Saturday, October 27, 2007

In the Arms of SQUIDs

This is my stack of February SQUIDs -- the stack that led to this post, in fact. When I read my slush mail, I triage the manuscripts into three piles: "Respond," "Second Look," and "Not Right for Me." The last pile is returned to the author, form reject letter enclosed. The "Second Look" pile gets a second read, and everything in it is then either returned to the author -- sometimes with comments written on the form letter, sometimes not -- or moved into the "Respond" pile. And the "Respond" pile . . .

If the SQUID was the first two chapters of a novel, this is easy: I request either five chapters or the whole MS, depending on my enthusiasm. But then those MS join the picture-book SQUIDs that were already in the "Respond" pile, meaning they're manuscripts that warrant a proper thoughtful editorial response. And then . . . Well, and then I run into the difficulties discussed at great length in this post and the comments that followed. And then if I've had a manuscript for many months, as sometimes happens, I hate returning it to the author with no explanation or helpful comment -- because I really like thinking through MS and offering my thoughts, and I feel you've earned it with your patience. So if you have not received a response to your SQUID, whether it's a novel or a picture book, I probably think it has potential, and I've been keeping it for a time to write to you about it.

That is the good news. The bad news is that this time rarely comes, again for all the difficulties discussed in that January post. (And yes, I am well aware of the irony that the "Not right for me"s get a prompt answer while the "Respond"s don't.) What takes so long here? When I "read a manuscript," I do more than just run my eyes over the lines and take the content in. I have to think about (1) what kind of work it needs; (2) whether it's still good enough and I love it enough to take it on anyway and then work on it for the next two years; (3) if it's the right manuscript for me to acquire at this time, which involves all sorts of variables like what else I've acquired recently, what else my colleagues have acquired recently, whether it's the kind of book the company can support and sell, when it would be scheduled, what my workload is, what else we have on the AALB list; (4) what's the right approach to take in acquiring it, because I'll have to sell it first to Arthur and then to the Acquisitions Committee; (5) if it's a picture book MS, what illustrator could/should we get for it, and how would that change the answers to (3) and (4). All of those decisions take time and careful thought -- much more time than just the time spent physically reading the manuscript.

As a result, this is a dilemma I've been thinking about for a very long time, with a consistently guilty conscience -- because at least I ought to let those "Respond" authors know I like the sound of their MS, rather than not informing them in the optimistic hope I'll get that response out quickly. And because that isn't productive for anyone, I'm going to institute this policy henceforth. (Comments upon it are welcome, and changes to it may then follow.)

1. My apologies to everyone who's waiting on a response.
2. I am going to make up a form letter that says in essence "I like your manuscript and would like to think about it further. Please get in touch with me if you have not heard from me in six months." This will be sent to the author in the SASE s/he enclosed with the MS, so all SQUIDs (excepting full novel MS) will receive some form of reply within two months. (Why not a personal form letter? Because it takes time to type out the address, enter the author's name and the title of the book, print it out on letterhead, copy it . . . Form letters save immense amounts of work. I am also going to make up a form letter for requesting chapters/full novels, as formerly I've done this on letterhead.) So that's Problem #1 solved: "Respond" authors will now know what's going on with their ms.
2a. Digression: Henceforth, full novel manuscripts I've requested will be called Giant SQUIDs to distinguish them from the regular SQUIDs I open each month (novel chapters and picture-book MS).
3. To try to keep my work piles down, I am going to try to use this letter as sparingly as possible -- even more sparingly than I do now, where there are maybe, maybe, four or five "Responds" in every stack of fifty SQUIDs.
4. Problem #2: How to deal with the "Respond" picture book MS and Giant SQUIDs in a timely manner. Oy. Well, these are mostly changes that need to happen on my end, and I will try to institute them, but what would you think of this: asking every SQUID author to include a line in their original cover letter about whether they prefer comments OR a response within six months (not that the two are mutually exclusive). Then, at the least, those "Response" authors who don't care what I have to say as long as they get an answer back quickly will get said answer within six months, and those who are willing to wait for comments will get them. (Or is this hopelessly naive and every author is going to want comments, so it will be pointless?)
5. If you are waiting on a response to a SQUID right now, and you really don't care about comments, you just want a yes or no once and for all, send me an e-mail to my website address (chavela_que at yahoo dot com) and you will get an answer in the next two weeks. Otherwise, I'm sorry, but you'll have to keep waiting.
6. Once these guidelines are finalized, they'll be added to my website.

In other work-related news:
  • We had a terrific event for our book Click at the Borders at Columbus Circle on Monday. Because the book benefits Amnesty International, Colin Farrell was there, and consequently reports of the event have shown up on celebrity gossip sites like I'm Not Obsessed,, and HotMommaGossip. But Linda Sue Park has my favorite story from the day . . .
  • I was just promoted to Senior Editor. Yay!
  • And as part of this, I am no longer handling foreign submissions for our imprint, so hopefully once all that gets cleared out, I will have more time to respond to manuscripts (and work in the office, as honestly I now have to edit a manuscript for the rest of the afternoon).
  • I am seeking an intern to help with reading manuscripts and other office work. This is an excellent opportunity for anyone looking to become an editorial assistant in children's books, or any writer who wants to see what the other side of the desk looks like. The timing is flexible, but I hope for four hours a day, one day a week; and while the position is unpaid, you get free books, good training, and great experience. If you're interested, send me an e-mail with your resume and brief thoughts on three books you've read recently to the e-mail address given above.


  1. CONGRATS on the senior editor position! You are by far the most accommodating editor I have ever submitted to. Thanks for thinking of us writers:)

  2. Senior Editor is well deserved! Go Cheryl!!!

    Oh, I wish the intern job could be done from Arizona?

  3. Senior Editor! Yey! This calls for a pumpkintini.

  4. Congratulations, Senior Editor!

    My biggest concern about your proposed changes to SQUIDs is the time it might take to explain those changes. I suspect you'll have to do it more than once.

    You often announce here when you process SQUID mss. Can authors who don't hear from you soon after such an announcement assume (scary word, I know) their ms is in the Respond pile? I think they can.

    It's standard procedure to follow up after 6 months, so I'm not sure you need the 2nd form letter.

    I'm not convinced you need to do anything differently. SQUID authors know what you're dealing with (or should), and choose to be part of the SQUID program for the personal attention. Otherwise, they wouldn't submit a SQUID, right? If you don't want Cheryl's comments, don't submit a SQUID.

    If you want Cheryl's comments, submit a SQUID and be prepared to wait--if you're lucky enough to have to.

    It's generous of you to want to improve the program, but I think checking for lines in cover letters and choosing between 2 form letters will only complicate the system and make it slower.

    Writing SQUID on a submission means I want Cheryl's comments if the ms makes it to the Respond pile, and I'm willing to wait for those comments.

    The end!

  5. Congratulations, Senior Editor! Query whether you are the hardest working editrix in the children's book biz or just one of the hardest working editrixes around.

  6. Congratulations on your promotion! How very well deserved!

  7. The promotion already says GOOD JOB, and from those who count.

    As a SQUID, I can assure you that waiting is part of the dance. If someone just want a YES or NO, (which means they want a YES) they would not be part of this Walrus and the Carpenter party.

  8. Congratulations on your promotion!


    - Dawn

  9. Congrats on the promotion!

    I agree. We all know we have to learn how to wait in this business. It's just the way it works.

    I'm just thankful that you offer the Squid option to us.


  10. Good job on making Senior!

    I wouldn't ask the author to state whether they want comments or not. Everybody wants a free critique. But you have to be in charge of your time, not the authors. And if you need to clear the decks for Insane Bestseller Project #142, comments will be the least of your worries.

    Just my .02.

  11. Wow, that was a pretty insightful post about the sort of work you go. Congratulations on getting promoted! I hope you have a good week.

  12. Congratulations on your promotion?

    Does one need to be in New York? As in, is telecommuting from Cincinnati possible? Because if so, I'm very much more than interested.

    And I wanted to just drop a thanks for posting everything that you do on your blog. We're kind of dry in terms of publishing out here in Ohio, and so it's helpful and informative to be able to read about the process first hand. Maybe almost as good as an internship, but not quite.

  13. and that was totally supposed to be a "Congratulations on your promotion (EXCLAMATION POINT!)"

  14. Congratulations, Cheryl! And thank you very much for the response to my/our questions about SQUIDs. While I agree with other comment-makers that waiting is part of the game and editorial comments are a privilege, not an expectation, I very much appreciate your idea to send a form notice that a manuscript is in the "respond" pile, waiting to be dealt with. Knowing the delay is not due to the U.S. Mail (manuscript never reaching you, or response never reaching us) is immensely reassuring.

  15. A promotion! How exciting! And congrats!

    Thanks for sharing your insight on your work process. It's enlightening to see the efforts one puts into balancing courtesy and respect to authors and institutional commitments and obligations. Just keep on editing and publishing great books that reach the hands of readers.

  16. Big CONGRATS on your promotion to Senior Editor! And thank you for sharing your SQUID process.

  17. Many congratulations, felicitations, and every good -ation there is!

  18. Congrats on the promotion! that's way exciting.

    I would SO love to intern at aalb...but sadly, i'm just a senior in high school in a boston suburb. perhaps in a few years? i certainly hope so.


  19. Perhaps you could have a form email for the writers of manuscripts you need to hold on to. That way, you still have their SASE in case you need to request more or have comments later.
    And congrats on the promotion.

  20. Hearty congratulations, Senior Editor!

  21. Yay for the promotion! Congratulations.

    Boo for the fact that just 4 days before this post I sent you a freaking status query on a Feb sub. Now I feel like a goon. Sorry.

    I think the letter saying you'd like to review further is a great idea, because most of us will wait and wait as long as we know you've got the ms and just need some time. It's when we start imagining a host of postal-related catastrophies that we start to sweat and wonder if our ms was ever received.

    I like Anna's suggestion of a form email saying you'd like more time, so you still have the SASE for the ms. OR you could ask people to include a #10 SASE as well as the manilla SASE. If you need the #10 for a "wait" letter, you've got it. If you don't need it, you can return it with the manuscript.

    At any rate, I agree with other posters that most people who have made it past the "Not Right for Me" stage would prefer comments. Your thoughts are worth the wait.

    As long as we know you've got the manuscript and it's in the queue, we'll usually wait indefinitely.


  22. Congratulations, Cheryl! I think your promotion is long overdue!

  23. Congrats on the promotion! And your thoughts on getting through the SQUIDs has given me some good ideas for my own pile.

  24. Congrats on the promotion and thanks for the SQUID info. I have a feeling most authors will wait for comments, so I'm not sure I'd offer that option. It might make SQUID responses tougher on you.

  25. Congrats Cheryl on the promotion!!

    Just curious...what happens to the "non-squid" mss that were sent to "Inquiry?"

    What happens to these?



  26. Congratulations, Senior Editor!

    I am honestly touched by your efforts to explain the process to us, the Squidders, and your desire to give feedback. It's one of the reasons you are a stand out in this field: you really care and your actions show it. Good luck with the system, but remember, most of us are willing to wait on YOU.