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Friday, October 29, 2010

More tales from the slush pile

After that depressing post about the blahness of the slush pile, and how the editors don't really NEED to find your masterpiece in it but they'd really like to if only it was easier to wade through the muck to find it....well after THAT post I want you to eavesdrop with me for a moment.

On the other side of the room, with my back to the editors, I am work work working away on something else. I can't remember. It was either a post for the blackdogbytes blog or line editing a nearly finished book or reading another and trying to come up with poetic and haunting titles for was one of those. While I had my back turned, the two editors were bracing themselves to attack the slush filled email together.

They started with my "Under Consideration" folder.
A couple of things happened. If you say in your cover letter that you are published, they are going to Google you. They might even check Nielsen to see how many copies you have sold (so don't lie!). If they think your work sounds remotely interesting, they're also going to Google you. If they think your work means surely you must be a crackpot, then that will make for the funnest Google ever.

There were giggles behind me. And then I realised it was because, like me, they liked a story. It was cute, they could see it had something, a spark. One particular story had a cast of international characters and that is something ELSE Black Dog are trying to do, represent a real Australia, which are not all white people.

So they liked it and set it aside. Then there was another one (one I loved) with totally attitude filled illustrations that they printed out to make sure to show the publisher.

And there was another from the physical slush that they liked too.

So there's all this stuff HAPPENING. Books are ACTUALLY under consideration, not just sitting in an inbox waiting to be read.

But you'll never know about all this stuff that's happening. They might discuss your book, talk about how they could market it, where it would fit in the marketplace, which types of shops would carry it.

And you might be at home getting annoyed at how fricking long it takes for them to finally reject you.

In the end, these books might not get published by bdb, lord knows the stats aren't looking good, but you never know.

Stuff is happening. The editors are talking. And it might be about you.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Slush Pile and Meh

Gotta tell ya, the slush pile was a different experience to what I was expecting.
If you don't know what a slush pile is, read briefly about it here. If you're hoping I'm going to mock some of the more attrocious submissions from the Black Dog Books treasure chest, you'll be disappointed because I don't want to do that. But you can find someone who does here (though they're not from the BDB slush).

I was looking forward to the slush pile! Delving in, finding something amazing, or even learning from the shockingly appalling.

But mostly what I found wasn't terrible, but it wasn 't amazing either. And it has to be amazing to be published. They have to be able to see who they could sell it to, and how they could market it to booksellers.

I probably found more that I put in the "Under Consideration" pile than one of the editors would, because I was hoping to find gems and give everything the benefit of the doubt, whereas the editors know they have X amount of spots on their list for new works and it's gotta be amazing if it's going to be considered.

A little bit of background about BDB. Black Dog Books - like all publishers - are busy. They have authors that they work with a lot and if they want a book on a particular topic they can go and ask one of those authors if they could write something.
Similarly, they have a stable of authors who write successful books, so they keep publishing more by those authors.

They like fresh new writers and ideas - absolutely they do - but they don't need them.

So when looking through the slush (which is all done in their own time, and considering they work overtime anyway, I now, when I have my writers hat on, will cut editors way more slack when they take awhile to get back to a submission) though they dream of finding that next big amazing book, they don't need it. And often it's just not in there.

That said, my pal Shirley Marr's first book Fury was one of the FOUR BOOKS EVER found in Black Dog's slush that they have published.

A lot of the slush doesn't meet their needs.

Black Dog Books are currently looking for longer works, so junior fiction and YA novels. Junior fiction they prefer series, otherwise stand-alones can get lost in the overwhelming number of junior fiction titles out there. They're moving away from really thin junior fiction books, and they're really not into rhyming picture books. The picture book market isn't amazing at the moment anyway.

Most of the submissions in the physical slush, are for picture books. So they had a pretty slim chance of making it through. I found several 2000 word picture books (if you don't know, picture books are generally 500 words or less) and many lacked illustration advice so I couldn't really picture what their stories were about.

Most of the submissions (that I got to) in the email slush, were junior fiction and YA. I found a couple of YA that sounded interesting, but didn't really fit with the type of YA Black Dog are publishing at the moment, which are a bit darker, edgy, serious books. About murder (Shirley Marr - Fury) a car accident in which one of the characters dies (Karen Tayleur - Six) and the danger of taking dares too far (Sue Lawson - Dare You). They have more great dark serious stuff lined up for next year (I know because I read them).

Not only do you have to write something amazing, dear writers, but you have to write something amazing that complements the other amazing books they publish.

It's a difficult business, is it not?

That was all a little depressing, wasn't it. But fear not! Today I sat in on a meeting in which a debut author was offered a book deal! She was calm and collected and in control in the meeting but if the minute she was out of sight she didn't do a happy dance, I will be sorely disappointed. I expect she grinned all day.

Tell you about it later.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge Reception

On the one morning I was running late and literally threw on anything to wear, I received a wonderful surprise as part of my placement with Black Dog Books this week, and scored an invitation to the Victorian Premier's Reading Challenge Reception at the National Gallery with Publicity guru Jess, in which there were primary and high school kids, their teachers and parents there to receive awards from the Premier himself, John Brumby. And there was media there, oh yes. The media were representin' too.
Some of the kids were too adorable and I must say I was a bit inappropriate when they went on stage and, though I clapped, really I just wanted to pat some of them on the head. Especially that little guy. But I didn't. I was a representative of Black Dog Books. I was all poise all decorum all the time, baby. Even if I WAS wearing odd socks.
Jess and I met several important people from the Education Department (whose names I have unfortunately...erm...forgotten) and even some of the Reading Challenge Ambassadors that were present. Jess and I joined the queue of kids and had a chat with and posters signed by these and other wonderful Australian childrens writers and illustrators.

I was especially excited to meet Michael Panckridge as I had JUST finished reading one of his manuscripts that morning. Weird coincidence if you asked me. And it was cool to meet Carole Wilkinson because, if you recall, I attended a fascinating, informative workshop with her daughter Lili recently. So I told her as such.

In the next post, I will talk to you all about my experience with the slush pile...from the OTHER SIDE.

Oh! And if you wander on over to Black Dog Books author Shirley Marr's blog

you will find us discussing what we like and dislike about being a Pantser vs Outliner when it comes to writing. And our warning to all kindergarten/primary schoolers to never accept the role of Mama Bear in a play. The role is cursed, we can both vouch for that.


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Infiltrating a Publishing House...mwahahaHAHA!

I have done it, readers. I'm IN.

I wrote on their blog yesterday, and then I updated their Facebook. I have their passwords. I have the POWER. I could have written ANYTHING! I could have written that the office smells like blue cheese! Or that the Publisher has power a coffin!

But I didn't. I am sheer professionalism. I also didn't, because the above are not true. Just so you know.

I have also infiltrated their MANUSCRIPTS, everybody. I have read that shiny new American YA with the fancy new cover and written a report with my opinion of it.

I have read the manuscript of an Australian YA they are considering purchasing and written a report with my opinions and RECOMMENDATIONS about what could be edited, and whether or not they should buy it. The commissioning editor (as in the editor commissioning this specific project) has not even read the entire thing yet.

I have nearly finished reading a draft of the first in a series of Junior Fiction books that they are publishing next year and have been line editing and making comments and writing questions in the margins, just as I do with my critique partners.

I will finish it on the train (much more productive than crawling in peak hour traffic on the freeway) and read the second one today - both of which I will write reports on. With OPINIONS. And RECOMMENDATIONS.

As one editor and the two publishers are off in Sydney at a Publishing conference, another editor sits behind me finding images and tinkering with the design of a non-fiction book, and filling up excess pages at the end of a book (for some reason - she doesn't even understand why - it was cheaper to make it with more pages than less) with awesomeness, I will be growing bolder, still.
Not only are my opinions (perhaps) going to sway how already under consideration and commissioned books will turn out, but I will attack THE SLUSH PILE*.

MwahahahAHAHA indeed**.


*If you are IN the slush pile at Black Dog Books, don't worry, nothing I read will be deleted before being seen by an editor, but I do have 2 fancy inboxes, 'Sarah - Consider' and 'Sarah - Reject' (I don't think those are the actual names, but that's what they mean).

**I am not a coffee drinker in my daily life but with all of this reading, I have had to indulge in a foamy cup or two and I don't think it's doing any favours to the stability of my mind.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Inside an Editorial Meeting at Black Dog Books

Black Dog Books

Today is Day One of my internship with Black Dog Books, who are a fabulous Melbourne based childrens and YA publisher and I'm learning loads.

My first task was to read an international manuscript that there has been lots of buzz about all over the interwebz, and write a reader report because Black Dog are considering purchasing the Australian rights.

It hasn't even come out in America yet so I'm definitely on the INSIDE now, people. Are you massively jealous of me? I know you are. And think about it, the publishers and editors here get to read fantabulous new books before they come out, for a LIVING.

A Black Dog Book

Anyway - the editorial meeting.

There was discussion of the pros and cons of publishing the third book in a series. And there is a lot to be considered. There are added costs with a third book because the first and second would need to be reprinted. But if those didn't sell amazingly? The staff here love their writers and spend countless hours helping them craft their work. They're invested. But sometimes that personal investment isn't enough. There are so many other elements involved, like what size to make the book, and the sizing effects how many copies booksellers think they will be able to sell. So if BDB plan to produce something in C format and booksellers don't think they can sell it, but they could sell it at B+ (which would make the book cheaper for consumers), it will all effect sales and whether you can find books in stores. It has nothing to do with the content, or the author, it's just how much room it takes up on a shelf that can affect whether you can find it or not.

They decided to buy the rights to this international title with masses and masses of buzz, but are going to create their own front cover for it which is exciting, and I'm sure this book will do fabulously for them.

Another Black Dog Book

They discussed their line up for next year, and had some gaps in their list to fill so rearranged a couple of books, for instance they pushed one back two months because then it could be their lead title for that month, when it may have been lost or competing with another title on their list where it was. They moved a couple forward and negotiated the costings and what the move would do to their expected sales. For instance June is not a good month, sales wise, as booksellers are doing stock take and returning books. July is not amazing, but it's better because booksellers are needing to refill their shelves!

There were illustrations handed around for two picture books - one was a picture book that they had asked for some illustrations to be re-drawn to better reflect the story, and others were design ideas for updating some old stories with new illustrations.

Concept art for the protagonist in what looked to be a new chapter book series was looked at and everyone (there were five staff members plus me) could have some input and weigh in on the decisions.

They needed to pick a cover designer for a book coming out next year, and we had a look at some different designers, and also concept art for what the feel of the cover and the book should be like.

A brand-spanking NEW Black Dog Book

Although here at Black Dog each employee has their own job and responsibilities, it is most definitely a collaborative, team effort to produce the best books they possibly can.

I'm looking forward to Day Two!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

Secret Publishing Business!

I went to the children's and YA division of awesome Australian publishing company Allen & Unwin with some classmates yesterday (A&U are the ones that scored the Australian rights to Harry Potter way back, so they've done pretty well for themselves) and I learnt lots of secret publishing business!

Firstly, I was shocked to find Allen & Unwin was NOT a huge building, but is in a terrace house like this:

This is NOT Allen & Unwin, but very similar, and for all you non-Melbournians, the yellow one is ONE house, and the white one is another house...they're little. And quite close to each other.

The Sydney office of Allen & Unwin is bigger, employing 100+ people, but the Melbourne office which is just childrens and YA has a mere sixteen employees, and they work on - I'm hoping I'm remembering this correctly - 40 or so books a month. Um..WHOA.

[EDITED TO ADD - Turns out, no I wasn't remembering this correctly - it's 5 books a month. But still WHOA, for 16 people!]

Gotta love the work to do it, don't you think? Still think it's for you? I guess you're wondering how one gets a job, then, huh? Well the lovely Publishing Assistant Julia Imogen who talked to us said something I totally wasn't expecting.

Eight years ago when she was employed there, she answered a small ad in the local newspaper looking for an administrative assistant. There was no mention of publishing or editing or books, it was all quite tricksy. But that's actually quite smart on the employers part. Think about it. The minute you put editorial, publishing, books etc into a job ad you have everyone with an English major applying. Can you imagine that stack of applications? That's a bit daunting, hmm? So don't discard those admin ads. They might just be the job you're looking for.

Another way you can get hired is by doing an internship there. They have had several interns who have been there at the right time and brought back in as temps or even like Penni Russon, freelance editors. Though taking on an intern is NOT like getting free help, Julia says. It's quite a commitment. There's training to do and depending on the intern, different levels of supervision required.

At Allen & Unwin they have a pretty intense database system in which everything that has been done for and about a book or author is recorded and can be accessed by all the different departments. For instance, a blurb will be needed by sales for a pitch to booksellers, publicity will need it for promotional items and designers need it for the back copy of the book. And they need the most recent version, too! The synopsis/blurb submitted with the original manuscript may be very different to what it should be for the final, edited book.

The room we had our meeting in had two walls of books (which we all had a bit of a drool at) and some books had more copies on the shelf than others. Why was this? The number of books on the shelf represented the number of print runs they had had, so you could immediately tell which books had been selling well and which ones hadn't.

There are gazillions of different roles and jobs within publishing and in this era of e-books, some employees have had jobs CREATED for them, because they were so good at that side of their work. Books have personalised websites now, facebook fan pages, someone is in charge of the company's twitter account, iphone apps and even more I don't even know about.

So there you have it. Secret Allen & Unwin business. Don't let them know I told!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Where did I put that...

Okay so um, my notes from the big grand finale of Express Media's YA mini-festival, which consisted of a panel with Steph Bowe, Lili Wilkinson and Penni Russon seems to have gone walkabout.
But I hope it comes back soon.
In the meantime, Lili posted something on her blog that she also talked about in her session, but really, there was so much knowledgy goodness crammed into that session that I couldn't talk about it all in one blog post.

So I direct you to Lili's blog, where she talks about characters and Wanting stuff Vs. Needing stuff. It's good, so go check it out if you're interested.

In the mean time, shall we all look under couches and on top of the fridge for my notebook? Please don't tell me your dog ate it...

Tomorrow I'm going along on an excursion with the first years to sneak a peak behind the scenes and meet the staff in the Junior Fiction and YA department of Allen & Unwin. I'm bummed Eva won't be there (who I have talked about in a couple of posts and look forward to one day meeting because she sounds like a woman of supreme awesomosity and she gave me such great notes on that book that time) but I know it'll be an interesting day.

And then NEXT week I start my two week placement with Black Dog Books. By November I'll be so full of industry secrets I may just die.

Now lets all stop stalling and start hunting. "Heeeerrreeeee notebook!!"