Friday, October 17, 2014

Blargh!

I just looked at my blog. (Finally!) And saw that it has been exactly two months to the day since I posted last. Two whole months! Now, I know I'm no regular blogger but SHEESH! At least I have been keeping up my blogging duties at the Sub It Club blog. Over the past two months I've blogged about how important it is to follow submission guidelines as well as Second Guessing Your Email Submission which led me to a follow-up post; the Submission Double Check Checklist. And, of course, I rounded up the latest writing contests in the monthly Contest Roundup.

Imagine hundreds of pounds of this!
Honestly, now that I look at it I feel pretty amazed that I got that much blogging done. The past few months have been full of garlic for me. Garlic harvest. Garlic cleaning. Garlic shipping. Garlic planting. I won't bore you with the seemingly endless details of what must be done. Just suffice it to say that it all happens at around the same time. And incase you didn't know, my husband and I grow a lot of garlic. A LOT. Hundreds and hundreds of pounds. 16 varieties and counting. And we do most all of the work ourselves. It's good though. This year has been great! We planted twice as much garlic this fall in preparation for next year. I'm just trying to not worry about the weeding next spring. (It's all done by hand.) 

I just like this picture. It's Siberian Hardneck garlic, incase you're wondering.

And hey, we got our new office finished just in time for garlic shipping. I'm thinking I'll set up a cozy corner and make a sweet writing spot this winter.

I've always wanted an office. *happy sigh*
Even though there’s been a lot of work to do and kids’ stuff to take care of (Oh sports how I did not miss thee over the summer!) I still, of course, managed to squeak in some writing here and there. Revisions. Check. New manuscripts started. Check. No matter how busy or tired I am, I always make time for at least a bit of writing! Not every day, but most days. And I always make the time for Sub it Club and consulting and with writers and doing critiques because it’s something I love to do! Here’s hoping that I’ll get back to posting at least a few blog posts a month on this blog again soon. I’m itching to add to the Monster List of Picture Book Agents, that’s for sure. And if you have any picture book or submission questions, send them my way and I’ll try to answer them in a post. I’m happy to help when I can.

Here’s to relaxing, writing-filled days! But for now, I've got garlic that I need to go out and fertilize and mulch.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Writing a Picture Book? Don’t Do These Things

A while back I posted Querying a Picture Book? Don't Do These Things because I get a lot of picture books submissions from people who *gasp* apparently don't do their research. (As most of you reading know, I am not an agent or a publisher.) Many times these people submitting their work to me send their manuscripts as well. I see a lot of common mistakes in those too. 

You have got to have a strong manuscript to compete in today's market! And good format? It's a must in my opinion. Here are some things to think about along with some big no no's when it comes to picture book manuscripts:
  • Don’t write in rhyme--unless you have worked extremely hard at it and are very good at it. No, I don’t mean that you just think you are good at it. You have studied the rules of rhyme. You have gotten critiques. You are all Corey Rosen Schwartz and YOU KNOW RHYME like a boss! (Check out The Meter Maids for some great rhyming advice.)
  • Do not over describe things. You need to leave room for the illustrations. Pictures are at least half of the story in picture books.
  • Don't overuse adverbs and adjectives. 
  • Do not number what you see as the pages of your book within your manuscript.That's great while you're figuring out your page turns. (You can dummy like this. Or like this.) Editors and agents who work in picture books can see where the page turns will be if you have done a good job. Use standard manuscript format.
  • Do not use colored ink! No, not even to show where there are different speakers. Again, if you have done your job well, those you are querying will be able to follow the story perfectly fine in black and white.
  • Don’t be didactic. If you don’t know what that word means, no, you are not ready to query.
  • Do not write “to be continued” and list other manuscripts at the bottom of your manuscript. That’s just silly. You want the reader to focus on the manuscript they have right there, right now in front of them. You sell that one and you’ll have the opportunity to talk about more.
  • Don't write THE END at the end of the story. It is obviously the end as the story has, um, ended.
  • Don’t put a copyright on the manuscript. Once you write something down it is automatically copyrighted. Doing so just makes you look like an amateur.
And for heaven’s sake, proofread your manuscript. Revise. Edit. It makes your writing better. Really. It does.

Any questions? Or other things you've seen in manuscripts that are no no's? I'm sure there are more things we could add to the list!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Agent John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary Talks Picture Books

Not too long ago I featured John Cusick of Greenhouse Literary Agency on the Monster List of Picture Book Agents. He's an agent at Greenhouse Literary Agency representing Young Adult, Middle Grade, and of course, picture books. 

Unfortunately, finding picture book specific information when trying to make an informed decision whether or not your work might be right for an agent can be tough. While I was putting together John's post, I had picture book-centric questions that I wondered about. I asked John if he might answer them. Fortunately for us, John was happy to. 

So, my lucky people on the agent hunt, read on to find out what John is looking for when it comes to picture books, learn about his agenting style, and more. If he sounds like he might be a good match for you and your work, give him a try. John is a super nice person, and that's the best kind to work with!

Why do you choose to represent picture book authors?

I love picture books. They’re deceptively simple and deeply sophisticated. Part prose, part poetry, they distill story and character down to their essential elements. And they’re fun! My first week in publishing I saw an editor and an agent leave a party to gush over galleys for a new picture book they’d both worked on. They were so excited, like little kids. And I thought “yep, this is what I want to do.”
What do you look for in a client?
I’m looking for someone who loves to write and create, who is eager to work on many projects, and many different kinds of projects. An author with a single book-of-their-heart who will never write another story probably isn’t the best fit for me. I’m looking for career-clients interested in growing and developing over time.
How would you describe your agenting style?
I’m a very editorial agent. I like working creatively with my clients, from the idea stage to line-level tweaks. I’m also very communicative. I like chatting with my folks by phone, email, text, whatever. I also hope to pair authors with the perfect editor. When an editor and a client totally hit it off, creatively and personally, I know I’ve done my job. Finally, when I say I want career-clients, that’s another way of saying I like to manage and develop the trajectory of an author’s career, to help build their audience and hone their craft from book to book.
If you take on a client because of their mass market appeal picture books, would you also represent other things they wrote if they had merit?
Absolutely. If a client writes or illustrates in multiple mediums or markets, all the better! Some of my clients illustrate as well as maintaining careers in character design and commercial artwork. I have clients that write picture books as well as middle-grade and y.a. Versatility is never a bad thing.
What types of stories do you see a place for in today’s picture book market?
Stories with a universal theme told in a fresh way. A picture book with a clever concept will (usually) only go so far without a deeper conflict, some pain or tension that the reader can relate to and has experienced. At the same time, a familiar story, for example, “a child’s first day of school,” might be relatable, but will likely feel too generic to stand out in our competitive marketplace. It has to be both familiar yet fresh.
In general, how much revision do you do with clients to get their picture books submission ready?
It varies, but often a client and I will go through several revisions before I send a project to editors. Those revisions might include story level changes, the arrangement of spreads (if the client is an illustrator or author/illustrator) and line edits.
What are some of the elements you think a picture book needs to be successful?
I think stringent prose is essential. Picture book texts are so short— typically fewer than 800 words— that every syllable counts. Humor goes a long way as well. Not every picture book must be funny, but I’m personally drawn to clever and quirky styles, and I think many editors are as well. Finally, to me, picture books need tension— a conflict our protagonist solves for himself or herself (without Mom and Dad sweeping in to save the day).
What types of picture books are you not looking to represent?
I’m very picky about rhyming picture books, which I think are difficult to do well. When I see a rhyming text, my first question is, “What is the rhyme adding to the story?” Are the rhymes interesting? Is the meter engaging? If not, I may ask the author whether the story might be stronger if told in straight prose. I don’t represent spiritual or denominational projects. I’m all for a positive message, but story and character come first. I typically don’t represent what I call “lovey-dovey” picture books, where focus is how much or in what way a mother loves a child or vise-versa. There are some beautiful examples of these already on bookshelves, but these aren’t what I’m looking for, personally.
What do you like to see in a query letter? Do you have any submission pet peeves?
When I read a query, I’m looking for a brief description of your project: who is the main character, what is the conflict? I’m also looking for a bit about you, your background, and publishing history (if any).
A query is a brief, professional letter between you and a potential future business partner. So avoid gimmicks or whacky styles in the hopes of standing out. Never write your query in the voice of your protagonist. Let your creativity and originality shine through in your writing; let your query be simple and to-the-point.
Are there common mistakes you see in picture book submissions in particular?
Texts that are too long (over 800 words), poorly done rhyme and meter, overly-familiar stories without fresh twists (monsters under the bed, first day of school), and unprofessional illustrations are the most common reasons I reject picture books.
The Greenhouse Literary website says to allow up to 6 weeks for a response and if you haven’t got back by then, email the agent again. Do you send out many personal rejections? What does a form rejection letter mean to you?
I send out very few personal rejection letters. If I’d like to see a revision, I’ll ask for one specifically. However, I’m usually open to future projects. If you get a no the first time, please do query again. That’s a good way to develop a relationship with an agent. We like to see authors and illustrators developing with each new project. Sometimes the second or third try is the one that wins me over.
What picture book authors do you represent? Have any upcoming projects you can share with us?
I represent several authors, illustrators, and author illustrators, including Julie Bayless, and Lisa Marnell. Vin Vogel’s debut picture book THE THING ABOUT YETIS will be published by Dial early next year; Vin is also illustrating Brooklyn kiddie-rocker David Weinstone’s debut picture book, MUSIC CLASS TODAY, coming from Farrar, Straus, Giroux.

A huge THANK YOU to John for the wonderful interview! To learn more about John, be sure to check out his listing on the Monster List of Picture Book Agents. You'll find lots of great links for further research. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Lowdown on Cover and Query Letters

Alayne Kay Christian asked me to write a post about query and cover letters as part of the Sub Six All About Submissions series, and I was happy to oblige! I did my best to cover it all in my post: the difference between a cover and a query letter, the main parts, the format, etc. If you're new to writing queries and are figuring out how to write that important letter that introduces your work or just want a refresher, go check out my post- Create a Great Introduction: Cover and Query Letters. Alayne has added some great links for further study as well.

In my post I linked to the Query Letters that Worked at Sub it Club for reference because I know that when I was figuring out how to write queries it really helped me to look at successful queries. The first one listed when you click on the link is by picture book author Rebecca Colby. She went above and beyond and showed how she progressed with query letters, what she did wrong, then breaks down the query she used to obtain her agent and showed us what she did right. It is so helpful! I just love the generosity of writers in the kidlit world. Definitely check it out to figure out what you are saying with your query!


Sunday, June 29, 2014

Formatting Picture Books

When you're ready to send your picture book out on submission, using the correct format is important. There are standards you need to follow, although things can vary a bit. Here's how I format mine:
  • Standard 8 1/2 x 11" paper size
  • Set margins to 1 to 1 1/2 inches
  • Times New Roman 12 point font
  • Black ink only
Single Space for:
  • Header - 1st page, left:
Name
Street Address
City, State, Zip Code
Phone number
Email address
  •  Header - 1st page, right
Word count: (enter number)
  • Drop down 14 spaces (you  generally want do be about halfway down the page)
  • Enter Title
  • Drop down two spaces and put by (so there is one space between Title and by)
  • Drop down another two spaces and put your name
  • Drop down four spaces
Switch to double spacing
  • Begin manuscript
You want your manuscript in paragraph form. Don't break it up into published book pages as you see them. Agents and Editors who know picture books have a keen eye for page turns and illustratable images.

Header for the rest of the manuscript pages (use the option for different first page when formatting your header)
  • Left - In Italics Last Name/Manuscript Title 
  • Right - Page Number (also in italics, use the option for page numbering and it will automatically put the correct number on your page)
That's it! Pretty simple once you get the hang of it. You could even get all fancy and make yourself a template if you wanted to.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Monster List of Picture Book Agents - John Cusick of The Greenhouse Literary Agency

John Cusick is an agent at The Greenhouse Literary Agency where he joined in 2013. Before that he was an agent at Scott Treimel NY. He's also the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY.

John's current agency is a great one. Headed up by veteran agent Sarah Davies, the transatlantic agency has a fantastic approach to agenting. They also host the yearly Greenhouse Funny Prize.You can read what Greenhouse Literary strives to offer their clients: here.

John has kindly put a list of his interviews on his blog.

Some of the best picture book centric info I could find was in this interview at SCBWI Squam Lake Writing Retreat where John said, "I’ve also just opened to picture book submissions, so the right pithy, character-driven story is high on my wish-list." 

He said he sees too many queries about "the power of imagination" in this super informative Query. Sign. Submit. interview at I Write for Apples.

And he has some great advice in his interview at Kathy Teaman's blog.

John is pretty active on Twitter @johnmcusick

You can read some of John's response times on Querytracker.

John Cusick represents:
Chana Stiefel, her picture book DADDY DEPOT will be published by Feiwel & Friends in 2016.
Vin Vogel whose debut picture book THE THING ABOUT YETIS is scheduled to be published by Dial BFYR in 2015.

Please see the submission guidelines at Greenhouse Literary if you are interested in submitting. At the time of this posting John's submission guidelines at Publisher's Marketplace look like they need to be updated (I always go with the agency page's guidelines!) but his #1 submission requirement is always true: "Make sure your work is absolutely as good as you can make it. Revise, critique (repeat, repeat) before sending. Don’t waste your opportunity!"


This post is part of the Monster List of Picture Book Agents. If you have any changes that you think should be made to this listing, please contact me or leave them in the comments. Thanks!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Querying a Picture Book? Don’t Do These Things

It may come as a shock to you, but I get a lot of queries for picture books. It certainly comes as a shock to me! I’m not an agent or an editor and I think that is pretty clear on my blogs and all of the social media I do. I like to think that people work on their writing ad nauseam to make it the very best they can before submitting. I also like to think that people do their research and make the very best decisions they can when deciding who to send to, then work hard to put together a great query letter. I have learned firsthand that this is unfortunately not the case.

When you get a lot of query letters you start to see some common mistakes. Oh I have seen some doosies! For some of you these types of things in a query may be hard to believe, but they definitely happen. A lot. For those of you learning how to make you query the best it can be, here are some things you want to avoid:
  • Do not send queries out to random addresses. Study the people you want to query. Make sure they are an agent or editor who works with books in the genre you have written. Also make sure they are accepting queries. Check their submission guidelines and follow them! They are there to help you.
  • Do not address your query Dear Agent. It is pretty easy to learn about agents online (my Monster List of Picture Book Agents is a good place for picture book writers to start). Use the standard Dear Mr./Ms. greeting along with the person's last name. This goes for when querying editors at publishing houses as well although I will say that every once in a while it can be difficult to find out who any of the editors are at a publishing house. But, this is few and far between. In the rare case that you have exhausted all of the research outlets and have found nothing, it is okay to use Dear Editor. Or when a publishing house specifies to use that, which I have seen as well.
  • Do not talk about what your illustrations or character will look like. Once you sell a manuscript, if you are not the illustrator, you generally have no say in this matter. The publishing company will pair the manuscript with an illustrator they believe will best bring the story to light. The illustrator is a partner in your book. They get to have their own creative input into the story. In your query, showing what your story is about with a good hook and description of your book is the way to make readers see the story in their mind.
  • Do not talk about how many books in the series you have written, or plan to write, and make yourself sound like a starry-eyed dreamer who doesn’t know what they’re talking about. The first book needs to be published…first. Focusing on the one story is very often the best way to go. Of course, mentioning that there is series potential is okay, if you feel strongly about it. Some non-fiction books are published in series so there are definitely exceptions to this rule. Do your homework, learn about the different types of children’s books that are published, by who, and how. It will go a long way when figuring out how to query something when you think it has series potential. But keep in mind, many picture books that have gone on to become series came from that one great first book.
  • Do not talk about having stuffed animals and accessories to go along with the book, or films or television series that will stem from it. When you sell a manuscript to a publishing house they want the book, first and foremost. Agents know that too. Other things will come later, in the rare case that they come at all.
  • Do not tell the person you are querying that this is the first book you have written. You don’t want them to roll their eyes and think “obviously!”
  • Don’t talk about other things you have written that have not gotten published. The mere fact that you have written them doesn’t make them good. If you have had something published give the title, publisher, and date of publication. Hiding your credentials in a wishy-washy statement like I have had a piece published in a magazine isn’t working in your favor.
  • Do not tell the person you are querying that you want the book to be well done or professional. They are professionals. If you are querying them they can only assume that you have researched the sort of product they put out and like what they do. Trust in that, otherwise you are just being insulting.

Of course, there is a time you can ask questions and go over things like whether or not your book will be published as a hardcover or softcover(for editors), or what the submission strategy will be for the book(for agents) and you can decide whether or not to sign the contract based on the responses. But don’t ask these things before you have an offer. You aren’t going to get an answer.

Most picture book submissions come along with the manuscript as well. I will post about some of the common mistakes I see in picture book manuscript submissions soon!