Friday, February 27, 2009

Blogger of the Week:
Fiona Bayrock (Books and 'Rocks)...

Today nonfiction writer Fiona Bayrock talks about her blog, Books and 'Rocks--along with some other great blogs maintained by nonfiction authors--and offers her advice to others hitting the blogosphere.

You started your blog Books and 'Rocks in 2007. What prompted you to dive into the blogosphere at that point?

I had thoroughly enjoyed the peek-into-the-process blogs of authors such as Loree Griffin Burns and Chris Barton, and was energized by the breadth and depth of discussion amongst blogging children's lit enthusiasts. The Kidlitosphere was springing into being about then, too. It was an exciting time, and I wanted to add my voice to the mix.

I could also see how a blog could serve as low-key promotion for my work, increasing my name recognition. But, first and foremost, Books and 'Rocks was to be a vehicle for shining a light on books and authors I thought were exceptional, as well as give me a place to talk about writing, reading, publishing, and literacy. Food for my brain.

What kind of posts will readers find on Books and 'Rocks. What would you say is your purpose or philosophy behind blogging? What do you hope to accomplish?

I subtitled the blog as "The meanderings and musings of a children's book author as she ponders the writing life, the biz, the good books she's read lately, and how all that fits into her family, the 'Rocks.", which I thought would let me talk about pretty much anything to do with family and books. And it does, although I generally keep things tightly focused on writing and publishing, with an emphasis on nonfiction for kids, since that's my main writing passion and covers most of the work I do. Within the bigger picture, I hope that in some small way I'm helping to nudge children's nonfiction into the legitimacy zone other genres enjoy.

Types of posts? All over the map. I post book talks whenever I find a new fave, I point to other blogs when their posts are thought-provoking or tickle my funny bone, and I report award news, as well as regular updates and news about my writing and publishing journey. Readers will also find light musings such as my paper clip conspiracy theory, the fortune cookie that told me I had a way with words and should consider writing a book(!), or my concern about people searching Amazon for my book using an ampersand instead of "and". I keep things casual and conversational, as though chatting with a friend over coffee.

I haven't come across a lot of blogs by nonfiction writers--am I missing them? Are there others you visit regularly?

Amazingly, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of us out there. In addition to Loree and Chris, the nonfiction writers I follow regularly include: Marc Aronson, Elizabeth Partridge, Mary Bowman-Kruhm, Peggy Thomas, and I.N.K. - Interesting Nonfiction for Kids (group blog).
Process intrigues me. Reading these blogs is like getting a glimpse through studio windows.

Also blogging, but with a lighter nonfiction touch, are children's nonfiction authors Lizann Flatt, Tanya Lee Stone, Deborah Hodge, Tanya Kyi, and Wendie Old. I'm sure that's not a complete list, so, Alice's dear readers, if you've got links, send 'em my way.

Tell my readers a little about the books you've written. Any recent projects we should know about?

All science and nature books so far, always with a twist or coming at the topic from a different angle. I follow my curiosity, looking for new connections and new ways to understand why things are the way they are. Passion is contagious. I try to pass it on in my books and magazine articles.

My latest project—thanksforasking!—was a particularly fun one to write. Just out from Charlesbridge, Bubble Homes and Fish Farts is a nonfiction picture book about the amazing ways animals use bubbles (to live in, keep warm, ride, talk, and even shoot hoops). Carolyn Conahan, the staff artist for Cricket Magazine, illustrated the book in beautiful watercolor paintings, capturing the science with a touch of whimsy—a perfect match to my text. We're excited about the reception it's received so far. It was named a Junior Library Guild Selection and Kirkus called it "a volume that's sure to rise to the top". Squee!

What's your advice for new bloggers, particularly other nonfiction writers?

You can't be all things to all people. Know why you're blogging and who your audience is, and then choose your content accordingly. Be fresh, genuine, and original. Be you. All promotion all the time is a turnoff; a sprinkle here and there is fine. Not everyone is cut out to blog, but if it's something that interests you, go for it. Blogging can be a great way to think deeper, get involved, and network. I've heard from several sources that there is much interest in behind-the-scenes stories about how authors work and the journey—warts and all—that a project goes through to become a final book. For nonfiction, that process has lots of interesting nooks and crannies to explore. And because there are so few nonfiction writers blogging, we're still a bit of a novelty...the demand is there.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

For Agents: Some Dos and Don’ts
A Guest Post by Hope Vestergaard...

This is the second of two guest posts by author Hope Vestergaard. In yesterday's post, Hope offered a list of Dos and Dont's for Editors. Today she directs her advice to agents.

  • Do have a website, however minimal. If you don’t have one, we will be forced to google you and glean information from random sources. Critical info: what genres you represent, any you hate; selected projects you represented; submission directions; timelines for a response; how editorial an approach you take.
  • Do stick to the same submission policies mentioned below for editors: be timely, be clear, be honest. If you offer editorial input, please distinguish between big picture and close-up feedback. If you employ first readers and assistants, let us know that. Sharing manuscripts is a relatively intimate endeavor. Imagine going to your personal physician, donning your gown and having three interns join the exam, unannounced. It is comforting to know who will be in the room, whether for a physical exam or a manuscript evaluation.
  • If you blog, do so with tact. Are you promoting yourself or your clients? Are you promoting your clients equally? Include a FAQ to which you can direct newbie questions, thereby resisting the urge for snarky remarks.
  • Don’t leave your clients hanging. There’s probably a good reason you haven’t gotten back to us, but we can’t read your mind. Acknowledge receipt of manuscripts with a brief note and a ballpark of when we should hear from you again. Respond to regular questions within a day or two, even if just to say, “I will look into this and get back to you ____.” Call us occasionally just to touch base and remind us that we are on your horizon even if we don’t currently have anything “hot.”
  • Do tell us if you just aren’t excited about something we submit to you. Don’t hope we’ll forget about it. Say it’s not your favorite and steer us in the direction of something you think we’ll be more effective with.
  • Don’t tell tales out of school. When you give a speech and mention that obnoxious client who did this annoying thing that one time, we will figure out who it was. When you gossip with us about other clients, we may enjoy that “chosen one” sensation in the moment, but later on, we’ll wonder what you’re saying about us to others.
  • Do help us know where to put our marketing efforts. Help us make the decision whether or not to hire a publicist. Put in a good word with conference planners if you know we’re a good speaker. Let the PR people you talk to know how energetic and personable we are. Likewise, if you know that public speaking is not our strength, help us be okay with that.
  • Do let us know what we’re doing well. If you think we’re really strong in one genre, let us know. If you appreciate our professionalism or patience, let us know. If you think we have a really good humorous YA novel in our future, let us know. We are like dogs: loyal, attentive, and eager to please. Throw us a bone!
Careful readers will note that I make no pleas for editors and agents to give writers more/more detailed feedback in rejections. They simply don’t have time to do this for writers with whom they don’t have an existing relationship. Editor and author Mark McVeigh tells conferees that it’s not an editor’s job to teach writers how to write. This is a critical point many aspiring writers miss. The slush pile is not a classroom. The slush pile is merely a long line for entrance into the publishing arena. If you stand in that long line with nothing but a crappy manuscript and entitled attitude, you have surely earned the disappointment you’ll feel when you are inevitably turned away at the door.


I imagine that some editors and agents may be spluttering, right about now, that I obviously don’t know how bad you have it, or how awful some of the slush is, or what it’s like to be inundated with inappropriate submissions. Sadly, I have an idea! The nincompoops who fire off typo-ridden, poorly thought-out queries to umpteen editors and agents at once also target writers. Attempts to reach these folks with sarcastic, condescending feedback are misguided. The people who need to hear those things don’t recognize their own blunders and don’t seek information about improving their craft and professionalism.

On the other hand, the well-intentioned people who make innocent newbie mistakes learn very quickly when they find good advice on respectful, professional blogs such as this one, or Editorial Anonymous, or Nathan Bransford’s blog, just to name a few.

Dear industry insiders: please don’t pander to the lowest common denominator. True writers are ready to learn! We want to succeed. We are happy to treat you with the professional courtesy you deserve. We’re not asking for much – just mutual respect.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

For Editors: Some Dos and Don’ts
A Guest Post by Hope Vestergaard...

This is the first of two guest posts by author Hope Vestergaard. Stop back tomorrow for her Dos and Don'ts for Agents.

As an aspiring writer, I gobbled up any information about publishing that I could get my hands on. How to behave at conferences. How to query agents. The pros and cons of multiple submissions. And so it went. At some point, I became aware of a sarcastic, condescending tone many “helpful” sources took. I don’t know if my perspective shifted with experience, or if our culture (and the industry) just grew snarkier. I quickly wearied of so many don’ts.

Now writers were not only responsible for writing quality books, we were also responsible for marketing them. We weren’t supposed to annoy booksellers, reviewers, or powers that be in promotional venues, but we were supposed to hawk our book, and hard. School visits! Blogs! Conferences! Book Festivals! We were supposed to bend over backward for promotional opportunities, and we were generally expected to foot the bill.

Informed that the success of our books rests squarely on our shoulders, many writers seek out new venues and contacts, only to be told by our publishers, “Let us decide where you should direct your efforts.” And, even more maddeningly: “We put our resources behind books we expect to do well.” Isn’t that a chicken-or-egg situation? It seems publishers want it both ways: they maintain control of a book’s promotion, but the author retains total responsibility for its failure. It’s an endless game of chasing your own tail, if an author is to believe much of the advice proffered by insider sources.

I have a few books under my belt, and have gotten to know enough editors, agents, and seasoned authors that I feel comfortable vetting conflicting advice. But I still wonder about this wacky balance of power. One might get the impression that everyone in the industry is doing writers a favor. I wouldn’t swing to the other extreme and argue writers drive the whole business, but I do think the relationship should be framed as a symbiosis: all parties benefit from the cooperative arrangement. In the interest of a little more equity, I’ve compiled a list of Dos and Don’ts for those folks who are so fond of telling writers where we fall down on the job:

  • Do give guidelines, and stick to them. If you say your response time is six weeks, find a way to meet it, or give a more reasonable estimate. If you are overwhelmed with subs and decide to go with an e-mail only, “no news is bad news” non-response policy, make sure that you have an auto-responder so submitters will know that their submission was actually received.
  • Don’t take every opportunity to tell us how hard your job is. Most jobs are hard. Telling us how many submissions you get provides perspective, and telling people that you read new stuff on weekends and evenings helps writers be more patient. But leave it at that. If your job sucks so badly, please keep it to yourself or find a different job. (This is a policy I recommend for dealing with whiners of any profession, writers included.)
  • Don’t string writers along. Many editors say they take longest to respond to manuscripts about which they are ambivalent—it’s easy to say no to an inappropriate query. Give yourself a 1-2 month time limit for these limbo manuscripts. If you haven’t figured out what they need in that amount of time, the considerate thing to do is to return them to the writers with a note that says something as simple as, “I don’t think this manuscript is quite there but I’m not sure how what it needs,” or even, “Not right for our list.”
  • Do be direct with feedback. Don’t be judgmental. Consider the following real-life rejection examples:
“Your character was all over the page, and not believable. The plot was overblown and melodramatic, and the vampire thing has been done, done, done.”
“The writing could use some polish, and the storyline has been overdone.”
“This would give me nightmares. Do you really think preschoolers would want to read it?!”


“Not age-appropriate for the audience.”
Snark is funny. I employ it myself when venting with friends. I don’t snark when I am dealing with someone I’m in a position of power over, because that is disrespectful. When you feel a flash of sarcasm coming on, check yourself: Does my tone enhance this message? (as in, temper a hard thing to hear with a bit of sympathetic humor), or Will my tone make it difficult for the listener to get this very important message? as is the case when people feel picked on and defensive.
  • Do keep your authors informed of progress (or reasons for lack thereof) on their project. Negative information is better than no information. We writers have active imaginations. We can come up with all kinds of terrible explanations for delays if we’re kept in the dark, or build ourselves up for disappointment if our egos fall at that end of the spectrum. Spare us!
  • Don’t gush about your other writers and how much fun you have on the vacations you take together. Really, we can survive without this info. When you share an anecdote, ask yourself, “What feeling is this information likely to engender in my audience?” If you’ve barely been able to find time to have coffee with writer B, writer B does not want to hear about your shoe-shopping expedition with writer A. I promise.
  • Do meet your deadlines. If circumstances beyond your control make it impossible to meet your turnaround times, please let us know, and adjust your expectations for our deadlines accordingly. Writers understand that there are all kinds of wrinkles in the production process, and we can often be flexible. But please don’t expect writers to pick up the slack for everyone else.
  • Do let us know how you like to work. If you prefer phone calls over email, say so. If there is anything we can do to help you be a more effective editor – for example, limit emails to one question at a time, or title documents a certain way – by all means, we want to help.
  • Do spell out your expectations for us regarding promotion before our book comes out. The more specific you are, the more effective we can be.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Why Talking to College Students Makes Me Love My Job...

You may have seen my Twitter post on Tuesday mentioning that that evening I was going to talk to a group of college students about working in publishing. And I was a little nervous. I didn't have stage fright--I do plenty of public speaking and it's been quite awhile since I've had the urge to barf in the hallway before I go on. I don't mind getting up in front of a group.

But I'm used to talking to fully-grown-up adults, not young adults. My last experience with teens was a career day presentation at my high school a few years back which was one of my worst public speaking experience to date. There was some sleeping, much staring out the window, a bit of nail polish picking. One girl rolled her eyes at me when I answered her question. I could not wait to get out of there.

But, as a wise agent friend of mine pointed out when I asked if college students were as scary as high school students: "Nah, only the best students go on to college. That whole 'desire to learn' thing that is anyone's guess in high school."

Thank you oh wise Michael Stearns: You were right. The YAs in the college class were eager. And prepared with questions. They were all interning. They were all facing their foggy futures and wanted to hear what I and my fellow panelists had to say about our careers in the publishing world.

One asked me about being at the same company for such a long time, and if it got boring. I told her I've been at F+W for going on 18 years, but I feel like I've worked for a number of companies. There have been several owners since I've been here. I've had seven or eight bosses. And, since I started, the Internet happened. Those are all good things. Even though I may be working on the same publications year after year, the way I do things, the technology I use, my ability to connect with my audience, the co-workers I interact with--these all have changed, some dramatically. Things stay fresh. There are always new challenges on my plate. There is always something else that keeps me excited.

During times like these when I read about lay-offs on a weekly basis, it's easy to get a little down about the publishing world, a little concerned. Talking to this Xavier University class gave me perspective and reminded my why I love what I do.

At one point I gave the students my somewhat New Age-y advice: Do your best to network, keep doing what you love doing, be opened minded, and the universe will steer you in the right direction. After so many years at F+W and so many years working on CWIM and our other publications, I still feel like the universe landed me in the right place.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Our Next WD Webinar:
Self-Publishing 101...

Last Thursday I hosted my very first webinar on the basics of children's publishing. I was a little nervous about this mostly because I often feel that all technology is conspiring against me in an evil plot of some sort. Technology and I got a long fine, however, and things went smoothly. (And it was really enjoyable.) I did all the talking, but the attendees submitted a number of great questions. Among them were questions about self-publishing. It never fails --whenever I address a group a writers, there are always questions about self-publishing. Should I do it? How do I do it? What's involved? Is there a stigma? Can I get published by a traditional publisher later? I've self-published--how do I get people to buy my book?

For any of you out there with these same kinds of questions, my Publisher Jane Friedman is offering a webinar called Self-Publishing 101: Learn When to Do It and How to Do It. It will be held next Thursday, February 26th at 1 p.m. EST and runs 90 minutes.

In additional to addressing some of the questions above, Jane will also discuss popular online tools and sites that can help you self-publish, and show in real time how to use those tools. She'll give tips on evaluating publishing services, creating a book from scratch, and marketing and promotion, and also provide a checklist.

If self-publishing is something you've considered, Jane can really help demystify things for you. She's both knowledgeable and approachable (and I'm not just saying that because she's my boss). If you're embarking on self-publishing it's wise to do so with some knowledge--the $99 price tag for this webinar seems like a wise investment to make before entering into a self-publishing situation that could cost thousands.

Click here for more information on Self Publishing 101.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Blogger of the Week:
Christy Raedeke...

Oregon-based YA author Christy Raedeke is a self-proclaimed "compulsive blogger." Here she talks about starting out, why she blogs, and offers some advice to those just dipping their toes into the blogosphere. Click here to visit her blog Juvenescence (I love the name!)

Why did you start blogging?

I really started blogging about five years ago with a blog unknown to even my husband! I think blogging is a really interesting way to get your writing gears moving every morning. A year ago I started the blog Juvenescence, which gave my blogging a bit of focus. Wait, what’s less than a bit? A smidge? Okay, it’s more like a smidge of focus.

What do you blog about?

I started this blog to connect with other writers, not as a marketing tool. I try to include anecdotal information about the publishing process as I go through it and I’ve started doing interviews with debut authors, but a lot of the time I post about things that are happening in my life. Vignettes, I guess.

What advice would you offer new bloggers?

If anyone is thinking of starting a blog, I’d say go for it! It’s free and it’s incredibly easy to figure out. (It takes literally less than five minutes to set up a blog.) Blogging will quickly become a natural part of your daily writing practice. And there’s something magical about the “Publish Post” button that you click to get a new post on your blog; think of it as your daily commitment to publishing. I had no readers the first month, a handful the second, and then the growth was exponential. Stick with it. Post often, even if it’s a short one. Make friends with other bloggers—there are people I know through blogging whom I would hug like long-lost kin if I met them in person, that’s how much I love them.

Tell me about your upcoming titles with Flux.

This was my deal report from Publishers Marketplace:

Christy Raedeke’s PROPHECY OF DAYS, pitched as a YA Da Vinci Code relating to the Mayan calendar which mysteriously ends in 2012, in which a teen, with the help of a gorgeous Scottish lad, must figure out her role in a cryptic prophecy while trying to outwit a secret society that will stop at nothing to control her, to Andrew Karre at Flux, in a two-book deal, for publication in Summer 2010, by Laura Rennert at Andrea Brown Literary Agency (North America).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

More News on the HarperCollins Restructure...

Publishers Weekly offers more news on regarding Harper's children's imprints:

HarperCollins is keeping the fledgling Walden Pond Press imprint; Jordan Brown, who joined HC in 2008, will continue to focus on it as it prepares to launch in winter 2010. Brown, who was reporting to Bowen, will now report to Katherine Tegen, who continues to lead her own imprint. The company is also keeping its new Balzer & Bray children's imprint, which is set to debut this fall.

In a related cost-saving move, the children’s division will move from its location on Sixth Avenue in New York City to HC’s headquarters on East 53rd Street.

Here's the link to the full piece on PW. No word on when the move will happen, but if I hear anything, I'll post the information. It's nice to see that a couple of other new imprints are still going forward.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Layoffs at HarperCollins Include Bowen:
Company Memos Up on Gawker...

Layoffs continue in the publishing world and today's victims are employees of HarperCollins. According to company memos that showed up on Gawker, cuts include the Bowen Press imprint and Publisher Brenda Bowen is leaving the company.

Click here to read the post.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Stephen King on Rowling and Meyer...

In case you haven't heard (or read), our pal Stephen King has been flapping his gums with USA Weekend and recently had this to say about J.K. Rowling and Stephenie Meyer:

"Both Rowling and Meyer, they’re speaking directly to young people. ... The real difference is that Jo Rowling is a terrific writer and Stephenie Meyer can’t write worth a darn. She’s not very good."
King went on to talk about other terribly successful terrible writers, as well as a few he admires.

There's always a bit of backlash of what's wildly popular (in the book world and otherwise). There sure was a lot of Rowling backlash. (I remember lots of talk about her over-adverb-ing.) King has had his share of this sort of thing as well. But I wonder why he would bother criticizing Meyer. Trashing the current queen of bestsellerdom is certainly a good way to get his name all over the blogosphere, but Stephen King doesn't exactly need the publicity, as he's just helped launched the new Amazon Kindle.

I have never read a book by Rowling, Meyer or King so I can't offer an opinion on their prose. I can offer an opinion on King's statement: I think it's kinda mean.

While we're on a Twilight-related subject. Check out my new t-shirt (which is not mean--just funny):

Friday, February 06, 2009

I Took the Week Off...

You may have noticed my lack of posts this week. After doing the SCBWI conference live blog I was blogged out. My fingertips were sore (really). I was back in the office on Wednesday, and I've spent the last few days catching up on my email and just generally catching up after lots of days out of the office, both for my New York trip and for a few snows days just prior.

Please stop back Monday. I'll have plenty to talk about next week...

P.S. I still have lots of photos to add to the SCBWI NY conference blog, so check that out on Monday as well!