Tuesday, January 31, 2012

I won't shoot the mailman...but don't tempt me. (Or how to send in a submission that an editor might actually read...)

Last year, I gave a presentation at the Word Guild's Write! Canada conference entitled "Out of the Slushpile and Into Print." After a few years of slush pile agony I have seen certain patterns emerge among the would-be authors who inundate my poor intern with material. 
Writing a good book or story is pretty damn hard. Most people suck at it, but I have an enormous amount of respect for anyone who is willing to work hard at a piece of writing and then send it boldly forth into the land of potential rejection. Really I do.
Yes, writing is pretty damn HARD. But submitting your writing is pretty damn EASY. 
If you bother to do even a modicum of research, that is. Got an internet connection? Then you're good to go.
Here are a couple of slides from my presentation. Please, keep in mind that I am a children's book editor so some what follows is particular to the children's book industry, but by and large, I think most submissions editors will be with me on about 90% of the stuff I'm going to tell you.

 Here is what our submissions guidelines page looks like at Fitzhenry & Whiteside. It's not glamorous, but I think it's written in clear English. Pretty much anywhere you are planning to submit your ms, be it an agency or a publisher, will have something like this. Though some will just say, "Sorry, we don't accept unsolicited manuscripts." In which case THEY MEAN IT. YES, THAT INCLUDES YOU. SAVE YOURSELF THE TIME AND THE POSTAGE. THEY WON'T CARE IF YOU HAVE THE NEXT HARRY POTTER'S TWILIGHT DOG AT MIDNIGHT. They won't care because they won't even read it. Seriously.
Pretty basic so far. If it's on the list of things we're looking for, by all means, send it along. If it's on our "no longer accepting" list, then please for the love of God, don't bother sending it. 

Now comes the part that tells you HOW to send your little darling along...
Save yourself some money here, folks. There is no earthly reason to send two sheets of paper in a bubble envelope. Your precious poem is not going to shatter in the mail. Fold it, put it in a normal envelope, (include a SASE), stick a stamp on it, and pop it in the post. Easy. Do not FedEx it or courier it. It is a total waste of your money.
Do not drop it off in person. Or request to pick it up in person. I cannot stress that last one enough.
Whenever I see a huge box being dropped off with 300+ pages of unsolicited writing, a little tree fairy somewhere dies. NO ONE wants your full manuscript right away. If I read the summary and the first few chapters and I like them, I'll ask you to send the rest to me electronically and then I'll put it on an ereader. NO WAY am I lugging a cinder block around with me to read at the rink while I'm waiting for my daughter to get off the ice. Save yourself the $15 in postage. And save a tree fairy.
Remember: If it's too much paper for a simple paper clip to handle - IT'S TOO MUCH PAPER.
When we say "Do not submit more than one ms at a time," this does not mean "Do not put more than one ms in an envelope but feel free to send TEN mss in TEN envelopes." Sending us ten envelopes isn't going to befuddle the intern and trick her into thinking that there are ten different Jane Smiths who all live at the same address and who all happened to mail a picture book submission all on the same day. Sure, most of us were stronger in English than in Math at school. But we can count.
Personally, I do not accept unsolicited mss be email. Open an attachment from a stranger? Not on your life. Some editors do, and that's up to them. If in doubt (chorus, please...) Check the submission guidelines.

So, have you read the submission guidelines above? (NO? Then scroll up with the little scrolly button now and do it!)
OK then - let's try a little quiz. How many problems do you see with this cover letter? (Mind you, at least this person bothered to write a cover letter. So half a point there...)
--> This is not an actual cover letter but it is pretty darn close to a lot of the stuff I see. Technically, I'm not really making this up.

 A word, at this point, about simultaneous submissions. A simultaneous submission is one that you have sent to me and to the publisher down the road and to the publisher across the way etc. We don't like that. We don't want to read your work, like it, present it to our editorial team, hash it out, and then find out that you've gone and sold it to someone else. What a waste of our time!

And a note about your niece's class. She may be your target audience, but you are a special person to her. You could probably read 200 words from an instruction manual on how to make coffee and she'd be thrilled. Her class will just be thrilled that you came to visit and brought a book you wrote for them. While testing out your story is a useful exercise for you as a writer since it might help you to polish it when you see what catches their attention best and which parts can't compete with the gunk at the bottoms of their shoes, the critique of a 7-yr-old isn't going to be quite the same as that of an editor. And no editor is going to be impressed that a 7-yr-old liked your story. Sorry.
One guy included a whirly butterfly that spun up and hit me in the face when I opened the envelope as I walked down a flight of stairs. Damn near killed me. Let your work speak for itself, OK?
I could go on and on. And I have, actually. Here and elsewhere. The thing is, every submissions editor is looking for that diamond in the rough. We LOVE them. I have found a few and there is special rush that comes with the discovery of a new talent. We WANT you to succeed. And our submission guidelines make it easy as pie to get in the front door.
So give your baby the best start in life -- try not to tick off the editor the minute the mail arrives. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fudge Trolley - update!! (again!!!)

So this is a Fudge Trolley. It is located on the lower level of Seneca College, Markham Campus - but only until tomorrow (Friday). Then it will move on to Wilfred Laurier University. They are from Brantford, Ontario and they travel around to various campuses. The lady who makes the fudge is a single mom (according to the tip jar) and she is accompanied by a elderly gentleman who sports a baseball cap proclaiming, "I follow Jesus." Which is interesting on so many levels.

This is what the fudge trolley looks like up close:
That's about 1/3rd of the selection available. Naturally, I focused on the more chocolately end. But there was more. Indeed, there was.
And this is what we are now enjoying at the office. Sadly, Cathy is not here today, but I will save a bit for her if the hungry hordes haven't devoured it all. Come to think of it, I haven't had any yet so, they'd better NOT have!
From top left, clockwise: Raspberry cheesecake, Oh my Gosh (various stuff) Skor, Berry Chocolate swirl.
 Mind you, there's still tomorrow.

So four of us gals piled into my car and went on an office fudge run this afternoon. I think the fudge lady thought we were a little nuts but, well, were are. Fair enough, then.
They have a FB page - Oh Fudge Fanatics. You KNOW I'll be joining it. That way I'll know where the fudge trolley is on any given day of the week.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

If on a winter's afternoon a Fudge Trolley

My new year's resolution this year is to take one day a week to edit at home, away from the distractions of the office. Really get a chance to focus on one manuscript for more than 10 seconds at a time.
Today was that day. Sort of - in that I wasn't at the office, per se. But the  home phone is connected to the office phone and I found myself connected to both those phones fairly frequently. Sometimes to the office phone via the home phone and the cell phone at the same time.

I'd like to state, here and now, that I have some of the most amazing co-workers on the face of the earth. They are run off their feet and they still manage to prevent the sky from crashing down on all our heads. We're by no means a well-oiled machine - something more akin to a steampunk invention. Kinda clunky and messy and (possibly) archaic with a dose of how-the-hell-is-this-going-to-work magic thrown in for good measure. There's a lot of drama and a wee bit of subterfuge that goes on, but in the end, everything seems to work out. And I'm incredibly grateful for every one of them.

So, as I was saying, today was my day to edit at home. Which means I wasn't in the office, which is about a ten minute walk from where my husband works and where my son and his girlfriend go to school.
During our (increasingly rare) family dinner hour this evening, Troy asked James, casually, "So, did you see the fudge trolley today?"
I nearly choked on my chicken. "FUDGE TROLLEY?  There was a FUDGE TROLLEY?"
"Yeah, it was huge - like three times the size of our dining room table."
"A FUDGE TROLLEY? Why didn't you tell me there was a FUDGE TROLLEY?"
"Because you were working at home today, weren't you?"
"Well, yeah, but still... you could have told me there was a FUDGE TROLLEY!"
"Oh, and did you get to try any of the free samples, James?"
"Wait - what? Free samples? And you're telling me this NOW?"
"Why? Mom - would you have seriously driven all the way down there if we had told you?"
"Maybe...ok...no...but still!"
"So, how about if we just tell you next time?"
"Well, duh! Of course. This is exactly the sort of information that I need to have. Preferably while it's still there!"
"Um, does that apply to the Brownie Bins, too?" asks James.
"No, Mom. Jeez. Just kidding. But if there were--"
"YES! I would want to know about the brownie bins. Good Lord. Have I taught you nothing? And cheesecake carts. ESPECIALLY cheesecake carts."

As I made coffee after dinner, I got to thinking. OK, so we don't have a fudge trolley at my office. Maybe we only have a coin-operated snack machine (that still doesn't stock salt and vinegar chips, by the way, in spite of several "seriously-I'm-not-kidding" requests on "Suggestion Board"). But on Tuesday, our awesome publisher, Cathy Sandusky, came around with a plate of brownies and other squares that she'd picked up across the street for everyone.
Which brings me back to one of my original points.
I work with some pretty awesome people.
See y'all tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Why I think book pirates are craven dingbats.

A friend of mine was horrified by an acquaintance who had bought a bunch of Kindles as Christmas gifts and then gleefully loaded each of them up with hundreds of pirated books. The sheer gall of her to boast about her pirated books to her AUTHOR friend is just ludicrous, but insensitivity aside, this story just reinforces my opinion that book pirates are a very special kind of asshole.

Here's the thing. I'm not really going to argue the case against piracy as an ethical, "thou-shalt-not-steal" sort of issue. Anyone with any sort of civilized up-bringing already knows that theft is wrong. People who steal books or music or movies know they are stealing and have no problem with it, apparently. They are able to rationalize their theft in a number of ways: screwing big business is a civic duty, culture belongs to the people, everyone else does it, if you are going to put out digital content it's like an invitation to get robbed, etc. I think it's all a load of crap but whatever. I'm not going to try to change those minds. That's a whole other dead horse to flog.

Instead, I'd like to focus on a couple of reasons why I consider book pirates to be cravenly mean and particularly assholic.

I do recognize that there will be many generalizations here. And I know that there are some (bigger) publishing houses that are trying to impede the ebook-lending highway as things get sorted out in the wash. Fine - maybe they are just screwing themselves there. We'll wait and see. But for those of us in the other (smaller) houses who are trying to figure out a way to make it all work, and who are trying to prove to those philistines that low-cost/free and library-loaned ebooks can be GOOD for the industry, selfish dingbat pirates are making it all a rather Sisyphian task, no matter which books they choose to steal.

So, here's what I'd like to say to my friend's acquaintance (and these are just preliminary thoughts. I'm still asking questions and researching):

Dear Dingbat Pirate,

I'm not going to try to convince you to go out and drop a whole $5 or $10 or $0.99 on an ebook. You've made it patently clear that you do not want to give any of your hard-earned money to people who also worked hard to produce the literature that you feel it is your right to enjoy for free. But you don't need to be an asshole about the way you get your free ebooks.

1. Unlike most music and movies, many books are already readily and legally available for free. Yes, even ebooks. You don't HAVE to steal the books. It's called a LIBRARY, folks. Get a library card. From the comfort of your own home computer, you can download books FOR FREE with the click of a button. It's really not that complicated. And here.'s a quick video to get you started.
2. When you borrow books or ebooks from the library, the library is able to track which books get checked out frequently and knows which authors to stock and in what quantities. Then they buy more of their (e)books and THE AUTHOR GETS PAID! Whoo hoo! Furthermore, there are tracking agencies like Access Copyright and PLR (in Canada, at least) that help to ensure that authors with books in libraries get compensation for the fact that their books are loaned and copied etc. It's not a perfect system, but it's better than the kick in the teeth they get from you when you just steal the book from Torrent or wherever. Not enough titles available in libraries yet? Well, try borrowing the ones that are there for starters. The more ebooks that people sign out, the more ebooks libraries are likely to stock - everyone wins!
3. Borrowing books from the library has the added bonus of actually showing support for the library system as a whole and helps to prove to various powers-that-be that maybe we shouldn't be cutting funding to these vital community resources.
4. "When I download (I mean STEAL) books for free, I can decide what I like and then I'll often buy the book." Well, bully for you, if you actually DO buy the book later. I guess "often" is better than never. Mind you,  you could borrow the book from the library for free and make the same decision (see points 2&3) AND benefit someone other than your own selfish sorry self.
5. Sure, you have to "return" or "renew" the library book after a couple of weeks - but again, that simple button-clicking-thing will be even easier now that you've already learned how to do it once. And after you return it, the book isn't taking up any room on your hard drive (or whatever).
6. Many publishers and authors offer plenty of special freebees. Check them out. And did you know that when you "buy" a free ebook from a site like Wowio, the site actually pays a royalty to the author and the publisher? So again, you are supporting the people who are trying to make a living from the books you want so badly.
7. Every time you "buy" a free ebook legally, from pretty much any site, THAT STILL COUNTS AS A SALE. This is an important statistic for authors and publishers since sales figures let everyone know how successful a book is and whether or not a sequel might be a good idea. Or it might determine whether or not the author is offered another contract. And how big the advance on that next contract might be. When you steal ebooks you are also stealing away incentives for the publishers to keep on publishing your favourite authors.
8. To those people who think that by stealing ebooks they are "sticking it to the man": You really are dumbasses. Seriously. It's the AUTHOR you are screwing, more than anyone: You are taking away their ability to collect royalties from the publisher from the sale of their work. Furthermore, if the author is new or lesser known, you are robbing them of the opportunity to prove that their books are widely read and thus you are diminishing their chances at furthering their careers with the hopes of another contract - and heck, if you stiff smaller publishing houses, then there will be fewer companies out there to publish their next books in the first place!
9. You know who else is affected by these low sales results? Well, how about editors (like me!) who fight for the books, acquire them,  and edit them? Or the production staff that puts the books together in various print and electronic formats? Or the marketing staff that tries to help the books find their audience? Hard to prove to your boss that you've done a good job when the sales figures aren't what they should be. It's not like we can go to them with - "But hey, it's been stolen 10000 times, so we must have done something right!"
10. "But I have to download books one at a time that way. When I steal books, I can do it in bulk," quoth the dingbat pirate. Good Lord. There are so  many Deadly Sins wrapped up in that one sentence I could just kick your soul straight to hell. I mean, really. Don't be a lazy pig. How many books do you plan to read at a time anyway?
11. It's so easy to do the right thing. You CAN read that book for free AND support authors and the book industry AT THE SAME TIME. So why wouldn't you? Put a modicum of thought into your book acquisition and prove to yourself, at least, that you are a real, honest-to goodness book-lover -- not just a lazy, greedy, dumbass pirate.