We Can't Hold a Gun to Their Heads

I have a question. How much can publishers do to get a book into DB and Seagull? I know they're picky about what books they will accept. At a minimum, what should I expect my publisher to do? What can I do to make sure it gets in those stores? My publisher is well-known. It's not like they're obscure or minute. Why aren't they doing more to get my book into the stores? It is my first novel, so I'm sure that has something to do with it, but don't they have a responsibility to try harder? Thanks

It is the publisher's responsibility to make every reasonable effort to sell your book. They’ve invested thousands of dollars into producing your book, they are going to do everything they can to get it into as many stores as possible—especially Deseret Book and Seagull. It would be stupid for them not to do so.

Here’s what a publisher can do:
We can send a free sample of the book and promotional materials to the buyer. We cannot force them to open the package or read the book.

We can go to trade shows and put on a dog and pony show advertising your book. We cannot accost them in the aisles, drag them into our booth, and make them listen to our spiel.

We can call them on the phone and talk to them or leave voice mail. We cannot make them talk to us. We cannot make force them to return our calls.

We can try to get a face-to-face appointment to talk to them. We cannot go camp out at their office and hold a hunger strike until they meet with us.

We can send letters, faxes and e-mails. We cannot prevent them from throwing those messages in the trash.

We can offer deeper discounts, special packages or better terms. We cannot use physical force, blackmail them or bribe them into placing an order.

We can run ads targeted to the reader to try to get them into the stores, but those ads are not always effective. (I just spent $250 on an ad that reached a six-figure customer count and it sold 5 books.) We cannot always get your book into Deseret Book or Covenant’s catalogs because those are often “by invitation only.” They are also extravagantly expensive and in my experience, not always successful. (The last DB ad I ran cost $900 and orders did not increase.)

I would guess that your publisher has already done/is doing most of these things. Now it’s just a matter of continuing to do them and hoping for the best. You can only contact a buyer so often before they become annoyed and start avoiding you.

There is very little you can do to get your books into these two stores. Contacting them yourself will work against you. Going into their stores and giving a free copy to the bookstore manager might help, if you’re professional and respect their time. (This means five minutes TOPS!) But it also may not help at all. I have a friend who is a DB manager who loves one of my new books, but DB corporate still hasn’t placed an order.

The best thing you can do to help is to create customer demand for your book. Get a website, blog, develop an e-mail list, advertise your book to the end customer as “available in most LDS bookstores.” If people are interested, they will start going into their local LDS bookstores and asking for the book. (How many friends and relatives do you have that would go into the store and special order a copy?) If enough stores are getting requests for a book, and forwarding those requests to corporate, DB and Seagull will move a little faster to order it.


Small Press Treated Like Ugly Step-Sister

I consider myself a small press, even though most of the books I publish are my own. Several of my titles sell well; in fact, one of them sells really well. My books have been in Deseret Book and Seagull stores, as well as in a lot of independents. I've had an LDS distributor for years, but I recently decided to self-distribute. Now Deseret Book won't even talk to me. They tell me I'm not big enough for them to bother with--even though they were ordering almost weekly from my distributor. I don't understand that. I'm starting to feel like the ugly step-sister.

This happens to a lot of smaller presses and self-publishers. As with so many other issues, a lot of it boils down to economics and the "economy of scale." There are certain overhead costs that are the same regardless of how many books are ordered--for example, the man-hours it takes to fax an order. Let's say you're ordering 100 titles. If a bookstore had to order all 100 titles straight from the author or publisher, that means 100 purchase orders, 100 faxes, 100 incoming invoices, 100 checks, etc. If they can order all 100 titles from the same distributor, that means 1 purchase order, 1 fax, 1 bill, 1 check.

Shipping costs are another example. The more you ship at one time, the less you pay per pound. So if a small bookstore orders 2 books from you, the cost to ship is about $1.25 per book. If they throw those 2 books on an order of 100 books, the cost per book to ship can be as low as 10-20¢ per book. Big difference in profit margin.

Many bookstores have a set of conditions that an author/publisher/distributor must meet, otherwise no matter how good the book might be, it isn't cost effective to deal directly with them. These conditions vary between stores, but a MINIMUM is usually 5-8 titles that "sell well." What "selling well" means varies from store to store too. Some bookstores will work with smaller companies, but will ask for special terms, such as a 50% discount or free shipping or both.

It's an uphill climb for the small publisher. I wish I had some better news or suggestions for you, but I don't. You could try expanding your product line, but that's going to increase the time you need to spend in your business which will take you away from future writing projects. And even if you have 40-50 books, you'll still have bookstores calling and asking "Why don't you go with a real distributor?"

Or you could do some concentrated marketing to boost the sales levels of your current books. If the public is going into the bookstores demanding the product, then the bookstores are usually going to work with you on some level. But advertising can be expensive and the most widespread is through the DB catalog (catch-22). Books 'n Things covers advertising through the independent stores. (I don't have contact info handy for them. Go into your local LDS independent bookstore and see if they have a Books 'n Things catalog you can look at.)

Last option, reconsider your decision to self-distribute.


Please Use Headers!

I would think this is common sense and it’s in almost every submission how-to guide I’ve ever read, but so many people don’t do this that I want to stress it here.

1. Put your name and abbreviated title in the header line of each and every page of your manuscript. For example, if your name is Jane Smith and your book is How LDSP Got Both Rich & Famous by Blogging, put Smith, J./LDSP Rich & Famous in the top left header of each page (unless your publisher requests you put it somewhere else).

2. USE automatic page numbering. Put them in the top right header of each and every page of your manuscript (unless your publisher requests otherwise). Start numbering consecutively from page one to page end-of-manuscript. Do NOT restart at page one at the beginning of each chapter.

This is why. Manuscripts stay in their boxes/envelopes at my office. I will often take a handful of pages (usually 1st three chapters) from several manuscripts home with me to read at night or over the weekend. This allows me to do a quick read and weed out the ones that aren’t what I’m looking for.

Although I am incredibly organized and coordinated, I have on occasion dropped these pages. Or they’ve spilled out of my briefcase. Or gremlins have come in the night and separated all the pages, scattering them amid my neat stacks of bills and grocery lists. Sometimes, I’ll pass these first three chapters around to various readers, who may or may not be as coordinated and organized as I am. It doesn’t happen very often, but when your pages get separated from each other or out of order, putting them back together is a potential nightmare.

It is extremely easy for you to include this header info on every page. Most software programs can do it automatically. Please file this post under "Publishers are human too" and go check right now to make sure all your manuscripts in progress have this header set up.



Was enjoying a leisurely catch-up on blog reading and came across this post. If you're doing NaNoWriMo, read this and this.

I have tried off and on all day to get these links to work and I don't know what I'm doing wrong. The first one is to www.accrispin.blogspot.com. Scroll down to her post on NaNoWriMo, dated 11/16.

The second is a comment posted by the NaNoWriMo people at www.misssnark.com
Scroll waaaay down to find it, titled Hey NaNoWRIMo--You're Doing the Right Thing!!!, dated 11/18.

Thanksgiving Wishes

Today is my last work day this week. I'm taking an extra personal day to spend time with family, so I won't be posting again until Monday. I thought I'd support the season by listing a few things I'm thankful for, in connection to the LDS publishing industry.

Despite its weaknesses and shortcoming and politics, I am thankful to work in an industry which at its core is dedicated to building the kingdom of God. Not many people can say that. And although few of us will ever get rich by creating and selling LDS books and products, I am grateful that I can feed my family by helping others. I would shrivel up and die if I had to spend my days making widgets.

I am so thankful that I'm in an industry where I can call my competition my friends. Most of us are not cut-throat, back-stabbing, get-ahead-at-others'-expense types of people. We genuinely care about others and are happy to help each other succeed. A lot of us believe that there is room for each of us in this industry. That we don't have to be better than everyone to succeed. We just need to produce good products that we believe in and bring them to the table. I've passed good manuscripts to other publishers and they've passed them to me. We look out for each other and help each other, for the most part.

I am thankful to be surrounded by good people who are striving to create solid books that will help, entertain and uplift others. It's sad when I have to reject a manuscript because I can see how earnest and sincere the author is. And I'm glad for that sadness because it reminds me how many good people there are in this world.

I am thankful to be in an industry where we pray over what we do. Authors pray over their words. Publishers pray over their products. Booksellers pray over their stores. That much prayer has to be doing good things.

Yes, I know that we are not the "Industry of Enoch" yet. There is strife and contention and backbiting and gossiping and cut-throat business dealings happening in the LDS publishing industry all the time. There are those who will take advantage of the weaknesses and ignorance of others. Unfortunately, I suppose there will always be that element--even in a gospel-centered industry. But compared to the other non-LDS publishing industries I've worked in, this one is like a little bit of heaven on earth.

And I am thankful to be part of it.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Sounding the Death Knell of the Yearly Sales Bell Curve

Things are slowing down at the office, which reminded me about the yearly sales cycles. And since I don't have any questions in the queue (SEND QUESTIONS!) I thought you might like to hear about this. I'll be speaking in generalities; there are always situations which don't follow this pattern, but over all, it's accurate industry wide.

The last quarter of the year is the largest for sales. Of course, it is. It's Christmas. But the big sales push of the last quarter ends about now--at Thanksgiving. Bookstores have spent their sales budget already and stocked up for the holiday rush. The only bookstore orders we will get between now and the end of the year is for restocking hot moving products. If your publisher/distributor has a retail site, they'll continue to do sales through the end of the year. If they don't, you're book sales are close to done for the year.

Even with the slow down after Thanksgiving, we do double the sales (or more) than we do any other quarter of the year. Which is a good thing because the first quarter of the year is DEAD, comparatively speaking. I try to plan all my voluntary time off between January and March. That's also when I'm most active at choosing submissions and getting new releases edited and typeset for the press.

Sales start to pick back up again in March, then build steadily until about the end of June. Then they drop off a bit because some bookstores will hold orders until the LDS Booksellers convention in August so they can take advantage of the deeper discounts and/or free shipping offered by most of the vendors. August sales are always good and then build again until Thanksgiving.

So what does this mean to you? Well, that's open to interpretation. Depending on your publisher/distributors marketing plan and push, this info can be used differently.

In my company, we never release a new book after mid-October because that won't give us time to get the word out well enough to get the Christmas sales. It's just the opposite for some of the bigger companies because they have the machinery in place to get the word out, do pre-sells, and have the general public salivating for the arrival of their new product. If I were DB or Covenant/Seagull, it would make sense to do releases in early December because that would get customers back into their stores for repeat trips during the Christmas buying season. And be honest, when you go into a bookstore, do you ever only leave with what you went in to get?

Smaller publishers without immediate access to a large retailer and public advertising have to figure in a longer press-to-shelf time. But the clock starts ticking* the moment the book is released. We've found it's better to schedule ahead of Christmas sales. For these same reasons, we also don't release any new books until March, to give the retail customer time to recover from the holiday-induced financial crisis.

This last quarter is the best time to schedule book signings (if you can get agreement from all parties involved) because it includes both October General Conference and Christmas.

*Typical productive life span of a book is 2 years, with the majority of sales happening in the first 6 months of release--this is especially true of fiction.


Are You Trying to Get Me Dooced?

An anonymous commenter believes they have discovered my secret identity. They left a few clues in their comment that certainly pointed to a particular company--and for that reason, I deleted the comment. I am not going to confirm or deny whether their suppostion is correct. That's all part of the fun of being anonymous. But I will say this--

"Ha-ha, smarty pants. You aren't half so clever as you believe yourself to be."

Just a few reminders to those who think de-cloaking me is a good thing:

1. I am anonymous to protect the integrity of the company I work for and the people I work with.

2. I often use real-life examples of issues and mistakes in this blog. I do it so NONE OF YOU WILL MAKE THOSE SAME MISTAKES! Were I and my company to be identified, I would not be able to do that.

3. Being anonymous allows me to speak a little more frankly about some of the bigger issues, like contracts.

4. If this blog ever interferes with my ability to function at work, or with a wrongly identified colleague's ability to do business, then I'll shut it down.

My goal with this blog is to be helpful, informative and fun. The minute it stops being those things, I'm out of here.

(Dooced--definition #1.)


Book Signings a la Mode

No, I don't mean serve ice cream at your book signing. I mean, if you're going to do a book signing, make it feel like ice cream.

About the comment that publishers don't want to make the effort to set up signings...uhm, yes and no. Here's the deal. Let's say we have 100 authors who all want to do a book signing tour (as in, half a dozen signings each) and they're scattered all over the U.S. If every bookstore we call says yes, that's 600 phone calls we have to make, at about 15-30 minutes each, so we're looking at 150 to 300 hours JUST TALKING TO THE BOOKSTORES!

But of course, they won't all say yes, so we have to call more stores. And then we have to call the author and make sure the dates we sign them up for are still good. And then we have to work out the details to get extra books ordered, offer a generous return policy, send out posters, flyers, reminder calls.

And if averages hold true, we're going to only sell a handful of books at each one.

So that's why publishers aren't super-hyped about setting up book signing tours and why, if you want one, you're going to have to do a lot of work yourself.

The exception to this is if the publisher can showcase a group of authors at the same signing--for example, getting a bookstore to do a book signing day where we have maybe a dozen or more authors show up throughout the day to do the signings. Then it becomes a party--ergo, the a la mode reference.

a la mode


The Truth About Amazon.com

What do you think about getting LDS books on amazon.com? Is this a good thing? Wouldn't it lead to a lot more sales?

A lot of people think that simply being on amazon.com gives them a better chance at selling their books. Other than the warm fuzzy feeling you get when you say, "Oh yes, you can get my book on amazon.com..." having your book on Amazon is really not going to be worth the trouble to the average LDS author/publisher. Here's why.

Amazon is not a bookstore. Having your book on the shelf at a store can lead to impulse sales because people browse at a store. They select a topic area, start at one end of an aisle, and drift down to the other end. If your book is on the shelf, it might get noticed. Someone might pick it up, flip through it, and decide to take it home with them.

People don't generally go to Amazon to browse. It's too big. They go looking for a specific title. While there, they might browse the first few pages of a topic area, but unless they are specifically looking for your book, they're not going to find it. Amazon ranks books by sales and being #76, 823 out of 77,851 in a topic area doesn't mean much. It doesn't get you face time with the consumer. If you're not in the top 100, they're not going to find you by browsing.

People who are looking for LDS books don't generally go to Amazon. They go to Deseretbook.com. It's smaller. You can browse there. If your book is 340 out of 750 in your topic area, your chances of getting noticed are a whole lot better.

The only time when getting on Amazon is helpful is if you can drive traffic to the site. If you have a cross-over title that's not specifically LDS (even if published by an LDS publisher) then Amazon makes sense because non-LDS readers may feel more comfortable going to a non-LDS site to get your book. You want to give them that option.

Now let's talk finances. I don't want to be a one-note Nora, but we've discussed print runs, cost per book, and profit margins before. In the LDS book world, standard wholesale discount is 40%. Amazon wants a yearly fee, plus 55% for their Advantage program. That's too much if your print run is under 10,000.

And just to give you an idea of exactly how well a title does when listed on Amazon, we listed Title A on Amazon because we were curious to see if this would be a good avenue for sales. After more than 5 years, we have sold exactly 1 copy. Per book income after Amazon's discounts: $6.73.

As opposed to over 120, 000 copies sold using other avenues (bookstores, conventions, retail sales, etc.). Average per book income after discounts: $9.46.

I think everyone can do the math on this one.

More on Book Signings

Here's an article on book signings. If you're going to do them, these are pretty good ideas.


Holiday Book Signings

My newest book was just released and I want to do a book signing tour to encourage shoppers to buy my book as Christmas gifts. I keep telling my publisher that I want to do this, and they keep saying it's a good idea, but so far, no signing dates. Why do you think my publisher is refusing to set up book signings for me?

[Deep breath] Having recently had this conversation with several of my authors, let me say first that publishers do not have the final say in scheduling book signings--unless your publisher is Deseret Book or Covenant, who have their own retail outlets and host signings for their own authors.

As a publisher, even if I thought a book signing tour was the very best way to boost holiday book sales (which I don't, but let's pretend I do), my opinion and enthusiasm won't do us a bit of good unless the book store owner/manager thinks so too. And most of them don't, because the simple fact is that the majority of LDS author book signings are lucky if they generate the sale of a dozen books. Most common scenario for a single author book signing is 2 to 3 hours of the author sitting behind a table trying not to look desperate while the bookstore customers avoid them like the plague.

Whether or not your publisher can convince a bookstore to host your signing depends on several things: how big the publisher is and what their reputation is; how big a discount your publisher can give the bookstore; how well your book is selling in the store; how well known you are/how many customers you can draw; how many other titles you have to your name; how much it is going to cost the publisher to get you there (are you expecting the publisher to pay travel expenses and per diem or are you footing the bill), etc., etc.

Also, book signings are not a bundle of joy for the bookstores. They have to create a space for you to sign, reroute floor traffic, stock extra books, return those they can't sell. A lot of bookstores just flat out don't want to be bothered.

Here are a few other scenario/issues:
1. The Utah/Idaho corridor is where the majority of LDS book sales occur. Most of the bookstores here are DB and Seagull stores who are promoting their own authors with holiday book signings. Yes, they will sometimes let other publishers bring authors to the party, but only if the book is a strong seller and/or they can't fill the slots with their own people. You get a better shot with some of the independent stores in this area, but not all of them will work with you if you're a small publisher, or if you're a lesser known author.

2. Bookstores outside UT/ID are generally smaller stores near a temple. Their bookstore traffic is based on temple traffic, meaning people come to the temple and then drop by the bookstore on their way home. Many of them get very little traffic during the week and are overcrowded on Saturdays. They don't want you getting in their way on Saturday and they don't think you can pull enough customers to make it worth their trouble on a weeknight.

3. Local to you, non-LDS bookstores or variety stores might be willing to host your book signing if you're very local or related to the manager, but they often want deeper discounts than your publisher can afford.

So to overcome that, you or your publisher have to be willing to create an offer they can't refuse. You have to fit in to their schedule. You have to be sure you can pull in customers. You have to be willing to do all the work yourself. Sometimes you have a better chance if you can get a group of authors to do a signing at the same place & time. But even if you and your publisher are willing to totally foot the expense of a launch party complete with advertising and door prizes, some bookstores will still turn you down.

My guess is your publisher is doing their best and just can't get the bookstores to agree. We can't really force them. If you are dead set on doing a signing tour, see if your publisher will consign you some books and try to set something up in your hometown, maybe at the local library or schools or service clubs. Do an event with 4 or 5 other local authors and talk about literacy, or writing, or something that has a literary appeal, then sell your books afterward. Most libraries and some schools will let you do that as a public service, especially if you donate a portion of your proceeds.


Why It Takes So Long to Get a Response to Your Query/Submission

This is so dead-on MY LIFE that instead of writing a post today, I'm linking to this one.

Go read it please.


Middle Readers & YA

Your post about LDS picture books was quite enlightening [thank you] (especially about the cost to the publisher). I have LDS picture books I purchased from years ago and the spines are barely cracked--the stories were a huge disappointment. (The only one I ever bought that was well-written was MY TURN ON EARTH.)

But there's more to children's lit than picture books. What about the market for middle grade and YA fiction? What's your perspective on
that? Do you see improvement? What's needed to make it better?

There are LDS romance/suspense authors whose books have sold in six-figure amounts. Still, it seems like the only successful books are the ones like the Foo series, which is not really LDS fiction and is published by an imprint of Deseret. Since it's not seen as LDS-themed, it seems to be doing well in the national market (Simon and
Schuster bought the paperback rights not long ago).

Good, good thread. I'm learning a lot!

This blog has taken me over an hour to write because you’ve unwittingly hit upon one of my soapboxes. I’ve deleted 4 pages of rant and here’s what you get:

My perspective on the LDS market for middle grade and YA fiction is that it stinks right now. While there is a huge need and demand for books at those age levels, there are not enough high quality submissions coming in to meet that demand.

Because it is more difficult to sell to this age group, snooty publishers, like myself, are refusing to accept submissions that don’t meet our high and lofty standards. Other publishers are taking mediocre manuscripts and hyping them up, which leaves many readers disappointed and less likely to buy again.

Yes, there are some shining examples out there now (Wiles, Dashner, Blair, to name a few), and yes, we are seeing a gradual improvement. But it’s not happening fast enough to suit me. I want more, MORE, MORE!! Quit reading this blog and go write some, now!

Seriously, I really would like to encourage any writers who are so inclined to write for this market. Books can make such an impression on young minds. We need a host of titles to compete with what’s out there nationally. When you look at what our kids are being exposed to, it just breaks my heart. They are reading books that are really funny, entertaining, thought provoking and well-written, but then they sneak immorality in through the back door. We so need to balance that with really funny, entertaining, thought provoking and well-written books that are CLEAN and that support our values.

If I were independently wealthy or had some serious investors, I’d leave the company I’m with in a heartbeat and launch an all-out search for quality LDS children’s/YA lit to publish. [deep sigh] If you happen to have a few hundred thousand dollars lying around and would like to contribute to this cause, contact me via e-mail and we’ll talk.

P.S. Since you mentioned Foo [Leven Thumps & the Gateway to Foo], yes, I was excited to see it come out. I thought it was a definite step in the right direction. But book 1 had its problems. My fingers just itched to lay my red pencil to it. Foo was good, but it could have been great. I don’t think it would be selling as well as it is if it weren’t for Harry Potter readers wanting something to fill in the wait between books in that series. I bought book 2, but it didn’t grab me right away. I put it down before I finished chapter 1 and I haven’t gotten back to it.


More Q's on Kid Lit

Two more questions about LDS children's lit:
As a writer who has ALSO sold artwork to magazines and private collectors, I want to thank you for your post. I've never submitted illustrations for a potential book and have just recently thought about combining my two talents. I found your information intriguing. [thank you] Do LDS publishers offer artist guidelines with such information as size, gutters, etc.? Is the demand for book art great enough in the LDS publishing world to have such guidelines?

I have not seen illustrator guidelines on any of the LDS publisher websites, but then, I've never really gone looking for them. I would expect you could find some general guidelines in the Children's Writers and Illustrator's Market or through an association like SCBWI . General guidelines will get you 95% of the way, and most of the time that's close enough.

As for LDS illustrator guidelines, as long as people were dressed modestly and behaving appropriately, I don't see that they'd differ much from anywhere else.

Hi there LDS Publisher!

Since you posted a question about children’s publishing, here’s another one for your comment:

What’s your take on the market for LDS-themed children’s books? Do you think there’s potential there that’s not being met (as in there could be more and/or better offerings)? Or, considering that the biggest share of the LDS market is focused on romance/suspense, do you think most writers prefer to write where the money is since authors can make more money writing for the majority of buyers (which are women)?

Thanks a bunch—and I enjoy reading your blog! [thank you]

First, I must qualify my answer to these questions:

1. My professional specialty is not picture books, so I'm not on top of that market.

2. I have a huge collection of picture books, very few are LDS. I bought most of them when my children were younger and there just weren't that many good LDS picture books out there then. I've bought some in the past few years and the quality of the story and the artwork are getting better, but I just haven't seen any that I absolutely go bananas over. (Admittedly, I have not looked at a lot of what's out there now, so I may have missed a trend.)

I would like to see more LDS themed picture books that are well-written and well-illustrated. In the history of my motherhood, I have rarely purchased LDS picture books because either the story is too heavy handed (think "morality tales") or too sappy, or the illustrations were just not appealing to my eye. There are very few LDS picture books out there that are "equally yoked" in story line and illustration. Rachel Nunes' two picture books come close, but I thought the illustrations were stronger than the story.

Given that, yes, I think there is a huge potential there that is not currently being met. I wanted LDS picture books when my kids were young, and I couldn't find them. I have family and friends with young children now who have complained to me that they can't find enough LDS picture books that they like. So, I think the market is there. The question is, is the market big enough?

Children's picture books in a small niche market (like LDS) are high risk for a publisher. Because they're full-color throughout and hardback, they are very expensive. Some companies just don't want to take the risk. But if the right combination of story and illustrations were to show up in my slush pile, I'd think about it long and hard.

And yes, the majority of LDS book buyers are women and yes, they want romance. But most of these women also have children in their lives (their own, grandchildren, nieces, nephews...), so I think if some high quality LDS picture books showed up on bookstore shelves, these women would buy them.


Illustrating Picture Books

[If your calendar says it's still Monday, then don't read this! It's Tuesday's post. I will be in meetings and away from my computer all day tomorrow. I'm putting you on the honor system to come back tomorrow and read this one! :) ]

Hello, LDS Publisher!
I have a question for you, since you're running a little low.

I have a friend who has written a childrens story in poetry form, and it is awesome. I have a fabulous idea for illustrating it - and I think (hope desperately) that she would let me submit it as a complete work.

I hear, though, that authors and illustrators don't get to choose each other. If this book was submitted as text and illustration together, what are the chances it would stay that way?

Thanks, by the way, for answering questions like these! (You're very welcome.)

For a picture book, the illustrations are just as important (honestly, more so) than the story line. I've seen great stories with illustrations that killed the book. No one would even pick them up to read them because the illustrations were really bad or simply boring. On the flip side, there are picture books with mediocre stories that sell well because the illustrations are so delightful.

Because illustrations are so crucial to the book's sales, publishers choose them. Just as an author has little to no control over the title, layout or cover design of their book, they rarely have control over the illustrator. They may have input, but that's generally the best they can hope for--unless they are illustrators themselves and do the work for their own book. But even then, that's a risk. I've had submissions where the author insisted that they illustrate their own work and I've rejected them because although the story was good, the illustrations were really bad.

Of course, there are exceptions to the "publisher chooses the illustrator" rule. You have Don and Audrey Wood who write and illustrate together. Sonja (mother) and Paul (son) Linsley are an LDS picture book team that work well together (but I believe the Linsley's are self-publishers, so that puts them in a different category).

Although the chances are not good that a publisher would keep your illustrations with your friend's story, you can try and see what happens.

Here are a few suggestions for increasing your chances:

1. If you are a professional illustrator and have past experience illustrating picture books, or creating art work for book covers, have your friend briefly mention this in her query and include a website where the publisher can see samples.

2. I don't know anyone who has rejected a picture book because someone included illustrations. I do know plenty who have accepted the book and rejected the illustrations. But since there might be someone who would fly into an irrational rage if illustrations were included, read submission guidelines on the publisher's website. If they say absolutely, positively do not submit illustrations, then don't do it. However, if they don't say anything about it, take a chance and send the first two illustrations--1 color, 1 black & white. (Send copies, not the originals.)

3. Do not submit any more than the first two illustrations without an offer from the publisher. It would be a waste of time and effort and might lead the publisher to think it was an all or nothing submission.

4. Have your friend make it clear in her query that she is submitting the story and that your enclosed illustrations are simply samples of what she could get if the publisher would like her to find an illustrator.

5. There is always the slim possibility that the publisher will like your illustrations and hire you to do something else, even if they don't want to use your work for your friend's book. I've done that before.

Bottom line: If your friend is agreeable, take a chance and see what happens, but don't get your hopes up.

Where to Spend Your $20

I have a writer friend who says he plans to start hiding $20 bills in his manuscripts as a test to see if the editor is really reading it. He's going to note exactly what page he tucked that bill into and if it hasn't moved when the manuscript returns, he will know it wasn't even read. What do you think about that?

He may call it a test, I call it a bribe--and it is a silly idea on so many levels.

1. Ethical editors will not accept money like this. So if he gets his manuscript back with the money removed, all he's done is found someone he shouldn't do business with. If I were to get a submission with a $20 tucked between the pages, it would stay right there exactly as I found it. I'd also stop reading when I found it and reject the manuscript. I refuse to work with someone who a) doesn't trust me; and b) thinks this is appropriate and professional behavior.

2. Most rejected manuscripts DON"T get read all the way through. Many, many times I can tell within the first couple of pages that it's not what I'm looking for. Why would I bother to read any more? I am looking for manuscripts to publish. I am not a free reading service.

3. Assuming I do read all or even most of the manuscript, does your friend think it stays all nice and neat in the box or envelope as I read it? No. I grab a chunk of papers and take it with me--to the doctor, parent-teacher conferences, running errands, etc. A $20 bill could easily fall out without my even noticing it.

4. He better make sure he includes a SASE for the return manuscript. If he doesn't, and I don't read far enough to find the money, the manuscript goes into the trash bin--$20 and all.

5. Has he never heard of things getting lost in the mail? Packages getting damaged and opened?

Tell your friend that his $20 would be far better spent on a subscription to Writers Digest magazine.


Running Hot and Cold

About a year ago I submitted a manuscript to a publisher who seemed very excited about it. They assigned me some rewrites and we agreed I'd work on them for the next 6 months or so and then resubmit the changes this fall. But when I contacted them about resubmitting, suddenly they're not so excited anymore. If fact, I think I was just politely told, "Thanks, but no thanks."

I don't understand what happened? If it was timing, why didn't they tell me they wanted it sooner? Now what do I do with this manuscript?

So many things can happen in six months. Maybe the market changed and sales for books that are similar to yours dropped. Maybe their competition published something that was just too similar to it. Maybe the person who was really behind your book left the company and the person replacing them is just lukewarm. Maybe there's someone new in the budgeting department and they've decided the numbers aren't right.

All of these things are out of your control--and you will probably never know which of these reasons apply to your situation. But one thing you do know: at some point, an editor or publisher really liked your work. That's the silver lining. So take a deep breath. Do your best imitation of Doris Day singing, "Que sera, sera." Then move on.

What do you do with your manuscript? Send it to another publisher.


Halloween Story Contest Winners

Comments only counted as a vote if they specifically stated a variation of "I vote for this one." Nice chatty comments without a clear vote indication did not count.

We have a two-way tie between
Entry #1 submitted by Ghost Writer
Entry #3 submitted by FHL.

If Ghost Writer and FHL want to identify themselves, feel free to do so--either in the comments trail, or let me know via e-mail the name you want posted and I'll update the posts.