2014 Statistics on Children's/YA Books by Race/Ethnicity

Yesterday, the Cooperative Children's Book Center at the University of Wisconsin released its annual report on the number of children's/YA books by and about people of color published in 2014. I made up the following chart for use in my NYU Editing Workshop, shared it on social media, and put it up here so it has a permanent home (click for larger view):

It should be noted that the CCBC does not create or provide statistics on either the U.S. population or the number of books by white people; those are my additions for comparison's sake. The percentages are also my math, so any errors are my own. Further to the question of how many protagonists of children's books are objects or animals and thus less likely to have an obvious race/ethnicity, KT Horning, the director of the CCBC, pointed me to this blog post she wrote in 2013 on that topic.

I am delighted to see the year-over-year almost-doubling of the number of Black and Asian book creators. But still:  We can do much better, people.  

Narrative Breakdowns, Muggles Editing, Getting a Job, Overseas Travel, and Lovely Links

About a year and a half ago ago, my fiance, James Monohan, who is a video editor and director, decided that he wanted to start a podcast to talk about story questions, and thus The Narrative Breakdown was born. (I cannot even type those words without hearing "Narrative duh-duh-duh-duh-DUM-duh Breakdown duh-duh-duh-duh-DUM-duh Narrative duh-duh-duh-duh-DUM-duh Breakdown duh-duh-duh-duh-DUM-duh The Narrative Breakdown" in James's voice, as that is a rough approximation of our theme song, which both cracks me up and makes me do a little groove. It is well worth the listen.) We only recorded three trial episodes last year before our schedules got in the way, but we are back this week with a discussion of Beginnings & Inciting Incidents, pivoting off my blog post on the subject last Saturday. James goes on to chat in Part II with our friend Jack Tomas, screenwriter and proud ubernerd, who discusses the concept of Inciting Incidents as it applies to many of pop culture's biggest properties and this summer's hit movies. We hope to be doing these much more regularly going forward. Do please check the podcast out, subscribe on iTunes, give us a rating if you like it, and enjoy!

And that is not the only podcast I'm on this week! Keith Hawk and John Granger of Mugglecast Academia kindly had me on their show to talk about being an editor, particularly my role as the continuity editor on Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows. It was a fun conversation that includes some reflections on the HP series and some advice on getting a job in publishing (which I also know I still need to write about here).

Did I ever mention this blog post on the CBC Diversity website about how I got into publishing? It's probably the best account of my own story I've ever written up -- though I just noticed I did exclude the detail that Arthur thought I was a pothead during our interview, thanks to my red eyes (I was wearing my contacts). He was very kind to have faith in me and let me write reader's reports anyway.

For those of you who wonder why editors don't take unsolicited submissions:  As of 8 a.m. this morning, four days after my query-open period began, I have 238 new queries in my inbox. Clearly this is a more concentrated dose than usual or than would happen if I were open all the time. But goodness. If you did not receive a confirmation e-mail (and ONLY if you did not receive a confirmation e-mail, as apparently most people did within 24 hours), you may resend your submission, using the exact same subject line as on your original submission, to CBKedit at gmail dot com, and then e-mail me separately at chavela_que at yahoo dot com with just your name and title. I will reply next week via Yahoo and confirm that those manuscripts got through.

(I have to admit, I am getting VERY testy with people who are not obeying the query instructions -- sending manuscripts to my other addresses, putting elements out of order. They are the world's most straightforward submissions directions, and they are not hard, so it does not make a great first impression if you're not paying attention and obeying them. And if you HAVE messed them up, don't send the ms. again to make up for it. Just go forth and sin no more.)

If you would like a guaranteed way to be able to submit to me in future, I am very happy to announce I'll be at SCBWI Hawaii on February 22 and 23, 2013! I'll be offering both my Plot Master Class to a small group on the Friday and participating in the general conference on the Saturday (with Lin Oliver, who's always fabulous). While a full schedule/registration will be online in November, anyone who's interested now can e-mail the RA, Lynne Wikoff, at lwikoff at lava dot net to get instructions for the Master Class and get on a mailing list for future info.

In other travel news, I'm going to be in Singapore for five days and Thailand for eight later this fall -- my first-ever trip across the Pacific, and I am very excited. If you have recommendations for things to do or see or ways to avoid jet lag, they'd be much appreciated.

Loose links:

Query Holiday Guidelines

As announced earlier this month, I am open to unsolicited submissions from this very moment -- Monday, August 20, at 8 a.m. -- until Friday, August 24, at 11:59 p.m. To submit, please use the following guidelines (adapted from the ones for the SCBWI Winter Conference--but they HAVE changed, so don't refer to those):
  1. You can see my general "What I'm Looking For" at the Submissions page on my website. You should also check out the Books page on my website and the "Books I Edit" label to the right to see more about the kinds of things I publish. Genrewise, I'm always pretty much looking for everything -- picture books, middle-grade, YA, mystery, fantasy, romance; what's important to me is the freshness of the voice and idea, the quality of the writing and story, and the depth of the characters and the emotions explored. 
    1. Expanding on this: The writer and blogger Caleb Crain once defined "depth" as "a sense of the complexity of reality," and that's precisely what I mean when I say I'm looking for a novel with literary depth: I want fiction that presents the complexity of reality (which could be a funny or romantic reality as well as a tragic one--indeed, most realities are in more than one mode), and writers who can make those realities tangible and meaningful. 
  2. IMPORTANT ETA:  You may submit only one manuscript during this period. Any additional manuscripts after that will be noted and deleted unread.
  3. Open up a new e-mail to CBKEdit at gmail dot com. Agented submissions should continue to go to my work e-mail address.
  4. In the subject line, put the code word SUMMER SQUID, your name, and the title of your manuscript. ("SQUID" is a nickname I've long used in affectionate reference to slush-pile manuscripts; I eventually decided it stands for "Submissions, Queries, and Unsolicited Interesting Documents").
  5. In the body of the e-mail, please include the following elements in this order:
    1. Your name
    2. The title of the manuscript
    3. The format/age/genre of the manuscript. To keep this simple, include any of these options as appropriate:  Picture Book / Easy Reader / Chapter Book / Middle Grade / Young Adult / Nonfiction / Fantasy / Mystery / Romance / Paranormal / Historical / Poetry
    4. A portion of the manuscript as follows:
      1. Picture Book: complete text
      2. Novel (whatever age): the first chapter
      3. Nonfiction / Poetry Collection / Etc.: the first ten pages
    5. Your query letter, including your contact information, and a flap-copy-like summary of the work as a whole.
    6. If you are an author-illustrator with a picture book text that you want to illustrate, I suggest any of the following methods: (a) paste the full text here, then include one sample illustration in the body of the e-mail; (b) paste the full text here, then put a link to your website in the query letter so I can see your style; (c) if you have a full dummy available online (the best option), simply include a link in your query -- no need to paste in the text.
  6. I am able to read HTML submissions, which will retain manuscript formatting; I am also able to read plain text, whichever you send and prefer. Please do not send attachments. I do not care about any formatting questions beyond the inclusion of the elements above in the order I specified them, so please don't ask them.
  7. You will receive an automatic reply letting you know your manuscript has been received. It says that you will get a response within six months, and I will do my best to keep to that. I have often failed to stay within these expectations in the past, which I regret, but I'm doing the best I can.  
  8. SUMMER SQUID Submissions received after 11:59 p.m. on Friday will be deleted unread.
  9. As with my submissions through the regular mail, if I am interested, I will send you some  personal response; if not, you will receive a form letter. Due to the demands created by the many manuscripts I receive and edit, I will not be able to correspond further than this if I am not interested. 
Thank you for your interest, and I look forward to seeing your work.

Six Reasons Why Everything in Publishing Takes So Long

Publishing takes so long because . . .

1. Because each book is individual.

The beautiful and difficult thing about publishing is that it's a one-to-one industry:  one writer connecting to one reader at a time. And because everything is individual, there are absolutely zilch solid rules in this business (beyond "Have a sense of humor" and "Don't be a jerk"). Each author is different; each manuscript is different; each editor is different; each agent is different; each publishing house is different. No matter how many books an editor and author have worked on together, each new manuscript has to be considered on its own strengths, with its own problems. 

Aesthetically terrible books get published and make a ton of money; aesthetically brilliant books win the National Book Award; other aesthetically terrible books cost their publishers piles of cash with very little return; other aesthetically brilliant books disappear completely. In adult publishing, Alice Sebold, Charles Frazier, Audrey Niffenegger and Sara Gruen (to pick four names in a very common pattern) all experienced incredible success with their first novels, leading to advances for their second novels in the multiple millions; and not one of those second novels has achieved the success of their previous books. Markus Zusak and The Book Thief ended up on Good Morning America because a smart Knopf publicist sent a copy directly to Charlie Gibson, who happened to open his own mail that day, became fascinated with the book, and took it home to read over the weekend. There's no way to guarantee that happening again, and thus it illustrates my point:  Every book is individual, and a success not easily replicable.   

(N.B. An earlier version of this post misstated the nature of the Zusak-GMA connection, which was kindly corrected by a Random House insider. This blog regrets the error.) 

2. Because editors and agents have many submissions to wade through, because . . .
2A. . . . The barriers to being a writer who submits manuscripts are extremely low.

This is not a complaint or an accusation or anything pejorative, just a factual observation:  Writing is an individual pursuit, that anyone who is literate can participate in, with extremely low technological requirements (as technological requirements go in the modern age). As a result, all you need to write and submit a manuscript is the ability to write in English, access to a computer with word-processing software, and an Internet account so you can send out the resulting manuscript. (You no longer even need a printer! Or stamps!) So a lot of people can participate in this process, and do.

2B. . . . Writers vastly outnumber editors and agents — especially when writers multiply submit.

We are also living in an unprecedented age of access to information about publishers and editors and agents, thanks to the Internet, Amazon, acknowledgment pages, writers’ discussion boards, QueryTracker, you name it. This makes it extremely easy for writers to research places to submit their work, and to send forth manuscripts accordingly to all the places they find.

I am not complaining about multiple submissions, please note; I understand why writers and agents do it, and those reasons are 100% valid. But if we think of the amount of time spent reading a query as quantity X, then one writer submitting to one agent equals a reading time of X across the whole industry. One writer submitting to six agents equals 6X across the industry. Six writers submitting to six agents each equals 36X (though note we still have just those same six agents doing six times the work) . . . and so it all grows exponentially, and crowds out the time for other things within the industry. Again, these are not complaints, just facts.

2C. . . . Reading is inherently not fast.

The very smart Jason Pinter once wrote something on Twitter like, "The average person reads 250 words per minute -- 60 pages an hour. If you give someone your 350-page manuscript, you're asking them to spend the length of a flight from New York to California with you talking to them." His point was that you should do your best to be sure that you're good company, which is true. But no matter how good the company is, it takes a lot more than just sitting down to listen to a three-minute song, or watch a 30-minute TV show. . . . I have days when I wish I could fly back and forth from New York to California to get all my reading done. 

3. Because each book has both aesthetic and economic factors that must be carefully weighed at each step in the process.

I remember once in my first year as an editorial assistant, I fell in love with a picture-book manuscript and took it in to my afternoon meeting with Arthur. “I love this manuscript,” I said. “Will you read it right now?”

“Sure, leave it with me,” he said.

“It’s not even two complete pages,” I said. “Can’t you just look at it?”

“No, I can’t,” he said patiently. “Leave it here and we’ll talk about it tomorrow.”

Now that I’ve had manuscripts thrust at me at conferences, and been that editor facing an intern with a great manuscript in hand, I understand where he was coming from. Because each manuscript — even a two-hundred-word picture book text — presents an editor with a series of questions to be answered, to wit:
  1. Is this any good in an aesthetic sense?
  2. Is it of any interest in a publishing sense? 
  3. Is it appropriate for our publishing house?
  4. Do I like this?*
  5. If it is some good aesthetically, but not perfect, what parts aren't working?
  6. Can those parts be made to work?
  7. Assuming yes to question #6: Are the good parts good enough, and the publishing interest strong enough, to justify the editorial time and energy in trying to make it work?
  8. Assuming yes to question #7:  Is this strong enough as it is to try to acquire it? Or should I request a noncontractual revision? 
  9. Is the author capable of revising it? (Some writers simply are no good at revising.) 
  10. Is s/he someone we'll want to work with for the long term or just this book?
  11. How much do we think the book will sell?
  12. Following on #11, how much should we pay for it?
  13. Assuming no to question #7:  How should this be rejected?
  14. If it’s a picture book:  Who could or should illustrate it? What is Dream Illustrator's schedule like? How much would we have to pay him/her? Etc.
Sometimes those answers come very quickly:  If the answer to the first three and sometimes four questions are “no,” everything else is simple. But naming the bad parts takes time; writing a letter to the author takes time; figuring out whether the book is of publishing interest or whether, say, five other books on the same topic have just been published takes time. And of course, just plain reading the manuscript takes time!

And if I do decide I want to acquire it, there's a whole other to-do list after that (and then another one after that), which keeps coming back to evaluating the book's artistic and publishing strengths and how they can be maximized. Publishing is an extremely long-term game, and long-term games aren't fast.

* N. B. Many years ago, back when I was an assistant with time to do freelance editing, an author I was working with said, "I have the feeling you don't like my book." I realized then that I didn't care whether I liked the project, actually, because I was committed to editing it either way; I cared only whether the book worked, whether it accomplished the task it was meant to do, because then the book (and my work) would have been successful, and my personal feelings about the project were irrelevant. It's very different from my job now, where, if I'm going to put in all the time and effort that I do put in to a manuscript, and stand before my acquisitions committee, sales force, and the world and say, "You should pay attention to this," I want to feel emotionally connected to the project, and to feel like it's worthy of that attention.

4. Because each draft is a wholly new artistic work and must be considered as such.

I can't just read the two chapters or five lines that were changed from the previous draft to this; I have to consider them in the context of the whole, to see how the whole makes me feel now, and therefore whether the revision is working. (This is not so true in later stages of novels, after I've read the book six times and we're polishing moments; but it is true early on, and always true with picture books.) Then see #2C above.

5. Because what is individual is often deeply personal, and people deserve kindness. 

I love my authors, and I often know their spouses’ names, their children’s names, where they’re from, when they’re going on vacation and where. When I have bad news, I want to present it to them in the kindest and most supportive way possible. When I have good news, I want to celebrate with them in a way that feels present. I have relationships with agents, and I want to give them smart feedback on projects so they'll keep thinking I'm worth submitting to even when I say no (as I frequently must). When I read manuscripts, I'm very aware that every one is a little piece of the writer's soul there on the page for me -- like a good Horcrux -- and that if I'm turning it down, I need to do so with at least politeness. In a world that grows ever more rushed and demanding, time spent is a compliment, and I want to pay that compliment to the people who are important to me.

6. Because we're trying to make beautiful things that matter here and share them with other people who will love them too.

And that takes time, in the writing and thinking and editing and painting and copywriting and publicizing and selling and reading and telling; and that's all there is to it.

FAQ: "Is it likely that you'll ever re-open to unsolicited submissions?"

On a permanent, ongoing basis? No, probably not, because the manner in which projects are coming to me right now -- via agents, authors I already work with, and people I meet at conferences -- is keeping my submissions at about the right manageable level for me, one that's allowing me to get back to most people* and yet keep my lists filled. Also, everything I wrote in this post five and a half years ago is still true in my life now (including the fact that I need to scrub out my bathtub). (A different bathtub, I'm glad to say.) So this system is mostly working for me.

On the other hand, there's still an issue here, because (1) quite often I like projects that are not automatic agent-bait; (2) indeed, two of the projects on my list that are most stuffed with things I love -- Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich's Eighth Grade Superzero and Karen Rivers's The Encyclopedia of Me -- came to me first via query letter, which reminds me that there's gold in them thar hills**; and (3) not everyone who writes has the time, money, or geographic convenience to attend a conference at which I'm speaking, and it doesn't seem right that they should be shut out of the submissions process (nor that I should have to miss their submissions) because of these factors.

So I'm going to have it both ways. I'm not reopening to submissions full time, but on Monday, August 20, just under two weeks from now, I'll toss open the digital submissions inbox for anyone who wants to share. Instructions on how will be posted here that morning, and the box will shut again at 11:59 p.m. on Friday the 24th. Submissions will receive a form reply if they're not appropriate for me. If the experiment garners good stuff and isn't too overwhelming in numbers, I'll schedule another open period every six months or so. Here's hoping!
* If you just howled "Then WHY HAVEN'T YOU RESPONDED TO ME YET?", then I am guilty and sorry, and you should probably send me an e-mail at chavela_que at yahoo dot com to remind me. This is why I'm not open all the time, honestly:  to minimize my guilt.

** Though both those ladies snagged excellent agents in the time before I signed up their books formally, it should be noted.

SCBWI Winter Conference Links Roundup & Submissions Guidelines

Whew! I had a terrific time teaching at the SCBWI Winter Conference yesterday. In my presentation, I mentioned or included links to the following:
Because two sessions of my presentation didn't leave time for any questions, I told participants that they could send general questions about writing, revision, editing, publishing, etc. to my website e-mail address, chavela_que at yahoo dot com. I will collect these questions through February 14, then answer ten of them here on my blog shortly afterward. If you're sending a question, please put the number of revision techniques covered in my workshop in your subject line, so I know you were actually at the session, and include your name with your question in the body of the e-mail. Thanks.

I also said that I would announce my submissions guidelines here once I had figured them out -- and I now have! If you were in one of my sessions, you may submit to me in the following manner:
  1. You can see my general "What I'm Looking For" at the Submissions page on my website. I will add to that I tend to acquire far more novels than picture books, and my list is pretty stuffed with great YA right now, so I'd love to find some more great middle-grade to balance it out. That doesn't mean I don't want to see terrific picture books or YA if it seems right for me! I encourage you to check out the Books page on my website and the "Books I Edit" label to the right to see more about the kinds of things I publish.
  2. Writers who attended my sessions may submit one manuscript within the next six months.
  3. When that time comes, open up a new e-mail to CBKEdit at gmail dot com. Up until this point, I have accepted unsolicited submissions solely through the post, but I decided this was a great opportunity to experiment with e-mail submissions. (Alas for the U. S. Postal Service, denying them one more source of support...)  If I like it, I may continue to use it for future conferences or even general unsolicited submissions, but right now, these guidelines apply to the SCBWI Winter Conference only. Agented submissions should continue to go to my work address.
  4. At the beginning of each of my sessions, I listed three key principles we work toward in revision. Put one of these principles in the subject line, followed by the title of your manuscript and your name. That is how I will know you actually attended my sessions. (I gave those of you in my third workshop a code word; you can put that code word in place of the principle if you like, but either works.) If you do not include a correct principle or code word in the subject line, your e-mail will be deleted unread.
  5. In the body of the e-mail, please include the following elements in this order:
    1. Your name
    2. The title of the manuscript
    3. The format/age/genre of the manuscript. To keep this simple, include any of these options as appropriate:  Picture Book / Easy Reader / Chapter Book / Middle-Grade / Young Adult / Nonfiction / Fantasy / Mystery / Romance / Paranormal / Historical / Poetry
    4. Your query letter, including your contact information, and a flap-copy-like summary of the work as a whole.
    5. A portion of the manuscript as follows:
      1. Picture Book: complete text
      2. Novel (whatever age): the first chapter
      3. Nonfiction / Poetry Collection / Etc.: the first ten pages
    6. If you are an author-illustrator with a picture book text that you want to illustrate, I suggest any of the following methods: (a) paste the full text here, then include one sample illustration in the body of the e-mail; (b) paste the full text here, then put a link to your website in the query letter  so I can see your style; (c) if you have a full dummy available online, simply include a link in your query -- no need to paste in the text.
  6. I am able to read HTML submissions, which will retain manuscript formatting; I am also able to read plain text, whichever you send and prefer. Please do not send attachments. I do not care about any formatting questions beyond the inclusion of the elements above in the order I specified them, so please don't ask them.
  7. You will receive an automatic reply letting you know your manuscript has been received. It says that you will get a response within six months, and I will do my best to keep to that. I have often failed to stay within these expectations in the past, which I regret, but I'm doing the best I can. 
  8. As with my submissions through the regular mail, if I am interested, I will send you some  personal response; if not, you will receive a form letter. Due to the demands created by the many manuscripts I receive and edit, I will not be able to correspond further than this if I am not interested. 
Thank you for attending my sessions, and your interest in sharing your manuscript with me. 

A Flap Copy Contest!

So I am in the very, very last stages of my book -- rewriting my Voice talk, because I wasn't satisfied with it; and then I need to decide which terms will be capped or uncapped (Action Plot vs. action plot, that sort of thing), because I currently have more capped nouns than a Dungeons & Dragons manual, and make that consistent across the board. But that is it for the interior!

And then, for the exterior, I need to write the flap copy. And while of course I write flap copy for other people's books all the time, writing it for my own is proving unexpectedly daunting. Generally in writing it for other people's books, I try to identify my ideal reader -- the person who is most likely to pick up the book, and who would get the most enjoyment out of it; then set forth an overall vision of the book that would appeal to that ideal reader, working in as many cool things about the characters and plot as possible. And while I think that you all are pretty much my ideal readers here, I also feel I'm either too close to the material or too damn Midwestern modest to objectively see and sell all the possibly cool things about this book.

Then I thought: Hey! Maybe my ideal readers would like a chance to play the editor here. I know writers often get a kick out of their chance to edit me in commenting on the flap copy I wrote for their books (or the trial flaps I've posted here); this seems like the next logical step, and also good practice for any aspiring editors out there. :-)

So: CONTEST! If you want to participate, all of the information you'd need to know about the book is below. Write back-jacket sales copy of 200 words or less, and e-mail your draft to me at chavela_que at yahoo dot com by noon next Thursday, July 22, with the subject line "Flap Copy Contest." (I will be away from all computers from Saturday till the deadline, more or less, so this gives you plenty of time.) An editorial friend and I will read through the entries and choose up to three winners, who will each receive a free copy of the book.

I will then probably go ahead and assemble my own flap copy, pulling from all of the various great ideas that come in; and indeed, I reserve the right to borrow, steal, or tweak anything in any of your entries. I suppose in legal parlance, this would be, "All entries become property of Cheryl Klein for purposes of writing her own copy," meaning you can't sue me if I use your words or ideas. But I will also acknowledge said useful writers within the book and here. And I wouldn't claim this copy exclusively; goodness knows if you want to do something else with your draft or publish or reuse it for yourself, have at it.

Some questions to ask yourself if you want to try this:
  • What are some cool things about this book -- its hooks?
  • Are there any key details or lines from the book that might grab a reader's attention?
  • Why would I buy this book?
  • Who else would want to buy this book?
  • Are there any successful similar books I'd want to liken this book to or remind the reader of? (And often its followup, What was the approach of their flap copy? -- at least for reference, or to see what elements were emphasized.)
  • What are three key unifying ideas about this book, or three different visions of the book? (This "Three Takes on Operation Yes" post shows three of my visions for that book, and how each one played out in the flap.)
  • Which one of those ideas/visions would be most attractive to the readers I just identified?
(All of these questions also very useful in writing query letters, of course . . .)

I hope this sounds like fun to y'all -- I'm very curious to see what you come up with! Thank you so much for participating.


The title: Second Sight: An Editor's Talks on Writing, Revising, and Publishing Books for Children and Young Adults

The original description.

The Table of Contents (much of this material is online, except the Quartet talks, which comprise 50-plus pages of never-before-published-anywhere thoughts. "Manifests" are worksheets/checklists.):
  • An Explanation of This Book
  • Manifesto: What Makes A Good Book?
  • Defining Good Writing (Possibly Sententious)
  • Finding a Publisher and Falling in Love: A Convivial Comparison
  • The Annotated Query Letter from Hell
  • An Annotated Query Letter That Does It Right
  • The Rules of Engagement
  • The Essentials of Plot
  • Manifest: The Plot Checklist
  • Morals, Muddles, and Making It Through; or, Plots and Popularity
  • Manifest: A Character Chart
  • A Definition of YA Literature
  • The Art of Detection: One Editor’s Techniques for Analyzing and Revising Your Novel
  • Four Techniques to Get at the Emotional Heart of Your Story
  • Words, Wisdom, Art, and Heart: Making a Picture-Book Cookie
  • Some Things I Like to See in an Illustrator’s Portfolio
  • A Few Things Writers Can Learn from Harry Potter
  • Gaaah!!—A Musing on Characters and Plot
  • Quartet: Introduction
  • Point
  • Character
  • Manifest: Another Character Chart
  • Plot
  • Voice
  • The Highly Idiosyncratic Cheryl Klein Guide to Punctuation
  • On the Editor-Author Relationship
  • Twenty-Five Revision Techniques
  • Index to Talks by Writers’ Conference
  • Index by Subject
  • Further Reading: Craft
  • Further Reading: Literature
  • Acknowledgements and Thanks
My biography, which will also appear on the back of the book (may be cut down for space): Cheryl B. Klein has worked as an editor of children’s and young adult books for over a decade. Among the books she has edited or co-edited are A Curse Dark as Gold by Elizabeth C. Bunce, winner of the inaugural William C. Morris Award for a YA Debut Novel; Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork, winner of the Schneider Family Book Award for Teens; Millicent Min, Girl Genius, by Lisa Yee, winner of the SCBWI’s Sid Fleischman Award for Humor; and The Snow Day by Komako Sakai, a New York Times Best Illustrated Book. She also served as the continuity editor for the American editions of the last three Harry Potter books. Please visit her website at

A Speech, THREE Drink Nights, Two Panels, and an Announcement

1. The text of the speech I delivered on Friday at Carleton College, "The Wand Chooses the Wizard: Of Carleton, Children's Books, and Creating Yourself," is now online at my website here. It's less about Harry Potter than about the idea of being yourself, and the pleasures and the real pain of that, with some thoughts for soon-to-be college graduates on adulthood and a life's work.

2. Our next New York Kidlit Drink Night will be tomorrow, Monday, April 26, at our old favorite Sweet & Vicious, in Soho between Bowery & Elizabeth, starting around 6:30 p.m. By coincidence we'll be there at the same time as the Teen Author Drink Night that David Levithan runs, so all your children's AND YA literature drinking needs will never be satisfied more fully than they'll be that night. Hopefully it will be warm enough that we can hang out in the back garden.

3. We will also host a BEA Kidlit Drink Night exactly a month later -- Wednesday, May 26, 6 p.m. at the Houndstooth Pub on 8th Ave. (where we were last year).

4. And if you're coming to the ALA convention in June in Washington, D.C., Sara Lewis Holmes has your Kidlit Drink Night goodness then! Mark your calendars for Friday night, June 25, and get the details here.

5. New Yorkers: Francisco X. Stork, the wonderful and very wise author of Marcelo in the Real World and The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, will be appearing on two different panels on Thursday as part of the PEN World Voices Festival -- "Writing, Speaking, Dreaming," during the day, and "A Gathering of Voices" in the evening, alongside David Almond and several others, moderated by Betsy Bird. More information ahoy.

6. And on Saturday, May 1, at 2 p.m. I'll be appearing at Betsy's Children's Literature Cafe at the main New York Public Library as part of a terrific panel called "Lost in Children's Literary Translation." Les deets on that one.

7. Finally, I'm sorry about this, but starting May 1, I am closing to unsolicited submissions (SQUIDs) for a couple of months, except in the cases of conference attendees submitting under the terms established at that conference, and writers with whom I've previously corresponded and invited to send future manuscripts. (Agented submissions are also welcome, of course.) I'm doing this because there has been a remarkable uptick in submissions in the last few months (which I'm not the only one experiencing -- and anecdotally I've heard other agents say the same); this time off will hopefully let me clear out some of the backlog. Thanks for understanding.

Nine Questions & Answers

In my previous post, I solicited nine questions from readers and promised to answer them. Voila!

1. Portia Pennington: How important do you think a personal connection between editor and manuscript is to the overall success of the project? Not only to acceptance (I assume that's an essential first step!), but to the crafting of a lasting work of which both author and editor can be proud?

I think the most important thing (and in some ways, the only thing) an author and editor need to have in common are their literary values and goals--that they both value the same things in the manuscript (whether that's characterization or beautiful prose or good trashy drama or whatever it may be), and they're both working toward the same vision of the manuscript based on those values (because they both value trashy fun, say, the editor suggests adding a shopping scene at Fred Segal and then a catfight at the heroine's villa in the Hollywood Hills, and the author sees the Judith Krantzesque hilarity of this and agrees). Those values and goals typically come from similar past experiences and present values that often lead to more personal connections; talking over a certain character's development naturally leads to discussion of past personal experiences analogous to the situation, say, which might in turn lead to real emotional connection and friendship. But a strong personal connection between author and editor isn't really necessary, so long as the values and goals are the same and the conversation is civil and respectful on both sides.

2. Jason: If you were a writer, who had no other connection to the publishing business and you had just completed re-re-re-re-writing your first novel and you were finally ready for submission... and considering the current economic climate... would you seek out an agent or focus on the publishing houses that accept queries from unagented writers?

I would seek out an agent, not only for the multiplicity of reasons that agents are good for writers, but because responding to unagented queries tends not to be the first priority for editors timewise (see: my previous post), and agents will get back to you much more quickly than we can. Editorial Anonymous had an excellent post on this recently, as she often has excellent posts on many topics.

3. Lauren: I've seen / heard some kidlit agents and editors asking for more magic realism on their desks. Are you seeing more of it in your SQUIDs and agented submissions, and do you think it'll become more popular on the shelves in the future?

Actually, yes, I have been seeing slightly more of it lately, at least in agented submissions. (At least I think it's magic realism. . . . It could also be the softer edge of urban fantasy, or the more magical edge of paranormal romance. . . . These things all bleed into each other, which makes it hard to determine when a trend starts and when it ends.)

Whether it will become popular, I have no idea. I tend to think kid and YA readers like more solidity in their reading than magic realism offers -- having rules underlying a fantasy world, and delineations between what's real and what's not, rather than the amorphousness of magic realism. But this just may be the kind of kid reader that I was, and the kind of adult reader I am. Magic realism works best for me when the vagueness of the Action Plot/world is balanced and/or given coherence by a really strong, distinct, and well-developed Emotional Plot.

4. Also, bonus!: What's your favorite Sondheim song?

Hardest question of the list! My favorite Sondheim song in performance is Barbara Cook singing "Not a Day Goes By / Losing My Mind" on her Sondheim album, which breaks my heart every time. My favorite Sondheim song purely by itself is probably "Finishing the Hat," with strong competition from "Anyone Can Whistle" and "Being Alive." "Pretty Women" is one of his most gorgeous melodies, IMHO, but I don't have the personal emotional connection to it that I have to the other songs I've mentioned.

5. Eliza T: In a review for *House Rules* by Jodi Picoult, a critic referred to Asperger's as the "disease du jour" (which shows some measure of ignorance since AS is not a disease.) There do seem to be a number of books, movies, TV shows, etc that have characters on the Autism Spectrum. When does the market become saturated? Is it like vampires (although I cringe to make the comparison) and there is room for more protagonists with different ways of being? How do publishers gauge which underlying topics have room left to explore and which do not?

We publishers know the market is saturated when (a) bookstore buyers start rolling their eyes and passing on the books when sales reps present them (a dangerous warning sign we try to avoid before we get there), or (b) the books stop selling (ditto). Another warning sign is when a manuscript involving the trend du jour presents all the cliches of that trend rather than any original thought involving it, but then that could just be the fault of one unimaginative writer rather than the fault of the trend. . . . Maybe many manuscripts like that would form sign (c).

With something like Asperger's, which is (or should be) a factor of a character's personality rather than the whole plot itself (in contrast to vampirism, where a vampire's mere existence in the real world alongside regular humans usually becomes the central problem/plotline of the book), I think there's still a lot of room to explore, because there are so many plots that might involve it in so many different ways. Also, the most recent statistic I've seen regarding autism said that 1 in 110 children born today are somewhere on the autistic spectrum -- which is up considerably (and distressingly) from the 1 in 150 statistic I saw when I was working on Marcelo in the Real World a couple years ago. If that's true, the interest in autism isn't going away anytime soon, though the subject will need to continue to be covered relatively well in order to be respectable. (Though those numbers should certainly be taken with a grain of salt: "lies, damned lies . . .")

6. Quartland: For a YA novel, what length of a synopsis makes you smile?

One page, single spaced.

7. Melissa: What, in your opinion, are some of the major differences between the run-of-the-mill published book and the stand-out-from-the-crowd published book? What do you see in books that get starred reviews, win awards, and/or become bestsellers, that you do not see in the rest?

"Get starred reviews and win awards": capacious characters with multiple dimensions; tight writing, often with a strong voice; a plot that points to a larger emotional or philosophical idea.

"Become bestsellers": plots that are "sticky," in the terms set forth by Made to Stick: a Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional Story, executed with some modicum of skill.

I think people tend to buy books for their plots, but love them for their characters, writing, and ideas.

8. Patricia: If you have rejected one genre manuscript from an author, will you consider/read another genre manuscript from the same author?

It depends upon why I rejected the first manuscript, which usually has very little to do with genre. If I rejected the first manuscript because I thought the characters or writing weren't up to my standards, then I'm probably not going to be interested in the second unless the writer shows me the treatment of those things have changed in his/her work. But if I rejected the first one because I thought the plot wasn't hanging together right or I wasn't interested in that particular genre, then sure, I'd be glad to take a look.

9. Kaitlyn: How international is the publishing industry culturally? By that I mean the interchange of books/ideas across different cultures other than Western, and more specifically, American... One Australian author, Matthew Reilly, has commented that the reason why his first few books have American protagonists is because the American people only like to read about Americans. How true is this?

I don't think that American people only like to read about Americans. I think it is easier for Americans to read about Americans, because no cultural translation is involved; and as Americans (like most people the world over) tend to prefer things that are easy to things that are hard, it is easier to sell books about Americans to Americans. And sure, publishers do tend to like books that are easier to sell!

But that doesn't mean it's impossible to sell Americans books about people of other countries -- the bestselling author of modern times, for example, came from and wrote about a non-American country. And Australians especially have been doing pretty well at getting published here altogether: Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty (whose wonderful The Ghosts of Ashbury High Arthur A. Levine Books will publish this summer), Martine Murray (whose lovely How to Make a Bird we will also publish this summer), Garth Nix, Judith Clarke, Melina Marchetta, Justine Larbelestier, Margo Lanagan. . . . So I think the industry is open to great writers and characters, no matter their nationality.

An 110-Year-Old Rejection Letter

My grandfather gave me this framed piece of correspondence shortly after I started working as an editorial assistant. It's from William Dean Howells, the eminent American novelist and editor, politely turning down the novel of a "Mr. Shedd" on November 26, 1900 -- an 110-year-old rejection letter! The text reads:
Harper & Brothers
New York and London

Franklin Square, New York City

Nov. 26, 1900

My dear Mr. Shedd:

Your story is developed well on the political side, which is important and novel, but without a strong love-interest it would not go. Your men are boldly struck out, and the situation is good; and yet it is not the close, strong study of Western conditions which I had hoped for from your work in the "Kiote." I still hope for that from you.

Yours sincerely,

W. D. Howells
A little research reveals that the likely recipient of this letter was Harry G. Shedd, who wrote short stories for and published The Kiote, a Nebraska literary journal. An 1899 notice in The Publishers Weekly says "The Kiote is the title of a fad or freak magazine, fantastically described as 'a new venture by a new folk in a new field, being a literary monthly dedicated to the prairie yelper.'"

Professionally speaking, I find this an admirable example of the rejection-letter form: It identifies and praises the things the writer does well (the men "boldly struck out," "the situation is good") or makes new ("the political side"), but likewise explains why it wouldn't work commercially ("it would not go") and why it doesn't work for Howells personally, given his expectations. It's interesting that he apparently wanted to see a "close, strong study of Western conditions" combined with a love story. . . . I'm guessing that even in 1900, publishers wanted a love story to bring the drama of a nation down to a personal level, and to hook a female readership, perhaps. Still, the letter ends with the invitation for Mr. Shedd to send more manuscripts, and that is about the best an aspiring writer can hope for from this genre of letter.

How to Write a Great Query Letter: An Example That Worked

In May of 2006, a writer named Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich sent me a query letter for a novel then called Long Time No Me. After several reads and a noncontractual revision, I acquired the book in December of 2007; and two years and a month later, that novel is now in stores as Eighth Grade Superzero -- praised as a "masterful debut" in a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

Gbemi has kindly allowed me to reprint her original letter here and annotate it as a companion to the Annotated Query Letter from Hell; I think of this as the Annotated Query Letter That Does It Right. Much of what it Does Right is that it speaks so specifically to me and my tastes, as you’ll see—my interest in writers of color and in racial, religious, and other moral questions—and clearly those tastes would not be applicable to all acquisitions editors. But if you can divine from an editor’s books, blog posts, talks at conferences, or other material what his or her tastes are, then this might hint at ways to tailor your description of your novel to fit those tastes. And if you have no idea about an editor’s tastes, this is still a useful example for its professionalism, efficiency, thoroughness, and overall grace. The numbers in parentheses are my annotations.
May 31, 2006

(1) Cheryl Klein
Arthur A. Levine Books
557 Broadway
New York, NY 10012

(2) Dear Ms. Klein:

(3) We met at the Rutgers University Council on Children’s Literature (RUCCL) One-on-One Plus Conference last October, and (4) I’ve since enjoyed your words on moral dilemmas and character values, as well as some of the books you’ve worked on. (5) I loved Lisa Yee’s painfully funny Millicent Min, Girl Genius, and Saxton Freymann’s Food for Thought has been a crafting inspiration as well as a teaching aid.

(6) In my middle-grade novel Long Time No Me, (7) Reginald “Pukey” McKnight created a superhero character in kindergarten; (8) now secretly dreams of being a real-life hero. (9) The Guy who’s got game and gets the Girl. Instead, he threw up on the first day of school. In the middle of the cafeteria. In front of everyone. 8th grade has gone downhill ever since.

(10) Now Reggie can’t even look The Girl in the eye, and his former best friend is bent on shredding his already tattered reputation. Sometimes he thinks it would be best to just exist between the lines and slide under the school’s social radar. (11) That won’t be easy when Reggie’s current best friend is white, a fact that seems to matter more and more, and his oldest friend is bent on “speaking truth to power” to anyone and everyone. (12) Reggie wonders why things are so bad if God is so good; his faith at all levels is challenged by (13) his father’s unemployment, his encounters with a homeless man, and his role as a “Big Buddy” to a younger version of himself. (14) When he finally decides to “be the change he wants to see” and run for school President, Reggie learns that sometimes winning big means living small.

(15) I’ve been published in national teen publications such as Rap Masters, Word Up, and Right On, and developed teen-oriented projects for clients including Queen Latifah, Girls, Inc., and Sunburst Communications. (16) I focused on my writing for children in workshops with Madeleine L’Engle and Paula Danziger, and was a three-time mentee at the RUCCL One-on-One Plus Conference. The Echoing Green Foundation twice awarded me a public service fellowship for my work with adolescent girls. I received my M.A. from New York University in Educational Communication and Technology with a concentration in Adolescent Literacy, and my B.Sc. from Cornell University in Print Communication. (17) I am a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI).

(18) Would you like to see sample chapters of Long Time No Me? An SASE is enclosed. I can be contacted at [phone number redacted] and by email at [email address redacted]. Thank you for your time and consideration.


Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

(1) & (2) In the spirit of contrasting this with the Query Letter from Hell, it’s worth pointing out: She spells my name and gets my publishing house right, and refers to me as “Ms. Klein,” as is proper in business correspondence. I would call her “Ms. Rhuday-Perkovich” in turn.

(3) She identifies where we met, at the One-on-One Conference seven months previously. Even if I don’t remember an attendee specifically (which I often don’t, I confess, given that I attend three to six conferences a year), a line like this is useful in establishing that this isn’t a query out of the blue: The writer has heard me speak and knows something about me, my editorial values, and likely what I’m looking for, which increases the odds that this is a thoughtful query I will like, as opposed to a query-bomb directed to ten editors plucked at random from the Children’s Writer's and Illustrator's Market.

(4) She mentions material posted on my website or blog. I always appreciate small compliments like these, particularly when they show that the writer values the same things I value—in this case, moral dilemmas and characters with depth. However, I would caution writers not to place too much emphasis or spend too much time on these sorts of personal compliments to editors with blogs or websites or what have you: We judge a query on the description of the book and the strength of your writing, not how nice you are to us.

(5) She brings up two of the books I’ve edited, which again indicates that she knows something about me and what I like; and she adds comments that show she has read and really “got” the books, not just picked them out of my list of books I edited. I especially love her description of Millicent Min as “painfully funny,” because that’s exactly what that book is—a perfect little fugue of awkwardness and hilarity—and the fact that Ms. Rhuday-Perkovich (as I thought of her then) recognized and praised the pain in it, not just the funny, made me sit up and take notice of her own work.

(6) She identifies upfront what genre her novel is. This is extremely useful as picture books have to be judged by a different standard than middle-grade novels, and ditto for middle-grade vs. YA, or all of them vs. nonfiction or poetry; and an early-in-the-letter identification of the genre helps me move my brain into the standards of that particular form.

(7) The name “Reginald McKnight” would have signaled to me that this was likely a novel about a young Black man (as that first name and surname are most common in the Black community in the U.S.), and this also would have been a point in the manuscript’s favor, as I’d like to publish more books about and by people of color.

(8) Yes, there is a subject missing here after the semicolon, and I point this out only to say that I requested the manuscript anyway—that the writer and character and book all sounded interesting enough to outweigh the “mustard on the shirt” (in Query Letter from Hell terms) of a minor grammatical error.

(9) “The Guy who’s got game and gets the Girl. . . . In the middle of the cafeteria. In front of everyone.” Coming out of this description, I sympathized with Reggie not just because of the grossness of the event—puking in the cafeteria in front of everyone! Ugh, poor guy—but because I got a glimpse of him in the language. These little details of capitalization and rhythm hint at the manuscript’s voice, and that it’s a distinctive voice, not a voice I’ve seen in many other query letters and manuscripts.

(10) This, the major plot and theme paragraph of the query, says to me that this is a fairly domestic novel, concerned more with local relationships among family and friends than any large-scale external plot to be confronted—which was and is fine with me; my favorite novelist in life is Jane Austen, after all. However, that also means that the characters have to be really well-drawn and well-rounded in order to make readers care as much about the stakes of the characters’ everyday lives as they would about how to defeat the Evil Overlord, say. Here, I’ve already noted that the voice is distinctive, which is a good start, and the rest of this paragraph will bear out the characters’ and relationships’ complexity and depth.

(11) The fact that Reggie’s best friend is white, and that this is remarked upon, confirms my earlier guess that this protagonist is a person of color, and the earlier points in the manuscript’s favor. This next sentence also would have told me that the manuscript delved into racial and political issues, which I find fascinating—all the more so as they often aren’t discussed in middle-grade novels for children; and thus this revealed that Ms. Rhuday-Perkovich wasn’t afraid to tackle big and complex topics in the context of her characters’ lives.

(12) I also love religious questions . . .

(13) . . . and economic issues, so clearly this query is just pushing all my little readerly interest buttons. The reason I love racial, political, religious, and economic questions in books (among many other things, of course) is because we all, even kids, live in a world filled with such questions in real life; and if part of the greatness of art is its fidelity to life, great art, by its realness, must raise such questions. This query letter is saying to me that Reggie and his world and the people in it are all very real.

(14) A very humble, and therefore highly unusual, conclusion to draw; and unusualness + quality realism + ambitious questions + good writing = my interest is piqued.

(15) A biography paragraph in which every fact can be directly connected to (a) Gbemi's knowledge/experience in working directly with children or teenagers, (b) her experience in print communication (which translates as marketing and publicity), or (c) her experience in writing for children. If an author has special expertise related to the subject of his or her novel—if the book deals with a young girl in the world of professional horse racing, say, and the author had been a jockey at Del Mar for two years—then she could also have added (d), her personal knowledge of or experience with the subject; that would have indicated that she was writing from a position of some authority, which is good to know when it comes to an unusual subject or for publicity purposes. In general with queries, any biographical fact that does not fit in categories (a)-(d) should be omitted. Parenthood does not count for (a).

(16) I was especially impressed by the reference to Madeleine L’Engle and Paula Danziger, both of whose fiction I love; and my knowledge of their books and styles told me that most likely Eighth Grade Superzero would have elements of religious inquiry (as the query already demonstrated) and humor, which I would appreciate. (And it does!)

(17) If a writer belongs to SCBWI, that tells me that he or she should be at least somewhat familiar with the submission and publication processes for children’s books, which is very useful in setting expectations on all sides. . . . I can rest assured that the writer won’t be expecting a manuscript submitted in October to be published in book form by Christmas, as in the Query Letter from Hell.

(18) Having made her excellent pitch, Ms. Rhuday-Perkovich exits gracefully, with a direct statement of the letter's implied question—Would you like to see this?—and all relevant information should my answer be yes—which it was! (These days I ask writers to submit two chapters and a synopsis of their novel along with their query letter; this letter was submitted before those guidelines were in place.)

My thanks again to Gbemi for letting me share this letter, and I hope you all enjoy the book it produced.

Twitter Chat with Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich

In a wide-ranging chat earlier today ("today" actually being January 22nd, 2010; this post has been backdated because of space issues), Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich and I discussed writing, editing, character-building, and race in publishing with a group of thoughtful Twitterers. Le transcript:

January 22, 2010
2:23 am olugbemisola: RT @srjohannes: RT @chavelaque: @olugbemisola and cheryl will Twitter-chat Friday from 12-1 EST, hashtag #8GS0. Details:
2:28 pm chavelaque: Last reminder: @olugbemisola and I Twitter-chat TODAY from 12-1, hashtag #8GS0. Transcript will be posted afterward.
2:30 pm SaraKase: RT @chavelaque: Last reminder: @olugbemisola and I Twitter-chat TODAY from 12-1, hashtag #8GS0. Transcript will be posted afterward.
2:30 pm TaraLazar: EIGHTH-GRADE SUPERZERO! RT @chavelaque: @olugbemisola & I Twitter-chat TODAY from 12-1, hashtag #8GS0. Transcript posted afterward. #kidlit
2:31 pm JacquiRobbins: RT @chavelaque Last reminder: @olugbemisola and I Twitter-chat TODAY from 12-1, hashtag #8GS0. Transcript will be posted afterward.
2:33 pm victoriajcoe: RT @chavelaque Reminder: @olugbemisola and I Twitter-chat TODAY from 12-1, hashtag #8GS0. Transcript will be posted afterward. #kidlit
2:42 pm AALBooks: TODAY twitterchat with @olugbemisola and @chavelaque 12 pm EST SHARP use hashtag #8GS0. Be there or be a SUPERZERO!
3:20 pm inkyelbows: Twitterchat: @olugbemisola & @chavelaque TODAY 12-1p EST, hashtag #8GS0. Details: (via @srjohannes)
3:22 pm hashtager: # Twitterchat: @olugbemisola & @chavelaque TODAY 12-1p EST, hashtag #8GS0. Details: (via @srjohannes)
5:00 pm chavelaque: <> Hello, anyone? #8GS0
5:01 pm olugbemisola: I'm here! (I think) #8GS0 #8GS0
5:01 pm HeleneBoudreau: RT @chavelaque: <> Hello, anyone? #8GS0
5:01 pm StephanieDBrown: Hello! Thanks for doing this. :) #8GS0
5:02 pm victoriajcoe: Congrats on the book! Crazy in love with the characters! #8GS0
5:02 pm SaraLewisHolmes: I'm here, coffee in hand. It's sleeting outside, so I'm relieved to be inside listening to you two! #8gs0
5:02 pm chavelaque: Oh, good! Welcome, everyone, & good to see you as always, @olugbemisola. :-) #8GS0
5:03 pm lauram68: @chavelaque hey chica! #8gs0
5:03 pm olugbemisola: thanks! this will be fun. #8GS0
5:03 pm StephanieDBrown: I ordered #8GS0 yesterday and I can't wait for my copy to arrive in the mail! I keep hearing how wonderful the characters are.
5:04 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown thank u! character is my favourite part of the writing process #8GS0
5:04 pm chavelaque: Just to dive right in, Gbemi - I've heard you say SUPERZERO started with an image. What was it, & how did you develop it from there? #8GS0
5:04 pm thebrainlair: i just started reading. I'm at the part when Reggie goes to the homeless shelter with the youth group. Is it okay to join? #8gs0
5:05 pm olugbemisola: a boy in his bed in the middle of the night with the cover pulled over his head because there were bugs loose in his room #8GS0
5:05 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque & he was terrified that one would crawl into his mouth. & it was secretly being filmed 4 a school TV show. #8GS0
5:05 pm chavelaque: @thebrainlair Absolutely! The convo will be more general/writing/etc. than book-plot focused. #8GS0
5:05 pm olugbemisola: @thebrainlair please do! #8GS0
5:05 pm thebrainlair: RT @chavelaque: dive right in, Gbemi - Ive heard U say SUPERZERO started w/ an image. Wht was it, & how did U develop it from there? #8GS0
5:06 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque all of that changed, including his age, but his personality remained the same #8GS0
5:07 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Yup! And it really did start w/ ideas of embarrassment at school, fear, how that's connected to home . . . #8GS0
5:07 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola so it seems that photo of a boy's fears spoke to you? #8GS0
5:07 pm thebrainlair: Join the chat with @olugbemisola and @chavelaque about writing and 8th grade superzero #8gs0
5:07 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i did not at all expect to develop that image into a book #8GS0
5:08 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown definitely. that time during the teen years... #8GS0
5:08 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola You had to write three pages for a class or writing group, right? #8GS0
5:08 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown that acute self-consciousness... #8GS0
5:09 pm SaraLewisHolmes: Are YOU afraid of bugs? Or TV shows? Or did you draw on other fears? #8gs0
5:09 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque yes, it was the night b4 the application was due 4 a wkshp w. Paula Danziger #8GS0
5:09 pm olugbemisola: @SaraLewisHolmes i am afraid of bugs now, i'm sorry to say. didn't used to be! i used to make 'ant hospitals' when i was a kid! #8GS0
5:10 pm olugbemisola: @SaraLewisHolmes i try to hide my current fear from my bug-enthusiast daughter. #8GS0
5:10 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola So where did you take it from there? #8GS0
5:11 pm chavelaque: Also what strikes me about it is that so often, as an editor, I'm trying to push through the story/action to get to the prime emotion #8GS0
5:11 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque Paula really encouraged me to continue on, and I didn't listen to her for a long time, but #8GS0
5:11 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque the character stayed with me #8GS0
5:12 pm chavelaque: + that the scene needs to convey, so we can better build action to do that - sounds like you started with emotion & built from there #8GS0
5:12 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque and after deciding to change Reggie's age from 10 to 13, there were themes that i really wanted to explore #8GS0
5:13 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque definitely. character and emotion are my favourite parts of the process. #8GS0
5:13 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Did you develop Reggie consciously? Profiles, taste charts, etc.? Or more through just writing? #8GS0
5:14 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i spend a *lot* of time thinking & writing notes, #8GS0
5:14 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque I do a lot of "think" writing, & imagine my characters in different situations, at different points during the day... #8GS0
5:15 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque when i'm riding the train or walking, i might imagine "what would x do in this situation, or in this conversation, #8GS0
5:15 pm olugbemisola: or if she had to confront that person" etc. a lot happens in the course of revision too. & sometimes a scene will come to mind, #8GS0
5:15 pm victoriajcoe: @olugbemisola, How did you decide how much personal context to give each 2ndary character (eg, Vicki, Donovan)? #8GS0
5:16 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque sometimes i see people who remind me of some aspect of a character, and observe them for a while. #8GS0
5:16 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe Vicky is NOTHING like any Vickys I know! :) #8GS0
5:17 pm victoriajcoe: @olugbemisola I'm serious! #8gs0
5:17 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe I was very interested in an 'ensemble piece', and i think that #8GS0
5:17 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe well-developed 2ndary characters really move the story along and go along way toward the MC's growth #8GS0
5:18 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe and the 'mean' characters are a lot of fun! #8GS0
5:19 pm victoriajcoe: @olugbemisola I loved what you said: Everyone has a story, and everyone's story matters #8gs0
5:19 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola @victoriajcoe There's one scene w/ Vicky in the cafeteria we played and played with to get right -- #8GS0
5:19 pm SaraLewisHolmes: I agree. Outstanding secondary characters are necessary for me to fall into the world of a book. Can't just be the MC. #8gs0
5:19 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i don't do much character journaling, but i did 4 reggie because i struggled quite a bit with making him sympathetic #8GS0
5:20 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque without making him seem too whiny. #8GS0
5:20 pm chavelaque: + I think it came out of the MS once, then went back in - b/c it did show that Vicky had feelings, & a story, when she comes off hard. #8GS0
5:20 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola how long did you work on it before you started working with @chavelaque? #8GS0
5:21 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque that was important to me, and in a way it was equally important to me to leave out a lot of Donovan's backstory #8GS0
5:22 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown well...i started those first three pages in 2002, then i didn't do anything with it until the summer of 2006 when i #8GS0
5:22 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown queried @chavelaque #8GS0
5:22 pm victoriajcoe: @olugbemisola @chevaleque Yes, the 2ndary characters' stories seem to matter and it's all very satisfying #8gs0
5:23 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown i shouldn't say i didn't do anything...i think my subconscious worked on it a lot, and oh! #8GS0
5:23 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Wait, you hadn't written the book when you queried me? #8GS0
5:24 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown i did a fantastic workshop with author kate morgenroth and worked out some of the chapters & themes then #8GS0
5:24 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque um. #8GS0
5:24 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque how would you define 'written'? #8GS0
5:24 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola I did not know this. Normally I disapprove, b/c I think writers shld be committed w/o editor's interest. #8GS0
5:25 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe thank you! #8GS0
5:25 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i was stuck for a long time, and my master plan #8GS0
5:25 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola But I will forgive you. :-) - Sry, just saw yrs. "written" = "completed draft." #8GS0
5:25 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque was that querying you would get me over the finish line #8GS0
5:26 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola It sounds like you did a lot of writing in those yrs btw 02-06; and I know every writer's process is different. #8GS0
5:26 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque thank you! (but, don't try this at home, kids.) #8GS0
5:27 pm KarenMusings: @olugbemisola Were you involved in any critique groups when you were writing the book? If so, were they helpful? #8GS0
5:27 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola I was surprised you queried me, honestly, b/c it seems often Black writers submit mostly to Black editors-understandably #8GS0
5:27 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown i did. i have journals and notebooks full of scenes, notes, random thoughts, etc. that all #8GS0
5:27 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown contributed to the final story #8GS0
5:28 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque well, for one thing, there weren't very many 2 submit to, which is a problem #8GS0
5:28 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola Picking up from @chavelaque comment, what made you query her? #8GS0
5:29 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque & i had spent a lot of time reading your blog and going over books you'd edited, and thought that you would connect #8GS0
5:29 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque with some of the themes in the story #8GS0
5:30 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola Got my answer. :) #8GS0
5:30 pm olugbemisola: @KarenMusings i was in one with kate morgenroth that was very helpful, especially in highlighting Reggie's positive qualities #8GS0
5:30 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Which I did! And I was honored/excited to work on it. #8GS0
5:30 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown ok, cool! :) #8GS0
5:31 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque thank you! right back at you. you were so helpful in the revision process #8GS0
5:31 pm editorgurl: Listening in on the great conversation with editor @chavelaque and @olugbemisola right now. Follow with hashtag: #8GS0
5:32 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque esp. because you care about structure and story and look for ways to construct a story #8GS0
5:32 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola I admit I sometimes also felt like Stupid White Editor, not quite getting something outside my experience. #8GS0
5:32 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque without sacrificing its emotional heart #8GS0
5:33 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola I was inspired by your author video. You'd make a great speaker @ libraries, bk stores & schools. Any dates set yet? #8GS0
5:33 pm chavelaque: + But I felt that way with @saralewisholmes's OPERATION YES too, where I was Stupid Civilian Editor, not getting something military... #8GS0
5:33 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque the important thing was that you were willing to engage, and didn't dismiss it as alien simply because of the race of #8GS0
5:33 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque the characters. #8GS0
5:33 pm KarenMusings: @chavelaque Do you think that writers of color are sometimes put into a box of the type of topics that they can write? #8GS0
5:33 pm gregpincus: Me, too! RT @editorgurl: Listening in on the great conversation w/ editor @chavelaque and @olugbemisola right now.Follow with hashtag: #8GS0
5:34 pm chavelaque: + A big part of being an editor: being humble & getting educated by yr authors, & helping share their story clearly w/ all readers. #8GS0
5:34 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i do appreciate editors, readers, etc. of other races, ethnicities, & cultures who are willing to cross borders, #8GS0
5:34 pm StephanieDBrown: @KarenMusings Great question! #8GS0
5:35 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque engage, educate themselves... in the end, that willingness 2keep trying to get it right, on all sides, is vital #8GS0
5:36 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Me too! "the willingness to keep trying to get it right," even when miscommunications or misunderstandings happen -- #8GS0
5:36 pm thaliachaltas: RT @gregpincus: @editorgurl: Listening in on the great conversation w/ editor @chavelaque and @olugbemisola right now.Follow hashtag #8GS0
5:36 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown thank you! that was hard. and yes, i am doing one next week! #8GS0
5:36 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Crucially important. & everyone getting their egos out of the way for the good of characters, story & book. #8GS0
5:37 pm olugbemisola: @KarenMusings absolutely. #8GS0
5:37 pm olugbemisola: @KarenMusings it's offensive, and silly, really... #8GS0
5:37 pm bonnieadamson: Also lurkimg . . .RT @gregpincus @editorgurl: Listening in on great conversation w/ editor @chavelaque and @olugbemisola right now. #8GS0
5:37 pm SaraLewisHolmes: @chavelaque You were NEVER Stupid Civilian Editor. Always curious, kind editor. #8gs0
5:38 pm olugbemisola: @KarenMusings just like anyone else, our stories are about more than the colour of our skin, though they are very much impacted #8GS0
5:38 pm olugbemisola: @KarenMusings by that, and very much enriched by that as well. #8GS0
5:38 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola It didn't look hard. It seems u spoke from the heart in that video. I knew then that your book would read the same way. #8GS0
5:39 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque that was why i was stuck 4 such a long time... #8GS0
5:39 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i was thinking more about me the author than the characters and their stories #8GS0
5:39 pm 2nickels: @olugbemisola Sounds like you started with characters (not surprising! such good characters!) - how did the plot come into place? #8gs0
5:39 pm KarenMusings: RT @StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola It seems u spoke from the heart in that video. <--Yes, totally agree. Loved it. #8GS0
5:39 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown thank you! it really helped that it was done with family -- a filmmaker who is a very dear friend, my husband, #8GS0
5:40 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown my sister, and my daughter (who was an exceptional crew member!) i wouldn't have done it otherwise. #8GS0
5:41 pm olugbemisola: @2nickels i did early on have an idea of the school election...and of my MC having thrown up on the first day of school #8GS0
5:41 pm bonnieadamson: @olugbemisola Adding my congratulations on a beautiful trailer. #8GS0, a
5:41 pm olugbemisola: @2nickels & needing 2 get past that. a lot of the work that i did with children & teens in the meantime really informed the story #8GS0
5:41 pm chavelaque: @saralewisholmes Well, thx! But I *felt* like Stupid Civilian Editor. & it's hard, when I'm used to being Editor w/ (some) Answers - #8GS0
5:42 pm olugbemisola: @bonnieadamson thank you! #8GS0
5:42 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque you are The Editrix! #8GS0
5:42 pm chavelaque: + to let go & admit what feels like stupidity. #8GS0
5:42 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe you should have seen me in high school! :) #8GS0
5:43 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Process Q's: What's yr usual writing schedule? Morning, midday, or night? Pen & paper or computer? Best writing place? #8GS0
5:43 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i think it was katherine paterson who wrote that a stupid person is someone who doesn't know today #8GS0
5:44 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque what u found out yesterday. also, accepting ignorance and moving forward from there is not stupidity! #8GS0
5:44 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i think i am at my best in the morning, after prayer. #8GS0
5:45 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola. V. true, thanks. But did not intend this to turn into Reassure-Editor Chat! Just admitting humility. ;-) #8GS0
5:45 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque But i?ve had to learn to use whatever time i have; sometimes i don?t get the ideal ?writerly? time every day #8GS0
5:47 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i most always use pen & paper first. nice & portable. i no longer have a laptop! don't think i have a best place to write. #8GS0
5:47 pm SaraLewisHolmes: @olugbemisola If this is too personal, forgive me. Do you pray about your writing? (as one who does herself) #8gs0
5:47 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque wish that i was someone who could write at cafes-i used to fantasize about that as a kid, but most times that i try #8GS0
5:47 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i feel extremely pretentious. i like working at home, in public library is great too. #8GS0
5:48 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola Pen & paper gets the ideas flowing, for sure. #8GS0
5:48 pm olugbemisola: @SaraLewisHolmes yes and yes! i pray a lot about the 'getting out of the way' that we talked about earlier. #8GS0
5:48 pm KarenMusings: RT @olugbemisola: i most always use pen & paper first. nice & portable. <-- Starting to realize this now too. Laptops distract me. #8GS0
5:49 pm olugbemisola: @SaraLewisHolmes for 'eyes that see' and 'ears that hear'. #8GS0
5:49 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola how do you know when your book ends? #8GS0
5:49 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Are any of yr favorite places in Brooklyn mentioned in the book? (Love our borough! = another thing I connected with.) #8GS0
5:49 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola Who're some of the writers who've inspired you? #8GS0
5:49 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown i really believe that, then by the time i get to the computer, i've done some revising and thinking already #8GS0
5:50 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown for SUPERZERO, and for my WIP, I had the end in mind very early on #8GS0
5:51 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque Brooklyn Bridge!i love seeing the sun rise up there. i love seeing people of all sizes, shapes, colours, ages, #8GS0
5:51 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque physical abilities, traveling back & 4th on foot, on bicycles, in wheelchairs -- everything. #8GS0
5:51 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola @StephanieDBrown 2 go back 2 something earlier-1 of my fave writing quotes is "A writer does not know what a book is" #8GS0
5:51 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i love that i've been seeing & chatting with some of the same people on the bridge 4 years; #8GS0
5:51 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque sometimes if you haven't been around 4 a while, they ask after you! very cool. i get story ideas up there a lot. #8GS0
5:52 pm chavelaque: + "till he gets to the end of it, & rest must be revised to fit that" - Maxwell Perkins. & that's why I worry when writers submit #8GS0
5:52 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown maya angelou, zora neale hurston, madeleine l'engle, paula danziger, chinua achebe... #8GS0
5:52 pm AudryT: :::taking a look to see what #8GS0 is:::::::
5:52 pm olugbemisola: c.s. lewis. eloise greenfield, camille yarbrough #8GS0
5:52 pm chavelaque: + before book is done, b/c not all thinking/knowledge of book is there yet, so it isn't really ready to submit. #8GS0
5:53 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque great quote. it was, and is a struggle to avoid that force-fitting trap. #8GS0
5:54 pm StephanieDBrown: @chavelaque Great quote! That's why getting through the 1st draft is so important & revising afterward. #8GS0
5:54 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola LOVE the bridge too. In the summer, I walk home across it from work sometimes -- always a great day. #8GS0
5:55 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Key thought of the book is that small things can make a big difference - any small things you'd like Twitterers to know? #8GS0
5:55 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque actually, i guess the bridge features more in my possible ruthie story (so far) than in 8GS0, but it was a big part of #8GS0
5:55 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque the writing process for me #8GS0
5:56 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola Great list of inspiring authors! #8GS0
5:56 pm olugbemisola: @StephanieDBrown i love love love to revise #8GS0
5:56 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque a kind word to a family member is just as important as waging a large campaign 4 justice #8GS0
5:57 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque it's good to do things that make u uncomfortable sometimes, and then not feel obligated to do them again #8GS0
5:57 pm SaraLewisHolmes: Small things: e.e. cummings: "may my heart always be open to little birds who are the secrets of living... #8gs0
5:57 pm SaraLewisHolmes: + /whatever they sing is better than to know" #8gs0
5:57 pm AuthoressAnon: @olugbemisola @chavelaque May I just say--I WAS THERE watching it unfold behind the scenes! And squeed a lot. =D #8GS0
5:57 pm chavelaque: @KarenMusings You asked me the writers of color box question ... I don't know. I'm open to every human story, I hope. #8GS0
5:57 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque bananas are an almost perfect snack (that was one of the last things my mom told me b4 she died) #8GS0
5:58 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i had a banana on release day #8GS0
5:58 pm chavelaque: @KarenMusings But the writers themselves can prob. speak better to that question than I. #8GS0
5:58 pm olugbemisola: @SaraLewisHolmes that's beautiful #8GS0
5:59 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque i'm going to have one now #8GS0
5:59 pm KarenMusings: @chavelaque I agree. Stories are emotional and speak from the heart. And that is universal. #8GS0
5:59 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola Oh, that's wonderful! Your mother is right. Portable, tasty, and cheerful, like a smile: :-) #8GS0
5:59 pm SaraLewisHolmes: @olugbemisola So is the fact that you ate a banana on release day. :) #8gs0
5:59 pm AudryT: Oooh, #8GS0 is all about SUPERZERO, writing, and publishing. Very cool!
6:00 pm victoriajcoe: We should all eat a banana now! #8GS0
6:00 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque @saralewisholmes :) #8GS0
6:00 pm SaraLewisHolmes: RT @olugbemisola: @chavelaque its good to do things that make u uncomfortable sometimes, and then not feel obligated to do them again #8gs0
6:00 pm StephanieDBrown: @chavelaque That's so true! I never thought of it...but a banana curves like a smile! :) #8GS0
6:00 pm olugbemisola: @victoriajcoe :D #8GS0
6:00 pm chavelaque: @olugbemisola @victoriajcoe Yay for bananas! And SUPERZERO! #8GS0
6:01 pm olugbemisola: thanks so much, everyone! #8GS0
6:01 pm victoriajcoe: @chavelaque @olugbemisola Thanks so much for the chat! #8gs0
6:02 pm chavelaque: It's 1 p.m. - thanks so much to you all for joining us!! A transcript will be posted at one of our blogs soon. #8GS0
6:02 pm KarenMusings: Thank you @olugbemisola @chavelaque. Great chat. #8GS0
6:02 pm olugbemisola: @chavelaque thanks again! and thank you, cheryl! #8GS0
6:02 pm StephanieDBrown: @olugbemisola @chavelaque Thank you for a wonderful chat! #8GS0
6:03 pm bonnieadamson: @chavelaque @olugbemisola Thank you both! #8GS0
6:03 pm SaraLewisHolmes: Hugs to you both. This was lovely. #8gs0
6:04 pm olugbemisola: you all made this a pleasure. #8GS0
6:04 pm olugbemisola: have a wonderful day! #8GS0
6:07 pm curiousmartha: RT @chavelaque: + A big part of being an editor: being humble & getting educated by yr authors, & helping share their story clearly w/ all readers. #8GS0
6:09 pm kristinlgray: @chavelaque @olugbemisola Thank you both! #8GS0
6:13 pm olugbemisola: & multicultural & multiethnic literature & literacy came up, the importance of education & engaging... #8GS0
6:14 pm olugbemisola: wanted to share some resources: @readingincolor @mitaliperkins @CrazyQuilts @CynLeitichSmith @debreese @chasingray #8GS0
6:14 pm olugbemisola: @coloronline @thebrownbookshelf (28 days later coming soon!) @BronzeWord @nathaliemvondo #8GS0
6:14 pm olugbemisola: Bowllan's Blog at SLJ: Doret at #8GS0
6:16 pm olugbemisola: reading the world challenge @ global reading challenge@ #8GS0

Twitter Chatter Reminder: Tomorrow!

A reminder: Sara Lewis Holmes and I will be chatting on Twitter tomorrow at noon EST about Operation Yes; follow the hashtag #YESchat to tune in or ask a question. (NOTE: I had the wrong Twitter chat application listed below; you should use to join us, not And if you need an FAQ on the subject, visit Inkygirl's Twitter Chats for Writers.) We'll collect your questions through the course of the chat and answer them at the end of our conversation, which will be archived on at least one of our blogs.

(The entire previous paragraph was shamelessly plagiarized from Sara's blog, which tells you an essential truth of the publishing industry: Great authors make their editors look good.)

And speaking of Sara's blog, I wrote an article for the On Our Minds @ Scholastic blog where I described how Read * Write * Believe made me even more interested in and excited to work with her after I’d read the Operation Yes manuscript. I see that already one writer has commented "Oh dear -- an editor might check out my blog in considering my manuscript?", and the answer to that is "Yes" (though I mostly do it when I'm extremely interested in a manuscript and want to know more about the author as a person whom I'd be working with; the quality of the manuscript always, always comes first. And not having a blog is fine too, of course).

Anyway, following on this topic, Sara and I will discuss social media in children's publishing in our chat tomorrow, as well as the writing and editing of Operation Yes, how our theatrical and educational backgrounds helped shape its direction, and various other topics. (We will also continue trash-talking the BBQ of each other’s respective geographical regions.) Lastly, Sara will announce a fun contest related to the book where you can win one of three signed copies, so I hope this should be well worth your time. Hope to see you there!

An Oversight in My Submissions Guidelines, Now Corrected

I have been following the post-Liar-cover-controversy discussions about race and children's publishing with great interest, particularly Neesha Meminger's wonderful essay on power and privilege; Elizabeth Bluemle's ShelfTalker post, "Where's Ramona Quimby, Black and Pretty?", its followup today, and the list of multicultural books that grew out of it; Zetta Elliott's provocative "Something Like an Open Letter to the Children's Publishing Industry"; and the comments on all of these posts. This Newsweek article, "See Baby Discriminate," is also fascinating and instructive on the prevalence of white privilege that Neesha invokes and the negative consequences of that; and Mitali Perkins's "Straight Talk on Race" offered many useful questions about multicultural publishing and writing all the way back in April.

As a result of all of these articles and conversations that grew out of them, I was ashamed to realize today that my "What I'm Looking For" on my website did not include something that I've always been looking for, and something indeed my publishing reflects -- that is, my interest in seeing projects from writers and illustrators of color. This is a hard thing to talk about because race is such a sensitive issue, and people on all sides are so quick to feel slighted by the idea that someone else is getting a preference because of it. I can only say that my interest as an editor and publisher is in working to create really good books that show the whole range of children's and YA life experiences; and that most definitely includes the experience of nonwhite characters, and the contributions of nonwhite writers and illustrators.

(And it's sort of sad, frankly, that I just wrote a pre-emptive defense of this policy for white people who may feel slighted by it. White people who feel slighted: Please read all those links and comments and remember that good fiction writing is 90 percent imagining yourself in someone else's shoes. Also, while I'm recommending links, everyone of all races should read Ta-Nehisi Coates's blog at the Atlantic website; he's a gorgeous writer, and very thoughtful about race (as well as Mad Men, Renaissance art, the Civil War, and the NFL), with great commenters too. One of my favorite blogs.)

The representation of people of color in children's and YA lit is a complicated question with no easy answers; or rather, the only answer is the dialogue that will continue indefinitely on blogs, and in The Horn Book and School Library Journal, and on awards committees, and through the books we choose to write and publish. Here's my contribution to the dialogue tonight: There's now a line in my submissions guidelines stating "I'm very interested in projects from writers and illustrators of color." And if you are such a writer or illustrator, and your work suits all the other guidelines prescribed there -- in short, a literary picture book or novel manuscript with richly drawn characters who do things -- I hope you'll consider sharing it with me. Thank you.

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.

Projects, Patterns, and Personalities

I was looking over the list of my past and upcoming projects, and I realized that a very good chunk of them fit into at least one and sometimes more of these subject categories:

Fairy Tales: The Legend of the Wandering King; A Curse Dark as Gold; Heartsinger; The Red Bird; The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales

Religion, Religious Faith, or Religious Questions: The Book of Everything; The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children; Marcelo in the Real World; Crossing to Paradise; The Pirate Princess and Other Fairy Tales; Eighth-Grade Superzero (by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich, forthcoming Spring 2010); The Last Summer of the Death Warriors (by Francisco X. Stork, Spring 2010); StarCrossed (by Elizabeth C. Bunce, Fall 2010)

Activism on Behalf of Others: Marcelo in the Real World; Operation Yes (by Sara Lewis Holmes, Fall 2009); Eighth-Grade Superzero; The Light of the World: The Life of Jesus for Children; My Senator and Me: A Dog's Eye View of Washington, D.C.

School Stories: Operation Yes; Eighth-Grade Superzero; Happy School Year!; Bobby vs. Girls (Accidentally) (by Lisa Yee, with illustrations by Dan Santat, Fall 2009); Stanford Wong Flunks Big-Time

Uptight Young Women Who Learn to Loosen Up: Millicent Min, Girl Genius; A Curse Dark as Gold; The Singer of All Songs; Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit; Moribito II: Guardian of the Darkness; I Now Pronounce You Someone Else (by Erin McCahan, Summer 2010); The Young Anthropologist's Guide to High School (working title; by Joanna Pearson, Spring 2011)

This is by no means all of the books I've edited (and even this list here is out of date), and many of those not listed above fall far from these categories. . . . Fast Food, for instance, is just pure veggie fun. But I will admit that those categories are a pretty good representation of subjects I love and think about a lot, or that resonate with my own life experience: stories, especially love stories, and how they are told; the power of religion and religious faith, for both good and ill; the responsibilities we as human beings have to one another, and the way we can make a difference in each other's lives; school as a setting; and -- yeah, being uptight and learning to relax. (I suppose if I made it "Uptight Young People," Marcelo might go in there too, sort of.)

This would mostly be a curiosity for me -- "Hey, look, it's my brain, as seen in my list!" -- but I'm sharing it here because I think this is one dimension of what we editors mean when we tell agents and writers to look at our list and see if their mss. are right for us. . . . We're encouraging them to look for these thematic patterns in what we publish, and, if their work fits into one of those patterns, to share it with us. This is absolutely NOT entirely or exclusively what we mean or want to see: We generally mean for writers to look more at the literary style of the list, at the sorts of writing and illustration we publish, and to try to judge whether their work fits into that. The fact that stories about uptight young women resonate with my personal experience does not mean I don't want to acquire another terrific middle-grade from a male point of view, because I really, really do; and it doesn't mean I wouldn't be a good editor for such a middle-grade, because I think I have been and would be again.

But those thematic patterns, if you can figure them out, allow you a way to fine-tune your submission to certain editors -- to say, "I notice from Book X and Book Y and Book Z that you seem to love stories set in South America; here's my picture book ms. about Venezuela," and perhaps then to make a stronger connection than you would have with just a general query. When Olugbemisola queried me about Eighth-Grade Superzero, for instance, she praised Millicent Min as "painfully funny," which meant a lot to me because it meant she hadn't just read Millie and thought "ha ha" at the character's cluelessness; she got the deeper level of pain there, and she valued it too, which meant that she shared my interest in emotional depth and realistic complication. Superzero reflects that general literary interest as well as all the subject interests listed above (as well as being great in numerous other ways I will talk about in coming months).

With that said, this is a strategy that is somewhat prone to pitfalls, because:
  1. Not everything an editor edits is his or her choice to do so, so if Books X, Y, and Z were all assigned or inherited from another editor, or done for reasons besides editorial passion, the editor in question might shout, "ANOTHER South American story? HEAVEN GRANT ME PATIENCE!" and reject it summarily;
  2. Your speculations could be wrong, in which case the editor would think you're a nutjob for discerning such a "pattern";
  3. Just because an editor has published books about Subject Q does not mean they'll like your ms. about Subject Q. Or the last book they published on Subject Q might not have done so well, or they may have three more books loosely tied to Subject Q lined up in the near future (For instance, at this point, I am clearly well provided for uptight-young-women manuscripts; I could use a cheerful hoyden or two, like Maybe from the eponymous Absolutely.);
  4. These subjects are all hugely general (The Book of Everything is the most atheistic text I ever expect to see in a children's book, at least until Christopher Hitchens writes one, while The Light of the World is a biography of Jesus, but they both fall under Religion), and
  5. The patterns can be hard to figure out anyway, unless you're the editor in question.
So, with all of THAT said, the better strategy may just be the one tested by smart writers for ages past: read a lot of recently published books, find the ones you love; find out who their editors are (which really is doable; look at acknowledgement pages, the SCBWI directory, and authors' websites); and submit your work to them. But this second level is worth thinking about as a refinement on that; and I look forward to all the mss. about princesses who decide to become nuns working in charity schools (and discover their joy in doing that) now heading my way. > grin <

A Rule of Thumb for Submissions

Keep your packaging and presentation simple.

I am sharing this rule of thumb because Arthur received a submission yesterday in a 1' x 2' x 2' box. Boxes (larger than manuscript boxes) from people we don't know are always cause for concern, because if you're bribing us, we resent that, and if you're bombing us . . . well, we resent that too. Both Arthur and his assistant were out of the office, so I opened the package up just in case it was urgent, and it contained neither a bribe nor a bomb -- rather, six manuscripts, sample illustrations (from an illustrator the author chose) mounted on foamboard, a screenplay, a marketing plan with merchandising information, and approximately 1,537,832 Styrofoam packing peanuts.

I had to dig through the box, peanuts, and layers of tissue paper to find these materials. This annoyed me. The papers and foamboard pieces were each tied up in bundles with ribbons, so I had to spend time untying the packages to see them. This also annoyed me. The fact that illustrations exist annoyed me for reasons explained at your average first SCBWI conference, and the screenplay and merchandising plan annoyed me for reasons explained in points 10 and 13 of the Annotated Query Letter from Hell. It says specifically in the AALB submissions guidelines that writers should only send one manuscript at a time. And the peanuts went everywhere, so I'll let you imagine my feelings on that.

This does not mean that this submission is dead to us; it will get a fair reading, and if it's fantastic, hooray. But it's starting out with big strikes against it because the author is (1) wasting our time with the fancy packaging and (2) ignoring our guidelines, which makes its burden of proof to be fantastic higher, which does the author no favors. Please: Send one manuscript at a time, your best work, of the kind of material we publish (no screenplays), in an envelope, with a SASE, so we can read and respond to it promptly. Otherwise: annoyance.

(This still was not the strangest large submissions package we ever received; that prize goes to the person who sent us his or her manuscript in a used lobster trap. Thankfully empty. But still.)

SQUID Friday

I'm moving offices next week (just upstairs, it doesn't change anything about how you should submit to me), and so today I was determined to go through and respond to as many SQUIDs as I could. The oldest were a few shameful hangovers from July (yeesh); the newest from Monday. And the numbers:
  • 113 total
  • 6 requests for more material
  • 12 held for further review
  • 95 returned
I'm also instituting an acceptance form I talked about a long time ago but never actually made up, so, if I'm interested in the manuscript, I just have to fill in the writer's name, the title, and what I would like him or her to respond with: five chapters, the full ms., patience (i.e., the further review), or a revision based upon comments I write on the letter. This form has already proved MUCH faster than the old method of typing up a complete letter for the writer, filling in the name, address, and title, printing it out on letterhead, etc., so I'm hopeful it will continue to increase my efficiency and decrease my response time in the future.

Finally, there was not a single ". . . Or did she?" query letter in the bunch. Thanks for paying attention!

Four Little Writing Things + Poll

  • My lovely author Olugbemisola Rhuday Perkovich is writing a monthly "Five Faves" column for, and her excellent agent Erin Murphy and I are both quoted this week on "The Book That Changed Everything."
  • Another lovely author, Francisco X. Stork, has a wonderful post connecting the disciplines of writing with those of Buddhism: "The Six Perfections of Writing."
  • If you've written a fantasy novel, or really any novel with a Big Bad, you should read through the list of The Top 100 Things I'd Do If I Ever Became an Evil Overlord and make sure your villain tries to abide by them. (In other words: So much as possible, avoid the cliches contained here.) I particularly like #12: "One of my advisors will be an average five-year-old child. Any flaws in my plan that he is able to spot will be corrected before implementation."Also #29: "I will dress in bright and cheery colors, and so throw my enemies into confusion."
  • I tweaked my submissions guidelines this week, removing the "Closed to submissions" bit from the top (so there's no more confusion about that) and adding these lines:
-- Any submission without an SASE will not receive a reply.
-- I like books about characters who do things, who take action in their own lives, who love and lie and take risks and fight to get what they want, who are faced with and make difficult choices.
-- Some people think that literary fiction doesn't have action to it -- that literary fiction is people sitting around and feeling and talking at each other. This is not true. It's just that in literary fiction, the writer is as interested in the characters' emotional development as he or she is in the action the novel portrays, and particularly in the relationship between the two [the action and the emotional development], even if that relationship isn't spelled out in so many words.
-- If you've written a book, particularly a picture book, for the sole purpose of teaching a lesson to children, like "Be kind to everyone" or "Don't play doctor with the pit bull": Your manuscript will probably not be right for me.
And the poll: Cruising cable last weekend, I came across the last twenty minutes of The Empire Strikes Back, which I hadn't seen in ages. After I finished watching it, I saw that it was labeled "Episode V" in the cable guide, and I thought how strange it would be to actually watch it as the fifth film in the "Star Wars" saga -- to know already the big "NOOOO! NOOOO!" fact revealed at the end of the movie -- and how Episodes IV, V, and VI would all feel very different with that knowledge. And then it occurred to me that I will someday have to decide in which order my (putative, theoretical) children will see the series. What would you all do/are you doing?