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.