3 S.R. Johannes: Insider Information - Midsouth Notes

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Insider Information - Midsouth Notes

Keynote: Bruce Coville – “What we do matters?”

In your stories, you want a:
· Ha - laugh
· Wha – tears (sad or joy)
· Yikes – when a story turns on itself – conflict or surprise

2 ways to fail
1) so tasteful no one wants to read it
2) character does not save herself – someone else does it

  • Ask yourself questions about your scene – why is XX doing this? Answer it and then ask "why" again. You don’t want the easy answer – you want to underlying answer.
  • Use 3 of the 5 senses in every scene – taste, smell, sight, touch or hear
  • Make sure you have set ups for every payoffs – for example - if a boy’s book falls into a puddle (payoff), the set up is that it has to rain the night before

Amalia Ellison – Confessions of an Asst Editor

Used to work at Random, has a grad degree in Literature from New School in NYC. Is also a writer – the heart of a writer with the knowledge of a publisher

Benefits of an agent

  1. more money
  2. more protection
  3. editing
  4. buffer and advocate for you with editor
  5. manages legal aspect
  6. watches rights
  7. makes sure your advance is not so high that you cannot earn out (either make break even point or sell X number of copies)
  8. set up a vetting screen for editors. If you come agented – editors automatically perceive better than those unagented.

General Notes

  • Editors are only allowed to offer X$ to unagented authors. Even if they should make more and they were the next JK Rowling, if they came unagented – there is a limit.
  • If an editor is working with you and has not mentioned a contract in any way yet. You have time to get an agent. You can even ask the editor – may I tell an agent you may be interested. If I say yes, you may be able to get an agent easier. But if I have told you I am drawing up a contract and provide an offer – then it is too late to get an agent. You have already committed to the process. You can walk away but if you said at this point – let me get an agent – I would probably retract offer. It would not be good.
  • When submitting, go for asst agents and asst editors at reputable houses. They are hungry and need to prove themselves. Be sure they have acquiring power. They have more time and energy to work harder.
  • Sometimes small and mediums size houses offer more to authors because they are more intimate. You can tell by how much they publish – look in catalogs. Mid size – Abrams, FSG, Candlewick. Small – Holiday house, Greenwillow
  • Abrams does not rank authors – they are all top priority. Some houses have mid lists and rank authors from top to bottom
  • Take your book and know what makes it different than others. Think about reversing it or twisting it around. ie – If a book is about a girl sports – instead of softball - why not use football and have protagonist the only girl on an all male team?
    High Concept dramas are hot right now – ie Lost, Harry Potter, Twilight, Heros. Watch TV shows – they allude to trends even in book market. You don’t see a lot of sitcoms, you see dramas.
  • Picture books and nonfiction – hardest to sell. PBs cost a lot
  • Have discussions about covers and illustrations before illustrator is picked. Offer editor a few you like so they can see styles. Let them know your vision.
  • If your book goes to acquisitions meeting – you are in good shape.
  • It is ok to do illustration notes in PB submissions
  • This year Abrams has 6-8 YA, 6-8 MG, a few picture books.

2 types of auctions:
1) best offer – one round, best overall offer wins. Editor does not see any other bids, just puts in best offer.
2) bid auction – at least 3 rounds – editors can bid against each other and can see all bids

Top 3 problems she comes across in books:

  1. authors talk down to kids. unauthentic voice
  2. it just does not fit her personal taste or her houses taste – do your research!
  3. authors seem to spend more time on letter than book. She does not even like letters

Harold Underdown – Analyzing Catalogs (this was great! Hard to take notes unless you have a catalog to look at)

General Notes

  • Know and research imprints. They have their own staff but are owned by larger houses.
  • Find out if you can submit separately to each imprint or you can only submit to one.
  • Check out catalogs – count number of PBs, MG, YA and nonfiction. It will tell you what the imprints focus is on.
  • Check out conferences at NCTE, ALA Book Expos. Most houses have booths and catalogs. You can order catalogs online at some houses.
  • Don’t try to figure out editors taste. Editors go from house to house. They have to stay in alignment with house and imprint taste. It is better to learn the “tastes” of the houses then to track editors.

Information you can find in House Catalogs:

  • what kind of books they do
  • “bestselling” or “number of copies in print run” – this assumes Commercial books
  • “awards” and “reviews” – assumes books for teachers or libraries
  • marketing plans and budgets - are they do signings at bookstores or libraries - are they doing ads? displays, budgets – larger budgets – bigger books,
  • how many spreads given to each books. tells what the focus is. If PBs get 2 pages and YAs get 1. PBs seem to be the focus.
  • Tells what rights are sold.
  • Lists how many pages books are and target ages of audiences
  • Sometimes tells you the agency if all right have not been sold.
  • USCOM – means can be sold in US, Canada and Open market (in countries where English is first language only.)
  • W – can sell worldwide in any language.
  • Tells if authors have other books. Can tell how many of the books are first time authors.
  • Tone of the books. Are they quirky, serious, dramas, chick lit etc.?

Bruce Coville – Creating a Series

Started with book packagers. Has total of 93 books. Found book packaging job in Publisher Weekly classified section.

Funny Quotes

  • “As writers – we need to always shoot to do better than we did before.”
  • You can only write if you are at the keyboard. Can only get published if you send out your work.”
  • “Inspiration without craft is basket making. Craft without Inspiration is Modern Art.

Book packagers

  • Good way to eneter biz
  • When you write a series, always try to write a book better than expected.
    Don’t work for a book packager too long.
    If you are ever offered a flat fee or royalty. Always take the royalty, bet on yoursel

Where do series come from?

When writing a series – try to leave something to wonder at the end. Don’t tie everything up too neatly. Leave some questions that create demand.

1) Planned Series – you get a “bible’ which has all background. Usually comes from Book Packagers. ie Goosebumps, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins
2) Accidental Series –
a – character driven – character needs to grow and does organically
b – by demand – fans/readers want more

Types of Series
1) Template – all start the same. Nancy Drew
2) Evolutionary – characters develop over time. Harry Potter, Narnia Chronicles

How to create a Series Bible?
Always write your own BIBLES – includes setting, character profiles, and plot summaries
1) setting – what is your world about? what does it look like. Add details
2) create description of main characters. This should include positive and negative characters – all opposing forces.
3) Do synopsis for a few books. Be sure stories can stand alone with an overarching story.

(a) Create strong main character
(b) Up suspense – write the book then try to find a way to condense plot to create sense of urgency.
(c) Keep it fresh. Start with a story. Identify ways to make it unique. Switch points of view, change characters, create the unexpected.
(d) If you need to have a synopsis to keep readers up to speed. Try writing prologue in characters voice
(e) Know when to stop

Misc. Notes

Submission Statistics

  • 70% picture books
  • 20% MG/YA
  • 10% non-fiction
    o Out of these, only 1% get personal rejections/go to acquisitions/editorial letters
    o Out of this 1% – 1% get published (5,000 a year published – this is 1% of the total submissions

Best fonts
o serif fonts
o bookman old style 12.5
o always double space – not 1.5 spacing. always 1 inch margins.

Good books on craft
o Story by Robert McKee
o Art and Fear
o 30 days to a better PB


King of my Throne said...

Every time I read your blog I want to buy a book.
Books on craft...Need to purchase these.
Story by Robert Mckee
and 30 days to a better PB

Anonymous said...

Wow, these are astounding notes from the conference you went to (not sure which one it was). Bruce Coville's humor just shines through. The ask yourself why a character does something--then ask again--is very powerful. Also, the making sure you have set-ups for every payoffs...seems kinda obvious but I get this niggling feeling that perhaps I did not do that in my last project. Must check.

Anonymous said...

Another shocker: I NEVER KNEW that editors have $ caps on unagented authors. That is amazing! I just thought the money differentials were due to the fact that agents were more aggressive negotiators. But according to Amalia Ellison, it's because they have caps for unagented writers as well. Dayum. Seems kinda unfair.

Carrie Harris said...

"So tasteful no one wants to read it."

HAH! I wish I would have had that quote a while back, when I was submitting my first novel. I took a lot of risks with it and pushed the limits, and there were people who thought I was making a mistake with that.

I'm thumbing my nose at them retroactively right now.

Anonymous said...

ART and FEAR is a great title for a book on craft. Do you have it? What do you think of it? Sounds intriguing...

Carrie Harris said...

Heh. Authors spending more time on the letter than on the book... I know a lot of people who do that. But then, I know people for whom a simple query adjustment has made all the difference, so it's an interesting tradeoff, isn't it?