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Friday, April 30, 2010

Weekly Rejection Roundup

Last day of April. Can't believe it's May already. Yikes!

Not a bad week overall. Here's the tally:

Total manuscripts out: 44
Unique PBs: 22
> New this week: 0
Unique MG/YA: 2
> New this week: 0

Total rejections: 7
Form: 4
Personal: 3*
> Positive: 3
> Negative: 0
* meaning anything that directly references my submission by more than title

Total requests: 1
Partials: 0
Fulls: 1 (YA)

Mood Meter (on a scale of -5 to +5 with -5 being downright rotten and +5 being ecstatic): 3.2

Change from last week: +0.1

Getting more feedback, all positive, and the req for a full is a great boost, but feeling strangely unproductive.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Total Face Transplants and the Art and Artifice of Revising

Last week, Spain announced that it had performed the first total face transplant. Shucks, I've been doing them for years. Whole body transplants even. Everything from minor cosmetic surgery to replacement of all vital organs and systems, right down to the heart and spleen.

Okay, admittedly, my transplants weren't on actual human beings, but it doesn't mean my subjects weren't soulless either. I'm talking about my WIPs.

I've always sort of thought of the revision process as the messy underworld of writing, the thing everyone knows about but doesn't really care to think about how it's done. Sort of like embalming. I mean, as writers, we think of ourselves as artists - or, rather, artistes. A work is produced by sheer creative force, a process as wonderful and painful as giving birth - or, in my case, passing kidney stones. It's a beautiful thing.

The process of revising is not beautiful. It's messy. It's - yes, I'll say it - mechanical. We take a completed work of art, the Draft, and descend upon it with hammer and chisel and we begin to chip away, patch, discard, replace and otherwise disfigure until the next iteration may or may not look anything like the original.

And yet, it's better. And because it's better, we make another go at it. And another. And another. To take the analogy one painful step beyond reason: For me, the writing and revising process is like starting out with the idea of sculpting Napolean on a horse, coming up with SpongeBob SquarePants sitting astride Gary the Snail and then, after revisions, getting George Washington crossing the Potomac. What happened to the original vision?! It's still there. It's the soul of a work.

Not a single one of my writings has escaped this process. True, I have stories that retain the heart or vision of the original idea and so are fully recognizable as the work I set out to create, having perhaps only changed in a few minor ways. But the vast majority of my writing undergoes iteration after iteration of revision where pretty much every word has been changed at least once, every sentence painstakingly agonized over, every paragraph, scene and chapter pulled out and replaced. It doesn't feel like art, it feels like surgery.

But surgery is a skill.

And as with any skill, you can only refine it by doing it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

This Week's Rejection Tally

This week I hit a milestone of sorts in my writing career (today, actually): got my 100th rejection. FS&G gets the prize, a nice juicy raspberry... plus my next sub next week. Otherwise, it was a pretty slow week.

Anyway, here are this week's stats, folks:

Total manuscripts out: 51
Unique PBs: 23
> New this week: 2
Unique MG/YA: 2
> New this week: 0

Total rejections:
Form: 2
Personal: 1*
> Positive: 1
> Negative: 0
For a date: 0
*anything that directly references my submission

Total requests: 1
Partials: 0
Fulls: 0
Phone numbers: 1 (admittedly, from a new colleague, not an agent or editor)

Mood Meter (on a scale of -5 to +5 with -5 being downright rotten and +5 being ecstatic): 3.1
(the 0.1 is because I sent out my first sub on a funny PB MS about...

drum roll

... Snot.

And I'm still giggling.

I think I need to get out more.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

PB Writers and Agent Angst

Sometimes we do things that don't make much business sense. Sometimes business exists despite this. Or, perhaps, it exists in part because there are those who dare to buck what the pros say.

Picture book writers often operate, and even flourish, using practices that seem at odds with the market, such as ignoring trends and working without an agent. Why? Passion is the most obvious reason. But there are other practical reasons for not seeking the services of an agent. First, so few take on new PBs writers. Second, most that do, won't rep the whole body of a PB writer's work, opting to push books that they have a strong connection with themselves. Third, I've heard many writers complain that agents try to drive them into writing only on certain topics. Some PB writers don't operate well under such constraints - or won't.

Those are only a few of the reasons.

To get a sense for the firestorm Caren Johnson Agency's Elana Roth's Thursday post about the relationship between agents and PB writers has caused (which I responded to yesterday here), check out this thread at Verla Kay's Children's Writers and Illustrators Discussion Boards.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Picture Books, PB Writers and the Chicken Little Syndrome

Elana Roth of Caren Johnson Literary wrote yesterday what I felt was a rather reflexive post about the disparity between the attitudes of children's books writers in their career development and the realities of the publishing market for those books. Heartfelt? Absolutely, but it missed the point.

She expressed shock that PB authors, even well-established ones, would eschew representation, but then she went on to provide reasons why it's so hard to gain representation in the first place. Having thus identified the real reason for this (poor financials for publishers, authors and agents all around), Ms. Roth then pondered why so many writers choose to write the dang things, and why we push so hard to get them published.

The easy answer is that we're driven to do it. We derive pleasure from writing those little nuggets. We relish the feeling knowing that our words will engage and entertain and excite readers and listeners. The realities of the market - all doom and gloom - do not and will not ever change that.

Okay, I also accept that pretty much anyone who doesn't write PBs (and even a large number of writers who do) thinks that to write a picture book story is proportionately easier than writing longer works. Yes, those who cling most avidly to that belief provide the bulk of the grist subbed over the transom. I know most of it is garbage. Or otherwise unmarketable. But you know something? This is not a phenomenon unique to the picture book market. It's not likely to change either.

So, Picture Book Writers, the end is not near - or no nearer than it has been in the past, anyway. Sure, if you're one of those who thinks this is easy, pull your head out of the, um, sand. But most importantly, don't give up. Continue to write and revise and submit. Get better at all of these things, and your dream will come true. And if you decide to get an agent and are lucky enough to sign with one, well, kudos to you. But if you don't, just remember this: The sky is not falling.

At least, not today.

If you want to read Elana's post, it's here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Gleaning Hope on the Overcrowded Publishing Highway

Jim Milliot of Publishers Weekly posted some interesting numbers today about how self-pubbing is overtaking traditionally pubbed books. I was shocked to see that that ratio is nearly 3:1 with a total of over a million titles published last year. Wow.

My first impression that there's a hell of a lot of people out there who want to see their name on a cover. Yes, I have a bias, but it's been my experience, so I think it's safe to say - and I know I'll catch heat for this - but a lot of self-pubbed stuff is total crap. No, I don't deny that traditional houses don't publish crap, too, but when you have agents and editors filtering through it all, it does tend to raise the overall quality. Not sure where the trend to self-pub is going and what it'll mean for the future of publishing as a whole, but one downside of having access to so much is it tends to have a numbing effect on us.

Which makes me wonder: How are people supposed to find the best titles to read? I suppose there are processes in place to help, professional readers whose opinions we learn to churn through the muck, raising the cream to the top (to mix metaphors). But how well will this work when the publishing pond becomes an ocean?

I did find some encouraging news in the numbers. Areas that saw growth in titles sold last year include children's books (up 6%). Presumably, this includes all ages and genres. Well, I think this only substantiates what agents and editors have been telling us for the past 18 months. Let's hope the trend continues.

Also insightful, nonfiction (technical) rose by 11%. I think this is across the spectrum, from children's books to adult, but I'm wagering that if you write children's NF on a technology subject, you'll stand an easier chance of finding a home for it. It doesn't surprise me that tech should fare well, given how rapidly it's evolving. Just make sure the subject you're writing about is as up-to-date and forward looking as possible, or else it'll be out-of-date before it hits shelves.

Now, I think I'll go work on that emerging medicine series for children I've been thinking about...