Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays

I'm going to take a couple of weeks off from posting. Please rejoin me for regular Friday posts starting in January--and bring your friends. I have plenty more to talk about, from novel revisions to genres to making a career out of writing. I may even get into promoting your work, writing your bio, networking and school visits. Please help get the word out if you'd like to see this blog continue!

Enjoy your holidays, and may the new year help your writing dreams come true.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Market Research: Making it Pay Off

This is my fourth post on market research--yes, it takes time! I've been discussing how to go beyond the market guide to do targeted research. Once you have all that market information, you can use it in your queries to show the editor that you understand her needs.

“My queries are always specific,” says Molly Blaisdell, author of Rembrandt and the Boy Who Drew Dogs. “I met you at the XYZ conference. I read about you on XYZ blog. You edited XYZ book. I love that book and feel a connection to my work because of XYZ. I’m sending to you because you like XYZ.”

“I made sure my submission fit their format,” Janet Fox says of Get Organized Without Losing It. “They like email queries as opposed to snail mail. I learned the name of their submissions editor and used it. I tailored my cover letter to them. I let them know they were my first, and at the time only, choice for submission.”

“I get a sense from the submission whether the writer or artist is familiar with Scholastic’s Trade division,” said Eleni Beja, who was then Associate Editor at Scholastic. “If they mention why they’re submitting to Scholastic, and to me, and those reasons make sense, then they’ll have my attention, and gratitude. If I love the project and choose to pursue it, my efforts to get support for it can only be helped by an author’s convincing pitch.”

She gives an example: “I know you’re interested in politics and moviolas, and Scholastic published Hugo Cabret. So my illustrated novel about a girl who fixes radios, set against the backdrop of Watergate, seems like a perfect fit for you.”

On the other hand, Dial Editor Alisha Niehaus said, “I don’t need to hear about Dial or Penguin and what we publish—I know that. I want to know what makes your story exciting, original, and publishable, in as concise and entertaining a fashion as you can say it. For me, since Dial accepts full picture book manuscripts and the first ten pages of a novel, the shorter the cover letter the better.” If you’ve done your research, that will speak for itself.

For Edward Necarsulmer IV, Director of the Children’s Department at literary agency McIntosh and Otis, if someone mentions a book he agented, it makes an impression. You can use your research on publishers here as well, but only if you have something special to say. “I don’t really care what the writer says about where they want to publish,” Necarsulmer says. “But if you’ve met an editor at a conference or retreat, and they’ve asked about your work, absolutely tell me.”

Marileta Robinson, Senior Editor at Highlights for Children, says, “Information that is useful in a cover letter includes any experiences or background that make the writer especially qualified to write the story or article, and reference to any research the writer did beyond the ordinary. Although we publish many first-time authors, a writer’s published credits, especially in similar markets, make an impression.”

Even extensive market research doesn’t guarantee success, Blaisdell notes. “I think it is important to realize that we actually have no control over the sale of books. What we can control is who we offer our books to and the execution of those offers. I believe that this marketing focus will get you out of slush piles and open doors that would otherwise be closed to you.”

EXERCISE: You may not have completed your market research, but it's not too early to draft a query letter. Working on it now will help you figure out which gaps you need to fill with more research.


Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino, had a recent series of guest agents discussing query letters, synopses and proposals.

Miss Snark, the literary agent, stopped updating her blog in 2007, but it still informative and entertaining to browse her nearly 100 posts on query letters.

Query Shark lists actual query letters with comments from the agent -- often harsh, but but insightful.

WriteOnCon has a page on Writing A Query Letter by author Jodi Meadows

Molli Nickell provides 25 REALLY Dumb Query Letter MistRakes and How to Avoid them

Friday, December 3, 2010

Market Research: Personal Connections

For the last two weeks, I've been discussing market research -- not just using a market guide, but studying the markets to find the best fit for your work.

Of course, it's hard to beat a personal connection. “A great way to make contact with editors, especially those that aren't generally open to submissions, is attending writers' conferences,” says Marni McNiff, editor of Book Markets for Children's Writers and Magazine Markets for Children's Writers. “Spending the extra money for a one-on-one chat with an editor can be invaluable to a writer.  It's their chance to jump from the slush pile, right into the editors hands.”

Some writers make a special effort to attend conferences hosting an editor they want to meet. Most editors will give extra attention to submissions from conference attendees, but the best way to catch an editor's eye is to sign up for a one-on-one manuscript critique or pitch session. You'll find out if the editor is interested in your work, and if so, the editor will keep an eye out for your submission.

Keeping Connections

Even if you don’t currently have a suitable submission, you might want to keep in touch if you make a personal connection with an editor. I met Mark McVeigh at a conference when he was an editor at Dutton. We had a good rapport, and continued to visit at conferences over the next few years. Some of my writing friends thought I should take advantage of the connection by sending him something—anything. But I was writing historical fiction and fantasy at the time, the two genres he dislikes.

Later, McVeigh moved to Simon & Schuster as Editorial Director at Aladdin. When I again saw him at a conference, he said he was looking for original paperback series. I had just finished one and quickly sent him the proposal and first manuscript. A month later, he called to express his interest in the Haunted series, and the series debuted in 2009 with The Ghost on the Stairs, quickly followed by The Riverboat Phantom and The Knight in the Shadows. In this case, networking paid off—but only because I waited until I had something he wanted, and didn’t waste an editor’s time with a string of inappropriate submissions, just because we had met. (When McVeigh founded his own literary agency, he e-mailed me asking if I wanted to become one of his first clients, so the relationship continues even as the specifics change.)

Edward Necarsulmer IV, Director of the Children’s Department at literary agency McIntosh and Otis, says that in order to maintain good relations, he is careful not to send submissions to the wrong editor. He typically sends picture books exclusively, and may send a novel to a handful of editors at a time. If you think your project is right for 50 different publishers, you’re not being realistic. Necarsulmer says, “Meeting with editors, reading the catalog, studying what’s out there, all leads to that ah-ha moment that this is right for a specific editor.”

EXERCISE: If your budget runs to attending a writing conference this year, check out the SCBWI website or other appropriate writing organization site, to see when and where they are holding conferences in the next year (SCBWI is working on the 2011 pull-out calendar for the Bulletin now). Some will already have the speakers listed. Do some research on those editors and agents to see if they might be a good fit for your work. If the closest conference doesn't sound appealing, look at neighboring states, or anywhere you have family and friends you might want to visit as a combined business/pleasure trip. Figure out the cost so you can start saving now.

TIP: The largest conferences aren't necessarily the best for networking. Though they may have more publishing professionals attending, your chances of meeting those people aren't as good. At a regional conference, you're more likely to be able to sign up for a critique with your preferred editor or agent, or to have a chance to chat with them over coffee or lunch. Plus, regional conferences are often more cost effective.