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where book news, agentish advice, party planning, cute animal pictures and general shenanigans collide.
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26. Pretty Much Everything I know About Early Readers

I've been asked to talk about Early Reader books.

Before I even get into this, a caveat: I am not a literacy expert or an educator. I am not passing judgement about these books, nor am I making recommendations about how to teach your child to read. And, since (for reasons I'll get into below) I have never actually SOLD an early reader... I might make mistakes in this post, which I am happy to correct should a true expert decide to weigh in! :-)


In between the sunny utopia of Picture Book Country, where grownups and kids read together, and the charming cobbled streets of Chapter Book Town, where kids roam independently, there a small stopping place.

Let's call it Early Readerville, sometimes known as E-Z Readerville. It's small - more of a hamlet, really. These are its denizens:

VERY EARLIEST READERS: Phonics books - kids are learning to identify letter combinations and sound out basic words. There plenty of phonics-type programs that utilize some sort of book, but probably the most popular are BOB books and Hooked on Phonics.  These are book-shaped tools, not "real books" per se - you might get hired to create a book like this, but it is highly unlikely (ok: impossible) that you'll just write one and sell it to a publisher. So they don't even count as true citizens of E-R-ville, I just added them for the sake of thoroughness.

LEVELED READERS: The majority of early readers fall into this category. These books are generally thin, cheap, brightly-colored paperbacks with a big ol' number stamped on them. The numbers go from PRE-LEVEL 1 (very basic, short, repeated sounds - "Go Dog Go" type stuff) -- up through LEVEL 4/5 (depending on the company), which are much more complicated texts, but still short and with tons of pictures. These readers will probably conform to some sort of readability guidelines regarding the number of  words or syllables per page.

Most children's publishers have some sort of early reader line, here are some major examples:

Random House STEP INTO READING  *  Harper I CAN READ  *  Simon and Schuster READY-TO-READ   *  Penguin YOUNG READERS  *  Little Brown PASSPORT TO READING

What you may notice from looking at those links or taking a spin around the spinner rack of your local bookstore: 

There's a short window: Most kids are only in Early Readerville for a short time, compared to the length of time they linger in Picture Book Country or Middle Grade City. Leveled Readers are meant to be a swiftly-passing phase.

They're inexpensive: Most leveled readers sell for about $3.99 -- Publishers must produce these books VERY CHEAPLY and know they can sell A LOT OF COPIES to make it worth publishing a title in these series. Thus, leveled readers are often work-for-hire, or simply written in-house by editors, and/or generally feature characters they know have established brand-recognition.

Originality is not the first consideration.  Kids love familiarity, and as I said, "brand recognition" is important. So on that spinner rack, I'd bet at least 50% of the books are licensed properties, spin-offs from popular movies and TV shows. (Muppets! Avengers! Wreck-it Ralph! Little Mermaid! Transformers! Angry Birds!). Another 25% or so are spin-offs from already-popular picture book characters (Olivia! Pete the Cat! Madeline! Eloise! Pinkalicious!). Let's say 13% are kid-friendly non-fiction topics that pretty much stay in print for ages (Volcanos! Meerkat Families! George Washington! Titanic!), and 10% are  evergreen classics (Frog and Toad! Biscuit! Little Bear! Henry and Mudge!)...

What all this means: If you're crunching the numbers at home, that means only 2% or so of Leveled Readers are actually new, original stories, unaffiliated with any other book, movie, tv show or game. I made those numbers up, but I'd bet if anything I'm being too generous. Out of the many hundreds of writers I know, I believe only two (2) have written and sold an original mass market leveled reader.

Sooo... while you might be asked to write one of these work-for-hire on an established topic, it's relatively unlikely you're going to sell an original leveled reader.

ORIGINAL EARLY READERS: Non-leveled early readers  are, generally speaking, released in hardcover first, or simultaneous hardcover/paperback. They are usually more expensive, both in terms of retail price and production value (the look/feel, the quality of the paper, binding and art). Sometimes, after they've been out for a while, they get re-packaged into leveled reader editions.

There are not a lot of original early readers published in any given year, and very few of the few are one-offs. Most of the ones that are published are installments in original series by already established authors: DODSWORTH by Tim Egan,  MR PUTTER AND TABBY  by Cynthia Rylant, ELEPHANT AND PIGGIE by Mo Willems, for examples. Again, "brand recognition" comes into play, only this time the brand is an author/artist rather than a comic book character.

CAN a newbie break out with an original early reader book? Sure, it just doesn't happen very often.

TRANSITIONAL READERS:  There is also a relatively new micro-trend I noticed at ALA: books geared toward emerging readers who are pretty good, and out of Leveled Reader territory, but still not quuuuuite fluent enough for regular chapter books.  These are more sophisticated and cool-looking than the typical leveled reader, but with more illustrations than the typical chapter book.

These are so new, it's hard to say if this is something that is going to flourish and spread to other publishers or not. Prime example: Scholastic BRANCHES - which seem to be partly work-for-hire and partly original, but certainly always very kid-friendly and commercial. 

Also worth noting: TOON books (young graphic novels that hit that transitional spot between early readers and chapter books)

TO SUM UP: I'm not saying you CAN'T or SHOULDN'T write an original early reader book if that is where your passion lies. I'm just saying... it might be an uphill slog. You up your chances if the book is totally adorable and hooky, or if you're an artist, too. Or, you know... if you're already a popular picture book author/illustrator.

I would strongly suggest, if this is your goal, you go to the library and check out the past winners of the Theodore Seuss Geisel award. It is for early reader books of exceptional merit. Since so very few original books are produced every year for this age range, it will be easy for you to acquaint yourself with all these titles. (Bonus: They are super short!)

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27. Middle Grade Webinar - 7/11

I'm so excited to tell you that I'll be teaching another Writer's Digest Webinar on July 11. This one:


There's so much out there about YA books but it is hard to find concrete info about what's happening in the Middle Grade market. Here's your chance to hear all about it from me. Including what's selling, rookie MG mistakes, how to make your book stand out from the slush, and much more.

For more about the webinar, and to sign up, click here.

Please Note:

* Every participant will receive a written critique of the first 500 words of their Middle Grade project (either work in progress or finished manuscript) from me after the event.

* You do NOT have to attend the webinar live -- if you've signed up but can't make it on the actual day/time of you'll still get the complete 90 minute audio visual presentations, follow-up answers, and be eligible for the critique.

* ALL PUBLISHING QUESTIONS ASKED DURING THE WEBINAR WILL BE ANSWERED. I'll tackle as many as possible during the webinar itself, or if we run out of time I'll do the remainder of the answers in writing. Seriously. All of them. So bring questions! :-)

If you have any questions about the webinar itself, feel free to ask me here. Hope to "see" you on the 11th!

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28. Summer Lineup of REAL LIVE BOOK EVENTS!

It's been a while since I posted with my "author events" hat on but there are exciting things afoot at the bookstore and I figured I'd put them all in one place for future linkish reference. :-)

The Hudson Valley YA Society is a monthly event series for teenagers (and YA book lovers of all ages) that has been running at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck for a couple of years. HVYAS brings great authors to the bookstore every month for an informal and fun book party. We talk books and writing, we eat cookies, we give away prizes -- it's fabulous.

And, it's been SO successful that we've started a similar event series for middle grade books and readers! The League of Extraordinary Readers is for kids 8-12 (and kids-at-heart). There's a great write-up about the program in our local paper this week, too.

Here's our terrific summer line-up and links for more info and to RSVP. All events will be held at Oblong Books in Rhinebeck NY. I hope I will see some of you at the bookstore! :D AND if you can't make it but you'd like a signed book, just follow the link to pre-order - the authors can even personalize for you.

Saturday 6/22 - 4pm 
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS with Ann M. Martin, Geoff Rodkey and Mark Goldblatt

Sunday 6/23 - 4pm
HUDSON VALLEY YA SOCIETY with Jennifer Castle, Liz Norris and Kim Purcell

Sunday 7/14 - 4pm
LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY READERS with Michael Buckley, Kristen Kittscher and Kirsten Miller

Sunday 7/21 - 4pm 
HUDSON VALLEY YA SOCIETY - Phoebe North Launch Party!

Saturday 8/31 - 6pm

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29. Welcome to the World, WIG IN THE WINDOW!

THE WIG IN THE WINDOW is the story of two tween sleuths who suspect their school counselor is a dangerous criminal... and they just might be right.

Neighbors Sophie Young and Grace Yang are two unlikely best friends whose game of neighborhood spying takes a dark turn late one night when they witness Luna Vista Middle School’s notoriously phony counselor wielding a cleaver in her blood-splattered kitchen. When Dr. Agford explains she was merely preparing her famous pickled beets, the girls find themselves in a world of trouble for lying to police. Yet Agford’s increasingly bizarre behavior and a series of puzzling encounters convince the two friends Dr. Agford might actually be a wanted fugitive. Young and Yang embark on a very real and dangerous spy mission to uncover the truth, never sure if they — or their friendship — will survive it. 

Too long? Here's the nutshell version.  WIG is HILARIOUS. It's MYSTERIOUS. It's HITCHCOCK meets HARRIET THE SPY. It's a delight, through and through. And I think you should buy a copy. 

"Ample red herrings keep young sleuths and engaged readers guessing in this thrilling debut mystery. Reminiscent of the ever-compelling film Rear Window, this appealing and often spine-tingling tale will leave its audience wishing for more." --Kirkus Reviews

"A witty, weird and wonderful book, The Wig in the Window's trouble-making detectives kept me laughing--while the suspense had me inching towards the edge of my seat. It's a perfect middle grade mystery!--Kirsten Miller, author of the Kiki Strike series and the New York Times bestselling Eternal Ones series

And here's the very best review in the history of EVER from the Book Smugglers.

Oh and in case that isn't enough, please view the CUTEST BOOK TRAILER no seriously it is adorable.

CONVINCED? Yay! You can buy the book online at your local independent bookstore, or Barnes and Noble, or Amazon. If you're in the LA area, you can also go to Kristen's book launch party at Vromans on Thursday. (Can't make it? Order a copy from Vromans before thursday and Kristen can personalize it to you during the event!)

Find out more about Kristen and the book on her website: http://kristenkittscher.com/

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30. UNDERNEATH by Sarah Jamila Stevenson is now available!

Imagine if you could listen in on what people are really thinking. Not only the stuff they want you to know about, like "what number am I thinking of?"... or silly things like the identity of their crush... but the not-so-nice stuff. Like what they think about you when they are angry. Or secret feelings that are heart-breakingly dark.

Sunny's life goes from normal to whacked-out when her cousin Shiri commits suicide. Not only is she grieving her loss, but there's something weird going on. Sunny has somehow developed the disturbing ability to hear what people around her are thinking. Things she definitely should NOT be able to know. Friendship-ruining things. Possibly even LIFE-ruining things.

There are a ton of questions, of course. Is this a trick or something real? Is this a curse... or can Sunny learn to control it and use it as a tool? Or... is she actually going crazy... and is this what happened to her cousin, too? If so, is she bound to share the same fate as Shiri?

Here's what's great about UNDERNEATH (aside from generally being a lovely book, with a gorgeous cover):

* Like many of us, Sunny herself is a bit of a cultural mish-mosh, being half-Pakistani and half-Hippie-dippie-Americana. While that isn't what the book is about, her mixed cultural identity does inform who she is. It's refreshing to have a different kind of heroine and family in a tale, and one so true-to-life and well-developed.

* At its heart, this is a contemporary coming-of-age story -- Sunny's learning to navigate her increasingly complicated family life, friendship issues and crushes. While it does have a glimmer of magic, it's actually quite realistic, and as Kirkus reviews noted, "takes the reader on a profound journey."

* So often in books with paranormal elements, the characters end up having to save the world from a supervillain or something. This one focuses much more on Sunny's personal story. She doesn't have to save the world -- just herself.

* While lots of YA books seem to strive to push the upper-age-limits in terms of edgy or dark content, and there's nothing wrong with that -- this is not that kind of book. Sunny's issues, and her family's issues, are realistic but still appropriate for younger teens.

* It's a paperback, which means it is CHEAP! Yayyyy! :D :D :D 

You can find the book at your local bookstore or library, or online at: Indiebound Powells Amazon  -- and you can find out more about the author, Sarah Jamila Stevenson, on her website or twitter.

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31. What I'm Looking For, Summer 13 Edition

It's so mind-meltingly hot in my house already, and it isn't even 9am. It's gonna be a looong summer. So hopefully I'll at least find some great books to make up for the misery! Here's what I'm seeking at the moment.  

YA or... yes... ADULT ROMANCE  
Yep, I know I've always been a kids/YA agent... And I will be VERY choosy about this... but.  I am OBSESSED with reading romances, and I've decided I really want some of my own!

Specifically I seek: delicious, funny, sexy, swoony, single-title Regency/Victorian/Edwardian (Or WW1-era "Faded Gentility" in the Downton mold, or glitterati of the 1920's could be fun). An unusual setting or unexpected hero/heroine would be great, too. Some of my fave authors in this genre include Tessa Dare, Courtney Milan, Sherry Thomas, Elizabeth Essex and Sarah Maclean.

I like complicated heroes and witty and brainy heroines, and I'm a sucker for things like Mistaken Identity; Cross-dressing; Duckling-into-Swan; Gaming Hells; Rakes and Courtesans. Happily-ever-after a must.

An example of a specific book I recently loved: ALMOST A SCANDAL by Elizabeth Essex. It's an adventure about a girl who dresses as her brother and takes his place on a Navy vessel - she knows more about seafaring than most green sailors, so although her commanding officer figures out the ruse relatively quickly... he also needs her. So he lets her stay aboard in drag and... well. I won't tell you what happens. But ROWR.

Another: ANY DUCHESS WILL DO by Tessa Dare. A rakish Duke's mother insists he pick a woman to marry. She bets him she can teach ANY girl the lessons she needs to be a successful Duchess in a week's time. If she succeeds, he'll marry. If she fails, she'll never bring up marriage again. He of course doesn't want to marry, so he picks the worst possible candidate - a messy catastrophe of a serving wench. Good luck making a Duchess out of that, mother... (hilarity and kissing ensues).

I'd also be open to something in the above vein for YA...  

 Funny, romantic, delightful. That's all. Think MEANT TO BE or ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS. A diverse cast would be great. A light QUEER book such as this would also be great. If this tips into college-age NA territory, that's OK by me. And it can have issues in the way that, say, a Sarah Dessen book has issues - but I'm not looking for truly grim or dark.  


 Here's the thing. I can list off things I'm looking for. But REALLY what I am looking for is SOMETHING I'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE. Something that will surprise and delight me - something I could never have thought of on my own. And my mood changes all the time. Just because it isn't on this list doesn't mean I wouldn't be interested in looking! The flip side of that is, I take on VERY LITTLE. So just because your type of work IS on this list, also doesn't mean I'll take it on. But I would definitely love to take a look.  

SUBMISSION GUIDELINES: "Query" in the subject line. Query letter and first 10 pages in the body of the email. No attachments.

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32. Think Like a Bookseller, part 1 - On Turns, and Returns

Before I was an agent, I was a buyer and event coordinator for a great independent bookstore for many years. I'm still a bookseller in fact (though now just very part time) -- I LOVE bookstores, have worked in them all over the country, and my experience as a bookseller has had a huge impact on my perception of the publishing industry.

The Ways of the Bookseller might be a bit mysterious if you haven't been one yourself, but I think they are important for authors to understand. For the record: I'm only talking about MY EXPERIENCE over the past couple-dozen years in half-a-dozen great independent bookstores. Large chain bookstores may be different, specialty bookstores may be different, online bookstores are certainly different, and self-pubbing/indie-pubbing is obviously different.

So. I asked Twitter what questions authors had for booksellers, and first up was:

How do bookstores decide what to carry... and what to return?

Brick and mortar bookstores choose the books they carry based on a combination of factors. In no particular order: How well that author's past books or similar comp titles have done; How well that genre or category has traditionally sold in their store; "Buzz" from review sources; Local interest hook (the book is set nearby or the author lives nearby); A publicity hook (like: celeb author, or recent scandal, etc); A sales/marketing hook (like: the publisher is offering a special discount if the store buys a whole display worth of specially marked Summer Reading)... and finally, the buyers own particular taste/sensibility/random love of the jacket art, etc.

Obviously no store is going to buy everything in a catalogue -- even if there were room on the shelves, it would just be a hodge-podge. So a good buyer curates the selection. They also very often have the help of an excellent publisher sales rep to help guide their purchases. A good rep is a god-send and will have a great sense of the store, its strengths and clientele and what will appeal to them, and can make recommendations accordingly. In my experience, buys usually happen with a marked-up online catalogue open in one window (or paper catalogue on the desk), and the store's inventory open in another, and the rep and buyer together go through the list either in person or by phone and talk about each book - what to buy, what quantity, and what to skip. The process can take anywhere from an hour to half a day for each publisher. (And sometimes involves a lunch - yum yum!)

Buys happen many months ahead of time. So, though we are still firmly in Spring, bookstores are now buying for the Fall. And the Summer books, which were bought in Winter, are now arriving in earnest. And there has to be room for them on the shelves....

              \mbox{Inventory  Turn} = \frac{\text{Number  of  Units  Sold  (Over  a  given  period)}}{\text{Average  Number of  Units  (For  the  period)}}

"Turn" is how often inventory sells and must be replaced. It is extremely important to turn books relatively briskly. This isn't a museum where books are simply on display! Sitting inventory is not making money, turning inventory keeps the lights on. Turn is generally calculated on a per-section basis, so ideal turn will vary by section and store, but let's do a for-example.

If they've decided that the ideal turn for YA is 5, and right now the average turn in the section is actually 12, that means they may need to order more books and beef up the section, as there are likely holes and important books missing. (This is also an indication that the actual shelf-space allotted to the section might need to expand a bit.) If the turn is closer to 2, they definitely have too many books in the section and some will have to be pulled. (And probably the section, and buying for it, will need to contract a bit.)

Many kids books become hits by way of Word-of-mouth; Teachers reading to classrooms, kids passing the book around at school, the book getting awards and put on state reading lists, etc. Thus, stores do tend to let extra-special kids books linger longer on the shelves before returning them.

Some individual titles with very low or even zero sales might get saved during a return if a bookseller is feeling sentimental, but if your book is consistently dragging down the average turn, well... you see where this is going.

A very clever buyer (my sister in fact) once explained it to me this way: Your book is paying rent for its space on the shelf. Let's say that the average book in the section needs to sell or "turn" about 4 copies a year; that means "rent" is about .10 cents per day for an $8.99 paperback, .25 cents per day for a $21.99 hardcover. If the book isn't moving fast enough to pay that, it will eventually get returned to the publisher.

While to an author, returns day might be depressing, to a bookseller there is something immensely satisfying about packing up books that are gathering dust, and replacing them with shiny new specimens. To everything there is a season, etc etc, and bookstores can't afford to keep books around indefinitely if they aren't selling. Changing old for new also means an opportunity to "fluff" the section and make it look extra bright and inviting, which usually means increased sales for ALL the books in the section.

Will the system of returns change between publishers and bookstores? Likely at some point. Should it? Yeah, I think there are probably more efficient ways to handle inventory rather than shipping insanely heavy boxes of books back and forth all over creation. But I think it'll be a sad day if returns go away altogether.

Bookstores are already treading on a very thin profit margin and have to be careful about what they bring in. When they are able to take chances on quirky books and unknown authors, it's precisely because they are able to return them to the publisher if they don't sell. If they didn't have the opportunity to return items, they'd have to be much more conservative with their buys. And while that wouldn't be a big problem for the bestsellers, it would have a terrible effect on newbies and small fry.

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33. Links of Note

Working on a longer post for later, but I wanted to be sure to share the following links of note:

If you've read this blog for any length of time, or know me, you know that the first book I ever sold was FLASH BURNOUT by LK Madigan, which went on to win the Morris Award for best debut novel released in 2009.

I loved that book, and I loved Lisa, and she was taken from us all too soon. But! She wrote a companion book to FLASH before she died. It's called PROJECT: BOY NEXT DOOR, and it's awesome. Her family has had it edited and indie-published it, and I'm so glad the world gets to read more of Lisa's wonderful words. Here's more about the book -- support it, won't you? You can purchase on Amazon or BN. Happy reading.
A great post on What To Expect at BEA, perfect for first-timers. Especially important, I think: Don't be greedy, and for crying out loud WEAR COMFORTABLE SHOES! :-)
You've probably seen it already, but if not, this is important: Maureen Johnson and the Coverflip. What happens when books by male authors are given "female" covers, and vice-versa? This would be funny if it weren't so bloody depressing. 
Looking for a funny YA book rec? There's a flowchart for that.
I'm on the list of the "Top 20 Picture Book Agents" in very good company! Though, actually, this list is somewhat flawed because the sales are self-reporting, so some very good agents who simply don't report every sale are not listed. Still. Awesome.
Finally, in non-book related (but VERY IMPORTANT) news: I baked home-made Sriracha Cheez-Its today. They came out delicious. I used gouda, very sharp cheddar and parmesan, and quite a bit of extra hot sauce. But I didn't roll them thin enough so they were more like cheese puffs. STILL.

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34. On Twitter-Stalking, and New Adult

The other day I saw a blog post that surprised me. Surprised me because... well, because it is ABOUT me, in part. I am the mysterious "Agent #1." I suddenly feel the need to put on a wig and sunglasses. ;-)

I agree with the thrust of the post (that one should research agents, and that twitter is a good tool to learn more about them)... so I'm not knocking the post or the author. That said, I'm not sure that I agree with all the conclusions drawn from the examples used, so I'd just like to clarify, particularly as I've gotten LOTS of questions.

Two weeks ago, an agent (Agent #1) tweeted that she was interested in New Adult books. This is great information to know if you’re querying a New Adult novel (or will be), since it’s not mentioned on her website. 
It isn't mentioned on my website, because it's not a "thing" for me yet. And perhaps it never will be. I'm reading a lot of what-people-are-calling-NA (and books that are not "officially" NA, but maybe should be) -- I'm formulating my philosophy, and how NA books would fit on my list -- in other words, it is definitely something that is on my radar and I'm giving thought to.

In any case, I certainly wouldn't take something on if I didn't love it and think I could sell it. 

Agent #1 replied and explained that she didn’t get the category, either, but she was willing to check it out.

Red Flag #1
From MY point of view, the point of that tweet was that I am interested in NA and have an open mind about it. Which I'd have thought would be a good thing? A white flag, if you will? :-)
Why would you want an agent who doesn’t “get” your genre? How would she be the best advocate for it? That’s like letting a surgeon who doesn’t “get” the function of your pancreas perform surgery on it. You want someone who not only gets your genre, she understands what criteria readers expect to see.
I actually said that I'm not sure I "get it", because I'd contend that NOBODY really knows what this "genre" is. (I'd also argue that it's not a genre at all, but rather a category... but that's another story.)

I simply don't think we can say that anything regarding NA is set in stone. Whereas the fundamentals of pancreas function are not really up for debate.

NA is a category that is very much in flux and still developing. Relatively few NA titles are actually on the market, compared to their YA brethren. It remains to be seen which titles have longevity and whether readers will embrace ALL kinds of NA stories rather than the contemps that have been best sellers so far.

This post here does a fine job of talking about what NA is, at least ideally. For the record, I disagree that NA is "sexed-up YA." But you have to admit, so far, that is a snarky but not wholly inaccurate way to describe some of the books that are doing well. This will change, if the category flourishes. But so far voicey, sexy contemp with college-age protags happen to lead the pack in terms of what is selling. Can we agree there? 

If she offers representation, you can ask her what books she’s read in your genre and what she liked about them. If she has only read two, you’ve got a problem. Also, make sure she does understand the genre. For example, if you queried her for your NA novel and she tells you NA is really YA erotica, then you need to keep looking. This is not the right agent for you. She’s clueless about the genre. 
I invite anyone to whom I offer representation to ask me about books. I read a LOT. Hundreds of books a year, on top of manuscripts. I love talking about books, and I promise you, I'm quite good at it. After all, I do it all day long, for my job.

If you've done any amount of research about me and you still think I might be "clueless"... let me stop you right there. Don't query me. We definitely aren't a good fit for one another. Why would you query somebody whose opinion and experience you don't value?

Agent #2 tweeted back that he hoped Agent #1 enjoyed the porn that would now fill her inbox... I have no idea how Agent #1 felt about the condescending tweet, but it upset the individual who emailed me the conversation. It showed a lack of respect toward a colleague in the industry. 
I'm pretty sure if we asked "Agent #2" he'd be happy to own his words. And while I appreciate the concern, it didn't strike me as condescending at all. I took it in the spirit in which it was intended: as an amusing tweet from a good friend, in the context of a lighthearted conversation. It made me chuckle. Particularly because it was actually correct -- plenty of what comes in unsolicited to the query box could be classified as amateur erotica.

That's not because that's what NA is. That's just the nature of the slush pile. Just as the majority of what comes in when you open your doors to picture books, are rough drafts, or stuff that would be better suited to the inside of a terrible greeting card... not because picture books suck, but because a lot of queriers aren't ready yet and/or simply don't know how to write picture books. The same is true in every category.

The point I'm making is actually very similar to Ms. Lindenblatt's. It's a fine idea to acquaint yourself with agent's twitter feeds if they have them. It's one tool that should be used in addition to the others (looking at their website, reading interviews, reading the books they already represent, etc.) Of course the fact is, every agent-author relationship is different; it does have to do with chemistry in some ways, and you can't always know if you'll be a fit until you at least have the chance to talk to each other. Still, twitter can be fun and informative, and give you a sense of their personality and taste.

If you hate how they come across on twitter -- by all means, don't query them. But it's not an accurate way to gauge what somebody will be like to work with, or how they'll react to your work. And it's certainly not fair to cherry-pick a couple of random tweets out of context and assume that gives you an accurate snapshot of a person's worldview.

Anyway, don't spend TOO much time twitter-stalking. We want you to finish those manuscripts! :-)

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35. "Rock Star" agents, and more about Schmagents

The phrase "rock star agent" gets thrown around a lot. Sometimes even regarding me. That's fine, I know people mean it as a compliment. But the thing is... Agent TO rock stars is slightly different than "rock star" agent! I don't want to be a "rock star."

I want MY AUTHORS to be the rock stars.

Good agenting is not a popularity contest, and in my opinion, a good agent should not be seeking fame for themselves above their authors. YES, it's fine for an agent to be plugged in to social media and whatnot (hey, I am!) -- but just because an agent has a cool blog or website, or are funny on twitter... doesn't mean you necessarily want them handling your business.

I adore my social media friends. I've been blogging and tweeting and whatnot for a long time, and it is definitely part of my identity. But I cringe when I see people talk online about their "dream agents" and realize that most or all of them are actually just "agents who have popular blogs" or "agents who are big on Twitter." Some of the very best agents in the world have ZERO social media outlets. That doesn't make them ineffective or behind the times.

There are also schmagents out there who have web presence, but nothing to back it up. I know it might sound silly or obvious, but even if you read about an agency in a book or magazine, or see them online, doesn't mean they are good.

Of course, even a great agent at a totally legit agency might not be a great fit for YOU and your work. The agent relationship is unique from author to author. But at least do your due diligence.

Make sure the agencies you query have plenty of sales to legitimate publishers, and books in the bookstore. A new agent with few or no sales can be fine... but their agency should have a solid track record of sales and clear experience in the publishing industry. A new agency with no sales, made up of agents with no sales and little to nothing in the way of publishing industry experience? Or the agents don't seem to want you to find info about their authors or books? Or the sales are only to publishers you've never heard of and can't find in the bookstore? Well... I'd be WARY.

There are no special classes to take or tests to pass to become an agent (unfortunately) -- ANYONE can call themselves an agent and call it a day. Which is why even smart writers can be taken in. So don't be a sucker. A good agent won't just have a cool website -- they'll have either a proven track record of sales or the backing of a strong agency. They'll never, ever ask you to pay them fees. They'll communicate with you, be straightforward and honest. And of course, they will connect with your work and know how to sell it.

When you get an agent, you are putting your career in somebody else's hands. Be sure they are steady ones.

41 Comments on "Rock Star" agents, and more about Schmagents, last added: 5/1/2013
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36. New Mystery from Kate Messner

Prolific and brilliant Kate Messner has a new installment of the delightful Silver Jaguar Society series out today. These books are total romps -- actiony, fast-paced, often funny mysteries for fans of "National Treasure" and the like. I love them, and middle grade readers do, too!

New in paperback: CAPTURE THE FLAG, book 1 of the Silver Jaguar Society series, in which the kids get caught up in an adventure of historic proportions in Washington DC.
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New in hardcover: HIDE AND SEEK. The thrilling followup to CAPTURE THE FLAG.

Jose, Anna, and Henry are junior members of the secret Silver Jaguar Society, sworn to protect the world's most important artifacts. When they discover that the society's treasured Jaguar Cup has been replaced with a counterfeit, the trio and their families rush to the rain forests of Costa Rica in search of the real chalice. But when the trail runs dry, new mysteries emerge: Who can they trust? Is there a traitor in their midst? With danger at every turn, it will take more than they realize for Jose and his friends to recover the cup before it falls into the wrong hands.
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37. The Rubber Band Ball

I spoke last week at my local middle school for their career day. Part of my talk was given over to explaining what the heck a Literary Agent even does. And the issue of subsidiary rights came up. Now I know some of you are experts on this stuff already... but just in case you are unfamiliar, I thought I'd use the analogy I used on the kids. It's simple, and it makes sense (I hope!) and it is important.

You might think of your book as being a bunch of words in a document or on paper.

I think of your book as a rubber band ball.

The ball itself is your intellectual property. It is a real thing - it belongs to you. And it is made up of a bundle of rights.*

Each rubber band that makes up the ball is its own right. Right to publish the book in the USA? That's a rubber band. Right to publish in paperback? That's a rubber band. Right to make a calendar or an audiobook or a TV show or put excerpts in Vanity Fair or anything else? All rubber bands... that is, rights. Take SHREK for example. Publishing it in the US was a rubber band. Publishing in each country in the world, all their own rubber bands. The movie was another, the musical yet another, and lunchboxes another.

These rubber bands/rights can be sold separately, or in a bundle. Most US publishers for kids books at least consider publication of hardback, paperback, ebook, in English, in the USA, to be primary rights. It is pretty much a given that the publisher will ask for these (along with large print, book club editions, and other editions of the same book.)

All other rights are "subsidiary" rights, also known as "subrights." We can often negotiate to keep audio, film/tv, merchandise/commercial, and (hopefully) world English and foreign rights.  EVERY book theoretically has all these rubber bands, though of course, some books are more likely to USE them than others ... "Guns Germs and Steel" is probably not going to make it to the lunchbox aisle at Target anytime soon. ;-)

And as for foreign rights, while it is TOTALLY COOL to sell them, not every book, quite frankly, is suitable for foreign tastes. Some books are deemed "too American" -- books about school, or specific types of pop culture, can be losers for other countries -- and of course every country has their own trends and preferences. The economy plays a part too; many territories are very choosy about what they bring on and only want topics or authors they know will be sure-fire hits, so they stick to big names.

Point is: It is the publishers job to get as many of the rights as they can, for the least amount of money they can. It is your AGENT'S job to keep as many rubber bands as possible, and get the best deal possible for the ones they do sell. If the agent keeps the rights, they then can sell the rights themselves and the client keeps all the profit (less agency commission of course). If the publisher keeps the rights, then THEY sell them, and split profits with the author (it goes straight to earning out your advance, though, until you've earned out at which point you get that percentage.)

The Bologna Book Fair is coming up next week, and that is where many hardworking foreign rights specialists will be pitching their books like mad, hoping their author's books will make it onto bookshelves in other countries and languages! It is an extremely interesting and rewarding fair, and I hope to have updates and fun news from it on twitter.

Hope this was a bit useful!  Let me know if you have questions, I may or may not have answers.

* ETA: The obvious conclusion, which I should have stated in the first place: The ball itself is worth something. And each rubber band is worth something, too. Be sure you know what you're throwing when you throw it.

12 Comments on The Rubber Band Ball, last added: 4/9/2013
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Ilsa J Bick's latest is a gritty YA told from the perspective of a young soldier in Afghanistan; it traces the dark events (some illicit photos, gay-bashing, the murder of a friend) that domino'ed to his enlisting. As always with Ilsa, it's super intense. And it is already getting great reviews.  Check it out!

From the Publisher:
People in Merit, Wisconsin, always said Jimmy was . . . you know. But people said all sorts of stupid stuff. Nobody really knew anything. Nobody really knew Jimmy. I guess you could say I knew Jimmy as well as anyone (which was not very well). I knew what scared him. And I knew he had dreams, even if I didn't understand them. Even if he nearly ruined my life to pursue them. Jimmy's dead now, and I definitely know that better than anyone. I know about blood and bone and how bodies decompose. I know about shadows and stones and hatchets. I know what a last cry for help sounds like. I know what blood looks like on my own hands. What I don't know is if I can trust my own eyes. I don't know who threw the stone. Who swung the hatchet? Who are the shadows? What do the living owe the dead?


Kirkus Reviews - STARRED REVIEW:

Bick's compelling tale manages to be a blistering confessional and a page-turning whodunit (or maybe what-really-happened) all in one. Readers won't be able to look away even if they find they don't much like--or trust--Ben.

Publisher's Weekly - STARRED REVIEW
Bick crafts a powerful tale of bigotry and murder in small-town Wisconsin... Told entirely in flashback from Ben’s perspective as a medic in Afghanistan, Bick’s story isn’t a mystery in the whodunit sense. Instead, it’s a potent examination of teenage emotions and reactions to peer and parental pressures, and to the evil that people are capable of.

Bick proves again she is a writer to her core, never at a loss for things to say and uninterested in easy answers. Her handling of Ben’s increasing paranoia and delusion is nimble, making this a violent, and very smart, take-no-prisoners experience.
— Daniel Kraus

School Library Journal
"This novel should be in all YA collections, and would be interesting reading for members of GSA’s." –Suanne B. Roush, Osceola High School, Seminole, FL

0 Comments on SIN EATER'S CONFESSION by Ilsa J Bick as of 3/1/2013 2:44:00 PM
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39. LITTLE RED HOT by Eric A. Kimmel

LITTLE RED HOT is a super-fun Tex-Mex re-imagining of Little Red Riding Hood from the gifted Eric A. Kimmel, with bright and lively illustrations from Laura Huliska-Beith. I just saw it in real life for the first time, and it is a real charmer, perfect for fractured fairy tale fans.

Little Red Hot loooooves to eat hot peppers, the hotter the better. Why folks say that she could eat the fire out of a stove, but to that she'd answer, "Fire ain’t hot enough." When she gets into some hot water with the wicked Señor Lobo, she knows exactly how to stop him in his tracks... with a little help from a Jalapeno Pie. 


4 Comments on LITTLE RED HOT by Eric A. Kimmel, last added: 3/1/2013
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40. FISH WHISTLE by Daniel Pinkwater

If you follow me on Twitter you've probably already seen me babbling about this, but here it is in the long-form version:

I'm thrilled to tell you that Daniel Pinkwater's FISH WHISTLE is finally available as an e-version.* This is a collection of very short (and hilarious) essays and stories, many of which were originally presented on NPR's All Things Considered.

These little stories are like comfort food for me. I love these the way that I love stuff by James Thurber and David Sedaris - they are instant mood-lighteners, and you don't even need a prescription. Topics range from Hot Peppers (and the eating of them), to Crazy Dogs (and the training of them), to Art (and the making of it), and everything in between. What they have in common is great good humor.

The book originally appeared in 1990 but hasn't been electrified till now. The content has been somewhat refreshed for the new edition and there's a new introduction, so while it is not a carbon copy of the paper edition, all of Daniel's favorites, and more importantly all the fan favorites that we get requests about so often, are included.

AND the collection is currently selling for a mere $2.99 -- get em while they're hot.

**Praise for FISH WHISTLE... From Publishers Weekly

"An inspired satirist, Pinkwater speaks for all who suffer from those "Who Only Stand and Snarl," instead of doing their work; for fat people who can't lose weight; for those who can't find a real Jewish deli; for everyone benighted by life's perversities. In a lighter vein, the author tells about times at home with his wife Jill, their dogs and good friends. But readers will perhaps be most charmed by memoirs of Pinkwater's Polish immigrant parents, especially his father, who is the inspiration for "Fischvistle" and other affecting pieces."

From School Library Journal

"Readers familiar with Pinkwater's books for children will enjoy this collection of humorous adult essays. The man is mad, and so are his comments. He takes on the characters of his small town in upstate New York, as well as those of his childhood; he comments on his weight problem and various methods of weight loss; he recalls incidents experienced while traveling the world. No topic is sacred, and all are cynically hilarious. "

From Library Journal

"Almost anything-- Mad magazine, shopping malls, being a writer, air travel--will set off and away his fancy flutters on a brief, airy little excursion. He is a writer with whom the reader goes lightly. He writes to amuse, and rarely does one feel that the effort of facetiousness is too ferociously sustained... the book is wholesome medicine for gloomy moods."

* The fine print: Currently FISH WHISTLE is only available for Kindle, though other e-reader versions are forthcoming. It should be downloadable throughout the world (though foreign price depends on local currency and is not set by us.)

** Reviews for the original hardback edition.

3 Comments on FISH WHISTLE by Daniel Pinkwater, last added: 2/24/2013
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41. Marissa Meyer at HVYAS

As many of you know, each month I co-host an awesome event for YA book lovers at Oblong Books and Music in Rhinebeck. The Hudson Valley YA Society has been going strong for two years now, and I'm proud to say that the events just keep getting better and better. WE LOVE YA BOOKS AND READERS!

I want to draw your attention to the event TOMORROW, Sunday Feb 17 at 4pm, because it is going to be very special indeed. We're celebrating the release of Marissa Meyer's SCARLET (the sequel to the amazing CINDER).  If you haven't read CINDER, it's essentially a reimagining of Cinderella, if Cinderella was a cyborg. SCARLET picks up where Cinder left off, but also introduces two new characters... Little Red Riding Hood, and a very big very bad Wolf indeed. These books are thrilling and addictive and we're SO excited to meet Marissa Meyer.

But it's not JUST Marissa... what makes this one even cooler is, she'll be in conversation with her editor and publisher, Liz Szabla and Jean Feiwel. If you are curious about the "behind the scenes" world of book publishing, this is really the event for you. Come with questions! There will also be some very special giveaways and prizes. Oh and of course cupcakes... mustn't forget those. :-)

To RSVP for this event, click here.

If you can't make it but would like to order signed books, click here

Hope to see you at Oblong!

x Jenn

2 Comments on Marissa Meyer at HVYAS, last added: 2/23/2013
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42. Happy Valentines Day 2013

Each year one of my talented illustrators designs a Valentine for me, which I send to clients, colleagues, editors and friends. (This started because I am always too swamped in December to do regular holiday cards, and it stayed because I love it, and I think people like getting unexpected mail!)

This year's card is by the talented Raul Gonzalez III. Raul is a fine artist who is new to the Children's illustration game, but is an up-and-comer. He's currently working on two graphic novels that are forthcoming from Chronicle Books, and has just done sketches for his first picture book. Yay!

So happy day, everyone. LOVE!

3 Comments on Happy Valentines Day 2013, last added: 2/18/2013
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43. Writers Digest Webinar 3/7

I'm delighted to say that I'll be teaching a Writers Digest Webinar for the first time on March 7. The topic is "Beyond the Query" -- because let's face it, there's a ton of info out there about how to write a query letter, but not a ton about what happens NEXT. So there will be info about how to research agents, red flags and the like... but also useful information about how to navigate the agent-author relationship, what to do while you're on submission, following the path of a book from your brain to the bookshelf, what to expect when you're expecting (an offer), and tons more.

EVERY participant will get to ask questions, and EVERY question will be answered. Additionally, every participant will be able to submit a query for critique. So whether you're a new-newbie or you've been around the block a bit, hopefully you'll gain useful information and insight. Consider it "everything you've always wanted to know about Agents but were afraid to ask." ;-)

I promise that this will be an ENTERTAINING, CANDID and INFORMATIVE 90 minutes. I can't wait.

For more info or to sign up for this webinar, click here!

Any other questions about this? Feel free to ask in the comments.

2 Comments on Writers Digest Webinar 3/7, last added: 2/6/2013
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44. The Twitter Confessional

I don't buy it when people say online friendships are not "real." I have plenty of online friendships that have developed into real life friendships; there is a lot of fluidity and crossover. I love to meet "twitter peeps" when I'm traveling to conferences and the like. In fact, some of the people I like most in the world are ones that I met online first.

I talk to the people inside the twitterbox more than, well, anyone else besides the dog. And probably because I'm chatty, I do tend to feel like I KNOW these people. Like, personally know them. Even the ones I don't know personally at all. Maybe I just have a clingy personality or something - or maybe it is natural that humans like to make connections. I don't know. Who am I, Oliver Sacks? (No.)

So my confession is: A few times I've noticed that people I follow and admire on twitter (and in some cases, even have met or know IRL) don't follow me, or worse, have unfollowed me. And it causes me a sharp pain not unlike grief. Micro-grief, if you will.


If you've ever felt this twinge of micro-grief when you realize somebody isn't following you... SNAP OUT OF IT.  If you've ever gotten upset that somebody didn't retweet you or respond to you... GET OVER IT.  If you expect "auto-follows" or that somebody should follow or always converse with you or RT you or whatever just because you follow them... GTFO.

Everyone uses twitter in different ways. MOST people are not on there 15 hours a day like I am (because it is in the corner of my screen while I am working, which is almost always). Some people only want to follow a very small number of folks, or people they know IRL, or nobody they know IRL, or whatever. Some people have strict limits with themselves about how often they can check in, and so limit their "follow list" to ones they can keep up with easily. Some people unfollow people who tweet too much, or who curse, or post pet pictures, or don't post pet pictures, or who only talk about books, or who never talk about books, or who the hell knows.

The point is, how other people choose to use it or not use it is not a judgement about us, and is also not our beezwax.

If you're only following somebody because you have the expectation they'll follow you back, you're doing yourself a disservice. Yes, twitter is a lot about conversations and connections... but you can't control what other people do. And vice-versa. So hey, feel free to keep following people you enjoy and have the bandwidth for... and stop following if you don't want to anymore. No need to make a big to-do about it. No need to announce it to anyone. It's not an insult to not follow somebody or to stop following somebody, it's just you choosing how to spend your own time and energy.

Spend it well! 

17 Comments on The Twitter Confessional, last added: 1/17/2013
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45. On Shortcuts, or, Do I REALLY Need an Agent?

I get asked this question many times a week via twitter, in emails, at conferences, at the bookstore... Here's how it goes:

[scene: a podium in a random hotel conference room in Anytown USA]


Me: Probably. Depends what you want from your career. I'd get one, personally... but of course, I'm an agent, naturally I'd say that.

Stranger [impatiently]: NO. I MEAN DO I REALLY NEED AN AGENT?  

Me: Oh man. Since you asked with that inflection... wow. I guess I have to give it to you straight. You got me. There's a little something that everyone else knows except you. Every time somebody suggests you "query agents" they are really trying to TRICK you. Because they don't want you to know the secret!  *Muwhahaha!* <!------>
Oh. You can tell I'm poking fun, and you don't like it. Sorry. I'm going to be totally serious now. When you ask that question, it sounds to me like "but I don't want to read the manual, instructions are for suckers, I'm gonna find the shortcut and do this the fast and dirty way!"

And I get that. I'm impatient too. The fact is, much like putting together the elaborate entertainment center from Ikea, getting an agent is usually difficult, or at least inconvenient on some level. There are almost always some bruised egos and frustrations along the way. It can take a long time. It can be a lot of work. And even when you have it figured out, that is only the beginning. Ugh what a pain in the ass.

So look. It DOES depend on what you want from your career.

* If you want to go the self-publishing route and would never consider traditional publishing... you may not need an agent. (You'll find that it is a lot of work to be successful at this game, but hey -- it happens. Elbow grease, baby!)

* If you have a very "niche" type of work -- highly technical, educational, religious, or specialty-type content... novellas, chapbooks, and other things that are not usually found in regular bookstores... you may not need an agent.

* If you want to be traditionally published and are a super-type A personality, know a ton about the vagaries of publishing, have lots of insider publishing connections, know contracts well, understand the market for your work specifically, enjoy talking about money and don't mind things like asking for a raise, know how to sell subrights and foreign rights, want to spend time pounding the pavement on your own behalf... you may be not need an agent.*
Otherwise? An agent is going to be hugely helpful to you. 

In fact, here's the secret. As big a pain as it is? GETTING AN AGENT IS THE SHORTCUT.
Recognize this? It's called an allen wrench, or a hex key.

You can put the Ikea entertainment center without it, but dear god, it's a hell of a lot easier with it.

Consider an agent your hex key.

* (Though I do know people like this, and after a certain number of books... guess what, they got an agent. Because it is a huge time-suck to do all these things for yourself, the time-suck gets exponentially worse the more books you have out, and that is time you could be spending writing. Or, you know, lounging in a hammock drinking mocktails. Whatever.)

10 Comments on On Shortcuts, or, Do I REALLY Need an Agent?, last added: 2/6/2013
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46. 5th Agentversary + 2012 by the numbers

Today marks my 5th agentversary. Here's my post from last year on the subject. And this one from two years ago has the tale of how I became an agent and the story of the first book I ever sold.

So you know, I've already done the wordy thing. This year I did a bit of number-crunching instead. Depending on your POV, this'll be either deadly boring or geekily interesting - if the former, forgive me, please do skip it. Here's 2012 by the numbers:

In 2012, I got approximately 4200 queries (an average of 80 per week). I didn't actually count this part, but I'm gonna take an educated guess and say about half were not even in genres I represent, were not addressed to me, were barely in English, had attachments or otherwise didn't follow submission guidelines, and thus were automatic deletes. (In other words: if you are following guidelines and subbing the correct material, you're already in the top 50%!)

So let's call it about 2000 viable queries. Of those, I took on seven new clients (aka, .35%).Of those, two were total slush-puppies and debuts (one of which I signed right away, one after a revise-and-resubmit). Two were referrals (one previously published, one not). One I knew in real life from SCBWI (previously published). One I met on twitter, then in real life, before she queried me (previously published). One, another debut, I knew in real life from my old bookstore job! Of the seven new clients, four are debuts, six have have deals done or in progress, and one I haven't yet sent out.

In 2012, I sold 14 YA,  9 MG,  6 PB.

Of these, seven were debuts: Three YA and two each MG and PB.

This also marked the year I sold my 100th* title. I'm at 103 now (46 of which have been released), and the breakdown is:

 Total: 44 YA, 32 MG, 27 PB


I guess that I work with totally awesome authors and illustrators, that books are still selling, that good stories are still finding readers, and that it was a very busy and very productive 2012. So let's do it again in 2013!

Wishing you time to read, inspiration to write, and much happiness in the coming year. :-)

*I'm not counting foreign sales, subrights sales or sales where I rep both the author and illustrator - that would get way too complicated. Each book only counts once.

8 Comments on 5th Agentversary + 2012 by the numbers, last added: 1/13/2013
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47. Boy Books, Girl Books, or JUST PLAIN GREAT BOOKS?

The hottest non-book item in the bookstore this holiday season was probably Spikeletz. They are awesome and weird bracelets made of this spiky-looking (but actually ultra-soft) plastic, in all kinds of wild color combos. Kinda like having a neon caterpillar around your wrist.

Most people like the Spikeletz. Some adults are sort of weirded out by them, because their texture is so unexpected compared to how they look. Girls and boys seem to appreciate them fairly equally. But one parent was overheard to say to a son, "Bracelets are for girls."

I wish I had been there. Because I would have said ok first of all WHAT and second of all NO and also CALL THEM WRISTBANDS THEN and by the way YOUR KID LIKES SOMETHING WHY ARE YOU GONNA RUIN IT and also SPIKELETZ ARE FOR AWESOME PEOPLE! Actually I probably would have said none of that, but I might have slipped the kid a wink and a sticker or something at least. Ugh.

So then today I was reading my twitter feed (as one does) and I came across this innocuous tweet from @HarperChildrens (a publisher I greatly admire), about the darling new book FOXY:

I have to admit, I was irritated by that tweet. I mean - why say it is a GIRL book? Because the human child in is a girl? But Foxy himself is a boy fox. And MAGICAL FOXES seem to be totally rad regardless of gender. If I was a boy, I'd sure as hell like a book about a cool MAGICAL FOX. Why not?

The thing is, in the kids section, so many picture books scream BOY BOOK or GIRL BOOK from a hundred yards. FANCY NANCY is a "Girl Book" - it's covered in glitter and is bright pink. I STINK is a "Boy Book" - it's got a giant trash truck on it. It is very simple for adults to choose "the one that fits" without even having to read the text. It makes life easy in some ways. But it's also so, soooo irritating.

I mean, OK. If a boy loves trucks, am I gonna say "No, you can only read about Princess Barbies"? Heck no. I'll give him a truck book, and we have plenty of them. But if a boy wants to read about Barbie, I am never going to say he's wrong. And the same goes vice-versa. I'm in the business of getting kids to read and love reading, I'd not want any kid to feel shamed for what they enjoy.

Goodness knows, pink glittery books don't need my help to sell! Nor would I want them to. I know that the masses of money a publisher makes from something like PINKALICIOUS may well go to buy some less obvious texts... maybe even one of mine. And heck, I loved pink and purple and glitter* when I was little, and I know I would have adored stuff like Lego Friends: Treasure Hunt in Heartlake City even though I may find it gagworthy now. (For the record, I loved firetrucks too!)

I can't stop publishers from producing and marketing books the way they do. Hey, they are companies, they are doing what makes the most money for them, and I get it.

But what I CAN do on a day-to-day level is, make even more of a point to seek out less-discovered gems, books that reflect all kinds of experiences, and try to push THOSE as much as possible. And I can stop using language like "Boy Book" and "Girl Book", and try to get others to stop using it too. It's shorthand, and it's lazy, and if it makes any kid feel bad or NOT want to read something, then it's a terrible shame.


21 Comments on Boy Books, Girl Books, or JUST PLAIN GREAT BOOKS?, last added: 1/28/2013
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48. WE GO TOGETHER! by Calef Brown

WE GO TOGETHER! (A Curious Selection of Affectionate Verse) is a perfectly charming collection of whimsical and wonderful love and friendship poems from NYT bestselling author-illustrator, Calef Brown.

It's the perfect Valentine's present to share with a friend or loved one of ANY age. It's a cute small size and under $10, so it makes a great gift. And while kids will certainly delight at the fun words and bright illustrations, the poems are even a little bit extra-charming for grownups.

Need a Valentine for your daughter, son, bestie, westie, sister, brother, "Significant Other", BF, GF, BFF, or super secret crush? Look no further!

Seriously, buy several, they're small. ;-)

Review Quotes:
"In a collection that celebrates loving friendship, Brown artfully captures the comforting, sometimes odd moments of true affection."

"The cheerful, rhythmic rhymes help make this book perfect for reading aloud, and it would be an ideal choice for two friends to share."
--School Library Journal

"Brown... pairs a heaping spoonful of nonsense with unexpected yet genuine observations about the joy of companionship."
--Publishers Weekly STARRED review

Publisher Description:
In Calef Brown's poem "We Go Together," he jubilantly decrees: "We go together / like fingers and thumbs. / Basses and drums. / Pastries and crumbs." In "You Are Two (Kiwis)," he muses, "I am quite frequently, / reminded by thee / of a kiwi. / Either kind." Yes, silliness and sentimentality have free rein in this "curious selection" of childlike poems about love and friendship, each accompanied by an equally absurd, stylized acrylic painting. Like Sandol Stoddard's I Like You, WE GO TOGETHER! makes an offbeat Valentine's gift for anyone with a good sense of humor and a penchant for wordplay.

1 Comments on WE GO TOGETHER! by Calef Brown, last added: 1/15/2013
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49. Agent Ethics: Schmagents and "Pre-shopping"

I wanted to clarify this tweet a bit. So, as you might know, I'm an enthusiast. Sometimes when I'm super excited about a new novel that crosses my desk, I might get second reads or talk to agency colleagues about it before I even sign it. If I know it is up some editor's alley, I might tease them with it -- "I'm about to offer on an aweeeesome super-secret new space opera with dragons... you want to be on the list when I go out with it?" Or "ooooh have you seen this website, what do you think?"*

There's a difference between being a fan of something, having enthusiasm and seeing if other people share that enthusiasm, and actually submitting a person's intellectual property for publication and acting on their behalf when they haven't given you permission to do so.

If you query an agent with your novel** and they tell you they're going to "shop your manuscript around to editors"... and that IF they get an offer, THEN they'll sign you up*** (but they won't otherwise?):


* If they shop your manuscript, and you aren't their actual client, how do you know what they are doing, who they are talking to, what they are saying on your behalf?

* If they shop your manuscript and end up with an offer... it will probably not be the best offer. Why? Because this type of schmagent is unlikely to have primo publishing connections. There are times that going with a small press or an e-book only press or a no-advance press or a start-up press might be a fine idea... but do you really want that to be your ONLY option?

* If they shop your manuscript, and end up never getting an offer and never signing you (which is quite likely, since they will have no particular pressing interest in trying hard, since you aren't a client) -- then let's say you get another agent? A real one? ALL THOSE BRIDGES ARE BURNED. Your new agent  won't be able to send your manuscript to any of the editors that already declined it. Assuming you can even find out who those editors were.

An agent isn't just a person who likes books and puts a website up.  They SHOULD have a ton of contacts in the publishing industry... and when they talk to those contacts, they REPRESENT YOU. That means they are meant to be acting on your behalf and speaking for you. (Not to mention they have access to your finances and potentially your financial future and career!) -- you definitely don't want somebody you don't trust in that position. Do your homework.

This isn't a game, or a joke. Don't treat it that way. And don't let anyone else treat it that way, either.

* Mind you, this wouldn't affect MY feelings about it. If somebody was like "ew dragons are dumb" -- I'd think "Oh, they are stupid", not "Oh, I am wrong."

** ETA: I'm talking specifically about NOVELS here, and note that my expertise is in kids and YA. Pop culture nonfiction or other works you sell on proposal might be different, I have no idea. And as some point out... publishers themselves may do some "pre-shopping" to their retail clients when deciding what to acquire. Sadly, there's nothing much you can do about that. 

*** ETA ETA: I'm also not talking about people who are legit agents you've agreed will represent you on a "handshake" basis but who don't have a formal written agency agreement, or who only make a formal written agency agreement when money is going to change hands. While this isn't how my agency works, I know some legit agencies that don't have a formal "agreement" per se -- but they will ASK YOU before they start REPPING YOU!

9 Comments on Agent Ethics: Schmagents and "Pre-shopping", last added: 1/24/2013
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I'm so proud of this debut novel from Miriam Forster. It's a murder mystery set in a fantastical world that reminds me a bit of Tamora Pierce, a bit of Jacqueline Carey... it's just so good, and Miriam is a new talent to watch.

About the book: Nisha was abandoned at the gates of the City of a Thousand Dolls when she was just a little girl. Now sixteen, she lives on the grounds of the isolated estate, where orphan girls apprentice as musicians, healers, courtesans, and, if the rumors are true, assassins. She makes her way as Matron's errand girl, her closest companions the mysterious cats that trail her shadow.

Only when she begins a forbidden flirtation with the city's handsome young courier does she let herself imagine a life outside the walls. Until one by one, girls around her start to die. Before she becomes the next victim, Nisha decides to uncover the secrets that surround the girls' deaths. But by getting involved, Nisha jeopardizes not only her own future in the City of a Thousand Dolls--but also her life.

See the official Book Trailer (which I have to say is RAD)

A great interview with Miriam on the Cynsations blog

For more information about Miriam and her work:


"Forster makes a strong debut with a fresh South Asian inspired fantasy/mystery crossover...Forster's well-crafted story and confident prose are rich, packed with small details that immerse readers in her sumptuously imagined world." -- From the Publishers Weekly starred review

"With fantastic world building and a wonderful heroine, City of a Thousand Dolls intrigued me from the first page."--Cindy Pon, author of Silver Phoenix
"A fantastical murder mystery with a creative premise, heart-pounding pacing, and characters with secrets to keep."--Cinda Williams Chima, author of best-selling
The Exiled Queen

1 Comments on Launch Day for CITY OF A THOUSAND DOLLS, last added: 2/6/2013
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