Sharratt‘s reading and signing here last Monday. It was wonderful to have her — Mary gave a compelling presentation that everyone loved and I thoroughly enjoyed my dinner with her and her husband afterward. We had a lot of fun talking about museums, art, writing, travel, and publishing. But since it was our first time livestreaming, we (friend/gallery publicist Diane Saarinen and I) had quite the learning curve!
3. Live in NYC or close by? This Saturday is our Spring offering of my Publishing 101 workshop at the gallery. It’s chock-full of as much inside publishing skinny goodness I can cram into two hours. There are a still a few spaces left. More info here. Or register here.
4. Here’s a Huffington Post article from an editor/author on how social networking and blogging have transformed publishing — in some ways, for the better. (Surprise, surprise!)
Like many other authors, I have a love-not love relationship with social media, such as Twitter, Facebook and blogging. First off, you need to be consistent with one’s efforts. When I’m on a book deadline or in the midst of serious muse time, I have a difficult time multi-tasking beyond the essentials (food and sleep, anyone?). On the other hand, the connections I’ve made online are ones I treasure and make what I do worthwhile and delightful. Some have even transformed into “real world” friendships and beyond.
5. Finally on a related note, when author Catherine Delors (MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION) asked me to design a book video for her new novel FOR THE KING (Dutton, July 2010), I enthusiastically complied. Below is the result of our collaboration, during which we had a lot of fun and listened to a lot of Berlioz . I “met” Catherine online during my DOOMED QUEENS blog tour when she graciously hosted me on her beautiful (and newly relaunched) blog, Versailles and More.
Want to know how to do self-publishing right? Over at Publetariat: People Who Publish there’s an interesting interview with Shannon Yarbrough, the founder/lead reviewer of The Lulu Book Review. Shannon is a passionate advocate of Lulu.com self-publishing services. He’s written an excellent guide to the top ten mistakes authors make when self-publishing their own book.
Though Yarbrough’s advice is geared toward those who use Lulu, many of his pointers are good whether you use Lulu or another service—or even ignore the print world in favor of e-books. Just ignore where he types “Lulu” and substitute your name of choice.
Here’s an excerpt:
1. Punctuation, spelling, and typos – none of us are perfect and every book has flaws, but your Lulu storefront/book page can not afford to contain these as people will take one look and decide that if you can’t put together a short blurb without errors, your book is too flawed to read. Editing has always been a dark cloud over the POD world, which is why accomplishing complete accuracy on your Lulu book page is an absolute must! Have someone review your work prior to releasing for distribution. If there are major errors, then it is too late to pull it back without paying for another distribution. Plus, you don’t want a reputation for releasing material that is not ready for prime time.
2. Know your characters and where they are! If his big blue eyes are so important to point out on page ten, they better not be brown eyes on page twenty. If she’s drinking a beer on page seven, she better not be finishing scotch on page eight. While these mistakes should really fall under rule #1 as typos, I bring attention to them only because I’ve seen this happen quite a bit. If you have a lot of characters to keep up with, I suggest buying a notebook and writing out character sketches or outlines of everything about them you need to know.
3. Formatting, formatting, formatting – Books are not emails or business letters. They have an expected format. If you know nothing about formatting a book, pull about 10 traditionally published books off your shelf and study their layout. Or go to a library or bookstore and just thumb through some popular books. Pay close attention to the number of blank pages between title pages, copyright pages, dedication pages, and Chapter 1. Also pay attention to page numbering (something my very own book fell victim to earlier this year). Are the numbers at the top or bottom, centered or flushed to the right? What page does the first chapter start on?”
(Pssst: If you haven’t entered the MISTRESS OF THE SUN giveaway yet, there’s still time to go forth and comment. Entries must be received by midnight EST on Thursday.)
I’m back from vacation, and am chock-full of news and photos to share. But an old repetitive stress injury has reemerged, limiting my ability to type. Short version: Thea is getting too heavy for me to lift. That, combined with overwork—well, you get the idea!
So for today’s Publishing Monday, here’s a follow up from last week’s post about getting started as a children’s book creator. I originally published it four years ago, so it’s well overdue for new exposure.
As for myself, I’ll be using my time away from the keyboard to catch up on some overdue reading and viewing. In mid-May, I’ll be interviewing Sandra Gulland about her captivating novel, Mistress of the Sun. and hosting a giveaway for her book blog tour. Plus Mama Donna Henes has gifted me with a copy of her book, The Queen of Myself. Look for a review of it soon! Plus I’ll be writing a blog post or two for Pop Tudors about (what else?) the current season of The Tudors. Fun!
Whenever new illustrators ask me for advice on how to make a living making art, I always say that the most important thing is persistance, persistance, and more persistance. I know this sounds simplistic, but it’s really the truth. Most illustrators don’t make it because they give up too soon, or become discouraged by how hard it is.
Here’s the reality: It can take a long time to get a toegrip into this field, which is incredibly competitive, and then years to make a decent living. And it’s gotten worse in the two decades I’ve been working professionally. Digital art has made it easier for art directors to Photoshop a stock photo or illustration to meet their needs. So why would they go to the trouble of commissioning an illustrator? What will you bring to the table that they can’t find elsewhere?
Here’s basic beginner’s advice:
1. Have an easily accessible website that looks professional — don’t rely on your Myspace page, Flickr, or an advertising-supported freebie webhost to sell your work. Most art directors check out work online. First impressions count.
2. Put together a good mailing list. To find appropriate publishing markets, you can check out magazines, publishers, etc. at any library or Barnes & Noble; you can call them and ask for the art director’s name and any submission guidelines. Sometimes this information is listed in the Literary Marketplace. There’s also an Artists Market (similar to Writers Market) published too, which lists much of this information. I always doublecheck it before sending out any mailers, since sometimes the information is incorrect or out of date.
3. Put together an illustration mailer that you send out to appropriate markets. Follow up on a regular basis with new mailers. Make sure your website url is prominently listed on them. For cheap mailers and postcards, I use Vistaprint.com. They’re obnoxious with their follow up e-mails, but they’re the cheapest kids on the block — sometimes you can get postcards for free, if you time your printing for one of their ubiquitous promotions. And their printing quality is very good.
4. If you’re targeting the children’s book world — ie: you want to illustrate a picture book — I encourage you to put together a book dummy to show. This offers an art director information about how you would handle sequential illustrations in a book. For content, I encourage you to use your own story. Frankly, this is the way to go: You have something to show as well as something to submit to a publisher for publication. And from a financial point of view, this is a better deal: author-illustrators make double the royalties. Plus you’re not dependent on a publisher to match you with an author.
But not to despair if you’re not a writer. Instead, you can use a story that’s in the public domain for your book dummy. For example, Grimms Fairy Tales are in the public domain, meaning they are not constrained by copyright since the authors have been dead for more than 75 years.
(I’m giving you the Cliff Notes version. To learn more about copyright, visit the Library of Congress website at www.loc.gov.)
5. If you’re looking to place already-completed illustrations with a publisher, you’re looking to conquer the world of licensing or merchandising. This is often a good fit for illustrators who have a clear niche or branding identity. Do you paint only faeries? Or wildlife? Or have a sassy way with a phrase, a la Mary Englebreit? Again, market research is the way to go — spend an afternoon at a book store or stationary store checking out who’s publishing what.
6. When it comes to researching markets, Amazon.com is your friend. So is the internet. Many publishers also have websites which list what their submission policies are; you can also get a sense of their taste in art too. Amazon.com is a virtual Books in Print. Have an idea for a book? Check out Amazon to see if someone’s published something similar. They also often list books that are out of print (or OP, as they say in the trade).
7. How much do illustrators make? Well, that all depends on the market and the publisher. The Graphic Artists Guild and the Authors Guild offer guidelines for what should be included in a publishing contract as well as some financial information. Unless you’re a very clever entrepeneur or win a Caldecott or have a bestselling book or are able to sell your originals for a lot o’ dough, most likely you’re not going to get rich. (Sorry!) But you may be able to make a living — if you work hard enough.
Have any questions about illustrating for a living? Post them in the comments, and I’ll try to answer them in an upcoming blog.
I’m on vacation until April 22. In the meantime, I’ve set up some old favorites on this blog. It’s been a while since I’ve posted something about getting involved in children’s books. I hope you find this helpful!
(BTW, the gallery is closed this weekend, but will reopen Friday, April 24 at 6:30 pm for our montly Tarot Salon!)
First things first: You are brave. You want to share your book with the world by having it published. It’s not enough for you to write and let your words linger in private. You want to make a child happy, to transform their understanding of the world — to inspire them. That is something to be applauded and encouraged.
You ask for how information on how to sell your book to a publisher. Well, I have to be honest: It’s not easy. I know that everyone has a story about someone they know who met an editor at a party and they got their book published like that. Sorry, exception to the rule. Ditto for J.K. Rowling.
But just because it’s hard to sell a book with a publisher doesn’t mean it’s not possible.
The not-so-good news: The publishing industry has changed dramatically since I started working in it well over a decade ago. Children’s books have gotten more commercial and celebrity driven — all those Harry Potters have made publishers hungry for the big book that will make a lot of money. It used to be that children’s book publishers would be satisfied if a book broke even at 5,000 to 10,000 copies. Not any more. Publishers could also rely on selling a good portion of books to schools and libraries, but budget cuts have changed this. Selling to schools and libraries gave publishers the freedom to acquire books that spoke to a niche demographic, or were clearly educational. Again, not anymore.
Children’s book publishing these days is all about how well it sells in the chains, such as Barnes and Nobles or Borders. It gets more complicated since chains often order large quantities and then return said large quantities if they don’t sell within a 90 day window, which really wrecks a publisher’s bottom line. Publishing is one of the few industries where the product can be returned; usually they can’t be repurposed (ie: sold elsewhere) because they’re paper products and usually don’t hold up for repeated sellings. So that means books get remaindered or, worse, destroyed and the publisher is out of pocket. And yup, there’s Amazon, but that’s a whole other complicated issue.
Suffice to say that publishers have become more cautious. They try to publish books that they’re sure (as much as they can be!) will sell a lot of copies. These days, they’ll even consult with a Barnes and Noble rep before deciding to acquire a book from an author.
So why am I presenting you with all this doom-and-gloom? Is it to discourage you? It may seem that way, but that’s really not my style. I simply want you to understand what you’re up against, so you’ll understand the following:
Your book has to be the best it can possibly be before you send it to an publisher or a literary agent.
Make this your mantra. Publishers don’t care if your family or your child’s class likes your book. They don’t care that you’ve always wanted to write a children’s book. They care that they can sell your book, that there’s a market for it, that it’s good.
What do I mean by good? Look at children’s books that move you. Try to analyze what makes them work, what elevates them into essential contributions to children’s literature. Writing a good picture book or children’s novel is an art onto itself. Spend some time at your local children’s bookstore or library to familiarize yourself with the classics. Talk to the people who work there, who are passionate about children’s books. Some people think that because a children’s book is shorter it’s easier to write than a book for adults — not true.
Workshop with other children’s book writers. Join the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (or SCBWI for short). They have programs, workshops and resources for those just getting into the biz to those who are already published authors. Just about everyone I know in the industry belonged to SCBWI at one time or another.
Educate yourself about the industry. One good website about children’s publishing is Harold Underdown’s site at http://www.underdown.org. He’s also written The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Publishing Children’s Books, an essential guide to children’s books which has been recently updated. (Don’t be discouraged by the title – you’re not an idiot!)
It’s great that you’re aware of similar books to your’s. This gives you the knowledge you need to shape your book differently — different focus, different structure, different pov. There are lots of books on your subject matter, so clearly there’s a market for them.
You mentioned hiring an illustrator for your picture book. Just so you know, you don’t need any illustrations to sell a picture book to a publisher. That’s the publisher’s job. But if you like, you can set up your manuscript as a 32 page book dummy on white paper; just indicate with words where you want the art to go. If you want to illustrate the book yourself, then just include one or two sample pieces of art.
In regards to setting up a book dummy, most picture books are 32 pages in length — sometimes 24 or 48, but that’s unusual. One classic book which describes how picture books are created is Uri Schulevitz’s Writing with Pictures: How to Write and Illustrate Children’s Books. It’s really written for illustrators, but writers of picture books can take away a lot here too.
Once you know that your book is (a) as good as it can be and (b) has a market, then you’re ready to send it out to a publisher! And that’s a whole other ball of wax.
I hope you find this helpful! Good luck to you.
Have a question about publishing, writing or illustrating books you’d like answered on Publishing 101? Send it to Kris: e-comment at artandwords dot com.