Thursday, August 27, 2009

Announcing: Kidlit Drink Night and Race for the Cure

Hey there! Our next Kidlit Drink Night will be Monday, September 21, at the Houndstooth Pub at 520 8th Ave. (at 37th Street). (This is where we were for BEA, and we'll probably be in the downstairs room again.) Starting about 6 p.m., running as long as the chatter lasts. Agents, editors, librarians, writers, readers, all are welcome. Hope to see you there!

Also, if you'd like to be on an e-mail list for future Kidlit Drink Nights, we've finally gotten around to setting one up. Send a message to nyckidlitdrinks at gmail dot com, and we will let you know of all future events as soon as they're announced, with reminders on the day before or day of as well. My thanks to editor and former Scholastic colleague Greg Holch for this good idea.

And on a personal note: I will once again be participating in the New York Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, this year, I'm excited to say, in the company of my mom and my sister and James and other friends. We'll be walking in memory of my grandmother, Carol Sadler; the incredible and much-missed Jhumki Basu; and all the other women taken away from us too soon by breast cancer. If you'd like to donate to the cause, my page is here. Thank you.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

In Response to "In Response to [My Previous Post]"

Agent extraordinaire Michael Bourret wrote a swift response to my modest proposal of last night; as he did me the courtesy of not putting words in my mouth, I'll do the same for him, and you can read his full reply here. He writes in part:

And, as much as I'd like to help Cheryl and her fellow editors out here, this comes down to just one question for me: what do I tell the editor who manages to read the manuscript and get the in-house support to make a good offer on a book in 48 hours? Clearly, in that situation, the editor and the house are enthusiastic enough to get their ducks in a row very quickly. They want the book, and they want it badly enough to beat other people to the punch. Editors, would you be willing to let a preempt sit for weeks while I tested the waters with slower editors? I think not.
Well, honestly, assuming a submission was made under the terms of my post, you would tell that editor to go back and read his or her cover letter, because you would have said clearly that you would not be making a decision on offers until a specified date. In other words: You'd be passing up the chance of a pre-empt in return for the chance of having all the editors to whom you submitted a manuscript giving it their best and most thoughtful reads and crafting a thorough and substantive offer. Sure, it's a risk, and one that might not be right for every agent or every project; but if you're a good agent with good authors (as Michael is), and thus fairly sure of having several editors interested, it might pay off even further in the range of participation you'd get and the number of editors who might come to the auction table. As Arthur pointed out once, "If EVERYONE is given the same timeline, then no one benefits from being first. It's being best that counts."

Michael continues:
For me, finding the best fit means finding an editor with the energy and enthusiasm to make a book happen. Doing all of the work necessary to make an offer in a short period of time is one (though certainly not the only) measure of that.
But the fact that "doing all of that work in a short period of time" is the only way to have a shot at buying said manuscript makes speed the most important measure of the editor's energy and enthusiasm. And this is not a good thing, as it creates the "lemming mentality" and unsustainable advances Michael speaks of later in his post. To quote Arthur again: "The fact that one editor may be able to marshal an offer more quickly than another isn't a definite indication that that editor will bring the most skill or influence or passion to a project ultimately, or to an author in the long run. And it's CERTAINLY not an indication that the house will be behind the author more firmly, or better able to publish her/him. It's simply an indication that the house's acquisitions procedures are more streamlined" -- that said editor could get approval quickest. Which is great for that editor, but which counts for very little in the long, long life of a book.

Michael concludes, "In the end, my interests are those of the client, not of the editor, and I don't think timelines benefit authors. So, I'll continue to operate without them." It is his perfect right to do this, and I certainly wish him and his clients well. And, for the record, the proposal was a suggestion of a useful method for submitting to me (and all editors) -- certainly not a prerequisite for agented submissions, since every agent is free to set his or her own terms, as Michael is doing here.

But I would say that publishing works best when all of our interests are served -- when editors have time to bring their best energies to a project; when houses have time to craft their best offers for that project; when an author and agent have time to consider all of these offers' strengths and weaknesses, and match those with their plans for the author's long-term success. This is not fiction. It really does happen. We'd love to see it happen more. My thanks to Michael for engaging this conversation, and thanks again to all agents for considering these ideas.

An Open Letter to Agents, with a Modest Proposal Regarding Submissions

Dear Agents:

I love you. You guide difficult manuscripts into submissible shape; you send me the resulting interesting projects; you look out for your authors' best interests in a contract negotiation (even if we don't always agree on what those are); you act as sounding board and go-between should some sticky situation arise in the publication process; and ultimately you are our partners in working with the author to publish the book.

But there is one pattern in our current submissions system that I wish you and I (or rather, all agents and all editors) could work together to break. In the past few months, I’ve several times had members of your esteemed company submit a project to me and other editors on Monday, then call on Wednesday (once even Tuesday) to say that they’re expecting an offer, and on Thursday to announce that the auction will be held early the next week, if not sooner. This is understandably exciting for the authors and agents involved, and it must be very gratifying for you all to have such intense and immediate interest.

But I would argue that this is not a good process for helping your authors build the long-term, profitable, sustainable careers they’re (and you're) looking for. Why not? Because you’re limiting the pool of editors who are going to be able to respond with a strong offer in that super-short period of time. Not only is it usually difficult to drop everything on our desks to read and consider a 250-page manuscript (see Alvina’s post here for what that “everything” includes), we often have to get other people on board as well. Some editors have to take a manuscript to an editorial board and get second reads. Some of us have to take it to our bosses. Some have to go before an acquisitions committee, which often means preparing cover sheets, P&Ls, an author bio, a pitch to pass on to Sales—more or less an entire, well-thought-out publication plan. Sometimes we want to get Marketing to weigh in and craft a marketing plan as part of our offer. Some editors—like me—like to talk to the author to be sure that the author-editor relationship is the right fit and we're on the same page regarding future revisions. There are lots of pieces involved in putting an offer together, one that will be both financially and artistically sustainable and successful for both the book and the house—

And none of those pieces are improved by speed. Indeed, oftentimes they’re hurt by speed. The editor who’s desperate to get that second read has to give the ms. to a colleague who’s already stressed out—so she doesn’t like it. Marketing has no time to read the manuscript, so they have to craft a plan based on a plot summary. It's much harder to think through what a book needs editorially and publishing-wise when you're doing it under extreme pressure to make an offer or pass a ms. on. And when you have to get reads from everyone immediately, the burden of proof on a manuscript becomes proportional to the size of the interruption you’re demanding . . . because if you want everyone to drop everything to read it, plus you have to justify what will likely be a high advance in an auction situation, by God, it better be great. And never mind all the participation you agents aren't getting from editors who are out on vacation, or at Sales Conference, or simply swamped with deadlines when you want a response in 72 hours.

Now I am not protesting here against multiple submissions or auctions or having to work hard to acquire a manuscript; those are all facts of modern publishing life, and what you agents need to do to find the right (or at least most lucrative) home for a book. And I can read as fast as anyone else when I need to—I’ve acquired projects at auction, and I’ve been that damnable editor preempting a manuscript myself.

Still, I’d like to make a modest proposal regarding the multiple submission procedure. This is a method some agents and foreign-rights directors already use; we always appreciate it when we see it, and I don’t think it’s hurt their manuscript sales. It’s this: When you send out the manuscript, say in your cover letter that you will not make a decision about any offers until a certain date—at a minimum, a day three weeks from the date of the submission, and better still four to eight weeks out. And then stick to that, please.

This allows all of us editors a reasonable time frame in which to read the manuscript, and then:

  • If we are at houses that have an editorial or acquisitions board, it gives us time to get second reads or prepare our materials for the committee; and if there is some additional material an editor alone cannot provide, like a marketing plan, it gives those people time to create those materials with thoughtfulness and imagination.
  • If we are the kind of editors who like to talk to authors before we acquire a book, it gives us time to have these conversations in a rational rather than pressured manner, and time for the author to think through what he or she wants in an editor and look at prospective editors’ previous books and lists.
  • If we editors are on vacation/at Sales Conference/tied up in a big editorial project (like editing a novel by another one of the authors you represent), we won’t miss the opportunity to participate in the auction just because we are otherwise occupied when the submission arrives.
And it will benefit you agents and authors too, in that:
  • You know the editor is coming to the table with the full support of their house;
  • you know the editor has genuine enthusiasm for the project—it’s not just speed and competitiveness;
  • you can still take early offers, but you’re not beholden to them—you get to wait and see the full range of what might come in.
  • Then you will be able to craft the right deal for the book based upon a multitude of factors and not just who reads a manuscript the quickest.
  • And finally, if you have not heard from an editor by the date specified, you are perfectly justified in thinking that he or she does not have any interest, and letting him or her go by the wayside.
Will you please consider this? I, and several editors with whom I discussed the idea, would appreciate it, and editors who know you're reasonable and considerate of our needs will give your submissions priority. Authors who think “I don’t want to give up hearing news quickly” should remember that their purchased manuscripts might eventually get pushed aside so their editor can read the next must-be-read-yesterday submission. And patience is a great virtue for all of us to learn in publishing anyway.

Thank you for your time and consideration, dear agents, and I look forward to seeing more of the wonderful manuscripts you send my way.

With best wishes,

Cheryl Klein
Senior Editor
Arthur A. Levine Books / Scholastic

ETA: You can see further discussion of this idea in Michael Bourret's post here and my response to it here.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Your Missions, Should You Choose to Accept Them

  • A friend on child_lit sent me this list of Five Things You Can Do to Contribute to the Health Care Reform Cause. I've read a fair amount about this in the media, and the more I read, the more complicated it gets; but what doesn't change is the desperate need for SOME reform that will be sympathetic to those who are freelancers (like my boyfriend, and nearly all writers and illustrators), or out of work, or making minimum wage, to rein in costs and provide adequate care. Many of us worked for Obama last year so he could do precisely this; let's help him accomplish it now.
  • If you'd like to donate to the publication of my book, the deadline is Sept. 1. I have already collected enough to fund a 750-copy first printing -- donations for which I'm very grateful. Click here for more info, here to go to my Kickstarter page.
  • See District 9 and (500) Days of Summer.
  • Visit Governor's Island. Said boyfriend and I were out there yesterday, and we rode a surrey cart, played miniature golf on an artist-designed course, saw some awesome modern art, ate delicious ice cream, and wandered through the parkland and buildings left over from the Army outpost there -- a thoroughly enjoyable time.
  • If you're interested in literary translation, check out this Shelf Awareness writeup of the Heartsinger panel at ALA.
  • End of August is prime peach season; go find a farmers' market, buy a bundle, and eat one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Brooklyn Arden Blog Review Policy

Just setting this out there as a matter of policy, and to save said authors, publishers, and publicists the time:

Occasionally I receive e-mails from kind authors, publishers, or publicists, asking me to review or feature a book on my blog. As much as I appreciate the interest, my reading and blog-writing time is already occupied with projects I've edited or read for my personal pleasure, and as a result, I must decline these requests.

I am interested in hearing from marketers of non-book products; I’ve received offers to review theatre productions and office furniture in the past, and quite enjoyed some of the experiences, so I’d be pleased to try something else new. (All reviews will be fair, and have disclaimers regarding how the tickets or products came to me.) My e-mail address for these is chavela_que at yahoo dot com. Thank you.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Arthur A. Levine Books Fall 2009 List

Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) by Lisa Yee, illustrated by Dan Santat. Coedited by Arthur and me. When Lisa first came to us with the idea for a younger middle-grade series, she said she wanted it to be like the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary—books with humor, heart, a strong central family, and, in her son’s words, “not a lot of commotion.” We’re glad to say that she’s succeeded in all but the last. Because Bobby is the first book in a series about Bobby Ellis-Chan, a sweet, sincere, well-meaning fourth-grader who somehow stumbles into one embarrassing situation after another; and the “commotion” he causes is both totally believable and laugh-out-loud funny. The amusing events are anchored in Lisa’s marvelous characters, from Bobby, to his retired-pro-football-player dad (who is struggling to adjust to his new status as Mr. Mom); to his goldfish Rover; to his best friends, sensible Holly and energetic Chess; to his nemesis, the annoying (and very tall) Jillian Zarr. Indeed, the relationship between lifelong friends Holly and Bobby forms the heart of the novel here, as they’ve reached that tricky moment in time where boys and girls must never be seen to be friends with each other (a rule strongly enforced by Jillian Zarr), and they have to figure out both the politics (literally) and the emotions of that. It’s a rare writer who can take everyday events and real-life situations like this and shape them into something special and new; and a rare illustrator, too, who can inject the images of those events with humor and verve. Already the recipient of a starred review from the Horn Book.

The Circle of Gold (The Book of Time III), by Guillaume Prevost, translated by William Rodarmor. Edited by moi. The time-travel adventure begun in The Book of Time and continued in The Gate of Days reaches its fiery conclusion as Sam leaps from Egypt to China and Renaissance Rome to the future. This is a great series for middle-graders looking for a fun and fast-paced read, and for parents who wouldn't mind slipping a little history and mystery into the action.

Lips Touch, Three Times, by Laini Taylor, with illustrations by Jim DiBartolo (who also now have a gorgeous baby!!!). Edited by Arthur. The best way to introduce this book is just to excerpt it:

There is a certain kind of girl the goblins crave. You could walk across a high school campus and point them out: not her, not her, her. The pert lovely ones with butterfly tattoos in secret places, sitting on their boyfriends' laps? No, not them. The girls watching the lovely ones sitting on their boyfriends' laps? Yes.
The goblins want girls who dream so hard about being pretty their yearning leaves a palpable trail, a scent goblins can follow like sharks on a soft bloom of blood. The girls with hungry eyes who pray each night to wake up as someone else. Urgent, unkissed, wishful girls.
Like Kizzy.
Yeah. That’s from the first story, a modern-day companion tale to the Christina Rossetti poem “Goblin Market”; the second story, “Spicy Little Curses Such As These,” set in colonial India, carries the scent of “Orpheus and Eurydice”; and the third, a novella called “Hatchling,” follows Esme and her mother Mab, who live a secret, enchanted life in London, on the run from a terror that Esme will discover. All three stories turn on the kisses of a lifetime; feature beautiful illustrative material from Jim DiBartolo; and are perfect for fans of Holly Black, Melissa Marr, or luscious writing.

Operation Yes, by Sara Lewis Holmes. Edited by moi. I’ve talked about this book before, in this blog post about flap copy, so you might already be familiar with its content (new teacher energizes her class on an Air Force base with improvisational theatre). And unusual as that content is (because when was the last time you read a middle-grade novel focused solely on military kids? That’s right—never), its form is just as fascinating, as Sara uses multiple points of view, a structure that reflects the interests of her characters, and some marvelous narrative cross-cutting to create a portrait of the whole community on base. Sara is herself the wife of an Air Force career officer, so she knows whereof she writes (see the wonderful picture on the book's site here), and the book reflects all her love for and knowledge of the military, theatre, and the transformative power of a good teacher.

Peaceful Heroes, by Jonah Winter, illustrated by Sean Addy. Edited by Arthur. This beautiful and important book describes the lives of people from around the world who changed it by nonviolent, even anti-conflict means: Jesus; Clara Barton; Mohandas Gandhi; Martin Luther King Jr.; Corrie Ten Boom; Paul Rusesabagina, and several others. Jonah is the author of many highly praised picture-book biographies, including AALB's Frida, Dizzy, The Secret World of Hildegard, and The Fabulous Feud of Gilbert and Sullivan (which was featured on NPR this morning). Arthur found Sean Addy at a showcase here in New York City several years ago -- I was with Arthur at the time, and witnessed his excitement at finding such a bold new young illustrator. We're thrilled to be publishing Sean's first book as a solo artist.

Stick Man, by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. Edited by Alison Green of Scholastic UK, with Arthur as its American midwife (midhusband?). The creators of The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom, and AALB’s own The Fish Who Cried Wolf spin a jouncy Christmas tale—the story of a stick separated from his family who tries to get home for the holiday. This is how rhyming text is done, people. Decked out with foil and out in time for the holidays.

Thank you for keeping an eye out for all these terrific books this autumn!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

The Quote File: Voltaire

Voltaire's real name was Francois-Marie Arouet, and he was one of those Enlightenment polymaths who, by their prodigious output, would seem to have spent every moment writing -- except, of course, he was also advising noblemen, running estates, having quarrels, getting exiled, and conducting scandalous affairs. And saying wise things along the way:

Work saves us from three great evils: boredom, vice and need.

Love truth, but pardon error.

In the midst of all the doubts which have been discussed for four thousand years in four thousand ways, the safest course is to do nothing against one's conscience. With this secret we can enjoy life and have no fear of death.

Life is thickly sown with thorns, and I know no other remedy than to pass quickly through them. The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.

We have a natural right to make use of our pens as of our tongue, at our peril, risk and hazard.

One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only the truth.

The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbours, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the property of all.

Appreciation is a wonderful thing, it makes what is excellent in others belong to us as well.

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

There are some who only employ words for the purpose of disguising their thoughts.

It is as impossible to translate poetry as it is to translate music.

Shun idleness. It is a rust that attaches itself to the most brilliant of metals.

I die adoring God, loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and detesting superstition. (supposed last words)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Two Easy-Peasy Recipesies and Some Church Announcements

I baked both this yellow cake and these brownies for the soup kitchen at my church today, and they were both remarkably easy (one bowl each, with v. common ingredients) and quite delicious. We served the yellow cake with fruit compote and it made a yummy quasi-shortcake.

Also: My church runs a soup kitchen every Sunday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Should you or someone you know be in need of a good meal and company, please do stop by: Park Slope United Methodist, at the corner of 6th Ave. and 8th St. in Brooklyn.

Finally: I will be speaking again (that is, giving a lay sermon) at said church in two weeks. I don't think the talk will have anything to do with writing this time (unlike last time), but I was thinking today about sign-signified relations in religion, so you never know. (And if you actually think I know anything more about deconstructionism than sign-signified relations . . . well, I will allow you to continue to think that.) Services are at 10 a.m. if you'd like to come.