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!

P.S. - I have a fabulous picture book centric interview coming with an amazing agent. Here's a clue: he writes YA, belongs to a great agency that holds a yearly contest, and I featured him on the monster list. Will post soon!

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:
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!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

An Update to the Monster List!

A big THANK YOU to agent Erica Rand Silverman of Sterling Lord Literistic who was kind enough to email me a list of the picture book authors and illustrators she represents. I have added them to her Monster List of Picture Book Agents listing. If you're on the search for an agent be sure to go check out Erica's updated listing. Knowing who an agent represents can help you get a feel for the type of work they like which helps you sub well.

Speaking of submitting your work well, I also did a post today about Finding Critique Partners over at the Sub It Club blog. I've got some advice along with loads of great links where you can find them no matter what genre you write in. There's no excuse for not getting your work critiqued and revising before you send it out on submission!

Alright, now I'd better get back to revising. One of these days I am going to send my critique partner something new!

*both of these amazing logos were created by writer/illustrator Dana Carey

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Buck Stops Here

That’s right. You heard me. It’s cliché but true. The buck is going to have to stop here. I’m gonna make the call. You see, Lisha Cauthen, my writer friend with so many tricks up her sleeve you are just gonna have to go check them out yourselves, (the woman must have humongous sleeves, let me tell ya) tagged me in this #myworkprocess blog hop thingy. You can read her Writing Process in the Shell of a Nut.

Now the game is that I tell you my process then tag some more writers. The thing is, everyone I know seems to have done it or, well, isn’t interested. So I’m not tagging anyone, sorry. But I will answer a few prying questions about my writing process, if you’re interested.

What am I working on?

I’m always working on at least a few projects at once--picture books in different stages. Always picture books. I’m trying to write a YA that I have my heart set on but I keep changing the beginning and am trying to settle on what that should be while resisting outlining which is what should probably be done. So who knows what the heck is gonna happen with that. I just keep telling myself that I will finish it. I also have an adult nonfiction that I’m writing in pieces. The question is never am I working, it’s will I finish. I tend to figure out whether or not a piece is worth it to me as I work through it. There is one thing that is for certain, when my agent asks for revisions on something it is definitely my main focus.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

I like to try come up with wacky concepts that haven’t been done before. And I like to be silly. Sometimes too silly probably.

Why do I write what I do?

I have ideas. I write them down. Otherwise my head gets too full and I can’t sleep.

How does your writing process work?

I’m not sure that it does work. For the most part I write stuff when I feel like it. I revise when I feel like it. It can be in the morning when I wake up and scribble a few words down, out in the field in my notebook while I’m working, in the afternoon when the kids are running around the house roughhousing like lunatics while I ignore them, or at night when the house is dark and quiet. I just try to write whenever I have a moment to fit it in. Life is busy but you have to make the time to do what you love!

So, that's it! If you want to share your process just let me know and I'll tag you. Otherwise this leg of the blog hop is out. Peace!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Dummy's Dummy

I'm revising a picture book that I've probably revised 692 times already. It has lots of moving parts, so to speak. Characters doing things. Things doing things. I can't really elaborate (although I would love to blab on and on about it!)

Anyway, I have the scenes and most of the dialogue. It's the order that I keep messing around with. I need to get the build up right. I want the tension in the story to keep going up like a mountainside until the climax and boom! wrap it up with that satisfying ending. I have never written a story before where the scenes feel so interchangeable as they do in this one, and I was getting a little sick of writing the same things down and cutting and pasting and all of that moving around until I came up with a good way to play with my pages.

It's stupidly simple but I'm procrastinating on revisions so humor me.

I took some sheets of paper, folded them, and tore them into fourths. (You could get all fancy and measure and cut them if you like. You could even use those snazzy scissors with the shaped edges. Oooh la la.--I can enable procrastination like a boss!)

Picture books are generally 32 pages so I am using 15 pieces of paper, looking at each as a two page spread, leaving a couple of pages for title, pub info, and such.

I hand wrote each page's words on a separate piece of paper. (Picture books are short, so you can make all your words fit. You could also actually just use bigger pieces of paper but I like ripping paper and I'm lazy so that's the way I'm doing it.) This can take some time but it also helps you go through your words again and see if they are working. Plus it helps with procrastination you find your way to your vision if you write things really fancy and draw little pictures to go with it.

Done? *makes cookies
How about now? *watches an episode of Regular Show
Now? *checks watch
Ahem. *eats cookies...lots of cookies.

Okay... finally. You did it! Now you can move your pages around easily. 
You can also crumple them up and rewrite something but it's not a big deal because it's just on a little piece of paper! Amazing, I tell ya! And environmentally friendly--sort of. I'm calling it the dummy's dummy.

Okay kids, have fun with my *cough cough* brilliant idea. I've gotta go back to figuring this story out. I think I may try the throw it up in the air and see how it pans out when it lands method.