Posts Tagged ‘children’s books’

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Children need books

June 1, 2011

I read some really troubling news today. In the U.K., three out of every 10 children do not own any books — none! No bookcases in their bedroom with Where the Wild Things Are, The Little Prince, Harry Potter… No parents reading to them before they go to bed. I hope they at least borrow books at a library.

As a children’s book writer, this doesn’t look good for my future financial prospects, but that’s not why it’s troubling. I feel for these kids. They don’t know what they’re missing. I couldn’t imagine my childhood without books. They were my escape when I needed help. Books gave me confidence. The characters were my friends. They were always there for me. And my love of books then has shaped the person I am today.

According to the Guardian‘s report on the U.K.’s National Literacy Trust’s survey, not owning books is potentially damaging to children. Here’s a quote:

Children who did not own books were two-and-a-half times more likely (19%) to read below their expected level than children who had their own books (7.6%), and were also significantly less likely (35.7%) to read above their expected level than book-owning children (54.9%).

And here’s another:

Children who don’t own books “are less likely to have positive experiences of reading, less likely to do well at school and less likely to be engaged in reading in any form,” according to the research. “It is not a case of books being irrelevant now technology has superseded printed matter,” wrote the National Literacy Trust’s researchers Christina Clark and Lizzie Poulton. “Children with no books of their own are less likely to be sending emails, reading websites or engaging with their peers through the written word on social networking sites. Children who grow up without books and without positive associations around reading are at a disadvantage in the modern world.”

The Guardian‘s report says the problem is worse with boys, where 4 in 10 books don’t own books.

Parents are to blame. They set the standard for their children. They are the primary gift buyers.

Couldn’t books be thrown in with the Xbox games? Books are much less expensive. And what are parents reading to their kids before bedtime? The newspaper? It’s sad to think these children are missing out on that bedtime tradition.

But there is something we can all do to stop this problem — because I’d be willing to bet there are similar numbers in the U.S. too. Whenever we’re buying gifts for children, our own or friends’, buy them books.

How did books help you when were a kid?

Write On!

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Interview with new agent Bree Ogden

April 23, 2010

Manuscript update: Terrible! Yesterday was the first day I have worked on my new book in two weeks. I’ve been busy with http://www.discdish.com. But, who am I kidding, I’ve also been just a little — ok a lot — intimidated by this story. My first two novels are plot-driven adventures, but this is a quiet tale, character-driven. I wrote 3,000 words and felt great, like the book was flying out of my, until I realized that I was just rushing toward the major plot points and missing all the character. So, I jumped into Disc Dish, made an excuse that I was too busy to write, and got miserable. So, Tuesday night, I stayed up late and did research. I found the character, or more of him. And, as I really am busy with Disc Dish, on Wednesday night, I set my alarm for 4am and dragged myself out of bed at 5 to write. I did that this morning too, and I feel better. Still intimidated, but better that at least I’m moving forward.

More on that next week, when I resolve to also get back to reading all the blogs in my Google Reader and posting regularly to DayByDayWriter.

Today, though, we have a special treat.

Literary agent Bree Ogden

Bree Ogden

In my last post, I wrote that Martin Literary Management has a new associate agent, Bree Ogden. I emailed Bree and asked if she’d like to answer a few questions so we could get to know her a little better, and she graciously said yes. Here are her answers:

Please tell us a little about your background with books and publishing.

Actually my trained background is in journalism. I have a lot of experience in publishing from a journalism angle. I was very involved in the publication of my university’s newspaper, and later, I was involved in the publication of the magazine and newspapers I worked on during my masters. But for the past 7 months, I have been immersed in the books and publishing world while training under Sharlene Martin at MLM.

In your bio on the Martin Literary Management website, you say your 16 nieces and nephews inspired you to represent children books. First, wow, you must have a big family. 🙂 Second, what about them made you want to handle children’s books?

I feel like I should send you a picture of them, or an audio clip of their cute little voices. I’m telling you, these are the most perfect children on this earth. I want them to become wise, intelligent, independent, imaginative, creative free thinkers as they grow up. It’s my belief that books have a strong influence on those characteristics. So I represent children’s books because I want to be a small part of what inspires children.

What were your favorite books when you were growing up?

The Berenstain Bears. Loved those! I loved LOVED books about dinosaurs. Any dinosaur book I could get my hands on was a favorite. A Bargain for Frances by Russell Hoban…such a great one. Also, The Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl. Oh! And those books about the weird crazy school…Sideways Stories From Wayside School. (This is a nice trip down memory lane.) As I got a little bit older, I really enjoyed dystopian books. I loved The Giver by Lois Lowry and Anthem by Ayn Rand.

And what are some of the books you have read recently?

I just finished Wuthering Heights for the third time. I’ve been reading Eating the Dinosaur by Chuck Klosterman (best pop culture journalist ever). And I am continually making my way through The Walking Dead graphic novel series. Next up on my reading list is Sterling’s Illustrated Classics. Check them out. They have turned classics like Dorian Gray, The Trial, and Crime and Punishment into graphic novels. That’s epic in my mind.

On to agenting, what do you like best about the job so far? And what do you dislike the most?

My job is pretty awesome. What I like best about it is being surrounded by talent every second of the day. Of course, I can’t take on every writer that queries me, but I am profoundly stunned at the amazing queries I get. I love working with my clients. I have a great set of clients who are so dedicated to what they do. It’s incredible. I dislike having to turn down a query. That’s no fun at all. But I love the fact that every day I wake up, and I have no idea what awesome possibilities are waiting for me.

What kind of an agent are you? Do you work with your clients on an editorial basis?

I would say that I am a very involved agent. Of course, I make editorial suggestions, but mostly, I won’t take something on unless I love it. Which means there isn’t much editorial work for me to be doing. But I am the agent that my client needs me to be. Agenting is different with every client.

Communication-wise, do you prefer phone or email, and how often do you like to be in touch with clients?

Email is so great. But I do love a good phone conversation. Sometimes you just need to hash stuff out on the phone and not deal with the back and forth waiting of email. I have a client in Ireland currently, and it has been a different experience working solely through email. I like to be in touch with my clients pretty often when we first get the ball rolling. It is very important to always be on the same page.

What do you look for in a query letter and what turns you off?

I like a good creative query letter. I work with creative genres, so show me that you are creative through your letter…without trying too hard. That’s never good for anyone. I hate when the writer will tell me everything BUT the plot of the book. Sometimes they beat around that bush like it’s on fire…and I’m left wondering what the heck the premise is?

And same for a manuscript? What are your pet peeves, what do you love and what would make you stop reading?

Well…obviously bad writing would make me stop reading. If I can tell that the story is moving too slowly or isn’t going anywhere, I’ll stop. Also, character development is very important. I’ll stop reading if there is poor character development. And just like any book, I love a manuscript that won’t let me put it down. I love it when I can tell that the writer knows exactly what the premise or agenda of the book is, and I can see it in the writing.

Are there any particular styles (commercial or more literary) or genres you prefer?

Well, I rep Graphic Novels, Children’s and YA novels. So those are the genres I prefer. As far as styles…I like darker plots…think Dexter. Especially in graphic novels. I am quite obsessed with Grimm’s Fairy Tales, so if a writer could pull that sort of style off, I would love that too. I love highly unique books. Books like the Fancy Nancy series. My 3-year-old niece actually used the word “posh” because of a Fancy Nancy book. And, of course, supernatural elements always make for a fun read. Caveat: I do not like vampires and I do not like werewolves.

And finally, what advice would you have for a writer who’s trying to find an agent?

Do your due diligence. Make sure you are sending your query to an agent who reps your genre. Learn about the agency. Know their policies. And make sure your project is ready to be read. Sharlene Martin, owner of Martin Literary Management, co-wrote a fantastic book with author Anthony Flacco entitled ‘Publish Your Nonfiction Book.’ Granted, it is geared toward nonfiction writers, but it gives fabulous tips on how to score an agent and fabulous stories of horrifying faux pas.

Thanks so much, Bree. Great answers.

You can find out more about Bree at her blog, This Literary Life (love the title), and on Twitter.

So, Day By Day Writers, if you think Bree will be a good fit for you and your book, polish up your query letter, get creative, and send it her way.

Write On!

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Interview with agent Mandy Hubbard

March 26, 2010

Revision update: I’m done! Yay! Now I have to perfect my query letter.

Mandy Hubbard headshot

Mandy Hubbard

Today, I’ve got an interview with author and literary agent Mandy Hubbard. Mandy recently joined D4EO Literary, representing authors of middle-grade and teen fiction. She’s also the author Prada & Prejudice, You Wish and other novels that aren’t on shelves yet. Mandy’s submission guidelines are here.

Thanks for joining us, Mandy. First, congratulations on your young adult books. They’re such great, fun ideas. What do you like best about writing and why did you choose young adult books?

I didn’t really choose YA, not on purpose. I signed my first agent based on a project about four girls in their early 20s — I was 23 at the time, so it made sense. She told me my voice would work better for YA, so I switched it around. I’ve never looked back since!

My favorite part of writing constantly changes. I just did the very last proof read for YOU WISH, my August 5th release. So right now that’s my favorite part — the part where it’s done and sparkly and I love it. At other times, the idea/fast-drafting stage is the best. I guess I just love it all!

Before becoming a literary agent, you interned at The Bent Agency. What attracted you to agenting and what do you love about it?

Even as an author, I’ve always been fascinated by the industry/business side of things. I’ve been active in the submissions process of my own books for years, and my agent was the first to tell me that I’d make a good agent myself. The wheels started turning, and when an opportunity to intern for The Bent Agency fell into my lap, I jumped on it. Interning really confirmed for me that I wanted to become an agent.

I love that I get to work with truly talented authors. It’s really amazing to fall in love with a project and then be able to work with the person who created it. I’m very editorial and have done rather extensive revisions with a few people, but getting to the end product — something amazing and fast paced and exciting — is so worth it.

Having to write a query letter is one of those groan, oh no, moments for a writer. How did you deal with it as a writer and what do you look for in a query letter as an agent?

Don’t throw sticks at me, but I always liked writing query letters. In fact, I even wrote them for my projects after I had an agent. I love boiling down my projects into 3 paragraph pitches that hit on the most exciting parts of the book.

From an agent’s stand point, the most important part of your query is the story pitch. I need to love the concept above all else. If you have writing credentials or a compelling reason for querying me specifically, great, but if I don’t love the pitch than the rest doesn’t matter.

How do you think your writing background helps you as an agent?

It’s helped in more ways than I could have imagined. I’m familiar with a lot of editors — either becuase I’ve met them, worked with them, or my friends are edited by them — and it has helped immeasurably at making the connections I’ll need to sell my client’s works. Further, I’ve gone through revisions with my publishers many times now, and it has helped me hone my writing skills — skills I turn around and use when working with my clients. I’ve become more analytical in my approach to books and I feel like the projects I put into the world are going to be that much stronger.

What do you look for in potential clients and how do you expect to work with clients? Will you be an editorial agent? Do you email or call?

The story and the writing is absolutely #1. I think a lot of people get frustrated and think you need to “know someone” or have some secret handshake to get an agent. All of my clients came to me through the slush pile, and I’ve never met any of them in person (yet).

And yes, I’m certainly an editorial agent. I work with my clients both via email and on the phone. I always chat with them on the phone before offerering representation — it’s important we have the same vision for the project and will be happy working together.

On this blog, I discuss how to be an unpublished writer trying to balance writing between a day job, family and everyday life. How do you make time to write?

It’s hard, that’s for sure. I’m lucky to be prolific and a really fast typer, so the time I get is very productive. I’ve always said if you want something bad enough, you’ll make it happen. If that means staying up late or working while you’re eating your lunch, then that’s the sacrifice you make. No one said it was going to be easy — but boy is it worth it!

Other than your own books, what are your favorite book or books you have read recently that you couldn’t put down?

I have to say, there were so many debut authors in 2009 whose books really impressed me — A Match Made in High School, Hate List, The Forest of Hands and Teeth, The Season… I could go on and on. It’s a great time to be a debut YA author!

Any advice for writers wanting to query you or for people who want to become a literary agent?

It’s important to understand what goes into a good query and how to write one. Spend time on Google, if neccessary, to understand how it is written. I see a lot of queries that are so far off of the norm, I can tell they haven’t spent their time doing research.

In terms of becoming an agent, it’s all about experience, so find an internship.

Finally, I noticed you’re using a pen-name for your new books with Flux. Why is that?

I write highly commercial books for Razorbill/Penguin — lighter books with big concepts. But I also write darker, more literary work that is driven more by the voice and characters than the plot. My agent and I had a long talk about the best way to handle this. My career goal is to write/release two books per year. By doing a pen name and dividing the two brands, it allows me to build two careers at the same time and have a faster release schedule. Pen-names are something to be discussed with your agent, and I’ll work with my clients on deciding what works best for them.

Thanks, Mandy! Great advice.

One of my fabulous readers pointed me to a guest post Mandy did for the Bent Agency’s blog in December. In it, Mandy discusses the rejections she went through before she finally got her first book published. It’s a wonderful story, and very inspirational. Message: Don’t give up! I second that. Check it out.

Write On!

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New agent and how to make the most of conferences

March 25, 2010

Revision update: Chapter 28 out of 30. The rework idea I had for that chapter I was working on worked. Phew! Got three chapters to go to finish.

First up today, news of a new agent. Former Delacorte Press/Random House Children Books editor Marissa Walsh has opened Shelf Life Literary, a boutique agency specializing in pop culture, humor, narrative non-fiction, memoir and children’s books. Marissa’s publishing career also includes working at Nan A. Talese/Doubleday and Ellen Levine Literary Agency. Marissa also wrote the comic memoir Girl With Glasses: My Optic History and the young adult novel A Field Guide to High School and teaches children’s writing at Gotham Writers Workshop. Good to check out.

Also, I’m guest posting today at writer Jordan McCollum‘s blog. The post is about writing conferences, how to choose the ones to attend, how to prepare and how to make the most of the conference once you’re there. The post will be put up this afternoon, so check it out.

Finally, come back here to DayByDayWriter tomorrow for an interview with new literary agent Mandy Hubbard.

Write On!

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Agent Sara Crowe on finding the right agent

February 28, 2010

Revision update: Got three chapters done today. On chapter 26 of 30. My goal was to finish by tomorrow and I don’t think that will happen. Sigh. But I’ll finish it next week.

Harvey Klinger Agency agent Sara Crowe

Sara Crowe

This is my fifth and final post from the awesome Houston SCBWI conference. If you missed my earlier reports, Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Cooper talks about submitting to an editor, including herself; Scholastic editor and author Lisa Ann Sandell talks about making your query letter package stand out; Balzer & Bray editor Ruta Rimas talks about what makes a great book; and National Geographic Children’s Books editor-in-chief Nancy Feresten talks about the future of publishing.

Today I’m featuring lovely agent Sara Crowe, who’s with the Harvey Klinger Agency. Sara gave  a presentation called “Hitching Your Star to the Right Agent,” and said, “I do believe that there is a right agent for you, just like there is a right editor and a right house.”

She said that although rejections are difficult to take, writing is subjective, especially fiction. “Not everyone is going to love everything,” she said. (Good thing to keep in mind when you get a “this isn’t for us” letter.)

The matchmaking begins with the query letter, and Sara advised to be courteous, professional but persistant. (More good advice.) And she said to make sure the description of the book shows everything that is original and true about it. (Great advice!)

She also passed on some great advice she had picked up in her favorite writing book, Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird: Before you write a query letter, focus on being a great writer. (I’ve read this book and can attest to how wonderful it is.)

On the subject of searching for the right agent, Sara said research them online and find out as much as you can about them. You should want to work with them before you query, she said. And when you’re researching, consider these things:

  • What books the agent has sold;
  • What kind of agency it is and whether you want to be with a big agency or small agency; and
  • The agent’s experience and reputation with other writers.

After you’ve been offered representation:

  • make sure the agent is passionate about your book; and
  • have an open conversation about expectations, communication style, etc.

“There are so few instant successes that you need someone who really loves your book so they stick with you,” Sara said.

As for whether agents should edit, Sara said she loves going back and forth with writers to make the book perfect before it’s sent out and said she won’t send out anything that isn’t polished. She said that especially today, editors can’t take on a book that’s not completely polished because of the amount of work they have to do. That said, she explained that she generally looks at big picture changes, like plot and character, and leaves smaller changes to the editor.

“Revision’s a constant in this business, so embrace it. It never goes away,” she said.

An agent will also be the author’s negotiator for the best deal and general advocate for the whole process. Because of that, you must make sure your agent is someone you can trust.

For her own list, Sara said she represents mainly young adult but she likes middle grade too. She does fewer picture books, but she likes high-concept picture books.

Great advice. And it mirrored what agents Nathan Bransford and Andrea Cascardi said at the Austin SCBWI conference.

What do you think of what Sara said? Got any other tips?

Write On!

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Mark McVeigh on publishing

February 1, 2010

I spent my Saturday at the fabulous Austin SCBWI conference, which offered a great lineup of speakers. Over the next week, or as long as it takes to cover them all, I’ll post what I heard.

Literary agent Mark McVeigh

Mark McVeigh

First up is literary agent Mark McVeigh, who has his own agency, The McVeigh Agency. Mark knows something about children and the children’s literary industry. He taught sixth grade for four years and was in editorial at Golden Books, Scholastic, Random House, HarperCollins, Dutton and as the editorial director at Simon & Shuster’s Aladdin imprint. There’s a great interview with Mark at Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Cynsations blog.

Mark gave a candid but encouraging talk about the current state of the publishing industry. “There is good news,” he said, explaining that the industry is in a time of transition.

Middle-grade, early chapter books and young-adult are on the verge of breaking out in digital books, he said, adding that he thinks people will ultimately make more money and sell more books in digital. He buys e-books himself, and said that if he likes it, he also buys the hardcover to have on his shelf.

He encourages people, if they can afford it, to buy books, whether digital or print editions, to keep the industry going.

That said, he’s still busy. Mark was late to his presentation because, he admitted, he was working on his speech in another room. He explained that he has been getting up at 7 am and working til 3 am.

He advised that, especially now, writers need to defend their muse. “Rejection is not necessarily a reflection of your work,” he said, pointing out that good books are getting turned down right now because publishers feel that they can’t afford to take any chances.

To defend your muse, he said, be true to your writing. “I want clients who are warriors,” he said. Be brave. And, he said, write every day.

He also said to have tough love in critique sessions and choose writing friends carefully with an eye toward learning to get better.

He suggested writers keep up with what’s going on in the industry, for example, by reading Publishers Weekly, and network at conferences and online, through blogs and community forums. He even said writers can make a name for themselves by creating and posting videos on YouTube, whatever it takes to make yourself known.

Other advice Mark offered:

  • Sign with an agent because publishing houses are becoming less and less inclined to buy from writers who are not agented.
  • After they’ve got a deal, writers shouldn’t turn down paperback original. Despite the fact that some reviewers still refuse to review paperback books, people are buying paperbacks more than any other format right now. “Genius will show through no matter what the format,” he said.
  • Have a good lawyer read your contract.
  • And most of all: “Keep working on your craft.”

Great advice.

Tomorrow, Andrea Cascardi with Transatlantic Literary Agency.

Write On!

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What books to read and the ALA winners

January 21, 2010

Revision update: Contrary to my lack of confidence yesterday, I buckled down and just finished my revision! Yay! Now on to beta reads. Fingers crossed.

The 2010 ALSC Award winners were announced earlier this week and with them, they bring an opportunity.

We all know that reading good books is one of the best ways to learn how to write — that and write, write, write, of course. And these best-of lists are a great way to find new books to put in your must-read list.

Now, one thing to keep in mind: The books in these lists cover all different genres, and you generally want to read the best books in the genre you write. So, if you’re writing a young adult coming-of-age novel, it might not help you to read a picture book or middle-grade fantasy. So, before you click over to Amazon and order every book on the American Library Association’s list, do some research and see which ones should make it into your shopping cart — or onto your library card.

On that note, I write middle-grade fantasy and I can’t wait to get my hands on Newbery Medal winner When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. (Here’s a great review by Abby (the) Librarian).

Despite the genre, books with great writing, plot and/or characters are also good to read no matter how well they complement what you write, so load up.

What books are in your wish to read list?

Write On!