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5 Factors that Influence the Decision to Publish & How to Address Them as a Writer: If you’re a writer you need to know this

5 Factors that Influence the Decision to Publish and how to address them as a writer.
  1. Suitability of Text
  2. Author Track Record
  3. Comparable Titles
  4. Author Platform
  5. Buzz
Profit Not Public Service: Publishers are surviving in a capitalist society, just like us.

Book Failure= Financial disaster, not just for publishing executives but everyone in the publishing industry chain.

Taking a chance on an author is a risk for the entire chain with very real consequences. So any reticence to taking on big risk should be seen as responsibility for employees, not just conservatism.

The 5 factors all contribute to creating a picture of risk vs. reward, profit vs. loss.

1. Suitability of text

this issue before in previous parts of this Demystifying publishing series, please refer to them for more details on suitability of text.

Text must be enjoyable and suits: the intended audience, publisher’s catalogue, direction of trends and, vision for future of publisher’s list.

2. Author Track Record

Author’s sales record is indicator of future success or future commercial failure.

“But what if I’ve never Published a Book?”

So, fortunately for you, this is actually a Schrodinger’s cat kind of situation and BETTER than having a bad sales record. There’s no record of failure yet, so there’s equal possibility of failure or success, the only way to know for sure is to see what happens next.

3. Comparable Titles

Comparable titles are used to build a case for the financial viability of your book (MSS) Mention them in any submission to either agent or editor.

So “You Matter” “All Because You Matter” and “I Believe I Can” are titles comparable to each other because they have similar themes.

Good comparable titles must be: recent, specific and, successful.

Bonus Points if it’s from the publisher or agent who you’re submitting to.

On Comparable titles

For the love of everything do not compare your story to HARRY POTTER or THE CAT IN THE HAT or, GOODNIGHT MOON, etc.

Don’t do this when querying an agent, or an editor, or an influencer reviewer, just don’t do it.

It tells everyone you don’t actually read children’s books because you don’t know the current market.

Also it kind of makes you sound like an ass.

4. AUthor Platform

Authority: Relevant credentials are key for Non-Fiction authors

Less important for fiction authors.

Relevancy is key here, if you have a PHD in Psychology, and you’re writing about Rocket Ship Engineering, that is not relevant. So, not really helpful.

Quantifiable visibility within target audience: aka do you have people who will buy your book?

“Influencers” & Author Platform

Unlike every other luxury consumer good industry (which is exactly what book publishing is,) publishers are slow to see Social Media Influence as genuine proof of money making platform.

This attitude is changing and some big publishers are now producing books by influencers.

This shift will partly be thanks to the NYT article from March of 2021 “How Crying on Tik Tok Sells Books”

Most publishers don’t know a lot about Social Media Influencing and change will continue to move slowly. But it’s happening.

5. Buzz

Are people actually in the industry talking about your work?

How can you get them talking about you? Twitter is actually a good place to start, a lot of publishing industry people are on Twitter. And if you follow me you know I’m abysmal at Twitter, I just don’t enjoy it, not enough pretty pictures, so this is a piece of advice I do not take for myself. I’d rather cry on Tik Tok.

Attending industry events, book launches, meeting people. Doing this in the pandemic might be harder but not impossible. Virtual events are hosted all the time and often you’ll find editors or other senior members of publishing houses showing up to them.

Having a well respected agent is also key for generating industry buzz, see my previous blog in this series on Literary Agents.

Profit & Loss Assessment

So when you put all of these things together, along with some other numbers for production, distribution, etc. They start to build a profit and loss statement, they will assess the commercial viability of your manuscript proposal, and from this statement they can decide whether or not to offer to acquire it and also, how much money they can offer you as an advance.

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Literary Agents: The Fairy Godparents of Publishing

Demystifying Publishing Part 4 with @readwithriver

Demystifying Publishing Part 4 with @readwithriver  
Literary Agents:The Fairy Godparents of Publishing
A very practical Cinderella story.
What does an agent do?  Why do you want one? How do you choose one?
Saves and Shares are appreciated!
Fairy Literary Agents 
A very practical Cinderella story.
Once upon a time there was a writer who could not get to the publisher’s ball to have her manuscript read. “Oh how I wish I could go to the ball.” Then one night after many years of wishing one of her queries* was answered! An agent appeared.  
*See part three on How to Query.
Fairy Literary Agents
Pumpkins and Glass Slippers
Her Fairy Literary Agent used her editing magic to dress up her manuscript and get the writer past the gates into the publisher’s ball to dance with the editor.  Most editors especially at big houses will only look at manuscripts brought to them by agents.  These editor-agent relationships are cultivated over many years.  Even for publishers that accept open submissions (see part 3) manuscripts submitted by agents are seen faster and are given a response even if it is a reject.  Instead of six months, you can expect half of that time frame or less for a response.
Fairy Literary Agents At the Ball
Once the writer’s work was past the gates, it was up to the writer to make the editor fall in love with her work.  A Fairy Literary Agent can help you streamline your work, they can get you an audience with the best editors but, they can’t force an editor to love it or to like you.  That’s your job.  Editors call a meeting with the author before an offer is made to see if they will be easy to work with.  You CAN talk yourself out of a book deal. 
Fairy Literary Agents Finding you the right prince!
Not every publisher is one you want to work with.  Agents look for skeletons in editors’ & publishers’ closets and steer their clients away from sketchy partnerships.  They have a history of working with various editors and teams and they will know who will be the best fit for you and your work.  Traditional publishing is a team sport.
Fairy Literary Agents Contracts
Standard contracts are NEVER in the author’s best interests. Your agent negotiates for you until it is. Beforehand: financial matters like royalty percentage &, production matters like cover approval. During: intervening in decisions that negatively affect the integrity of your work.  After: making sure your work continues to be in print and if it is not, fighting to revert rights back to you to resell.  This is just a fraction of what they negotiate.
Fairy Literary Agents, agents succeed if you succeed. 
Agents usually make 15% of the author’s cut, from advance and royalties.  They only get paid if you do.
This is NOT lucrative. Agents sometimes have second jobs, or take on more clients than they can reasonably handle to make a living wage.  This is a career people choose because they love doing it, not because they’re trying to make a mint.  A good question to ask an agent before working with them is how many clients they have and how much time they will have to work with you personally.  No one is more personally invested in your success than your agent, their livelihood depends on it.
Fairy Literary Agents: Finding the right agent for you
Having an agent is a relationship that ideally will last many years.  It’s important you get along well.  Often agents will take a client on for only one manuscript as a trial period.  It is vital you have an agent who you trust & who shares the same editorial vision you do. Head to readwithriver.ca for resources in finding an agent & querying.

Resources to help you find Literary Agents:

https://www.writersunion.ca/literary-agents

http://www.ardorlitmag.com/literary-agents.html

https://literaryagencies.com/literary-agents-childrens-books/

https://www.pw.org/literary_agents

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We Need Books About Losers #LibrarianFightClub

Everybody loves a winner, and when it comes to the stories we enjoy, all we see are stories of winners. On the surface I guess it makes sense, we invest our emotions in a character, and we follow their journey, through every obstacle and failure, in the end, we want to be uplifted mostly. We want to see that win, we want to glorify it.  And yes that applies to picture books. 

But what does it mean to lose then? If the only stories worth telling in our society, are stories of winners? Accepting defeat isn’t just a reflection of the moment, but accepting an inferior identity and some people, clearly, just can’t handle it.

The more I think about it, the more nefarious the whole thing becomes, the ‘chosen one’, the ‘hero’s myth’, it’s all wrapped up in patriarchal white supremacy.  There is only room for one person at the top.  

White men see themselves as the heroes of their own stories, and so it’s not over until they win.  Because isn’t that how the stories go?

      There are so many pieces of this narrative that we need to change, in every book, and honestly I think including BIPOC representation in the stories that are coming out just scratches just the surface.  Because clearly, the narrative and values themselves need to change.  

   One facet of this is accepting a loser’s journey as equally valid, being able to accept loss gracefully, to not be the chosen one, and to still be decent and gracious has value. 

  Many reviewers have been asked to recommend books about losing graciously recently, and I just plum can’t think of a single one, can you?

#librarianfightclub

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Beyond 2020: Will Kidlit Evolve or Revert?

Before 2020, the children’s book industry wasn’t something that most people could care less about. Sure, there were handfuls of teachers, librarians, niche collectors and people actually in the business of making kids’ books, but the general adult population at large wasn’t overly concerned with it.

  2020 changed that, well, it changed a lot of things.  It shone a burning spotlight on a number of issues and KidLit was one of them, people got fired up. The Black Lives Matter uprisings in June had people looking for ways to be anti-racist, to change the world, to take part, and it was decided a great place to start was with children’s books. The cynical part in me wonders if that’s because purchasing kid’s books, and putting them on a display shelf, is only two clicks up from the most basic form of armchair activism. Whether or not people were actually reading them and discussing them with kids is to be determined.

  During the June uprisings, the status quo of children’s literature was found to be woefully inadequate, lacking in representation of BIPOC characters (Black Indigenous People of Colour), lacking in #ownvoices of Black authors and illustrators, lacking in stories that represented BIPOC characters in a range of types of stories.  People who had probably never thought twice about what sort of books they were buying their kid at the grocery store, suddenly were up in arms demanding immediate change from an industry so slow that you’ve got to wonder if they’ve only got one poor fellow binding every book by hand. Of course, all of these problems I’ve mentioned were no secret; studies, surveys, statistics, have all existed and been done for years showing that this is a huge issue. It’s just in the heat of June, and the fire of the protest, people suddenly cared a lot.

Books like “A is for Activist” by Innosanto Nagara, were cleaned out of every online store for months. Social Media Accounts focused on Diversity and Black representation in kids’ books were flooded with new followers, some accounts growing by fifty thousand followers or more practically overnight.  An entire generation of new Bookstagram accounts emerged.

With people clamouring to buy more books that just didn’t exist, the publishers have been left scrambling. They couldn’t do much that would have any immediate effect aside from reallocating marketing budgets to favour the books they did have featuring BIPOC characters. Suddenly popping out new books wasn’t an option. Especially given the constraints of being in the middle of a pandemic. Even under normal circumstances it takes about two years for the average book to be produced, 

Publishers have gotten to work as fast as they can, finding BIPOC authors and illustrators, and getting to work on publishing socially conscious books, but it will still be approximately a year and a half before most of the books will come to fruition. 

The big question is, how will these books be received, and how will that reception impact the course of Kidlit into the foreseeable future?

Will these books be rushed?  Will they be of questionable quality because of that rush?  Will the books all focus on delivering incredibly serious messages of social activism instead of providing picture books by and about BIPOC people that are meant for children to enjoy again and again? Because if the answer to any of those questions is yes, then there’s going to be a problem. 

Secondly, by the time these books are released how many people will still be interested? The fervour of the uninvested has cooled considerably in the last few months. That paired with having had to endure the absolutely revolting deluge of self published Amazon books about Racism slapped together in an attempt to Capitalize on the BLM movement has me wondering, will people be tired of it?

The fact remains that lack of representation in kidlit, is an issue that needs to be addressed. If this massive wave of #ownvoices books by Black Creators about BIPOC characters does not fulfill the industry’s expectation, then what will happen?  What will their conclusion be? What happens if they do not sell?

If things don’t work out my concern will be that the industry executives will conclude that they were correct all along in not investing in BIPOC creators and BIPOC stories.  Capitalism may dictate it would be best to just quietly close the lid on all of this, and let it collect dust with every other trend from 2020.

Or maybe, maybe I’m just jaded, and it’ll be fantastic, and people will turn up in droves to buy them. Maybe the demand for change brought out in 2020, is just what we needed to launch a new era in children’s books, a more inclusive one.

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The Secrets of in “The Secret Garden”: #LibrarianFightClub Edition

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published as a full novel in 1911, is my favourite book of all time, since the first time I read it when I was a child. It is also, therefore perhaps surprisingly, the book I am putting forth today for #LibrarianFightClub, because when it comes to examining internal biases and problematic messages in books, nothing should be sacred.

  I was first alerted to the problematic nature of the portrayal and attitudes towards disability in this book while chatting with my friend Lucy, @thecatchpoles.  Previous to us discussing it I had never questioned this book.

  You may be familiar with the story, it has been redone as plays, movies, picture books, etc., though I find that the original novel despite being a “classic” very readable for a modern reader, because Burnett was a boss writer.

The story is as follows, Mary is a British expat raised in India when, after Cholera strikes her parents and basically everyone she knows dies.  She couldn’t care less, beyond inconvenience to her lifestyle.  She is shipped back to England, to be raised in Misselthwaite Manor, the home of her Maternal Uncle by marriage.  It is all very Edwardian gothic, she is a miserable “sickly little creature” and being back in the healthy English air and surrounded by good English people who take “no nonsense” improves her horrible temper and health. In fact upon her arrival at the English manor her maid says that India is full of “a lot of blacks instead of respectable white people.” To which Mary very angrily informs her “Natives are not people.” It is not mentioned again overtly, but the implicit racism, colonialism, and colourism runs deep in the veins of this book.

 Serious question, is it possible to find a classic book that isn’t full of a deep base of white supremacy and colonialism?  I’m not sure. And how does this affect if and how we approach reading it.  These overt lines are of course scrubbed from modern retellings, but can you really remove the attitudes which form the basis and premise of this entire book? Does simply erasing the overt lines actually do more bad than good because it makes it harder to critically look at the entire structure? 

Now, as to the depiction of disability and chronic illness, that gets complex. So, in this book the uncle is a romantic wretched fellow who is a “hunchback.” After being widowed by a beautiful girl who it is made clear should never have looked at him twice he never recovers and abandons his son who is also disabled, to wander around the world being morose and stinking rich. The son is a miserable tyrannical child who lives his life in bed having panic attacks about being ill.  After meeting Mary, and spending time outside with her and learning about love and friendship, he is magically cured? Or, it was all in his head in the first place. His father when he sees his son is not in fact disabled, decides to return and be a father. Talk about a fairweather relationship.

  So the trouble here is that really, this attitude that disability is partly in the mind and inextricably tied with a poor attitude is something that is still arguably ingrained into society. Or that disabled children are a depressing burden on their parents.  We can connect these ideas back to all of the sorts of books people applaud about disabled people using a can-do attitude to overcome, to be inspiring. The basis is all here, and written out in the 1890’s.

  However to further complicate things, it turns out, that this is actually a story that reflects the author’s own very fascinating life.  Frances Hodgson Burnett as it turns out lived many of the experiences she wrote about personally including chronic illness and depression.  

As a child, her family fell into ruin after the sudden death of her father.  They were forced to immigrate to America from England, where she befriended a young ‘invalid’ boy, who she later married (arguably her inspiration for the relationship between Mary and Colin?) She began writing to support her impoverished family when she was only 18 and continued to write as breadwinner her entire life. She supported her husband through medical school, while raising two boys and keeping a household. She suffered from chronic undiagnosed illness throughout and bouts of depression. She eventually left her husband, and her elder son fell ill with tuberculosis.  She moved back to England with her elder son, where he died.  She divorced her husband, had an affair with a much younger man who then blackmailed her into marriage. She was roasted by the media and local religious leaders for her  “advanced ideas regarding the duties of a wife and the rights of women.” She was also criticized heavily for the femininity with which some of her male protagonists were depicted, they were based on her son.  

She wrote “The Secret Garden” after the death of her own son, surrounded by an English garden, in the depths of the grief and depression that her characters experience.  Does this change the way we see the book?  

This really brings me to think about European “classics” in general. They’re all problematic because they’re all written by people who lived within this society. They inform an entire Anglophone writing tradition and I’m not sure if simply removing it from a reading list is the most useful choice. You might disagree with me. Thinking on the ideas in this book, on its context, and then considering how it impacted, influenced, and inspired so much of modern children’s literature.  Do we not gain something from picking apart the original?  Especially when that original is written by a woman who was really pushing the boundaries of women and what was acceptable in society?  What do you think?