Monday, May 18, 2009

Bad Reviews

Cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls.

I just became acquainted with this blog via Lisa Yee and Facebook:

The Worst Review Ever

What a great idea! As my fellow Blue Rose Girls all know, bad reviews hurt. You know they shouldn't, that it's just one person's opinion, but whether it's an Amazon review or one in a review journal or magazine, it's hard not to take them personally and get upset. And it's nice to know that you're not alone in feeling that way.

Editorial Anonymous said in a recent post about bad reviews: "your editor sees a bad review and shrugs." I'll have to respectfully disagree. This editor for one takes bad reviews of the books she edits quite personally, although of course perhaps not to the same extent as the author would. Oh sure, I know the bad review isn't going to hurt the sales of the book--although it might if every single review is negative. But I certainly don't just shrug it off that easily. I get sad, and I get ANGRY. Because obviously the reviewer just didn't *get* the book. In fact, there are three reviews from a certain journal that I still seethe about when I think about them now, years later. I won't name names, though *cough-rhymes-with-circus-cough.*

Some of you might remember this post back in 2006, when Chowder by Peter Brown got a negative review from Kirkus the same week it received a starred review from Booklist. It helped to have the good and the bad together, rather than just a bad review and nothing to counter it. It's made it easier to remember that it's subjective and that not everyone can or will like your book.

I don't envy a reviewer's job, and I do appreciate the care with which most of them read and review books. The little plea I'll make is if you're writing a critical review, whether it be on your blog or for a publication, please don't be too personal, and please don't be cruel. For example, don't review a book like Tai reviewed Cher in Clueless:

Tai: Why should I listen to you, anyway? You're a virgin who can't drive.
Cher: That was way harsh, Tai.

Don't be way harsh! Anyway, try not to sweat the bad reviews. And I'll try to follow my own advice in the future. But here's to nothing but starred reviews in our future!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Good news galore!

Greetings from Boston! Or, Somerville to be exact. I came up for a quick, whirlwind trip yesterday (heading back this afternoon) for a surprise engagement party for fellow BRG Anna and her beau Bruno. The party had an Indian Wedding theme, and was very fun and festive. Here's our requisite BRG photo op:
Libby, Grace, Anna, me, and Elaine.

Last week I received a bunch of fabulous news about some of the books I edited:

1) The Curious Garden will be reviewed in the NY Times next weekend. The book is called "quietly marvelous" and “As all good, enduring stories are, The Curious Garden is a rich palimpsest. Echoing the themes of The Secret Garden, it is an ecological fable, a whimsical tale celebrating perseverance and creativity, and a rousing paean, encouraging every small person and every big person that they too can nurture their patch of earth into their very own vision of Eden.”

Aside from just being just a fantastic review, it taught me a new word--palimpsest! The Curious Garden is also up to #5 on the NY Times bestseller list!

On Saturday I went to Peter Brown's book signing at 192 Books, and as we were so close to the Highline, we took a walk over to take a peak at the inspiration for The Curious Garden. We weren't allowed up yet (it's opening in June), but here's Peter in front:

2) Thursday night at the Edgar Alan Poe awards ceremony, Tony Abbott won for Best Juvenile Mystery for The Postcard! It was really thrilling to be there with him to celebrate. It was a "real" awards ceremony, like the Golden Globes, with everyone all dressed up, eating and drinking and merry making, and eagerly awaiting each award presentation. It was so exciting to hear Tony's name announced as the winner. His speech was exuberant and gracious, funny and heartfelt and sweet. And the little statuette they give is really cute!
3) And finally, because good news comes in threes, I found out that Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young, has won the Asian Pacific American Library Association (APALA) award for best picture book!

I love good news. Keep it coming!

And speaking of good news, congratulations, Anna and Bruno!

Friday, May 01, 2009

How I read submissions

Cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls. Read the original post (and comments) here.

In my previous post about my reaction to Jellicoe Road, I touched a little on the way I read submissions, mainly that I generally decide about novels based on the first 30-50 pages. I thought that I'd expand on this and talk more about how I read submissions and the way I decide if a book is something I'm interested in taking on, or something to decline.

Another editor I know got some flack for saying at a conference that editors (or, at least, her specifically) read submissions looking for a reason to say no. When I heard this, my first instinct was to say what an agent at the same conference said: that she reads looking for a reason to say yes. But honestly, the truth is a combination of both.

It's just not possible to publish every submission we get. Knowing this, it's true--I'm looking for reasons to reject most manuscripts. Some possible reasons? (feel free to ask me to elaborate on any of these)

-not well written
-too slight
-too quiet
-forced rhyme, off rhythm (for picture books, mainly)
-too similar to something already on our list
-too similar to too many books already in the market
-forced/inauthentic dialogue
-too didactic
-slow pacing
-too niche in appeal

and of course I could go on...

However, I'd be lying to say I'm not always hoping for that surprise--that I'll fall in love with a submission. And sometimes I'll fall in love with something despite it being something on the above list. It really IS like falling in love--I can fall in love with something, flaws and all. When I'm reading something that I'm really loving, my heartbeat will speed up. My mind will start racing, thinking about what I need to do to ensure that I get that manuscript. I'll imagine pitching the book at our editorial meeting, and then at our acquisitions meeting. I'll think about how I would edit the book, even what the cover would look like. I picture it winning the Newbery, making the NY Times bestseller list. In other words, I'll imagine us married with children during the middle our first date.

Generally, when I read a manuscript, it's either/or. Either I find a reason to say no, or else I fall in love with it. But the tough decisions happen when a manuscript falls somewhere in between. Agents, and perhaps authors who submit on their own, may be familiar with that rejection that takes an especially long time to come, where an editor apologizes and says that she was "mulling it over." This is what happens when I read a manuscript and can't immediately say no, but don't completely fall in love with it either. When this happens, I may put it aside to revisit later. And sometimes when that happens, I don't think about it again, and therefore usually will end up declining it. Sometimes when this happens, I keep thinking about it, which it generally a good sign that I don't want to let it go. And sometimes I'm completely on the fence, and then will either ask my assistant to read it, and/or I'll bring it to our editorial meeting to get some second reads.

This happens when the concept is really great, but the writing isn't particularly special. Or if there's just nothing wrong with the writing or the book, but I just don't fall in love with it. Or if I know the book is something publishable, but it's about something I just can't see myself working on, or reading over and over.

Sometimes when I'm in-between, a lot will depend on the current state of our list. Are we looking for more of that particular genre, or are we too saturated? For example, we're fairly overloaded with fantasy right now, which allows us to be even more selective than usual in acquiring that genre. A fantasy novel really has to be outstanding and original for us to even consider taking it on. For picture books, when I first started almost ten years ago, it was so much easier to acquire picture books than fiction. But in the last seven or eight years, in reaction to the market, we've cut our picture book list way back, and because of that, I'm even more picky when acquiring them--I can't just like something, I need to love it.

Sometimes I'm feeling in-between when an agent tells me that he or she has either received an offer, or else they "have a lot of interest." When this happens, I'll usually just end up passing on the submission, thinking that I don't love it enough to want to compete against other publishers. Of course, if I do love a manuscript, hearing that there's other interest will spur me on to move through the process more quickly.

And yes, I'm looking for love--I do want to say yes, I just know I can't say yes to everything. But like most people, I want the happily ever after.


In other news, I'm so proud and excited to share the news that one of those books that I fell in love with has attained a kind of "happily ever after": The Curious Garden by Peter Brown has hit the NY Times Bestseller list at #7! It's also #7 on the Indiebound bestseller list.

Congratulations, Peter!!!

(BTW, all but one sprout in my Curious Garden pot has died. But that sprout is going strong!)