Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Interview with Harold Underdown- Part II

Two weeks ago on this blog, Harold Underdown answered general questions regarding writing and publishing for children. In this follow-up post, he answers questions posed by some Carolina illustrators.

Question: I am worried about the ease with which people can download artwork/images from the internet. It seems as if it will be much harder to enforce an illustration's copyright when it is so easy to steal, manipulate and reuse images from on-line sources.

Harold: This is true, but that should not stop people from posting illustration samples on a website. Illustrators need to have their portfolios online--it's expected. To prevent *meaningful* theft, the samples can be watermarked, reproduced at 72 dpi (looks fine on screen but won't reproduce well in print), or otherwise protected.

Question: Do e-books have some system to prevent this type of theft from happening?

Harold: This is a separate issue, and yes, it's not easy to copy an illustration out of an e-book. In general, copying of e-books is no easier than copying of print books. There is piracy, but publishers actively pursue it.

Question: How will freelance artists be compensated for their work on e-books?

Harold: They will be compensated in the same way that they are for print books, if the e-books are published by a traditional publisher--with a royalty and advance. In general, royalty rates for e-books are higher than for print books. There are some small “e-book only” publishers out there. I would proceed with caution in working with them, just as one would with any new, not established publisher.

Question: I see that the textbook industry seems to be embracing e-books, for good practical reasons. Does this mean the death of decent work in this area for freelance illustrators?

Harold: The textbook industry started to outsource much of their illustration work overseas several years ago, long before this development, and is continually looking for ways to cut costs in the face of school budget-cutting. That's a much bigger threat than the impact of e-books--which still need illustrations.

Question: "I am an illustrator and have been offered a contract by an author who is self-publishing. It offers me X, Y, and Z, and I have to do A, B, and C... [and so on] Is this worth it? What terms should I look for in such contracts?"

Harold: The BIG red flag in this contract is the lack of an advance.

My basic recommendation to illustrators working with self-publishing authors is simple, and I'm not the only person saying this: make sure you get fully compensated for your time up front, because there is a low probability that a self-published book will get meaningful sales.

The royalties given in the agreement are almost irrelevant, from that point of view, because it's unlikely that royalties will be paid. Ideally, the illustrator should get additional earnings if the book takes off and sells really well, since the illustrator's work will have contributed to this success, but in 99% of all cases, the only money the illustrator will ever see is the advance.

Note from Carol: For further information about e-books check out: E is for Book and EBook Apprentice.

In a few weeks I’ll post my third and final interview with Harold as he answers questions about writing picture books.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

If You Give a Writer a Cookie....

...add sweet tea, the company of fellow writers and illustrators, and incorporate great advice from Adams Literary, then you have the recipe for a great schmooze. Which was exactly what happened last Saturday at the Fort Mill Library in Fort Mill, South Carolina.

Josh Adams, Quinlan Lee, Tracey Adams

Hosted by the Charlotte and Rock Hill SCBWI critique groups, forty-five participants first peppered Quinlan Lee, Josh Adams, and Tracey Adams with questions about the agent/author relationship.

In response to the #1 question on everyone's mind, "How do you get an agent?"  Tracey Adams responded in the same manner in which she answered it a month ago at the YA Novel Literature panel in Charlotte: "We look for good writing." Specifically, Quinlan Lee said that she looks for writing that is "interesting, grabbing, and doesn't let my mind wander." Tracey added that indicating that a writer or illustrator is a member of SCBWI demonstrates that he or she takes the craft seriously.

Josh Adams said that he is looking for potential, not perfection. His first criteria is not, "Can we sell it?" but rather, "Do we love it?" Tracey added that their agency wants to represent an author, not just necessarily one manuscript. All three agents emphasized the need to work hard at the craft, not to submit a piece too soon, and to be prepared to spend years at honing a manuscript. "Put your manuscript in a drawer for a week. Let it marinade before you press send."

Here is some other advice:

  • Adams Literary is looking for timeless works that are not tied into a specific trend. (Vampires might actually not be hot in 2-3 years--the length of time it takes for a book to be published!)
  • Be ready to answer the question, "What other books are you working on?"
  • Don't submit more than one manuscript at a time.
  • Be focused! Find out who you are as an author.
  • Send in your best work. Editors want top-notch material.Wait until your critique group says that your book or illustration is ready for submission.
  • Research an agency that fits your book. Look at the types of books they represent.
  • You can look for an agent by looking at books in your genre. Often the agent is mentioned in the acknowledgments.
  • In the current industry, literary agents are the gatekeepers for editors and publishers. You probably need one--unless you connect with an editor at a conference.
  • Don't ever pay up front for agenting services and make sure the agent is a member of the Association of Author's Representatives.
  • The picture book market is hard to break into. Make sure you have a fantastic hook into your book.
  • Picture books are getting shorter and shorter. Parents are spending less time reading to their children. Think about how much text you would include on each of the 28 pages in a 32-page picturebook.
  • Picture books should be beautifully written and target the the 3-5 year-old market. Older children don't want to be seem carrying picture books around and kids graduate to easy readers which they can read themselves.
  • Well-written prose must be visual. The reader must "see" the story.
Fellow writers and illustrators, cookies, tea, and literary advice. What more could a writer want? Oh yes, time to write!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Interview with Harold Underdown- Part I

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books Cover
Harold Underdown, author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Publishing Children's Books, is my guest for today's blog. In this interview he answers a variety of questions about writing and publishing for children. In Part II he will address questions which illustrators have. If you are an illustrator with a publishing question, please leave me a comment or email me at cbaldwin6@carolina.rr.com and I will relay them to Harold.

Question: A friend found the following advice under "sample query letter" at http://jamesrussellpublishing.biz/. They suggested using the phrase, "This manuscript has been professionally edited and is ready to be published." I thought it sounded presumptuous. What do you think?

Harold: I don't think it's a good idea, for the reason you give and ALSO because it suggests the writer needed help to complete the manuscript! That is not something I would mention in a cover or query letter.

Question: In light of the increasing sophistication of YA book content, would you recommend that YALSA divide its services, awards and lists into two age categories--one for ages 12 - 15 and another for ages 15 - 18?

Harold: Personally, I wouldn't recommend that or speak against it. I think that's an issue that librarians should decide.

Question: We've learned that song lyrics can be an expensive minefield. What about movie lines? Are they protected by copyright? What about expressions that have entered the common lexicon, like "Show me the money," "You had me at hello," "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn," etc? The specific line I'm wondering about at the moment is "Danger, Will Robinson." But I think the real question is the larger principle, since there are so many lines like this that have come into conversational use completely divorced from their origin. What I meant was, when the phrase is used with no reference to the original source. Like when a character says, "We'll always have Paris" or "This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship," but no one is talking about "Casablanca." Or "Make my day," "We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto," "I'll think about it tomorrow at Tara," or any other catch phrase that people commonly understand without having to know where it came from.

Harold: I am not a lawyer and have never discussed this issue with one, but I tend to agree that this is an area in which fair use applies.

A writer who wants to include such phrases in their manuscript should go ahead and do so, but make a note of where they are included. Then when/if the manuscript sells, they can raise this with their editor, who will most likely consult with the publisher's legal department.

Question: How important is it to plot a story with a traditional three-act structure or a hero myth structure? Can/should those structures be applied to picture books as well as novels?

Harold: It's not important. There are many ways to structure a plot. Writers should set up their story, novel or picture book, in the way that makes most sense for THAT STORY. I know that fantasy novels often follow a hero structure, but they don't have to.

Question: How much should a writer pay attention to a manuscript's "marketability" and market trends?

Harold: This is a short question but it needs a long answer. For one thing, the importance of what's expected in the market varies by type of book. A manuscript written for a packager creating a MG series MUST be focused on what the market wants, while a "literary" novel should simply be the best that the writer can make it.

In general, paying too much attention to the market is dangerous, as trends can change or die overnight. It can also be difficult to figure out what exactly would make a manuscript "marketable."

So my advice for writers in this area is to ignore the trends while they are learning the craft--improving their skills, finding their voice, learning what they most like to write. Once they have a good chunk of experience under their belts they can start to pay more attention to the market, as they will not be unduly influenced by it.

Question: what are the legal issues around using a famous person in your novel-- especially if it's not trying to be historically accurate?

In other words, if it's basically a fantasy novel. For example, Meg walked through her wrinkle in time and somehow met Elvis Presley..."

Harold: As with the movie lines, this is something that writers should go ahead and do, but keep track of. My gut feeling is that a dead famous person, who does not become a major character, but is mentioned in passing, will be OK. A living famous person, or someone whose estate is still actively defending the person's image, could be trickier, especially if they have a role to play in the story. Here it is not copyright that is an issue, but the right of a person (or their estate) to control the use of their image/name.


Thanks Harold! Stay tuned for Part II  which will address illustrators' questions.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Note To My New Teen Followers (and to Parents as well)

If you have recently signed up to follow my blog and you're between 12-16 years old, please email me at: cbaldwin6@carolina.rr.com. Technically my contest for an autographed copy of Joyce Hostetter's book BLUE is up tomorrow, but I know some of you have signed up and haven't sent me an email.

So, I am extending the contest until March 18. Teens - send me an email! Parents- have your kids follow my blog and then send me an email and their names will go into the hat too!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

This Book is Really Gross!

If the subtitle of this book won’t grab your students’ attention, then the blurb from the back of the book will: “Featuring facts about stuff that’s slimy, mushy, oozy, crusty, scaly, and smelly!”

Open the book and you’ll find scientific, historic, and gross facts about everybody’s secretions, smells, and scabs. Barf, burps, dandruff, farts, and poop. If it’s gross and relates to your body, it’s in the book. The highly descriptive prose is a great example of what Maupin House author, Melissa Forney, calls “Razzle Dazzle Writing.” 

Consider this description of skin. “A huge number of living creatures survive on your skin... These creatures, called bacteria, sway, roll, bounce, swim, eat and reproduce on your skin. They are so small that a dozen could line up across one pore. On your legs about 8,000 bacteria live in each square inch….Under the grease layer on your forehead are about 8,000,0000 critters for each square inch. That’s a larger population of bacteria in one square inch under your forehead than the entire number of people in Kentucky and Tennessee combined!”

After a detailed description of how zits are formed, the reader discovers, “All form of acne start out the same way. Dead skin cells shed inside pores. The dead skin cells then clump together with sebum, bacteria, and bacterial waste in the pore and form a comedo. The word “comedo” actually means “fat maggot” in Latin, because early doctors thought that these bumps were really maggots under the skin…” Gross. (p. 39-41).

This book is a great resource for both science and language arts classrooms. Yesterday, I read snippets of it to students in grades 3-8.  A second grader couldn't wait to get his hands on it.

Science written in a highly engaging manner. I love it!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Write2Ignite Teens Ignite Me and Inspire a Giveaway!

It never fails. When I teach teens I feel as if I receive as much as I give. That was my experience teaching twelve teens at the recent Write2Ignite conference.

Picture courtesy Sean Earnhardt

We came together as a group of strangers- some more tentative than others- but we all had the same passion: a love for writing.

Picture courtesy Sean Earnhardt

Using activities from my book, Teaching the Story: Fiction Writing in Grades 4-8, students learned how to exercise muscle words, welcome revision, and jazz up their writing. Here is a sample of what they came up with:

The sentence, "I walked through a cemetery and heard eerie sounds."

Became, "I stalked through a graveyard and I heard bat wings flapping at the beat of my heart."

Pretty spooky, huh? I guess they had cemeteries on their brains because I said I was stuck on trying to create a simile for one of my scenes in Half-Truths. The setting is a graveyard that is being bulldozed to make room for houses. To a student they all said "eeew!"  and then proceeded to give me ideas on what they thought that toppled gravestones would look like. One student thought they might look like fallen dominoes, but nixed that idea because it wouldn't create the right mood. (right on!) Another said the graves would look like faces looking out on the cemetery. As we talked about the effort that goes into a writer finding just the right simile to convey an image, they got the point. Writing takes time, work, and revision.

Interspersed between learning how to create original characters, settings, and plots, the teens also did a variety of dramatic activites. When we discussed character they mingled like old people, kindergartners, and their parents; when we talked about settings they pretended to walk through a swamp, a busy street, and on a mountain. 

                                   They collaborated,


Photograph courtesy Sean Earnhardt

                                                                       and wrote.

By the end of the day, we left as friends and co-writers who had a day of fun together.

Photograph courtesy Sean Earnhardt

That weekend I realized something profound. I am writing a book for teen readers but I don't have many teen followers on this blog. To rectify that situation, I am going to start giveaways that are geared directly to my intended audience. If you are between the ages of 12-16, start following my blog and send me an email at cbaldwin6@carolina.rr.com. On March 15 (the ides of March) I will pick a winner. That person will receive an autographed copy of Blue by Joyce Hostetter

Parents, please note that you can't enter...but your children can!


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