Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Don: How to give a successful school visit and survive to tell about it

It was about twenty years ago when I began to present my books to children at schools. My first presentation was at my daughter's second-grade Career Day event. She'd bragged to her friends that her "daddy made books," but they didn't believe her.

My daughter was excited, but I was ill. Thinking about standing in front of a room full of children, teachers and parents gave me vertigo. I didn't have a restful night of sleep for weeks leading up to the big day.

To prepare I purchased a book on public speaking. Then I practiced my presentation in front of a mirror every day, memorizing it word for word. Still, when I got up in front of the crowd, I could barley speak. I was sweating so profusely and breathing so heavily, I probably looked more like the bogeyman than a children's book illustrator.

That was a long time ago, so I can laugh about it now. I survived those first few school visits with only minor abrasions to my self confidence. And with each succeeding visit, my confidence grew. I no longer fear school visits. I love meeting the kids, sharing my art, telling my story. It energizes me and hopefully inspires the kids, too.

Here are a few things I've learned along the way that will help you survive:

Plan your visit down to the last detail. What do you want the children to remember about you and your books or about literature in general? When I give a presentation, I write a point-by-point agenda on a small 3 x 5 index card and slip it in my shirt pocket. Things will happen — an unexpected announcement over the intercom, a cap falls off your tooth (this really happened to me) — so I like to have my list handy to be sure I've covered everything in case of distractions.

Charge for your visit
This may sound like a no-brainer, but I've heard about authors and illustrators who visit schools for free. This is OK . . . occasionally. Sometimes I give free readings at Career Day events or during storytimes at libraries or bookstores. I view these shorter presentations as promotional. But full-fledged school visits require preparation and time. Being a professional means you get paid. According to the Houghton Mifflin website, going rates for school visits are between $300 to $2000 per day. Check with other authors and illustrators in your market to get an idea about what you can charge realistically.

Be flexible
As organized as you may be, the day of your visit will not go exactly as planned. A few years ago, I participated in a literary festival where I was scheduled to present to three groups of children of about 350 each. It didn't happen that way. At the last minute the event organizers changed the program to where I ended up making about 30 ten-minute presentations to groups of about twenty kids each.

Needless to say I wasn't happy. And by the end of the day, neither was my voice. But this kind of extreme won’t happen often, so keep your cool and roll with the punches. Inflexibility won’t benefit you or the children during a school visit.

Advertise yourself
Design a flier or postcard (see mine: front, back), or hire a graphic designer to create one for you. Check with your post office to be sure your design doesn’t conflict with postal regulations. You don’t want your fliers returned to you because the post office mail reader couldn't read through your beautiful logo.

Use the flier to introduce yourself and your books to teachers and librarians. They'll be excited to know there’s a local author or illustrator in their community. Describe your program. Include your contact information, website and prices (include more details about your visit on your website: see mine). Compile a list of school librarians through your school district's website, or contact the school district about acquiring a list (which may not be possible; this may require some leg work). Address your mailer directly to a librarian or a teacher. You may want to follow up with a second postcard.

Look for opportunities to pitch your school visit program at district librarian meetings.

Prepare an author/illustrator contract
Again, you have to be flexible. But you can avoid misunderstandings — like not getting paid on the day of the visit — if you create a simple contract. Some school districts will require a mound of paperwork, but it's in your best interest to fill it out thoroughly and well in advance of the visit.

Your contract can be as simple or as complex as you like, but at the very least you’ll want to include the following:

-The date and location of the visit, the number of presentations agreed upon by both parties, the size of the groups.

-The approximate time for each presentation, and a general description of your program.

-The amount of the honorarium agreed upon. Specify to be paid on the day of the visit (in bold letters).

-Hotel and travel arrangements (ask for a map), reimbursement for food (not always included, but on visits that last over several days, this is especially good)


I include text in my contract that asks event organizers not to video tape my presentation without my permission.

Be known before you get there
Want rock star treatment? Have the librarian introduce your books to the children prior to your arrival. Have them do some related activities — writing exercises, drawings, skits. Unless your name is Hannah Montana, chances are, the children will not be familiar with you.

Create a promotional poster featuring a photo of you and your books (see one of mine). Send it as a .pdf or .jpg file that can be easily downloaded and printed. The librarian can post it around the school weeks before your arrival.

Find the big-people restrooms
There's nothing more awkward — and I'm especially talking to guys — than taking care of your business at an ankle-high urinal out in the open, while a group of star struck kindergarten boys lob questions at you. As soon as I arrive at a school, especially if I'm doing a full-day visit, I ask about the locations of the adult restrooms or teacher's lounges.

Sell books!
Never pass up an opportunity to increase sales. However, you'll need to talk to the teacher or librarian about pre-ordering and then having the children purchase the books before the day of your visit. School visits, of course, will take place during the day when parents (and their check books) aren't there.

For larger groups — 50 or more kids, and especially if you're speaking in an auditorium or large open area —you'll need a microphone and amplification.

No more than 3, please
I advise no more than 3 presentations in one day. Possibly four, if you absolutely have to. Again, be flexible. But three is exhausting and by four, you'll be dragging.

Be yourself
One time I presented to a large group of kids at a Career Day event. My presentation followed a dog and pony act, literally. The children hooted and hollered and doubled over in stitches as a guy dressed as a cowboy played a guitar and sang to a horse. Dogs howled and jumped through hoops and walked on their hind legs. How was I supposed to follow that act?

I considered changing my program. Maybe I’d sing or dance, or gyrate a hula hoop while balancing books on my head. Nope, that ain’t me. I just presented my program as I always do — with high energy and enthusiasm. I'm excited about children's literature so that energy shined through. Believe it or not, the kids liked my presentation just as well as the cowboy and pony act. So be yourself.

Give 'em something to take home
Create a bookmark or coloring page (see one I used recently). These are great for autographing sessions, but you might also include your preprinted John Henry just in case there isn't time for individual autographs.

Keep it interactive
Punctuate your presentation with questions. Give the children an opportunity to offer feedback and participate (works better with smaller groups).

Relax. You're the star!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

NEWS: 28 Days Later Open for Nominations

The Brown Bookshelf is now accepting submissions and nominations for 28 Days Later – a campaign to highlight both established and up-and-coming African-American authors and illustrators. The nomination period will be from September 29th - November 1st. Please drop by and nominate an author or illustrator today!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nancy - Hitting The Road

My latest book, Keeping Our Earth Green has just been released and I am in the midst of planning some fun, eco-action book events at all sorts of places. When my first books were published I planned traditional book signings and events in bookstores, libraries, and schools, with an occasional program at a children’s museum, but when OCEANS was released a few years ago I began to look at my events a little more creatively. This book was truly a labor of love and I really wanted to share it with kids who also loved the ocean. I decided that to reach those kids I would travel to them. Now, of course, OCEANS is a book for kids everywhere, but I knew that kids who were at the ocean would already be tuned into it. I decided to stay fairly close to home and tour the New England coast during the spring April break after the book's release.

After months of planning I finally had the week filled with visits from New Hampshire to Cape Cod. I branched out from traditional venues to places like the Seacoast Science Center in New Hampshire. It was wonderful. Everyone who stopped by was already interested in the subject matter of my book. I had a self-selected audience.

During the rest of the week I visited an aquarium, children’s museum, nature center, and some traditional bookstores. I had a ball. I made many more contacts for future visits and even sold copies of my other books because many of these locations stocked up for my visit.

Later titles found me at zoos, cafes, and even a street festival. When my picture book Pizza For The Queen was released I had one of my favorite book events at an Italian Street Festa. the fact that I was under a tent in the middle of a thunderstorm didn't even hamper it. I ended up selling out of my copies!

So that brings me to my latest titles. I had a blast this week at The River Project’s Environmental Educator’s Expo on a New York City Pier with some pretty colorful characters. (See the photos below) I'm looking forward to the many other places this book will take me and the readers I’ll meet along the way.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saundra: The Fine Art of Writing Blurbs

The fine art of writing blurbs is not really fine or art. It's the ability to punch people repeatedly in the eye with the most interesting aspect of your script, story or novel.

As writers, we tend to think about too much when we're trying to describe our work. There are so many elements! This part is especially meaningful! Oh, and the backstory, did you ever see such a poignant backstory?

Nobody cares.

Okay, I lie. People do care- and they will care, *when they read the book*. And how will you get them to read the book? By punching 'em in the eye. Take this blurb for example:

Tormented by his father's death, a young man is torn when his mother's infidelity comes to light and he discovers that his own future is in peril.

Which is all right. It hits the major points: dad's dead, mom's a cheat, kid's in trouble. That is a perfectly acceptable blurb- but not very exciting. Contrast to:

A father murdered, a family betrayed, a fall into madness.

Ahhhhhh, much better. They're both Hamlet, they both both describe the exact same highlights of the plot- but one is hot and one is buried on page 252.

Because we care about all our elements, we tend to try to shove all of them into a blurb. Well, this is a guide to help you avoid that. If you take just one thing away from this article, let it be this: blurbs are not synopses, they are not summaries. They are ads.

Yes, they really are. They're ads, like any ad you see on tv, like any ad you read in the newspaper. They're advertising, and they follow the rules of advertising. Don't think about it like an essay; think about it like a commercial. To get you in the right mindset to craft your blurb, here are 5 rules and an admonition to get you started.

1- Don't give them what they came for.

There's no incentive to read the book if the blurb says "Hamlet's dad was murdered, and he feigns madness to try to figure out what to do while his mom Gertrude tramps around with his uncle. Hamlet drives everyone in his life away until his descent into madness becomes real. Given up to it, he murders his mother, and he, in turn is murdered, and thus, ends the legacy of the throne to Denmark."

It's useless as advertising, because you told everybody how it goes. Sure, some die-hard fans might show up to savor the execution, but you're not selling to die-hard fans. You're selling to people whose initial inclination is NO, an inclination you're trying to turn into a YES. So give them just enough to say... whoa, dude, but then what happens??

2 - Poetry counts.

No, I'm not advising you to write your blurb in rhyming couplets, but the basic rules of poetics should apply to your advertising. The sounds of words, the assonance, the consonance, the rhythm of the words- these are important in any writing, but especially important here.

Use short sentences. Avoid compounds; avoid semi-colons. The prose should be quick jabs, boxing- not wrestling. Draw people into the rhythm- people respond positively to a rhythm they can feel, that they can nod along to- has a great beat, and you can dance to it. That's what you're shooting for. And another thing- repetition works really well in advertising, joined pairs and triads are very appealing to the ear.

A father murdered, a family betrayed, a fall into madness.
(A) Father [strong verb] (A) Family [strong verb] (A) Fall [noun]

Compare to:

I'm a Pepper, she's a Pepper, he's a Pepper, we're all Peppers
Wouldn't you like to be a Pepper, too?

These work exactly the same way, taking advantage of the same poetic principles of assonance, meter and repetition.

You also want to pay attention to sentence structure. You can be a little more lyrical, a little more dramatic with a blurb than you can a straight up synopsis or summary.

3. Brevity Pwns

One of the main failings of a blurb is that it fails to be a blurb. It needs to be a bite, not a dinner. One of the best ways to limit your word count, to really focus on what's important, is to use The Business Letter Rule: say everything you need to say in three paragraphs, with room for your signature at the end.

Your blurb should fit entirely in a one page business letter, with all the headings and signature line intact. If you're writing more than three paragraphs, you're writing too much. You're delving into execution, rather than exposition. Stop it.

4. There is no formula.

Except in that way that there really is a formula. Who's this about? What gets this story started? How does the MC get in trouble? And hey, wouldn't you like to find out how s/he gets out? Here's how.

You can structure the blurb any way you want- put the conflict first; put the precipitating event first. Switch it all around. But hit those elements, BAM BAM BAM, and resist the temptation to get sidetracked. For example, this is the blurb I wrote for the book I'm working on now, Vespertine:

WHO: [Charlie Ray West can see the future, but she can't control her visions- they happen unexpectedly and only at dusk.] PRECIPITATING EVENT: [When she foretells the death of a travelling preacher, Charlie Ray is stunned when it sets a blaze through the other teens in their God-fearing farm town of Paragon, Indiana.] WHAT STARTS THE STORY: [Soon, girls all over Paragon are 'having visions' and baring the community's dirty little secrets.

At first, they use their new-found attention for good, driving a lascivious gym coach and a known date-rapist out of town.] HOW DOES THE MC GET INTO TROUBLE: [But when they run out of predators, they seek out prey- the unusual, the different- the innocent. As the spark who started the fire, and the only one among them who truly sees, Charlie Ray is the only one who can stop them now.] READER LURE: [But will she stand against the inferno, or allow herself to be consumed by it?]

5. Don't ask lure questions that allow people to decline the offer.

Although the lure question is a great way to open or close a blurb, make sure you're asking a question that 1) the reader cannot answer and that 2) doesn't offer the reader an opportunity reject. Questions like, "Do you want to know what goes bump in the dark?" may have a nice rhythm, but the reader could simply say, "Nope."

Keep your lure questions focused on your story, unanswerable by anyone except your MC (and the enlightened reader, once s/he is so kind to read your book, thank you so much, gentle reader!) The only appropriate lure question can be answered by, "I don't know- I'd better read and find out."

And now, I offer the admonition.

6 - Don't lie.

Yes, you probably could spin your blurb so your post-apocalyptic mermaid story sounds like light women's fiction- but why? The people who want to read mermaid stories won't buy it because you didn't tell them it was available, and the people who like women's fiction will be ticked they got spec fic instead.

It serves no one- and especially not you- to lie about your goods. Your blurb should reflect the tone and sensibility of the story you're trying to sell. You can be funny- you can be light. Or you can be serious and dark. Whatever you decide- it should honestly reflect the source.

And that's how it's done, duckies. Don't give them what they came for. Poetry counts. Brevity pwns. Use the unformula. Don't let them say no. Your blurb should be one perfect taste of what's to come. Your book distilled; an amuse bouche.

Or... one good pop in the eye.

Monday, September 22, 2008

News: Follow Crowe's Nest on LJ

Thanks to Melodye Shore, A Crowe's Nest is now syndicated on LiveJournal. Now you can find out the instant a new post goes live; just add crowes_nest to your friends list.

Alexa: Books That Have Made this Writer

While trying to whittle down my list of favorite books, I realized that there's a big difference between great books and books that have influenced me as a writer. Without further ado, I give you my list of five books (actually four books and one short story) that have most impacted how/why/what I write.

1). THIS BOY'S LIFE by Tobias Wolff

This Boy's Life--a memoir that reads like a novel--is the story of Wolff's turbulent upbringing at the hands of a tyrannical stepfather. Most of the book takes place in the depressed--and depressing--mountain town of Concrete, Washington. To escape his family and a place that holds no future, Wolff must tell some serious whoppers about himself. In doing so, he also discovers his own potential. Of my one remaining copy of this book, nearly every page is dog-eared, nearly every sentence underlined. If you want to learn how to say complicated things beautifully, simply, and honestly, I highly recommend reading every work of this brilliant man. 

2). THE LOST LEGENDS OF NEW JERSEY by Frederick Reiken

The Lost Legends of New Jersey has all the trappings of a good Springsteen song--love, lust, heartbreak, sex--and is an elegy to the New Jersey of the late seventies/early eighties. The book is populated with a host of wise and complex teenaged characters, including the daughter of a reputed Mafioso. This book came to me at a time when I was in a state of great grief--largely because I had decided to give up on writing. It made me want to write again. It made me realize that out of the most painful moments can arise the most beautiful art, if only you have the courage to muck through the past and hold the mud up to the light.

3). VILLETTE--by Charlotte Bronte

While reading Villette, I had this sense that Charlote Bronte was literally sitting next to me and holding my hand while whispering--gently--some of the harder truths about life. This, Dear Reader, is no small thing, considering that the lady died over 150 years ago. Bronte is still so alive on the page and reminds me that what is most personal is also what is most universal. When I write, I remind myself that stories are ultimately gifts of understanding, and that the more you push yourself to go to the shadowy recesses of your heart, the more you stand to connect with your readers. Books are very much a two-way relationship. On a side note, Villette has an AMAZING drug trip (which I looked to for inspiration when writing the pivotal drug scene in my own young adult novel).

4). HOW I LIVE NOW--by Meg Rosoff

The best. Young adult. Book. Like EVER!!!!!! Set slightly in the future during a military invasion of the English countryside, from its very first page How I Live Now reads like an old-fashioned classic. This book has it all: love, adventure, death, redemption--and a little bit of incest to boot. The scenes between Daisy, the fifteen-year-old protagonist with an eating disorder, and her younger cousin Edmund, are steamy and tragic in the best of ways, invoking all the intensity and confusion of first lust--and then later its maturation. This book made me realize that writing for teens can be every bit as fun, compelling, and taboo busting as writing for adults. Duh!


I stumbled upon this short story when I was nineteen years old and wondering what the hell to do with my life. After I read it, I knew without a doubt that I wanted to be a writer. "For Esme--With Love and Squalor" illustrates perfectly the power of a single moment to change everything. So much happens in its few brief pages: friendship, war, love, and the loss of innocence. Ultimately, however, it is a story about words themselves, how the right words at the right moment can leap off the page and save us when nothing else will. It made me realize that writing can literally be a matter of life or death, that the writing profession isn't so much a choice but a calling, and that like it or not (and there was an awful lot of not liking at times) I had heard the call. 

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Kristen: My First Editorial Letter

My first editorial letter was for my young adult novel Lost It. I’d talked to my editor (Michelle Nagler) on the phone about the book weeks before the letter arrived, so I knew what was coming. There wasn’t anything weird or random, like, Hey Kristen, can you change all your bear safety advice and replace it with alligator safety advice. Though, to be honest, I easily could have done that, because, for some reason, I know a lot about how to avoid animal attacks. Michelle’s letter started off talking about how much she liked the book and how much she believed in the project the novel had undertaken. (I wanted to write a book where the character had a positive, first-time sexual experience.) And when the letter began suggesting possible changes, I really appreciated the feedback. I took every single one of her suggestions. She’d connected with the book and her vision and my vision meshed. Sara (my agent) did such a good job finding the book its perfect home that I didn’t have to wrestle with somebody who saw a different direction for the book. I feel very lucky. I’ve had three very different and very fantastic editors: Michelle Nagler, Jennifer Klonsky, and Wendy Loggia. It’s not just their feedback that’s incredibly nourishing and addicting, but their enthusiasm as well.

But I don’t want to make things sound too easy. My editorial letter for my first middle-grade novel was a little more intense. The novel, Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus, actually began as a collection of short stories, and to turn it into a novel required a great deal of work. I’d accomplished that by the time Wendy (my editor at Random House) bought it. But she saw so many ways to improve the story. She wanted the mother to be more involved. She wanted more scenes with Camille at school. She wanted the disastrous school play to take a different tack. She wanted the story to make it clear that Camille was merely quirky and that she didn’t suffer from some sort of serious cognitive impairment. (Since Camille is largely based upon myself in elementary school that suggestion stung a little. Of course she’s just quirky! It’s not that hard to fall underneath your school bus.)

After I read Wendy’s letter, I needed to lie down right away. I could see the work before me and I felt a little overwhelmed. At first, I didn’t touch the book. I kept (obsessively) rereading her letter. Around day three, I devoured the marked-up manuscript. I did this over and over. Then I went back to the letter. Finally, on the seventh day, I got to work. And I worked. And I worked. And I worked. It was five or six weeks of cookie-fueled, computer-focused, antisocial, pajama-clad, over-caffeinated, under-showered productivity. I ended up going through one more small round of revisions with Wendy, and I’m thrilled with the results. Camille McPhee Fell Under the Bus is the first book I wrote and it also happens to be filled with so many things that I find interesting: dingos, blood sugar disorders, fourth graders, Idaho, cats, Clint Eastwood. It will be out in summer 2009. I’m very lucky. And happy. And, at the moment, moderately caffeinated and freshly showered.

Putnam Editor Stacey Barney Talks to Us

Heidi R. Kling, author: People are curious about debut books from both the publishing perspective and author's point of view. I know it's a complicated process, but what are the basic steps the publisher takes to get a book ready for its debut—let's say acquisition on?

Stacey Barney, editor: Well, there's the first and foremost, the Editorial process. We want to make sure that when we publish, we're publishing the best book possible. This includes rounds of editing and revision that includes focus on everything from character and scene development to pacing. Together the author and the editor does a line edit to make sure the writing is as tightly executed as possible, excising unnecessary stage directions and the like. Then the manuscript is sent to a copyeditor. The author and editor will go through the copyedited manuscript together making any final changes or adjustments before the manuscript is sent to design to be typeset. The editor and the designer will pick out a type font and at the same time, the art department is working on a cover. Marketing is putting together the catalog, for which the editor has written copy. Somewhere along the line the author and editor receive the typeset galleys. This is the last time the author will likely see the manuscript before it's a book. Production will produce bound galleys—what we internally call the 1st pass is really the end of the Editorial process. What follows is a focus on marketing, publicity, and sales with the author and various depts. of the publishing house playing equally  key roles. If all happens as we'd love it to, by the time the pub date arrives, there will be plenty of copies of the books in bookstores far and wide, and there is plenty of coverage timed with the date of publication to let readers know that a new book has arrived on the shelves, and that they should run out and get it!

Heidi R. Kling, author: Thanks! Now from the other side of the desk (or laptop), I'm a new author whose debut novel SEA comes out Summer 2010. A lot of people stress that authors are responsible for much of their own marketing these days. How accurate is this? And what should I be doing to get ready?

Stacey Barney, editor: It is true that authors are responsible for much of their success and this includes marketing and publicity efforts on their own behalf. To that end, having a web presence is the really important and not just one that connects the author to other writers, but in the YA market particularly, you want a web presence that connects you to the readers—the kids. Connecting or reconnecting with organizations that you have or have had ties to, who may want to sponsor events or buy bulk copies of your book or just do a profile of you and your book in their weekly or monthly newsletter is helpful. Establishing a platform for yourself by writing for relevant magazines and newspapers is also  helpful. This may set you up to be invited to speak at various libraries or book fairs or conferences where your book can be sold. Connecting with local librarians or bookstores who would sponsor events is a must. Viral marketing, such as Youtube video blast to listservs of teachers, librarians, students, and other target readers coordinated with the time of publication is another great way to participate in the health of your marketing and publicity campaign. Hitting up local newspapers, radio or television shows to do a special spotlight on you as a local author is another way to get momentum going and build buzz. Some authors have even begun their own whisper campaigns and have developed contests and given out prizes on their websites. But I can't stress enough how crucial the web component can be and how making your site a site kids want to come to can really help build your platform, credibility, and sell books.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Sara: Communities

Confession: I am afraid of blogging. I think bloggers are very brave; I even think people who post what they are doing now on Facebook are very brave. I don't like making such public statements. My brother found creative ways to torture me and when we were young and rode the subway to school together, he would just have to talk loudly about me- “Sara has a big field hockey game today!”, and I would be extremely embarrassed and try to get into the next car. Pronouncements make me uncomfortable. So, why did I start a blog? Well, its a group blog, so I get to cower a little behind the writers I work with, which makes it less scary. But also, I wanted a place where all of my children's authors could meet, and some of them live far away and my apartment is also tiny and wouldn't work for such a party.

I am excited about the idea of us getting to know each other better-- and also about sharing the experience of getting emails from writers all day, many of which are funny, and many inspiring.

Publishing is an uncertain, difficult, crazy business -- making it all the more certain that we are all here because we love it and can’t imagine what other more sensible and more profitable job we would do instead. So communities are important. I am lucky to have a supportive group of agent friends whose group email chain I couldn’t do without, and I know so many of you have fabulous critique partners and writing groups— as well as family and friends who are supporting you. I hope this blog will become another community.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

NEWS: Elizabeth Zechel's debut, Is There a Mouse in the Baby's Room makes the BookCourt Bestseller's list!

Best Sellers … 15 September, 2008
BookCourt Best Sellers

September 15, 2008 20% off list price

Children’s Hardcover & Paperback

IS THERE A MOUSE IN THE BABY’S ROOM. Elizabeth Zechel. Lark Books. $9.95. Our Price $7.96.
TWILIGHT. Stephanie Meyer. Little, Brown. $10.99. Our Price $8.79.
NEW MOON. Stephanie Meyer. Little, Brown. $10.99. Our Price $8.79.
GALLOP. Rufus Seder. Workman. $12.95. Our Price $10.36.
PAPA PLEASE GET THE MOON FOR ME Board Book. Eric Carle. Macmillan $10.99. Our Price $8.79.
I LIVE IN BROOKLYN. Mari Takabayashi. Houghton Mifflin. $16. Our Price $12.80.
HUG Board Book. Jez Alborough. Candlewick. $6.99. Our Price $5.59.
KNUFFLE BUNNY. Mo Willems. Hyperion. $15.99. Our Price $12.78.
BARACK OBAMA. Roberta Edwards. Putnam. $3.99. Our Price $3.19.
SUBWAY Board Book. Anastasia Suen. Penguin. $6.99. Our Price $5.59.

Megan: Don't Fear the Editor

Recently I was talking to a writer acquaintance about the process of publishing my book. I ended up my summary with, “And I've spent most of the past year working with my editor to polish it up.” He asked me how that was, and I said, “It was really hard.” His eyes kind of glinted, and he asked, “Did they want you to change all sorts of things you didn't want to?”

I was taken by surprise by his question. I had meant it was difficult because we went through three substantial revisions, in addition to some minor ones. My manuscript grew by almost twenty-thousand words, while nearly as many were cut. My self-confidence took a beating – not because of how I was treated, but because my self-confidence is always looking for a chance to get down on itself.

As I thought about his reaction some more, I realized that it was only natural: as writers we are in love with our words, and our biggest fear is that people won't understand them, or will try to take them away from us somehow. He was probably just responding from the perspective of a writer who thinks the editor is going to irrevocably change his work.

At the same time, editors have a reputation for being gruff and perhaps abrasive. The first one that comes to mind is J. Jonah Jameson in Spiderman, barking out his orders, but I imagine there are literary and film antecedents for the rough around the edges literary editor as well. My editor, Emily Schultz, at Disney-Hyperion, was nothing like that. First of all, when I met her in person, she was wearing the cutest eighties-esque star earrings. Second, she never forced me to change anything.

She helped me to reshape the beginning of my novel so that the end became more poignant and resonant. Her suggestions were always made with a gentle hand. She sent me at least three manuscripts that were covered with her tiny scrawl. She sent me lengthy, thoughtful emails, asking me questions, making suggestions, and forcing me to think more deeply about my work.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, I agreed with her. Actually, there was only one point that we really went back and forth on – always in notes on the manuscript, never in person or on the phone. (Although we did talk regularly, this one point never came up, and probably would have been solved much more quickly if it had.) My narrator, Dara, is in a beauty pageant, and she's changing her look from the evening gown portion to her talent costume. She had dark eye shadow on, and I had her lighten that look by adding a lighter shade of shadow. It was something I had seen Carmindy do on What Not to Wear (where all great writers derive their inspiration). Emily did not think it was clear how adding more shadow would lighten the eye. So, she would write a note about it on my manuscript, and for two of the major revisions, I happily ignored her, safe in my reality-television knowledge. It's kind of ridiculous looking back. In the end, I think we cut the line.

Unlike my acquaintance, I don't know that I had any expectations for working with an editor or the revision process. I guess I thought it would be something like working with a critique partner, but it was much more intense. The whole experience was eye-opening in terms of what an editor does, and how much of his or her effort goes into making a (hopefully) successful book.


Welcome to the Crowe's nest blog where we will discuss all aspects of writing for children and young adults. Our hope is that our conversations will cover interests and questions of others in the kid lit universe and that this will become an open discussion.