Posted in Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, The Publication Process

Exciting News for Jasmine and Advice

Guest post on querying.

One of the Facebook groups I enjoy is Sub It Club. I learn from others, help others, and share in the ups and downs. I’m sharing this January 7th post by Jasmine A. Stirling with permission.

Hi everyone! I’m excited to announce that after querying in December, I received ten offers of representation, and am now represented by Alyssa Eisner Henkin at Birch Path Literary, the force behind books like Wonder, The Lovely War, and The Right Word.

Someone asked me on this forum if I have any suggestions for querying. One thing I would suggest is that you mention some recent projects the agent has done which you’ve read and enjoyed, and which fit well with your work, before you begin your pitch. It’s important for agents to know you understand who they are as an individual, and the kinds of projects they are passionate about. To get this information, I use a combination of Publishers Marketplace and Twitter. On Twitter, I get a sense for what projects the agent is enthusiastic about at the moment. 

Many of the projects listed in Publishers Marketplace are not yet out, so you don’t want to laud a book you obviously haven’t read. Sometimes I mention I’m looking forward to a book that has been announced in Publishers Marketplace but is not yet out. This shows the agent that I’m not just looking at Twitter or their website. They get the sense that I am familiar with industry news.

Take extra time and get familiar with the books the agent is publishing. Agents can tell if you are just querying everyone who might be remotely interested in your work.

Composing a good query letter and strategy takes time and research. Think through anyone you know who might be able to make an introduction. Don’t be afraid to network on Facebook. I did get an introduction through a cold request on Facebook to a very successful, closed agent, who subsequently made an offer.

And finally, this might not make me popular here, but I would take the advice you receive on groups like this with a grain of salt, even if they come from agented authors or moderators. The truth is, the rules of querying, receiving offers, and making choices, are more flexible than you might think. Everyone wants to make sure you find the right agent for you, including agents who are offering to work with you. 

Be respectful, be communicative about your timeline, be honest, but follow your gut and keep trying if you’re not getting the offers you want. There’s no secret police of agents who are going to kick you out of the club for anything you do. Just be a professional, and things will work out fine.

Good luck to everyone and Happy New Year!

Read more about Jasmine and her books on her website. You’ll definitely want to check out her delightful picturebook: A Most Clever Girl: How Jane Austen Discovered Her Voice.

Posted in Inspiration, Market Prep, PB, So Many Good Books, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Keeping Up with Picture Books

It could become a full-time job keeping up with all the new picture books coming out. And especially with libraries and many bookstores still being closed, it’s harder to do than ever. This is where I’m grateful for a number of blogs that help me stay in tune.

One site I’ve not shared before is Picture Book Builders. Formed by a group of well-published authors or author/illustrators, their goal is to explore“how one element of a picture book’s story or art manages to grab us or wow us or strike an emotional chord.” They take turns blogging about picture books. It may be an interview with a new author or illustrator about a book, or a recommendation of a new picture book, or maybe even a giveaway. The blog started in 2014, but I only discovered it last year. I subscribe—there are about 8 posts a month—so the info comes right into my inbox. A recent book from this site that I want to read is FIVE MINUTES (That’s a lot of time) (No, it’s not) (Yes, it is) (Putnam, 2019) written by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick and illustrated by Olivier Tallec.

I think I’ve talked about Susannah Hill Leonard’s blog before. I’m interested in her “Tuesday debuts” and “Perfect Picture Book Friday” posts. For the latter, anyone can add picture books they are reviewing or recommending, too. Susannah’s shared books on Fridays aren’t always the newest books, so there’s a nice mix of old and new. One of her recent posts is a book I’d already discovered, but love so much I’M A HARE, SO THERE (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021) by Julie Rowan-Zoch. Susannah posts about 3 times a week. Again, I subscribe.

And if you’re familiar with Storystorm, you probably already know about Tara Lazar’s Writing for Kids (While Raising Them). It’s not just a January idea month blog. Posts are often written by other authors sharing their inspiration for a book, a cover reveal, success stories, etc. Here’s a book birthday post I recently enjoyed: BIRDS OF A FEATHER! (Philomel Books, 2021) by Sita Singh and illustrated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman. Except in January when posts are daily, posts vary but usually there are several per week. Again, I subscribe to get them in my inbox.

And the final blog I depend on is Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating. Among her variety of posts there are always book giveaways—they aren’t always picture books, but I love the interviews and insights into these books. One that caught my attention recently was LITTLE EWE: The Story of One Lost Sheep (Beaming Books, 2021) by Laura Sassi illustrated by Tommy Doyle. Posts are daily! And, yes, I subscribe.

Do I look at these posts every day? No. Instead I take a few hours a few times a month and look at a batch of posts. Sometimes that means I miss out on giveaways from all of these sites, but since my main purpose is to get my eyes on picture books, that’s okay, too.

Do I like every book they share? Of course not. Books are very subjective. But I definitely find books I want to read. My library doesn’t always have them, but that doesn’t stop me from requesting they order the picture books!

Posted in Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

You’ve Written a Children’s Book—Now What?

I often see writers say they’ve finished their first children’s book and don’t know what to do next. These are questions I would like to ask each one:

What type of children’s book have you written? A picture book? An early reader? A chapter book? A middle grade novel? If you don’t know, find out.

Does the word count fit the category? For example, picture books are often under 500 words. The others have specific word lengths as well. Check out this resource.

Is your book appropriate for the age range? Most 10-year-olds are not reading picture books. Here’s a quick resource: “Age Levels for Children’s Books.”

Are you reading books in that age range? If you don’t know what’s out there, how can you judge your own work?

Is your story unique? Or is it an oversaturated topic? If a common picture book topic, does it have a unique twist at the end?

Have you researched books like it? That means you’ll know where it would fit on a shelf in a bookstore. That it fits the style of books published in the last five years—not what you read as a child.

Is it preachy? Is it written to entertain or to teach a lesson? What do you prefer reading? A novel or a sermon? I love what Roald Dahl said, “The contents of my books are not going to teach them anything at all, except to grip them by the throat and make them love to read.”

Have you revised? All writers have to revise their work. “Do not query before you have a) finished writing your book, b) revised your book, c) shown your query to someone unfamiliar with your work who can point out confusing bits.” -Lauren Spieller

Have you gotten any feedback from other children’s book writers working in the same category? Critique partners are an invaluable part of the process. You can find them through writing organizations, classes, and online groups. My first choice is the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (scbwi.org)—it’s where I’ve gotten my groups. Several Facebook groups I belong to have critique partner matchup areas: Kidlit411 has Manuscript Swap and Sub It Club has a Critique Partner Matchup.

If it’s a picture book written in rhyme, is it well done? Most editors hate near rhyme and forced rhyme. If someone else reads it aloud, do they read it in the correct rhythm? I love Josh Funk’s “Don’t Write in Rhyme.”

Others often jump into these conversations and ask, “Do you want to self-publish or traditional publish?” I believe you need to know what your book is, and about the market, before making any publishing decisions.

Feel free to comment or ask further questions.

Posted in Business Side of Writing, Market Prep, Writing Life

Finding Agents Zoom Meeting

In response to questions on KIDLIT411 (a Facebook group), I offered a free Zoom meeting today. About nine or ten writers participated and we spent about an hour together.

Getting ready for it–using a list of questions some had–I realized I’d done a live talk on a similar topic for SCBWI Oregon back in 2019. So, I took the PowerPoint from that, did some rearranging, and had a presentation.

My plan had been to record the Zoom meeting. I was almost done talking when I realized, I’d never pushed start record. Arghh. Next time I need a sign that says START RECORD right in front of me!

Since I can’t share the recording as planned, my husband reminded me I could convert the PPT presentation as a pdf. Wise man. Except it was too huge. He suggested we try google slides–it cut off some of my text. So, instead I chose outline view in PPT and copied the text of my slides and answered some extra questions I was asked:

ORGANIZING RESEARCH PROCESS

Keep track of those you are interested in!

  • You can do…
    • A Word document
    • A Word table
    • An Excel spreadsheet
      • Each tab a different agent (editor) and paste all your info including links
    • A pen and paper notebook

What info you may want to keep

  • Contact Info
  • Name
  • Email or link to submission form
    • usually forms are through agency—sometimes query manager
  • Agency/Publisher
    • website
  • Personal blog link
  • Twitter link
  • Where you found them…
  • What they want to see, such as …
    • Query or cover letter
    • Full manuscript, first ten pages, first 50 pages, first chapter
    • Synopsis – one page, brief, or …
    • Author bio
    • Comp titles
  • How they want it sent – email (attached or not–usually pasted in) or form (with link)
  • Report time – and if no response, or not stated

WHERE TO START RESEARCHING AGENTS (EDITORS)

  • My favorites…
    • Kathy Temean’s Writing and Illustrating blog – https://kathytemean.wordpress.com/
      • Usually features one agent a month
      • First page submission opportunities
      • Place to share art, find out about contests, etc.
      • You can subscribe!

WHEN I FIND AN AGENT (EDITOR) I’M INTERESTED IN…

  • I check their agency website
  • Twitter – unfortunately, you must have an account – https://twitter.com/
    • I also use this to check to see if an agent is up-to-date on queries
  • Google – search the internet for interviews/mentions/podcasts
  • I read and listen to any of the above I find
  • Ask myself questions:
    • Are they representing what I want to sell?
    • Do I like books they represent or that they say they like?
    • Do I recognize any of their clients?
    • Does their personality rub me the RIGHT way?

QUERY MANAGER

  • Accessible from the agency website or Manuscript Wishlist or Twitter
  • Let’s look at an example…
    • I review what info each agent wants
    • PREPARE ALL YOUR INFO READY IN A WORD DOC SO YOU CAN COPY AND PASTE
    • When ready click submit
    • Make sure you re-enter email on confirmation screen or it doesn’t send
    • I copy confirmation URL and paste into my file
    • You won’t always receive an email response, but can check via your link

HOW I KEEP TRACK OF SUBMISSIONS

  • I use a Word Table in a document per project – e.g. Title Queries
    • I include potential agents to submit to
    • I prepare my query letter or Query Manager info inside
    • I note results
    • I note agencies that don’t allow queries to more than one agent
    • I use color-coding so I know whom I’m still waiting on

Questions?

  • Favorite Podcasts?
    • Someone else mentioned Jessica Faust and James McGowan at Book Ends Literary
  • How much time do you spend writing versus doing writing business?
    • It depends on what’s going on in my world. I don’t know how to quantify it either. When I’m burnt out on writing, I might go catch up reading newsletters, research agents, submitting. It varies week to week. I also do the latter when the in box gets too full! 😉
  • Is there a list of good agents versus bad? No. It’s too subjective.
  • What about Query Tracker? I’ve not used it. Developed my process before it existed.

I hope this is helpful to those who couldn’t attend.


Posted in Market Prep, The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Finding Comp Titles

shelf-159852_640.pngRecently, I was at a writer’s conference where someone asked, “What do you do when you can’t find comp titles?”. (Comp titles are comparable titles.) Sometimes writers say, “nothing is out there like this book.” That’s highly unlikely, especially if the book fits a category–picture book, middle grade, young adult, etc.–and it fits a genre. If it doesn’t fall in any of these, perhaps the writer needs to rethink the project–there may be a reason “nothing is out there” like it.
How I find comp titles
First, I go to Amazon and search in the category. (You could use Barnes & Noble as well.) Let’s say I’m looking for comp titles for a picture book. I start by searching by subject in picture books. For example, manners, or musical instruments, or fun in the sun. Be sure and use the check boxes on the left to help you narrow your search. I usually check hardcover. Since I mostly write fiction, I specify that as well.
Next, I search by characters. If my characters are animals, I’ll search for fiction picture books on that specific animal. E.g. How many picture books are there with a tree frog as the main character? Probably not many, which can help your book stand out. I know there are a lot of picture books with chicken, dog, or cat main characters.
If neither of those options work, try searching for the tone of the book, such as humor or sweet, whatever fits your manuscript best. Or search for the theme of your book.
You can also go to a local bookstore and ask someone in the children’s section to show you recent books on a specific topic, character, or written in a specific tone.
Reading books
And, of course, I read the books I find to see if they really are a good comparable title.
I also do a lot of reading of picture books and may find comp titles that way as well.
Using multiple comp titles
Sometimes it takes two or three titles to express your book, so your pitch or query letter would say, “My book is like Grace Hopper: Queen of Computer Code meets Mo Willems’ The Thank You Book. (Note these are recent titles, which make the best comps.) You can also use movies or TV shows as one of your comps. “My YA manuscript is like The Truman Show meets M.T. Anderson’s Feed.” (These aren’t recent, but would give the editor or agent an instant picture of your manuscript.)
Usually you don’t want to use the blockbuster books, such as Harry Potter or Hunger Games as comparison titles. Although, if you were comparing it to some aspect of the book, that might work too. “My book has a main character who doesn’t fit in like Luna Lovegood in HP, but the story is more reminiscent of Laurel Gale’s Dead Boy.”
Agents and editors I’ve heard speak agree that comp titles will be out there. You just have to do the research to find them.
For further reading on this topic go to “Finding Comp Titles for Your Novel” by Annie Neugebauer and “Comp titles” by Janet Reid. Both of these posts are from 2012, but have great info.