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Sunday, May 23, 2010

Weekly Rejection Roundup

Going radio silent until Friday (taking the kids to the Happiest Place on Earth to deal with the Grumpiest Parents on Earth).

Another slow week. Feels like the dark side of the moon. Here's the tally:

Total manuscripts out: 42
Unique PBs: 21
> New subs this week: 0
Unique MG/YA: 2
> New subs this week: 0

Total rejections: 1
Form: 1
Personal: 0*
> Positive: 0
> Negative: 0
* meaning anything that directly references my submission by more than title

Total requests: 0
Partials: 0
Fulls: 0

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

Change from last week: +/-0.0

Still ruffling feathers; still plugging away.
Keep on RoadTripping!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Paradigm Shifts - Epilogue

I'm always amazed whenever the subject of paradigm shifts comes up, people seem to be in one of three camps: there are those who are aware and open to the idea of the "book" evolving, those who seem, by virtue of their knee-jerk reaction to decry it, and finally those who seem to think this is old news.

Some comments from Absolute Write members my post on the subject:

Quote: Originally Posted by JudScotKev
I think people love to shriek about one medium REPLACING another, but in reality that doesn't often happen. True, TV makes more money than radio, but people are still listening. Even in the iPod age, radios are still included in every new car.

My first graders love a website called that has interactive books. But I've never had a single student complain about "real" books. They LOVE picture books. They LOVE reading. AND they love video games.

My son has an iPod Touch, an Xbox, a PS2, and satellite TV. And he reads every day, over 2 million words this year alone. He will actually turn off the TV to read.

I don't think it's a competition. I think it's a smorgasbord of choices. Some stories and activities work well in one medium; some work better in another.

Personally, I thank my lucky stars I'm alive in an age that gives me Google, iTunes and Harry Potter, all at once.

My response:
I hope my post didn't come across as alarmist. In fact, my intent was not to bemoan the evolutiontoion, but to 1) celebrate the changes we're seeing and 2) to inform and encourage providers of children's content to think beyond the printed word (and, as I've blogged about before in the case of picture books, the illustrated page). I don't think anyone can deny that information content is reaching us in new and varied ways; our children will have access to more knowledge brought to them in more forms than we enjoyed as children. This is a good thing. But as providers of content, we must evolve as well in order to stay relevant.

Anecdotal claims to the contrary aside, these new forms do compete with one another for our attention. To put it in modern terms, it's about bandwith. Believe it or not, our ability to take in information is limited, and when the preferential mechanism for doing so shifts, it does so at the expense of something else. This is not a bad thing, but it is real. And while I do believe (and have consistently stated in the past) that traditional forms of the book will be with us for a long time to come, we cannot simply recite History and claim that these new paradigms won't change anything. That is simply naive.

Quote: Originally Posted by Ineti
I think it's pretty much a given, and business as usual. Books compete against movies, television, video games, and plenty of other forms of entertainment. Electronic readers that can do color and sound and so on are just the latest hotness. Some new technological marvel will come out, and print books will have to continue to compete. Nothing really earth-breaking here.

My response:
It's a disservice to those new to the business, as well as veterans firmly entrenched in traditional written forms, to understate the significance of the phenomenon by implying only earth-shattering events warrant notice. The evolution of literature, and especially children's content, is an on-going process. It's not something that happened at some point in the past and we've moved on from, but rather something that is happening and continues to happen. Children's lit is especially susceptible to flux as its forms are so varied, from picturebooks and videos to GNs to novels; children today are much more keyed into digital (NOT, I firmly believe, at the exclusion of analogue), which means that they are actively seeking content in these forms. It is our responsibility to meet those expectations.

A thorough read of my blog would have shown that it's not a call to arms against change, but a call to embrace changes, to broaden our horizons as content providers and to stretch those boundaries.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Fusion of Image, Audio and Word - Paradigm Shifts and the Future of Children's Lit

I just finished two books that incorporate innovative forms of content beyond the printed word (and no, I'm not talking about digital ink, either). I'll get to those titles in a sec, but first I wanted to take a litle trip down Memory Lane, to the good ole days of 2007 and a little known book called The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Of course I'm being facetious. If you're one of about a dozen people who haven't heard or read this book, do it. But the point I want to make about Brian Selznik's "massive," 533-page middle grade novel is this: it won the Caldecott. You might recall that the Caldecott is awarded for illustration of a children's book.

Wait a minute. A novel winning an award for illustration? Well, yeah. And at 25K words, it's an easy guess (if you haven't read or seen the book yet) what fills those 500+ pages.

Selznik's book wasn't the first to mix word and image, but I think with the Caldecott win, it really ushered in the idea that the novel as we know is evolving to become more mixed media. (This ignores, for the moment, that graphic novels, or GNs, have been becoming more and more popular and complex of late. But GNs are separate thing altogether. I'm talking more about how the traditional novel is changing.)

Without a doubt, we are well along in a revolution where the written, printed word is becoming heavily encroached upon by images, video and audio content. And while traditional novels (both paper and ebook) will be around for a long time to come, they will have to compete more and more with stories that incorporate mixed media.

For example, I just finished Malice, Chris Wooding's paranormal 68K-word mixed novel/graphic novel. The interesting thing about this book is that, while the story could easily stand on its own, the graphic novel really adds a new dimension that children today will connect with, especially boys. And if that gets them to read, great. Remember, to publishers more readers means more sales.

The other book is Patrick Carman's Trackers, released last week, about a group of four teen tech geeks. The story follows an interview of the MC as he recounts the events leading to the present (I'm being purposefully coy here to avoid giving anything away). The book could be read from cover to cover without leaving its pages, but the reader is cued to logon to a website, enter codes, view videos and crack codes, thus becoming a participant in the story.

It's an interesting concept and a challenge for the traditional writer to consider. Will it be successful? In my opinion, as long as the reader has to physically leave the comfort of their chair/bed/hammock or whatever, no. But we are fast approaching an age where all these sources of content will soon be available all at once and from a single device. I think stories where the reader (soon to become "audience participant") can seemlessly shift between the active experience of reading and the passive experience of watching/listening, while also enjoying a little bit of both in interactive ways too, will become more popular.

Why is this happening?

I don't think this has anything to do with shorter attention spans or being bombarded with information from a hundred different sources all at once, or sensory overload. I think it's only natural to want to experience things more fully. And if a story can be experienced more fully (which is not to say totally passively, as films do), then it will succeed.

What does this mean to the author of next generation stories?

Well, first and foremost, I don't think it has to mean anything to any one author. As I said before, traditional books will be around for a long, long time. But they will compete with mixed media going forward. I think authors of children's lit content should keep all this in mind. Writers should think about whether and how they should access these new media to assist them in telling their stories, whether through image, video, audio or whatever comes next (olfactory?). Do you see an opportunity to turn your novel into a mixed novel/GN or tie-in the internet for expanded experiences?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Before You Query - Epilogue

Apparently my checklist on querying was a huge internet sensation (I even found a rapper reading it on YouTube, but I seem to have lost the link. Hem).

Anyway, found this post at GotYA (WHAT JANET REID IS REALLY THINKING: TOP FIVE REASONS (THERE ARE MORE) WHY JANET AND HER AGENT-POSSE-FRIENDS TURNED YOU DOWN) and thought it was priceless, a perfect antithesis to my post.


Saturday, May 15, 2010

Weekly Rejection Roundup

A so-so week. No snail mail or ejections, but I marked off two subs as soft rejections based on the "No word means no interest" policy of those houses. Won't list all the numbers, as there's been so little change.

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

Took a -0.2 drop due to expiration of two subs, but a +0.1 raise as I figured out what was tying me up with my WIP.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Before You Query - A Checklist

Anyone who’s done a fair amount of submitting is guilty of sending a query out to an agent or editor misaddressed, poorly targeted, lacking one thing or another... whatever. Blame it on cutting-and-pasting. Blame it on being bleary-eyed. Blame it on swine flu. It happens. It sucks. Get over it.

So what are you going to do to make sure you minimize future mistakes?

Okay, first off, I’m not even going to attempt to distinguish what makes a well-written query and what makes a crappily-written one. There are ample examples of both floating around the internet by people better qualified to write and crit them and, besides, a lot really depends on what you’re submitting and to whom. But while writing a good query letter is certainly an art form, it is also a matter of skill and discipline. And that’s where I think I might help. All it takes is a simple, reliable quality control mechanism, and what better than the checklist?

In this sample QL/CL (query and cover letters share some basic “manufacturing” attributes that allow the same QA principles to apply to both), I’ve highlighted the problematic areas (click image for larger version). Use the checklist to ensure your QL/CL doesn’t fall victim to “rookie” and other careless mistakes.

1. Are you using plain white 8.5"x11" paper?

No colored or gilded or handmade paper and envelopes.
If you have pre-printed letterhead, make sure it’s professional. Fancy or gimmicky won’t float you to the top of the slush pile, and it may even get your sub thrown away without consideration. Also, do not include bribes, money, fruit baskets or anything other than your manuscript pages and SASE (if consistent with submission instructions).
And as regards envelopes, the general rule is if you’re sending less than four sheets (including the CL/QL), it’s acceptable to bi-/tri-fold and send in a smaller envelope; if four or more sheets, send unfolded (either in an envelope or box).

2. Did you include your real name, address and date?

No pennames (you may get away with it if you’re already published and established under that identity, but then again, if you are, then this checklist isn’t for you anyway).

3. Are you targeting your submission?

If you’re subbing to agency, you absolutely must target your letter to a specific agent. “Ms. Agent” or “Mr. Agent” won’t cut it. If you’re subbing to a publisher, unless you have prior dealings with a specific individual or public knowledge that said individual is accepting submissions (for example, if published in SCBWI Bulletin or PW, etc.), it probably is better to send to “Editor” or some variation thereof.

4. Did you explain why you’re writing them?

A simple head’s-up saying this is a query, the type of submission and title of your work is critical.

5. Are you addressing appropriately?

As with #3, above, make sure you’re addressing the right person, using the right gender titles. In this day-and-age of cut-and-paste, it’s easy to make a mistake. Use “Dear Mr.” and “Dear Ms.” rather than “Dear Firstname.” And never “Hey X” or some other such silliness. Be respectful. This is a business letter. If you don’t know the specific name at a publisher, just address “Dear Editor.” It’ll get to wherever it’s supposed to go.

6. Have you customized your submission?

You’re sending your work to this particular agency/publisher for a reason, aren’t you? If not, just give yourself a big “R.” So, if you are, tell them why. Maybe it’s the type of clients they take on, or the titles they publish. Whatever the reason, it has to be relevant. You want to connect; you want your work to connect. One without the other won’t cut it.

7. Are you providing the basic information about your submission upfront?

Repeat the title (or a keyword of it, if it’s long), estimate your word-count (just use the word count feature in your word processing program and round to the nearest thousand for longer works), and indicate the genre. Oh, and it damn well better be complete and polished. Anything less and you’re just embarrassing yourself.

8. Have you made your pitch?

Only thing I have to say is, make your summary brief. Your QL/CL should be about a single page. You don’t have to include every detail, just enough to hook your targeted audience. Note: synopses are extended summaries and can extend for several pages, but are often separate from the QL/CL. This is not the place to explain why you wrote the piece or provide an analysis of it.

9. Is your bio relevant?

What makes you qualified to write the work? What previous related experience do you have? Have you published in this or closely related genres? Do not, dear god, say that your kids or neighbors or dog loved your work. You’re just insulting the person you’re addressing your letter.

10. Are you including all the necessary materials?

If they ask for three chapters, send them three chapters. If they ask for ten pages, send ten pages. My only caveat to this is when thirty or more pages are requested. In these cases, I would try to send as close to the requested number of pages while avoiding cutting scenes and chapters off. If your chapter ends on page 32, send the extra few pages. If fifty pages are requested but your chapters end on pages 46 and 57, either send 46 or find an appropriate place to cut in the middle of the next chapter.
As far as SASE’s go, include when requested with the appropriate amount of postage and make sure it’s addressed to you, not the agency/publisher.

11. Close with respect.

I think this explains itself.


Recheck, recheck, recheck. And then, after you've rechecked, recheck again.

Nuff said.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Weekly Rejection Roundup

Happy Mother's Day!

A good week, all in all. Here's the tally:

Total manuscripts out: 47
Unique PBs: 21
> New subs this week: 4
Unique MG/YA: 2
> New subs this week: 1

Total rejections: 2
Form: 2
Personal: 0*
> Positive: 0
> Negative: 0
* meaning anything that directly references my submission by more than title

Total requests: 3
Partials: 2
Fulls: 1 (YA)

Mood Meter (on a scale of -5 to +5 with -5 being downright rotten and +5 being ecstatic): 3.3

Change from last week: +0.1

Feel like I'm gaining momentum.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Everything I Know About Writing, I Learned in Kindergarten

Here's a challenge: write a story in 600 words or less, one that'll make me laugh or cry (or, even better, make me do both in quick succession). One with fully developed characters, a mature plot and a complete story arc. And then make it the kind of story I'll want to read six dozen times in as many nights, laughing or crying each and every time.

That's what makes writing a good children's picture book so challenging.

It's also what has helped me become a better novelist. No writer agonizes over every single word - not just the meaning and appropriateness of the word, but the sound of the word as well - as the writer of the successful picture book. No author is so attuned to the melody of a story, the tightness of the plot, the bare essentials-yet-completeness of the characters.

Now, to be honest, I don't give my novels the same level of scrutiny as I do my picture book manuscripts. It would be impossible to finish anything if I did. But the habits I learned in writing picture books have conditioned me to more readily recognize weaknesses in my longer works, to listen to the sounds of the language, to write tightly.

Writing is, to mangle a phrase, ten percent inspiration and ninety percent constipation. We all know how hard it is to produce good writing. For me, developing the skills and habits to write a good picture book has helped (ahem) loosen the process of writing novels.

And if you don't believe me that shorter is harder, then why is it so damn difficult to synopsize your novel in just a few pithy sentences? Well, PBs are pretty much like that.