Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

An editor speaks

One of the things I do in my quest to be a writer is to heed the advice of those who have been there-done that. Finding these professionals in my part of rural America is difficult. (Not impossible, though—a few do live in these parts.)

Whenever I learn that a major professional is going to speak in the area, I make a pilgrimage to hear what he or she has to say. I’ve learned a lot about how real publishing works from doing this. Last night, I made a pilgrimage. Fellow SCWBI member Amy Tate joined me.

We went to Hollins University to hear Michael Stearns, the foreign acquisitions editor for HarperCollins, speak. The Hollins University Children’s Literature Institute sponsored the presentation.

Stearns' advice to writers for the children’s book market was exceedingly helpful. He advised writers to pursue agents rather than pursuing separate editors. Get an agent—they help immeasurably. Writers should concentrate on writing rather than submitting the book to publishing houses. Let the agent do that. The agent should know where the book fits best. Since reputable agents are hard to find, go for the younger agents at established reputable agencies; they’re still trying to build their lists. The older agents already have a full client list. Other hints for writers:

  • Go to websites of reputable agents and query.
  • Go to SCWBI workshops.
  • Go to conferences where agents are: Whidbey Island, Sewannee, etc.
  • Thank people for feedback they give you.
  • If an editor rejects your work, it’s never personal; the editor just doesn’t “love it” enough.

One of the most helpful things Stearns did was sketch a chart so we could see where particular kinds of books belong. (This is hard to describe, but I’ll give it a shot.) At the top, he wrote literary; at the bottom, he wrote competent. To the right, he wrote commercial; to the left, institutional. Then he drew circles to show what publishers were associated with what types. This was helpful for authors to target potential publishers for their genres. (For example, Ferradiddledumday, my Blue Ridge Rumpelstiltskin, which is used in classrooms across the country but doesn’t yet exist in book form, would go in the literary/institutional sector, where publishers such as Tricycle, Walker, and Marshall Cavendish are found.)

He handed out a list of Children’s Best Sellers from the New York Times Book Review and classified them by type. He mentioned genres that children’s publishers are looking for: fantasy (though the market is glutted with it), dark fantasy (a glut of vampire books), Chick Lit, Teen Novels with an edge, serious fiction, plus “package books” (work for hire books under a pseudonym). However, he cautioned that you can’t write to trends; write about what you love–hopefully someone will like it..

He also gave advice on how to become an editor:

  • Be a reader. You have to “read everything.” Read a wide variety of authors and genres.
  • Take writing workshops. They teach you how to read as an editor
  • Read books on the craft of writing. (One book he recommended was Narrative Design, by Madison Smartt Bell; I couldn’t write fast enough to get the others.)
  • Love Language.
  • Take a publishing course. He mentioned the 8-week session at Columbia (geared toward magazine editors), the Denver Publishing Institute, and the NYU Summer Institute.
  • Read publishing websites (Media Bistro, Publisher’s Lunch).
  • Do informational interviews with editors. But do research before you go in; read the books they’ve edited before you go for the interview.
  • Work in a bookstore.

The above is only a part of what he talked about. I couldn’t write fast enough to get everything. One thing I liked about his presentation is that he didn’t speak in generalities—he gave many specific examples.

Amy and I learned a lot. We left pumped up and ready to write.


Blogger Debi said...

Thanks for the post about the presentation.

I'd love to work in a bookstore but I'd spend more than my pay!

9:21 AM  
Blogger Becky Mushko said...

Me too. And with an employee discount, I'd spend even more.

I have a hard enough time just walking past a bookstore.

9:50 AM  

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