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!