Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Oughts: A Look Back

Earlier this year, when I looked back ten years ago to when I first started my career in publishing, I hadn't realized that we were also nearing the end of the decade and the beginning of a new one (although...technically 2011 is the beginning of the new decade, right? Details, details!).

Before I do a "look forward" to 2010, I thought I'd look back at the last decade. So, let's see. What were "The Oughts" all about for me?

-I spent most of The Oughts not eating candy. I'm not sure exactly when I made that New Year's Resolution to not eat candy (I'd look back in my diaries to check, but am on the road right now! I'm literally up in the air on the airplane, to be exact), but it was at least eight years ago, because I know I was still living in Boston. Wow. Almost a decade of barely any candy!

-I've spent all of this decade working in children's book publishing and loving it. I went from being an editorial assistant to a senior editor (with a few steps in between).

-I moved to New York from Boston.

-I've lived in four different apartments, have had twelve different roommates.

-I survived a traumatic break-up and an eviction.

-I've been in three serious romantic relationships.

-I dated people I met online, met at parties, met at bars, met while sharing a taxi, even!

-I met The Randoms: my "new" group of friends who I've now known for almost five years.

-I traveled a ton, including to Australia, Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Beijing, Shanghai, London, Bologna, Florence, Iowa, Oregon, Austin, Canadian Rockies, Toronto, Montreal, and more.

-I spoke at countless SCBWI conferences, attended multiple ALAs, IRAs, BEAs, and NCTEs.

-I went to countless weddings, two funerals, visited friends and families with babies (distributing kid's books along the way).

-I got out of debt.

-I edited two books that were New York Times bestsellers, one Golden Kite winner and one honor, an Edgar Award winner, an Al Roker Book Club pick...and more! I love and am proud of each and every book I've acquired and edited. And I'll always remember my first!

-I took tens of thousands of photos, including hundreds of food.

-I continued my obsession with Karaoke.

-I learned about the Asian woman - gay man stereotype.

-I ran one marathon, four half marathons, played softball on the company team (the Catchers in the Rye), and biked a bunch.

-I went skydiving.

-I joined Friendster, then Myspace, now Facebook and Twitter.

-some of the technology that changed my life (for the better. Well, for the most part): cell phones, instant messaging, Sony Reader, iPod, gmail,, iPhone, digital cameras, flickr, animoto, podcasts, MacBook,

-I got the bulk of my news from Jon Stewart, podcasts, Twitter, and the internet.

-I voted in two presidential elections, and witnessed the U.S. elect our first black president.

-I went from being in my mid-twenties to mid-thirties. In other words, I became an adult. Almost.

-And, of course, I started blogging! I became a Blue Rose Girl, and blogged about bloomabilities.

What are some of the events that have defined this decade for you?

Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, December 21, 2009

It's snowing! It's snowing random links, that is.

Re-posted from the Blue Rose Girls.

I'm on vacation, at my parents' home in Southern California for the holidays. I made it out of New York on the last non-canceled flight to Los Angeles Saturday afternoon during the snow storm! Speaking of the storm, I was actually a teeny tiny bit sad to have escaped, because I really love snow, and there's something so special about the first big snow of the season. But I was happy to live vicariously (whil in 70 degree weather) via lots of photos and videos online. Here's my favorite:

This year really flew by. I'll try to do a proper wrap-up in the next few weeks, but today I'll direct you to agent Nathan Bransford's great "Year in Publishing" post.

And here's a recent article about a business practice in publishing that nobody talks about. In fact, I know very little about how this works and found the article fascinating myself.

I was a guest blogger over at the Debutante Ball last week, and posted about research--how I researched to find my dream publishing job, that is! Read it here.

Also, related to Meghan's post about eBooks, this is an interesting article about an experiment regarding the issue of DRM, or digital rights management.

And finally, in honor of the sad news that actress Brittany Murphy died over the weekend, and also the recent news of Kirkus's demise, I was reminded of my post from this past May about Bad Reviews, which referenced both subjects (albeit somewhat indirectly). And will add that despite my negative feelings towards some of the reviews in Kirkus, I was saddened by the news. It really is a loss to publishing. You can read more thoughts about this over at the Horn Book blog.

And to conclude this random post, let's get back to snow. Anyone who knows me well knows that my favorite snow book, which is also my favorite picture book of all time, is The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Other snow books I love are Robert's Snow by Grace Lin, and Uri Shulevitz's Snow.

What are some of your favorite snow books?

Happy Holidays, everyone!!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Today Show and Two Tidbits

Reposted from the Blue Rose Girls.


Here are a few pictures from Grace's appearance on The Today Show last Friday.

When I showed up at the studio, Grace was getting her makeup done in the green room. I took this short video by mistake before someone told me that photos weren't allowed in the area:

Grace met the book club kids beforehand--but they were under strict orders to not talk about the book (although signing books was allowed):
Lining up to go up to the taping:
I watched the show from the green room (there was a nice spread of food and coffee for all of us):Afterwards we took a group picture:

And here are Ames O'Neill (Grace's publicist at L,B), me, Grace, and her agent Rebecca Sherman:
Grace was great, wasn't she? I imagine she will have more to share on Wednesday.


Two more tidbits. I'd like to direct you to a thorough and insightful post by agent Michael Sterns over at the Upstart Crow Literary Agency blog. Food for thought for picture book authors.

And finally, this video kind of blew my mind. Will this be the future of magazines and books?

Monday, November 30, 2009

NCTE 2009 wrap-up

Re-posted (belatedly) from the Blue Rose Girls.


As I mentioned last week, I was in Philadelphia for the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) conference. I took the train to Philadelphia and met Grace at the hotel, then we walked over to the conference center to meet Jarrett Krosockza and his wife Gina for a quick lunch at the Hard Rock Cafe.

I had the mac and cheese, of course!
Good, but not the best.

Then Grace and I ran off for her session on "The Art of Story" with author Carmen Agra Deedy. We had a few technical difficulties at first, but then her talk went smoothly and I think the audience was impressed by her talk. I know I was!
Carmen was a fantastic speaker/storyteller as well--her final story about her mother in a mall parking lot brought me to tears.

Afterwards, we headed to the convention center for Grace's signing:
at the Little, Brown booth:

That evening we hosted a children's book dinner with special guests Grace Lin (Where the Mountain Meets the Moon), Jerry Pinkney (The Lion and the Mouse), and Suzanne Selfors (Smells Like Dog, pubbing May 2010) at the restaurant Fork. Delicious food (not pictured), delicious company:
The next day I'm sorely lacking in pictures, but it started with booth duty for me in the morning, when Jerry Spinelli and Chris Lincoln had signings back-to-back. Then Jerry and I escaped for a nice lunch, and in the afternoon I walked the floor for a bit saying hi to authors such as Lisa Yee, G. Neri, Scott Westerfeld, Justine Larbalestier, E.B. Lewis, and more.

I helped out for our Jerry Pinkney signing in the afternoon, then escaped to the hotel for a quick nap.

That night Assistant Editor Connie Hsu and I took "our" authors to dinner at another amazing restaurant called Supper. Once again, I'm sad that I neglected to get any pictures of authors Matthew Quick (Sorta Like a Rock Star, pubbing in May 2010) and his wife Alicia Bessette, Grace, or Stephen Emond (Happyface, Connie's first acquisition, pubbing in March 2010), but I did manage two photos of the food. Here's the farmer's plate we ordered for the table:
And my duck and waffles. Yum.
The next afternoon I had coffee (and cheese--odd combination, I know) with the incredible Janet Wong, and then that evening was the cocktail party that kicks off the ALAN Workshops where Sarah Ockler and Sara Zarr vamped it up:
And then it was off to our YA fiction dinner where Matthew Quick joined the two Sara(h)s at Portofino. And yes, once again, we had amazing food (spinach ravioli! tiramisu!), conversation, and this time we had the added wonderment of readings from 20 Boy Summer (Ockler), Sorta Like a Rock Star (Quick), and Once Was Lost (Zarr).
And that, my friends, sums it all up. Thank you Philly, NCTE, ALAN, all our authors and illustrators, and of course our amazing school and library marketing team of Victoria Stapleton and Zoe Luderitz.

Till next year!

Monday, November 23, 2009

I'm ba-ack! Japan and Hong Kong trip

Re-posted (belatedly) from the Blue Rose Girls.

Sorry I've been neglecting the blog for the last few weeks--as some of you know, I was traveling internationally in Japan and Hong Kong. I had hoped to try to post from abroad, but the spotty internet access at hotels and the time difference made it difficult.

Right now, I'm in Philadelphia for the NCTE conference (National Council of Teachers of English). But that will be a post for another day. Today, I'd like to share my Asia trip in photos, focusing on everything children's book-related.

First up, Japan. I was there for the wedding of Little, Brown senior designer Saho Fujii--Saho is the designer of Wabi Sabi and Year of the Dog, to name just two of her amazing book designs. She is originally from Kyoto, and that was where the beautiful wedding was held:
In the two days after the wedding, Saho organized sightseeing in the area, including to Mt. Hiei, where the cat Wabi Sabi traveled:
We also checked out a bookstore, and found some of the books we publish, included Vampirates, which Senior Designer Alison Impey designed:

And of course we found Twilight, which they divide into parts so as to keep each individual book small, compact, and cute:
We also found Gossip Girl and Eggs:

Back in Tokyo, Alison Impey (of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and When the Moon Forgot design fame) and I visited Japanese children's book publisher Tokuma Shoten's offices, and had lunch with their editor-in-chief and senior editor, as well as SCBWI regional advisor for Japan, Holly Thompson.
And then the SCBWI Japan conference, which took place all day Saturday the 14th in Yokohama. I gave three talks solo:
And the Alison joined me to talk about how illustrators are chosen, as well as a Q&A:
Here are two group pictures with some of the attendees!
The next day I was off to Hong Kong for a whirlwind three days. On Monday, Regional Adviser Mio Debnam took me to lunch and then sightseeing to the Peak:
And then I gave my first of two evening talks:
And then a lovely dinner at the China Club with a great group of people!
The next day, I wandered around the city, and randomly came across an elaborate and beautiful Jimmy Liao exhibit in Hong Kong's Times Square!
(from Sound of Colors, with moons from When the Moon Forgot in the background...)

So beautiful.

I gave another talk Tuesday evening, and we went to another delicious dinner at the Quarterdeck Club:
As usual, I was all about the food on my trip. For fun, here's an animoto video of some of my food highlights:

(If you can't view the video, try this link.)

I need to give a special thank you to Kathleen Ahrens, the SCBWI International Regional Advisor who extended the initial invitation to me to come to Asia, and also to Holly Thompson and Mio Debnan who were such gracious hosts, tour guides, and organizers. I had a wonderful time meeting everyone, and, of course, eating. ;)

And a special congratulations to Saho and Bob! May they have a wonderful marriage full of love.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Beyond the Book: Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin

Cross-posted (belatedly) from the Blue Rose Girls.

Beyond the Book: Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin

What if a stranger hated you?

This raw, moving novel follows two teenagers—one a Mohawk-wearing, Punk-rocking seventeen-year-old Neo-Nazi; the other a gay thirteen-year-old cast out by his family, hustling on the streets and trying to survive. Told in alternating perspectives, this book tells the story of the boys’ lives before and after the violent hate crime that changes both their futures. This is a tragic but ultimately inspirational journey of two very polarized teens, their violent first meeting, and then their peaceful reunion years later. It is an unforgettable story of survival and forgiveness.

Acclaimed author Davida Wills Hurwin weaves a compelling and powerful story, inspired by the real lives of Timothy Zaal and Matthew Boger. Theirs is a journey from fear and hate to tolerance and hope. And it is proof that people can truly change.

This book has had an interesting genesis—it started when a film agent approached a literary agent asking her if she knew anyone who could write the story of two men, Matthew Zaal and Timothy Boger, in book form. The literary agent really saw this as powerful material for a young adult novel, and approached her client Davida Wills Hurwin about taking it on.

When I met with with the agent over two years ago, I was initially interested because of Davida’s involvement—her first novel, A Time for Dancing, had been published by Little, Brown and was the first YA book I read after starting work there. It was handed to me by another assistant (Amy!) who told me that although Little, Brown did not publish much young adult fiction, A Time for Dancing was a perfect example of the type of YA we did publish. I absolutely loved it—I thought her writing was beautiful, and that she perfectly captured the raw emotion of the story. And, of course, it made me cry. And then, when the agent went on to tell me the incredible story of these two men (whose story has been shared on NPR, the Oprah Winfrey Show, and more) I thought, this is exactly the kind of book I love to read. Edgy but authentic, and ultimately uplifting and inspirational. In fact, after the meeting my assistant Connie kept saying, "Are you excited? This is your kind of book!"

The book was in the process of being written when the agent pitched it, and so it wasn't until over six months later that I finally was able to read it. And it delivers. Davida has done a brilliant, sensitive job of bringing their story to life. She interviewed both men at length, going back to meet with Tim again and again after realizing that his story was more challenging to tell. It’s such a powerful story even as fiction, and the fact that it’s based on truth takes it to that next level. She also wrote a very thoughtful author's note at the end of the book explaining her process, and we also include a brief Q&A with Tim and Matthew. I've had the opportunity to meet Davida twice so far, and she is such a warm, loving soul. It has been such a pleasure working with her.

The book's official publication date was yesterday. Happy book birthday! As always, I love the design of this book, this time by the amazing Ben Mautner who told me that he couldn't stop thinking about the book after he read it. He put so much thought and care into the design. Here's the cover...

If you take off the jacket, a stark white case cover is revealed with just the word "Revelations" that shows through a die-cut in the front of the jacket:

And here is the full jacket:

On the back cover, we had some wonderful advanced praise--I was so pleased to discover how strongly others responded to the book:

"In the lively voices of the separate narrators, two antagonists survive a hate-crime collision. Their entwining paths point a new way forward. Hurry to read this book; time is still of the essence."
-Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Matchless

"In addition to being impossible to put down, Freaks and Revelations is that rare book with the power to change the world. Lots of books shine a light on the humanity of the oppressed victim. This book grants humanity to everyone. Freaks and Revelations should be required reading for all humans. We need what it provides, and we'll be better for it."
-Catherine Ryan Hyde, author of Diary of a Witness, Pay it Forward, and Becoming Chloe

"Your heart will break as you follow these two scared, scarred boys toward the night both will regret forever. A compelling and essential book for teens."
-Ellen Wittlinger, author of Love & Lies, Parrotfish, and Printz Honor Book Hard Love

Freaks and Revelations proves that the power of forgiveness and understanding will always triumph over hate. A brutally realistic story, told with gut-wrenching authenticity.”
--Julie Anne Peters, author of Keeping You a Secret and National Book Award finalist Luna

In Freaks and Revelations, Davida Wills Hurwin exquisitely illuminates a dark, haunting story of pain and redemption so that it stays in the reader's heart long after the last page is turned.
--Alex Sanchez, author of Rainbow Boys and Bait

Freaks and Revelations is a must-read, and should find a conspicuous place on bookshelves in every high school in the US. The book offers amazing insight into the nature of hate, and the crimes it perpetrates. Davida Wills Hurwin should be very proud!”
--Ellen Hopkins, author of Crank, Impulse and National Book Award finalist Burned

Freaks and Revelations is a painfully-honest journey through the collision-course lives of two adolescents…one a homeless gay kid hustling the streets of West Hollywood the other an increasingly violent white supremacist desperate to find himself in LA’s punk rock scene. Through misfortune and serendipity both boys learn the meaning of pain and forgiveness.”
--J. Dallas Dishman, Ph.D., hate crimes researcher and author of “Anti-Gay Violence in the City of West Hollywood”

We also received the strongest response from our teen Hip Scouts that I've ever experienced. Here's just a taste of a few of the reviews:

"Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wilis Hurwin was a rare novel that showed the truth behind human nature. Hurwin captures people in their most vulnerable state, being faced with something completely different from your own views, and self discovery....Overall this novel is a beacon of hope and a step closer to coexistence and acceptance of any lifestyle. This doesn't rank as a 'must read.' It is ranked as an 'absolutely need to read!'"
-Jeff, 17

"Through Freaks and Revelations, Ms. Hurwin has opened not only my eyes but the eyes of everyone worldwide to hatred and misguidance that could and can be prevented. I am in awe. This story could not be told any better if not by the real people themselves. I couldn't put it down. I loved it; every single word of it. There is hope for a better world, where people understand and respect each other rather than the hate that engulfs us now."
-Michelle, 18

"Freaks and Revelations was one of the best books I have ever read. Profiling the two main characters years before the incident gives readers a chance to get to know the characters and gives them an insight as to why they act the way they do and how they got to that point. It also allows the readers to sympathize with the characters and go through their hardships with them. All of this makes the book more touching and a better read. Each hardship a character went through, I felt as well. It also raises awareness for those who have to suffer in this way. I think that this story is so important to have out there and it was done in a brilliant way which paints a picture impossible to ignore."
-Julia, 15

"Freaks and Revelations is the sort of book that strikes its readers as completely different, new and gripping. The two main characters, Jason and Doug, are from extremely diverse backgrounds, but it's easy to relate to them both in many ways. Their story is a story about the struggle to survive in a world where no one else understands the way you are, the struggle to grow up when you don't know if anyone even cares whether you do, the struggle every teenager faces in deciding if it's okay to be unique. The reality of this tale is powerfully intense, and its message is one that everyone should take to heart. Freaks and Revelations definitely gives its readers a deeper understanding of what it means to hate, to love, and to respect one another. It is truly a masterpiece."
-Melissa, 17

"Freaks and Revelations by Davida Wills Hurwin is a raw and poignant book about two young boys ostracized from their families and left to fend on their own. This novel is told through dual perspectives, and the readers are captivated by the raw emotion each of the characters experience. They cross paths in the most unusual way and in the end, everyone learns about how everyone should be treated with respect. I recommend this book to anyone who is willing to gain a new awareness and want to read an amazing book."
-Tynisha, 16

And finally, a glowing review from School Library Journal:

"Freaks and Revelations is based on a true story so emotionally detailed that it could easily be a memoir....Hurwin gets inside her characters’ pain without sentiment; she present each home and its horrors soberly...The author’s prose is clear and incisive, and many chapters resonate like good short stories. Jason’s narrative stands with Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson’s Target and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak as a survivor’s story. Doug’s equally layered story—of coming full circle out of hate—sets it apart." --School Library Journal

I absolutely love this book. It's raw, and there are parts that are certainly tough to read, but above all it is honest, authentic, and as many of the quotes say, I think this should be required reading for all. It is a look into lives most likely very different from your own, it is a book about tolerance, acceptance, empathy, and change. I hope you'll all read it. It is a book that gives me hope.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Good news!

Cross-posted from the Blue Rose Girls:

As Grace announced last week, her beautiful novel Where the Mountain Meets the Moon was selected by Al Roker as the December selection for the Today Show Book Club, aka Al's Book Club for Kids. I thought I'd share a little behind-the-scenes look into how this type of good news is shared in the publishing house.

It was Thursday morning around 10:30 am, and I had just gotten out of our weekly editorial meeting. I was in my office chatting with our Library Marketing Director when I heard the sound of running footsteps down the hall. Running footsteps is a sure sign of news--although sometimes bad (for example, something printed incorrectly, what are we going to do?!). Our Publicity Director and Grace's in-house Publicist burst into my office holding a copy of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon with huge smiles on their faces. (Whew, it's good news. But what?) "Today Show book club selection! Today Show Book Club selection!"

Excitement, shock, disbelief, happiness.
"Wait...what? What? Really?!"
Laughter, cheering, yay yay yay! I could hear the news spread down the hall.
What happened?
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is going to be on the Today Show!
No way! Awesome!
"You should tell Grace!" I was told.
"This is Al Roker's Book Club, right?" I asked--I wanted to make sure I told Grace the right thing.
I IMed Grace on Gchat.
: hey, are you there?
grace: yep
me: are you at home? I have good news for you! Should I call your cell?
grace: ok

I got Grace on the line. Our Publicity Director and I told her the news together. I think the first words out of Grace's mouth were, "Oh my gosh! Oh my gosh! Really?! Oh my gosh!" as the news sunk in. "I have to tell my mom!" and then later..."What am I going to wear!?" and "How did this happen?!"

This is generally how it works when we hear good news. For example, when we receive the bestseller lists and see that we have a new title make it on, the news spreads down the hall, and people cheer and clap and yell and come out of their offices and cubes to celebrate for a little while. When The Curious Garden hit the list for the first time back in April, our Publisher's Assistant started calling my name while running down the hall. "Alvina! Alvina!" It's especially exciting when it's the first time an author has made it on the list. In the case of Peter Brown, a group of us crowded into my office to hear Peter react to the news. He had been on tour in CA at the time.

I love good news in the office, obviously. Keep it coming!!

And congratulations again, Grace!

Monday, October 19, 2009


Cross-posted from Blue Rose Girls. Of course!


On cold, rainy Saturday I participated in the Rutgers One-on-One conference out in New Jersey. I believe I had gone to this conference twice before, but not for a few years. It really is a great conference, and the set-up is unique from any other I've been to. Each mentor (editor, agent, or published author or illustrator) is paired with one mentee. The mentees are all carefully screened, and I've found that across the board, the quality of writing is much higher at this conference than any other. My mentee from my first year, Marie Lamba, is now published, and at the conference I was informed that another mentee's first novel is coming out next year.

Five of us from Little, Brown were attending, and so we piled into a Zipcar and caravaned over. The morning was kicked off with breakfast (agent Barry Goldblatt made fun of my choice of a blueberry bagel. I like blueberry bagels, bright purple color and all!), and the mentors and mentees are in different rooms. This is to give the mentor time to review the mentee's work in advance, and to also network and chat with our fellow mentors. We then came together for opening remarks, and then mentors and mentees broke off to meet for 45 minutes one-on-one. This time can be used to critique the work, but can also just be to chat, talk about the business, answer questions, etc. This year, I was matched with a talented author/illustrator. I was especially enthralled by the maps she creates--she called illustrating maps her "day job." The 45 minutes flew by.

A panel discussion followed. This year, the topic was "Staying Power in Children's Literature" moderated by agent Rachel Orr. The panelists were author/illustrator Peter Catalanotto, Publisher of Marshall Cavendish Margery Cuyler, Digital Books Coordinator at Disney Publishing Worldwide Colin Hosten, and Emily Sylvan Kim, Agent at Prospect Agency. They discussed what is necessary to have both a lasting career, and to create a lasting book. They discussed how to last through this economic downtrend, and the effect of new technology on the industry. Margery stated that she's been through two economic downturns already in her career, and that this one too would end. She said that publishers are being more selective about buying books, and there may be more revising before contract than usual. (I've certainly found this to be the case at L,B.) Many felt that eBooks were the future, although to varying degrees. And everyone said that good stories are lasting.

Lunch was followed by the five-on-five meetings--five pairs of mentor-mentees join together in a group that is led by a facilitator. Again, it's mainly Q&A. In my case, all of the mentees were illustrators, so at the end of our time they put out their portfolios, and we went around and reviewed them all. I always love looking at art, and everyone was quite skilled.

And finally comes the keynote. This year, the keynote was Judy Freeman, children's literature consultant. Judy is a former children's school librarian, and served on the Newbery Committee in 1990. I've met Judy many times throughout the years--she does fabulous book talks, and is known to be a "big mouth" in the industry--if you're lucky enough to have written or edited a book that she gets excited about, your book will no doubt find an audience. She travels all over the country talking to kids, educators, writers, etc. Her presentations are lively, interactive, funny, and informative.

In this case, I was shocked when one of her slides featured my personal blog with the post Decline Letters 101! I must say, it was odd, but fun, to see my blog on the big screen. Later she book talked Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin (yay!), saying that she adored it and hoped it would have a medal on the cover come next year. She also mentioned Wabi Sabi by Mark Reibstein, illustrated by Ed Young--she showed some gorgeous collages and haikus that students of a class had created in honor of Wabi Sabi. Amazing. After the talk, people came up to me to ask how much I had paid Judy to include my books and blog--ha.

It was also lovely to have many people (including many mentors) come up to me to say that they follow me on Twitter or read my blogs. Hello, everyone, nice to meet you and chat!

And then the day was over. I have to say, I felt quite drained after the conference--last week had probably been the busiest week of the year for me, and this week is looking to be the second-most busy. But still, it was a great day, and I'm glad I went. Next up for me will be SCBWI conferences in Tokyo (Yokohama) and Hong Kong in November! Stay tuned...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Decline letters 101

As always, re-posted from the Blue Rose Girls. I really need to post something original here, soon!


Oh, decline letters. How we all hate them. I hate writing them, authors and agents hate receiving them.

I thought I'd demystify decline letters a bit--I would say that there are 6 basic types of decline letters I send:

1) Form letter:
This is a generic letter that it not personalized to the sender at all. This letter used to be reserved for slush (unsolicited) manuscripts that I knew immediately I was going to decline. However, because we no longer accept slush, I don't use this letter much. We do have a form letter we send to unsolicited manuscripts that simply states our policy of not reviewing those manuscripts. In case you're curious, this is the basic wording of our form letter:

Thank you for submitting your manuscript to me for my consideration. I've now read it with interest but am sorry to say my enthusiasm for this project is not strong enough to suggest we could take it on and publish it successfully on our list.

Your materials are returned herewith. I do appreciate the opportunity to consider your work and wish you the best of luck in finding a good publishing home for it.

2) Personalized form letter: This is the form letter, but with your name and title of the manuscript put into the letter. I actually send very few of these--like form letters, they're reserved for the projects that I know from the first few lines that my answer is going to be no, but the difference is that this letter is for solicited projects. I only use this letter for those authors or agents that I have no personal connection to, and don't care to necessarily have future contact with--for example, authors from a writer's conference who had queried me, but for whom I have no recollection of meeting (didn't have a critique with, didn't ask me a question at my talk, etc.), or agents who I suspect are "fake" agents due to the quality of work they submit. I think my basic form letters are very nice, but if you receive one, you can be fairly certain that I did not personally like your project.

3) Nice decline:
This is the personalized form letter, but with one or two lines that are specific to the work. For example, I may have a line that says something like, "Although I found your novel to be fun and compelling, I'm sorry to say that your characters felt too one-dimensional, and overall I just didn't love this enough to want to take on my list..." etc. etc. This is the decline I use most often--I use this for almost all agents, and also those authors who I have some personal connection to. The more I write, the more promise I saw in the work.

4) Nice decline with invitation to submit future work: This is the letter I use if I saw true talent in the writing, and feel that it was more of a matter of not liking the subject matter or plot of a book, but had confidence that the author's grasp of the craft of writing was strong.

5) Nice decline with editorial notes: I write this type of decline if I see real potential in both the concept and the writing, but yet do not have the time or willingness to give more feedback than I already have in the letter. But this decline is generally accompanied with an expression of my being open to review the project again if it is revised along the lines of my notes.

6) Nice decline with detailed comments, plus an offer to provide a full editorial letter and/or have a phone call regarding a revision with the author: If I write this type of letter, I not only see promise in the project, but am also excited to work with the author on a revision if given the opportunity.

If you receive letters 1-3, I'm not expecting or hoping to see more work by you/the author in the future. If you receive 4-6, then I do hope to read more from you in the future. If you receive letter 6, I'm willing to commit to revising with you just as I would a project that is already under contract, and am welcome to making the process an ongoing conversation.

Any questions? Ask away! But I also have a few questions for you:

If you're an author or agent, which would you prefer:

A) getting a decline letter within a week of submitting the project, with little or no personalization to the letter
B) waiting 4-6 months (or longer) for a decline letter with more detailed, constructive comments

Also, I'm curious--do you hold on to your decline letters? Burn them? Post them to your blog?

Wouldn't it be a nicer world if nobody had to write OR receive these letters? Alas. But if you think of decline letters as a stepping stone to publication, that may make receiving them that much easier.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Video Monday

For today's post, I thought I'd take a page from Fuse #8's Video Sunday and recommend some videos for your entertainment. The first is an absolutely joyful student-made one-camera video to the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling":

The second is the first of three pitch videos for Sesame Street, made back in 1968. I love how Kermit is such a hippie. Groovy!

(Thanks to Gothamist for the link, you can see links to the other parts here.)

The last two videos are from me.

Two weekends ago I went on a long bike ride around Manhattan, and randomly came upon what appeared to be a unicycle meet-up of some sort. What was great is that the riders all seemed to be teens:

And finally, some of you know that I rode the MS Ride yesterday. I did this ride in 2005 and loved going through the Lincoln Tunnel. Yesterday I went through the tunnel again and took this video. Warning: I wasn't very good about keeping the camera steady, so for those of you who get motion sickness (Grace), you may not want to watch:

Have a great week, all!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Observations about mainstream publishing

Reposted from the Blue Rose Girls.


Last week I read this insightful, sobering insider look at publishing here by Daniel Menaker, former Executive Editor-in-Chief of Random House. His experience is with adult publishing, and I do view children's book publishing as a happier world, but his is still an authentic view of publishing in general. Especially true is how negative a culture it can be. For example:

You're more likely to be "right" if you express doubts about a proposal's or a manuscript's prospects than if you support it with enthusiasm.

I'm often disappointed that our acquisitions team doesn't get more excited about projects. Sometimes it seems that the best praise we can get is "I liked it fine" or "I would be okay if we published it." Hardly glowing endorsements. True, when those rare moments come along where everyone gets excited about a project, it's wonderful, but people seem to be more critical than ever. It's a tough business.

More negativity:

And this is only the beginning of the negativities that editors must face. Barnes & Noble doesn't like the title. Borders doesn't like the jacket. The author's uncle Joe doesn't like the jacket. The writer doesn't like the page layout and design. Your boss tells you the flap copy for a book about a serial killer is too "down." The hardcover didn't sell well enough for the company to put out a paperback. The book has to wait a list or two to be published. Kirkus hates the book. Another writer gets angry at you for even asking for a quote. The Times isn't going to review the book. And so on.

*Sigh.* So true. And the following observation is something I particularly agree with:

It's my strong impression that most of the really profitable books for most publishers still come from the mid-list -- "surprise" big hits with small or medium advances, such as that memoir by a self-described racial "mutt" of a junior senator from Chicago. Somehow, by luck or word of mouth, these books navigate around the rocks and reefs upon which most of their fleet -- even sturdy vessels -- founder.

Anyway, read the column. It's fascinating. And I'm glad I'm not as jaded so far in my career--I still see many more pros than cons. But it's good to recognize the challenges in the hopes that maybe aspects of the business can change.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Take a break!

Re-posted from the Blue Rose Girls.

As I mentioned in a past post, it's been a particularly hectic summer, and as a reward for/respite from the stress, the editorial group took off a few hours early last Friday for an outing. And where did we go? I'll give you five clues:

Perhaps you've guessed it? We went to the High Line! Faithful readers of this blog, and fans of Peter Brown's The Curious Garden, will recognize this amazing public space. This was only my second trip to the High Line--my first was at night, and it was just as lovely, and a much different feel:

If you're in the New York area, be sure to check it out.

After our stroll on the High Line, we made our way to the roof deck of the bar Brass Monkey for drinks and work gossip. And now it's back to the grind. But no matter how busy one is, a break is always necessary and can do wonders to the spirits. I was talking to an author friend at brunch yesterday about what we do to relax--she records a ton of TV shows and takes a chunk of time to watch them all at once. I love reading my Entertainment Weekly and watching reality television. How do you all veg out when you're stressed and need a break?