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1. Building a Portfolio Website

If you are an illustrator, I highly recommend having a simple portfolio website that you can use to display your work. When you’re querying, instead of attaching images (most editors and agents don’t accept attachments anyway), you can just send a link to your collection. Add new things, change out images in your rotation, and keep it clean, simple, and maintained. That’s about it. And if you’re not tech savvy, you may be able to hire someone via Elance (a freelance marketplace I’ve used to find web designers, or contractors in any arena, in the past) or in your circle of friends to put your image files (scans or digital creations) online. Just make sure that if you use scans, they are of high quality and taken under good lighting that’s true to your intended color scheme.

Two sites that I see a lot of illustrators gravitating to are Wix and SquareSpace. They are built to be user friendly and easy on the wallet. You can use templates provided or get someone to customize your site. These options are modern, work well across multiple platforms, and are easy to link to your other online efforts. I haven’t used either but I’m coming up on a project in my personal life and seriously considering SquareSpace because I like the design and functionality of their sites. I’ve been on WordPress for years and years, so maybe it’s time to try something new, minimal, and graphics-focused!

If all of this is very scary to you, you can just start a free Flickr account and make a gallery of your images. This is the bare minimum, and allows you to host your image and a description (I would opt for one if you can). Send links to the entire gallery in your query so that visitors can click through the whole thing instead of landing on just one image.

Many people overthink this sort of stuff because sometimes computers can be scary and the demands of building a platform seem overwhelming. Don’t let that stop you from putting up a portfolio. Hosting one online has become quite necessary these days, and agents and editors except to see several examples of your work, with different composition, subject matter, tone, palette, etc. (if possible), before they can decide if they’re interested or not.

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2. Secrets to a Good Logline

When I talk about a logline, I mean a quick and effective sales pitch for your story. It is the same as the “elevator pitch” or your snappy “meets” comparison (Harry Potter meets Where the Wild Things Are!). However, not everyone’s book fits the “meets” way of doing this, so they’re left with constructing their own short sentence to encapsulate their work. That’s where things often get hairy.

If you think queries and synopses are hard, loglines are often a whole new world of pain for writers. Boiling down an entire book into four pages? Doable. Into a few paragraphs? Questionable. Into a sentence or two?! Impossible.

Or not. The first secret to crafting a good logline is that you should probably stop freaking out about it. If you can get it, good. If not, you can still pitch an agent or editor with a query or a one-minute summation of your story at a conference or if you do happen to be stuck with them in an elevator. Nailing it in one sentence is more of an exercise for you than a requirement of getting published.

That said, my surefire way to think about loglines is as follows:

1) Connect your character to your audience

2) Connect your plot to the market

Let’s examine this. First, begin your logline with your character and their main struggle. This is a way of getting your audience on board. For example, with Hunger Games, Katniss would be “A girl hell-bent on survival…” or “A girl who volunteers herself to save those she loves…”

Now let’s bring plot into it. When you pitch your plot, you always want to be thinking about where it fits in the marketplace. At the time that the first Hunger Games was published, dystopian fiction was white hot as a genre. That’s not so much the case anymore, but if I had been pitching this story at that time, I would’ve definitely capitalized on the sinister dystopian world building. To connect the plot to the market, I would’ve said something like, “…in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” This says to the book or film agent, “Dystopian! Right here! Get your dystopian!”

So to put it together, “A girl volunteers herself to save those she loves in a world where children fight to the death to keep the population under the control of a cruel government.” That’s a bit long, and not necessarily elegant, but it definitely hits all of the high notes of the market at that time, while also appealing emotionally to the audience. (Volunteering for a “fight to the death” contest is a really ballsy thing to do, so we automatically want to learn more.)

Notice that here, even the character part involves plot (it focuses on Katniss volunteering).

If I’m working on a contemporary realistic novel, the “plot to market” part is less salient because we’re not exactly within the confines of any buzzy genre. That’s fine, too. You should probably be aware early on whether you’re writing a more character-driven or plot-driven story. The Hunger Games nails some strong character work, but I would argue that it’s primarily plot-driven, or “high concept.” With character-driven books, the former part of the logline construction becomes more important. Let’s look at Sara Zarr’s excellent Story of a Girl. The title is pretty indicative of the contents. It’s literally the story of a girl, and the girl is more important than necessarily each plot point that happens to her.

With character-driven, I’d spend most of my time connecting character to audience. I’d say, for example, “A girl from a small town struggles with the gossips around her who refuse to forgive her past mistakes…” This is the girl’s situation for most of the book, and part of her biggest “pain point” as a person. Then I’ll need to indicate the rest of the plot with something like “…must step out from the shadows of her reputation and find out who she really is.”

Notice that here, even the plot part involves character (it focuses on the more subtle work of figuring herself out rather than, say, battling to the death).

Both are solid loglines because both communicate the core of the story and the emphasis of the book (plot-driven vs. character-driven, genre-focused vs. realistic). Try this two-step exercise with your own WIP.

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3. From The Slush Pile: Summer Finds

You know I’m busy at work when instead of going through art samples with my morning coffee, they pile up on my desk.  Today, I finally took lunch to sort through a few.  Check out some exciting new finds that came in lately!

Casey Uhelski / For pet lovers (like me!), this SCAD grad has mastered the expressions of adorable dogs, cats and bunnies.

Victoria Jamieson / Victoria’s anthropomorphic characters have landed her a two-book gig with Dial (part of the Penguin family) in 2012/2013.  In the meantime, I think her revisiting of Ramona Quimby is spot-on.

David C. Gardiner / This image might suggest that David and I are cut from the same cloth, stylistically, but his Flying Dog Studio also produces everything from fairly realistic older characters to animations.

Caitlin B. Alexander / This Austin-based illustrator’s folksy-yet-modern style looks mostly editorial, for now… but wouldn’t it make a charming children’s book?

Veronica Chen / I was intrigued by her intricate black-and-white patternwork, but her color piece Chameleon City just begs for a story to be told.

Jillian Nickell / This quirky, vintage-inspired vignette was fascinating enough to lead me to her website, where there’s a great series of pieces based on The Borrowers, and more. I can picture her style being perfect in the right book for older readers!


Filed under: from the slush pile, illustration sensations Tagged: illustration, new artists, postcards, Display Comments Add a Comment
4. From The Slush Pile: Great Animal Illustrators

Today was a more wackadoo day in illustrator submissions than usual, so I thought I’d give myself a pick-me-up by highlighting three great illustrators who draw some super-cute animals.  Enjoy!

1. CharrowMy first favorite recent find is Charrow, whose quirky illustrations exude a playful spirit and sense of humor.  Her light watercolor and drawing technique feels breezy, like she just jotted down some animals, and they happen to be hilariously adorable. She’s also a frequent contributor to They Draw and Cook. Her Etsy shop is down at the moment, but when I checked it out a few weeks ago, it was easily my favorite part of her portfolio… be sure to check back for it soon!

2. Stephanie GraeginProbably my all-time favorite illustrator submission ever is a little “mini portfolio” booklet from Stephanie Graegin.  Her Renata Liwska-style woodland creatures, accented by limited color and unlimited sweetness, had both design and editorial drooling. Crossing my fingers that I see a book with her name on it soon!

3. Lizzy HallmanIf illustrator David Catrow’s art proves anything, it’s that there’s a place in this business for a little ugly-cute.  And if my love of french bulldogs proves anything, it’s that I will always get behind ugly-cute!  Hallman’s characters may have wonky eyeballs, but they make their expressions unique and humorous. And her color treatment? 100% sweet!


Filed under: from the slush pile, illustration sensations Tagged: animals, children's book, drawing,

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5. I Don't Need More Mail

You know what's funny? When I read writer's boards like Verla Kay, and writers say "You know, my unagented manuscript's been with the publisher for 7 months now. I think it's time I sent them a status check postcard to find out what's going on."

I'll tell you what's going on, writers. Your manuscript is sitting in a big pile next to my desk. Probably close to the bottom of the pile. Unfortunately, I haven't had the time to get to it yet. Fortunately, it's summer and we're getting an intern and maybe she'll get to it. Hope springs eternal, etc.

But when I get your postcard, asking about the status of your novel, do you really think I am going to go digging to locate yours?

(Answer: I am not.)

The only thing the status postcard accomplishes is that it makes me feel a little guilty. But the giant heaping pile of slush hanging out next to my desk makes me feel guilty all the time anyway, so the extra little bit of guilt isn't going to move mountains or anything.

Sorry. I know it's not what you want to hear. I'm trying, I swear!

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6. I really never thought I'd have to give advice on this.

I honestly never thought that this would be advice that I would give, but after slush letter #5 that made this mistake, I feel that I ought to bring it to your attention.

Writers. When you include your SASEs in your query letters, do us both a favor.

Address it to yourself.

Not to us.

I don’t need to get the rejection letter than I sent you.

You people think I’m kidding. I’m not kidding. This is the fifth SASE I’ve gotten addressed to the publishing house, listing the person’s own address as the return address.

Don’t do it.

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7. Blogging From the Slush Pile

I’m having a bit of a slow day, so I’m attacking the ginourmous pile of slush next to my desk. Here are some reactions to actual things in slush letters.

Things not to put in your query:

1. The line “give it a read, and I think we’ll do business.” I can’t speak for all editors everywhere, but I hate smarmy, self-assured ego. Self-confidence, yes. Smarmy ego, no.

2. The title page, table of contents, authors note, and first chapter of your novel. Okay, maybe that’s what some houses submissions guidelines request. Ours requests query letters. Other imprints here request the first ten pages, or something like that. It doesn’t take a brain to figure out that the title page, table of contents, and author’s note are not what is going to make me want your novel (see above, under “smarmy ego.” (Not that it matters, because this guy didn’t bother including an SASE, anyway. Trash!)

3. The line “I had a dream and upon awakening I wrote this story.” Doesn’t endear me to your work, and I really don’t care what the inspiration is for your story about ducklings.

4. In the vein of what I mentioned before, anything from a so-called agent that ends up in the slush pile. If it’s agented, it should go directly into the hands of an editor. When I get these, I always want to contact the author directly and tell him to drop the agent like a red-hot coal and find a real agent. This sort of agent is worse than not having any agent at all. (Something I want to talk about more, but for another time.)

5. A picture book MS that is written “with illustrations in mind (picture.)” And that means that after every line of text is another “(picture.)” Yes, I know that picture books are illustrated. Thanks for enlightening me on that one.

6. The name of an editor who no longer works at my company on your query. This editor left months and months ago. There are still queries arriving for her in our mail. It’s not like she would read them anyway, but still. If you’ve taken the time and energy to look up an editor’s name and title and address, maybe you should keep track of the fact that they’re no longer there. These things aren’t secrets. Lots of websites post changes in publishing personnel. I know, it’s not really a big deal. But it’s starting to get on my nerves. Do your damned homework.

7. Your SASE should be a normal, letter-sized envelope. The kind that an 8x11 piece of paper fits in when folded neatly into three. You know what? You want to use a larger envelope? Fine, that’s cool too. But don’t go smaller on me. I don’t get any kicks out of folding your rejection letter like it’s origami trying to get it to fit. If I have too much trouble getting your rejection into the envelope and closing it, I am going to toss the letter and the envelope both.

8. The line “books for young children should be extremely short-lived on shelves. A pending patent should alleviate that.” Seriously, I don’t know what that means, but I know that it means that any writer who wants their books to have a short shelf-life needs to find a new goal. Do you know what it means? What is she thinking? I honestly do not understand.

More as it comes.


*Note: Details have been changed, but the basic thought behind these lines are all true.

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8. It's Not the Thought That Counts

Here’s a tip: don’t write a message, write a story.

I can’t even begin to tell you how many queries I read that say something like “this book will teach children about the importance and value of sharing” or “the importance of multiculturalism will come clear in this picture book” or “each book in my series teaches another valuable lesson like if at first you don’t succeed try try again.”

Seriously, when I read that, I mentally recoil and have absolutely no interest in your story whatsoever.

I don’t want a message. I don’t want a picture book which will relay a nice idea. I don't want a preachy moralistic tale.

I want a great story. I want a funny text. I want something sweet that will bring tears to my eyes.

I want a story that moves me.

If there’s a message buried somewhere in there, well that’s great. There’s a message buried somewhere in every story we write and publish, because that’s why we write. We write to tell stories, to get ideas across.

If you are a passionate, dedicated writer, I suspect that there is a message of some sort in your work.

But don’t tell me about it. Don’t set out to write a story about multiculturalism or sharing or being nice to others that is really a thinly veiled vehicle for a cause. Don’t send it to me, and don’t write it, and most importantly of all, don’t tell me about it.

I’m not looking to publish causes and messages. I’m looking to publish great stories.

Tell me about the story.

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9. Stamp Story

Never do this:

Dear Editor,

I recently mailed you a query letter regarding an MS I had completed _______________, for which I enclosed a SASE. It has just come to my attention that my secretary (me) forgot to put a stamp on the camp. Please find enclosed appropriate postage.


And enclosed is a stamp.

Um. That’s very nice. But I am not going to label this stamp with the MS title and leave it on my desk until the MS shows up. Especially because there is a good chance that I already read the query letter, found the stampless SASE and trashed it.

If you realize you’ve done something like this, don’t send me postage. Just resubmit the MS.

Oh well. Free stamp for me, I guess.

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10. The slush pile

by Jane

Recently the Wall Street Journal ran an article titled "The Death of the Slush Pile." How incredibly sad, I thought.

One of my very first jobs in publishing was managing the slush pile at Bantam Books. I didn’t do much; all I was told to do was to log the manuscripts in, put them on a shelf and then two weeks later, reject them after nobody had looked at them. I hated doing it--those writers had worked so hard and yet, even all those years ago, there was nobody to read their work.

From that time on, I have had both respect and curiosity for “slush.” Even today, in a very difficult publishing market, I firmly believe that the slush pile can hold “buried treasure.”

And aside from the very public examples cited in the WSJ piece, we at DGLM have proven that there are wonderful projects to be found if one is patient and persistent enough to look.

Jim McCarthy discovered Carrie Ryan in the slush pile. She wrote The Forest of Hands and Teeth, which Jim sent out on a Friday and sold the following Monday. He also found Victoria Laurie, one of his first clients in slush. Jim has sold 18 of her books in the last six years.

Mike Bourret found three of his biggest clients in slush: Lisa McMann, author of Fade and Wake, among others; Heather Brewer whose first book among many, was Eighth Grade Bites; and Sara Zarr whose Story of a Girl was a National Book Award finalist.

Our very own Mary Doria Russell lay in a colleague’s slush pile for almost a year and when he didn’t respond, her first novel, The Sparrow, was passed along to me--and the rest is history.

So, no matter how busy I am, I have not forsaken the slush pile--and, hopefully, even in difficult times, I never will.

19 Comments on The slush pile, last added: 1/27/2010
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11. Fusenews: Of gigs and dreck

It's the bellbottoms on the hippy dippy minstrel that I love.

  • Comic book bloggers and children’s literature bloggers are two sides of the same coin.  Our interests often run parallel.  The degree to which the academic world regards us is fairly similar (though admittedly we get to have Norton Anthologies while they are sorely lacking any such distinction).  I don’t read my comic book blogs as frequently as I might, but once in a while the resident husband will draw my attention to something particularly toothsome.  Such a case was this series on Comic Book Resources.  A fellow by the name of Greg Hatcher makes a tour of the countryside each year, finding small towns with even smaller bookshops and thrift shops.  This year his has posted his finds and the children’s literature goodies are frequent.  In part one he pays homage to a surprise discovery of Kieran Scott’s Geek Magnet and shows the sad state of Sacagawea-related children’s literature in gift shops today (though I sure hope the Lewis & Clark gift shop also has the wherewithal to carry Joseph Bruchac’s Sacajawea: The Story of Bird Woman and the Lewis and Clark).  In part two Greg discovers the oddly comic-less Janet Townsend novel The Comic Book Mystery, finds the name Franklin Dixon on a book that ISN’T a Hardy Boys novel, and waxes eloquent on the career of illustrator Kurt Wiese. In part three he locates some very rare and pristine Trixie Belden novels (which I adored as a kid).  And finally, in part four he introduces us to the Danny Dunn series, shows us a hitherto unknown Three Investigators cover, and discusses Henry Reed (with illustrations by Robert McCloskey, of course).  If you enjoy bookscouting in any way, these posts are a joy.  Take a half an hour out of your day to go through them.  Greg writes with an easy care that I envy and hope to emulate.  Plus I loved the idea of giving photographs inserted into posts colored notations the way he does.  I’ve already started to try it myself.  Thanks to Matt (who, I see, recently credited Better Off Ted, for which I am grateful) for the links.
  • I sort of view agent Nathan Bransford with the same wary respect I once bestowed upon a toucan I found in the London department store Harrods.  I’m grateful that he’s there and I can’t look away, but there’s something unnerving about running across him.  And now he appears to have a book coming out with Dial in 2011, which is nice except that I keep misreading the title as Jacob Wonderbra and the Cosmic Space Kapow.  For the record, I would give a whole lot of money to any author willing to name their titular character (childish giggle) after a bra, a girdle, or even a good old-fashioned garter.  Okay . . . why am I talking about Nathan Bransford again?  Oh righ

    3 Comments on Fusenews: Of gigs and dreck, last added: 8/26/2010
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12. From The Slush Pile: Hand-Lettered Type

While going through the slush mail today, I came across a pair of standout illustrators in a pile of recent UArts grads. Jim Tierney and Sara Wood, a young Brooklyn couple, have a fantastic approach to book cover design.  Their masterful combination of type, hand-lettering and drawing makes both of their portfolios equally impressive.

Check out Sara’s D. H. Lawrence book cover series, and Jim’s interactive Jules Verne thesis (there’s a video too!).  I put the cards up on the “Wall Of Stuff I Like” in my cube, right next to our other favorite hand-drawn type designer, Kristine Lombardi.  Lombardi’s cards have been up on our wall for ages.  While her cards have more of a feminine, fashion style (although I do like her Kids page!), they are the first thing that designers walking by are ALWAYS drawn to.  Check out a great interview (including the below image of her promo card) here.These designers got me to thinking: where’s the place for hand-lettered type in children’s books?  Before the age of thousands of freebie fonts on the internet (hey, it wasn’t that long ago!), hand-lettered display type was commissioned for book covers all the time. I recently worked on the anniversary edition for Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side, and I was so impressed to discover that the handsome title was calligraphed by the original in-house designer.And while I’m sure it took a lot more effort than downloading a font, there’s something careful, purposeful and yet whimsical to hand-drawn type.  So it’s no surprise that it is experiencing a rebirth of magnificently hip proportions. Now, type everywhere looks like this:
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13. Interview with Sally Cook

Sally CookMark speaks with author Sally Cook about deciding to be an author while in the second grade, the magic of books and the connections they make between authors and readers, and discovering the lighter side of baseball in her picture book Hey Batta Batta Swing! – 1000 copies of which will be distributed as part of the New York Yankees’ opening day dinner on April 2, 2007.

Other books mentioned:

Participate in the conversation by leaving a comment on this interview, or send an email to justonemorebook@gmail.com.

Photo: Pippin Properties, Inc.

Tags:, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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14. Some Friendly Advice

A tip for writers:

If you submit a query letter to the slush pile, and you are lucky enough to get a response requesting that you send the full manuscript, this is what you will do, if you are smart:

Include a copy of the original query. Also nice, though not necessary, is to include a copy of the letter/postcard requesting the manuscript.

Because the world of publishing can be a shady place, my friends. Sometimes someone thinks they’re clever and send in a full manuscript and writes “requested material” on the envelope, and thinks that’s going to get it noticed better.

What really happens is that the editor it’s addressed to looks at it, doesn’t recall requesting it, and tosses it on the slush pile.

Sometimes we don’t remember what we requested. Like if a slush query looked intriguing, and we sent out a request for more, and it comes a few months later.

So include the original query, so that we can see clearly that you are not a shady writer trying to get ahead, but rather a legitimate writer with good stuff.

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15. Why are you stupid?

Here’s what I don’t understand.

If you’re going to go through all the trouble of looking up a publishing house’s address online, why won’t you go a step further and find out what the proper protocol is for sending queries?

And okay, maybe you’re a lazy bum and you like me to do your work for you (by sending you a copy of our submissions guidelines, not even a rejection letter.) But at least if you know enough about publishing houses to send your MS, you have the sense to include an SASE?

Seriously, people. If you’re eleven years old and your letter is adorable, maybe maybe maybe I’ll forgive this trespass and send you back your letter with a firm note indicating that you should include one next time. But if you’re a grown-up? No. I don’t care how lovely your story is. It goes in the trash, and you’re not hearing back from me in this lifetime.

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16. No Use Crying Over Buried Query Letters

Hi aspiring author,

Look, I know you sent in your query letter to us a million billion years ago. I know it is frustrating for you to have to wait. It is frustrating for me, too. Look, there are two piles next to my desk that are almost as high as my desk is, filled with slush. It was that way when I got there. I want nothing more (okay, I want a lot of things more, but I want this a lot) to have the chance to devote a couple of hours to reading through your hopes and dreams and giving you people some answers.

In fact, I feel a little bit guilty every time I sit down at my desk.

But I don't do anything about it. And you know why? Because I am busy. I am really, really, really busy working on books we've already acquired, books we're already publishing. I am really busy, and the editors I work for are even busier. I barely have time to read the agented submissions. That's what my commute is for. And so the pile keeps growing, a few more envelopes every day.

I try. I make a point of reading and responding to at least two pieces of slush a day. It isn't much, but at least it's something. At least it's two more people who aren't wondering any more.

So I am sorry. I do my best, but that's about all I can do.

So don't be annoying, aspiring novelist. Don't send me a fax that says, "from one human being to another, please tell me what the status of my query is." Because you know what the status of your query is? Buried under five hundred other queries, that's what. I'm sorry you're antsy. I'm sorry it's taken so long. Really, I am.

But you know what else? There's freaking nothing I can do about it right now.

So stop whining.

Love,

The Kidlitjunkie

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