Last Day to Send Pitch

Today is the last day to send a pitch for the January Pitch contest. I'll start posting the pitches and my comments tomorrow. So far, I have five.


Slush & Art

I love to read (as opposed to everyone else who reads your blog), and want to know what a slush pile reader is. Sounds like an interesting job.

Also, my [friend] is an artist currently illustrating for a column for the [XYZ] newspaper (just so you know someone else would call him an artist too.) and is interested in doing the art on the book covers. Are the book cover designs submitted by the author, or does the publisher supply it? Who would he contact, or how would he get involved in this branch of the business?

Slush Pile Reader -- A slush pile is a stack of unsolicited manuscripts. A slush pile reader is someone who reads through those manuscripts and pulls out any that look interesting. Generally, these readers are employees or assistants. Some companies may hire out the reading. Slush readers are often paid in book copies, rather than with real money. To be considered as a reader, you need to know someone in the company who will recommend you as a judicious and discriminating reader.

Book Covers -- The author gets little to no say in the book cover design. Some publishing companies (big ones) have an in-house designer, but most of them outsource that work. I have two or three artists that I work with on cover designs, but I'm always keeping my eye open for new ones. Designing book covers requires more than the ability to draw well. This is the book's #1 marketing tool, so some knowledge of marketing and industry trends is needed. You also have to be able to create and manipulate everything in a digital format. Any experience as a graphic designer will help.

Put together a portfolio and a resume. Experience counts for a lot. If he's never done book covers before, have him create a few as samples. Then contact the publishing company and ask how to submit your portfolio for consideration. Some companies might want to see hard copies, others will want you to e-mail it to them.


If You're Already Published...

If you're already published or you have a book scheduled for release, you might want to read this article.

It has some great tips for promoting your book.


5 Things Jeff Savage Wants to Know About Me

I got tagged over on Six LDS Writers and A Frog. I think Jeff is trying to trip me up so that I'll accidentally reveal myself in this exercise. But I'm betting I can come up with 5 absolutely honest and truly revealing things about me that no one knows without giving myself away. Let's see...

1. I have about 47 log-in name and password combinations that I use online. I never can remember which ones I've used at which place, so it takes me almost 5 minutes to log in everywhere. Which may explain why I feel like I never get anything done.

2. My secret wish is to be strong enough to hit a man in the face and make him cry. Nothing against men in general, I've just never been very strong and most men laugh hysterically when I hit them.

3. I currently have 29 novels in progress, some of which I've been working on for over 27 years.

4. When I'm bored, I plan what I would do differently if I suddenly had $350 million tax-free dollars. I justify this by saying I am creating it spiritually, so that it can someday be created physically. Also that if I come up with a good enough plan, God might actually give it to me.

5. I absolutely hate these tagging games (and chain letters, and dish towel clubs, and recipe games) and I refuse to tag anyone. So this leg of the game stops here. Sorry. But if you'd really like to participate, you can list your 5 Things in the Comments.


LDS YA in the National Market

If we look toward the national market, do you recommend we de-LDS the story (keep it clean and have morals, but no overt "Mormon-ness")or do you think the national market would be open to LDS stories with LDS characters? Maybe it would help demystify our religion (some are still convinced we practice polygamy, etc.).

Okay, I should know this and be able to spout off a list of nationally published YA books that have LDS characters, but I can't so help me out. Kristen Randle's Slumming published by HarperCollins is one. And Charlotte's Rose by A.E. Cannon, published by Wendy Lamb Books. (Although, that's more of a middle grade book.) Orson Scott Card's Lost Boys features an LDS family, but given the subject matter, I think that's more of an adult book than YA. What else?

I mention those to show that national market YA with LDS characters is not unheard of but it's also not very common. If that's your plan, I'd suggest that you first publish a non-LDS YA book. If it's successful, then talk to your agent about publishing LDS books. You can go straight for the YA with LDS characters, but I'm thinking that's going to be a tough first sell.

Someone disagree with me and tell me it will be easier than I expect it will be. Please.


Publishing YA

A few more comments on publishing YA:
  1. Several of you have posted that you buy lots of YA books and so do your kids. Of course you do! And so do I. I probably buy upwards of 50 YA titles a year—and I don’t have any YA readers at home anymore. The reason? We’re writers—and readers, and so are our children. The people who read this blog are not a true representation of the book buying habits of the average American family.

  1. Scholastic is a great place to buy YA books at reasonable prices. However in most families, once the youngest child in a family moves beyond middle school into the upper grades, the true YA age group, they no longer have easy access to Scholastic book sales. You can still order them online, or watch for the posters at the local elementary school, but it takes an extra effort and most people do not make that effort.

  1. In my opinion, one of the reasons LDS writers are doing well in the national YA market is because their books are cleaner. So many national YA titles contain graphic violence and sexuality, encouraging teens to participate in pre-marital sex and other inappropriate behaviors. As LDS writers, most of us do not include that in our books. Sometimes there is pressure to do so, but we can stand up to that. There is a whole host of non-LDS parents and readers who want well-written YA without the trash. So yes, if you’re writing YA and the LDS publishers are saying, “Great story, we just can’t publish it right now…” go national. Or skip us small potatoes and go national in the first place.


Professionalism in the Face of Rejection

I recently had to reject a couple of very good projects for reasons other than quality of the writing. I hate it when I have to do that. I wish I had a budget that would allow me to publish every good manuscript that came across my desk. Sigh.

Most of the time, I do not receive a response when I reject a manuscript. I really do not expect, or even want, a response. But these were unique cases where I talked to them on the phone because I wanted to make sure they knew that they had a top-rate submission and it was my lack of resources and not their writing that was causing me to reject.

Both of these authors were very, very professional in their interaction with me—polite, friendly, understanding. They didn’t fawn or suck up, but spoke to me intelligently and confidently. One of them mentioned some selling points for their book, that perhaps I had overlooked. I hadn’t, but that was fine. The tone was very professional and it was obvious they understood the industry.

Both authors made a big impression. Will I remember them? You bet! Will I recognize their names on future submissions? Certainly! Will I grab their submission off my slush pile and read it ahead of everything else? Absolutely!

As opposed to a few others who have sent me nasty letters and e-mails because I rejected them. Or those who have made it clear that I’ve just made the biggest mistake of my professional career and now they’re moving on to make some other publisher rich beyond their wildest dreams. I’ll remember them too—as people who are mean and unprofessional and have no clue what they’re talking about. These are authors I probably do not want to work with even if they sent me the next DaVinci Code.


YA Hard to Sell

Hi! Great blog. (Thanks)

Here's my question: I've spent the past year submitting my YA to LDS publishers. Every rejection I've received said the same thing - that YA is a hard sell in the LDS market right now. Why is this? YA seems to be hotter than ever in the national market.

Thanks in advance.

YA is a harder sell for a variety of reasons (these are generalities, not specific cases):

1. Adults buy books; teens do not. Teens buy music or clothes or food. Most teens who read get their books from the library. If a teen owns a book it is usually a gift from an adult or something they really, really love and want to re-read.

2. Teens who read are voracious. While a parent will spend money to support their own reading habit (feeling they will keep the book and read it multiple times), they don't want to spend the same on kids who will read a book in a day and then be done with it. It would break the family budget to keep the kids in reading material.

3. Teens who don't read rarely make it past chapter 1. Parent won't invest in a book that may or may not be read. Since most parents are not a good judge of what their kids will want to read, it makes the investment even more risky.

4. Most LDS YA books are a one-time read--a pleasant story, but not something that is going to grab the teen reader and make them want to keep it and read it multiple times. We don't have any classics yet, nothing on the level of Lord of the Rings or Dune or Enders Game. (Yes, I like fantasy, so those are the titles that immediately pop into my mind. I'm sure you can think of many others.) Think of it like DVDs. We buy the ones we love and know we'll watch over and over again. We rent the ones that we think we'll only want to watch once or twice.

5. It costs the same amount to publish a YA book as it does an adult book. Given #1 above, all things being equal, you will sell two or three times as many adult books as you will the YA book.

YA may be selling better than ever nationally, but adult fiction still outsells YA fiction on a national level--and for the same reasons as listed above. This will always be the case. Think of the last 10 books you purchased (not counting Christmas gifts). How many were for your teens and how many were for you?

The good news is that the LDS market runs parallel but a little behind the national market. Trends you see there will eventually show up here. The bad news is that in a small, niche market like ours, an uptrend in YA may be so small it won't even be noticed.


Saying "No Thanks" to Author Assisted Publishing

Do these publishers advertise the part about "assisting" in the costs? Or, is it just common knowledge? If you're offered a contract with one of these publishers on the condition that you "help" financially, is it bad form to pass on the offer since the LDS market is so small?

I don't think any of them advertise that they offer author assisted publishing. If you're interested, you may need to ask them. In our company, we don't mention it unless the author has indicated that they might be interested in self-publishing.

No, it is not bad form to say no thanks to this type of offer. You don't have to accept any offer you don't like. Here's the thing--everyone knows you're going to make a decision based upon what's best for you. Author assisted publishing is not your best option and should only be considered if all other avenues are closed. Publishers know this. If you want to publish traditionally and you still have options elsewhere, explore them. If you later determine that you've exhausted all traditional methods for publishing your book, you can always go back to the publisher who made the offer and see if they're willing to re-open negotiations.

And don't worry about intra-industry gossip lessening your chances of being accepted by publisher B if you turn down an assisted offer from publisher A. First, we probably wouldn't know that you'd taken a pass on the offer because we don't generally sit around and talk about who turned US down. Second, even if we did know, it wouldn't be a negative. Depending on who made the offer to you, it might even work in your favor. But I wouldn't include the fact that you passed on the offer in your query to other publishers. It's not good form.


January Pitch Contest

January Pitch Contest is closed. Check back later for another contest.

Send me your pitch for an LDS novel. The pitch is the part of your query letter that lets me know what your book is about, who the characters are, the situations they're facing, the hook that would get me to read it. I will post more about what makes a good pitch during this month.

Rules for the contest:
  • The pitch should be for your original unpublished novel (as in, not something you've heard about; not something your friend is working on, not something that's already published).
  • Do not send a pitch for a work that has been entered or queried in a previous contest on this blog.
  • The novel does not have to be finished to pitch it in this contest because you won't be submitting it to me.
  • No limit on word count, but keep in mind that most good pitches are shorter rather than longer.
  • You may pitch as many novels as you like but send a separate e-mail for each one.
  • You may send your pitch(es) at any time during the month of January. E-mail must be dated no later than January 31, 2007.
  • I will not post submissions as they arrive, but will save them up and post them during the first week of February--with my comments.
  • Should a miracle happen and I become deluged with pitches, I will post the first 100 pitches that I receive.
  • Everyone who enters the contest wins the prize. The prize is: my commentary on your pitch. I will tell you if your pitch would be successful with me, and why or why not.

Christmas Story Contest Winners

I've put a few comments on each of the stories--my two cents worth on whether they are publishable. There was a two-way tie on the Readers Choice, but that worked out nicely because one of them was also the winner that I chose.

Publisher's Choice:

Christmas Story #4--I Believe in Santa Claus

Readers Choice:
Christmas Story #1--Christmas on Mars

If you want to take credit for your story, either post your name in the comments trail or send me an e-mail with the name you're writing under and I'll update the post.

"Author Assisted" Publishing

I have a question about the smaller Mormon presses. I believe in years past some of the books Cedar Fort published were "author assisted", that is the author paid for some of the costs of publication. Do you know if Cedar Fort still does that? And do any of the others--Granite, Spring Creek, etc, do it?

I moved this from the comments trail on another post because I think it's a good topic for discussion. It comes up every once in awhile and people usually have strong feelings about it.

Yes, Cedar Fort does it. I think Granite does too. Some other smaller presses do it, but aren't very vocal about it. My company has done it once or twice.

There is a thin line between "author assisted" publishing and vanity press, and it all depends on how the publisher handles it. I've blogged about it before here and here.