Sunday, July 15, 2012

Vermont College of Fine Arts Residency (Part I)

Where to begin?

I'm on my sixth day of the ten-day residency at the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA) and all I can say is...Wow.

It's such an exhausting and exhilarating experience that I'm not sure what to even write about.  Let's put my random thoughts into bullet points, shall we?
  • We have amazing faculty members such as Tim Wynne-Jones, Rita Williams-Garcia, Martine Leavitt, An Na, and Matt de la Peña, among so many others.
  • Our writer-in-residence this semester is Newbery Award winning author Linda Sue Park, who's lovely, intelligent, and a wicked dancer.  I've only read When My Name was Keoko, which I loved; now I have to read the rest of her books!
  • I got my writing workshopped today for the first time ever and it wasn't bad.  Strange, having people talk about your work right in front of you (being a big fan of the editorial letter myself), but not bad.  The criticism was super constructive and I'm excited to begin implementing a lot of it into the piece.
  • There are lots and lots of readings, including student ones among their own classes for more intimacy.  Wimpy me did not take part in the readings this semester.  I suppose I'll have to force myself next semester, though I'm sure a certain classmate with whom I'll be connecting in the city--ahem, Tim--will continue to encourage (or bug) me while I'm away from VCFA.
  • VCFA had a great editorial panel answer questions about the publication process.  Editors from Penguin, Peachtree, Random House, and Egmont showed up in full force.  Nothing really new for me, but I generally enjoy these talks.  An editor from my job was there, actually, and I've been instructed to keep an eye out for budding writers.  Shouldn't be too hard, with all the talented people around me.
  • We get three square meals a day provided by the New England Culinary Institute, so good food here.  I'm pretty easy to please in that department, so I can only speak for myself, but still, everyone has to agree that their cookies rock, right?  The sugar rush alone keeps me going for hours on end.
  • I'm meeting all sorts of interesting people, from publishing folks I'd only known by reputation, to authors repped by my house (Hi Lisa and Pablo!), to the rest of my awesome first semester classmates who'll be suffering with me through the MFA process.

    I'm falling asleep as I type this, so until the next post!

    Wednesday, June 27, 2012

    Venturing into the Publishing Landscape

    I was having dinner with a lovely woman from the New School Writing for Children's MFA program (Hi if you're reading!).  She's a Latina like me and so among other things, we chatted about the Latino market in children's fiction (abysmal).  I could go on about that, but the diversity in children's lit issue is too big a topic for my energy level right now.  That's a post for another day.

    Anyhow, as we talked it occurred to me that a lot of aspiring writers don't really know the market.  They read the books they write, which is the most important thing (thumbs up on that one), but beyond that, don't really get what's going on in the business.  Strangely enough, being in publishing I sometimes forget that not everyone know the biz.  I get it, though.  You need to write the book of your heart, but you do need to know the market, too.  There's so much to know that how can these poor baby writers (I'm one, too, as a writing newbie) keep up?  I'm constantly learning, so I understand that even if baby writers would like to know more, they often don't know where to start and where to stop.

    Caveat before you start studying up: KEEP WRITING.  Seems obvious, but you'd be astonished at how many people are wondering about the querying process before they've even finished a manuscript.  Finish first, then worry about that later.  You're not going to get anywhere fiction-wise with an unfinished (and unrevised) manuscript.  So keep working at it, even if it's at a snail's pace.  A page per day, writers, that's all you need.

    I could go on about all the blogs and magazines I read to get my market fix, but this is my How to Get a Glimpse of the Publishing World for Dummies edition. I recommend doing these three basic things to get your feet wet.
    1. Those books you've been reading for pleasure and research?  Check out the acknowledgements page.  The author will typically thank their editor and/or agent for their success.  You'll start recognizing who works with the books you love and who could conceivably work with you down the line.
    2. Subscribe to Publisher's Lunch.  It's a daily digest of publishing tidbits you should keep abreast of--book deals, publishing staff moves (where editor and agent names will become familiar), the digital battlefield, etc.  It's free to subscribe to the email.  It's only paid if you want the full Deluxe Publisher's lunch version, which you don't really need (Hmmm...I bet you can even read Publishers Weekly magazine at your local library for the full monty; still, the gratis daily email would be enough for you).
    3. Join Twitter, if you haven't already done so.  You're a children's book writer.  Even if you don't want to join, nowadays you have to.  Besides writing, writers now have to be involved in social media to stay relevant (Yes, there are exceptions, but this is the norm now).  Follow your favorite authors, book bloggers, agents, and editors.  You'd be surprised at the connections you'll make.  And the amount of information buzzing on twitter is insane.  You'll be a publishing pro in no time.
    Follow those three steps for the bare bones approach to learning industry information.  If you've already done those three things, then you're ahead of the game!  I'll compile a more extensive list for intermediate people in the future.  Any suggestions on what to add?

    Monday, June 18, 2012

    What NetGalley Isn't

    I work in publishing, but I'm a reader as well.  I work in publishing because I'm such a reader.  Which means, I love books.  Especially books I don't have to pay for.  Which brings me to NetGalley.

    NetGalley's awesome.  I can request access to a title and if it's granted, can have it sent directly to my Kindle (don't judge--it was a gift!).   No muss, no fuss.  Free ARCs, yay!  Big love as a reader.

    Plus, I'm part of the team at my publishing house responsible for uploading middle grade and teen ARCs to NetGalley and recently attended a meeting with the lovely NetGalley team at Book Expo America two weeks ago.  Suffice it to say, I'm pretty familiar with NetGalley.  Big love as a marketer.

    Now the dark side...

    As an industry insider, I tend to get approved for access to NetGalley e-requests.  If I were a casual reader (read: non-professional reader), I would likely get denied.  Why insiders and not casual readers?  Well, I'll tell you why (Office Space reference).  Because people like me build industry buzz like bloggers, librarians, and booksellers do, which is the audience NetGalley and Edelweiss (our e-catalog) was created for.  Yep, you heard it here.  NetGalley is for bloggers, librarians, and booksellers, along with a smattering of other publishing insiders like yours truly.

    So it scares me when I see authors tweeting about their latest work being up on NetGalley (Beautiful authors, please be careful and talk to your publicists before doing this so you can add stipulations in your broadcast, if they even give you the go ahead to do this on twitter).

    We publishing folk don't do it to leave our lovely readers out, really.  I know it feels like that when you get denied.  It makes you want to cry (I know it would make me want to, for a book I was super excited about).  And rant and rave and threaten to take down the publishing company (I personally wouldn't, but you'd be surprised at what's said on twitter.  Or perhaps you wouldn't be).

    Insider's look at the process:  When you click that NetGalley request button, it gets sent to an in-box.  An overflowing in-box.  That's when someone from the marketing or publicity team (Let's call her Jane) combs through the hundreds of requests to see if they're to be denied or approved.  That takes time (it's practically a full-time job in and of itself), since Jane has to check each requestor's profile and verify who they are by going to their blogs or checking with bookstores to verify employment.  If the requestor doesn't meet the established requestor criteria, it's a "deny." 

    So please don't: Set up a fake blog, steal an employee id and pretend you work at a bookstore (we've called places only to be told, no, so-and-so doesn't work here), and especially,  request a title multiple times (usually through NetGalley AND Edelweiss).  It makes life harder for us.  It eats up our time rejecting you several times and if we would have been nice enough to give you a break before, we certainly wouldn't do it after that.  We have long memories.

    Please understand that when we say no, we don't do it to make you sad or mad.  We love books and readers.  They rock and so do you!  Just keep in mind that publishing is indeed a business.  We can't give away all our new books.  We still need to sell them so we can eat once in awhile.  And that so can your lovely authors.  You want them to eat, too, don't you?  So that they have the strength to keep penning awesome books?

    Tuesday, May 15, 2012

    Preparing for Vermont College of Fine Arts

    My first residency at the Vermont College of Fine Arts is drawing closer and I'm getting more excited and nervous!  Last Friday, in addition to my bill (which is scary in and of itself), I received information about...dun dun dun...the writing workshop.  Commence nail biting.

    I'm to submit fifteen to twenty pages of my work in progress by 3 PM on Friday, June 1st.  I have most of it done already, but it needs major overhaul before it's ready for people's eyes.  That's the scariest part of the MFA program for me, the idea that people actually have to, you know, look at my work.  It makes me feel naked.

    An editor friend offered to look at some of my work, but I demurred, mainly because we work together.  It's even more uncomfortable if you work with someone and they read you work and hate it.  Then they have to be nice about their hatred since you see them often.  And then I become the idiot who doesn't know how bad she writes.  

    Well, nosiree.

    It's too awkward.  I wouldn't want to put that kind of pressure on anyone.  I know about the pity reads they provide, as I've done a few myself (I won't even mention the ones I did for agents who promised to read their friends of friends' work--Yep, that detailed yet nice rejection came from me!).

    So if any of my editor friends are reading this--You are too cool to abuse, so I vow to never to come up to you and ask you to read my work.  You have plenty of bad reading as it is, so why would I do that to you?

    Agents are another story. 

    Sunday, May 6, 2012

    Children's Book Nostalgia

    I've worked on the adult side of publishing and as much as I enjoyed it, it doesn't compare to the love I have for children's books.  I now work with books ranging from picture books to young adult, and I couldn't be happier.

    I read adult books (though not as much as I used to, living in kiddie land), but I have a soft spot for children's books that I don't have for their older counterparts.  There are wonderful and affecting adult books (like Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone, which is one of my favorite books of all time), but it's my contention that children's books touch us in a way adult ones don't.  As children, we read children's books and they become part of our identity in a special way.  We grow up with them and even if we look back at some of them now and shake our heads, we can't help but acknowledge the indelible impression they've left on us.

    As a kid, I was obsessed with the Sweet Valley High series.  I even subscribed to their book mailing and looked forward to getting a new book each month.  Let's not get started with the TV series it spawned, which I watched each Saturday (When I was 15, as a matter of fact, in Manhattan I ran into one of the actors who played Todd Wilkins!).  I cried when I missed an episode once, a fact that my sister refuses to let me live down.  Flipping through this series now, I realize how terribly soap opera-esque they were, but I still love 'em, flaws and all.

    I was also hooked on teen horror and paranormals--Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine, Annette Curtis-Klause, Richie Tankersley-Cusick, Lael Littke--I could go on and on, so I'll stop there.  I'd amassed so many books that I had to give most of them away at some point.  Now, thanks to my love-hate relationship with Amazon, I've been able to locate and purchase some the out-of-print books  once owned and loved.

    Whenever I buy the used books, I make sure they have the original covers, since that's what makes them extra special to me.  Repackaged covers are great for drawing in new generations of readers. Those old school covers spark memories that new shiny ones just don't.  I see a cover I recognize from childhood and I just get goosebumps.

    Speaking of which, I was a Goosebumps fan.  (See?  Most things just remind me of books!  And, yes, I also watched the TV series.)

    Hmmm...since it appears I've written a love letter to Francine Pascal and R.L. Stine, let's throw in some Judy Blume love.

    What about you?  Do you have any children's books that bring back memories?

    Wednesday, April 25, 2012

    Colberty Tales

    How I love Colberty Tales.  Steve Colbert rocks!  Check out his hilarious interview with Julie Andrews.  Does he actually get her to sing with him.  Watch to find out!

    Tuesday, April 17, 2012

    Not-So-Nice Agents

    Sorry for the lag between posts!  I just returned from a much needed European vacation.  Am now poor.  Which is good for anyone who actually reads my blog!  I now have more time to write since I can't afford to do much now.

    Today I had lunch with an editor and we chit chatted (aka gossiped) about people in the industry.  As you might recall, I work in marketing, but my long term goal is to transition into editorial and eventually agenting; whichever comes first, really.   I interned at an agency a couple years back and loved it.  Agenting is tough work, but ultimately rewarding, if you enjoy the combination of the creative and business sides of the industry.  Once you've worked your way up from the junior levels to focus on your own client list, you have an amazing amount of freedom (and stress, too) to shape the careers of your writers.

    Talking to my editor friend and other editors, I've noticed that agents aren't always looked on too fondly, though.  Unfortunately, there are far too many agents who are...a wee bit aggressive, to put it politely.  Or to put it impolitely, jerks.  Those are the agents that view client-editor negotiation with an "us vs them" mentality.  And once the deal is struck, they're the ones who don't know how to back off to give the editor room to do his work.  

    As a future agent, I get that an agent wants the best deal for his client.  But there's a right way and a wrong way to do it, the latter involving attack mode.  Good agents know the difference. 

    Not-so-nice agents aside, there are plenty of agents who do a fantastic job of keeping both the editors and their clients happy (We just don't talk about them as much, since the not-so-nice ones stick out more, sorry).  

    If you're an aspiring writer who's new to the publishing biz, you might wonder, Well, how do I find me some good agents?  There's a lot of info out there, so I understand the quandary.   You can always check Preditors & Editors for the basics, of course, but a great site that comes to mind is Literary Rambles.  Literary intern Casey McCormick and aspiring children's writer Natalie Aguirre have taken the time to profile literary agents (do these bloggers even sleep?).

    Literary Rambles is a helpful site, as is Pub Rants, a blog written by super agent Kristin Nelson (a dream agent of mine, if I were ever published!).  Another site that rocks is former agent turned author Nathan Bransford's blog.  

    Hmmm...I might have to do a post where I compile my favorite industry-related blogs.   Either way, those four are a good start!