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Publishing Biz

re: Will a Pen Name Confuse Agents and Editors?

in Promotion/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I have a question about whether to use my pen name or not in correspondence with agents and editors. I don’t want to cause confusion. My real name is JoJo. My email address is NOT JoJo, it’s my pen name. I want to do business as my real name, but it doesn’t match my email address… how can I avoid confusion?

Sincerely,
JoJo

Dear JoJo…

Don’t give submission confusion about your second name a second thought. Plenty of author email addresses don’t match their names. Simply sign “[Real Name], writing as [Pen Name]” in the body of the email as your query letter signature. After your book is under contract and you’ve established a relationship with your agent or editor, still include that line, right below your casual signature. The reminder will be there, always. Create a keyboard shortcut to make that happen easily for you. If it becomes appropriate to do so in the future, set that as your official “default signature” on ALL emails. (You can do that through your email’s Settings tab.) Do you have a default signature yet? Set one up! It’s effectively your virtual business card. It appears on every email you send, automatically. List all your social media addresses, your website/blog, and your publications. People will refer to that info-packed signature when they create a Contacts entry for you, or they’ll use it to look you up on social media so they can follow you. The default signature is my starting place when I’m adding a new colleague to my Contacts. And when someone from whom I haven’t heard in a long time pops up in my inbox, I flash my eyes to the bottom of the email, looking for reminders. “Ah, yes, it’s JoJo!” Confusion averted.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Best Twitter Name Strategy?

in Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

For Twitter, do people generally use their own name or come up with something catchy if they are an author?

Sincerely,
Elle

Dear Elle…

Keep things easy for readers. More important than being clever is that you be found and recognized. Twitter is a discoverability tool in your marketing toolbox, after all. Think of your Twitter handle as an extension of your author brand. With that in mind, go with a close variation of your name so that readers and industry colleagues can find you easily and learn to recognize your name as they scroll their feeds. You can be catchy within that restriction: @ElleDoeWrites, for instance. When folks retweet your catchy tweets, or reply to your great engagements, their followers will easily read your author name in the retweet. The key is to be identifiable as the author you are for the fans you do and will have.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Tweeting a Must for Authors?

in Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’m not on Twitter and wonder if you feel it’s worth it for writers? I’m on Instagram and Facebook.

Thanks,
Elle

Dear Elle…

Instagram and Facebook are great for spreading awareness of your books and yourself. If you’re using them effectively—engaging others, cheering their news while sharing your own, spending quality time there rather than just bull-horning your books—you’re already doing your promo efforts a solid. You’ll increase your discoverability by doing the same on Twitter, so if you can add it without up-ending your promo/writing/life balance, do so. Are you unpublished? If so, know this: Writers do land agents via Twitter events (#PitMad; #PitchWars). Yes, really! Bonus: Twitter etiquette says we can tweet more frequently than we can post on Facebook. As with all promo efforts, strategize first. What do you want from Twitter? What kind of tweets will you post and retweet to achieve that? What can you do besides be a tweeting billboard for yourself (which people hate)? When will you log in and engage others? “Social” media is about relationships, after all. My trick: I’ve set a phone reminder that blasts the word “Amplify!” at me three times a week to remind me to take a moment to tweet someone else’s good news or books on DearEditor.com’s Twitter and Facebook. It’s my goal with DearEditor.com to support writers by sharing info and by amplifying their voices … and it just makes me feel good. That’s the final item: What’ll make it fun for you? If it’s a chore, you won’t stick with it.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Delete My Short Story from Wattpad When I Turn It Into a Novel?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

The novel I’m finishing is based on a short story I wrote last year, which won a medal in a Wattpad writing contest. Should I leave the story up or take it down since I’m planning on submitting the novel form? (The short story is basically the first two chapters of the book. . . but I’m already making revisions and improvements to those two chapters.)

Sincerely,
Wattpad Woman

Dear Wattpad Woman…

Leave the short story up while submitting your novel, at least, as proof of its medal status. Your future agent or editor may prefer you take it down when the novel goes into production because you’ve revised the story so much, but not necessarily. In pre-Internet days, published short stories that grew into full-length novels had no option to delete the original short story from existence. The two just existed simultaneously. That precedent prepared readers to understand and accept that there are differences between a novel and the short story that inspired it. Since you’re comfortable being on Wattpad in the first place and you’re confident in your short story despite the changes you’ve made for the novel, let your medal-winning story lead readers to your new novel.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Much Time Would an Editor Give Me to Revise?

in Creative Process/General fiction/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

How much time would an author be given to revise a novel manuscript after receiving editing instructions from her editor? Let’s say the manuscript’s about 75,000 or 80,000 words. I want to make sure I’m mentally ready when I do get a contract!

Sincerely,
Mac

Dear Mac…

Every revision is unique, of course. A rushed book isn’t in anyone’s best interest, so your editor will plot a schedule that lets you be successful. They’ll take your writing style into consideration. (Easier to do after your first book with your editor.) They’ll adjust for the depth and complexity of the revision. (The editorial notes require rethinking characterization or major plot points? You’ll get elbow room.) Other factors aren’t transparent to you at home awaiting your notes and deadline. Like the time needs of your whole book team (designer, copyeditor, production manager) and the production needs of the books sharing your pub list. And like outside factors that impact your marketing campaign. (Got a royal wedding in your story? Your publication may be timed for a real-life royal wedding!) For the sake of numbers, I’ll assume the most generic scenario: I’d expect a novelist to get a month for a straightforward revision, and up to two months for a more complicated one. Let’s flesh this out by getting real: Readers, how much time did you get to revise your pubbed novel(s)?

Happy writing revising!
The Editor

Re: Can You Stay True to Your Story If You’re Reading Others’ Stories?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

In a lit agency’s online submission form, I replied to question about comparable titles by saying I don’t have time to keep up with all the stories that are currently on the shelves. The agent replied: If I want to write middle grade fiction, I must read current middle grade fiction. She said immersing myself in it is the best way to capture the voice and pulse of these stories. I was always taught to write the story that I am comfortable with, my truth, my ideas. Not write what is currently hot now. Am I wrong on this? Should I be reading current MG? I don’t know how to fit in the time—I barely squeeze in the occasional adult novel, magazines, and Publisher’s Weekly. Most importantly, I don’t want to end up writing something that’s already out there. Thoughts?

Thanks,
Time-Crunched

Dear Time-Crunched…

She’s right. Read current middle grade novels. Two reasons: As a businessperson you must know what’s happening in your marketplace. Not so you can chase trends—most of us can’t get books written, bought, revised, and produced that quickly—but so you can position your book as akin to this or that but different in these key, marketable ways when it’s time to submit. That’s what agents, editors, and store buyers do with every book they buy or rep. You’re submitting, so I know this isn’t just your passion, it’s your business. Know your business. On the craft side, reading other MG will deepen your sense of middle grade voice and sensibility, and your writer’s toolbox will expand, improving your versatility as a storyteller. Please don’t be afraid of sabotaging your stories. Writing doesn’t work like that. You’ll mix and match new tools and strategies in ways only you can, flavored by your unique perspectives, interests, and experiences. As for the time crunch, one word: audiobooks.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Will U.S. Editors Buy U.K. Manuscripts?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor:

I live in the UK and have written YA mystery. As for the market to pitch it to, I’ve assumed that I wouldn’t be able to sell it in the States. I have this idea—I’m not even entirely sure where I got it from—that it’s even harder for European writers to get their books picked up in the States than it is in the UK. However, you are the expert so if you think that’s not the case and I’d stand a chance, I would very interested in your insights, as impending Brexit has everyone here concerned about what’s going to happen with the British publishing market.

Thank you,
Bundt Boss

Dear Bundt Boss:

Books aren’t one-size-fits-all. Whichever market you make a play for, a book must meet the audience’s distinct expectations and quirks. U.S. publishers generally believe their readers don’t want to read about characters who live and adventure outside U.S. borders. An exception would be a novel with the “American abroad” theme, like Anna and the French Kiss. (We’ll ignore Harry Potter, which defies most assumptions.) If your mystery takes place in the U.K., with British characters, you’ll encounter resistance with U.S. publishers. Can and are you willing to set your mystery in the U.S., or make your main character an American Abroad? With Brexit injecting uncertainty, I admire your interest in thinking out of the box. Have you got other tricks up your sleeve to adapt this for U.S. readers? Committing to the U.S. teen fiction market may require substantial adjustments.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is First-Person Point of View Off Limits?

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’m feeling really comfortable using first person for my novel—but “experts” say avoid it. How do you know if third person would be a better choice?

Thank you,
S. B.

Dear S. B. …

That declaration is too intransigent for me. First-person POV is perfect for some projects, and in some markets—like Young Adult fiction—it’s even the dominant choice. Gauge your target market’s expectations by reviewing its current big books. Looking at the story itself, I suspect that “comfort” you’re feeling is your gut saying, “Good choice for your info delivery needs.” First person has a sort of tunnel vision that limits readers to knowing and observing only what the narrator is privy too. You’d feel it if you were battling that limitation while trying to get readers the info they need. In that case, beta readers would complain about awkward or unnatural scenes and dialogue. That’s when I’d raise my editorial flag and say, “Try third.” I suspect you’re also comfortable with the narrating character’s voice—which is huge. If you can’t truly feel like—can’t be—that character while you’re writing, then get out of her head and try third person, which distances you from the character a bit so you can create a narrative voice that’s less her and more you.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

re: Can Self-Publishing Trigger a Book Deal?

in Publishing Biz/Self-publishing/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

How likely is it these days for someone to self-publish a novel, only for it to be picked up soon after and re-published by a big publishing house?

Thanks,
R.

Dear R….

If your reason for self-publishing is to catch an editor’s eye, you’re betting on a long shot. The self-pubbed books that cross editors’ radars do so because of notably high sales numbers—which those authors earned by promoting the heck out of the books. They didn’t pub then wait for offers to roll in. Those cases make news because they’re rare. More likely: You’ll self-pub your book but continue to submit it to publishers. If you can report you’ve sold 30,000 or 40,000 on your own, then the self-pubbing will help make the deal. The editor will note the exceptional performance, figure you’re a good self-promotion bet, and see an eager audience for this and future books. If you don’t sell in high numbers, the self-pubbing becomes irrelevant to your submission and editors will judge the book as they would any unpubbed manuscript. They’ll sign it because they like it and believe their resources will yield preferred sales. A career strategy that banks on triggering traditional publication through self-publication is shaky.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Did Poor Self-Pub Sales Sink My Career?

in Publishing Biz/Self-publishing/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My agent didn’t have luck finding a home for my teen novels, so I decided to self-publish…but I now wonder if I should have waited longer. I wonder if I acted impulsively and made a mistake. I also broke with my agent (not because she couldn’t sell the work but for other reasons). To be honest, I feel as if I’m a boat drifting at sea as far as my writing career goes, which is sad to say at my age. A friend is encouraging me to try other agents/editors, but I’m not sure if I should contact them since the first book of my series and another stand-alone novel are already self-published and far from doing stellar. So…I don’t see the point in contacting them. Or do you think I still should?

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused…

These days, self-publishing first isn’t the interest-sinker it used to be with editors. If a self-published books does really well (say, selling 30,000-40,000+ copies) then it can impress editors and spark interest. Huzzah for that, of course. But if it hasn’t sold well (which is, honestly, more often the case with self-published fiction than not) but an editor likes the book and thinks she has a bead on its market, the editor will acquire your book and just have you remove the self-published edition from the market. So no, self-publishing with less than stellar results wasn’t shooting yourself in the foot. Your friend is right: Submit.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Do I Cite My Magazine Writing in My Query Letter?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m currently doing a lot of writing for a trade magazine and have written for other mags in the past. Nothing published in the children’s market, though, which is the market for my middle grade novel. Some sources say mention all writing experience in cover letters to agents and editors. Other sources say only mention writing experience if it’s in the children’s market. I would appreciate your advice on this.

Sincerely,
Mag Writer

Dear Mag Writer…

Presuming the magazines are editorially discriminating and of professional quality, I support mentioning them in the credentials portion of your query letter. You’re seeding confidence in your professionalism and your writing chops. Ring this bell extra loudly if the magazines’ subject matter jives with that of your book—this establishes your expertise with the topic. A caveat: If the magazines are political or in some other way topically sensitive, only mention them if the topics are relevant to the book you’re pitching.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can a Teen Novel with Traditional Values Sell?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

How does the marketplace view YA stories that portray traditional moral values?  For example, no sex outside of marriage, etc.

Thank you,
M.

Dear M….

Young adult fiction reflects teen behavior, interests, and concerns. And truthfully, some teens do engage in or at least wonder about the stuff outside traditional morals, so of course it’ll show up in YA lit. Realistic contemporary YA, in particular, is known to sometimes include sex outside of marriage and to explore morally debatable topics. Since that’s the hottest genre in the market right now, it can seem like traditional moral values aren’t in vogue. But YA doesn’t always bust moral norms. Perhaps not even most of the time. Plenty of its stories show teens exploring who they are and how they fit into the world via non-norm-busting scenarios. Broken friendships, for instance, and threatened dreams, and finding out if the boy you’re crushing on likes you back. Agents, editors, and readers are generally more interested in being emotionally moved by a character or storyline than titillated, so traditional-values YA with strong emotional resonance will always have a place in the market.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Stay Mum on My Magazine Writing when Submitting My Novel?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m currently doing a lot of writing for a trade magazine and have written for other magazines in the past. Nothing published in the children’s market, though, which is the market for my middle grade novel. Some sources say mention all writing experience in cover letters to agents and editors. Other sources say only mention writing experience if it’s in the children’s market. I would appreciate your advice on this.

Sincerely,
Mag Writer

Dear Mag Writer…

I presume the magazines are editorially discriminating and of professional quality. After all, you’re not just touting your writing chops, you’re plugging your potential as a business colleague, too. I support mentioning such mag writing in the credentials portion of your letter. If you’re a debut novelist, you can stand to cite evidence of your chops and professionalism. Ring this bell extra loudly if the magazines’ subject matter jives with your novel’s subject because this establishes your expertise with that topic. A caveat: If the mags are political or in some other way topically sensitive, only mention them if the topics are relevant to the book you’re pitching. Or be general about them: “This is my debut novel, although I’m published in magazines.” You can share the deets of nonproject-related interests in later, deeper talks as necessary and appropriate. For now, pitch every hook you’ve got.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Moving Backmatter Online While Pleasing Bound Book Lovers

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

After reading Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson (which we both loved) my husband wondered why books have to contain all those resources and notes in the back. He wondered why that section couldn’t be online. It would save printing all those pages and therefore natural resources. Are there any other earth-friendly solutions to documenting resources in nonfiction books?

Sincerely,
Natasha

Dear Natasha…

With 64 backmatter pages, Dead Wake uses scads of paper. Making its backmatter online-only would be eco-friendly… but not reader-friendly: In the U.S., 50 million people aren’t connected to the internet. Many internet-connected print readers would suffer, too: A joy of nonfiction reading is flipping to the back of the book for expansion of the main text, as we do when Dead Wake’s main text says “There were other sorts of complaints” but leaves the details for the back. We can’t require readers to put down their bound book to access their internet-connected device whenever a tiny floating number promises a good footnote. I propose publishers offer print-on-demand bound editions sans backmatter for flexible internet-connected bound-book lovers. We’d order the bound book online (likely paying more since POD doesn’t enjoy the savings of volume printing) and get a backmatter url. Publishers can futz the content management issues of books going out of print or changing publishers; they’d avoid inventory/stocking issues, meet a customer need, and help our earth.

Happy reading!
The Editor

re: Wait for Agent or Enter Contest?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

For several months I had planned to enter a YA novel contest with a small Indie publisher. The window to do this is from May 1 to June 30. Recently I was asked to submit a full of this same novel to a requesting agent that I thought was a no response. The contest is for unagented authors. How do I handle this if don’t hear from agent before the deadline?

Sincerely,
Unagented But Hopeful

Dear Unagented But Hopeful…

Kudos on the request! I hope that’s your ticket, but it’s wise to weigh other options. Plan to enter the contest late in the entry window to give the agent time to read your manuscript; she may reply more quickly now that it’s on her “Strong Interest” radar. I’d also email her to say you’re considering the contest but will withdraw your entry should the agent be interested in pursuing representation. Wording it in the name of communication, such as “I sent you the full ms as you requested. I wanted to add that I’m planning…,” will avoid it coming off as threatening. Winning the contest would make representation of that project moot, so most agents would appreciate the additional context. Really, you have till winner announcement date to withdraw, if the rules don’t say just entering commits winners to publication. That’s unlikely, though not unheard of, either. You’ve got two months till the contest deadline, time enough to email the Indie for clarification. If entering is committing and you don’t hear from the agent despite your heads-up, let your career preferences guide your difficult choice.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Much Do I Tell a New Agent about My Old Agent?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

My agent and I recently came to a parting of the ways. If that comes up in response to queries—say, the new agent wants to submit to the same markets the old agent submitted to—how should I handle that?

Sincerely,
Anon.

Dear Anon….

Agents and authors part ways. It happens. Agents know this and aren’t disinclined by that mere fact. What would narrow their eyes would be anything that smacks of evasiveness on your part while you explain the parting of ways. An agent-author relationship requires strong, open communication in order for you to plot your career path as a team and go out with manuscripts that sync with that vision. Help the potential new agent understand what wasn’t clicking. Claiming “creative differences” may sound safe but that could mean a lot of things—from something as simple as having different ideas about what to focus on to something more thorny like disagreements about revisions for specific manuscripts. Assume professional tactfulness by not accusing or besmirching the previous agent even as you get as specific as you can about the factors involved in your business decision. Consider what you would want to know about an author who wanted to co-write a project with you, and how you’d want that author to talk to you about her previous relationship with another author.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Break Into Picture Book Illustration?

in Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

How on earth do I become an illustrator?

Sincerely,
Troubled in Texas

Dear Troubled in Texas…

Assuming your art can compete with that being published in the current market, I recommend you try to get a literary agent who represents children’s book illustrators. She’ll constantly pitch you to editors, she’ll know about manuscripts already under contract with publishers but needing artists, and she’ll help shape your career. Do submit directly to editors and art directors, too, via postcard mailings; those folks will keep the cards on file if they like the art, but you must send new cards to stay on their radars. Also make a portfolio that shows off your style, characters, color palette, conceptual thinking, and design sense to show that you understand the opportunities of the picture book format, like page turns and perspective shifts. To learn that, study picture books in stores or take a picture book illustration course. Above all, join the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators. Its resources include how-to’s and directories of agents, editors, and courses. Your local chapter periodically hosts agents, editors, art directors, and experienced illustrators for portfolio consults, and you’ll learn the pub biz itself, not just how to break in.

Happy illustrating!
The Editor

re: How Will a Traditional Publisher “Sell” My Book?

in Publishing Biz/Self-publishing by

Dear Editor…

I am interested to know how traditional publishers “sell” authors books? With the options of self-publishing these days, I like to weigh the pros and cons of both worlds. Can you answer this question?

Thank you,
Elaine

Dear Elaine…

To sell books, traditional publishers use sales reps to engage national distribution channels like stores and organizations; established review and award networks; dedicated marketing staff experienced in specific markets; and strategic marketing budgets. Each pub season, some “lead” titles spearhead a house’s campaign, but ideally every book has its own marketing plan that includes submission to general and customized review outlets and awards, plus development of book-specific opportunities. The house may pursue cover blurbs from famous people to tap their fanbases, and in the case of picture books can pair your text with a well known illustrator to increase market recognition and thus sales. They pay to bring some authors to regional book events; full tours are reserved for high profile cases. Sales reps walk buyers through the catalog, offering advanced books, promo items and displays, and even financial incentives to help stores market the books they choose to their customers. How much trickles down to non-“lead” books? Each house and book differs but the adage remains true: the more ANY author can do for her books, the better.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: My Editor Doesn’t “Get” My Project — What Now?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m worried about stepping on toes. I have an editor, and have published a number of books. She’s not quite “getting” my latest project, though. I have her revision suggestions, but I don’t agree with them at all. She hasn’t acquired the book, so I want to try submitting it elsewhere. Do I tell her? Will she be angry with me? What’s the protocol?

Sincerely,
Trying to Tread Carefully

Dear Trying to Tread Carefully…

Tell her. Communication has a better chance of preventing future tension. Imagine the awkwardness you’d have explaining the book suddenly popping up on another house’s list? She did take time and care to make revision suggestions, so thank her for sharing her ideas, then tell her you’re not ready to break away from your original vision yet and want to try the project elsewhere before you try changing it. Editors understand that happens. And she’s likely aware that you two aren’t connecting on this one, in which case she won’t be shocked. Be sure to include that you look forward to working with her on your other projects and, who knows, maybe this one, too. Editors know authors publish with many houses and she’s acknowledged that the project isn’t working for her yet, so the air should stay clear.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Kindle Singles Right for My Middle Grade Mystery?

in Ebooks/Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

What do you think about selling a middle grade mystery on Kindle Singles? I’m not sure how one finds buyers after putting it on there. Also would an agent consider looking at it if it was on Kindle Singles?

Thanks,
M.G. Mystery Writer

Dear M.G. Mystery Writer…

The Kindle Singles program, which showcases 5,000- to 30,000-word ebooks, is a great way to distinguish writings that are less than novella length. Readers have expectations, and to get a slim book when you thought you bought a full novel can be frustrating. At the moment, KS guidelines exclude “children’s books”—yet KS pubbed bestselling R.J. Palacio’s WONDER-based short story. If KS won’t take your MG, you can publish it as a regular ebook, being clear about the length in your description and using a lower price point. Your concerns about discoverability are legit, as they are for any MG writer since COPPA limits our ability to engage young readers online. Your social media promo efforts will target parents, adult MG readers, teachers, and librarians to get them chin-wagging. Consider waiting to pub your short-length project until you have 2 or 3 titles; a series or body of work has a larger promo footprint. Self-pubbing it won’t affect agents’ decisions unless the ebook is poor quality.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What Is “New Adult Fiction”?

in New Adult Fiction/Publishing Biz/Self-publishing by

Dear Editor…

The “New Adult Fiction” category has recently entered the publishers lexicon. Please enlighten us by defining.

Thanks,
Peter

Dear Peter…

New Adult fiction explores the hearts and minds of 18- to 25-year-olds as they learn to live self-responsible lives. Its readers are believed to be those 18- to 25-year-olds, plus the 30- to 44-year-old crossover readers who love Young Adult fiction. The dominant genres of this category, which fits the gap between YA and fiction for adults, are contemporary romance and paranormal. But similar to YA’s expansion beyond stories of love and angst in high school, readers are calling for expanded NA fare such as thrillers, mysteries, or any adventure that can befall someone after graduation from high school or an adult-regulated life but before settling into marriage, career, and family. And authors are writing it. NA imprints include Entangled Embrace and Bloomsbury Spark, but NA does appear in YA and adult fiction imprints or is self-published. I’ll cover NA themes and sensibilities here in August, when I do a week of NA-centric posts and free edit giveaways to celebrate my new book Writing New Adult Fiction, which has insights from NA bestsellers and a foreword by Sylvia Day.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should I Pitch the Ethnicity of My Characters?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I keep reading about the lack of diversity in children’s books and that agents are in search of non-white main characters. I am about to query a middle-grade novel (an adventure across parallel worlds) in which the main character is part Native American and her best friend is Chinese. (The characters’ ethnicities do not impact the plot at all.) Should I attempt to work this into the query letter? Any suggestions as to the best way to do it?

Sincerely,
Mary

Dear Mary…

Absolutely include that fact in your query letter. It’s one more feature that distinguishes your project, and its current status on publishing’s radar only helps. Go the extra step of pitching the colorblindness of your casting, which many people consider the ultimate goal of diversity efforts: The hero is the hero because s/he’s got heroic qualities – skin color is incidental. I’d share this at the end of the second paragraph in a three-paragraph query, where Paragraph 1 pitches the hook, Paragraph 2 presents key plot and thematic elements, and Paragraph 3 touts your credentials. Leading with this topic could imply that ethnicity does actively factor into the story; placement at the end of Paragraph 2 offers it as a feature, but not the primary one. Possible wording: “With a main character who’s part Native American and a best friend who’s Chinese, Title of Book features an ethnically diverse cast without driving racial themes. This is an [adventure/love/whatever] story, through and through.”

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can My Small Press Book Get a New Life with a Big Publisher?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I have a book published by a small press. It was never reviewed by any of the major kidlit reviewers prior to publication. However, an editor at one of them later told me she would have reviewed it had she known it wasn’t self-published. The book received positive reviews. I’m working on new projects, but still feel this project didn’t get its best shot. Is there a process for submitting a small-press book to large publishers when sales have not reflected the book’s potential?

Thank you,
M.

Dear M….

Big publishers will consider republishing books if they believe the book is timely and has untapped potential – but you have extra submission hurdles, the biggest one being the low sales numbers in bookseller databases. Booksellers aren’t likely to pick up a low-selling book a second time even if it’s got a different publisher. You have elbow room if part of the problem was that the book didn’t get into bookstores in the first place. The positive reviews work in your favor. Ask your publisher to revert the rights back to you; your contract should have a clause explaining how to do that. In your pitch to new publishers, explain the circumstances of its low numbers and present a case for why you’re able to help promote the book more heavily this time. If it’s a picture book, you need the artist’s O.K. to re-shop the book and s/he must get the illustration rights reverted. Or you can shop just the text, to be re-illustrated. Your new house could then pitch this as a new frontlist title instead of a reprint or republication, giving it a fresh lease on life.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Vonna Carter re: Choosing Online Writing Courses

in Creative Process/Guest Editors/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’ve been following you for the past few years. I fell off the wagon with my children’s writing and am thinking an online class might get me running again. Can you suggest a good class with regular assignments and instructor feedback. Doesn’t matter where the class is located since I’m thinking in terms of online.

Thanks very much,
Cheryl

Vonna CarterVonna Carter—Middle Grade writer and Keeper-of-the-Lists—rounds up info on editors, art directors and agents attending conferences, retreats and workshops, plus online classes and where to get that elusive MFA in writing for young readers.

Dear Cheryl…

This is a question many people are asking. We are fortunate these days to have abundant options for online classes and workshops, but they are not one-size-fits-all. I maintain a list of them on my website at Online Workshops. Before signing up for a course, analyze your criteria for the class. Here are some points to consider:

Level: Are you new to writing for children? Have you completed manuscripts but need help revising? Are you an experienced writer looking for a master class?

Budget: Are you looking to spend $300 or $3000?

Time: Do you want a two-hour workshop, a four- or six-week course, or an ongoing class? How much time can you spend on homework assignments?

Genre and Age Group: Do you write picture books? MG? Romantic YA? Adult thrillers?

Topic: Do you need an in-depth course on voice, plot, pacing or other focus area?

Interaction: Do you enjoy engaging with other students or do you prefer working alone?

Format: Are you open to video conferencing? Are you comfortable posting on forums or engaging in conference calls? Do you prefer one-on-one emails with your instructor?

References: An important consideration is the class’s reputation. Some wonderful teachers use their websites or newsletters to shine a spotlight on their former students who are now published authors, but not all classes make it this easy to see references. Can you contact writers who have taken this course?

Taking an online class can be a great experience. I hope this checklist helps you find classes that are best for you.

-Vonna Carter

re: How Manuscript Auctions Work

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Can you explain how manuscript auctions work?

Thanks,
Laurel

Dear Laurel…

Auctions! Exciting, stressful, and, for editors, sometimes crushing. Agents auction manuscripts they think are hot properties, generating early buzz and above-average advances. They’re pitting houses against each other and must protect their own reps, so agents are selective about what they auction and careful about handling it. Independent authors can’t auction their own manuscripts, lacking the access and trust that agents spend their careers cultivating. Auctions happen fast. The agent contacts the chosen publishers, pitches the project, and explains the rules and timeline. It’s usually blind, with the editors knowing the number of houses involved but not the names. They get a short time to read the manuscript and get offer approval from bosses, then they bid. The agent reports the top bid the next day, allowing others to outbid. Some auctions are one-day “best offer” affairs, others have several rounds. Publishers might add marketing promises, or a big pre-emptive bid can end the auction before it begins. Thrilling, indeed.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: When the Third Book in a Series Gets Rejected by Your Publisher

in Promotion/Publishing Biz/Self-publishing by

Dear Editor…

A few years ago I had two MG books published by a mid-sized Canadian publisher. Both books were sold separately (unagented) and are basically stand alone books in a series. Without any commitment from the publisher I went ahead and wrote a third (and final) book in the “series”. My publisher rejected it. Is there any hope for this manuscript? Should I put it in the drawer? Or is there any chance that I could find another publisher?

Many thanks…
Y.

Dear Y.…

Typically, each book in a trilogy or series sells fewer copies than the one preceding it. A publisher choosing not to continue the series is almost certainly making a sales decision. In a way, that works in your favor because then they may be willing to revert the rights for the first two books back to you, freeing you up to shop the full set to other publishers. (Those others won’t buy the third book when the first two are on someone else’s list.) Request the reversion so you can try this. If you get no bites because publishers are skittish about the books’ sales record, consider self-publishing. You’ve done all the writing work, and the first two stories are surely strong, they just didn’t sell. It happens. Hire a freelance editor for the final book to make sure it’s as strong as the other edited books, perhaps repackage the series with new, professionally designed covers, and then, when you promote, make a big deal about this being the complete series.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Teen Too Young to Publish?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

 

Dear Editor…

I’m a teen and my dream is to be an author. But in the past year it has started to become more of a reality. I have written a rough draft of a novel and have begun revising. But I don’t know whether I should go on. Is it too risky being a teen in this market? Should I wait for my dream when I’m older? Thank you so much! Bye.

Just A Teen

Dear Just A Teen…

Christopher Paolini and Abigail Gibbs prove age is no reason to hit Pause. But you’re wise beyond your years to ponder the path ahead. Be of two minds: 1) Book: Craft, not age, matters. Hire a pro freelance editor to evaluate your ms for craft and market potential and guide you in honing your skills to compete with veteran writers. Or try a local college ‘extension’ class for writing. Get feedback from writing experts. 2) Business: Pubbing a book is the same as opening a business whether you self-pub or sign with a publisher. With your parents’ help, get an agent to protect your rights, manage the money, and devise safe ways to put you and your books ‘out there.’ The Literary Market Place has an agent directory, as do writers’ groups like SCBWI or SFWA. Look into your writing category’s group, read my post Too Young to Be Taken Seriously?, and KEEP WRITING! This may not become your debut novel, but you’ll be a better writer for it.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Newsflash: The Editor to Deliver State of Industry Keynote

in News/Publishing Biz by

The Editor is honored to deliver the state of the children’s book industry keynote at the SCBWI 42nd Summer Conference August 2-5. She will also teach an intensive and two breakouts, as well as do one-on-one critiques. Registration for the conference just opened up. For details, read today’s full post or go straight to the SCBWI conference home page.

Dear Readers…

I’ve been speaking, teaching, and critiquing at the Society of Children’s Books Writers & Illustrators annual conference for over a decade, and I always walk away from it inspired and enlightened. If you’re writing for young people and it’s within your ability to attend this year’s conference, I wholeheartedly recommend you do so. SCBWI has lined up a knowledgeable faculty covering great topics. I’m honored to be among them. I’ll deliver the “Market Report: An Up-to-the-Minute State of the Industry” keynote, teach the intensive “How to Build Your Own Teenager: Techniques for Writing Believable MG/YA Characters,” and run two breakouts: “The Read-Aloud Factor: Achieving Rhythm without Relying on Rhyme in Picture Books” and “Setting, Wherefore Art Thou?: The Surprising Benefits and How-To’s of Setting in MG/YA Fiction.” Plus, I’m critiquing! Registration for the conference has just opened. If you attend, I hope you’ll introduce yourself to me.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Salvaging Submission Slipups

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Will agents forgive ignorant query mistakes made by a passionate new PB writer? (My learning curve is still quite vertical, but flattening out slowly.) When should I move on from Literary Agency “X” to Agency “Y” or should I simply try the small publishing houses directly for PB manuscripts submissions?

Thank You,
Robert

Dear Robert…

Learning curves can be slippery, and passion intensifies the potential for a crash-and-burn. Agents know that and recognize minor slips for the newbie boo-boos they are. If yours was a thorny transgression, well, what’s done is done. There are plenty of agencies out there; move on without looking back. First, though, force Passion into a seat in front of your computer and intensely research submission strategies and query letters. FORCE that learning curve to flatten! Publishing may deal in creativity, but it’s still a business, so commit to becoming an informed professional. Start by clicking “Submissions” in the CATEGORIES tab on DearEditor.com. When your new submission package is ready, submit to Agency Y—and to A, B, C, and D, too. By submitting in small batches, you can adjust your submission strategy or revise your manuscript based on agent response. Just note “simultaneous submission” in your query.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: President Obama’s Book Contract v. Mine . . . Any Similarities?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

Business Insider just ran the article “How Barack Obama Made His Fortune” by Walter Hickey that included details of President Obama’s book deal for The Audacity of Hope. Obviously I’d never get a $1.9 million advance, but how about the rest of the percentages? Would my book contract look like that?

Thanks,
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous…

It’d be more similar than you’d think. Mr. Hickey’s article says the President’s book contract grants 15% of the list price for hardcover copies (10-15% is common), 7% for trade paperback (you might get 8%), 8% for the first 150,000 copies sold of the mass market paperback with 10% thereafter (6% and 8% are common), and 10% for audio recording (standard). The big difference is that 150,000 escalator. If your publisher predicted sales like that, you just might quality for that $1.9 mil! Most of us cross our fingers for more modest numbers, say in the early double-digits, at least in the first year or so, and our advances and escalators reflect that. We’re talking more like 12.5% at 10,000 copies with 15% at 15,000 and thereafter. You may have to ask for an escalator, which ups your cut when sales are strong. Most publishers prefer that to raising advances because an escalator is payment on actual sales, not on predictions.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is a Blog Tour Worth the Trouble?

in Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

You coordinated and completed a blog tour for your book a while back. Did you feel that it was worth all of your hard work? If did it all again, would you do anything differently?

Thanks,
A.

Dear A….

Based on my 8-stop blog tour and research with authors and marketing pros, I declare blog tours an essential book promo tool. Blog tours harness the power of social media, spreading news of your book almost instantly to countless people through the virtual ripple effect of retweets and shares. Two points: 1) Blog tours are about the readers, not you. Tailor your interviews or guest posts to each site, with tips, links, or useful info about your topic, themes, or expertise. Give away books or informative downloadables. People don’t share pitches; they share useful stuff. 2) Shared spotlights are BIGGER spotlights. Give your hosts a full schedule with blog links so they can promote each other. As each tour stop goes “live,” give its direct link to hosts to promote that day. In your social media, emphasize your host sites over your book. With pre-tour promotion and post-tour thanks, you get 3-4 weeks of tour-focused online chatter. The Virtual Ripple Effect is worth the work.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What the Heck Is Amazon Children’s Publishing?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Is Amazon Children’s Publishing a paid market or a pay for print company?

Thanks,
Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth…

You’re not alone in wondering what kind of publisher Amazon Children’s Publishing is. The confusion stems from Amazon’s successful branding of its pay-for-print publishing entity CreateSpace. Anyone can use CreateSpace to self-publish by uploading their own text files and images and paying fees for their printing choices; these books are sold on Amazon.com, with Amazon getting a percentage of each sale. In contrast, Amazon Children’s Publishing is a full publisher in the traditional model, selectively acquiring manuscripts for seasonal lists, paying its authors advances and royalties on each book sold, designing and paying for the production of the books, financing the marketing of each book within a whole-list campaign, then selling the books through Amazon.com and any retailer willing to stock books with the word “Amazon” on them. They make the books available to booksellers and librarians through distributors Ingram and Baker & Taylor, just like any traditional publisher.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Submitting to Amazon Children’s Publishing

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Amazon started a children’s book publishing imprint. I can’t find information about how to submit my manuscript to them. Are they accepting submissions?

R.

Dear R.…

Tim Ditlow, Associate Publisher of Amazon Children’s Publishing, spoke about his months-old program at the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference last week. While official submission guidelines are still being created, he said ACP is indeed accepting unsolicited submissions. For now, send a query email to acp-submit@amazon.com. Attach your full picture book ms or the first 3 chapters of your MG/YA fiction as pdfs or Word documents. There’s no time frame for responses yet. See ACP’s list of picture books, chapter books, and MG/YA fiction at http://www.amazon.com/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000775681. Note that for now, ACP appears to function like any traditional publisher, reviewing submissions and then putting acquired books through the full production cycle, which can take a year+ for novels and 18 months for picture books. Proposals for books for adult readers can be submitted to Amazon Publishing at manuscript-submissions@amazon.com.

Happy Writing!
The Editor

re: How Long Does a Publisher Have the Rights to My Book?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

When you sign a contract, does the publisher get the rights to that book for its whole copyright time?

Thanks,
R.

Dear R….

No way! That would give the publisher rights for your lifetime plus 70 years, which is the term of copyright. You’re only granting them rights to the book while they keep it in print in at least one format (hardcover, paperback, etc.). The rights revert to you when the book goes out of print (OP). But there’s a catch: Publishers can simply call a title out of stock (OS) instead of OP as a hedge against the possibility of renewed consumer interest in the book down the line—say, if you win a Nobel Prize for curing a disease and suddenly folks want to read your old book about the amazing life of bacteria. This is particularly problematic with ebooks, which don’t really ever go out of print. The digital files can sit on a server forever, ready for instant sales. If your contract doesn’t already have one, negotiate a clause that declares your book OP when sales dip below a certain number for an accounting period (publishers have two per year). That’s fair for all.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Newsflash: SCBWI Summer Conference with The Editor

in News/Publishing Biz by

Dear Readers…

SCBWI’s 2012 Summer Conference registration opens tomorrow, April 18, at 10am! DearEditor.com readers are getting this alert because a lot of you write for young people and this important annual 3-day event sells out—and the intensives on the extra day fill up almost immediately. If you were planning on registering, don’t delay. As you peruse the amazing schedule, note that The Editor will be there presenting the Current Market Report keynote, a breakout session on writing dialogue, an intensive on revising your MG/YA novel, and an intensive on creating youthful narrative sensibility. Read the rest of today’s DearEditor.com newsflash for details on her presentations; check out the full info on the SCBWI conference page.

Join The Editor for her 1.5-hour breakout session or her two 3.5-hour intensives at the 2012 SCBWI Summer Conference

Breakout Session – How to Talk Like a Teen When You’re So Not One: Writing Dialogue in YA/MG Fiction
Teen readers want to hear directly from the teen characters in their books. The dialogue you write must be able to entertain your young readers, intrigue them, inform them, comfort them, and, depending on which characters are moving their lips, sound like them. By applying the techniques in this session, you can craft successful dialogue for young adult fiction.

Intensive –  Going from Good to Great: Revising Your MG/YA Novel
This workshop teaches you how to analyze your YA/MG manuscript and arms you with techniques for revising the elements you find lacking. Participants must have completed a draft of a YA or MG novel.

Intensive – Writing for Teens? Then Think Like One
This workshop teaches strategies for creating a narrative sensibility that reflects the way teens and tweens think, and outlines techniques for writing that sensibility into a narrative voice that “clicks” with young readers. Participants must have completed at least three chapters of a YA or MG novel and should bring 3 copies of a brief (2 to 4 pages) excerpt from the manuscript to use in hands-on exercises.

re: The Agent “Loves” It… But Won’t Rep It?!

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I follow an agent blog where books are reviewed and the agent says why she would or would not represent the book. Very often, she loves the books, but then says, “I wouldn’t represent it.” I mean, why not? If you love a book, others might too. If you can sell it, you make more on commissions. Isn’t that what it’s about? Selling books that you like and making money in the process? Why so picky? Is this common or just this one agent? Seems very unbusinesslike.

Signed,
B.

Dear B….

If all agents did was read submissions, mail the ones they “love” to editors, then wait for the “I’ll buy it!” reply so they can pocket the cash and move on to the next manuscript they love, I’d share your mystification. But they don’t. Every ms an agent agrees to rep commits her to a slew of work for that project and all that author’s future projects: read and respond to every ms the author wants to sell (often multiple times), create pitches and strategize editors, track submissions and nudge editors, make deals and negotiate contracts, and handle rights and other issues for the rest of each book’s life. Dozens of projects in various phases cross an agent’s desk each day. Then there’s the ever-present submission pile and just the business of being in business. An agent’s time is not infinite, and neither is her client list. That agent’s “love” may be just one notch on a stick, with only those mss that hit the “head over heels” mark joining the agency.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is a Nom de Plume a No-No?

in Creative Process/Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

What are the pros and cons of using a pen name? What if you are quite a private person? Is this enough of a reason to use one? If so, what are some good ways to choose one and how do agents and editors feel about the practice?

Many thanks,
The Writer Behind the Curtain

Dear The Writer Behind the Curtain…

Whenever I hear news of yet another privacy violation in this all-access world we’ve created, I get a knee-jerk “I should’ve used a pen name” feeling. But I’d already established a career in publishing under my own name, so a nom de plume wasn’t a consideration. If you’re just starting out, you’re clear to go with a pen name—and there’s no reason you shouldn’t. As long as you consistently use it in your promotional/networking/social media existence, there won’t be any confusion. Agents and editors don’t care. As for picking the right pseudonym, you’re not trying to be conspicuous a la “Lemony Snicket,” so choose a name that sounds normal so no one will question it. Consider using your real first and middle initials or your nickname, though, so that you can comfortably respond to it when you’re in a book-related encounter.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Melissa Wiley re: Facebook v. Google+ as Author Tools

in Guest Editors/Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

My New Year’s resolution is to get active in social media and start “building my platform.” I don’t think I have time to be active in both Facebook and Google+. A friend says Facebook is established, so choose that. (I do have an account there but haven’t really used it.) Another friend says Google+ is the future, so choose that. I’m stuck. Advice?

Thanks,
R.

 

Dear R.…

If you have to pick one platform, Facebook is probably your best bet for now. With over 800 million active users a month, Facebook is where you are most likely to connect with your audience. You’ll want to decide between maintaining a personal profile—where you can choose to make some posts visible to the public, and others visible to your Facebook friends only—or a fan page, or both. Either way, you can share updates, links, and photos, as well as engage in conversations with your readers. If you do go the Facebook route, you’ll want to do a bit of online research to bone up on the platform’s privacy policies. The privacy settings can seem complicated at first, but there are many how-to guides on the web to help you navigate. Two great sources of info are GeekMom (“Lay-Geek’s Guide to Facebook Privacy” by Patricia Vollmer) and Mashable (“Facebook Privacy: 10 Settings Every User Needs to Know“). (Disclaimer: I’m a contributor at GeekMom.)

Google+ is growing every day, and it’s an appealing platform with a lot of flexibility. At this point, however, Google+ users tend to be early adopters and tech-lovers; it’s a smaller audience and you may find it harder to connect with readers there. But a point in Google+’s favor is that Google has reconfigured its search algorithms to give priority ranking to G+ posts! Nonfiction writers especially may find that a solid Google+ presence helps topic-searching users find them more easily.

Best,
Melissa Wiley
Guest Editor

Melissa Wiley is the author of more than a dozen books for children and teens, including Little House in the Highlands and other novels about the ancestors of Laura Ingalls Wilder. Her middle-grade novel, The Prairie Thief, will be published by Margaret K. McElderry Books in the fall. Melissa blogs about her family’s reading life at Here in the Bonny Glen ( melissawiley.com/blog ) and is a contributing writer and social media manager at GeekMom.com. You can find her on Facebook , Twitter and Google+ .

re: Bad Idea to Post Excerpts Online?

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’d like to post a 1- to 2-page excerpt of my latest manuscript along with a summary of the book on my blog. Do editors and agents frown on having the material out there for all to see before they’ve had a chance to sell it? Should I worry about the idea getting swiped before I publish it?

Sincerely,
Heather

Dear Heather…

Editors and agents don’t care if a few pages are out there when you’re submitting. After you’re signed up, though, they’ll probably want the material pulled down because you’ll be revising it. You can re-post the final excerpt on your website/blog to help you promote the book when pub time comes. As for people stealing your idea pre-pub, it happens. Heck, people will steal your entire identity online, what makes you think your intellectual property is safe? I’m not a fan of posting pre-published material for that very reason. You can likely prove you had the idea first by using blog dates and the like, but why would you want to put yourself in the position to have to fight that fight?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Set Up a Blog Tour?

in Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I really enjoyed your blog tour, and now that my picture book biography, Cixi, The Dragon Empress, will be released in October by Goosebottom Books, I’d like to know how I would go about setting up a blog tour.

Thanks,
Natasha

Dear Natasha…

Understand this: Bloggers are swell folks, but that’s not why they’ll agree to host your tour. They’ll host because you’ll offer their readers info and/or entertainment, along with cold, hard stuff. Readers come first, so Step 1 is identifying what take-away you can dish up. In addition to a promo item or book to give away, offer every blogger on your tour the choice of an interview with you or an article you’ll write just for them on a topic that’ll interest their particular readers. If the blogger chooses interview, answer their questions with a bent toward enlightening readers, not tooting your own horn. Let the blogger choose from a set range of tour dates, and specify how you’ll promote the tour. Organized, responsive authors have smoother, more successful blog tours.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: What’s the Right Style for a Crossover Novel?

in Narrative Voice/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am attempting my first manuscript aimed at 18 to 30 year olds; is there a particular writing style I should look at, or can I blend young adult fiction with adult fiction to make it work?

Sincerely,
Alana

Dear Alana…

Got Twilight’s success in mind? Careful! Plenty of writers crave the expanded audience of a crossover novel, but writing one on purpose is a tough gig. The hitch: It’s virtually impossible to aim one story at a demographic spanning 12 years. Different generations, different life experiences, different sensibilities and sophistication. You must pick one specific target audience and hope the other goes for it. Since young people lack the wisdom and self-reflection that adults gain from experience, you won’t capture many teens with a novel written with a post-college, 25- to 30-year-old narrative sensibility. Your best bet is to write for upper teens (16+) with subjects/themes that can engage adults, too. The narrative should be less self-reflexive and the protagonist less focused on his/her role in the Grand Scheme than an adult would be. Check The Hunger Games: A teen is poised to save her world, yet she’s (understandably) focused on her existence and her love interests for much of the 3-book series. The themes of power, survival, and revolution cross this over to an older audience.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Re: Is a Novel Set in the 60s Historical Fiction?

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

At what point does a novel become historical fiction? Is 1963 in that category?

Sincerely,
Cricket

Dear Cricket…

Your 1963 novel is historical fiction if the story’s events depend on the time period. If the story could just as easily take place in another time period, then it’s general fiction. The historical fiction label gets tricky with modern time periods—especially the 80s and 90s. Reviewers call Eleanor Henderson’s Ten Thousand Saints historical fiction, but the Library of Congress catalogs it as “domestic fiction.” The 80s time period is important to Henderson’s story, but the primary focus is on the protagonist’s drug dependency. Deborah Wile’s Countdown: The Sixties Trilogy, which is as much about 60s America as it is about 11-year-old Franny, is historical fiction.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Did That TV Show Just Kill My Book?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Uncategorized by

Dear Editor…

I just pitched my book as “Glee meets West Side Story” to an editor, who loved the idea. Yesterday, I read that Glee is doing WSS. I’ve never even watched the show. What do I do? Is my novel dead? I’ve been working on it for three years.

Sincerely,
Cathy

Dear Cathy…

Brace yourself, because you’re not gonna like my answer: I think you’ve been beaten to the punch. It doesn’t matter that high school music departments have been doing West Side Story for years. One of the most popular shows on television is basing a good portion of its season on its fictional high school’s production of WSS. The burden is now on you to distinguish what makes your book different from what’s happening on TV even though you wrote your story first. Comparisons will be made. You made the comparison yourself in your pitch—albeit without full knowledge of just how on the nose you were. Some editors may be wary about potential difficulties, others may be intrigued by the possibility of piggybacking on a popular show. The concern there is that even though Glee doesn’t have a lock on WSS, the people behind the show have a propriety interest in the franchise and may be active about protecting it. Defending against claims is the author’s responsibility, not the publisher’s. The legal wrangling could be costly and stressful to you even if you prevailed. It would be wise to have an experienced publishing attorney vet your manuscript to judge the amount and significance of the similarities and assess your risk. See, I told you: I’m a total bummer. Sorry I can’t paint a rosier picture.

The Editor

Re: Dare I Submit During the Holidays?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I know that the publishing world shuts down for Christmas and New Year’s. Should I submit my query letter now before the holidays? Or would I have a better chance if I waited until 2012?

Thanks!
Katie

Dear Katie…

If you’re itching to get your submission off your plate so you can focus on holiday fun, send it to publishers now. But don’t expect anything more than stacking on a desk to happen to it before mid-January. Between now and then, editors will be dealing with urgent in-house production deadlines and tying up loose ends on projects already in development before vacationing. Acquisition meetings are pretty rare with everyone coming and going. Even agents reduce their submissions to editors after Thanksgiving . . . which makes this a good time for you to submit to agents. They vacation, too, but their reduced dealings with editors means they have more time to catch up on submissions.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Can I Use That Title, Too?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

Is it OK to use the same title for a new YA novel as an already published adult novel?

Thank you,
Laurie

Dear Laurie…

You can’t copyright a book title, so you’re *almost* free to use one that’s already on another book. Two points to consider: 1) Will anyone confuse your book with the other one? Yours is a different category, so probably not. 2) Has an association between the title and that other specific work been established in the public mind? Or, as the US Patent and Trademark Office puts it, did that title have “wide promotion and great success” that could’ve established a secondary meaning and thus be protected by some states’ “unfair competition” laws? Here’s an interesting peek at trademarking book titles, series titles, and characters on the USPTO site that offers a larger view of this issue.

Happy writing!
The Editor

Guest Editor Randy Morrison re: Legality of Using Real People in Fiction

in Contracts/Guest Editors/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I was wondering what legal problems (if any) are associated with using real people as characters in fiction? I’m not talking Elvis, or someone who would obviously have an estate with a problem, more like a fantasy novel about people who have disappeared through the ages (like Louis Le Prince, or Dorothy Arnold.) What’s the rule? Is it easier to just avoid it altogether and name them something else?

Thanks,
Megan

Dear Megan…

Le Prince disappeared in 1890 at age 48; he is certainly long dead by now. That means neither he nor his descendants, nor his estate, has any privacy or reputation rights, and that anyone is free to create a work “based upon” or “inspired by” his life, even if it takes issue with Brian Selznick’s Invention of Hugo Cabret about who really developed the first motion picture system, Lumiere or Le Prince.  There is no legal remedy for “blackening the good reputation” of anyone who is dead.

No one owns history, and when history is cloudy or disputed, anyone can fill in the gaps as they see fit, including fictional details, as is frequently done with stories about Amelia Earhart, Robin Hood, the much married and divorced King Henry, and other “legendary persons.” Everyone has a free speech right to interpret history, or to tell or even revise it to promote their agenda.

When a writer uses a real, living person as a character in a literary work, then there are several potential issues. The expression rights of the First Amendment have to be weighed against the specific facts. Possible issues include: 1) defamation (the publication of false facts about a person, asserted as true, which injure reputation; google this: Palin lawsuit McGinnis); 2) privacy (public disclosure of private facts); 3) false light (telling the story in a manner that leaves a false or misleading impression); 4) misappropriation (“free riding” on other people’s work); 5) right of publicity (the right of famous persons to commercialize and exploit their name, likeness, image, reputation, or distinctive singing style; this is a property right that can be bought and sold (Presley, Three Stooges); 6) infliction of emotional distress, called “outrageous conduct” in some states. If the real person’s story has already been published, then there may be copyright issues. If the subject person is the founder or public image of a company (“Newman’s Own”, “Trump Tower”) then there could be trademark, product disparagement, unfair competition or other commercial issues.

The legal theories and standards of proof vary according to several factors, including: whether the portrayed person is a “public figure” (well known to the public, at least within their realm of fame); the degree to which the subject person has sought publicity or publicized their personal life (Kardashians, Charlie Sheen, Sarah Palin, Chaz Bono, confessional autobiographies, Facebook accounts); how broadly the story has been disseminated or published; the degree of care exercised to check the facts and avoid infringing on other people’s rights; whether a retraction or correction was requested or issued; and whether a malicious intent can be shown. For living persons, the safest course is to get their permission in advance, in writing.

“Is it easier to just avoid it all together and name them something else?” Yes, but it is wiser to do more than just change the name. To make real the legalese about “any relationship to any real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental”, also change several of the personal traits and life story.

-Guest Editor Randy Morrison

Randy Morrison was a rock and roll disc jockey and radio music programmer in the age of The Beatles and Led Zeppelin. Today he is a nationally recognized authority on the intersection of First Amendment and zoning law, and also assists authors, agents, and editors with copyright, trademark, and other aspects of literary law. As an author he writes reference books for attorneys and mid-grade fiction about space-traveling circuses, often while listening to symphonies by Mahler and Tchaikovsky. His email address is literarylaw@gmail.com; he can be reached by phone at 619.234.2864.

Disclaimer: this information is provided for general educational purposes only, and is not intended as legal advice on any particular situation. No attorney client relationship is formed by reading this information.

re: Opportunities in Children’s Book Categories

in Creative Process/Picture Books/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have ideas for both fiction and nonfiction children’s books. What category is easier to break into?

Thanks,
Amy

Dear Amy…

“Easy” is no word for publishing. The economy and industry changes have publishers proceeding cautiously. Embrace “opportunity” instead. If your nonfiction ideas are curriculum-based, you’ll rely on institutional sales (mainly schools and libraries) where budgets are being slashed, slimming opportunities there. Nonfiction picture books with rhythmic narrative are finding homes, though, appealing to institutional and consumer buyers alike. Consider Me…Jane, a picture book biography that offers a simple, rhythmic story and leaves the facts for the backmatter. Children’s fiction has opportunities: YA can make money, MG sales are up, and the market for fictional picture books is improving. But “opportunity” becomes “success” only if you’re ready for it. Developing ideas into fresh, standout additions to any category is hard work, and hard work only happens when you’re passionate enough about an idea to pursue it doggedly. So add “passion” to your word list, too.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Hidden Hassles of Pen Names

in Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I write both adult novels and books for children. Should I use a different pen name for my adult fiction than I use for my children’s fiction? I’ve asked people this before and most just scratch their head and say, “Interesting that you can write for such a wide audience.” I know I am not the only one in this situation.

Sincerely,
Haley

Dear Haley…

This isn’t a simple name recognition issue. Yes, use a pen name if readers will be negatively impacted by knowledge of your books in other categories or genres (as with kidlit authors pubbing romance). The risk of losing out on positive name recognition in one category if the other does well isn’t big since such audiences won’t likely cross over in big numbers anyway. But think beyond that: You’ll be managing 2 professional personas. Will you need 2 websites? 2 blogs? 2 Twitter, Facebook, Google+ accounts? How will you handle 2 personas at your events? Your promo is mostly on you—can you build reputations for 2 “people” and maintain/promote them forevermore. If risk management isn’t an issue, stick with one name and make your life a whole lot easier.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: New Title for Revised MG?

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’ve acquired the rights to one of my out-of-print MG novels and am going to release it as an e-book. I’ve revised the book to update and improve it and am developing a cover and getting the required new ISBN. Since the book is substantially different, should I give it a new title so it doesn’t get confused with the previous version? I like the old title, but don’t want it to limit possible sales if people think it’s the same book, even though there’s a new generation of readers out there who’ve likely never heard of the original.

Sincerely,
K.

Dear K…

Give it a new title. Your personal affection for the old title isn’t enough to risk confusion—or any stigma there might be in republishing a title that most likely went OP because it wasn’t selling anymore. We insiders know that the shelf life of the average novel is surprisingly short (2 to 3 years, although with ebooks the definition of “shelf life” is shifting), but the general public doesn’t know this. New content + new cover + new title + new pub year + new isbn = new book for a new audience. Embrace that and run with it.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Which Comes First, the Agent or the Editor?

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’ve always been focused on writing queries to agents. Recently, I’ve heard a number of authors say it’s far better to sell your ms to a publisher yourself and then get an agent. Other authors say almost all publishers no longer accept unsolicited manuscripts. Is it better to approach an agent or a publisher?

Best regards,
L.

Dear L.…

Include both agents and publishers in your submission strategy, going heavy on the agents. Most agents accept submissions from everybody; it’d be unwise to turn your back on that fact. Submit to as many as are appropriate for your manuscript. Also attend conferences or events where editors are present. They often extend open submission invites to attendees, getting you past their “no unsolicited mss” policies. (Yes, most publishers have those.) If you land a publisher first, agents will be more likely to represent you because clearly your work is marketable. If an agent bites first, then you’ve got access to her speed dial—and you’ve got someone who can handle your contract and help you shape your career.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: What Does It Take to Be an Editor?

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’m interested in becoming an editor and I would like to know more about the job scope. What skills would I need and should I major in English at university?

Thanks,

Sarah

Dear Sarah…

A successful editor is a market-savvy businessperson with innate creativity and a mastery of language and storytelling. A BA in English or journalism sets the stage for this career, but any communications-related degree is fine for fiction editors; technical/nonfiction editors may have degrees in science or other specialized fields. Bottom line: Be able to not only assess when a manuscript isn’t working but also articulate why it’s not working. Learn project management skills because editors handle multiple projects in various stages of development on tight deadlines. You need people skills, too, as you must cultivate productive relationships with creative teams (including authors), production and accounting staff, and agents and lawyers. Business acumen is necessary for negotiating contracts, working with profit-and-loss grids, and positioning your books in the marketplace. Don’t count on your college degree to develop these skills; experience is a must for landing an entry-level editorial assistant position. Take paid or intern positions with local magazines and papers, handle publications for large companies, work on the college paper or yearbook, intern with New York publishers, or volunteer to create/edit marketing materials for non-profit charities. You’ll learn and network simultaneously. If you can, get a copyediting or proofreading certificate from a university or attend a publishing institute such as the University of Denver’s Publishing Institute to learn manuscript mark-up, specialized jargon, bookmaking, and overall industry knowledge. Bookselling experience can help with industry and market awareness, especially if you take on buying, stock management, or event-planning positions. The path that opened the door for me was a BA in English, a copyediting certificate, and a job writing and editing video game instructions for a local information publisher. My masters degree didn’t come until later.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Can Online Critiquing Hurt My Pub Chances?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

Will posting my pb manuscript on online discussion boards for peer critiques hurt my chances of publication?  I have commented on several on SCBWI’s discussion board, but always hesitate.  What are the pros and cons of this?

Sincerely,

Wendy

Dear Wendy….

Editors and agents don’t care if your material has been posted in online critique forums. In fact, some publishers are actively searching for unknowns online, as evidenced with publisher-founded writing communities such as Authonomy (HarperCollins) and the brand new Book Country (Penguin; see today’s Publishers Weekly). But don’t post in online critique communities with the goal of being “discovered.” No one can attest to the odds of that happening or even to the likelihood that publishing companies can realistically maintain such a communal ideal. Post because you seriously want critiques and you seriously intend to give them. Because when all is said and done, the reason such forums exist is to serve your very real need for constructive, objective input on your writing. Before you commit to any critique community, follow it for a bit to get a feel for the quality of participants’ criticism. Then work to build relationships within that community that are built on respect, dependability, and trust.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Promote My Own Book? How???

in Promotion/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

Ok. So, I’ve published my book. NOW, HOW TO PROMOTE IT???? The publisher has some publicity but not enough . . . they have a hundred books to promote. I’d like to help my book. So what can you suggest???

Thank you,

Mimi

Dear Mimi…

It’s true that with so many books to promote, publishers focus their efforts on a few key titles each season even as they do basic marketing for the others. Luckily, there’s plenty that authors can do to self-market. I dedicate 33 pages to self-marketing alone in my Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies (final revisions of which go to my publisher today; do you smell a DearEditor.com “celebration free edit giveaway” in the air?). Alas, authors can’t do it all any more than publishers can. So copy their model with your efforts: Focus on three key marketing items for your self-marketing campaign. You can grow from there later. Your three choices will depend on your particular expertise, time, resources, and goals. What’s your best medium—blogging, podcasting, appearances, social media? What are you promoting—you the Expert on Something, your book, a specific aspect of your book’s topic, your genre or literacy in general? What can you give people to earn their attention and make them spread the word for you—free books, free information, free bonus material or study guide downloads, free exposure for their books in exchange for exposure of yours? You must strategize all of this before you take any specific action or create specific materials because catch as catch can is not an effective marketing campaign. Above all, stop thinking of yourself as an Author Who Wants to Help; appoint yourself Self-Marketing Manager and drive a focused, efficient, and effective campaign that’s tailored to your strengths and abilities.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Newsflash: DearEditor.com Now on Facebook!

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Readers…

DearEditor.com is steppin’ out. Read more…

DearEditor.com now has a dedicated Facebook page! I’ll be posting my usual brand of lighthearted, to-the-point writers’ advice and craft tips there, along with inspirational items, publishing news, and alerts when I answer new reader letters on DearEditor.com. I hope you’ll check out the page and click “Like” to get all the latest as I post it.

You can also follow DearEditor.com on Twitter as @Dear_Editor.

Happy writing!

The Editor

Guest Editor Jeff Hirsch re: Dare I Dream “Dystopia” in This Market?

in Guest Editors/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

My current novel is post-apocalyptic, and I was going to market it as dystopian. One of my critiquers said it’s not depressing and dark enough to be dystopian. Is that a necessary criteria for this genre?

Sincerely,

Carol

Hi Carol…

This is a great question. The short answer is, absolutely not. The slightly longer answer is that I think we’re at the beginning of the second wave of this dystopian trend and that’s a great time to start playing with the form and having fun with it. I personally would love to see a writer who figures out how to do a very funny dystopian book.  A tough trick maybe, but if someone could pull it off I think it would feel very fresh and could be a lot of fun.

Above all, write your dystopian book, not anyone else’s.

Good luck!

Guest Editor Jeff Hirsch

Jeff Hirsch is the author of the best-selling post-apocalyptic YA novel The Eleventh Plague. His second novel will be Magisterium. Read the grabber opening chapter of The Eleventh Plague on his website, then click this link by mid-Thursday for a chance to win a free Advance Reading Copy of it—complete with fab cover blurb by Suzanne Collins, author of The Hunger Games.

re: What’s a Poor Vampire Writer to Do?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

It’s no secret that editors and agents are sick of werewolves, ghosts, and especially vampires. So is there really any point in writing a vampire novel right now? Don’t agents and editors just roll their eyes when they see the words “Vampire” and “Young Adult Paranormal” in a query letter?

Sincerely,

Megan

Dear Megan…

If that’s all your story is—“a vampire book”— then yes, they’ll roll their eyes. The market has plenty of those. That hook is no longer enough to make a sale. Your paranormal story must be more than its monsters. One thing I hear editors asking for now is cross-genre paranormal to offer readers who love vampires something fresh. “Vampire” has been done; “Vampire astronauts who take over the first human colony on Mars” has not. Don’t simply get gimmicky, though. A genre blend must be a natural one, with a solid story at its core. Gimmicks may get attention, but solid storytelling earns the sale.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Dare I Write a YA Western?

in Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve hashed out an idea for a young adult western, which I think could be refreshing amidst a swirl of vampires and zombies and fantasy novels. What is your opinion on the marketability of a western in today’s market? Is it a difficult placement and sell in 2011?

Sincerely,

Lorie

Dear Lorie…

If the scuttlebutt at ALA Midwinter this month was on target, there are signs of vampire fatigue in the young adult marketplace. So maybe a western would be more intriguing to editors now than it would’ve been, say, a year or two ago. Still, because kids aren’t racing into bookstores shouting, “Where’s the YA western section?!,” pitching your project as a straight “western” may not be your best bet. Is your story anything else? That is, have you got an unusual love story, or some historical angle, or a plot twist that can be your hook? I’ve edited two great YAs that have a “western feel”: Much Ado About Grubstake by Jean Ferris and Billy the Kid: A Novel by Theodore Taylor. Both are something besides westerns. The first is a quirky story about a girl who yearns for the exciting life she sees in her “penny dreadful” novels—and gets it. It pokes fun at the conventions of cheap melodrama. Fans of “quirky” love it, which is exactly how it was positioned. Taylor’s is a gun-slinging, dusty, horsey, train-robbing western, no doubt about it, but the fresh take on Billy the Kid was the hook of choice. Beyond the genre and setting, what’s the hook of your story? That’s what I’d pitch, with the western part being the context.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: A Changing Industry?

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

Do you think the current publishing business model is dying or at least morphing? Agent-Editor-Big Publisher with long waits from acquisition to publication. How are advents in self-publishing, the Kindle & iPad changing things? Part of me is convinced I need to think outside the box today. Thoughts?

Sincerely,

Bill

Dear Bill…

You sure do need to get your head out of that box. Plenty of experts are struggling to do the very same thing as technology develops and readers pick their favorite mode of book delivery. In fact, Publishers Weekly ran an interesting array of answers to your question in its article “What’s Ahead in 2011” a couple of weeks ago. Traditional publishing, self-publishing, eBooks… there are plenty of valid ways to produce and deliver a book, and the big players are duking that out as we speak. The individual writer’s issue isn’t so much the production and delivery. Heck, the more formats, the better. Your challenge is letting your audience know that your book exists regardless of format—and that means getting your whole body out of that box. During this industry shake-up, you should be focusing your non-writing energies on exploring ways to market and promote yourself and your books. That is where you have power. For your 2011 New Year’s resolution, commit to turning yourself into a forward-thinking self-marketing expert who can tell the world about your books regardless of what business model sits atop the smoldering heap when the battle is over.

Happy writing!

The Editor

UPDATE: Podcast Interview with The Editor Now Posted

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Readers…

As promised, here’s the podcast link to hear The Editor field phoned-in questions about publishing…

Dear Readers…

Last month I answered phoned-in questions about publishing children’s books on author Katie Davis‘s podcast  “Brain Burps About Books.” The podcast is now up, click here to hear it. If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in a follow-up podcast, call Katie’s toll free line at 888-522-1929 and leave a message.

And now back to my inbox, where I’ve got some great emailed-in questions awaiting….

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is Branding Wicked or Wise?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m sort of eclectic when it comes to my YA novel genres. But I know “branding” is really important for a writer. When I’m creating my urban fantasy followed by my light, contemporary romance followed by my edgy issue novel, how concerned should I be about consistency as a writer in the market?

Sincerely,

Heather

Dear Heather…

“Branding” calls to mind glowing coals and sizzling iron Xs, and some writers resist the term as if it means just that. The idea of sticking to one kind of story, genre, or audience seems antithetical to the creativity that drives them to write. Branding yourself as a writer of something specific is a valuable strategy because it helps readers discover and stay with you long-term. They know what they’re getting—and they want more of it. Fortunately, eschewing branding doesn’t mean sabotaging your career. Plenty of MG/YA writers enjoy careers where their consistency is not in genre but in the quality of their writing. Look at M.T. Anderson, author of the cyberpunk YA Feed (a National Book Award Finalist), the two-volume YA historical fiction The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (both volumes are Michael L. Printz Honor Books; the first also being a National Book Award Winner), the wacky, satirical middle grade series “Pals in Peril” (of which Whales on Stilts is my personal favorite), and the lauded “Norumbegan Quartet” fantastical adventure series (upcoming: The Empire of Gut and Bone), among others. Anderson’s brand is his name, which has become synonymous with brilliant writing. Now there’s a brand worth cultivating.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Do I Have to Read When I Sign?

in Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I was wondering if doing readings of your work at book signings is something you’re required to do as an author?

Sincerely,
Megan

Dear Megan…

No one’s going to whack you with a wet noodle if you don’t want to read at your book signing. What you do at a signing is up to you and the bookseller hosting it, and typically they’ll ask you your preference. If they suggest a reading, though, give it serious thought. Booksellers have a good handle on their store’s clientele and know what they’ll respond to. Happier customers translates to higher sales. If a fear of public speaking is behind your reluctance, I beg you to make squelching that fear your next New Year’s resolution. These days, the bulk of the promotion is on YOUR shoulders. Nothing creates loyal readers better than a personal experience with an author in classrooms, writers’ group meetings, and, yes, book signings.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Writer Credentials

in Publishing Biz/Submissions by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a picture book and when putting together my manuscript I understand I have to include a bit about my writing credentials. Problem is – I don’t have any! Is this a barrier to entry or mean I’ll be subject to greater critical analysis than a published author?

Thanks,
Navigating Novice

Dear Navigating Novice…

It’s the ol’ chicken-and-egg resume moment. How do I get experience if no one will give me a job without experience? Feh. Fill the credential paragraph of your query letter with one of these:

  1. a statement explaining why YOU are the person to write this particular manuscript (i.e., it’s about an alien and you’re a former astronaut)
  2. the line “I’m a member of SCBWI. I hope this manuscript is up your alley and look forward to hearing from you.” If you’re not a member, become one. It tells editors you’re serious about perfecting your craft.
  3. option 2 above, minus the first five words. It won’t hurt that you’ve never been published. You just don’t get that extra oomph of credibility.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Are Three Pens Better Than One?

in Creative Process/Publishing Biz/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Two writer friends and I have collaborated on a mg novel. Are editors leery of taking on collaborations and working with three authors and three agents? Is there a preferable way to package our talents so that we can be marketed as a team versus individuals?

Sincerely,

Natasha

Dear Natasha…

If your material is The Goods, editors won’t balk at a 3-person writing team. But be ready for extra scrutiny from them and reviewers: Three authors? Must be three times as good! Your voices must be seamless if they’re meant to blend. Or, if there are three different parts, each voice must be distinct, and changing from one to another must offer insight you could only get from that voice.

For insight into packaging a threesome, I tapped my favorite publicity collaborators, the duo at Blue Slip Media. They do point out possible marketing challenges: 3 author names on promo materials is tricky design-wise, and it’d be 3 times more expensive to bring all of you to conferences or go on tour, and having 3 agents pushing for top billing for their authors could be a headache for the Marketing Director. These might be arguments for packaging the group under a pen name—one that hints at or directly declares your team-up. You can brainstorm it with the Marketing Department when the times comes; you needn’t have it completely finalized when you submit. Despite these challenges, Blue Slips says that Marketing would welcome the unique possibilities your threesome offers: 3 sets of networks to tap into, 3 locales where you can push for local publicity, and potential for some great trade coverage (like Publishers Weekly and general newspapers/magazines) for the unusual approach to writing fiction. Having 3 authors makes the book stand out from the pack, a key in publicity. Just be sure you work together seamlessly (that word again!) so you can agree on things quickly and move forward.

I also checked with a publishing law attorney, Lisa Lucas at Lucas LLP. After all, a collaboration is a business partnership, and many authors forget that in the excitement of creating and submitting. Turns out Lisa blogged about this very issue earlier this summer. Her main message: Brainstorm the entire process, consider all the things that may come up, then assign responsibility and memorialize that on paper. For instance, when one author is at a conference doing the selling, should she get a bigger cut of those sales? Your agents, too, must work things out among themselves before bringing in the outside pressure of a publisher. Of course, you can’t predict everything (Lisa cites a case where one author in a collaboration commits murder—yikes!), but do take to heart her message about proactively discussing touchy things.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Is My Independent Publisher’s Contract Normal?

in Contracts/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I submitted my query to a number of agents and an independent publisher and the publisher is interested in my work. I’ve received a contract and there isn’t any mention of an advance, and they’ve asked me how many books I would like to purchase to help with self-promotion. Is this normal?

Sincerely,

Cindy

Dear Cindy…

Signing with an independent publisher means venturing outside the traditional models of publishing. Depending on your personality and goals, that can be scary or exciting. Your potential publisher seems to be offering an alternative based on the concept of partnership publishing. That is, instead of offering an advance, they offer higher royalties than traditional publishers with the belief that you’ll be more inclined to participate in the bookselling process—especially the marketing part—in exchange for that larger royalty. Hence their inquiry about the number of promo copies you’d like to buy. The unusual part of that is that they’re asking; usually publishers specify the number. That’s certainly the case with traditional publishers, who’ll only give you a few free copies unless you negotiate otherwise. After that, you have to buy more promo copies, usually at a deep author discount.

The key word here is ‘negotiate.’ Some terms should be negotiable, such as the royalty rate, the number of free copies, and your author discount. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. ‘Partnership’ works both ways.

Happy writing!

The Editor

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